Review: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New BlackOrange is the New Black: My Time in a Women’s Prison – Piper Kerman

5/5

I was pretty late to the Orange is the New Black Party. Not having Netflix meant I wasn’t able to watch the series when it was first released despite knowing lots of people who had fallen in love with it. When I finally did start watching it at the end of January, I watched the entire series over the space of about two weeks, and like everyone else, I was left wanting more (and am counting down the days until the 6th of June. So, left wanting more, I decided to read the memoir upon which the series was based.

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Mythologies – The Aeneid

Aeneas defeats the rival Italian king Turnus

The Aeneid – Virgil

2/5

Obviously my plan to do regular updates as I read the Aeneid didn’t happen, I’ve not had much time with which to blog recently, and trying to motivate myself to write about a book which frankly I found a little boring was even harder than it sounded. Instead, I’m just going to revert to my original aim of writing a post to cover the whole book, much as I did last year.

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The Aeneid – an Introduction

The Aeneid – an Introduction

As I mentioned back in October, rather than trying to read a set number of books in 2014, instead I’m going to focus on reading cultural mythologies. While I’ve still not finalised my reading order, January and February are going to be Greco-Roman!

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The Family Way

First, an apology. I know I’ve fallen behind with my blogging (though if you follow me on Goodreads, you’ll know I’m still reading plenty of books), and I’m sorry. I fully intend to rectify this as soon as things get a bit less manic (hopefully by the end of this week!)

However, more importantly, I’m pleased to reveal that The Family Way, a new anthology featuring my first published short story, Elizabeth, was published today, and is available for purchase on Amazon.co.uk and .Com, or on CreateSpace if you’d rather not buy from Amazon.

Needless to say, I am very excited about this.

The Family Way

“Happy families are all alike; Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Everybody has, or once had, a family, but families vary. Some are traditional – Mum, Dad, 2.4 children – some have only one parent, some two, some many. You may have a dozen brothers and sisters, or you may have none. THE FAMILY WAY is a bravura collection of original fiction about families old and new, small and large, happy and unhappy, normal and strange, human and otherwise from the publishers of THE LAST POST. This special edition of THE FAMILY WAY features seventeen striking illustrations by Meghan Hawkes.

The Off-Season – #3 Dodger

SolarisDodger – Terry Pratchett
3/5

I don’t have that much to say about Dodger, because as I said in my review of Maskerade, once you’ve commented on one Terry Pratchett novel, there’s not that much new that you can say about all the others. Dodger bends this rule slightly, because it’s a), a young adult novel, and b), not set on the Discworld. However, while Pratchett’s YA fiction is generally excellent, Dodger is one of the weakest books he’s published in years. Set in Victorian London, the titular lead is an urchin who gets by from fishing around in the sewers for valuables that have got lost down the drain, a life which gets turned around when he interrupts a murder and falls in love.

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The Off-Season – #3 Solaris

SolarisSolaris – Stanislaw Lem

4/5

I’ve read quite a lot of Science Fiction in the past, though admittedly I do spend more time in the so frequently linked genre, Fantasy.  In fact, although the challenge of the last year began with a Sci-fi book, the whole project was, in part, an attempt to distance myself from the genre somewhat and widen my literary purview. Free from that constraint, I decided I’d try one of the classics of the genre, Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris.

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The Off-Season – #2 The Marrying of Chani Kaufman

Finally, I’m returning to reviews (even though I read this over a month ago, I’ve only had time to finish it this morning!), as life begins to return to normal for me.

Chani KaufmanThe Marrying of Chani Kaufman – Eve Harris

2/5

This is probably the Booker Long-listed novel I was most excited about when the list was announced, but it took me a long time to actually track it down. I’m not entirely sure why, but I tend to be drawn to reading books with either Jewish authors or subjects (as you may have noticed in my year of 100 books!). The Marrying of Chani Kaufmann depicts the run up to, and immediate aftermath of the wedding of two Ultra-Orthodox twenty-somethings and the struggles they go through both personally and culturally (or more often both).

As someone who has no real familiarity with the world of the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities of North-West London, I can’t really pass comment on how realistic a portrayal it is, and I have to simply trust to Harris’ own interaction with that world. However with this in mind, I do think that she did a wonderful job of humanising a people who most who non-members tend to find difficult to imagine being part of. From Avromi’s adolescent mistakes, to his parent’s deteriorating marriage and the differences between Chani and Baruch’s families, Harris makes all too clear that despite the fact they have a very different way of life, Charedi Jews are still people with all the same concerns and problems that most Londoners have. She also explains, through the method of Chani’s marriage preparation lessons, the religious context for some of the aspects of the religion non-members have issues with; the ritual impurity of menstruation for example, or the wearing of the Shtetl (hair coverings for married woman).

That said, she also draws attention to the problems with the oppressive nature of the community. It is Chaim’s consideration for what people will think of him as a Rabbi that is the source of many of the problems within the Zilbermann home, and Mrs Levy’s concern for her family’s social standing that causes friction between her and her future daughter-in-law, however these are hardly exclusive to Charedi families. The tendency towards arranged marriages, the prohibition towards unmarried men and women having contact with each other, the ingrained aversion to talking about sex, and the highly regulated social conventions however, which are more unique, cause almost all of the major problems in the plot,

If I have any criticisms about the book, it’s just that sometimes the time frame is a little confusing. Each chapter is headed with the name of the characters it’s most closely related to, and the year it takes place. Those that take place in the Rebbitzen’s past are straightforward enough, but the problem is when reading about the present, or the recent past. The actual Kaufman-Levy marriage takes place in 2008, at which point the book opens and there are occasional returns to that day, but most of the book takes place before it. Thus it becomes a little hard to tell exactly when in 2008 the chapter is occurring, meaning the timeline appears perhaps a little more fluid than Harris had intended.

The only other issue I have is that the glossary, which explains a lot of the Yiddish or Hebrew terms that are used throughout the book, is slotted in almost as an afterthought at the end, with no warning or indication that it’s there. Most of the terms I was able to figure out, either through prior knowledge or context, but it would have been nice to have known it was there before I was three-quarters of the way through the book.

Of the non-Short-listed books I’ve read from the Booker Long-list, I think The Marrying of Chani Kaufmann is definitely the one that I think deserved to take Five Star Billionaire’s place in the final six. I don’t think it would have been strong enough to win (although I still have yet to track down a copy of The Luminaries. Sigh…), but I do think that it’s one of the most enjoyable and easy to read book on the Long-list, as well as being just a good bit of heart-warming story telling.