Review: Summer of the Mariposas

Summer of the Mariposas Title: Summer of the Mariposas
Author: Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary
Pages: 355
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: When Odilia and her four sisters find a dead body in the swimming hole, they embark on a hero’s journey to return the dead man to his family in Mexico. But returning home to Texas turns into an odyssey that would rival Homer’s original tale.

With the supernatural aid of ghostly La Llorona via a magical earring, Odilia and her little sisters travel a road of tribulation to their long-lost grandmother’s house. Along the way, they must outsmart a witch and her Evil Trinity: a wily warlock, a coven of vicious half-human barn owls, and a bloodthirsty livestock-hunting chupacabras. Can these fantastic trials prepare Odilia and her sisters for what happens when they face their final test, returning home to the real world, where goddesses and ghosts can no longer help them?

Summer of the Mariposas is not just a magical Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey, it is a celebration of sisterhood and maternal love. (Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: There are a lot of things I liked about Summer of the Mariposas, and chief among them was the magical realism. The world that Odilia and her sisters find themselves in is a fascinating blend of modern life, Odyssey checkpoints, and Mexican folklore. I wish there were more YA fantasy books focusing on Central and South American cultures. (If there are any good ones, please let me know. I want to read them!) The lechuzas were delightfully terrifying, and McCall did an excellent job of redeeming the character of La Llorona. Her story was one of the two points in the book where I teared up.

For as much as I loved the magical realism, the true heart of this story is the familial bonds between Odilia with her sisters and the sisters with their mother (and even grandmother). And despite saying that, I wish that either the book had been longer so that I could get to know the sisters better or that there had been fewer sisters to devote time to. As it stands, I don’t feel as if I got to know anyone besides Odilia very well. There was a lovely moment between Juanita and Odilia where Odilia got to subtly remind her younger sister that she doesn’t always know what’s right and that sometimes older sisters have useful things to contribute (buying sodas at the gas station, for those who have read the book), and that was a conflict I wish McCall had spent more time on. While I’m generally fond of the fire-forged-friends trope, I wish there had been slightly less physical peril with the girls and more emotional peril to draw them together.

That said, Part III: The Return, was everything I wanted it to be. If you’re familiar with the Odyssey, then you know about the ousting of the suitors. The ousting in this book involved a great deal less blood, but it was still a crowning moment of awesome. I loved how Odilia was able to reconnect with her mother and that the journey she and her sisters went on really did make their happily ever after possible—and believable.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you’re interested in Mexican folklore, have a fondness for road trip stories or the Odyssey, or want to read books that focus on sisters or mother-daughter relationships. I’m going to have to check out McCall’s Under the Mesquite sometime soon to see if it is just as good.

The Worry-Free Vacation

Books are the perfect vehicle for travel. They can take you to your destination in the blink of an eye. You won’t experience  turbulence and they never cause seasickness. Books also deliver you to countries all over the world with no risk of misplacing your passport or getting jet-lag. The best part is that you get to meet characters from many different places and see life from a different perspective.

I had a fun time looking through book lists (mine and those of many others) to find a wide variety of places to visit during my vacation. I have read many of the titles, but was excited to find some new ones too.

I will make my summer reading plan with many of these destinations in mind. I invite you to start planning your trip any time.

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Japan – Guardian of the Spirit (Moribito #1), Ichiro
China (in the past) – Boxers (it will be released in the fall)
China (in the future) – Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1)
Nepal – Sold

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India – Sita’s Ramayana, Secret Keeper
Andaman Islands – Islands End
Malaysia – Kampung Boy
Afghanistan – Operation Oleander

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Pakistan – Shabanu
Iran – Persepolis
Cambodia – Never Fall Down
Burma – Bamboo People
Sri Lanka – Swimming in the Monsoon Sea

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Australia – Does My Head Look Big in This?
Palestine – Where the Streets Had a Name
England – Devil’s Kiss
Nigeria – Akata Witch
Sudan – The Milk of Birds

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Ivory Coast – Aya
Egypt – Mara, Daughter of the Nile
South Africa – This Thing Called the Future
Brazil – The Summer Prince
Haiti – In Darkness

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Cuba – The Lightning Dreamer, Guantanamo Boy
Ecuador – The Queen of Water
Mexico – Summer of the Mariposas
Dominican Republic – Before We Were Free

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U.S.A.
Alaska – Blessing’s Bead
New York – No Crystal Stair
Los Angeles – Legend
New Orleans – Orleans
Nevada – Bad Kitty

I was inspired to write this post after seeing Reading Around the World!, written by Sel who blogs at Bookcase to Heaven. Thanks for sharing your idea!

I know there are many excellent titles that I did not have a chance to include. If you think of any that would be a great addition to this list, please let us know in the comment section. Thanks for stopping by and I wish you a pleasant reading journey.

— cover images via Goodreads

New Releases

Two touching novels exploring family and death debut this week. Both novels look interesting so I’m adding them to my summer reading list.

hereWhen You Were Here, by Daisy Whitney

Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Danny’s mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.

Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn’t know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.

When he gets a letter from his mom’s property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother’s memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died. (via Amazon)

 

UnderneathUnderneath by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

Flux

“Dear Sunny: I don’t expect you to understand any of this yet, but we’ll always have yesterday . . . and today,  and tomorrow. Maybe one day you’ll figure it out. I never could.”

With a supportive family, great friends, and a spot on her high school’s swim team, Sunshine “Sunny” Pryce-Shah’s life seems perfect. Until the day her popular older cousin Shiri commits suicide. The shocking tragedy triggers heart-wrenching grief, unanswered questions, and a new, disturbing ability in Sunny—hearing people’s thoughts.

When Sunny “underhears” awful things about what her so-called friends really think of her, she starts avoiding them and instead seeks refuge with the emo crowd. But when she discovers her new friends’ true motives, Sunny doesn’t know who she can trust anymore. Feeling like she’ll drown in the flood of unwanted voices inside her head, she turns to her cousin’s journal for answers. Sunny must figure out how to keep everything from falling apart, or she may end up just like Shiri. (via Amazon)

Review: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

yaquiTitle: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Author: Meg Medina
Genres: Realistic fiction, contemporary
Pages: 260
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review copy: friendly local library
Availability: March 26, 2013

Summary: One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away? In an all-too-realistic novel, Meg Medina portrays a sympathetic heroine who is forced to decide who she really is. (image and summary from Goodreads)

Review: Right from the get-go, I loved this book. It starts out with a memorable opening line — “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass” — and keeps right on to the end without losing momentum. Piddy Sanchez tells her story with a unique, genuine voice. The immediacy of the narrative kept me hooked for the two hours it took for me to finish the book.

I love funny books of any kind, so this book was right up my alley in terms of humor. At the same time, it deals with pretty serious subjects — bullying and, indirectly, abuse. The way these issues were handled was pretty well done. The book manages to stay away from being grimdark in tone while keeping things relevant.

What I loved most about the book was the family and friends of Piddy Sanchez. Piddy picks up a motley assortment of friends — friends who are stuck-up, geeky or cool. They all have their flaws and Piddy doesn’t gloss over them, which makes the friendships in the book seem all the more realistic. On top of that, the family around Piddy are just as complex and fascinating as her friends. Her mother’s best friend Lila is like the cool aunt I always wanted. She’s sassy, beautiful, and dispenses wisdom like she’s giving out candy — here, try it and you’re welcome. Piddy’s relationship with her mother is what really gets me. Her mother reminds me of my mother — snippy, full of strange advice, and strong. The story isn’t just about bullying. It’s about the mother-daughter relationship that is growing and changing. Strong female relationships are front and center in this book.

This was a fantastic book that I wouldn’t hesitate to put on the reading list of everyone in high school.

Recommendation: Get it soon.

Mini Review: Unspoken

UnspokenTitle: Unspoken
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Genres: Mystery, Romance, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 373
Publisher: Random House
Review Copy: Borrowed from roommate
Availability: September 11, 2012

Summary: Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him? —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: Rees Brennan lets her love for gothic romances and lady sleuths shine through in Unspoken, and I heartily approve of the combination. Kami and her friends are a delight (particularly Angela), and I enjoyed their antics as they tried to uncover the mysteries around the Lynburn family. Most of the teenage characters in the book were a lot of fun, but I’ll be the first to admit that I cared very little for the adults.

The humor in Unspoken left me with mixed feelings. Rees Brennan’s characters have a lot of witty banter, but the humor didn’t often strike a chord with me. (I felt much the same about her Demon’s Lexicon series, which is a shame, as I really enjoy the author’s tumblr.) The ending was not very satisfying for me for several spoiler-y reasons, but I truly enjoyed the last-minute emotional sucker-punching that has had most of Rees Brennan’s fans in a tizzy since the book came out.

Recommendation: Get it soon, if gothics and mind-reading romances are your thing. If not, borrow it someday, because the Lynburn Legacy trilogy has a lot of promise. I have high hopes for the second book, which comes out later this year.

Five Wrong-Headed Reasons for Not Writing Diverse Characters in Science Fiction

Awakening Final cover-sSay hello to Karen Sandler, author of the Tankborn trilogy from Tu Books! The second installment, AWAKENING, hit shelves this spring. Karen has graciously agreed to write a guest post for us today–we hope you enjoy it as much as we did!


I want to preface this post by acknowledging that writers have a right to write anything they want to write. It’s not as if there are any quota systems in place in fiction, where 6.2% of the characters have to be of this ethnicity, or 8.9% of that gender identity. You’re free to create any kind of character, culture, and world that you like.

That said, I’d like to consider some conscious and not-so-conscious reasons why science fiction might be less diverse than it could be. Why if there are diverse characters, they are nearly always the secondary characters and not the main characters.

So what do I mean by diverse main characters in science fiction? I mean characters that are:

  • From non-white European ethnicities
  • From a non-European culture
  • Strong women in non-traditional roles
  • GLBTQ
  • Disabled

You wouldn’t need all these qualities in a single character (although it could be done), but by my definition, your character would need at least one to be considered diverse. And this is my definition, yours might vary. Feel free to quibble with me in the comments about these categories, or to add other areas of diversity, but these give us a starting point.

In my points below, I’m using the word “white” as a shorthand for Caucasian of European extraction, a WASP, if you will. I chose white as a shorthand because in the vast majority of science fiction, that’s the ethnicity of the main characters (and more often than not, male). But I hope you’ll extrapolate this shorthand into other areas of diversity, that is, if you’re straight, writing a GLBTQ character might be a stretch for you.

On to the Wrong-Headed Reasons:

1) I’m white, and it might be offensive it I write about other cultures/ethnicities.

Confession up front here. This is exactly the reason I avoided writing diverse main characters for so long. I had plenty of diverse secondary and minor characters featured in nearly every book I wrote. I thought it would be Someone Else’s Story to write a book with a diverse main character.

If you follow this logic down the rabbit hole, you might come to the conclusion that only white people can write white people, only woman can write women characters, only children can write about children, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Which of course is nuts. We have to imagine characters that are outside ourselves all the time. Do you think Jeff Lindsay (DEXTER), is a serial killer? Or that Carrie Ryan (FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH) is secretly a zombie? Or that either one of them worries about offending serial killers or zombies by writing about them in their books? Not likely.

However, it is possible to write a diverse character in such a way that is offensive. That can happen when we rely only on the stereotypes about others that float around in our brains, rather than gaining an understanding of that different ethnicity/culture and making the character a real person.

The key is respect—having respect for the culture, the ethnicity, the gender, gender identification, physical abilities. If you start with respect, you should do fine representing diverse characters.

2) Everyone says you’re supposed to write what you know, and I don’t really know anything about other cultures/ethnicities.

Um, see #1, particularly the part about serial killers and zombies.

We have two ways of solving the I Don’t Know problem. First, just as we would if we wanted to include a scene featuring a hot air balloon in our novel, we do some research. Read books, find reliable sites on the Internet, talk to people who have done ballooning. We don’t throw up our hands and say, “Can’t write about hot air ballooning, because you have to write what you know.”

If you want to follow that edict (write what you know), then you’d better know more. Learn more. Read about the Roma, the Indian caste system, the Hindu religion (as I did for TANKBORN). If you were writing an SF book that involved cloning, you’d go learn as much as you could about cloning.

The second way of solving the I Don’t Know problem, once you’ve educated yourself, is to put yourself in your characters’ shoes. Imagine what it would be like as them. This is what fiction is all about.

3) The world I’ve built only includes white people. Everyone else was killed in a plague.

Oh, puleeze! This is just a lazy excuse. It reminds me of my biggest complaint about Larry Niven’s THE MOTE IN GOD’S EYE. In his future world, something catastrophic has happened with the human birthrate. So women are coddled and cosseted (because they’re the baby-makers), and as a consequence have almost zero influence on the story’s action. To me, that seemed like a clever way to keep women out of the story. Maybe this wasn’t Niven’s intent, but it kind of soured me on the series.

In any case, creating an imaginary plague that only spares white people is pretty preposterous. There’s no biological difference between races. There might be higher incidences of genetic weaknesses based on ethnicity (the Tay-Sachs genetic disorder that disproportionately impacts Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews comes to mind), but to create a future in which, say, everyone with dark skin is wiped out, is bad world-building.

4) I just don’t see how non-white characters would fit into my book. All the characters in my head are white.

I see this excuse as a crisis of imagination. Particularly if you’re writing SF, often set in a future when anything can change. When everything can be different than it is now. We’ve already seen our first black president. We’ve seen women in ever more powerful roles. Gays and lesbians are coming out in nearly every corner of society, and universal marriage equality is becoming more and more imaginable.

You can’t imagine a black genetic engineer as your main character? An Hispanic lesbian piloting a starship? Then your imagination needs some revamping. You need to start thinking outside the box. Open up your corner of the world to more possibilities.

5) If my main characters are non-white, a publisher (or reader) won’t buy my book.

They bought Justine Larbalestier’s LIAR (although there was the whole #racefail issue with the original cover). Sherman Alexie’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN. Malinda Lo’s HUNTRESS. It’s true that there are few enough diverse main characters that we’re still writing blog posts like this one or the one here. But if it’s a wonderful book, publishers will buy it.

And as for readers, this is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. We don’t want to write diverse characters because we’re afraid readers won’t buy them. But readers can’t buy what hasn’t been written. If your story with diverse main characters is wonderful, readers will seek it out.


Karen SandlerGenre-conflicted author of science fiction (the young adult trilogy, TANKBORN, AWAKENING, and REVOLUTION from Tu Books), mystery (CLEAN BURN, a Janelle Watkins mystery from Exhibit A) and romance (fun, sexy romances, indie published). Visit my website, www.karensandler.net.