#bookreview: Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar #Colombia #Outcasts #Misfits


In 1865 in the shanty town of Tartatenango, the Caketown Bar is owned by the extraordinary Jaguar Paloma, matriarch of a village that is home to raucous miscreants, cast-off mothers, muleteers, and forgers. Amid drunken monks, a roaring trade in faked marriages just for fun, and the Romani, all balance on the knife-edge between legality and the illicit. Paloma’s life is honed by this community, as their lives are affected by her mystery and magic.

Co-founder of this extraordinary gathering is Orietta Becerra. Breathtakingly beautiful and ambitious, her distillery builds the success of Caketown. But when she crosses the tracks and marries the town’s mayor, her double life severs her friendship with Paloma and the town starts to pay the highest of prices.

Adding to this land of chaos and feminine power is a forger, a murderer, the darker shade of the female heart, and a Civil War that claims men before their time.

Caketown – men want to destroy it. Women want to play in it. The township itself has to fight on all sides to survive.

Told in evocative magical realism, Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar is a tale of wronged women who stand up to be counted.


1865, Colombia. Betrayed by her family, Paloma sets out on her own with only determination and anger as companions. When the very tall Paloma meets the very beautiful Orietta, a friendship is formed. They start the Caketown Bar, a home for castoffs of all kinds, and it quickly becomes more than a bar. It becomes a society where everyone is accepted, no matter how odd. Fake weddings are held just for fun. It is a happy, successful, and carefree life, until Orietta marries the bank manager.

This is a completely unique and captivating story that quickly drew me in, as each character and their experiences were introduced in such compelling ways. The ability of Paloma, Orietta and their friends to basically build a world where they all belonged in Caketown speaks to the misfit in all of us. This is a story of people who rose above rejection, hatred, and abandonment, built their own world, and then had to battle against the evils of war and a terrible man. It is also a story of mistakes, betrayal, and loss, and the way we fight to come back from that. This novel is steeped in magical realism, but contains an even more powerful magic—the one that happens when a kind soul reaches out to the abandoned or neglected, and they begin to blossom.

I received a free copy of this book from the Historical Novel Society. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.


Jess Wells is the author of six novels and five books of short stories, winner of a Nautilus Prize for Fiction, a Foreword Reviews Indies Award for Adult Fiction/Romance, the recipient of a San Francisco Arts Commission Grant for Literature, a four-time finalist for the national Lambda Literary Award, and a member of the Saints & Sinners Literary Hall of Fame. Her work has appeared in more than three dozen literary journals and anthologies, and has been reprinted in England and translated into Italian and Dutch. 


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