Happy Friday all!  I hope everyone has had a wonderful week.  The past couple of weeks I have finally found myself in the mood for some more dramatic reads that don’t fall in the romance category. So today I’m sharing an excellent mystery/thriller from Paula McLain.  I had never read anything by her before so I was excited to finally give her a try.  My second review is historical fiction from Chanel Cleeton.  This was my third Cleeton novel and she is fast becoming an auto-buy author for me.


Author: Paula McLain

Publication Date: April 13, 2021

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

I can be hit or miss when it comes to reading mysteries.  If the story is so plot-driven that I can’t really connect to the main character, then I tend to be less invested in the outcome of the story.  That is absolutely not the case with Paula McLain’s new novel, When the Stars Go Dark, which is both a compelling mystery about a missing teen and an emotional journey of personal tragedy and healing for McLain’s protagonist, Anna Hart.  It was the perfect combination for me, and I couldn’t put this book down.

Anna Hart is a detective who specializes in missing persons cases. When we first meet Anna, she is returning home to Mendocino, California, the town where she grew up with her foster parents.  It’s clear from her emotional state that something tragic has happened and that she needs time to heal and regroup, but it’s also clear that she doesn’t have fond memories of her time in Mendocino and is only returning as a last resort because she feels she has nowhere else to go.  I was drawn to Anna right away and wanted to know what had happened to her, both recently and in her past, since it seems like she must have quite a backstory.

As much of a mystery as Anna herself is at first, the real mystery kicks off once she arrives in her hometown and learns that a teenage girl has gone missing and that foul play is suspected.  Even though she is meant to be using this time to recover from her own personal tragedy, Anna becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl.  She remembers a similar case with a missing girl in this town back when she lived there. That case ended in tragedy and left the town reeling, and she’s not about to let it happen again.  It’s revealed that some events from Anna’s own past have made her especially skilled in the area of figuring out exactly how some victims initially come into contact with predators.  Anna knows she has this unique skill set that can help local law enforcement find the girl and bring her home, so she forces her own pain to the background and focuses all her energy on the case.  I admired Anna’s strength and resilience here, especially considering how truly devastated she is at the beginning of the book.

I really enjoyed watching Anna work all angles of the case and especially liked the way the author starts to weave bits of Anna’s past into what’s going on in the present.  It’s an evenly paced story, with the tension and suspense building slowly as we get closer and closer to the truth about the missing girl as well as to the root of Anna’s personal pain.  Usually I love a mystery that has me on the edge of my seat, but the even pacing really worked for me here since it allowed me time to really get into Anna’s head more and get a sense of where she is emotionally along the way.

I don’t want to give away any details about the mystery itself or Anna’s tragedy, past or present, as I think those are best discovered as you’re reading the book, but I highly recommend When the Stars Go Dark to anyone who enjoys a well crafted mystery that is equally driven by character and plot. 4 STARS


Reviews: WHEN THE STARS GO DARK & THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN CUBAThe Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba Goodreads

Author: Chanel Cleeton

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Set in the late 1890s, Chanel Cleeton’s new novel, The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba gives her readers an inside look at the Spanish-American War and at the journalistic war between famous newspaper publishers, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.

What really brings Cleeton’s story to life are the three perspectives she uses to let the events of the story unfold through, 3 women who find themselves at the center of the action.  Grace Harrington is a young American socialite who wants to be the next Nellie Bly.  She marches into both Joseph Pulitzer’s office and William Randolph Hearst’s and demands they give her a chance to prove herself.  She is hired by one to spy on the other, while earning her living working undercover as a “stunt girl reporter.” It is through Grace’s eyes that we not only see how difficult it was for a woman to break into the field of journalism, but also how sensational or “yellow” journalism played a huge role in drawing America into Cuba’s war for independence.  Grace is a sympathetic character as she’s clever, talented, and very passionate about the kinds of stories she wants to write and of course because she’s an underdog in a man’s world.

The other two perspectives provide an intimate look at how badly Cubans were being hurt living under Spanish rule.  Eighteen year old Evangelina Cisneros dreams of a free Cuba, and even more so after she is wrongfully imprisoned because she turned down the romantic overtures of a high ranking Spanish officer. When William Hearst hears of her imprisonment and sees a photo of how beautiful she is, he plasters her photo on the front page of his newspaper and uses her as a rallying cry for the U.S. to get involved in the war.  What I found most interesting about Evangelina is that Hearst and his people portray her as this delicate flower in need of saving, but when it comes down to it, she writes her own escape plan, complete with diagrams, and has someone on the inside of the prison smuggle it to her would-be rescuers.  She’s much tougher and more resourceful than she is portrayed and in her own way is a force to be reckoned with, especially once she gets to New York and starts making speeches on behalf of those in Cuba she has left behind.

The third perspective is that of Marina Perez, and in some ways, I found her perspective the most interesting of all. Marina is a wife and mother, trying to safely raise her child against all odds in a reconcentration camp while her husband is off fighting for Cuba’s independence.  In addition to that, however, Marina is also trying to do whatever she can to advance the same cause.  She works as a laundry woman and because she has access to so many people, she has become a courier ferrying messages back and forth to help the Cuban revolutionaries.  I was captivated my Marina’s story, especially her passion and devotion to both her family and her country.  I also thought her relationship with her husband was beautifully portrayed, as they are both sacrificing so much and each just wants the other to come home safely.  It was very moving.

If you enjoy beautifully written, well-researched historical fiction that features unforgettable characters, look no further than Chanel Cleeton’s new novel, The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba.   4 STARS

18 replies
    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      They really are and the book really made me want to learn more about Evangelina. I may have to see if there’s any nonfiction out there about her.

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      She really has. I feel like I have learned a lot of history that I wasn’t familiar with as I’ve read through her Cuba books.

  1. Lark
    Lark says:

    When the Stars Go Dark is the one I’d probably enjoy reading the most, though The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba does look interesting.

  2. trin carl
    trin carl says:

    That mystery sounds fanatastic. I’ve read a few Cuba books that surround the topic of socialism and I’m captivated by this region’s government. I’ve also read a bit about Castro. I guess I didn’t know that there’s been more than 100 attempts on his life. I even helped a local writer, John Harrison edit his book on Castro.

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Cleeton’s Cuba books have been very interesting reads. I wasn’t very familiar with the history so I feel like I learned a lot.

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      I’ve really enjoyed all of her books about Cuba. I don’t know much about that country’s history so I feel like I’ve learned a lot from each book and her writing is just gorgeous too.

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