Author: Chanel Cleeton

When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

When We Left Cuba by Chanel CleetonWhen We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
Published by Berkley Books on 9th April 2019
Pages: 368
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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...

‘When we left Cuba’ isn’t quite a sequel to Chanel Cleeton’s much-loved ’Next Year in Havana’, the latter of which I do consider one of my best reads of the year. Still, it’s a book that stands on its own feet even if it’s less sweeping than its predecessor. Still, ‘When we left Cuba’ is a compellingly written story of the oldest Perez sister who struts her way through the pages, armed with the thirst for revenge as she somehow moseys her way into the clutches of the CIA while tangling with a senator whose a player in politics and in every sense of the word.

Within the fodder material of the fabled and many attempts of the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro is where Cleeton posits Beatriz Perez after her escape from Cuba, navigating the thorny issues of policy and politics of the time. Bold, hot-headed and reckless, Beatriz carves a path for herself that’s as treacherous as you’d expect, resulting in having her loyalties sorely tested as her decisions change the course of her life.
Cleeton writes in favour of long, descriptive passages of place and emotion; the pace is slower as a result, the plot a little more convoluted. The romance isn’t quite the focus here; rather, Beatriz herself is the star of the show, front and centre. Her long, longstanding affair with a powerful senator is carried out amidst society’s expectations and the uncertain political climate, a subplot that runs alongside her involvement with the CIA.

I’ll admit though, that it is harder to be singularly or emotionally invested in Beatriz completely as I was in Cleeton’s first book about Elisa and her granddaughter. Undoubtedly, Beatriz is a colourful character who stands out sharply—sometimes too painfully sharply like a woman cut from a different cloth—not just by means of her birth but also her life experiences, but ultimately, she’s still a protagonist whose story I read about from a distance as she made her own small stamp on history, for better or worse.

Cleeton’s impactful writing carries it all here, despite the odd hollowness I felt about Beatriz by the end. It’s what took me through the politics, the lies, the dirty games and the passing of time within the pages after all and it’s what keeps me coming back.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Next Year in Havana by Chanel CleetonNext Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Published by Berkley Books on February 6th 2018
Pages: 336
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After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity--and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution...

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest--until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

The Cuban revolution and this transitory time of change are wholly unfamiliar to me, but ‘Next Year in Havana’ brings it all to life through broad, sweeping strokes that tell parallel stories of a woman’s journey out of Cuba and her granddaughter’s journey back there nearly 60 years later.

Chanel Cleeton’s precise yet lyrical prose rolls through constant reiterations of the resilience of memory and all the versions of Cuba that emerge through every character’s eyes. Marisol Ferrera and Elisa Perez’s fervent (and doomed) love affairs might be wrapped up in the city’s fading glory and the wire-tight tension of impending upheaval, yet these star-crossed lovers seem merely a metaphor for the Cuban individual’s love unending love affair with his/her country—it’s just how effortlessly their romances have been woven into the backdrop of revolution, reform and change.

It’s that curious strain of hope that can’t ever die—and perhaps the eternal yearning for something that they can’t have—which seems to be the poignant and loudest message that Cleeton brings across in this enthralling read. Like in many stories of revolution, the academics and thinkers (and the women who stay hidden in the shadows) matter—it’s brain over brawn, passion over looks—and they bear the burden of carrying the mantles of heroes and or the swords of villains. Sometimes both. Marisol’s and Elisa’s voices are as much tethered to their love of their country as they are tied to their love for their revolutionary men, but it’s also the selfsame passion and emotion that Pablo and Luis carry in their intellectual rhetoric that had me mesmerised from start to finish.

‘Next Year in Havana’ isn’t a book that lets bygones be bygones, after all. Yet the story’s power lies not quite in the galvanising force of political dialogue or the hard, dirty work of nonviolent change but in loss, tragedy and the love that came incidentally—the untold stories that were left by the wayside because bigger things eclipsed these. So when Cleeton told them, I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, swooning. And I might have also shed a tear or two.


On Broken Wings by Chanel Cleeton

On Broken Wings by Chanel CleetonOn Broken Wings by Chanel Cleeton
Series: Wild Aces #3
Published by Berkley Books on January 3rd 2017
Pages: 320
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A year after losing her husband, Joker, the squadron commander of the Wild Aces, Dani Peterson gets an offer from his best friend, Alex "Easy" Rogers, to help fix up her house. Dani accepts, and their friendship grows along with an undeniable attraction.

Racked by guilt for loving his best friend's widow, Easy's caught between what he wants and can t have. Until one night everything changes, and the woman who's always held his heart ends up in his arms.

Yet as Easy leaves for his next deployment, he and Dani are torn between their feelings and their loyalty to Joker's memory. But when Dani discovers something that sends them both into a spin, the conflicted lovers must overcome the past to navigate a future together.

‘On Broken Wings’ returns with a very unique look at the burden that military wives and girlfriends shoulder and how the military men gossip with heart-to-hearts as insanely as the women. Anticipation has always been half the fun and the build-up to Easy’s and Dani’s story over the past few months has played a huge part in it.

The storyline isn’t at all unpredictable, following a trajectory that had no major surprises I couldn’t guess, but as always, the highlight is Cleeton’s illuminating writing about a journey of unrequited love, tragedy and grief, a friendship that weathers all of it and finally, how it all goes in a different direction when feelings change. But it’s also an incredibly romantic road that Dani and Easy go down, despite the pages of angst and guilt that pour off them and I thought them both so brave in their own ways as they dealt with the death of Joker and their feelings for each other.

I read this in a single sitting, then re-read it, mesmerised by this deeply-character driven POVs, the long, emotional declarations and the ending which always makes you want more: about the more distant future, the unsold house, Easy’s future deployments and their lives post-hospital.

But Cleeton chooses to sign off just as her characters step into their deliriously happy-for-now ending where the light of the end of the tunnel just pierces the gloom, as though friends, family and the absolute present matter the most of all, rather write them into a future that none can yet predict.

It’s bittersweet, worth the wait and best of all, a fantastic reason for a sleepless night.


Into the Blue by Chanel Cleeton

Into the Blue by Chanel CleetonInto the Blue by Chanel Cleeton
Series: Wild Aces #2
Published by Berkley on July 5th 2016
Pages: 320
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Eric Jansen—call sign Thor—loves nothing more than pushing his F-16 to the limit. Returning home to South Carolina after a tragic loss, he hopes to fix the mistake he made long ago, when he chose the Air Force over his fiancée.   Becca Madison isn’t quick to welcome Thor back. She can’t forget how he shattered her heart. But Thor won’t give up once he’s set his sights on what he wants—and he wants Becca. Thor shows Becca that he’s no longer the impulsive boy he used to be, and Becca finds herself irresistibly drawn to him. But will Thor be able to walk away from his dream of flying the F-16 for their love or does his heart belong to the sky?

In ‘Into the Blue’, Becca and Thor’s reunion play out against the harsh demands of military life and the unrelenting call of duty, and much of the story is a (re)discovery of what they’ve had together and whether they could do it all again after the scars of the pasts. Chanel Cleeton’s writing is stellar, even in the very odd first person narrative that gives a new adult feel to the very adult story that’s being told here. Yet the standouts in this story are the main characters themselves, who, against all odds, find love again after a long decade: three-dimensional, flawed protagonists who never really grew larger than life because Cleeton has anchored them deep in human experience that any reader can relate to.

That said, put me on team Becca, stat.

There’s so much I loved about her: the unshakable sense of justice, the steadfast, uncompromising stance in knowing what she wanted and the sacrifice she’d been willing to make for Thor and the full  support she’d given him before he’d thrown all back in her face. For that reason I fully understood and empathised with her cool, wary stance with Thor’s sudden reappearance – which I understood and empathised with much less. His reasons for returning and falling back together with Becca seemed incidental than deliberate and it left me wondering if he would have returned to her of his own volition had things still gone well for him in the air force. I did think it rather patronising when Thor’s granny offered ultimately meaningless excuses for his leaving, as though Becca hadn’t been enough for him to man up when he really needed to do so.

My nitpicking aside, what struck me deeply was Cleeton’s so very succinct articulation about military wives and girlfriends finding themselves torn between what their men’s careers demand of them and how much of their own desires they would have to deny. Beyond the sizzling chemistry and steamy bedroom scenes, Becca’s gutting, merciless arguments and demands of Thor must have at some point in time – extrapolating from the author’s acknowledgement of how personal this series is to her – paralleled Cleeton’s own personal misgivings and thoughts which give these particular scenes a weighty credence and resonance backed by real life experience.

The sense of tragedy isn’t as all-encompassing in this book as it was in the previous one, yet the weight of the personal price both Thor and Becca paid for their own happiness feels no lighter than the price the rest of the squadron paid when they lost one of their own. Even Thor/Becca’s happy ending is written as a potential reality rather than a confirmed one, as though their closing chapter can’t quite be written until the entire series is complete, or rather, until unrequited love gets its turn in the spotlight with Dani and Easy in the final book.

It’s sneaky as hell, but something very much to look forward to.


Falling for Danger by Chanel Cleeton

Falling for Danger by Chanel CleetonFalling for Danger by Chanel Cleeton
Series: Capital Confessions #3
Published by Headline Eternal on September 15th 2015
Pages: 304
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Four years ago Kate Reynolds' fiancé died on a Special Forces mission in Afghanistan. Ever since she's been consumed with uncovering the truth, vowing to prove his death was no accident. The daughter of a notoriously high-profile senator, her new job as a CIA political analyst is a dream come true, and the chance to avenge the man she loved and lost.
Soon Kate's on the brink of discovering what happened that fateful night. Her own life is now in danger and she's stunned by the man who comes to her rescue. Together they must fight to stay alive as they're dragged into a corrupt world of secrets and lies. When the threat hits terrifyingly close to home, will Kate choose vengeance, or the man who has ignited a fire inside her she thought would never burn again?

I read part 3 as a standalone and it worked just fine, preferring more romantic suspense than the inner workings of office politics that surrounded the first 2 other couples. But it was the painful story of Kate Reynold’s love lost and found that drew me in.

Yet I’m left undecided about this book, a feeling that has stayed with me long after I finished it.

Every bit that I liked about the story was countered by bits that I didn’t: a fantastically strong and oh so loyal heroine vs. a gruff, PTSD soldier turned mercenary (and the love of her life who could afford to be a bit more true to her), the intrigue of the politics in D.C vs. the caricature evil of the heroine’s father, the beautifully bittersweet, realistic ending which I’ve encountered more in non-romance novels vs. the anti-climatic finish that I’d expected to end in a huge scandal or at least several explosions somewhere.

And the list goes on.

As the last part of the Capital Confessions series, I’d been hoping for a larger sense of closure, but even then, I must admit a life on the run – together – in exotic Bali, is as good and sensible as it gets when two people are pitted against forces stronger than themselves. It left me wanting and itchy for more, but maybe, that is really the whole point.


Fly With Me by Chanel Cleeton

Fly With Me by Chanel CleetonFly with Me by Chanel Cleeton
Series: Wild Aces #1
Published by Berkley on May 3rd 2016
Pages: 320
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U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Noah Miller—call sign Burn—loves nothing more than flying hard and fast. When he meets a gorgeous and sassy woman while partying in Las Vegas, he immediately locks on to her.
Jordan Callahan owns a thriving clothing boutique, but her love life is far less successful. Her luck changes when six feet, two inches of sexy swagger asks her to dance and turns her world upside down. 
One scorching weekend becomes an undeniable chemistry that they can’t leave in Vegas. But the long distance relationship and their different lives threaten to ground their romance. And when the dangers of Noah’s job become all too real, Jordan learns being with a fighter pilot means risking it all for a shot at love…

This was a book that grew on me and I’m happy that I persevered through what I felt were shallow and vain characters simply looking to get laid (the number of sex scenes – gratuitous and perhaps even superfluous – merely reinforced this opinion).

What surprised me entirely however, was the poignancy and depth written about relationships pursued when a partner is in the military and the sheer amount of sacrifice that came with it. All of that though, kicked in only towards the latter part of the book, which I wouldn’t have known about had I not soldiered on. While I’ll readily admit that the main characters didn’t exactly resonate with me, I do find myself anxious to read the stories of the peripheral cast members which are already set up for what has to be heart-wrenching tales.