Hello and welcome to the LA Times Book Club newsletter.
This Month’s Book Club Author Reyna Grande begins “A Ballad of Love and Glory” with a letter to the readers explaining why she wrote a novel about “the war the United States does not remember and Mexico cannot forget” – the Mexican-American War.
“I wrote ‘A Ballad of Love and Glory’ to learn more about this war – or invasion, as it is called in Mexico – a conflict that led to my native country losing half of its territory,” writes -she. “The research I have undertaken has helped me better understand the US-Mexico border.”
Grande wrote “The Distance Between Us,” a bestselling 2012 memoir about her own childhood torn between Mexico and California.
His new novel transports readers to 1846 as the United States Army marches south towards the Rio Grande. As the war escalates, the relationship between Grande’s main characters intensifies, a Mexican nurse who leaves her family’s ranch and an Irish soldier who deserts the United States Army to fight on the Mexican side.
The Irish Soldier is based on the actual Saint Patrick’s Battalion, a unit made up mostly of Irish immigrants. Grande says she discovered that nearly half of the U.S. military was made up of foreign-born soldiers, mostly Irish, German and Italian. “In the United States, the soldiers of Saint Patrick’s Battalion are considered traitors and renegades, but in Mexico, they are heroes and martyrs.”
The novel also incorporates the historical figures of the time, such as a US Army officer and future president, Zachary Taylorand Mexican Army officer and statesman Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. “It’s a great story and a revealing look at a less sung chapter in American history,” says Publishers Weekly.
What would you like to ask Reyna Grande? Email your comments to email@example.com.
California Postscript: In case you missed it, Gustavo Arellano took readers to Campo de Cahuenga in a recent column. The Studio City Historic Site is where Mexican and American leaders signed the treaty ending hostilities in the Mexican-American War and laid the foundation upon which California was built.
Behind the book prices
Paula L. Woods is a Los Angeles book reviewer, editor, and author of the Charlotte Justice crime novel series. She is also a judge for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, which will be awarded on April 22 on the eve of the book festival. Browse the finalists here.
This week, Woods shared a glimpse of his work judging the annual awards:
How she started: “I judged books published in 2018, 2019 and the current award, for books published in 2021. I chaired the Mystery/Thriller jury this year.”
How’s it going: “The three judges on our panel typically read at least 80 and sometimes over 100 books to come up with five finalists. It was a good year for mysteries and thrillers, so we were pretty busy. [The mystery finalists are: Alison Gaylin (“The Collective”); Megan Abbott (“The Turnout”); Michael Connelly (“The Dark Hours”); S.A. Cosby ( “Razorblade Tears”) and Silvia Moreno-Garcia (“Velvet Was the Night.”)]
How books are discovered: “We scour all sorts of sources to find books for our panel. Publish specialized journals, catalogs, websites, blogs – nothing is forbidden. But the rules for book awards prevent us from accepting unsolicited submissions; the book must pique our curiosity before we ask the administrators of the book price. And it helps a lot that a few of us read so widely for our reviews.
How judges work together: “We have an inclusive group. New York author Alex Segura writes detective novels and graphic novels and is well connected in the detective novel writing community. Oline Cogdil, who lives in Florida, is a longtime mystery reviewer. We all have different interests and perspectives, which makes for a diverse group of books put on the table and rich discussions along the way. And a few favorites. The books we select must receive the highest scores from all three judges.
What makes a good mystery: “The books we select — and this year’s books are an excellent collection — represent what we collectively agree are the best of the year. They should be well plotted, have rich characterizations, and hopefully touch on important topics. Many writers can save a high body count in a mystery or thriller. We’re looking for mysteries that illuminate our lives, not in a preachy way, but in a way that makes you think long after you finish the book.
Goodall on Hope and Action
February 25 naturalist, activist and UN Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall joined us from his family home in the south of England to discuss “The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times” with a journalist Dorany Pineda.
Goodall spoke about his reasons for hope amid the environmental crisis, the state of chimpanzee research, his spring plans to visit the “Become Joanexhibition in Los Angeles and his favorite book, “The Lord of the Rings”. “I find this book to be so much of a commentary on our times today,” she said.
Thank you to all readers who shared over 400 questions and comments ahead of book club night. Many people have asked: how can one person make a difference in times of climate change?
Your questions helped shape the discussion. Goodall responded with suggestions, like this: “If you think every day, ‘What positive change can I make?’ Think about what you are buying: where did it come from, how was it made, did it harm the environment during production, was it cruel to animals, is it good market because of unfair wages in some parts of the world or even slave labor. And if the answer is yes, don’t buy it. Ultimately, it’s consumer pressure. And that actually brings a major change.
look the whole conversation now.
From the Op-Ed pages: Alexander Kwame shares “An American Love Poem.”
From the road: The March issue of Air/Light magazine features three poems by Suzanne Lummisstarting with “I drive in Fresno (and I don’t care who knows).”
Thirty years later: Actor John Cho published ‘Troublemaker,’ a young adult novel about the 1992 LA riots: ‘I would have liked a book that spoke honestly to me about the adult events,’ Cho told the columnist Frank Shyong. “My children are curious and we need to help them understand what is happening in their world. It’s a fantasy that we can compartmentalize these things.
Conflict photography: Lauren Walsh explains how photojournalists struggle to capture COVID, Black Lives Matter and now Ukraine.
Hometown inspiration: Author Lynel George shares that the Washington Steam Multilingual Academy is now the Octavia E. Butler Magnetic Schoolin honor of the legendary science fiction writer who grew up in Pasadena.
THE literary: Thank you to readers who tweet favorite passages from LA writers @latimesbooks. This gem comes from Raymond Chandler fan Darren Ewing: “It seemed like a nice neighborhood to get into bad habits” (“The Big Sleep”).
Last word: Journalist Patt Morrison tells us a “perfect” headline from the Washington Post: “Amazon kills its physical bookstores, after killing those of all the others.”
If you like our community book club: The Times offered numerous book club conversations and live journalism events free and virtually to make it easy for readers to connect with world-class authors and journalists during the pandemic. Now we need your help to continue and grow. Please consider supporting the new Los Angeles Times Community Fund.