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 (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: 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 (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 (drink me)
I've been waiting to make this announcement!

My dear [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume's story "Tilia Songbird" is now live at GigaNotoSaurus. By sheer kismet masquerading as mere coincidence, I got to read an earlier version of this fantasy not knowing who had written it. I loved it from page one. When I found out who the author was, my heart nearly burst with joy, just like when you read a story and the ending is both perfect and completely unexpected.

“I wanted you to know me,” the girl said, tracing the door jamb with the feather. “Now you know who I am.” Then she was gone.

It is such a pleasure to know Tilia. Read her story as soon as you can!

 

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