This July, Reese Witherspoon picked Chanel Cleeton's Next Year in Havana as the read of the month for her Hello Sunshine book club. Set in both Miami today and Cuba during the revolution, Next Year in Havana follows an American-born writer who visits Cuba to scatter her grandmother's ashes in the country of her birth. Once there, the granddaughter discovers not only the complex man who could win her heart but stumbles across new information about her family that begins to unravel the narrative she's grown up hearing. Witherspoon calls the book "a beautiful novel that's full of forbidden passions, family secrets and a lot of courage and sacrifice."
Inspired by the evocative storytelling of Next Year in Havana, we asked Chanel Cleeton to share her own favorite historical novels.
Chanel Cleeton's Top 5 Historical Fiction Reads
The Shadow Land: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Kostova’s atmospheric and lyrical writing since I picked up her debut, The Historian, and her most recent work, The Shadow Land, is equally haunting and mesmerizing. The story opens with an American woman arriving in Bulgaria where she quickly becomes caught up in a mystery that takes her on a journey through the country’s complicated political history. Told in dual timelines, Kostova's novel immerses the reader in the past and present with stunning prose, bringing the culture and landscape of Bulgaria to life in a visceral manner.
The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher
I was fortunate enough to read an early copy of this debut that’s out in October and I fell in love with the fascinating depiction of the life of Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy. Maher’s meticulous research and passion for the subject matter is evident as she chronicles London society and the influence of the Kennedy clan against the backdrop of the growing tensions in Europe and the eventual outbreak of World War II. The Kennedy Debutante offers a nuanced look at the emotional toll of war from the perspective of an intriguing cast of characters.
The Moon in the Palace (The Empress of Bright Moon Duology) by Weina Dai Randel
This beautiful debut novel offers a captivating portrayal of ancient China told from the perspective of the woman who came to rule it all. The first book in a duology surrounding the life of the Empress Wu, The Moon in the Palace is filled with striking prose, compelling characters, politics and intrigue, and a rich history that offers a thoroughly immersive experience for readers. I highly recommend this novel for readers who love learning about interesting historical figures.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Shadow of the Wind is one of those books I frequently reread over the years, and each time I do I am equally dazzled by Zafón’s effortless prose and elegant storytelling. Set during the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, The Shadow of the Wind is atmospheric and spellbinding as a young man’s quest for a curious book and its mysterious author leads him on an epic journey as he uncovers Barcelona’s dark secrets. A blend of history, gothic romance, and mystery make this an unforgettable novel seeped in emotion and drama.
My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hamilton aficionados and novices alike will fall in love with Dray and Kamoie’s sweeping yet intimate and heartfelt homage to the life of Eliza Hamilton. The scope of this novel is truly impressive and the authors’ passion for the subject leaps off the page as they provide insight into the birth of a nation from the perspective of one of its founding mothers. Engaging and informative, My Dear Hamilton is historical fiction at its finest.
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