A Novel

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Pub Date Sep 19 2023 | Archive Date Sep 26 2023

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A Best Book of 2023 - USA Today,, HipLatina, Largehearted Boy

"With tongue-in-cheek humor and sharp cultural criticism, this novel is an unforgettable exploration of diasporic identity politics and the dangers of wanting to belong at any cost." —Xochitl Gonzalez, The TODAY Show

"Lozada-Oliva's apocalyptic debut novel in prose is an ode to complicated family dynamics, the overwhelming ways love can consume and eat us alive." —Pamela Avila, USA Today

Your granddaughters are lost, Candelaria. Bianca, the brainy archaeologist, had to forfeit her life's work in Guatemala after her advisor seduced and deserted her. Paola, missing for over a decade, resurfaces in Boston as a brainwashed wellness cultist named Zoe. And Candy, the youngest, is a recovering addict who finds herself pregnant by a man she's not even sure ever existed. None of this concerns you of course, until a cataclysmic earthquake hits Boston. Now you must traverse the crumbling city to reach the Watertown Mall Old Country Buffet—for a reason you still cannot disclose—battling strange entities and your own strange past to save your granddaughters and possibly the world.

Author of Dreaming of You Melissa Lozada-Oliva delivers an unsettling, raucous debut novel written with tongue-in-cheek humor and sharp cultural criticism that unearths one troubled family’s legacy, feasting on diasporic identity politics and examining the limits of bodily autonomy and the dangers of wanting to belong at any cost.

A sweeping, mystical novel following three generations of women as they grapple with muddled pasts and predetermined futures, Candelaria is a story of love that eats us alive.
A Best Book of 2023 - USA Today,, HipLatina, Largehearted Boy

"With tongue-in-cheek humor and sharp cultural criticism, this novel is an unforgettable exploration of diasporic identity...

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ISBN 9781662601804
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Average rating from 22 members

Featured Reviews

I've read Peluda and Dreaming of You and one thing I can count on is Melissa giving us a weird lil story. And you know what? I'm gonna eat it up every time.

This novel is ridiculous in the exact way I like. Full of family drama and trauma and betrayal and love all happening alongside a zombie apocalypse set off by a "health wellness" terf cult? I'm still trying to figure some things out as I don't feel that the book adequately explained certain details but it is what it is. As a Latina with a mom who had a fraught relationship with her mom, the family dynamics felt all too familiar with it's exploration of how we deal with a parent who hurt you when all they ever knew was hurt from their own. Lots of heavy, dark stuff in this one. Thanks to NetGalley and Astra Publishing House for the ARC!

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I loved this strange little book. The story (and Melissa Lozada-Oliva's writing voice) perfectly captured the vibe of some of my favorite horror movies—as chaos, destruction, and otherworldly/evil forces reign, the characters maintain a sort of flippant self-centeredness throughout it all. All of the horror was somehow completely unexpected, and felt really visceral and surreal. At the core of the story is a family trying to deal with the various betrayals, traumas, and failed expectations they've all endured collectively and individually. Even outside of the horror elements, this story got really dark, but I appreciated the way all of the sisters loved and hated each other so forcefully throughout the novel. It felt very familiar, like yeah your sister is a bitch, but you would still brave an apocalypse for her. There were a few elements of the story that could have been tied up a little more, but I'm not one for nitpicking the enjoyment out of a horror romp. There were here were a handful of typos/mistakes in the digital ARC, and that, combined with the PDF format made it a little tricky to follow at times. But either way, I'm so excited to pre-order and read this again (and make all my horror-loving friends read it, too).

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I am forever grateful to Astra House Publishing, Melissa Lozada Oliva, and Netgalley for sending me this gorgeous ARC, along with Digital access as well. I was immediately drawn to the chaos of the cover, featuring a female family collective, raising giant forks in a battle cry, and literally upon cracking this spine, finished this book in less than a day. It WAS THAT GOOD. Candelaria is set to hit shelves on September 19, 2023, so you still have time to add this baby to your TBR.

The world is ending and our elder matriarch, Candelaria is in peril after the loss of her husband and beloved son throughout the years. Flash forward, the year is 2025, and her three granddaughters are all in trouble and in need of her help, but a apocalyptic earthquake is keeping her and her daughter from her grandchildren: Candy, Bianca, and Paola (who now goes by Zoe.

Paola (Zoe) has left behind her broken marriage to start anew in a toxic wellness cult that prides themselves on spinning, meditation, and pregnancy. Bianca has just been dumped by her professor and fired from her archeological dig in Guatemala. Candy, a former heroin addict, is doing her best to get by, but finds herself carrying the child of her sister’s professor/ex-boyfriend, and her hunger for raw meat and human flesh is starting to grow a bit alarming.

Told from various viewpoints, readers get a view into this messy family and how their relationships with each other tatter and tear across the years, until they finally hit their breaking point when an ages old cult takes rein at the end of the world. So fun.

YALLL Need to pick this one up IMMEDIATELY!

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Thanks to NetGalley and Astra Publishing House for providing me an eARC!

I was a huge fan of Melissa's debut, "Dreaming of You," and I was excited when I saw on her Instagram that she was writing her second book. I love multigenerational stories, especially ones that have a surreal vibe to them. This book was that and so much more. I highly recommend this book because it didn't disappoint. I loved the originality of the story plot, too!


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Maybe this book might not be for everyone but I found it gripping, unique, voicy and fun. I loved this book.

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Following the success of her 2021 novel in verse “Dreaming of You,” a bizarre, obsessive love story about bringing “Queen of Tejano Music” Selena Quintanilla-Pérez back to life, Lozada-Oliva returns with another strange, disconcerting work just in time for spooky season. There are cults, cannibalism and a world-ending earthquake balanced with cutting cultural criticism, family drama and betrayals. The debut novel reads like a dark lyrical dream, best not indulged before bed, so as not to disturb your sleep.

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I LOVE Melissa Lozada-Oliva. Her poetry is stunning and I love showing some of her work to my students.

So when I saw Candelaria, I knew I had to read it! I was expecting it to be a novel in verse, but was pleasantly surprised by what I got instead. This is what you would consider a "standard" book, written in prose, but the story was unique, strange, and wonderfully done.

These characters are well developed, intriguing, and offer a weird, somewhat horrific world that I actually felt was pretty relatable. Essentially, the story deals with a family overcoming negative past experiences, which brings them together. The relations amongst these people feels incredibly genuine. They drive each other crazy, but there's also so much love there, which is so real.

I thought this story brought a unique storyline and perspective, a worthy read to be sure!

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As a huge Melissa Lozada-Oliva fan I was really excited to get this novel and it did not disappoint. Through a truly bizarre set of circumstances, this book did a great job at exploring the way that family can hold you together and also let you down. This was a fun out of the box read and I am excited for the next book by this author!

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i don't completely understand what this book is about but i absolutely enjoyed reading it😁🥰
this book is fun, crazy and chaotic on all levels.
at first i thought that this book would be a sadly dramatic story about a complex family dynamics but the author scale down on the drama and put in so much humor, craziness and some sort of magic into it. generational trauma but make it apocalyptic😅
I just love it when women writes women so amazingly that no matter how unhinged or uncomprehensible the story is, i still ended up enjoying it.

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A freewheeling, off-beat, and relentlessly chaotic read, Candelaria is a rhizomatic novel that defies easy categorisation. To borrow, once again, Lady Gaga’s words: “talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique, completely not ever been done before, unafraid to reference or not reference, put it in a blender, shit on it, vomit on it, eat it, give birth to it”. Populated by bizarre characters (prone to huge leaps of logic, maundering, and dissociating from the fucked-up things that come their way), absurdist elements, and weird, sometimes gross, horror-like scenarios, Candelaria is the type of book that might make one feel that they can't make head or tail of what they are reading. Yet, I found myself wholly captivated by Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s playful dark humor and by her irresistibly irreverent social commentary. I was equal parts appalled and delighted by her characters’ tribulations. Their behaviors and responses to the small and large-scale catastrophes that come their way often verge on the surreal, reminding me very much of authors like Helen Oyeyemi, Kevin Wilson, and Ling Ma.

The novel’s opening is hectic enough. Through a 2nd pov we follow Candelaria, “you”, whose daily routine is interrupted by a devastating earthquake. Her surprisingly violent response to this event is in many ways more alarming than the earthquake itself, yet, the use of the 2nd pov keeps her motivations at arm's lengths from us. We know only that for whatever reason Candelaria sets out across Boston, her destination the Watertown Mall Old Country Buffet. Undeterred by the progressively apocalyptic obstacles in her path, Candelaria is determined to reach the Buffet, a place that, somehow, is connected to the ongoing chaos around her.

The novel switches between Candelaria’s ‘present’ journey to the events that lead to it. Here we meet her three granddaughters, as overwhelmed as they are overwhelming, each far too wrapped up by her own drama to realize that the weird shit happening to each one of them is connected. There is archaeologist Bianca, who is plenty book-smart but lacks self-awareness, her cold, brusque even, demeanour often sees her (in)voluntarily pushing others away. Having long been forced into the role of the reliable daughter/sister/granddaughter, she’s at a low point in her life and has just been duped & dumped by her advisor who kicked her off of her own dig back in Guatemala. Her life work in jeopardy, Bianca is licking her wounds back in Boston, where, mired by self-pity, she spends most of her time whining to her (far too) understanding housemate. We then have Candy, the youngest, who, despite her name, is brazen and mean. Candy is a recovering addict whose self-destructive antics have often been a concern in the family. A film aficionado, Candy now works at a cinema. She’s brash, extremely self-centred, and rarely thinks things true. Her attitude to life is seemingly blasé yet after she and Bianca fall out, we can see how bothered she is by it. She discovers that is pregnant after a one-night stand with a mysterious man, whose disappearance was as strange as his appearance. Worst still, her pregnancy seems to have worrisome, monstrous, side effects.
And last we have Paola, newly returned to Boston having been missing for over a decade. This new Paola goes by Zoe, and has become a devout member of a cultish wellness center. Having reinvented herself, Zoe is not interested in reuniting with her family, whom she’d run away from so many years before.

Throughout the novel, Lozada-Oliva plays around with so many tropes and genres that one might struggle to keep up. Often we seemingly lose sight of the plot, distracted by whatever latest bizarre thing is happening on the page (be it brainwashing, cannibalism, or the end of the world). A series of grotty, horrifying, and baffling events puncture the sisters’ seemingly disparate storylines, but, these scenarios are depicted in such an energetic way that one might, like the characters themselves, overlook the magnitude of what has happened/is happening. Lozada-Oliva's characters and their circumstances are entrenched in the absurd, at times verging on the hysterical. Yet, the humorous and grotesque elements don’t take away from Lozada-Oliva’s social commentary nor do they make the characters less humane. The narrative may poke fun at the characters but not their struggles or desires. The novel’s gritty commentary on contemporary American politics is balanced by an empathetic yet incisive portrayal of the interplay between diasporic identity and generational trauma. Family is at the heart of Candelaria, even if the sisters’ attempts at belonging, at achieving happiness and success, see them hurtling into and out of each other’s paths. I liked how the novel allows for these types of flawed characters and sisterhood to take the centrestage, showing the complex layers beneath each sister and allowing for nuance in their love/hate bond.

The novel’s foray into the horror genre is particularly effective as it allows for an uncompromising examination of bodily autonomy, female monstrosity, thorny family histories, and the hunger to belong. Lozada-Oliva's approach to horror made me think simultaneously of two very different films, Julia Ducournau’s Titane and Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die, as well as Stephen Graham Jones' adrenaline-fueled horror novels (in particular My Heart is a Chainsaw).

This novel is a riot, and I was wholly wholly engrossed and invested in the ongoing chaos. There were some aspects that I wish could have been tweaked slightly (the reunion is too long delayed, several storylines are left unresolved, and i could have done without the offing of a certain character). Still, given its scope, those minor flaws hardly made a dent in my reading experience. I loved Lozada-Oliva’s punchy prose, her fucked-up sort of humor, and her messed-up characters. I can definitely see this appealing to fans of Helen Oyeyemi, Kevin Wilson, Hilary Leichter, and Ling Ma, as well as to readers who enjoyed Samanta Schweblin's bizarre short stories, An Yu's murky brand of surrealism, Sam Cohen's madcap stories in Sarahland, Candas Jane Dorsey's tongue-in-cheek postmodern murder-mystery, The Adventures of Isabel , Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier, or the messy (a la Shameless) family dynamics depicted in books by authors like Angie Cruz and Eden Robinson. Lozada-Oliva delivers a high-octane genre-bending read that sucked me into its nonsensical, uninhibited, funny, and gross vortex. I can't wait to read it again and look forward to reading more by Lozada-Oliva.

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