Well, who knew that having a pen name would make identification so difficult? This week Leigh Thelmadatter wrote about me for Mexico News Daily and I barely recognized myself even though there was a picture of ME in the article.
Anyway, if you’d like to read more about C.E. Flores AKA La Gringa de La Yacata AKA Camille Torok AKA Torok AKA La Maestra AKA Camille E. Torok de Flores AKA Millie Flores (author of soon to be released children’s books) then here’s the link to that article. Enjoy!
Claude is the youngest of five in a loving family. Claude knows what he wants to be when he grows up. He wants to be a girl. This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel follows this family as they try to support Claude’s life as Poppy.
While I didn’t personally agree with the decisions the family made (often even the individual members of the family couldn’t agree), I could totally understand the parents’ wish to do whatever it took to make their child(ren) happy. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a fairy tale world. Gender dysphoria is trendy right now, but the reality of transgender is far from life at Disney.
The story is told through the parents’ perspective and at times is rambling and incoherent. The magical trip to Thailand that “resolves” the gender issue isn’t very effective. Yes, there are lady boys in many cultures, but how does that knowledge help a child born in middle-class America cope with the situation on an everyday basis? It doesn’t.
Despite some blatantly unrealistic aspects of the story, reading about Poppy’s experiences was both poignant and frustrating. As parents, we really want the best for our children. But who’s to say what that really means? For that reason alone, This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel is worth your time.
Last week Roxana Bangura from The Bangura Institute features little ol’ me on her YouTube channel. What was intended to be a 30 minute chat lasted more than an hour! I shared some personal things that I hadn’t meant to, and talked about my books some, revealing the fact I’m working on a series for children that hopefully will be available in the near future.
So if you’d like to watch the episode about yours truly, here it is!
I’ve read both negative and positive reviews of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. The controversy piqued my curiosity and I read the book. After finishing, I have to say that some of the outrage by the Latino community was warranted, but that didn’t make it a horrible read.
The action begins right from the first page. A shoot-out at a quinceanera barbeque—ok, stop right there. Anyone who knows anything about Mexican culture will tell you that relegating the formal pageantry and coming-of-age ceremony of a quinceanera to a backyard barbeque, with potato salad no less, is sacrilege.
The cartel, naturally, is the aggressor, the target, a journalist’s family. Since Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, the scenario seems plausible. However, describing the shooters as “the modern bogeymen of urban Mexico”, well, the boogeyman isn’t a Mexican creature, but maybe the author meant El Cucuy.
Lydia and her 8-year old son Luca are the only survivors of the massacre. Knowing she can’t rely on the police, Lydia flees with just a few things she takes from her mother’s house. She pays the hotel’s 4,000 pesos deposit with four pink bills—hold up. The pink bills are each worth 50 pesos each, so she actually pays 200 pesos. The color of money is mentioned again when Lydia needs to pay 10,000 pesos. She lays down 7 pink, 2 orange, and one blue bill, so that would be well, I don’t know. Are we playing Monopoly here because there aren’t any orange bills in Mexican currency? Maybe the orange ones are the 100 peso bill?
The head of the cartel that Lydia and her son must hide from is known as La Lechuza, who according to Lydia’s husband could have been the next Bill Gates–really, what’s wrong with a reference to Carlos Slim here? Yes, the criminal leader of the big bad cartel organization is called La Lechuza, just like the popular children’s song, although there is no reference to this song in the story at all. Since the song is about putting people to sleep, it would have certainly added a creep factor if nothing else.
Lydia comments that La Lechuza is a terrible name since owls aren’t scary. However, it’s common knowledge in Mexico that la lechuza is often a precursor of death, a bad omen, certainly no laughing matter. But again, none of this was mentioned in the book.
There were more references that just took away from the authenticity, an Italian meal in San Miguel de Allende (not carnitas), ginger ale (not Coca) stored in the Abuela’s basement (who has a basement?), police officers dreaming about pot roast (not tacos), a girl from Honduras looking like an Aztec (not Maya) warrior, the journey measured in miles (not kilometers), using the word vertedero (not basurero), drinking water from the tap (just not done) and so on.
However, despite it all, I have to admit it was an engaging read. From the get-go I was invested in the outcome, as implausible as some of it seemed. But then again, it was a work of fiction, a fantasy of sorts, so it was ok. Anyway, if you are looking for something that not only provides an exciting adventure but also tests your knowledge of Mexican culture in an alternate universe since it depicts neither an authentic Mexico nor a typical migrant experience, well then American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is just the ticket.
The author studied herbal lore extensively, learning at the feet of some amazing herboleras (herbalists) on both sides of the border. The book thus is divided into sections that coincide with the concept of the Medicine Wheel, as understood by the Native Americans and Mexicas.
There is considerable time devoted to the author’s childhood and early memories. At first I was frustrated, ready to get to the journey in Mexico. However, as I read, I realized that in order to understand how the author came to be where she was, it was important to see where she had been.
The author’s life as she settled and embraced Mexico was as fulfilling as you’d expect. She described her wanderings in mountain villages, frustrations with a new way of learning, experiences with unknown sights, sounds, and tastes and her gradual growth as a person as a result of these things.
Delightfully, at the end of the book, there are self-reflection questions so that the reader too can devise a plan to live life more fully. Honestly, there aren’t many women who would or could follow in the author’s footsteps. However, we each have our own path to follow, some of which cross the mountains and deserts of Mexico. The questions provide an excellent starting point for anyone looking for a more authentic life. Perhaps you’ll too find Mexico calling.
This book includes pronunciation assistance for the Mayan place names you will be visiting. It highlights the best beaches, cenotes, and archaeological sites to take your kids. It does a great job of giving pertinent information, like how difficult the cenote is to access, so that you can plan accordingly. It also includes information on haciendas, natural spaces, caves, and inland cities and towns you can take your children, including Mérida and Valladolid.
Towards the end of the book, Cassie includes two road-trip suggestions for traveling in Yucatán state and surrounding areas. There are notes on food, national festivals, safety and tips for traveling with children. As a guidebook for families with children exploring the area, it can’t be beat.
There were some editing issues that kept me from giving this book the highest rating, however. These are probably things that won’t bother the average reader, but I’m picky. First, the author says she wasn’t going to include pictures because most people would be reading an e-book version. What’s a guidebook without pictures? Since the majority of locations were places the author herself has visited with her family, I’m positive she has oodles of lovely images. And you can absolutely use pictures in e-books. It takes more time formatting, but it would have taken this book over the top.
Note from the author: Photos to accompany the book are on my website, a formatting decision that may not work for everyone but makes the book more affordable and given that most travel books are now sold as ebooks, works well.
Then there were some terms that were mistranslated, although they were understandable errors. The first was Río Lagartos which she informs her readers means Alligator river. No, it doesn’t. The word lagarto translates as lizard in English. Since the crocodiles that live there do indeed resemble very large lizards, Lizard River was an apt name.
Note from the author: The story about crocodiles and alligators does not come from me but is something told by guides and locals in Río Lagartos.
Another term that caught my attention was the word sarteneja which the author said translated as cistern. The Spanish online dictionary defined sarteneja as another term for bache (pothole). Further research informed me that sartenejas were crevices of naturally found water deposits. So I expect this is a Mayan term that originally referred to areas where water collected and now is used to talk about the structures that hold water. In my area, these are called aljibes and in areas more central in Mexico, I’ve heard the term pila.
The third mistranslation was concerning the local sun god, Kinich Ahau. The author goes through the etymology of the word, stating kin means sun, ich means face and ahau means lord or priest. However, ich translates as both face and eye in Mayan. As most representations of the sun god have a sun literally in the eye of the carving, k’inich is thought to be more accurately translated as sun-eyed, rather than sun-faced.
There were also some proofreading errors that should have been corrected before this book was released. In some places río (river) and ría (estuary) were used interchangeably and lacked accents. Then, when listing culinary delights, she mentioned chicharra and castacán as pork dishes. Well, castacán is indeed a local pork dish. However, chicharra is the word for cicada. While cicadas are, in fact, a delicacy in Mexico, they taste more like shrimp than pork, according to sources who have tried them. I believe the word she meant to use was chicharrón, pork rind.
Note from the author: It is necessary to point out that chicharra is, indeed, a correct term for chicharron in Yucatán.
Towards the end of the book, it felt like I was reading the author’s travel notes rather than a guidebook. Sentences were incomplete, months and days were abbreviated, capitalization and accents became randomized and well, it felt rushed. There were some items that could have been explained a little better. For instance, she mentions Pueblos Mágicos. Anyone living in Mexico would know that she referred to select towns that received revinalization money in recent years to encourage tourism. However, travelers to Mexico might not have that information.
All of these petty little negatives should not take away from the fact that as a guidebook for families with children who wish to travel in Yucatán state, Yucatán with Kids: A Travel Guide is top-notch. Available on Gumroad and Amazon.
Ordinance 53 by Sarah Flores is a collection of nine short stories that certainly entertain the reader. The subjects range from mundane office life and free doughnuts to a supernatural painting in an abandoned house. The endings are often abrupt and unexpected, making you blink in surprise and go back to reread the story.
I would love to see these stories turned into novelettes. The descriptions are vivid. The dialogue (both internal and external) is realistic. The themes are unique and unpredictable. More! More! More!
What did the little girl in Happiness do next? How did Nancy get through her day? What happened during the meeting in Promotion? Where did all that blood come from in Camping? And what happened to Saint Peter and the doberman lady in that room? These stories gave me so many things to imagine, which I imagine was the author’s intent.
If you are looking for a quick and imaginative read, then Ordinance 53 by Sarah Flores is for you.
You can get your preorder copy for $2.99 from now until July 14. Amazon has mixed things up and you need to click on the “Other sellers & formats” in order to see the sale price. Once you click there, you’ll see “New from $2.99.” Your ebook will be automatically delivered to your Kindle on July 14, after which the price will go up.
Travels with Grace by Erma Note is an excellent introduction to Mexico City for children. Its vivid illustrations are captivating. The story revolves around Grace, a bilingual girl living in Mexico City who shows her American cousin, Connor, around town.
Everyone can learn about central Mexico’s food, culture, attractions, and language with Conner. Teachers will appreciate the discussion questions at the end of the book for further reader engagement.