Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: PURA VIDA by Annette Montez Kolda


The Lopez family has a lot on its plate - war, death, drugs, undocumented immigration, deportation, teenage pregnancy, and now international terrorism.

Sister Bridget is the Miss Marple of East Austin's Latino community, but she might be in over her head this time. Terrorists have snuck into the country. She and fifteen-year-old Miguel Lopez must race against the clock to stop them.

Meanwhile, Miguel's mother must journey deep into Mexico to find her missing husband and tell him that their oldest son has died.

Eventually, the two storylines intersect.





Reviewed by: Sandra
Rating: 4 stars

 

Review: "Pura vida, pure life. In her country, it mean living one's life con gusto, with pleasure, appreciation, and gratefulness, even through adversity." (78)

This book centers on the complicated lives of somber and genuine characters―Perla, a Mexican mother of two struggling to find answers to her husband's disappearance; Miguel, Perla's troubled 15-year old son, who only strives to make it while looking after his pregnant sister; and Sister Bridget, an atypical, not-so-average nun, who keeps the word of God in her heart and often finds herself in "sticky" situations.

While Perla flees in the dead of night to Mexico in search of her husband, Miguel somehow stumbles on the schematics of a bomb. A bomb mean to kill Jews and Latinos? All this becomes overwhelming for Miguel, especially since his brother, Andres, was killed by a bomb in Afghanistan. Needless to say, this was a very bad time for his mom to leave as Miguel wouldn't even know how what to do about this. But perhaps Sister Bridget could be the answer to his prayers?

The characters take on a nefarious journey through the dark depths of the seedy underworld. Fear and trepidation trail them as they relentlessly continue their efforts. And when danger arises, they see a brief glimpse of Andres, the fallen soldier, beloved son and brother, and, apparently, a guardian angel.

Story had that vibrant chicano vibe and that refreshing barrio dialect. Well-versed and enriching, Pura Vida captures the soul, delighting readers with its stirring ambiance and endearing characters. The author speaks with such a reverent and poetic stride, depicting the Spanish culture in its raw beauty.

Sister Bridget is a tough chica―crafty, intuitive, and brave. She is just the right nun that would be able to stop a terrorist attack, save the country, and reunite a broken family.


The whole thing was just a fast ride of drama and excitement.

An enjoyable read!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Q&A with Annette Montez Kolda

Annette Montez Kolda was born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas. She attended the University of Texas where she earned degrees in Communication and Curriculum and Instruction. After a career in teaching, she turned to writing. Pure Vida is her first novel. More info can be found at https://annettemontezkolda.com/



1.       What inspired you to write Pura Vida?
     In a beginning novel-writing class, the instructor asked if I had a character somewhere in the back of my mind. I did! It was Sister Bridget. She is based on two sisters that I know. One that I went on a missionary trip to Mexico with and another sister that I worked with in ministry to people with  disabilities. So the inspiration starts with Sister Bridget, and then secondly, I wanted to write a book that was completely immersed in the Latino culture, one in which the setting was a Latino community, the plot involved Latinos, the dialog was a mixture of English and Spanish and the characters were Latino.   

 

 

2.       How did you manage to weave the individual story lines of the characters into one?
    The family is central to the Latino community, and a family is already woven together, so it was easy for the storylines to intersect.

 

 

3.       What significant role did Sister Bridget play in the story?
      Sister Bridget is the common character for each story line. She is the “safe base” for everyone else.

 

 

4.       Could you please describe Miguel's journey and how Sister Bridget was able to help?
      Miguel is a smart, compassionate young man who has to deal with cruel difficulties in life. His father is absent, his brother has died, his sister is pregnant, and now he has information about terrorists. He could have walked away, but he’s an exceptional young man even though society might look down on him and dismiss him as trouble-maker because of his former drinking and drug use. A lot of people don’t even see him because he is a nobody. Sister Bridget is able to help him because she sees him and values him; she listens to him and takes him seriously.    

 

 

5.       What are some of the main socio-economic issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?
      Immigration and Deportation - Perla and Emilio had a valid reason for immigrating to the United States. The safety and job security that they sought did not exist for them in their homeland, so they traveled to a place where they could make a better life for their family. I explored this issue because in Texas, there are many such families and their stories are interesting. Poverty - most that live in poverty work hard to make ends meet day to day. They don’t give up; they figure out what they can afford and not afford and they keep plugging at it. I wanted to show that members of the Lopez family work hard and  do well in school. I wanted to give the impression that each upcoming generation of the family would  have a better life than the previous one. The reader got a glimpse of Perla and Emilio’s village in Mexico and their current home in the United States. Miguel seems to be on a path to a college education, so the future looks bright for him. And Luz too. I explored this issue because I wanted to tell a positive story about an impoverished family. I wanted to shine a light on them and show that people with little money have just as much dignity and worth as the more well off.   

 

 

6.       In the book, it's indicated that "Pura vida...means living one's life con gusto, with pleasure, appreciation, and gratefulness, even through adversity." (78) Could you please elaborate and explain the significance?
     Pura Vida is a tricky phrase to translate - sure it translates to “pure life” but it is more of an attitude. It’s an easy going, carefree but not careless attitude.  It’s appreciating what you do have, not lamenting over what you don’t have. The significance of pura vida is illustrated in everything that the Lopez family has lost, and yet, everything that they have gained. It’s letting go of the sadness and bitterness and embracing the love and forgiveness. It’s a decision to be happy.  

 

 

7.       What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
      I hope readers will see that people are all the same. We all have the same hopes and dreams for our families.

 

 

8.       What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?
     I love being creative, making a story come alive on paper that didn’t exist before. What I like least is the pressure to market the book.

 

 

9.       Who are some of your favorite authors?
     I love Isabel Allenda,  Juno Diaz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, David Baldacci, Alexander McCall Smith, Dean Koontz, Janet Evanovich, Anne Rice, Mary Higgins Clark and of course, Agatha Christie mysteries.

 

10.   If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)
     It is difficult to think of a teenage Latino actor just off the top of my head, so I used Google for this one. I found that Omar Avila is a young Cuban actor on a Telemundo series called Los Teens. He’d make a great Miguel. Eva Mendez for Perla. Antonio Bandera or George Clooney could play Detective Maldonado and Sofia Vergara could play Sister Bridget! Just kidding, how about Salma Hayek or Penelope Cruz?   

 

 

11.   Are you working on anything right now?
     I am working on a second Sister Bridget book.

 

 

12.   And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?
    I hope that more stories of every genre will include positive Latino characters. Romances with Latino characters, mysteries with Latino characters, young adult novels about Latinos, etc.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Review: FINDING MOLLY: AN ADVENTURE IN CATSITTING by Justine Prado


Finding Molly: An Adventure in Catsitting is a graphic novel about Molly Sanchez-Talebi, an unemployed art school grad who hesitantly starts catsitting to pay the bills. She dreams of breaking out of suburbia and her artistic rut, but she has a lot of self-discovery to do before that happens. The comic follows her funny misadventures as she learns that maybe these (sometimes) friendly felines are just what she needs to get her life on track.


Reviewed by: Sandra
Rating: 5 stars

Review: The illustrations were awesome and hilarious! Art was so colorful! Facial expressions were so lively and animated. Molly totally rocked! I loved her snarky and candid repartee. She is so funny, down-to-Earth, and relatable. I totally saw myself in her. The artistic block, the desire to create an epic masterpiece, the fear that no one will like your work, the pitiful lack of money, the envy of those more successful than you, and the creative rut you fall into when all else fails—all things I, and so many artists, can relate to. Being of Mexican descent and an artist, I definitely think we need more Latina characters like her in books and comics.

FINDING MOLLY is a testament to staying true to yourself and finding your way. It’s a tribute to the art world. Such a fun story! Love, love, loved it!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Review: SINGLE CHICAS by Sandra Lopez

Perfection is a Barbie doll, and, unless you're looking for a guy with a fake smile, a hard head, and no genitalia, then you're better off NOT being perfect―Single Chicas

Single Chicas is a collection of stories about modern Latinas being in, out, and around the zany hurdles of relationships. One woman receives strange calls from a lonely soul, another seeks advice on how to love herself, and another wakes up in a parallel universe to a man she's never met. These chicas will make painstaking effort to survive the complexities with humor and grace. Once again, López dazzles audiences with her brilliantly candid craft. Smart, witty, and funny, these stories will explore the true endurance of singlehood.
 




Reviewed by: Bela

Rating: 5 stars

Review: This is a wonderful collection of short stories starring smart and savvy Latinas. Each one shows an entertaining view of the dramas of love, dating, and marriage.

Lopez excels at creating dialogue that is both believable and intriguing. In order to show the multi-faceted nature of marriage, the dialogue serves as not only a plotting device but also a window into the many reasons why people choose to get married.
One of the biggest strengths of this collection is the wide variety of storylines Lopez creates around the theme of singledom. From a woman who is tricked into believing she has memory loss so she’ll fall in love with her long-time admirer, to a woman who starts to fall for her phone stalker, to a woman who fakes lesbianism to reject a man’s advances, you won’t know what to expect next on this fun ride through the book. But it’s not all fun and games. Lopez manages to successfully mix the amusing and quirky storylines with more serious plots with stories.

This book is for anyone who has ever been single, for anyone who has ever laughed about attempting to navigate the dark waters of the dating world, and for anyone who has found herself in a less-than-desirable relationship but still hoped for something better. Lopez’s collection will definitely leave you wanting more. It was like making thirteen new friends and having a really fun girls' night out or in, to share stories about our day while feasting on junk food.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review: IN THE DUST: THE THUNDERBIRD CHRONICLES by Amy Quick Parrish

When the bullet pierced her father’s heart and he crumpled to the floor of his convenience store, it changed Janey Santiago’s life forever. At first she wasn’t even sure if she was alive or dead as she watched a strange blue light shift from his body to hers. In his final moments he handed Janey his mask, confirming her suspicions that he was indeed the vigilante fighting the local cartels.
Janey felt a surge of energy and knew it was her time to carry on her father’s work. With the guidance of Augusto—her father’s mysterious, young right-hand man—and enigmatic parallels from her favorite comic book series, Janey must learn how to use her mysterious new abilities to fight back against the gangsters that killed her father and threaten to overtake her town.
This is the first in a series—The Thunderbird Chronicles.



Reviewed by: Sandra
Rating: 3 stars

Review: 17-year old Janey lives in two worlds: the world of her comics and the real world. And danger lurks in both. Living on the U.S./Mexican border can be quite frightening with all political rage and warring cartels. How can you live constantly standing by and dropping ground at the sound of firing bullets? Janey lived in fear, but she also had hope that Zarco and Zara would stop the bad guys and save the world. But this wasn’t a comic book. Or…was it? The talk on the news reports a masked vigilante resembling the hero of her comics. To Janey, the vigilante was brave and smart; to everyone else, he was an old fool bound to get himself killed. Could the vigilante really be Janey’s father, like in the comics?

The book kicked off with a compelling start. Gangs are fighting over the town. You don’t feel safe walking the streets and you don’t know who to trust. But it would seem that there is some nefarious force of goodness out there. Janey’s father is like Batman. How cool is that! Soon, Janey realizes that she has become a Walker of Two Worlds. What?! Suddenly, she is bestowed by a mystical force of power, knowledge, love, and confidence. Now she must finish what her father started.

A quick read from start to finish, story has a combination of mystery, fantasy and adventure. It jostles a hope that the masked avenger is real and safely at your side. Janey possesses a quiet strength and a fierce determination. She’s courageous, smart, and a quick-study. 

My only quibble was that Janey was not an active fighter. I guess I was expecting more Buffy, vampire slayer, rather than Sitting Red Bull, dream weaver. I guess that was to be expected since this is the first in the series, which introduces Janey as she discovers these powers that she doesn’t understand. The first book basically explains the origin of the story, which is mostly passive, and I hear Janey becomes more active and settles more into her powers as the series continues.

Dreams seem to play an important role in the book. My excitement kind of wore off with the lack of fight scenes. I mean, I was expecting a final showdown with the gangsters. Additionally, there was some confusion between all the realm-hopping. One minute, Janey was in the cemetery looking at her dad's tombstone, and, the next, she's with Augusto in the mountains. Weird. 

It started off fast-paced with an interesting premise, but then it slowed down dramatically midway. 


Overall, I felt the story was much more subdued than I originally thought and it could’ve definitely been more exciting. But it was an okay read and suitable kick-off to the series. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Q&A with Amy Quick Parrish


Amy Quick Parrish is the author of Into Dust: The Thunderbird Chronicles, the first in a new young adult series. The story is based on a web series she wrote and directed while teaching high school Spanish in Texas. A graduate of the University of Michigan, her writing has been published in The Atlantic and her films have screened in festivals around the world. She won the Spirit of Moondance Award at the Moondance International Film Festival for her feature screenplay, The Court of Lions, and an Indie Award of Merit for her short film, Hokey Smokes! Frank Allison and the Odd Sox. She now lives in New England with her husband, teenage son and two cats. 



1.       What inspired you to write Into Dust: The Thunderbird Chronicles?
I received a CD for my birthday (back when people received CDs.) There was a song called “Pistolero” by Juno Reactor. The song didn’t have any words, but it gave me a vivid image of a girl flying over the desert. I listened to it over and over and couldn’t get that image out of my head. I had been dealing with grief — both of my grandparents had died recently — and had just spent a lot of time in Arizona and New Mexico. Once I moved to Texas and we traveled to Marfa and saw the Marfa lights, the whole thing started coming together. I first wrote it as a screenplay and it made it to the second round of consideration at the Sundance Screenwriting Labs. When it ultimately didn’t win, some friends encouraged me to shoot a few scenes. One thing led to another, and soon I had created a three-part web series, which premiered on a local Austin TV channel and was later invited to screen at the LA Skins Fest, a premiere Native American Film Festival in Los Angeles. I wrote it as a feature screenplay, a web series and a TV pilot but never was quite satisfied with the story, so I took the elements I liked of all of those and then wove them together into a YA book series.



2.       Did you relate to the main character, Janey, in any way? If so, what?
I relate to Janey in nearly every way. We’re both shy comic book geeks, my dad also died – although he died when I was very young and he had cancer. We both speak Spanish and when I wrote it, I was living in Texas. And just before I wrote it, I had two close relatives die, so I was thinking a lot about grief and loss. We also both have turquoise and silver Thunderbird necklaces, but so far mine hasn’t glowed blue or anything…



3.       What was the logic behind being a Walker of Two Worlds?
The original idea was that Janey was walking between two worlds — between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and that was what gave her the abilities she has. That, of course, ties in to the idea that she is constantly balancing two cultures: as a Mexican-American and as a Mexican (although later in the story it comes out that Janey and her family are ex-pat Mexican-Americans living in Mexico so that her dad can do his vigilante work.) In addition, she has her real life and her undercover life. So it can mean a lot of things, depending on how you want to interpret it. But originally it was about the inner world where the magic exists vs. the “real” world where it doesn’t. There’s also a tie-in with the comic books Janey obsessively reads and her reality — what’s the line between reality and imagination and why do the comic books she loves to read parallel her life so much? (Find out in book two!) ☺



4.       What role did Augusto play in Janey’s life?
Augusto plays a huge role in Janey’s life. Probably more than he should, I’ll admit. Janey probably should be a more independent character, but she does depend on him because he understands the abilities she’s learning she has. He worked with her father and her father made him promise to look after her and train her. So in a way, he’s a bit of a mentor figure, but also a love-interest.



5.       How did Janey evolve throughout the story? Did she become a hero, like in her comics?
This first book in the series is really an origin story — Janey gains her abilities and learns about them. She does some heroic things, but not in the grand traditional sense that Superman or Spiderman might. But throughout the course of the series, she learns to wield her power and makes some bold moves. She’s still a teenager, so she’s still learning, but she’s able to act more heroically. But the story will always be more of an introspective love story than a true Marvel or DC–type story. It’s about character.




6.       What are some of the main socio-economic issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?
I didn’t intend to explore any, but I guess I did. There is a difference between Leticia’s family and her friends and Janey’s family and friends. I sort of hate those teen TV shows where everyone’s rich and living in this gorgeous luxury homes. It’s not reality for most people. Janey’s father does vigilante work and owns a convenience store. They’re not poor, but they’re definitely not wealthy. I am heavily influenced by John Hughes, and I guess Leticia and her friends represent the “richies” that Hughes uses for conflict in movies like Pretty in Pink and others. I think it’s important to portray people as real, ordinary, authentic people and I probably created some flat people in creating the snotty girls with the fancy clothes, but there ultimately is a good reason Leticia doesn’t like Janey, and it comes out later. When I added in Leticia, I had recently moved to a very wealthy area. As a teacher/writer who grew up qualifying for free lunch at school, I found myself incredibly irritated with these girls who flaunted their Vineyard Vines and Burberry in front of students (and teachers) who couldn’t afford those kinds of things. I guess I felt that Janey should be a “regular” girl, whatever that means, so I tried to make her someone audiences could identify with. I know TV often takes the theory that teens (or any audience) want to see the fancy clothes and houses that they don’t have, but it just seemed better to me to make her more ordinary/middle class. I grew up in a small town with a low SES. Small town, low SES families are just as underrepresented as Latinos in books and TV.


7.       What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
I hope that Latino readers will have a Latino superhero — a girl they can look up to and identify with. I hope non-Latino readers can gain a little insight into the Latino world. As a Spanish teacher, I’m amazed by friends and students who have no understanding of Chicano history (not that there’s any in this book) or think of people they refer to as “Mexicans” as recent immigrants, not understanding that some Mexican-Americans’ ancestors have lived in what is now the United States for over three hundred years – again, it’s not in the book but I’m hoping to have the kind of effect Will and Grace had on perceptions of gays, the effect of The Huxtable family on perceptions on black families. This is Janey Santiago. She’s a regular girl from a border town and she’s got some cool abilities.

Most of all, I want girls to have someone to look up to or relate to. I grew up with Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, we had positive role models like Nancy Drew, Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman, Mighty Isis, Jayna of the Wonder Twins, and later Salt–n-Peppa and the Go-Go’s, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars. For a while, I couldn’t find (hardly) any positive role models for girls, but now I love CW’s Supergirl and Jane the Virgin, Marvel’s Ms. Marvel, and Brian K. Vaughn’s Paper Girls and Eleven from Stranger Things. I hope people will keep creating cool female characters that girls can hang out with and have as role models.



8.       What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?
I love writing! I love creating a new world and hanging out with my characters and getting to know them. I love the escapism.



9.       Who are some of your favorite authors?
I grew up loving YA authors like Judy Blume, Lois Duncan and S.E. Hinton. In college some of my favorites were Sandra Cisneros, Pam Houston, Charles Baxter, and Tim O’Brien. As a screenwriter, I love Quentin Tarantino, Shane Black, Terry Rossio and comic book writers like Brian K. Vaughan. I’m also a big Harry Potter/JK Rowling fan. I wish I had a long list of sci fi writers – I’m heavily influenced by people who are heavily influenced by Philip K. Dick and those sorts of writers: Richard Linklater, Charlie Kaufman, JJ Abrams. I also love Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom, who create some really vivid, real characters in the TV show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.



10.   If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)
Well, in the web series I shot, an actress named Erin Taylor played Janey. I hesitate to imagine another actress in the role unless it was a situation where a TV executive was standing over me, making me decide and they had a list of A-listers to choose from. (You can see Erin as Janey in the trailer on my website, amyquickparrish.com)


11.   Are you working on anything right now?
I am putting the finishing touches on book two in the series and working on the third.


12.   And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

I think the future of Latino literature is bright. As a Spanish teacher, I’m well aware that Latinos are the fastest growing population in the U.S. So whereas writers like Rudolfo Anaya, Luis Valdez or Sandra Cisneros were pioneers of Chicano/a literature – maybe partially because it took a long time for publishers to understand that there’s a difference between Spanish literature in Spanish from Spain or Latin America and the experiences of people in the U.S. Now, there’s less expectation that in order to appeal to a Latino market, it needs to be 100% in Spanish, and conversely, that things don’t have to be 100% in English, either. It’s now more acceptable for characters to speak Spanglish – because people do. And it’s now more accepted to have characters who happen to be Latino but live in the US, or who happen to be Latino but aren’t doing anything specifically Latino. Anyone can be a superhero – why not Janey Santiago? I think with movies like Spy Kids in the 90s paving the way, now they have movies like Legends of the Hidden Temple on Nickelodeon that happen to have Latino characters… Jane the Virgin is on the CW, where the abuela speaks Spanish and Jane answers back in English. El Rey Network has shows like From Dusk Til Dawn where many characters are Latino and occasionally speak Spanish, although the show is in English and the network targets English speakers. So I think there’s a bright future and hopefully there will be more Latino authors writing books and getting staffed on TV shows so that their experiences can be reflected in media. I see a lot of creativity coming from my students, so I think their generation will step up and be the change they want to see in the world. 


For more info on Amy, visit www.amyquickparrishwriter.com


Up next: A review of Into the Dust: The Thunderbird Chronicles

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Review: DAYS OF THE DEAD by Felicia Lee

When is it terrifying NOT to see a ghost? 

Los Angeles Alternative reporter and political activist Elena Guzman knows. She sees dead people –all the women in her close-knit Mexican-American family do. They only stop seeing the dead shortly before they die themselves. And right now, Elena’s failing to see a ghost that seemingly everyone else is seeing—the mysterious wraith seen abducting Graciela Hernandez, a young immigrant housekeeper. 

But Elena has plenty to distract her from her possibly impending death. Her loyal but unstable best friend Mona is growing dangerously obsessed with her abusive ex-boyfriend. Graciela is still missing, and Elena is determined to find her and return her to safety, even if the police aren’t. 

This means doing exactly what she fears most: tracking down a ghost she can’t see. But Elena must power through her dread to find Graciela before it’s too late…for both of them. 


Available on Amazon



Reviewed by: Sandra
Rating: 5 stars

Review: Elena Guzman is your average run-of-the-mill snarky Latina with an addiction for Brazilian coffee and a knack for speaking to the dead.

When a Latina maid goes missing, Elena thinks there’s more to it than meets the eye. After all, “the girl is undocumented. And Mexican. Cops here, newspapers here, most people here don’t think she’s worth investigating. Why bother? They can always get another poor Mexican to scrub their toilets.” (11) Elena tells it like it is.

Being a hard-working Latina from the wrong side of the tracks would definitely make you stand out in a ritzy, privileged neighborhood, which was were the woman was last seen. But, hey, duty calls—and so do the dead.

Could a ghost actually be the culprit behind this strange disappearance? But the thing was that Elena didn’t fear the ghosts. Rather what she feared was not being able to see them. After all this time, could she be losing her “gift?” And I guess this wouldn’t be such an ordeal, except those before her came to their death once they lost their “sight.” Oooh!

Story was well-written, witty, and relatable. Being Latina, I related to the traditional comfort of Spanish food, old Mexican sayings, and the drama of familia. It wasn’t the Ritz, but it was home.


A wonderful Latina mystery! Loved it!