cafenowhere: close-up photo of champagne cork (champagne)
Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Edited by Phoebe Wagner and Bronté Christopher Wieland, published by Upper Rubber Boot Books, Sunvault promises "a revolution against despair. Focusing on solutions to environmental disasters, solarpunk envisions a future of green, sustainable energy used by societies that value inclusiveness, cooperation, and personal freedom."

I'm proud that my poem "Strandbeest Dreams," cowritten with my husband, José Jimenez, is included in Sunvault, alongside work by Nisi Shawl, Daniel José Older, Bogi Takács, Jaymee Goh, and so many talented folks.


cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better by Maya Schenwar

My Goodreads review, cross-posted.

The first half of this book discusses how the (American) prison system sabotages all the factors known to reduce recidivism rates among ex-inmates: family connections, interpersonal relationships, community engagement, education, and employment.

The author, Maya Schenwar, illustrates with examples from her own family's experience. Her sister was incarcerated multiple times and gave birth in prison. Schenwar explains that inmates are warehoused far from home, sometimes even out of state, making family visits prohibitively expensive or impossible for working-class and poor families, which is the majority of the affected families. If family makes it to the visitor center, long lines and short hours mean some won't get in. Phone call rates are extortionate; calls are monitored and interrupted; call privileges are subject to the whims of wardens and corrections officers. Mail, also monitored and censored, routinely goes "missing." Books are heavily sanctioned and may be taken from inmates for minor infractions. And once released from prison, a person's job prospects are dismal because their skills (if any) are out of date and few employers will accept an ex-con. Thus rather than rehabilitating, the system ensures that people leave prison worse off than they entered it, and therefore more likely to re-offend or fall afoul of parole restrictions.

Meanwhile, structural conditions that predispose people toward crime, such as racism and poverty, are fortified when the prison/legal system "disappears" millions of marginalized people for years or even lifetimes. Though the author is white, she is cognizant of that privilege and readily acknowledges how much worse the odds are for minorities of all kinds. She frequently turns over the bullhorn so those minorities can speak for themselves.

Schenwar doesn't ignore the abuses that inmates suffer from guards and other inmates, but she doesn't spend much time on it, either. This makes the book less upsetting than others in the genre.

The second half of the book focuses on decarceration, what we as individuals can do to dismantle the prison system. She encourages pen-pal programs and activism opportunities, but she also asks us to reconsider our understanding of crime (versus harm, for example) and whether we really need to bring police into situations. She also spends a fair amount of time on models of community-based justice (or transformative justice), with concrete examples of how schools and communities can address harmful behavior and remedy the underlying causes of violence without throwing people away.

This is a practical, personable book that is easy to read. A list of resources gives readers ideas for immediate action, and extensive bibliographic notes pave the way for further research.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (morena baccarin)
I missed an installment of Friday Faves because I was at the Sirens convention in Denver, too nervous about my presentation, then too relieved when it was over, to focus on blogging. Thus it seems logical to devote a FF to the happiest bits of my first Sirens experience.*

One-on-one whiskey-fueled chat with [livejournal.com profile] blairmacg. Although we'd met in passing at a previous WisCon and had some exchanges online, this was my first opportunity to sit down and talk at length with Blair. I'd tell you what we talked about, but then I'd have to kill you. And, thanks to Blair, I know how! Oops. I've said too much.

A slightly rebellious walk with [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume. In what may be our tradition, after two ReaderCons and now Sirens, Francesca and I had a walk-n-talk. And when the path didn't go where we wanted it to, we scuttled down an embankment and infiltrated a golf course. Given that the theme of this year's Sirens was "rebels and revolutionaries", it seemed the natural course of action.

An audience for my presentation. Seriously, I was braced for the possibility that no one would show for a paper on an obscure Mexican poet. To see more than a handful of folks take their seats and look to me expectantly was a HUGE relief. I think the presentation went well--I may have read too quickly, but my timekeeper never gave me the signal to slow down, and I was a little awkward deploying the Prezi, but I didn't feel like I fumbled my words too often or lost the emotional thread of the talk. I plan to submit my paper to the Sirens compendium. I'm also looking into Hispanic Lit journals, to see if I can get it published without much revision.

Rae Carson talking about Elisa, her fat heroine, getting skinny. After Carson's keynote speech, an audience member asked if Carson had experienced backlash for presenting a fat heroine in The Girl of Fire and Thorns. Now, one of the very few complaints I saw in reviews of Carson's first book was that the thrill of seeing a fat heroine in its opening pages was vanquished when said heroine lost weight and became conventionally attractive to the more-shallow characters, something I call the weight-loss "redemption" arc. Carson explained that in her original vision, the rapid weight loss was very much Not a Good Thing and Elisa gained back the weight. In very diplomatic terms, Carson noted that publishing was in a different place just four years ago, pre-Dumplin'. I was very relieved to hear her explanation, and I admired how she refrained from casting blame or aspersions.

The wedding singer. A totally sappy moment for me. The hotel's main restaurant is beside a banquet hall where wedding receptions and other special events are held. One night I slipped away from a rousing, writerly dinner party to use the bathroom and I heard the John Legend song "All of Me" being sung next door for a wedding party. Is that not the most perfect song for a first dance? I instantly teared up, so I didn't stick around for the whole performance, lest I return to my table and have to explain my cryface.


*I missed another installment because I got so damn sick at Sirens. This seems to be my MO: Look forward to an outing for months, then get so sick before during or after that I swear I'll never travel again. Having a hard time figuring out how to organize a Friday Faves post based on that.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Just Finished: A Rope of Thorns by Gemma Files ([livejournal.com profile] handful_ofdust). As I said in a previous entry, reading this book was 'bout the only thing making me happy, so I stalled to avoid the ending. It turned out, I needn't have worried, because the ending of this, the second book in the Hexslinger trilogy, was pretty happy-making in itself. There's such a density of detail in these books, delivered at such breakneck speed, that one might imagine Gemma writing in a mad-dash to get it all down. But this isn't (only?) a helter-skelter stream-of-consciousness adventure. There's a magnificent level of craftsmanship at work. For example, I had no idea Chess's mother would assume so much importance when she was first introduced, and being surprised like that gives me goosebumps: what other pivot points have I missed? what revelations await in the final book?

Perhaps my favorite line of the book: "Gods sleep within us all, waiting to be prayed alive. And gods can kill other gods."

Currently Reading: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. Tweetie and I are almost finished with this novel in verse about a young girl whose family immigrates from war-torn South Vietnam to America. The girl has a sweet neighbor who is a retired teacher, who agrees to tutor the girl and soon becomes her champion, helping her deal with bullies and her clueless teacher, who presents a very one-sided picture of Vietnam that further alienates the poor kid. Honestly, the neighbor reminds me of my own neighbors, both of whom are retired teachers and unfailingly kind.

For my nonfiction research, I'm still plugging away at The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working-Class Music by Manuel Peña. The author gives mini bios of some key artists in the conjunto tradition, and it's interesting to see my hometown region from their point of view. In the 1930s, there were Anglo and "Mexican" schools. Like my grandparents, the musicians who Peña profiles grew up with little formal education. He shares a quote from a (white) school superintendent back then:

"Most of our Mexicans are of the lower class. They transplant onions, harvest them, etc. The less they know about everything else, the better contented they are. You have doubtless heard that ignorance is bliss; it seems that it is so when one has to transplant onions...If a man has very much sense or education either, he is not going to stick to this kind of work. So you see, it is up to the white population to keep the Mexican on his knees in an onion patch...This does not mix well with education."

I think what bothers me--I mean, aside from the paterrnalism, racism, and hypocrisy (he starts by claiming ignorance is best for the "Mexicans", then admits it's really best for the white population to keep the Mexicans in servitude)--is that this attitude comes from someone who made it his life's work to foster education and enlightenment...but only for certain people, which seems anathema to the very notion of enlightenment.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (dolores del rio)
All the books in this edition are history oriented nonfic or historical fiction. Not intentional, just happened that way.

Just finished: Border Boom Town: Ciudad Juárez since 1848 by Oscar J. Martínez. I was so excited about this book when I started it. My full review is at Goodreads, but, in short, I came to feel the author minimized certain acts of violence by US "authorities" and thus I lost faith in the accuracy of his account of events.

Currently reading: My read-aloud with Tweetie is Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. As [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume suggested, I probably enjoy it more than Tweetie does. I think she could take or leave it, but she perked up some when the young Vietnamese narrator and her family arrived in the US, with all the culture shock that entails.

For my own pleasure reading, I continue with A Rope of Thorns by [livejournal.com profile] handful_ofdust. I should've finished it by now, but for a while there, Gemma's book was the only thing making me happy, so I (stupidly) stopped reading in an effort to make it last. Brain, get your shit together, yes?

My current research read is The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working Class Music by Manuel H. Peña. The topic is only slantwise related to my novel, so I won't read the whole book, but it's pretty interesting in itself. The thesis is that the conjunto musical style developed among Tejanos post WW2 because of the socioeconomic, racial, and asssimilation pressures particular to that era.

Next up: The university library books I borrowed for novel research are due June 1, so I've got to hustle through Where North Meets South: Cities, Space, and Politics on the United States-Mexico Border by Lawrence A. Herzog (the author's name is familiar to me from my days of polisci copyediting). If I finish A Rope of Thorns, I may start Dark Matter: Reading the Bones, ed. Sheree R. Thomas.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (coffee wtf)
Just finished: Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks. Reading this book, I realized what I've loved so much about previous Sacks books I've read. I've never sensed any judgment or disgust from him regarding his patients' symptoms and behaviors, regardless of how bizarre they might have been. In this book, specifically the chapter "Altered States" but also sprinkled throughout the text, Sacks recounts the various hallucinations he himself has experienced, some of them intentionally conjured from experimentation with recreational drugs, others due to his habit of "self-prescribing" drugs as a young doctor, and still others resulting from the contingencies of life. Perhaps it's been first-hand experience that's kept Sacks humble and compassionate.

This is not my favorite of Sacks' books, but it was enlightening, especially his observations on the geometric auras associated with migraines, how they reflect the patterns built into the architecture of our brains' visual systems.

"Perhaps such experiences are at the root of our human obsession with pattern and the fact that geometrical patterns find their ways into our decorative arts....Migraine-like patterns...can be found in Islamic art, in classical and medieval motifs, in Zapotec architecture, in the bark paintings of Aboriginal arists in Australia...in virtually every culture, going back tens of thousands of years. There seems to have been, throughout human history, a need to externalize and make art from these internal experiences....There is an increasing feeliing among neuroscientists that self-organizing activity in vast populations of visual neurons is a prerequisite of visual perception....Spontaneous self-organization is not restricted to living systems; one may see it in the formation of snow crystals, in the roilings and eddies of turbulent water....[T]he geometrical hallucinations of migraine allow us to experience in ourselves not only a universal of neural functioning but a universal of nature itself."

Now reading: Border Boom Town: Ciudad Juárez since 1848 by Oscar J. Martínez. This book is a researcher's dream come true. Terms defined at the beginning of the book, photos, tables, detailed endnotes, extensive bibliography, critical analysis of sources in that bibliography, well-organized chapters, intros and conclusions. I want to make sweet, sweet love to this book. I know it will be useful for present novel and I will probably turn to it again for a future project. Big score!

Also reading: A Rope of Thorns, Book 2 of the Hexslinger series, by Gemma Files. I laughed at the book's dedication to Files' husband. I cooed over the epigraphs, and then I quick-slipped back into this 'verse I absolutely LOVE. In the wake of the Sacks book, I can't help but marvel over the hallucinogenically elaborate images spilling from the pages. So many awe-inspiring details. The gods and monsters will gobble you up while you stand in slack-jawed wonder at their terrible beauty.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (neon sign)
Music is magic, as any teen could tell you. In SIGNAL TO NOISE, the teen is Meche, who discovers she can work spells with her friends using vinyl records. Of course, the teens seek to change their miserable social lot through magic, with dubious results.

The teens' story is solidly set in 1980s Mexico City, expertly interspersed with chapters recounting adult Meche's return to Mexico City for a family funeral. The back and forth in time feels flawless, as deftly handled as the changes in point-of-view, which allow readers into all the characters' heads (teen and adult alike) without ever being confusing. While the teens' story ramps up to disaster, adult Meche's story is more about internal change. This is not to say the adult story is any less magical--even more so, perhaps. After all, it's easy to believe in magic when you're young. As we age, that faith gets kicked out of most of us.

Some readers will resist sympathizing with Meche, who has a prickly personality and tends to abuse her few faithful friends, even as an adult. But I enjoyed her strong identity and the fact that she is who she is. She grows and improves, but she remains fundamentally herself, which is an admirable feat for anyone, but especially for a female coming-of-age heroine. Her prickliness makes her moments of tenderness even more touching. For example, I loved her relationship with her grandmother, which was gentle but not sappy.

A subplot involving Meche's friend Daniela and a teacher, though completely believable, felt a bit pat to me. I would've preferred more focus on Daniela's self-perception as a person with chronic illness, especially when that illness seems cured, at least temporarily, by magic. But that's less a complaint than a desire for more of this world Moreno-Garcia has conjured. (Luckily, the author has provided a playlist to let us live there a little longer.)

SIGNAL TO NOISE conveys the raw emotions of the teenage years without slipping too far into nostalgia or downplaying the emotional struggles of adulthood. It's a marvelous balancing act. I can't wait to see what Moreno-Garcia does next!
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
By now, the sturm und drang over K Tempest Bradford's reading challenge to "stop reading straight white cis men for a year" seems to have blown over. I thought it was a worthwhile challenge for certain readers looking to diversify their reading habits, despite the complications that might arise trying to put it into action. (For example, how do you know a person is straight or cis unless they make that information public?)

Last year, I started noticing how many more blurbs on book covers came from (what seemed to be, judging from names) men or nongendered entities like the Times or LA Book Review than from women. Partly because of that inequity, at the beginning of the year, I made a challenge for myself: to make a dent in my TBR pile while reading a gender-balanced slate of books that alternated between men and women. Of course, I quickly realized I hadn't accounted for anthologies and then, much to my shame, I realized I'd defaulted to the faulty binary gender framework. Egads, these prejudices are hard to stamp out.

So I've adjusted my challenge. I'm noting and alternating genders as best I can, given my TBR pile and limited knowledge of author identities. This challenge does not apply to the books I read aloud with my daughter, since that's already a complicated negotiation process. ;) It's not been a difficult task thus far, as I'm a slow reader and read more than one book at a time.

I'd love to hear about reading challenges you've set for yourself, whether for this year or in the past. Tell me about them in the comments!

Read-aloud: We finished reading PIE by Sarah Weeks yesterday. My review is on Goodreads. In short, it was like a culinary cozy mystery for the middle-grade set, set in the 1950s, complete with pie recipes at the beginning of every chapter. I found it a little too wholesome (you know me, right?), but we inherited the book and it was on the short-list for a state book award to be chosen by Iowa students, so I persuaded Tweetie to read it with me so she could vote. I'm not sure what we'll tackle next. I've asked her to look for another nominee, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, but we'll see.

Nonfiction: I finally finished On the Rim of Mexico last night! Review here. tl;dr, It's a good book that could use a revised, post-NAFTA edition, and it's entirely my fault, not the book's, that I took forever and a Tuesday to finish reading it. I still have a lot of note-taking to do from it, so it's not off my desk yet, but it's off my conscience.

Fiction: I finished reading Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which I enjoyed very much. I reviewed it on Goodreads but will give it its own blog entry in a minute, just in case folks want to chat about it!
cafenowhere: Latina in surgical gear examining something up close (lana parilla)
I've started no new reading since last week, just chugging along with the same trio of books. Since I have a novel revision looming, however, I've been unable to disengage editorial instincts as I read.

For example, Mouseheart, the read-aloud I've been doing with Tweetie, begins with a prologue. I've heard so many agents and editors advise cutting prologues and just start the story already that I automatically question the necessity of such intros. As I near the thrilling conclusion of this middle-grade talking-animal fantasy, I've pretty much decided that this book did not need a prologue. So the question is, why use one? In this case, it gives the reader a more swashbuckling hero at the start, and it introduces a feudalistic fantasy element that the publisher might think helps distinguish the book from other talking-animal stories, which...maybe not? LOTS of books take animal "kingdom" literally these days.

(Also, at some point we need to talk about why we give our kids a steady stream of feudalist-inspired battle-and-intrigue fantasies, especially when YA novels are so dystopic lately.)

And despite my ranting last week about the awful female character, I continue reading Valley of Bones. What's interesting is that Gruber can write great female characters--when they're positioned as maybe villains, maybe victims. Not your typical noir femme fatales, much better than that. In fact, in this very book, he presents a really fascinating woman, Emmylou, telling her own story of how she got caught up in huge, possibly supernatural events. But this Lorna character he's created... She's the love interest of the male lead, Paz, and she just revolts me. The one thing that might have made me sympathetic to her--her mother's death from cancer and her own consequent hypochondria--is just buried under racism and classism and fat-phobia and superiority. I've tried to interpret her as a variation on a theme--how is she like/not the "villain" here?--but it's exhausting.

So I'd have cut Lorna out completely. :D But something else I might cut from the story are the numerous excerpts from a supposed history of an order of nuns. One or two have been useful, but I'm not sure why we couldn't get the same (much-abbreviated) info via the point-of-view characters. I like to withhold judgment on such things until I finish reading the book and I see how it all (might) come together, though.

Because I've been reading this book so critically, I've also realized that Lorna's pov is written in present tense, whereas Paz's is firmly in past tense. Going back to the first book, I see Gruber did the same thing there, alternating between tenses for the two leads. Here it bothers me, and I think it's because we're already veering between past and present in Emmylou's account of how she got involved in these murders that Paz is investigating, PLUS we have those excerpts of nun history. So, I'm feeling unnecessarily tangled up.

All of which contributes to much wariness as I contemplate the third book in the Paz series. I think/hope that having worked through this second book, I will be more willing to bail on the third if it annoys me half as much. :D
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (silver teapots)
Currently Reading: I'm finally making progress again with On the Rim of Mexico: Encounters of the Rich and Poor. I left it on a side table the other day and JJ had to move it for some reason, whereupon he exclaimed, "Wow, you're reading the hell out of this book." Because of the number of Post-It notes bristling the pages. (I use one color to indicate a note for the Border Blaster novel and a different color to indicate a general note to self, except for the brief time I lost said Post-It pads and had to sub two other colors, before rediscovering the "lost" pads.) I've gotten past the economic discussion that dragged at me, and the second half of the book covers immigration, la migra, the drug wars, and environmental destruction, which should be easier for me to digest.

Because I needed a bedtime book, I started reading Valley of Bones by Michael Gruber, the second in a series of thrillers starring Cuban-American detective Jimmy Paz. From page one there's the completely immersive level of detail that I admired in the first Paz novel, but some of the characterization is a little too "on the nose" for me, interrupting the dream. I'm interested to see how Gruber handles the sequel-itic difficulties (how much to repeat, to flash back or not, how to work around lost characters).

And, still reading aloud Mouseheart to Tweetie. :)

Just Finished: When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz. This is one of those first collections that you feel hissing on the back of your neck: "Look on me and despair!" I mean, really, who the fuck comes out of the gate looking so good? Some of her brother poems do lose impact from being reprinted alongside stronger ones, but just when I thought I couldn't stand to hear about her tragic, infuriating brother any more, I came to "No More Cake Here," a giddy daydream of celebrating her brother's death with a beautiful twist that both does and doesn't relieve her guilt.

(Also repetitive, when brought together, Diaz's references to Lorca)

The book is divided into three sections (the title poem appears first in an unnumbered section). I'd say section 1 is about reservation life, section 2 about her family and specifically her meth-addicted brother, and section 3 is about the wider world. Section 3 felt weakest to me (which isn't saying a lot, with a writer as strong as Diaz), with several poems I could imagine anyone writing, not only Diaz. But section 3 also had the poems that made me laugh aloud, "Orange Alert" and "A Wild Life Zoo." She really can do it all: make you laugh and cry; shake your fists or shake your head. She wields prose poems, lyrics, narratives, vignettes, formal poetry and free verse, all with enviable skill. I can't wait for her next collection--which, last I read, was tentatively scheduled for this year.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (coffee addicted)
I feel like I've done so much, it has to be February already, but I don't want it to be February yet, because then I'd be behind. Hi, my name is Lisa and I have more than two problems.

I just finished reading Easy Street (The Hard Way) by Ron Perlman with Michael Largo. I liked it a lot, but it's not a good book, per se. As I've learned from watching DVD commentaries, there's usually a reason an actor is an actor and not a writer. Perlman is a great storyteller though, and I've always admired his work. My gram watched the nighttime soap Beauty and the Beast, which put him on my radar, and over the years I came to think of him as "the guy who can act through all the makeup." I loved him in Cronos and The City of Lost Children, and I perked up whenever I saw him in some low-budget flick because he classed the place up. I was really glad when his ship (also known as Guillermo del Toro) came in, and the Perl got some well-deserved recognition.

(I enjoyed him in the first few seasons of Sons of Anarchy, too, until the Hamlet redux got lost and I couldn't stand any of the characters anymore. Not coincidentally, Perlman is very brief, and generously discreet I think, about his SOA experiences.)

Though a fan, I had no idea Perlman was married and has two grown children. I'd really love to read his wife's side of the story. She must be amazing. I understand her desire for privacy, but there's next to nothing about how women have affected his life. All his heroes, men. All his mentors, men. All his cohorts, men. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, given his macho persona, but in an autobiography, the absence of women echoes.

Nor did I know that Perlman had battled clinical depression or that his older brother was bipolar and committed suicide. This is another reason the book resonated for me as it might not for other readers. As laced with cliche as some of his recovery talk is, there's profundity to the cliche for fellow creatives facing the same battles. And Perlman expresses such deep respect for and joy in the arts, it's hard not to feel buoyed by his encouragements.

In way other news, my read-aloud with Tweetie is Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler. Fiedler doesn't talk down to her readers, which makes the story delightful on the sentence level. I currently identify so hard with the (thus-far) minor character Pinkie, the protag-mouse's little sister, who has extreme anger issues. Imagine Lilo from Lilo and Stitch, but she uses more teeth.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (xmas)
Little to report this week.

Tweetie and I are nearing the end of Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat. I don't know what our next read-aloud will be. We've been doing the book-a-night tradition for Advent. Last night's story was Bialosky's Christmas by Leslie McGuire.

I've made progress with On the Rim of Mexico. I've pinpointed my problem with the book: The information is not recent enough to apply to current situations--for example, it was written before the Border Wall was constructed--but it's not in-depth enough in my areas of interest (1930s, South Texas) to serve as research for my book. I'm still finding stuff that will make it into the novel, but I've had to stop reading it with the mercenary intensity that research brings out in me.

I'm still reading The Master and Margarita and have actually reached the appearance of the Master! I realized, when I woke up sick one night, that I was narrating my unwellness, which was a direct result of reading TM&M before bed. Because of the Russian names in TM&M, I have to use a much more "vocal" internal reading voice than I do with my usual reading, and once I get going, it's hard to stop!
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Read Aloud: More than halfway through Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell with Tweetie. Not much in the way of characterization, and sluggish pacing, but it's a pleasant enough way to start our mornings.

Novels: Finished A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files and could'a kicked myself for not having the sequels waiting on my shelf. I didn't realize what a cliffhanger it'd be! Started The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and it's better than I expected. It must be a good translation, since I'm laugh out loud enjoying the story despite being ignorant of Russian politics.

Nonfiction: While cleaning this weekend in preparation for putting up the tree, I unearthed my copy of On the Rim of Mexico. For my next trick, I will actually open the book and find where I left off.

Short Fiction: I highly recommend "Mothers" by Carmen Maria Machado in the latest issue of Interfictions. (despite the typos, my inner copyeditor insists I add) A bit harrowing, heavy on heartbreak, but beautiful, too. These lines resonated with me: I believe in a world where impossible things happen...Where love can overcome brutality...

Me too, Carmen. Me too.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (so tired)
Last week Tweetie had the school day off and I was not feeling well, hence, no Wednesday Reading report. Honestly? I haven't been reading much. I've been writing and revising. I feel as if I fell down a well and I've just dragged myself out. Still catching up on events in the "real world."

Tweetie and I finished The Fast and the Furriest and moved on to Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell. Tweetie gets really indignant at unfairness, in life and fiction, and this book has her outrage flexing at regular intervals. I confess, I find it amusing, because in most MG fic the unfairness is obviously a calculated move by the author to engender sympathy for the child protagonist. I don't know if Tweetie feels especially sympathetic for the protag, but she's definitely annoyed by the over-the-top injustice of the adult characters.

I've made absolutely no progress with On the Rim of Mexico. I haven't even seen the book in days. This may be a case of the right book at the wrong time for me.

When my overworked eyeballs permit, I have read more in A Book of Tongues. Gemma does interesting things with chronology here (everywhere?) and sly things with slash fiction tropes. I like the love story that powers the book, as well as the weird western and Aztec elements. (Actually, elements is the wrong word for the latter. Aztec...superstructure?) If I weren't running on empty, I'd been zooming through the book much faster.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (studying)
Not much reading for me this week. I'm pushing through another revision of my border blaster novel so I can send it to my agent (soon) for feedback.

I finished reading Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros, and I'm glad I did, because some of my favorite poems came at the end. I especially liked those in which the poet addressed her female friends, who sound every bit as wild as she is.

Still reading The Fast and the Furriest to Tweetie over breakfast every school day.

Unable to engage the right part of my brain to process On the Rim of Mexico, I turned to Gemma Files' A Book of Tongues, which was exactly the right thing to do. Like Patty Templeton's There Is No Lovely End, this is weird North American Civil-War era historical fantasy. I've long wanted to read A Book of Tongues, which is the first in Gemma's Hexslinger series, but there's a benefit to being so slow: I don't have to wait for the other books to be published! Knowing there's more, I sink into the pages like I sink into a hot bath, sighing with relief and pleasure.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (bloody drinking)
Only 12 hours left to enter to win a FREE copy of my book, The Haunted Girl, via Goodreads! Spooky, sexy, and sometimes shocking, this collection of poetry and short fiction with a South Texas slant will keep your blood pumping through the cold winter months.

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cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (hansel and gretel)
My read-aloud with Tweetie of The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry continues at a good clip. The characters are not as dastardly as the cover copy would have you think. The parents are comically terrible and die at a distance while the story focuses on the children, who are not so different from most kids, as is proven by their sweetly growing relationship with Nanny. I believe the book is styled after Lemony Snicket's "Unfortunate Events" series, which I've not read, but it reminds me of Roald Dahl. Next up is The Fast and The Furriest by Andy Behrens, which I bought for Tweetie a while back and which is now on the ballot for the Iowa Children's Choice Book Award.

On the adult nonfiction front, I've made only a smidge of progress with On the Rim of Mexico. The "Asymmetry" chapter is easier for me than the Peso one, but I've needed comfort reading this week.

Thus I began and finished Story of the Scene: The Inside Scoop on Famous Moments in Film by Roger Clarke. At only one page of text per scene (although Clarke felt Spartacus warranted 2 scenes), it was a fast read and informative. I'm a movie lover, if not a cinephile, and yet I was learning things throughout the book. I laughed, I "huh!"ed, I scowled. The entries are arranged alphabetically, which was unfortunate, for several reasons but most obviously because it means ending with a James Bond film, You Only Live Twice. There were a few scenes included more because they are iconic scenes than because Clarke provides any new or especially interesting background, but not too many.

Clarke chose a rather "macho" spread of movies, and it's telling which scenes involving women make the cut: Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet, Sissy Spacek in Carrie, Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby. Not Sally Field in Norma Rae or Meryl Streep in Silkwood, for example. Though two Marilyn Monroe movies make the list, Clarke writes with such disdain for Monroe that I was irked. ...I think I just talked myself down from the 4 stars I gave this book on Goodreads.

Fictionwise, I've been loving There Is No Lovely End by Patty Templeton. What I like best so far about its depiction of Civil War-era America is that everyone and everything we encounter has a story, a point of view, a personality and desire--even the dead, even the animals, even the houses. And yet the story never feels bogged down in those details. Patty, a wickedly wise puppetmaster, plays a light hand over the myriad strings.

Now I'm thinking that comfort reads must be as various as comfort foods. What are your comfort reads? What kind of books do you turn to when you're feeling sad or sick or overwhelmed?
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Tweetie and I finished our read-aloud of Rising Storm by Erin Hunter, and before she could throw another Warriors book on the pile, I quick-whoosh picked up The Willoughbys, written AND illustrated by Lois Lowry. To my chagrin, I have now realized that I mistook this book for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. WOE and ALAS! The Lowry book is not at all bad though, and Tweetie is not complaining or rolling her eyes. It's a slim book, too, so no harm no foul. Or, No farm no howl, as I first typed.

I zipped through Blood Waters by Chaz Brenchley, a collection of short stories that I liked an awful lot. A blurb on the back cover reads, "Like a diamond dropped in a pool of sump oil" and that is accurate. I feel as if I could pick Brenchley's work out of a line-up. He has that distinct a voice. Some storytellers sound good to the ear but don't work on the page. Brenchley has a firm grip on both sides of the craft.

These stories came from Brenchley's time as a crimewriter-in-residence for a public sculpture project. If I had any complaint, it'd be that the overall tone seemed one-note, a bit depressing even for someone like me. But just when I began to think there were no happy endings in Brenchley's world, I came to the concluding novella, "My Cousin's Gratitude." It feels like a creative "remix" of an earlier story, "Pawn Sacrifice", and it contains its share of ugliness--child porn, abuse, neglect, and drug use, for examples. But in "My Cousin's Gratitude," our antihero does an about-face, reclaims his humanity, and foils the really bad guy. If it's not a happy ending, per se, it's at least a triumphant one. It catapulted me out of the book in a good mood, so I look forward to reading more of Brenchley's work!

Online, spurred by a particularly bigoted review, I read "We Are the Cloud" by Sam J. Miller, which is a near-future science fiction story in which young men in the foster care system are used as human beacons to provide a city with wireless access. The main character experiences aphasia as a result of "clouddiving," of opening his mind to the data that's constantly routed through him. The story hit my soft spot for big guys who aren't too good with words, who are seen as threatening even when they are in fact the victims.

I liked that story so much, I clicked on to read Miller's Shirley Jackson award-winning story "57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides." That horror-fantasy was stylistically marvelous, but I confess, I didn't enjoy it as much because I didn't sympathize with the main character. Normally I don't see that as a requirement, but here the main character tested his power out on animals first, and though no harm comes to the animals and it's all described very circumspectly, I was too squicked out to really trust the character anymore. That combined with Miller's facility at conveying the character's guilt and self-hatred turned me off.

I've now started reading On the Rim of Mexico: Encounters of the Rich and Poor, a collection of nonfiction essays about the US-Mexico border, by Ramón Eduardo Ruiz. The first essay, about the devaluation of the peso and its effects, particularly in the 1980s and '90s, was a little hard for me to follow. It felt like, "you would think the result would be X, and it sort of was X, but it was also anti-X and some Y and Z, too." Economics: not my strong suit. But I've moved on to the next chapter, so we'll see.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (bloody drinking)
I am giving away two copies of my collection, The Haunted Girl, through Goodreads. Click the cover to enter the drawing! And please, spread the word!

haunted girl cover

This contest ends October 31, 2014 and is limited to Goodreads members in the US and Canada. If there's enough interest, I may do another giveaway that's open to (more) international readers.

You can also purchase the book directly from Aqueduct Press or Amazon.

And you can ask your public library to acquire the book. Requesting the book can be especially important if you believe your library collection needs more diversity!
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (ivana baquero)
Tweetie and I are in the home stretch of Rising Storm by Erin Hunter. It's a much better written book than the last in the series, on a prose level, but I feel like a lot less happens also. Next up for read-aloud will be a book of my choice, The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry.

I finished reading Christopher Golden's short story collection, Tell My Sorrows to the Stones. I rather wish he'd stuck to the stones. My enjoyment of the book waned in the second half, once I realized Golden was relying on two story endings, either a sentimental "feel-good" ending or a revelation ending, where the story pretty much stopped at the most exciting part. One story actually stopped and started at the most exciting point, beginning with the end and telling the story in flashback. In another story (about a female sex vampire), the author combined the two endings to predictably awful effect: "Yes, I'm running for my life, but thank god my dead ex-wife (who I cheated on) is still looking out for me!"

The work-related themes disappeared over the course of Golden's book, which was disappointing. That was the facet I most enjoyed in the early stories. And, as I complained in my last reading post, the instant a woman becomes sexual in these stories, you know the hapless male protag is in mortal danger. Very juvenile and misogynistic trope.

After finishing Tell My Sorrows to the Stones, I started Blood Waters by Chaz Brenchley. It's a collection of short stories written when Brenchley was the crime-writer-in-residence on a public sculpture project. I've only read one story thus far, but it was sharp! I look forward to wading deeper into the bloody waters. ;)

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