Category Archives: Book Reviews

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 107: Celia: Mi Vida by Celia Cruz & Ana Cristina Reymundo

As a music lover, there are some songs you hear and immediately make you want to dance. Even if you cannot dance, the song commands you to move your body to the beat.  The Queen of Salsa (La Reina de la Salsa), Celia Cruz, has many songs that fit the prior description.  Every time, I hear La Vida Es Un Carnival or the modern classic, Quimbara, dancing ensues.  I have listened to those songs many times over the years, but I knew little about Celia’s music on the whole.

A couple of years ago, I found a copy of Celia’s autobiography, Celia: My Life, for a dollar and snap it up.  It has been sitting on my bookshelf for a while and I finally read it.  Celia told her life story growing up in pre-Castro Cuba until her last days in 2003, where she had reached the status as the “Queen of Salsa.”  Celia described her success and longevity in these words:

The secret doesn’t lie in being fashionable or in prancing around half-naked. Although I have always been very cutting-edge and I have used many styles of music in my repertoire. I don’t adapt myself to a specific style of music just because it’s in vogue. The secret lies in the way you treat your audience. You have to promise to give them the best of your God-given talent.

That’s wisdom from a legend.  The book highlighted like her work with the famed Cuban band La Sonora Matancera, the collaborations with the great (one of my absolute favorites) Tito Puente & the incredible Johnny Pacheco, and how she evolved as music tastes changed.  Celia talked about her family, especially her parents and Tia Ana. She described her life being a Cuban exile and strong feelings toward Fidel Castro. Also, how she came to use azucar! (sugar) in her performances. Through it all, Celia survived until the end and reading this autobiography opened my eyes to a world I did not have any knowledge of.

It surprised me to learn how many exiled Cuban musicians emigrated to Mexico during the time she was rising to prominence and the connection between the two countries.  Of course, they have a shared language, but Celia spoke fondly of the Mexican people and had deep roots with our southern neighbor.

In closing, I’m so glad that I finally read the Queen of Salsa’s autobiography.  It gave me a little more insight into the magic of Cruz’s music and her connection to the Spanish-speaking world.  Also, she is an American success story as well, and she belongs in the same musical neighborhood as Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, & Billie Holiday.  Celia: My Life is a must for her fans and I hope a link with others to learn about this incredible and unique talent.


Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 105: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Have you ever read a book that you knew instantly you should have read years ago? I knew it after reading the first chapter of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. I was working at a mom-and-pop bookstore in Santa Fe, NM in 1996 when this novel was published. I remembered the sales rep from… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 104: Angel On My Shoulder by Natalie Cole

“As you walk your own journey, keep your eyes open, listen well, and if you look real hard, you just might find an angel on your shoulder.” Those words are from the last paragraph of the late Natalie Cole’s autobiography, Angel On My Shoulder published November 2000, fifteen years before her death in December 2015. … Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 103: Queen of Angels by Greg Bear

Queen of Angels by Greg Bear has been a book I’ve wanted to read for years. I’ve seen it at used bookstores and bought it several times intending to read the book but never get around to it until recently. Queen of Angels is an ambitious, thought-provoking science-fiction novel that deals with race, crime, religion,… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 102: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

When I heard that Ray Bradbury had passed in 2012, I realized that I had never read any of his books. Wow, that surprised me. Well, in honor of his passing, I decided to read his most popular and enduring work, Fahrenheit 451. “Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 101: The Opposite of Art by Athol Dickson

The Opposite of Art is the story of the genius artist, Sheridan Ridler, who is known for painting nudes without faces. Ridler gets quite a reputation in the art world as a cad to the ladies and an arrogant jerk to everyone else that comes in contact with him. Well, he has an accident at… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 100: Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Bag of Bones is the story of Mike Noonan, a bestselling novelist with a great life until his wife dies in an accident near their Western Maine summer home. From that accident, Mike’s life is turned upside down and inside out. Because of that event, Mike gets writers block, discovers their summer home is haunted… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 99: Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus

Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus tells the story of Jamaican agent Desmond Coke and his companion, Lij Tafari. They are on the run and Desmond wants the boy to have a normal life, but it seems unlikely because of those who want to capture Lij for nefarious reasons. This alternate history tale has the United… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Story Review 8: Recitatif by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is one of those authors I have admired and respected but not loved her fiction. I have read Song of Solomon, Jazz, & Paradise of her work. Song of Solomon is my favorite but my feelings as a reader on a storytelling level have been lukewarm at best. However, this short story (the… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Review 97: The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark is a fantasy novella set in an alternate early 20th century Cairo, where the world of djinn and other supernatural beings has made Egypt a world super-power, and two Agents of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities — a seasoned agent Hamed and… Continue Reading