This young adult book is about Francis, a Chinese American young woman. Bitter Melon tells of Francis’ struggle to try please her mother. You see her mother was never pleased by anything Francis did. Finally, Francis decides that if nothing she does pleases her mother, she will please herself. Her mother expected Francis to excell, and she did, but never quite well enough. When Francis accidentally ends up in Speech instead of Calculus, Francis chooses to stay. Here Francis finds something she loves and is extremely well at. Only, her mother must never find out.
Each year from September 15 to October 15 we recognize National Hispanic Heritage Month “by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” What better time of year to explore mysteries written by Hispanic or Latino authors of many nationalities?
Mexican-American writer, Rudolfo Anaya, for example, features New Mexico private investigator Sonny Baca in a seasonal quartet whose titles include Zia Summer, Rio Grande Fall, Shaman Winter, and Jemez Spring. Sonny Baca is not your average private investigator. A divorced former high school teacher, he’s the grandson of a legendary lawman, whose backup includes an extra-large sociopath, coyotes, and a curandera (folk healer). Sonny routinely deals with drug dealers and medical experiments, as well as the mysticism and magic of Chicano culture.
Marcos McPeek Villatoro brings El Salvadoran policewoman Romilia Chacon to life in a series of novels that take her from the Nashville Police Department to the FBI in Los Angeles, as the Latina detective hunts for her sister’s killer. Titles in the series include Home Killing, Minos, A Venom Beneath the Skin, and Blood Daughters.
Inspector Espinosa is the protagonist in a series by Brazilian writer Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. Lush in setting, these mysteries take place in steamy, exotic Rio de Janiero. Titles in this Rio-noir series include Silence of the Rain, December Heat and Pursuit. Inspector Espinosa is an everyman character, a public servant, a solitary individual, who does not consider himself a hero. Garcia-Roza has created an ethical policeman often out of his depth in the seedy world he serves.
Cuban-born writer Leonardo Padura is the author of a colorful series featuring Police Lieutenant Mario Conde. Havana Gold, Havana Red, Havana Blue, and Havana Black blend dark police procedurals with vivid images of contemporary Havana. Lieutenant Conde is a cop who would rather be a writer, feeling himself drawn to other writers, crazy people, and drunks.
For thrillers with a mystery twist, Spanish author Juan Gomez-Jurado offers several titles written with both energy and a sense of the cinematic. The Traitor’s Emblem involves a daring rescue at sea, a mysterious gold emblem, Nazis, Masons, and a son’s search for the truth behind his father’s death. Other titles by Gomez-Jurado in English include God’s Spy and The Moses Expedition.
Michele Martinez is a Puerto Rican-American attorney and former federal prosecutor in New York who shares many characteristics with her protagonist, Melanie Vargas. Martinez features Vargas and FBI agent Dan O’Reilly in several novels. In Most Wanted, the first book in the series, Melanie Vargas takes the case of a prominent New Yorker found tortured and murdered in his posh townhouse. Other titles in the series include The Finishing School, Cover-Up, and Notorious.
Cayetano Brule is the private investigator in a series of mysteries by Chilean author Roberto Ampuero. In The Neruda Case Cayetano meets the poet Pablo Neruda at a party in Chile in the 1970s. The dying Neruda recruits Cayetano to help him solve the last great mystery of his life. The novel is set against the dangerous political world of pre-Pinochet Chile, Castro’s Cuba, and perilous behind-the-Wall East Berlin.
Cuban expatriate Jose Latour delivers a suspenseful, atmospheric novel of intrigue set in contemporary Havana and Miami in Comrades in Miami. As Colonel Victoria Valiente, the Havana-based spymaster of greater Miami, her husband, and $2.7 million in stolen money set sail for Key West, little do they know that the FBI is on their trail. This novel gives an insider’s view of the Cuban regime’s darker corners.
Learn more about National Hispanic Heritage Month at hispanicheritagemonth.gov/.
September is also “Library Card Signup Month.” Visit the library to sign up for your card today, or click the Library Card button on our web page to register online. Your library card will open up a world of adventure, information, and knowledge, not to mention mysteries by Hispanic authors.
In the third book of the Corduroy Mansions series, Freddie de la Hay, the devoted canine who attached himself to William French is missing. While visiting William’s old school friend and his wife, Freddie follows the irresistible scent of rabbit and digs himself into trouble which involves a possible new home and life for Freddie. Meanwhile his master is in his own hot water when the wife of his best friend announces her secret long-held love of William. Free-loading Eddie has found someone to take care of him he thinks, but Barbara with all of her inherited money may have doubts. Other quirky characters charm us with their foibles and we continue to anticipate further antics in this London setting.
Intisar is Alif’s lover, and when she leaves him for an arranged marriage to a prince, Alif does what any talented computer geek would do (okay, probably not true). He writes a program to identify Intisar from wherever she accesses the internet and then hides himself from her online. The Hand, head of State online security, breaches Alif’s security and steals this program.
It turns out Intisar’s fiance is the Hand, and he now knows about their relationship. Alif is forced to go on the run, along with his childhood friend, Dina. They also have in their possession the only known copy of the Thousand and One Days. A book of the jinn that the Hand desperately wants. The jinn’s metaphorical way of thinking has profound implications for information technology, and the Hand wants to harness this new method for his own ends. Alif must seek aid from beings he didn’t believe existed, namely the jinn as they exist in the Qur’an, in order to save himself and his friends.
Alexander McCall-Smith keeps adding to the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and I keep enjoying the adventures of Precious Ramotswe. This time the difficult situations are a little too close to home for the Precious and her assistant, Grace Makutsi. The best auto repair assistant of Mma Ramotswe’s husband is arrested for auto theft, then Grace and her husband hire a contractor to begin building their home but the builder comes into question when one of his worker’s leaves doubt in their minds. The renowned Clovis Anderson, author of The Principles of Private Detection, comes for a visit and helps them with the terrible trouble of the dismissal of Mma Potokwane, matron of the orphan farm. Satisfactory solutions result and we continue to applaud the wisdom of Precious Ramotswe and her allies.
Ciro and Enza, two Italian immigrants, find each other and a future in Adriana Trigiani’s epic historical novel, The Shoemaker’s Wife. in 1905, seven year old Ciro and his brother, Eduardo, are left at a convent in Italy by their distraught mother who can nolonger care for her sons. Her husband had died in America while trying to make a new life for his family. The nuns become their substitute mothers and Eduardo takes to the religious life, while Ciro wants more from life. He meets 15 year old Enza when hired to dig the grave of her little sister in a nearby mountain village. Their attraction for each other during this difficult time begins a love relationship that spans many miles and many years.
Adriana Trigiani spent twenty years writing this story that tells the enchanting love story of her grandparents, who came to America. The hardships they endure as they search for a way in this country are overcome through their determination to succeed and strength of character. The historical details of the Metropolitan Opera House in the early twentieth century, and Enza’s relationship with Enrico Caruso for whom she sews costumes and cooks traditional Italian delights add to the delight of this story.
This political thriller by Adam Johnson deservedly gets starred reviews from BookList, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. The Orphan Master’s Son takes place in modern-day North Korea. The book follows the life of Pak Jun Do, from an orphanage, to a tunnel soldier, kidnapper, hero, starving prisoner, and impersonator. I had difficulty putting this book down even though I knew there were most likely horrors waiting around the corner. It was like watching a train wreck about to happen but being unable to take your eyes off of it. Reading about some of the physical and mental torture, starving people, and other brutalities inflicted on individuals was hard to stomach. To give a further sense of living under a dictatorship, the book is interspersed with narration by the national radio station that spouts propaganda all day long. As people are starving and living in constant fear, the national broadcasts paint a rosy picture of North Korea while portraying western nations as villainous. Some of the propaganda is so darkly funny that I would almost catch myself laughing at its absurdity. And of course the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il is ever present, if not physically then always in thought. The reader gets a real sense of the fear that the North Korean constantly lives under, where one misspoken word from yourself, lie from another, or bad luck can spell doom for yourself and your family. Amidst all the tragedy, there are some very touching moments and the love story is truly heartwarming. Obviously, don’t pick up this book if you’re looking for a light, feel-good read, but if you want a book that is intense and thought provoking, that will keep you thinking long after you have finished reading it, put this on your to-read list for 2012.