The sunny days of summer have arrived, and hopefully so has the opportunity to enjoy some time reading by the pool, beach, or on your quiet porch. What better way to relieve some stress than by escaping into the extraordinary worlds of good fiction?
The following list includes books that invite the reader to visit fascinating historical periods, interesting culture and intriguing lives. The story lines and premises are engaging, the narrations are sometimes humorous, and, without exception, the characters are deliciously memorable. Take a deserving break and pick up one or all of these classics of Latino letters:
1. Sandra Cisneros, Caramelo, Vintage, 2003.
The coming of age of Lala Reyes is heartwarming and hilarious in this hefty novel that documents the series of encounters, conflicts and mishaps that shape this young Chicana from Chicago as she travels with her family from the Midwest to Mexico City each summer. The story of Lala’s family is intertwined with the 20th century cultural and political histories of Mexico. Thus readers are treated to a rich education about things Mexican, things American, and everything in between.
2. Joy Castro, Hell or High Water, Thomas Dunne Books, 2012.
Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, this atmospheric thriller’s broken setting mirrors its Latina heroine’s personal demons. Nola Céspedes is a journalist investigating the fate of 1,300 registered sex offenders who vanished after the hurricane, so when news of a serial kidnapper unnerves the city further, Nola uses her resources to track him down and stop him before he claims another young victim. The mission takes an emotional toll on Nola when “facing her fears” becomes a literal action.
3. Jaime Manrique, Our Lives Are the Rivers, Harper Perennial, 2007.
The embattled history of South America in the early 1800s is told through one of the most compelling love stories at the center of the independence movements of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Though many know about Simón Bolívar, few remember his mistress Manuela Sáenz, a freedom fighter credited with fueling the Great Liberator’s political ambitions. Manrique’s gorgeous prose casts a deserving light on this captivating but forgotten romance and its dazzling heroine.
4. Ernesto Mestre, The Lazarus Rumba, Picador, 2000.
Cuba is on the cusp of revolution, which sends the minds of its people spinning about what kind of place the island was about to become. But in order to imagine its future, this novel explores its vibrant and bittersweet past through the lives of three generations of women in the Lucientes family. At the center of this novel is Alicia who, like Alice in Wonderland, journeys through a magical landscape of precious stories and people whose survival depends not on leaders but on collective memory.
5. Yxta Maya Murray, The Queen Jade, Harper Paperbacks, 2008.
Murray has written a number of adventure stories with fierce Latina protagonists, but this is arguably one of her best. Archaeologist Juana Sánchez has mysteriously vanished while on a treasure hunt in the Guatemalan jungle, so her daughter Lola must leave the safety of her bookstore to find her. The physical challenges that await Lola slow her down, but her book knowledge comes in handy a number of times on her search. Murray’s snappy dialogue and cinematic descriptions make this a page-turner.
6. Stella Pope Duarte, Let Their Spirits Dance, Harper Perennial, 2003.
Behind the wheel of this heartbreaking road trip from Arizona to Washington, DC is Teresa Ramírez, whose brother died in Vietnam. But what begins as a personal journey to the Vietnam Wall slowly turns into a collective mission as Teresa’s caravan expands to include a multicultural crew that accurately reflects the range of ethnicities the war affected. Pope Duarte’s energetic prose is uplifting, despite the grim task ahead for this serendipitous community of grief-stricken families.
7. Marcos Villatoro, Home Killings, Arte Público Press, 2001.
The book that began the award-winning Romilia Chacón detective mystery series is still worth revisiting for its suspenseful storyline and the incredible characterization of its edgy and courageous heroine. In her debut thriller, Det. Chacón seeks out the infamous Whisperer, a ruthless killer whose crimes remind her of her own sister’s untimely demise. This case becomes personal and despite the distractions and false leads, the industrious Romilia slowly forges a path toward the dangerous villain.