stuff I read

You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria

RITA® Award Winning author Alexis Daria brings readers an unforgettable, hilarious rom-com set in the drama-filled world of telenovelas—perfect for fans of Jane the Virgin and The Kiss Quotient.

Leading Ladies do not end up on tabloid covers.

After a messy public breakup, soap opera darling Jasmine Lin Rodriguez finds her face splashed across the tabloids. When she returns to her hometown of New York City to film the starring role in a bilingual romantic comedy for the number one streaming service in the country, Jasmine figures her new “Leading Lady Plan” should be easy enough to follow—until a casting shake-up pairs her with telenovela hunk Ashton Suárez. 

Leading Ladies don’t need a man to be happy

After his last telenovela character was killed off, Ashton is worried his career is dead as well. Joining this new cast as a last-minute addition will give him the chance to show off his acting chops to American audiences and ping the radar of Hollywood casting agents. To make it work, he’ll need to generate smoking-hot on-screen chemistry with Jasmine. Easier said than done, especially when a disastrous first impression smothers the embers of whatever sexual heat they might have had. 

Leading Ladies do not rebound with their new costars.

With their careers on the line, Jasmine and Ashton agree to rehearse in private. But rehearsal leads to kissing, and kissing leads to a behind-the-scenes romance worthy of a soap opera. While their on-screen performance improves, the media spotlight on Jasmine soon threatens to destroy her new image and expose Ashton’s most closely guarded secret.

You Had Me at Hola is Alexis Daria’s Avon debut (I love her Take the Lead, set behind the scenes of a “Dancing with the Stars”-type show). It is a fun, entertaining, and steamy romance set behind the scenes of a new telenovela filming for a “major streaming service” (and check out that awesome cover). In between chapters of Jasmine and Ashton “in real life” are fun insertions of scenes in the show as they are shot where Jasmine’s and Ashton’s characters overlap with their real-life selves. Daria hits it out of the park in creating the show Carmen in Charge – I would totally watch it and cheer on its amazing, diverse creative team if it were real! Daria really knows her way around the entertainment industry (look, if you haven’t read Take the Lead go do that). Jasmine and Ashton were such excellent characters, too. They each have some stuff to work through – Jasmine feels like she doesn’t get support from her family in both her career and her dating life (her two cousins are pretty awesome and that’s it) and Ashton has PTSD, and maybe a little paranoia, from a crazed fan’s break-in attempt years ago. I would have maybe had them grovel a teensy bit more to each other at the end since they said some really below-the-belt stuff during their big blow-up. And Ashton’s dad is a love 💖.

PS: Paparazzi are trash scum and wtf, people, don’t take sneaky pictures of famous people out minding their own business, that’s rude. It did make me feel a little sad when Jasmine is basically like “we sign up for some of this when we’re famous” – and yeah, I can see the press interviews and such, but the garbage invasions of privacy? Nah. No one deserves that.

You Had Me at Hola is out today!!

Dear FTC: I read a finished copy of this book that the publisher sent to me.

stuff I read

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Summary from Goodreads: An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic artistocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets…

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness. And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

So….are you looking for a chilly, creepy book? Maybe a bit of psychological horror in the vein of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or perhaps some Gothic horror a la Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca? Have I got a book for you!

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s new novel Mexican Gothic follows a young woman from Mexico City, Noemí, who is sent by her father to visit her cousin Catalina. Catalina is newly married to an Englishman and living on his estate near a former silver mine deep in the countryside but she has sent every more disturbing, erratic letters. So Noemí takes herself and her city-girl sophistication off to the very remote estate of High Place.

And it is a dreary, chilling, crumbling estate perpetually shrouded in dense fog. The Doyle family built the English mansion – and basically imported as much of Britain as they could – over the silver mine they took over in the 19th century. The mine is no longer operating and the family and house have decayed over the decades since the Revolution. And that’s just the beginning. Catalina’s husband Virgil is handsome yet strangely menacing. Florence, the sister-in-law, is distant, cold, and lays out the rules: no smoking, no hot water for bathing, no electric light, and no disturbing Catalina (who has been diagnosed with tuberculosis, which doesn’t track with her symptoms). Her son Francis is a mild-mannered young man who might be Noemí’s friend, but he’s under his mother’s thumb. And the family patriarch, Howard….well, Howard is the source of almost all content warnings for this book. (CW for discussion of suicide, body horror, eugenics, sexual assault, and those are the ones I can remember off the top of my head.)

After a few days of making herself a nuisance – and having ever-more disturbing dreams – Noemí has enough information to determine that she has to get herself and Catalina away from High Place and this dangerous family. But will the house let them go? (Yeah, you read that right!)

There are so many excellent, weird, creepy parts to Mexican Gothic. The isolated, creepy house, the chilling housekeeper, the magnetic yet menacing husband (all the best parts of Rebecca) mixed up with Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak in the vividly decaying house and the uniquely British obsession with family history but set in 1950s Mexico. Noemí’s interactions with the Doyle family get stranger and scarier and more complex. Then a little “weird nature” like in Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation gets into the mix and the story goes WILD (I don’t eat mushrooms and thank God for that). Mexican Gothic is solid Gothic horror. I LOVED IT (it also gave me major book hangover). Another contender for best book of the year.

Mexican Gothic is out now!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
mini-review · stuff I read

Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

44890027Summary from Goodreads:
This unforgettable memoir from a prize-winning poet about growing up undocumented in the United States recounts the sorrows and joys of a family torn apart by draconian policies and chronicles one young man’s attempt to build a future in a nation that denies his existence.

“You were not a ghost even though an entire country was scared of you. No one in this story was a ghost. This was not a story.”

When Marcelo Hernandez Castillo was five years old and his family was preparing to cross the border between Mexico and the United States, he suffered temporary, stress-induced blindness. Castillo regained his vision, but quickly understood that he had to move into a threshold of invisibility before settling in California with his parents and siblings. Thus began a new life of hiding in plain sight and of paying extraordinarily careful attention at all times for fear of being truly seen. Before Castillo was one of the most celebrated poets of a generation, he was a boy who perfected his English in the hopes that he might never seem extraordinary.

With beauty, grace, and honesty, Castillo recounts his and his family’s encounters with a system that treats them as criminals for seeking safe, ordinary lives. He writes of the Sunday afternoon when he opened the door to an ICE officer who had one hand on his holster, of the hours he spent making a fake social security card so that he could work to support his family, of his father’s deportation and the decade that he spent waiting to return to his wife and children only to be denied reentry, and of his mother’s heartbreaking decision to leave her children and grandchildren so that she could be reunited with her estranged husband and retire from a life of hard labor.

Children of the Land distills the trauma of displacement, illuminates the human lives behind the headlines and serves as a stunning meditation on what it means to be a man and a citizen.

I was trying to read Children of the Land at the same time I was listening to The Devil’s Highway and had to pause because I was unfortunately mixing up the two books (they aren’t the same at all except for being the stories of migrants to the US, but my brain kept swapping details between them).

It is a very poetic memoir about a poet’s childhood in the US as an undocumented immigrant contrasted with the lives of his parents and grandparents who each crossed the US border several times. There were a few sections where I think the form Castillo used muddied the story he was trying to tell but overall it is a powerful story about a family looking for a better life, the experience of being undocumented (including the experience of graduate school) then given the chance to apply for a green card, and the terror of his mother’s experience in asking for asylum at the US border in 2016. A necessary book for 2020.

Content warning: there are some depictions of domestic violence on the page.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

audiobooks · mini-review · Overdue Reads · Read My Own Damn Books · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

The Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea

13646449._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
In this work of grave beauty and searing power – one of the most widely praised pieces of investigative reporting to appear in recent years – we follow twenty-six men who in May 2001 attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona, through the deadly region known as the Devil’s Highway, a desert so harsh and desolate that even the Border Patrol is afraid to travel through it, a place that for hundreds of years has stolen men’s souls and swallowed their blood. Only twelve men made it out.

I’ve had a copy of The Devil’s Highway for years, ever since I heard Luis Alberto Urrea speak at his award reception for the Paul Engle Prize at the Iowa City Book Festival in 2014. I slipped out at the end of his speech to buy a copy and have him sign it. But I just never got around to reading it. But I was recently goaded to re-evaluate my reading about border stories, border policy, and Latinx/non-white Hispanic authors because American Dirt was selected for all sorts of stuff this spring, including the Barnes and Noble Book Club (I’ll get into this in a later post since I can’t get out of reading that book, which rankles because I had decided that I didn’t want to read it but I can’t just fob the group off on someone else so will have to suck it up, grrr). When I checked to see what audiobooks were currently available in the ICPL Libby/Overdrive service, I got incredibly lucky to see that The Devil’s Highway was available to download immediately.

The Devil’s Highway is a poetic recounting of the tragedy that occurred in 2001 when 26 men attempted to cross into the United States via the Devil’s Highway near Yuma, Arizona – only 12 survived. This a book that falls very much in the vein of In Cold Blood in the ways that Urrea sets a scene and keeps the narrative thread of the book moving (particularly in the last sections) but unlike Capote deals very much in facts and only reconstructs what he was unable to verify such as “Mike F.” (the Border Patrol officer who found the walkers who was unable to be interviewed at the time) and some of the thoughts and actions of the walkers who died in the Devil’s Highway. This is a very haunting and heartbreaking tale. There are no easy answers and no easy solutions.

In addition, Urrea narrates this audiobook. It is such a treat. He is an excellent storyteller and speaker. I highly recommend the audiobook if that’s available to you.

Dear FTC: I have a signed paperback copy and borrowed the audiobook from the library’s Libby/Overdrive service.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Knitting the Fog by Claudia D. Hernández

43192004Summary from Goodreads:
Weaving together narrative essay and bilingual poetry, Claudia D. Hernández’s lyrical debut follows her tumultuous adolescence and fraught homecomings as she crisscrosses the American continent.

Seven-year-old Claudia wakes up one day to find her mother gone, having left for the United States to flee domestic abuse and pursue economic prosperity. Claudia and her two older sisters are taken in by their great aunt and their grandmother, their father no longer in the picture. Three years later, her mother returns for her daughters, and the family begins the month-long journey to El Norte. But in Los Angeles, Claudia has trouble assimilating: she doesn’t speak English, and her Spanish sticks out as “weird” in their primarily Mexican neighborhood. When her family returns to Guatemala years later, she is startled to find she no longer belongs there either.

A harrowing story told with the candid innocence of childhood, Hernández’s memoir depicts a complex self-portrait of the struggle and resilience inherent to immigration today.

Knitting the Fog is a moving memoir told through essays and poems about the author’s childhood in Guatemala and migrating to the US at the age of 10. It’s a very slice-of-life book, full of the details that a child remembers about playing with neighbors, the oddities of the neighborhood, and being raised by strong women. However, I found the balance of poetry-to-prose memoir made it tricky to read. In my opinion, the prose essays were the stronger of the two styles and could have been enlarged.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date #2)

37584991._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
The author of The Wedding Date serves up a novel about what happens when a public proposal doesn’t turn into a happy ending, thanks to a woman who knows exactly how to make one on her own…

When someone asks you to spend your life with him, it shouldn’t come as a surprise–or happen in front of 45,000 people.

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn’t the hard part–they’ve only been dating for five months, and he can’t even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans…

At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik’s rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He’s even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik’s social media blows up–in a bad way. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can’t be looking for anything serious, so she embarks on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes…

I had a galley for The Proposal but it expired early (booo technology) and didn’t get back to until now. (Weekend of finishing half-read books, yay!) I loved The Wedding Date, and was entirely charmed by pediatrician Carlos and his love of food, so I was happy to see him get his own story. Nik was a great introduction to the series as the heroine – a freelance writer with a squad of awesome besties who is also into good food (prepare to be hungry most of this book, I am not kidding). The only hitch with this book, for me, was the conflict. I get that both Carlos and Nik had baggage (Nik with both the shitty actor ex-boyfriend and a shitty doctor ex-boyfriend and Carlos with his father dying young) but the length of time both characters protested about not wanted a serious relationship…the lady doth protest too much. The late-book “conflict” between Nik and Carlos needed more teeth, some of the lines juvenile as if they were two kids in their first relationship instead of successful adults in their late twenties-early thirties. But aside from that, so much of Carlos and Nik getting together was how good they were as friends. I’m coming to find that I love romances where the central couple enjoys just hanging out together and being with each other, it’s so fun to read on the page (yes, I like the sexy-times, too, but it’s so cozy when the characters are getting pizza and watching a movie on the couch).

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley but it expired so I bought a paper copy.

mini-review · stuff I read

Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

40909428Summary from Goodreads:
Indigenous Latina women living in the American West take center stage in this debut collection of stories–a powerful meditation on friendship, mothers and daughters, and the deep-rooted truths of our homelands.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s magnetic debut story collection breathes life into her Indigenous Latina characters and the land they inhabit. Set against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado–a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite–these women navigate the land the way they navigate their own lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force.

In “Sugar Babies,” ancestry and heritage are hidden inside the earth, but have the tendency to ascend during land disputes. “Any Further West” follows a sex worker and her daughter as they leave their ancestral home in southern Colorado only to find a foreign and hostile land in California. In “Tomi,” a woman returns home from prison, finding herself in a gentrified city that is a shadow of the one she remembers from her childhood. And in the title story, “Sabrina & Corina,” a Denver family falls into a cycle of violence against women, coming together only through ritual.

Sabrina & Corina is a moving narrative of unrelenting feminine power and an exploration of the universal experiences of abandonment, heritage, and an eternal sense of home.

Sabrina & Corina is a beautiful collection of stories set among Latina Indigenous women and girls in Denver, Colorado. Several of the stories interlink via characters to create a web of female relationships, aunts, cousins, mothers, sisters, and grandmothers. These characters fight against racism, intimate partner violence, and misogyny to have jobs, keep their homes, raise children, and care for their elders. The title story is a quietly devastating story of two cousins.

Sabrina & Corina is out now.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border by Octavio Solis

39027983Summary from Goodreads:
Seminal moments, rites of passage, crystalline vignettes–a memoir about growing up brown at the U.S./Mexico border.

The tradition of retablo painting dates back to the Spanish Conquest in both Mexico and the U.S. Southwest. Humble ex-votos, retablos are usually painted on repurposed metal, and in one small tableau they tell the story of a crisis, and offer thanks for its successful resolution.

In this uniquely framed memoir, playwright Octavio Solis channels his youth in El Paso, Texas. Like traditional retablos, the rituals of childhood and rites of passage are remembered as singular, dramatic events, self-contained episodes with life-changing reverberations.

Living in a home just a mile from the Rio Grande, Octavio is a skinny brown kid on the border, growing up among those who live there, and those passing through on their way North. From the first terrible self-awareness of racism to inspired afternoons playing air trumpet with Herb Alpert, from an innocent game of hide-and-seek to the discovery of a Mexican girl hiding in the cotton fields, Solis reflects on the moments of trauma and transformation that shaped him into a man.

Retablos recreates a childhood growing up in a border town through short stories and micro fiction drawn from playwright Octavio Solis’s childhood. Each piece uses the idea of the retablo (a small votive painting created to thank a sacred person for their intercession in a crisis) to illustrate moments of awareness as a brown kid with immigrant parents: the first recognition of racism, a painful relationship with a sibling, a first job, interactions with Border Patrol, helping undocumented migrants, beginning to date.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.