The House of Broken Angels: A Book Review

As I have jumped head first into this whole “being a serious writer” thing, I’ve exposed myself to pretty incredible literature that I can’t believe I’ve been missing. I think I’ve mentioned before that I had a decades-old habit to only read old classics, or best sellers long after they’ve lost their new book luster. I think I had some twisted sense of responsibility to catch up somehow with all the books I’d missed before I read the new stuff. Like that makes sense, or is even remotely achievable. Along with featuring new publications in my book reviews, I’ve been listening to several podcasts about the current goings-on in the literary world and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been starving myself. Yes, the classic greats will always be great, but there are some truly incredible authors living right now, publishing right now, creating right now, that are simply too good to miss.

That is my disclaimer and poor excuse for never having read anything by Luis Alberto Urrea until now. Holy cow, can this dude write. I mean, it says “Pulitzer Prize Finalist” next to his name on the cover, so I should have known, but sometimes there’s a certain…pretentiousness in books with that honor…or books even close to that honor. There was nothing pretentious about this book. The House of Broken Angels is humble even in its striking beauty.

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The story spans two days with the De La Cruz family as they come together for a final birthday celebration for the ailing grand patriarch Big Angel. A week before the party, his mother passes away at nearly a hundred years old sweeping the family up in a blur of reminiscing and dreaming of what the future holds.The partitions between the aging generation that made their way to America from Mexico in their youth and the younger ones who barely speak Spanish are blurred, as the De La Cruz house bulges with familia and theatrics of emotion.

A slow read, its lingering sentences draw you to read them again just to bask in their light. This is a book you read a bit at a time, letting each moment sink in before you continue. The structure reminds me of music composition. The first third of the book serves as an overture, explaining the scope of the story, introducing themes and revealing backstories of the many players. You are then submerged in a dance of perspectives as you jump from character to character, what they see and experience in the forty-eight-hour period. You fall in love with their individualities, their simple pleasures and jagged pains, known, but not acknowledged by the others.

I felt entirely immersed in the culture of this family, each person so distinct but part of a powerful whole that leapt from the page. I stopped reading at one point and announced to my husband, “This man needs to write a screenplay.” The dialogue and simple painting of the picture are so pure and perfect I couldn’t help but make small exclamations of pleasure, adoring the very act of reading his work.

This is not what I would call an easy book, but it’s not hard either. The language is easy, the story is a meandering family fable with sharp gut-checking moments when a revelation hits true north. A stunning story that deserves to be savored for every delicious word. Luckily, it’s written in bite-sized portions, easily consumed in spare moments, but the words will follow you off the page to percolate through your mind long after closing the book.

As fate would have it, while I was reading The House of Broken Angels, I listened to another podcast, not literary-related, yet they referenced and quoted Urrea’s book The Devil’s Highway as they spoke about the history of border control and immigration from Mexico. Just the small bits they read were enough to prove that this guy is not a one-hit wonder. I will be reading as much of Urrea’s writing as I can get my hands on.

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Favorite Books: A Wrinkle in Time

I recently took a rare vacation and spent four days with my husband and his family in an A-frame cabin tucked in the foothills of the Sierra Blanca mountains. Beautiful scenery and great company made for a fabulous trip full of adventures, bruises, and lots of reading tucked in bed with my three-year-old sprawled out between my husband and me after long days spent playing in the snow.

Y’all, I went skiing. I actually went snowboarding, too…except that’s generous. I tried snowboarding. Nope, let me try again: I failed to snowboard. I don’t know how people manage that skill. I never even got both feet strapped in…even after a 90-minute class. I managed about six feet worth of sliding prior to falling at my very best and barely stood up without toppling at my worst. It was not for me. Apparently, skiing is my snowy weather sport. It’s much more enjoyable to slide down a mountain with boards strapped to your feet when you can actually manage to steer and stop yourself. No, really. Steering and stopping are the best. All hail Steering and Stopping, forever and ever, amen.

We drove the nine hours to the cabin, so I had an abundance of reading time, which is my favorite part of traveling! As I’m sure you’ve heard, the film adaptation of the long-beloved middle-grade novel by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time, was released last week. I’ve been itching for a re-read because it had been ages since my original copy wore out and had to be replaced. My new copy only got me about halfway to New Mexico between pit stops and assisting the threenager with her back seat entertainment, but I required more than a few nudges from my husband to pull me out of that sense-less reader cocoon where you honestly can’t hear the whining for another package of fruit snacks.

I’m hearing great things about the adaptation, and I’m looking forward to a date night with my son to go see it. Like most adaptations, I understand that it deviates from the book to some degree. The trailers alone, show the difference in how some of the main characters look, but the nature of the book allows, or even nurtures, this kind of change.

But enough about the movie, let’s talk about the book!

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I’ll estimate that I first read A Wrinkle in Time when I was about ten or eleven. It was assigned reading at my school, something I generally saw as a treat. I loved being introduced to new literature and talking about it with all my friends. Books were not common conversation fodder for pre-teens at the time, and while I was fortunate to have some close friends as bookish, if not more so than I, it was always exciting to have more people to talk books with. In good company with The Hatchet by Gary Paulson and The Giver by Lois Lowry, A Wrinkle in Time was a fast favorite of the grade. It’s the kind of book that encourages even the most reluctant readers into a world of imagination.

L’Engle tells the story of Meg Murry, her brilliant little brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin with the perfect balance of description and ample room for the reader to invent and imagine. She explains just enough of theoretical physics to make the children’s mode of transportation believable without losing the magic of the adventure. The Murry children and Calvin follow a most wonderfully quirky stranger and her two companions on a quest to find the Murry’s missing father and maybe save the universe along the way. With themes ranging from overcoming “otherness” and the power of faith, this 1963 winner of the Newbery Medal is still very much applicable to today’s trials. Still fresh and exciting, with nary a dull moment, if you’ve never read this gem of a book, please allow me to help with that. The passions, fears, struggles, and triumphs of these rich little characters are sure to spark recognition in the parts of you where those same traits dwell.

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High on my list of forever favorites, this book was my first elevated look at fantasy, stepping up from the fairy tales of childhood with clear morals and virtues into something a little more mature. I’d recommend it to readers ten and up. There’s some elevated thinking in this book that may be a bit confusing for the younger reader. If you’ve read it before, but didn’t realize it was the first in a series (like I didn’t, until many years later), make sure to check out the rest in the Time Quintet: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the book: “We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.”

Happy reading, friends.

Being a Mom

Being a mom is existing within an undulating definition of self.

Being a mom is long hours of hard work that you hardly ever feel was done well enough.

Being a mom is early mornings when the sun has yet to rise, but your three-year-old has.

Being a mom is balancing firm with soft, strong with gentle, freedom with boundaries.

Being a mom is being challenged on ideals, instructions, and with fierce independence.

Being a mom is gasping with excitement at the new chapter opening up before your child only to have the breath catch with a sob of grief for the one they’ve just left.

Being a mom is letting go and holding fast.

Being a mom is trust, questioning, and surrender to what will be.

Being a mom is a close examination of everything you believe in and recognizing that beliefs grow and change just as much as your children do.

Being a mom is accepting bodily fluids as a part of life.

Being a mom is an extra cup of coffee that you won’t finish before it’s cold.

Being a mom is laughing until you cry and crying until you choke.

Being a mom is wiping butts, noses, and tears.

Being a mom is not being sure what the stain is.

Being a mom is forgetting the last time you showered.

Being a mom is deeply appreciating a shower.

Being a mom is holding your tongue.

Being a mom is reading the Riot Act.

Being a mom is slammed doors, eye rolls, and whining.

Being a mom is the sweetest laughter, warm hugs, and heavy heads relaxing into your shoulder.

Being a mom is dancing through days that you wish were over, knowing you’ll wish to remember them when your bones start to creak and your house is no longer full.

Being a mom is hoping you end up with more laugh lines than frown.

Being a mom is the thrill of watching your child display perfect manners and compassion.

Being a mom is embarrassment when they don’t.

Being a mom is deep, whole-hearted forgiveness and a love so overwhelming that to reflect on it feels like drowning in equal parts joy, worry, and gratitude.

Being a mom is feeling unworthy and underappreciated.

Being a mom is knowing the answer to the question, “Why?”

Being a mom is learning as you teach and teaching as you learn.

Being a mom is to appreciate your own mom in every way you didn’t growing up.

Being a mom is wanting to be a good example, and being honest when you fail.

Being a mom is whispers and tiptoes and sneak attack tickles.

Being a mom is stroking hair and fluffing pillows.

Being a mom is grinning at their grins, challenging their scowls, and empathizing with their tears.

Being a mom is everything and nothing like you thought.

Being a mom is wanting a moment, but not for too long.

Being a mom is selfless and selfish, eager and wary, rational and paradoxical.

Being a mom is life lived with purpose that you truly understand only in the periphery of your mind and in the depth of your soul.

Being a mom is…