Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A woman with black hair, wearing an off the should red gown, holds bunch of flowers while standing in front of a green floral wallpaper.

by Kristen B.

Horrifyingly creepy. Creepily horrifying. Either way, it’s gothic. The author tells you right there in the title. I’m not a big fan of horror – gothic or otherwise. You can keep your atmospheric creepies to yourself.

This book absorbed me. I literally could not put it down.

Noemi Taboada is my kind of girl: smart and sassy. She’s contemplating an advanced degree in anthropology, if only she can convince her father that there’s more to a well-off woman’s life than marriage and family. In Mexico in the 1950s, this is a harder sell than it should be. She’s also something of a party girl, who enjoys dancing and smoking with her active social circle.

Her cousin Catalina, though, is cut from more traditional cloth. She is married and has moved to her new husband’s remote estate, away from the family in Mexico City. When the family receives troubling letters from and about Catalina, Noemi agrees to her father’s plan to visit her cousin and investigate the situation.

Catalina has married Virgil Doyle, oldest son of a family that immigrated to Mexico generations ago but have maintained an English sensibility, including not speaking Spanish. They came for the silver mines and stayed for reasons that become clear later. The house (in all honestly, a sinister mansion) is dark – literally with drapes pulled and limited electricity – decorated with overwrought furnishings in a variety of mythological motifs and loaded with tarnished silver. Gothic oozes out of the story’s rotting wainscoting.

Noemi is not a particularly welcome visitor. She smokes. She asks questions. She’s not particularly interested in being obedient to the Doyles’ odd rules. She wants to see her cousin. She visits town. She roams the family’s cemetery where she befriends younger cousin Francis, who helps her understand that not all is right or well at High Place – and not just because the family’s fortunes are dwindling with the mines being closed.

Francis has a fascination with fungus. Mushrooms are his main interest, and I don’t want to spoil too much – but it’s relevant. He also seems to spend plenty of time outdoors to get away from his overbearing family: Virgil who reeks of ambition and charisma but codes as emotionally abusive, and Florence, the strict maiden aunt who is the enforcer for Howard, the ailing patriarch with a keen interest in eugenics. Honestly, I’d spend as much time outside as I could, too.

Noemi’s questions reveal that the Doyle family has all sorts of secrets and scandals, including murder and incest. Things start to fall into place just as Noemi begins to demonstrate the same sort of worrisome symptoms as her cousin Catalina. Noemi’s vivid dream sequences contribute to the sense of impending doom and overall wrongness. When Howard and Florence forcibly insist that Noemi marry Francis, it all comes apart at the seams and a nightmare of truly gothic proportions ensues. The author fully embraces Latin magical realism as she dives into the deep end of the horror genre.

You should read it, preferably on a dank, rainy day in a spider-infested garret. Personally, I am glad I read it on a hot, summer day next to a window while traveling on a train. Mexican Gothic is available in print, ebook, and eaudiobook.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, dance, and watch baseball (but not all at the same time).

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A colorful cover full of jade green, deep purple, and gold features the profile of a young Mexican woman gazing at the starys. The panels are decorated with Mayan symbols, including a double headed snake, a caiman, and a skull.
Cover image of Gods of Jade and Shadow

by Kristen B.

Casiopeia Tun, the main character in Gods of Jade and Shadow, may be my favorite heroine so far this year! This Mexican young woman is grounded in real life and is as stubborn as the day as long. Casiopeia believes in fairness, mostly because life hasn’t shown much of it to her. She and her mother subsist as the poor relations within her mother’s family, who are the big fish in the small pond of their Yucatan peninsula town. Casiopeia lives at the mercy of her crotchety grandfather and her privileged cousin Martin, who combine to make her life mostly miserable with chores and petty insults. She suffers with no particular grace. I do love a girl who can glare!

When the rest of the family leaves for an afternoon of fun and relaxation, Casiopeia is left behind for perceived dereliction of duties. In a fit of curiosity and rebellion, she opens an old chest that resides at the foot of her grandfather’s bed. And so the adventure begins!

She has inadvertently awakened a Lord of Death, Hun-Kame. He invites her on a mission to recover his lost power and to defeat his twin brother. She accepts with much trepidation, figuring it to be her one chance to escape dusty Uukumil. The two embark on a quest that takes them across the country, from the Yucatan to Baja. The entire story is grounded in Mayan mythology filtered through 1920s Mexico. Grand hotels, Prohibition-fueled tourism, and early automobiles provide a lively backdrop. Casiopeia and Hun-Kame equally cross great personal distances, from lord and servant to friends who share dreams of the future.

Meanwhile, the insufferable Martin has been co-opted by the god’s twin brother, Vucub-Kame, who has long-laid plans to return to the days of worshiping the old gods with blood sacrifices. Martin tries on multiple occasions to lure Casiopeia away from Hun-Kame. I cheered for her and her stubborn sense of justice the entire way. Her interactions with Martin eventually influence how she understands the dynamics between the divine brothers. In the end, she must make a terrible choice … but I don’t want to give too much away.

This is a lovely, lush book. I am not overly familiar with Mayan myth, but the author so perfectly describes the Black Road through Xibalba (land of the dead) that I could picture it. When Casiopeia and Hun-Kame ride the trains, the evocative sense of motion and rhythm is conveyed beautifully. I enjoyed the book as much for its language and imagery as the fast-paced story itself.

Moreno-Garcia is best known, at the moment, for the best-selling Mexican Gothic. She joyfully mines her grandmother’s stories and her native Mexican mythology for her books. Gods of Jade and Shadow is available as a physical book, and as an eBook and an eAudiobook on Overdrive/Libby.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, and take walks in the park.

Hispanic Heritage #OwnVoices

By Carolina W. and Gabriela P.

Tomorrow marks the final day of Hispanic Heritage Month, and in culmination and in the spirit of #OwnVoices, HCLS presents two book reviews written by Latina staff members about Hispanic authors. Read to the end to find out about classes this week in celebration of Hispanic Heritage!

By Gabriela P.

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea sweeps the reader away with the timeless intimacy of a family chronicle. Absolutely stunning prose brings irresistible characters to life as they move through physical borders, family relationships, and personal struggles. The novel presents a Mexican-American family recounting their family’s history with bittersweet humor. The predictable immigration tale set-up is given a fresh makeover with the uninhibited and blunt depiction of a complicated reality.

Urrea doesn’t shy away from presenting a raw clumsiness in the characters’ interactions. Their emotions came across so authentically that I often felt myself getting goosebumps while reading! I was happy to discover that the theme that struck me the most was completely unexpected. Others who have reviewed the book frequently comment on the hierarchy, since a lot of the narrative revolves around “Big Angel”, the patriarch of the family. But I found that it was, in fact, the women of the family who drove the story. Though easily missed in favor of the more dramatic plot points, as the family’s history is recounted, the women’s strength and resiliency is cemented. Without giving the ending away, I can say that I was delighted to see women in roles usually reserved for men, and even more so that their strength was recognized.

I can find parallels to my own family’s history in the novel, and I definitely found myself identifying with one of the characters…but I won’t say which one!

The House of Broken Angels is also available as an ebook and eaudiobook through OverDrive/Libby.

Gabriela is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch. She loves long walks, reading with her dog, and a good cup of coffee.

By Carolina W.

In Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Tita De La Garza, the youngest daughter in a family living in Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century, is born in her kitchen, establishing her connection to cooking. Pedro Muzquiz asks for Tita’s hand in marriage but Mama Elena, Tita’s tyrannical mother, says Tita is forbidden to marry because of family tradition. Pedro then marries Tita’s sister, Rosaura, to be close to Tita. Gertrudis, the eldest daughter of Mama Elena, escapes the ranch after reacting mysteriously to one of Tita’s recipes. Rosaura gives birth to a son, Roberto, who is delivered by Tita, who treats him as her own. After Mama Elena arranges for Rosaura’s family to move to San Antonio, Texas, Tita is devastated when several tragedies challenge her health and sanity. The ending is hopeful, however, as John Brown, a local American doctor, patiently restores love and health to her life and helps rehabilitate her soul.

As a Latina who grew up in Texas near the Mexican border, it was natural to be drawn to read Laura Esquivel’s novel, Like Water for Chocolate. I was fascinated to find out about the Mexican culture’s family traditions, particularly because my family cherishes traditions so strongly. The main conflict in this novel is a family custom which forbids the youngest daughter from marrying so that she will be free to take care of her mother. This dilemma sincerely captured my attention as did the delicious recipes which are used to represent the characters’ feelings and situations and Tita De La Garza’s and Pedro Muzquiz’s tragic, passionate love story.

Like Water for Chocolate is also available in Spanish in our World Language collection.

Carolina is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch. She loves Mexican food, having fun, and adventure.

HCLS offers the following three classes in recognition and celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Please join us (follow the links to register)!

Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month Fall Teen Trivia! (Online)

Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month Kahoot! Trivia on Zoom

Hispanic Heritage: A Celebration of Stories (Online)