Friday, May 27, 2011

Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey by Patricia Harman

"Arms Wide Open is not just for those interested in midwifery or feminism. It's for anyone, of any gender, young or old, who cares about the earth and social justice. We each have our own song. This is mine and I sing it for you." -Author's Note

I know this book won't ever show up on bestselling lists like a lot of the books I review. It's probably not even a familiar title to most of you. This is a beautiful memoir, though, about all of the things mentioned above and more: midwifery, feminism, the state of health care in our country, motherhood and grandmotherhood, social justice and environmentalism. If any of those subjects interest you, I urge you to give it a shot.

I loved reading about her experiences living in communes. I could never give up all my luxuries, especially technology, but I'm so interested in that time during during the 1960s and 1970s when people were earnestly trying this. I know I would live in an intentional community, as long as I could keep my technology.

Because I'm passionate about birth, I enjoyed reading her experiences as a midwife. She starts as a home birth midwife and becomes a certified nurse-midwife, or CNM. Her husband is a P.A. and his experiences told in the story are a sad example of some of the things that are wrong with health care today.

I'll definitely be reading her other memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown, and looking into other memoirs of this sort (I'm talking about you, Ina May Gaskin).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

"You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high, and, best of all, no more front doors slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw them down their gloves on cold desert mornings. Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life."

   I can't put into words how much I loved this book, but I shall try. You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon is a collection of short stories about "the army of women waiting for their men to return in Fort Hood, Texas." Eight loosely connected short stories dealing with some of the realities of military life: loneliness, PTSD, living on base, and adultery among other things.

   For a few reasons, I don't usually seek out short stories. Usually, there are a few amazing stories in a collection and the rest are just okay. That is not the case with You Know When the Men Are Gone. Every story is strong in its own right. The stories chosen for the first and last stories make a perfect introduction and conclusion for the collection.

   Other problems I have with short stories is that they are not long enough for me to feel a connection to the characters, and I feel they wrap up too tidily for something so short. I felt a connection with almost all of the characters and was immediately interested in their lives and what was happening to them. While Fallon is a talented writer, my interest is probably also due to the fact that this is a life and culture I know little about. As for Fallon's endings, they don't wrap up. And while that leaves me wanting, I appreciate it because life is not always tidy. I will say I am not exaggerating when I say I wanted more. One of the stories, "Leave," is about a soldier that suspects his wife is cheating on him. He comes home on leave without telling and sneaks into the basement, where he waits for proof one or or another. The ending to this story is left up to the imagination.

   Fallon's collection has made me want to give short stories another chance. Anyone have any recommendations? Sadly, the collection also makes me want to check out the show Army Wives, even though I am trying to cut out TV time, not add to it. It was just so interesting and I want more from her, more about these characters, but since I don't have that... Army Wives it is.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Top Ten Books You Lied About

This week's Top Ten meme at The Broke and the Bookish asks us to list the top ten books you've lied about... lied about reading, about not reading, about liking or disliking, etc. This will definitely be a short list, because I'm having a hard time thinking of these.

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar- I liked the show, so I read the first few books. I'm somewhat embarrassed about it, so I usually omit that I have read them. They are quick reads though, and might show up on my beach reads list next week.

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien- I was at a work event and they were playing the "stand up, sit down" game. If you had not read the Lord of the Rings, you were supposed to sit down. You all have no idea how badly I wanted to lie and stay standing. I've meant to read these books, and I'm ashamed as an English Literature graduate that I haven't read them I did read The Hobbit, though, so that's a start.

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer- I have this on my "read" list on Goodreads, but I've never read all of them. I even rated it four stars, but that's because I loved the tales I did read. Yep, I've only read some of the tales, and it was for school.

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot- The Waste Land is a 15 page poem. I had to read it multiple times in a 2-3 week period and then write a paper praising it. I was so sick of it by that point, but I wrote the paper as if I wasn't.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday flops

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later by Francine Pascal- I loved this series growing up, but it was just a bad idea to pick this up. Obviously I knew it wouldn't be amazing or even well-written, but I had a previous connection to the characters, and wanted a beach read for my California vacation. It was just a bad idea all around. This review at the book blog Stacked says it all. I agree with her completely, but would go one step further. I wouldn't even recommend it if you were a Sweet Valley reader in the past.

This Girl Is Different by JJ Johnson- I'm interested in homeschooling, plus I love to read anything that's not mainstream culture. When I saw this book on Netgalley, I requested it and thought I would really enjoy it. The portrayal of homeschoolers was too stereotypical, and the ending was just too perfect.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Something Blue by Emily Giffin

Something Blue is Darcy's side of the story. Everything that happens in Something Borrowed is seen from her point of view, and then the story continues. I didn't think I would like this book. Darcy was so unlikable to me. I'm glad I read it. It's fun and I would still consider it "chick lit," but there's an undeniable message. It's a story of maturing and moving on with your life. And (spoiler alert) by the end of the book I loved Darcy. She grows leaps and bounds in the two years after the initial story.

Warning: don't see the movie Something Borrowed until after you've read this book. It changed a part from the first book that somewhat ruined Darcy's love story for me. Yes, she finds true love too, and it's wonderful.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

I took this book on vacation with me, and it was a perfect beach read. Perfect. I had been avoiding this book, since I'm not the biggest fan of "chick lit," but then I saw a preview for the movie. I like the actors in the movie, especially John Krasinski, and it looked really cute. I decided to read the book before I saw the movie and I'm glad I did.

Back to the book, shall we? This is a really strong debut book about friendship, love and when you can't have both. There is language, and sex, so be warned, but it isn't gratuitous at all.

Something Borrowed, and its companion/sequel Something Blue, tell the story of two lifelong friends, Rachel and Darcy. Rachel is a good girl and the quiet one, while Darcy is the life of the party who always gets her way. At least until Rachel sleeps with her fiance. (I know, I don't usually like adultery in books or movies, but it has its purpose here.) All of the characters are flawed, so your sympathies change. Rachel is pathetic for not going for the guy when she had the chance, but Darcy wasn't really a good friend to begin with. I love where the story goes after the betrayal.

Seriously, this book is the perfect summer read. Watch for my review of Something Blue tomorrow.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Top Ten Favorite Minor Characters

This week's Top Ten meme from The Broke and the Bookish asks us to name our top ten list for minor characters in literature. This has been hard, because sometimes minor characters have such an important role that in your head they seem like major characters. I finally had to allow myself to select characters like that, characters that really make an impact to the reader but don't always have a huge presence in the book.

Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter- At some points, they play a bigger role, but if you look at the series as a whole I think they are minor characters. Oh, how I love them though. I love how loony Luna is, and I love how much Neville grows throughout the series.

Aunt and Uncle Gardiner from Pride and Prejudice- I"ll be honest here- I couldn't remember their names and had to look them up, but they definitely make my list. I took a condensed British Romantic Literature class in college, and my final essay was about these two. The balance they give the Bennett girls from their parents, especially the aunt, is really important. Plus, they play a pivotal role in Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth finally getting together.

Gabe from The Giver- I think Gabe is the reason Jonas leaves in search of a better place, to give Gabe and other children a different and better future.

Boo Radley, Mr. Cunningham and the mad dog from To Kill a Mockingbird- When I got to thinking about it, Harper Lee is the queen of minor characters (and isn't too shabby about writing major characters, either). It seems like every character has a place in the book and that place really means something. Boo Radley is obvious, of course. Scout, Jem, And Dill are obsessed with him, and then he ends up saving them.

Mr. Cunningham is Scout's classmate's father, and is part of the mob that comes one night to get Tom Robinson. I love how he is able to realize what they are doing is wrong because of Scout talking to him about his son and how Atticus has helped them as well. He's able to get the crowd to leave for the night.

Lastly, the mad dog. He's only in the book for a few pages, but his presence teaches Scout and Jem that there are things they don't know about their father and that you shouldn't brag about your talents. 

Erika Berger from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millenium trilogy)- I know, all of the female focus in this series is on Lisbeth, and rightly so. I think Erika is pretty amazing too. She's strong, smart, and willing to help Lisbeth when she needs it. 

Angus from Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging- I know I've had all serious picks, so I thought I would end on a light-hearted note. Angus the pet of the Nicholson family. He's a half Scottish Wildcat, and is just hilarious as far as cats go.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Since this blog is new and all, I don't think I've professed my love for Tina Fey here. It doesn't seem to have an end, really. She made fun of natural childbirth in a SNL skit this last week, and I still love her. If you are at all a fan of hers, you will enjoy Bossypants. Just don't make the same mistake as me. I saw it at Target and decided to splurge. I paid $17 for it. I started reading it, and then my sister and I started planning a spontaneous road trip. And I heard on NPR how good the audio book was, since she reads it and all. I was so mad at myself for buying the book! I decided I had to have the audio to listen to while I was driving, so I joined Audible so I could get it for $8. People, I haven't paid over $20 for a book in years. It was worth every penny. The only thing I don't like is the cover. It fits, because she has accomplished so much in the "man's world" of comedy and television writing, but it weirds me out all the same. If you like Tina Fey, you should give this book (or audio book, preferably) a try. The audio from her Sarah Palin skits are included, and it was just as funny to listen to now in 2011 as it was in 2008.

Here is one of my favorite parts. You may have seen it before. It made the rounds on some blogs yesterday for Mother's Day. This is her prayer for her daughter.

First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.

Guide her, protect her

When crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.

What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.

“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Top Ten Jerks In Literature

This week's Top Ten meme from The Broke and the Bookish asks us to name our top ten list for jerks in literature.

Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice- He's definitely in the "just acted like one but could be quite loveable" category.

Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye- I know some people liked him and related to him, but I was not one of those people. He annoyed me to no end and I thought he was a jerk.

Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl- I'm almost ashamed to add him to the list, but yes, I have read a few of the books and I watched the first two seasons of the show. I stopped when him and Blair broke up. If they get back together, let me know. They are both brats and are perfect for each other.

Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter- Of course, he had to be on this list. I'm sure he'll be on most peoples' list.

Nils Bjurman from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo- Horrible, horrible man that abuses any power he gets.

George Wickham from Pride and Prejudice- Boy who can accept no responsibility masquerading as a man.

Benedict Fludd and Herbert Methley from The Children's Book- Not many people have read this book so I won't give their sins away, but these two men are messed up.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I Don't Want To Kill You be Dan Wells

I finally finished this trilogy! As a whole, I would give the trilogy eight stars out of ten. I Don't Want To Kill You was a little too repetitive at times, especially with the morgue scenes. I loved the wrap-up though. The ending was sad and amazing at the same time.

I also felt like John's growth was more evident. Minor spoiler alert if you haven't read the second book: At the end of the second book, he seeks out other demons. It isn't just them finding him anymore. I didn't like that. It seemed like it was more to satisfy his serial killer nature than to rid his town of demons. I was wrong. He spends so much time in this book trying to solve the mystery of who this latest demon is that he isn't obsessed with his rules. He's able to move past them, actually. He's able to make an honest, personal connection to his mother and to a girl.

I still wouldn't recommend this series to everyone, but to people who like mysteries or who like Dexter, I definitely would.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Books I'm So Happy Were Recommended To Me

This week's Top Ten meme from The Broke and the Bookish asks us to feature the books you probably wouldn't have picked up without a good recommendation.

A Family of Readers: The Book Lover's Guide to Children's and Young Adult Literature by Roger Sutton- Janssen at Everyday Reading reviewed this on her blog, and I am so glad she did. It's an amazing resource for any parent who loves to read and wants to pass that love onto their child.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart- Another recommendation from Janssen. Love, love, love this book.

White Like Me: Reflections on Race From a Privileged Son by Tim Wise- This book was briefly mention on a post by Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan. The title sounded familiar, so I did some digging and I had read an excerpt from the book in a gender studies class in college. It's a hard, but important read.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak- My county and the library systems in it did a "One Book, One County" program for a little while. This was the book in 2008. This is one of my favorite books and he is one of my favorite authors even though I've only read two of his books.

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison- I first heard about these books from a fellow English major, Heather. These books are so funny (at least 1-4 and then the last one).

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry- In 2009, I decided to make a list of 100 books to read that year. When I asked for recommendations on Facebook, Danielle mentioned this one. Out of all my other choices, this is the only I for sure would not have ever read. I hadn't ever heard of it, for one, and then when I went to get it at the library it was huge (over 600 pages). So glad I stuck with it.

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt- I'm in a small book club where we take turns picking the book. One month, one of the women chose this book. It's another big one. I've had another book by that author (Possession) on my to-read list for a long time, so I was intrigued. I liked it. The reading almost was like things I read in my literary history classes. I'm glad she chose it, but I don't know if I would recommend it. Out of four women, I was the only one that finished it and liked it.

I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells- Heather also recommended this one. It popped up on her Goodreads profile with this short review: "This could be the best book I've read this year and in a long time." Of course I had to read it.

The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer- This one has nothing to do with regular book blogging, but it's still a book I am extremely glad was recommended to me. A friend who is a doula told me to read it, and then my midwife did too. Such a good book for pregnant women that want to be informed about birth.