Official Review: The Last of the Californios

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Nisha Ward
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Official Review: The Last of the Californios

Post by Nisha Ward »

[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of "The Last of the Californios" by Howard R Holter.]
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2 out of 4 stars
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Reader, I have to be honest with you. I don’t live in the U.S. I don’t live in Mexico either. As a result, I’m not familiar with the history of the individual states and Mexico’s hold over California before it joined the Union. To be honest, the events of this book look like a conquest because of that unfamiliarity.

Howard R. Holter’s The Last of the Californios covers the life and times of Pio Pico, a man I did not know about until reading this book. As mentioned, it starts during Mexico’s possession of the California region and ends with the American invasion and conquest. This last was, in fact, an event that would lead to Pio’s downfall and eventual death in poverty.

The Last of the Californios starts, as one does, with the journey to California and the Missions that were established by Mexico. From there, it plods along slowly, yet steadily, as we are introduced to a cast of characters central to Pio Pico’s life and success. From his brother Andres to his rivals like Juan Castro and the American firms from whom he borrowed, we learn about the kind of man he was. This would come to include, from very early on, a businessman and rising political force, the final governor of the state under Mexican rule, and a washed-up Don who tried to adapt to the new ways of the Americans.

The ultimate failure of this attempt captivated me. The book initially sets Pio Pico up as a charismatic and cunning figure who thrives, despite his illiteracy. Reading this, it’s clear that he continues to do so even after his time is passed and I found myself waiting for the ball to drop, and drop it did. Pico’s propensity for generosity to his friends and family, as well as his schemes to earn money, would eventually catch up to him. With this, the author did a really good job of showing the cavalcade of failures and how hit after hit reduced Pico to nothing in the end. There was no relief for him, making this a train wreck from which I couldn’t tear my eyes.

For as much as I found this interesting, however, the book is massively flawed. Holter’s timeline may be linear, but when he gets into the details, he goes back and forth with information. What results is that he often repeats facts we already knew about the families involved. Moreover, near the end of the book, he introduces things like Pico’s adult children without any previous context or mention of his philandering in the preceding pages. It was jarring and more than a little disconcerting after the build-up of a childless yet happy marriage.

In addition to this, the flow of the book was less than appealing. I also found the prose to be dry and needing a change in tone. If the author wants to attract an audience, the book needs to be reworked to hold the reader’s attention. As it was, I often found my attention wandering, and most of the names and dates difficult to remember because of this. There was no real association beyond their relation to Pico, and even that was a stretch. It was also littered with punctuation errors and inconsistent formatting, factors that served to undermine its credibility as a historical narrative a little.

I liked a lot about this book. I liked the narrow focus and I liked the way it didn’t even frame the antagonists as bad people. I liked that things were more complicated than they should have been and that it never stopped people from having hope for a better life. However, the errors in the book and the issues with flow and tone are too much to ignore. While I think I would recommend this to history buffs, I have to give it a 2 out of 4 stars for now.

******
The Last of the Californios
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Post by Elvis Best »

This book sounds like a conquest to me too. However, the errors are a big turn off. Thanks for the thorough and honest review.
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Post by Nisha Ward »

Elvis Best wrote:
28 Jun 2020, 17:17
This book sounds like a conquest to me too. However, the errors are a big turn off. Thanks for the thorough and honest review.
Yeah. It was. Thanks for reading!
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Post by Usma Khann »

The narrative style of a book is an important element of any book. Looks like this one lacks in that department. Appreciate the review though.🌸
Readers know it. Authors know it. Publishers know it. A promising review sells books! :roll:

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Post by Nisha Ward »

Usma Khann wrote:
29 Jun 2020, 01:07
The narrative style of a book is an important element of any book. Looks like this one lacks in that department. Appreciate the review though.🌸
Thanks. It wasn't a slog to get through, thankfully. Just kind of dry.
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Post by Christieee »

This book is not one that appeals to me. The errors especially are a big turn off.
Thank you for the honest review.

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Post by Nisha Ward »

Christieee wrote:
29 Jun 2020, 04:33
This book is not one that appeals to me. The errors especially are a big turn off.
Thank you for the honest review.
Thanks for reading.
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Post by sanjus »

The story that follows Pio Pico during Mexico’s possession of the California and up to American invasion and conquest, which lead to Pio’s downfall. The book "The Last of the Californios" by Howard R Holter, would be appealing if professionally edited. Thanks for your honest review.
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Post by Nisha Ward »

sanjus wrote:
29 Jun 2020, 05:17
The story that follows Pio Pico during Mexico’s possession of the California and up to American invasion and conquest, which lead to Pio’s downfall. The book "The Last of the Californios" by Howard R Holter, would be appealing if professionally edited. Thanks for your honest review.

And thank you for reading.
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Post by LinaJan »

It is a real shame about the drawbacks as the story indeed seems to be interesting! I devour anything Latin American (I consider Mexico to be Latin America, not sure what the actual status is)! But the drawbacks sound too much, especially when the story is good :(
As for your mention of not being familiar with the region's history due to not living anywhere near them, I can relate! I often find that the American authors write in a way that requires the reader to have inside knowledge of the region, and it is a struggle for me. On the other hand, maybe that gives us, those living outside this region, a less biased or influenced picture? :)

Thank you for such a thorough and frank review!

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Post by Nisha Ward »

LinaJan wrote:
30 Jun 2020, 11:25
It is a real shame about the drawbacks as the story indeed seems to be interesting! I devour anything Latin American (I consider Mexico to be Latin America, not sure what the actual status is)! But the drawbacks sound too much, especially when the story is good :(
As for your mention of not being familiar with the region's history due to not living anywhere near them, I can relate! I often find that the American authors write in a way that requires the reader to have inside knowledge of the region, and it is a struggle for me. On the other hand, maybe that gives us, those living outside this region, a less biased or influenced picture? :)

Thank you for such a thorough and frank review!
Yeah. It lets us see things without the inherent biases towards a certain point of view.
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Post by Kelyn »

Don't worry; you're not the only one who has never heard of him, I hadn't either. Finding an author who doesn't frame the antagonists is not unheard of, but it is rare and difficult to pull off. I think the errors and dry tone of the book would be a turn-off for me, but I have to give the author credit for the above specific aspect. It does take talent. Excellently written review! Thanks!

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Post by Nisha Ward »

Kelyn wrote:
30 Jun 2020, 15:53
Don't worry; you're not the only one who has never heard of him, I hadn't either. Finding an author who doesn't frame the antagonists is not unheard of, but it is rare and difficult to pull off. I think the errors and dry tone of the book would be a turn-off for me, but I have to give the author credit for the above specific aspect. It does take talent. Excellently written review! Thanks!
I agree wholeheartedly. Thank you!
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Post by Mbrooks2518 »

Hopefully the author fixes the issues for what seems like it could be a nice historical book. Great review!

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Post by Nisha Ward »

Mbrooks2518 wrote:
01 Jul 2020, 19:21
Hopefully the author fixes the issues for what seems like it could be a nice historical book. Great review!
It really could be.
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