Thursday, March 24, 2016

Spring Books 2.0

The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal
A breakthrough hit in France by a debut author, this book is provocative, thoughtful, and written in a such a unique writing style that it is at first disconcerting.  Translated in an authentic manner from the author's style, the reader is faced with second-person point of view.  As in, the writer speaks directly to us, placing us in the room during highly charged, emotional moments, almost as if the 'fly on the wall.'  The book begins with 19 year old Simon Limbres as he and his friends leave his home at dawn in order to catch the perfect wave at the nearby shore in France.  Just hours later, after a horrific car accident, we are personally entangled in all the decisions that come with a child who is brain dead: the devastated parents, the responsibilities of the medical team members, Simon's friends, and the recipient of Simon's precious heart.  Over the space of just 24 hours, this author is able to ensnare our emotions like nothing I have ever experienced.  I read frantically, voraciously, feeling each character's emotions as if I was there.  Not an easy book to experience; if you're looking for redemption in the end, this one is complicated.  But it is definitely a book I will not forget easily and would be an incredible book club choice with a plethora of hotly charged topics to discuss.

Evicted:  Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Round two in unforgettable books, this was one of the more disheartening books I have read in quite some time. Brilliantly written and deeply researched, Matthew Desmond spends years with eight families in the heart of Milwaukee's poverty stricken neighborhoods, as they struggle with eviction, shady landlords, literal slum lords, drug addiction, job searches, and the type of devastating poverty that most people like to pretend does not exist in America.  Desmond, with brutal honestly, shows us a side of Milwaukee and humanity that is often difficult to understand, but he does so with compassion and truth.  He was able to tape many conversations and be a part of a world often denied to researchers; it is an impressive thesis on the state of housing in America for the disenfranchised.  Desmond pulls no punches and chooses to show his subjects in all their fallibility, not romanticizing their life choices (which at times are beyond questionable), yet also not condemning them.  It is admirable.  Desmond shows us the toll eviction takes, the unbearably high cost of housing in the slums, and the vicious cycle that is nearly impossible to break, generation after generation.  Not an uplifting book, to be sure, but one that will provide you with an education that is well worth the depression.

Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde
This was the heartwarming, feel-good book I had to pick up after finishing Evicted; it did not disappoint.  August Schroeder is a high school science teacher, who is increasingly burnt out on his job, surviving each school year by dreaming of his summer road trip in his motor home.  Yet this summer begins with a devastating dilemma - pay out all of his savings to fix his broken engine and punt on the trip to Yellowstone OR take the mechanic's offer of a free repair, that of course comes with strings.  The 'strings' being his two young sons, seven year old Henry and eleven year old Seth, who need a home for the summer while dad spends a few months as the guest of the county jail.  And since this is a 'heartwarming' story, of course August takes the boys along for the tour of a lifetime, seeing Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, Zion, the Grand Canyon, and ultimately the final destination of Yellowstone.  As the trip unfolds, we see the urgency of August's quest, the way nature can heal wounds, and the burgeoning relationship August forms with two small, utterly delightful young boys.  Yep, this warmed by heart, kept me turning pages, and ended with a smile. Well worth it:)

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin
This book is getting a lot of buzz out in the book-blogging world, and it is well-deserved.  Guskin takes what could have been an 'ordinary' story - that of one mother whose son disappeared years ago, another mother whose son has psychological issues that cause alienation - and twists it around to help us see that perhaps there are other forces at work here.  Janie's son Noah refuses baths, sobs for his other mother to come save him, and has horrifying nightmares about drowning.  Diagnosed at age four with schizophrenia, Janie instead turns to a psychologist who rejected a promising Harvard career as a psychiatrist and instead began to research past lives of children.  A laughing stock in the medical world, this doctor is looking for an American child to validate his research.  Guskin brings up the many questions as she intersperses the fictional story with scholarly accounts of young children, mainly in Asia, who have been reunited with their previous families.  Questions such as...does religious have a place in medicine, does reincarnation exist, do young children have a special window into their past lives, and if so, how does one meld this belief with other religious beliefs?  As the two mothers try to make their way through grief, they must also attempt to find answers to these questions.  It is a fascinatingly different take on a mystery, as well as what a parent would do to heal a child.

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon
If you read The Wife, the Maid, and The Mistress (great book on a true-life 1920's era murder), this is Lawhon's second outing in the world of historical mystery.  This time around, she takes the world-famous story of the zeppelin, the Hindenburg (who hasn't seen the famous 1938 video of it burning to the ground in just 34 seconds?), and semi-fictionalizes the crossing from Berlin to New Jersey.  I say 'semi' as the author actually did extensive research on the real passenger list and uses these facts to people her story.  The names have not changed, nor their reason for being on the airship, nor their eventual fate - some lived, some died.  However, Lawhon obviously creates the relationships, the dialogue, the rivalries, the espionage, and the eventual reason for the explosion.  Told through the eyes of the "reporter," the "navigator," the "flight attendant,"  the mysterious "American," and the "cabin boy," we readers see the strings that ultimately leave to the final devastation.  It is a fascinating look at history, as well as just a darn good story.

The Nine:  Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin
With everything going on today in the world of SCOTUS, I figured this would be a good book to become a more educated person on how the United Stated Supreme Court actually works, as well as the complex humans who inhabit that world.  I was right - I infinitely know more about the workings of the court, the nomination process, and of course all the dirty little secrets, relationships, maneuvering, etc. that I ever wanted to know.  Toobin's book was published in 2008, so it does not have the Obama court choices in the book, but it does a stellar job of setting up the previous 25 years to see how the direction of the court was orchestrated.  Starting with the selection of Sanda Day O'Connor, we see her slow walk to the left, as she became disheartened by the Bush presidency as well as how politicized the court became.  Toobin outlines the selection of Ginsburg, Breyer, Kennedy, as well as the newer spots filled by Roberts and Alioto. He also goes into great detail about cases I knew little of, and I came to realize how much these cases affect our lives today as well as the current political atmosphere today.  Admittedly, I find the legal world fascinating, as well as many of the justices so this book is right in my wheelhouse.  If you're a legal junkie, like history, want to become better informed, this is a well-written, intriguing book.

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