Wednesday, November 2, 2022

It is all in the language by Raquel Reyes

LUCY BURDETTE: Today I'm delighted to introduce writing pal, Raquel Reyes. Last year her debut novel was published to amazing accolades. (This was in the New York Times: "Mango, Mambo, and Murder furthers my belief that the cozy mystery has become one of the most diverse, and most vibrant, in contemporary crime fiction..."

Isn't that a wonderful introduction? Even more fun, for those of you who might be in Key West in November, I'll be interviewing Raquel at Books and Books on November 5. But today she's here to talk about her second book, Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking. Welcome Raquel!

RAQUEL REYES: I might be new to many of Jungle Red's readers. My second full-length mystery hit shelves (virtual and real) on October 11th, 2022. But a quick click or search will tell you something important about my writing. I use Spanish and Spanglish in my books. It's kind of my thing. I even wrote about it for Writer's Digest. But I'm not here to tell you about Spanish. The language I want to explore with you is the language used in book reviews. 

I hope we can agree that not every book is for everybody. And that is alright. Actually, that is better than alright—It's ideal. Variety is good. Fiction is like a sampler box of chocolates. We all have our favorite and least flavor flavors. I prefer dark chocolate, especially the ones with nuts, and I don't mind an orange cream or a marshmallow filled on occasion. The one with the cherry in the center is my least favorite.

chocolates by Bennilover

Have you ever seen someone bite into a chocolate from the sampler tray, find it wasn't the flavor they liked, then put it back in the tray? So, rude, am I right? I mean, all the person had to do was look at the flavor chart. They didn't have to ruin all the chocolates in the box. I'm sure one of their co-workers or family members probably likes the flavors they don't like. They could have left that chocolate for them to enjoy. 

The same is true for book reviews. The language/word choice a reviewer uses can be the difference between the flavor chart method and the teeth marks horror. Take, for example, a recent review of my book Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking. (Here is the link to the full review.) received. 

"I like Miriam. I think I'd enjoy having her as a friend. It might even bring back my neglected Spanish. That said, although new to this series, I was pleasantly surprised to find that after being thrown off my reading stride initially by the frequent use of Spanish, much of my Spanish came back to me. I wonder how much that might impact those who know little or no Spanish, however. To the author's credit, she makes no apologies for its use. Miriam notes that she and her non-Hispanic husband have made a real effort to raise a bilingual child, Manny. Having lived in Florida much of my life, I can attest to how valuable such a skill can be. Most was usually either indirectly restated or easily figured out, I'll note. Heck, we even learn a few words in Kreyol, such as "wi" means "yes"and "Mesi" means "thank you"." June Price. 10/12/22

This reviewer used the chart method. She informs that the novel has a flavor she learned to like but might not be to everyone's liking. I'm not going to show you the teeth mark reviews because I don't want to call anyone out. But trust me, I (and most authors) have gotten plenty of spat out bonbon kind. As a reader and an author, I find the chart kind most helpful.  

Do you read book reviews? Have you ever written a book review?


RAQUEL V. REYES writes Latina protagonists. Her work has won a LEFTY award, and International Latino Book Award, been nominated for an Agatha Award and optioned for film. Raquel's short stories appear in various anthologies, including The Best American Mystery and Suspense 2022.
(Headshot by Morgan Sophia Photography.)


About Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking

It's time for a savory soirée—but something sinister is stewing—in Raquel V. Reyes's second delightful Caribbean Kitchen mystery, perfectly delicious for fans of Mia P. Manansala.

Fall festivities are underway in Coral Shores, Miami. Cuban-American cooking show star Miriam Quiñones-Smith wakes up to find a corpse in her front yard. The body by the fake tombstone is the woman that was kicked out of the school's Fall Festival the day before. Miriam's luck does not improve. Her passive-aggressive mother-in-law puts her in charge of the Women's Club annual gala. But this year, it's not canapes and waltzes. Miriam and her girlfriends-squad opt for fun and flavor. They want to spice it up with Caribbean food trucks and a calypso band. While making plans at the country club, they hear a volatile argument between the new head chef and the club's manager. Not long after, the chef swan dives to his death at the bottom of the grand staircase. Was it an accident? Or was it Beverly, the sous chef, who is furious after being passed over for the job? Or maybe it was his ex-girlfriend, Anastasia? Add two possible poisonings to the mix and Miriam is worried the food truck fun is going to be a major crash. As the clock ticks down and the body count goes up, Miriam's life is put in jeopardy. Will she connect the dots or die in the deep freeze? Foodies and mystery lovers alike will savor the denouement as the truth is laid bare in this simmering stew of rage, retribution, and murder.

Come see us on Saturday!


  1. Welcome Raquel. Congratulations on your book release.

    As you know I write short musings and I knew that I would not post a negative musing simply because if I don't like it, I wouldn't want to discourage another reader who may like the book. I do love your insertion of "Spanglish" because I enjoyed remembering the Spanish I learned years ago and also learning new words.

  2. Congratulations on the new book, Raquel! Like Dru, I don't post negative reviews, but I 've received a few, for sure. Love your candy box analogy!

  3. Congrats on your new book Raquel!

    I do read book reviews though they aren't the determining factor in whether or not I'll pick the book up. I'm just usually interested in what others think about a book. I do write book reviews. I write for Mystery Scene magazine plus do other reviews on Goodreads. Those ones I usually cross-post to Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

  4. Welcome Raquel and congratulations on your new book. Your use of Spanish and Spanglish would never discourage me. Google translate and 100 other apps will easily solve any lingering questions.

    I do write reviews but only of books I have enjoyed. There are thousands of books and authors to choose from and occasionally I will read something that doesn't do it for me. When that happens, I won't review it.

    It can be frustrating as a reader to discover that a book that has been hyped everywhere by everyone is just "meh" to me. But, like that piece of chocolate, why spoil anyone else's fun? Also, no insults necessary.

  5. Congratulations Raquel! I think I will love your books-- I've been studying Spanish for years. My current class is on Zoom, with a teacher in Cuernavaca and another student in Eugene. We have a lot of fun together. ¡Tres amigas buenas! A couple of weeks ago, despite being shy, I started attending a delightful intercambio in my neighborhood. Tonight we are celebrating Día de los Muertos and I'm very excited to go talk to my new friends.

    I track my reading on Goodreads, and always give a rating and mostly add one or two lines about my reaction to a book. I don't think I've ever given a book less than 3 stars, even when I had a negative emotional reaction. I certainly would never trash a book. I have read some really negative reviews of books I liked and have concluded that some readers have no attention spans or ability to experience anything outside of their own rigid expectations. I hope to never be that kind of reader.

    I did have a weird experience a few years back when a woman from my church published a children's book, knew I was on Goodreads and asked me to read and review her book. It was not really to my taste. After much thinking, I wrote a positive but not effusive review. I noted the things I liked about the book.

  6. Hey, Raquel - congratulations! I often review books - love to share the love!

    I lived in Miami for 40 years or so. Did you know that Miami actually has a local accent that pays homage to Spanish? There was an article in the Herald about it a few years ago. Talk about a vibrant place to live.

  7. RAQUEL: Congratulations on the newest Miriam book! I enjoyed reading both books and had no problems with the Spanish. Since retiring in 2016, I do read a lot of ARCs and post reviews on Netgalley and Goodreads. I don't post negative reviews.

  8. Congratulations on the new book, Raquel! And on the many awards your work is accruing!

    I confess, I do find a lot of words I don't understand--jargon or non-English or dialect--to be off-putting, especially if it gets in the way of my understanding the story. It can cause me to stop reading. Especially because I read often before bed and I'm pooped by then. But a good writer can convey enough meaning through context that it 's not a show stopper.

  9. Raquel, loved your first book and am sure this second book will be equally fun to read! Congratulations! Context is everything, as Hallie notes above. A good writer is not showing off, but using language and expressions that fit the character. I can usually suss out the meaning even if I don't know every single word in another language.

  10. I understand what you are saying Hallie. I find that is also true of some British writers who insert a lot of French words and expressions into their writings. I is distracting but also irritating that I don't know more French! But I live in San Diego where I hear Spanish spoken everywhere so it wouldn't seem out of place.

  11. I agree with Hallie that foreign languages can be off-putting when the writer makes no effort to let you understand through context. Done right, however, it can certainly add flavor to a story. As for reviews, the most annoying are from readers who show no respect for the amount of effort it takes to write a book. The chocolate box analogy is a really good one!

  12. Raquel, congratulations on your second book, and you had me laughing with your box of chocolate analogy. I understand professional reviewers in newspapers and magazines (both digital and physical) need to review a variety of books and the big releases that their readers might encounter. But I've never understood why an unpaid amateur reviewer would bother reading a book that does not appeal to them, let alone spend the time reviewing it.

    Everyone has seen a review on one of the major sites that says something like, "I don't like thrillers, so I really didn't enjoy this book, which is clearly a thriller." It always makes me want to put an arm around their shoulder and say, "Dude, life is too short to bother with books you don't enjoy. Just put it down and go to the next thing."

  13. Raquel here. (Blogger is not letting me sign in. 6th try here) THANK YOU all for the love and kudos. JRW, you all, are such a wonderful and supportive group.

  14. Raquel, welcome to JRW. Yes, I knew about your books from Instagram posts about your books and I often see your books amongst many cozy mysteries from publishers and social media posts about cozy mysteries. I’ve been meaning to read your books. Perhaps now is a good time to start?

    When you mentioned the use of Spanish? Spanglish? language, I was reminded of my first visit to Canada. If I bought anything like a box of tea, I noticed that both English and French languages were used. I was impressed! I wondered why we couldn’t have both English and Spanish language on boxes of tea in California? I remember ludicrous things like people voting for English language only in some parts of the USA. In Europe, people speak many languages. In the USA, it’s unusual to meet someone who would speak a foreign language. Actually you are more likely to meet an American who would have learned Sign Language than a language from another country. I’m speaking from my experiences. My great grandparents were Europeans and spoke seven languages, including Spanish and French.

    Yes, I write book reviews and I’ve been catching up this week. I was focused on writing my short story for submission so I didn’t read anything until I finished writing ✍🏻. The last week of October I scrambled to catch up! I have one more book review to write. Then I’m focusing on writing for national novel writing month in November.

    Yes, I get it about box of chocolate. Sometimes there is NO chart so I never know what is inside. You had me laughing at your chocolate box analogy.

    As I always say, there is the perfect book for everyone. I love cozy mysteries. Some readers love thrillers or what I call “macho” books 😂. I love happy books like Alexander McCall Smith novels. Some people love sad books.


  15. I'm iffy on book reviews - reading them. When I'm choosing a book, I'm much more likely to rely on the word of someone I trust - a friend or reviewer, like Dru Ann Love of Kristopher Zgorski - than some anonymous reviewer. As you said, there are a lot of spat-out chocolates.

    I used to write book reviews before I was published. Now I don't because I know how hard it is to write a book. But I'm always happy to talk person-to-person with someone about the books I'd recommend and enjoy.

  16. My personal rule is that if I can't give a book at least 3 out of 5 stars, I don't review it. It could just not be my cup of tea and it isn't my job to try to destroy an author.

  17. STANDING OVATION. Hurray and yes,sister. First, yes, when I see words in a language I don't speak, but the author gracefully translates, iit makes me feel smart. The second time I read that word, I know it, and I think. that's fabulous. (When an author is struggling to make a person sound "French" by having them say "zut, alors" all the time, that's not as successful. :-)
    As reviews, yes, so hard to do properly ! They are NOT a synopsis. I read one yesterday that gives away a BIG twist, and I am still enraged. Why do that? Grrr.
    And Raquel--CONGRATULATIONS on your wild success! YAAAYYY!

  18. This sounds like such a fun read. I love encountering other languages in novels. The language helps put me in the setting. And I do like books that take place in other countries. (One way to travel for the price of a book instead of plane fare.) I also like the chart approach to book reviews. I review some books when I find time, and I decided long ago that, since writers put their heart and soul into a book, whether I like it or not, I never review a book I can't give 4 or 5 stars to.

  19. I echo Hank's congratulations, Raquel--I'm so pleased for you. I've been enjoyed everyone's opinions about how much foreign language to put into a novel, since I'm always debating with myself about the few German or Swiss-German (dialect) phrases I put in my Polizei Bern mysteries. I think the German I use is totally clear in context, but when I listened to the recently released PESTICIDE audiobook, I recognized a big problem I didn't anticipate. One of the actors reading the book was so thrown by the German that she pronounced a character's name a different way every time she said it! But that won't be a problem for Spanish, luckily, since there are so many excellent Latinx actors in the US. As for book reviews, I occasionally wrote a bad one until I became a writer myself, and I've never done it since. I think good reviews are very important--I read them and pay attention to them when I decide whether to buy a book. Bad reviews are just cruel. I'm ashamed of myself for ever writing one, but at least it was a long time ago!

  20. Since I was a Spanish major, I can still usually understand Spanish in books. However, I remember reading Frances Parkinson Keyes who used a lot of French. And what about fantasy and science fiction like Tolkein and Star Trek? Just include enough translations and pronunciation guides that the story makes sense.

    I look at reviews when Book Bub shows free books that I might like. Most of my reading is books by my favorite authors. I also pay attention to recommendations from this blog and others. I write some reviews when has their book recommendation post. I don't feel that I am that good at it.

    I loved your first book that reminded me of Coral Gables where my aunt lived for over 30 years. I also liked that Miriam is already married with a child. I like love interests in mysteries but this makes a change. Looking forward to the new book.

  21. I loved the first novel and I am multilingual so the language was not an issue for me. I felt through context, non Spanish speakers could easily grasp when the Spanish is used. Huge congratulations to Raquel a wonderful writer and an amazing person. Good thing I had left over Halloween chocolate while reading this!

  22. Hi Raquel! Congratulations on the book, and I love the chocolate box analogy! I don't write reviews--it just feels awkward to me to critique fellow authors--but I love giving a shout out for books I love on social media. And I figure that just because a book isn't my cup of tea doesn't mean that someone else won't love it. Sometimes I'm so annoyed by really bad reviews on Amazon that I buy the book out of spite!

    I love the multilingual approach in novels (especially Spanish, as it gives me chance to brush up) as long as there's enough context for me to figure it out.

  23. Big congratulations, Raquel! I look forward to getting know Miriam. I don't write reviews, but I do read them to get an idea whether or not a book is up my alley. I always begin with the lowest reviews, and often find them hilarious. These reviews tell me more about the reviewer than the author/book. They often contain misspellings, grammatical errors, and just plain baffling statements. "Too wordy," is one of my favorites. I understand, "Taking the Lord's name in vain," but am not personally put off by some cursing. Then there's, "I can't stand having the gay/homosexual agenda shoved down my throat," if there's a non-straight character involved. As I said, they tell me way more about the reviewer than anything else. I always hope that if authors *do* read those reviews they consider the source and take them with a grain of salt.
    ~ Lynda

  24. Hi, Raquel. I review mystery/crime fiction on my blog The Reading Room and have done so for over ten years. I read all kinds in the genre, from thriller to cozy. I admit that the majority of my reading isn't cozy, but I do love the cozy I read and am glad that it's on the increase in my reading. The reason I review books is to share books that I enjoy with others. I love to promote the authors whose books I always love. I don't do negative reviews. That's not my goal in reviewing. I know some other reviewers might say that I'm not doing my reviewing job if I don't point out flaws in books. Well, how presumptuous for me it would be to take a story that didn't resonate with me and fault it or the author. That's not what I do or want to do. I hope that people who read my reviews will find some books that will be special for them or that give them a respite from all the craziness of the world.

    And, Raquel, you set the cozy world on fire last year and continue to do so. I'm sorry that I haven't read your books yet, but I'm hoping to fit them in soon. Thanks for all the work you do to give readers a good time.

  25. Gracias, all! I am loving all the comments and discourse here. I've just started doing book recommendations on BookTok(TikTok) Find me on that platform as LatinaSleuths. I have the same handle on Instagram were I cross-post my book recs. I like to call them recommendations not reviews because like many of you I'm recommending books I've read and I truly like. I use the chart method and never the bite-then-spit-it-out method. LOL. I'm a fan of YMLIYL (You Might Like If You Liked.) I also like to mention the mood and feel of the story, know what I mean.