Book Review, Books, Justin Torres, Latino Literature, Sandra Ramos O'Briant, Strong Women, Summer Reads 2013, The Sandoval Sisters' Secret of Old Blood, We The Animals

Two Must Read Books

Mild heat and sunshine warmed my neck of the Oxnard Plains for a whole five days. So warm (76-80 degrees) we could actually visit our beautiful beaches and plunge into the 65 degree Pacific Ocean. 

I know, we’re weather spoiled rotten here on the Southern California coast.

But the June gloom had its pluses. Cold weather thick with a marine layer is a reading opportunity waiting to happen. I must confess I sat in a comfy chair and read two books in 8 evenings instead of taking a walk. 

My reading tastes lean towards contemporary fiction, historical fiction, memoirs and crime thrillers. When the characters are of other cultures, set in exotic locales, and have a smattering of humor, other languages, and interesting protagonists, the book is usually placed on my “To Be Read,” list.

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Wait, there is one more ‘test.’ The opening page has to grab my interest and make me want to read the paragraph, and the next few. 

Although my summer reading list of Latina/o books shortened by two, the stack on my end table and Kindle has risen by three other non-Latina/o writers.  

But on to a short review on my recent reads: 


The first few lines passed the ‘test,’: 

“All that praying and what does Teresa leave me? Daughters!” Estevan had no time for Alma and Pilar and left them completely in my hands.

The setting is before and during the Mexican-American war of 1848, in Sante Fe, New Mexico. It’s a family saga of arranged marriages, a runaway bride, secrets, witchcraft, and loyalty.

Ancient journals are a central focus for the Sandovals. These diaries hold the family genealogy, along with the family secrets, escapades, land grants, murders, and recipes that range from food, to love potions, and revenge. 

The three sisters depend on each other during this turbulent time, imbued in the politics of  war, class, and country. They grow into strong assertive women despite their father. 

Historical fiction has to incorporate the time period, and the author does this very well. We hear about the wagons coming through to homestead, the Spanish landowner’s hacienda’s, kidnapping of the indigenous people, slavery, and the daily life of the people in the late 1800’s.

What I didn’t embrace, as much as the first three quarters of the book was the story of Monique, after her rescue. 

The last chapter implies there will be a sequel to the book. (In fact, after “The End,” my Kindle has a first chapter titled “First, We Were O’Reillys.”) The sisters are in their early twenties to thirty years of age by the final chapter, so there is plenty of material for a series about the Sandoval Sisters. 

2. WE THE ANIMALS by Justin Torres

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This is a highly celebrated, awarded and reviewed book, first published in Sept. 2012. It’s a short book, 125 pages, and fast paced.

The first few lines of the novel seemed innocuous but then they built up into a crescendo of emotion. As a reader I had a good picture of who these boys were and I wanted to know where they were going or had gone. 

We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men…We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more.

How did that feel to you? I could see their faces, fists, and fury. The story fully characterized each brother, ages 6, 8, and 10. Heartbreaking, tumultuous times interspersed with funny or tender moments marked most chapters. Sometimes you wanted to put down the book, just for a breather, only to find your place again and keep reading. 

The novel is a coming of age story voraciously told by the youngest brother, the author. His parents rage, fume, drink, and are all together depressing, but human. 

With it’s tenacious prose and pace, the novel reminded me of Jack Kerouac and Junot Diaz. Maybe they were Justin Torres’ older brothers in another life. The book is that great.

If you haven’t made time for reading, get to it. Take a summer trip that only a good book can give to you. 


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