Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Memory Palace - a memoir by Mira Bartok ~ Book Review

From the Reading Group Guide Introduction (back of book):

"When piano progidy Norma Herr was well, she was the most vibrant personality in the room.  But as her schizophrenic episodes became more frequent and more dangerous, she withdrew into a world that neither of her daughters could make any sense of.  After being violently attacked for demanding that Norma seek help, Mira Bartok and her sister changed their names and cut off all contact in order to keep themselves safe.  For the next seventeen years Mira's only contact with her mother was through infrequent letters exchanged through post office boxes, often not even in the same city where she was living.

At the age of forty, artist Mira suffered a debilitating head injury that leaves her memories foggy and her ability to make sense of the world around her forever changed.  Hoping to reconnect with her past, Mira reached out to the homeless shelter where her mother was living.  When she received word that her mother is dying in a hospital, Mira and her sister traveled to their mother's deathbed to reconcile one last time.  Norma gave them a key to the storage unit in which she has kept hundreds old diaries, photographs and momentos from the past that Mira never imagined she would see again.  These artifacts trigger a flood of memories and give Mira access to the past that she believed had been lost forever."


This book has been on my radar for quite awhile now and I finally got around to reading it.  With the recent releasing of a schizophrenic man who committed a horrible, unimaginable  crime on a greyhound bus a few years back that shocked our nation, changed the lives of all those on the bus and was the direct cause of one of the first responders taking their own lives, I really felt the need to read this.   I can pretty much say people are totally dumbfounded and angry as he was  given total freedom without conditions and let back into society because it was deemed the crime was committed during an episode and he's now "likely to stay on medication".  This made me dig into my TBR pile and pull this book out hoping maybe it would bring some kind of understanding into the life of a person suffering from schizophrenia and how it affects those around them.

Mira Bartok was told at her mother's funeral that "people have abandoned their loved ones for much less than you've been through".  And even though for their own safety, Mira and her sister had no contact with their mother for many, many years and in fact, changed their names so she couldn't find them, Mira wrote a touching, heartbreaking account of their lives growing up with their mother.  The book really let the reader into a glimpse of the harrowing struggle for both the schizophrenic sufferer and their families.  And it also brought out how the loved ones can feel hostage to the illness and, in Mira's mother's case anyway, the  system that was incapable of bringing help to their family in crisis.  In order to protect themselves, they literally had to let their mother become homeless and living on the streets and in shelters.  No family should have to make that choice.  Mira's story also pointed out to me how memory can be affected by different things and even the one remembering as her and her sister sometimes had different recollections of the same event.  There were also beautiful moments throughout the book where Mira makes the mother/daughter connections while caring for her mom.  The moment when she was helping her mom in the hospital to walk from the bathroom back to bed and as they stood, her holding her mom up as her mom rested a moment leaning against her and the nurse came and asked if she was okay, and Mira realized she hadn't hugged her mom in 17 years was especially touching.  Though at times the writing style bogged me down just a little bit as I tried to make connections in the points the author was trying to convey,  this memoir was well worth the read just to gain some understanding of the struggles of those suffering severe mental health issues, to develop some compassion for them and their families and for those who are homeless, and an understanding of how the "system" works and lacks in actually being helpful and beneficial for those in this situation.  And most especially to read about that mother/daughter connection in spite of the illness.

9/10 rating

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday's Fave Five #423



Welcome to the first spring FFF of 2017.  So glad to see that day show up on the calendar.  And true to it's name, we have had some lovely sunshine in our days this week, albiet with the crazy wind that brings the warmth in Southern Alberta.  Join us as we find the blessings from the last week in our lives whether the weather was good or bad.

1.  Birthday dinner for a sweet friend.  My friend's birthday was this week and we had a lovely dinner together on Saturday night.  Her hubby cooked up a wonderful lasagna dinner with of course, birthday cake for dessert.  Tuxedo cake was the birthday girl's choice.  Then we played a card game called "Budget".  It was a wonderful night of great food and lots of laughs celebrating a good lady.

2.  Bouquet of favorite flowers from my honey.  My sweet hubby came home with these for me with the sweet note "Happy Valentines in March".  He decided that after I had bought some fake tulips for a vase, that I really needed to have at least one bouquet this spring of the real thing.  Love that man!


3.  Small but talkative.  Tuesday night's study group didn't see the whole group out but those who came really participated and some really good discussion ensued.  I love when that happens.  I learn so much from the ladies in my group even though I am the leader of the study.  They come with such good questions and insights and aren't afraid to participate.

4.  Phone call with my son.   I sure do miss this young man and was so thrilled that he called.  Sometimes it's hard to know when to give him a call.  He's so busy with homework and practicums that require long shifts.  Hate to wake him when he's getting off one of those.  But the great news, he gets to come home for a few days this weekend.  Can hardly wait.  We'll get all caught up then.

5.  New runners.  This is a bit past it's due but I have been really enjoying the new workout shoes hubby got me for my birthday a few months back.  Funny how one doesn't realize your old shoes are just not supporting like they should until you put on a pair of quality new ones.  With the couple of injuries I've had in the past few years it's important that I have shoes that support and help my feet not to be sore and I'm thankful for the gift of new ones.  And they're nice to look at.  Who doesn't love a cute shoe in one of their favorite colors?!



What have your favorite blessings been this week?







Saturday, March 18, 2017

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Kendra Van Zant arrives at an old English cottage in Cotswald, England to interview famous watercolor painter Isabel McFarland who is actually celebrating her 93rd birthday.  Isabel is a survivor of the London Blitz but up until now has never talked about it so it was a bit of a surprise that Kendra's professor was able to secure an interview for her.  As a visiting student at Oxford studying history, Kendra is writing a paper for the 70th anniversary of VE day with a chance for it to be published.  Kendra firmly believes that information is only half the story of an event and personal experience of people involved is the other half.   She's done her research and has her questions all lined up but before she can even ask any of them Isabel drops the bombshell that she is not even who everyone thinks she is.   And so starts the story of 2 young sisters who lived in London at the time of rumors of war in the 1940's.

Emmy Downtree is only 15 but has her dreams all planned out.  She has been drawing brides and bridal dresses and wants to design them.  When she has a chance to work in a bridal shop she takes the job even though her mother is very opposed as she needs to help look after her  much younger sister Julia while her mother does whatever she does when she is gone from them.  But Emmy's ambitions and dreams come to a halt as London orders the evacuation of all children to foster families in the country side to keep them safe from the threat of bombs.  Though she tries to fight it, Emmy is shipped off by train with her sister.  But she is determined to make her once in lifetime opportunity a reality and sees only that she has no other choice and steals away in the middle of the night to make her appointment with a designer in the city.  But this determination will have ramifications not only for her but for others in her life as well.

I loved this book.  It  grabbed me right  from the beginning.    As the story of the two sisters starts to build it was very easy to lose myself into the story.  A portion of the story towards the back is told in letter and diary entry form and though this is a format that I usually really do not like in books it worked for me in this story.    The author was really able to convey the terror and emotions of two young girls going through the Blitz as well as the adult characters and what they were going through.  The long term ramifications of trauma were really presented in a believable and realistic sense.  I really don't know a lot about the war as it affected England so I really learned a lot.  I didn't even have any idea that children were evacuated out of London.   As I was reading and the Blitz was happening I wondered what on earth the title had to do with the actual story, they seemed on opposite ends of a very large spectrum.  But under the reader's guide author  Q & A she poses the question "if there really are secrets to living a life that has happily ever after written all over it...and to being able to have everything you've always wanted".    In the beginning both Emmy and Kendra seemed to have their p's and q's all lined up for that life.  But as the story shows some things you just cannot control and it's the very choices during those times that may be the ones determining where your life goes.

Beautiful writing, realistic emotions,  wonderful characters earns this story a 10/10 for me.

Linked to Semicolon Saturday Review of Books




Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday's Fave Five #422


Is it Friday already?  Wow, how did that happen?  Especially when I was totally mixed up what day it was all week long?  This daylight savings time change always royally messes me up.  I am so tired from not getting enough sleep all week long.  I just wish they would get rid of it and not mess with the way God made things.  But no matter, there is still good things to be looked for and noticed.  Even better to do it as it would probably pass me by in my tired state.  Please join us!

1.  This devotional.   Ann Spangler's Devotions for Women - Becoming a Woman At Peace.  At the end of last year, I thought for 2017 I would really like to learn how to pursue peace and come to a point where I was at peace no matter what was swirling around me in my or my family's life.  I found this devotional and though I don't get to it every day I have been working my way through it.  I'm loving it and getting lots out of it as seen by all the underlining I am doing it.  There is much to chew on and think about, lots of practical thoughts and lots of approaches to peace that I wouldn't have thought of.  All connected to scriptures and the pursuit of God and His peace which is far richer and deeper and more satisfying than what we think.  



2.  More decluttering.  As I have been going through my stuff trying to declutter, I came across a huge file containing recipes in my file cabinet.   Seeing I had totally forgotten the thing was even in there for who knows how long, I knew I really didn't need all those recipes taking up the space.  So on a quieter afternoon this week, I did a quick run through of the file and honestly answered the question:  Will I ever make this recipe?  Well that cut it down by at least half.  Then I resolved to try at least one recipe a week and if I liked it it would go into a recipe file on my computer and if not, out it goes.  

3.  Keeper Recipe.  Well, the first recipe I tried is a keeper.  This week I made Spinach and Almond Topped Chicken.  It was cut from some calendar I came across in 2010 but I had never made it.  I had all the ingredients on hand, it was easy, done in half an hour and it was delicious.  And is good enough for company.  Checks all my boxes.  I'll post the recipe in the next few days.

4.  Holiday days decided.  This makes my list because the process of it totally stresses me out.  I have dayhome parents who are already asking me in January.  Yikes I don't even know what we're doing never mind when we want to do it.  I only close for 2 separate weeks, not back to back.  One of them is a given and never changes but it's that 2nd week that is so hard to decide on.  Who knows what the weather will be so far ahead of time?  Once I state the dates I pretty much cannot change.  But once the decision is made it's like a huge weight off my shoulders.

5.  On a reading role.  I've really had a great string of books I've read lately and that always makes me happy.  

What have been your favorite blessings from this past week?







Saturday, March 11, 2017

Keep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline ~ Book Review

On the surface the Buckman's seem to be the perfect little family.  Jake is a financial planner who's fairly new business is doing well.  After having had a shocking lay off when he was an accountant he is finally back on his feet and moving forward career-wise.  His wife, Pam, is also on a great career path.  She is a appelate judge who loves her job and has just been offered a huge career opportunity.  Their only child, Ryan is in high school and is on track to earning a basketball scholarship with his talent and good grades.  The one thing marring everything is Jake's relationship with his son.  When he started the financial planning business, he devoted all his time to making it successful and his marriage and relationship with his son suffered.  Now after counselling his marriage is doing well but he needs to work out the relationship with Ryan.  At Pam's suggestion he picks Ryan up from the movies so he can have some alone time with him and against his better judgement he allows Ryan to talk him into letting him drive the car.  At 16, Ryan is quite capable but his partial license has time restrictions on it.  But Jake wanting to keep the bonding open, thinks that the road they are on is deserted and therefore safe so after much pleading on Ryan's part he allows Ryan to take the wheel.  Then the unthinkable happens and Jake makes the split second decisions to protect Ryan's future at all costs and convinces Ryan to keep quiet.  But the life altering secret is eating away at both of them and it's events are threatening to blow it all up.  One lie leads to another and before Jake knows it the plan to keep Ryan protected might be the very thing that will destroy them all.

This was a very fast paced story.  The timeline is less than a week but so much happens within that timeline.  There was much to like about this book.  I liked the exploration of the father's role as provider and what happens when that is shattered.  I also liked the exploration of father/son relationships and the idea of how far would a parent go to protect their child.  I also liked the raw portrayal of guilt and shame and panic that Ryan is forced to live with and not reveal.  The story never let up.  That said, though,  other than Ryan, I did not like the characters at all.  Pam's character was what some call a helicopter mom, which in my circles is called a smother mother.  She micromanaged Ryan so much that it was driving me nuts and I had to periodically stop and remind myself that Ryan was actually 16 in the story and not 8.  She was also hypocritical.   I wanted to shake Jake at times as he dug them in further and further and just wouldn't stop even though he could see the weight of the secret was eating Ryan up.   I did like how this author though didn't hold back on the consequences of dishonesty.  Sometimes you see characters rewarded and not really paying consequences for their moral failures but this story did not hold back on that aspect...and I liked that.  For a reading group there would be much discussion opportunity on the various things brought out in this story.

I gave this a 8 out of 10

Review linked to Semicolon Saturday Review of Books


Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday's Fave Five #421




Hi everyone and welcome to a very snowy March Friday.  At least in my neck of the woods.  Hard to believe at this moment that spring is right around the corner but hopefully old man Winter will have this last hurrah and then the warmth and sunshine will stick around.  This has been one long, snowy winter.  Especially when compared with the very mild one we had last year.  But though the weather might not make my favorites list this week, there is still blessings and good things to be found.  Please join in.

1.  Hard working hubby.  With all the snow we've had you can imagine how much shoveling we've had to do.  and I'm so very thankful for my hard working hubby who has been out there before my alarm even goes off shoveling and clearing the driveway and sidewalks.   I so appreciate everything like that that he does around the Living to Tell household.

2.  Homemade popcorn.  Along with being a grandmaster shoveler, ( is that a word?), hubby makes the best homemade popcorn in the world and this last weekend I was treated to a wonderful batch just the way I like it.  Yummy.

3.  Massage.  I so appreciate my massage therapist.  When I was young, I was involved in a car accident that made my neck and shoulders have some issues and this wonderful lady has really worked hard to get my back muscles all into good working order.  Sometimes I had such knots you could literally see the bump but with regular visits for massage and a regular exercise routine to strengthen those muscles, over time my back is much improved.

4.  Baby Shower.  A lady in my bible study group is going to become a grandma in a couple of months.  So we blessed her as a group by blessing her daughter and some of us attended the baby shower.  So fun to bless the new mommy and oooh and aaaah over all the pink stuff.   She knows she's having a girl.  Children are a blessing from the Lord and it's such a privilege to welcome another little one into the world.

5.  Goose Down Duvet.   Sure makes the bed comfy and cozy on these cold nights and we've really liked how warm it keeps us without a lot of weight to it.  Very glad we bit the bullet and got one after debating about it for years.  Don't know what took us so long.

What have your blessings been from the week?






Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

In 1913, a 4 year old girl is found all alone on a dock in Australia by the Hugh, the dockmaster.  All she had was a little white suitcase with some clothes and a book of fairy tales.  When they couldn't find her family, Hugh and his wife Lil, take her in, name her Nellie as loved and raised her as their own daughter, never telling her about her past.  Now she's all grown up, engaged to be married and about to celebrate her 21st birthday.  Lil has passed away, and against Lil's wishes Hugh feels he must tell Nellie the truth.  As her world and her knowledge of who she is is set spinning, Nell breaks her engagement and sets herself on a quest to find who she really is.  With nothing to go on except the book of fairty tales, she heads off to England in pursuit of who the author is.  She never finishes her quest to find answers as her life takes another turn when she has to care for her teenage granddaughter.  But after Nell passes away,  her granddaughter, Cassandra, is surprised to learn Nell has left her a cottage located on the Cornish Coast.  Not knowing anything about this from Nell before hand, Cassandra heads to England to deal with the cottage but finds she too is taken up with the mystery that surrounds her grandmother.

I loved this story.  Though it is a hefty book at 548 pages, I found I couldn't put it down and finished it quite quickly.  A family saga that spans 3 generations the story is told in the narrative of 3 people from the 3 generations:  Eliza, Nell and Cassandra.  It's a maze of a story, kinda like the maze in the garden mentioned in the title, but is worth it to reach the end.  At first nothing seems to do with anything else, but the author brings it all together in lovely detail.  It's a complicated story but I found the author just drew me in with her descriptions and her ability to really make me feel for the main characters.  I mostly had a heart for Eliza whose story was heartbreaking and had me near tears quite a few times.  The mystery of who Nell really is grows as the story progresses and though I had a small inkling of who she was I never would have guessed the circumstances surrounding her beginning years.  Themes of identity, family history, friendship, family, entitlement, grief, loss, love and decisions affecting generations are all woven into the story beautifully.  Though usually as a reader I tend to  skip date/location notes at beginning of chapters for some reason, I would definitely suggest to make sure you take note of these as you read the story.  It really helps to move the story along and keep the timeline straight in one's thoughts as you read.

I gave this story a 10/10 because of the author's ability to draw me right in to all three women's stories and the involvement of my feelings the author was able to bring out.

Linked to Semicolon Saturday Review of Books