Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World

by Benjamin Alire Saenz
First sentence: “And here he was, Dante, with his head resting on my chest.”
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Others in the series: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at work.
Content: There is much swearing, including many f-bombs, teenage drinking, and some tasteful sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Ah, Aristotle and Dante. I remember liking the first book when it came out, but not loving it. I’ve read Saenz’s stuff since then (like one other book?) And I have respect for his observations on life and living. This is no different.

Picking up where the first book left off, Aristotle and Dante are together, but because it’s 1987, they are not telling many people. Their parents, of course, but really that’s it. See, it’s dangerous to be gay in El Paso in 187. Dante got beat up, as do other characters for being too flamboyant, not “manly” enough. But Ari and Dante learn how to be together, Ari learns how to have friends and be a part of the group, they grw up and graduate, suffer loss, and basically Live.

It’s a beautiful book, full of Love of all kinds, full of Life and Heart. It’s gorgeously written; Saenz knows how to put words that Mean Something on a page. It’s probably a bit long, and the Tragic Event the back cover copy alludes to takes place nearly 2/3 of the way through. But, those re minor complaints. Saenz is a gorgeous writer and this is a gorgeous book.

Merci Suarez Can’t Dance

by Meg Medina
First sentence: “It was Miss McDaniel’s idea for me and Wilson Bellevue to work together in the Ram Depot, a job that nobody wants.”
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Content: There is talk of kissing, periods, and puberty. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I bet 6th graders would love this.
Others in the series: Merci Suarez Changes Gears

It’s halfway through seventh grade, and Merci is kind of (sort of) figuring things out. She’s not happy with her grandfather’s continuing descent, and her aunt isn’t around as much anymore, leaving Merci to babysit her terror twin cousins. And at school she’s trying to get along with Edna, but it doesn’t seem to be working well. And now, there’s the Heart Ball, the seventh grade fundraiser, which Edna is in charge of, and Merci is trying to avoid. But there’s Wilson, the boy she runs the Ram Depot with and maybe (?) may like-like. It’s all, well, a LOT.

This book had a ton of heart. I loved Merci trying to figure her way out, and I adore her family and the way they have each other’s backs. I loved the way Media wrote a character that was dealing with Alzheimer’s, and how the family worked to make his life easier. You could just tell how much the family loved each other. And I liked the middle school angst of it as well. Merci was delightfully awkward, making the best decisions she could, mostly, and terribly realistic. It was just a delight to read.

I know this book wasn’t really “necessary”, but I’ll take more Merci books any time.

On the Hook

by Francisco X. Stork
First sentence: “Hector could tell that Ai wanted to discuss something.”
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Content: There was a lot of violence, and some talk of drug use and addiction. There is swearing, but in Spanish. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I think it’d be good for younger kids as well.

Hector lives a very small life. His father passed away a few years ago, and he and his mother, brother, and sister are all trying to scrape by. They had to move from their home and into the projects, wher ethey live next to drug dealers, one of whom, Chavo, has a beef with Hector’s brother, Fili. Hector just wants to stay out of the way. But Chavo’s brother, Joey, seeks him out to intimidate and assault Hector, and gets into Hector’s brain. Suddenly, Hector is convinced he’s not a “real man”, and when Chavo and Fili get into an altercation (over a girl), both Hector and Joey do rash things and end up in the same juvenile rehabilitation center. Hector has to deal with feelings of hate and revenge, and learn to live with them.

I struggled with this one. Stork played into all sorts of Mexican stereotypes: drug dealers, macho men who can’t deal with feelings except by drinking or through violence, women who really don’t have a say and men who fight over them. Hector has embraced this toxic masculinity and struggles against it, but fails: he has determined that the only way to “balance” things is to kill Joey. I found myself loathing Hector as the book went on; he wasn’t a fun character to live with.

And I know there are always truth to stereotypes, and books need to be written about people who struggle with toxic masculinity and come through on the other side, which Hector did. (The one thing I did like: Hector and Joey never became friends. That would have been much too maudlin.) But that doesn’t mean it was fun to read.

Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring

by Angela Cervantes
First sentence: “Whether she liked it or not, Paloma Marquez was in Mexico City for a whole month. “
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Content: There are a few intense moments. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Paloma is being dragged to Mexico City because her mother has a fellowship there. It’s the home of her father, who died when Paloma was young, but even that doesn’t make Paloma any less grumpy about not being able to spend the summer with her friends by the pool back in Kansas City.

Once in Mexico, though, things start to change. She discovers the art of Frida Kahlo, art that her father loved, and then meets twins Gael and LIzzie, who pull Paloma into solving a mystery: who stole Frida’s peacock ring.

This was a fun little mystery. Paloma did most of the work, figuring out clues, and learning about her father’s heritage as she worked on the mystery. The book was full of facts about Frida and her life and art, as well as small bits about life in Mexico City. Cervantes never tried to make Paloma Mexican; she was always American, she always looked at life from the outside, but she learned to appreciate the culture and language and life around her.

It was a fun read, and possibly my favorite of Cervantes’ books.

Audio book: Once upon a Quinceañera

by Monica Gomez-Hira
Read by Frankie Corzo
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There are a number of swear words, including multiple f-bombs, teenage drinking, and one off-screen sex scene. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+ of the bookstore)

Carmen Aguliar has one goal this summer: finish an internship so she can graduate high school. Except her internship is being an assistant for a woman who runs a knock-off Disney princess-for-hire outfit. And, she just hired Carmen’s ex-boyfriend from when she was 15. Who just happens to be behind the reason Carmen’s quinceañera got canceled and she and her mami fell out with her mami’s family. What was going to already be an unbearable summer gets even worse when the “Dreams” get hired to perform at Carme’s cousin’s quince. The same cousin that Carmen and her mami haven’t talked to in three years.

It’s a silly , light romance, one you can see coming from a mile off (lovers to enemies to lovers, gotta love tropes!) but it’s got some heart and soul to it. I liked the portrayal of Cuban-Americans in Miami. Spanish was effortlessly woven through, as was an exploration of stereotypes and expectations (or lack thereof) of Latine women. I adored the narrator; she made Carmen and her friends and family come alive in a way that made me want to keep listening.

Definitely a fun late-summer read.

Audiobook: Velvet Was the Night

by Sylvia Moreno Garcia
Read by Gisela Chipe
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It’s very sweary, including multiple f-bombs, very violent, and has on-screen sex. It’s in the adult section of the bookstore.

Maite, 30 years old and still unmarried, works as a secretary in a law firm in Mexico City in 1971. She’s bored with her life, lonely, and has only one thing to live for: the next issue of Secret Romance, a comic romance she follows. She reluctantly agrees to take care of her neighbor, Leonora’s, cat when she leaves the the weekend. The problem only begins when Leonora doesn’t come back. Determined to get her pay, Maite falls headfirst into a world od activist student, Russian spies, double-crossing government agents. She’s not the only one looking for Leonora, either: Elvis, who works or a shadowy government figure, is trying to track her down as well. Told in alternating narratives, Moreno-Garcia paints a picture of an underground Mexico City in the 1970s that was dangerous as it was alluring.

I’m not quite sure what to think of this one. I don’t usually go for thrillers, and so I don’t know who it stacks up in the genre. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, though they grew on me as the book went on. Maite is so incredibly pathetic, it was hard not to feel sorry for her, but she got some pluck and drive as the book went on. Elvis seemed like a one-note character, but became more complex. At the very least, it kept me reading, which does say something. Though that may have more to do with the narrator, who was fabulous, than with the story I really enjoyed Chipe’s narration; she definitely knew how to pull the listener in, and keep them entertained

I’ve been saying at work that Moreno-Garcia doesn’t write the same book twice. If you like noir, you might like this one. It is a fascinating picture of a time in history, and she’s a good writer. I just don’t know if this is a great book.

Cemetery Boys

by Aiden Thomas
First sentence: “Yadriel wasn’t technically trespassing because he’d lived in the cemetery his whole life.”
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Content: There is some swearing, including a few f-bombs, and some violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Yadriel is a trans Latinx boy and a member of a family of brujx. It took him a while to come out as trans, and make the transition, and as a result, some of his extended family have resisted him becoming a brujo like he was meant to be. So he decides to go through the ceremony in secret… and inadvertently raises the ghost of Julian Diaz, a kid from Yadriel’s school. Except that Julian really shouldn’t be dead. And Yadriel’s cousin Miguel has gone missing as well.

So Yadriel and Julian team up to figure out what’s going on. And in the process, Yadriel hopes that her family will accept him as a full-fledged brujo.

I liked thine one a lot. I liked it for the representation; Thomas is a transgender Latinx and I thought the traditions and language came through seamlessly. I loved the push-and-pull between Yadriel and Julian and I adored Yadriel’s cousin Maritza. I liked the mystery, even if I guessed it a bit before Thomas revealed it. And I liked that it was centered around Dia de los Muertos.

I didn’t love the chemistry between Yadrial and Julian, and the ending kind of threw me off. It was fine and all, but kind of felt like fan service rather than true to the story, but that’s just the way I reacted. It’s a really good book, and not justs for the representation.

Furia

by Yamile Saied Méndez
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Content: There is swearing, including two f-bombs, and some suggestive content. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Camila Hassan has a lot going on in her life. On the one hand, she’s a dutiful daughter of an abusive father, going to school and learning English in her Argentinian town. On the other hand, she’s la Furia: an fútbolera, playing soccer with all her heart. The thing is: she’s got talent on the pitch. And the team she plays on has made the Sudiamericano championships. Camila wants — with all her heart — to follow the dream she has of playing soccer professionally. Possibly in the United States, even.

Complicating things (abusive an sexist father aside), her childhood friend (and possible boyfriend?) Diego is back in town after a successful season with a professional Italian soccer team. He’s the sweetheart of the barrio, and Camila doesn’t even know if he remembers her, let alone wants to have a long-distance relationship.

This is not just an excellent portrait of an ambitious girl striving to make the most out of her life in a place where the decks are stacked against her. Which it is; I loved how Méndez included race and colorism as well as sexism as part of the story, highlighting all the various things influencing Camila’s life and decisions.

It’s also a swoon-worthy romance, but one in which the relationship isn’t the main focus of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed having it be a part of the book, but not the main focus. On top of everything, I think Méndez is a fantastic writer and definitely one to watch. I’m looking forward to reading more books from her.

Audio book: Mexican Gothic

by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Read by: Frankie Corzo
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is mild swearing and three f-bombs. There is also some disturbing sexual imagery (but no actual sex). It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore

Noemí Taboada is a socialite in Mexico City, without much of a care in the world. Her job is to get married, though she tends to go after boys of whom her father disapproves. Then, as a response to a disturbing letter, Noemí is sent off to High Place, in the mountains, to see what is going on with her cousin and her new husband, Virgil Doyle.

What she finds is a whole lot of weird. Creepy family, creepy house, weird dreams… and it gets increasingly more disturbing. The only ally she has (she is rarely allowed to see her cousin) is the family’s youngest, a 20-something boy named Frances. Perhaps, with his help, she can figure out what the heck is going on, and how she’s going to get out of the mess she found herself in.

Oh, man, this was creepy. Partially it was the narrator, who read it in a super calm voice, even when things were going all sorts of crazy weird. It bothered me at first but eventually it added to the tension of the book. It was wild. And the story itself? Gothic to the core, with an added race factor. The Doyles are not just creepy, they’re racist and Moreno-Garcia plays with at that in some fascinating (and haunting) ways.

It’s not my usual fare, but it was perfect for October.

Audio book: Clap When You Land

by Elizabeth Acevedo
Read by  Elizabeth Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a scene of sexual assault and one of almost-rape. There is also swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic, where her father — who lives in the US — vists every summer. Yahaira Rios lives in the US with her parents, except every summer her father goes to the Dominican Republic for “work”. And then, one fatal day, the plane that their father is on crashes into the ocean, killing everyone on board.

What follows is a story of loss, of grief, of forgiveness, of finding. Told in verse — and beautifully narrated by Acevedo and Marte — it follows the two months after the plane crash, as Camino and Yahaira find out about each other, and come to terms with their beloved papi’s other family, and find their way through their grief in the aftermath of a tragic accident.

Acevedo brilliantly captures not only the grief, but the differences between growing up in the US and growing up in the DR, and the challenges that each one brings. I loved the way both Camino and Yahaira had things they loved about their father, but they also had to come to terms with his deception and imperfections.

Truly an amazing book.