Book Review: Next Year in Havana

Book Review: Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Disclaimer:  I received this Advance Reading Copy from a Read It Forward giveaway for the purpose of writing this review.  No other compensation was offered or requested.  The final product, due out 2/6/18, may have minor changes.

Next Year in Havana

In 1958, Elisa Perez is the daughter of one of the richest families in Havana, constrained by family tradition and the patriarchal society.  Her father supports president Fulgencio Batista in order to protect their sugar industry interests, but Elisa is becoming increasingly aware of the suffering of the Cuban people at the hands of the government.  Still, are the 26th of July movement and the other revolutionaries truly the way forward?

In 2017, Marisol Ferrera takes advantage of the partial thawing of relations between Cuba and the United States following the death of Fidel Castro and her job as a lifestyles journalist to travel to the land her family has long been exiles of.  Though she knows what Cuba was from the stories of her grandmother and other relatives, Marisol has little idea of what that country is like now.  More, she’s about to discover a family secret hidden all these decades.

The author, Chanel Cleeton, is herself the descendant of Cuban exiles, which inspired this dual romance book with political thriller elements.

My mother has told me of meeting Cuban exiles back in the late 1950s who eagerly hoped for the overthrow of the U.S.-backed dictator Batista so that they could go home and rebuild their country.  They hoped that Castro would keep his promises of reform and that Cuba would rise to be the prosperous, modern nation it had once been.  Mom lost touch, and has no idea what happened to them.

Elisa, nineteen, is whisked out of the house in secret by her more daring sister Beatriz to go to a party in a less prosperous part of the city.   While Beatriz meets with their disowned brother, Elisa meets an earnest lawyer, Pablo, who it turns out is an ally of Che Guevara.   They begin a forbidden courtship, kept apart by social status and the explosive political climate.

Marisol is twenty-six, and a bit more worldly wise than her grandmother had been.  Her shoes still cost more than the average Cuban makes in a year.  Elisa’s best friend Ana had been forced to stay in Cuba, and has managed to make a small living as a restaurant owner.  Ana’s grandson Luis is a history professor who also helps out at the restaurant, and becomes Elisa’s tour guide.  As Elisa learns more about her grandmother’s life before exile, she finds herself increasingly attracted to Luis.

The descriptions are lush, with many glowing descriptions of landscapes and food.

Elisa’s section of the book seems surer-footed, perhaps because the passage of time has made the political outcomes clearer and that allows the author to weave the events together more closely.  Marisol’s section seems designed to appeal to the viewpoint of Cuban expatriates and their loyalists, and I have to wonder how much it would ring true to Cubans who actually live in Cuba.  The political thriller elements seem more forced in that section.

Torture is mentioned, and the results are seen.

I think this book will go over well with people who are heavily into historical romance as a genre and appreciate political thriller elements sprinkled in.  It’s also nice to read a book with Cuba as a setting; I’ve only had a handful of those.  (Check my back reviews for Mingo Dabney.)

The edition coming out in 2018 appears to be designed to be a book club selection, as there are discussion questions in the back.  Also, the sequel starring Beatriz, Elisa’s sister, is already in the works and there is a chapter from that.  (And from that excerpt, it looks like more my thing.)

Open Thread: Bloggers’ Meeting 6/4/16

Open Thread: Bloggers’ Meeting 6/4/16

Went to a blogging Meetup at the Spyhouse Coffee Shop today.  This was put together by Cam, who is a web developer and does not have a blog just at the moment.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

We discussed our motivations for wanting to meet up, possible meeting places (Spyhouse has rules against moving furniture so is likely to be out in future) and meeting topics.  The next meeting is the first Saturday in July on the St. Paul U of M campus.

I didn’t get everyone’s URL, but here are the ones I did: A travel and photography blog.  Her latest post is about the Oculus train station in New York, but the scuba diving pictures are perhaps the best feature.  Woodcarving!  The latest post shows before and after pictures of some holiday carvings. The Jack-Bench is a DIY woodworking bench that this fellow sells plans for.  Over the last year, he collected a number of interviews with woodworkers from across America, and the latest post is about a fellow who does pen blanks.

If I missed you out, please comment with your blog URL below!

Open Thread: Bloggers Get Social

Open Thread: Bloggers Get Social

Last Wednesday, I went to an event titled “Bloggers Get Social”, which was held at a Davanni’s in Edina.  Getting there was the first hurdle, as it started at 5 P.M. and I got off work at 4:30 several suburbs away.  I found an express route that worked on paper, but when I got to the bus stop, discovered I’d left my paper with the route number and the address of the Davanni’s back in the office.  Fortunately, I was able to work out which express bus out of the dozen that serve that stop it was by elimination.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

Next problem:  When I got on the bus, I discovered that there were no schedules for the route on the bus–I knew one of the cross-streets where I had to get off, but not the other.  And everyone near me was firmly attached to their headphones except one lady who had no idea where that cross-street was.  The good news was, it was the very first stop  the express made in Edina, and the Davanni’s was clearly visible from the side of the bus I was on.  I was there only about fifteen minutes late!

Of course, that meant that the other attendees had already clumped up into tight groups at tables, so I was at a loss at first.  Good news, though, Davanni’s put on a nice spread for us, showcasing their variety of party foods.  Their party room space is also very nice.

The organizers of the social night were the folks from the MN Blogger Conference, which next meets at Concordia University in Saint Paul October 16th, 2016. After the owners of the Davanni’s gave a nice speech about the history of the restaurant and how their employees have helped build their menu over the years, a couple of other latecomers joined my table, and the organizers reminded everyone to switch tables every so often so that we would meet different people.

I still think I missed about half the bloggers there, but did manage to give out all the business cards with my blog info on them.  Not everyone had cards, but I did manage to get some.  In no particular order:

Faces of TBI:  This site is about people who have suffered Traumatic Brain Injury, both survivors and those who have passed on.  The author is Amy Zellner, writer of Life with a Traumatic Brain Injury: Finding the Road Back to Normal.  Her most recent blog post is an appearance by Dr. Bennet Omalu (played by Will Smith in Concussion) coming up in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota.

Stacie Sayz So:  A lifestyle blogger, a lot of her posts seem to be about beauty products from an affordable perspective.  But Stacie’s not just about product reviews!  Her most recent post is photography tips to enhance those pictures that come with your blog posts (I mostly cheat and just scan the book cover.)

Kale & Ale:  Another lifestyle blog, this one about healthy eating and drinking.  Lots of recipes and gardening tips!  The latest post by author Valerie Dennis is about her trip to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico and the nice places she found to eat there.

Jen Jamar is a content strategist and social media manager, which is the kind of person I want to consult if I ever try to monetize this blog.  (Read me now while there’s still no ads 🙂  Her latest post is about a recent social media management tool update that looks scary, but probably is nothing to panic about:

Donna Hup writes about small town Midwestern life: cooking, entertainment, travel and especially trucking!  Her most recent post is about a…unique…charity run she participated in for the Children’s Tumor Foundation.  Lots of fun pictures!

Paul Lundquist doesn’t have a blog as such, but is an advertising and commericial photographer if you can afford to commission the best pictures of stuff for your blog.  You can find a portfolio of his work at

I also remember a fellow doing something called Lifemap which will be a site that allows members to put pins in maps of places they’ve been and write about their experiences there.  I don’t think it’s in full production yet.

Davanni’s handed out gift bags, which contained Davanni’s glasses and a do-it-yourself Valentine treat kit.  Their regular dessert bars with small pots of frosting and sprinkles so you could customize them for your sweetie.  Thanks, Davanni’s!

I got a ride back to the big city from a fellow who works for Blackeye Roasting, a cold press coffee brewer.  He was giving out samples of their product.  Alas, I don’t like the taste of coffee, but here’s their website anyway:

Sadly, I got a raging cold the next day, and hadn’t felt up to writing about the experience till now.

Please visit some of these folks, and in the comments, mention your favorite blog that needs more visitors!

Book Review: The Beauty of Grace

Book Review: The Beauty of Grace edited by Dawn Camp

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway in the expectation that I would read and review it.

The Beauty of Grace

God’s love is a wonderful thing.  It is not dependent on our earning it, it comes to us free of charge and all we have to do is accept it.  But sometimes it can be hard to feel that love, trapped in our own circumstances and beset with difficulties–or sometimes too much luxury distracts us from what’s important.

This book is a collection of short essays and personal stories about grace, and the writers’ relationships with God. They are divided by general themes:  purpose, trust, hope and encouragement, etc.  It’s firmly in the Christian inspirational genre, so will be most useful to those who already believe.  Most of the writers are women, with one token man, most are mothers and many are bloggers.

There is of course some sameness of topics, and you may have to look at the author’s name to see if it is a different person from a previous essay or not.  Thankfully, there is little glurge, and most of the essays are at least readable.

My personal favorite of the essays is “When God Says ‘Stop,’ He Doesn’t Always Mean ‘Quit'” by Rachel Anne Ridge.  It’s about a traffic sign that seems misplaced and useless where it is, but go on a bit further and the meaning becomes more obvious.  A parallel is drawn to roadblocks in our lives; they may not be meant to be permanent obstacles to our goals, but a way of telling us about hazards ahead.

“And So We Are Carried Along” by Amanda Williams is a powerful piece about her family’s time on food stamps.  “When Giving Up Is the Right Thing to Do” by Kristen Strong is about learning to accept when something is impossible and moving on.

Dawn Camp, the editor, also contributed several pieces, and the photographs throughout the book.  I think a bit more care could have been used to pick photos that look “right” in black and white; several of these lose something without color.

There’s an author bio section in the back if any of the essays intrigue you and you want to check out their blogs.

Overall, a decent book that will introduce you to many writers in the Christian inspirational field you may not have heard of before, and a nice gift for, say, Mother’s Day.

And speaking of grace, let’s have a video.  If you have never heard Sacred Harp singing before, give it a short while–the beauty will be there.

Open Thread: Unpleasant Circumstances

Reviews will resume shortly.  However, things are getting kind of dicey here.  As long-time readers may know, I’ve been looking for work for a while, and not getting hired.  The temp companies have not found me any assignments lately either.  As a result, I am out of cash.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

How you can help:

  • If you know a particular person in the Twin Cities area who is hiring in a customer service related field, letting them know I am available and getting me in contact with them would be highly desirable.  While sending me job listings is appreciated, I am already aware of most of them via the internet and am applying.  Direct network contacts are what I am told are more likely to be productive.
  • Boost this blog.  Every favorite, plus one, like, reblog or other sharing increases the visibility of SKJAM! Reviews, making it that much more likely someone who has a job to offer will see it.
  • Send donations.  Every penny helps.  My Paypal address is so please consider dropping a buck or two in.

Thank you in advance!

Open Thread: Inspired Blog Challenge Wrap-Up

Today is the last day of the Inspired Blog Challenge, so it’s time for a wrap-up post.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

The main objective was to post twenty times during the month, and that was accomplished.

While joining the challenge did not greatly increase the number of pageviews (other things I did during the month were more effective), I did get a lot more comments than usual, a couple of them from people not even in the challenge!

My top ten viewed posts during the last month were:

  1.  Book Review: Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments (Mostly by fans of Shutterbug Follies, a comic strip featured as an example in the book.)
  2.  Comic Book Review: The Forgotten Man Graphic Edition (A just-published volume based on a best-selling revisionist history book.)
  3.  Open Thread: Inspired Blog Challenge Day One (This one definitely boosted by joining the challenge, as everyone in it gave me one shot.)
  4. Open Thread: Mother’s Day (Everyone loves their Mom, or knows someone who does, right?)
  5. Anime Review: Magi – Labyrinth of Magic (Very popular show among anime fans.)
  6. Manga Review: Vagabond Volume 1 (A biography of famous sword-slinger Miyamoto Musashi, by a popular creator.)
  7. Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (USA) (The most popular ongoing manga series.)
  8. Manga Review: Vinland Saga Book 1 (Exciting, well-researched Viking story.)
  9. Book Review: The Saint: The Man Who Was Clever (Got a big boost from being mentioned on a site for pulp fans.)
  10. Book Review: Blood Aces (Biography of a Texas gangster who made it big in Las Vegas.)

I don’t know that the Inspired Blog Facebook group is the best fit for me, given most of the other blogs in it are “lifestyle” or “artistic.” But we’ll see going forward.

Got a huge increase in spam once I joined the challenge, Akismet seems to be dealing with it.

So, topics for discussion: have you ever been in a blogging challenge, and how did it go for you? Or alternatively, plug a blog other than your own that you really like and people should go see.

Open Thread: Inspired Blog Challenge Day One

I am participating in the Inspired Blog Challenge running from 5/1/14-5/31/14, in which I will attempt to post at least twenty times, among other goals.  I have turned off moderation of the comments–please don’t make me regret this.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

For those of you reading this blog for the first time, I’m Scott K. Jamison, SKJAM! on the internet.  I am a customer service professional looking for new opportunities in the customer service field.  The main purpose of this blog, however, is reviews of books and other pop culture.

I was born in Minnesota, and have lived there most of my life, save a stint in the Air Force.  My current reading is Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, which I hope to have a review of up in the next few days.

For a topic–what was the most recent book you read…that you’ll admit to?

Open Thread: Linkspam 10/2/13

Time for the monthly recommendation of other blogs!  I went to the Bloggers’ group meeting at Joule again.  This time the topic was timesaving tips, such as having a calendar to remind you when it’s time to post.  One cool tip for bloggers with families is having a special article of clothing that you wear when you are blogging so people know not to bother you.  “When Daddy is wearing his Chicago Cubs hat, that means he’s busy writing about sports, so don’t interrupt him unless you’re bleeding or the house is on fire.”

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

Here are some of the attendees and their blogs that you might want to check out.:

Wyzguys Tech Talk: Computer repair, network maintenance and related issues.  The latest post is about Windows 8 training classes in the Twin Cities area.

Tech Nick Tips:  Web marketing and social media.  The latest post is about misconceptions of business-related social media.

Pianist for Parties: The author writes about her experiences playing piano for various gatherings.  Tomorrow 10/3/13, is Day of German Unity, and she’ll be playing for a celebration of that, so watch this space.

Retirement Education Plus: Information for those planning for retirement or about to retire.  The most recent post was reminding people that if you are already on Medicare, you don’t need to sign up for the ACA separately.

My Cuddle Corner:  The official blog for Shannon Fabrics, which specializes in plush fabrics.  The lastest entry has a picture of cute children in cheetah costumes.  Seriously, these kids are adorable.

Euphoria Gems: does not have a blog yet, but is planning to start one.  Their gimmick is something called “interchangeable gems.”

The Light in the Middle of the Tunnel:  A blog for family caregivers, particularly in dealing with Parkinson’s Disease.  The latest post is the personal testimony of someone diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

AccessAbility: provides business services for those companies who want to hire people with disabilities or other challenges.  Their newsletter is not directly accessible, you’ll have to subscribe.

WeCo Website Accessibility Blog:  WeCo tests the accessibility of websites to make sure that they can be used by people with disabilities or other challenges.  The most recent blog post is a profile of one of their testers.  WeCo has, by the way, a very organized blogging plan–if you like reliable posting schedules, these folks do a good job.

Please consider visiting one or more of these blogs–they’d love to have your views, and if you have some pertinent comments, those would be greatly appreciated.

Also consider commenting here with a link to your blog and what it’s about!



Open Thread: Linkspam 9/10/13

Went to the bloggers’ meeting again this month, a week later than the usual.  We talked about how to get good ideas for blog posts, and handed around our business cards.  Here’s some people you should consider giving some traffic to.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

GIR Promotions: They do creative marketing–latest post is staying “top of mind” with your audience.

The Light In the Middle of the Tunnel: a blog for family caregivers, particularly when dealing with Parkinson’s Disease.  Latest post is on financial help for family caregivers.

Innovative Land Design Associates: Real estate and landscaping info.  It’s a work in progress, but this article on land acquisition will give you an idea.

Joule: isn’t a blog so much as a coworking and meeting space that graciously hosts the bloggers’ meeting each month.

Retirement Education Plus: Helpful information for retirees and those planning to retire soon.  Latest post is on leaving a legacy.

Svarmare Wellness: Massage and wellness info.  WARNING: the most recent post is about scar tissue and may be distressing to look at.

Pianist for Parties: The adventures of a person who plays the piano at parties.  Latest post is about a wedding at a Minnesota vineyard.

John Ploetz: Management professional looking for non-profit opportunities.  His latest post is “Is Sales Just Selling?”

Details: planning and concierge services.  Latest post is what to do if you have a moment or two waiting in the kitchen.

So, your turn, what are some blogs you recommend, or ways that you find good posts to make on your blog?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...