Book Review: Broken Angels by Gemma Liviero

Broken Angels by Gemma Liviero4 Stars. Pull on the heartstrings.

Broken Angels by Gemma Liviero was chosen for a book club that I host, the Edmonton Chapter of The Girly Book Club. This is the third book that I have read as part of the international book club and I am more impressed than I was with Swear on This Life by Renée Carlino.

I’m a sucker for novels with different points of view in them.  Using this skill speaks to the author’s ability to weave tales from the same tapestry, pairing with their imagination to bring each of those characters to the forefront. In Broken Angels, we have three characters: Elsi, a girl left in the ghetto; Matilda, a girl ripped from her home; and Willem, a Nazi doctor.

Three people, living through World War II, each with their own fears and perceptions. Each needs to know exactly is happening and their role in it. With something as large as war, the need to know is unsatisfied and each chooses to embrace their situation. They fight their own war, with hope of continuing their lives in peace.

Liviero is an artist with emotion. She encourages you to read a little further which propels you into the next character’s storyline.  You get some answers you beg for in the previous chapter but fulfillment comes upon return to that character.

In a novel with revolving viewpoints, each character has their own inner life and Liviero delivers. The following three quotes are from the Elsi, Matilda, and Willem respectively.

A thick cloud of smoke hangs above the city. Someone yells that there is another fire. There are whistles in the distance. A fire truck speeds down the center of the road, narrowly missing an elderly man who is crossing. One more life gone would not make a difference. (Elsi, pg 111)

 

Since we have come into the house, we have not discussed our future escape, thought the thought is still there. Commander once asked me about my parents and to describe where I lived. The officer who stole me did not write down where I came from in the brown file that has my name on the front. I did not tell Commander anything in case one day I do escape, and the child thief, Herr Lehmann, has hopefully forgotten where he has stolen me from. (Matilda, pg 346)

 

It was no one’s fault – a premature birth, a medical anomaly – and yet I remember the promise I made to be with her at the hospital. Perhaps I would have noticed her fever before it was too late. (Willem, pg 221)

The novel teems with structure and chaos on a background of loss. Each character loses along the way and each gains. It is a tale that is for those who are interested in the human perspective of World War II, have a strong stomach (there are quite a few ghastly scenes), and want a great read.

I am now a fan of Liviero’s and will look forward to more books by her in the future.

Book Review: Can I Let You Go? by Cathy Glass

 

Can I Let You Go? Cathy Glass

A true story about a girl named Faye.

After reading about Lucy in “Will You Love Me?”, I am hooked on Cathy Glass’ books. She creates intrigue about her career as a foster carer. I am drawn in by the histories of the children she fosters, and am inspired by her ability to work through many difficult issues with grace and dignity.

Faye’s time with Cathy is different. Cathy cares for younger children and teenagers, not adults. Faye is cognitively disabled and comes to Cathy’s care when she is in the third trimester of her pregnancy. She is like a child in many ways.

“Reassured, Faye turned her attention to what was going on outside, gazing through the window with the intrigue and wonder of a child.” (pg 71)

A lot of Cathy’s previous training and experience with younger children is used during Faye’s stay. Thankfully, Cathy’s three children (including Lucy) are older, in their late teens and 20s, and are able to help support Faye wherever they can. Cathy explains in each book that fostering is a family experience and choice. The decision to take on Faye and her baby eventually poses challenges for each of the family members and they make it through each difficulty as a team.

Spoiler alerts below!

When Faye first meets Cathy and her family, she is adamant about not referring to her baby. She is avoiding emotional attachment and prefers to avoid the topic all together. Cathy struggles with how she is going to help Faye prepare for the final trimester of her pregnancy and ultimately the delivery. Also, there’s the aspect of who-dun-it. Who is the father of the baby? Was Faye taken advantage of?

Faye continues attending her prenatal appointments and experiences changes in the baby’s physiology, she broaches the subject of wanting to keep her baby. There are concerns as to whether or not Faye would make a fit parent but those on her care team oblige with her wishes. They work diligently to have her trained and evaluated after the baby is born at a centre and take on the task of informing her grandparents and the adoptive parents of her decision.

There is little time for Faye to learn an immense amount of information that new parents are expected to. Her delivery is soon. Cathy is by Faye’s side as she goes through labour. She hopes that the new information shared and practiced with Faye has stuck. A few days after the birth, Faye confides in Cathy:

“There’s too much to learn…lots and lots of things I can’t remember.” Page 265

The reality of her ability to care effectively for her child is apparent to Faye. She agrees to go through with the original adoption.

Sounds like a happy ending for all right? Well, there’s one more plot twist but I’ll let you find out what that is.

Onto my next Cathy Glass book!

Book Review: The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

The Happiness AdvantageThe Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

I am a self-admitted self-help junkie and The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor is like those first few drops of rain after a hot week – refreshing and welcomed. Personally, I have found that work places are perceived as places to escape from and we seem to think that we’re clever in how we do that. Vacation, sick days, personal days, quitting.

Try taking a different approach to work – My mindset is that I’m there for a third of my day anyway, might as well make it great. That mindset has paid off. I love going to work. I love my job (and no, not just the people). Yes, I admittedly get frustrated, annoyed, and flabbergasted sometimes. It’s about 5% of the time. As with Shawn’s research, it has taken me years (not decades, I’m not old enough for that yet) to figure out happiness at work. I’m excited to share this book with you because it is based in science.

Bill Nye It's Science

Why is this book great?

  1. Accessibility – the language is plain, the actions are clear and manageable.
  2. Stories – there is a healthy smattering of relevant tales throughout.
  3. Actionable! – Bring each of the principles to life in a series of small actions.
  4. Acknowledges the human factor – written by a human, for humans. Not just those with big brains.

“Person-activity fit” is often just as important as the activity itself…Find a personally tailored substitute instead. (pg 51)

Achor expands on seven principles as methods for gaining the Happiness Advantage for yourself, if they work for you. However, if you try them and they don’t jive with your mojo, it’s okay. It’s a starting point. For me, yoga rocks my socks and my hubby thinks it’s awkward and breathing in a specific way is weird. Instead, he prefers to play strategy games. Find your thang.

The Seven Principles and My Findings

Dicing up the big idea of happiness into seven principles makes the idea of achievement much more real:

  1. The Happiness Advantage

    The Zorro Circle

    The Zorro Circle

  2. The Fulcrum and Lever
  3. The Tetris Effect
  4. Falling Up
  5. The Zorro Circle
  6. The 20-Second Rule
  7. Social Investment

First, readers can consume this book in bits. Achor writes for the average person and encourages taking a break from section to section allows for digestion of the material. I find that I get the most from self-help books when I take the time to read, relax, perceive and action.

Second, readers are encouraged to experiment, which I love to do. I personally tried The Tetris Effect and The 20 Second Rule. I’m still using them a month after reading this book and am seeing results. That is exciting for me. Here’s what I did:

The Tetris Effect:

One great way to train your brain to look for the positives is to practice reciting or recording gratitude’s. The best practice is to ritualize the task, choosing a daily time to stop and record or recite the things you’re grateful for. (p.102)

I started a ritual of taking two minutes during my morning routine to write down what I am thankful for in four areas of my life:

  1. Life – the grand, overarching narrative that I walk through every day.
  2. Career – the recording of my contribution to others. I include my writing career and my personal endeavours to help in here.
  3. Job – the tasks I do at work, the people I work with, the relationships I have in the workplace, the initiatives I’m involved in.
  4. Relationship – the intimate relationship I share with my hubby.

T

Personally, the afterimage is real. I discover more positive experiences throughout my day, I am more patient and calm with others and I smile each time I think then write what I am thankful for.

The 20 Second Rule:

If we can lower barriers to activation for positive activities, we can begin to form habits. Likewise, if we raise barriers to activation for negative activities, we can break those habits. (p.154)

Essentially, “make it easy to go right and hard to go wrong” (Gretchen Rubin). After clearing this experiment with the hubby, I moved our PS4 controllers across the house, about 15 seconds away from the living room, in an effort to curb my Netflix/Anime/TV habit. I placed books in the living room instead and within a few days, I was reading more. The controllers haven’t made it back into the living room and I’m more productive for it.

This principle is fun to try in other areas too! I aim to be focused in whatever work I am doing and my phone is a major distraction to that. So, I turned off all notifications except for phone calls, installed an app called BreakFree. The app tracks your unlocks, blocks notifications and alerts you after you’ve been using your phone for a preset amount of time. After tracking for two weeks, I have noticed habits of mine. For example, I will check my phone a LOT if I’m bored. I also don’t miss those Facebook, Instagram, email and other notifications. Nothing has been so pressing that it can’t be attended to in 20 minutes or more.

At the end of the day…

I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for ways to better themselves. It is so important to find useful information and methods that answer why and whether it will work. I would find something within the book that speaks to me, try it out and see if it works. I sincerely believe that what you get out of this book is truly going to be the effort that you put into finding with works for you.

Book Review: Stuffed by Patricia Volk

Volk Stuffed

Stuffed by Patricia Volk was one of those books I couldn’t finish reading.

As a reader, if I am struggling with a novel, I try twice to give it a chance to wiggle its way into my heart. Stuffed is one of those novels that had the change and doesn’t make the cut. The appeal to ead about a restaurant family includes the restaurant and less about the interpersonal relationships in a family.

I am a narrative reader, and in this book, the train of thought is a cataclysmic mess, with stream of consciousness taking place for the duration of my experience. Time and place have no context, no clear movement from one to the other. It is like a conservation with an elderly person who you’ve asked to share their life story. Now they are fifty and in the next breath nineteen. It is mind numbing to read.

Finally, the triggers in the book is what made me set it aside for good. The way Volk’s mother speaks and acts toward her is disgusting and I chose to not endure it:

“What she wantes for me is an even cleaner, thinner, happier life than she has. Mom made me, and now she will make me better. I’m unfinishes, something she can’t stop sculpting, something it’s her job to complete.” (pg 61)

While I can’t recommend this book, I would like to share something with you. Mother’s Day is right around the corner and while Volk had a mother that saw her as not good enough, not thin enough, not anything enough, I hope differently for you. Relationships are important to have and are important pieces of long, healthy lives. The research says so and I’ll share that in one of my upcoming reviews.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Book Review: Will You Love Me? by Cathy Glass

A true story about a girl named Lucy.

Will You Love Me? by Cathy Glass is a true story about Lucy. She is in Cathy’s care after eleven long years. She experienced neglect, abuse and poor interactions with the UK’s foster care system. Over her mere decade on this planet, Lucy endured many challenges. Multiple moves, with her mom and in the foster system. A lack of proper nutrition.  Very little bonding with her mother. Adult figures came in and out of her life without any intention of parenting her appropriately.

The story follows chronological order, as best as Cathy could piece together. The basis is from the notes taken by various care and foster workers who are in the folds of Lucy’s story. Lucy starts off as an infant with her mother, Bonnie, and is soon in the transient lifestyle. Bonnie reflects on her days before she was a mother and recognizes that her perspective shifted:

“One of the girls had had a four year old child with her, and at the time Bonnie had thought it was wrong that the kindshould be forced to live like that and felt it would have been better off in foster care or being adopted, but now she had a baby of her own it was different; she’d do anything to keep her child.” (pg 19)

As her childhood progresses, Lucy experiences multiple moves – until social services steps in and works to get her into permanent care.

Through multiple interactions at different levels from social services, Lucy’s plight is well documented. Most of her experiences in and out of the care system is retold by Cathy:

“Lucy improved dramatically in the eight months she lived with Annie and her family. She gradually lost her fear of strangers, began playing and talking more, and was starting to catch up with her peer group.” (pg 73)

Understandably, Lucy has challenges and demonstrates ebbs and flows in her adjustment to her carers.

While at Cathy’s, there are serious concerns about Lucy’s ability to make sincere connections with her peer group, dealing with her anger, and her relationship with food:

“…one thing I did know was that the following day, when everyone was at school, I would go online and research eating disorders.”(pg 163)

As Lucy’s carer, Cathy is diligent throughout the book with her discovery and implementation of strategies; all efforts to make Lucy a member of her family. All members of the family love Lucy and express it openly:

“We were through to the living room where my parents gave Lucy her birthday present, and we all watched while she opened it. Lucy had previously told my mother that she wanted to be a famous beautician when she was older and do the make-up for film stars. Now, to Lucy’s unimaginable delight, the present from my parents was a large play beauty salon, set in a big red sparkling case.” (pg 233)

Will You Love Me? is a great book! It is full of moments that are wrenching, enlightening and tough to read. The book is interesting and recommended to anyone learning more about the fostering system, childhood adversity and interesting life stories. There are triggers throughout the book so I would not recommend it to anyone who may share a similar past.

Solid five stars and I am thankful to Cathy for sharing her stories with the world.