August 26, 2014

REVIEW: CHASING THE SUN by Natalia Sylvester (debut author)

The Latina Book Club is proud to select CHASING THE SUN as its Book of the Month.

“He should have stuck to what was working for them—ask nothing and expect no problems in return.”  

“Someone who doesn’t want to be with you is not worth fighting for.”  

Natalia Sylvester’s debut novel is fast-paced, rousing, suspenseful and nail-bitingly realistic.  This is the story of a marriage, a kidnapping, a lover’s triangle and a reunion.  I was hooked from the first page. 

SUMMARY:   A well-to-do business man, Andres and his family live in Lima, Peru, during a time of civil and political unrest, where kidnapping is a thriving business and no one with money is safe. No one. 

He is focused on expanding his company and his wealth.  Another argument with his wife Marabela leads to her disappearance—again.  He wonders if she has left him—again—until he receives a ransom note.  Marabela has been kidnapped and he will pay anything to get her back. 

Andres struggles to maintain an illusion of control as he scrambles to collect his wife’s ransom, tend to his two young children and hire a private mediator to help him negotiate with the terrorists. But the longer the negotiations stall, the more Andres reflects on his past mistakes and the sham of his marriage.  The only solace he finds is with an old friend  who may hold the key to his past and his wife’s future.   

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Born in Lima, Peru, Natalia Sylvester came to the U.S. at age four and grew up in South Florida, where she received a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Miami. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Austin, Texas. CHASING THE SUN, partially inspired by family events, is her first novel.  To learn more about Natalia, visit her at


July 28, 2014


The Latina Book Club is proud to welcome back author Thelma T. Reyna, newly named Poet Laureate of the Altadena Library District.  We’d also like to congratulate Thelma on her new poetry collection.  We want to hear all about its debut in Italy.  Read on!

Thelma T. Reyna with her Poet Laureate Award Box.
Q:  Congratulations on being selected Poet Laureate.  Tell us about this honor and how it has changed your life.

Thank you, Maria. I don’t know how long the Altadena Library District has had a Poet Laureate, but this year I decided to answer a call for applications. Once chosen, I was surprised to learn that 12 poets had applied! It was pretty competitive, with a detailed application form. We also had to submit five poems, a bibliography of our publications or a resume, and a description of how we’re active in the community regarding poetry and literary events. A select committee reviewed all the applications and made their choice. In retrospect, especially knowing who other candidates were, I’m especially humbled and pleased to have been selected.

I was chosen about three months ago. My appointment is from 2014-2016, so I’m not in full swing yet. It has changed my life so far in that it is providing me with a stronger platform on which to interact with my fellow poets, and to talk about my own work. I’m confident that, as time passes, being a Poet Laureate will have more of an impact on my work and activities. I also look forward to having a positive impact, no matter how small, on fellow poets.

Q:  We understand one of your new duties as Poet Laureate is to promote other regional poets.  Can you tell us more about these poets and how you are promoting them? What other duties are required for this new "job"?

It’s an honorary position, not a paid one, so this provides great flexibility in how I do this work. Right off the bat, one of my major responsibilities is to lead/edit the annual Poetry & Cookies anthology, now in its 14th year, since the person who had been in charge has retired. So next week I’m meeting with 7 active local poets whom I’ve invited to serve on an editorial board with me. We’ll issue the new anthology in Spring 2015.

I’m fortunate to personally know numerous poets in the region, almost all of them published writers and a very diverse group: folks of different ethnicities, men and women, young, Baby Boomers, etc. Several of these poets are prominent nationally and have won literary awards. I plan to stage events with different themes and invite specific poets to read, serve on panel discussions, visit classrooms, etc. I’m also interested in partnering with other Poet Laureates in California and having joint events with their constituencies and mine. I’ve done readings in art galleries, libraries, bookstores, coffee shops, literary conferences, classrooms, book clubs, senior centers, and so on; so I like using diverse venues for presenting poetry. So the opportunity for these poets’ visibility and, hopefully, book sales, is enhanced.

Q:  You also have a new poetry book out.  Tell us about the theme of this new collection and the message you are striving to convey to your many readers.

My fourth book, published last month, is my first full-length poetry work. It’s titled Rising, Falling, All of Us, and includes most of the poems from my two chapbooks—Breath & Bone (2011) and Hearts in Common (2013). It also contains poems published elsewhere—anthologies, textbooks, literary journals—as well as some brand-new ones.

The book is divided into three parts: “Rising,” “Falling,” and “All of Us.” Almost every  poem is a “persona poem,” or poem focused on a person, with the person “speaking” to us in his or her distinct “voice.” So the book is mostly a gallery of characters: famous, infamous, real, fictional, mythical. It includes Pope Francis, celebrities, soldiers, killers, mothers, lovers, poets, crazy people, artists, immigrants, etc. The “glue” holding all of them together in my book is my belief that we all rise and fall together in life. People who rise in glory will someday fall, for whatever reason. When people fall, we all fall to some degree. Such is life. The issues faced in my book are those we all deal with regularly, such as love, death, loss, victory, war, ethics, poverty, loyalty. Ultimately, despite our individual differences, we are all alike. That’s the message behind my title.

Q:  As an author of both poetry and fiction, tell us your favorite genre. Which medium do you find the most passionate? The most powerful?

I love short fiction and poetry equally, though short fiction is more challenging to write. My first book—The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories (2009)—won 4 national awards. It was a welcome jolt to my writing career, and I’m fond of that book.

I’m inspired by my daily surroundings and interactions, and each new inspiration almost tells me what form it requires: a poem, a story…or an essay. (I have also published nonfiction in my career, though not as a single book.) The passion or the power of writing doesn’t depend upon its genre but upon how it’s written. So regardless of what genre I write, it’s up to me, in how I shape it, to infuse it with passion or power…hopefully both.

Q:  We heard you had a poetry reading in Lake Como, Italy.  That is a long way to go to give a reading.  How did that come about? And tell us about the Pulitzer Prize winners in your audience.

It was actually a week-long international writers’ event called “Abroad Writers Conference,” or AWC ( [On this link, scroll down to “Lake Como, Italy” to see photos and learn more.] I was invited to participate by one of my publishers, Finishing Line Press, a co-sponsor of the Lake Como event. There were about 50 of us published authors from all over the United States, Australia, and Italy. Each one of us enrolled in either one, or two, intensive 15-hour workshops on different topics taught by Pultizer Prize winning authors and other top national award winning writers from America. I was in a Poetry Workshop with Pulitzer winner Rae Armantrout; and in a Fiction Workshop with Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Jane Smiley. I believe I was the only Latino/a in the entire conference.

Our workshop groups were small (7 authors in each of mine), so we received a lot of personalized attention and advice from our author-teachers. We received great critiques, not just from the “faculty,” as these famous authors were called, but by our workshop colleagues. The level of skills and professionalism of all the attendees was quite high, so their critiques and discussions of each other’s work were outstanding. We all came away, I believe, as stronger writers. Plus, Lake Como and the 18th century Villa Galliata we stayed in and workshopped in are both gorgeous. It was an experience of a lifetime.

In the evenings, after champagne and socializing, but before dinner, there were formal readings of our published work. Each night, there were about 4 authors in the spotlight: 3 participant authors, and at least 1 Pulitzer Prize winning author. So some of us got to share the stage with the top authors in America, and with everyone in the audience. This was a huge treat for us. I read for about 20-25 minutes from my new book (discussed above), which was actually my first reading from this book. So, I was able to “debut” my new book in Italy—a first for me! [For more information on this great conference, see my guest blog on La Bloga coming out soon: ]

Q:  How can your fans learn more about your books, and learn more about the poets you are promoting?  Please list your websites and addresses on social media sites.

My author website is . Please visit. I also have two literary blogs (see below) and have served as occasional guest blogger on 3 others, such as La Bloga, a prominent Latino literary blog that’s been around for 20 years or so. I’ll be announcing information about the poets I’ll be featuring in one or more of these places. Also, I’ll use email blasts for spreading the word as these poets and the events are booked. Finally, fans can email me at for further information.#

Websites and social media:
Twitter:  @ThelmaReyna
Facebook: Author Thelma Reyna’s Fan Club 


July 24, 2014


The Latina Book Club welcomes Maria Aponte, artist/author/teacher/founder of the Latina 50-Plus initiative, where Latina trailblazers are honored for their contributions to the community.  We applaud Maria and her vision.

Latina 50-Plus Mission Statement:  Latina Fifty-Plus, pays tribute to Latinas over fifty years of age who were pioneers. They shaped their careers in a time when Latina women were venturing onto pathways where very few Latinas were seen or accepted.  This program acknowledges the trailblazers who were among the first in their profession.… By honoring these Latina Pioneers we are honoring our history as women of a certain generation who laid down the stepping stones of change for future generations of Latinas. These are the women who mentored and inspired younger women to pursue their own dreams and realize their own goals.


There are moments in your life when you know that you are going to do something so important that it resonates in your core spirit. And when the moment happens you keep your fingers crossed that what you put out there to the world will work.  This is how I feel about launching my new initiative, Latina 50-Plus, a program created to honor Latina women over 50 who have dedicated their lives for the betterment of their community and families.  

After a year of decision making, research and planning on Saturday June 21st, 2014, the Latina 50-Plus Inaugural Luncheon took place at Fordham University’s Bronx campus in collaboration with the Office of Career Services where I work.   I am grateful that everyone that I approached gave their support, love and professionalism to make the event come together as it did and the response and reaction was an amazing success.  

The awards were designed and created by artist Olga Ayala.  The logo and marketing materials created and designed by Mia Roman ArtbyMia.  Gloria Rodriguez, founder of DeAlmas Institute was the keynote speaker.  The event was catered by Flora Montes –Chef Flora, and the cake and Latina 50 Plus cookies by Boo Bakes.  I could not ask for a more wonderful group of women to work with, who put as much energy and love as I did in making the luncheon happen.

The women selected as the first Latina 50-Plus Honorees are powerhouses in their own fields, and I was not ready for the wonderful emotional and powerful acceptance speeches they each gave as they received their award on Saturday. Their openness about life experience, history and work related issues were inspiring and encouraging to every woman in the room.  It was in those moments, that I felt that I was doing the right thing by creating this program.  Throughout the entire afternoon women I knew and women I met for the first time that day came up to me to thank me for giving them this space of recognition.  Everyone loved the positive energy and connection they felt and related to what was being said by the Honorees.

It was not only a beautiful first day of summer, but also a beautiful new beginning in honoring our Latina Elders who have made their contributions to the cultural, educational and historical growth to the Latina Community.   The biggest compliment that I received and continue to receive via social media, emails and text messages is, “I can’t wait until next year!”

Maria Aponte
Founder Latina 50-Plus
2014 Latina 50-Plus Honorees
Ms. Nilda I. Soto (Education); Ms. Maria Elena Piña-Fonti (Medicine/Health Care); Ms. Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa (Literature); Ms. Yvette Martinez (Arts); Judge Lizbeth Gonzalez (Law) and Ms. Anita Antonetty (Community Service)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  MARIA APONTE is the author of TRANSITIONS OF A NUYORICAN CINDERELLA.  Born and raised in New York City’s East Harlem (El Barrio), Maria has worked extensively in Latino Theatre.  She has performed in various theatre productions; and videos that dealt with racial discrimination, women’s rights in theatre and film.  Maria’s work as an artist and teacher is focused on community art related projects and the empowerment of women through positive affirmation of self-esteem and education.  She holds a BA in English Literature from Marymount Manhattan College.  In April 2010, Maria was awarded from the Eve Ensler Organization’s The Vagina Warrior Award by R. Evolucion Latina’s V-Day Espanol at the Nuyorican Poets Café.  (Vagina Warrior--Someone who has suffered or witnessed violence, grieved it, transformed it, and then does extraordinary work to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else in their community.)  Currently, Maria works at Fordham University in Career Services, where she is completing her Master’s Degree in Latin American & Latino Studies. Learn more about this extraordinary woman at and

July 3, 2014


This year, the International Latino Book Awards were presented during the American Librarians Association Conference in Las Vegas on Saturday, June 29.  (Viva Las Libraries!) 

The list of winners contains some of my favorite authors and some new ones I look forward to reading.  I especially look forward to reading the two winning books by Shanaya Fastje and Alina Gonzalez, both 14-years-old with a lot of confidence and charm.

Below are some of the winners:

Best Young Adult Fiction Book – English
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Meg Medina; Candlewick Press; Cuba

Best Young Adult Fiction Book – Spanish or Bilingual
La Guarida de las Lechuzas, Antonio Ramos Revillas; Ediciones El Naranjo; México

Most Inspirational Young Adult Book
Salvation, Anne Osterlund; Penguin Group; USA

Best Book Written by a Youth
Bully in the Mirror, Shanaya Fastje; Changing Lives Press; USA

Best Poetry Book Written by a Youth
Serendipity: Poems About Love in High School, Alina Gonzalez; WPR Books; USA

Best Latino Focused Fiction Book – English
Maya’s Notebook, Isabel Allende; HarperCollins Publishers; Chile

Best Popular Fiction – English
Seven for the Revolution, Rudy Ruiz; Milagros Press; USA

Best Novel - Adventure or Drama – Spanish or Bilingual
Aquella Manía de Quererse en Silencio, Miriam Montes Mock; Divinas Letras; Puerto Rico

Best Novel - Historical Fiction
Mañana Means Heaven, Tim Z. Hernandez; University of Arizona Press; Reworkd Press; México

Best eBook - Nonfiction
Shattered Paradise: Memoirs of A Nicaraguan War Child, Ileana Araguti; New Trends Press; Nicaragua

Best Poetry Book - One Author – English (a tie)
A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying, Laurie Ann Guerrero; University of Notre Dame Press; USA / Latin America
Chopper! Chopper!, Verónica Reyes; Red Hen Press; L.A., USA / Mexican Ancestry

And The Mariposa Awards for Best First Book went to:

Best First Book - Children & Youth
The Audacious Little Princesses, Janet Breceda Wright, A. E. Wright, & Nataly Wright; Angeleno Avenue Publishing; México

Best First Book - Nonfiction
Unbreakable, Jenni Rivera; Atria Books; México

Best First Book - Fiction – English  (a tie)
Pig Behind The Bear, Maria Nieto; Floricanto Press; US/ Mexican Ancestry
Seven for the Revolution, Rudy Ruiz; Milagros Press; USA

Best First Book - Fiction – Spanish or Bilingual
Aquella Manía de Quererse en Silencio, Miriam Montes Mock; Divinas Letras; Puerto Rico

For a complete list of the 2014 International Latino Book Awards winners, visit the Latino Literacy Now website by clicking here.




June 30, 2014

REVIEW: THE CLOSER by Mariano Rivera with Wayne Coffey

The Latina Book Club is proud to select THE CLOSER
as its July 2014 Book of the Month.

“I love being on a team.  You share your triumphs and your troubles.  You share everything.  You are all in it together.  You will do anything for the guys on your team.”

“The Bible can’t tell you the story of my walk with the Lord, but it can tell you everything about how I try to live, and why the love of the Lord is the foundation of my whole life.  For me, the Bible is not just the word of God, but a life road map that is packed with wisdom that you cannot beat even if you spent the next hundred years reading spiritual books and self-help books.  It is the best kind of wisdom: Simple Wisdom.”

If you are looking for a baseball tell-all about the New York Yankees, you’ve come to the wrong place.  If you want the latest dish on Derek Jeter or A-Rod or tales about Baseball Annies (aka groupies) look elsewhere.

THE CLOSER is a sweet, heart-warming account of the life of Mariano “Mo” Rivera, and how a simple fisherman from Panama, who’s biggest dream was to be a mechanic, ended up living the American Dream as a New York Yankee.

At 19, a young Mariano was scouted by the New York Yankees and passed over.  He was no good as a shortstop.  But a year later, the Yankees took note of Mariano the Pitcher.  He was signed immediately and was soon on his way to the U.S. and training.  And, for the next 24 years, baseball was Mariano’s whole life, the last 19 as a closer for the Yankees.

Mariano didn’t know the language, the people or even owned a glove.  But he was/ and is a man of faith.  He knew that the Lord would look after him and he was determined to give his all to the game.  He learned English on long bus rides and in make-believe practice sessions of what to say when you’ve won the World Series; speeches that came in handy later.

He credits God and his wife Clara for his strong foundation.  When not on the mound, Mariano was more often than not in Panama with his family.  He is the first to admit that he is a homebody at heart, and has always been so.  His world was the team and his wife and sons.  Sometimes it was hard being away from his family, missing their birthdays and special events, but the team needed him as well.

The book goes into details on all of Mariano’s big highlights.  And, if you are a New Yorker, you will be amazed at how many you “recognize” either because you were in the stands or read about it in the local papers.  Yankee fans will be delighted at the replays.

But all good things come to an end, and a major injury, surgery and rehabilitation proved Mariano’s wake up call.  Retirement is called and “Mariano Rivera Day” is announced at Citifield. 

“I am grateful every day for my experiences in baseball.  I have the dirt from the new Stadium and the bullpen bench from the old Stadium, and I have memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.”  

Always a man of faith, Mariano and his wife Clara have started an evangelical Christian church called Refugio de Esperanza (Refuge of Hope) in upstate New York. ###

To see Mariano's career stats and videos as a New York Yankee, click here.


Mariano Rivera was a New York Yankee for 19 years.  He is Major League Baseball’s all-time saves and ERA leader, a 13-time All-Star and a five-time World Champion.  Now retired, Mariano is a pastor at Refugio de Esperanza church, along with his wife Clara.  They live in New York with their sons.

Wayne Coffey is one of the country’s most acclaimed sports journalist.  A writer for the New York Daily News, he cowrote R.A. Dickey’s bestselling WHEREVER I WIND UP and is the author of the New York Times bestseller THE BOYS OF WINTER.