REVIEW: Greenlights

I tend to have very specific tastes when it comes to nonfiction. If it’s not about neuroscience or true crime, I’m normally not overly interested. But every now and again a memoir comes up that I just know I need to get my hands on, and one of those memoirs was Matthew McConaughey’s book Greenlights.

Say what you will about his filmography, but I enjoy his movies and could honestly listen to the audio of those Lincoln commercials on loop forever. Knowing that Mr. McConaughey was going to be narrating his own memoir/autobiography/inspiration book thing, I immediately got it for the sake of listening to that soothing southern drawl of his.

The book in the audio format feels like a conversation with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile combined with an inspiration TEDtalk about believing in yourself, in the moment, in life. I really enjoyed learning more about Matthew McConaughey as a person outside of his films and the tabloid rumours about his eccentricities. His upbringing was one I wouldn’t have expected and he has done some truly incredible things that make me respect him on a more personal level. There’s just something in the way he writes/talks that feel so warm, welcoming, and familiar. The likelihood of my ever meeting Matther McConaughey is so slim it may as well be nonexistent, but this audiobook genuinely feels so informal and friendly I don’t really know what else to say.

I will admit that my attention did start to waver a bit towards the end of the audiobook, but for the vast majority of the experience, I was laughing and intrigued at the same time. The prescriptions and “bumper stickers” throughout the book are all very insightful and having been haunted by the feeling of being trapped in stagnation for so long, the little phrases and sayings and states of mind let me get away from that, even if only for a moment.

Obviously I would recommend this more for people who enjoy the works of Mr. McConaughey already, but if you’re in the mood for an audiobook that’s less that 8 hours and a Texan with the most soothing voice in the world, I would recommend it to you as well.

REVIEW: All Together Now

In April 2020 I was supposed to see Alan Doyle at Copps Coliseum (I guess people nowadays call it the 1st Ontario Center though) here in Hamilton, Ontario. The last time I saw him live was back in 2013 for a Great Big Sea anniversary tour, and while that night ended up horribly, the time I spent in the plush theatre seat singing The Night Pat Murphy Died at the top of my lungs while a drunk couple next to me did a jig in the aisle was one of the best concert experiences I’ve had.

I grew up on his music and on Great Big Sea.

And then the pandemic hit.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 2020 was a hard year for a lot of us. It was – and still is in 2021 – isolating and hopeless and just hard… So when I heard that Alan Doyle had a new book meant to be full of silly stories he’d tell at the pub I thought maybe that would cheer me up. Seeing it was called All Together Now: A Newfoundlander’s Light Tales for Heavy Times had me hitting “purchase” immediately.

Right off the bat, this book had me smirking and it wasn’t long before I was actively laughing while reading along with the audiobook narrated by Alan himself playing through my headphones. Not even a full story in and all I could think about what how aggressively and heartwarmingly Canadian this book is. I’ve never been the most patriotic of people but I do love my country and many of these shorts reminded me why. Right now our government is failing us and while there are more regular people that are also failing us than I’d like to count, a lot of what Alan wrote about reminded me of the good in Canada. The people that come together to help one another, the strangers who ask if you’re okay on the street or in a store, the people in a pub who chat over a pint or something stronger like they’ve known you for years.

I miss a lot of my friends. I miss my family. I want to be there for the people in my life who are not only struggling mentally to keep going but the handful who are at their physical limits, too.

These silly shorts by a goofy Canadian folk-rock star lifted my spirits when I was reading. It reminded me of the pleasant things in the world after so much of it is dark and sad.

Maybe one day I’ll get to see Alan Doyle in concert again and maybe I’ll be one of those lucky fans who meets him at the pub. If that ever comes around, I want to thank him for this book. It truly was light tales for heavy times and if you’re a Canadian like me who’s having a rough go of things, I highly recommend picking it up.

Cheers.

REVIEW: The Great Pretender

Having previously read Susannah Cahalan’s memoir, Brain on Fire, I was so excited to hear that she was writing a new book about the mental health system in America.

The Great Pretender is the unravelling of the paper written by David Rosenhan titled “On Being Sane in Insane Places” and examining how it was influenced by as well as influencing in regards to the treatment of people living with mental illness. It examined the case of people posing as patients to “infiltrate” the broken system and prove the point of misdiagnosis as well as the dismissal of those who receive those diagnoses. Winding through history and even looking at the development of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the modern method of Structured Clinical Interview for DSM (SCID) diagnosis.

Reading Cahalan’s previous book, I was familiar with her own experiences with misdiagnosis which I do feel was a key element in her ability to capture all of the elements of this narrative. My own experiences also gave me intense respect for those involved in the study and even for people that continue to speak out on behalf of those who are victims of the broken system that passes itself off as health care for the mentally ill.

I also found the final few chapters regarding fraudulent research and results in scientific papers to be fascinating. Tackling the disproven research from Freud all the way to the Standford Prison Experiment (which was a weird obsession I had in high school and will always find fascinating), it talked about not only creating fictitious results for the sake of being published but also how papers should really be taken with a grain of salt because not many of them age and achieve the same results when replicated.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in psychology, psychiatry, history, or even mental health in general. Whether it’s your major or you’re simply curious, Cahalan’s writing style is very accessible and attention-grabbing. Once again, Susannah Cahalan has knocked this one out of the park and I look forward to any and all future books she comes out with.

REVIEW: Brain on Fire

I don’t normally read biographies of any kind (with the incredibly rare exception of Carrie Fisher’s books), but I especially don’t ever read autobiographies about illness. Given my own various mental illness diagnoses, non-fiction books about illnesses tend to trigger a certain kind of anxious paranoia in me that I just can’t shake.

However, if you know anything about me, it’s that for a very long time the Hannibal films have been an obsession of mine, and for a shorter length of time, the television series as well. Through my enjoyment of the show, I have a curiosity about the real-life effects of encephalitis based on Will Graham’s experiences in Bryan Fuller’s adaptation. That curiosity placed this book on my TBR but never pushed me far enough to read it. With the release of the movie adaptation on Netflix (starring Chloe Grace Moretz), I figured it was time to dive in.

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan is a more detailed look at an article she wrote for the New York Post and gives a true idea of just how horrifying it can be to lose control of yourself without reason. Very quickly this book terrified me. The initial symptoms Susannah encounters are things that I, myself, and friends of mine as well, have dealt with as – as I mentioned before – I did find myself getting paranoid despite the rational part of my brain knowing full well that I did not have nor probably will ever develop encephalitis.

I won’t get into the details of the symptoms or even Susannah’s patch-work of what she endured while in the hospital, but I do want to talk about the structure and the writing.

Clearly, Susannah Cahalan is okay. Otherwise we wouldn’t have this book. Her writing style is tight and she doesn’t ramble to fill the page. Her narrative has been put together by the vague memories she has, anecdotes from those who were with her, and video footage from the hospital. Given the extensive medical terminology used, Cahalan never ones writes to look down on people. She gives explanations for everything while still not getting overly descriptive and therefore boring the story. You can feel the fear that comes out of early chapters, and the helpless yearning of those close to her in later ones. Even with every diagnosis or misdiagnosis, the hope that the suffering will be over radiates off the page, even more so when it is at last discovered what Cahalan is truly dealing with.

Those who have seen the Hannibal tv show may believe that they have a basic understanding of encephalitis – as I did myself. But the reality is far more terrifying than black outs and spatial neglect.

I learned a lot from this book and am truly pleased to have read it. As a narrative, it is compelling and suspenseful even with the lack of a “countdown” shall we say as is with cancer or other fatal illnesses. As a book about the connection between physical and mental illnesses, it was as fascinating as it was tragic given that, more often than not, patients with encephalitis of any kind can go undiagnosed.

Definitely worth the read.


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Author: Susannah Cahalan
Published: November 13, 2012
Pages: 266
Publisher: Simon & Shuster Paperbacks
ISBN: 9781451621389

Synopsis: When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Cahalan tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.

REVIEW: BRAVE

I’m going to start off this review by saying I have turned the comments off. Everything I am about to say regarding Rose Mcgowan’s book, BRAVE, is incredibly personal and given the immensely triggering content, consider this also a trigger warning for abuse (mental, physical, and sexual), eating disorders, self-harm, and general upsetting nastiness.

So here we go.

Continue reading “REVIEW: BRAVE”

REVIEW: The Manson Women & Me

I received a free copy of the e-book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


I finished this book a few days ago but it has taken me since then to really think about how to go about this review. It’s a bit of a sensitive topic, even now so just bear with me on this one. Also please note that while my review is free of triggers, links to various examples listed in this review may contain graphic and potentially triggering content. I would also warn that the book also contains unsettling content, so please be aware of the crime it is discussing before reading should that sort of thing be triggering to you.

Nikki Meredith’s book, The Manson Women & Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder is as much an autobiography on the author as it is a true-crime depiction of the very real lives of Pat Krenwinckle and Leslie Van Houten while they were with Charles Manson as well as their lives in prison. Woven into the lives of these young women is the life story of Nikki Meredith, herself, as she faces a different kind of struggle between her own morality and finding herself in her Jewish heritage. It a true crime book while also given great insight into the psychology behind wanting to be loved and the psychology that goes into ignorance and racism (from ethnicity to religion).

When I saw this book on NetGalley, I was excited. Even more so when I was approved for it. Since high school I have been somewhat “obsessed” – for lack of a better word – with the psychology of the Manson family and Charles Manson himself. Susan Atkins was the only of the women who I really knew about so the chance to learn more about the other women involved intrigued me. However, this book was not at all what I was expecting.

I’m going to take a moment here and make a statement: I am not condoning nor will I ever condone the actions of the Manson family, especially in regards to the Tate-LaBianca murders of 1969.

With that said, I was not expecting this novel to make me cry over Leslie and Pat. I was not expecting to feel their pain and grow physically sick at the though that these women are still in prison for a crime committed after months of manipulation when they were 19 and 23 respectively. The year is 2018 at the point and both of them are still behind bars.

Want to know who isn’t behind bars? OJ Simpson. Karla Homolka. The entirety of the Children of God cult (who openly bragged about years of child abuse, molestation, and full-out rape). Want to know who is allowed to go up for parole but isn’t even in the general population for fear he’ll be murdered? Canadian serial killer Paul Bernardo.

Through Nikki’s retellings of conversations she has had with these two very intelligent women over the course of over 20 years, she shows just how well the confused and brainwashed girls have grown into responsible adults (Leslie even has her Masters Degree and certifications in counselling). Leslie and Pat are in the general population of the prison and are fully functional in their everyday lives. There is no reason for either of them to still be condemned to rot behind bars for following orders they were brainwashed into believing were gospel.

To me their lives were no different then than any “normal” women to “in love” to see that she is being abused by a manipulative partner. It is truly heartbreaking.

Aside from that, I found the anecdotes of Nikki’s personal life to be humanizing in the way they connected to the lives of the women she has befriended. I found her pulls from other horrific crimes – from Abu Ghraib to the Moonie cult – to also be fascinating in determining how people react to different levels of crime. I have known who Charles Manson was for the majority of my life (as of this writing I am 23) but barely knew about Abu Ghraib or Jonestown in a real world context (everyone has seen parodies of the tortured prisoner photos or the phrase “Well so-and-so has drunk the Kool-Aid”). People are still furious about what happened to the Tate and LaBianca families, yet very few people even talk about the other aforementioned atrocities.

To cut myself off I will wrap up this review saying that this book is a very insightful and tastefully written profile on two women involved in one of the most famous crimes of the 20th century. Nikki Meredith is incredibly detailed in her research and her prose without being exploitative in any way or excusing the crimes of Leslie, Pat, Susan, Linda Tex, and Charlie. It is a modern day look at the crimes as written by someone with a clearly level head and as little bias as anyone who grew up in those days can have.

Nikki Meredith’s first complete book gets 5 / 5 stars for me.


Author: Nikki Meredith
Published:  March 27th 2018
Pages: 368
Publisher: Citadel Press
ISBN: 9780806538587

Synopsis: In the summer of 1969, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel carried out horrific acts of butchery on the orders of the charismatic cult leader Charles Manson. At their murder trial the following year, lead prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi described the two so-called Manson Women as “human monsters.” But to anyone who knew them growing up, they were bright, promising girls, seemingly incapable of such an unfathomable crime.

Award-winning journalist Nikki Meredith began visiting Van Houten and Krenwinkel in prison to discover how they had changed during their incarceration. The more Meredith got to know them, the more she was lured into a deeper dilemma: What compels “normal” people to do unspeakable things?

The author’s relationship with her subjects provides a chilling lens through which we gain insight into a particular kind of woman capable of a particular kind of brutality. Through their stories, Nikki Meredith takes readers on a dark journey into the very heart of evil.