Cascarones by Sylvia Sánchez Garza is a book that feels more like a conversation between friends. Garza follows the life of a Mexican American girl living in Texas and straddling the world of her culturally rich family and a whitewashed school she winds up going to in Houston. This isn’t the only aspect of her life that Garza delves into. She also explores the girl’s relationship with family members, her church, family traditions, and general everyday life. The book is a nice collection of individual stories about the same family with the same cast of characters.
This was a nice, easy read. It is simple without being boring. The individual stories make nice bite-size sections. This made it a fun, leisurely read. The book feels light. It doesn’t have that heavy, daunting feeling that some books do.
As previously stated, the book feels like a conversation. It feels like sitting and listening to someone reminisce about their childhood. I prefer first-person writing as a rule, and this book delivers. It makes it feel so much more personal and relatable. Readers will identify with pieces of Suzy’s stories and may see themselves in her experiences. Reading this book felt like getting to know a new friend.
I feel like I got to know the characters better through each story. Each story gave a better feel for the family. Even with short stories that could stand alone, the characters were well developed. It also gave a lot of insight into the culture of Mexican American families. It showed their strength and pride in their clinging to their traditions. There were quite a bit of Spanish words and dialogue in the book. I know very little Spanish and looked up a few words, but the vast majority of the meaning comes out in the context.
My only complaint is that I might have liked the stories better in a different order. I think I would have liked them to be in chronological order rather than jumping back and forth in time. It threw me the first time I realized Suzy was speaking as an adult. It took me a second to understand what was happening since it jumped from her being a kid to having kids, and back to a kid again. I lost my bearings a little but recovered quickly.
Cascarones by Sylvia Sánchez Garza is very well-written. There are very few errors, if any. It had a nice pace and flow. I liked following Suzy navigate between two worlds as she is pulled between her large Mexican family and living in America. It taught me a lot about the Mexican American culture that I didn’t know. I’d like to read more by Garza.
Pages: 162 | ISBN: 1724622889
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Posted in Literary Titan Book Award
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Rosita and her son Bartolo had to leave their peaceful life in Houston to start from scratch in Wickliffe Kentucky far away from Rosita’s parents and Billy Hamilton, Bartolo’s father. Their economics status only allows them to rent an ancient wooden house far away from the town center. Mr Johnson, the owner of the house is very attentive and he is likely to help Bartolo and her mom with everything they need. Almost after moving, Bart and Rosita start to notice strange things happening in their new house. Bartolo’s bedroom is always cold and he hears strange voices at night. Eventually they learn that their house is haunted.
Juanita Sepulveda has successfully mixed paranormal and supernatural fiction in such a way that it becomes believably creepy. For those who don’t believe in the ghosts, she is able to make you think twice. She presents the ghost world as something normal in Bartolo’s life. He is not afraid of anything, he is a brave ten years old boy who always help his mom, who is also supportive of him. The strange occurrences begin slowly and turn into something more inexplicable. The families search for answers is often more intriguing then the mystery surrounding the house.
Bartolo, which is also the name of the protagonist, is set in a small and quiet place where life goes on without any interruption until Bartolo meets Jeffrey Mason, Mr Johnson’s servant who may not be as good as everybody has thought. However, they can count on the help of all the inhabitants in Wickliffe. The concepts of family and friendship are very important in the book and it’s something I admired in an otherwise dark novel.
I consider this book to be an easy read with a consistent pace that keeps you engaged. I found myself entertained until the end and discovered the mystery surrounding the plot at the same time as the protagonists did.
Pages: 186 | ASIN: 1450008259
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Sunken Spanish Treasure Quest by Richard Joseph Johnson is an adventure story about four friends who go in search of an 18th century Spanish galleon, the San de Cristo, that sunk off the coast of Florida during a hurricane in 1733. Brad, a commodities trader, finds a journal at an estate sale in Chicago. The journal is written in Spanish, and Brad gives it to his friend, Maximo to read. Max, the owner of a men’s clothing store, has a degree in world history and discovers a reference in the journal (written in hidden code) to the location of the San de Cristo and the lost Spanish treasure–gold and silver coins and ingots–that had been aboard when it sank. Brad and Max enlist two other friends–George, an electronic engineer, and Lou, a former boiler technician on an aircraft carrier and current restaurant owner–to help in the search. Although the four men have no experience or knowledge of maritime salvage, they set off to find this sunken treasure. Will they locate the lost vessel and discover riches beyond their imagining? Will their friendship survive this quest for lost Spanish treasure?
I liked the historical aspects of the story. The history imbued in this story is something that any history buff will surely enjoy. References to the 1700’s were very intriguing and lends an air of mystery to this story that doesn’t dissipate and was one of my favorite parts of the book.
The story started out slow, with a lot of lead up and back story before Brad, Max, George, and Lou actually begin their quest. I felt that there were a lot of unnecessary details (such as what the men ate during their meals together). Eliminating some of the details describing their day to day lives would have improved the pace of the story. The first quarter of the book is filled with the planning and preparing for the trip, including almost two chapters about the drive from Chicago to Florida.
The story picks up once Brad, Max, George, and Lou arrive in Florida and begin their search, and the adventure truly begins when we are introduced to a group of pirates that the four men must battle. Their adventure continues when they return to their lives in Chicago, and trouble follows them home. I liked that although many things changed for them in their lives after their quest for treasure, some things remained the same.
This was an enjoyable read that gets better and more interesting as the story progresses. The bond between the characters is something that I enjoyed watching develop as they pieced together their trip and battled pirates.
Pages: 434 | ASIN: B079437WVB
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Pyre to Fire follows two stories, the fate of a Spanish village during the Inquisition and the contemporary story of a Cuban girl trying to find her roots. Why was this an important book for you to write?
This was the story of my own family with information that I gleaned from all the archival material that I found while researching my own genealogy. While the trajectory of the family, their occupations, names, etc are the not fiction, I had to embellish on the scenes and fill in the blanks. The little girl in Miami is me and it was important to show the relationship between me and my ancestors in as real a way as possible.
I enjoyed the detail in your vision of the village of Fermoselle during Spain’s sudden and devastating conversion to Catholicism. What kind of research did you undertake to ensure your book was accurate?
All my material is primary sourced. I have every single birth, death and marriage certificate as well as land purchases, notarial deeds and last wills of testaments going back to 1545. I then have just wills, notarial deeds and Inquisition records in the archives going back to 1405 Spain and Portugal.
Maria’s character was one that I thought was well developed and captured her soul. What was the inspiration for her character?
I am Maria. The whole description of incidents is exactly as they happened to me.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
My next book is The Recipes of the 15 Grandmothers. I was able to locate recipes that were passed to my Mother from Crypto Jewish times through today. The are special in that any keep the kosher laws even when the family was Catholic and are clearly showing a sign of their times. This book is finished and in the editing process.
A compelling work of historical fiction that engages the reader to follow the story of a family from the burning Pyres of the Spanish Inquisition to a young Cuban Catholic girl in Miami, Florida whose soul was ablaze with a desire to return to its’ rightful place among the Jewish people.
Posted in Interviews
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The Spanish Inquisition in 1492 left no Jewish family untouched. The impact of this horrific period in Spain runs deep and it has had long-lasting effects upon Jewish families through the ages. Maria, a descendant of a Jewish family forced to convert to Catholicism, allows her gut feelings to rule her religious preferences, and she spends time researching her family’s hidden past. As she begins to find more and more clues, she realizes that her soul is true to her Jewish roots, and she sets out to turn her own life upside down even if it means alienating her Catholic family members.
Genie Milgrom’s Pyre to Fire contains two parallel story lines detailing the village of Fermoselle, Spain’s sudden and devastating conversion to Catholicism and descendant Maria’s slow but sure discovery of her family’s painful secrets. The quest Milgrom lays out as part of Maria’s search for answers is written in tandem with excerpts detailing Maria’s ancestors’ struggle in the 1490s. As a reader, I appreciated the parallels and the bounce between modern times and the historical descriptions. I am not versed in this aspect of world history and can easily say I feel equal parts of enlightenment and horror. Milgrom does a wonderful job of painting the trauma and the emotional struggle of the Jews in Spain being forced into conversion and threatened with their lives if they did not comply. Milgrom’s characters, based on her own lineage, help draw a painfully clear picture of the atrocities and the pain experienced by Jewish families who battled for centuries as a result of having to choose to hide their rituals, worship practices, and adherence to dietary restrictions.
I found the heartbreaking life of Maria’s ancestor, Catalina, and the circumstances in which she finds herself on the night of the inquisition to be among the most tragic I have read in historical fiction works. Catalina is faced with hiding, lying, and evading arrest. Her life, though she and her husband try everything in their power to make normal lives and honor their Jewish traditions, is a life of pure fear. Catalina is never afforded true happiness. Milgrom gives readers a tragic and historically accurate protagonist.
As I read, I had a little trouble getting past some errors that could have been prevented with proofreading. Two characters speaking within a single lengthy paragraph and some misplaced quotation marks and punctuation presented some challenges as I read.
This short read (just under 140 pages) gives readers a clear picture of the horrors inflicted on one group of people by another in the name of religion. Milgrom is helping raise awareness, encourage tolerance, and educating generations far removed from her characters’ lives. Readers who are interested in history and curious about the details surrounding The Spanish Inquisition will find Pyre to Fire a great addition to their collection of literature.
Pages: 228 | ASIN: 1976594510
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