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 The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Goodreads Review)

I just… I have no idea what to say about this book. Everyone and everything is just so… I want to say messed up but that doesn’t come close to enough. There were so many different things going on with the interconnected characters that I wasn’t sure who was more screwed up or mentally ill or abusive or misogynistic.

I have to say that I did enjoy (although I’m not sure that’s the right word for it) how the sisters’ characters were unfolded. I honestly never had any idea where this book was going from one chapter to the next. There haven’t been many books that have made me have visceral reactions the way parts of this book did. So there’s that. Noticing the various cultural differences was interesting too. It’s definitely not a book that can be understood as much while applying American mores.

Would I recommend it? Not a blanket recommendation, that’s for sure. But if you like reading very dark books about dysfunctional families and mental illness, it could be right up your alley. I’m not sorry that I read it but it was a difficult read nearly all the way through.

Cheri Reviews The Murderer’s Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

A quick review of the upcoming psychological thriller from Jonathan Kellerman, The Murderer’s Daughter, which is slated to be published on August 18th.

Bottom line: I liked it. Interesting story, interesting characters, flashbacks were many but mostly well done. Creepy and enjoyable.

You can pre-order (or after 8/18/15 you can purchase or download a sample of) The Murderer’s Daughter by clicking here.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl is Gillian Flynn’s third novel and I was damn excited when I saw it was coming out. As many of my friends know, I loved her second book, Dark Places and recommend it regularly.

Gone Girl is about the disappearance of Amy Dunne on her five year wedding anniversary to Nick Dunne. We learn very quickly on that Nick is a pretty shitty husband. And he doesn’t get any better as we find out more about him. Of course, we learn all sorts of things about Amy, too. I won’t give much away about the plot because you’ll figure out very quickly what happened to Amy. The pleasure in this book is the unraveling of who Amy really is and Nick’s journey is pretty interesting, too.

We recorded a Cocktail Hour podcast about this book and Andy, Colette Moody, and I all had differing feelings about the story and the characters. One thing we could all agree on is that there are no likable characters in this book. That’s not to say the characters weren’t well written or developed or that the author made any major missteps with the plot. They’re all mostly assholish, weak, or crazy. And I like that.

I don’t want to say much more because I don’t want to ruin anything for you. I enjoyed the book a lot. I got the audio book and, after talking with Andy and Colette, I’m happy that I did. I think the two narrators, one for Amy and one for Nick, did a fantastic job and it added to the emotional buildup and helped me to connect with the characters more. But audio books aren’t for everyone.

I also thought that the end went on much longer than needed and that took away from some of my enjoyment of the book. Flynn’s writing style is engaging and keeps the story moving along quickly and the third part of the book felt like it just took the story too far. For me, the exciting part had reached its height and what happened after that was interesting but by the time I got to the end, it felt anti-climactic. Chilling, to be sure, but I was pretty much done well before the writing was.

If you’ve read any of Flynn’s other work and enjoyed it, you’ll like this one. I still favor Dark Places over Gone Girl but I do love that she’s definitely got a sick and twisted mind.

Cassie Draws the Universe by P.S. Baber

From the blurb: “Cassie Draws the Universe is a complex and tragic tale of friendship and betrayal, living and dying, human cruelty, and the terrible price of vengeance.” 

From the first page, you know that Cassie Draws the Universe is a dark tale. It opens with a dead body. Who’s body? You don’t know. And you won’t until near the end of the book. On the second page, you are introduced to Cassie. And before you know really anything about Cassie, you know that this story is about “all the terrible things that happened to her, and the terrible things she did as a result.”

It is impossible to start reading this book and think that it will have a happy ending. If you are looking for happy fun times, do not read this book. As in any story that is written primarily as one giant flashback, you know where you’ll end up. But the interesting thing is the journey the protagonist takes to get to that ending.

Cassie is a teenager being raised by her hard-working mother, because her father died before she was born. The book is written from her perspective, and her perspective is unusual. She sees the world through a sort of magical filter. Her mother is too tall and big to fit through her door and has hands the size of tennis rackets. Is that likely? No. But Cassie’s mind is the lens through which she sees her world.

She keeps a journal that is full of stories and is a highly intelligent, extremely talented writer, but is also a self-imposed loner, and has no friends in school.  That is, until Amy moved into town. Amy is the daughter of the new English teacher Mr. Cole. And she is immediately drawn to the complex Cassie. They form a close relationship and Cassie begins to see Mr. Cole as a sort of father figure and mentor.

From here out, the story becomes emotionally difficult and heartbreaking. There are minor and major incidents that help form the plot, and therefore, your perception of Cassie. The story is dark, complex, engaging, and wonderfully written. It is also an impressive attempt at demonstrating what a psychotic break would be like, as experienced from inside the mind of that individual. As one would expect, this is not a light read. Even so, it was impossible for me to put down once I started it, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it after I finished.

I highly recommend this book and look for future contributions from this talented author.

Cassie Draws the Universe

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

I didn’t know how I was going to react about an incestuous love story, but I certainly didn’t expect myself to be pulling for the characters to get together in a nearly impossible situation. Suzuma takes a taboo subject and humanizes it, forcing you to see the fear and mental anguish that the characters feel while still being pulled together by their circumstances.

The plot centers around Lochan and his sister Maya, who is 13 months his junior. They have always felt more like best friends than brother and sister, and have been forced to become full-time caretakers to their 3 younger siblings after their father’s abandonment to his new family across the world, and their mother’s abandonment to alcohol and boyfriends. Lochan is troubled by severe panic attacks and crippling social anxiety, while being required to act as a father to his young (often quite rebellious) charges. The only person he feels he can be himself with is his sister, with whom he shares parental responsibility while constantly dodging the threat of their family being torn apart by Child Services. Feelings grow, and things get complicated.

The story is written in turns from both Maya and Lochan’s perspective, which really helped me to connect with both characters. Their lives are complicated at best, and heartbreaking at worst, and I found myself crying several times from the emotional roller coaster. Suzuma somehow captures an unbelievably complicated range of emotions for her main characters, and I honestly have no idea how she did it. Highly recommended.

Click the link to view more information about the book or to purchase: Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma