Category Archives: Books

Sandra Cisneros: Leyenda Literaria

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Whatever book you’re excited about, that’s your prescription.-Sandra Cisneros

This year I had the best Halloween and Día de los Muertos ever. Not only did I see Sandra Cisneros discuss and sign her book A House of My Own at the Los Angeles Central Library, but I also got to see her ofrenda dedicated to her mother, Elvira Cordero, at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA).

In her conversation with Reyna Grande at the library, Sandra really kept the audience engaged with her sense of humor and anecdotes. She said she ‘was such a pendeja’ when she was younger, and how difficult it is for Chicano literature to be accepted in the United States and Mexico. She also called books “prescriptions,” because one book that helps and inspires one person might not do the same for the next. After the discussion, and as I went for my turn to have my book signed, I didn’t know what to say. I was standing in line with about 100 people, and she probably wanted to rush back to her hotel for a bubble bath. I just said thank you, and she told me she liked my vintage cat eye glasses.

I went to the MOLAA event with Roy Martinez, the talented artist behind Lambe Culo. The event was sold out, but he had an extra ticket. Since the reading and ofrenda exhibit fell on Halloween, and because we wanted Sandra to notice us, we decided to dress up. Roy went as the punk version of Frida Kahlo, complete with a dog collar, rebozo, and Frida’s signature hair flowers. I dressed as bruja Selena, with a black bustier with cat ears on the chichis, and leggings. We were the only ones dressed up, except for a Frida Kahlo baby and one person who had her face painted.

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Luckily, we found seats in the front row, and decided to wait until the 100+ line of Sandra fans died down to get our books signed. We watched and saw how everyone was having these little moments with Sandra. They cried, laughed, and took selfies. While we were waiting, we talked about what we would say to Sandra:

” Do you think you’ll faint?”

“I won’t say anything, I’m bad at small talk.”

“La invitamos a los tacos.”

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When we finally met her, she smiled and told us we looked cute in our costumes, and that she was looking at us as we were sitting in the front row, waiting for the book signing line to die down. I finally told her that she was the reason I continue writing, even when I felt I wasn’t good enough. I had her sign my copy of Caramelo, because every time I open that book, I am always inspired to write, even if it’s just a paragraph or a line of memory. One could say that it is a multigenerational story that follows the characters from Chicago, Mexico City, and Texas, but it is so much more than that. Celaya, the main character,gets teased by her brothers, discovers her father’s infidelity, gets teased for not being Mexican enough, and learns why her Awful Grandmother is so awful.  Caramelo taught me that navigating two cultures is a story worth telling, gave me new appreciation for rebozos, and was the reason why I chowed down on panuchos at Cafe de Tacuba in Mexico City this summer. Sandra taught me that a brown woman’s voice has value, and no matter how isolated you may feel, there is probably someone out there who shares your story.

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Beauty and Terror in ‘The Island of Excess Love’ by Francesca Lia Block

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Take a post-apocalyptic voyage with Francesca Lia Block’s dark yet enchanting teen novel, The Island of Excess Love. In this follow up to Love in the Time of Global Warming, Block immerses us into  Penelope’s world of crystal palaces, dangerous winged women and deception with her trademark heavenly prose.  Penelope, who lost her eye fighting a giant in the previous book, her brother Venice,friends Ash, Ez, and her boyfriend Hex leave their pink house, and board a ghost ship headed for The Island of Excess Love, where they are taken in by the King who creates illusions of the things they miss from before their lives were destroyed.

While the previous book is loosely based on The Odyssey, Penelope uses The Aeneid as a guide to the strange creatures and situations that happen in the sequel.Throughout the novel, Penelope and her friends must triumph over disaster as their loyalty and love for each other is tested; the ship causes violent hallucinations about the monsters from the past, Penelope becomes pregnant after the King bewitches her into his bed, while Hex must decide if he wants to help his friends or save himself after learning of Penelope’s infidelity.

Mythology enthusiasts can spot the references to Orpheus, Hades, and the blind prophet Tiresias, embodied in Penelope. Readers who are not well versed in the classics can still follow along, but why wouldn’t Block’s magical tale inspire you to pick up an epic or two?

 

 

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My Favorite YA Books

“At least they’re reading” is what I always say when somebody is reading what has been labeled a piece of literary garbage. Nope, I’m not naming names.  As someone who dedicated her undergrad studies to reading and writing copious essays, short stories etc etc while high on Korean instant coffee until 5a.m., I always keep my eye out for those all-night reads. You know, the books that you begin to read thinking you will put it down in 15 minutes to do laundry, and when midnight rolls around, you’re more than halfway through.

With two weeks of Summer left, I’m sure you’ll find enough time to give these a look.

MISSING ANGEL JUAN by Francesca Lia Block  Ever since I was a young coyote, I have always been a fan of Francesca Lia Block’s Dangerous Angels Missing_Angel_Juan-1books, a series about a kooky, definitely untraditional family that lives in Los Angeles. Ms. Francesca knows how to add a layer of magic over the lovely yet often complicated City of Angels.  Missing Angel Juan is my favorite book from the series. It’s about Witch Baby, the black sheep of the family, who goes off to New York to look for Angel Juan, but ends up meeting her dead grandfather Charlie Bat and learns an important lesson on letting go. Why the odd name? Witch Baby was left on the door step alongside some Voodoo Barbie dolls by her mother, Vixanne. Witch Baby has several surreal adventures around NYC, and this contemporary fairy tale immerses the reader in the sights and smells of the story.

THE SUMMER PRINCE by Alaya Dawn Johnson Set in a futuristic Brazil, this novel follows June Costa, who hopes her art will make her famous, until she meets Enki, the Summer King of Palmares Três. Together, 9780545417792_custom-b545f99114071ddfb93bf133e64739dceee4269f-s6-c30they create dangerous public art pieces that get them into trouble with the Aunties, a group of ageless women who run the pyramid city. Aside from the fact that a king is ritually sacrificed every year in this matriarchal society, June begins to discover that her beloved city has an even shadier side.  

Listen to her Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy here, for her take on writing, travel, and how this book came about.

 

 

THE COUNTRY UNDER MY SKIN by Gioconda Belli This isn’t a YA  book nor a work of fiction, but a real life adventure that involves war, espionage, family, exile, corrupt leaders and heartbreak. Gioconda is most famous for her poetry which shocked the upper classes because it was out of the norm for women to write about their own bodies and sexuality.In her memoir,  Belli chronicles 9781400032167her life beginning from an early marriage at 19 which quickly turned sour, to gathering information for the Sandinistas, and later marrying an American reporter and moving to Santa Monica. Aside from living under a dictatorship, Belli also describes living as a woman with chauvinist revolutionaries, and other contradictions in her political and romantic affairs. 

 

 

People often ask me about my favorite book, but truth is I don’t really have one. These are my most favorite, and I highly recommend them for the young folks as a book to read instead of listening to another boring high school lecture from outdated textbooks.  True wisdom comes from learning to do your homework in other classes the day it’s due.

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