National Hispanic Heritage Month – Sandra Cisneros


Sandra Cisneros | Goodreads

This post is part of a feature at Jorie’s Reads by Starry Night Elf called “Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Sandra Cisneros holds the distinction of being the author of the first book I reviewed on this blog. To check out this review, click on “Wrapped up in Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros.”

Goodreads says:

Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954. Internationally acclaimed for her poetry and fiction, she has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lannan Literary Award and the American Book Award, and of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the MacArthur Foundation. Cisneros is the author of two novels The House on Mango Street and Caramelo; a collection of short stories, Woman Hollering Creek; two books of poetry, My Wicked Ways and Loose Woman; and a children’s book, Hairs/Pelitos. She is the founder of the Macondo Foundation, an association of writers united to serve underserved communities (www.macondofoundation.org), and is Writer in Residence at Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.

While Caramelo is the only Cisneros work I’ve read, it’s a stellar one. She wrote a family saga with characters so distinctive that one can’t confuse them. Also, I found myself reminiscing about family road trips my own very different family. I liked the vignettes from the famous people as well.

I’d be remiss leaving to not mention hearing the legendary “Woman Hollering Creek.” I think of it each time I take a road trip from my native Houston to San Antonio. Shiver!

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Alisa Valdes’ Lauren’s Saints of Dirty Faith


Jorie’s Store – Lauren’s Saints of Dirty Faith: A Dirty Girls Social Club Novel

Valdes, A. (2004). Playing with boys. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 9780312332341

Reasons for Reading: When I found the existence of another book about las sucias, I quickly searched the library catalog for Lauren’s saints of dirty faith: A Dirty Girls Social Club novel.  Ultimately, I requested the bookthrough Inter-Library Loan (ILL).

Summary: The third installment of the Dirty Girls Social Club series by Alisa Valdes (formerly Valdes – Rodriguez) shares the latest adventures of three of las sucias – newspaper columnist Lauren Fernandez, ghetto-fabulous Usnavys Rivera, and media mogul Rebecca Baca. Lauren finds herself running away from her lunatic ex-boyfriend, a Boston cop with the help of Usnavys and Rebecca. Laid off, Usnavys must back up and start doing things differently. Rebecca learns of her father’s “other family” and struggles in her relationships with her soul mate husband, Andre, and her son who has Autism.

What I Liked :  I liked las sucias. Also, I did think it was good to read about just three of the ladies as opposed to the entire six. It was especially good to see Usnavys mature. 

What I Disliked : While I admire Valdes for taking matters into her own hands and publishing this book independently, I wish sh had caught numerous spelling/grammar errors. Editing should’ve also caught a time that Rebecca’s son was referred to as a daughter/girl.

I admit I’m not much for reading introductions. I should’ve read where Valdes said she tried on Dean Koontz’s style on for size. Oh, I wished I’d skipped ALL the sections about Jason, Lauren’s psycho ex.

Lastly, I realized that while I read this installment, that my favorite sucia was Sara.

Two Out of Five Pearls

Song: Stone Temple Pilots – Plush (Video) – YouTube

Setting: Boston, New Mexico

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For more on Alisa Valdes’ Lauren’s Saints of Dirty Faith, check out the following sites:
 

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s Playing with Boys


Playing with Boys: A Novel by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez | LibraryThing

Valdes, A. (2004). Playing with boys. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 9780312332341

Reasons for Reading : As I liked the previous three books I’d read by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, I requested Playing with Boys via HCPL.

Summary:. Talent agent Alexis hails from Texas and strives to make a name for herself. Gorgeous starlet Marcella’s smart mouth  has often cost her jobs. Screenwriter Olivia barely keeps up with her toddler son. They all have issues with guys as well as launching their careers. Yet, when these three radically different Latinas meet serendipitously in Los Angeles, they see that they can collaborate and rise to the top.

What I Liked :  I enjoyed catching glimpses of some of the sucias from The Dirty Girls Social Club books.Just having three main characters was good. Valdes-Rodriguez created compelling characters. I especially liked Alexis as she seemed to want the best for everyone and she used her talents for the greater good. I rooted for her to thrive.

What I Disliked : On the other hand, I couldn’t ever appreciate Marcella. I found myself scanning quickly through the sections she narrated. Also, I didn’t like that anyone who wasn’t one of three main characters had a section. I feel that Valdes-Rodriguez could’ve didn’t really have to move outside this group of friends for a point of view.

Two Out of Five Pearls

Song: Christina Milian – Us Against The World – YouTube

Setting : Los Angeles

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For more on Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s Playing with Boys, check out the following sites:

Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits


* 1001 Books Book

Allende, I. (2005). The house of the spirits. New York: Dial Press. 9780553383805

Allende, I. (1985). The house of the spirits. New York: A.A. Knopf. 9780394539072

Having enjoyed Allende’s writing in the past, I checked out The House of the Spirits from HCPL. Before I proceed, I must state that I’ve never read anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. From what I’ve seen online, this will color the reader’s opinion of The House of the Spirits.

This work is the saga of the Truebas, a family living in an unnamed South American country (presumably Chile). It follows the Trueba family for  four generations against a backdrop of political definition, struggle, and upheaval of the twentieth century. There’s also a talk of The Politician (Salvador Allende) and his fall from power.

Allende tells the story through two different voices – a third person narrator and Esteban Trueba, the elderly patriarch. The latter was engaged to Rosa del Valle, also called Rosa la Bella. When Rosa dies from an accidental poisoning, Esteban throws himself into the reconstruction of his family’s hacienda, Las Tres Marias. Esteban takes out his rage on the peasants, raping many of the females.

The matriarch of the House of Trueba is Clara del Valle, who is introduced in the first line of the book. Clara possesses all sorts of ESP and she’s sister of Rosa the Beautiful. Inadvertantly, she predicts the death of Rosa. When this happens, Clara falls silent for years. She only communicates through writing while maintaining a family history.The next time Clara talks, she announces that she’ll marry Esteban Trueba.

When they do marry, they reside in the house on the corner. Soon, they have children (Blanca, twins Jaime and Nicolas) in this house. The house  where many gather around Clara. This group includes both living and dead folks. Among the living are the Mora Sisters and the Poet (thought to be Pablo Neruda).

I was amazed by this work. As I’ve mentioned in reviewing Island Beneath the Sea, Allenda is a gifted storyteller. These characters are so real that I can almost see them. The magical elements almost offer the book the feel of fairy tale. For example, Rosa the Beautiful has green hair and yellow eyes. Esteban and Clara’s granddaughter, Alba, also has green hair. Yet, Allende gets down to business such as Pinochet’s coup on September 11, 1973. Of all of her works I’ve read, this one is the best.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Places: Chile, Peru, Europe, United States, Canada, China

Literary Ties: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

For more reviews of Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, please click on the following links:

Wrapped up in Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros


Cisneros, S. (2002). Caramelo. New York: Harper Audio. 9780060515911

 Cisneros, S. (2002). In Caramelo, or, Puro cuento: A novel. New York: Knopf. 9781400041503

Caramelo was a novel of epic proportions (eighty plus chapters) written by well-known author Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street). The book was published in 2002 by Harper Collins. The audio book is read by author Sandra Cisneros. I both listened to and read Caramelo.

This book seemed semi-autobiographical to me. Like the narrator, Lala Reyes, Cisneros was born into a large family and she was born in Chicago in the 1950s. Also, both are the only daughters born into the family. Each is of Mexican descent and, of course, each woman can really spin a thread. Nonetheless, the novel is prefaced with, perhaps, a caveat saying that not one bit is true. In fact, Cisneros disclaims, “If, in the course of my inventing, I have inadvertently stumbled on the truth, perdónenme.” Caramelo came in a Spanish edition as well. The English version which I experienced is liberally sprinkled with authentic Spanish phrases.

A few things about Caramelo caught my attention before I decided to read the book. The mention of the rebozo of San Luis Potosi, Mexico reminded me of mission trips I went on to SLP and my own search for a rebozo. Also, I read the back and saw that part of the book takes place in San Antonio, each Texan’s second home town. Then, there was the curiosity about Cisneros’s writing style. So, I gave Caramelo a chance.

With Caramelo, the reader is given a chance to learn or brush up on Mexican history, immerse him/herself in the Mexican-American experience as well as learn the stories and, sometimes, the Reyes family history. The young narrator, Celaya “Lala” Reyes provides her audience a window into her heritage, weaving in strands to create a rich, poignant caramelo rebozo of a tale.

Lala’s paternal grandmother, Soledad Reyes, comes from a family of the legendary, Mexican shawl of San Luis Potosi. The book begins with an annual summer pilgrimage from Lala’s native Chicago to visit the grandparents, the Awful Grandmother and the Little Grandfather, in Mexico City.

Caramelo begins with one such summer when Lala was a little girl. Here, the Awful Grandmother rules the roost. The Awful Grandmother dotes on her favorite child, Lala’s father, Inocencio, to the irritation of Lala’s mother, Zoila, and to the exclusion of the rest of the Awful Grandmother’s children. When Zoila reaches her breaking point with the Awful Grandmother, the story takes the reader on a journey to the time the Awful Grandmother was a sad, lonely little girl called Soledad Reyes.

The reader finds the little Soledad being sent with her late mother’s caramelo rebozo, a shawl of boasting the colors of toffee, licorice, and vanilla, (Cisneros 94) to Mexico City from San Luis Potosi and into a fateful introduction to Narciso Reyes (the Little Grandfather). In the midst of the Mexican Revolution (1911 – 1920), Narciso and Soledad come together, marry, and start of family. Inocencio, the first child and the favorite of Soledad, was born. As a young man, Inocencio moves to United States and works his way to Chicago, and meets Mexican-American Zoila.

The Awful Grandmother moves in with the Chicago Reyeses after the death of the Little Grandfather. At first, they all live in Chicago. Then, they all move to San Antonio where the Awful Grandmother dies. Teenage granddaughter Lala is left with numerous loose ends and looks into the family histories and stories to better understand her late grandmother.

Some reviewers have compared Caramelo to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I believe that while the Reyes family may not be monetarily wealthy, they are rich with stories and identity. At times this book was reminiscent of Forrest Gump in the numerous appearances of famous and/or infamous, true people. However, I did like the historical context these cameos lent the work.

For the most part, I enjoyed listening to this book. Cisneros was able to better convey her points with her vocal characterizations – from the Awful Grandmother’s whine to Inocencio’s formality to Zoila’s crackling sarcasm. Additionally, Cisneros can pronounce these words. She knows her own stuff and that’s great. Still, it was good to have the book to see exactly how some of these words looked so I could say, “Oh, that’s how you say that word.” If anyone has as little understanding of Spanish as I, Caramelo may be a struggle.

I appreciated that many of the characters had an oft-repeated sentiment throughout the work. Narciso (the Little Grandfather) was a man feo, fuerte, y formal although he was not ugly (Cisneros, 103) while Soledad (the Awful Grandmother) reminds herself “Just enough, but not too much (92).

I am happy I stuck it out, though. I was able to see Lala make and wear her very own rebozo with the help of various relatives, especially her grandmother. Thus, I recommend this to the patient history buff out there.

Caramelo receives three out of five pearls from me.