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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

ARC Review: The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton


Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

At the end of the nineteenth century, three revolutionary women fight for freedom in New York Times bestselling author Chanel Cleeton’s captivating new novel inspired by real-life events and the true story of a legendary Cuban woman–Evangelina Cisneros–who changed the course of history.

A feud rages in Gilded Age New York City between newspaper tycoons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. When Grace Harrington lands a job at Hearst’s newspaper in 1896, she’s caught in a cutthroat world where one scoop can make or break your career, but it’s a story emerging from Cuba that changes her life.

Unjustly imprisoned in a notorious Havana women’s jail, eighteen-year-old Evangelina Cisneros dreams of a Cuba free from Spanish oppression. When Hearst learns of her plight and splashes her image on the front page of his paper, proclaiming her, “The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba,” she becomes a rallying cry for American intervention in the battle for Cuban independence.

With the help of Marina Perez, a courier secretly working for the Cuban revolutionaries in Havana, Grace and Hearst’s staff attempt to free Evangelina. But when Cuban civilians are forced into reconcentration camps and the explosion of the USS Maine propels the United States and Spain toward war, the three women must risk everything in their fight for freedom.


I love being carried away into another time with historical fiction.  Once again, Chanel Cleeton has done a masterful job of putting her characters in the midst of historical events with her novel, The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba.  This story, once again, features the Perez family during the Spanish-American War of 1898.  But there's a host of other characters that bring together New York's Gilded Age, and a little known historical figure, in the name of Evangelina Cisneros.  This book had strong female characters, historical events I wasn't familiar with, and a hefty dose of steamy romance to create a wonderfully entertaining novel.

What I Liked:

Historical Details:

The book details the lead up to the Spanish-American War, something I knew nothing about.  In the U.S., this was the time of the great newspaper wars in New York which pitted Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, against upstart William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal.  Hearst started a brash, activist brand of reporting that was labeled "Yellow Journalism".  His sensational stories entertained the masses, and goaded America into the Spanish-American War.  The details about the lengths he went to do this seem unbelievable, and yet are true.

We also get lots of details about life in Cuba during this time.  The Spanish were losing their hold on Cuba, and brutally tried to suppress the men, and women, who were fighting for Cuba's freedom.  I particularly appreciated the details that centered on the women's prison, and the hardships females had to endure.   

Strong Female Characters:

The story centers around three women:  Grace, the assertive female reporter (certainly ahead of her time), Marina Perez, the ancestor of the Perez's in Cleeton's later books about Cuba, and on Evangelina, a beautiful young woman dubbed "The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba" by Hearst.  

Grace is every American woman of the late 1800's who yearns to be her own person.  She is determined to have a career as a journalist, and is uninterested in anything that will hinder that, including marriage and having babies.  While she worked harder than any man in the newsroom, she is also comes from a privileged background.  She isn't as constricted by financial concerns as most women of her time, thus giving her choices other women simply don't have access to.

Marina, in Cuba, was born into wealth, but gives it up to marry her childhood sweetheart, Mateo.  She is content with a simple, but hardworking life as a farmer's wife, until the fight for Cuba's freedom overtakes her life.  Then she must struggle between being a dutiful wife, and finding a way to contribute toward the war effort.  She too is struggling between the expected, traditional role that women had, as a wife and mother, and what she really wants, which was to take up arms and fight alongside the men.

The most unusual character was Evangelina.  At the beginning of the book, I found her quite annoying, as she seemed to wait for men to always solve her problems for her.  But this is just a starting point for her character.  As the book progresses, we see Evangelina rail against being put in the role of the victim.  As the American newspapers portray her as a helpless "girl" she corrects that assertion, saying, "I am a grown woman!", and finds her own way to help herself escape from prison.  I admired how her character developed over the novel, and the difficult position she was placed in with the Americans.


The story follows how Hearst's newspaper The New York Journal, pushed and pushed the United States into a war with Spain.  I enjoyed the lengths to which Hearst went to achieve this, including busting Evangelina out of the women's prison in Cuba.  The author also uses this situation to show how "yellow journalism" created the sensationalism that is still a part of the News business today.

One of the most interesting parts of the book, for me, was when the actual war started.  It almost seemed unreal, but many Americans joined up to fight, not out of a sense of patriotism, but because they wanted an Adventure!  Everyone wants a piece of the action, including Teddy Roosevelt, Clara Barton, and Hearst himself.  Hearst actually chartered a yacht (and brought along a few showgirls) to go to Cuba so he could watch, and report on, the action.  But now that Cuba has caught the attention of America, will the island gain independence, or simply trade one set of oppressors for another?

What I Was Mixed About:

While I have no problem with sex in books, I was a little surprised by the frankness of the sexual scenes in The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba.  This was mostly due to the fact that none of her previous books in the series had this level of Sexy Stuff!  



However, when I looked at her complete body of work, I do see she has written her fair share of romance novels in her time.  Just be aware, if you like "clean" romance, this novel probably isn't for you.

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  May 4th, 2021

Author:  Chanel Cleeton

Publisher:  Berkley Press

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  320 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  Another solid historical fiction with strong women, romance, and plenty of historical details.  Very Entertaining.

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