Sunday, July 26, 2015

Personal Essay: "We Are Not Alone. Mental Illness Is Real."

Sarah Fader is the founder of Stigma Fighters.  Sarah created a forum where people with mental illness, people like me, can share our stories.  1 in 5 Americans has a mental illness.  That is 42.5 million Americans, 18.2% of the American population [Newsweek February 28, 2014].  That does include teens and children who have mental illness.

Sarah is a powerful writer, an advocate, and a warrior.  Stigma Fighters allows people with mental illness to tell our stories, and talk about the pain, suffering, stigma and shame which encroaches our lives.  Last December, Sarah asked to include an essay I wrote about having PTSD in an anthology she was editing. Stigma Fighters Anthology was published May 29, 2015 by Gravity Imprint, which is directed by Rachel Thompson, and focuses on trauma and recovery. Sarah edited it, with the help of Allie Burke. All three women have essays in the anthology.

Please watch this video.  Then go buy Stigma Fighters Anthology (Volume 1), and read it.  If you don't have a mental illness, you probably know--and love--someone with mental illness.  Refusing to acknowledge mental illness means denying the existence of people with mental illness. Mental illness is real. We are going to end stigma by giving ourselves a voice. We are fighters, we are survivors, and we are not alone.

Book Review: GOING HOME by James D. Shipman

Book Review:  GOING HOME by James D. Shipman
Lake Union Publishing/Amazon Publishing publication date July 28, 2015

Trade Paperback, ISBN 9781503944190

Immigration was a major socio-economic factor in shaping the United States in the Nineteenth Century. Territorial expansion and the prospects of owning land, as well as finding employment, were enticements to Europeans seeking a better life.  James D. Shipman has taken the true story of his great-great-grandfather Joseph Hastings and transformed it into an historical novel which is affecting. While the plot has many sensational events, Shipman’s skill prevents melodrama from seizing center stage.  Rather, his attention to well-drawn, detailed characters makes Going Home a very engaging and moving read.

The third-person narrative begins with the protagonist Joseph Forsyth, a Union soldier, fighting in the trenches during the Battle of Petersburg, Virginia on January 2, 1865.  Joseph is shot in the chest by Confederate soldiers.  He is taken to the Union Hospital Camp.  Rebecca Walker, a young nurse who is grieving the death of her only child from illness, and that of her husband in another battle a few months before, is the first to triage Joseph.  As she tries to locate where he has been wounded, she finds a letter pinned to the inside of Joseph’s blood-soaked jacket.   The letter is from Joseph’s wife, and reminds Rebecca of her patient’s humanity.  His mortality evokes that of her late husband.  She decides that she will fight for Joseph’s life.  She pleads with the Army surgeon, Dr. Thomas Johnston, to check Joseph’s wound, which is in the left collar below the bone.  Johnston relents and operates on Joseph.  Joseph survives, but now faces the risk of infection.  Rebecca’s nursing and determination, as well as a growing closeness with Dr. Johnston, may save Joseph after all.

The narrative then flashes back to 1849.  Joseph, a lad of eleven from County Derry, Ireland, boards a ship for America with his father Robert, a drunk with a violent temper, and his beloved, long-suffering mother Lydia.  They hope to find and purchase land to farm.  Robert has been the undoing of his family.  He cannot keep a job, and he gambles when he drinks.  During the voyage, Robert continues to drink, and joins a card game.  He bets with money he doesn’t have.  To pay his debt, he sells Joseph into an apprenticeship with Michael O’Dwyer, a printer who lives in Quebec City, Canada.  When the ship reaches New York Harbor, Joseph remains on board while his parents disembark.  Joseph finds himself alone in The New World, without any control over his destiny.  His powerlessness grows into an iron resolve to become master of his fate.           

The novel touches on many social and economic injustices which continue to beleaguer the United States today.    The poor find that, no matter how hard they work, their lives are dictated by the wealthy.  While others profit from war, the poor are sent to fight in it.  Women and immigrants are treated as subordinates, not as equals.  Families are dysfunctional due to poor communication, denial of existing problems, and fantasies about the way people actually are.

Shipman‘s writing is in sync with the tale he is telling.  He explores his characters’ interior lives, and makes them human, and sympathetic.  The dialogue is very realistic as well.  Since this is based on Shipman’s actual forebear, he does not take liberties with the story and transform it into an allegory.  The only hidden meaning in Going Home is the truth each person conceals from himself or herself until they are forced to confront it, or ready to face it. 

I recommend this historical novel, and want to emphasize that the story does not focus on Joseph Forsyth’s possible death from battle in The Civil War.  Shipman wrote a compelling story about Joseph Forsyth’s life, a life which reflects the struggles, trials, loves and triumphs of many American families. 

Thank you to Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing, for the loan of a digital copy of the book through NetGalley.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Book Review: PARANORMAL INTRUDER by Caroline Mitchell

Book Review:  PARANORMAL INTRUDER: The Frightening True Story of a Family in Fear
by Caroline Mitchell (ASIN: B00GURVKHY) 

PARANORMAL INTRUDER by Caroline Mitchell is the true story of one family's a haunting by a preternatural spirit.  Caroline, her husband Neil, their four children, and other family members and friends dealt with terrifying encounters over the course of several years.  Caroline is a police officer in England (who original hales from Ireland) faces a lot of terrible things in her line of work.  But nothing prepared her for the abnormal and strange phenomena which occurred in her own home. Objects in the home were moved, destroyed, and often sent like missiles at people.  There was a lot of activity involving electrical appliances, and even a few close calls with fires near the house. Most of the activity was centered on her husband Neil. From the beginning, Caroline and Neil and other documented the occurrences with cameras, camcorders and audio recorders. Caroline and Neil sought help from several paranormal investigators, as well as from their Roman Catholic parish, and the Free Church, but to no avail.  Neil fell into very poor health. The stress on their marriage, and on their family and friends, was enormous.  I won't give away the ending.  This book was a page-turner, and I read it in one sitting. Many people confront evil in their lives, and it was especially difficult for Caroline and her family because it is hard to "prove" that the evil is paranormal. For readers who enjoy true tales of paranormal encounters, I highly recommend PARANORMAL INTRUDER.

WARNING:  The following link is to YouTube video in which the author Caroline Mitchell discusses the case -- and plays two frightening EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) recordings.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Book Review: IN A DARK, DARK WOOD by Ruth Ware

Book Review:  IN A DARK, DARK WOOD by Ruth Ware
Scout Press/Gallery Books, August 4, 2015 (digital edition)

While every psychological thriller since 2012 has had to bear the burden of comparison to Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL, Ruth Ware's novel harkens back to Agatha Christie's masterful "whodunit," AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. Ware employs Christie's ingenious plot device, i.e. friends are invited to a remote location on a pretext when the real intent is nefarious (and Ware's characters reference Christie's novel), Ruth Ware's thriller IN A DARK, DARK WOOD is brilliant, riveting and original. 

Leonora Shaw, who prefers to be called "Nora," age twenty-six, lives a rather solitary life, and writes crime books in her tiny studio flat in Hackney (a borough in Greater London).  Nora tells the story, as the first-person narrator. Since she works from home, she sticks to a routine, and she starts each day with coffee and toast, and then out for a long run.  After a shower, she checks her emails.

Nora is startled and upset when she receives a group email invitation to a "hen party" (the English version of a bachelorette party).  The sender is Florence Clay, who is hosting the weekend in honor of Clare Cavendish.  When Nora was growing up in Reading, Clare had been her best friend.  Clare was the Queen Bee, beautiful, popular, alternately warm and loving, and cruel and hateful.  Nora has not seen Clare in ten years, not since she left Reading at age sixteen.  The circumstances surrounding Nora's leaving home are kept secretive. It is clear that this was a turning point in Nora's life.  She had gone by "Lee" then, and now is firmly "Nora."

The only other guest in the group email whom Nora recognizes is Nina de Souza, a friend from childhood who is still part of Nora's life in London. Nina is a doctor training as a surgeon who has recently returned from a stint with Medcins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in Colombia, repairing gunshot wounds.  Nina is a very witty, intelligent character, and provides a great deal of relief throughout this suspenseful story. Nora makes a pact with Nina to attend the party.  The hostess, Florence Clay, known as "Flo," is Clare's "BFF" from university.  She is highly strung and absolutely idolizes Clare, even dresses like her.  The party is being held in Flo's aunt's country home, The Glass House, a magnificent structure which seems incongruous with its setting in the woods of Northumberland.  Melanie Cho, a lawyer who is married and a new mother of a six-month-old boy, is another friend from Clare's days at university.  The fifth guest is Tom Deuxma, a very handsome gay man and a playwright.  (His husband Bruce is a theater director.)  Finally, Clare Cavendish arrives.  Then, to paraphrase Northumberland in Shakespeare's Henry V, the game is afoot.

Ware's writing style is perfectly suited to suspense.  Each character is drawn flawlessly. Her prose is efficient, and moves the plot along, but can be rather lyrical and descriptive, particularly with Nora's interior monologues. The pacing is superlative. Ware utilizes flashbacks, or, rather, reverse chronology, from the start and throughout the novel.  The reader knows right away that something bad has happened.  But what?  How did it come to pass?  And who did it?  Nora may seem like an underdog, but is she a dark horse?

I enjoyed IN A DARK, DARK WOOD completely and thoroughly.  This psychological thriller contains all the right elements and stands on its own merits.   Ruth Ware is a significantly talented writer, and has an exceptional career ahead of her.

Thank you to Scout Press for loaning me a digital copy to read through NetGalley.  


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Book Review: DANGEROUS WHEN WET by Jamie Brickhouse

Book Review:  DANGEROUS WHEN WET by Jamie Brickhouse
St. Martin’s Press, April 28, 2015 (hardcover)
Memoir has long been one of my favorite genres.   The first memoir I read about alcoholism was Caroline Knapp’s DRINKING: A LOVE STORY in 1997, and so, excuse the awful pun, the bar was set quite high.  Jamie Brickhouse's DANGEROUS WHEN WET is absolutely amazing and staggering.  He has a rare talent for fully confronting each part of his life with total honesty, sensitivity, cutting wit, and Falstaffian vigor.  Mr. Brickhouse said he only was able to write this memoir after the death of his mother, “Mama Jean—my greatest champion and harshest critic.”  The book is a brave and clever fusion.  He writes about his Texas boyhood, his relationship with Mama Jean (and his father Earl),   and his homosexuality and coming out, his discovery of alcohol, and, according to Mama Jean, his true destination was to become a writer.
“…you need to be a writer.  That’s what you should be doing!  I’m telling you, your ticket is the writing.  And remember what I’ve always said:  you control your destiny.”
Mama Jean was right (she was about mostly everything), however Jamie’s journey involved a lot of rough road.  He moved to New York City after college in the autumn of 1990, just after graduating from college in Texas.  He developed his lifelong love of Manhattan mostly through 20th-century melodrama films and trips up to New York with Mama Jean and Earl.  Like many writers, Jamie went into the commerce of books rather than the practice.  He was a highly successful publicity executive at the top book publishers.  He also was lucky in love, having met his boyfriend within six weeks of his arrival.  However, he systematically destroyed his life because he could not control his drinking, or what he did during alcoholic blackouts.
This is a deeply moving read.  I was in tears over some passages, only to start giggling over Jamie Brickhouse’s brilliant humor.  DANGEROUS WHEN WET is a memoir of recovery, but, man, it don’t come easy.  I believe this will appeal to people in recovery, to gay men, and, frankly, everyone because we each need to deal with our relationships with our parents before we can truly say we have grown up.
I for one cannot wait until Mr. Brickhouse writes a novel.  Until then, I shall be preaching the gospel according to Jamie, and Mama Jean, for quite some time.