books

Daniel JosÉ Older

Books

Bone Street Rumba: Salsa Nocturna (2012), Half-Resurrection Blues (2015), Midnight Taxi Tango (2016), Battle Hill Bolero (2017)

Shadowshaper (2015), Ghost Girl in the Corner (2016)

 

Bone Street Rumba

 

Salsa Nocturna (2012)

salsa_nocturnaThis is a collection of intertwined short stories. It doesn’t seem quite so at the beginning, but they are are all more than just set in the same world. The characters are ghosts and ghost hunters and those who can see the dead, and with each story you learn a little more about the world in which these characters live. Which is our world, only with hidden ghosts.

“Tenderfoot”
“Salsa Nocturna”
“Skin Like Porcelain Death”
“The Collector”
“Graveyard Waltz”
“Protected Entity”
“Magdalena”
“Red Feather & Bone”
“The Passing”
“Tall Walkin’ Death”
“Love is a Fucking River”
“Forgive Me My Tangents”
“Phantom Overload”

Checking on a possible link to a phantom pachyderm.” I feel stupid saying that, but it sounds better than ‘ghost elephant.’

“Mammuthus primigenius,” says the doctor.
“You tangled with a wooly motherfucking mammoth,” Riley translates.
I order three shots of rum.

I think my favorite character just might be Gordo.

I show up at 9 p.m. on the dot, because Janey said my sloppy Cuban time won’t cut it here so just pretend I’m supposed to be there at 8 and I’ll be alright. And it works.

I also found it very amusing.

This part of Harlem’s mostly white now. Homeless black guys wander aimlessly, pretending they didn’t get the memo to clear the fuck out. Cops wear vindicated grins as they stroll triumphantly up and down the quiet, sunshiny blocks. Comfortable young white people flutter around in sandals and shorts, doing little chores, heading to outdoor cafes, staying casually but carefully within the designated borders of their territory.

“Malcolm X Towers?” Riley scoffs. “Luxury apartments? Are you serious?” We’re standing at the foot of a monstrous glass fortress on Fifth Ave.

“You know ghost Malcolm’s ready to fuck a tower up,” I say.

OK, so there were things that, even after running them through the translator, didn’t make much sense to me.

“Get the fuck out of the way you scrawny hipsters!” Riley screams out the window. “Tell ‘em, Gordo, I don’t think they heard me.”

“¡Comiendo mierda y gastando zapatos!” Gordo yells.

Riley eyes him suspiciously. “Did you say what I said?”

“Basically,” Gordo chuckles.

The internet tells me that translates as “Eating shit and spending shoes” and is part of a chant akin to Eeny meeny miney moe.

Which is amusing in and of itself, but still odd.

And some interesting thoughtful bits dropped here and there.

(A) scar isn’t about the injury, it’s about the healing.

If you’re looking for something new to try, I highly recommend this. The stories are good, and stand by themselves, but are also nicely tied together.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Crossed Genres Publications

Re-Read: August 2016

This is a collection of stories set in the same world as the Bone Street Rumba series, and although some of the stories were about Carlos, there are other stories as well.

“Tenderfoot”

“The Hindus believe that elephants used to be able to fly,” Victor informs me. “Until one of them fell out of tree onto a great meditating sage and he cursed away their wings.”

“Whoopee,” Jenny says. “I know how to Google too.”

“Salsa Nocturna”

If I walk onto a playground, and I swear to you I’m never the instigator, it’s like some memo goes out: Drop whatever game you’re playing and come chase the fat guy. Family events and holidays? Forget it. I don’t really mind because I hate small talk, and if there’s one thing about kids, they give it to you straight: “Tío Gordo, why you so big?”

And I get real serious looking. “Because I eat so many children,” I say.

Then they run off screaming and, usually, I give chase until I start wheezing.

I am not delicate. But if you were to watch me in slow-mo, you would then understand that, really, I am a panther. A slow, overweight panther, perhaps, but still, there is a fluidity to me – a certain poise.

“Skin Like Porcelain Death”

You never know what you’re gonna get when you call in the Council of the Dead. They might come in all heavy, spirit blades a-rattling or they might not come at all. Usually it’s whatever would be least helpful in the given situation.

“Graveyard Waltz”

(I)t never sounded right – those tiny headphones and even though it’s supposed to be higher caliber, you can imagine what becoming so many zeros and ones does to a song.

“Protected Entity”

This part of Harlem’s mostly white now. Homeless black guys wander aimlessly, pretending they didn’t get the memo to clear the fuck out.

“I have a great respect for African and African-American culture. I teach Pan-African history at Columbia. I’ve written several books on Nigerian culture and the Caribbean Diaspora. I’ve spent three of the past seven years doing field-work on one end of the continent or the other. I wasn’t about to move into some hood, but I feel comfortable around black people. So here I am. I asked permission from the block council before buying the place, and frankly they were quite impressed with my extensive knowledge of pre-Colombian civilizations.”

“Let’s kill him,” Riley says in my ear.

“Magdalena”

He says every soul is like a tiny shard of glass that reflects God. He says when you’re dead, you’re just a soul, and the reflection is even stronger, not muddled by all that flesh and blood and living people shit.

“The Collector”

“Red Feather & Bone”

It’s still the wrong century for two brown men to be driving a pickup truck with mysteriously tarped cargo towards lower Manhattan.

“The Passing”

‘Simpático’ is the best word for him. It means ‘nice’ in English, but nice is such a pathetic word. Nice. It just lives and dies in one breath. Simpático is a whole story unto itself. It has panache.

“Tall Walkin’ Death”

The man just vomits phrases with total disregard for their meaning.

“‘Bout time some of our people be gun-totin’ psycho nerds too.” Krys looks like she’s somewhere between flattered and irritated.

“Listen,” I say, “I’m glad you’re all happy now that we have a fully armed teenager on our side, but we got some shit to figure out.

“Love is a Fucking River”

She just bawled in my arms for what seemed like hours and that little frail body of hers kept shuddering and heaving and I thought she might just crumble like a little crispy leaf at any second, but she seemed so strong to me in that very moment, too, because what man, for all our strength and awesomeness, can really be that vulnerable? You know? What man can really be strong enough to fall apart?

“Forgive Me My Tangents”

A child’s excitement is its own force of nature.

“Phantom Overload”

Nothing marginalizes marginalized people like a dead white guy talking sympathetically.

Rating: 8.5/10

Audible Version (2012/2014) read by the author

As with his Bone Street Rumba novels, Daniel Jose Older reads his own work, and it’s totally great!

This short story collection was published before Half-Resurrection Blues and features not just Carlos and Riley, but one of my favorite characters, Gordo. I keep waiting for Gordo to appear in the novels, but I suppose that since his introduction is in a short story, we won’t see him unless/until Daniel Older integrates these stories into a novel.

If you are looking for an introduction to Daniel Jose Older, this is perfect.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Audible

Half-Resurrection Blues (2015)

Half-Resurrection-BluesIt is well-known by anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with me that I do not like zombies.

I f’ing HATE zombies.

So I was quite hesitant about this book, because the main character is half-dead / half-alive, which, to me, sounds like a zombie.

Carlos Delacruz isn’t a zombie. He is an inbetweener, someone who died and was brought back, and has unusual skills because of that status, but suffers injuries and can be killed, so there’s not necessarily a benefit to his status.

He also believes he is the only one of his kind.

I found the one other being like me in the universe and he is a total jackass.

I really like Carlos’ voice. He’s a smart-ass.

(A)nother little guy is definitely Indian/ Pakistani or maybe Puerto Rican. Or half-black. Whatever he is, he gets randomly searched every time he’s within twenty feet of an airport.

Totally a smart ass.

But the story is more than that, and has some gorgeous descriptions.

“An ngk.” It’s almost guttural, the way he says it. Like he’s trying to speak through a mouth gag and then closing it off with a soft click.

OK. Perhaps beautiful isn’t the correct term.

But the descriptions are vivid and delightful.

The heater’s clanging incessantly like some angry troll got trapped in there on the way to his cave.

Words are such pitiful stupid things sometimes. Like when I speak them.

Plus, smart-ass.

Does it still vex the shit out of me when someone calls me a cracker? Of course, especially if I haven’t gotten my mochaccino yet.”

“I’m sure the mochaccino does wonders for you not looking white.”

And then dropped when you are not expecting them are marvelous passages of atmosphere.

The eight-year-old giggles every time her abuelo picks up a card. Her laughter rises to a joyous cackle and she crows, “Uno!” The old man fusses with his mustache, furrows his brow, and then picks a card. And then another. “Chingada madre,” he mutters as the laughter continues unabated across the table. “Mierda.” Finally, he puts down one with a sigh and the girl gets real serious, scrunches up her face, and draws a card, then slams it down, yells, “Uno!” again, and resumes laughing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and highly recommend it, as long as you don’t mind language and irreverence.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by ROC

Audible version (2015) read by the author

I admit I was slightly nervous about this audio book, since it was ready by the author. But I liked the book so much, I decided to give it a try.

I had nothing to worry about.

Michael and I listened to this in two car trips.

Not only did he do a good job reading his story, I enjoyed hearing how things were pronounced.

Especially ngk.

He wrote it, so he had to say it like half a million times, which seems fair.

I really like this series, and highly recommend it to anyone looking for something different.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Audible

Midnight Taxi Tango (2016)

midnight-taxi-tangoFirst things first: that is an absolutely MARVELOUS cover. I LOVE it.

It’s (obviously) not Carlos, who was the main character of the first book (and who is a main character here, never fear) but is Kia, the high school student who works at Baba Eddie’s botánica and is being pulled into Carlos’ world of the dead.

A textbook lies open on the counter in front of me; I don’t even remember taking it out. It’s trig, some shit I already know how to do, and can’t be bothered answering a bunch of mindless questions about. I know this is a terrible reason to be getting Cs, but the truth is, I’m bored out my mind almost every day in school.

Carlos is still reeling from Sasha’s disappearance, and still doing the dirty work of the Council of the Dead, but becoming more and more unhappy with what he’s asked to do.

“Listen,” Riley says a little too gently, “we all been hurt, man. It’s okay to feel pain. I mean shit, she was carrying your child. You ain’t seen her in what, four months?”

“Six months and seven days.”

Riley leaps up. “See? That was a test, and you failed. You counting the days, man. Just be upset and be okay with being upset.”

We also meet a third character, Reza, about whom I won’t say anything, so you can meet her without an expectations.

“Turn slow,” a woman’s gravelly voice says. “Hands in plain sight.”

She’s standing perfectly still in a perfectly tailored gray suit. Her stance is just wide enough to brace for the recoil from the hand cannon she’s aiming at my face. It’s clear from the bulges between her vest and bloodred dress shirt that she’ll never be outgunned. Even her goddamn footwear is perfect: elegant alligator-skin dress shoes, perfectly shined. For the first time in my weird little life, I am outdappered.

I really love these characters, not just because they’re so very different from the people around me, but that does have something to do with it. But mostly they’re just delightful.

“Have you heard the good word about Jesus Christ today, ma’am?” I say, flashing the cheesiest grin I can muster.

She smiles for a half second. “Try again.” Not a cop— way too smooth and she would’ve ID’d herself by now.

“Vote yes on question six,” I say…

I mute the TV— you have to stand up and turn the remote at some hypotenuse-ass angle while pressing the button eighteen million times to get it to work…

Carlos is half dead, so I suppose he could be classified as a zombie, and I hate zombies, but he’s not a shambling wreck that wants to eat your brains, so I’m good with him.

If you haven’t read anything by Daniel José Older, I highly recommend that you check him out. Start with Half-Resurrection Blues, the first book in this series, or Salsa Nocturna, which is short stories with some of the characters and set in this world both before and after these two books.

Seriously, check out the short stories and see for yourself.
Rating: 9/10

Published by ROC

Audible Version (2016) read by the author

The second Bone Street Rumba book is as much about Kia as it is about Carlos, and that’s one of the things I especially love about it. Kia is a teenage girl, bored with school, tired of being cat-called, and spends her spare time working for Baba Eddie’s botánica. She’s aware that there is another world that Baba Eddie claims to be able to see, but it isn’t until she has her own encounter that she really understands.

This is a marvelous story and a fabulous series.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Audible

Battle Hill Bolero (2017)

This is the sequel to both Midnight Taxi Tango and Salsa Nocturna. You don’t have to have read Salsa Nocturna for this, but you really really should.

Events have come to a head, and Riley and Cyrus and many other ghosts are in open rebellion against the Council of the Dead. Carlos still works for the COD, but (with good reason, seeing as how Riley is his best friend) they don’t especially trust him.

This is all Daniel Jose Older, with strong women and fabulous writing.

The ferry captain stands beside a big rusted anchor chain, smoking something hand-rolled and slobbered-on. “And what are you pretty ladies looking to find on such a forgotten archipelago?”

“Some peace and quiet,” Reza says, her voice ice. The ferry captain fucks off accordingly.

Being near him is like drinking a whole glass of milk and realizing there was a dead mouse at the bottom.

So here we have Carlos, Sasha, Kia, Mama Esther, Reza, Riley, Baba Eddie and various council members and ghosts from the first two books. From Salsa Nocturna we have Krys, Jimmy, Gordo, Big Cane, Damien, and Cyrus. Among others. That’s a lot of people to keep track of, but I had no problems, because the characters are all very distinct. There is no confusing Krys with Kia or Sasha with Reza.

Also, this is ANOTHER FABULOUS cover. I mean, seriously. Sasha is all kicking ass and taking names and still gorgeous and amazing and it makes me SO HAPPY that he gets such great covers for these books.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Roc

 

 

Shadowshaper (2015)

ShadowshaperI think that Daniel José Older is now made it to my Must Buy list of authors. I have adored everything I’ve ready by him, and I also cannot WAIT to give this book to the teens in my life.

Sierra Santiago wants to spend the summer painting, working on her murals, but something strange happens. A creepy man crashes a party she’s attending and chases her away from the boy she’s just met. And she notices that the other murals in the area where she is working are changing in strange ways–they are fading faster than they should, at it looks like one of the murals is crying.

On top of that, her grandfather, who has been bedridden and not made any sense since his stroke, keeps apologizing to her, over and over.

There is so very much to love about this book. For starters, Sierra goes to Octavia Butler High.

Second, although not a woman, Daniel Older shows quite clearly what it’s like to be female.

Further down Gates Ave, a couple of guys were throwing dice in front of the Coltrane Projects. “Why you frownin’, girl?” one of them called out as Sierra walked past. “Smile for us!”

Sierra knew the guy. It was Little Ricky; they’d played together when they were small. He’d been one of those boys that all the girls were crazy about, with big dreamy eyes and a gentle way about him. A few years ago, Sierra would have been giddy with excitement to have his attention. Now he was just another stoopgoon harassing every passing skirt.

“I ain’t in the mood, jackass,” Sierra muttered, hugging herself. She was still shaky from the horrible night and she knew any sign of weakness would encourage them.

The guys let out a chorus of ohs and pounded one another. “I’m just saying, Sarcastula,” Ricky called after her. “C’mon back when you in the mood …”

And a minority female at that.

(T)he words crept in, made a home in Sierra’s mind no matter how much she fought them off. Her wild, nappy hair. She ran her hands through her fro. She loved it the way it was, free and undaunted. She imagined it as a force field, deflecting all Rosa’s stupid comments.

But Sierra isn’t a victim to it.

No matter what she did, that little voice came creeping back, persistent and unsatisfied.

Not enough.

Today she looked menacingly into the mirror and said: “I’m Sierra María Santiago. I am what I am. Enough.”

Let me be clear, this isn’t sermonizing, it’s just part of the life of the characters. These bits are simply the background to events, the day-to-day stuff that teens think about, and minority teens have to live with.

What I love best is the dialog, reading the back and forth between the teens.

“What about him, B?”

“He’s a Columbia professor. Or was.”

“How’d you find out?”

“This amazing thing they have now. It’s a web and it’s mad wide. Like, worldwide.”

“You gonna show yourself or just break my window?” she hissed into the darkness.

“It’s me!” someone whispered loudly from down below.

“You’re gonna haveta be more specific than that.”

“Imma write a book,” Tee announced. “It’s gonna be about white people.”

Izzy scowled. “Seriously, Tee: Shut up. Everyone can hear you.”

“I’m being serious,” Tee said. “If this Wick cat do all this research about Sierra’s grandpa and all his Puerto Rican spirits, I don’t see why I can’t write a book about his people. Imma call it Hipster vs. Yuppie: A Culturalpological Study.”

These are definitely teens, being teens. But they’re not stupid, and there isn’t really much angst. Yes, Sierra has issues with her family, but they’re typical teenage girl issues.

And here’s one of my favorite bits. Bennie and Sierra talk about what’s been happening while Bennie braids her hair.

They sat in silence for a while, Bennie twisting and pulling away as Sierra tumbled the past two days around and around in her head like a load of laundry. “Ow!”

“Relax, I’m done. How you feel?”

“Like my face is being slowly yanked around to the back of my head.”

Oh yes, I know that feeling.

This is an utterly marvelous book, and I highly recommend it.
Rating: 9.5/10

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

Ghost Girl in the Corner (2016)

This is set after Shadowshaper. Tee has received a grant to take over the publishing of the Bed-Stuy Searchlight–the local paper that had been run by Manny. She has three other teens to help her: Mina, Rafael, and Coruscant, although the woman from the group that provided the grant has her own stipulations.

“Cover the neighborhood, write the stories that no one else writes, just try to keep a happy face on it, is all we ask, okay?

If a crime happens, let’s say, and we’re writing about it, make sure to approach it from a sunny angle somehow, you know? Maybe there’s a bright side of it that someone hasn’t seen, but you can? Right? Because that’s what we’re trying to do here, make people happy. The neighborhood is changing a lot, right? So let’s figure out how that’s a positive thing and focus on that, alright? Alright. Ms. Rollins has your stipend checks, so she’s going to pass those out, and we’ll see you on the emails!” Jessica gave a quick, peppy wave and then retreated quickly up the stairs.

Ms. Rollins looked as stunned as everyone else. “Uh … here’s your checks,” she said. “Good luck with that.” She dropped a stack of envelopes on the table next to Tee, raised her eyebrows, waved, and was out.

The door closed. A few seconds passed.

Mina said, “Well, I, for one, am shocked that the white lady doesn’t want us to write about any of the ills of gentrification.”

One of the things I really like about Daniel Jose Older is that he writes real teens. And fantastic dialog.

“You got my coffee, Raffi?”

“Claro que sí.” He passed her a warm blue-and-white paper cup. “Extra cream and sugar like you said, mi jefa.”

“Did you just call me a heffa?”

“Jefa! Jefa! Boss-lady.”

This story is a mystery, a romance, and a general teens being teens story, all in one.

The mystery is the ghost girl in the church basement (where the paper is published) that only Tee can see. The romance is Tee and Izzy working through their differences and problems, and the teens being teens is fun.

And, if you’ve read Midnight Taxi Tango, a character from there makes an appearance. It’s very brief, but it made me happy.

Even if you haven’t read Shadowshaper, you should be able to read this story.

And enjoy it!
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books