The Summer List

Friendships are, in many ways, more complicated than romantic relationships. There are so many uncertainties, so many imbalances, so many layers. But the best friendships can go deep, through the secrets and the hurt.


Amy Mason Doan's debut novel, The Summer List, tells the story of two women who were inseparable in high school but haven't spoken in the 17 years since. Laura reluctantly accepts an invitation to reunite for the weekend in their lakeside hometown, where she joins Casey in a scavenger hunt like the ones they did as girls. The clues lead them to their favorite summer haunts, revealing why their friendship fell apart one summer night—and unearthing a stunning family secret.

Amy is stopping by to share a little bit more about her book and her writing.

What inspired your story in The Summer List?

Amy: I was camping by the Oregon coast one summer and a bunch of kids ran up asking for a graham cracker for a scavenger hunt. I’d been half-heartedly plotting a story about two former girlhood friends reuniting after a mysterious rift, and suddenly I saw them going on an adult scavenger hunt together, following a list written by someone who wanted them to reunite. It would be initially awkward and sometimes loopy, but would help them heal old wounds.

Who's your favorite character?

Amy: Casey! She lives across the lake from my other main character, Laura. They’re close enough to see each other’s houses and swim back and forth, but they’re complete opposites. Casey is impulsive, fearless, completely secure in her skin. She’s a loyal friend, intensely protective of Laura. She practically lives in the water, and she has a weakness for old paperbacks like Queenie and Princess Daisy.

Tell us about yourself and your writing process, Amy.

Amy: I live in Portland, Oregon with my husband, Mike, my 11-year-old daughter, Miranda, and our rescue tabby cat, Leah Lilikoi McConagall Mason. I went to Journalism school and I’ve worked at a variety of newspapers and magazines up and down the West Coast. I started writing fiction a few years ago, after I turned 40. I’d always wanted to do it but never pushed through my fears. Then I won this contest and got to fly to the movie premiere of TIGER EYES and meet Judy Blume, whose books I’ve adored for years. It was the strangest, loveliest turn of events. She was so down-to-earth. It felt like the universe was telling me to stop messing around and write a novel.

What's next for you?

Amy: I’m revising my second novel, the second book in my contract with Graydon House. I can’t say too much yet except that it’s set along the California coast and I’m really excited about it. I love the characters.

Brag a little. Share some praise you've received for The Summer List.

“There is not a word or a plot line out of place in The Summer List, Amy Mason Doan’s fabulous debut. These characters and their stories are going to stick with you for a long, long time.”
-Meg Mitchell Moore, author of The Admissions and The Captain’s Daughter

Thanks Amy! 

If The Summer List sounds like your sort of book, check it out at your local indie bookstore or here:

You can catch Amy on Twitter or her website or Goodreads or ... ! :)

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Between Earth and Sky

Amanda Skenandore's beautiful, heart-wrenching debut tackles the tragic white-run boarding schools for Native American children. It's my pleasure to share some more information about Amanda's story and her writing process.


What's the book about?

Amanda: The main character, Alma, is the only white child at the “savage-taming” boarding school run by her father. The school was intended to assimilate the children of neighboring Indian reservations. Instead, it robs them of everything they’d known—language, customs, even their names. As an adult Alma must reckon with the school’s destructive legacy; with love, racism, and betrayal; and the sacrifices made in the name of belonging.

"Between earth and sky" is a beautiful quote from the book. How did you decide to make that the title?

Amanda: I’m terrible with titles. The story went through two working titles before my agent and I settled upon BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY. I didn’t love the title initially and thought the publisher might change it, but my editor really liked it. Seeing it now on the cover of the book, I’m glad that’s the title we went with.

How long did it take you to write and publish the book?

Amanda: I began writing BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY in 2012. It took four months write the first draft and another four years to revise and edit. After I found an agent and publisher it was two years (almost to the day) that the book was released.

What was your favorite part of writing Between Earth and Sky?

Amanda: I love the research phase of writing because history, especially the quirky details of day-to-day life in bygone eras, fascinate me. I also really enjoy the revision process. It’s both creative and analytic. It’s where that lump of coal of a first draft becomes a diamond.

How do you find time to write?

Amanda: I work part-time as a registered nurse and unusually write on my days off. I like to have several hours of interrupted time to devote to my story. When I’m under deadline, however, I’ll go to a coffee shop or library after my shift at the hospital and write then too, even if just for a few hours.

Which books influenced you the most?

Amanda: A few come to mind: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

And finally, what are you working on now?

Amanda: I’m working on a story about an undertaker’s assistant set in New Orleans during the waning months of post-Civil War Reconstruction.

Intrigued? Amanda is a talented writer, and you won't forget this moving story. Check out Between Earth and Sky here, or request it from your local library!


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Buzz Books!!

When my publisher told me we'd been accepted into Buzz Books for their Fall/Winter 2018 edition, I thought that sounded pretty neat. Of course, I had no idea what Buzz Books was. 


Now, I know! And I'm floored and shocked and SO excited to share the space with authors I adore, like Barbara Kingsolver, Sarah Perry (I loved The Essex Serpent!), and Frances de Ponte Peebles (Have you read her The Seamstress? It's bare-knuckled glorious).

Check it out:

The compilation of excerpts from 40 books coming out this autumn and winter is free to download. Enjoy!

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Writers for Hope

This piece first ran at the Washington Independent Review of Books. It's the third in my "Literally Kind" series about how writers, books, and words help bring some light into the world.


It would be hard pinpoint the earliest rape recorded in literature. Sexual assault in the Hebrew Bible? Yup. In Greek mythology? Of course. In Homer? Kidnapped trophy women are central to The Iliad.

But victims of sexual assault have also used the pen to fight back, at first obliquely as women began writing in the Renaissance, and then, by the 20th century, explicitly. Today, survivors of all genders share powerful narratives describing, denouncing, and reconceptualizing sexual violence.

Five years ago, Kelly Johnson decided to do more than just write about surviving sexual assault. She created a fundraiser centered on writing and writers to support the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the largest anti-sexual-violence organization in the United States. Her fundraiser, Writers For Hope, just completed its fifth iteration, and she raised an impressive $10,007 from bids on items donated by 109 other writers and craftspeople.

I asked Kelly to share her story with our readers.

Her experience began four years before that first fundraiser:

“I had tried to leave for work in the early morning only to have a stranger force his way into my apartment and proceed to beat, smother, strangle, and rape me. My best friend, and roommate, saved my life — she got the police to the apartment before he could complete his murder attempts and escape.

“I was very lucky — which is always an infuriating word to use in this context, but the best one I have. Unlike most rape survivors, I got to see the individual who did this to me go to prison. Unlike most rape survivors, I was surrounded by endless support — from my family to my friends to the police to the prosecutor.

“And through my experience with the legal system and my early reading of the RAINN website, I continued to find more reasons why people listened to me, when so many other rape survivors are left to suffer in silence.”

Kelly’s visible injuries, small physical stature, white race, and status as a heterosexual woman seemed to make her story more sympathetic than those stories of people without those privileges.

She was, she says, “the poster child for our society’s Palatable Rape Survivor.”

“It is a horrific privilege that I certainly never asked for, but it is a privilege nonetheless,” she says. “The kind of privilege that comes with responsibility — a responsibility that I was simply unequipped to deal with properly in the early days of my recovery.”

In the third year after the attack, she had recovered enough to begin planning an independent international trip. But she soon hit a major roadblock. She couldn’t stop searching news outlets for stories on rape.

“I spiraled and probably would have continued doing so until I was completely unraveled, if my mom hadn’t stepped in. She stopped my spin into darkness with one question. ‘How is what you are doing right now helping any of these people?’

“It wasn’t. I mean, it was a nice thought — make sure their stories are read — but it didn’t accomplish anything other than freezing me in my trauma.

“I went back for my third stint in therapy and started to get my head on straight. I started spending less time crying in bathrooms and more time circling back to my mother’s question — trying to figure out what I could be doing to help people.

“The following March, I was finally ready to tackle the daunting prospect of approaching total strangers to take part in the cause. Deciding to combine my interests, I came up with the idea of the Writers For Hope Online Auction and drafted a letter to send to authors, agents, and editors.”

Now, Kelly has been doing Writers for Hope for five years. She starts soliciting donations, like signed books or packages from literary agents or published writers critiquing unpublished manuscripts, as early as four months before the auction opens. It’s a ton of work that she does all on her own, uncompensated.

I asked her why she still does it.

“Over the last 25 years, sexual assault has fallen by 63 percent. That’s amazing. But we’re still nowhere near where we need to be. The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey shows that currently there is one sexual assault every 98 seconds. Seconds.

“The fact that this is 63 percent better than it was 25 years ago is a horrifying statistic to consider. ‘Better’ is still not good enough and until it is, I’m a big believer that anyone who can do anything to help should be.

“There is also a self-serving component of the auction. At a time when the majority of the news we see focuses on people being horrible to each other, this event basically serves as the annual reset of my world view.

“From that very first email I ever sent out about this event — not only were people agreeing to donate their time and resources, but they were actually thanking me for the opportunity. This continues to blow my mind every single year. People thanking me for giving them an avenue through which they could give of themselves.

“This year, the auction had 109 donors and visitors from 836 cities and towns around the U.S. and 39 countries worldwide. I have met, in person, maybe 15 of these people. The rest are still basically strangers to me, past the occasional Twitter connection. I doubt they have any idea what a monumental role they have all played in reminding me why this world is worth fighting for.

“They remind me, every year, that I am not alone in my fears and concerns. And now I think of it a lot like being in the high school choir. My music teacher used to really hammer home the idea of staggered breathing before a concert. Make sure that you were catching your breath at a different moment than the person next to you, that way the sound of music would be continuous.

“It’s been eight years now, and there are still many days when I need to catch my breath. I need to step back and turn inward. In the last year, this need has increased significantly as I’ve been torn between being elated that necessary conversations are finally becoming more mainstream and emotionally exhausted at seeing my knowledge that these issues are rampant confirmed on an almost hourly basis.

“As difficult as these moments still are, they no longer mire me despair because I know now that all the people next to me are still singing. Just as I know that on the days when I’m going strong, there are others who aren’t.

“That’s why I keep doing Writers For Hope — because the problem is still huge, but so is the group fighting it. It’s a way to amplify the song.”

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From Unseen Fire

Today it's my pleasure to introduce Cass Morris, whose historical fantasy, From Unseen Fire, is a magical take on ancient Rome.

Cass wanted to write a fantasy that took place somewhere other than the now-standard Western Europe setting, and her long grounding in Latin made the ancient world a natural fit.


From Unseen Fire takes place in Aven, an alternate version of ancient Rome where elemental magic has shaped society as much as law and war. In the wake of a brutal dictatorship, two factions compete to rebuild the Republic in the shape they desire. One side is protectionist and isolationist, seeking to preserve conventional morals and keep their nation small enough to easily control; the other side is expansionist and more permissive, looking to embrace the opportunities that allies and immigrants can provide. By law, the use of magic to influence politics is forbidden, but both sides skirt the rules where they can — and some are willing to step dangerously far over the line.

Cass, tell us some more about your book. Who's your favorite character?

CM: Vitellia Latona is the character closest to my heart. She’s a powerful mage of Spirit and Fire, but she’s never made the most of it, partly for lack of training and partly due to discouragement from various sources out of spite, jealousy, or just plain misogyny. In From Unseen Fire, she’s in the process of breaking free of all those restrictions and repressions, learning to own herself and take up the space in the world that she deserves.

As you know, I love historical fiction, and the interplay of imagination and historical record. Are your characters drawn from history?

CM: They’re mostly from my imagination, though they have some historical inspiration. Julius Caesar, Tiberius Gracchus, Germanicus and his wife Agrippina, Mark Antony, Fulvia, and many other Romans have not direct analogs, but correlations in my characters.

What kind of research did you do for From Unseen Fire?

CM: A lot of my research was reviving things I had studied in high school and college and then delving deeper. I had to get a lot more into the social history of ancient Rome than just the political overview and the “great men” narrative. Alberto Angela’s Day in the Life of Ancient Rome was supremely helpful, as were the works of Philip Matyczak. I’ve a full list of recommended resources on my website ( The most fun research, though, was taking a trip to Rome and spending a few days wandering around the Seven Hills!

Cass, tell us a little bit about yourself.

CM: I’ve lived in Virginia my whole life, and most of my work has been as an educator. I spent seven years at the American Shakespeare Center, where I wrote 22 guides to help teachers make plays exciting for their students. My parents and sister live in our hometown, so I revisit my old stomping grounds fairly regularly. I live in the mountains with two cats, a nineteen-year-old calico and a seven-year-old Abyssinian.

And what's next for you?

CM: Book Two of the Aven Cycle, as well as drafting a space opera with a rakish heroine loosely based on Julie d’Aubigny.

You can find From Unseen Fire at any of these fine merchants:

Amazon --

B&N --

IndieBound --

Kobo --

GooglePlay --

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Literally Kind

The post first appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books.

In 1939, Lyubov Vasilievna Shaporina, founder of the St. Petersburg puppet theater and wife of a composer, traveled to a Russian village northeast of Moscow. Her young daughter had died seven years earlier, and the Soviet Union was at the time gripped by the government-sponsored purges. At home, gunshots would awaken her in the morning, and many of her friends and neighbors were arrested.


But, in the village, she found a sort of peace. The town was known for its icon painting, and she took heart in the small creative gestures the artists were able to indulge in when not churning out soulless painted boxes.

At the end of her trip, Shaporina sat in a restaurant having lunch, and watched three men at a nearby table. They downed multiple liters of vodka and bottles of beer as they chattered on in their jargon. They were “economic planners,” she noticed — some sort of “bosses.”

They drank and reveled in their authority. She couldn’t escape the reality of the state terror consuming her country.

In her diary later, she despaired.

“It’s terribly hard to build, but oh, so easy to destroy.”

Shaporina was right, I think. We demolish, smash, and tear down at a whim; we cut one another’s feelings to the bone with a word; we end decades-long relationships with a burst of anger.

But that’s not all we do.

Humans also create, build, and inspire. Literature and art are a testament to that impulse, and Shaporina’s own puppet theater was her greatest solace during years of agony.

Even during our darkest moments, people are escorting the injured from buildings, transporting homeless dogs hundreds of miles to find them new families, putting sweat and tears into restoring old churches so others can delight in them. People doing good are always building; sometimes, we need to be reminded of their efforts.

My heart is built of words and books, so my optimism naturally runs in those same channels. I’ll be writing this column to celebrate the kindness that people bring to one another using books and writing — even when the world is difficult, even when it seems like all anyone wants to do is destroy.

Because it might be easier to destroy, but humans are better than that.

Take Kelly Hopkins, for example. Hopkins is a creative-writing teacher and librarian and, in 2017, she began to wonder why so many writing contests were only for adults. She posed the question on Twitter and began chatting with Michael Mammay, a fellow writer and contest mentor.

Together, they came up with TeenPit, a contest for high school students that matches teens with experienced writers. Together, mentors and teens revise the first chapter of the students’ novel manuscripts (with 25,000 words or more). Last year’s inaugural contest matched 25 teens with mentors.

Five of the finalists, as top prizes, sailed directly into the final round of one of the online writing world’s most competitive contests, Pitch Wars. And one TeenPit contestant signed with an agent after completing the contest.

“I'm so proud of all of our students and how much they have grown through the process,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins and Mammay put a lot of time into rounding up mentors, soliciting and evaluating contestants, and working with teens. All so that young writers around the world feel more empowered to pursue their dreams.

“I think teens who write need to know there is more out there for them. This gives them an opportunity to connect with a professional writer — someone who knows the ups and downs of the professional writing life — and to engage with that life for a couple of weeks,” Hopkins said.

That effort seems to have paid off. One TeenPit alum, Bethany, told me that the contest opened her eyes.

“Meeting other teen writers and working with published authors encouraged me in my own writing. Working with a mentor on my opening chapters gave me a new perspective on editing and reading my own work that still helps me with my current writing."

I’m heartened by people like Hopkins and Mammay who devote their scarce time to helping young strangers become better writers. In that way, we build a stronger world. One bound by kindness and respect, with an awe of art.

In the coming months, I hope to share other stories about how books and writers brighten days. It won’t be maudlin because we won’t lose sight of the world’s cruelty. We won’t pretend that darkness doesn’t exist.

But we will remember how ordinary people build in order to hold the destruction at bay.

This is the first installment of a new column, Literally Kind. Lyubov Vasilievna Shaporina’s diary entries can be found in Intimacy and Terror: Soviet Diaries of the 1930s, edited by Veronique Garros, Natalia Korenevskaya, and Thomas Lahusen.

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I got to know Clarissa Goenawan in last year's Pitch Wars, and as we exchanged swoon messages about some shared submissions, I knew we had similar taste in literary fiction. Then when I saw what her debut novel was about, I was sold -- literally. I pre-ordered right away. I'm so excited to celebrate the publication of Rainbirds. Intertwining elements of suspense and magical realism, this award-winning literary debut opens with a murder and shines a spotlight on life in fictional small-town Japan.


Rainbirds takes place in Japan, which makes the premise even more exciting, since it's the setting for a number of books beloved to me -- 1Q84The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetA Silence Once Begun, An Artist of the Floating WorldThe Master of Go, and others. This novel is a story of a young man who is trying to come to terms with his older sister’s death by finding out the truth behind her murder, but in doing so, he ends up confronting his own dark secret.

Let's let Rainbirds speak for itself:

When the car had stopped at the traffic junction, a soft light had fallen onto her pale skin, highlighting her delicate features. My hand was on hers, but she didn’t say a word, nor did she look at me. She didn’t even flinch. Her body was there, but her mind wasn’t.
That night, the two of us were lonely, isolated under Tokyo’s dazzling lights.

And here's another cool thing -- it is part of a series of interrelated novels. So keep an eye on the side characters, because they might be the main characters for the next book.

As for Rainbirds, Clarissa was kind enough to share some extra details on her novel.

What inspired Rainbirds?

CG: One afternoon, I was just wondering, “What if someone I cared about suddenly passed away, and then, I realized too late that I never actually got to know them?” At first, I wanted to write a short story about a young man who had just lost his older brother, which later on, morphed to an older sister. And then, I realized there were so many things I wanted to explore in their relationship, and that this story has to be a novel.

Who's your favorite character?

CG: Rio Nakajima, also known as ‘Seven Stars.’ She’s a seventeen-year-old girl who is bright and bold, unafraid to voice her opinion and relentlessly goes after what she wants. She doesn’t care about conforming to public’s expectation, and I really admire her for that.

Clarissa, you live in Singapore, but Rainbirds is set in Japan. What kind of research did you do?

CG: I grew up reading copious amounts of manga (Japanese comic books), and I learnt Japanese language since high school, so that gave me a good starting point. I also consulted a huge number of books, essays, and articles, and asked some friends who’re familiar with Japan to be my beta readers.

Brag a little. Tell us some of the best praise you've received for Rainbirds so far.

"Luminous, sinister, and page-turning all at once. I loved it." 
—Kate Hamer, internationally bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat and The Doll Funeral 

"A beautiful mystery setup with a complex, magical love story." 
—Eka Kurniawan, award-winning author of Beauty Is a Wound and Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash

So, if you're looking to check out Rainbirds more closely, here you go!


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The Romanov Luxury

The children are beautiful, young, and royal. Their family was close and loving. They all died terrible, tragic deaths. It's hard not to fall in love with the Romanovs.

 Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov. From  here .

Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov. From here.

I'm writing a novel that takes place in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, so although the Romanovs do not figure in my story, their presence (and absence) overhangs society.

One of the magical things about writing is how the world seems to offer you connections and clues, even when you're not looking for them. Last spring, my husband and I traveled to Georgia (the country). We took a weekend trip to a spa town in southern Georgia, and there found a museum focusing on the local Romanov hunting retreat.

The museum had a floor filled with Romanov hunting trophies and furniture from their lodge (above), in addition to gorgeous displays of the fine china used in this "rustic" retreat (below).

It's so easy to imagine charming young women sitting on a sunny patio, drinking cold juice poured from that gorgeous pitcher and eating fruit from that fluted bowl.

Yet Borjomi is ... 2684 kilometers from St. Petersburg, or 1963 km from Moscow, according to Google maps. It's hard to imagine the Romanovs made it through the multiple mountain ranges of Russia and Georgia to retreat to this hunting lodge that often. (And if they did, who was running the country?)

Last month, I visited the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. They have an exhibit on Fabrege and the Russian Craft Tradition, which of course brought me back to the Romanovs.

The enamelware and metalwork on display was stunning. Like this presentation box with the monogram of Tsar Nicolas II. It's made of nephrite, diamonds, gold ...

Or this art nouveau-inspired kvosh, which Empress Maria Feodorovna, wife of Tsar Alexander III, gave as a gift to a Dutch doctor:

The exhibit included two eggs made in the workshop of the famous jeweler/crafter Fabrege. One egg contains inside a miniature rendition of one of the large Romanov palaces, all crafted in gold down to minute detail. Including streetlamps smaller than your pinky nail. The other egg has dozens of diamonds, and was given by one Romanov emperor to his wife on the occasion of the birth of their son.

The items are stunning in their beauty and their luxury.

But not everyone in Russia was living in opulence. The Russian economy was growing rapidly at the beginning of the 20th century, but land ownership was concentrated in the hands of the wealthy, and urban workers worked long hours for limited pay. According to one 1904 survey, an average of 16 people shared each apartment in Petrograd, with 6 people per room. Then World War I hit, and conditions deteriorated.

It gets a little easier to understand why the Marxist revolutionaries yearned for a better, more equitable life. They didn't end up delivering it, but the scheming students of the early 1900s didn't know yet that their dreams were hollow. They just knew that the rich could sashay through the glittering showroom of Fabrege, while the poor sometimes struggled to find enough to eat.

 The Flophouse, 1889. V. Makovskii. Istoriia russkogo iskusstva, ed. E. Grabar (Moscow, 1964), vol. 9. pt. 1, 341. Source  here .

The Flophouse, 1889. V. Makovskii. Istoriia russkogo
iskusstva, ed. E. Grabar (Moscow, 1964), vol. 9. pt. 1, 341. Source here.

That's the funny thing about history. We sympathize with the stories, with the humans whose names we know and whose narratives we can follow. We forget the lived passions and agonies of the nameless ones.

I'm not justifying the terrible way the Bolsheviks killed the Romanovs, nor the disaster that was the Soviet Union. But I think it's important for history lovers to try to take in the whole panorama of society, as much as possible. That's where the stories come in. We know the stories of the Romanovs. Now lets learn -- or imagine -- some stories from other people of that time. That's the magic of historical fiction.

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Next Year in Havana

I love historical fiction and I adore stories about Latin America, so it's my special pleasure to bring Chanel Cleeton to you today. 

Next Year in Havana.jpg

This is Chanel's first historical fiction project (she's previously published some delicious romance novels), and it's an intensely personal one. Chanel grew up in Florida, nourished by stories of her family's exodus from Cuba in the wake of the Cuban Revolution. This novel was inspired by her family's experiences.

Here's the book summary:

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.


Intrigued? Check out more on Amazon or IndieBound or Goodreads. And Chanel is giving away a Kindle Fire -- the perfect way to read Next Year in Havana. Enter here:

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