These are some of my favorite books, some classics, some contemporary. They’re in no particular order.
1. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
If there’s a Great American Novel, then surely this must be it. One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, especially the ending. The story details the hard journey westward by the Okies escaping the dust bowl, and is ultimately a reflection of the indomitable American spirit.
2. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Another powerful American classic by another American Nobel winner, Beloved is the name of a baby killed by her mother, an escaped slave, when she is captured because she considered death better than growing up in slavery. This story stayed with me for a long time after I finished the book.
3. The Goat’s Party by Mario Vargas Llosa
My favorite book by this Peruvian Nobel winner. It’s a fictionalization of the last days of the brutal Dominican dictator Trujillo and tells the story of his assassins and their plot. It’s a brilliant piece of historical reconstruction and a fascinating read.
4. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This is my all time favorite romance. How could a book that details one man’s undying love for a woman over half a century not be? It takes place in 19th century Cartagena, Colombia, and the Nobel winner Garcia masterfully evokes both the romance of the era, setting and the story.
5. Queen of the South by Arturo Perez Reverte
The current hit TV show on USA Network is very loosely based on this thriller. The book is far better. I sped right through this tale of a Mexican woman who not only survives but thrives in the male-dominated dangerous world of international drug trafficking. Gripping and compelling.
6. Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle by Ingrid Betancourt
I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but Latin American politics and crime are big interests of mine. This memoir, which details the former Colombian presidential candidate’s abduction by guerrillas and life as a hostage, details an incredible story about human nature and the triumph of the human spirit — and it’s extremely well written.
7. Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood
This is an Australian classic first published in 1881. I was spellbound by this frontier tale of Captain Starlight and the Marston boys: bushrangers, cattle rustlers but generally sympathetic scallywags as they evade the law through goldfields and bush country.
8. A Good Man in Africa by William Boyd
This was a hilarious book, a total send up of the stodgy British foreign service. The protagonist is a rather hapless junior embassy official in a fictional African country, and he finds himself constantly wading into trouble. I had to run out to the parking lot to listen to this book on my lunch hour, I was addicted to it!
9. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
My favorite Hemingway. What can I say? It’s got all my top elements: heroes involved in a political conflict, a foreign setting, adventure and romance.
10. Vanity Fair by WillliamThackeray
A whopper at 800 pages, but totally worth it. I loved this surprisingly readable story of Becky Sharp, who uses her wiles and wit to climb the social ladder in the early 19th century London. A satirical comedy that pokes fun at social mores and snobs.
Los Angeles homeboy Magdaleno is paroled from prison after serving time on a gun possession frameup by a rival, Rico, who takes over as gang shotcaller in Mags’s absence. Mags promises himself and his Salvadoran immigrant family a fresh start, but he can’t find either the decent job or the respect he craves from his parents and his firefighter brother, who look at him as a disappointment. Moreover, Rico, under pressure to earn money to free the Cyco Lokos’ jailed top leader and eager to exert his authority over his rival-turned-underling, isn’t about to let Mags get out of his reach. Ultimately, Mags’s desire for revenge and respect pushes him to make a decision that ensnares him in a world seeded with deceit and betrayal, where the only escape from rules that carry a heavy price for transgression is sacrifice of everything – and everyone – he loves.
The summer before senior year, Chloe starts an internship as a reporter at a local newspaper. While on assignment, she meets Kieran, a quirky aspiring actor. Chloe becomes smitten with Kieran’s charisma and his ability to soothe her soul, torn over her parents’ impending divorce. But as their bond deepens, Kieran becomes smothering and flies into terrifying rages. He confides in Chloe that he suffered a traumatic childhood, and Chloe is moved to help him. If only he could be healed, she thinks, their relationship would be perfect. But her efforts backfire, and Kieran turns violent. Chloe breaks up with him, but Kieran pursues her relentlessly to make up. Chloe must make the heartrending choice between saving herself or saving Kieran, until Kieran’s mission of remorse turns into a quest for revenge.
Christina Hoag is the author of Skin of Tattoos, a literary thriller set in L.A.’s gang underworld (Martin Brown Publishers, August 2016) and Girl on the Brink, a romantic thriller for young adults (Fire and Ice YA/Melange Books, August 2016). She is a former reporter for the Associated Press and Miami Herald and worked as a correspondent in Latin America writing for major media outlets including Time, Business Week, Financial Times, the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times. She is the co-author of Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, a groundbreaking book on gang intervention (Turner Publishing, 2014). She lives in Los Angeles.
Where to find Christina…