Also by this author: Next Year in Havana
Published by Berkley Books on April 9, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction
Pages: 346 •Format: Paperback •Source: Gifted
Beautiful. Daring. Deadly.
The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez--her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro's inner circle and pulled into the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her desire to reclaim the life she lost.
As the Cold War swells like a hurricane over the shores of the Florida Strait, Beatriz is caught between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a powerful man driven by ambitions of his own. When the ever-changing tides of history threaten everything she has fought for, she must make a choice between her past and future--but the wrong move could cost Beatriz everything--not just the island she loves, but also the man who has stolen her heart...
If you hung around my blog last summer/fall, you probably heard me raving about my love for Next Year in Havana, a historical fiction novel that stole my heart with its dual timeline narrative, Latinx protagonists and gorgeous cover. As a first generation Latinx woman myself, I am always always always looking for more representation of my Latinx heritage in literature, and though I’m not Cuban I was deeply invested and moved by the story of the Perez family and their descendants. I was ecstatic to find that there was to be a sequel set in the 1960s following the sassy side character sister Beatriz and promptly added it to my must read books of 2019 shelf on Goodreads.
First and foremost I will admit that I didn’t love When We Left Cuba quite as much as Next Year in Havana. Though it picks up pretty quickly after the events in the “past” timeline of its predecessor novel, it’s firmly set in the past and rooted in a lot of politics. To be honest, I think I learned more about US relations with Cuba and the Cold War through reading this novel than I ever did in school (another reason why I love historical fiction, it’s so educational)! About 100 or so pages in I started to become invested, especially as Beatriz takes on the role of a spy for the US government. I loved that she used her feminine skills to find out useful information and be an asset to her new country, rather than her being trained to be some sort of kick-ass assassin or something- strength and skills come in all different shapes and forms and Beatriz didn’t change who she was for her espionage work, rather honed her pre-existing personality traits for the job.
I was also here for the romance- there’s just something about historical fiction romance that feels so much more swoony and, well, romantic sometimes than modern romances (maybe just me?) and of course there was a lot of underlying scandal involved in it since it featured Beatriz. I was fascinated learning about the high society of Florida’s elite in the 1960s and how it compared to the politics and upper class structure of Havana that the Perezes left behind. You can tell Chanel Cleeton did a lot of research for these novels and it definitely paid off.
Overall: While not quite as addictive as Next Year in Havana, When We Left Cuba is an educational and entertaining historical fiction novel that adds dashes of espionage and romance to the somber and serious setting of the Cold War. I hope Cleeton continues to write about this family because I really can’t get enough!The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez
Published by Forever Romance on June 11th, 2019
Pages: 384 •Format: E-Book •Source: Overdrive
Kristen Petersen doesn't do drama, will fight to the death for her friends, and has no room in her life for guys who just don't get her. She's also keeping a big secret: facing a medically necessary procedure that will make it impossible for her to have children.
Planning her best friend's wedding is bittersweet for Kristen—especially when she meets the best man, Josh Copeland. He's funny, sexy, never offended by her mile-wide streak of sarcasm, and always one chicken enchilada ahead of her hangry. Even her dog, Stuntman Mike, adores him. The only catch: Josh wants a big family someday. Kristen knows he'd be better off with someone else, but as their attraction grows, it's harder and harder to keep him at arm's length.
Oh boy, where do I begin with this one? I’ve gotten really into romance novels the past year or so to break up all of the YA I read, and saw a LOT of hype around this novel. Plus, the author has such a cool backstory- Food Network star, bakery owner AND romance novelist? Talk about life goals. So I was excited and ready for a good read when I checked out The Friend Zone from my library, sure it would provide a fun and escapist setting perfect for the hectic time I’ve been having in real life lately.
Oh how wrong I was.
Let me clarify one thing: The Friend Zone is not a bad book. In fact, it was quite entertaining and kept me turning the pages late into the night. It just was not what I was expecting (even though I had read several reviews that warned me things took a big turn in the second half of the novel). It had a meet-cute, sassy banter, a great supporting cast, etc- all of the makings of a good romance novel. I also loved the firehouse setting (give me more firefighter romances, please!) and the fact that Kristin was an entrepreneur who sold apparel and accessories for dogs online (we love a #girlboss protagonist). HOWEVER there were three major points in this book that didn’t sit well with me and ultimately knocked this down to a 2 star read:
1) Kristin is very much the “cool girl,” “not like other girls,” etc. stereotype. She’s tough as nails, never cries, curses incessantly, seems like one of the dudes, etc. Now, I know female protagonists can come with all kinds of personality traits and that’s wonderful! However I just really felt like Josh liked her BECAUSE she “wasn’t like other girls” and that’s a trope I am SO tired of. Like, what is so wrong with being a crier, or liking “feminine” things, or going to Starbucks in your yoga pants and uggs?? Can we stop shaming basic and/or stereotypical female traits? (Ironically, I thought that the protagonist’s best friend, Sloan, was a much more balanced character who was unique without feeling like she was a special snowflake).
2) (Beware, this one is a little spoilery)A little over halfway through the book, a very traumatic and jarring event happens that leads to a character death. It COMPLETELY changed the town of the story into a real downer. There was nothing wrong with this plot point really, and I might not have minded it in a different book, but it felt jarring in a romance novel and also a bit exploitative as it forces two people to finally come together over a shared tragedy.
3) View Spoiler »One of the biggest plot points of the novel was that Kristin wasn’t able to have children and suffered from many reproductive health issues. This was constantly brought up and obsessed over since Josh wanted a big family and Kristin felt a lot of guilt over not being able to give him one (which I didn’t like, this self-shaming she participated in) but it was refreshing to see her make the medical choices that were best for her and not cave to societal expectations. I wondered throughout the book if she would “miraculously” conceive but didn’t think the story would actually go there after how much emphasis and detail was put into Kristin’s fertility struggles. Yet at the end of the story, after this traumatic death forcing her and Josh together, SURPRISE she’s pregnant with basically a miracle baby. That really didn’t sit well with me. Though in an author’s note she explained this circumstance was based on the experiences of a real life friend, it felt irresponsible and I could only imagine it being very hurtful to someone who struggled with similar health issues who perhaps was excited to find a protagonist they could relate too…only until they couldn’t any more. « Hide Spoiler
Overall: The Friend Zone is an addicting read for sure, and I enjoyed the writing and the pace of the story. However, it took a few turns that made it into a story that was very different than the one I was expecting. There is of course nothing wrong with that, but it personally did not sit well with me.