American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

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. 

Mexican currency at the time American Dirt was written.

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. 

Calling Myself Home: Living Simply, Following Your Heart and What Happens When You Jump by Robin Rainbow Gate

There were several things that resonated with me personally in the memoir Calling Myself Home: Living Simply, Following your Heart and What Happens When You Jump by Robin Rainbow Gate. Although I didn’t have her more privileged childhood, I too, heard the call to Mexico and found myself home in this rural, brilliantly colored land. 

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.

Click here to read more about Robin Rainbow Gate.

Yucatán with Kids: A Travel Guide

Mexico Cassie has done it again. The author of Moving To Mérida: How To Successfully Move To Mexico As A Family has created an excellent guidebook to exploring the Mexican state of Yucatán with kids, naturally called Yucatán with Kids: A Travel Guide. 

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.

I received an ARC from the author.

Ordinance 53 by Sarah Flores

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 read more about Sarah Flores here.

A Woman’s Guide to Making a Living in Rural Mexico: How to Find A Job and Create the Life You Want

Women often face significant obstacles in life–moving to rural Mexico is no exception. A Woman’s Guide to Making a Living in Rural Mexico: How to Find A Job and Create the Life You Want provides the resources you need to overcome the unique barriers to living and working in rural Mexico. This guidebook gives you the exact information you need to succeed at finding work and creating a fulfilling life.

You’ll learn about:

  • 6 legal hurdles to overcome
  • 5 common obstacles to working in rural Mexico
  • 20+ online job positions
  • 15+ local work ideas

Women play a significant role in the success of their families’ quality of life. Women’s small businesses in rural communities can support their families and create a network of success for future generations. A Woman’s Guide to Making a Living in Rural Mexico: How to Find A Job and Create the Life You Want is the manual you need to make this happen.

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

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. 

Travels with Grace will make a great gift for the young explorers in your life!

Click here to read more about Erma Note.

40 Days to a Finished Book by Leonie Dawson

About a month ago, I signed up for the online course 40 Days to a Finished Book by Leonie Dawson. I was determined to get the next book in the Woman’s Survival Guide to Mexico series. As of today, I have finished writing 28 chapters. YEAH ME! I have about 20 more to write, give or take a dozen or so, but I feel like I can see the book coming together. 

So Leonie Dawson aims to keep your focus on the writing aspect of book production. She does this with daily inspiration and accountability. Periodically she offers group coaching calls for further motivation when the going gets tough. In all, this particular course has 123 lessons. Most can be done in less than 5 minutes, so it is far from overwhelming.

Honestly, I haven’t been able to complete my writing goal every single day. And that’s ok. I know that if I miss one day, I can start fresh again the following morning. The accountability aspect though means I’ve only missed 2 out of the 21 days I’ve completed towards the 40-day challenge so far. YEAH ME!

Normally this course is $199, but I got it as part of The Writer’s Toolkit from Ultimate Bundles. So for just $97, I have access to Leonie’s quirky motivation PLUS 38 more resources worth over $5,000. What a bargain!

If you have any inclination to get your book finished this year, then don’t delay in getting The Writer’s Toolkit and sign up for 40 Days to a Finished Book by Leonie Dawson. The bundle is only available until June 11. The only way you’ll be able to get Leonie’s course after that is by paying more than twice what you pay for the entire bundle. It’s a no-brainer here! Get your complete toolkit before it’s too late!

Energize Your Writing Toolkit: Cheat Sheets for Character Emotions E-Book and Mini-Course from Shortcuts for Writers.

Although I focus on writing non-fiction books, I have a few fiction ideas tumbling around in my mind. With those thoughts in mind, I signed up for and completed Energize Your Writing Toolkit: Cheat Sheets for Character Emotions E-Book and Mini-Course from Shortcuts for Writers. I didn’t know quite what to expect or if there would be anything for my particular needs and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised on both accounts. 

This course comes with a 100-page printable workbook entitled Energize Your Writing Toolkit: Cheat Sheets for Character Emotions that has 4,000 emotional phrases already arranged in logical lists. It is AMAZING!

Up until now, I hadn’t paid much attention to non-verbal cues in my writing. In my reading, yes. A scrunched up red face meant embarrassment or anger. But I’m writing about facts, so why would I bother with these at all? It turns out, I should. When I’m describing how the crooked president of the association disregarded my comment during the community meeting as happened in La Yacata Revolution, I could have shown his disdain by the distance he put between us and a turned head, since he said nothing at all. Hmm. Food for thought! With the excellent value I felt I received with just this course, I am hyped to keep learning with Shortcuts for Writers and I’m sure you will too!

The Writer’s Toolkit 2021

So, I’m delighted to announce that my book Book Building: A Beginner’s Guide to Crafting Your Book is included in the 2021 Ultimate Bundles Writer’s Toolkit. WHOOP! As a contributor, I got a sneak peek at the bundle, and let me tell you, it is a bundle to end all bundles for writers!

There are 39 products worth over $5000 for $97. This bundle is priced a bit more than most of the Ultimate Bundles offerings, but it is SO worth it. There are 5 eBooks, 32 eCourses, 1 template and 1 membership site. 

Plus there are bonuses and special discounts worth more than $800.

Bonuses: 

  • 30 days free of the Social Content App from AngieGensler.com 
  • 30-day trial of ConvertKit + automations PDF
  • FREE 12-Month Premium Candidate Membership from ProBlogger
  • Hardcover Copy of Decoding Greatness from Ignite80
  • The Write Plan Planner from The Write Practice
  • 3 Months Trial of ProWritingAid Premium
  • Access to the 2020 Fiction Marketing Academy Summit from BookAds

Discounts:

  • $250 off 1000 Storybooks’s start to finish Children’s Book Publishing Service
  • 30% discount on the yearly plan for the first year from StoryOrigin 
  • 50% off all book cover packages from 100 Covers
  • 30 Day Trial and exclusive $15 discount code from Literature & Latte Ltd.

Early Bird Bonus if you order by June 8:

  • 3 Story Grid Books for Free: Story Grid 101, The Four Core Framework, The Writers’ Common Language from Story Grid worth $59.97 

Breaking down this enormous bundle, there are 7 resources for crafting your book (which is where my contribution is included), 7 resources for those that want to master freelance writing, 6 resources on marketing (the writer’s bane), 6 resources on productivity (no more procrastinations for you), 6 resources on publishing, and 6 resources about writing fundamentals. 

I couldn’t wait for the official release and have started my first course already and am loving it! So if you are serious about getting your book written and published, then The Writer’s Toolkit is the bundle to invest in!

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