Hello fellow summer readers!

While the sun may still be hiding behind a thick marine layer, leaving us with an extended June Gloom, it’s still summertime, which means it’s time to grab that stack of books you’ve been meaning to read and break through the springtime reading slump. I’m Indy news reporter Ryan P. Cruz, and when I’m not running around the town covering our city’s daily and weekly happenings, I try to spend my free time reading and finding some new voices in contemporary literature that inspire me to grow in my own writing and reporting.

This week, I’m taking over the All Booked newsletter while our usual host, Emily Lee, is on maternity leave (congrats on your new baby boy, Emily and family!) and I’m very excited to share some of the books I recently read by authors who are pushing the boundaries of fiction by combining deeply entrenched Latin American legends, symbols, and myths alongside modern-world characters navigating the ever-changing world. These books, mostly written by Mexican-based authors, have really helped me understand my own heritage — my mother was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, before moving to Santa Barbara in her childhood — by exploring the experiences of Latin Americans both before colonization and afterward.

Below are four books from south of the border to get your summer reading fix. I encourage you all to try one out and to dive into the deep and fantastic worlds created by some of the best Latin American authors that are still working.

Credit: Courtesy

This might be the best book I have read in the past year, and I won’t stop recommending it to anybody who will listen. Yuri Herrera has emerged as one of the brightest political and literary minds to come out of Mexico recently, and though it wasn’t the first book he wrote, Signs Preceding the End of the World was his first work to be translated to English, and it landed him the 2016 Best Translated Book Award for Fiction.

In Herrera’s sparse and simple storytelling style, he tells the story of a young woman, Makina, traversing the modern-day U.S.–Mexico border to bring two messages to her brother on the other side. But why I love this book so much is that Makina’s journey is told through the structure of the Aztec legend of a soul crossing over into the afterlife: Each chapter, character, and situation parallels the symbols found in the ancient world.

At just more than 100 pages, Herrera is able to draw powerful parallels between modern and ancient beliefs, all while exploring the heavy topics of immigration and border policies between the U.S. and Mexico.

Credit: Courtesy

In a similar way, Guadalajara-born Juan Pablo Villalobos’s fifth novel, Invasion of the Spirit People, has the tone of a fable or old-world story, all while tackling the struggles of a modern-day immigrant.

In this book, we follow immigrant and vegetable seller Gastón in “an unnamed city, colonized by an unnamed world power,” as he navigates three main problems: putting his ailing dog, paradoxically named Kitten, to sleep humanely; finding a new space to save his friend’s failing restaurant; and coming to terms with the news that human life may well be the byproduct of an ancient alien attempt at colonization — and that those aliens might intend to make a return visit.

This book takes a much lighter tone, and I found myself laughing alongside the characters as they discover the absurd and nonsensical logic behind racist and xenophobic ideas.

Credit: Courtesy

Where They Burn Books, They Also Burn People by Marcos Antonio Hernandez tells two standalone stories in alternating chapters. The first, set in 1549, follows a Spanish friar wrestling with himself after being sent on a mission to the Yucatán Peninsula on a mission to convert the native Mayans to Catholicism. While he is certain at first that he is leading the natives to salvation and protecting them from danger, he discovers that his obsession to save the people may end up destroying everything they ever knew.

Hernandez couples the story with the modern tale of a man in 2010 who is similarly obsessed, believing that he can save his father’s church if he can only get people to come back and fill the seats. He is convinced that if he wins the heart of the woman he loves, they can save the church together, until his obsession with literature she provides begins his spiral into madness.

I first picked up this book for its amazing cover art, but after jumping in, I found myself wrapped up in both worlds, questioning the one-sided history that’s often presented by the victors and  the dangers that come with an all-consuming religious fervor.

Credit: Courtesy

Another writer I can’t stop recommending is Mexican native Valeria Luiselli, who has been stacking up awards for the past five years, including a MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 2019.

With Lost Children Archive, Luiselli takes a family road-trip novel and turns it on its head, telling the story of a young mother and father setting out across the country with their two young children. The two parents are audio archivists, intending to travel the border to document the growing immigration crisis, but along the way, the conflicts between them grow, forcing the entire family to come to terms with their imminent split.

Luiselli’s talent is dripping from the page in this novel, and she tackles big questions such as the virtue of documentation, how we remember experiences, and the nature of justice at the border today.

Thanks for letting me make a few recommendations to your summer reading list. I hope the sun comes out very soon, and all the summer readers can start chipping away at those piles of books we bought throughout the year. As always, let us know if you have added any of these books to your list, or if you have any ideas for us for next time!

Your substitute bookworm,


Below, you will find a few bookish events coming up in Santa Barbara. If you are hosting a bookish event in Santa Barbara, be sure to submit the event to our online events calendar.

Author Judith Turner-Yamamoto
Wednesday, June 21, 8 p.m., S.B. Writer’s Conference

Book Signing: Elayne Klasson

Saturday, June 24, 11 a.m., The Book Loft

Book Talk and Signing: Master Shipwright Will Sofrin
Tuesday, June 27, 6 p.m., Chaucer’s Books

Mystery Book Club
Tuesday June 27, 5:30 p.m., Goleta Valley Library

Montecito Book Club
Tuesday, June 27, noon, Montecito Library

Bookworm Bingo for Adults
Thursday, June 29, 6:30 p.m., Goleta Valley Library

Interview, Q&A, Book Signing: Connard Hogan
Thursday, June 29, 6 p.m.,  Wylde Works

California Dreamin’ Club: How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo
Thursday, June 29, 6 p.m., Faulkner Gallery, S.B. Central Library

Dressage Training Pyramid Lecture and Book Signing: Gail Hoff
Saturday, July 1, 1 p.m., S.B. Humane Society


We at the Independent get many books sent to us by local authors, sometimes too many! It’s practically impossible for us to read and review them all, but just because we are busy bees does not mean that they aren’t worth the attention. In an attempt to not completely drop the ball, we have compiled a list of books here that have a local spin. They are all either written by a local author, feature someone in our community, or have another tie to Santa Barbara. I urge you to look through this list. Perhaps you will find your new favorite read!

The following are the most recent titles that have been sent to us. Click here for a more comprehensive list.

Serenade to the Moon by Esteban Ramirez

Barbwire, Brothels, and Bombs in the Night: Surviving Vietnam by Conrad Hogan

Lark Ascending: Magic, Mystery, and Mayhem in a Spiritual Community by Meleth Delia Batteau

Wired to Become: The Brain Science of Finding Your Purpose, Creating Meaningful Work, and Achieving Your Potential 
by Dr. Britt Andreatta

Donny, Mary Grace and the Ugly Marbles by Catherine Anna Pepe

All Hands On Deck: A Modern-Day High Seas Adventure to the Far Side of the World by Will Sofrin

If you are a local author and would like us to feature your book in this section, please email allbooked@independent.com with the subject line “Local Author Spotlight.”


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.