Back to top
The Sacred Well – Antoinette May
Title Page - Friday, May 1, 2009
How real is the Mayan curse?
Antoinette May draws on historical
events, interweaving fact and fiction
by Jennifer Dietz
"The Sacred Well"
Antoinette May; Harper Paperbacks
378 pp.; $14.99
Palo Alto writer and journalist
Antoinette May's latest book, "The
Well," offers readers a mix of
mythology, history and romance. Like
novel, which was set in biblical times
and follows a heroine who falls under
the throes of a mysterious curse, May
once again centers on the lives of
strong female characters.
"The Sacred Well" interweaves the
stories of two women whose careers
love lives run in parallel with one
another. May draws inspiration from
own experience as a travel writer in
Mexico to create a present-day
Sage Sanborn. While on a reporting
assignment, Sage travels to the
and is instantly captivated by the
dramatic story of Alma Reed, an
journalist, and her tragic romance with
the progressive and revolutionary
Yucatan governor, Felipe Carrillo
May's novel draws from actual
historical events that make great
fiction. Alma Reed was a rare female
reporter in a male-dominated field who
traveled with a Carnegie archeological
team during the 1920s to explore
ancient ruins in the Yucatan. She won
accolades for the expose she
ultimately published in the New York
Times revealing that American
archeologists had transported or
"stolen" nearly $2 million worth of
treasure from the Chichen Itza ruins
— sending the artifacts to the
Museum in Boston for safekeeping.
As it is told in the novel, Alma also
came to learn of a myth surrounding
the sacred well. At the time, it was
widely believed that those who
disturbed or made
known the secrets of Maya would be
cursed — made to lose
the one thing they love most.
question that carries throughout the
is how real or imagined this curse
may be, whether or not it will come
to haunt Alma and Felipe as the young
divorcee and governor enter into a
love affair that shocks the religiously
conservative populace of the
Yucatan, and if the archeologist who
has helped to steal the Mayan
for the Peabody museum and then
spilled the secrets of the ruins to Alma
also suffer the consequences.
And finally, there is even the question
of whether or not the curse may
continue on into the present day,
when Sage goes herself to visit the
In alternate chapters of the novel,
Sage follows in Alma's footsteps,
seeking to uncover new facts about
the journalist's life, and by writing
Alma's biography, share those
secrets with a new generation of
like her predecessor, Sage soon finds
herself falling passionately in love,
only in her case it is with a scientist
she meets while in the Yucatan who
encourages her to pursue Alma's
story. Sage is torn between the lure
excitement of Mexico and her
adventuresome lover and the
loyalty she feels to the partner she
has left behind in Palo Alto, who, as
the novel progresses, becomes
increasingly fragile as he succumbs
The most compelling portions of "The
Sacred Well" are those that illuminate
historical events. The glimpses into
the violent political upheaval taking
place in Mexico in the early 20th
century with the populist governor
to democratize the Yucatan and
enfranchise the working class against
will of the Spanish landowners who
then seek retaliation, the intrigue
around the Mayan artifacts uncovered
in the ruins of Chichen Itza and then
stolen by the Americans, and the illicit love affair between an
reporter and the married governor of
a staunchly Catholic state, all make
for fascinating subject matter. The
writing behind the storytelling,
however, is often not powerful or
nuanced enough to truly convince.
Back to top
The novel moves back and forth
between two narratives, that of Sage
in the present day, and of Alma Reed,
who lived and wrote nearly a century
earlier. Both portions of the novel are
told in the first person, which
poses a challenge for the author to
differentiate the speaking manner of
two heroines, and unfortunately, the
voices seem almost interchangeable
equally contemporary. Dialog and
description in both portions of the
tend to fall too easily into the language
and clichés that are the standard
fare of romance novels, such as
when Felipe presents Alma with a
ring. "My fingers trembled slightly as I
opened the box. The ring inside
made me gasp. Diamonds flanked the
large sapphire, sparkling blue yet with
hidden depth. ... 'I've never seen
anything so beautiful,' I told him. My
heart raced; this was happening too
Still, for readers who are looking for a
light, entertaining story, "The
Sacred Well" is easily digestible and a
quick, easy read filled with
intrigue and suspense. The exotic
setting, the drama of a mystical curse,
and two steamy and scandalous love
affairs keep the pages turning.
And, as was the case in her first
novel, May does succeed in avoiding
predictable ending of a paperback
romance. Instead of wrapping things
neatly for either character, both
heroines find their pursuit of romance
thwarted at various stages, and are
forced to look for less conventional
means of achieving their own happy
Freelance writer Jennifer Deitz can be
reached at email@example.com.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Title: The Sacred Well
Author: Antoinette May
Release Date: March 24, 2009
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
From the back cover:
A young reporter in 1923, Alma Reed accompanies archaeologists to the ruins of Chichen Itza, where a fortune in Mayan artifacts has been stolen from a sacrificial well.
It's believed a curse was unleashed by the theft—yet the career-making story it offers the ambitious journalist seems a godsend. It also leads her to a passionate love affair with revolutionary governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto. But when fate darkens their lives and damns them as doomed political pawns, Alma can't help but wonder if the curse is not, in fact, very real.
In another century, another writer is fascinated by Alma's tragic story. Drawn restlessly to Yucatán—and away from the stifling needs of her desperately ill partner—Sage Sanborn is tempted by her growing feelings for David, a scientist who encourages her to delve deeper into Alma's history. And in this ancient place of mystery and spirits, Sage must make an impossible decision that will forever change the course of her life.
I have always found the culture and history of the Mayan people fascinating, though I’m sorry to say that I don’t know much about them. Therefore, when I stumbled upon The Sacred Well at the bookstore, I was more than eager to give it a try.
I thought that The Sacred Well was a compelling novel that was carefully researched and very well written.
I loved how May took the historical figure of Alma Reed – though I admit, I didn’t realize she was an actual person until the author’s afterword – and breathed life into her through her book. I don’t know anything about Mexican history of the early 20th century, so I really feel like I learned a lot by reading this book.
I definitely found Alma’s story more interesting than Sage’s, though I think that was intentional on the author’s part This book was much more about Alma – that’s the reason that most of the story is told in her voice, in her time. However, I found both characters to be well developed, though I thought Felipe and Alma’s romance to be a bit rushed.
If you’re interested in Mexican or Mayan history, or archaeology in general, I definitely recommend The Sacred Well. This well researched book is certainly a gem that I’m thrilled I stumbled upon. I look forward to seeing what May does next!
Back to top
Romance Reviews Today
THE SACRED WELL - Antoinette May
Harper Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-0-06-169555-1
April 2009 Fiction
California and Mexico - the 1920s and the Present
Travel writer Sage Sanborn is in the Yucatan on assignment. She left behind in California her long-time companion, Mark, who is ill from cancer. With her life consumed with caring for Mark, this trip to Mexico provides a soothing respite.
On a rainy night, as she avoids her traveling companions, Sage meets David, a visiting scientist who encourages her to pursue her curiosity about Alma Reed, a fellow Californian who was linked with the former governor of the Yucatan in the nineteen twenties. Their story has intrigued Sage, and now, the very area where the couple met presents her with the perfect opportunity to dig further into their tale.
David accompanies her as she visits places where Alma went, all the while hearing the beautiful song Felipe had composed for her. Their lives haunt Sage as she sees more than a few comparisons to her own life.
Divorced and aching to escape from recent memories, Alma Reed takes an assignment from her newspaper to join a group of archeologists who will visit the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan. She is immediately mesmerized by the beautiful country and its violent history, both recent and past. But when she meets the dynamic Felipe Carillo Puerto, the Yucatan's governor, Alma loses her heart completely. Married, with several children, Felipe is equally beguiled, and he begins a courtship that could ruin them both.
As Alma learns more about Felipe's Mayan ancestors, visiting the various temples and ruins, she also discovers the more sinister parts of that civilization, including the sacred well where human sacrifices were made. Is there a link between the forbidden love she feels for Felipe and the well? Are their feelings for one another cursed?
THE SACRED WELL is brilliantly told --- a story of love, devotion, and honor.
Sage is a modern woman whose decency and sense of fair play keep her from letting her heart go completely. She sees in Alma a compatriot of sorts, and wants to know more about this complicated, heart-on-her-sleeve woman who risks all to love a man. Alma, a woman before her time, leads the life she chooses, and her story will leave readers wanting to know more about her.
A fictional account of the real Alma Reed and Felipe Carillo Puerto, THE SACRED WELL is lush, romantic, and filled with emotion.
Back to top
Jani Brooks Romance Reviews Today
Midwest Book Review
Harper, Mar 24 2009, $14.99
Fortyish travel writer Sage Sanborn is in Mexico's Yucatan on a writing assignment to describe romantic spots in the Peninsula. During a storm, she rushes inside a tavern in Merida. There she meets David Winslow who asks her to join him for a drink. They listen to a local band play a haunting love song that David insists was written by a former states governor.
In 1923 Yucatan Governor Felipe Carillo Puerto and American female journalist Alma Reed met and fell in love. She reported the plundering of Mayan artifacts, which angers some locals. Soon afterward Felipe is assassinated; Alma blames herself for the murder of her beloved as her article led to his death.
Sage returns to San Francisco where her boyfriend Mark lives to write the heartbreaking story of Felipe and Alma. However, she also misses David and considers returning to him and the Yucatan.
SACRED WELL is an intriguing premise of an American female reporter investigating the true life story of Alma Reed. The two subplots eight plus decades apart are fascinating to follow especially the historical based on the tragic love between Alma and Felipe. Although the contemporary lacks the excitement of the 1920s, fans will enjoy this fine tale of a modern American journalist searching for what her counterpart found in 1923 in the Yucatan.
Back to top
Midwest Book Review
Agent: Irene Webb/Irene Webb Literay
Back to top
Javelina's Full Review: Antoinette May - The Sacred Well: A Novel
I try not to judge a book by it's cover,
but this book caught my attention in
the new books section of the library
with it's image of Chichen-Itza on the
cover. I have been to Mexico several
times and find Mayan history and
culture very interesting and the cover
captured my attention instantly.
"A young reporter in 1923, Alma Reed
accompanies archaeologists to the
ruins of Chichen Itza, where a fortune
in Mayan artifacts has been stolen
from a sacrificial well. It's believed a
curse was unleashed by the
theft—yet the career-making story it
offers the ambitious journalist seems
a godsend. It also leads her to a
passionate love affair with
revolutionary governor Felipe Carrillo
This book was released May 2009,
and I found the paperback version in
the new books section at the library.
It is written by Antoinette May, who I
am not familiar with, but has written
several other books (including some
others about the Yucatan).
This book is set up in an interesting
way. It starts with a modern day
reporter/writer, Sage Sanborn, who
loves writing about her travel
experiences. She is drawn into a
story by a man (David) she meets in
the Yucatan. He speaks of a woman
named Alma and that there is a
mystery surrounding Alma's past in
the Yucatan. Sage is drawn into the
story and is also sort of captured by
David's own mysteriousness. At the
same time she deals with inner turmoil
about her partner or boyfriend Mark,
who she she cares for and is very ill.
The structure of the book goes back
and forth between Sage and
The structure of the book goes back
and forth between Sage and
Alma. Alma's story starts in 1923,
and she too is a reporter. She makes
a trip to the Yucatan to cover a news
story with some archaeologists. The
premise of her trip was interesting
enough in that she is a young female
reporter doing something that not a lot
of women had done, being a
successful writer and traveling to
Mexico for a story.
The twist in the book is when Alma
meets governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
The two fall in love and their fate is
forever changed by their meeting. At
the same time, it seems like Sage is
torn in making her own life-changing
decisions, so it was enjoyable to have
a story that was interconnected
between past and present.
Both stories were unusual and
interesting. I liked the idea of women
pursuing what they wanted or not
necessarily following stereotypical
roles. And, both women were torn
when it came to making some big
decisions; something probably
everyone has experienced. Of
course love does complicate things,
and it made the story feel so real. I
appreciated the unusual
circumstances and how both women
felt so conflicted in the positions they
I really enjoyed the historical side of
Mexico (as well as the present). The
author did a beautiful job of presenting
the Yucatan to the readers and really
bringing it alive. May brings images of
Mexico to life and paints a vivid
picture of what it was like for both
Sage and Alma. And in Alma's case,
what it was like in the Yucatan and
cities like Merida in the 20's. She also
depicted the interesting political
scenes very well. Instead of being
potentially dry or overwhelming
(since the political climate had a big
role in the big), I found it very
interesting. I loved reading about both
women visiting some beautiful
cenotes (collapsed caves in Mexico)
as I have done in the past. I enjoyed
the author's account of those amazing
turquoise waters and their seemingly
bottomless qualities, as well as the
tranquility of the jungle and so on.
There were many aspects to this
book, all of which I enjoyed. There
was the history portion, which talked
about true history and politics, and
sort of analyzed Alma's life as a
female reporter in the 1920's. It also
had a lot of romance and tradgedy as
well, both in Alma's story as well as
Sage's. In a sense there was a big
parallel which was Sage's big draw
to the story, but much of the story
was relatable whether it was to Sage
or to the reader.
Alma and Sage are truly the main
characters in this book, so the author
was able to devote a lot of time to
developing their characters.
Sometimes I didn't look forward to the
switch in time between the two, only
because I was getting caught up in
one or the other's story, but it goes to
show that the story was engaging.
I thought this book was creative and
interesting. Normally I stay away from
"historical" fiction or mysteries, but in
this case I was truly involved in the
story. As a mystery in the 20's in the
Yucatan, it was definitely something
different to read, and I enjoyed the
refreshing and original subject.
The Sacred Well: