A HUGE thank you to Berkley Publishing Group for sending me a physical ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Happy Publication Day to Chanel Cleeton on her new novel, When We Left Cuba!
I was OVER THE MOON when I received a message from Berkley Publishing asking if they could send me a copy of When We Left Cuba. It was an immediate yes from me, and I was very interested to see how Cleeton would relate her new novel to 2018’s Next Year in Havana.
Right off the get-go, Cleeton grabbed my attention with spunky, devious, and flirtatious Beatriz Perez. In 1960, Beatriz and her family have been forced to flee Havana during the Cuban Revolution for Palm Beach, Florida. Fidel Castro is in power, and the Cold War’s influence on the political atmosphere makes for a tumultuous and dangerous time in dealing with Cuba’s crisis. The Perez’s are reeling from the loss of their home, their sugar cane empire, and the upset to their social standing- and most of all, the loss of Alejandro, Beatriz’s beloved brother. Joining forces with the CIA and her brother’s best friend, Eduardo, Beatriz is planning to avenge her brother’s death by infiltrating Castro’s inner circle and enacting her revenge on him.
However, things get complex when Beatriz falls for senator-to-be Nick Preston, who runs in the most elite social circles. Despite being engaged to a debutante, Nick and Beatriz have a magnetic connection, and they can’t stay apart from each other. When they decide not to fight the impropriety of their affection, they know they are taking big risks to their reputations, as well as their hearts. They know their relationship can only be temporary- Nick wants a wife who will complete the perfect image for his campaign, and Beatriz refuses to stop her recon missions for love of a man, when her country matters and needs her the most. The only one who seems to understands what she is doing for Cuba is Eduardo- but she also can’t seem to figure out all his motives, either.
“When we left Cuba, it was supposed to be temporary. A few months at most. The world changed. Left us behind. I have to change with it.
I absolutely enjoyed hearing Beatriz’s story, and learning about the tough Cuban feminist spy! Nothing, including love, would deter her from doing right by her country and aiding those like her beloved brother. I had so much respect for Beatriz, and even though I thought her relationship with the charming Mr. Preston was a bad idea from the start, I admired the way Beatriz kept her goals in focus and thought the way Cleeton concluded the relationship was perfect. Additionally, I loved the way Cleeton filled in the backstory on Elisa from Next Year In Havana, and the way she brought the story full circle into the present (of 2016) with Marisol’s story.
Cleeton also did a fantastic job giving insight into the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion. It seems that in history class growing up, we never made it past the Cold War, or if we did, we focused on the the JFK presidency and assassination. I never understood the conflicts with Cuba, so I thank Cleeton for helping educate me, as well as giving me perspective from both the US and Cuba. I didn’t realize the connection between the assassination, the invasion, and the missile crisis. This is what I love most about historical fiction novels- being transported back in time and seeing everything through a character’s eyes.
Overall, I was very impressed by my second Cleeton novel, and so grateful that Berkley Publishing gave me the opportunity to read and review When We Left Cuba! I absolutely recommend the read, so look for it on the store shelves today!