Sunday, September 29, 2013

A short review: 2013 Hudson Valley Garlic Festival TM




Official website: http://hvgf.org/
This is a review.


This weekend we traveled once again to the garlic festival in Saugerties, New York.  We noted with severe consternation two things:  1).  A "premium parking spot" could be had for ten dollars; and 2).  Early arrivers were directed to the faraway Orange Lot rather than to the nice paved lot by the school.  As far as the first-- business is business.  As far as #2, I was fairly put out by this turn of events and mate was blistering.  Instead of a leisurely quarter of a mile walk to the Village Diner for breakfast, we were in for a mile walk to the V.D. and some of that was over uneven ground.  I don't do well on uneven ground ["wonderful" side effect of the brain damage inflicted upon me by the marijuana smoking driver who caused my car to run into a house some years ago].  Mate is scheduled for a knee replacement "in five years" but I deeply suspect the knee did not read the manual and wants to quit beforehand.  We are getting older now, however I do not think that either one of us qualify for a disabled parking permit and that is how it should be.  Even so, the extra walk and the pain it caused mate in particular is inexcusable.  We arrange to get there early every year so that we can get a parking space in the high school parking lot rather than having to park in a field of ruts and depressions.  So festival planners and organizers if you are reading this, I protest again the evil nefarious plan to start the early arrivers in the Orange Lot rather than in the high school lot.  Nothing you say will make me change my mind about this one.

We arrived [finally] at the Village Diner.  Both of us settled in with some coffee.  I listened to various conversations that the locals were having with the diner staff.  Many of the locals do not care for the mess that the extra travel brings to their peaceful and quaint little village.  Only a few of the locals admitted that they attend the garlic festival at all.

The diner coffee is quite good.  As I do every year, I enjoyed the oatmeal, brown sugar on the side but no milk or butter, and mixed fruit for $5.95.  The fruit this year was fresh blueberries, raisins, and bananas; along with strawberries from a jar and canned sliced peaches.  I'm not a fan of sugared or syruped fruit but this was good.  Mate had an omelet which was done just right and two slices of yummy bacon.

The festival itself was well-attended as usual.  Although I missed seeing the greyhounds up for adoption and mate missed arguing with the folks giving away copies of the KJV [neither organization was represented this year], the craftspeople and farmers and producers of delectable garlic treats were all there.  The layout this year was better than ever-- crafters by the main gate, food up one side of the main drag and exhibitors [and free tastes of their products] up the other side and also on a left loop and a right loop.  The music coming from the left loop in particular was kick-ass.  There was a drummer and a guitar player cranking out the tunes.  They were obviously well-rehearsed.  We did not stay for the plays or the parade this year.

I purchased several kinds of hard-necks for planting and mate bought a jar of smoked spices that we both enjoy.  I also got a poster this year of the festival [three dollars] and a tack pin [five dollars].  Mate declined to buy a hat this year, stating that the quality of the workmanship had noticeably gone down without offering any further information.

After going through the displays and exhibits once, we were both done for and got on the bus [which was now running] to take us to our parking lot far away.

sapphoq reviews says:  Parking Plan:  FAIL.  Everything else:  Spectacular.  A nap upon returning home:  Heavenly.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky




The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky.  New York:  MTV Books, 1999 and 2010.  e-book, 146 pps.


Charlie writes letters to someone unnamed.  Charlie is full of anxiety about his freshman year in high school.  But he survives it with the help of some true friends who are seniors.  Through the year, Charlie learns about relationships and experiments with light sex.  We are nearing the end of Banned Books Week.  I don't know why I missed this book when it first came out in 1999, but I did.

sapphoq reviews says:  Stephen Chbosky has penned an extraordinary coming-of-age novel which deserves its' place among the other great classics which Charlie's English teacher Bill has him read.  Charlie is a sweetheart and I found myself wishing that I could meet him.  This one will tug at your heartstrings.  Highly recommended, unless of course your parents or your church is sponsoring a book burning in the backyard this weekend.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wormfood by Jeff Jacobson




Wormfood, Jeff Jacobson.  Aurora IL:  Medallion Press, Incorporated, 2010.  e-book, 232 pps.

@jeff_jacobson on twitter [last post was in 2010]
http://www.jeff-jacobson.com/  [last blog post was in 2010, one other book listed]

Arch Stanton lives with his grandmother in a trailer.  They are destitute.  Gram doesn't want Arch to work in Fat Ernst's Diner and she hates the Sawyer brothers.  But they need money and so Arch goes to work. 

Over a three day weekend, a lot happens.  There is a funeral, an accident involving the dead person and the casket, a flood, a big fire, lots of shooting, and the nasty gray worm-like organisms which are very hungry.  Oh, yeah.  We should not forget the pretty girl.

sapphoq reviews says:  Jeff Jacobson has written an excellent first novel.  This is horror at its' finest.  Gruesome slime and all.  Wormfood is non-pretentious.  The characters are realistic.  The setting is evocative of small-town America.  If you want to read something that will leave you gasping and holding on to your seat, get this book.  Highly recommended for adult fans of horror.

P.S.  Jeff Jacobson, please write some more books!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman



Looking for Me, Beth Hoffman.  New York:  Penguin Books, 2013.  e-book, 322 pps.

@wordrunner on twitter

http://bethhoffman.net/


Looking for Me is Beth Hoffman's second novel.  Teddi is from the farmlands of Kentucky where she lived with her mother, father, grandmother, and younger brother.  Josh, the younger brother that Teddi sort of named, is very much into the woods and nature.  He knows all about birds and their feathers.  He collects arrowheads, bones, and fossils.  Teddi taught herself to refinish furniture at a young age.  A chance meeting with an antique furniture dealer from Charleston encourages her toward her dream of owning her own antique furniture shop.

Something happens and Josh disappears into the wilderness.  Teddi survives the death of her dad, her mother, her gram, and the break-up of the family property.  She has her own life, a dog, her shop, and some painful questions that receive partial answers.


sapphoq reviews says:  Beth Hoffman has written an outstanding novel again.  Looking for Me is rich in imagery and emotional tone.  Fans of decent chick lit will love Looking for Me as I did even though Teddi hadn't yet adopted a cat or two by the end of the book.  Highly recommended.




Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Transfer by Veronica Roth




The Transfer: A Divergent Story, Veronica Roth.  New York:  Katherine Tegen Books/ HarperCollins, 2013.  e-book, 35 pps.

@VeronicaRoth on Twitter
http://veronicarothbooks.blogspot.com/ 

Fans of Veronica Roth [like me] who have read Divergent and Insurgent [like me] and who are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Allegiant [like me] in October will be thrilled to learn that one of the short stories about Toby Eaton a.k.a. Four arrived on September 3rd [as I was] if they don't already know it and haven't already read it.

Those of you who haven't-- if you are reading the series-- really ought to download The Transfer and sign up for the next three shorts after this one.  I won't say too much here.  Just that The Transfer is a bit of the back story about Four, how he got his nic and a bit of his childhood memories.  His dad coached him on how to answer the test questions but Toby didn't exactly obey.  Nuff said.

sapphoq reviews says:  If you haven't gotten The Transfer yet, you should.  If you haven't read Veronica Roth's first two books of the series yet, you should.  Especially if you like tight writing with action, rebellious teens, and an interesting but shadowy sort of dystopia.  Highly recommended, as is anything that Veronica Roth writes.  Yes, I'm a diehard fan.  I appreciate excellence in the written word.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine




Mockingbird, Kathryn Erskine.  New York: Philomel Books/ Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2010.  e-book, 129 pps.


Caitlin is a fifth grader with diagnosed Asperger's Syndrome.  Her older brother Devon was a great kid who often took the time to explain things to her.  But Devon died suddenly.  Both Caitlin and her dad are drifting and lost.

Caitlin likes to look up words in her dictionary.  She finds the word "closure" and begins hunting for how to do that.  Along the way, she makes a friend.

sapphoq reviews says:  Kathryn Erskine did a fine job portraying the rich inner life of an Aspie girl.  The dialogue [in italics] flows nicely.  The characters are rich and three-dimensional.  Mockingbird was a easy book to love.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lamb by Christopher Moore




Lamb:  The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, Christopher Moore.  New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.
e-book, 420 pps.

Christopher Moore on Twitter is @TheAuthorGuy.  His official website is found at: http://www.chrismoore.com/ .


I picked up Lamb, knowing only that it was a humorous take on the life of Christ.  I was wrong.  Christopher Moore penned a hysterical take on Jesus, his best friend Biff [a.k.a. Levi], the girl they both wanted, disciples and apostles, the missing years, and everything. 

Jesus was sort of an innocent in this book.  His too-honest ways got him into trouble more often than not.  Biff was there to drag him out of tight spots during their childhoods and afterwards.  Of women and fornication, Jesus was curious.  Biff had to satisfy this curiosity by-- well, by hiring sex workers of the feminine persuasion-- engaging in this particular sin within earshot of the Christ.

The two traveled about looking for the three wise men that were present after the birth of Jesus in the stable.  What they found was far more mysterious and entertaining.  There is a yeti-- charming and charmed by the presence of Jesus at the same time.  There are gentle pokes at the Buddha Nature as the two trekked all over the known world so Jesus could learn how to be the Messiah.  We know from the official gospels that it ends badly for Jesus.  The crucifixion was present in Lamb also, with a twist.

sapphoq reviews says:  I adored Lamb:  The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal.  Christopher Moore's masterpiece left me catching my breath from laughing too hard and snorting my tea out of my nostrils.  An excellent read, not to be missed.  Highly recommended. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Tough Love by Lillian Speerbrecker




Tough Love:  Truth Behind The Troubled Teen Industry, Lillian Speerbrecker.  Munich: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG, 2013.  e-book, 38 pps.
website:  http://safeteenschools.org/home.html 
twitter:    @SafeTeenSchools


Lillian Speerbrecker was a teen living in Michigan with her father and her step-mother.  She was taken by two hired "escorts" from her home to a WWASPS facility in Mexico known as Casa by the Sea at the end of May in 2004.  After that facility was shut down by the Mexican authorities, she was then taken to Midwest Academy [MWA] in Iowa.  The author was one of the "lucky" ones.  On February 11, 2005 she got expelled [!] and her dad took her back home to Michigan.  Unfortunately, her father to date of publication had never come to terms with the abuse that she suffered at the hands of the WWASPS program staff.

sapphoqreviews saysYet another book by a survivor of the culture of abuse at WWASPS.  Tough Love confirms-- once again-- that during "group therapy" sessions and/ or seminars-- teen girls who had been raped before arrival at a program were called sluts and shamed because of their rapes.  Another item that the book confirms is the overuse of isolation rooms for days on end with those punished being made to sit in certain positions all day except for meals.  It was also mentioned that a staffer at MWA had actually been a detainee at Tranquility Bay but had bought into the ideology so well that she was given a job in Iowa.

I was ecstatic to discover that Lillian Speerbrecker has created an organization called Safe Teen Schools which can be found at: http://safeteenschools.org/home.html  and on Twitter at: @SafeTeenSchools.

I have said this before and I will say it again:  I believe the survivors who have reported horrific conditions and abuse.  Period.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper





Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper.  New York:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Simon & Schuster, 2010.  e-book, 189 pps.


Melody Brooks is a wheelchair user with C.P.  She also has a bit of synesthesia.  Because her limbs are severely involved, she is unable to talk or move much of her own volition.  The disabled kids are all stuck into one classroom.  The teachers have various levels of skills and dedication.

Inclusive classrooms begin to happen-- first with music, then with language arts and history.  Melody gets her own mobility aide who is a college student.  Together they find a way for her to communicate.  The world opens up in a way.  The normie kids and the normie teachers are amazed at Melody's intelligence.

Something happens towards the end that shows that it's easy to be a friend to someone who is different or odd until the troops make fun.  Then suddenly the friend falls by the wayside.  Melody is left with her family and next-door neighbor and an inner strength which shines through.

sapphoq reviews says:  The author has a daughter who also has C.P. and uses a wheelchair.  Out of My Mind is an excellent book.  Highly recommended for grades five through eight.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hour of the Rat by Lisa Brackmann




Hour of the Rat, Lisa Brackmann.  New York:  Soho Press, Inc., 2013.  e-book, 313 pps.

In this second book of a series, Lisa Brackmann continues the story of Ellie McEnroe.  She is still living in Beijing.  Her mother is visiting.  Mom is a Christian who attends a church back home.  While visiting her daughter, Mom falls for Ellie's creepy neighbor hard.  Ellie is not happy with her mother's propensity for all things of a Christian nature.  She is extremely unhappy with her mother's choice of lousy men.

Her war buddy Doug a.k.a. Dog, Turner calls and wants to know where his brother is.  The brother Jason is missing in China somewhere.  Not taking his bipolar meds.

Ellie gets a visit by the Domestic Security Department.  They are not happy that her artist friend Zhang Jianli is still underground somewhere.  She is not happy to have been dragged off to some stark business hotel to have tea and a talk with these two guys.

The computer game is in Hour of the Rat also but it does not figure as prominently.  There is travel too, and action.  And a dog.

Monsanto is in this novel.  Or a company with a Chinese name that sounds very much like it operates in the same way that Monsanto wants to.  Sell seeds to farmers that will not die when farmers use the company pesticides and herbicides [but all other plants and weeds will].  The genetic engineering of the seeds is part of tweaking the proper response to the company pesticides and herbicides.  Prohibit farmers and gardeners from harvesting the vegetables for seeds.  If you want them, you have to buy the seeds or seedlings all over again next year.  Big profits for the company.  Business is business.  In the novel, just as in real life, the company is a villain.  GMOs are bad, m'kay?

sapphoqreviews says:  Lisa Brackmann has proven herself to be a great writer of intricacies with this third novel.  I like her books.  Her characters come off as real.  The sense of place in Hour of the Rat catapulted me into destinations I'd never been to [yet?].  Thoroughly enjoyable.  If you aren't reading Lisa Brackmann's thrillers, you really ought to be.  Highly recommended. 

Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackmann




Rock Paper Tiger, Lisa Brackmann.  New York:  Soho Press, Inc., 2010.  e-book, 274 pps.

The first in a series, Lisa Brackmann introduces Ellie McEnroe, divorcee and Iraqi war vet who is living in Beijing.  She has a Chinese name-- Yili-- and a passel of Chinese artsy friends.  The ex-husband Trey Cooper is no prize.  He went native in a big way.  End of marriage.

Ellie also has memories.  These are the sort of memories of the war in a hot and sandy hellpit and some of the things that some of the American service people did to some of their prisoners.  Not nice things.  The sort of memories that give one a bout with P.T.S.D. which used to be called combat fatigue many years ago.  Ellie had gotten a Purple Heart.  Even that medal could not take away the pain.

Lucy Wu is a big time art dealer who keeps attempting to contact Ellie.  An artist friend of Ellie has been forced underground and has given her permission to show and/or sell some of his paintings.  These are not ordinary times.  The ordinary things do not happen.  There is a game involved, a sort of virtual world.  The characters talk to each other and Ellie is helped out when she herself has to go on the run.

sapphoq reviews says:  The virtual world in Rock Paper Tiger is not driven by materialism or capitalism.  It is instead driven by art.  Lisa Brackmann's first book was excellent and so I immediately read the other two books [also reviewed here].  I hope she keeps on writing and publishing.  Highly recommended.


Getaway by Lisa Brackmann





Getaway, Lisa Brackmann.  New York:  Soho Books, Inc., 2012.  e-book 259 pps.

Michelle is the American woman on vacation in Puerto Vallarta.  It was a vacation that she and her now dead Tom had signed up for.  She went alone.  Unexpected things have a way of happening to charming widows.  A hottie named Daniel a.k.a. Danny.  His abrupt and threatening buddy by the name of Gary.  A mugging.  There is a mysterious voice on the phone identifying himself as Ted Banks.   Some ex-pats.  Drug running.  Too much talk about clothing.  A lot of alcohol.  Some parties.  The vacation lasted longer than it should have.

sapphoq reviews says:  Lisa Brackmann did a fine job on Getaway.  The characters are very different than those in her other two books and so is the setting. I found myself hating Michelle for being so dependent upon men, rooting for Gary to die, and really warming up to Charlie.  Getaway is intriguing and kept me guessing until the very end.  Highly recommended.

Atypical by Jesse A.Saperstein




Atypical: Life with Asperger's in 20 1/3 Chapters, Jesse A.Saperstein.  New York: Perigee Book/ Penguin Group Inc., 2010.  e-book, 186 pps.

A gambling casino dedicated to Aspergians.  How to scare off the door-knockers and telemarketers.  Reading a Chanukah poem to a congregation with permission of the rabbi.  The poem is modeled after "T'was the Night Before Christmas."  Christmas cards to strangers, DVDs, and Halloween.

Jesse A. Saperstein was a misunderstood child who grew up.  The class clown went to college, hiked the Appalachian Trail, had a job at IBM, was a substitute teacher for awhile, and then happily got a job at a mortuary. 

sapphoq reviews says:  Jesse A. Saperstein has created a laugh-out-loud book.  Atypical is an excellent read for adults who have Asperger's Syndrome or who are suspected Aspies as well as for people who enjoy belly laughs.  I loved this book.  Highly recommended. 

P.S.  I found myself quite jealous of the author's Uncle Justin.  I could have used one of them myself.  I still can.  Uncle Justin, if you are still out there, I'm interested in becoming an adopted family member.  kthxbai.

Asperger's from the Inside Out by Michael John Carley




Asperger's from the Inside Out:  A Supportive and Practical Guide for Anyone with Asperger's Syndrome, Michael John Carley.  New York: Perigee/ Penguin Books, 2008.  e-book, 201 pps.


Asperger's from the Inside Out is written by the executive director of an organization called GRASP.  The letters stand for (The) Global (and) Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership and the website can be found here at: http://grasp.org/ .  There are many resources on the GRASP site, including but not limited to an informal discussion group on-line that meets twice a week.  Michael John Carley founded GRASP and the work done there is to be admired. 

In his book, Michael John Carley takes on identifying the symptoms of Asperger's, the diagnostic process, passions, and the possibility of happiness.  He also offers a toolbox of tips for use in order to navigate through a world that is often harsh in stimuli.  He is careful to point out that disclosure is always or should always be up to the individual with Asperger's.

sapphoqreviews says:  Yes, Michael John Carley was an unsuccessful playwright.  Yes, he works as an advocate for those with Asperger's.  He does not deserve to be criticized for his life choices, as at least one reviewer chose to do.  He was diagnosed with Asperger's as an adult after his young son was diagnosed with Asperger's.
The positives: In Asperger's from the Inside Out, Michael John Carley works tirelessly promoting the idea that a brain which works differently from the average brain is not necessarily an abnormal brain.  He insists that Asperger's is a syndrome or a condition, not a disorder.  The author also talked about his difficulty or unwillingness to "prove" his math work.  [I too had that same glitch.  I figured if I could look at a geometry problem and get the answer, I shouldn't have to write down the steps in the bulky "proofs."  As long as I knew the name of the particular proof, I figured that plus the correct answer ought to have been enough.  In algebra I fared better because the balancing of equations was something that I liked to do.  In regular math, there were times when I could determine the answer but not know how I got there.  So yeah, I related to that].  Michael John Carley took a strong stance against the curebies.  He also stated and restated his belief in the sovereign status of each Aspie to make his or her own decisions. 
The negative:  There was only one negative.  And it is mild.  Perhaps a preference in vocabulary.  I dislike the term "spectrumites." 
The recommendation:  Adults who are on the spectrum will especially find Asperger's from the Inside Out to be a valuable addition to their collection of aspie-related literature.  Others who are not bound up in Autism Squeaks or how "awfully hard it is to be the parent of an autie/ aspie" will also like this book.  Get it. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Journey into a Cult by Kathleen Y. Rattigan




Journey into a Cult: Mystical Awakenings, Kathleen Y. Rattigan.  Bloomington, IN: Balboa Press/ Hay House, 2012.  e-book, 92 pps.


It started with a dream.  A dream and a feeling of leaving one's body and zooming around space.  And some sort of ghostie talking in the dream.  Then there was a seminar.  The author was invited to a seven day seminar given by a man named Jon.  She and her neighbor went.  Towards the end there was a graduation and some special privileges involving sexual appetite.  And a power animal.  The author's power animal was a female alpha wolf.  Jon's was a male alpha wolf.  Much was made of this.  The author left her husband.  Moved out.

Jon for his part got a place in Vancouver to hold seminars and teachings and channeling sessions in.  The author was part of that.  She was popular among the clientele.  This might have been a problem for Jon.

Then Jon began channeling.  He allowed "an entity" to take over his speaking apparatus.  He claimed he did not remember later.  [I had heard a similar claim years ago from a "psychic" whose "entity" that channeled through her was particularly vicious].  Jon's personality began to fuse with the entity, claimed the author.  Jon became not nice.  The followers became a group that was coercived into doing what Jon a.k.a. the entity said.  They held the author captive even after she indicated that she wanted to leave.  Jon finally agreed to drive her back.

The author used pseudonyms for some or many of the people in her memoir.  She said she got away.  I'm not sure that she really had.

sapphoq reviews says:  Although no longer a part of Jon's unnamed [in the book unnamed] group, I remain unconvinced that the author is truly free from the sphere of influence of the belief system of that group.  Journey into a Cult: Mystical Awakenings perceives itself as very happening new age but free from the channeled bad entity.  Perhaps.  But the book annoyed me.  I don't like New Age type stuff with or without the channeling and out of body stuff and sweet angels watching over all of us.  Absolutely not recommended.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

eCult by Betty J.R. Chavez




eCult: A Sister's Memoir, Betty J.R. Chavez.  New York: Writer's Showcase, 2001.  e-book, 378 pps.

Betty J.R. Chavez grew up in a family of six children.  She is a mainstream fundamentalist Christian and continues to support family values.  In 1998, one of her siblings-- Jan, along with Jan's husband Jim disappeared-- along with the rest of the Concerned Christians who were living in Denver, Colorado.  The Concerned Christians group was defined by Betty as a cult because its' leader Kim Miller advocated that the members [fifty to eighty all told, the exact number is unclear] dump their families and just stick with him and other members. 

eCult purports that the members of the Concerned Christians were also controlled by e-mail.  Betty J.R. Chavez corresponded with her sister by e-mail.  She endeavored to point out to her sister the erroneous interpretations of scripture that Kim Miller was espousing.  Sometimes it was her sister who wrote back. Other times it was Kim Miller or other members of the church who wrote back.  The author could tell when it wasn't her sister by the wording of the e-mails.  The e-mail exchanges resulted in no changes.  Jan and Jim remained in Concerned Christians.  Their exact whereabouts were unknown at the end of the book. 

This article here: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/22679/concerned-christians-kim-miller written in 2008 states that the members of Concerned Christians are probably overseas.  A web search reveals several websites operated by Kim Miller and his group are still up.

sapphoq reviews says:  As I read eCult, I could feel the heartbreak that Betty J.R. Chavez and the rest of her family has gone through because of Concerned Christians.  The leader, Monte Kim Miller, claims to have a direct pipeline to the Almighty and that his God speaks directly through him.  In spite of the serious illness of another sister, Jan and Jim stayed away.  Although some of the dialogue was stilted in the direction of overly-explanatory expositions, eCult is a book that will stay with me for a long time.  Having witnessed the effects of a coercive group on those in it and those left behind up close, I have much sympathy for the plight of all involved in eCult.  Readers who are not able to deal with biblical arguments for whatever personal reasons ought to give this one a miss.  Recommended to those who are interested in studies of destructive groups. 

N.B.  The group Concerned Christians started by Monte Kim Miller is not affiliated with a group from Mesa, Arizona which helps ex-Mormons.

Monday, September 16, 2013

God's Gonna Cut You Down by Eduard Joseph




God's Gonna Cut You Down, Eduard Joseph. self-published: 2013.  e-book, 73 pages.  twitter: @TheEduardJoseph


If you haven't discovered Eduard Joseph yet, you really ought to do so.  God's Gonna Cut You Down is a fine showcase of a novella, demonstrating both the writing talent and the imagination of the author.  The novella is the stuff of clownish nightmares.

The main character is a guy in a clown mask.  It quickly becomes apparent that he is a disgruntled ex-employee with a boring life.  Work had been the bright spot of his bane existence and now that was gone.  Saved by a vision in a dream, he reaches for a clown mask.

We all wear masks, it has been said, and often we have several of them laying around to be exchanged at will.  Our masks protect us [usually] from revealing too much to the general public.  We guard our masks, knowing that without them we would become as vulnerable as a deformed baby left on a frigid mountaintop to die.  There is almost an instinct that informs [most of] us that we ought not to tell the racy joke that earned us the laughter of a few friends to the staff during a meeting or to a prudish granny among our relatives.  Our inhibitions change according to our circumstances.

Once in awhile, an individual loses control of the process of selection and the masks in the collection take on a life and savage beauty of their own with often tragic results.  God's Gonna Cut You Down is an example of what happens when a mask becomes all-powerful.

sapphoq reviews:  Eduard Joseph has written an excellent novella.  I loved the description of the characters, the building crescendos to each action, the dialogues interspersed to illustrate something about each character which also served to move the story along.   God's Gonna Cut You Down is both chilling and delicious.  Highly recommended.  

Exploding the Phone by Phil Lapsley




Exploding the Phone:  The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell, Phil Lapsley.  New York: Grove Press, 2013.  e-book, 425 pps.


Exploding the Phone covers a period of time from the late 60s through the 70s.  Although there were a few female phone phreaks, the book deals exclusively with adolescents and college phone phreaks who were male.  The book gives a very basic history of phone phreaking.  In the beginning were Cap'n Crunch whistles and boxes of various colors.  It was easier to get caught then.  And some phreakers did indeed get caught.  Exploding the Phone talks about having to hand-dial various exchanges [the first three numbers of a seven digit phone number] and then playing with the last four numbers until "something" happened.  The phreaks stayed alert for a series of clicks on the line or other unexpected things.  There was dumpster diving going on back then-- raiding the dumpsters behind local phone companies for service manuals and handbooks.  There was also bits of social engineering, although the term wasn't much used.

As the telephone system progressed and became more automated, hacking into the system became easier.  The black box, blue box, red box were consigned to the pile of relics of the past in the backs of closets and on crowded workbenches.  2600 Hz could be generated with a Cap'n Crunch whistle which one could obtain from the cereal boxes, and later on people had those whistles for sale.  One phreak had perfect pitch and could whistle all of the tones needed on demand.  Others had to find ways to generate the proper tones in order to get the automated system to do what they wanted it to do.  In the early days of ARPAnet, the phone phreaks had their own BBC boards to trade ideas and knowledge on.  As computers became more commonplace, phone phreaks found ways to use them to find useful exchanges.  Exploding the Phone touches only briefly on WATS lines at the end.

sapphoq reviews says:  Phil Lapsley has written a fine trip down memory lane for older hackers-- some of whom may have gotten their start fiddling around on the telephone wires-- and a good basic history book for younger hackers.  The phone phreaks predated today's hackers.  They also paid for their curiosity with time in the criminal justice system, fines, and a criminal record; just as hackers today do.  Although the book did not admit to the existence of any specific female phreaks, there were a few active females on the scene back then.  The best thing about Exploding the Phone is that there was no preachiness ["phreaking is bad, m'kay...] associated with the recounting of court dates and arrests.  I would have liked details about Centrex phreaking to be included as well as the tie-in with Arpanet, the BBC boards, and electronics flea markets.  I did enjoy this book immensely.  Techies and geeks will probably enjoy this book too.  Absolutely highly recommended.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Freeways to Flip-Flops by Sonia Marsh




Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family's Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island, Sonia Marsh.  Lake Forest, CA: Gutsy Publications, 2012.  e-book, 292 pps.


The Marsh family were living a ritzy life in Orange County, California.  The monetary demands required to keep in pace with consumerism were having an adverse effect on Sonia's husband Duke.  Their oldest boy of three was beginning to get into trouble.  The middle son was very much into "buy, buy, buy."  The youngest was quiet but well-behaved so far.  Sonia and Duke decided to sell their home and move the family to one of the islands in Belize.  They did.

Island living was difficult to get used to.  There were rashes and insect bites, geckos crawling up the walls, shortages of water, and a problem with the educational system beyond elementary school.  The family settled into a compound with three other families of ex-pats and a caretaker family.  Consequently, they did not entirely "go native."  The oldest son straightened up his behavior but the youngest hated living in Belize.  The savings account balance was going down and there was also a problem with getting adequate income to come in.

sapphoq reviews says:  Among some ex-pat circles, Belize is often suggested as "the perfect place" for those who wish out of the United States.  Perhaps not.  Or perhaps the results are better when people strive for assimilation into the neighborhood and the culture rather than staying within a clique of ex-pats.  At any rate, the book was a bit draggy in parts but I stuck with it.  I would have liked to know exactly what kind of geckos were crawling up the walls of their first Belize home.  Kudos to Sonia and Duke for deciding to move rather than dumping their eldest son at WWASPS or a similar agency with a history of abuse.  Freeways to Flip-Flops was not the best ex-pat read but not the worst either.  Recommended to people with kids who are looking to split the U.S.A.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

5150: One Who Flew Into the Cuckoo's Nest by Kathi Stringer





5150:  One Who Flew Into the Cuckoo's Nest, Kathi Stringer.  self-published: Lulu.com, 2011 and 2007.  e-book, 416 pps.

I have been aware of Kathi Stringer and her contributions to mental health via her essays for several years.  Her website can be found at: http://www.toddlertime.com.  The content of her website has changed somewhat throughout the years.  In its' present form, it contains some very well-written essays, some information about trainings that she has conducted, and stuff about her book 5150.  So I decided to get the book.  It was not all that I expected.  It was far more.

It is an act of bravery when any person who has received one or more mental health diagnoses freely talks about their symptoms.  We live in a society which retains some xenophobic leftovers from the days when tribal unity was all-important to survival.  Some of diagnoses have become especially problematic to the individuals bearing the labels.  Giving a survivor of horrific childhood abuse a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder [whether the symptoms fit or otherwise] often heralds that survivor as having a reputation for being an uncooperative, argumentative, spiteful patient.  The diagnosis Multiple Personality Disorder has been recently changed to the lesser known Dissociative Identity Disorder.  Folks used to refer to people with MPD as "Sybils."  The new name hasn't been largely associated with the movie or the book yet.

Kathi Stringer is a trans-folk who has been through quite a lot.  She survived an abusive childhood only to have her abuse replicated at the California psychiatric facility where she had to go in order to be stabilized on medication.  There was a doctor there who came off as being quite the bad guy.  His reported encounters with Kathi Stringer can only be described as controlling and condescending.  The institution certainly made some mistakes.  I think the worst mistake was the "red tape" which forced Kathi to ask permission for basic things such as going to the bathroom or getting a drink of water.  The raid and seizing of her personal possessions is something that would have sent me into a fury.

There is an essay in the back of the book which Kathi Stringer wrote and which should be read first by any reader unfamiliar with infantilism.  Kathi Stringer does have that.  She refers to "Little Kathi" throughout the book.  Although she wanted to be diagnosed as having some form of DID in the book, Little Kathi did not come across to me as a true alter.  Folks who have survived childhood trauma do become multiples but not all do.  Some percentage of the ones who remain singletons have primitive unmet childhood needs and may prefer to think of their expression of those needs as other-- a part of the personality that is somehow contained within yet separate from themselves.  The arrival of a self-induced personality fragment may be thought up in adolescence or early adulthood.  Although I don't believe that Kathi Stringer in 5150 evidences true multiplicity, I am certainly willing to accept the necessity of what I remember from basic psych classes  what was referred to as  "regression in service to the ego."  And I can certainly understand why staff rejection of Kathi Stringer's need to feel and act little via little Kathi would result in her feeling that staff has also rejected Kathi Stringer the adult.  The clinical picture was complicated by her probably medical need to wear diapers.  [My speculation is that perhaps something went wrong surgically during one of the sex-change operations when the genital-urinary system was reconstructed but I don't really know]. 

Bruno Bettelheim was one of the remaining champions of the idea of allowing the patient [or specifically children at the residential school he founded and was director of] to regress via the use of baby bottles at will.  Kathi Stringer wrote a letter to him and was privileged to have received a response which basically said that her using a bottle, blanket, and stuffed animal at times comforted her, did not hurt anyone, but that she should not make her need for transitional objects known.  I found the idea that he had written back to her to be very believable.  Naturally, the court and court players did not.

Kathi Stringer in the book did have a view of what would constitute the mental health treatment she needed-- hospitalization on a unit where she would be given free rein to be little Kathi and to have nurturing parental responses from all staff.  She had not come to the conclusion at the time of the writing of 5150 that this was an unrealistic expectation and that her childhood lack of nurturing was something that she would have to learn to address in a different way.  In spite of the popular axiom, you cannot have a happy second childhood.  Adults who have survived neglect and/or abuse have to learn how to nurture themselves in whatever form that takes while also keeping the adult intact.  Not knowing this, Kathi allowed herself to roam the streets of her city in a regressed state which directly resulted in contact with police and at least one psych hospitalization.

The evil shrink/ Medical Director had decided that Kathy Stringer had Schizo-Affective Disorder rather than Major Depression.  His stance was that she would not receive any psychological treatment while in-patient until she had agreed to take an anti-psychotic rather than the anti-depressant that she had stabilized on in the past.  He used the idea of little Kathi to justify her "need" to have a court-appointed guardian who-- as an employee of the State Mental Health Office-- would sign off on the use of the anti-psychotic even if Kathi Stringer refused it for good reason.  Unfortunately, she was forced to take the anti-psychotic and landed in restraints and/or in isolation for refusing to do exactly as the staff ordered her to do.  Specifically, the evil shrink referred to little Kathi as being part of an intermittent psychosis.  As a layperson with no special skills or qualifications and having never met Kathi Stringer, I totally disagree with this interpretation of her status.  Little Kathi is a construct in my view, and certainly not a psychotic construct.

Kathi Stringer had many severe personal losses which resulted in a high number of psych hospitalizations within eighteen months.  This was also used against her in court.  I did not think much of the legal approach of the professionals-- some of whom were endeavoring to protect Kathi Stringer from herself and a few who perhaps were a bit more sinister in their motivations.  I also did not think much of the conduct of some of the staff people on the mental health unit where she was housed.  Nurses who hide behind a desk gossiping rather than attending to patients on the floor is not a sight that is limited to mental health.  It happens.  It ought not to.  Even patients who are hearing-impaired usually have some speech-reading ability.  Staff people somehow think that all patients are not able to hear the gossip and laughter.  But patients can and do hear it.  In a situation where patients are being stabilized on psych drugs and may already be especially vulnerable, this gathering of the forces behind a desk or in an office within view of the patients ought not to happen.  Giving report is one thing.  Staff gathering around to "talk" is quite another.  No patient should have to wait for a mini-break to conclude in order to get their needs attended to.  Period.

Kathi Stringer went on to have most excellent successes after the period in her life described in 5150 which was unsettling and marked by frequent psych hospitalizations.  In fact, she is an advocate today for patient rights.  She served on a committee to reduce the use of restraints.  She also was invited to conduct an in-service for mental health professionals which she excelled at.  Kathi Stringer has written some excellent essays dealing with object constancy, countertransference, and borderline personality disorder.  I was happy that 5150 included the personal growth that Kathi Stringer experienced after the hospitalizations.

sapphoq reviews says:  I came away with an increased respect for Kathi Stringer through the reading of 5150.  This book illustrated some alarming flaws in the mental health system in Kathi Stringer's community.  5150 stands as a testimonial to the strength of a woman who has survived and is now thriving.  Highly recommended to professionals who work directly with people in in-patient and in out-patient mental health settings, as well as to consumers and ex-patients.

Secrets of Alcoholics Anonymous Everyone Should Know by Elaine and Dallas





Secrets of Alcoholics Anonymous Everyone Should Know, Elaine and Dallas. ?Eugene, Oregon: Palace Guard Publishing, 2012.  e-book, 50 pps.


The two authors are members of Alcoholics Anonymous and they are for A.A. in spite of the title.  Secrets of Alcoholics Anonymous Everyone Should Know  is a very short e-book which covers whacked sponsors, people on the take [for sex a.k.a. rehab romances or 13-stepping the newcomers], professional criminals and users, and bits of unsavory truth concerning Bill W.

The bits of unsavory truth about Bill W. are not unsavory enough.  The authors leave out the fact that Bill had at least one long term affair [Look up The Orange Papers in your search engine], that he was highly co-dependent [read the chapter to the wives in the Big Book which basically says "Leave the newly recovering alcoholic alone and let him do exactly what he wants to.  Don't stress him out with reality..."], and that he became a sort of mystic [as many folks who claim any sort of special knowledge and/or personal experience with a divinity are].

The stories about rehab romances or early recovery romances, wicked sponsors, and professional criminals are well-told even if a bit dry for digestion.  There is no indication of what percentage of A.A. members fall into the category of "not having your best interest at heart" and consequently I had the distinct impression that the unsavory types described were more widespread than they actually might be.  The authors are quick to say that in spite of their cautionary tale, Alcoholics Anonymous has helped many people achieve sobriety and a life free from the bondage to addiction to alcohol.

sapphoq reviews says:  Secrets of Alcoholics Anonymous Everyone Should Know may be short but useful reading for anyone in early recovery who doesn't know the basic rules about safety, is prone to idealizing people in general, or is na├»ve.  [N.B.: Or, it may not be so useful].  I am not convinced that "everyone should know" these "secrets."  Certainly, folks who have no reason to attend 12 step meetings can be excluded from the expected or desired readership.  The writing is a bit dull.  Although vulnerable newcomers would do well to heed the advice concerning dating, sex, slime, and sick sponsors, this advice can be neatly summed up by two words:  Pay attention.  Most people will tell you who they are if you allow them to talk long enough.  New folks who either don't know or may have forgotten basic safety rules when dealing with others that they do not know well aren't going to necessarily be helped by Secrets of Alcoholics Anonymous Everyone Should KnowPeople in the early stages of recovery need concise information in an easy package.  Give this one a miss unless you feel compelled to read everything with the words "Alcoholics Anonymous" in it.

Undercover Cop by Mike Russell with Patrick W. Picciarelli



Undercover Cop:  How I Brought Down the Real-Life Sopranos, Mike Russell with Patrick W. Picciarelli.  New York: St. Martin's Press, 2013.  e-book, 237 pps.

     Mike Russell was working undercover with a rep as a rogue cop that had been fired.  He was working the streets of Newark looking for some action.  First he hooked up with a couple of young thugs from the Lucchese  Mafia family but that didn't go so well.  After that, he happened to meet Andy Gerardo who was one of the higher-ups of the Genovese family.

     Andy Gerardo believed Mike Russell's cover story-- that he was in the oil delivery business and also removed furnaces.  But nothing much happened for awhile until Russell hired himself out as a bodyguard for a crooked Jersey police chief.  His rep got around and he was in.

     After the plug was pulled on the undercover op, Russell went freelance so that way he could still work undercover which resulted in a bunch of arrests.

sapphoq reviews says:  I enjoyed Undercover Cop immensely.  It is an excellent addition to any library involving the Mafia.  Some of the last names in this book and the landmarks were familiar to me.  Undercover Cop has the smell of truth.  Mike Russell comes off as a tenacious individual who served the community well in taking some killers and extortionists off the street.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Prompt and Courteous Mail Order Prescription Company Service



     I understand.  We Americans have been foolishly squandering the monies of our health care insurance industry monies on things like medical treatments and prescription drugs for many years.  Along came the HMOs.  The HMOs were able to reign in some expenditures and turn a profit by denying people access to experimental treatments for exotic and sundry terminal diseases.  But it wasn't enough.  Then the mail order pharmacies entered the scene.  Shortly, ObummerCare will come on-line.

     I will focus tonight's review on mail order pharmacies.  The first one was called "CareMark."  Being a corporation of feelings, it was obvious that there was no caring for us their marks.  Business is business, as my dad used to say.  The days of personal contact with a pharmacist at the local drug store are rapidly drying up.  When CareMark didn't kick back enough profit to our medical insurance plan, the plan changed to Express Scripts.

     Express Scripts is a misnomer.  This mail-order factory has not been rapid.  To wit, my phone rang yesterday.  The flunkie employee on the other end had been elected to inform me that the filling of the script for one of my meds will be delayed because The Pharmacist [and apparently The Only Pharmacist] could not read the handwriting of the physician on the script which I dutifully sent in a month ago.  A month ago, in response to an e-mail reminder that the meds would be running out on September 9th.  Unfortunately, the physician in question is semi-retired and is only available via telephone one afternoon a week.  Equally unfortunately, my past experience with Express Scripts employees has demonstrated that they hang up on the physician's answering machine before that part of the message plays indicating this factoid.  I got a bit testy with the flunkie employee after I objected to this delay.  After all, this was a long-term med necessary to my life.  There was nothing to be done.  She was only delivering a message.  After I expressed my feelings on this [without cursing], she made a mistake.  She said, "I understand."  The second time she said, "I understand," I was done.  "No, you don't understand," I told her.  "You don't understand anything about my life.  I object to this delay.  What you people are doing with this is unacceptable to me."  I hung up before uttering the stream of curses which was rapidly tumbling from my brain to my mouth.

     It is for experiences like this one that I actually keep more than a two week supply of all of my medications on hand.  Because I cannot depend upon Express Scripts to deliver my meds in a timely fashion.

sapphoq reviews says:  I hate you, Express Scripts.  And yeah, customer service is dead and has been dead for awhile.  No love.