Friday, April 5, 2013


Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
   This is an amazing non-fiction book, focusing on one of the particular slums of Mumbai.  I had heard about it for months, seen it on numerous 'must-read' lists, but just hadn't felt compelled to read it, thinking it would be far too depressing.  Ultimately, I listened to it on, therefore I'm not even going to attempt to spell out any of the names! Suffice it to say, it is not a book I will forget any time soon.  The story begins with the focus on a Muslim family of garbage collectors, with a son who is the 'king-pin' amongst the other boys, has a sickly father and a rather temperamental mother.  We also follow the story of a social climber and politician who will literally do anything to ensure her, and her daughter's, movement up the ladder.  And yes, we are introduced to a caste system that is, unfortunately, still alive and well in India, no matter how
'modern' they say they are.  We see the graft in government, the corruption in the police, the complete absence of medical care and education, and the true horror of the slums of Mumbai.  Well worth your time, though your stomach will churn in spots and your mind will want to deny that humans are treated as such.

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain
Admittedly, I am a historical buff and a fan of books based on real people.  This one is a doozy.  I had avoided McClain's book, as I'm not really much of a fan of Ernest Hemingway.  In a college lit class, I was forced to read The Sun Also Rises, never completely understanding the dynamics of the characters, or to be honest, really caring.  I finished the book wondering what all the fuss was about Hemingway.  Since then, I have studiously avoided teaching any of his works in my English classes, perhaps unfairly, perhaps not - it remains to be seen. However, the story of his life is quite fascinating, and The Paris Wife covers his first five years of writing, his marriage to a slightly older woman, and the life of the 'Lost Generation' in 1920's Paris.  I studiously avoided reading about Hemingway on Wikipedia, so I could discover for myself the interesting facts and tidbits of his life.  Most intriguing to me, was the inspiration for The Sun Also Rises - and yes, it now sits on my high school desk, waiting to be read once again (I'm hoping 30 years later, I will see the value).  Through these five years, we meet many of the 'biggies' of American literature, such as Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and my personal favorite, the drunken and crazy American couple...the Fitzgeralds.  Read in just two days, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
I had read the inside flap of this book frequently, never really that intrigued by the idea of a couple who lives out on a deserted island, keeping the lighthouse. Was I ever mistaken.  This is one of the most beautiful books I have read in a quite some time - I HIGHLY recommend it.  The story line is simple; .a baby is found in a rowboat - the couple keeps it.  Fast forward...let the drama begin.  The woman is a protected, beloved only child after her brothers are killed in WWI, while her husband is a decorated veteran, traumatized by his own wartime experiences.  Their marriage is complex and complicated by their inability to bear living children, as well as his PTSD.  The other character, however, is the lighthouse. The island itself sits between the Indian Ocean and the Southern Sea that leads to Antarctica; it is a world unto itself.  I found myself fascinated with the life of a keeper, wondering when the looming houses became automated and ended a way of life for so many.  First time author Stedman can write, seriously.  Her writing is lyrical, poignant, yet not verbose; she gets to the plot line without droning on endlessly about the scenery, yet keeps one reading as she draws out the quiet mystery and drama.  Loved loved loved this book.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
In my search, as an English teacher, for a non-narrative, non-fiction book to teach at the high school level, everyone kept referring me to a Gladwell book. He has three bestsellers - The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. After looking at the three of them, I decided perhaps his latest one would be the most high-interest for students.  However, I found it wasn't just about my students; I was hooked from page one and finished it the next day.  The story looks at the studies and statistics surrounding people and companies that succeed, exploring the idea of "what makes one successful."  Needless to say, I was shocked by some things, not by others.  For instance, our favorite line to our girls their entire childhood and still into adulthood is...Work hard and good things happen.  Outliers taught me that still holds true, though 10,000 hours seems to be the needed turning point for success.  However, so much more exists that aids in one's success...when you were born, your cultural background, and so many other things I had never even considered.  This is an engrossing, fascinating book - I highly recommend it.

Ghostman by Roger Hobbs
Early one morning last fall, I saw my friend Chuck Robinson at the gym.  Consumate bookseller and owner of literally the BEST independent bookstore to be found, we, of course, engaged in our usual conversation about our latest favorite books.  I was in awe over Yellow Bird, and he was fascinated by a new young author he had just met, as well as his first novel that Chuck literally could not put down.  His words to me were..."Someone should put this young man to work for the FBI - he knows far too much about the underworld."  Hobbs is a 23 year old young man, recent graduate of Reed College, and since it takes a couple years to the actual publishing can do the math on how young he was Ghostman.  This is a rock-n-roll, hold onto your pants, edge of your seat, and every other cliche, kind of thriller.  A 'ghostman' is a person who doesn't actually exist, living so far off the grid no one can find him.  Our hero (who knows what his real name actually is??) is a professional thief and he's got a bit of a problem on his hands, as well as a past history that plays into his current situation.  Hobbs weaves the two stories seamlessly together, creating a page-turner like no other.  As Chuck's blurb said on the back of his book..."we will be reading this young man's work for years to come."  Hobbs is the real deal and Ghostman is a legitimately awesome read.
when he wrote

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