Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai UndercityBehind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn’t the kind of book that one can say one “likes.” It is certainly powerful, moving, and thought-provoking. It is written in a style that perhaps removes one from the horrors that are recounted – straight-forward and unemotional. All of the events are real, but it reads like fiction. It may be about poverty, and corruption, desperation and death, but it is also about the fierce competitiveness of survival, hope for a better future, and the occasional triumph of education and information over corruption. I did come to care for the “characters” in the end, and it would be nice to have some kind of follow-up in the future as to what happened to them.

Book description: Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter-Annawadi’s “most-everything girl”-will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.” But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

The Traitor’s Wife

The Traitor's Wife: The Woman Behind Benedict Arnold and the Plan to Betray AmericaThe Traitor’s Wife: The Woman Behind Benedict Arnold and the Plan to Betray America by Allison Pataki

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m a bit torn in my review of this book. I enjoyed the historical background and the details of everyday life. The characters are well-done but a bit caricaturish. Peggy Shippen is portrayed as vain, shallow, and theatrical. I suspect the real Peggy Shippen had a lot more substance. Benedict Arnold is depicted as a besotted fool. Hard to believe this is the same man who was a true American hero, before his disillusionment and fall. Told from the point of view of Peggy’s maid, I enjoyed the upstairs/downstairs feel of the book, and the sweet love story that provides quite a contrast to the Arnold’s relationship. The plot points that make Clara into the heroine of the story were a bit contrived and unbelievable. But this is the kind of story I would have loved in high school or college. It would probably appeal to fans of Philippa Gregory. Great for period atmosphere and historical setting, but don’t mistake this for history. It celebrates modern patriotism, while glossing over the fact that the choices facing Benedict Arnold were not as black and white as they are portrayed.

Book Description: Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as military commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John André. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former love and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.

The Headmaster’s Wife

The Headmaster's WifeThe Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lyrical book that will keep you guessing. I spent the first half of the book wondering why it is titled The Headmaster’s WIFE. First we get the shocking story of a man who seems lucid, but obviously not quite in his right mind. A story of love and lust and possibly murder. What is it that has caused him to unravel? The twist in the middle will throw all of your conclusions away, and we begin the story again from the point of view of the wife. Her story is one of loss and grief and a different kind of unraveling. Is she alive or is she dead? You’ll have to read to the end to find out. I didn’t like the characters, but I did find them compelling and developed a certain compassion for these two broken and hurting people. The ending was a bit ho-hum and I think could have been developed a bit better. It is a quick and easy read, and would make a good book club book. Lots of fuel for discussion.

Book Description: Like his father before him, Arthur Winthrop is the Headmaster of Vermont’s elite Lancaster School. It is the place he feels has given him his life, but is also the site of his undoing as events spiral out of his control. Found wandering naked in Central Park, he begins to tell his story to the police, but his memories collide into one another, and the true nature of things, a narrative of love, of marriage, of family and of a tragedy Arthur does not know how to address emerges. Luminous and atmospheric, bringing to life the tight-knit enclave of a quintessential New England boarding school, the novel is part mystery, part love story and an exploration of the ties of place and family.

Thyme Out

Thyme OutThyme Out by Katie Fforde

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Also published under the title Second Thyme Around. A pleasant enough romantic comedy and just the light-hearted fluff I needed after Cutting for Stone! The story is cute, if somewhat predictable, and the setting is picturesque. The main plot is really about Perdita and her friendship with the elderly and failing Kitty. After Kitty suffers a stroke, it is clear that she cannot continue to live on her own. The author has done a good job of exploring their unusual friendship, issues of failing health, loss of independence, and ultimately dealing with the loss of a surrogate parent. The sub-sub-plots of Janie, who has a crush on Lucas, and Roger, the “long-lost” nephew adds a nice depth and some humor. I was less satisfied with the romance between Perdita and Lucas. After focusing so much in the first part of the book on how badly Lucas had treated Perdita, and on his anger issues, and tendency to be a bully, I just didn’t see enough of a change in him to feel comfortable with their relationship. And to try and justify his behavior by saying that Perdita had been too passive and let him get away with it? Come on, seriously? I am glad that Perdita has learned to stand on her own two feet, but the bully is still a bully. Still, I would read more from this author.

Book Description: For years, things have run quite smoothly for Perdita and her organic gardening business. So what if her hair needs a complete overhaul, her sweater has more holes than Swiss cheese, and there’s no hope of a boyfriend on the horizon? The last thing Perdita wants is a meddlesome man in her life-but she’s about to get one, in the form of her completely infuriating ex-husband, Lucas. Lucas in disagreeable, curt, arrogant, and smolderingly gorgeous. He’s also the new chef at Grantly House, Perdita’s number-one customer. Worse, Mr. Grantly has the insane idea of starting a television cooking show that will put Lucas and Perdita together as “The Gourmet and the Gardener.” Now, things are heating up in the kitchen–and elsewhere. With the bright lights blazing and old feelings stirring the pot, it could be a recipe for disaster…or absolute delight.

Audiobook narrated by Davina Porter. (Seriously, she could read the phone book, and it would be fabulous!)

The Silent Wife

The Silent WifeThe Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Touted as a psychological thriller, but it’s really more of quiet puzzle. We’re already told at the very beginning who dies, so no suspense there… The puzzle is in what causes these two people, who have had a stable 20-year relationship, to come unraveled. They have both complacently accepted the status quo – a long-term live-in arrangement (never actually married). As long as Jodi gets to play housewife, and enjoy the luxury of a comfortable home, she has kept silent about his “extra-marital” affairs. But everything changes when Todd gets a girl pregnant and is badgered into actually leaving Jodi. Neither Todd nor Jodi are particularly likeable, and that made it hard for me to care about anything that happened to them. The story became much more compelling after the assassination, and although I had already anticipated the twist in the plot at that point, it was enough to raise this from 2 to 3 stars for me.

Book description: A chilling psychological thriller about a marriage, a way of life, and how far one woman will go to keep what is rightfully hers. Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater; she lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds; she likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps; she has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept.