Genre: Memoir


Book Club Read: Orange is the New Black

July 8, 2014 Book Review, reviews 16

Book Club Read: Orange is the New BlackOrange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
Published by Clarkson Potter, Crown Publishing Group on April 6th, 2010
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Pages: 298
Source: purchased


So y’all know I adore my book club with all my heart and think they are the coolest bunch of ladies in town, right? Well, now I have proof! Check out this picture of us vamping for the camera in our best orange {and black} for the July book club event. We are missing a handful of ladies but we still had an intense discussion about Orange is the New Black {both the book and the Netflix series.}

I didn’t get a picture of the food we had as I was starving and not even thinking about sharing with y’all. We decided that none of us wanted a taste of prison food so instead each of us brought a dish we would miss the most if we found ourselves in a prison cell. I have to tell you the absolute sweetest thing – my daughter Gabrielle {below on far left} brought chili. Y’all know how chili is my favorite food of all time and has been since I was about 8 years old. I’ve worried in the past that my kids would turn into chili-haters because I would make it all. the. time. Instead, chili was Gabrielle’s ‘would miss the most dish’ along with Red Lobster cheese biscuits. We also had fresh fruit and dip made by my oldest daughter {2nd from the left} which was inhaled  before we even started on the meal. A watermelon salad, fresh-from-the-garden veggie wraps and creamed corn rounded out our meal. Of course wine and beer were a necessity – can’t have book club without the wine!


If you’ve been under a rock {like me} and have not read this one or seen the series it’s about Piper Kerman and her year in a women’s prison in Connecticut. Piper found herself out of sorts after graduating from Smith College, sought adventure and ended up immersed in drug trafficking. She quickly realized that this was not the adventure she had been seeking, blew off all of her ties, moved to San Francisco and proceeded to get on with her life. Piper eventually met Larry, they moved in together and it seemed that happily ever after was attainable. Dun, dun, dun. . . .then came the knock on the door 5 years after Piper escaped the drug business. People had been arrested, names were being thrown around and although she was a pretty blonde/blue eyed white girl from an Ivy League school that did not prevent her from being charged and convicted. For a variety of reasons, it was another 5 years before she had to surrender to the Danbury Federal Prison. Orange is the New Black takes us behind the prison bars to what life is really like in a federal prison and to Piper’s realization of the consequences of her actions as a wayward adventure-seeker.

What made me finally recognize the indifferent cruelty of my own past wasn’t the constraints put on me by the U.S. government, nor the debt I had amassed for legal fees, nor the fact that I could not be with the man I loved. It was sitting and talking and working with and knowing the people who suffered because of what people like me had done.

Although there are sections that tend to drag just a little in the book {and the series}, we all felt Orange is the New Black should be required reading for all women. Why? Yes these women are criminals and yes they should do their time but, at the minimum, basic human needs must be met. Women in prison should be safe from attack by the guards and treated with a modicum of dignity. Did you know that with Bush’s War on Drugs we now have over 800,000 women in prison for minor drug crimes. There were accounts of women in federal prison who were serving years due to conviction as a non-violent protester while a guard convicted of raping an inmate served ONE MONTH. Tell me the rationale in that.

A lengthy term of community service working with addicts on the outside world would probably have driven the same truth home and been a hell of a lot more productive for the community. But our current criminal justice system has no provision for restorative justice, in which an offender confronts the damage they have done and tries to make it right to the people they have harmed. . .Instead, our system of “corrections” is about arm’s-length revenge and retribution, all day and all night. Then its overseers wonder why people leave prison more broken than when they went in.

I could go on and on about the atrocities of our social justice system. You’re here to know if the book is good or not; not to hear my rantings about social justice. Read it folks. There’s a bit of something for everyone in it. While I’ve never been a fan of a memoir, Orange is the New Black reads like a fiction novel. Piper is conversational, a bit sarcastic at times, and a character that, while you may not feel relatable, you will at least find yourself immersed in her story. Personally, I have not seen the show. Everyone else at book club raved about it and we compared notes about similarities/differences to the book. The biggest difference we found is that in the book, Larry, the boyfriend, is uber supportive of Piper throughout the entire ordeal. In the Netflix series, Larry and Piper have a much different relationship. The questions we used came straight from Piper’s website. There’s an excerpt available on her site as well.

I’d love to know if you’ve read the book or watched the series. What’s your opinion about our social justice system – is it ok? does it need work? or a complete overhaul? Share with me in the comments your thoughts and let’s get a discussion going!


Book Review: Chasing Chaos

October 23, 2013 Book Review, reviews 6

Book Review: Chasing ChaosChasing Chaos by Jessica Alexander
Published by Broadway Books, Crown Publishing Group on October, 2013
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: complimentary review copy

To honor her mother's memory, Jessica Alexander decides to make more of her life than marketing for big corporate America.  She enters a Master's program and is sent to Rwanda in 2003 for her first humanitarian summer internship. From there she ends up spending a decade in the field, from Rwanda to Darfur, Sierra Leone, Haiti and more.  Her memoir shares the good, the bad, and the ugly of working in this type of field.

This memoir hit home for me in many areas.  I worked for an agency that provided aid to children removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect, but the agency I worked for was stateside.  CASA or Court Appointed Special Advocates provide representation to children in juvenile court by assigning trained, screened, community volunteers as lay guardian ad litems.  It was always a dream of mine to go to Rwanda and be a part of the aid there, but circumstances did not allow for that to happen.  I love what I did here and am so very thankful I had the chance to be a part of so many lives, but like Jessica, it was not for the accolades from friends and family ~ it was something I simply felt called to do and be.

Jessica’s account of her time in the field is heart-wrenching, infuriating, frustrating and eye-opening.  I’m familiar with the bureaucracy in the United States for non-profits, but my gosh! while working in the dustbowls of a country ravaged by civil war why does it have to be so darn difficult to get people the help they need?!?  There’s one story she shares about being in Sri Lanka and Indonesia after the tsunami hit in 2005 ~ well-meaning people sent stuff, lots of stuff: “Women who only wore saris and had never exposed their legs to slacks, let alone ripped jeans, were now being sent someone’s old dungarees.  People who had worn only sandals were being handed four-inch heels.. . .open tubes of Preparation H and Neosporin, even viagra.”  The frustration in receiving all of those unnecessary things was that the life-saving supplies were being held up in customs in order to allow for these supplies.

Jessica has written a harsh account of life in field as a humanitarian aid worker.  It’s lonely, accommodations we take for granted become luxuries, like running toilets, bathing in a shower, internet service, even water to drink are scarce.  Her frustration with the system is apparent throughout the novel.  I found it interesting that she continues to work for aid services although from NYC rather than in the trenches of Haiti, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, etc. etc.  With all that is wrong with the system it sounds as though Jessica may be in a position to make a difference on the management end and with college students seeking to go into the aid field.

Chasing Chaos is recommended to anyone interested in the story behind the story, in what happens out there in the field and how best to help or offer aid.  Be cautioned though ~ it’s not a pretty story.  Chasing Chaos is raw, gritty yet once you start, it’s difficult to put down.

Have you or do you know anyone who has worked in the aid field abroad? I’d love to hear how that experience compares with that of Jessica Alexanders.



Book Review: Heart in the Right Place

September 4, 2012 Book Review, reviews 10

Book Review: Heart in the Right PlaceHeart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan
Published by Algonquin Books on August 19th, 2008
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: purchased
AmazonBarnes & Noble

I picked up Heart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan on a whim – it was a “guilty pleasure” choice, not a book received with intents for reviewing; simply a book that pulled me in with the cover and decided to purchase purely for my own enjoyment.  Now that I’ve read and loved it ~ I must share with you, my literary friends!

I ended up reading Heart in the Right Place while on a 9-hour drive, my darling boyfriend at the wheel, patiently enduring my giggles and laugh-out-loud moments every few miles.

Part of the appeal with this book was the actual setting, the hills of East Tennessee ~ mining and farming country, simple hard-working country folks; while the other appeal came from the storyline itself ~ country girl works hard, becomes big-shot attorney out to save the world in the hills and halls of Washington D.C. goes home to help out her parents for a couple of days while her mother recuperates from a heart attack.  Carolyn’s parents run the only family practice in the small TN town ~ dad is the town doctor and mom is his receptionist affectionately called by the locals “Sarge.”  Two days turns into two months turns into six. . .Carolyn continuously questions her decision – is she making more of a difference in Washington D.C. working with a panel of attorneys on the Nuclear program for a Congressional Committee or by being the pinch-hitter receptionist in her father’s small-town medical practice.

The humor with which Jourdan uses to survive and even thrive from her thrust back into small-town life was absolutely laugh-out-loud funny.  When Carolyn walks into the hospital where her mother is hooked up to a variety of machines brings out the internal monologue of “Surely no one could die in this modern Frankenstein lab. If anything stopped working, they’d just plug in another machine.  I was scared to see Momma like this.  It wasn’t like her at all.  To tamp down my panic I tried to think of the ICU as a sort of spa.  A really, really expensive spa. For unconscious people.

And probably the life lesson I enjoyed the most was from the good doctor’s best friend, local farmer, and dear to Carolyn: “The pitiful truth is that sometimes the best thing, the only thing, we can do for another person is just show up. We might not know how to do anything for them, but at least we can show up. And that takes guts. But everything takes guts. It takes guts to care about people. But what else are you gonna do?

I honestly do not know how this happened, but would you believe that I did not realize Heart in the Right Place is a memoir until I was reading the author interview at the end of the book.  I was astounded!  and, I have another confession ~ I have avoided memoirs like the plague.  I have never read one that I enjoyed (not that I’ve read that many, but still).

With that said, I must tell you how fantastic this book was.  The people were so real, from the family doctor and the nurse to Carolyn and especially the patients ~ oh my goodness the patients! Many could not pay with cash,  did not have insurance and so they would pay with plants, farm animals, jelly, vegetables from the garden to even one man who paid by showing his herd of goats to the doctor and his daughter.  The camaraderie and love that flourished in the community and surrounded the people visiting the family doctor was palpable.  And once I was finished and found out it was a memoir, the old saying of “you can’t make that stuff up!” rang true.

[Tweet “Heart-warming, happy and humorous! A memoir for everyone!”]

If I could have added anything to Heart in the Right Place, I would have some additional explanation about who a couple of the characters were ~ it’s probably my desire for a happily-ever-after ending where the couple get married and live fulfilling lives deep in the woods ~ but, there really wasn’t a love interest only a few dates.  Give me more, more, my nosy side screams!  Overall, Heart in the Right Place did just that – put my heart in a very happy, good place – I hope it will yours too!

I also did not realize there are two different covers ~ I definitely prefer the goat cover but wondered what you thought: goat cover or chair cover?