Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Break

Livin' la vida Latina will be on a holiday break from December 24 thru January 2. But have no fear, our reviewers are finishing up their books and will soon have more reviews for you all.

Until then, viva Latina y Feliz Navidad!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Review: When the stars go blue

When the stars go blue by Caridad Ferrer

A dancer driven to succeed.

A musical prodigy attempting to escape his past.

The summer they share.

And the moment it all goes wrong.

Dance is Soledad Reyes’s life. About to graduate from Miami’s Biscayne High School for the Performing Arts, she plans on spending her last summer at home teaching in a dance studio, saving money, and eventually auditioning for dance companies. That is, until fate intervenes in the form of fellow student Jonathan Crandall who has what sounds like an outrageous proposition: Forget teaching. Why not spend the summer performing in the intense environment of the competitive drum and bugle corps? The corps is going to be performing Carmen, and the opportunity to portray the character of the sultry gypsy proves too tempting for Soledad to pass up, as well as the opportunity to spend more time with Jonathan, who intrigues her in a way no boy ever has before.

But in an uncanny echo of the story they perform every evening, an unexpected competitor for Soledad's affections appears: Taz, a member of an all-star Spanish soccer team. One explosive encounter later Soledad finds not only her relationship with Jonathan threatened, but her entire future as a professional dancer.

Reviewed by: Sandra Lopez, author of Esperanza and Beyond the Gardens


Review: After reading Adios to my old life, you can bet how much I was looking forward to the next thing from Caridad Ferrer; so you can imagine how I felt when When the stars go blue finally came out.

Soledad is your typical aspirational dancer with an a-typical body--curvaceous and hippy as opposed to flat and stick-like. I've always wanted to know what it was like to lead the dancer's life. Watching movies like Center Stage and Honey helped, but I found them to be a bit too flashy. I liked that this book dealt with the serious, more emotional side. It was theatrical boot camp mixed in with the traveling circus.

Although the story started off kind've slow for me, this book does not dissapoint. The real story doesn't begin until Soledad starts her training on the road after she soon starts dating new boy, Jonathan, who rooked her into this whole thing. At first, I really didn't feel the spark between them, since they've never really talked before; but they end up developing a sweet, summer love between them. You can't help but feel engaged in Soledad's world as she struggles with the awkwardness of being the new kid while trying to start a relationship with a new boy with both his parents right there, especially when the father dissaproves of it all. In fact, Jonathan and Soledad almost have kind've of a Romeo and Juliete thing because of that.

Tensions and jealousy begin to accumulate when Soledad meets Taz "Soccer Boy." Now she's more confused than ever. It made me wonder many things. Will Jonathan and Soledad make it? Will Jonathat defy his father's orders, risking everything he's ever worked for, to be with Soledad? Will Soledad throw away what she has with Jonathan to pursue Taz? This story will have you guessing all the way to the end.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Featuring The Voting Booth After Dark and Q&A with Vanessa Libertad Garcia

The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive by Vanessa Libertad Garcia is a collection of short stories and poems interwoven into a narrative that follows a group of addicted gay & lesbian Latino club kids destroying themselves throughout the course of the 2008 elections. The book focuses on how they affect and are affected by the national politics happening around them.

Reviewed by: Thelma T. Reyna, author of The Heavens Weed for us


Review: Gritty and unflinching, the tone of the book is one of desperation and starkness as each character depicted—Marta, a young, disenchanted lesbian; or Diaz Diaz, a gay fashion designer, for example—speaks to us of their heartbreak, alienation, and sometimes of suicidal plans. The personas that Garcia invokes are products of a society that is too fast-paced, too materialistic, and too shallow for twenty-somethings or thirty-somethings trying to find a meaningful niche in life, as they struggle simultaneously to pay bills, be successful in a career, find true love, or simply forge a connection to someone or something outside of themselves that can make their lives fulfilling. Welcome to the underbelly of Los Angeles.

The voices Garcia creates for each of her personas are poignant and heart-wrenching. She describes “sweet-scented one-dimensional images that pop out at you like an early Warhol painting” (in “Longing”). There is little self-pitying though, no sugarcoating of the raw emotions that spill from her characters, many of whom are gay addicts who have seemingly accepted their sex orientations but nevertheless struggle to navigate life.

Matter-of-fact language, which contributes to the non-judgmental tone of the book and its authenticity, is often balanced against poetic descriptions or observations that catch the reader by surprise. For example: “Parasites of the night, dressed to the 9[‘s]/living off the small pints of love/stored in our words” (from “The Dead End Days”). Or: “The sun shuts its lids and the moon clocks in.” “Sadness already home invites guilt in for coffee.” (both from “Lament”).

Yet, amidst the jadedness and sadness are subtle beams of hope for these young lives. In “Compassion” toward the end of the book, Garcia writes: “We are curious children/ with adult powers/that clumsily break the china.” She ends her book thus: “The crumbling world/ is always pieced together by time/and space....Justice eventually finds its place in line.”

Garcia gives us a glimpse of lives in torment but also reminds us that lives are not frozen in time but are forever evolving, and we must stay open to the possibilities of change.

* * * * *
This review first appeared on my blog, American Latina/o Writers Today, at on March 30, 2010.

Q&A with the author:

Can you please tell us a little bit about the kinds of books and films you do?

I believe my mission statement sums it up best: I'm a writer and filmmaker that
assembles works of literature and film (both documentary and fiction) that reflect the varied
experiences of underrepresented, a-typical, and eccentric human communities. My books and
films candidly depict subcultural issues through distinctive styles that challenge conventional
forms of storytelling. All the while remembering that sincere communication and human relate-ability are the Vital Spirit of my projects. In short, I strive to produce intimate books and films about uncommon lives for the collective heart.

How do you feel your work influence Latinas?

I feel my work influences Latinas because it represents them in society. My books and films feature the nuances, trials & tribulations that are unique to their contemporary experiences and puts them on display for a wide cross-cultural audience. I write lead characters that are Cuban, Cuban-American, Mexican, Mexican-American, Chilean, Argentinian, etc, who are immersed in the salad-bowl and melting-pot countries of the globe. We're living in a time of vast cultural migration where people of varying ethnicities survive and thrive together on the same land, often times fusing their spirits and traditions into subcultures. These subcultural groups, e.g. Latin(a)-American lesbians, tend to be dismissed, underrepresented, or erroneously depicted by the mainstream, especially in the United States. I strive to give the complexities of our multi-layered Latina lives an honest impacting voice through my books and films. I hope Latinas are influenced by my art work to believe their lives are important to understand and their stories worth chronicling, and therefore continue to do just that -- in their own specialized ways.

What does being Latina mean to you?

Being Latina is an irrepressible part of my core self. My perception of life has been significantly molded by my Cuban-American experience. My perspectives regarding all matters -- especially philosophical, political, and artistic -- have been greatly influenced by my immigrant Cuban family. Even my physicality -- the way I express passionate opinions with my hands in debates or shamelessly shake my hips to a soul-clenching song. My verbal expressions -- the rapid-fire way I speak in both Spanish and English. The specific brand of Cuban-American Spanglish I grew up speaking. Beyond my home, I was raised in primarily Mexican-American neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles such as South Gate and Downey, which also left its own special brand of Latina-ness on my psyche, heart, and Spanglish. I consider "being Latina" an amazing, poignant, and intrinsic part of me.

What do you think the future holds for today’s Latina?

I think the future holds a wide array of limitless, thrilling opportunities for today's Latina. I truly believe that the world, thanks in great part to the internet, is currently in a no-holds-barred state. We brazen, hard-working, and inventive Latinas can do anything -- both professionally and personally -- we set our spirits to. El futuro es nuestro. Si se puede!

Do you have a website or a blog?

If so, please list the URL:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Review: The Three Kings

Since the holidays are upon us, we thought we'd review our first Christmas novel--The Three Kings: A Christmas Dating Story--by best-selling Latina author, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez.

Who’s bearing gifts this Christmas? Three hot, single guys!
Christy de la Cruz has it all: a great career as an interior designer for the stylish homes of New Mexico, marriage to a tall and handsome man, and a great family—especially her cousin Maggie. But as the holidays approach, she’s down to two out of three—that handsome husband has walked out the door. Christy is so not up for dating . . . until Maggie takes Christy on as the ultimate romantic project. Just like the wise men in the nativity story, Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar arrive bearing gifts and displaying their best stuff. One’s a pretty boy, one’s a rugged cowboy, and one’s an animal lover. Which one will win Christy’s heart?

Reviewed by: Bela M.


Review: This is the first novel I have read from Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez (I know, silly me, right?) But I'm sure glad I started off with this one. Christy is someone most of us could relate to--independent, self reliant, a non-traditional Mexican. She was a sarcastic, cynical woman boasting with money-making confidence, except when it came to men and relationships, which she was totally clueless on (that's why she got the book on dating rules.)

It starts off with Christy complaining about her gay ex-husband and how the demise of their marriage came about; so, right off the bat, she's bitter and sassy; she tells it like it is and does not omit (all funny, BTW.) Then she starts thinking that she would like to meet a man this Christmas; in fact, she actually wishes for the Virgin Mary. I found it kind've hard to sympathize to this because I didn't feel that her wish was genuine. In fact, I found it to be superficial. I mean, she didn't just wish for one, she had to wish for 2 or 3. Who wishes for that? And to the Virgin Mary? Why couldn't she wish that to Santa Claus? At least you wouldn't have to worry about lightning bolts coming at ya.

But then, by the power of Christmas, her wish comes true. The three guys appear at a cousin's party. And then the game begins.

I found this all to be quite fascinating. Christy was all mortified at the prospect of dating these three guys. But it was exactly what she asked for. "Be careful what you wish for; it may actually come true."

It was actually fun seeing Christy on each date with these guys. Some were down-right romantic in that sweep-you-off-your-feet kind of way, while others were just plain weird and creepy that it actually makes you want to resign from the whole dating scene. This contest not only becomes a race to the finish, but it also turns into a wager for the rest of the family. Which one is better suited for Christy? Which one do you think she will sleep with first?

Filled with hilarious quips and laugh-out-loud dialogue. A quick read for any time of the year (not just XMAS.) This story will leave you guessing all the way to end until we get the answer to the burning question: who will win....her heart?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winner of Living the vida Lola

The winner for Living the vida Lola by Misa Ramirez is:


Congratulations and enjoy your prize!

Stay tuned for the next giveaway, folks!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Double Feature: The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina and Q&A with the author

Today, we have another double feature. We have a review for The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina and an interview with the author, M. Padilla.

Inspired by their good-natured rivalry, career-oriented best friends Julia Juarez and Ime Benevides have never let anything come between them. Then enters Julia's new coworker, Ilario, who pulls both women's heartstrings, disrupts their friendship, and brings Julia's career to the brink of disaster.

Looking for support, Julia turns to her other friends: Concepción, a party-obsessed dance instructor; Nina, a timid but shrewd seamstress who's not too taken with her fiancé; and Marta, owner of the Revolutionary Cantina, who is preoccupied with the details of a Hollywood murder case. When they involve Julia in a risky scheme, she must choose between her loyalty to her friends and a chance to live the life she's worked so hard to achieve.

Boasting irreverent, edgy humor and a clear sense of Southern Californian culture, this hilarious, insightful debut novel by award-winning author M. Padilla brilliantly captures the comforts and dangers of friendship.

Reviewed by: Elsie Contreras-Gonzalez

Review: When first starting to read The Girls at the Revolutionary Cantina, I expected a common cliché of women enjoying the camaraderie of friendship over drinks. However, once the plot thickened, I became attached to the characters and their different personalities. The Girls at the Revolutionary Cantina filled me with laughter, delight, and surprise.

The novel revolves around Julia Juarez, a sales representative for a security firm, who faces an unruly challenge when her best friend Ime begins dating her boss, Ilario. Once this happened, I anticipated a "love-triangle" romance, but the author, Padilla, certainly changed that expectation. Tension builds within the friendship as the story unfolds. Julia learns just what type of best friend Ime turns out to be.

Julia begins to admit her own feelings for Ilario while spending time with the other girls at the Revolutionary Cantina. The other three ladies - Marta, the bar owner; Concepcion, a fun-loving dance instructor; and Nina, the quiet seamstress. Each woman has her distinctive features which adds depth, humor, and insight about living as a Latina in the San Fernando Valley. Their lives are engaging, and their involvement in the murder scandal with Latino actor, Diego Ramirez, adds a bit of suspense to the novel.

The novel is a true test of friendship for each character because they all face challenges regarding choices. Themes of ambition, loyalty, friendship, and culture frequently surface throughout this book. My expectations were met by a twist of irony. I truly expected a "friends forever, no matter what" type of ending, but this debut novel features a much different conclusion. It is remarkable because Julia ultimately discovers her independence.

Honestly, I felt sad and thankful once I finished the book, because I will miss the characters, but glad I got to "know" them.

And now a Q&A with M. Padilla.

Can you please tell us a little bit about the kinds of books you write and how your culture affects your craft?

My writing ranges from serious drama to brisk comedy, but all my work has at its center a Latina or Latino protagonist. My parents, who came from Mexico to make a life in the United States in the '50s, were committed to assimilating as Americans quickly, and so many of the things that I found interesting about my family stemmed from their experience as immigrants.

Some of my fondest memories as a kid growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area come from when my Spanish-speaking relatives from Los Angeles and Mexico would come to visit. The women in particular were incredibly funny. They brought a kind of energy to our household that was so different from what I was used to. I was a sponge for their stories and jokes, and I loved the way they relentlessly teased each other. Their voices were a big inspiration for The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina.

Please describe the Latina heroine(s) in your book.

The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina is the story of a group of Mexican-American women living in California's San Fernando Valley. It's about what happens when things like career aspirations and romantic relationships start to take a toll on the friendships you thought was going to last a lifetime. Julia, my heroine, is a hardworking Chicana struggling to achieve security in what she believes to be a very insecure world. After several misfires, her career is finally starting to take off. However, her friends from childhood, for the first time, begin to become hindrances to her success, and she must begin to reevaluate her relationships with them. She also must find a new way to feel secure in the world rather than relying on these same friends; she must start to learn to stand on her own two feet.

Who is your intended audience, if any?

When I began writing The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina when I didn't have a particular audience in mind. I set out to tell a story about a Chicana not unlike the women in my own life - career-oriented, fun-loving and passionate about living. My hope is that women who read Cantina will see some of their own struggle in the character of Julia.

Since publication, the book has been marketed largely to women, but many men have said they enjoyed the book as well. Several people have told me that they lost sleep because they could not put the book down. I hope my novel could be enjoyed by anyone who likes a fast-paced, funny story.

How do you feel your books influence Latinas?

The strongest reactions to any of my work have come from women who see themselves in the pages of the things I write. I think it's important to see your culture reflected in the pages of literature and in the media. It's a powerful reminder of the things we share within a culture and of the things we share that are universal across cultures.

What do you think the future holds for today’s Latina?

I hope that, like the characters in my novel, Latinas today are coming to feel greater freedom in how they define themselves. When I was growing up, the roles for Latinas that I saw tended to be wife and mother and caretaker. Latina women have more and more options available to them and can more fluidly than ever move between roles at different times of their lives. Being Latina or Latino itself is becoming a more and more fluid thing. How assimilated to be or not to be, how traditional or not traditional - these are things one can choose, and I think technology is playing a role in opening up all those possibilities to women everywhere and bringing them together so they can draw strength from their numbers.

What are some of your favorite Latina authors and why?

There are so many, but among the writers who influenced me early on were Sandra Cisneros and Julia Alvarez, and more recently Alisa Valdez Rodriguez and Mary Castillo.

Do you have a website or a blog?

Yes, my website is my book page on Facebook is:!/pages/M-Padilla/294677020744

I invite readers to "like" my fan book page so they can keep track of reviews and upcoming books signing of The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Holiday Giveaway: Living the vida Lola

To celebrate this holiday season, we are giving away Living the vida Lola by Misa Ramirez.

About the book: Dolores "Lola" Cruz loves shoes, kung fu, and her job as an underling at Camacho and Associates, a private investigation firm in Sacramento. After a year and a half on the job, her sexy and mysterious boss, Manny Camacho, finally assigns Lola her first big case--a woman's disappearance.

If Lola gets it right, it could mean a big bump up the career ladder. But this is no grocery store stakeout. The woman turns up dead and the same thing could hapen to Lola if she doesn't watch her back. Complicating matters are the reappearance of Jack Callaghan, the gorgeous guy who first inspired Lola to surveil in high school, and her loving but meddling family that she still lives with. Can Lola solve the murder, reconnect with her long-time crush, and help her cousin's quinceañera go off without a hitch?

Misa Ramirez's debut novel is a delicious mix of mystery, romance, and all-out-fun. Filled with sizzling scenes and side-splitting humor, Living the Vida Lola is a thrilling ride.

The winner will be chosen on a point scale that you must earn by doing any of the following:

+1 - Be a follower of Livin la vida Latina
+1 - For every comment you post on this site
+2 - For every other site you mention Livin la vida Latina
(Note: must include links in the email)

All entries must be emailed to

Type the words, WIN LOLA, in the subject line.

ONLY U.S. RESIDENTS ARE ELIGIBLE (No International Address, please)

A winner will be announced on Dec 12 2010

Buena Suerte!