Nikki Reviews The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, PhD

“I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him.”

Harvard Psychologist Martha Stout spent years treating patients that suffered at the will of sociopaths. She then began studying the sociopaths themselves, culminating in this sort of “how-to” manual of spotting sociopathy in the world. That woman that cut you off on the way home, the boss that trampled his way to the top, that (ahem) elected official that seems to lack empathy; are they merely inconsiderate or are they sociopaths?

Four percent of humans (1 in 25) in this world are, in fact, sociopaths. They lack remorse and are incapable of forming emotional attachments to living (or non-living) things. We assume they are few, or rare. However Martha Stout has taught me that they are basically everywhere. Many assume that all sociopaths are cold-blooded killers, but that is also not the case. They are therapists, school principals, senators (presidents?), janitors, maintenance people, scientists, or any vocation you can think of. In order to better describe this, Stout gives us a handful of case studies, each being a culmination of many of her patients (and therefore can in no way be traced back to any individual in society). We meet “Doreen,” a psychologist who has zero qualifications or degrees but has charmed her way into many therapist positions caring for people that certainly deserve better. She loves manipulating people for sport while maintaining the reputation of being the nicest person her coworkers have ever met. There’s “Skip,” a high-powered businessman that maintains a presumably happy life with wife and children while sexually harassing women and climbing the corporate ladder with ease.

There are more, but that gives you a good idea of what to expect. Really, Stout describes the consistency found in sociopaths in all walks of life, giving some hints and tips on how to recognize their toxicity and how to avoid entanglements with them. Now this has the negative effect of me looking at everyone I’ve ever met with paranoia and distrust while trying to figure out how many sociopaths are currently living in a square mile of myself. But, it’s also very interesting to try and see the world from the eyes of someone with zero conscience (spoiler alert: look for charming, manipulative people that regularly want your pity).

The writing could get a bit repetitive at times (I believe she gave a definition of sociopath an approximate 800 times-slightly exaggerated), but it fit in well with my psychological interests and curiosities. I definitely found it pleasing enough to want to check out her other book, The Mask of Sanity.

You can download a sample or purchase The Sociopath Next Door by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Point of View: How to Use the Different Point of View Types, Avoid Head-Hopping, and Choose the Best Point of View for Your Book (Goodreads Review)

I found this book to be pretty easy to understand with very accessible language. As someone who works with authors to help them make their books better, I need to have a solid understanding of different types of POV, how to identify violations, and offer suggestions for fixing problems. This book is organized in a way that makes it a valuable resource for referencing later on.

If you’re an author, there are loads of exercises that can help develop skills, too.

I highly recommend all authors pick this up.

Cheri Reviews On Fear by Ellis Avery

I received an email at the end of August from author Ellis Avery asking if I’d be interested in reading and sharing my thoughts on her newest essay, On Fear. This is the second offering in The Family Tooth series. I had read the first essay, The Sapphire and the Tooth and was very moved by the author’s writing regarding events and emotions surrounding her mother’s death. I knew I would want to continue with the series so I jumped at the chance to check out book two.

Then life got in the way and the essay got buried in my email inbox. Well, my podcasting partner, Andy, and I are scheduled to talk with Ellis on Cocktail Hour tonight so I thought this would be the perfect time to bust it out. I plugged it into my text-to-speech reader and got down to business. Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

After three years on a drug called Humira, prescribed for a crippling autoimmune condition, Ellis Avery was diagnosed in 2012 with leiomyosarcoma, a rare uterine cancer, and given a 26% chance of five-year survival. When Avery learned that there was no evidence to show that the radiation and chemo she was offered would save her life, she turned down treatment. But even brave decisions can be terrifying: suddenly, Avery had to learn how to cope with constant fear – that she had made the wrong choice, that her doctors would call with bad news, that her time was limited. ON FEAR, the second essay in a series on Kindle Singles, tells the story of how Avery learned to live one moment at a time, from meditating to singing in the shower to befriending a black cat named Fumiko. While most readers will never face leiomyosarcoma, all of us sometimes face fear: Avery’s essay offers hard-won wisdom, tools, and hope. ON FEAR is the second in a series of essays on grief, illness, and food entitled THE FAMILY TOOTH.

Much like the first in the series, On Fear gets right down to the nitty-gritty. One of the things that I enjoyed the most about this author’s style is the way she lays it all out. At first glance, her writing seems very direct, without many emotions showing but they’re all right there, just under the surface. I could feel her fear and her need to try to control that fear. And like my experience with reading The Sapphire and the Tooth, I saw so much of myself in her words. I have a nice sized collection of fear videos and it felt good to know that I’m not the only one who isn’t quite sure how to make them stop and that I’m not alone in my inability to give love and encouragement to my inner-child.

I know that I’ll read her essays again and I’m certain that I’ll discover some nuances that I missed the first time through.

You can download a sample or purchase On Fear by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews The Sapphire and the Tooth by Ellis Avery

As you may imagine, I get a lot of submissions from authors and publishers hoping for a review. The vast majority of these submissions never see a post here for various reasons. Many times it’s because the stories just don’t grab us enough to keep going until the end and we’d much rather quit and move on to a book that we want to share with others.

I received a submission from author Ellis Avery a few days ago asking if I’d be interested in reading and reviewing her essay The Sapphire and the Tooth which is available now as a Kindle Single. I had previously reviewed her novel, The Last Nude, and enjoyed it very much so I was pretty certain I’d enjoy her new release.

I wrote her back this morning and said I’d do my best to get a review posted within the next few days and then opened the attached file to check the length of the essay. I read the first couple of lines and I was hooked. Less than an hour later, I’m writing this review.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

A jeweler with a law degree, for decades Elaine Solari Atwood fought crippling arthritis with hard liquor, until she died of a brain aneurysm at sixty-eight, leaving behind two daughters in their thirties and a lifetime’s worth of unfinished business. Forced as a child to play nanny to five siblings, she grew up to become a mother who loved her girls as tenderly as her stifled pain and anger allowed. In THE SAPPHIRE AND THE TOOTH, award-winning author Ellis Avery, by way of telling the story of selling her mother’s jewelry in New York’s Diamond District, offers a searing portrait of alcoholism and difficult love. The first in a series of essays on grief, illness, and food entitled “The Family Tooth”.

Avery’s voice is clear and honest. I was immediately engaged in every aspect of the essay: Her relationship with her mother – and her mother’s alcoholism, the way she experienced the grief of her mother’s death, and the family history. She gives us glimpses into her mother’s past as an explanation, not an excuse, for her mother’s behaviors. As a child of alcoholic parents, I was able to relate to so much of what Avery and her sister experienced. In particular, the way adult children of alcoholics often emotionally revert back to scared kids when faced with a drunken, enraged mom or dad.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this short work is the way the author blends the mundane with the emotional. There were scenes that nearly brought me to tears, one that gave me goosebumps, and one line that I highlighted and read no less than five times.

I definitely recommend The Sapphire and the Tooth and I’m looking forward to getting the rest of the series.

You can download a sample or purchase The Sapphire and the Tooth by clicking here.