2.5 Stars · Book Review · Bust · Chicano Lit · Latin American Lit

Thoughts on “Sabrina & Corina: Stories” by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Sabrina & Corina is a collection of short stories about Latina women living in the United States with many taking place in or around Denver and New Mexico. Chicano Lit and Latin American Lit are my jams, so I was extremely excited to read this book, especially with the praises of Julia Alvarez and Sandra Cisneros, the Queens of Latin American Lit.

I really really didn’t enjoy this book. It was extremely heavy, with each story centering around deep trauma. As a Hispanic woman with cultural knowledge and familiarity with the locations the author wrote about, reading this book felt like reading a family’s deepest darkest and saddest moments, almost like spying on them in their most vulnerable times. It felt invasive and uncomfortable.

One of my favorite parts of Chicano Lit and Latin American Lit is the humor the authors are always able to weave into their tales. Growing up, humor was a cultural staple for hard times in the Latino community. Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros and Isabelle Allende are masters of the art of subtle humor in hard times. This makes their books a joy to read and hard to put down. Fajardo-Anstine, on the other hand, focused solely on the grit and trauma without balancing it out with the strength of hope, laughter, and humor that is norm for our community. After each story, I set the book down for a few days, it was often too depressing to keep reading. This is another book that I would classify as trauma porn.

The other issue I had with this book was the lack of tightness around the writing. In nearly every story, Fajardo-Anstine would introduce a location with “at a lake named…”, “In a town called…”. It was strange and felt oddly disjointed. There were a few other instances where the writing was just slightly off, like it wanted to be poetry but then decided it wasn’t, and got back on track as a short story. The individual stories varied in quality as well, with some being better written than others.

I hope Fajardo-Anstine keeps writing, but adds balance to her stories in a way that makes them human and relatable without just being traumatic.

5 stars · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Iraq · war

There are books that stay with you for days after you finish reading them. Take What You Can Carry by Gian Sardar is one of those books.

Wow. Man. Take What You Can Carry was good. Like GOOD good. Like as good as The Kite Runner w/o the emotional trauma good. The Kite Runner fucked me up for weeks after reading. It left a dark pit in my heart that had to heal slowly. Take What You Can Carry gives you the heartache without the trauma and like it’s name, you only take what you can carry.

Built around an American secretary, Olivia, desperate to be taken seriously as a photojournalist and her laid-back, easy going but heavily traumatized Kurdish boyfriend, Delan, Take What You Can Carry hits many major hot topics: interracial relationships, immigration, trauma, love, war, fear, loss, understanding and the complexity of humanity.

Sardar does an excellent job jumping between cultures and bridging gaps in the parallel realities existing between 1979 Los Angeles and 1979 northern Iraq. Her characters are incredibly well done and you can’t help but feel that these are real people you’re reading about. In the afterward, Sardar states that the characters were compilations of various family members and it’s obvious that she writes these characters and this story with a profound sense of love and duty.

The way Sardar is able to show the extreme contrast between the reality of living in LA and the reality of living in Iraq just through the eyes of the main character, Olivia, is nothing short of masterful. Very well done and a book I spent weeks talking about.

3 stars · England · Historical Fiction · Mystery · Romance · WWII

Historical fiction meets feminism meets mystery in “In Farleigh Field”

It’s not often that a book about WWII can be considered light or enjoyable, but “In Farleigh Field” manages to be a lighter take on the subject that provides enjoyable reading. While it’s not as deep as “In a Field of Blue” or as heart felt as The Light Between Oceans or The Book Thief, In Farleigh Field provides a bit of a feminist slant ala Beantown Girls, a little bit of mystery and a little bit of romance.

Everything about In Farleigh Field reads like a TV period drama, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bowen is extremely consistent in her characters with each growing in depth and breadth as the story unfolds. There could have been a few less characters to help keep things flowing smoother, and the swapping of narrators for various chapters disrupted the story flow a bit.

Bowen manages to keep the classic poor boy loves rich out-of-reach girl fresh in a way that feels honest and sweet, rather than cliché or overdone. Her character’s take on feminism, freedom and women in the work force feels true to the time period and never felt like Bowen was forcing modern ideals into the past.

The mystery itself and the main character’s work as a decoder was a bit of fun. This is where In Farleigh Field headed more towards TV show as it took off in a wild direction full of random escapades the characters would most likely never find themselves in real life. While this book isn’t high literature and won’t cause any deep visceral reactions, it was an enjoyable way to pass the time and a “lighter” WWII historical fiction than we’re used to reading.

2 Stars · Bust · France · Sports · WW1

Who knew the Tour de France was so interesting? Sprinting Through No Man’s Land: Endurance, Tragedy, and Rebirth in the 1919 Tour de France by Adin Dobkin

This was another Kindle first reads book. Again, the title got me. These Kindle first reads authors are great at choosing titles! I’m not a huge cyclist, but have some friends who compete and find the entire premise of long distance cycling to be so intriguing.

Rather than a full history of the Tour de France, Dobkin chose to focus on a single year, 1919. This makes the book less a history and more of a detailed account of the 1919 race.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Dobkin definitely did his research and the book is jam packed with historical facts about France, WWI, cycling and the towns the tour passed through. I learned so much about cycling that I’d never thought of before, like how the riders had to fully self support, carrying their own tubes, food and water. The tidbits of history for each town were also extremely interesting. I would have liked to know more about the types of bikes they road, how much they weighed, etc. It was also interesting to read about all of the cheating that was so rampant during the early Tour de France days. It seems like cheating has always been an integral part of the race!

What’s frustrating is the way Dobkin has put the book together. He follows multiple riders, rather than just a single rider and chapters jump from focusing on the various riders to mini history lessons. These sidebar lessons frequently don’t relate or add much to the story of 1919 Tour de France. The photos included weren’t always applicable either. While the descriptions of each town or pass are quite thorough, the writing get bogged down and you’ve got to slog through a lot it.

Interesting topic, but this book tends to read like a research paper with a minimum word count requirement. Like A Well Read Woman, the author may have been better off diving into historical fiction.

5 stars · African American Lit · American Tall Tale · Fantasy · Favorite Books · Magic

A world I didn’t want to leave…Bacchanal by Veronica G. Henry

Holy shit. There are books and then there are BOOKS. Bacchanal was fucking fantastic. Set in the deep south and traveling through the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s, Bacchanal is the story of Eliza Meeks, a black girl who joins the Bacchanal Carnival to escape her life as an odd and desperate orphan.

Henry expertly delivers the desperation of the 1930’s, the sense of belonging and loyalty carnies have to one another, the racial tensions and an incredibly well done dose of magic. Unlike most authors who use magic to write themselves out of a corner in their plot, Henry wields her character’s magic in a way that makes it believable. Probably one of my favorite books of the year, I would highly recommend Bacchanal. This was a fantastic book to follow up West with Giraffes.

3 stars · Autobiography · Bust · leadership

Work Book Club Read: The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger

The Ride of a Lifetime was my work book club’s choice for this year. The best I can say is that the Amazon reviews describing this book as vapid and empty as a Disney princess were correct. Iger’s had an incredible career and leads one of the biggest companies in the world. Under his lead, Disney has truly become a media empire.

I was expecting this book to be earth shattering or to provide some pearls of wisdom to really latch on to. Instead, we get an extremely polished version of his personal life and career path with generic leadership advice tossed in for good measure. While it’s understandable that such a high profile father and husband would want to protect his family’s privacy, it was incredibly difficult to find value in Iger’s advice when none of his trials (personal or career) were presented.

Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know just how big Disney was. It was eye-popping to read what Disney owns and operates. It would have been fascinating to read all of the gritty details behind the Disney moniker.

4 Stars · beach read · Romance · YA

Back to Scotland with Love’s Road Home

Dacia Dyer takes us back to Scotland in her second romance novel, Love’s Road Home. With her typical strong-willed woman meets strong-willed man take on romance, Dyer gives us a set of characters that give as good as they get.

I enjoy the way Dacia writes and find her take on romance novels to be lovely and pure rather than trashy or vulgar. Love’s Road Home was a fun light read, excellent for beach, pool or rainy afternoon reads. While she doesn’t classify her novels as YA, they are an excellent intro to romance novels for teens.

2.5 Stars · Bad Ass Women · Biography · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · library · Vietnam · WWII

An unexpected piece of librarian history: A Well Read Woman The Life, Loves and Legacy of Ruth Rappaport by Kate Stewart

So, I had no idea Ruth Rappaport was a real person. I chose this as a Kindle’s first read because it has such a fantastic title. Instead of the expected fantastic historical fiction the title exudes, A Well Read Woman is actually the biography of a Jewish librarian. The author, Kate Stewart came across Ruth’s belongings at an estate sale. She then took those letters, diaries and photographs and pieced together the unusual life Ruth led.

Because the author chose to write a biography rather than a tale based on Ruth’s life, things can get a little boring and mucky with research and there were a few detours. My favorite detour was how the librarians were tasked with providing books to soldiers in Vietnam. The shear scale of the logistics required to create a library, lend books and keep them safe in the jungle paired with the demand for books was astounding. I hadn’t really ever thought about the role books played during a war, and I really appreciated learning about that part of history.

This book wasn’t anything that I expected but it was a pleasant surprise to learn what it took to run a functioning military library in Vietnam. For the most part, this book walked a fine line between being a super personal look into the life of a woman breaking many cultural norms and an incredibly boring research project. At times, the reading was quite heavy and I think a clear distinction between Ruth’s biography and history of the Library of Congress would have helped keep things on track. Overall, interesting but not something I’d recommend unless you’re super interested in librarian history.

2 Stars · Bust · Mystery

A jazz infused mystery with potential… The Deadly Mystery of the Missing Diamonds (A Dizzy Heights Mystery Book 1) 

Where to start…where to start…

My first impression of The Deadly Mystery of the Missing Diamonds was that it read like walking into the middle of a dinner party conversation. A lot of background information was missing and characters were referred to by multiple names, making the story hard to keep track of. What I didn’t know was that this book is a spin-off series of another series called “The Lady Hardcastle Mysteries”. If you’d read that series, you’d have already been introduced to the characters and have a handle on the backstory missing from this book. Unfortunately, the author didn’t write this book in a way that lets it stand alone and left the reader patching in way too many holes on top of a mystery.

The characters themselves are lively and full of personality, but there’s just way too many of them, and as mentioned earlier, they were referred to by multiple names which caused a bit of confusion when reading. There’s even a portion of the book where the characters can’t remember another group’s set of names, so they rename then. From that point on, that 2nd group of people are referred to by multiple names. WHY? It only served to complicate unnecessarily.

The story itself is fun and a bit silly. Set in 1925 in Scotland yard, a band of jazz musicians must help Scotland Yard solve a mystery. The entire plot line of The Deadly Mystery of the Missing Diamonds depends heavily on the banter between the characters, which gets annoying when it stops moving the story forward and becomes a barrier to the plotline actually proceeding. The mystery is intriguing and I would have loved to see more time spent on developing that part of the story and less on the “witty” banter. With some heavy editing, this would be an excellent story. As currently written, it’s a light read that doesn’t require much investment.


A Factory of Dust…A good old fashioned Dick Tracey type novel meets futuristic sci-fi dystopian novel

Just finished reading “A Factory of Dust” this weekend. This debut novel from Sam Arco is a sci-fi detective novel that easily blurs the lines between a good old fashioned Dick Tracey type novel and a futuristic sci-fi dystopian novel. I liked that the story never crossed into full dystopia, as that would have been way too depressing.

The book reads quick and easy with subtle warnings given about our current societal obsession with perfection and technology. The author was able to skillfully weave in current technology issues, unnatural/impossible beauty standards and all of the problems with social media we face today into the augmentation/cyborg state of the characters.

The story itself is extremely dialogue heavy which at times can get a little bogged down and I found myself unable to put the book down between chapters, or else I’d lose the story and have to read back a few pages to reintegrate back into the book. There are also a lot of typos and formatting errors in the kindle edition.

The author does a good job of storytelling from different characters without getting too far away from the main character, Miles Valentine. I would have liked a lot more background on Miles and the other characters, more back story stuff to help flesh them out and round out the story a bit more.

For a first time author, A Factory of Dust is a monumental achievement. Hopefully Sam Arco keeps writing.