Authors, Book Review, Books, Boycotts, Cesar Chavez, Family, Latinos in film, Uncategorized

América and Anthony Quinn

America's Dream

Ever since I figured out how to use the Goodreads widget I’ve been posting reviews on books I’ve read.

Either the widget is dead, malfunctioning or my brain is on overdrive and I’ve forgotten how to use the darn thing, but the widget is not working. Hence, here are reviews on the two latest books I’ve enjoyed in the last month.

América by Esmeralda Santiago

América Gonzalez is a hotel maid at an island resort off the coast of Puerto Rico. She cleans up after wealthy foreigners who look past her as a non-entity. Her married boyfriend, Correa, beats her and their fourteen-year-old daughter thinks life would be better anywhere but with América. When a wealthy, too busy, family asks her to work for them in the United States, América plans her escape from Correa and her old life.

Domestic violence, family dynamics, fear, and choices are themes in this novel. The ongoing violence that América endures is sometimes difficult to read. One feels like yelling at her to drop the bastard and make better decisions, however the author illustrates that this is no easy task. 

Reading about a character who makes poor choices can often be a turn-off, however the author engages the reader by describing the protagonist and her backstory effectively.

Beautiful descriptive prose keeps you reading but the redundant descriptions on setting is sometimes too much and the eye wants to scan for the forward movement in the story.

I love the dialogue, the emotional reactions, and interplay between the maids. I loved how the author gave us the dialogue between the mother and protagonist. The villain in the story was well played.I learned some things about Puerto Rico, the culture and language which is a plus in my opinion.

I didn’t like the way the daughter’s character was written. She had the same extremes of reaction over the entire book.

These glitches may be because this is the author’s first novel (1996). I would definitely read Esmeralda Santiago’s other books.

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One Man Tango by Anthony Quinn and Daniel Paisner

Description from publisher:

“While bicycling near his villa in Ceccina, Italy, veteran actor Anthony Quinn begins a remarkable journey of self-discovery through a varied and colorful past–and delivers one of the most fascinating star biographies ever written. Resonating with Quinn’s own passionate voice, an infectious zest for living, and a wealth of juicy anecdotes, One Man Tango is by turns resilient and caustic, daring and profound. It is a memoir as bold as the man who wrote it. Includes a 16-page photo insert. HC: HarperCollins.”

Anthony Quinn was a hero of many Latino’s, being that he was a well known actor in the ’40-’70’s when few Latinos were on the big screen. Not only did he come from Mexico, but he grew up in East Los Angeles. He was associated with the Kennedy’s, Catholics, Cesar Chavez, laborers, and California politics which further endeared him to the Mexican American community.

I couldn’t help loving this book.When I read the memoir it was as if Anthony Quinn himself was in my family room recounting his memories. He lived as passionately as his many love affairs.

Remember Zorba the Greek? Well, Anthony Quinn had that enthusiasm for living. His early life was one of extreme poverty in Mexico, with his Mexican Irish father who fought in the Mexican Revolution, and his Mexican Indian mother. 

The memoir is as fast paced as his bicycle ride through the hills of Ceccina, giving the reader an insight into the hills and valleys of the actor’s life, which is fascinating. Besides being an actor he was a laborer, boxer, artist, vintner, writer and philanthropist.

His memory of the movie stars, producers, and directors that he worked with is fascinating, juicy and very entertaining. He worked with Marlon Brando, Laurence Olivier, Mickey Rooney, Carole Lombard, Maureen O’Hara, Rita Hayworth, and numerous other memorable actors. His memoir reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood and the world, with all the side dishes that go along with these characters.

Particularly interesting was his experiences and conflicts with mobsters, politicians, and movie moguls, including his father-in-law, Cecil B. De Mille. Their family dynamics were extremely interesting.

Anthony Quinn often reminisces about his poor choices, the emotional turmoil he put his wife and family through, and looking back it seems he regrets some of his decisions. But what also comes through the memoir is that he loved his family like a ferocious lion.

This memoir is one of the most well-written, insightful, and candid story I’ve ever read. There are many beautifully written phrases and visuals that make you feel you are on that bicycle ride through the towns and cities of Mexico, East Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Italy.

as Eufemio Zapata with Marlon Brando's Emilian...
as Eufemio Zapata with Marlon Brando’s Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata! (1952) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Author Sonia Sotomayor, Authors, Books, Latina writer, Latino family tradition, Latino Literature

Books for Christmas ?!

I’m that tia (aunt) who often gives books for Christmas and birthdays.  My nieces and nephews have lots of toys, too many clothes, and not enough trips to the library.My mom also gives books in addition to clothes and/or a toy.

I must say though that my nieces and nephews reactions haven’t been as forceful as the kid in the YouTube above, ‘pooh-poohing’ his way across the Christmas tree and the Wii set.

The kids might ‘pooh-pooh’ me in their mind, but my family wouldn’t dare giggle or they’d hear a few choice words in Spanish fly out of my mom’s mouth (the equivalent of ‘unappreciative brat’).

This year the tradition continues. Before Black Friday and Cyber Monday arrives think about giving some books to your family and friends, whether a child or an adult.

Today’s list is from a site that encourages reading about the Latino culture. The Best 2014 New Latino Authors was compiled by Jose B. Gonzalez, Ph.D., writer, poet, editor and John S. Christie, Ph.D., the author of Latino Fiction and the Modernist Imagination. Their website has tons of recommendations for adults and children, from  2006-2013.  (I apologize that the photos may not appear, however the links to the books are fine).

 The first list is for adults or older teenagers. The list below this one is from Flavorwire and are books for children. 

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My Beloved World

Sonia Sotomayor

1) This author needs no introduction. In her memoir, My Beloved World, the ever-inspirational Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor provides readers with powerful insight on the role that hard work and determination played in the early parts of her life as she forged a path to law school from housing projects in the Bronx to Princeton University, Yale Law School, and to the highest court in the nation.
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Reboot

Amy Tintera

2) If you enjoyed The Hunger Games, there is no doubt that you will absolutely love Amy Tintera’s Reboot. Not surprisingly, the film rights to this thrilling sci-fi novel have already been sold.  This is an author who knows how to push the limits of imagination and write young adult works that will leave everyone begging for sequels.
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Flowers In The Dust

Myriam Alvarez

3) In Flowers in the Dust, Miriam Alvarez tells an intriguing tale based on her grandmother’s life. This work of historical fiction paints a poignant picture of South America around the mid-1900s, and is a touching portrait of a woman whose devotion to family is inspirational. 
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Mario Alberto Zambrano

4) Mario Alberto Zambrano brilliantly weaves together a plot that that flows smoothly as it unravels like the popular game and novel’s namesake, Loteria. And just like the game, the story is unpredictable and full of twists. 
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The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano

Sonia Manzano

5) Sonia Manzano, author of The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, has shown us that she has acting talent, having played Maria on Sesame Street since 1971.  And now through this novel, she shows off her writing skills.  Set in the 1960s East Harlem, this story is both gritty and witty as it revisits a time of the Young Lords, rebellion, and youth.
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Speaking Wiri Wiri

Dan Vera

6) In Speaking Wiri Wiri, winner of the inaugural edition of the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize, Dan Vera shows us why he is earning a reputation as a talented, sophisticated poet who is a master at playing with words. This collection, his second book of poetry, is a dazzling display of language and emotion.
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The Bolero of Andi Rowe

Toni Margarita Plummer

7) In the short story collection, The Bolero of Andi Rowe, Toni Margarita Plummer reminds us that this genre is alive and well.  She is a master of subtle suspense—the kind that creates tension waiting to explode until the final twist.
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The Sandoval Sisters’ Secret of Old …

Sandra Ramos O’Brien

8)  Sandra Ramos O’Briant’s The Sandoval Sisters’ Secret of Old Blood is a page-turning work of historical fiction with drama that multiplies over and over, in a style that will make it difficult to put this novel down.
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Laurie Ann Guerrero

9) Winner of the prestigious Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, Laurie Ann Guerrero’s A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying is a poetry collection with images that are both haunting and fascinating.  Guerrero illustrates that she is part poet and part storyteller.
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The Mares of Lenin Park

Agustin D. Martinez

10)  Agustin D. Martinez, author of The Mares of Lenin Park, created quite the buzz in 2013.  His debut novel is part of an impressive line of works that tell the sometimes complex but compelling stories of Cubans during the revolution.

Flavorwire compiled a list of a few great children’s books with diverse characters and stories. These are classics, beautifully written and artistically pleasing.

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Tar Beach, Faith Ringgold

In this gorgeous book — a work of quilted art with story woven in — a little girl dream-soars above 1939 Harlem, looking down at the eponymous tar beach of her family’s roof. Evidence that imagination can overcome most anything.

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Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things, Lenore Look and LeUyen Pham

Second-grader Alvin Ho is scared of everything — especially school, which frightens him so much he can’t say a word. Adorable and immensely relatable, everyone will fall in love with Alvin as he worries over his descent from “farmer-warriors who haven’t had a scaredy bone in their bodies since 714 AD” and takes pride in his “gentleman in training” status.

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The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, Paul Goble

Goble’s Caldecott-winning 1978 story of a Native American girl swept up in a stampede is a masterpiece, surely one of the most beautiful children’s books of all time. For every little girl who has ever felt a deep connection to horses. You probably know some little girls like that.

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Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai

The Vietnamese-American writer Thanha Lai’s debut novel, which won the National Book Award in 2011, tells the tale of Hà, a ten-year-old girl who flees to Alabama with her family during the fall of Saigon. The language is beautiful and the story, based on the author’s own experiences, is quite touching.

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Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan

This chapter book follows 13-year-old Esperanza as her wealthy family loses everything during the Great Depression. She and her mother are forced to flee their fancy ranch in Mexico to California to work on a farm. Esperanza must remake herself in this new, physically and mentally demanding world — but after all, “esperanza” means “hope.”

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Bud, Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis

“It’s funny how ideas are, in a lot of ways they’re just like seeds,” muses ten-year-old Bud-not-Buddy, on the lam from a foster home to find his father in 1930s Michigan. “Both of them start real, real small and then… woop, zoop, sloop… before you can say Jack Robinson, they’ve gone and grown a lot bigger than you ever thought they could.” A delightful modern classic and the winner of the 2000 Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award.

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Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China, Ed Young

Some stories, like the Red Riding Hood tale, strike so close to the human heart that they re-pattern themselves across cultures and countries — if perhaps wearing different cloaks. This beautifully illustrated, immensely powerful book — dedicated “To all the wolves of the world for lending their good name as a tangible symbol for our darkness” — is the version your literary editor grew up with.

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My Name is Maria Isabel, Alma Flor Ada

María Isabel Salazar López is the new girl in school, and her teacher insists on calling her Mary. How can María make her see that her name — her proper name — means everything to her? A sweet story about heritage and standing up for yourself.

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The Composition, Antonio Skarmeta and Alfonso Ruano

The winner of the Americas Award for Children’s Literature and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, this picture book follows two young boys in a village in Chile after one of their fathers is arrested and the agents of the dictatorship try to turn children against parents. Serious, edgy, and brilliant.

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The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats

But of course. Keats’s beloved Caldecott Medal-winning book, published in 1962, made history for being the first full-color picture book to feature an African-American protagonist. Add to that the beautiful collage-style illustrations and Peter’s charming, understated adventure, and you have an all-time classic that never seems to age.

Next post will be a list for Middle Grade and YA. Happy reading and have fun choosing some memorable books.

Authors, Books, Family, Strong Women, Travel, Writing

Travel by Reading

C. Harris Quote

This summer, my household budget was as tight as our governments. That did not stop me from visiting cities abroad, smell exotic foods, or immerse myself (albeit briefly) into the language and culture of other regions. I made my summer trips via books, plunging myself in the sounds, senses, and languages of other cultures and regions.

As usual, I prefer to read about women protagonists’ who face obstacles and become or are strong women. I purchased all of these books, except for “The 228 Legacy,” which I read on NetGalley.*

The exotic, chaotic, and vibrant characters in “The Woman Who Fell From the Sky: An American Journalist in Yemen” by Jennifer Steil was tantalizing. The 354 page novel is from Random House/Broadway. This is the kind of memoir I love to read.

woman who fell from the sky

The author was 37 years old when she left  New York as a successful journalist and accepted a three week assignment teaching wanna be reporters for a small Yemen newspaper in Sana’e.

The  novel  is fascinating, humorous, and sometimes frustrating. The authors three weeks ends up being a one year assignment with reporters who have their own ideas of writing news. She shows us Yemen, its food, culture, and language through her anecdotes and relationships with the reporters. More importantly, the story is a great read about women, gender roles, and society.

What captured me was the authors full characterizations of the news staff. The men often committed loutish behavior, but she also balanced this with their cultural mores. The women reporters especially fascinated me with their intelligence, struggles, and persistence. The pacing is quick, the setting colorful, and the writer keeps the readers attention.

Jennifer Steil was somewhat derided in book reviews because she shares her personal relationship with the married British Ambassador. There are perhaps five pages interspersed at the last quarter of the 332 page book. The romance is not a central theme in the book although it’s given much attention by some reviewers. The Ambassador is  now her husband. The title of her upcoming novel is, “The Ambassador’s Wife.” This book is on my TBR list.

Now back to the United States, in Kansas CIty, Missouri. “Every Last Secret,” (McMillian/Minotaur) a 300 page mystery novel by Linda Rodriguez, took me into the world of Detective Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion, an intelligent, savvy,  half Cherokee woman who has a heart for those treated unjustly.

every last secret

Police work is not an unknown world to me, as I spent 28 years working with law enforcement so the protagonist, Detective Bannion, was particularly captivating because she dealt with many issues  women face in law enforcement, particularly women of color. She does this without overreaching or whining. I did want to read more about her friends and how she related to them so I’d get more of a full picture of her as a character.

Someone murdered the student news editor in chief who was facing sexual assault and theft charges. The university politics cause many crimps in solving the mystery, but it does intrigue. The novelist takes the reader on a twist and turn through several suspects and just as many murders. This happens amid the interruptions of her jealous ex-cop husband and her father, a disgraced alcoholic ex-cop father.

This was the first mystery I’ve read in many years as it’s not my genre, however, what drew me to this novel was the female protagonist in law enforcement and how she dealt with her job and personal life. “Every Last Secret,” won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. Ms Rodriguez second novel, “Every Broken Trust,” is now available.

The 228 Legacy front cover

Now onto Taiwan with debut author, Jennifer J. Chow’s book,  “The 228 Legacy,” published by Martin Sisters, 324 pages. Three generations in an all-female Taiwanese family living near Los Angeles in 1980 gives us a multigenerational view of their life. The grandmother has breast cancer, the daughter loses her job, and granddaughter, Abbey, has several struggles including bullying.

I’m a fan of historical fiction and the story elements of significant historical events, immigrant experiences, second and third generational issues, and mother daughter relationships made this novel interesting to me although there were many themes to follow.

The character I grew to care about the most was Abbey and Jack, the elderly man in the story. Sometimes 10 year old Abbey’s reactions to situations didn’t seem appropriate but she was likable and interesting.

The 228 Massacre was an uprising of the Taiwanese people against Chinese rule of occupied Taiwan following World War II. It is a sensitive event which has significantly influenced Taiwan’s politics and nationalism. The memory of this massacre and how it influences three generations of family is at the crux of “The 228 Legacy.”

the space between us

“The Space Between Us,” by Thrity Umrigar is a 321 page novel published by Harper Collins. The novel is the story of two women in Bombay, one is the servant, one is the mistress of the household: the privileged and the powerless. Each of their lives is examined through the events that occur in their relationship.

The richness of this culture, the differences in classes, and the male and female gender roles fascinated me. The main characters are given full dimension and you neither love or hate them, but understand their motivations. The reader ends up caring for most of the characters. The scenes are fast paced when they need to be and loving rendered to establish locale and atmosphere.

The novel highlights injustice through scenes and plays them out to ends the reader may not like. The ending was abrupt for me. It didn’t like it until I realized that this reality would have the ending be that way. It’s not a warm fuzzy ending, but I can appreciate the experience. Ms. Umrigar is the author of four other novels.

The book contains an author interview, features, and “Words to the Wise Would Be Writer-15 tips.” I was inspired by her suggestions.

My fall reading list takes me from the Southwest US to Paris and India with Count on Me, Tales of Sisterhood, by Las Comadres Para Las Americas; Trapped in Paris by Evelyne Holingue; The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri and Mañana Means Heaven, by Tim Hernandez.

Keep reading.

*No agreements or exchanges made for any favorable reviews. I don’t give the books “stars” or points. For any numeric ratings you can read my reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. (For some unknown reason my GoodReads widget is in error and not showing the books on the shelf).

Authors, Barbara Kingsolver, Bloggers, Books, Jennifer Chow, Lisa See, Louise Erdrich, Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, Writers, Writing, Writing Process

Writers Tell All

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Jennifer Chow made me do it. Her chirpy words of “fun challenge” has me participating in my first ever Blog Hop called “Writers Tell All.” 

A writer often works in isolation, for long periods of time, before any finished work is produced. It’s rare to have the opportunity to share thoughts with other bloggers/writers, so when Jennifer ‘tagged’ me I decided I’d share my thoughts.

Because we often work in seclusion we writers need to know if crying, throwing paper, groping for a pen in the middle of the night, talking to ourselves or passing up a party to write is normal. 

Totally.

So let the sharing begin. 

Question 1: What are you working on? 

  1. Revision 8 of a query letter for my second manuscript: Winter Without Flowers, a contemporary adult fiction. 
  2. Revising a synopsis for WWF.
  3. Sending out 10 queries per month for my first manuscript: Strong Women Grow Here, YA fiction about a 17 year old wife and mother in prison.
  4. Getting ready for the AROHO Retreat in Ghost Ranch, Abiqui, New Mexico next month. I’m so jazzed to be included in a group of such accomplished writers. I received a fellowship to attend. 
Question 2: How does your writing process work? 

My isolation space
  1. Six days a week I put my butt in the chair (see photo above) with a mug of coffee.  
  2. When I feel stalled I look at the inspirational messages, photos, or words from friends on my bulletin board behind my laptop. (It’s an organized mess). Or I take the dog for a walk to clear my mind.
  3. I have a writing goal for the morning: type x amount of words, revise x amount of pages, work on a character sketch. 
  4. I’m a pantser who has vowed to do an outline for my next project. This may reduce the amount of revisions. 
  5. When I’m thinking of an emotional scene I’ll write longhand. There is something about the heart/pen connection. 
  6. Twice a month I meet with my critique group, Women Who Write (WoWW), and we go over five pages of our project after potluck. I’ve been with them since I started writing in 2008. 
Question 3: Who are your favorite writers? 
  1. Sandra Cisneros– her poetry and prose has sparked my heart for many years.
  2. Lisa See– her historical fiction is so good that I feel I’m wandering the back streets of post-WWII China or Chinatown in 1940’s Los Angeles.
  3. Barbara Kingsolver– I was hooked when I read The Bean Tree in 1988. Her character, Turtle, has stayed with me ever since.  
  4. Louise Erdrich-She is a master of evocative prose. 
  5. Maya Angelou– I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was required reading in one of my college classes. To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision.”  I still have my book!

Now it’s my turn to tag three writers. 

Please visit their blogs and see what they’re up to and willing to share when Writers Tell All.