Nostalgia and the New Mexican Desert

Enjoy a review from Katie as she continues to work through her Reading Challenge:

ultimaNostalgia is a funny thing. I tend to get swept up in that warm, slow, nap-in-the-afternoon feeling far more than I should, but I can’t help it. Remembering the better days seems to be an involuntary reaction that will inevitably lead to me being a little old lady regaling my grand-nieces and nephews with long stories having no point and no plot—kind of like this sentence.

I recently went back to Phoenix after a year of living in Washington to watch my youngest brother graduate from the high school I attended. I would be seeing family and good friends after more than a year of being away, and there was also the possibility of seeing some of my old high school classmates. (Spoiler Alert: I actually did not see any of my old classmates so they were unable to see how adult and hot I’d become.)

When I was in high school I participated in Academic Decathlon which is basically the Nerd Championships consisting of seven tests (arts, science, music, math…), an interview, a memorized and impromptu speech, and an essay surrounding a particular topic each year. In my sophomore year of high school the topic was Mexico, and the book we had to collectively read was Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. This is why I have chosen this novel as my “Book I Have Not Read since High School.”

I was excited about this book because AcaDeca (as we called it) holds a lot of good memories for me. Rereading books is an opportunity to recall specific memories as I find that books hold impressions and thoughts and feelings so I don’t have to. Bless Me, Ultima is also a coming-of-age story which perfectly sets the mood.

Antonio Marez is constantly caught in the middle of his parents’ plans. His mother wishes him to become a priest to bring honor to her farming family. His father wishes for Tony to become a vacquero (cowboy) like he himself was long ago, and to live in the Llano (the New Mexican desert). Tony does not know what he wants, but he does know that he loves Ultima. She is a curandera (a person who is a mix between a priest and a witch) who has come to live with Tony’s family and to use her magic to heal the town folk. The intense mix of religious superstition and magic creates an interesting dynamic which fuels much of the story’s conflict.

The entire book teems with magical realism as Tony struggles with his parents’ wishes, with growing up, religion, and navigating the complicated social network that is his circle of friends. Anaya’s cast of colorful characters and detail-oriented descriptions draw you deeply into the story, causing you to feel as Tony feels. He even makes the desert sound like a desirable place to live which (for me) is quite the task.

High school was a difficult time for a lot of people. I got through relatively unscathed (college is another story), and books like Bless Me, Ultima made everything a whole lot easier. While it was true that books were my constant companions, the character study I was able to conduct enriched my life beyond words. I would recommend Bless Me, Ultima to those who want to remember what it was like being a kid — the drama that was real and the drama that was blown out of proportion. As I struggle to be an actual real-life adult, it’s nice to remember that it was hard to be a kid too sometimes, but it was worth it.

Crazy Fall Publishing Part 3: September 15th

Hey, hey! We are halfway through the month of September and, incidentally, halfway through the absolute busiest time of the year for the library’s basement dwellers, aka cataloging staff. If summer is known as the time when all the blockbuster movies come out, fall is known in the publishing world as the origin of some of the most incredible new bestsellers. So sit back, relax, and get ready to fall in love with my top picks of books being released this week!

appearance of annie van sinderenThe Appearance of Annie van Sinderen by Katherine Howe
Summary: It’s summertime in New York City, and aspiring filmmaker Wes Auckerman has just arrived to start his summer term at NYU. While shooting a séance at a psychic’s in the East Village, he meets a mysterious, intoxicatingly beautiful girl named Annie. As they start spending time together, Wes finds himself falling for her, drawn to her rose petal lips and her entrancing glow. But there’s something about her that he can’t put his finger on that makes him wonder about this intriguing hipster girl from the Village. Why does she use such strange slang? Why does she always seem so reserved and distant? And, most importantly, why does he only seem to run into her on one block near the Bowery? Annie’s hiding something, a dark secret from her past that may be the answer to all of Wes’s questions
Why I’m stoked: IS SHE A GHOST?! I need to know, and that need to know is going to drive me to reading this one quickly.

DumplinDumplin’ by Julie Murphy
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Willowdean Dixon wants to prove to everyone in her small Texas town that she is more than just a fat girl, so, while grappling with her feelings for a co-worker who is clearly attracted to her, Will and some other misfits prepare to compete in the beauty pageant her mother runs.
Why I’m stoked: Any book to come along with a larger-than-average and confident heroine who is comfortable in her skin, who thinks that it’s society that needs to wake up and smell the coffee…well, how can I say no? Ever since I read Jane Green’s Jemima J. 15 years ago (OMG 15 years?!) I’ve been drawn to books where the protagonist either works on acceptance of her body or works on dealing with how everyone else responds to her. Reading strong female characters act with grace and humor when faced with the same type of adversity I myself have sometimes faced just gives me that much more determination to be the best me I can be.

lock and moriLock & Mori by Heather W. Petty
Summary: In modern-day London, two brilliant high school students, one Sherlock Holmes and a Miss James “Mori” Moriarty, meet. A murder will bring them together. The truth very well might drive them apart. Someone has been murdered in London’s Regent’s Park. The police have no leads. Mori and Lock should be hitting the books on a school night. Instead, they are out crashing a crime scene. Lock has challenged Mori to solve the case before he does. Challenge accepted. Despite agreeing to Lock’s one rule–they must share every clue with each other–Mori is keeping secrets. Sometimes you can’t trust the people closest to you with matters of the heart. And after this case, Mori may never trust Lock again.
Why I’m stoked: Another series featuring the world’s greatest detective, and this one sounds absolutely thrilling. Like many Holmes fans I have been utterly SHERLOCKED by Bennedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Mr. Holmes and so I have very high hopes for this modern-day tale. And series. Did I mention it’s a series? New series alert! *fangirl Kermit arms*

tonight the streets are oursTonight the Streets are Ours by Leila Sales
Summary: Seventeen-year-old Arden, of Cumberland, Maryland, finds solace in the blog of an aspiring writer who lives in New York City, but when she goes to meet him, she discovers that he is a very different person than she believes him to be.
Why I’m stoked: As someone who grew up in the dawn of online chatrooms, I sometimes found more camaraderie and acceptance with strangers through a computer than I did IRL. If there had been blogs then like there are now, I’m sure I would have had a really crazy one, stupidly confessing all to the world and hiding behind the faux security of “online anonymity.”  My point is that I am a sucker for the whole mysterious protagonist trope, and I am super-curious how this story twists when the heroine meets the blogger.

weight of feathersThe Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie Mclemore
Summary: For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find. Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.
Why I’m stoked: Family rivalries. Traveling shows. Star-crossed lovers. Magic! What’s not to love? This book is being billed as “magical realism,” something I’ve often heard but never truly understood. I can’t wait to get some first-hand experience with this genre.

How’s your TBR looking right now? Is it getting taller than you? Tell me what you’re reading now, and what you’re looking forward to reading. There’s always room for more books on my list!

Magical Realism

Magical realism is one of my favorite reading genres. If you’re not familiar with this style of writing, it is not fantasy, science fiction, or escapist fiction. Rather, magical realist stories typically portray the world in ways beyond the objective – life described richly with delight, passion, and wonder.

The House of the SpiritsNancy Pearl describes magical realism as “a style of writing that allows authors to look at our own world through the lens of another world, an imagined yet very familiar one in which past, present, and future are often intertwined.”

Some of the best-known writers of magical realism are Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel García Márquez

A few of my all-time favorites include Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, Aphrodite, and My Invented Country, as well as Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.The Lady, The Chef, and The Courtesan

The Lady, the Chef, and the Courtesan by Marisol and Hot House Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin are a few you may have missed.Volver

And, of course, Pedro Almodóvar movies are a wonderful accompaniment to these books, especially Volver.

Kara