Cover Image: Woman of Light

Woman of Light

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Another Source of Light

“Woman of Light” starts off like a dream, an ancient fable. It is nighttime in the American Southwest, the Lost Territory in 1868, and “...the sky was so filled with stars it seemed they hummed.” A baby, Pidre, is abandoned in a Moses-like passage and is rescued and raised by Desiderya Lopez, the Sleepy Prophet of the tiny pueblo, Pardona. These are the opening pages of a magical journey through generations of an Indigenous Chicano family.

We shift back and forth in time, but the novel’s core revolves around events sixty years later. 
Luz “Little Light” Lopez is Pidre’s descendent, a young tea leaf reader and clairvoyant in Denver in 1933. She and her cousin Lizette work taking in laundry to make ends meet, although they are looking for more substantial income. Luz lives with their aunt Maria Josie, a remarkably strong woman who never hesitates to confront head-on the harsh realities life deals to her family. 

There is an openly hostile atmosphere of prejudice and discrimination the family has to suffer with. Luz is blatantly refused the opportunity to even apply for one job in a white community. Her brother, Diego, makes the mistake of falling in love with the wrong white girl and is beaten badly. After Maria Josie decides she must evict him he flees town altogether. 

Most of the men in this book are ineffectual and weak, others just brutal. Luz exhibits questionable taste in men, partially because her goal is to find a man who will protect her from other men. Pidre shows promise as a character in the beginning of the book, but is soon overshadowed by his wife, the sharpshooter Simodecea Salazar-Smith. Bold women are the backbone of this family’s story, from the Sleepy Prophet Desiderya to Simodecea to Maria Josie. Luz should be a stronger character– she is descended from such remarkable women and pales in comparison. She is a tea leaf reader, she has visions, and yet her inconsistent resolve ensures she remains overshadowed by her legacy. 

Life out west in this era was tough and finding accounts are hard if centering on anyone but a white man. Locating the story emanating from a female’s point of view, and that of a Native American or Latinx family– that is where Kali-Fajardo Anstine has given us a gift. 

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for providing the advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review. #WomanOfLight #NetGalley
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An epic family saga that blends in magical realism.  Set in both 1930s Denver and the Lost Territories in the 1880s and forward, it's all about Luz's search for her roots and how her family grew and survived so much over time.  It moves back and forth a bit, with some dynamic descriptions of Pidre Lopez who has a Wild West show and then the challenges Luz faces,  It's very much character driven and if you, like me, think it sags a little in the middle, push through because it's a rewarding read.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
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This book offers a vivid view into life in Denver in the 1920s and 1930s. The book description is a little misleading in that I expected Luz's ability to be more present in the story. The plot develops subtly, but the writing is so gorgeous and engaging that the slow build is not unpleasant. Meanwhile, there is a simmering undercurrent of tension as the sense of something bad to come grows and grows. The majority of the book is spent with Luz, and I was expecting more insight into the previous generations; I especially enjoyed the flashback chapters detailing the lives of Simodecea, Sara, and Maria Josefina. The fulfilling ending closes the story nicely and completely by circling back to an event that takes place towards the beginning of the book. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a solid standalone read, as well as anyone interested in diaspora literature and wanting to learn more about life in Denver in the early 20th century.
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𝐁𝐮𝐭 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐧 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐣𝐨𝐛𝐬, 𝐧𝐨 𝐦𝐚𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐦𝐮𝐜𝐡 𝐋𝐮𝐳 𝐨𝐫 𝐌𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐚 𝐉𝐨𝐬𝐢𝐞 𝐨𝐫 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐧 𝐃𝐢𝐞𝐠𝐨 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐤𝐞𝐝, 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐲 𝐰𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝐩𝐨𝐨𝐫, 𝐚𝐬 𝐢𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐢𝐫 𝐩𝐨𝐬𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐢𝐧 𝐥𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐡𝐚𝐝 𝐛𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐦𝐚𝐧𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐥𝐲 𝐝𝐞𝐜𝐢𝐝𝐞𝐝 𝐠𝐞𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐛𝐞𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐞.

First, we meet the Sleepy Prophet of Pardona, Desiderya Lopez. One night she awakens from her sleep to a disturbing noise, upon her search she discovers a baby boy abandoned in the weeds, cold and dusted with snow. She takes the child with her and raises him to the age of eleven. With her visions foretelling of a future for the child, she tells him he will live on the other side of the Lost Territory surrounded by mines and have “a fierce wife and daughters.” She also tells him not to be vengeful people, but he doesn’t understand, for his mind is still that of a child, and he has yet to leave behind his world for the places all the travelers he interacts with come from. As time passes, he is well respected among his people, a businessman who is destined to make his way, but his elders know how their currency is tainted. He, too, will one day learn.

Chapter one begins in 1933, Denver with Luz Lopez “Little Light” earning coins as a tea leaf reader at an annual festival. She and her brother Diego, the snake charmer, have lived in the city with their auntie (Marie Josie) for many years, ever since their mother sent them away, no longer able to care for her children. Diego’s erotic charm is irresistible on the stage and off, fit from his work as a lineman, many women fall for him but attracting the attention of an important Anglo girl fills his sister with dread. When she isn’t reading for coins, she is washing rich people’s laundry. Living in a tenement, working to stay alive, looking at the big, beautiful houses the well heeled inhabit feels like having her nose rubbed in the fact that she and her people are locked out of a better life. With her Mexican origins, she suffers blatant racism daily, from signs telling her where she isn’t allowed, to the brutal reality of murders committed by those with the power. One night Diego is attacked by white men, beaten to near death, he has no choice but to leave, certainly it’s impossible to go to the authorities who will always support their own people. He promises he will be back, but all Luz feels is loss and great abandonment, with her all-seeing eyes pulled into the past (family origins) and confusing glimpses of the future, the present feels like a weight, a trap. What does it matter, the images she can envision of the future or the past, when she can’t change what will befall them? The past is painful, memories of her father’s violence, her mother’s suffering. How will she manage without Diego now? How can he leave? It is hard for her to accept that each of them have a destiny they must seek.

The story moves between past and present, how Luz’s ancestor Pidre cut a path to where her family ended up. The reader witnesses how hard it was for women living without men, worse how impossible it was to make a living when you were Mexican and Indian, or of any origin that wasn’t part of the white community. There are always boundaries one mustn’t cross and if they dare, blood will follow. Luz musters all the grit she has to find a respectable job, with no help from the community. David may be the answer. Papa Tika’s (the Greek shopkeeper) only son has returned to set up his own law office after working for a large law firm in the east. It doesn’t go unnoticed that David is also incredibly handsome. Will he give her a chance, though she lacks the refinement required for office work? Is it possible a fortune teller can rise above the level society intends for her to remain?

It is a tale of inequality, racial and sexual. It is also about the ugly side of history, class, those who have power and what happens when anyone tries to fight it. Too, it is a tale of family loyalty, deception, hatred, and love. It is for the displaced, longing for their homeland while trying to make a living in a new world, despite facing opposition at every turn. Broken families and bodies, aching hearts- there is violence that must be endured and the intelligence and strength it takes to know when to leave and when to fight. The heart’s guidance isn’t a guarantee, love can lead to destruction just as much as salvation.

It was an engaging historical fiction, so naturally it’s not always pretty. Luz has to be strong, come into her own, and she makes mistakes along the way, of course she does. I only wish the chapters were longer, that more time was spent on Diego and Luz’s youth, as well as more backstory on the ancestors. I sometimes felt rushed along. More visions would have been welcome too but I was still engaged.

Publication Date: June 7, 2022

Random House

One World
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In this compelling story of an Indigenous Chicano family in 1930s Denver, Luz is left to fend for herself after her brother is sent away.
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I am going to start with whatever the opposite of a spoiler-alert is and say that, as I got closer to the end of this book, I started to dread where the author was going. I did not want things neatly tied up. So yes, read on, because Kali Fajardo-Anstine did not disappoint!! This was an amazing book, one of those where I realize how little I actually know or understand about the history of my country, and what goes on beyond it's borders. This is a beautifully imagined story of a family, a community, and their land, with a rich mix of heartwarming and unsavory characters. The women are strong and the men are just trying to keep up. So yes, realistic. Though they face plenty of hardship, there is a strong foundation of love for these characters to grow and change. A sometimes tough, but overall, very  worthwhile read.
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Typically, multigenerational sagas are right up my alley, especially if there is a bit of magic thrown in for good measure.  Unfortunately, I wasn't enthralled with this one.  The pacing of the book was very slow and I struggled to stay interested at points.  I never became fully invested in the characters; they seemed to lack the depth necessary to make them come alive from the pages.  I kept looking for something "more" that just wasn't there.  The ending felt really rushed and unsatisfying.  I loved the diversity of the characters and I think the idea for this book was a good one, it just wasn't executed to my liking.  

Thank you NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advanced digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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This family saga begins in 1868 with Desiderya Lopez, a Tiwa Pueblo matriarch, finding a newborn baby on the banks of an arroyo. The novel then follows five generations of the Lopez family in the American Southwest. With flashbacks to Desiderya as well as her son Pidre and her two granddaughters, most of the novel takes place in 1930s Denver. At the center is teenager Luz Lopez, her down-to-earth cousin Lizette, her hardworking and free-spirited aunt Maria Josie, and her brother Diego, a rattle snake charmer with a gift for getting in trouble. 

From the beginning I was drawn to these embattled women and their hardscrabble lives. Luz and Lizette do laundry for wealthy white people while struggling to find love and new opportunity amid poverty, loss and betrayal. In addition to the Lopez family, there’s a lively cast of vaudevillians, miners, seasonal workers, mariachi musicians, seamstresses, labor lawyers and organizers. The book is a song about the Southwest, and both downtown Denver and the gorgeous high desert of Colorado and New Mexico are beautifully imagined. But Fajardo-Anstine doesn’t romanticize or simplify her home state. Discrimination and lack of opportunity limit the lives of Latinas and Indigenous women in Depression-era Colorado, and yet there is a red thread of hope and strength in the face of dispossession and loss running through this novel.

Despite its ambitious scope, this book is a quick read. Although I usually like that a novel is shorter than 350 pages, I felt like it could have been longer, especially the stories about the family ancestors in “The Lost Territory.” I would have loved to learn more about the Pueblo culture and history and to see some backstories filled in with more detail. If you’re looking for a diverse historical family drama and coming of age story that is character driven and enlightening, I can recommend this memorable family tale.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC.
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Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the eBook ARC.

This dual timeline historical fiction tells a beautiful story about an indigenous Chicano family through the generations, starting in the 1800s. 

It’s a time period and part of history I didn’t know about and I found it so interesting. Though the book was filled with struggle and loss and violence, there was a streak of hope throughout as well as a lot of love. 

It was a little slow going at times so that’s why I went with 4 stars. 

If your a lover of historical fiction, give this one a try!

TW: racism, violence, gun violence
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This was a sweeping, complex story across generations of the Indigenous Chicano Lopez family currently living in Denver, Colorado. I fell in love with the beauty of this story and also the characters, from Luz and her brother Diego, to their aunt Marie Josie, their extended family by blood and other ties. The descriptions of the stark landscape of the "Lost Territory" to 1930's Denver made time and place come alive, the characters and their emotions also jumping from the pages. You felt a lot here. It seems the first female born of every generation had the gift to see the future, as well as the past which made Luz's tea leaf reading all the more vibrant. One of my favorite characters was gun-toting Simodecea, a traveling circus performer, Luz's grandmother -- her story being one of the more tragic ones, despite being formidable and possessing endless strength.  

Facing racism across many fronts, we see how difficult it was for most of the Lopez family to navigate the big city--where they belonged, where  they weren't allowed-- and also learning that they had been driven from their ancestral land by White prospectors. Despite the dangers they face, they manage to find such joy in their daily lives. Fajardo-Anstine offers us a new narrative of the American West told through the eyes of striking female characters -- and also vastly different from most textbook versions.  While I am giving this one a lot of praise, especially for the characters, I felt that the plot fell a little short. I was left feeling that the ending was extremely anti-climatic and needed just a bit more to wrap up the stories of all the Lopez women past and present. 

Thank you NetGalley, Random House and Kali Fajardo-Anstine for an advanced copy of this book!
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Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publisher for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review!
I thought this book was an interesting read. I really liked the alternating stories and the multigenerational aspect. It was a slower-paced book and it took me quite a while to finish because I kept going back and forth on it. I did find the characters and the setting interesting. I just don't think this was the right fit book for me.
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I really enjoyed this book. It’s a nice historical mystery/romance. I loved the descriptions of places in France both for their beauty and for their place in WWI history. I know little about the part of Australians in the war other than Gallipoi and I appreciated learning more about their sacrifices.
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I had a hard time getting into Woman of Light at the beginning, but then I did get into it. The book shifts between time periods within generations of a family that is indigenous and central American, from the 1860s to the 1920s and the 1930s. Luz and her brother Diego are the youngest family members. Diego is a snake charmer (and woman charmer) and Luz reads tea leaves. This is a different perspective on historical fiction than I've seen before. There are a lot of family members and friends that have cross-overs throughout the years. I wish I got to learn more about Luz's grandmother, who is the most fascinating character in the story. There are some heartbreaking scenes in the book, but also some moments of hope.
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All the stars. Luz is one of my favorite characters I've ever read about. I loved how well I got to know her and see her relationships with people develop over time. Diego, Maria Josie and Lizette were incredible side characters that I really enjoyed learning about as well. 

The shifting timelines were incredibly interesting and I loved getting to know their family throughout their history and generations. It really helped me understand them as a family and why certain sad or difficult things had to happen they way they did. 

Overall, I'm so happy I read this book and am sad I won't get to experience it for the first time again. 5 stars and all my love to Kali Fajardo-Anstine who's backlist I will be running to pick up.
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"Daffodils poked their yellow faces up from thin, snowy blankets. Pines existed in two tones, their bases made of hardened, dark needles while their edges were tipped in soft, radiant green."

Women of light primarily centers on the protagonist Luz "Little Light" Lopez as she navigates young adulthood in Denver in 1933. Luz has the ability to read tea leaves and through them can see visions of the past, present, and future. While she does read tea leaves at fairs and festivals for some extra cash, it's not going to provide enough for her to survive on so she also washes clothes for rich folks and subsequently drops that gig to be a secretary for a civil rights lawyer. Her life is turned upside down when her brother Diego is run out of town from a group of angry white men who aren't too keen on his not-so-white skin. In Women of Light, the reader also learns about Luz's aunt Maria Josie's early life and struggles, her cousin's upcoming nuptials, her grandfather Pidre's life in the Lost Territory, and her parents' story and why she ultimately went to live with her auntie as a young girl.

Fajardo-Anstine has a beautiful way with words. As my opening quote suggests, I found many passages that were exquisitely written and I was an underlining fiend as I read along. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of historical fiction plus magical realism that were apparent in this tale. While difficult to consume, it was eye opening for me to read about the true terror Klansmen brought towards not-white folks and those who tried to help them in the 1930s. However, I found this book had some flaws. The plot was a bit too all over the place - if you were to ask me what this book is about, I'd have a hard time answering in a succinct fashion. As such, with so much going on, the end result is this book is not particularly memorable.
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Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine will either be a hit of miss with the readers. While the love story is real, it was hard to be captivated and keep my attention on the story. The book focuses on a family of Indigenous Chicanos from the 1860s to the 1930s. While hearing a story of people not often heard, there was no plot and left me hoping for more as it wasn't there. Again, this book may hit home for other readers.
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DNF at 23%.

I was excited about the premise of Woman of Light, and even more so after reading the prologue, but unfortunately the bulk of the quarter or so I read of the book was a slog. I did find the characters interesting, and I do love a good multi-generational story, but the prose itself was dense, as though Fajardo-Anstine wanted every sentence to pack a punch. Sometimes in reading a paragraph, one sentence would awkwardly jar into the next; I found this particularly troublesome in a scene where a father is referred to both as "father" and as "Benny," as though it should be clear that they are one and the same. The effect means the story lean too much on trying to be Literary Fiction (with capital letters) that it falls flat in what makes for a fun read - and what makes for good Literary Fiction in the first place.

Fajardo-Anstine is definitely an author to watch for - this just lacked the editing that would have made it a stunning read, which is disappointing considering the potential for this story.

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for providing a copy for review.
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DNFed at 40%. Admittedly I don’t think that the issue here is 100% the book. I’m definitely in a reading slump, and this just didn’t click. That said, I felt, even after having read 40% of the book, I had no sense of where the book was going or what the main point was. The author showed her command and strength of language; however, the plot was lackluster. I seem to be in the minority though, so others may enjoy.
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This book is so, so good!! Do yourself a favor and add it to your TBR list now. If you like historical fiction, multigenerational family sagas, westerns, learning about other cultures, and/or great writing, this book is for you.

Set in the American West, the novel spans five generations of the Lopez family from the late 1800's to the 1930s. The author's writing is so rich and flowing, the characters and scenes so vivid and real, that readers will easily find themselves immersed in the story.

It was quite interesting and educational to see the American West through the eyes and experiences of an Indigenous Chicano family. I also love how the author continually ties all the generations together across the various timelines.

Two of my favorite passages are

"... he couldn't help but think that Anglos were perhaps the most dangerous storytellers of all - for they believed only their own words, and they allowed their stories to trample the truths of nearly every other man on Earth."

"I think everything that's ever happened or going to happen to us and the people we love is around... all we have to do is reach for it."

My thanks to Random House One World for allowing me to access an ARC of this book via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and are freely given.
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Loved reading a bit of Denver’s history from a century ago. The characters were given interesting personalities and experienced the ugliness of prejudice prevalent at the time. The author really has a love of adjectives — never let a noun stand naked! The story seemed incomplete somehow, with explanations or motivations missing regarding a few major plot points, yet I enjoyed this novel and am glad I read it.

Thanks to NetGalley and One World/Random House for the ARC to read and review.
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