Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: THE HOLY TORTILLA AND A POT OF BEANS by Carmen Tafolla

As a helping of a down-home magical realism, this collection of 16 short stories explores the human spirit inherent in the bilingual, bicultural world of the Texas-Mexico border. With a fresh sense of humor and human understanding, these stories skillfully bridge the gap between miracles and tragedies, prejudice and transcendence, and oppression and liberation. From the comical exploration of the hypocrisy expressed at funerals to the spiritual mission of a magical tortilla, the collection draws upon a wide range of emotions but comes together in a singular, powerful voice that reflects the holiness found in everyday life.


Reviewed by: Bela
Rating: 3 stars



Review: Author Carmen Tafolla presents us with a collection of short stories with a delicious blend of heart and poetry. Originating from a land of healing and wonder, these tales will make you feel as if you were listening to a Mexican curandera.
 
I particularly enjoyed "La Santisima Maria Pilar, the Queen of Mean," a story of a girl that ruins a beloved dish by hiding a dirty diaper in it. Who would want to be around this girl? I guess it's true what they say: "...some men are so stupid they'll fall for anything wearing a skirt. Anything." (16) 

In “Invisible,” a woman sees beauty in herself by acknowledging the beauty in people that refused to see her.

I did feel, however, that some stories were a tad bit eccentric, like “The Holy Tortilla,” a story of a simple tortilla reflecting an image of the Virgin Mary in its rising steam.

Although beautifully written, these stories contained too much of a religious aspect that seemed too ludicrous at times. Still, I can’t imagine anyone not finding a story to relate to or cherish somewhere in this collection.
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: THE BOLERO OF ANDI ROWE by Toni Margarita Plummer

Winner of the Miguel Mármol Prize, this collection of inter-related stories delves into the life of Andi Rowe—a young woman of Mexican and Irish heritage—to give an intimate account of one family’s passage from the immigrant story to the American story, and the cycle of loss, adaptation, and rediscovery that is innate to that experience. Set largely in Los Angeles’s San Gabriel Valley, and crossing generations and borders, these stories focus on the quiet moments between explosions, where tension simmers just beneath the surface. From a Border Patrol agent whose own mother crossed the border illegally to a lonely woman seeking companionship with her hired day-laborer, characters seek revelation in the most ordinary of experiences, their actions filled with humor, longing, and honesty. In the tradition of Flannery O’Connor, Toni Margarita Plummer explores themes of grace and redemption as each story spirals toward a surprising but inevitable conclusion.


Reviewed by: Bela
Rating: 1 star




Review: The Bolero of Andi Rowe is a collection of short stories that are not necessarily centered on Andi. For instance, in “Olivia’s Roses,” a high school senior discovers the possibility of a college education along with her burgeoning womanhood from an attractive boy she meets at the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena.

The book is a well-written account of L.A. life colorfully drafted by a diverse set of characters. Each story attempts to enlighten the reader as the characters try to break through the barriers that entrap them; however, there often lay an obscurity that disoriented the reader throughout. The point of view would change, sometimes within the same story. Half the time I kept wondering who was talking.

The back story was misleading because it made you think that it was all about Andi and it wasn’t, even though some of the stories did reference her at times. I thought these stories would surround Andi, that we would experience them through her, that we would see what she saw and hear what she heard. Why was her name even in the title if she wasn’t the star?

I also noticed that the stories with the girls mainly involved the complexity of love, sex, and relationships. In fact, the details may have been a little too explicit for my taste.

This book seemed to be a novel weaved together by various short stories by the way Andi kept showing up in a lot of them, but I thought the composite was weakened by a lack of focus. All the details are so scattered that it is nearly impossible to see any clarity to the plot. You often forget the characters and what they were in relation to each other. For example, who was “Dad” in “Happy Hour?” Whose dad was he? And what was he to Andi? Was he her uncle or something?

By the end, I was dissatisfied with the overall structure. I’d have to say that the best story was “Olivia’s Roses,” because I thought it was rendered a little more genuinely, and I liked that it tried to promote a college education.
 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: THE HUSBAND HABIT by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Why does Vanessa keep falling for married men?

Not that she knows she does. At least not at first. But every man who seems like he might be the one turns out to be someone else’s. So maybe the right thing to do is take a vow to stay single, to keep away from all men, until she can figure things out.

At least work is a bright spot: It’s an anchor to be so good at something, to lose yourself in your job, and Vanessa is a whiz of a chef, so good she makes her grandstanding boss, Hawk—of Albuquerque’s chic Nuevo American restaurant hawk—look good. After all, it’s his name on the awning above the door. If only her friends and family would get on board with Vanessa’s plan and stop trying to fix her up. If she can’t fix her life, nobody else is going to get the chance to try—not her parents, not her friends, and certainly not her ultra-well-meaning but just-not-getting-it sister, Larissa.

And nothing could be more with the plan than helping out at her parents’ house—gardening, keeping them fed, getting them organized with her loyal pet Red Dog by her side. Red Dog is all the companionship she needs. Until Vanessa meets Paul, her parents’ neighbor—he’s all wrong on paper, but he’s got great manners and certainly seems safe. Not bad in the kissing department, either. But just when Vanessa’s guard goes down, the red flag goes up: Could Paul be yet another married man?




Reviewed by: Celia
Rating: 1 star


Review: The story starts off with Vanessa meeting a man for the first time ever after months of correspondence via online dating. After making a quick remark about the stick-figured woman on the bathroom door being sexually biased because of the triangle-shaped skirt (chill out, girl, it’s just a sign,) Vanessa goes into a frenzy trying to make herself look “good” for a stranger; and, when she does meet him, she gets a little too “friendly” and becomes naïve at the assurance that “he is her soul mate.” (pg. 8) Oh, please.

It was only after a horrific scene with an angry ex-wife that Vanessa realizes that she’s developed “quite the husband habit.” (pg. 17) Part of me actually thought that she deserved what she got for being so fast with men; on the other hand, I couldn’t help but wonder if her intentions were truly genuine.

One thing that bothered me about Vanessa was how adamant she’d be about taking things slow—gardening, cooking, biking, walking, and generally living—but, for some reason, she refused to do the same with men. The character also spent too much talking about her New Mexico house and her food. We get it, she loves them. Can we move on now?

Overall, the writing reads as if you were being preached to. I didn’t feel like I was a part of the story, or even a spectator of it. At times, the author went off on a tangent to insert a personal commentary or opinion that had virtually nothing to do with the story. Also, there were a lot of fragments—too many words and phrases that were segregated from each other and stationed in their own sentence that made for some pretty tedious reading. Additionally, the POV was constantly changing. One minute, the story is being told in the third person, and the next, the first person takes over in the voice of Vanessa. I really wish the author would’ve kept this consistent.

If you ask me, I think this book required more effort. I would’ve liked to have seen Vanessa in her dating journey and how she came to develop this “husband habit” just so I could’ve known her better. Maybe if I’d gotten to know her better, I would’ve cared more for Vanessa and the rest of the cast instead of thinking that they all could’ve used more renditions of clearly drawn attributes. The best part about this book was chapter one, where the reader becomes introduced to Vanessa’s “husband habit,” even though the history of it was never specified.

In conclusion, this was just a boring and disappointing book that I had higher hopes for.  
 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: FOREVER MINE by Elizabeth Reyes


Summary: Seventeen-year old Sarah’s life is turned upside down when her single mom is sent to jail. She’s forced to move, leaving behind everything she’s ever known, including her best friend Sydney. Lost and bitter in a new school, her one goal is to save money and move back home. Then she meets Angel Moreno.

Enigmatic but gorgeous, Angel is almost too good to be true. Except for one thing, his archaic belief that guys and girls can never be “just friends”. The problem? Sarah’s best friend Sydney is not a girl.

With their unexpected romance intensifying to places neither ever experienced, how long can Sarah keep Angel in the dark about the guy waiting for her back home?





Reviewed by: Sandra L.
Rating: 4 stars


Review: When Angel Moreno first met Sarah, the first thing he noticed was her eyes. With that dashing smile of his, how could Sarah not be flustered around the big and handsome Angel? But being the new girl in school ain’t easy, especially when the hot guy is one of the cool, popular jocks. Oy, I hate that clique.

The famous Moreno brothers can have any girl they want. Who can compete with that? 

I absolutely loved the part when Angel showed up and pulled that guy off of Sarah. That pretty much did it for me. My heart did a triple-spiral; I love the protective hero type.

Even though Angel had never asked a girl out, his pursuit of Sarah was unrelenting. But Sarah could not bring herself to believe that the beautiful Angel could even be interested in her. She was basically the "plain Jane" most of us could relate to. In fact, she reminded me of Rachel Leigh Cook on She's All That. And Angel reminded me of Channing Tatum on She's the Man - so big, burly, and adorably clumsy.

From the very beginning, the reader feels the chemistry between Sarah and Angel.

"There was absolutely no way he'd be okay with her being free to see other guys, not as long as he was seeing her. And he planned on seeing her every chance he got." (56) How sweet! But my eyes practically popped out of their sockets as soon as Angel asked if they could be exclusive. What, so soon?! Angel was far too quick to advance in the relationship. Before you knew it, they were being very intimate. In fact, the story was a bit too sexual for a YA.

Of course, no love story is complete without the hurtful rumors and tension causing trouble for the couple. It is a story of jealousy, passion, excitement, and drama. I kept rooting for Sarah and Angel to work it out. I enjoyed every page of it.

I want more stories of the Moreno brothers.

On the TBR list: Moreno Brothers #2

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: THE TOWN I LIVE IN by Tita Rodriguez Parra




Reviewed by: Maya
Rating: 3 stars

Review: This book relays the tales of the author’s childhood memories. Parra takes the reader through the ups and downs of growing up with her family and friends in a 1950’s barrio neighborhood.

In "Monster," Tita finally realized her limits when her little brother becomes too strong for her to pin down. Tita learns what love isn't in "Love on a Two-Way Street." I laughed when Tita's brothers beat up her mom's boyfriend in "Living on the North Side."

Of course, the greatest impact came from "Intuition." Dripping with raw, honest audacity, "Intuition" presents the importance of listening to your conscience as Parra recalls the night she was kidnapped and raped.

This autobiography is poetic, lovely, and heartfelt. Tita's story is a tale of strength, courage, and the importance of adhering to yourself. And although there were some mild redundancies and weak flaws in the writing, the book still sends a powerful message of survival.






Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Reviews: WAKING UP IN THE LAND OF GLITTER by Kathy Cano-Murillo

Summary: With glue guns, glitter, twigs, or yarn, the ordinary can become extraordinary . . . especially at La Pachanga. Owned by Estrella "Star" Esteban's family, the restaurant has a rep for two things: good food and great art. La Pachanga brings people together-even when it looks like they couldn't be further apart.

One ill-fated evening, Star jeopardizes her family's business, her relationship with her boyfriend, and her future career. To redeem herself, she agrees to participate in a national craft competition, teaming up with her best friend, Ofelia-a secretly troubled mother whose love for crafting borders on obsession-and local celebrity Chloe Chavez-a determined television personality with more than one skeleton in her professional closet. If these unlikely allies can set aside their differences, they'll find strength they never knew they had, and learn that friendship, like crafting, is truly an art form.




Reviewed by: Celia
Rating: 3 stars


Review: I liked the way it started—very gripping and honest. I totally understood Star’s desire to live her life for herself first and foremost before settling into anything. I especially liked how the author rendered both sides of the complicated love/hate relationship of Star and Theo in a zany, confusing “tug-of-war” way (they basically wanted to love and hate each other at the same time.) The love that Theo had for Star was endearing yet overwhelming (who wouldn’t freak out at the sight of wedding brochures?) Yet he was a good guy, perhaps too good for Star. My first impression of her was that she was a whiny, selfish brat that expected everything to be done for her without doing anything to earn it. Seriously, what did Theo see in her?

Almost every character (particularly Olfie) in the story succumbs to the belief that crafts are the answer to life’s problems and that they make the world happy and perfect. I felt that the whole idea was kind of surreal and unimaginable; it was like believing that a round of Candy Land will turn everything into lollipops and marshmallows. Don’t get me wrong. Crafts can be an art form that can reflect one’s spirits and identity, and, yes, they can even bring a little happiness. Clearly, that was the message the writer wanted to convey with much success—perhaps too much success.

The book was filled with flawed and diverse characters that can annoy you at times but you can definitely relate to. To put it better, they all intertwined together like colored thread with loose ends and tight knots.

Honestly, the story didn’t get good for me until about 2/3 of the way when the “truth” comes out on everyone. The drama was so flavorful and exciting that I couldn’t sit still for the most part.

Ultimately, the characters had to find their true “crafter” to see who they really wanted to be, and I think it all came together pretty well in the end.




 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: DAMAS, DRAMAS, AND ANA RUIZ by Belinda Acosta

Summary: All Ana Ruiz wanted was to have a traditional quinceañera for her daughter, Carmen. She wanted a nice way to mark this milestone year in her daughter's life. But Carmen was not interested in celebrating. Hurt and bitter over her father Esteban's departure, she blamed Ana for destroying their happy family, as did everyone else. A good man is hard to find, especially at your age Ana was told. Why not forgive his one indiscretion? Despite everything, Ana didn't want to tarnish Carmen's childlike devotion to her beloved father. But Ana knows that growing up sometimes means facing hard truths. In the end, Ana discovers that if she's going to teach Carmen anything about what it means to be a woman, it will take more than simply a fancy party to do it...





Reviewed by: Sandra L.
Rating: 5 stars


Review: The first thing that grabbed my attention was the writing style. It brings you back to the days of Mexican gatherings filled with música, cerveza, y carne asada with a telenovela blaring in the background. I especially liked how the author sprinkled in Spanish throughout the story like chile over brown rice—it definitely gave it that extra kick. It was almost like the book was written in both English and Spanish; I’d say it was about 85% English and 15% Spanish. In fact, it was almost as if my abuela had told this story with her broken English and (loud) Spanish expression.

The title definitely served the story well. This was the “damas and dramas” of Ana Ruiz with the pain she suffers from a broken marriage and the devastation she endures when her daughter looks at her with hate. And all Ana wants to do it fix it, and, for some reason, she feels a quinceañera will do it. Was she crazy? Was she trying to be mean by pushing the idea? No, she was just desperate—desperate to reconnect with her daughter, Carmen, and make it like it was before. Very heartfelt—but, again, crazy!

Carmen was a brat. It was unfair how she was so angry at her mom without getting all the facts straight. And why was everyone (her brother, her cousin, her tía, etc.) being so nice to her when she would just roll her eyes or snap at them with a smart-ass comment? That would frustrate anybody.

I liked how Ana got all giddy and nervous around Montalvo (especially when he took his shirt off) because it showed that she was still a woman, a young girl in “mom” costume. It was great that she could see a partner in him—not as a lover, per se, even though they were painted as a compatible couple throughout the story, but as a friend who’s gone through the same thing she is. It’s true what they say: misery likes company.

The plot was so well done that you can feel all the anger and pain of each character (they all have their personal demons and hidden skeletons.) It is a roller coaster ride of surprises with such a fervent impact that make the reader laugh, scream, and even throw up a little. A gripping read.

One minor thing I found a bit odd at first was how the author would deviate from one character’s setting, thoughts, and dialogue, and then transition to another character’s thoughts and feelings all within the same paragraph. Additionally, the story seemed to have been told in a fortune-teller kind of way; not only do we hear the story as it happened—as it was witnessed—but we also learn of what becomes of everyone years in the future. This definitely pushed the traditional fly-on-the-wall narration, but, somehow, it worked, and a masterpiece was born through unorthodox methods.