Summer Reads

This morning I listened to War’s classic hit “Summer,” a slow-paced sound to accompany the lazy days of the season. I’m especially happy that summer is almost here. After a spring season of gray skies, I look forward to sunny mornings, warm afternoons, walks along the beach, and…summer reads. I got off to an early start by reading A.J. Finn’s fabulous thriller, The Woman in the Window, over the Memorial Day weekend.  It’s an entertaining page-turner, which took me only hours to read.

I’m in the habit of jotting down titles of books that are well-reviewed and peak my interest. I’ll refer to my list of titles when searching library catalogs online to see what’s available for checkout. However, if it’s a new summer title, chances are I’ll have to place a reserve, and if it’s a very popular title, my reserve might not get filled until summer is over! Instead, what I will do to get my hands on a good book is browse the shelves of my local library.

Here are other books I’ve read recently that would be good summer reads:

Two Girls Down (thriller) by Louisa Luna

The Wedding Date (romance) by Jasmine Guillory

The Wife and The Ex (mysteries) by Alafair Burke

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Self-Publish?

Should I or should I not? It seems lately that I ask myself that question every day.  Should I  self-publish my third novel or move on to writing the next one?

Almost seven years ago I impulsively set forth to write my first novel.  I was suffering from cabin fever during a blazing hot summer when we were living in the desert. Long story short, within five months I had my first draft. I joined a writers’ club the following year and soon realized most members were self-publishing. I decided to do the same because it seemed like the right course of action for me. I have since published two books. Of course, neither book has made me famous or even made me much money. But those weren’t my goals either. My goals were to write and enjoy sharing my stories with readers, and I have accomplished both.

But something has changed for me. The third novel I’ve written is the best work I’ve done.  It covers a subject close to my heart and one that I would like to share with as wide an audience as possible. The problem is that I am not good at marketing my own books.  It takes the right personality and skills to proudly market one’s work without fear of rejection.  I’m too much of an introvert, do not enjoy marketing, and, as a result,  don’t sell my books in large numbers.

So, as I often do when faced with a difficult decision,  I weigh the pros and cons:

Pros:  Sharing my work with readers; enjoying the finished product in published format.

Cons:  It’s expensive, and I won’t necessarily earn back my investment. It’s time-consuming and takes away from writing time,  which is important to me.

What to do? I don’t know yet.  But I will decide soon.

My Childhood Book Memories

Old Bones the Wonder Horse by Mildred Mastin Pace was my favorite book during my childhood. I read it several times. I connected with its theme: what we might perceive as weak can surprise us with its strength. Another theme it stresses is the importance of remaining loyal to those who truly care about you. I’ve blogged about the difficult time that I had learning to read, because I was placed in a first-grade class where the students were older and more advanced. But once I learned, there was no stopping me. I read book after book after book. I especially remember Charlotte’s Web, the Little House on the Prairie series, and the “Eddie” books by Carolyn Haywood.

Recently I read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, for the first time, but didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have if I’d read it as a child. I sometimes think about the books I didn’t read in childhood (never once touched a Nancy Drew title) and wonder if I missed out on anything. By the time I was ten or eleven, I was so eager to read the books my older sister was reading that I did just that. There were no more children’s books for me. Years later, I worked for a while as a children’s librarian and discovered a trove of reading material to enjoy. In a way, I recaptured some of my childhood by enjoying new-to-me characters and titles, including picture books. It was a bright period for me.

I imagine that if I’d had the good fortune to have children of my own, I would have enjoyed introducing them to books, and reading to and with them. But I don’t think we can ever truly enjoy a book on our own the way we did when we read it as children. We adults are perhaps jaded and lack the same enthusiasm. I think sometimes about reading Old Bones again. But maybe I won’t. The experience won’t be the same as when I was a child, and I don’t want to replace those wonderful memories of a book that little me loved so much.

Coming-Of-Age

Coming-of-age novels, as I’ve mentioned before, have always been among my favorites in fiction. I don’t know why that is, but I can make some reasonable guesses. Because I especially enjoy character-driven stories, it makes sense that I would like coming-of-age fiction. Also, there is a personal reason. You see, I was a late bloomer. It took me a while to become the mature adult that I am now. I like to think that I’ve learned from my mistakes, and that it’s never too late to continue learning and becoming a stronger, better human being.

Here is a list of coming-of-age novels I’ve recently read and recommend:

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. Set in China and Southern California, this story focuses on a young woman, raised in a Chinese hill tribe, who becomes self-sufficient and learns to adapt to city life and western culture.

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera. Margot is a fifteen-year-old with a stubborn streak. She makes some wrong decisions and learns life lessons the hard way.

Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall. The teenage daughter of Barbadian immigrants faces a difficult search for her niche in American society.

–I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez. Soon-to-be filmed. It should make a terrific movie. Julia, the protagonist, has a lot going on in her life, and there’s a reason for her moody ways that goes beyond the average teen’s issues. I especially appreciate the author’s depiction of Mexican-American culture.

Flaming Iguanas by Erika Lopez. A young woman slowly realizes her bisexuality while on a hilarious cross-country motorcycle trek. R-rated for sexual language and visuals (the author’s art work).

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Another soon-to-be film that should be terrific. An African-American teen’s life is disrupted when her friend is shot by police. She also has to come to terms with the double life she lives in her neighborhood and in the largely white school she attends.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. The young Chinese American girl in Kwok’s novel has to decide between what she wants and what is expected of her.

 

What I Read in 2017

2017 was a very good year for reading. I did not pressure myself to read a book a week as I did last year. I took my time in choosing the titles I read and as a result didn’t waste my energy with titles that fell short. If I didn’t like a book after reading the first 50 pages, I set it aside and started another. The one exception to that rule was The Wangs Vs. the World by Jade Chang. I continued with it despite my disappointment with the first 50 pages, because it had received some excellent reviews. But I didn’t like the book at all.

Altogether, I read 41 books last year. Here is a breakdown by genre and by author:

–Three were horror stories.

–Four were mysteries.

–One was a western, one was a romance, and one was a fantasy.

–Four were young adult.

–Four were non-fiction.

–Eleven were written by men.

–Five were written by Black authors.

–Four were written by Asian or Asian-American authors.

–Ten were written by Latinos.

Nothing about this breakdown surprises me. However, I notice that over the years my reading habits have changed. I once read many more mysteries and romances than I do now. I read more literary fiction now. What hasn’t changed? I still don’t read many western, sci-fi, or fantasy novels. I’ve never cared much for those genres. I definitely read more novels by Latinos than I ever did before, because there are more being published (though still not enough).

So far this year I have read three novels, and I look forward to many more good reads in 2018.

 

My Favorite 2017 Reads

Here is my top-ten list of favorite reads of 2017, in order of preference, with #1 being the best. Most of the comments are excerpted from reviews I posted on the Goodreads site. Next month, I will blog in more detail about my 2017 reads. It was a very good year.

1.  Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I highly recommend this title to anyone who is seeking to understand this demographic that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

2.  All They Will Call You by Tim Z. Hernandez. The author brings a true, heartbreaking event (a California plane crash that killed the crew and the farmworkers on board who were headed for deportation) to life through a fictionalized account with beautiful writing and gritty details.

3.  Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. The challenges of a young Chinese immigrant attempting to assimilate into American society are portrayed in a touching manner. This is not categorized as a YA novel, but it should be.

4.  The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This novel gave me a better understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement and the day-to-day realities of those who live in poor black neighborhoods.

5.  In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes. This is a creepy, atmospheric novel that takes the reader into the mind of a serial killer. I was drawn to its 1940s L.A. setting.

6.  American Chica by Marie Arana. An autobiography that puts into beautifully written words what many a bicultural child can feel about living in two worlds.

7.  I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez. I especially enjoyed the depiction of Mexican-American culture and family in this YA book, and I was able to relate to so much of it.

8.  Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. These two very wise men talk about the path to joy and how we can all achieve it with practice and determination. I listened to the audio book, which I believe made it a more pleasant experience.

9.  Isabel’s Hand-Me-Down Dreams by Isabel Lopez. This is an honest, humorous, and inspirational memoir that tells of the author’s life first in Puerto Rico, then in New York City, and, finally, in Florida, from childhood to middle-age.

10.  The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street Susan Jane Gilman. The main character’s enterprising nature exemplifies all that is good about the immigrant spirit. But she is a complex person who gives in to her worst instincts. She is a fictional character to remember.

Latino Fiction

Every year, I read as many novels by Latino authors as I can, so long as I’m interested in the particular titles, and so long as the characters are also Latinos. It’s important to me to read novels with characters that I can relate to, because we share a cultural background.

Here are the novels by Latino authors that I have read so far this year (in the order read):

All They Will Call You, by Tim Z. Hernandez, is actually a fictionalization of a real event that occurred in the 1940s, the crash of an airplane in central California that killed the crew and passengers, who were undocumented workers. This is a heartbreaking, beautiful telling of a not well-publicized tragic event.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, by Benjamin Alire Saenz, who is a popular YA author. I didn’t care for the story’s meandering style, but its characters are well-written.

Haters, by Alisa Valdes, is another YA title and one I quite enjoyed. Valdes is a good writer, and her books, including this one, are page-turners.

Eulogy for a Brown Angel, by Lucha Corpi, is a mystery set in 1970s’ Los Angeles  and San Francisco, with the Chicano Moratorium march serving as a background for the murder of a child. It’s a slow-moving but interesting read.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika Sanchez, is another YA page-turner that focuses on the topics of teen suicide, Mexican culture, and the search for self-identity.