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The Barefoot Gypsy

The Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Why did I pick up this book?

In the spirit of true candor, I have to admit that I bought this by mistake. There is another book that I’ve been eyeballing, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and the similar titles caused me to grab this during a quick trip through the hospital’s gift shop. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized my mistake. The plot spoke to me after the first chapter, and I was hooked. Serendipity? Maybe. One of the main characters of the book, Janie, would definitely say that the universe wanted me to read this book.

What is it about?

The Corner of Bitter and Sweet is much deeper than the reader my first realize. On the surface, it seems like it’s a book about a mother/daughter duo and their relationship struggles (think along the lines of a dysfunctional Gilmore Girls). As it progresses, the plot delves into addiction and codependency. It speaks to anyone who has had to be the parent to their parent and anyone who has had to try to maintain a relationship with an addict.

What did I think of it?

The story is unhurried and really focuses on character development. This isn’t a bad thing, just an observation. The slow pace of the plot allows the reader to become invested in the characters, wanting the mom to clean up and start being an actual mom and the daughter to be able to cut the codependent umbilical cord.

Overall, The Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a great read. It deals with real life issues that aren’t always explored in a way that isn’t depressing. It’s a book that has the potential to make a lot of people realize that they aren’t alone in the way that they were raised or the situations that they exposed to in their youth. Throughout the story, the reader is able to relate to the characters and has many “I’ve been there” moments.

 

While We’re Far Apart

4866e718afe2694e2870107c5740bf14Title: While We’re Far Apart

Author: Lynn Austin

ABOUT:

In an unassuming apartment building in Brooklyn, New York, three lives intersect as the reality of war invades each aspect of their lives. Young Esther is heartbroken when her father decides to enlist in the army shortly after the death of her mother.

Penny Goodrich has been in love with Eddie Shaffer for as long as she can remember; now that Eddie’s wife is dead, Penny feels she has been given a second chance and offers to care for his children in the hope that he will finally notice her and marry her after the war.

And elderly Mr. Mendel, the landlord, waits for the war to end to hear what has happened to his son trapped in war-torn Hungary. But during the long, endless wait for victory overseas, life on the home front will go from bad to worse.

Yet these characters will find themselves growing and changing in ways they never expected–and ultimately discovering truths about God’s love…even when He is silent.

 

So, we’ve discussed my love for all things WWII. There is a reason that the men and women of that time are considered the Greatest Generation, and something about the era resonates with me. When While We’re Far Apart popped up as a free e-book on my Nook, I had to grab it. Like most stories written about this time, I knew it would be a tearjerker. I also knew that it was going to be worth reading.

Austin does a great job with character development. The readers are able to peel away the layers of each main character, learning about their past while becoming emotionally tied to each of them.

The plot, as well as the characters, is well thought out and realistic. While going through each chapter, the reader can easily identify with the storyline, knowing that this is a story that could have (and might have) easily taken place in any neighborhood during the war. This does nothing but strengthens the emotional bond to the story and really allows the reader to become absorbed in the words.

Overall, this book is an honest depiction of what was going on in the world during this tumultuous time in history. Austin found a way to take multiple characters from different walks of life and tie them all together in a way that makes her readers see several perspectives and points of view. It is a brilliant way to give insight into how the war affected so many people in so many ways. She also found a way to mix religion into a story without allowing the story to become something that would alienate those who aren’t religious. Instead of turning her fictional work into a Christian work, she used her skills to allow the religious aspects of this book to be sprinkled in like a spice, adding to the overall flavor of the story. She is truly a gifted artist.

 

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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Anyone who has read J. K. Rowling’s seven-volume Harry Potter series knows that the author is no novice when it comes to creating coming of age stories that allows readers to fall into a world of enchantment and learn the importance of love, loyalty, and friendship. The brilliant author has created an empire for herself, and her fan base is massive. People of all ages have followed the story of The Boy That Lived and witnessed with him grow from a mistreated child under a staircase into a reluctant hero, finally coming into his own as a courageous man who has saved the magical world of witchcraft and wizardry on more than a couple of occasions.

Rowling has, once again, outdone herself. Her newest masterpiece, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, is a play set 19 years after we left Harry and his young son, Albus Severus, on Platform 9 ¾. Act I, Scene I is that exact scene, exciting readers over the fact that we are able to pick up precisely where we left off at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Our legendary hero, now middle aged, has settled into a life working at the Ministry of Magic. Readers (and patrons who are lucky enough to see the play in London) are able to become familiar with the next generation of Hogwarts’ students while also getting reacquainted with some favorite characters from the original seven books. Going back to revisit great moments in the series while hurling toward the conclusion is the perfect way to wrap up this voyage that we’ve all taken together.

Sceptics have worried about The Cursed Child, partly because Rowling collaborated with playwright, Jack Thorne, and director, John Tiffany. Rest assured, fellow Potterheads, the dialogue and flow of this book is everything that you expect from Rowling. Because it is a play, it does lack some of her imaginative touches, but those who have been with the characters from their first day at King’s Cross Station can easily follow along without the aid of Rowling’s descriptions. She did such an amazing job in each of her previous books that we are able to conjure up images of Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, and Godric’s Hollow on our own now, which is a testament to Rowling’s attention to detail and ability to draw a picture with her words.

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Cynics have also worried that reading this story in play form will take away from the Harry Potter experience and transport us back to 9th grade English when we had to suffer through Hamlet. True lovers of the series will dive right into this book and devour it the same way that they tore through all of the previous seven stories. Reading this play is much like running into an old friend. There are some changes, but you are so excited to catch up and see what they’ve been up to that you overlook the differences and just enjoy spending time with someone you love. You allow yourself to get carried away with the excitement of it all, and those minor deviations no longer seem important or even noticeable. Once readers fall down the rabbit hole that is the world of Harry Potter, they will no longer realize that they are simply reading dialogue on a page. The story washes over them as they teleport to the world that we all know and love.

Rowling has been pleading with the public for well over a month, asking people keep the secrets of the cursed child and not to ruin this final part of the story for those who have not read the book or seen the play. At this point, the internet is crawling with spoilers. Every major news outlet has released a review, spilling details along the way, and there are some people who act as if they’ve drank some of Professor Snapes’ Veritaserum (truth serum) and they can’t keep the secrets contained. This muggle is going to respect the #keepthesecrets movement. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the absolute last leg of this adventure, and every fan deserves to savor the moment. It is truly an end of an era.

This play is a must read for all Potterheads. It is a bittersweet walk down memory lane and a wonderful way to wrap up what has been an epic journey. While I will not divulge any secrets that are hidden between the book covers, I will offer you a word of advice. Take your time reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Value it. Don’t rush through it, even though you and I both know that you are dying to see what happens. Once you read that last word, it’s over, so appreciate this gift that has been given to you by J. K. Rowling. Grab a mug of your favorite drink (a little butter beer, perhaps), cozy up in your favorite reading nook, and take a leisurely stroll through the Great Hall with all of the characters that you have allowed into your heart. Enjoy the last bit of time that you have with them. The next time you read the book, you will greet them as old friends, but enjoy the time that you have been given to meet and get to know these new characters and learn about the older ones.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, Audrey Hepburn, 1961
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, Audrey Hepburn, 1961

I have made an incredible literary faux pas. I did not realize that one of my favorite movies, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, is based on a novella by Truman Capote. I have no idea how I went through life, loving the story of Holly Golightly without realizing that I could have it on my bookshelf. Never fear, fellow readers, I have corrected my mistake, and Holly and her dear Fred are with me now.

I picked up the book in preparation for an upcoming trip to New York City, because nothing says the big apple like standing outside a jewelry story wearing oversized sunglasses, bagel and coffee in hand. I thought that I would breeze through the familiar story before jet setting, Moon River playing in the background of my life.

There are always differences between films and books, but the differences are usually decently small and occur because it would take twenty hours and bookoodles of money to portray every aspect of a novel. This is a little different. There are some definite differences between this book and movie, and it doesn’t take many pages before the reader realizes that the iconic film is only loosely based on the original written work. The movie is set in the 60’s, but the novella is actually set during World War II. This throws my vision of Holly off, since it is so difficult to read the dialogue of the book without hearing the words in Audrey Hepburn’s voice or seeing her face as she stands outside of her beloved Tiffany’s, trying to get rid of the reds. There are other differences, but you’ll have to get a copy of Capote’s original work in order to see for yourself how he envisioned his characters. My copy is the 50th anniversary edition, and I have to say that it’s pretty amazing that this story is still relevant so many decades after it was first released.

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Capote is a great author, relying on heavy dialogue to portray his story. It’s rather unfair to continuously compare the novella to the movie, but I’m afraid that the success of the film over shadows the written work, and it is what the majority of the population is familiar with. If you ask someone about Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the response that you can almost bank on is, “Yes, I’ve seen that movie.” Very rarely will someone tell you that they’ve read the book, so I think that this may be one of those situations where we view them as two separate things instead of doing the usual compare the book to the movie thing that all avid readers love to do.

 

Me Before You

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SUMMARY: A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common – a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

 

Until today, I thought that no author could conjure an ugly cry like Nicolas Sparks. I was wrong. As I write this, I am sitting in my office, trying to hide the tears that JoJo Moyes’s Me Before You has brought to my eyes.

This is a somewhat unconventional romance in the sense that it is not the usual upbeat story with an adorable meet-cute. This story revolves around two people who are trying to navigate their way through new terrain and happen to fall in love while trudging through the muck.

For the Jane Austen fans out there, this book vaguely mirrors Pride and Prejudice. Will (AKA Mr. Darcy) is wealthy, powerful, distant, and prideful. Louisa (AKA Ms. Bennet) is financially challenged, funny, loyal, and somewhat prejudice to anything that is considered posh.

Will is the damaged hero of the story. He suffers from a spinal cord injury that has left him wheelchair bound. His family hires Lou to take care of him. She has no medical training and no valuable skillset. She is hired simply for the fact that Will’s mother is desperate to find a way to cheer him up. She looks at Lou’s crazy outfits, hears her quick wit, and thinks that she might just be the person who can bring him out of the depression that has blanketed him since the accident.

Just like in Austen’s famous work, Louisa, or Lou as everyone calls her, makes a serious transformation throughout this story. She allows Will to push her to grow beyond the limitations that she has placed on herself and her life, learning that there is much more to her than she has always believed. “I’ve watched you these six months becoming a whole different person,” he tells Louisa, “someone who is only just beginning to see her possibilities. You have no idea how happy that has made me.”

I picked up this book because the movie is coming out this year. The trailer did nothing to prepare me for the story that was hidden between the book covers. Moyes touches on a subject that is difficult to talk about and not often included in literature. The darkness of the plot intensifies the feelings that overcome the reader as we fall in love with the characters. She has since written a sequel, After You, but it may be some time before I’m up for reading it. The last few paragraphs of Me Before You are so perfect that I’m not quite ready to let them go and continue with the story. I’ll get around to revisiting Lou’s world, but for today, I’m just going to sit here and reflect on the story that just worked its way into my heart.

Perfect Books to Read When the Weather Outside is Frightful

winter_weather_01Most people love a good beach read, but let’s be honest; There are few things in this world that rival curling up with a steaming cup of coffee, a warm blanket, and a good winter book. If you add in some fluffy snowflakes falling outside, you have a booklover’s nirvana. There is nothing better than the stillness that comes with a Southern snowfall, and it makes for perfect reading weather. I’ll take that over reading at the beach any day.

With winter weather around the corner, it’s important to stock up on the necessities. Put a blanket, water, and kitty litter in your car. Stock up on firewood. It’s also important to go ahead and stock up on your winter reading material. It’s the ideal time to revisit some classics while adding some new material to your shelves.

1. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger: If you’re looking for something a little creepy to go along with the bare branches and winter ambiance, this one is for you!
2. The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer: This novel is honest, romantic, and long. The winter weather provides the perfect setting for you to absorb the words and wallow in the atmosphere.
3. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: I know I’ve mentioned this book before, but you really should read during the winter. Imagine reading about snowy Narnia while watching the snowfall outside your window! Priceless!
4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Granted, I am not a big Bronte fan, but if you’re going to read this intense gothic love story, winter is the time to do it. In order to appreciate it fully, you’ll need to let the story percolate while the winter weather gnashes at the windows.
5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: This is another book that I’ve mentioned several times over the course of this column, but it’s just because it’s one of those pieces of literature that is so vitally important. It spans the course of one year, from Christmas to Christmas, so it is perfect to read during this time of year. It’s so easy to fall into Alcott’s world when the weather is frigid!

Don’t dread the winter months. Embrace them. Delve into the worlds that these and other authors have created, and let their words warmly wash over you while you relax in your favorite reading spot. Try a new coffee creamer or a new brew of tea and enjoy the wintery wonders that come with this time of year.

After All This Time: A Tribute to Alan Rickman

alan-rickmanThe world is mourning the death of Severus Snape. Legendary actor Alan Rickman lost his battle to cancer this month, and it has sent people everywhere spinning. We could go on and on about his pedigree, talking about the extensive list of achievements that span from the theater to the big screen, but I would rather take a few minutes to talk about the character that all Potterheads love to hate.

Professor Severus Snape is a hero cloaked in the robes of a villain in all seven of the Harry Potter books and movies. Readers and moviegoers originally grew to detest him for his contempt toward the main characters, but in a magnificent twist, learn that Snape is really one of the most unselfish and loyal characters in all of literature. This well-timed surprise cements author JK Rowling’s ongoing power of love theme.

In one of the most poignant quotes of the series, Dumbledore asks him (referring to his lifelong love of a woman), “After all this time?”

Snape replies with a single, heart wrenching word, “Always.”

Rickman finished filming the final Harry Potter movie in 2011, and his admiration and appreciation for his cast mates as well as for the character he portrayed is evident in the letter he penned to JK Rowling:

I have just returned from the dubbing studio where I spoke into a microphone as Severus Snape for the last time. On the screen were some flashback shots of Daniel [Radcliffe], Emma [Watson], and Rupert [Grint] from ten years ago. They were 12. I have also recently returned from New York, and while I was there, I saw Daniel singing and dancing (brilliantly) on Broadway. A lifetime seems to have passed in minutes.

These children have become adults since a phone call with Jo Rowling, containing one small clue, persuaded me that there was more to Snape than an unchanging costume, and that even though only three of the books were out at that time, she held the entire massive but delicate narrative in the surest of hands.

It is an ancient need to be told stories. But the story needs a great storyteller. Thanks for all of it, Jo.

Rickman spent a decade breathing life into a fictional character and bringing Severus Snape off the pages of a book and into the hearts of the readers. He was, indeed, a great storyteller, and the magical realm of Harry Potter is a little dimmer without his presence. When fans of this series think of the wonderful work he contributed to the world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, one word will forever ring true: Always. No matter how many years pass or how many new books find their way to our shelves, our love and respect for Alan Rickman will always run as deep as the water in Hogwarts’ mermaid populated Black Lake.

Hoover celebrates our wounded soldiers

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The rain held off long enough for the city of Hoover and Homes for Our Troops (HFOT) to honor some of our most severely injured vets Monday night, including hometown hero, Army Sergeant Noah Galloway. While the weather may have affected the number in attendance at the Hoover Met, it did nothing to dampen the love and support that was shown to SGT Galloway, Army Sergeant First Class Scot Noss, and Marine Captain Cameron West.

HFOT is a wonderful nonprofit organization that focuses on building specially adapted houses for veterans who were injured in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They work mostly with men and women who have multiple limb amputations or severe traumatic brain injuries. They build homes that not only cater to the soldier’s individual needs, but will also continue to accommodate them as they age.

One of the wonderful things about this organization is the fact that they do not hand over the keys to a house and walk out of the family’s life. They are in it for the long run, creating a network of support that will never wane. SSG Noss’s wife spoke of a time when her husband could not regulate his body temperature due to his injury. She made a call to HFOT, and they quickly came out to the house with a game plan to create a way for the house to regulate his body temperature for him.

The relationships and comradery that the HFOT team has with the families that they work with is extremely heartwarming. As Captain West and his wife were leaving, they stopped to speak to each HFOT member, referring to them by first name and offering hugs to every person. There is a true sense of family and a genuine feeling of love shared in this special group of people.

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Noah took time to meet each person who attended the event. He received the keys to his own home earlier in the afternoon, so his day had been long and emotional. Regardless, his smile never faltered, and his genuine appreciation for HFOT, as well as the people who came out to show their support, was evident as he greeted every person as if they were an old friend.

Many people have never heard of Homes for Our Troops. That is because they do not spend millions of dollars on advertisements or endorsements. Noah explained to the Leaf that 90% of all donations go directly toward building these much-needed houses. That doesn’t leave a lot of money for fancy commercials and billboards, so they depend on people to spread the word about the organization. When they approached Noah about a house, he only agreed to accept the home if they allowed him to work with them and help raise awareness. He has kept true to his word and has since spent much of his time attending fundraisers and groundbreaking ceremonies to help forward the cause.

Monday’s event was extremely touching and emotional. To say that it was difficult to hear Major General (USA, retired) Timothy McHale recount these soldiers stories is an understatement. It was hard to sit there and listen to what happened to these men as they defended our country, but it is important that their stories be told and that we listen with open hearts. As General McHale said, Noah didn’t lose his arm and leg on that battlefield. He gave them for his country. The men and women who courageously defend America do so knowing they may have to pay the ultimate price for our freedom. As a nation, we have a moral obligation to take care of them when they come home wounded.

HFOT has taken a huge step in helping these vets, but they need our help. They need the American people to step up and help these heroic men and women transition into the next phase of their lives. Our country was not there for our Vietnam vets when they returned from war. Those soldiers became lost and went without support from the public. We cannot allow this to happen again. We cannot allow our bravest men and women go without because we are unwilling to rise to the occasion and support them after they sacrificed so much to support us.

UAB’s Beloved Dr. Oh Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

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UAB’s Shin J. Oh. M.D. will receive the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine (AANEM). This award represents the vast contributions that he has made to the electrodiagnostic (EDX) and neuromuscular (NM) fields.

Dr. Oh is a world renowned innovator in his field, and most consider it a great honour to work alongside him and learn from him. His reputation is indisputable, and UAB, as well as the state of Alabama, is extremely fortunate to have him. He is the doctor that treats the patients that baffle other physicians and the go-to person when it comes to any matter in his field.

EDX/NM caught the eye of this esteemed physician when he realized that it is a subspecialty that would allow him to contribute to every step of his patient’s care from start to finish. It enables him to participate in everything from the initial clinical evaluation to the EDX testing and biopsies, eventually leading to a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Oh has been with UAB since 1970 and holds one of the longest tenures in the history of American medicine. During his 40 years in Birmingham, he has held prestigious titles such as chief of Neurology at the VA Medical Center as well as the director of the Muscle and Nerve Histopathology Laboratory.

Dr. Oh’s talents go beyond an exam room. Over the course of his career, he has written 230 articles, 28 books, and 237 abstracts. Many consider his writing to be invaluable resources that plainly explain even the most difficult procedures.

“Dr. Oh is internationally recognized as a pioneer in electrodiagnostic and neuromuscular medicine, and has contributed significantly to our clinical diagnosis and treatments in the field over the last four decades,” said Eroboghene E. Ubogu, M.D., professor of Neurology and Neurobiology and director of the UAB Division of Neuromuscular Diseases. “His legacy at UAB is unquestionable, and he is richly deserving of the 2015 AANEM Lifetime Achievement Award, which formally recognizes his career long excellence in patient care, education, and research.”

The Lifetime Achievement Award is considered the AANEM’s highest honour. It is presented to physicians who are known as major medical contributors because of their teaching, research, and academic publications. The AANEM would be hard pressed to find another physician to fit that description more than Dr. Shin Oh.

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