Audiobook Review, Historical Fiction, Romance

When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

When We Left CubaWhen We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chanel Cleeton has done it again! And she may have done it better.

I simply adored Next Year in Havana when I read it as one of Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks last year. It so fantastically captured the essence of Cuba while providing a lot of great historical information about how Fidel Castro rose to power.

So when I saw When We Left Cuba hit the shelves, I could not wait to read it. And it did not disappoint. When We Left Cuba starts where Next Year in Havana leaves off. The Perez family has fled to the United States after Fidel Castro assumes power. And the story follows Beatriz as she struggles to accept the reality of her beloved Cuba. She is angry and decides to use her beauty and intelligence to help the CIA with their plans to overthrow Castro.

I absolutely adored Beatriz. She was such a strong character with strong morals and values, oozing independence and fire. Chanel Cleeton did the perfect job developing her and making her totally believable.

Beyond my love for Beatriz, there were two really great things about this book:
1. The Love Story. There was kind of a bizarre love triangle thing going on in the story and it was perfectly executed. I was enraptured with Beatriz and how she balanced her love for Cuba and her mission with her conflicting love interests.
2. The History. I learned so much about The Cold War by reading this book and it was fiction. I’ve always thought one of the fantastic things about historical fiction as a genre is the ability to make history interesting and engaging. Cleeton did the perfect job incorporating true events (The Bay of Pigs, Kennedy’s assassination, The Cuban Missile Crisis) into the story, and giving good historical information without bogging down the story with boring factual content. She used Beatriz’s experience of these events as a delivery tool and it worked wonderfully.

Overall, this was a very strong follow up to Cleeton’s successful first novel. I think I may have enjoyed it even more than Next Year in Havana which was a hard act to follow. As each book is told from the perspective of a different sister in the Perez family, I truly hope Cleeton continues this story from the perspectives of the other sisters in the family. I would be delighted to find out what happens next.

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Audiobook Review, General Fiction (Adult), Reese Witherspoon's Book Club, Romance

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

The Light We LostThe Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another Reese Witherspoon Book Club success!

So let me first just put this disclaimer here. I don’t think this book will be a five star read for everybody. But it was for me. And I will tell you why.

The Light We Lost is a beautifully written story about real life. Plain and simple. I felt like the characters in this story could have walked straight off the pages of this book and walked around today’s society. They were flawed. They were real. They were honest. They struggled. I can’t see how any man or woman who reads this book can’t find something to relate to in one of the character’s stories.

The story is simply about a boy and a girl who connect on 9/11/2001. On that fateful day they find comfort in each other and are bonded to each other for life. Over time, they develop into an emotionally unavailable man whose mission is to make a difference after the events of September 11th and a woman who finds herself madly in love with him. His wanderlust takes him away from her, and as life goes on, she finds another man who makes her feel safe and comfortable, but doesn’t ignite the passion of her first love. She finds herself asking whether fire, passion, and feeling alive with a “wild card” type of man are the key to a happy life or if the key is in the safety, comfort, and security of a man who provides stability and normality.

I think we can all relate to that feeling at one point or another in our lives. Girls who go for the “bad boys” or chase after the wrong men for the thrill, while perfectly nice guys are waiting in the wings wishing they were being chased. That’s an age old story. And if you haven’t been there personally, you know somebody who has.

There is nothing Earth shattering about The Light We Lost. It’s not the world’s most original story. Which is why I say it may not be a five star read for everybody. But, it was such an honest and raw depiction of love and life that I found myself making a strong connection with the main characters and their struggles.

I honestly listened to this book in one sitting straight. It’s a relatively short audiobook at around 7 hours (which took me 3.5 hours to listen to on double speed). While it is kind of depressing and sad, it would still make a good listen for a long car ride.

I’m not a huge romance fan, but this is one that I would highly recommend.

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Audiobook Review, General Fiction (Adult), Reese Witherspoon's Book Club, Romance

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Erotic Stories for Punjabi WidowsErotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I think it was extremely lucky that this book was picked up by Reese Witherspoon as part of her book club. I love the Hello Sunshine Book Club and read everything that Reese Witherspoon recommends because all of the books she chooses feature a strong female lead in one way or another. All of her books tend to really resonate with me. That being said, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows was not my favorite of Reese’s recommendations.

Nikki is the daughter of Indian immigrants, living in London, and looking for a job to help her family make ends meet. She stumbles across an opportunity to teach a creative writing class at the community center, a chance to teach Punjabi women. What she doesn’t realize is that most of the women don’t know how to physically write, a little detail that was left out of the job description. What follows is a hilarious journey of traditional Punjabi women (mostly widows) turning their creative writing class into a storytelling class. The topic? Erotica.

While I enjoyed the writing by Balli Kaur Jaswal, I just felt like the story had a lot going on and could have benefited from some simplification. There was the main plot involving the creative writing class, but beyond that there were subplots about Nikki’s sister looking for a husband, Nikki’s father and his disappointment in her, the long-ago death of a young woman and a touch of murder mystery, etc. While I really enjoyed the story of the class, I just felt like the other plot lines took away from the major elements of the story.

Also, I think if I were to read this again, I would read it in print versus audiobook. There were a LOT of characters with traditional Punjabi names and I found it extremely difficult while listening to be able to keep everybody straight/associate each of the characters with their own unique identity. I feel like it may have been easier to remember all of their names if I had read the book, but I’m also more of a visual learner so that may not be the case for everybody.

Because I had a hard time keeping the characters straight, I wasn’t able to connect with really any of the characters and at times when there was a lot of dialogue, I found myself just wanting the book to speed up and move forward.

Now, there were some major highlights for me. I did enjoy the humor laced throughout the book and found the Punjabi widows very heartwarming overall. I like the idea of very traditional women acting in a way that is very taboo, and having a great time doing it together. It put a smile on my face. I also thought the “erotic stories” interspersed throughout the book were tastefully done, and although erotica is definitely not my traditional genre of choice, I did not find it offensive or vulgar. I will say at times I did find the little mini stories that were peppered throughout the prose somewhat distracting from the overall story. While I understood the value it provided to the reader, making the storytelling sessions more realistic, I think there were maybe a few too many stories in the grand scheme of things which made for choppy reading.

Overall, was this the best book ever? No. Was it okay? Yes. Do I think it’s the best thing Reese Witherspoon has recommended? Nope. But it was interesting and definitely something different.

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General Fiction (Adult), Romance

Me for You by Lolly Winston

Me for YouMe for You by Lolly Winston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Expected publication March 12th! Pre-0rder from Amazon here!

Book #3 “in the books” for the Booksparks Winter Reading Challenge! #WRC2019

Eek. I’m not having the greatest luck with these Winter Reading Challenge selections. Sorry!

Caution: there may be some spoilers as it’s challenging to share my thoughts on this one without some more detailed discussion of the plot.

Me for You is a charming story of a middle aged man named Rudy who wakes up one morning to find his wife lying beside him dead, having passed away in the night. Of course he freaks out, calls 911, and tries to revive her but there’s nothing that can be done to save her. Fast forward a year later and Rudy is still trying to navigate through his grief and figure out how to move on from losing the love of his life. In walks Sasha, his lovely coworker who he’s had a mild crush on for years (yes, even while he was married) and a romance begins to develop. But, despite his feelings for Sasha, he still struggles emotionally with grief, depression, and survivor’s guilt which lands him a first class ticket to the medical/psych ward at the hospital for some targeted therapy.

I think I enjoyed the first half of this book more than I enjoyed the second half. It showed a lot of promise early on and I liked where I thought the story was headed. And then it kind of pivoted in a completely different direction. There was this detective mystery angle in the beginning when Rudy’s wife’s death was being investigated as a murder and then it was like the author just gave up on that idea and said “scratch that… I changed my mind.” The whole murder subplot disappeared into thin air which I found really odd.

Then there was this back story with Sasha’s previous marriage to an abusive husband and the tragic loss of her daughter. While I understood how Sasha’s struggles helped Rudy to navigate through his grief, I still felt like there were a lot of unanswered questions with this particular plot line.

I guess what I’m saying here is that there were a few too many plot lines and, honestly, not a whole that transpired in the grand scheme of things. Many of the subplots were introduced but never really felt resolved or fully addressed.

My favorite part? That Rudy’s wife was a hospital pharmacist! So fun to read a story about a character who shares my job. But if that was my favorite part, that’s not all that promising.

While I think this book had a ton of potential and I appreciated the author’s attempt to write a book about the painstaking journey through the grieving process (with a powerful message about overcoming tragedy), the execution was really off for me. The author incorporated a few too many ideas that didn’t really come to fruition in my opinion. That being said, I always say that no two people read the same book. So if you have a particular interest in grief management or need an inspiring read about overcoming tragedy, I would encourage you to give it a try.

-I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Lolly Winston, and Gallery Books for the opportunity to review.-

On to Book #4 of the Winter Reading Challenge, The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton!

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Audiobook Review, General Fiction (Adult), Romance

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient (The Kiss Quotient, #1)The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay so I’m having a super hard time rating this book because the writing was actually really, really good. But, the content was just not for me. So let’s just say, I would give the writing itself 4 stars but the content only 3 stars.

So let’s start by talking about the cover. Look at it. It’s sweet isn’t it? A nice quirky font choice. A play on mathematics with the illustration. A cute little couple kissing. Looks like a cute, quaint love story. Like even maybe suitable for young adults, right? WRONG! I felt like I was listening to soft core porn. I would classify this more as erotica than romance which is definitely not my typical choice of genre.

I would call this book a combination of Fifty Shades of Grey (sans the S&M) mixed with Pretty Woman mixed with Crazy Rich Asians. Stella has Asperger’s. She’s a genius but she struggles socially. So what does she do? Obviously she hires a hot escort to teach her how to date and how to have lots of amazing S-E-X. Cue the erotica.

While this isn’t my typical genre, I did really enjoy Helen Hoang’s writing. It was light, airy, and charming with a naughty side. Had it been all light and airy, I would have loved it. The naughty side was outside of my comfort zone. Call me a prude! But, overall it was a nice chick lit book that I think a lot of women would really enjoy. It’s definitely a good summer book to put on your list for poolside reading.

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