Online Reading Challenge – December Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

We’ve made it to the last month of the 2023 Online Reading Challenge! With our theme of Location, Location, Location, we have traveled the globe exploring different places in fiction. What was your favorite location to read about?

For our last month, we settled in Cuba. How did your reading go this month? Did you read something set in Cuba that you enjoyed? Share in the comments!

I read our main title: Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton. This is a dual timeline historical fiction set in Cuba. It follows the stories of Marisol Ferrera and her grandmother, Elisa Perez. At the start of the story, Elisa has just passed away. In her will, she has written that Marisol must scatter her ashes back in Cuba, the country of her birth. As a Cuban-American woman traveling to Cuba in 2017, Marisol is in danger that she doesn’t quite realize yet. Born and raised in Miami amidst Cuban exiles, Marisol has her own opinions of Cuba. Once she arrives in Havana, she is struck by Cuba’s beauty and the perilous political climate. Marisol learns some startling family secrets while falling in love with a Cuban man with his own secrets.

Flash back: Elisa Perez has only known Cuba. It’s 1958 and as the daughter of a sugar baron, she and her siblings are sheltered amongst the other members of high society. While they all sneak out to parties, Elisa is largely unaware of the political unrest happening in Cuba. A chance meeting with a handsome revolutionary changes her life forever, leading her into a passionate affair with the power to destroy her family and her future. As her family was known to support Batista, once Castro rose to power, their money and influence made them targets.

Cleeton’s decision to write in dual timelines allowed readers to have a slight mental break when the dialogue shifted to 2017. The tours of Cuba Marisol ventured on in 2017 lined up with the history discussed in Elisa’s life in 1958. Cleeton has clearly made Cuba the star of this book. The people, customs, and stories told all support the fact that Cuba is the main player. While the cover of this book makes it seem like it is going to be a light romance, I found the history and politics to be more hard-hitting with the romance as a smaller component that added to the story. There are three threads of being Cuban discussed in this book that end up playing a huge role: 1) a Cuban in exile, 2) a Cuban born and living in Cuba today, and 3) a Cuban born and brought up in another country. Seeing how those three identities flowed and butted up against the others was insightful and added another layer to the story.

While I enjoyed this book, I did find myself wishing I had known more about Cuban history before I sat down to read. I spent time looking up what I didn’t understand in order to grasp the narrative as it unfolded. Because my history knowledge was lacking, I found the title to be a little dense, as the history, politics, and love story were so entwined that you had to understand one in order to fully grasp the others. Now that I have finished my first Cleeton book, I feel like I know more about past and present Cuban history and would more fully appreciate other titles set in Cuba.

If you read this book and enjoyed it, you’re in luck! Next Year in Havana is the first book in the Cuba Saga by Chanel Cleeton.

  1. Next Year in Havana (2018)
  2. When We Left Cuba (2019)
  3. The Last Train to Key West (2020)
  4. The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba (2021)
  5. Our Last Days in Barcelona (2022)
  6. The Cuban Heiress (2023)

In 2024, we will have a whole new theme! Check back in January for more information.

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