Mental health/illness

All posts in the Mental health/illness category

Blog Tour – A Boy Made Of Blocks – Keith Stuart

Published January 18, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Discover a unique, funny and moving debut that will make you laugh, cry and smile.

Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex
He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn’t understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

Meet eight-year-old Sam
Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can’t solve on his own.

But when Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . .

Can one fragmented family put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

Inspired by the author’s experiences with his own son, A Boy Made of Blocks is an astonishingly authentic story of love, family and autism.

What did I think?:

I first heard about this book from my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads who absolutely loved it. When my sister makes a recommendation, I take her up on it as she definitely knows the kind of books that I get excited about. Then when Little, Brown publishers asked me if I’d like to be part of the blog tour, I jumped at the chance. (thank you very much to them!) In my opinion, the more people know about this wonderful debut novel, the better as it’s just THAT GOOD. I haven’t been as moved or felt so emotionally wrung out for a while and I love when a book gets under my skin like that.

So, the story follows thirty-something Alex, married to Jody with a young son called Sam. When we first meet Alex, he isn’t having the best time of it. His relationship with both his wife and son appears to be slowly disintegrating and is incredibly fragile. Sam is autistic and Alex is not dealing with it very well. He seems at a loss with what to do regarding his behaviour, how to handle him in general and even how to communicate with him effectively. This leads to him sleeping at a friend’s house while desperately trying to repair the cracks that have appeared in his life and his marriage.

Luckily for Alex, something comes along, in the form of a computer game called Minecraft that just might change everything. Sam becomes obsessed with the game, and through it, so too does Alex as he learns that sometimes the right kind of communication can be begun by meeting that person on their own level, building slowly from there and simply learning to have fun together. Through Minecraft, Alex and Sam both learn a lot about each other, much more in fact than they ever have done previously. A strong relationship between the two begins to form and they learn to be friends as well as father and son, paving the way for a much happier and content family life in the future.

I don’t know where to start with telling you how beautiful and heart-warming this book actually was. The author was inspired by his own experiences with his son and this really shows in the writing. I think you can tell when an author is drawing from personal circumstances and we get an honest, authentic look into life with a child on the autistic spectrum which for our main character Alex, is both difficult and hugely rewarding. I did want to shake Alex at some points through the novel for decisions he has made but I loved how he developed throughout the story to become a real father, friend and support network for both his son and wife. It’s not often a book brings me to tears – I think I can count about three times in my entire life. Choked up, sad….for sure but actual tears? It’s very rare. Yet A Boy Made Of Blocks had me sobbing in the end, both happiness and sadness combined and it was an utterly magical experience that I won’t forget in a hurry.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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AUTHOR INFORMATION

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In 2012 one of KEITH STUART’s two sons was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The ramifications felt huge. But then Keith and both boys started playing videogames together – especially Minecraft. Keith had always played games and, since 1995, has been writing about them, first for specialist magazines like Edge and PC Gamer then, for the last ten years, as games editor for the Guardian. The powerful creative sharing as a family and the blossoming of communication that followed informed his debut novel.

Find Keith on GoodReads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/441866.Keith_Stuart

On Twitter at: @keefstuart

Visit the website at: http://www.boymadeofblocks.com/

A huge thank you again to Little, Brown publishers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a great time doing it. Why not check out all the other stops on the blog tour today? A Boy Made Of Blocks was released in paperback on 5th January 2017 and is available from all good bookshops and as an e-book now.

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The Ballroom – Anna Hope

Published January 10, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Where love is your only escape ….

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors,
where men and women are kept apart
by high walls and barred windows,
there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.
For one bright evening every week
they come together
and dance.
When John and Ella meet
It is a dance that will change
two lives forever.

Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, THE BALLROOM is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.

What did I think?:

The Ballroom is the last book in the Richard and Judy Winter Book Club 2016 here in the UK and what a blinder they’ve ended with! This is the author’s second novel after her debut and critically acclaimed novel The Wake (which I still have on my shelves to read and I shall certainly be “bumping,” it on the strength of her second book). Set in the early twentieth century this book is a captivating tale of love and madness that kept me gripped until the very end.

It is the tale primarily of Ella, a young woman who finds herself admitted to an asylum in Yorkshire for (according to her) a slight misdemeanour at work that has led to her being pronounced mad and committed to the asylum for an indefinite period of time or until she appears to recover her senses. John is also in the asylum on the men’s side after having being driven mad with grief after a terrible event in his past. The two first meet properly when the men and women are brought together for a weekly dance, led by one of the medical professionals who insists that the music will have beneficial effects for the poor people that seem to have lost their minds.

Slowly but surely, love develops between Ella and John, a love that seems quite pointless and doomed if they are never to be released from the asylum and never allowed to be together. This is the story of how they cope in the asylum, what day to day life is like for them and also focuses on the other characters in the institution – friends of both Ella and John and on the medical professional and music master, Dr Charles Fuller. He is preparing a paper for the Eugenics Society on the benefits of music for the asylum inhabitants and has a rather sad past/present situation of his own.

The lines between madness and sanity are blurred extraordinarily in this fantastic novel and it makes us question the fragility or strength of our own mind if we were placed in certain situations. I loved Ella and John as characters, both were strong yet somehow very vulnerable and their love story made for delicious reading. I was also deeply intrigued by the character of Charles Fuller, for reasons I dare not disclose for fear of spoilers. At points, it was his story, attitude and actions that made me keep turning the pages, especially at a particularly tense scene involving John near the end…. This is a beautiful piece of writing from a very talented author and I cannot wait to now read her debut, if the brilliance of The Ballroom is anything to go by.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Choker – Elizabeth Woods

Published September 8, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Sixteen-year-old Cara Lange has been a loner ever since she moved away from her best and only friend, Zoe, years ago. She eats lunch with the other girls from the track team, but they’re not really her friends. Mostly she spends her time watching Ethan Gray from a distance, wishing he would finally notice her, and avoiding the popular girls who call her “Choker” after a humiliating incident in the cafeteria.

Then one day Cara comes home to find Zoe waiting for her. Zoe’s on the run from problems at home, and Cara agrees to help her hide. With her best friend back, Cara’s life changes overnight. Zoe gives her a new look and new confidence, and next thing she knows, she’s getting invited to parties and flirting with Ethan. Best of all, she has her BFF there to confide in.

But just as quickly as Cara’s life came together, it starts to unravel. A girl goes missing in her town, and everyone is a suspect—including Ethan. Worse still, Zoe starts behaving strangely, and Cara begins to wonder what exactly her friend does all day when she’s at school. You’re supposed to trust your best friend no matter what, but what if she turns into a total stranger?

What did I think?:

A huge thank you to my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads for bringing my attention to this book, she knows my bookish tastes very well and when she says I’m going to like something, I know she’s probably right! Beware all who covet this book for the pretty pink cover however, looks can be VERY deceiving and if you think you’re going to get something nice and “fluffy,” well, you’d be wrong. Never fear, this will be a spoiler free review as always if you haven’t read it yet – but prepare yourself for something you may not necessarily be expecting.

Our main character is sixteen year old Cara who is having a bit of a rougher time than your average teenager. Her family have recently moved house and she has been taken away from her best friend Zoe. As the two were pretty much inseparable, this is a big deal for Cara and she is struggling to fit in and make friends at her new school. After an unfortunate incident where she chokes in the school cafeteria, the “mean girl,” (and one of the most popular girls) Alexis makes her life a misery, instantly nicknaming her “Choker,” a name which is quick to travel to the ears of all the rest of the kids at the school, making her a laughing stock. Worse still, Cara has a huge crush on Ethan – who first of all, doesn’t even know she exists and two, happens to be the boyfriend of Alexis. No chance there then!

Until one day, Cara arrives home to see her old friend Zoe sitting on her bed. Zoe has had problems with her stepfather and something has happened which has led her to run away from home. Ecstatic to have her best friend back by her side again, Cara agrees to hide Zoe in her room. Why couldn’t she tell her parents? There is a reason, believe me. With the appearance of Zoe comes huge changes for Cara – a new look, increased confidence, invites to parties and even Ethan starts to show a bit of interest in her. Yet at the same time, terrible and odd things start happening. First, Zoe’s behaviour changes. She becomes desperately possessive of Cara, disappears all the time and won’t tell her where she’s been and begins acting like a completely different person. At the same time, Queen Bitch Alexis and her closest friend are killed and Zoe begins to act very suspiciously…

I thought I knew what this book was going to be all about and at first, I thought I could predict where it was going. I did happen to figure out what was going on about thirty pages from the end but it didn’t dampen my enjoyment of this story at all. I was surprised about just how dark it got in places – urrrrgh the scene with the cat….that’s all I’m saying! Elizabeth Woods certainly knows how to weave a thrilling narrative with a brutally toxic environment that I’m sure many of us can appreciate from our own teenage years. I think YA fans will absolutely love this novel and it’s a strong example of the genre. For anybody who doesn’t enjoy young adult fiction, yes it may not really be your cup of tea but I think it would definitely appeal to the target audience and that’s why I’m rating it as high as I have.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Reasons To Stay Alive – Matt Haig

Published September 3, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

I want life. I want to read it and write it and feel it and live it. I want, for as much of the time as possible in this blink-of-an-eye existence we have, to feel all that can be felt. I hate depression. I am scared of it. Terrified, in fact. But at the same time, it has made me who I am. And if – for me – it is the price of feeling life, it’s a price always worth paying.

Reasons to Stay Alive is about making the most of your time on earth. In the western world the suicide rate is highest amongst men under the age of 35. Matt Haig could have added to that statistic when, aged 24, he found himself staring at a cliff-edge about to jump off. This is the story of why he didn’t, how he recovered and learned to live with anxiety and depression. It’s also an upbeat, joyous and very funny exploration of how to live better, love better, read better and feel more.

What did I think?:

I’ve been dreading writing this review for so long now! Not because I disliked this book in any way – in fact I feel the exact opposite and as you will see, have given it the full five stars but because I’m not sure how my review can do justice to such an important piece of writing that Matt Haig has given us. The author has been very open in the past about his struggles with depression and anxiety and this book feels like both a breath of fresh air and a blessed relief for many sufferers (like myself) and even for anyone who knows someone who suffers with depression and/or anxiety (so, that’s probably everyone – right?).

I think this book is especially important for men. I’m sure we’ve all heard the shocking statistics about the number of young men who contemplate or sadly carry out their suicidal thoughts as generally speaking, they find it a lot harder to open up to people and talk about what they’re going through. Matt Haig was in a similar position at the age of twenty-four – that nasty, black dog had got under his skin good and proper and he considered ending his life. This book is about his journey back from the worst times of his life to his current state of mind, where he has come out the other side. It’s brutally honest, touching, emotional and very real and he gives hope to those sufferers that in their blackest days, there is hope and life is worth living.

“You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at a baby’s face as she lies asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view from a high place and not assess the likelihood of dying from falling. There are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra-large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late-night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.”

I read this book like one of those nodding dogs you see in the back of cars, every single sentence seemed to resonate with how I was feeling or how I have felt when depression gets its sharp teeth into your mind, skewing how you think about yourself and rattling your whole world and way of being. Yes, it’s horrible. Yes, you feel like you’re never going to be happy again and the crippling emotion of it all takes over your life. The author knows exactly what it’s like and uses his experience and gentle humour to let you know that you are not alone – which is a huge comfort for those going through it and a fantastic insight for anyone who wants to help someone they love who is suffering. I read this hugely poignant book losing count of the number of quotes I wanted to remember forever and it’s certainly a book I’ll return to at those times when things are getting a bit much. If you know what it’s like to be depressed, read this book. If someone you love is depressed, read this book. If you don’t really like non-fiction – it’s not what you think, read this book. It’s relevant for everyone.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Space Between: A Memoir Of Mother-Daughter Love At The End Of Life – Virginia A. Simpson

Published July 28, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

As a bereavement care specialist, Dr. Virginia Simpson has devoted her career to counseling individuals and families grappling with illness, death, and grieving. But when her own mother, Ruth, is diagnosed in 1999 with a life-threatening condition, Virginia is caught off guard by the storm of emotions she experiences when she is forced to inhabit the role of caregiver. In a quest to provide her mother with the best care possible, Virginia arranges for Ruth to move in with her and for the next six years, she cares for her, juggling her mother s doctor s appointments, meals, medication schedules, transportation needs, and often cranky moods with her own busy schedule. In The Space Between, Simpson takes readers along for the journey as she struggles to bridge the invisible, often prickly space that sits between so many mothers and daughters, and to give voice to the challenges, emotions, and thoughts many caregivers experience but are too ashamed to admit. Touching and vividly human, The Space Between reminds us all that without accepting the inevitability of death and looking ahead to it with clarity, life cannot be fully lived.

What did I think?:

First of all, many thanks to the author and publishers of this emotional memoir, She Writes Press, for providing me with a free copy in return for an honest review. I’ve got quite a strong relationship with my own mother and when I read the synopsis of this book, I knew I was going to be in for quite a heart-breaking ride. Well, I wasn’t wrong. This is a fantastic piece of non-fiction that explores the author’s own relationship with her mother as she faces chronic illness and the thing most people dread – old age and the inevitability of death peeking round the corner.

Ginni takes most (well actually, ALL) of the responsibility for her mother’s health and well-being on her own shoulders. She has quite a frayed relationship with her older brother Peter after suffering physical and emotional abuse from him when they were younger and indeed, he doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in many of the decisions Ginni has to make. She takes her mother into her own house as she can’t face putting her in a care home although before long, the strain it places on her both physically and mentally becomes too much and also threatens the solidity of the “up and down” relationship that they do have.

What I loved so much about this book was how brutally honest it is and I really feel for the author as it must have been quite a traumatic, although hopefully cathartic experience to write and re-live her personal experiences with her mother. Her mother does love her, that much is clear – but she has a bit of a funny way of showing it sometimes, especially when it comes to her brother Peter who Ginni believes was the “favourite” of the family. It represents such an authentic mother-daughter relationship – the bumps in the road, the rebellions, the arguments and tears but at the end, such a deep love that cannot be taken away or denied.

I already knew before I began this book that I was going to be quite affected by it but I never realised how much until I started reading. It’s very rare that a book makes me sob but with this one, some things just hit a little close to home and I really felt like I could sympathise and identify with Ginni. Even though the author works with those who have become bereaved I don’t think anything can prepare you for the death of a parent and I can only hope that when I have to suffer this terrible experience, I can be half as strong as Ginni was. This is a no holds barred, true and very raw story of the love between parents and their children and I want to thank the author for sharing her life and innermost feelings in such a beautiful way.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Short Stories Challenge – How I Finally Lost My Heart by Doris Lessing from the collection The Story: Love, Loss And The Lives Of Women

Published June 25, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s How I Finally Lost My Heart all about?:

How I Finally Lost My Heart is a story about a middle-aged woman who reflects on all the loves she has had in her life and recounts a particular experience detailing how she finally came to lose her heart.

What did I think?:

I was very excited to see another story by Doris Lessing in this collection after thoroughly enjoying the brilliant A Man and Two Women but this particular one left me feeling a bit confused, even though I couldn’t deny the beauty of the writing. It’s going to be a bit hard to talk about without quoting huge parts of the story which I don’t really like doing as I think it’s important to discover it all for yourself but I simply have to include the opening lines which really pulled me in, despite what I thought about the story as a whole:

“It would be easy to say that I picked up a knife, slit open my side, took my heart out, and threw it away, but unfortunately it wasn’t as easy as that. Not that I, like everyone else, had not often wanted to do it. No, it happened differently, and not as I expected.”

With that opening, how could you NOT read on? This is a first person narrative where the woman talking to us, speaks as she would do if there was no-one around to observe her and you can clearly tell from the start that her mind is quite a confused, disjointed space at this moment in her life. She is recounting to the reader the greatest loves of her life of which there have been only two, neither of these have been her husbands or the many affairs that she reports she has had. It seems that with both of these “serious loves,” the relationships ended badly and as a result, our anonymous narrator feels that her heart has become a stone that she carries around with her and is desperate to be rid of. How she finally gets rid of this stone is told to the reader in a bizarre fantasy sequence where she seems to exit her body and view her misery as if it is happening to someone else before she eventually gets a bit of closure.

It’s quite hard to describe and I don’t really want to ruin the story for anybody who is intrigued or Lessing fans who haven’t previously read it so I’ll leave the synopsis there. Personally, I don’t think I enjoyed this as much as A Man And Two Women and it left me in quite a confused, fragile mindset myself where I had to go back to the beginning and read it another couple of times before I accepted what was going on. Saying that, it was an exceptional piece of writing with some very vivid imagery and emotional anguish that affected me at times very deeply. I also appreciate a story that challenges me in this way and it definitely hasn’t put me off reading more Doris Lessing in the future. Have you read it? I’d love to know what you think!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Graveless Doll Of Eric Mutis by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

The End Of Miracles – Monica Starkman

Published June 1, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Margo Kerber has endured difficult years battling infertility while trying to sustain her good marriage and satisfying career. When a seemingly miraculous pregnancy ends in a late miscarriage, Margo is devastated. For a time, the unshakable yet false belief that she is pregnant again provides relief from all-consuming grief. When her fantasy inevitably clashes with reality, Margo falls into a deep depression requiring admission to a psychiatric unit. Uncertain if the sometimes chaotic environment there is helping or making her worse, she seizes an opportunity to flee. Alone on the city streets, new fantasies propel her to commit a crime with devastating consequences for herself and others.
Written by a prominent psychiatrist, this stirring portrait of one woman’s psychological unravelling takes readers on a journey across the blurred boundaries between sanity and depression, madness and healing.”

What did I think?:

First of all, many thanks to the lovely people at She Writes Press for providing me with a digital copy of this fascinating debut novel in exchange for an honest review. I have to be perfectly honest and say that I didn’t find this an easy read at all – the subject matters of infertility, miscarriage and mental health touch into some of my worst fears but ultimately I found this story to be a very rewarding one and a highly emotional reading experience.

Our main character is Margo Kerber, an intelligent and compassionate woman who works as a hospital administrator and volunteers part-time with children in the hospital who are ill and just require some comfort and a bit of cheering up and at a home for young people with severe mental health difficulties. She is married to Steven, who is successful in his own right and their marriage is primarily a happy one although they both feel that having a child would make their family complete.

Unfortunately, after some time of “trying,” the couple are given the devastating news that it is unlikely that they will ever conceive which breaks both their hearts but especially Margo, who always felt she was born to be a mother. Then one day, a miracle occurs, Margo finds out she is pregnant but their happiness is short-lived when she loses the baby. I don’t want to give too much more away but this event and others that follow send our poor protagonist into a spiral of grief, severe depression and frightening psychosis that leads to her marriage teetering on a knife edge. Margo must now go through extensive therapy examining both her traumatic past and painful present and a little soul searching if she is to recover some of the person she once was and regain hope for her future.

So, as you can imagine from this little summary, this book is tough but if you can handle the triggers it may invoke, it is a hugely important and powerful read. The author has many years of experience behind her as a psychiatrist and it is clear how much of her personal knowledge and experience was put into the novel which I really appreciated as a reader. I was also pleasantly surprised by how beautifully written some of the prose was which for me is always a bonus in a novel and clearly demonstrates a creative and imaginative mind. Everything about it was so very believable, including the characters and plot and although it raised quite a few painful emotions as I read it, I’m so very glad I did.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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