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. 


Books, Latina writer, Latino children summer reading list, Latino culture, Latino Literature, Literacy, Summer Reads 2013

Summer Reading-Latino Lit Lista
The summer solstice is on the horizon and with it the long summer days. Aromas of grilled corn, the juicy taste of fruit popsicles, lounging at the beach or backyard, and a good book have me anticipating the weeks ahead.

The annual “summer reading list,” has been a feature in many magazines, from Latina to Cosmo and Oprah. These books are usually quick read paperbacks that are about ‘lighter’ topics. And they’re all good lists, however I offer you one more:

The 2012-2013 award winning books written by Latina/o authors.

Whether you are Latina/o or not, think about using this lista as an opportunity to explore different themes in the Latina/o experience, discover multi-cultural characters, and peek into other worlds that may be dissimilar to your own, but resonant with universal themes important to all of us.

This list ranges from adventure to suspense:
  1. MISSING IN MACHU PICCHU-Cecilia Velastegui’s. Action/Romance “…four thirty-something professional women embark on (a) hike to help them confront their online dating dependency, only to find themselves victims of a predator’s ruse, and soon in a fight for their very lives.”

  2. THE LOST-Caridad Piñero. Action/Paranormal Romance. “Home from combat in Iraq, Bobbie Carerra wants only peace, (she finds herself) in a terrifying battle against paranormal enemies who hide in plain sight.”
  3. DESPERADO-A MILE HIGH NOIR-Manuel Ramos. Crime novel. “Money, sex and greed…theft of the sacred tilma of our Lady of Guadalupe and drug cartels…”
  4. THE SANDOVAL SISTERS’ SECRET OF OLD BLOODSandra Ramos O’Briant. Historical fiction set in 1800’s.…sisters are caught in the crosshairs…of the Mexican-American War…from two important fronts-New Mexico and Texas. Their money and ancient knowledge offer some protection, but their lives are changed forever.”
  5. THE OLD MAN’S LOVE STORY-Rudolfo Anaya. Fiction. “The nameless narrator…shares his most intimate thoughts about his wife, their life together, and her death. But just as death is inseparable from life, his wife seems still to be with him. Her memory and words permeate his days.”

  6. THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US-Memoir. Reyna Grande. “… a story of a childhood spent torn between two parents and two countries.”
  7. WE THE ANIMALS-Justin Torres. Memoir. “… the chaotic heart of one family, the intense bonds of three brothers, and the mythic effects of this fierce love on the people we must become.”
  8. EVERY LAST SECRET-Mystery. Linda Rodriguez. “…police chief Skeet Bannion(finds herself in a race) against the clock to solve a series of linked murders… before her best friend winds up in jail—or worse.”
  9. HOW FIRE IS A STORY, WAITING-Melinda Palacio. Poetry. “… (she) creates images that are at once heartbreaking and humorous….elemental subjects of family and childhood…and celebrates the women who came before her.
  10. THE SECOND TIME WE MET-Leila Cobo. Fiction. “…a graceful, skillfully woven tale of Rita and the son who comes to find her more than two decades later.”  
  11. MAP OF THE SKY- Felix J. Palma. Sci-Fi. “What if the events of H.G. Wells “War of the Worlds” became true…this is the result.”
  12. MAYA’S NOTEBOOK-Isabelle Allende. Suspense. “… (when her grandfather dies) Maya turns to drugs, alcohol, and petty crime…Lost in a dangerous underworld,…—a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol. (She) escapes to a remote island off the coast of Chile. Here, Maya …embarks on her greatest adventure: the journey into her own soul.”
There’s a book genre for everyone. So far I’ve read five of the 12 books and plan to read five more, maybe squeeze in the whole list. 

If you’re looking for a list of children’s books here’s a link to Latino Childrens Summer Reading List.

If you have any books with multi-cultural characters, settings or storylines, please add them in the comment section. My TBR list is ever growing. 

Happy reading.