This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America’s Most Violent Gang by Samuel Logan

Summary: This is a true story of Brenda Paz’s last three years of life as a member of the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

She was a young member of the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, who became a federal informant before she was killed after running away from witness protection. This book uncovers little known truths about the MS-13, one of America’s most violent street gangs, and reveals how the street life can be alluring to even well loved kids like Brenda.

This narrative also takes a close look at the the realities of living inside the United States as part of a Latino immigrant community, underscoring the challenges with policing these communities and the fluidity of illegal movement across the US-Mexico border.

My Thoughts: I had never heard of the Mara Salvatrucha gang prior to seeing this book in a bookstore when I was in Guatemala. It sounded very interesting so I picked it up from the library when I got home to the States.

With non-fiction books, I usually love them or don’t enjoy them all that much, and I find that it has a lot to do with the writing style and the way the author decides to portray events and characters. While the details and facts about life in MS-13 were certainly eye-opening and interesting, I was not a fan of Logan’s writing style, although the pacing was fine. It was kind of kitschy and overdone at times.

Still, I recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn about the darker side of life in America as an immigrant.

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Beside a Burning Sea by John Shors

COVER beside a burning sea by john shorsRating: 7 out of 10
Summary: One moment, the World War Two hospital ship Benevolence is patrolling the South Pacific on a mission of mercy. The next, it’s split in two by a torpedo. A small band of survivors, including an injured Japanese soldier and a young American nurse, makes it to the deserted shore of a nearby island, never expecting the experiences awaiting them…

Akira has suffered five years of bloodshed and horror fighting for the Japanese empire. Now, surrounded by enemies he is supposed to hate, he instead finds solace in their company—and rediscovers his love of poetry. While sharing the mystery and beauty of this passion with Annie, the captivating but troubled woman he rescued, Akira grapples with the pain of his past while helping Annie uncover the promise of her future. Meanwhile, the remaining castaways endure a world not of their making—a world as barbaric as it is beautiful, as hateful as it is loving, as forbidden as it is seductive…

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Rating: 8 out of 10
Summary: On what might become one of the most significant days in her husband’s presidency, Alice Blackwell considers the strange and unlikely path that has led her to the White House–and the repercussions of a life lived, as she puts it, “almost in opposition to itself.”

A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice learned the virtues of politeness early on from her stolid parents and small Wisconsin hometown. But a tragic accident when she was seventeen shattered her identity and made her understand the fragility of life and the tenuousness of luck. So more than a decade later, when she met boisterous, charismatic Charlie Blackwell, she hardly gave him a second look: She was serious and thoughtful, and he would rather crack a joke than offer a real insight; he was the wealthy son of a bastion family of the Republican party, and she was a school librarian and registered Democrat. Comfortable in her quiet and unassuming life, she felt inured to his charms. And then, much to her surprise, Alice fell for Charlie.

As Alice learns to make her way amid the clannish energy and smug confidence of the Blackwell family, navigating the strange rituals of their country club and summer estate, she remains uneasy with her newfound good fortune. And when Charlie eventually becomes President, Alice is thrust into a position she did not seek–one of power and influence, privilege and responsibility. As Charlie’s tumultuous and controversial second term in the White House wears on, Alice must face contradictions years in the making: How can she both love and fundamentally disagree with her husband? How complicit has she been in the trajectory of her own life? What should she do when her private beliefs run against her public persona? (from

My Thoughts: This is the controversial novel that was all over the news awhile ago because it is based quite closely on the life and times of our First Lady Laura Bush.

Alice Lindgren, the main character and narrator of American Wife, has several characteristics that tie her in closely to our current First Lady. She grew up in a small town, works as a librarian, and when she was 17, was involved in a deadly car accident that ended the life of a classmate. She eventually marries a man named Charlie Blackwell who comes from a dynastic political family, has a New England Ivy League education, and who becomes a Governor and then President of the United States.

This was a good read. You must keep in mind that it is not a biography of Laura Bush. The novel draws on several events, the ones mentioned above, to create a framework for the novel. But everything else is purely fiction, and pretty good fiction at that.

I think one of the things that most stood out to me while I was reading this novel was the constant realization of how young I am–how it wasn’t so long ago that racial segregation was legal. These things boggle me.

Alice Lindgren was a very sympathetic character. Everything she faced seemed very real, and I liked her as a person. Several moments I felt we shared similar personality traits.

Good, juicy read and I liked it significantly better than Sittenfeld’s first novel, Prep.