Dear Book Lover, 

Thank you for your interest in my novel "Sugar Skull," which takes place in Los Angeles around Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations. I write contemporary novels with multicultural and noir themes and a strong female protagonist. 

While "Sugar Skull" can be read at any time throughout the year, late summer/fall is the ideal time for your book club to read and discuss this novel as it takes place during the lead-up to Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and includes many cultural references to Los Angeles' Latino community and the Day of the Dead celebrations. 

I hope you will find this Book Discussion Guide helpful. Should you have any questions, comments or additional information and insight that might prove helpful to other book clubs, please contact me and I will try to add it to the Guide. 

Thank you! 

Denise Hamilton


In Sugar Skull, Eve Diamond wrestles with the issue of what makes a story newsworthy in Los Angeles, a city with so many homicides each year that most murders merit only a paragraph or two at best. Eve complains that unless the victim is a child, a famous or wealthy person or has been killed in a particularly gruesome manner (eg Black Dahlia), the paper probably won't run a story. What do you think of this? Have we grown too desensitized to violence? 

Eve Diamond often has to balance her need to get a story with her willingness to put herself in potential danger. Would you have crawled into the abandoned building with Isabel's father to get a story if you were a reporter? Why or why not? 

What do the little sugar skulls of Mexican Day of the Dead symbolize? What relationship does Day of the Dead have have to Halloween and All Souls' Day? Discuss this tradition and whether you think it's ghoulish or spiritual and why. 

Sugar Skull has many teen characters who struggle with serious issues including parental neglect, homelessness, drug addiction, criminal behavior and revealing dangerous secrets that will betray confidences. How do the different teens in Sugar Skull respond to challenges of doing the right thing? 

Many of us encounter homeless people at one time or another and may at least think of what we might do to help them, especially in the case of children. When Eve befriends Scout, she acts upon this impulse, with very mixed results. What do you think of her choice and what would you have done in her situation? 

Sugar Skull introduces us to several characters who are not what they seem. The theme of masquerade is played out, both with Day of the Dead costumes and with the lives of real characters. Who are some of the characters in this book who hide behind masks. 

Sugar Skull was inspired by a real-life murder story that Denise Hamilton reported on in which a 13-year-old girl was murdered by her street-kid boyfriend in an abandoned building filled with refuse and Satanic symbols where homeless kids "squatted.' Many of the girls who testified in the real murder cases told authorities that they had homes but ran away "for kicks." How should parents or concerned adults handle adolescents who careen out of control? 

Reporters are not supposed to date their sources. Yet this often happens. Should Eve have gotten involved with Silvio? Did it get in the way of the story she was writing? 

In Sugar Skull, Eve grows fascinated by the success of Aguilar Entertainment, an organization she's never heard of because it flies under the radar of English-speaking Los Angeles. Can you think of a similar example in your hometown of a whole cultural world that you have stumbled across? 

Sugar Skull deals frankly with themes of race and class and prejudice. When Eve and Silvio go out to breakfast after their night together, he wonders if she is just attracted to his "otherness." Eve's friend Babette raises much the same issue and Eve responds that since L.A. is majority minority, it's only natural that she would meet and date men outside her cultural background. In both scenes, do you approve of the way Eve handled herself? Should she have told Silvio off, or did he have a point? 

Name several other scenes in Sugar Skull where misconceptions about race and culture play out. 

In trying to hunt down her news stories, Eve sometimes manipulates sources into talking to her. For example, when Eve befriends Paolo Dellaviglia and allows him to drink in her car, she knows she's crossing an ethnical line. Eve justifies it by arguing to herself that if she can catch the killer she may prevent more murders. Do you agree? What other scenes in Sugar Skull involve questionable moral choices and what would you have done in Eve's place? 

Another example: When Eve learns something personal about City Editor Jane Sims and blackmails her to help another newsroom employee. What would you have done in that situation? 

What did you think of the old newsroom photographer Harry Jack? Did you think that the Times should have forced him into retirement? 

Do you think that the Aguilar family should have given in to Ruben's suggestions and booked acts that performed narcocorrido music? Why is this genre so popular with kids? 

What did you think of the plot resolution with Langdon the mayoral candidate? Did you want things to be tied up more neatly? Did you find it realistic? Discuss. 


"Narcocorrido, a Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns and Guerrillas" by Elijah Wald, Rayo Books, 2002. 

Retail locations 

Day of the Dead information 

If you would like to read the newspaper story that inspired "Sugar Skull," please contact author Denise Hamilton to request it. 

Thank you!