Genre: Non-Fiction


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: Trapped Under the Sea

May 13, 2014 Book Review, reviews 5

Book Review:  Trapped Under the SeaTrapped Under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, And a Disaster Ten Miles Into the Darkness by Neil Swedey
Published by Crown Publishing Group on February, 2014
Genres: History, Non-Fiction
Pages: 423
Source: complimentary review copy
AmazonBarnes & Noble


Looming deadlines. . .greedy corporations. . .frustrated taxpayers. . .and an ages old sewage system that had destroyed much of the Boston Harbor lead up to this well-researched and cautionary tale.  Five divers were sent 10 miles  to the end of an underwater tunnel with a half-baked oxygen system put together with duct tape. . .can you see where this is going?

And would you believe this is in 1999?  I know we’ve come a long way with our safety checks and systems; however, I didn’t realize that even as recent as the late 90’s people would still be treated so expendable just for the dollar.  As far as we have come as a society there are still some things that must be done by man.  And decisions must be made – by man.  And choices that are made {by man} can and will and did have deadly everlasting consequences.

Neil Swidey has done an incredible job of research on this tragedy and it shows in the humanness of his characters.  We learn the motivations of the divers and the men overseeing the project.  We learn how each player in this cast of tragedy, along with the families, have moved on after five divers went down and only three came up alive.

For a non-fiction historical novel this one reads like a fast-paced thriller.  The dialogue is real, heartbreaking, infuriating.  While the book is over 400 pages it does not drag nor get boring – even in the technical sections of sewage treatment, diving lingo and court battles.  Those parts are broken down into easy explanations that make you feel smarter when you’re done {go ahead, ask me anything about sewage treatment! Wait, just kidding.  Don’t!}.

I’m glad I read this historical account of five men who gave their lives to save the Boston Harbor, but I’m still so angry at the facts that led up to two divers deaths and the aftermath.  I cannot even imagine how those involved feel.  How could this have happened?  Why did it happen?  And thank you Neil Swidey for bringing these events to life so hopefully it doesn’t happen again.  Highly recommended!


Why You Should Put That Smart Phone Down & Get Some Sleep

April 30, 2014 Book Talk 9

Why You Should Put That Smart Phone Down & Get Some SleepThrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder by Arianna Huffington
Published by Crown Publishing Group, Harmony Books on March 25, 2014
Genres: Non-Fiction, Wellness
Pages: 352
Source: complimentary review copy
AmazonBarnes & Noble


This post was inspired byThrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington who encourages everyone to sleep their way to the top. Join From Left to Write on May 1 we discuss Thrive. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

While Thrive is about “sleeping your way to the top” it is also about shutting down, tuning in, and taking care.  I’m thinking every. single. adult. needs a copy of this book.  Huffington stresses the importance of sleep for our overall well-being.  And it’s not just children who need 8 -10 hours of sleep – adults NEED this as well.  She recounts numerous studies that reveal how bad it is to our physical and mental/emotional health when we try to run off only 4 – 6 hours.

According to a study from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, sleep deprivation reduces our emotional intelligence, self-regard, assertiveness, sense of independence, empathy toward others, the quality of our interpersonal relationships, positive thinking and impulse control.  In fact, the only thing the study found that gets better with sleep deprivation is “magical thinking” and reliance on superstition. (p. 6)

I am a huge believer in sleep and the benefits it brings.  Over six years ago when my honey and I met he was one of those who operated on the assumption that the less sleep one gets the more productive one is – ENNNN! WRONG!  I quickly brought him around to the realization that sleep is healing and absolutely necessary to our well-being.

We need to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of our fight-or-flight mechanism. And yet much of our life has actually been structured so that we live in an almost permanent state of fight-or-flight — here comes another dozen emails calling out for a response; must stay up late to finish the project; I’ll just use these four minutes of downtime to return six more calls. . .(p.61)

Another very important fact discussed in Thrive is unplugging and connecting IN REAL LIFE.  A HUGE GINORMOUS pet peeve of mine is cell phones at the dinner table.  My children are very much aware and often warn their friends before we eat because I am so anal about no cell phones, no phone calls, no text messages, no checking email, NO CELL PHONE at the dinner table.

But now I have been given an even greater idea from reading Thrive about what to do with cell phones at the dinner table ~ phone stacking!  “when friends meet for dinner–they put their cell phones in a stack in the middle of the table and the first one who checks his device before the bill comes has to pick up the check.” (p.64)  So using this one!

I was even laughing out loud when I got to the part about the “don’t take a picture of your meal” game!  I’ve known a few people who are notorious for this one!

My takeaways from Thrive:

  • At least one evening of NO devices including computers, iPad, Kindle.  My honey and I had already implemented this one a few weeks ago when we found ourselves in a routine of spending quality time with our devices but not each other.
  • Incorporate meditation and mindfulness into my daily routine.  The benefits are life-altering.
  • Connect with others and not virtually.  We are wired for connection – and not in the virtual sense.  Connecting with my mom by taking her to lunch or spending a few hours together shopping; connecting with each of my children by spending time with them in their environments; and time with friends is so critical to our mental well-being.
  • Play the phone-stacking game!

This is one of those books that while the content was not necessarily new it is a huge reminder to unplug and connect with ourselves and others.  Definitely a book everyone should read and take to heart.

How do you take care of yourself?  Are you getting enough sleep? QUALITY sleep?

Do you have any time that you unplug? unwind?


Guilt – That 4-Letter Word!

April 21, 2014 Book Talk 24

Guilt – That 4-Letter Word!Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
Published by Archetype, Crown Publishing Group on May 7, 2013
Genres: Humor, Non-Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: complimentary review copy
AmazonBarnes & Noble


This post was inspired by the novel Dad Is Fat by comedian Jim Gaffigan who riffs on his adventures co-parenting 5 kids in a 2 bedroom Manhattan apartment.  Join From Left to Write on April 22nd as we discuss Dad Is Fat.  As a member, I received a copy for review purposes.

Guilt ~ should be a 4-letter word, don’t you think?

We all feel it at some time or another {unless you’re a sociopath}.  If you’re a mom though, that feeling typically works its way into your psyche even before the hospital lets you leave with the baby and stays for. . .well. . .an eternity.  Of course it comes and goes, ebbs and flows – but I daresay, if you’re a mom, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Recently I had a conversation with my mom about having feelings of guilt for different aspects of how I raised my children.  I was asking her if these feelings will ever go away.  My mom is the wisest woman I know so I thought for sure she would have the right answer.  I was definitely not encouraged when she told me she still feels guilty about times when my brothers and I were young.  Aargh!  That’s so not what I wanted to hear.

Then I asked my daughter if she ever feels guilty about the choices she is making with The Little Monkey.  I was expecting a resounding “no” as I think she’s a most fabulous mom, but alas, she struggles with guilt as well.

My best friend who has a 13 month old – same story.

So when I read this quote in Dad Is Fat it was almost with a sense of “YES! Dad’s experience it too!”   Not that I would wish the sensation on anyone, mind you 😉

No matter how hard you try to be a good parent, you always know deep down that you could do more.  I feel guilty when I travel out of town to do shows.  I feel guilty when I’m in town and I don’t spend every single moment with my children.  I feel guilty when I’m spending time with my children and I am not doing something constructive toward their intellectual development. . .(p. 26 – 27)

We all have these guilty feelings, some warranted – like yelling at your child for no reason; and many of those feelings not so warranted – such as your child is in a bad mood so it must be your fault.  I am guilty on both fronts and within this past week!

Although I snapped at my son because I was stressed about making him late for a music gig, I did apologize almost immediately.  And though I internalized that my daughter was in a bad mood because of me or something I did/said or didn’t do/say, I realized it’s not always about me.  She’s grown, with her own life and issues and moods and with a two year old that although he is the sun, moon and stars all rolled into one he can also cause her feelings of guilt.

I guess what I’ve come to realize is that guilt is one of those feelings we all have, but so is joy, confidence, pleasure, freedom, happiness, love, blessed, merry, amazed, thankful and so many others.  I consciously choose to take a step back when I sense guilt creeping in; see what it is bringing that 5-letter word out {should be a 4-letter word}, and then if it is something I can change or fix I do, but most of the time I let it go and choose to be happy and content instead.

How do you deal with feelings of guilt?  

Share your tips in the comments so we can all support and encourage one another.

brenebrown quote


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.