Review ~ Duped

This book was provided to me by Perseus Books via NetGalley for review consideration.

Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married

Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married by Abby Ellin

From the day Abby Ellin’s went on her first date with The Commander, she was caught up in a whirlwind. Within five months he’d proposed, and they’d moved in together. But there were red flags: strange stories of international espionage, involving Osama Bin Laden and the Pentagon. And soon his stories began to unravel until she discovered, far later than she’d have liked, that he was a complete and utter fraud.

When Ellin wrote about her experience in Psychology Today, the responses were unlike anything she’d experienced as a reporter. Legions of people wrote in with similar stories, of otherwise sharp-witted and self-aware people being taken in by ludicrous scams. Why was it so hard to spot these outlandish stories? Why were so many of the perpetrators male, and so many of the victims female? Was there something universal at play here?

In Duped, Abby Ellin plunges headlong into the world of double lives. Studying the art and science of lying, talking to women who’ve had their worlds turned upside down, and writing with great openness about her own mistakes, she lays the phenomenon bare. It is a strangely relatable trip to the fringe of our normal world. You’ll come away with a new appreciation for just how strange and improbable our everyday lives really are.

Why was I interested in this book?

A hobby subject for me is magic, and the basis of magic is deception. I’ll also cop to being fascinated by con men, especially someone like Frank Abagnale (of Catch Me If You Can fame), who seemed to be very proficient at having multiple lives. Granted, just like the mirrors, invisible threads and gaffers tape of magic tricks, con men are not at all glamorous. That still hasn’t satisfied my want for tales of people being duped.

What Did This Book Do Well?

Abby Ellin is very upfront about her experience being duped despite the stigma attached to it. No one wants to believe that they can be deceived by someone close to them. It is easy to perceive that as a personal failing that should be so easily avoided.

Ellin is also very curious about why people lie, how people are deceived, and what the aftermath is for all involved. She found that for herself and others, being duped is a form of trauma. She also talks to dupers and how their lives play out once the truth is known.

Her intentions for the book seem very ambitious.

What Didn’t This Book Do Well?

To a degree, I had an expectation for this book which was different from what Duped actually is. I was hoping for a crunchier, more scientific investigation of deception.

Ellin presents many anecdotes (including her own) and touches on many theories and studies, but only the stories get any real attention. For example, in the chapter “In God We Trust—Everyone Else We Polygraph,” Ellin mostly writes about attending a deception detection workshop without really telling much about the content of the class and writes about talking to a polygraph expert without really giving much background about polygraphs. Everything is treated in a fairly shallow, pop science manner.

I also felt that the anecdotes skewed heavily toward male liars. I supposed that’s not surprising considering Ellin’s experience, but I was hoping that eventually there would be a step toward a more objective tone. Also, while I’m not a particularly political person, I feel some of her references to the current administration aren’t going to age well.

Overall

Duped is a mixture of compelling memoir and pop science with a little bit of self-help narrative mixed in, but it isn’t an organized deep-dive into deception.

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Review ~ A Song for Quiet

A Song for Quiet (Persons Non Grata, #2)

A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

Deacon James is a rambling bluesman straight from Georgia, a black man with troubles that he can’t escape, and music that won’t let him go. On a train to Arkham, he meets trouble — visions of nightmares, gaping mouths and grasping tendrils, and a madman who calls himself John Persons. According to the stranger, Deacon is carrying a seed in his head, a thing that will destroy the world if he lets it hatch.

The mad ravings chase Deacon to his next gig. His saxophone doesn’t call up his audience from their seats, it calls up monstrosities from across dimensions. As Deacon flees, chased by horrors and cultists, he stumbles upon a runaway girl, who is trying to escape her father, and the destiny he has waiting for her. Like Deacon, she carries something deep inside her, something twisted and dangerous. Together, they seek to leave Arkham, only to find the Thousand Young lurking in the woods.

The song in Deacon’s head is growing stronger, and soon he won’t be able to ignore it any more.

Why did I choose this book?

Undeniably, H. P. Lovecraft was very influential to the genres of horror and fantasy. He was also racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic. I like the concept of all the people Lovecraft took exception to jumping into his sandbox and adding wings to his castles. I really enjoyed Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom and had heard that Malaysian writer Cassandra Khaw’s A Song for Quiet is another worthy addition to this genre niche.

Ladies of Horror Fiction challenged readers to make their first read of 2019 a female horror author—it was the perfect “excuse” to read A Song for Quiet.

So, what did I think?

Khaw imbues her writing with rhythm which is very appropriate when the main character is a jazz musician. I also enjoyed the little Lovecraft subversions: things like a white cowboy character being described as simian and Arkham being a progressive enough place to allow a black female business owner.

Khaw also does a good job giving shape and physicality to what can often be vague cosmic horror. It’s easy to duck the unimaginable, but Deacon’s visions and the Thousand Young are good and gory. I also like that there is some small measure of hope in this story. I plan on reading more horror this year, but I am a little worried. I think that I have less patience for hopelessness these days.

I enjoyed A Song for Quiet so much that I’m going to have to read Hammers on Bone, the first book on the loose series, in the near future. The first features John Persons, a minor character here, who isn’t quite a person. I am intrigued.

Other Info

Genre: horror
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Release date: August 29, 2017
My copy: OverDrive Read via Tempe Library

#DealMeIn2018, Week 52 ~ “Shape Without Form, Shade Without Color”

“Shape Without Form, Shade Without Color” by Sunny Moraine

Card Selected: 10♠️
From: Tor.com

The window is slightly open, admitting the cold. I hear the starlings whisper. Don’t you love us? Don’t you want us anymore?

The blurb of this story is “Haunted by starlings in the dark, a young woman spirals into an altered state of consciousness.” And I wonder if “altered state of consciousness” is our twenty-first century way of saying “madness.” Both of these terms are void of diagnosis, though I suppose that the more modern term has less baggage and prejudice associated with it. In a 19th century Gothic sense though, this young woman spirals into madness, which has a certain amount of romance. In 20th century parlance, I suppose one might say “psychotic break.”

It’s a beautifully written piece and, once again, a story that would probably provide more rewards with a second or third reading. This feels to me very much like a fall or winter story. It was a nice way to finish up Deal Me In for 2018.

#DealMeIn2018, Week 51 ~ “Uncle Abraham’s Romance”

“Uncle Abraham’s Romance” by Edith Nesbit

Card Picked: 2♣️ – WILD card
Found at: Grim Tales @ ProjectGutenberg

“There’s nothing to tell,” he said. “I think it was fancy, mostly, and folly; but it’s the realest thing in my long life, my dear.”

Since this was a WILD card, I figured I’d continue with my reading of Edith Nesbit’s Grim Tales.

Our narrator, age eighteen, sits at her uncle’s knee and waits for him to tell her about his one single romance. While he never married, he often sits and gazes at the miniature of a beautiful woman. Despite what he says, she knows there’s a story there.

Finally, he tells her of a lovely young woman that he used to speak to over the churchyard wall, who didn’t care about his lame leg. Of course, this being a Edith Nesbit story with a churchyard and a mysterious portrait, we can assume that the woman isn’t exactly what she seems (well, if you assumed she was just a lovely, understanding you woman in the first place).

Predictable, but in a satisfying way

#FrankenSlam! Review & WrapUp

Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus

Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

via Goodreads

It’s been two and a half years since I read Frankenstein. I decided to give it another read this year due to the 200th anniversary of its publication.

I started out reading an edition annotated for “Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds.” I figured it would be a nice twist—to read a novel I’d read twice before with the context of what scientists and engineers have to say about the book. Unfortunately, I misunderstood. The annotations aren’t by scientists for scientists; they are by a group of literature/philosophy/humanities people written at scientists. There was a preachy quality to the annotations that really annoyed me. Speaking as a bachelor of arts schmuck who hangs out with a lot of engineers, it’s off-the-mark to assume that people in the sciences are ignorant of ethics.

I have also come to have a problem with how Frankenstein is held up as the quintessential example of science gone wrong. There is very little science in Frankenstein. The image of Victor Frankenstein as a scientist is pretty laughable. There are very few instances where science is done alone in a vacuum. Technology is reliant on thousands of people working together. The lone mad scientist (or even the benevolent Tony Stark) might as well be a wizard casting a spell for all he or she has to do with science.

So, about midway through I switched to an edition illustrated by David Plunkert, which was much less vexing.

Illustration by David Plunkert
from Rockport Publisher’s Classics Reimagined series.

Last time I read, I was struck by how much of the book Frankenstein spends running away. This time around I found him nearly insufferable. Having read Paradise Lost just before this, I could see a parallel between the monster and Satan: both get the best lines and elicit more sympathy than the “main” character. Frankenstein is more like Adam in the late books of Paradise Lost. He has done wrong, but like a little kid he’s going to whine about it and try to dodge his responsibilities as much as possible.

#FrankenSlam! WrapUp

Jay @ Bibliophilopolis hosted the FrankenSlam! Challenge: Read Frankenstein and the three books that comprise the monster’s education. There were also other Frankenstein related activities.

Alas, I have fallen short.

I read Frankenstein and two out of three of the other books. I started Plutarch’s Lives, but I didn’t get very far.

Here are my reviews of the other two:
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goeth
Paradise Lost John Milton

I did talk quite a bit to Eric about the whole endeavor, much to his chagrin. I also rewatched the first season of Penny Dreadful which I’m counting as an adaptation. But, I’m just short of a full FrankenSlam!

Review ~ Surviving the Angel of Death

This book was provided to me by Tanglewood via NetGalley for review consideration.

Surviving the Angel of Death

Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Mozes Kor & Lisa Rojany Buccieri

Eva Mozes Kor was just 10 years old when she arrived in Auschwitz. While her parents and two older sisters were taken to the gas chambers, she and her twin, Miriam, were herded into the care of the man known as the Angel of Death, Dr. Josef Mengele. Subjected to sadistic medical experiments, she was forced to fight daily for her and her twin’s survival. In this incredible true story written for young adults, readers will learn of a child’s endurance and survival in the face of truly extraordinary evil.

The book also includes an epilogue on Eva’s recovery from this experience and her remarkable decision to publicly forgive the Nazis.Through her museum and her lectures, she has dedicated her life to giving testimony on the Holocaust, providing a message of hope for people who have suffered, and working for causes of human rights and peace.

Summary via Goodreads

In a way, this is a hard book to review. Eva Mozes Kor’s story is amazing. Her will to survive, to keep herself and her sister alive, at 10 years-old(!) is extraordinary. If it were fiction, I would say that it is completely unbelievable. The entire thing. Rounding up entire populations for incarceration or elimination? Twins saved by a deranged doctor intent on performing dubious medical experiments on them? This is the stuff of third-rate dystopian fiction. But it isn’t fiction. This is a true account of what humans can do to other humans. Remembering that Kor’s account, and the innumerable other holocaust accounts, are real is what’s meant when we say never forget.

According to the epilogue, Surviving the Angel of Death is a YA version of Kor’s previous memoir, Echoes from Auschwitz. To me, it didn’t feel “YA” while I was reading it. The writing and organization of the book and clear and good, though maybe not stylistically outstanding. Kor felt that getting her story into younger hands was important. After her marriage and immigration to the US, she relates that it was difficult to tell her story because most people didn’t really have a frame of reference for the holocaust. It wasn’t until the 1978 TV miniseries The Holocaust that she had a basis from which to speak. To me, it seems strange that people might not know, but even I, who read The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s Night in school, don’t know all the stories.

I read Surviving the Angel of Death right after finishing a book called The Coddling of the American Mind. The authors of that book present three fallacies that they believe people (Americans especially) are falling victim to. One of these fallacies is “the world is a battle between good people and evil people.” It would be easy to read Eva Mozes Kor’s memoir and say, “That isn’t a fallacy. Look at the evil she overcame!” But the antidote to the good/evil fallacy is to remember that we have everything in common as humans.

In 1993 I traveled to Germany and met with a Nazi doctor from Auschwitz, Dr. Münch. Surprisingly, he was very kind to me. Even more surprising, I found I liked him.

Eva Mozes Kor, Surviving the Angel of Death, pg 131

That Eza Mozes Kor was able to forgive what had been done to her, that she found peace in that forgiveness, is maybe what shouldn’t be the most extraordinary thing of all.

Deal Me In, Week 47 ~ “John Charrington’s Wedding”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“John Charrington’s Wedding” by Edith Nesbit

Card picked: Q
Found at: Grim Tales @ ProjectGutenberg

May was sitting on a low flat gravestone, her face turned towards the full splendour of the western sun. Its expression ended, at once and for ever, any question of love for him; it was transfigured to a beauty I should not have believed possible, even to that beautiful little face.

Edith Nesbit’s Grim Tales collection has been on my TBR-eventually list for quite some time. Without even realizing it, I’ve now read the first two stories in order from Grim Tales! I read “The Ebony Frame” back during Gothic September and now I’ve read “John Charrington’s Wedding” for Deal Me In. Both were suggested by different sources.

Nesbit’s style is fairly straight-forward and both of these tales are on the domestic relationship side of horror. In “The Ebony Frame,” the protagonist becomes enamored with a woman in a painting. In “John Charrington’s Wedding,” John is so devoted to May that he promises to return from the dead if she wants him to. We all know how that’s going to turn out, don’t we?  I’m now wondering how the next grim talein the collection will play out: “Uncle Abraham’s Romance.”