Review – Next Year in Havana

I picked up Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton after Reese Witherspoon announced in as her July book pick for the Reese’s Book Club. Not only was this the first book I read for Reese’s Book Club but it was also my first read by Chanel Cleeton and I was not disappointed by either.

We follow two women, Elisa Perez living in Havana before the rebellion until her family’s exile in 1958 and her granddaughter Marisol, visiting Cuba for the first time in 2017. And through Elisa and Marisol we get to experience Cuba. Cleeton’s writing is so atmospheric that if I closed my eyes, I could picture Cuba, the sights, the sounds and smells. Through these characters and their experiences we also learn about the people of Cuba as a whole – those who left Cuba with their belongings on their backs, passing along memories to their descendants and those who stayed behind with hopes of change that would not happen.

One of the things that I loved about this novel, was the way that Cleeton addressed Marisol’s view of herself as a Cuban-American. How she was concerned that she wouldn’t be welcome in Cuba, that she wasn’t “Cuban” enough. It was particularly clear in the way that Cleeton described Marisol feeling both at home while still feeling like an outsider in a country that meant so much to her and to her family.

“You speak as though politics is its own separate entity,’ he says. ‘As though it isn’t in the air around us, as though ever single part of us isn’t political. How can you dismiss something that is so fundamental to the integrity of who we are as a people, as a country? How can you dismiss something that directly affects the lives of so many?”

I didn’t know very much about Cuba before I read this book. I knew some basic information but the depth of Cuba: the politics, the way Cuban’s live, the history, etc – was all new to me. The politics of Cuba come up a lot in this book as the undercurrent of the story, it pushes it forward.  Not just the politics of the government, but also the politics of the social classes. How each social class viewed the rebellion, who agreed and who disagreed, and the the politics of why. And not just that, but how those who stayed in Cuba viewed those who left and vice versa.

One of my favorite things about the genre of historical fiction is that you can learn about history in a way that is almost hands on. With characters like those of Chanel Cleeton’s in Next Year in Havana, they help the reader view the situation through their own eyes in a way that a history book doesn’t. It allows you to experience it instead of just getting the facts. Chanel Cleeton describes this book as a “book of my heart”, stating that her family also escaped Cuba and that she credits their stories with some of the bases for this book. The fact that her family lived through these experiences only adds to that feeling.

Ultimately I loved this book, and I am really looking forward to more of Chanel Cleeton’s writing, especially to hear Beatriz’s story in When We Left Cuba in 2019.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

– Hannah

10 Tips and Tricks to Read More

The first thing that I hear when I talk about my reading goals is “I don’t have the time to read” and a fairy dies every time. Okay… I’m being a little bit dramatic. Maybe. But, it’s true. A lot of people, myself included, are living such busy lives. For some, every minute is carefully planned out. For myself, and I’m sure there are others like me, every day is spent desperately trying to plan my day and constantly being stressed out about how much I need to do in any given day and yet still I only have 24 hours in a day. 24 hours generally never seems like enough time.

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(Seriously, 24 hours in a day isn’t enough time.)

I find that reading is one of the best ways for myself to find some peace, and to relax during the day – so finding time to read is imperative for me. Because it is so important to me, I’ve been able to find ways to find more time during the day to read and I wanted to share my list of tips and tricks with you:

  1. Always carry a book with you – I always have my current read with me, generally a physical copy in my purse. Not only that though, I also carry with me my Kindle, just in case I finish my current read or if I’m not particularly feeling up to reading my current read, for whatever reason.
  2. Read multiple books at a time – This one is *almost* the same as number 1. I find that if I’m reading multiple books at a time, I don’t get so discouraged when I’m not in the mood for something. It gives me more options to choose from depending on how I’m feeling that day.
  3. Put your phone down – Seriously, it seems hard, but once you get in the habit of not having your phone on you, you’ll realize how much time you actually spend on your phone. At the end of the year I was reflecting about how much time I spend on my phone staring at my Facebook feed like a zombie. I ended up deactivating my Facebook and deleted the app from my phone (deactivating Facebook did not deactivate my messenger, which was nice as I do use that as a means to communicate with some of my friends) and I realized one weekend that I had set my phone down when I got home at 6pm and didn’t pick it up again until I set my alarm when I went to bed at 10. It. Was. Amazing.
  4. Give up books that you don’t enjoy – This is a interesting idea. People feel very strongly about whether you should finish a book whether you like it or not. I used to fall under that camp, but then after forcing myself to read some really awful books that I hated I was so discouraged I had a hard time picking up a new book. Now that I only read books that I’m really enjoying, I am reading so much more.
  5. Set a goal – Try setting a goal to keep you motivated to read more. Make sure though, that you keep your goal reasonable. If you only read one or two books last year, don’t set a goal to read 100 books this year, you’ll only get discouraged if you read 10 (even though that would have felt like an accomplishment if thats what you had set your goal too).
  6. Join a book club – Find a book club to join. Your local bookstores, libraries, the Oprah Bookclub, Reese Witherspoon’s book club, (to name a few ideas), or even start your own with some of your friends. Reading books with friends or other people can be one of the most enjoyable ways to read a book, it gives you the option to rant or rave about which ever book you are currently reading to people who will understand and/or commiserate.
  7. Find a reading challenge – Try to participate in a reading challenge. There are tons of really fun ones out there that can get you reading something you wouldn’t have picked out on your own. My favorites are the challenges that don’t tell you what book to read but give you a prompt and you can pick the book you want to read that will fit that prompt.
  8. Share what you’ve read – Get a Goodreads account, start a blog, or a bookstagram. Posting about what you’re reading or what you’ve read can help you find other people to talk about that book with, get recommendations, and possibly make new friends in the process.
  9. Take notes – I’m a big supporter in writing in your books (I’m actually working on a more detailed post in regards to that). Keeping notes, or keeping track of favorite passages, will help you understand the authors message more clearly.
  10. Read – Simply, read. You will never read more if you don’t just start reading. Once you get into the habit of finding time to read, you will find yourself reading more.

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(Has anyone seen this episode of The Twilight Zone? Heartbreaking.)

Do you have any tips or tricks to finding more time to read? Did I miss anything? Let me know!

– Hannah