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.

one man tango

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)
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).