Book Review: Proof of Lies by Diana Rodriguez Wallach

 

Review by Elena Foulis

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Anastasia Phoenix has always been the odd girl out, whether moving from city to international city with her scientist parents or being the black belt who speaks four languages. And most definitely as the orphan whose sister is missing, presumed dead. She’s the only one who believes Keira is still alive, and when new evidence surfaces, Anastasia sets out to follow the trail—and lands in the middle of a massive conspiracy. Now she isn’t sure who she can trust. At her side is Marcus, the bad boy with a sexy accent who’s as secretive as she is. He may have followed her to Rome to help, but something about him seems too good to be true.

Nothing is as it appears, and when everything she’s ever known is revealed to be a lie, Anastasia has to believe in one impossibility. She will find her sister.

MY TWO CENTS: It is not often that we find books written by Latina women that are outside of the traditional coming of age stories, biculturalism, bilingualism, or exploring patriarchal dominance within their culture and religion. In Proof of Lies, author Diana Rodriguez Wallach gives us a fast-paced, mystery and detective-style novel that has us turning page after page to discover how Anastasia Phoenix will make sense of her parents’ death, her sister’s disappearance, the untangled webs of half-truths and the untrustworthy adults in her life. Proof of Lies is a fast novel, full of twists, and with three strong female characters. Keira is Anastasia’s older sister; she is her guardian after her parents die in a car accident. She works, studies to be a nurse, and is the not-always responsible adult presence in Anastasia’s life. Charlotte is a friend who lives with them, she is tech-savvy and a hacker; she helps Anastasia find information when Keira goes missing, leaving only a bathtub full of her blood the morning after their home party. Anastasia, our protagonist, constantly criticizes her sister for having too many loser boyfriends, yet their sister bond is so strong that she spear-heads the quest to find her across the world. Anastasia is about to enter her last year of high school, when she finds herself looking for answers regarding her sister’s disappearance and her parents’ true identity. She enlists the help of Charlotte, Marcus—a Spaniard boy who just moved into her neighborhood— and the financial resources of her parents’ old boss Mr. Urban, the CEO of Dresden corporation.

When the local police refuse to give her information regarding her sister’s whereabouts, Anastasia takes matters into her own hands and travels all the way to Italy. She follows tips and clues from people who knew her and her family, fights and chases thugs, and isn’t afraid to confront whoever can help her find Keira. Rodriguez Wallach’s female characters are strong, and the novel offers the hint of romance, too. But what keeps you turning the page is the fact that everyone seems suspect, everyone seems to be hiding something, and Anastasia, like the reader, begins to question who might be withholding information that might lead her to her sister, or knows the truth about who their parents really were. Rodriguez Wallach offers additional information regarding some of the historical references and characters she uses in this novel. For example, the last pages of the book include information about the real Department D, an entity who has had considerable impact on world affairs and was involved with the KGB and Czech STB during the Cold War. There is also information about Lawrence Martin-Bittman, who the author met when she was a student at Boston University and who is a character in the novel, under a different name. Such attention to detail gives the author mastery of the narrative line and provides the reader with additional “clues” about the authenticity of events. To know that there was an agency in the business of disinformation makes us question our own reality, and it certainly keeps us wanting the second and third book on the Anastasia Phoenix series. As a teaser, the author includes the first chapter of the second book series titled, Lies that Bind.

TEACHING TIPS: This novel can be taught in comparison with male-centered characters like in the movie series Bourne Identity or Taken, but also in conjunction with the Hunger Games trilogy. Although the novel is much less bloody, these movies can provide an interesting point of comparison of male vs. female leading roles or male vs. female centered voices. Given that the author is Latina, this novel can also provide a needed conversation about authorship and the freedom to write what one wants—not confined by gender, ethnicity or age. Although Rodriguez Wallach has written novels with distinctly Latina characters, she is not bound by them.

WHERE TO GET IT: To find Proof of Lies, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

AuthorHeadshot_2015ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Diana Rodriguez Wallach is the author of the Anastasia Phoenix Series, three young adult spy thrillers (Entangled Publishing, 2017, ’18, ‘19). The first book in the trilogy, Proof of Lies, was named by Paste Magazine as one of the “Top 10 Best Young Adult Books for March 2017.” Bustle also listed her as one of the “Top Nine Latinx Authors to Read for Women’s History Month 2017.” Additionally, she is the author of three award-winning young adult novels: Amor and Summer Secrets, Amigas and School Scandals, and Adios to All The Drama (Kensington Books); as well as a YA short-story collection entitled Mirror, Mirror (Buzz Books, 2013).

In 2010, Diana was named one of the Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch by LatinoStories.com, and she placed second in the International Latino Book Awards. Diana is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses (Twilight Times Books, 2015), and she currently blogs for Quirk Books.

CLICK HERE to read Diana’s recent guest post: How I Broke Out of My Latina YA Box

 

headshot2016ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Elena Foulis has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Arkansas. Her research and teaching interests include U.S. Latina/o literature, and Digital Oral History. Dr. Foulis is currently working on a digital oral history project about Latin@s in Ohio, which is being archived at the Center for Folklore Studies’ internet collection. Some of these narratives can be found in her iBook titled, Latin@ Stories Across Ohio.

Book Review + Giveaway: Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Moving Target 2

Reviewed by Lila Quintero Weaver

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK:

What if you could control destiny?

Cassie Arroyo’s world is ripped apart when her father vanishes. What could anyone possibly want with a middle-aged art history professor? But there’s no doubt that he’s being chased by a dangerous organization called the Hastati—and Cassie is their next target.

Cassie learns that she is a descendant of an ancient bloodline that enables her to use the Spear of Destiny: an object that in the right hands can shape the future, and in the wrong hands destroy it. But the spear has been missing for years. It seems that the Hastati will do whatever it takes to control it—and if they can’t find the spear itself, they’ll go after the ones who can use it.

On the run, with only her best friend, Simone, to help her, Cassie must stay one step ahead of the Hastati as she tries to decipher the clues that will lead her to the spear. Her life—and the fate of the world—depend on it.

MY TWO CENTSMoving Target is a middle-grade fantasy thriller starring Cassie Arroyo, a Cuban-American expatriate living in Italy. It’s the first in a series, with the sequel scheduled to release next fall. The plot rides on the journey of three teen characters: Cassie, her friend Simone, and Asher. Asher is the nephew of Brother Gregorio, the monastic figure who provides shelter to Cassie after her father is struck by a hail of bullets, whisked off to surgery, and then vanishes, as far as his daughter can tell. When Cassie discovers that she, not her father, is the main target of the assassins, she teams up with Asher and Simone to recapture the Spear of Destiny, a medieval artifact mysteriously linked to Cassie’s family line and the reason that her formerly blasé life at a private school is shattered overnight. In their quest, the kids must decode cryptic clues, navigate secret tunnels, hitch rides with sketchy characters, and elude menaces by the dozens, including the lurking possibility of betrayal from people entrusted with their care.

The setting for Moving Target is Rome and its surrounding countryside. It’s the perfect backdrop for a contemporary story with ancient implications, one that pairs narrow alleyways with Vespas, and Italian Renaissance art with cell-phone-dependent teenagers—not to mention gun-toting assassins. These combinations feel familiar and cinematic, since many of us have acquired such mental images from the world of high-adventure movies. Christina Diaz Gonzalez seems comfortable in the realm of taut intrigue. Her previous novels capture similarly tense life-and-death stories set The Red Umbrellaagainst vivid backdrops. The Red Umbrella takes place in revolution-era Cuba, with threats encroaching on the main character’s family before and after she and her brother escape to the United States, courtesy of the Pedro Pan airlift. In A Thunderous Whisper, the plot bristles with espionage and Thunderous whispermortal danger: the main character’s father fights in the Spanish Civil War, and the family loses everything in the Nazi bombing of Guernica, their hometown. The intensity remains in Moving Target, but here the author replaces history with fantasy, drawing liberally on religious iconography, mythology and elements of the supernatural.

Cassie Arroyo may be Latina, but as a plot-driven novel, Moving Target’s focus is on adventurous twists and turns. Cassie’s ethnicity remains mostly in the background, although Spanish dialogue and cultural references do occasionally find their way into the picture. In the thriller genre, where protagonists tend to be Anglo by default, books like Moving Target help to normalize the presence of Latina characters in all types of stories, even fantasy thrillers. This is something to applaud.

Christina GonzalezChristina Diaz Gonzalez is the award-winning author of The Red UmbrellaA Thunderous Whisper, and Moving Target. Her books have received numerous honors and recognitions including the American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, the Florida Book Award, the Nebraska Book Award, a Notable Social Studies Book and the International Literacy Association’s Teacher’s Choice Award.  She speaks to students across the country about writing, the importance of telling their stories and the value of recognizing that there is a hero in each one of us. Visit her website at www.christinagonzalez.com for further information.

Check out Christina’s recent guest post for this blog’s Cuban series here.

 

IMG_1291Lila Quintero Weaver is the author-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Darkroom recounts her family’s immigrant experience in small-town Alabama during the tumultuous 1960s. It is her first major publication. Lila is a graduate of the University of Alabama. She and her husband, Paul, are the parents of three grown children. She can also be found on her own websiteFacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

 

ENTER HERE TO WIN A COPY OF MOVING TARGET, PLUS A POSTER, BOTH SIGNED BY CHRISTINA DIAZ GONZALEZ.