Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review–The Mexico Diaries by Daniel Theodore Gair

A few months ago I was privileged enough to be a Beta reader for The Mexico Diaries: A Sustainable Adventure South of the Border. What a read!

The adventure for empty-nesters Dan and his wife Holly begins in 2005 when they began their search for that little bit of heaven everyone hopes to find in Mexico. Making a real estate purchase on the strength of a handshake and a scrap of paper from a less than emotionally stable guy named Steven, Dan and Holly struggle with completing the purchase long-distance, wading through the quagmire of ejido land grants, and the agonizing slow legal process Mexico is famous for.

These aren’t the only challenges. There are language and communication issues, both locally and further afield. The internet being what it is in Mexico has Dan climbing trees looking for a strong enough signal to complete important financial transactions. Then there is the constant battle with the local wildlife, snakes, iguanas, lizards, and tarantulas, that just don’t agree with the new rule that their place is OUTSIDE the house. Repairs and new construction projects are stubbornly done the Mexican way, much to the new owners’ bafflement while baby goats dance merrily on the top of vehicles.

Four years, a heart attack that nearly ends the deal for the would-be eco-warriors (spoiler alert–neither Dan nor Holly had the heart attack), and a few headaches later, 40 hectares of Mexican paradise is theirs and the real work begins. A whole slew of unimaginable characters, both human and animal, make their entrance (and sometimes spectacular exits) into Dan and Holly’s lives as they endeavor to create the self-sustainable lifestyle they envisioned.

Over the next few years, Holly becomes a goat-wrangler and Dan becomes the mascot for the yearly Mayto Calbalgata horseback pilgrimages. There’s no doubt in my mind that when the time finally comes for their Mexican adventure to end they’ll be able to say that they took to heart Hunter S. Thompson’s concept of life.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and lou.jpg

So if you are looking for a whirlwind Mexican journey to sustainability and beyond I’m positive you’ll enjoy the stranger than fiction story found in The Mexico Diaries: A Sustainable Adventure by Daniel Theodore Gair. Available free for a limited time at Amazon!

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Giving up on Paid Book Reviews

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If you remember, awhile back I thought I’d try my hand at reviewing books.  (See Online Book Reviewer).  I have officially thrown in the towel on this venture.  Can you make money reviewing books?  Yes.  Did I make money reviewing books?  Yes.  Do I want to continue doing this?  No.

There are a few reasons for this.  Originally, I had the option to review books on my blog and get paid for it.  Not all the books I reviewed were paid, but there were some that gave me that extra incentive.  Recently the rules were changed.  Now, book reviews would be paid based on the blog’s popularity instead of a fixed amount.  Well, I’m not going to win any popularity contests, so that seriously cut into my profit margin.

Then the new policy stated that only reviewers with a level 4 or higher could even apply for these paid reviews.  I’m stuck at level 2.  I mean, really stuck there even though my editorial analysis score is 73% (the average rating is 58%) and I have received several perfect review scores recently.  I thought maybe I could do a few more free reviews to bolster my status, but when I went to pick a new book, I discovered that the webmaster placed a bogus book on the list to make sure that reviewers were reading the book information before choosing a book.  I always do, so I didn’t trigger the trap, but it was annoying. 

I figured I still had the chance to win the daily drawing.  Even if I didn’t win randomly, eventually I would get to the top of the heap and they would HAVE to give me some money.  So 477 entries later, I did win.

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The retweets for cash option also underwent some changes.  Now, instead of just liking, retweeting and commenting on the tweet, I would have to add the book to my virtual shelf.  Only the system didn’t recognize a book that I already had added to my shelf and so I get this message:

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And that was the final straw.  You may still see some book reviews on my blog now and then, but they won’t be for this particular organization.

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Inspirational Women Writers in Mexico–Carmen Amato

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Carmen Amato (also known as me) writes romantic thrillers and the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series. Emilia is the first female police detective in Acapulco. She can take the heat. Can you?
Essentials
“Danger and betrayal never more than a few pages away.” — Kirkus Reviews
Carmen Amato_best

I’m originally from New York, went to college in Virginia and Paris, and my husband’s job took me to Mexico 17 years ago. While we live in the US now, the years we spent in Mexico were life changing, mostly because what I saw and experienced there inspired my writing. I’m now a full-time mystery and thriller author, best known for the Detective Emilia Cruz police procedural series set in Acapulco.

My notions of Mexico City were rather naïve before we got there. I didn’t realize what a huge city it is, or what big gulfs there are between social classes. An early lesson came from a mother whose children rode the same school bus as mine. Her chauffeur drove her to my house because we were the first stop and their house was the last. The mother wanted her kids to have the experience of riding the bus, but not too much. So they got off at our house and were chauffeured the rest of the way home.

Later, the woman took pains to put our Mexican housekeeper in her place, lectured me for being too lenient with the hired help, then asked me to help her maid get a visa. I declined and never saw her again but unfortunately met many more women like her. Great for fictional character development, not so great for Mexico’s social stratification.

Little customs, like tipping the attendant at the Pemex station or kid who wheeled my grocery cart to the car, took some getting used to. Was this a cultural norm or ripping off a clueless gringo? I found myself assessing many probably innocent encounters.

The traffic terrified me at first, too. Being able to get around by myself was essential and I was determined that the city streets would not defeat me. A major victory came on the day I decided to take the kids to the zoo to see the pandas. I initially didn’t realize that you can’t drive into the zoo itself. We finally parked somewhere in Chapultepec Park and walked, which turned out to be the exactly right thing to do. We saw the pandas and headed into the Zona Rosa for lunch. I parked on the street near the fancy San Angel antiques market. A man with a red rag popped out and assured me he’d keep the car safe. We walked a bit, discovered VIPs and its famously undrinkable coffee. When we got back to the car, I found that I’d left it unlocked! But the man was there and nothing bad had happened to either us or the car. I knew then that Mexico was going to be a good experience.

Being Catholic helped and opened doors that might have been otherwise closed. I loved the way Mexico celebrates the rhythm of the church calendar, the glory of the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the floral vendors in front of the big cemetery on the rim of Chapultepec Park. I was very involved in the English-speaking church, Saint Patrick’s, but also attended the local church in the Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood.

My Spanish was non-existent when we moved to Mexico but having to fix up our house forced me to learn rapidly. One of the first things I did was to sit down and write out numbers up to 100 so I would understand prices. Not only did I have to negotiate for cleaning and gardening services but painting, custom curtains, plumbing—you name it. The Newcomer’s Club and weekly immersion lessons saved me!

The children’s school was another reason to learn the language. The children attended the American school, which meant half their lessons were in English and half in Spanish. We got a tutor to help the kids and I took lessons, too. The school’s administration and most teachers were Mexican and many preferred to hold parent-teacher sessions in Spanish.

The security situation in Mexico City was a low-simmering and ever-present concern. We had a hard and fast rule for the kids: no talking getting into or out of the car. This is when it is most easy to be distracted. We had some close calls; would-be robbers were scared off by our dogs, our car suffered minor vandalism, and I was followed around a store. But I think being very vigilant helped us avoid any real trouble.

I had several defining moments in Mexico but the one I recall most clearly was when I was driving back from the big mall in the Santa Fe suburb. I’d had a run-in with a snarky salesgirl in Liverpool. She’d taken something I’d tried on, five minutes later didn’t know where it was, and bottom line, I walked out of the store empty-handed. This was a common occurrence, that and being unable to complete a purchase because the person with the key to the cash register wasn’t there, or the cash register didn’t have change. Using a credit card was generally out of the question; every time I did the credit card company would put a hold on the card. I called them weekly to explain that I lived in Mexico—please see the mailing address—but it never mattered.

So I’m driving out of the mall and the afternoon sky darkens to lead. Sheets of water pour down, deafening me as the rainstorm pounds on the roof of the car. I’m already frustrated and angry and now I’m scared, too. I begin to cry in the car while repeating my mantra, “This city will not defeat me.” I pull up at a red light and there’s this Madonna-looking girl standing in the median, with a thin rebozo over her head, carrying a baby.

Now I generally did not give to street beggars–warnings had gone out advising not to give because beggars are an organized syndicate or in league with criminals who will approach the other side of the car to rob you. Yet today, as it’s slashing rain and I’m sobbing, I realize that my life is pretty good after all. I roll down the window and give her 200 pesos.

If I could do my Mexico experience all over again, I’d travel more. I never made it to Guadalajara or Copper Canyon or Baja. I also would buy more Otomi embroideries and painted alebrijas.

But with my books, my life is now inextricably linked to Mexico. I know I’ll visit many more times.

I owe Mexico a debt of gratitude because I doubt my writing career would have come together the way it has without those high/low, sweet/salt years of experience. It took me about five years to distill it all into my first novel, THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, a Cinderella story set against the backdrop of cartel drug smuggling and Mexican presidential elections. Next came the Detective Emilia Cruz series which in 2016 was optioned for television by a major US network. I don’t know if the series will actually come about but if it does, I hope it is as authentic as I have tried to make my books.

Thanks so much for hosting me. Readers are invited to join me at any of the links below:

Carmenamato.net

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Pacific Reaper is a riveting read with twists and turns galore!  

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