Category Archives: Features

Thrillers and chillers: Spooky books for adults

Halloween is a holiday for children, but adults can get in the act, too. (Why turn down the candy?) There’s no better way to get into the mood than with a creepy or suspenseful book. As part of book blogger Jenn Lawrence’s meme, Murder, Monsters & Mayhem, here’s a list of Latino-themed thrillers. And check out our list of Halloween books for children posted earlier this week.

Let’s start with the monsters – specifically, vampires. The Strain is a trilogy of novels by Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro, written with Chuck Hogan, about a virus that vampires inflict on the world. (If you want a creepy movie to watch on Halloween, his 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth is an excellent choice.)

For a humorous touch, Marta Acosta’s Casa Dracula series, including Happy Hour at Casa Dracula, features a romance between the main character, Milagro de Los Santos, and a vampire. Caridad Piñeiro’s new book, Kissed by a Vampire, also features a paranormal romance – all part of her The Calling/Reborn series featuring the undead beasts.

Now let’s get to murder and mayhem, with several book series featuring Latino crime solvers. The Henry Rios series by Michael Nava, which has a gay lawyer in San Francisco as its lead character, began with The Little Death and ended with Rag and Bone. Rudolfo Anaya’s Sonny Baca series, which includes Zia Summer and Jemez Spring, features a detective solving crimes in New Mexico. The Rio Grande Valley is home to several thrillers, including Partners in Crime, by Rolando Hinojosa.

For books with a strong female protagonist, Lucha Corpi’s mysteries – including Eulogy for a Brown Angel, Cactus Blood and Black Widow’s Wardrobefeatures a clairvoyant detective solving crimes in Los Angeles. Or try these recent thrillers: Lyn DiIorio’s Outside the Bones, about a bruja who gets caught up in an old mystery; Joy Castro’s Hell or High Water , which has a newspaper reporter investigating sexual predators in New Orleans; and Linda Rodriguez’s  Every Last Secretabout a college police chief who solves a murder on campus.

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La Llorona, chupacabras, oh my! Spooky books for children and teens

Boo! October brings the greatest holiday ever – Halloween. It’s not just about the candy, but listening to stories that put goosebumps on your arms and a shiver in your bones. As part of book blogger Jenn Lawrence’s meme, Murder, Monsters, Mayhem, here’s a look at spooky tales, Latino-style, for children and young adults. Look for a list of suspense books for adults later this week.

In Mexican folklore, no figure is more haunting than La Llorona, the woman who drowned her children and spends her time calling for them. Her tale has been told in numerous books, including La Llorona/The Weeping Woman by Joe Hayes, who talked about the story’s enduring legacy to The Hispanic Reader last year.

Texas-based writer Rene Saldaña Jr. also explores the myth – and others – in his book, Dancing with the Devil and Other Tales from Beyond / Bailando con el diablo y otros cuentos del más allá. La Llorona is becoming part of mainstream pop culture: She will be the subject of NBC’s Grimm in the Oct. 26 episode. Wilmer Valderrama talked about the project to NBC Latino. And here’s Lila Downs singing about La Llorona.

La Llorona and those other spooky beasts – the chupacabras – are part of Texas-based children’s writer Xavier Garza books, including Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys, Kid Cyclone Fights the Devil and Other Stories and Juan and the Chupacabras/ Juan y el Chupacabras. The Rio Grande Valley native talked about the inspiration for the books to the San Antonio Express-News last year.

For more universal creatures, Alma Flor Ada writes about ghosts in What Are Ghosts Afraid Of? El susto de los fantsmas. In A Mummy in Her Backpack/Una Momia en su mochila by James Luna, a girl ends up with an unusual souvenir from vacation. Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes and Yuyi Morales is a poem about the creatures that haunt the night.

Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy combines Halloween and the other upcoming holiday, Dias de los Muertos, in Celebrate Halloween and the Day of the Dead with Cristina and her Blue Bunny Celebra el Halloween y el Día de Muertos con Cristina y su conejito azul. Pat Mora’s Abuelos describes a Halloween-like holiday in northern New Mexico that has Mexican and Pueblo roots.

For young adults, You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens features a variety of tales from as Saldaña, Diana López and Sergio Troncoso. Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s recently released novel Summer of the Mariposas also features La Llorona – in a gentler light than most books – and chupacabras.

The Beautiful Creatures series, written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, features teenagers who meet otherworldly beings called Casters. The book soon will be a major motion picture starring Viola Davis and Emma Thompson. Alisa Valdes’ The Temptation features a romance between supernatural teens.

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Labor Day literature: The farmworkers movement in print

Americans will celebrate workers this Labor Day weekend. Two of the Latino community’s most prominent figures – César Chávez and Dolores Huerta – led the farmworkers movement in the 1960s, demanding better conditions for the workers who picked grapes in California. The movement not only had an impact on workers’ rights, but on Latino literature as well.

Here’s a look at some books about Chávez and Huerta, a couple of novels that portray the life of farmworkers, and the story of how the movement gave birth to one of the Hispanic community’s most prominent theaters:

For children: Children can learn about the movement in Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chávez by Monica Brown, Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez by Kathleen Krull and Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers, by Sarah Warren.

For adults: The Words of César Chávez is a book of Chávez’s speeches and writings. It was included in the Library of Congress exhibit, The Books That Shaped America. Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike, by John Gregory Dunne and Ilan Stavans, is a comprehensive look at the strike, while Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa by Jacques Levy focuses on Chávez. (A film of Chávez’s life is being made into a movie starring Diego Luna, according to The Los Angeles Times.) The Fight in the Fields by Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval is the companion to the 1997 PBS documentary of the same title.

Fiction: Two of Latino literature’s most acclaimed novels focus on the plight of farmworkers. The 2000 young adult novel Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan depicts a teenager working the fields in the 1920s. The 1996 novel Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes tells the story of California farmworkers through the eyes of a 13-year-old worker.

Theater: During the Delano Grape Strike, Luis Valdez began presenting plays on flatbed trucks and union halls. He eventually founded El Teatro Campensino, and went on to write the play and the movie Zoot Suit and the movie La Bamba. He recently talked about his theater’s roots to AARP VIVA radio. (The program is in Spanish.)

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The Hispanic Reader is one year old today!

It’s The Hispanic Reader’s one-year anniversary! Since my first post, I’ve talked to eight authors, marked 18 writers’ birthdays, reviewed 37 books and written 117 posts. To celebrate, I’m giving you a couple of presents.

First, I created a Features Index that includes links to those author interviews and profiles; lists of books for special occasions (from Christmas to quinceañeras); and features about Latino literature, such as a look at writers who have won the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. (I already have an index of book reviews.)

Second, I’ve created a trivia quiz about Latino literature from my posts and book reviews in the past year. (You can find more information about the answers below the quiz.) Good luck and have fun!

1. The answer is D. In the 2001 movie, the flighty Sara (Kate Beckinsale) writes her name and phone number in a copy of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and tells Jonathan (John Cusack), who she just met, that if their love is meant to be, he will find that copy in a bookstore. Appropriate book since Cholera is about a man who waits 50 years for the woman he loves.

2. The answer is A. Although he is considered one of the top storytellers in Latino literature, Borges never won the Nobel. Only 12 Latinos have, including Paz, Saramago and Vargas Llosa. But Borges did get a Google doodle on his birthday.

3. The answer is B. Luis Valdez began directing plays on a flatbed truck and union halls during the Delano Grape Strike of the 1960s. His theater company is aptly named El Teatro Campesino. Considered the father of Latino theater, he wrote the play Zoot Suit and the directed the movie version and La Bamba.

4. The answer is C. In Il Postino, Pablo Neruda helps an Italian postal carrier woo his love. The 1994 film, based on an Antonio Skarmeta book, earned a Best Picture nomination. The other answers were books – by Laura Esquivel, Isabel Allende and Carlos Fuentes – that also were made into movies.

5. The answer is B. Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chávez takes place in the tiny fictional town of Cabritoville, near El Paso.

6. The answer is B. Malín Alegría dons the elaborate dress in honor of her book Estrelle’s Quinceañera, one of many books about the popular Hispanic tradition. Veronica Chambers wrote the Magdalena and Marisol books; Diana López penned Choke; and Lorraine López authored The Realm of Hungry Spirits.

7. The answer is D. Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig is considered one of the most famous works in Latino literature of the last 50 years.

8. The answer is A. Hanks read Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude in the classic comedy caper.

9. The answer is D. Quiara Alegría Hudes won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2012 for her play, Water by the Spoonful. Hudes, who also wrote 26 Miles and co-wrote the Tony-winner In the Heights, is one of the few Latinos to win the American award for literary arts and journalism. Although they have not won the Pulitzer, Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros and Cristina García have written novels that have received strong critical acclaim.

10. The answer is C. Pablo Neruda knew Gabriela Mistral when he was growing up in Temuco, Chile. Fuentes and Paz are from Mexico. Allende is from Chile, but a generation younger than Neruda. Her uncle, President Salvador Allende, was friends with Neruda, a relationship depicted in Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case.

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When you’re fifteen …: A look at quinceañeras in literature

The recently released Quince Clash by Malín Alegría is the latest book in the Border Town series for young adults, and it’s latest book that has featured quinceañeras – the elaborate celebration for Latinas on their 15th birthday – as a major plot point. Here’s a look at some other books that cover the unique Hispanic tradition.

Alegría knows quinceañeras well. In her 2007 novel, Estrella’s Quinceañera, the title character is almost embarrassed to have the celebration, especially since she is  attending an elite private school. According to this NPR story, the book is considered a classic among Latino youth and Alegría shows up at book readings in a ruffled quinceañera dress and tiara.

Quinceañera Means Fifteen, by Veronica Chambers, is part of a series featuring Marisol and Magdalena, two Panamanian best friends who live in Brooklyn. In this 2001 book, Marisol and Magdalena find their friendship strained as they plan their parties. The celebration is also featured in Chambers’ Amigas series – in Fifteen Candles and Lights Cameras Quince.

Belinda Acosta provides an adult perspective in her Quinceanera Club series. The main characters in 2009’s Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz and 2010’s Sisters Strangers and Starting Over are organizing quinceañeras for reluctant teenagers. Acosta cited Fifteen Candles: 15 Tales of Taffeta, Hairspray, Drunk Uncles, and other Quinceanera Stories, a book of essays edited by Adriana V. Lopez, as a great resource.

For a non-fiction take on the big event, try Julia Alvarez’s 2007 Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA. She visited several quinceañeras as research for the book, which covers the tradition’s history and its financial costs. Ilan Stavans examines the religious, gender and class aspects in the 2010 anthology of essays he edited, Quinceañera (The Ilan Stavans Library of Latino Civilization).

Other books about quinceañeras include (with a hat tip to Louisville Free Public Library): the Pura Belpré Award-winning The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales; Sister Chicas by Lisa Alvarado, Ann Hagman Cardinal and Jane Alberdeston Coralin; and Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa. And check out Sweet Fifteen by Diane Gonzales Bertrand.

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A look at LGBT Latino writers

June is Gay Pride Month. Here’s a look at some Latino writers who have written about the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered experience:

• Poet Francisco X. Alarcón, right, is best known for his Pura Belpré Honor Award-winning book Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates Risuenos y Otros Poemas de Primavera, but he has written about the gay experience in his numerous poems and is working on an anthology of gay Latino poetry.

Jeanne Córdova, left, was on the forefront of the gay rights and women’s movement in the 1970s. Her most recent book, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love & Revolution, was partly written in Mexico. The book recently won the Lesbian Memoir/Biography prize from the 24th Annual Lambda Literary Awards.

• The late Manuel Puig, right, wrote one of Latino literature’s most famous works – the 1976 novel, Kiss of the Spider Woman, about a gay man and a revolutionary who are trapped in prison together – which became a play, a popular 1985 movie and Broadway musical. He also wrote 1968’s Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and 1973’s The Buenos Aires Affair.

Charles Rice-Gonzalez, left, wrote the 2011 book Chulito, about a young gay man growing up in the Bronx, and co-edited the book From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction with Charlie Vázquez. Vásquez is active in promoting gay Latino poetry, and has created poetry readings for gay Latino writers in the East Village in New York City.

Alex Sanchez, right, has won numerous awards for his young adult novels about being gay. His books include Rainbow Boys and Boyfriends with Girlfriends. His website offers resources and other book selections for LGBT teens.

Anybody I miss? Let me know in the comments.

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The Hispanic Reader’s 100th post!

Woo hoo! This is the 100th post of The Hispanic Reader! And after writing 100 posts, I can say it’s been a lot of fun – and a lot of work. I’ll be on hiatus for awhile to give myself a breather. While I’m gone, check out these posts from the blog:

• Features about Nobel and Pultizer Prize-winning authors, Afro-Latino authors, Latino poets, and a book club, a bookstore, literary magazines and writer’s groups devoted to Latino literature.

Interviews with Machete co-screenwriter Alvaro Rodriguez, journalist Edgar Sandoval, storyteller Joe Hayes, and novelists Julia Amante, Lyn DiIorio, Guadalupe Garcia McCall and Meg Medina.

Bios of some of great Latino authors, including many of the Nobel Prize winners, such as Gabriel García Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, as well prominent authors such as Roberto Bolaño, Sandra Cisneros, Carlos Fuentes and Manuel Puig.

Book reviews from the past year and classic books written by Latinas. My favorite books were Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman (which was also The Hispanic Reader’s first full book review), The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea and Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chávez.

Plays written by Latinos, including recent Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegría Hudes.

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Latinos and the Pulitzer Prize

Update: Quiara Alegría Hudes won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her play, Water by the Spoonful. I also included information on Sonia Nazario, which I forgot about when I first wrote this post until I saw her book in my co-worker’s office and thought, “I can’t believe I forgot Enrique’s Journey!”

The Pulitzer Prizes, which award the best in journalism and literary arts, will be announced on Monday. While the Nobel Prize in Literature is an international award that honors a lifetime achievement of work, the Pulitzers are an American award that recognizes the previous year’s work in a variety of categories. Here’s a look at some of the past Latino winners:

Fiction:

• Only two Hispanics have won this prize: Oscar Hijuelos for 1990’s The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love and Junot Díaz, right, for 2008’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Hopefully, the committee will consider Francisco Goldman’s Say Her Name, Justin Torres’s We the Animals and Hector Tobar’s The Barbarian Nurseries this year.

Drama:

• Nilo Cruz, left, is the lone Latino playwright to win this honor, for 2003’s Anna in the Tropics. Some writers have come close in recent years – Quiara Alegría Hudes was a finalist for 2007’s Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue in 2007 and, with Lin-Manuel Miranda, 2009’s In the Heights, as was Kristoffer Diaz for 2010’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.

Poetry:

• William Carlos Williams, right, whose mother was Puerto Rican, appears to be the lone poet with Latino roots to win in the category.

Sadly, no Latinos appear to have won in the autobiography, general non-fiction or history categories. Luis Alberto Urrea came close in 2005, when he was a finalist for general non-fiction category for The Devil’s Highway.

Journalism:

Latinos have won in various categories throughout the years – as part of teams covering the Los Angeles riots for The Los Angeles Times in 1992 and the Elian Gonzalez case for The Miami Herald in 2001. Here’s a look at some interesting winners of the past:

Ruben Vives, left, who came to the United States from Guatemala as an undocumented immigrant and worked his way to become a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, won the award last year for Public Service at age 32.

Liz Balmaseda of The Miami Herald was the first (and still only) Latino to win in the Commentary category in 1993.

SoniaNazarioSonia Nazario, who was raised in the United States and Argentina, wrote a series of articles for The Los Angeles Times about one boy’s travels from Honduras to the United States that won the 2003 Feature Writing prize and became the book Enrique’s Journey.

• Photographer José Galvez, right, was part of the first team of Latinos to win a Pulitzer when  The Los Angeles Times took the 1984 Public Service Prize for its series on Latino life in Southern California. His work can also be seen in Urrea’s book of poems Vatos and other books.

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A book club for Latino literature

One organization has a unique mission — combining Latino literature and fellowship.

Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club, a partnership between Las Comadres Para Las Americas and the Association of American Publishers, meets once a month to discuss a recently published book by a Hispanic author. It boosts more than a dozen chapters in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Texas.

Members read mostly novels, although they have discussed non-fiction and children’s books. (Its book archive is here.)

The club is scheduled to discuss The Madness of Mamá Carlota by Graciela Limón in April. The complete list for 2012, which includes Carolina de Robertis Perla and Joy Castro’s Hell or High Water, is here.

The book club also features Conversations with Authors, a teleconference in which members can talk with the writer. They’ve talked to Julia Amante, author of Say You’ll Be Mine; Lyn Di Iorio, Outside the Bones; Marisel Vera, If I Bring You Roses and Lelia Cobo, The Second Time We Met.

The book club began in 2008 as an offshoot of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, a national organization founded by Dr. Nora de Hoyos Comstock that connects and empowers Latinas through community building/networking, culture, learning and technology. The group features a monthly potluck called a comadrazo, as well as other activities.

But the book club remains one of its prominent activities. Many of the books have brought out interesting discussions, said Amanda Arizola, who serves as the National Project Manager for the book club.

“Book clubs are supposed to spark interest and debate,” she said. “All of our books have given us that.”

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Love, Latino-style: Books and movies for Valentine’s Day

Depending on your point of view, Valentine’s Day is either one of the best or worst holidays of the year. But no matter what your point of view, this is a good time to look at some of the greatest love stories in Latino literature.

For the hopeless romantic:

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera – young Florentino Ariza loves Fermina Daza from the moment he sees her – and keeps loving her even when she marries another man. This classic book was made into a 2007 movie staring Javier Bardem and Benjamin Bratt.

For the food lover:

Tita’s emotions can be felt in the food she is making in Laura Esquivel’s 1989 Like Water for Chocolate ­– and her emotions are intense when her sister marries the man she loves. The best-selling novel, made into a 1992 movie, includes recipes for the meals.

For a good cry:

Francisco Goldman’s 2011 Say Her Name tells the story of Goldman’s relationship with his wife, Aura Estrada, who died in a swimming accident. His love for her is so palpable that your heart will break along with his.

For the poetry fan:

If you prefer poetry, you can’t more romantic than Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda’s Love Poems. This book inspired the 1994 Academy Award-nominated movie Il Postino, in which Neruda appears as a character who helps a postal carrier woo the woman he loves. 

For the movie lover:

The 2011 film Chico and Rita features the romance between a Cuban pianist and singer in the 1940s. NPR talked to co-director Fernando Trueba about the film, which is up for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

Do you know of any other great Latino love stories that should be included here? Post them in the comments.

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