Book Recommendation: HEMINGWAY’S HAVANA


“So much of Havana, and Cuba, centers on the sea, and in this beautiful but merciless sea lies a part of Hemingway’s spirit and a vast part of his literary genius.” –Robert Wheeler, HEMINGWAY’S HAVANA

Publisher Synopsis:

Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba for more than two decades, longer than anywhere else. He bought a home―naming it the Finca Vigia―with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn and wrote his masterpiece The Old Man and the Sea there.

In Cuba, Papa Hemingway found a sense of serenity and enrichment that he couldn’t find anywhere else. Now, through more than a hundred color photographs and accompanying text, Robert Wheeler takes us through the streets and near the water’s edge of Havana, and closer to the relationship Hemingway shared with the Cuban people, their landscape, their politics, and their culture.

Wheeler has followed Hemingway’s path across continents―from La Closerie des Lilas Café in Paris to Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West to El Floridita in Havana―seeking to capture through photography and the written word the essence of one of the greatest writers in the English language. In Hemingway’s Havana, he reveals the beauty and the allure of Cuba, an island nation whose deep connection with the sea came to fascinate and inspire the writer.

My Recommendation:

From the foreword by América Fuentes, the granddaughter of the late Gregorio Fuentes, Hemingway’s friend and the captain of his boat Pilar, the reader will be captivated by Robert Wheeler’s vision of Cuba as Hemingway lived and breathed it.

HEMINGWAY’S HAVANA follows Wheeler’s triumphant photo journal, HEMINGWAY’S PARIS. These collections give us glimpses of the streets and vistas of Hemingway’s haunts from the exact places he stood. The views are informed by what Hemingway wrote about them and, because of this, offer special and humanizing insight into the writer who continues to fascinate.

Throughout, there is emphasis on Fuentes’s words about her grandfather, the Cuban people, and Hemingway that they lived por el mar, y para el mar: because the sea exists, and as servants to the sea. This current sets the sound of the sea in the reader’s ear. It is an anchor and a reminder that poverty in the presence of such majesty feels less poor.

“Both Hemingway and the Cuban people were simple in actions and in work and in expression, yet not simplistic.” Robert Wheeler, HEMINGWAY’S HAVANA

In the beauty of crumbling architecture and faded colors, antique cars and cracks in the walls where flowers grow, however, there is a romanticism that tends to the idealistic. Wheeler is clear that Hemingway was a romantic and that he is a romantic. While there is beauty in truth, simplicity, and even poverty, I was uneasy with the romanticizing of political figures. Wheeler does remind us that the photographs are meant to show Cuba as Hemingway saw it, at the time he saw it, so there is room for this idealism.

Overall, Wheeler’s eye for color and the arrangement of the photos take the reader on an emotional and a visual journey. The most moving images are of the Cuban people, particularly the old. Wheeler has a knack for capturing their timelessness, their sadness, and their wisdom.

Wheeler’s words and images are immersive and captivating, and he reveals Hemingway and the places he traveled as well as–or better than–any biographer. I hope Robert Wheeler gives us many more glimpses of Hemingway’s life from the fascinating places he lived and worked. For the Hemingway aficionado to the lover of art and place, I highly recommend HEMINGWAY’S HAVANA.





Book Recommendation: I WAS ANASTASIA


“If I tell you what happened that night…I will have to unwind my memory–all the twisted coils–and lay it in your palm. It will be the gift and the curse I bestow upon you. A confession for which you may never forgive me. Are you ready for that? Can you hold this truth in your hand and not crush it like the rest of them? Because I do not think you can. I do not think you are brave enough.” Ariel Lawhon, I WAS ANASTASIA

Publisher Synopsis:

In an enthralling new feat of historical suspense, Ariel Lawhon unravels the extraordinary twists and turns in Anna Anderson’s 50-year battle to be recognized as Anastasia Romanov. Is she the Russian Grand Duchess, a beloved daughter and revered icon, or is she an imposter, the thief of another woman’s legacy?

Countless others have rendered their verdict. Now it is your turn.

Russia, July 17, 1918: Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

Germany, February 17, 1920
: A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal in Berlin. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia.

Her detractors, convinced that the young woman is only after the immense Romanov fortune, insist on calling her by a different name: Anna Anderson.

As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre, old enemies and new threats are awakened. With a brilliantly crafted dual narrative structure, Lawhon wades into the most psychologically complex and emotionally compelling territory yet: the nature of identity itself.

The question of who Anna Anderson is and what actually happened to Anastasia Romanov creates a saga that spans fifty years and touches three continents. This thrilling story is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.

My Recommendation:

In my childhood, my late grandmother showed me a book with Anastasia’s face on the cover, and told me about the woman who claimed to be her. I remember looking through the center section of the book at the haunting, beautiful, black-and-white photographs of the family, and being horrified at the thought of their brutal murders. Still, decades later, every time I see the name Anastasia, I think of the girl, the family, and the horror. When I learned one of my favorite writers of historical suspense was taking on the story, I knew I had to read it. I was not disappointed.

Ariel Lawhon’s I WAS ANASTASIA is a masterpiece. The style is experimental–a non-linear narrative, where each section falls back in time, a bit at a time. From the US in the 1960s, to Berlin in the 1930s, to New York in the 1920s, to Russia: 1918, 1917. One month earlier, two weeks earlier, one day earlier. Though time runs at reset flashbacks, I never felt lost; Lawhon’s storytelling is grounded and assured.

The changing time periods, the drama surrounding Anna’s true identity, and the story of the Romanovs as they are subjected to ever-increasing pressure make for gripping reading, and the climax is at equal turns fascinating, shocking, and devastating.

Direct, unflinching, and telescopic, I WAS ANASTASIA balances a compelling plot and a complex study of identity. It is unlike any work of fiction I have ever read, and I will be thinking about it for years to come. I give it my highest recommendation.

Have you read it or any of Lawhon’s work? Are you fascinated with the Romanovs?

Book Recommendation: THE SILENT COMPANIONS


I am not dead. Elsie recited the words as her carriage sluiced through country roads, churning up clods of mud. The wheels made a wet, sucking noise. I am not dead. But it was hard to believe, looking through the rain-spattered window at the ghost of her reflection: pale skin, cadaverous cheeks; curls eclipsed by black gauze.

Outside the sky was iron grey, the monotony broken only by crows. Mile after mile and the scenery did not change. Stubble fields, skeletal trees. They are burying me, she realized. They are burying me along with Rupert.” Laura Purcell, The Silent Companions

Publisher Synopsis:

When newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, what greets her is far from the life of wealth and privilege she was expecting . . .
When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But with her husband dead just weeks after their marriage, her new servants resentful, and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure—a silent companion—that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of the estate are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition—that is, until she notices the figure’s eyes following her.

A Victorian ghost story that evokes a most unsettling kind of fear, The Silent Companions is a tale that creeps its way through the consciousness in ways you least expect—much like the companions themselves.

My Recommendation:

At an ancient English estate, alternating between 1635 and 1865, The Silent Companions is a dual narrative about a house whose evil history rendered it haunted. Because the events at the estate following Elsie’s husband’s death have driven her to St. Joseph’s Hospital for the Insane, the story is slowly revealed during her therapy.

The pervading tension and ominous warnings, the dangerous explorations of the troubled house, and the slowly unraveling grip on reality of those dwelling within its walls make for captivating, frightening reading. The time periods are equally interesting, and the climax is gruesome and disturbing.

Notes of Poe, hints of Shirley Jackson, and an overall Hitchcockian sense of the macabre pervade The Silent Companions and firmly place Purcell with the masters of Gothic storytelling. If you enjoy a scary, atmospheric tale, I highly recommend it.  

Historical Fiction Giveaway!


Historical fiction lovers: I have one advanced reader copy of ISLAND OF SWEET PIES AND SOLDIERS, by Sara Ackerman, to giveaway to one lucky reader. Due to my own research reading and writing, I have not yet had the pleasure of reading it, but I hope to change that very soon. In the meantime, I didn’t want to let this pub day pass.

To win a copy, simply comment below about your favorite WWII historical fiction, and share the post on social media by Tuesday, Feb. 20th, 9 PM EST, when I’ll select one winner (US only, please) via Good luck, and happy reading!

Publisher Synopsis:

Hawaii, 1944. The Pacific battles of World War II continue to threaten American soil, and on the home front, the bonds of friendship and the strength of love are tested.

Violet Iverson and her young daughter, Ella, are piecing their lives together one year after the disappearance of her husband. As rumors swirl and questions about his loyalties surface, Violet believes Ella knows something. But Ella is stubbornly silent. Something—or someone—has scared her. And with the island overrun by troops training for a secret mission, tension and suspicion between neighbors is rising.

Violet bands together with her close friends to get through the difficult days. To support themselves, they open a pie stand near the military base, offering the soldiers a little homemade comfort. Try as she might, Violet can’t ignore her attraction to the brash marine who comes to her aid when the women are accused of spying. Desperate to discover the truth behind what happened to her husband, while keeping her friends and daughter safe, Violet is torn by guilt, fear and longing as she faces losing everything. Again.

Book Recommendation: Where the Wild Cherries Grow


“In the morning light the house looks sad, softly decaying. The yellow stone around the doors and windows is crumbling and green with lichen, but once it must have glowed, radiating the heat of a summer’s day. The creepers choking the walls must once have been climbing flowers, the wilderness of grass a lawn for games and picnics. All around, the trees echo with birdsong. Would Emeline Vane have heard the same songs, fifty years ago?” –Laura Madeleine, WHERE THE WILD CHERRIES GROW

Publisher Synopsis:

How far must you run to leave the past behind you?

It is 1919 and the end of the war has not brought peace for Emeline Vane. Lost in grief, she is suddenly alone at the heart of a depleted family. She can no longer cope. And as everything seems to be slipping beyond her control, in a moment of desperation, she boards a train and runs away.

Fifty years later, a young solicitor on his first case finds Emeline’s diary. What Bill Perch finds in the tattered pages of neat script goes against everything he has been told. He begins to trace an anguished story of love and betrayal that will send him on a journey to discover the truth.

What really happened to Emeline all those years ago?

My Recommendation:

There is nothing that so enchants the imagination like a dual period story of ghosts and loss, empty old houses, decadent sensory details, and rich shores of color in faraway lands. WHERE THE WILD CHERRIES GROW is an absolute buffet of these novel ingredients.

The story of the reluctant protagonist of 1969 is every bit as interesting, compelling, and moving as the tale of the heroine of 1919. The reader will not be able to turn pages fast enough as the lives of the solicitor charged with proving a woman dead so the family might sell an old house, and the journey of a woman fleeing the family who wishes to lock her up rather than seek her healing, converge on the shimmering shores of Cerbère–the last French town before Spain.

The contrasts of William’s and Emeline’s lives before their travels move from black and white to luxurious color, waisted frames to healthy bodies, hollow spirits to those overflowing with life. In spite of bad decisions and missteps, these characters triumph and find redemption, and the conclusion of the novel is both surprising and deeply satisfying.

At times reminiscent of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE to BEAUTIFUL RUINS to LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, WHERE THE WILD CHERRIES GROW is a rich, memorable story with a cast of characters the reader won’t soon forget. As one of my favorite reads of 2018 so far, I give the novel my highest recommendation.

The publisher has kindly offered two books for a giveaway to US and Canadian readers. For a chance to win a copy, simply comment below with your favorite historical or multi-period novels, and share this post on social media by Friday, February 16th at 5 PM ET. Good luck!


Book Recommendation: FROM SAND AND ASH



“I was rebelling even then, pushing back against the fear, though I didn’t recognize it. Rebellion was always my biggest ally, though I sometimes hated her. She looked like me and hurt like me, but she wouldn’t let me give up. And when fear took my reasons for fighting, rebellion gave them back. 

My father told me once that we are on earth to learn. God wants us to receive everything that life was meant to teach. Then we take what we’ve learned, and it becomes our offering to God and to mankind. But we have to live in order to learn. And sometimes we have to fight in order to live.” ~Amy Harmon, FROM SAND AND ASH

Publisher Synopsis:

Italy, 1943—Germany occupies much of the country, placing the Jewish population in grave danger during World War II.

As children, Eva Rosselli and Angelo Bianco were raised like family but divided by circumstance and religion. As the years go by, the two find themselves falling in love. But the church calls to Angelo and, despite his deep feelings for Eva, he chooses the priesthood.

Now, more than a decade later, Angelo is a Catholic priest and Eva is a woman with nowhere to turn. With the Gestapo closing in, Angelo hides Eva within the walls of a convent, where Eva discovers she is just one of many Jews being sheltered by the Catholic Church.

But Eva can’t quietly hide, waiting for deliverance, while Angelo risks everything to keep her safe. With the world at war and so many in need, Angelo and Eva face trial after trial, choice after agonizing choice, until fate and fortune finally collide, leaving them with the most difficult decision of all.

My Recommendation:

FROM SAND AND ASH is a tender, agonizing, and redemptive story of love and war.  From its first page, author Amy Harmon spellbinds the reader, and makes us ask over and over again: What would I do?

The plot is fast-paced and suspenseful, the relationships are intense, and the exploration of the spiritual lives of Eva and Angelo make for full-bodied, well fleshed out characters. Passionate and powerful men and women lie at the novel’s heart, and the story is told with great honesty and detail.

This is a book that will make you lose sleep, and the characters will stay with you long after you close its pages. If you loved The Thorn Birds or The Nightingale, I highly recommend FROM SAND AND ASH.

Have you read any other novels by Harmon? If so, I’d love to hear what I should read next.



Book Recommendation: SALT TO THE SEA


“What had human beings become? Did war make us evil or just activate an evil already lurking within us?” Ruta Sepetys, SALT TO THE SEA

Publisher Synopsis:

“In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide.

Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

A tribute to the people of Lithuania, Poland, and East Prussia, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.

My Recommendation:

SALT TO THE SEA was published in 2016 for YA readers, and has since received the following awards and honors:

A #1 New York Times Bestseller

A New York Times Notable Book

A Carnegie Medal Nominee

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016

An Amazon Best Book of 2016

Goodreads Finalist Best YA Book of 2016

A School Library Journal Best Book of 2016

A Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2016

A Junior Library Guild Book Pick

A New York Public Library Best Book for Teens

A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2016

#1 “Library Reads” Selection

#1 Indie Next List Selection

I only just read it because my reading life is sometimes dictated by research, review and blurb requests, and simple, unexplained urges toward a particular story or another. Once I finally picked it up, I consumed SALT TO THE SEA in less than 72 hours, and I can assure you, it is worthy of every honor bestowed upon it.

War stories offer high stakes and opportunity for strong feelings from the reader. When characters are as well done as these, the emotional intensity of the story is every bit as compelling as the physical urgency of the plot.

The characters are all of us: the shoe poet, the wandering boy, the Pole with the pink hat, the giant woman, the blind girl, the soldier. It’s easy to slip on their coats and walk with them, laugh and cry with them, and ultimately try to imagine what we would do in their shoes.

Not a word is wasted in the novel; Sepetys packs her short chapters from alternating points of view with vast windows of revelation into the pasts, the desires, and the vulnerabilities of her characters. Even amid the horrors of war, moments of sweetness punctuate the devastation: dancing to old records in a crumbling, abandoned estate, an orphan and a widower finding each other, a stolen kiss in a ship’s chimney…

I had never heard of the climactic incident in SALT TO THE SEA, but–like all good historical fiction–the novel sent me to the internet, wishing to learn more. In my searches, I found the book trailer. Watch it here.

There are no shortage of excellent novels set during World War Two, but this stands on another level. I give SALT TO THE SEA my highest recommendation.

Have you read this book, or any others by Ruta Sepetys? Let me know what else I should read by her.