Book Review: Behind Closed Doors by Maggie Hartley

Late last month, carol anne of Therapy Bits shared about some audiobooks she’d pre-ordered with the credits she’d gotten for Christmas I believe. One of the books she had ordered was Maggie Hartley’s latest foster care memoir, Behind Closed Doors. I initially misunderstood and thought the book was already out, so I tried to get it on Apple Books, but then found out it wouldn’t be out till January 6. I never pre-order books honestly, so this Thursday, it was time for me to buy it and I started reading it right away. Here’s my review.

Summary

Foster carer Maggie Hartley is finally enjoying a well-earned holiday from fostering, savoring time with her brand new baby granddaughter. One night, though, the peace and quiet is interrupted by an urgent call from Social Services. A man has been stabbed, and Social Services need to find an emergency placement for his little girl.

Maggie is used to children arriving on her doorstep at all times of the day and night, but nothing can prepare her for the sight of eleven-year-old Nancy. The little girl arrives in her pajamas, covered in blood, and mute with shock. With her mother missing and her father in intensive care, the police are desperate for answers.

Who stabbed Nancy’s father? Where is her mother? And what is Nancy hiding about her seemingly perfect family? The longer Maggie spends with her little girl, the clearer it becomes that all is not as it seems. Can Maggie discover the terrible truth of what’s been happening behind closed doors?

My Review

This story was very interesting. I loved learning about Nancy’s life and her apparently perfect family. As with most foster care memoirs I’ve read, the plot was on the predictable side, though it did have afew twists I didn’t see coming. I tend not to mind predictable stories though, but if you’re a fan of fast-paced books with lots of twists, this isn’t the right book (or genre) for you.

The characters, on the other hand, were very well-rounded. I liked how Maggie showed each person’s positive as well as negative sides. I loved how Nancy’s perspective of her family and what a normal, loving marriage is like developed over time.

I did get slightly annoyed at Maggie’s writing style occasionally, which was my reason for initially giving the book a four-star rating on Goodreads. Then I felt pressured by the community and changed it to a five-star rating. I want half stars!

Book Details

Title: Behind Closed Doors
Author: Maggie Hartley
Publisher: Seven Dials
Publication Date: January 6, 2022

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Book Review: A Danger to Herself and Others by Alyssa Sheinmel

Hi all. I finally picked up reading again last week and for a change didn’t start yet another new book. Rather, I finished a book I’d been reading for a few months already: the young adult novel A Danger to Herself and Others by Alyssa Sheinmel. I’d first heard about this book about half a year ago on another blog and immediately downloaded it off Bookshare. Now that I’ve finished reading it, here’s my review.

Summary

Only when she’s locked away does the truth begin to escape…

Four walls. One window. No way to escape. Hannah knows there’s been a mistake. She didn’t need to be institutionalized. What happened to her roommate at her summer program was an accident. As soon as the doctors and judge figure out that she isn’t a danger to herself or others, she can go home to start her senior year. In the meantime, she is going to use her persuasive skills to get the staff on her side.

Then Lucy arrives. Lucy has her own baggage. And she may be the only person who can get Hannah to confront the dangerous games and secrets that landed her in confinement in the first place.

My Review

This story is told entirely from Hannah’s perspective and that makes it a very intriguing read. At the beginning, I disliked Hannah, but rooted for her at the same time. Maybe because I can relate to her experience of, as she says it, having been “born mature” and trying to outsmart the world.

I also found that Dr. Lightfoot was a likeable character. As she tries to get it through to Hannah that she may in fact be mentally ill and Hannah tries to outsmart her, I can totally feel their dynamic and I find I’m alternatingly on either one’s side.

The book has some interesting twists that I won’t give away and, though I could see some of them coming, they were still surprising enough that the story didn’t feel predictable to me.

Sheinmel says at the end that this book isn’t meant to educate about mental illness. This may be one reason we don’t get any clarity about Hannah’s exact diagnosis. I, like most readers probably, can make a guess. Because of the lack of specifics though, I don’t really know whether Hannah’s is any good representation of the experience of severe mental illness. That’s the only thing I didn’t like about this book and the reason I ended up giving it a four-star rating. Other than that, I loved this book!

Book Details

Title: A Danger to Herself and Others
Author: Alyssa Sheinmel
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: February 5, 2019

Book Review: The Bad Room by Jade Kelly

Last month, I somehow felt inspired to check out abuse survivor memoirs on Apple Books. I came across The Bad Room by Jade Kelly and it immediately appealed to me, so I decided to buy it. At first, I raced through it. Then, I fell into a reading slump. I finally finished the book yesterday.

Summary

After years of physical and mental abuse, Jade thought her kindly foster mother would be the answer to her prayers. She was wrong … this is her staggering true story.

‘This must be what prison is like,’ I thought as another hour crawled by. In fact, prison would be better … at least you knew your sentence. You could
tick off the days until you got out. In the Bad Room we had no idea how long we’d serve.

After years of constant abuse, Jade thought her foster mother Linda Black would be the answer to her prayers. Loving and nurturing, she offered ten-year-old Jade a life free of fear.

But once the regular social-worker checks stopped, Linda turned and over the next six years Jade and three other girls were kept prisoner in a bedroom
they called the ‘bad room’.

Shut away for 16 hours at a time, they were starved, violently beaten, forbidden from speaking or using the toilet and routinely humiliated. Jade was left feeling broken and suicidal.

This is the powerful true story of how one woman banished the ghosts of her past by taking dramatic action to protect the life of every vulnerable child
in care.

My Review

I was pulled in to this book right from the start. The prologue was captivating! It immediately painted a picture of what life was like in the Bad Room. Then, as Jade describes her life before being taken into foster care, the story gets slightly less fast-paced, but it’s still very intriguing.

Jade is very candid about her own faults. Like, when she’s first in care with Linda Black, she genuinely believes she is different from the other girls in care and she won’t end up being treated like them. She is also open about the moments she tells on or even lies about the others in order to (hopefully) be liked by Linda more. This shows that Jade isn’t a saint; she’s just trying to survive.

It is truly heartbreaking to see how social services fail Jade and the other girls time and time again despite the massive amounts of documentation on their case. I can relate to this in a way. For this reason, I feel that this story is very important reading material for social workers and foster carers in the UK and elsewhere. Thankfully, Jade survived to tell her story. Others may not be so lucky.

Book Details

Title: The Bad Room: Held Captive and Abused by My Evil Carer. A True Story of Survival
Author: Jade Kelly
Publisher: HarperElement
Publication Date: June 25, 2020

App Review: Diarium for Windows 10 and iOS

As regular readers of this blog may know, I’m perpetually looking for an offline diary to keep. The problem doesn’t seem to be the lack of apps available, though I find fault with each of them. Rather, it seems to be the lack of commitment to actually keeping a daily journal.

That being said, I’ve tried a lot of apps. Until very recently, the iOS app Day One was by far my favorite. Now, it seems to have gotten a strong competitor in Diarium.

Diarium was originally developed as a Windows 10 app. This was before I had a Windows 10 computer. At some point roughly three years ago, they however launched the iOS app. It was still far from ideal at the time. If I remember correctly, most buttons weren’t labeled and there was no timeline view.

In the current iOS version, the tabs in the bottom right corner allow you to switch between timeline, calendar, search, map and tags. I really love this.

In the top left corner of the screen is the button to add an entry. This will open a calendar with an ability to pick the date. Diarium, though it does seem to support multiple entries per day, does not automatically include the timestamp. Rather, you have to click a button while typing your entry to insert it. You can also add images (not sure if you can add just one image per entry or multiple), audio or files.

Also in the top left corner are buttons to sync your diary with OneDrive, iCloud Drive, Google Drive, WebDav or Dropbox. This is a paid feature, but the positive about Diarium’s paid plan as opposed to for example Day One’s, is that it’s €5,99 (if I’m correct) and is a one-time purchase rather than the €37,99 per year for Day One. To Day One’s credit, it does offer more features.

I have Diarium on both my iPhone and Windows 10 PC now. At first, I had no clue how to use the Windows 10 app, because it doesn’t work like Word or Notepad or any of the older Windows programs at all. For example, Alt or Shift+F10 doesn’t work to open a menu at all (there doesn’t seem to be a menu). I’m still figuring things out a little, but it seems most buttons at least are clearly labeled. When I tap the button to add an entry though, I have yet to figure out how to get back to my diary without closing and relaunching the entire app.

Diarium allows integration with several services, including your weather app, Twitter, Facebook and Fitbit. I so far only have integration set up with the iPhone’s weather app and Fitbit. I love how that way, my daily step count is included with each day’s entry. Unlike apps like Momento, Diarium as far as I know doesn’t create separate entries for your integrations, but rather includes them on each day’s main entry. This may be both a drawback and an advantage depending on your perspective.

There are two things I find slightly annoying about Diarium. The first is the fact that each entry is auto-titled something like “Dear diary” and auto-formatted to start with “Today I …”. It does look like you can delete or ignore this though. The other thing is the fact that, despite the fact that I turned it off in settings, my entire entries are still shown in the timeline. This might be a bug, so I’m going to contact the developer about this.

Overall, I really like Diarium. If, like me, you’ve been using Day One and would like to migrate, there’s an easy way to do that by exporting your Day One journal into a .Zip file and importing it into Diarium. Some of the preformatted stuff from Day One looks weird in Diarium, but it’s still readable.

A Recent Purchase: Apple AirPods Pro

One of Mama Kat’s writing prompts for this week is to write about a recent purchase. Like I said last week, I was seriously considering getting Apple AirPods Pro once my vacation allowance landed in my bank account. At the time, I had not yet seen the payment details of it, so I was still unsure I’d get it at all, or how much I’d get.

By Monday, my payment details from the benefits authority arrived in my government inbox. I wouldn’t be getting the money until Friday, but on Wednesday, I was so excited I decided to buy the AirPods anyway.

I ordered them from Bol.com at 1PM Wednesday. They gave me the option of selecting to get the AirPods delivered the same evening, so I was like: “Yes please!” Unfortunately, my screen reader wouldn’t let me toggle the button, so I got a staff to do that for me. My brand new Apple AirPods Pro arrived at 6:30PM that evening.

I struggled a little to get the AirPods connected and the medium-sized earmuffs felt uncomfortably large to me even though the fitting test on my iPhone said they fit. Then I struggled to remove the medium earmuffs and replace them with the small ones, but my staff eventually found out how to do this.

The AirPods came with a wireless charging case. As is the norm with current Apple products, they also came with a lightning to USB-c charging cable but no charger. I have an iPhone SE 2020, which still came with a regular USB charger. For this reason, I wondered whether I could charge the case with my iPhone charger or I needed to buy a USB-c charger. It might be faster with that one, but my iPhone’s charger works at least.

It also took me a little figuring out where the force sensor was located and how to use it. Once I figured it out though, it’s really intuitive. It works similar to the home button on my iPhone, really. I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to take incoming calls using just my AirPods, but today I found out I can.

The AirPods Pro have really good noise-canceling, which was one reason I wanted the Pro ones specifically. When I have noise cancellation on, I feel quite well shut off from my surroundings, even when I’m not listening to music. When I do want to hear what’s happening around me, I easily switch to the transparency mode and can hear everything just fine even while still listening to music.

I originally wanted the AirPods so that I can fall asleep while listening to soothing sounds, for example from the myNoise app on my iPhone. That, unfortunately, isn’t working yet, as I haven’t found a way to make the AirPods feel comfortable when I’m trying to sleep. That might be a good thing though, as I have no idea whether the AirPods will really be able to withstand a sleeping me. Overall, however, I really like my new AirPods.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Book Review: A Sister’s Shame by Maggie Hartley

Hi everyone! I am pretty behind on my reading for the year, but am hoping to catch up over the coming months. I so far finished five books out of my goal of reading twenty in 2021. The most recent book I finished is A Sister’s Shame by Maggie Hartley. This book came out on April 15 and I immediately ordered it on Apple Books. I already finished it last Friday, but couldn’t find the time to review it until now.

Summary

Foster carer Maggie Hartley is used to all manner of children arriving on her doorstep, but nothing can prepare her for sisters Billy and Bo when they
arrive at her home. It is clear from the moment she sets eyes on them four-year-old Bo and seven-year-old Billy have clearly been subjected to unimaginable
neglect, and it takes all of Maggie’s skills as a foster carer to try to connect with the volatile little girls, who seem far younger than their years.

Over time, the little girls slowly emerge from their shells, and Maggie begins the difficult task of trying to gain their trust. But as time goes on, it
becomes clear that there is something much darker going on, something that will call into question everything Maggie has ever learned in all her years
as a foster carer…

My Review

Even despite the fact that the main issues in this book aren’t mentioned in the synopsis, I found this book to be on the predictable side. I could pretty quickly imagine what Billie and Bo had been and were still going through. As such, if you’re used to books with lots of twists and turns, this book isn’t for you. However, if you want to learn what fostering in the UK is really like, or if you’re interested in inspirational memoirs, this is a great book. I for one don’t really care for unexpected plot twists, so I didn’t mind the fact that this story is quite predictable. In fact, I loved to read about all the details that my imagination couldn’t fill in already.

I had only read one Maggie Hartley memoir before and that one was soon one of my favorite inspirational memoirs. That one, Who Will Love Me Now?, which I reviewed last August, deals with an older child. I usually like to read about older children more than about younger children, so that one was slightly more for me than this. However, I could definitely sympathize with Billie and Bo too, thanks to Hartley’s compassionate writing style. For this reason, I gave this book five stars on Goodreads too.

Book Details

Title: A Sister’s Shame
Author: Maggie Hartley
Publisher: Seven Dials
Publication Date: April 15, 2021

Book Review: Abby, Tried and True by Donna Gephart

About a week ago, I was browsing the children’s book category on Bookshare and I came across the realistic middle grade novel Abby, Tried and True by Donna Gephart. Gephart was a new to me author even though she’s had eight middle grade novels published so far.

I was already reading four different books at the same time, but needed something, uhm, lighter? Not that the subject matter of this book is light, but I did expect it to be more easy to read than the adult novels I was reading. I raced through the first 80% of this book, then let it sit there because the #AtoZChallenge got in the way. I eventually decided to finish the book last night. Let me share my thoughts.

Summary

When Abby Braverman’s best friend, Cat, moves to Israel, she’s sure it’s the worst thing that could happen. But then her older brother, Paul, is diagnosed with cancer, and life upends again. Now it’s up to Abby to find a way to navigate seventh grade without her best friend, help keep her brother’s spirits up during difficult treatments, and figure out her surprising new feelings for the boy next door.

My Review

First, let me share that this book is really good with respect to its representation of diverse characters. Abby and her family are Jewish, which in a way shouldn’t be surprising, but it was to me. Abby has two Moms and nowhere is there a mention of a biological father. Abby just corrects people who assume she must have a Mom and a Dad.

Second, Abby is a truly great character. At first, she seems a bit dorky, but her sense of humor is apparent pretty quickly. I really loved the word jokes in this book. One of them, about Mom Rachel’s cooking YouTube, I didn’t even get until I’d finished the book.

Despite the tough subject matter of Paul’s cancer, this is a really lighthearted read. I don’t mean that the hard parts are sugarcoated – they aren’t. I mean, Paul truly experiences grief and sadness and this is made very clear. However, through Abby’s strength, I keep feeling that everything will be okay in the end.

The side characters are also very well-developed. I totally rooted for Conrad, the boy next door Abby has feelings for. However, there are also more negative characters out there. That makes this story believable and yet positive at the same time.

Overall, I loved this story. I gave it a solid five stars on Goodreads.

Book Details

Title: Abby, Tried and True
Author: Donna Gephart
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 9, 2021

Book Review: A Life Lost by Cathy Glass

Already some months ago, I found out about Cathy Glass’ new foster care memoir, A Life Lost. It didn’t come out till February 18 though and I never pre-order books. I waited for the release date and then immediately bought the eBook on Apple Books. Even though I was reading several other books, I gave priority to this one. I finished it yesterday. Today, I’m ready for a review.

Summary

Jackson is aggressive, confrontational and often volatile. His mother, Kayla, is crippled with grief after tragically losing her husband and eldest son.
Struggling to cope, she puts Jackson into foster care.

Cathy, his carer, encourages Jackson to talk about what has happened to his family, but he just won’t engage. His actions continue to test and worry everyone.

Then, in a dramatic turn of events, the true reason for Jackson’s behaviour comes to light …

My Review

This is a remarkable story. I had already read several of Cathy Glass’ other foster care memoirs, so already knew I liked her writing style. However, some of the books are a bit too predictable for my liking. This one wasn’t. It wasn’t too suspenseful for my liking either. In fact, Cathy used the exact right balance between tension and predictability. For this reason, I had some idea of the reason for Jackson’s behavior, but it still came as enough of a surprise.

This story is not just about Jackson, but also about Tilly, another child in Cathy’s care. I hadn’t read Cathy’s previous book, A Terrible Secret, which introduces Tilly, but I didn’t feel I was missing information. Cathy takes care to explain enough that each memoir can be read as a standalone and yet keeps her explanations brief enough that it doesn’t get boring if you’ve read many of her other books.

One thing that made me feel a little uncomfortable, but in a good way, was the story’s ending. It is sad, but then again sadness is part of life.

I totally loved this story and gave it five stars on Goodreads. I really hope this isn’t Cathy Glass’ last memoir.

Book Details

Title: A Life Lost: Jackson Is Haunted by a Secret from His Past
Author: Cathy Glass
Publisher: HarperElement
Publication Date: February 18, 2021

Book Review: Hatch by Kenneth Oppel

Yay, I finally finished Hatch by Kenneth Oppel. I had read Bloom, the first book in the trilogy, last summer and reviewed it here in August. Hatch came out on December 1 I think (although Goodreads says it came out on September 15). I got it off Bookshare the next day. Today I’m finally able to review it.

Summary

Fans left desperate for more at the end of Bloom will dive into this second book of the Overthrow trilogy–where the danger mounts and alien creatures begin to hatch. First the rain brought seeds. Seeds that grew into alien plants that burrowed and strangled and fed. Seth, Anaya, and Petra are strangely immune to the plants’ toxins and found a way to combat them. But just as they have their first success, the rain begins again. This rain brings eggs. That hatch into insects. Not small insects. Bird-sized mosquitos that carry disease. Borer worms that can eat through the foundation of a house. Boat-sized water striders that carry away their prey. But our heroes aren’t able to help this time–they’ve been locked away in a government lab with other kids who are also immune. What is their secret? Could they be… part alien themselves? Whose side are they on? Kenneth Oppel expertly escalates the threats and ratchets up the tension in this can’t-read-it-fast-enough adventure with an alien twist. Readers will be gasping for the next book as soon as they turn the last page…

My Review

I truly loved the first half or so of the book. It shows how Anaya, Petra and Seth try to survive whilst being locked up in a government lab and cruelly experimented on by the military. I didn’t care that they were part alien themselves. In fact, just like while reading Bloom, I mostly just cared about the main characters’ wellbeing and was hardly touched by the rest of the world being harmed by the alien insects. I think that’s a true positive about this series, that it paints the characters so well that I truly empathize with them.

Then, around 65% into the book, it got a bit boring. I was convinced I’d neared the end of the story only to find out from my app that I was only at two-thirds or so. By around 80%, the story got more fast-paced again and I truly raced through those last pages.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but I do need to say it was not what I’d expected. Though I do really want to know more, the ending of this book was a bit of a disappointment.

I ended up rating this book four out of five stars because of its not so fast-paced bits in the middle and its ending.

Book Details

Title: Hatch (The Overthrow, #2)
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication Date: December 1, 2020

Book Review: Let Me Go by Casey Watson

Last week, I found out Amazon.nl now accepts iDEAL, the Dutch payment method via your bank account. Unfortunately, as of yet, it doesn’t accept this method for digital purchases such as Kindle books. I didn’t realize this until I had already bought a book with my husband’s credit card. Honestly, I think it’s stupid that they won’t accept iDEAL for digital purchases, but oh well. Anyway, looking back maybe I should’ve purchased a book that isn’t on Apple Books, but I ended up purchasing Let Me Go, Casey Watson’s latest foster care memoir. This book came out last August, but I wasn’t really interested in reading it up till now. Read on to see what I thought.

Summary

Let Me Go is the powerful new memoir from foster carer and Sunday Times bestselling author Casey Watson.

Harley, 13, has been sectioned under the mental health act after attempting suicide. She was spotted climbing the railings on a footbridge that crossed a busy motorway and pulled to safety by a member of the public. After six weeks in hospital, social services are looking for a short-term placement so she can be kept safe while family therapy takes place. Harley has a family – a widowed mother and an older sister, Milly, who left home with her long-term boyfriend just over a year ago. There is no prospect of Harley going home just yet though, as her mum, who has learning difficulties and addictions issues, feels she cannot cope. So she arrives with Casey and Mike under a twenty-eight day care order.

As Harley tries to hurl herself out of the moving car on the way home, it quickly becomes clear she is in urgent need of help. Three weeks into the placement, after Harley has made various attempts to abscond, it seems like zero progress is being made. Then all of sudden there is an unexpected breakthrough, and light at the end of a long dark tunnel, but only once Harley is finally able to share the truth about the abuse she suffered at the hands of a very dangerous man.

My Review

This book is a sad look into the errors of the care system. Harley is deemed “care-seeking” (the politically correct term for attention-seeking) by the mental health professionals and is, for this reason, refused mental health care even though she’s clearly at risk. I mean, I honestly don’t feel that anyone in their right mind would make multiple even half-hearted attempts at suicide. In fact, I’m so happy the mental health system here in the Netherlands at least allowed care based on “adjustment disorder” (serious distress due to environmental circumstances) back in my day. It doesn’t anymore, unfortunately.

I was, at first, convinced Harley was at least at risk of developing emotionally unstable (borderline) personality disorder. This can’t be diagnosed in children her age, but it sure seemed she would meet the criteria at some point. BPD is, though, usually a trauma-based condition. So is Harley’s condition, as it turns out.

I had lots of sympathy for Harley, even as Casey and Mike almost lost it with her. This is in part due to the similarities between her experience and mine, but also due to Casey’s caring writing style.

Still, the book dragged a little at first. That’s probably to illustrate how little progress was made at first. Once Harley’s real situation is clear, things after all move more quickly.

At the end, Casey explains some of the issues with the 28-day care order. This was really interesting to read.

Overall, I really loved this book. I should’ve read it as soon as it came out.

Book Details

Title: Let Me Go: Abused and Afraid, She Has Nothing to Live for
Author: Casey Watson
Publisher: HarperElement
Publication Date: August 6, 2020

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