One of my 2020 readings goals that I didn’t meet was to read a book published in the decade that I was born in. It’s not that I didn’t do research on books that came out in the 70s, nor that I hadn’t read any of the books on that list, I just wasn’t drawn to any of them.
So since it was my list, I decided to bend the rules a bit. I choose Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore which was published in 2020 but had a storyline that traveled through all the decades I’d been alive.
Oona Lockhart leaps from year to year at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve beginning in 1982. Each leap lasts a year, either forward or backward through the decads of Oona’s life. She tries to prevent her future selves from mistakes and heartache, but in the end, finds that “everything has its time” even if lived out of order.
I found Civilianized: A Young Veteran’s Memoir by Michael Anthony to be a sad commentary on the reality that confronts returning vets in the United States. Without appropriate support systems, suffering from trauma, many discharged soldiers struggle to find meaning and purpose. Unfortunately, Michael’s story is far from unique.
This memoir chronicles Michael’s life from shortly after his return to “civilization” from an active war zone in Iraq until the point when he takes up the pen in the name of justice. His experiences are pretty standard, drugs, alcohol, thoughts of suicide, difficulty with interpersonal relationships, and aimlessness.
The writing is coherent with excellent attention to detail, although the subject at times, I’m sure was difficult for Michael to record. It’s not a feel-good book but rather grounded in a reality that shows what a disservice is done to veterans in their home country, no matter which war they were involved in.
The topic of a returning soldier’s life may be too tough for many readers. However, if your life has been touched by a vet, Michael Anthony’s memoir Civilianized will resonate with you.
Powerful You! Little memoirs of inspirational women by Anna Burgess tells the abbreviated stories of five women and the author. It also includes a memorial to an elderly friend of the author, Raymond Farrell. Encouraging commentary is interspersed throughout the book, designed to inspire women confronting life’s obstacles.
It’s not a long or difficult read. The women’s stories are moving. These women overcame challenges that included homelessness, divorce, illness and death of a parent, thriving as a single mother, surviving cancer, and starting a nonprofit.
Although the author repeatedly reiterates that this book is for every woman, it seems as if the target audience was actually the author’s friends and family, rather than for public consumption. For this to be a coaching book, which I’m not convinced it was meant to be, questions after each story to help the reader reflect on her own life would have been good. As it was, the message was, “See these women! They overcame adversity, and so can you!” but without any clear direction on how someone could do that.
Several times, the author states that if just one woman is inspired, then her book will have been a success. I think she sells herself short. The book has the potential of helping thousands of women find direction, with a bit of work.
Each woman’s excerpt was interesting but no more than a few paragraphs except for the author. The author’s own story, while moving, needed some content editing. It seemed that she wrote in a stream of consciousness and then couldn’t bear to go back and edit out redundancies or irrelevant information. The final chapter dedicated to Raymond, the elderly gentleman, seemed out of place in this book geared toward women.
I noticed no grammar or spelling issues in the text, which made it a nice read. Anyone who enjoys reading about others’ life stories would enjoy this book. Those that are looking for help with their in-depth soul-searching processes will need to look elsewhere.
I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery. You can find my review here.
The tone was conversational rather than preachy and not highly technical, which I appreciated. There were suggestions for softscaping with plants and hardscaping with architectural features as well as advice on the use of color. Concepts such as scale and texture were new to me. I loved that some online planning tools were mentioned. I need all the help I can get on this beautification project I am about ready to begin.
Another highlight for me while reading this book was the pictures. So many authors shy away from including photographs or images in their books because of the additional formatting needed. Not Ms. Molina. This topic especially lent itself well to the inclusion of illustrations to spark the imagination.
I highlighted tips on grouping types of plants, planting deciduous trees to the south and west, and insect-repelling varieties of vegetation. I was all in when the author said that my new outdoor area should “feel like a sanctuary, a place where you can go to get fresh air and make the most incredible memories with the ones you love.”
The book was choked full of pertinent information. Since I have read several similar books and taken some healthful living courses, most facts were not mind-boggling but familiar. The author went into detail about our bodies’ systems and how much control we have over our welfare. She emphasized the mind-body connection and the often ignored component of diet as the cause of illness. She talked about what we shouldn’t continue to do and provided examples of what a successful aging lifestyle looks like.
As much as I felt this was a high-value book, I had some issues with the organization. The first section seemed to be an overview of what would be discussed in the book. The second section concentrated on scientific studies proving or disproving the benefits of certain behaviors. The third section finally got around to explaining the seven powerful strategies of aging gracefully. All of this information was informative. However, the presentation made some parts redundant and added to the book’s length (a whopping 385 pages). In theory, restructuring the text would reduce its length by about a third.
There were also some editing errors. The two most common grammar issues I saw were punctuation outside the quotation marks, commas and periods, and random capitalization of words. While they didn’t directly detract from the information, the English teacher in me cringed each time I came across an instance.
Probably Dead by Ed Church is part of the Detective Brook Deelman Mystery series. However, I didn’t feel as if I needed to read the other books in the series in order to follow the storyline. I enjoy a good investigative drama and this book fits the bill to a T.
Beginning in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Detective Brook Deelman stops a bar robbery and is handed the case files for a thirty year old unsolved disappearance. His investigation takes him back to London and his own precinct. The mystery resolves itself unexpectedly, going full circle in returning to South Africa.
I’m especially fond of mysteries that I haven’t solved from my armchair half-way through. Then when I found out I could read more of Detective Deelman’s crime-stopping crusades, color me delighted! If you are a mystery fan and admire rugged and efficient detectives too, you’ll love Probably Dead by Ed Church.
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.