Book Review: ‘American Dirt’ a disturbing page-Turner about migrating to U.S.

Migrant is the last word Lydia ever thought she would use to describe herself. She owned a bookshop in Acapulco, Mexico, while her husband was a respected journalist. Together they were raising their 8-year-old son in a middle class home.

An article about a cartel boss was met with a barrage of bullets that ended that tranquility and forever changed their lives.

“American Dirt” is a novel by Jeanine Cummins (Flatiron Books, 2019) that tells the story of several people migrating from Central America and Mexico to the United States. While it’s a work of fiction, there are enough truths to be disturbing.

I was invited to make a guest appearance at my old book club in Tahoe last month. They are doing them by Zoom instead of in-person for the time being. Each participant rates the book for enjoyability, if they would recommend it, and literary merit. Of the 12 there that night each category averaged 7.8. My scores were 8 for enjoyability, 8 to recommend and 7 for literary merit.

Comments from the group were:

  • It’s a page-turner.
  • I learned a lot.
  • I was so afraid the whole time even though you know it is fiction.
  • I thought it was very informational.
  • I didn’t enjoy it; it was miserable, sad and devastating. I’ll read the news for this kind of information, not a novel.
  • I think it’s an important novel to know what is going on.
  • I didn’t realize it was fiction until I finished it.
  • I would rather read about someone who actually experienced it.
  • I’ve already passed it on to four other friends because I can’t return it to the library.
  • This book was very difficult for me to pick up every night because of all the angst in the world.
  • You should feel uncomfortable after reading it.

Book Review: Baja cookbook more than recipes

Cookbooks aren’t just for learning new recipes. They can be picture books, history books and so much more. Such is the case with “Not Food for Old Men: A Mexican Culinary Adventure” (Sime Books, 2015).

While it has expected chapters like Salad, Soups, and Tacos; Seafood; and Desserts and Cocktails, there are also sections about whale watching, all of the chefs who contributed to the book and more. The book includes how singer Jim Morrison was a regular visitor to Ensenada. I now know the Caesar salad was first created by chef Livo Santini at the Hotel Cesar in Tijuana.

The disappointing section was on the Hotel California in Todos Santos. It says the Eagles song by the same name is about this lodging establishment. That is completely wrong. The Eagles sued the Todos Santos hotel for trademark infringement. The lawsuit was settled in 2018. Hopefully, future editions of the cookbook will set the record straight.

The cookbook was part of a package I “won” as the high bidder at the Gastrovino event a year ago this month. While there are not a ton of recipes I would use because of being a vegetarian, I’m still not sure I’m ready to pass the book on. Often I can substitute meat/fish for something else like tofu or a portabella mushroom. Mexican spices, sauces and all those peppers are delicious. Plus, there are a few drinks I’d like to try like the Kiwi-Jalapeno Margarita.

While I didn’t read every recipe, all are in Spanish and English. Most of the translations are good, and when they weren’t, I could figure it out. For instance, one place it says to strain things in cilantro when it should have been a colander.

The photographs are outstanding. More have to do with scenes in Baja than the food. All are inspirational to get one cooking cuisine from Mexico.

Book Review: ‘Queen of America’ a story of intrigue

Even though “Queen of America” (Little, Brown and Company, 2011) is the sequel to “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” it would not be necessary to have read the first one. However, I would recommend doing so. You will get so much more out of the second book.

Author Luis Alberto Urrea does a great job of weaving in key points from the original novel to explain certain things in the sequel. It was also a good refresher. I listened to the first book last June when I returned to the United States from Mexico, while the second one was my audiobook of choice last month for my travels north.

While these are both works of fiction, they are based on a real person. “Queen of America” begins with Teresita Urrea and her father fleeing Mexico for Arizona. Theirs is a complicated relationship, with her father not knowing of her existence for the first several years of her life. She possessed healing powers that invoked some to call her a saint. It’s a label she was never comfortable with, and one she could never shed.

“Queen of America” takes readers on a journey with Teresita into the 20th century in St. Louis, El Paso, San Francisco, New York and Arizona. It’s full of intrigue and twists. Love, marriage, death – it’s all part of the book.

Hearing the words recited by the author made the book come to life even more.

Mexico in the news: Coronavirus, saguaro cacti, corn and insulin

• Mexico is making medical supplies for U.S. hospitals while it struggles with its own outbreak of coronavirus, according to this Washington Post story.

• Mexico is taking steps to protect native corn varieties against competition from modern hybrids, according to Mexico News Daily.

• From the New York Times, the number of unauthorized residents in the United States is down to its lowest point in more than 15 years. Mexicans, Poles and South Koreans are all among those leaving.

• People are traveling to Mexico to buy affordable insulin for strangers, according to this Washington Post story.

• The Los Angeles Times reports on the border wall destroying saguaro cacti, which is illegal.

Combo Hiking-Snowshoeing Book A Year-Round Guide For Tahoe

lake-tahoe-trails-for-all-seasonsWith Lake Tahoe being a year-round outdoor playground, it seems only logical that there be one book for hiking and snowshoeing. Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks will transport you to spectacular outdoor playgrounds. It is a year-round guidebook to hiking and snowshoe trails throughout the Lake Tahoe region.

This book, which costs $20, is the combination of The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes ($15) and Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Treks ($10).

With spring being such an in between season at Tahoe, this book will get you outside with higher elevation snowshoe routes and hiking in the Carson area.

Even in this era of social distancing it is easy to keep 6-feet apart from friends while outdoors. Consider using your hiking/snowshoe poles as a way to measure your distance.

If you would like a signed copy of any of these books, email me at kr@kathrynreed.com. Tell me how many copies of each you would like, if you want the inscription for someone in particular, and where to send it. During the shelter in place (at least through April 2020), I will absorb the shipping costs.

Links to the books show other places the book is available for sale and when events are. Spring events have been pushed back, with the first signings/presentations starting in June.

Book Review: Ski film industry pioneer’s memoir a fun read

Snow skiing. It’s what Dick Barrymore lived for. He is one of those rare individuals who was able to turn a passion into a profession.

Barrymore was a contemporary of Warren Miller’s in the ski film industry. In his book “Breaking Even” (Dick Barrymore, 1997) Barrymore takes readers on an entertaining journey from his childhood until he called it quits. His exploits are funny and scary, and most definitely from an era that won’t be repeated.

This book will give anyone who has seen a ski movie a greater appreciation for what it took to make these productions in the 1970s and 1980s. The equipment was bulkier and less sophisticated. The access to resorts easier. He chronicled the evolution of skiing during that time, including the introduction of free skiing.

“Breaking Even” succeeds because Barrymore doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is able to point out his shortcomings. It’s a quick read. It’s as much about the ski film industry as it is a travelogue as Barrymore takes readers to resorts all over the world.

While he doesn’t write much about his creation of Cabo Pulmo on the East Cape of Baja California Sur, it is mentioned. Barrymore died in 2008. His son, Cole, still lives in Cabo Pulmo.

Book Review: ‘Dangerous Divide’ delves into border issues

Often when the border wall between the United States and Mexico is talked about it has to do with keeping immigrants out. Discussions seldom occur about the drugs being brought in as well as the guns going in the other direction.

A wall isn’t a new idea. Presidents before the current one started the process. What changed was Sept. 11. Homeland Security became a department in the U.S. government. Fear grabbed hold even tighter. Rules were implemented without logic, and budgets increased to hire the manpower and toys to demonstrate strength.

The reality is if terrorists are entering the United States through Mexico, they have never been caught. Safety is a reason for spending billions of dollars on a wall. It’s the reason given to hire more people and invest in technology. But that border isn’t a national security threat even though the government acts like it is.

Peter Eichstaedt in his book “The Dangerous Divide: Peril and Promise on the U.S.-Mexico Border” (Lawrence Hill Books, 2014) deftly illustrates that the United States’ immigration policy is woefully lacking and that the wall is not making anyone safer.

Eichstaedt was in Todos Santos in February to discuss his novel “Borderland” that was based on research he did for “The Dangerous Divide.” Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the lecture. However, both books are available at El Tecolote bookstore in Todos Santos, Amazon and other locations.

In “Dangerous Divide” people tell their stories of why they are crossing the border. Border Patrol agents and others explain their reasons for wanting to stop people from coming illegally. Others offer solutions to benefit both countries.

Eichstaedt delves into the economic reality that the U.S. and Mexico need each other because of commerce.

What often is missing in news reports in the U.S. about the drug cartels in Mexico is where they got their weapons. They are being illegally smuggled in from the United States where they are legal. There wouldn’t be a drug trade if people in the U.S. weren’t using. At some point the United States has to take responsibility for its role in what is really going on at the border. This and so much more are all points made by Eichstaedt.

Mexico in the news: Avocados, renaming Baja Sur, 3D neighborhood

  • What would a world without women look like? Mexico may find out March 9, according to the Los Angeles Times.
  • Mexican drug cartels are infiltrating the lucrative avocado business, according to this WBUR report.
  • Some would like it to be known as California, Mexico – as in lose the Baja Sur bit. Read more in the Los Angeles Times.
  • The world’s first 3D printed neighborhood is being built in Mexico, reports WBUR.
  • Forbes writes about Mexico, not France, having the most profound and pervasive impact on 20th century American art.

Book Review: Biography on Mt. Rushmore sculptor a good read

A monument like Mount Rushmore probably would not get built today because of environmental reasons, as well as government regulations.

It’s a good thing it was constructed when it was – between 1927 and 1941. Even then there were plenty of hurdles to overcome.

In the book “Six wars at a time: The life and times of Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of Mount Rushmore” (Pine Hill Press, 1985) authors Howard Shaff and Audrey Karl Shaff delve into much more than the faces carved into the granite in South Dakota. This book is the story of Borglum – his family, his relationships in the art community, and with most of the presidents during his lifetime. It gives a great understanding of the life of an artist.

While Borglum is a fascinating character, the authors were cognizant of what was going on at the time – world wars, the Great Depression, politics, and more. Borglum was involved in so many world events, even if it was merely by expressing his opinion.

The authors paint a portrait of a complex man who didn’t mince words. He was not satisfied to let his art speak for itself.

While Borglum has works throughout the world, it is Mount Rushmore that he is most well-known for. For anyone who has seen the monument, this is another piece of the story that is worth reading.

Lake Tahoe snowshoe guidebook just published

Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Treks provides snowshoers with an invaluable guide for adventures in the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond. Whether it is traipsing through virgin snow or on a worn path, this book contains a route for everyone who likes to play in the outdoors in winter. Venture to frozen alpine lakes and wilderness peaks or enjoy the beauty at lake level.

Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe is more than a guide to interesting places. It is written in narrative form, with facts and figures interwoven. Each excursion is a story about what one can find and experience on the trail.

Snowshoeing Around Lake TahoeOne thing that sets this book apart from others is the rating system for scenic quality and difficulty. Each snowshoe is rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most scenic and most difficult.

Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Treks is available via Amazon, and Barnes and Noble as an eBook for $5.99 and paperback for $9.99. Local bookstores can order it upon request.

Information about author presentations and signings may be found online.

Author Kathryn Reed is an award-winning journalist who loves the outdoors. She has either been living at Lake Tahoe or visiting the area since she was a child. She is also the author of The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes that was published in 2019.

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