Book Review: The Masker by Torrey Peters

We all have heard of Torrey Peters right now. Haven’t you? Gorgeous trans-woman writing stories centering trans-women for trans people. Racy, honest, raw writing that might make us, cis-het, folks uncomfortable, googling a whole lot and feeling like we were not in on the secret. And that is a good thing.

But before unconventional relationships between three woman trying to raise a baby together, there were other novellas, like The Masker, which Peters self-published and sold on her website (or you could get an e-book for free). A few weeks back, she announced that there was to be no more. She was working on revising her work, which would be published by Random House as an affordable paperback.

But while we wait for that to happen, let me tell you about the original, un-revised version of The Masker, a story like no other I have ever read before.

Krys is young and pretty. She has recently transitioned and goes to a famous conference in Vegas for transwomen and cross-dressers. She’s shy and feeling out of place and an older, confident and experienced transwoman wants to take her under her wing and protect her from all the pain that she had to go through when she transitioned. But Krys has a long-time fantasy of force-feminization and being objectified by a handsome guy, and there he is. Handsome and with a reputation for being a bad boy. He seems into her, so will Krys do the right thing?

Peters does a fantastic job at painting her characters with nuance. They are flawed, vulnerable, scarred by pain and life, at times self-serving, but always very real. It feels like an honest look into experiences that are very far from mainstream literature, being mostly centered on cis-het women or occasionally, on gay men. So honest that at times, it feels invasive. It feels voyeuristic. It is erotic and dark and, at the same time, speaks to moral dilemmas that come with trying to be sexually honest.

I can’t wait to see what revisions brings on. In the meantime, I will hold to my now out-of-stock paperback like the treasure it is.

Book Review: The Divorce by Cesar Aira

Though Cesar Aira is one of Argentina’s most prolific writers, his works have been extensively translated to English, and he has even been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, he isn’t mainstream. And that is for a reason.

Aira’s writing is experimental, confusing, and norm-shattering. While authors like Anne Garreta and the rest of the crew at Oulipo are testing the boundaries of language and writing by placing restricting techniques, Aira has fled in the opposite direction: a total rejection of writing’s restrictive standards. Who said every story needs a plot or an ending? Character-development? What for? His characters enter and leave the scene as mere props for what he is ulterior message. Does this annoy you? It annoys a lot of readers, and fascinates others in-love with reinventing literary fiction.

At first, the Divorce seems to be the story of a middle-aged man who has recently gone through a divorce. He cannot stand to spend Christmas away from his kids so he leaves Rhode Island for his hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He sets up into a nice routine of walks, coffee and good food with old friends. Then comes the turning point: while he is having dinner at local restaurant, a young man riding a bicycle ends up completed soaked, where did that water come from? Then, a variety or characters and interconnected stories shoot in all directions, like that red thread joining pictures on police blackboards we see in Hollywood movies.

Or more like a labyrinth designed by Borges and inspired by Dada. Not a coincidence. To set this novella, Aira chose the neighborhood of Palermo Soho, in Buenos Aires, where Borges spent his childhood. And we find one of the sub-plots to be a coming-of-age story, so maybe it is all connected? Aira’s masterful story-telling is creative and mind-bending like Borges’ but leaning into the absurd. While we may try to find meaning in every character or situation written by Borges, a touch of the metaphysical, Aira is not trying to re-create the works of the Master. Overthinking, over-analyzing and dissecting The Divorce is probably futile. It is about the ride, not where the story is trying to take us. And Aira never said it was supposed to be a soul-searching, educational ride, anyways. But, it will still be a wild one.

Book Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno García

This is the story of Casiopea Tun, an eighteen year old girl living with her mean and grumpy grandfather in a small town in Yucatán after the death of her dad. Her mom was grandpa’s favorite before she ran off and married a half-Maya journalist from Merida. Now, they are the undesirable poor relatives who he had to take in, and treats like servants. But one day, Casiopea wakes up the Mayan god of death and is pushed into an adventure that will change her life forever.

I tend to dislike YA, but I found this story cute and charming. I also liked how the author portrayed Mexican culture with such an accuracy, with all its flaws and quirkinesses. That you don’t learn doing research for a book or staying a few months in Merida; it only comes through opening your heart and really seeing us or being one of us.

This story didn’t need to be peppered in Spanish (it wasn’t) a-la American Dirt to feel real, to portray what it feels to be Mexican. And I loved that.

Book Review: Aura by Carlos Fuentes

Aura is a spooky and mysterious read where the reader feels trapped in a weird dream; what is real? What is not? Are we stuck in a time warp? And there is so much left in the air and open for interpretation, that nothing feels settled; there’s no closure. But then again, don’t we feel like that in dreams?

Fernando Montero, handsome young aspiring writer who makes ends meet by subbing in a private school sees an ad for a French speaking writer that offers him the opportunity to earn 4X his salary. But his employer is an old lady, stuck in bed, living in a damp house with no electricity and has some strange conditions. Her niece is gorgeous and money is good, so he takes it and moves in with them. From that point onwards, reality will cease to be clear-cut and his life will take a strange twist.

I particularly love how this book opens the door to exploring a time in Mexican history that a lot of foreigners ignore, and the legacy of French culture in Mexico. Also I think the author is trying to bring about a nostalgia of a time long lost when Mexico’s ties with Europe were closer; and draw a contrast between chaotic modernity and “cultured” past. It is a classist, Euro-centric view but the beauty of a ghost story and gothic setting is enough to hook any reader.

Book Review: The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez

If you loved Things We Lost In The Fire, odds are you’ll like this one as well. Enriquez repeats her successful formula with short haunting stories, most of them featuring teenagers or women in their early twenties layered with social commentary.

Again we encounter orphans living on the street, transgender prostitutes, vanishing women and San Muerte followers, plus new themes that form part of Latin American folklore like baby angels and dead relatives coming back to life. It is not magical realism but horror, but done so well it feels real. It took me back to being babysat by my great grandmother and hearing eerie tales of times long gone.

However, consensus seems to be that The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is not as good as Things We Lost In The Fire and I tend to agree. Though spooky and interesting, most stories lack that shock feeling that was present in Things We Lost In The Fire; that haunting that you can’t shake us. Having said that, the first story in this collection has been tattooed on my memory forever. Maybe reading it at 3am during a winter storm was not a great idea.

Book Review: A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

This book was so cute, and deep, sad and to be honest, relatable. I loved Zhuang’s character and got really frustrated at how she put up with her insufferable boyfriend. But that’s me in my thirties knowing that I might have done the same in my early twenties. That I also once long ago thought that love needs work, you gotta put in the time, suck up your ego, sacrifice yourself to love and shape your partner into husband potential. Now I know love is a lot of things but never a chore. Love does not need martyrs. Love is a force that should elicit a reaction back with the same intensity or it consumes itself.

But this is not only a cute romance. It is a coming of age story about finding yourself, learning how to love and be free, about loneliness and cultural identity. About the West vs East discourse that is as old as time yet here it is. Still here with renewed force. I am very happy to have read this. The light yet profound read I needed while I go through my reading slump.

Book Review: How The Word Is Passed

Memory, for me, is often a home where the furniture has been rearranged one too many times.” – Clint Smith, How the Word Is Passed.

This book is beautiful like a nursery rhyme sang by a loving parent. Like the smell of clean linen out of the dryer. Ok, I am no poet but Clint Smith definitely is and paraphrasing a very wise man: “he knows words. He has the best words.” And he really does. “How the Word Is Passed” is beautifully written and sad; you literally feel the weigh of atrocities committed in our land and far away like concrete being poured on your chest. And I can honestly say I have not read a book that is so life-changing for me, personally, since I read “Woman Race Class” by Angela Y. Davis years ago.

In this collection of essays, Smiths takes on a literary journey across America and Senegal and across time, from the foundation of America to today. From Louisiana to Virginia to New York to Texas, we hear the stories of enslaved Americans and their descendants and how history should remember them, hadn’t it been written by the oppressor.

Smith closes with a message of the importance of teaching history accurately, owning up to our darker actions. It made me reckon with how I learned history and all what was left unsaid but shouldn’t. And how do we move forward from here.

This is one of those books that I need everyone to read.

Book Review: Elena Knows

“Elena Knows” by Claudia Piñeiro is a masterpiece. A short, tense, thrilling story that hooks you from beginning to end.

Who killed Rita? Elena is in her mid-sixties but you’d think she was much older due yo the damage that Parkinson has inflicted on her. When her only daughter and caretaker, Rita dies, she can’t accept suicide as an answer and goes on looking for her daughter’s killers despite her mobility issues. But more than that this is a story about motherhood and society’s attempt to justify taking autonomy over one’s own body from women. About the ways we navigate in this world trying to claim our body for us. In my opinion, this is one of the best books ever written. Periodt.

Book Review: The Beautiful Ones

I loved this cute romance with hints of the fantastic. Even if you are not one for romance or fantasy like me, this is one to appeal to fans of lighthearted fiction with strong women at the middle.

Nina is young, pretty but not stunning, and incredibly smart and curious. Her quirky character and her tendency to make objects explode as her telekinetic powers get out of control has ensured to scare away all suitors in her tiny town. When she travels to the big city looking for a fairy-tale romance, she never imagined that she’d find a mentor and get her heart shattered. But secrets lure in the dark to put her life upside down. Will she end up with her handsome prince or will her evil cousin-in-law (is that a thing?) ruin it all?

For me, another proof that Silvia Moreno-García can’t write a dull book.

Book Review: So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighborhood

Reading Patrick Modiano’s So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood took me back to when I was 10 and wrote a suspense – detective story about a man who suddenly disappears. It was quite bad, I am sure, but the novel I wanted to write was Sunday’s in August or So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood. Modiano really knows how to set the pace build suspense while leaving the reader to come to their own conclusions. This is my second Modiano and I can’t stop being in awe.

This is the story of an elder man who gets an unexpected phone call. A suspicious voice tells him he lost his address book and wishes to return it. Our narrator fears blackmail but gets sucked in anyways. There’s a mysterious murder that occurred more than 50 years prior, mysterious characters and a lot of holes in his recollection of his childhood. But could he had known more about this murder than he remembers? Is he being blackmailed for it?

A masterpiece and a perfect way to close this weekend. If you are looking for a suspense novel that doesn’t mention women’s breast even once, no Russian or Arab terrorists and no one gets sexually assaulted or cheated on, this one is a gem.