The Time of My Life

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The Time of My LifeThe Time of My Life by Patrick Swayze
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been meaning to read this book for years but just never got around to it. I grew up with Dirty Dancing, Red Dawn, The Outsiders, and Roadhouse so I was definitely a Patrick Swayze fan. I was upset by his cancer diagnosis and eventual death, but it wasn’t until a few years ago when a friend of mine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that I realized just what that diagnosis had meant for him.

What I liked most about this book is that is focuses on his early life and his career up to his diagnosis. I didn’t realize that Swayze had danced ballet professionally, though I knew he was a dancer. I enjoyed reading about his experiences while working and why he chose to make the films he did. He definitely wasn’t as prolific as some actors and it’s because he make movies he really believed in, even if they weren’t mega blockbusters. He could have made many more movies if he had allowed himself to be typecast but he really didn’t want that. He liked to make different kinds of films to stretch his abilities and to learn new things.

I also enjoyed reading about his relationship with his wife. They had their problems but they worked things out together through it all. In a time when a lot of Hollywood marriages don’t last more than a few years, it’s refreshing to read about a couple who truly loved, respected, and supported each other.

I have always enjoyed memoirs and autobiographies. Call it my nosy nature but I like the behind the scenes info people share about their lives that I wouldn’t otherwise get to know. I would have liked a bit more background on his family and I certainly felt that the loss of their baby could have gotten more than a couple of paragraphs but I imagine that even all those years later, it must have been incredibly difficult to write about.

Overall, I’m glad I read the book but it makes me sad too, to think of the loss of such a talented man, gone much too soon.

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Little House in the Big Woods

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Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Illustrated by Garth Williams

Read July 3, 2016

4 stars

It has been more than 30 years since I last read the Little House series. I decided that I wanted to read them again this year and see how they kind of stood up to the test of time I guess.

I loved LHIBW! It’s such a simple story but I felt a lot of emotion while reading it. Maybe it’s my old age but I sometimes miss the simpler times. Granted, I never knew times as simple as the Ingalls’ family, but it definitely hit that sentimental note for me. I loved the way she explained how things were made: how Ma colored the butter in the winter with carrots just because she thought yellow butter was prettier; how they stored their food for the winter in the cellar in the attic; how they made maple syrup and sugar. I could definitely go on.

The writing is simple as it’s for children and at first the short sentences felt choppy to me. After a very short time though, I was so engrossed in the story that the sentence structure ceased to exist and it was just Laura telling me a story. And as far as I’ve ever been concerned, that is the greatest mark of a good author.

I’m re-reading the entire series as part of a buddy read and I am excited to read the others in the series.

star 4

4 stars

Midwives

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Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

“With a suspense, lyricism, and moral complexity that recall To Kill a Mockingbird and Presumed Innocent, this compulsively readable novel explores what happens when a woman who has devoted herself to ushering life into the world finds herself charged with responsibility in a patient’s tragic death.

The time is 1981, and Sibyl Danforth has been a dedicated midwife in the rural community of Reddington, Vermont, for fifteen years. But one treacherous winter night, in a house isolated by icy roads and failed telephone lines, Sibyl takes desperate measures to save a baby’s life. She performs an emergency Caesarean section on its mother, who appears to have died in labor. But what if—as Sibyl’s assistant later charges—the patient wasn’t already dead, and it was Sibyl who inadvertently killed her?

As recounted by Sibyl’s precocious fourteen-year-old daughter, Connie, the ensuing trial bears the earmarks of a witch hunt except for the fact that all its participants are acting from the highest motives—and the defendant increasingly appears to be guilty. As Sibyl Danforth faces the antagonism of the law, the hostility of traditional doctors, and the accusations of her own conscience, Midwives engages, moves, and transfixes us as only the very best novels ever do.”

When coming to mark this book as read, I saw that I had put it on my to-read list back in 2008. I don’t recall when or where I first heard about the book that caused it to be added to my list. After all, my to-read list holds over three thousand books. I do, however, recall seeing it on the shelf at B&N two months ago and picking it up to read the back flap.

The title alone caught my attention due to the fact that my very best friend in the entire world is currently pursuing her dream of becoming a home birth midwife. She has been an apprentice midwife now for just over a year, so my knowledge and interest of all things midwife-y has grown considerably. I figured, if nothing else, I’d read it, see if it was any good and recommend it to her. It turns out she beat me to it. I was telling her about this book that I had seen that I wanted to read and she had already read it, owned it as a matter of fact, and would loan it to me. I didn’t realize that it was an Oprah read until she handed me her copy and I have to admit to being one of those people who rolls their eyes every time they see an Oprah’s Book Club marker on a book cover. But, as much as it annoys me, typically, the books she chooses are very good.

As for the book itself, I thought it very well written. I liked the way it was told through the memories of the midwife’s daughter with small snippets of Sybl’s journals at the beginning of each chapter.

Now, I personally have never attended a home birth, or any birth for that matter. I do know several women who have had home births over the past two years and I am friends with a home birth midwife and her two apprentices. I am familiar with the attitude towards home birth that many in the medical field have and I felt that was realistically portrayed in the book. I am all too aware of the ignorance of the general public when it comes to home birth. I often get a good laugh when I tell someone my friend is a home birth midwife. “You mean people still have babies at home?”

My one major issue with the book was that I did feel that Sybil would never have called her mother’s “patients”, she would have called them clients instead. But overall it appeared to be very well researched.

Some of the reviews I’ve read say that they feel the book is an indictment against home birth but I don’t think that is the case at all. I haven’t asked my friend what she thought of the book yet, I wanted to wait until I was done with it to discuss it with her but I’ll be interested to hear her take on the story. Personally, I gave it 4 stars, I liked it very much.

Paperback
374 pages
Published November 8th 1998 by Vintage
ISBN13: 9780375706776

4 stars

Mildred Pierce

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Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain

“Mildred Pierce had gorgeous legs, a way with a skillet, and a bone-deep core of toughness. She used those attributes to survive a divorce and poverty and to claw her way out of the lower middle class. But Mildred also had two weaknesses: a yen for shiftless men, and an unreasoning devotion to a monstrous daughter.

Out of these elements, Cain creates a novel of acute social observation and devastating emotional violence, with a heroine whose ambitions and sufferings are never less than recognizable.”

James M. Cain is recognized today as a master of the hard-boiled American novel. What the heck is a hard-boiled novel you ask? Hard-boiled is genre of fiction, a literary style most commonly associated with detective stories, distinguished by the unsentimental portrayal of violence and sex. The style was pioneered by Carroll John Daly in the mid-1920s, popularized by Dashiell Hammett over the course of the decade, and refined by Raymond Chandler beginning in the late 1930s.

I loved the book but occasionally, I want to reach through the pages, grab Mildred by her shoulders, and shake some sense into her! I definitely intend to read more of Cain’s work. He also wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice and I’ve already added it to my to-read list. If you intend to read this book you should keep in mind that it was first published in 1941 and it is about life in the depression, so the language used is quite different. I loved that it was written from a third person point of view. Lately almost everything I read is in first person pov so it was a nice change.

I think Cain did an excellent job of portraying Mildred as a woman who would do whatever she needed to do to give her children the best, whether or not it was actually the best for them. A lot of men try to write stories from a female point of view and fail miserably. Mildred is an enabler of the first degree but she can cook and bake better than anyone in Glendale, CA. Not to mention she’s apparently got sweet legs. She’s a strong woman, stronger than she gives herself credit for I think, but she can’t seem to grasp the one thing she wants most.

Paperback
304 pages
Published March 22nd 2011 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (first published 1941)
ISBN13: 9780307946591

Stuff: Compulsive Hoading and the Meaning of Things

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Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost & Gail Steketee

“What possesses someone to save every scrap of paper that’s ever come into his home? What compulsions drive a woman like Irene, whose hoarding cost her her marriage? Or Ralph, whose imagined uses for castoff items like leaky old buckets almost lost him his house?

Randy Frost and Gail Steketee were the first to study hoarding when they began their work a decade ago; they expected to find a few sufferers but ended up treating hundreds of patients and fielding thousands of calls from the families of others. Now they explore the compulsion through a series of compelling case studies in the vein of Oliver Sacks. With vivid portraits that show us the traits by which you can identify a hoarder’s piles on sofas and beds that make the furniture useless, houses that can be navigated only by following small paths called goat trails, vast piles of paper that the hoarders “churn” but never discard, even collections of animals and garbage; Frost and Steketee illuminate the pull that possessions exert on all of us. Whether we’re savers, collectors, or compulsive cleaners, very few of us are in fact free of the impulses that drive hoarders to the extremes in which they live.

For all of us with complicated relationships to our things, Stuff answers the question of what happens when our stuff starts to own us.”

Have you ever watched the show Hoarders on TV? Do you know a hoarder? My grandmother was a depression child and she kept everything! After she passed away it took me over a month to clean out her house. We parked a dumpster in the front yard and I filled it at least once a week. The subject fascinates me. The book reads a bit like a textbook, it will be a little dry if you aren’t really interested in the subject. But if the subject intrigues you like it does me, you’ll get into it. The case studies are great. It’s always more interesting to equate a subject with real people. It’s also not filled with too much technical speak. There are some scientific/medical terms used but the authors explain them well. A very interesting read.

Paperback
304 pages
Published January 29th 2011 by Mariner Books (first published 2010)
ISBN13: 9780547422558
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Nonfiction (2010)

4 stars

Retail Hell

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Retail Hell by Freeman Hall

“‘I think you left these behind,’ I said, handing them to her. This happens all the time when women try to return bags they’ve used. Tampons, lipstick, coins, Tic Tacs, and condoms are the top treasures found.

Greasy let out a sigh, as if I were the problem. ‘I was just trying my things in it. I really don’t see what the problem is here. It’s none of your business what I keep in my handbag.’

It is when my commission is at stake! I’m not your Designer Handbag Rental Service! My name is not BagBorrowOrSteal.com!

Enter Freeman Hall, an aspiring screenwriter who sets out to realize his Hollywood dream, but instead plunges into the seventh circle of Retail Hell when the rent comes due, selling animal-hide Hobos and overpriced clutches to Lookie-Loos and Picky Bitches-but always with a sunshiny smile.

Freeman toils in the handbag (that’s handbag, NOT purse) department of the Big Fancy department store, where he sees, hears, smells (and unfortunately, feels) it all! Here, he provides a true-and truly shocking-account of life from the other side of the handbag display. From early-morning RA-RA RALLIES to the craziest crazy-lady customers, Freeman’s horrific and hilarious workday tales redefine Juicy Couture.

As Freeman begins to plots his escape, he realizes that despite the Big Fancy’s lax return policy, for him, there really may be no returns . . . no exchanges . . . no way out.”

Personally, I think anyone who has ever worked retail will love this book. Having been in retail for a lot of years now, I can completely sympathize with Hall. I even have many similar stories. Customers who use employees as their personal shopper for hours on end only to leave the store without making a purchase. Customers who want to return the pair of shoes they bought 3 years ago and wore until they fell apart. And of course, the customer who mistakes the fitting room for the bathroom. *sigh*

You may think that Hall’s stories are fabrications, figments of his own imagination. But I can assure you, these stories, while they may have been embellished here and there, are hilariously, and a little sadly, 100% true.

4 stars

Stargirl

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Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

” “She was homeschooling gone amok.” “She was an alien.” “Her parents were circus acrobats.” These are only a few of the theories concocted to explain Stargirl Caraway, a new 10th grader at Arizona’s Mica Area High School who wears pioneer dresses and kimonos to school, strums a ukulele in the cafeteria, laughs when there are no jokes, and dances when there is no music. The whole school, not exactly a “hotbed of nonconformity,” is stunned by her, including our 16-year-old narrator Leo Borlock: “She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl.”

In time, incredulity gives way to out-and-out adoration as the student body finds itself helpless to resist Stargirl’s wide-eyed charm, pure-spirited friendliness, and penchant for celebrating the achievements of others. In the ultimate high school symbol of acceptance, she is even recruited as a cheerleader. Popularity, of course, is a fragile and fleeting state, and bit by bit, Mica sours on their new idol. Why is Stargirl showing up at the funerals of strangers? Worse, why does she cheer for the opposing basketball teams? The growing hostility comes to a head when she is verbally flogged by resentful students on Leo’s televised Hot Seat show in an episode that is too terrible to air. While the playful, chin-held-high Stargirl seems impervious to the shunning that ensues, Leo, who is in the throes of first love (and therefore scornfully deemed “Starboy”), is not made of such strong stuff: “I became angry. I resented having to choose. I refused to choose. I imagined my life without her and without them, and I didn’t like it either way.”

Jerry Spinelli, author of Newbery Medalist Maniac Magee, Newbery Honor Book Wringer, and many other excellent books for teens, elegantly and accurately captures the collective, not-always-pretty emotions of a high school microcosm in which individuality is pitted against conformity. Spinelli’s Stargirl is a supernatural teen character–absolutely egoless, altruistic, in touch with life’s primitive rhythms, meditative, untouched by popular culture, and supremely self-confident. It is the sensitive Leo whom readers will relate to as he grapples with who she is, who he is, who they are together as Stargirl and Starboy, and indeed, what it means to be a human being on a planet that is rich with wonders.

I enjoyed this book a lot. Not quite as much as I hoped to but it was still a great YA story. The characters didn’t feel like high school students to me, more like middle schoolers I guess, but overall it was a very well written book. I think it makes you ask yourself some questions when you’re reading it. Questions that most of us choose to ignore on a daily basis, whether we are in school or the workplace.

Mass Market Paperback
186 pages
Published May 11th 2004 by Laurel Leaf (first published August 8th 2000)
ISBN13: 9780440416777
Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award Nominee (2003), South Carolina Book Award Nominee for Young Adult Book Award (2003), Grand Canyon Reader Award for Teen Book (2003), Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award Nominee (2001), Iowa Teen Award (2003), Iowa Teen Award (2003), ALA’s Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2001), Book Sense Book of the Year Honor Book for Children’s Literature (2001)

4 stars