19. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
I had a really odd experience reading this book in that until I got to the very end of the book and read the author notes I thought I was reading a work of fiction, when in fact the book is a non-fictional account of people living in a small section of Mumbai just on the other side of the wall from the airport. When thinking it was a work of fiction I only moderately liked the book, but upon realizing that it was non-fiction I changed my assessment. Problems I had with how things were written suddenly didn’t make sense in light of it being factually based so all of a sudden those issues disappeared. I do wonder how I would have felt while reading it knowing that it was non-fiction going in, but I’ll never know.
All that being said it’s definitely an enlightening and often heartbreaking look at life in a difficult place where people are trying to get ahead in a corrupt system that continuously breaks them down even when they are trying to take advantage of it. I also love where the author came up with the title, but I won’t spoil it by telling you. You’ll have to read the book to find out for yourself. I give it a 7 out of 10.
18. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I read this book for one of my book clubs, which is currently tackling classic novels. I couldn’t bring myself to read the unabridged version which is over a thousand pages long so I picked up one of the abridged versions, which cut my reading almost in half. I was glad I did because I wasn’t super in love with the book, though it did make for a great book club discussion. One of the things we discussed was the fact that it was originally written in serialized form, so that the writing style served to remind people of what previously happened while also dragging everything out because the author was being paid by the word. It felt very familiar to other books I have read that were written in the same time period. It’s just not a writing style I can get super into. My other problem with the book were some of the storylines that seemed to me to be overly convoluted revenge plots that would only pan out if a 18 other things dependent on other people’s actions panned out first, which of course they did. I came to a better appreciation of the book after discussing it with my book club, which is often times the case but still won’t count this among my favorite classics. I give it a 5 out of 10.
17. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Night Circus, otherwise known as Le Cirque des Rêves, comes to town without warning and is only open after dark until dawn. To the lovers of this mysterious circus it is a place of magic and joy, but little do they know the real magic that is behind it. Celia is the daughter of a great magician and Marco is the adopted pupil/son? of one his rivals. From the time they were small children they were trained by their respective guardians to prepare for a battle of magic in a game they are not told the rules for and the circus it their battleground. Yet, Celia and Marco have grander ideas than to be locked in a battle not of their making. Interspersed between their story is the story of Bailey, a young boy who fell in love with the circus and who eventually comes integral the resolution of the game Celia and Marco have been forced to play. The story moves back and forth in time until their stories collide. I get why the author chose to set the timeline like that, but it definitely made the story confusing to follow at some points when I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the dates at the beginning of each chapter. For some reason I definitely liked this book more in concept than I did in execution though. I love the idea behind the book, but for some reason while I was actually reading it I just didn’t care about it that much. I’m not sure why that was. I haven’t really been able to pin point it. I give the book a 7 out of 10.
16. The Self-Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity by Bruce M. Hood
This book provides a rather exhaustive look at who we are, how we form our identities and our actions, and how our brain works. He delves into lots of psychological research, most of which any psychology student is intimately familiar with already. Though it provides a lot of information, there are a number of other better books out there on similar subjects. It seemed more like a textbook throwing out information on study after study as opposed to connecting it well in a larger narrative. I also took issue with the end of the book where he discusses the influence of more recent things like social networking and their influences on people, but without any actual research to back up anything he is saying. The entire rest of the book he provides study after study to back up his assertions and then all of a sudden he throws this out there with no real research behind it. Instead it’s just the speculation you see in all kinds of newspaper and magazine articles with no real hard science to back it. If you can’t get enough of reading stuff like this then it’s not a horrible book, but there are better books out there if you know nothing on the subject and if you do know something about the subject you’re not going to find anything new here. I give it a 5 out of 10.
15. The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge
This book is the perfect example of a book that I would highly recommend to people who like this sort of book even though I rather hated it because I don’t like this sort of book. I’m not even sure why I read it, but I did. The story centers around Camille, a professional matchmaker, who has recently been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and who most likely only has a few months to live. Her mother died when she was a young girl and her father unprepared to raise his two children alone following their mother’s death essentially abadoned them to raise themselves. She does not want her own children to suffer a similar fate upon her death, so she proposes to her husband Edward that she find him someone to marry after she dies. However, the best laid plans do not always work out as one hopes as Camille and Edward find out during this journey.
My problems with this book were legion. I could not get on board with the decisions most of the characters were making and I really wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be rooting for in the whole messy situation. I really didn’t want to root for any of them. Also, the fact the way Edward was written to apparently be God’s gift to women drove me nuts. It was like he was the only man left on the planet the way every woman in the book threw herself at him.
As I said, I think people who enjoy chick lit type books would probably really enjoy this. I am not one of those people, and thus I really did not. I give it a 4 out of 10.
14. A Good American by Alex George
I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book at ALA Midwinter. I’ve been pondering my review of this book for awhile because I have mixed feelings about it. The first 2/3 of the book I absolutely loved, but it kind of fell apart for me at the end. The story covers three generations of the Meisenheimer family as told from point of view of James, one of the members of family’s third generation.
The story begins with the Frederick and Jette fleeing from Germany in the early 1900’s to a new life in America. They wind up settling in a small town in Missouri where he eventually takes possession of a local bar, which becomes the basis of the family’s livelihood. Music is also a very large part of the story touching each of the generations in different ways.
The first 2/3 of the book I found to be a wonderful portrayal of a family over a century’s worth of time. I can’t really say what I didn’t like about the last part of the book without giving away entire plot lines, but pretty much everything that happens once James and his brothers enter high school I found to be rather ridiculous, and the final reveal of the book seemed kind of trite and unnecessary even given its enormity.
Thus I have a hard time saying whether one should read the book or not. I would hate for people to miss out on the beauty of the beginning of the book, but an unsatisfactory ending to a great book can leave a bad taste in one’s mouth even worse than just reading a mediocre book. It appears from other reviews that other people were not as bothered by the ending as much as I was so perhaps if the book strikes you as interesting you should pick it up. I give it a 6 out of 10.