Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Bless Me, Ultima --by Rudolfo Anaya

Fiction / Coming of age / Magical Realism
276 pages / 1161 KB
5 Stars

Having recently moved to Albuquerque NM, and searching for books by local authors, I came across Bless Me, Ultima. Oh, what a warm and marvelous welcome to my new home!

Knowledge of some Spanish would be helpful, but not necessary, though the next time I read the book (oh, believe me, there will be a next time!) I will take the time to look up the words I couldn't figure out.

When Antonio is 6, the curandera who delivered him comes to live with his family. She has a special fondness for Antonio and takes him with her when she goes out to gather her herbs and medicines. She teaches him the proper way to harvest them, to talk to the plants, explain why he is taking a part of them.

His mother is a Luna, her people till the land; his father is a Marez, his people were free to ride the plains. Mama wants Antonio to become a Priest; Papa wants him to become a man of freedom. Antonio struggles to become Antonio.

I think this is one of, if not the, best coming of age I've read. I highly recommend the book. The writing is marvelous, the story compelling. An insight into a culture in the process of changing. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Snow Child: A Novel --by Eowin Ivey

404 pages / 1154 KB
5 Stars

Eowyn (pronounced A-o-win) Ivey, is one of my new favorite authors! She has taken an old fairy tale, which I remember reading as a child, and retold it in 1920s Alaska, and retold it beautifully.

Jack and Mable are an older couple, have suffered horrendous loss, and decide to homestead in the wilds of Alaska. She thought they would do it together, he decided she would take care of the cabin, he the hard stuff. She contemplates suicide. They barely spoke and one night it snowed, and they were outside and had a spontaneous snowball fight, they laughed, they hugged, they built a snow girl. 

The next morning, the snow girl was demolished and the knit mittens and scarf were missing.

Mabel's idea of partnership was hard won. Slowly, laughter came back to their lives, and a strange, snowgirl brought them new love in handmade birch baskets.

This is a magical, enchanting book, and one of the most beautiful ones I've read in some time. I vaguely remember I didn't care for the fairy tale as I read it, but I absolutely love this book. Huzzah! to Ms. Ivey!!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Hispanic Albuquerque, 1706-1846 --by Marc Simmons

Nonfiction / History 
164 pages
5 Stars

As a history buff, and new to Albuquerque, I asked the locals for some recommendations to get a bit of flavor of my new home. Marc Simmons's books were highly recommended, and this book in particular.

I enjoy reading a history that is, to my way of thinking, interestingly told, and not just "fact, date, fact, date." I had enough of the latter in school. Mr. Simmons gets extra points for not using endnotes. He also did not use footnotes. The book was as smooth a read as good fiction!

This is not a whitewash of how good the Spanish were, or how uncivilized the locals were. When two cultures meet there is bound to be disagreement between them. 

I do admit to wishing the book was longer, and perhaps even with footnotes. It is indexed and has a list of books at the end for further reading. Highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Spanish Colonial times in New Mexico!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Paper Mage --by Leah R. Cutter

Fiction / Historical / Fantasy
329 pages / 827 KB
5 Stars

Back in 2003 or so, I attended a Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention and had the privilege of meeting Leah Cutter and talking with her for a few minutes. We both had an interest in Ancient China, and she told me about her new book, Paper Mage. I bought it. I read it. I loved it. I kept it.

The other day, I was in the mood to read something different, saw her book on my shelf, and remembered how much I enjoyed it years ago, and then realized I couldn't remember how it ended. So I picked it up to read again. Fortunately, I live alone, and if I spend time reading instead of cleaning, cooking, sewing, or any of the other mundane things one must do, no one cares! Had I picked it up earlier in the day, it would have been a one-sit read. Again.

Xiao Yen is the protégé of her aunt, Wang Tie-Tie, whether she wants to be or not. Wang Tie-Tie is a bit unusual in that when she became a widow and had no men to look after her, she became head of the house and ran the business. She made all decisions regarding the family, and when a Paper Mage came to town to start a school, she sent her youngest niece to learn. It isn't that Auntie was being generous, it was that Auntie had an ulterior motive.

Xian Yen must learn to fit in, or at least accept, her world as different from what girls are brought up to believe and is traditional. She must work in the male world of magery. She is, more or less accepted at school, but when she graduates and goes out on her first assignment, she truly comes of age. And begins to understand that luck is not something that is given or taken away, but is something that is made.

If you are not familiar with the culture of the time, you might not realize just how difficult it was for Xiao Yen to be filial and honor her family—Auntie, Mother, Elder Sister—and to also learn she had her own life and was capable of living it.

I had remembered enough of the story to know I loved it once and had forgotten enough of the story to fall in love with it all over again. In fact, the ending was a total surprise to me! 

If you like history, fantasy, and well-told stories, buy this book, read this book, and review this book. It's truly a marvelous read.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment –by John Hamilton

Nonfiction / History
48 pages
5 Stars

When you want a lot of knowledge about a subject, without a lot of filler, head for the children's section of the bookstore or library. Books written for kids get right to the good stuff, and don't make us adults work for it.

This book is part of the series published by ABDO Publishing, for all of the States--see their site at: Children's books are a great way to learn about New Mexico when all one wants are "just the facts" and only the facts. Things I learned on pages 6 and 7—our state bird is the Roadrunner [beep beep], our state flower is the Yucca, and our state tree is the Piñon Pine. 

We all know Tony Hillerman lived here, but did you know that Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is from Albuquerque? I didn't until I read page 29.

If  you have children, or grandchildren, who enjoy learning, I strongly suggest you consider a book or two. Or, perhaps, if you just want to donate a book (or two) to your local library—these books are high quality, reinforced library bound hardcovers.

New Mexico Myths & Legends: The True Stories Behind History's Mysteries –by Barbara Marriott, PhD

Nonfiction / history
232 pages / 2243 KB
4 Stars

Having just moved to New Mexico, I want to learn a bit about my new home, and thought this would be a good start. It was.

While Dr. Marriott covered a lot of ground, and could only do it superficially in most cases, still, it was ground most of which I knew little to nothing about. I did know about some of them, and it was fun to read and have my knowledge verified.

She covers 15 myths from the days of the conquistadors to modern phenomena, including the alien crash near Roswell, haunted hotels, and a canyon with gold that has been lost to time.

Sweeney --by Robert Julyan

Fiction / modern New Mexico
299 pages / 833 KB
5 Stars

This book was published by the University of New Mexico Press, and while I couldn't find it in the usual places, I did find it in, ISBN 10: 082635033X ISBN 13: 9780826350336if you look in the usual places by author, not title, you'll probably find it. 

When I finally found my local library (about as easy to get to for me as falling off a log!) I asked the librarian for some ideas on local history. This is one of the books recommended, although it is fiction. Librarians are very special people. This book is marvelous!

It is the story of a fictional town, Sweeney, on the high plains of New Mexico, which like many other small towns, is dying. They young people are leaving as soon as they can for the life of the big cities, businesses have closed, people have moved. The die-hards want to bring the town back to life—or die trying. It is a marvelous story about the handful of people who set about performing CPR for this fun town. And I, for one, am glad it's fiction, or I would feel very badly that I moved to Albuquerque instead of Sweeney. (I love Albuquerque, and even finally learned to spell the name, but oh, I really love Sweeney. I think it's the New Mexican version of Camelot.)

In this well-told tale, you will meet Druids, nudists, a naked bull rider named Bare-assed Bob, Indians both real and not, and a whole bunch of the crazy citizens who make up the town. I laughed out loud on several occasions. It kind of reminded me of the movie, M*A*S*H, and the line about the only way to remain sane was to go insane. Well, "Crazy ideas are the only kind that work..." in Sweeney.

For a great fun read, find a copy of this book. I'm looking forward to reading more of his books.