Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixcotel State Prison by Mary Ellen Sanger


I read Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixcotel State Prison by Mary Ellen Sanger last year and was profoundly moved by it. I thought I’d reread it again this year and had the same reaction. The author was able to capture Mexico as I see her, all her hardship, corruption, and exquisite beauty. I would be remiss not to share this story with you.


Mary Ellen left behind the corporate jungle to read in the shade of the steps of a pyramid in Mexico. She began her new life in tourism but eventually found her way to a sheltered patio in Oaxaca as a caretaker to an elderly widower.

Until, one night she was bustled from her residence to the Ixcotel State Prison, one of the most overcrowded and unhygienic facilities in Oaxaca. There she was held for 33 days on fabricated charges. However, her story is just the prelude to the stories of the women she met inside.

Concha, arrested for armed robbery, who found love at last inside the stone walls. Berta, whose husband had tended sorghum interspersed with marijuana for a wealthy landowner. Susa, heroin addict earning drug money with a shoeshine service for visitors. Natalia, arrested so that the wife of her lover could take her child. Ana, human rights lawyer jailed because of her work on behalf of rural farmers. Citlali, a curandera who spoke only Chinantec and her infant daughter Xochitl. Lucia and her infant son Sebastian, whose 5-year-old daughter was in a group home allowed to visit once a month. Soraya, imprisoned for refusing the advances of the mayor. Flor, dying of a tumor from the bullet in the back of her head.

over mexico

Mary Ellen was not the same women upon her release and neither will you be after you read these haunting stories from the women at Ixcotel State Prison.

Read more about Mary Ellen Sanger here.


Echoes from the Wall: Real Stories of Mexican Migrants By Judy King

Recognize yourself in he and she Who are not like you and me..jpg
echoes from the wall

This quote by Carlos Fuentes epitomizes Echoes from the Wall: Real Stories of Mexican Migrants by Judy King. With so much division being fostered these days by politicians with private agendas, it’s hard to see the similarities we all share. Judy King does an excellent job both sharing stories of Mexican migrants and the recent U.S. policy change that are affecting them.

In Echoes from the Wall, you’ll meet Varo, Moises, Ramon, Arturo, Roberto, Jose, and Ken who are sometimes documented, sometimes not migrant workers. Then there are special circumstances:

  • Erica, a promising, bright young scholar accepted at Yale who is unable to get a student visa.
  • Rafael, married to a U.S. citizen and father of 2 U.S. citizens, who is unable to obtain residency.
  • Leo, a wounded veteran, deported from the country he lived in since he was 3 years old.
  • Lalo, whose house is filled to overflowing with his brother’s wives and children.

You’ll also see the facts about remittances sent to Mexico, border facial recognition policies, Legal Permanent Residence, the effects of the Border Wall on wildlife, the high cost of crossing the desert into the U.S. and the illegality of providing food, water, and medical treatment to migrants, the damage to children separated from their parents, the truth about healthcare and taxes for migrants,  whether migrants are more apt to be criminals than U.S. born citizens, who is financing the mega-detention centers, and how the Bracero work program began the immigration cycle from Mexico to the U.S.

Additionally, you’ll read about the importance of family to the Mexican people, Saint Toribio, the patron saint of travelers, La Virgen de Guadalupe and her iconic presence on both sides of the borders.

Echoes from the Wall ends with a list of both fiction and non-fiction books for further reading about Mexican migrants and the immigration situation as it stands in the U.S.

This well-researched book poignantly tells the story of those who otherwise might not be heard. Tony Burton, Arturo Garcia, and Richard Rhoda contributed to clarifying once and for all who stands to gain by the propagation of an immigrant crisis in the United States.

You can read more about Judy King here.

Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins

real artists

Everyone is familiar with the idea of the starving artist, but have you heard of the thriving artist?  Using the life story of Michelangelo Buonarotti as inspiration, you know, that guy who painted the Sistine Chapel, Jeff Goins debunks that starving artist myth and presents a new paradigm in which would-be starving artists become thriving artists.  

Although Michelangelo is the primary artist featured in this book, countless other artists, both past and present are included.  The author has compiled these fascinating rags to riches stories through research and interviews with artists and entrepreneurs. Each story supports the claim that in order to be a successful artist, one need not starve.

Before you can create great art,you first have to create yourself.--Jeff Goins

Now that doesn’t mean every creative soul should quit his or her day job just yet.  There are a few hurdles you’ll have to vault. The conflicting beliefs of the starving artists and the thriving artist are nicely outlined in 12 chapters. Some of these beliefs might be surprising.  Did you know that the thriving artist steals his or her ideas from others?  Would you believe that it is essential to cultivate a patron in order to succeed?  Are you aware that you should receive monetary recompense and esteem for your creative endeavors?

At any point in your story, you are free to reimagine the narrative you are living. You can becom.jpg

There were some truly inspirational sections in Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins. When I had finished reading, I felt encouraged and hopeful while at the same time realizing how very far I have yet to go to become one of those thriving artists. Fortunately, just like Michelangelo, I’m as stubborn as a donkey, so perhaps one day I’ll get there.

four star

Read more about the book here.  Pick up your own copy here.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Spellbound Paranormal Cozy Mystery Series

Paranormal cozy mysteries? I know, who’d have thought. I’ve got news for you, I loved each and every book in the 10-book series. Now that doesn’t happen too often.

Here’s the plot:

Emma Hart is on her way to visit one of her clients and happens upon what she believes to be an impending suicide. Jumping out of her lime green Volvo, lovingly christened Sigmund, she rushes out to save the man on the cliff. Not having taken the time to engage the parking brake, Emma is in danger of being run over or drowning in the lake until the would-be-suicide flies down and snatches her from harm’s way. That’s right, flies. It turns out he’s an angel, well a fallen angel, who had come to his favorite cliff to mope.

Inadvertently, Daniel, the angel, has flown Emma into the borders of Spellbound, a paranormal town under a curse. Much to her surprise, Emma has some paranormal blood in her as well, and now is trapped with the other residents.

She’s made the town’s public defender since her entrance coincided with the unfortunate demise of the previous lawyer, a Scottish vampire named Gareth. She’s also given Gareth’s house where she is surprised to find some sort of mongrel cat and the ghost of the former owner.

Since she hadn’t had any previous magical training, she is enrolled in the remedial witch classes at the ASS Academy. Her burgeoning powers and sporadic criminal cases keep her busy.

She falls in love with Daniel, the fallen angel, but the course of true love never did run smooth. She makes just as many friends as enemies and discovers her mysterious past is intricately tied to the current predicament that the town is in.

Emma is funny and sweet. Her interactions with other paranormals often made me chuckle. I can’t say that the series is entirely original since the storyline and characters are borrowed from other famous works.

For instance, Emma’s familiar is not a cat but a cantankerous owl name Sedgewick, reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Hedwig. The coven head and headmistress of ASS Academy is very much Professor McGonagall with a ridiculous antler headdress. The vampires and werewolves were typecast like any other paranormal world. On the other hand, there were some new characters including harpies ever looking for a man to sink their claws into, gorgons who keep their snakey hair under wraps, the Gray sisters that share a single eye and tooth, Valkyrie law enforcement and a minotaur who is the town’s arquitect.

If you are looking for some light paranormal reading, then I highly recommend Annabel Chase’s Spellbound series. You’ll want to get them all so that you can follow the story from beginning until….well the beginning. You’ll just have to read them to see what I mean.

Twelve Secular Steps: An Addiction Recovery Guide by Bill W.

The Twelve Secular Steps: An Addiction Recovery Guide was written in order to provide a non-religious framework to treat addiction. The religious context provided by the 12 steps in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program can be off-putting to those that aren’t as religiously inclined including agnostics and atheists.

In the spirit of AA, the author has elected to remain anonymous, providing just his first name,  but was candid with his own struggle with addiction. His story is no more or less than any other alcoholics spiraling descent to rock bottom.

As a biology professor, the author does an excellent job of explaining the nature of addiction and brain development. He thoroughly describes the parts of the brain affected by chemical dependence as well as how concepts like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is altered as a result.

Comparing the developmental stages of a maturing adult to the phases of addiction and recovery, the author demonstrates the parallels and juxtapositions of an addict’s evolutionary cycle.

In the second section, the author walks the reader through how he adapted the twelve steps from a religious base to developmental stages a recovering addict goes through. Having experience as both recovering addict and sponsor, he breaks down the actionable parts into manageable tidbits using his secular base as a guide.

In the end, as a recovering addict, the author came to the conclusion that although he did not experience a Spiritual Awakening as outlined in step 12 of the traditional AA program, he grew up in a sense and began taking responsibility for his actions as an adult would.

I found Twelve Secular Steps: An Addiction Recovery Guide to be a useful and informative book. I believe it would be of interest to both recovering addicts and their family members. The explanation of how an addict is moving through the stages of normal development backward was a confirmation of what I’ve seen in my own experiences with addiction.

The diagrams of the brain are simple and instructional. The visualization of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was also helpful during the discussion of that aspect of addiction. The breakdown of the benchmarks and characteristics of early childhood, young adult and mature adult was revealing as were the phases of addiction and recovery.
The recommendations that the author provides for completing each step are also instructive.

Whether you are an addict looking to work on your recovery or family or friends endeavoring to be supportive, you will find Twelve Secular Steps: An Addiction Recovery Guide an educational read.

You can read my review at Reedsy Discovery here.

Beyond Justice by Cara Putman

beyond justice

Beyond Justice by Cara Putman

Seventeen-year-old Miguel is killed while being held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s juvenile detainment center in Texas.  Hayden McCarthy, a young D.C. lawyer known for thinking outside the box, is assigned as an advocate for justice for Miguel’s family.  As her investigation deepens, so does the danger for everyone involved. Why did Miguel cross the border?  How did he die?  Who covered his death up and for what reason?  

With immigration still a sensitive topic in politics these days, perhaps it might seem that the scenario in the book is a bit far-fetched.  How likely is it that minors seeking refugee status be kept in what is essentially a juvenile prison?  Unfortunately, it’s the new reality in the US.  

In 2014, it became policy to detain and hold undocumented individuals in privately owned and maintained detention centers much like the one described in the book.  Some of these detention centers have been specifically designed for the detainment of women and children.  As of August 2016, more than 2,000 women and children are being detained in facilities, known as Family Residential Centers, both in Texas and Pennsylvania.  Not surprisingly, the restrictive arrangements have caused irreparable mental harm to the mothers and children, some as young as 2 weeks old, who have fled their home countries in search of safety. (See Teen mother at immigrant detention center in Texas attempts suicide, Infants And Toddlers Are Coming To The U.S. To Work, According To Border Patrol, Is Texas Reforming or Enabling Immigration Lockups for Children?, Immigrant kids detained in warehouse of humanity)

Life for teenagers in the detention camps is not easy. (See What It’s Like to Be a Teen Living in an Immigration Detention Center, The Shame of America’s Family Detention Camps)  Legal aid came too late for Miguel, which is not unusual for teenagers seeking asylum in the US. (See Teenage Immigrants Are Being Denied Asylum Because They Have No Right to an Attorney)  It might seem that against such overwhelming odds, there can be no justice.  Fortunately, there are lawyers, like Hayden McCarthy, who take it upon themselves to assist these children seeking asylum. Personally, I have the honor to know Nicole Ramos, whose tireless efforts have saved countless women and children.  (See Modern Day Marias–Nicole the liberator)

Beyond Justice by Cara Putman, although fiction, resonated with life.  It is yet another avenue that the voices of these lost children, like Miguel, can be heard.  Once heard, their stories can be shared.  Once their stories are known, action can be taken on their behalf.  No child is Beyond Justice.

5 star


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Write Your Book at Fifty: A Call to Women- Discover Your Voice, Open New Doors, Create Your Legacy by Jeanette E. Martin

According to Joseph Epstein, “81 percent of Americans feel that they have a book in them — and should write it.” (200 Million Americans Want to Publish Books, But Can They?)

Jeanette E. Martin’s book Write Your Book at Fifty: A Call to Women — Discover your voice. Open new doors. Create your legacy. will inspire you to leave behind the masses and join that small percentage who don’t just dream about writing a book, but do it!  

Being a woman, and being fifty years old, you’ve already done incredible things, things more difficult than writing a book. So what’s stopping you? Fear? Inexperience? Self-doubt? Time? All of those are just excuses. You are worthy. You are capable. You have something to share. You can leave a legacy behind.

While I’m not 50 yet, I am approaching that age. I’ve also just recently begun publishing books. There has been a huge learning curve as I master each technical aspect of publishing, let alone the writing part. I was incredibly inspired after reading Write Your Book at Fifty to keep at it, despite the challenges.

After all, look at the company I keep!

Mary Ann Evans, AKA George Eliot, published her first novel, Adam Bede, at age 40. Annie Proulx, published her first novel, Postcards, when she was 57.  Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first book, Little House in the Big Woods, when she was 65. (15 Famous Authors Who Were Published After 40)

Toni Morrison, published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, when she was 40

Helen DeWitt published The Last Samurai at 41. Anna Sewell published Black Beauty when she was 57. (14 Brilliant Authors who Didn’t succeed until Way after 30)

Elizabeth Jolly published her book of short stories Five Acre Virgin and Other Stories at 53.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas published The Everglades: River of Grass at 57.(Famous Authors Who Were First Published After 50) Harriet Doerr published her first novel, Stones of Ibarra, when she was 74. (11 Writers Who Started Late)

So if you are at all toying with the idea of writing a book, pick up a copy of Jeanette Martin’s Write Your Book at Fifty and get started on your dream!

Infusions of Healing–A Treasury of Mexican-American Herbal Remedies by Joie Davidow.

While the Botany & Wildcrafting Course from Herbal Academy Courses that I recently completed was spectacular and I have more confidence in using my plant identification skills, I still run into the problem of not being able to transfer the identification from Mexican Spanish to English. This has been frustrating to me since my little Aztec Remedy books say use such and such a plant, but I have no idea what the botanical name is.

My previous Mexican plant authorities!

One of my friends recommended Infusions of Healing–A Treasury of Mexican-American Herbal Remedies by Joie Davidow. I ordered it from Amazon and finished it in a week. In it, hundreds of herbal remedies are included as well as a chart that gives the English name, Spanish name, Botanical name and other names it might be called. Fabulous!

Recipes were included that used plants that I can identify in La Yacata, like mesquite, sábila, and huizache and I can’t wait to investigate more about their medicinal properties.

Furthermore, more 1/3 of the book talked about indigenous healing traditions. Thousands of years of medicinal tradition were lost when the Catholic church ordered the codices to be burnt, only a handful of others were preserved.  Spanish priests and naturalists compiled various tomes about the conquered peoples that were sent to Europe and lost for hundreds of years, only having been recently rediscovered.

These rediscovered accounts helped me to put the curandero tradition still alive and flourishing into perspective. Not only were curanderos skilled with herbs but they were also doctors of the soul. Some of those long-ago spiritual beliefs about health still exist in Mexico today.

Let me give you an example. It was an extremely hot month, hotter than I can remember since moving to Mexico. So now that we have electricity, albeit limited, we bought a fan. I had my husband install it so that we would get a nice breeze while we slept. My sister-in-law, who has also been suffering from the heat, asked to see our fan since it doesn’t use too much power. She thought it was good but said she’d never have the fan blowing on her in the night because she’d wake up “chueca” (wry-necked).

So what does this have to do with ancient Aztec beliefs? Well, the Aztecs believed that body ailments were either “hot” or “cold”, “wet” or “dry”. Therefore, a cramp would be an ailment caused by a “cold” source, the fan which cooled the tonalli (energy center also connected to the heat of the sun) of a person that is centered in the head.

Other things suddenly became clear as well. The sacred novena (9-day prayer session for the deceased) is 9 days because there are 9 levels to Mictlan, the underworld and 9 levels in the celestial kingdom above. Bilis, an illness caused by excessive coraje (rage) occurs when there is something wrong in the ihiyotl, another energy center located in the liver. The belief that not only must the physical body be treated, but the God who sent the infirmity must also be appeased continues with pilgrimages, prayer, candles, and offering found throughout Mexico.

While the book didn’t specifically mention going barefoot in the house as a potential cause of sickness, I bet the reason is mentioned in one of those lost books that I’d love to get my hands on.

So if you are at all interested in herbal uses of plants found in Mexico, this is the book I would recommend to you to start with. Having read it through once, I feel that I have finally entered the pre-school level in my local plant study.

5 star

A Selfish Plan to Change the World by Justin Dillon


Changing the world is not as altruistic you might think.  Most movers and shakers have multiple motives for what they do.  Author Justin Dillon takes us through his personal journey from musician to founder and CEO of the Made in a Free World organization which focuses on disrupting human trafficking trade worldwide.  Citing example after example, he explores the reasons why each one of us should make an effort to change the world, what keeps the world from changing and how we can actually change the world.

The key point for me was what the author called “finding your riot.”  Although that seems a bit aggressive, what he refers to is finding what you are passionate about and using that for social change. Combine that riot with the desire to “contribute to a larger narrative” and your unique abilities, and you have the recipe for world-changing work.

Much like the author, who began with his belief that changing the world was only attempted by selfless and sacrificial people, I often feel that perhaps changing the world was beyond my abilities even though I’ve made some effort at do-gooding over the years. I can’t say that I’ve been successful in changing the world even one iota despite my efforts, but I know people who are, and I haven’t given up yet.

A Selfish Plan to Change the World provided some food for thought and is well worth your time.  Read more about this book here. Get your copy here.

four star


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”