Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pierced by the Sun - Laura Esquivel

Laura Esquivel is best known as the author of Like Water for Chocolate. In her new book, Pierced by the Sun, the magic realism is less overt, but it's there nonetheless.

Lupita is a Mexican policewoman who witnesses the murder of a local politician in broad daylight on a city street. His death throws her back into the self-abusive practices she had used before -- drinking and drugs. At the same time, the local political machine marks her for death. She inadvertently escapes into the succor of indigenous spirituality, and in so doing, finds a way out -- not just for her personal dilemmas, but maybe for her nation, too.

Esquivel does a fine job weaving together the various threads that make up the tapestry of modern Mexico -- Catholicism and indigenous religion, political corruption and the drug trade, and people just trying to live their lives. The trope of the modern woman who finds her way again by adopting ancient ways is somewhat hackneyed, but at least the author doesn't make it the focus of the book. She does, however, have an overt agenda, or at least a moral to her story; it's clear that Lupita is a stand-in for Mexico herself, as evidenced by the story's final sentence:
Most importantly, if Lupita -- who had collected so much pain, who had experienced so much anger -- could heal and connect to The Whole, so could Mexico.
I picked up Pierced by the Sun for free as part of Amazon's Kindle First program. If you're looking for another Like Water for Chocolate, you'll be disappointed. But if you can stand a little morality play with your magic realism, you may enjoy Pierced by the Sun.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Catering Girl - Laurie Boris

Y'all know by now how much I love Laurie Boris's work -- and I'd say that even if we weren't fellow minions at Indies Unlimited. So nobody should be surprised when I say that I loved this book.

Catering Girl is a prequel to Boris's first novel, The Joke's On Me! The main character in both books is Frankie Goldberg, a nice Jewish girl from the East Coast who has made her way to L.A. to try to make it as an actress, or a comic, or both. Instead, she's working for a catering company on the set of a film starring Oscar-winning starlet Anastasia Cole. Anastasia is a diva with a reputation, but Frankie happens to deliver her cappuchino when she's having an identity crisis -- and before long, Frankie finds herself wheeling and dealing on Anastasia's behalf. But how long will Anastasia continue to need her? And what if, in the process, Frankie loses herself?

I love Frankie. Her snarky attitude just barely covers her major self-esteem issues. And Boris has given her a great foil in Anastasia, the not-quite-brainless beauty who essentially hires Frankie to be her best friend.

I would highly recommend Catering Girl to anyone looking for a quick, fun summer read -- and if you find Frankie as appealing as I do, you'll be glad to know you can segue right into the rest of her story.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ashes and Rain (Ahsenthe Cycle #2) - Alexes Razevich

Part sci-fi and part fantasy, Ashes and Rain picks up where Khe left off -- and does a wonderful job of furthering and enriching the original story.

As this book opens, Khe knows she has changed, and she is becoming aware of how much her efforts, and those of the doumanas she assisted, have changed their world. They have overthrown the lumani, the shadowy race that ran the doumanas' society -- but now that no one is telling them what to do, the doumanas don't know how to make their own decisions. Because of that, many doumanas distrust Khe, and she finds she literally cannot go home again.

But more changes are in store, for both Khe and for all of her kind. The road to get there will be rocky, but it must be traveled. The question is whether Khe is up to the journey.

Many times, a follow-up book suffers in comparison to the first -- but that is not the case here. Razevich's doumanas are wonderfully drawn, and Khe herself is an amazing character. I was thrilled to be in her world again. Highly recommended.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicles: Day One) - Patrick Rothfuss

Why, oh why did I wait so long to read this book?

The Name of the Wind was first published in 2007, and friends who are fans of epic fantasy have been talking about how great it was. But I was reading other stuff, and, well, time gets away from one.

I finally got around to reading it recently, and I very much enjoyed it.

A more-or-less itinerant Chronicler stumbles into an inn in the middle of nowhere one night, and finds himself face-to-face with a legend: Kvothe, the most amazing wizard (among other things) of all time. But here, Kvothe is known by another name, and he's running this inn with his loyal assistant, Bast. All is not what it seems, of course; Kvothe is Bast's teacher, and Bast himself is...perhaps not entirely human. And there's a monstrous evil thing that has begun attacking people not far from the inn. It's clear Kvothe will soon need to come out of hiding -- but first, he agrees to tell the Chronicler his life story. The Name of the Wind, the first installment of that tale, details Kvothe's early years, from his life with his parents in a performing troupe to his years at the University in Treban.

Rothfuss is a fine storyteller, and he's picked a unique way of telling his story: Kvothe tells his life story in first person, but the present-day frame for his tale is in third person, and I thought the choice made perfect sense. I found Kvothe to be an appealing hero, and his mysterious love interest intrigued me. Of course, this book has been compared to everything from Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones to Harry Potter, but it's different from each of these. In all, a fine start to the series. You can bet it won't take me another nine years to read the next book.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Life Memories - Jacqueline Hopkins

For this month's Indies Unlimited Reading Challenge, I'm reading a memoir by an author who cared for her mother during the last two years of her life.

The subtitle of this book is, "A memoir of surviving life and preserving memories!" and Hopkins has done a pretty good job at both. 

In this book, Hopkins talks about how her life, and her mother's, were upended when the older woman began developing dementia. Peggy Hopkins, the author's mother, was living in the family home in Alaska when her memory began to deteriorate. At the same time, the author's husband was leaving Alaska for North Dakota to find a better job, and she intended to follow him. So the family closed up Mom's house, and the author brought her mother along with her to the Lower 48. 

My mother also suffered from dementia during the last years of her life, so I could empathize with Hopkins. Her frustration with the medical establishment, in particular, rang true for me.

But the author's stated purpose in writing the book was to document not just the frustrating and overwhelming times, but the more pleasant -- and even funny -- times, too. She was determined to remember the good things as well as the bad, and that's perhaps the most valuable takeaway from this book.