In this razor-sharp debut, grief and loathing beget a juicy tragicomedy.

One woman juggles the five stages of grief in this novel’s cutting portrait of a marriage’s slow-motion deterioration.

Twenty-nine-year-old, 6-foot-tall Magdalena de la Cruz (nee Jablonowski) mourns the death of her “Polish twin” brother, Junah; they were born 19 months apart, though they were nearly identical. A Northern California viticulturist turned water mogul, Magda begins her story while desperately treading water in the Pacific Ocean after falling overboard. After Junah’s death, she explains, she’s done everything to “rebirth herself”: moving to LA and erasing the many physical similarities she shared with her brother. She’s been Lasiked, Jeuvedermed and Botoxed; pumped with saline, small white pills and gin—everything “short of a corneal transplant.” Yet nothing brings her closer to Ricky, her overcommitted (possibly unfaithful) husband, or to the acceptance of grief, as her psychiatrist advises. Magda agrees to see “the Shrink”—a female therapist “highly recommended by Eric Clapton’s personal assistant”—only because it gives her 45 minutes of alone time with Ricky in rush-hour traffic. As they drive their tanklike Mercedes home from “Lynda Carter’s Hillary for President Beach Bonfire and Benefit in Malibu,” Ricky stops in “the dead middle of Sunset” and violently takes her, as drivers honk, scream and drive around them. Despite the blood, bruising and noise, Magda feels nothing. Instead, she sets out to discover what it’s like to be unfaithful, hooking up with Quentin, a tattooed rock-star wannabe. After the “third worst day” of her life, when she realizes “infidelity wasn’t fun,” Magda returns to her hometown to rediscover the beauty of a place that also smells like cow manure. She seeks solace in art, eventually making a larger-than-life self-portrait out of rhinestones. Prone to embellishment, melodrama and laugh-out-loud set pieces, Magda isn’t an unreliable narrator, even though she admits to being “inconsistent.” Hoida gives her a sure and steady voice, full of caustic wit and raw emotion. With bright similes and shining epigrams, she gleefully mines Tinseltown tropes while skewering class, consumerism and body image. Revelations are punctuated with punch lines that land squarely in the gut. Although the ending is abrupt, it’s as clever as the rest of the book. Best of all, it leaves hope that readers haven’t seen the end of Magda.

In this razor-sharp debut, grief and loathing beget a juicy tragicomedy.

Pub Date: June 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-0985129439

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Lettered Press

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012



A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

Mary's Song

From the Dream Horse Adventure Series series , Vol. 1

A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

A novel tells the story of two spirited girls who set out to save a lame foal in 1952.

Mary, age 12, lacks muscle control of her legs and must use a wheelchair. Her life is constantly interrupted by trips with her widower father to assorted doctors, all of whom have failed to help her. Mary tolerates the treatments, hoping to one day walk unassisted, but her true passion involves horses. Possessing a library filled with horse books, she loves watching and drawing the animals at a neighboring farm. She longs to own one herself. But her father, overprotective due to her disability and his own lingering grief over Mary’s dead mother, makes her keep her distance. Mary befriends Laura, the emotionally neglected daughter of the wealthy neighboring farm owners, and the two share secret buggy rides. Both girls are attracted to Illusion, a beautiful red bay filly on the farm. Mary learns that Illusion is to be put down by a veterinarian because of a lame leg. Horrified, she decides to talk to the barn manager about the horse (“Isn’t it okay for her to live even if she’s not perfect? I think she deserves a chance”). Soon, Mary and Laura attempt to raise money to save Illusion. At the same time, Mary begins to gain control of her legs thanks to water therapy and secret therapeutic riding with Laura. There is indeed a great deal of poignancy in a story of a girl with a disability fighting to defend the intrinsic value of a lame animal. But this book, the first installment of the Dream Horse Adventure Series, would be twice as touching if Mary interacted with Illusion more. In the tale’s opening, she watches the foal from afar, but she actually spends very little time with the filly she tries so hard to protect. This turns out to be a strange development given the degree to which the narrative relies on her devotion. Count (Selah’s Sweet Dream, 2015) draws Mary and Laura in broad but believable strokes, defined mainly by their unrelenting pluckiness in the face of adversity. While the work tackles disability, death, and grief, Mary’s and Laura’s environments are so idyllic and their optimism and perseverance so remarkable that the story retains an aura of uncomplicated gentleness throughout.

A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Hastings Creations Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2016