September 2016 Bookshelf

The Age of Reinvention by Karine Tuil
Kindle Edition - 416 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Washington Square Press for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

This was an interesting story. I'm not sure I totally liked it, but I didn't completely dislike it either. I found it very hard to stay interested in from page 1 to page 416 and I skimmed a few parts in exasperation.
The story is of Sam Tahar, a successful attorney in Manhattan, that has invented himself from nothing roots in France. The problem is he invented himself with someone else's life and they are still alive. Believing that the distance between New York City and Paris is enough to keep Sam's secret safe he has lived his life as a totally fake person personally. In Paris, Samuel and Nina rediscover their old friend Samir Tahar but his story sounds familiar, it sounds just like Samuel's story. So they ask to meet with him in Paris for the purpose of confronting him about lifting Samuel's story as his own. But Samuel also  plans to test Nina. Years ago she had an affair with Samir, will she be tempted to do so again? From the moment the three reunite the invention of Samir into Sam will be tested and the reinvention of Samuel and Nina will begin. Who and what will be affected by the invention and reinvention of these three old friends?
As I stated this was an interesting read. Part of it might have been the format I read it in, the pre-published ebook, as there were these weird footnotes included which I eventually figured out were part of the story and certain characters but they were odd - again that could have been the ebook format. Samir, Sam, is not very likeable. I found him to be rather disgusting and narcissistic. Basically he is a dbag. Samuel and Nina I didn't care for so much either, they were annoying. This is most likely a big reason for me not engaging with the book, I could have cared less about the characters - they annoyed me, I felt no endearment toward them at all. In the end I found myself slightly regretting I hadn't abandoned the book and moved on but there was just enough happening to Sam, Samuel, and Nina that I held on to the end.

The Ghetto Swinger: A Berlin Jazz-Legend Remembers by Coco Schumann
Kindle Edition - 210 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and DoppelHouse Press for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Coco Schumann, born Heinz Jakob Schumann, spent his early teen years watching his homeland fall under the rule of the Third Reich. About the time Hitler and Goebbels were tightening the noose of Nazism, Schumann heard Swing music at the Berlin Olympics and became entranced. He already had been captured by music but this style spoke to him. But swing was just for show to the world and after the Olympics it was increasingly monitored and eventually banned. But what the Nazis didn't understand, perhaps couldn't understand, is that you cannot snuff out music - it lives on despite its enemies. And so as the Germans increased their presence around Europe Schumann, hiding his Jewish roots, played in clubs and became well known at his guitar playing specifically in Swing style. However, he could not escape the Nazis attempts to exterminate the Jewish population and was transported to Theresienstadt where he became a member of the camp band, The Ghetto Swingers. Eventually Schumann was transported to Auschwitz and somehow managed to live through its hell to be transported to a satellite camp of Dachau where he barely survived but was finally liberated from by the Americans in 1945. After finding his way back to Berlin and discovering that by miracle his father, mother, and brother had survived the war Schumann picked up his guitar and played to forget. He built an impressive career, playing with greats such as Armstrong and Gillespie - not to mention several greats within his homeland of Germany. But nobody who has seen, heard, tasted, experienced, felt what Schumann and thousands of others did in the camps can forget and it wasn't until approximately 40 years after the war that he finally felt like he could, and should, talk about what happened to him and others. "In this book, I tell you how music saved my life. The camps and the fear changed my life, but the music has kept me going, and has made everything good again. I have survived. I am a musician who spent some time in concentration camps, not someone in a concentration camp who also played a little music." Coco Schumann, Preface

The Pecan Man by Cassie Dandridge Selleck
137 pages

This was a really well-written story about the continued racism in America in the late 1970's. You know, when things were "better" and "equal." Except they weren't.
Ora Beckworth has a story to tell, a lie she's held on to for 25 years - since the summer of 1976. The lie she held on to resulted in an innocent man living out his remaining days in prison and ripple effects within the family the lie was meant to protect. Ora learned the hard way how a lie doesn't really protect, it just covers up what must be exposed at some point. In 1976 Ora was a newly widowed white woman who had a black housemaid. Blanche had been her housemaid for years but in 1976 Blanche and her family became Ora's family and Ora was exposed to the racism that still ran deep. It was through painful realizations about herself and observations of others that Ora took chances that weren't popular with the other white residents but she also knew she had no choice but to grow out of the mindset and behaviors that contributed to the racism still so evident. It was also because of the new realization of these toxic mindsets that Ora created and participated in a lie that would be buried for 25 years but would also silently influence life choices of Blanche and her family. Ultimately this story is about Ora, a 58 year old white woman who took a chance and decided to allow her worldview to broaden through her relationships with Blanche, Blanche's family, and the Pee-can Man.
Selleck's only work, to date, is this gem of a story. I loved this book. The characters were developed perfectly, the story was in a perfect setting, the conflict was appropo. It was all together a beautiful and tragic telling of a woman's growth out of racism and a family's struggle with it and how those two collided. Selleck is set to release her second title in Fall of 2016, I'll keep an eye out for it.

The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth LaBan
Kindle Edition -  316 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Lila and Sam live in Philadelphia where Sam is a full time restaurant critic for one of the news publications. Lila was a high-profile crisis management executive for a worldwide hotel chain until they moved to Philly for Sam's job. Now she's stuck in the house with a three year old and a newborn and banned from having friends because of Sam's paranoia about being found out. The story of Lila coping with being Sam's wife and the loneliness she feels because of it is the crux of this book. The story kind of meandered along, Sam comes off - in this reader's opinion - as an insensitive, paranoid husband, completely oblivious to his wife. I didn't find the story to pack a punch in any significant way, it was just a story. I read the entire book but I wasn't drawn to it, it didn't keep pulling me back in because I was caught up in the story. I finished it because I needed to so I could move on to other reads and because it was a pleasant enough story to finish.
LaBan's first title was a YA one and it's possible that is more her niche. The title was by no means bad but it was kind of flat. In the food world it needed some salt and pepper, maybe some other seasonings as well.

The Memory Weaver by Jane Kirkpatrick
Kindle Edition - 352 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Revell for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Before the story starts Kirkpatrick provides a list of the cast of characters, 25 of them (2 of them animals). I groaned. That didn't bode well for my engagement in the book. But I started reading. I got almost a quarter of the way through before giving it up. It was slow going, tedious, and I couldn't get into the story Kirkpatrick was trying to build. Apparently it's based on a true story and I don't want to dishonor the important story of someone's heritage but this particular one wasn't for me.

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman
314 pages

It's been on my "to read" list for years. And then Netflix created a show based off of it. And I meant to read the book first, I really did, but I didn't. I gave the show a chance. And while this isn't a review of the show it is hard to separate the two. I love the show. It is not for the faint of heart nor is it for people who can't tolerate language or sex. I can get past all that for the story and the show takes Piper Kerman's year and the writers have developed a story, and stories, that I really love. Back to the book...
Kerman finds herself sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison almost 10 years after a short stint in drug trafficking. She's sent to Danbury, home to the "cush con life." But Danbury isn't cush, it's not the worst but it isn't luxury by any means. And for Kerman it is an eye-opening and soul revealing place. She details her first weeks of learning all the rules - unspoken as well as spoken. There's a rhythm and routine to the days that requires a learning curve and when immersed in it for 24/7 you can get a grasp on it within a month or two. Any pre-conceived thoughts, ideas, perceptions, opinions Kerman had before entering the system are torn down as she interacts with the women, and even the guards. She finds a family in Danbury, one that she didn't expect, and one that she discovers enriches her life. I recently saw someone make a comment about Piper Kerman being a "crybaby" about her experience but I didn't get that at all from her memoir. She owned her small part in the crime committed, she self-surrendered when it was time, she is factual and honest about her experiences but none of it had a "woe is me" feel nor did I feel like she was whining about it, she accepted the consequences for the poor choice she had made years ago. And she took the year she was in prison and allowed it to spur her on toward activism for prison reform and restorative justice. There's nothing crybaby about any of that. Someone who has travelled through the system has a perspective on reform needed that those who haven't been in it will never be able to understand.
The big question - only because Netflix made it into a series - do the show and the book "match?"
Actually yes, they do for all of the important stuff. The show writers have taken some liberties with stereotypes (lesbian relationships is the one that comes to mind) for the sake of television and entertainment - those liberties Kerman never actually experienced in prison. But overall, yes as I was reading the book several little comments or incidents or characters would match up to the show, of which Piper Kerman consults on. I love that the show is keeping true to Kerman's experiences within the justice system and honoring what seems to be the most important part of the memoir, family is everywhere and we are built for relationship.
I'm glad to have finally read the book that sparked the show. I'm super interested in learning more about Kerman's work with prison reform and restorative justice, she has a very level-headed and personal response to contribute.


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