Book Review for “The Spanish Daughter” by Lorena Hughes.
Summary: “As a child in Spain, Puri always knew her passion for chocolate was inherited from her father. But it’s not until his death that she learns of something else she’s inherited—a cocoa estate in Vinces, Ecuador, a town nicknamed “París Chiquito.” Eager to claim her birthright and filled with hope for a new life after the devastation of World War I, she and her husband Cristóbal set out across the Atlantic Ocean. But it soon becomes clear someone is angered by Puri’s claim to the estate… When a mercenary sent to murder her aboard the ship accidentally kills Cristóbal instead, Puri dons her husband’s clothes and assumes his identity, hoping to stay safe while she searches for the truth of her father’s legacy in Ecuador. Though freed from the rules that women are expected to follow, Puri confronts other challenges at the estate—newfound siblings, hidden affairs, and her father’s dark secrets. Then there are the dangers awakened by her attraction to an enigmatic man as she tries to learn the identity of an enemy who is still at large, threatening the future she is determined to claim…”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, Ecuador – Vinces; Other Categories: Novel, Mystery, Culinary.
Let’s start with the bad news first. There were a couple of things in this book that didn’t sit completely right with me. To begin with, it is supposed to be taking place in the early part of the 20th century. That’s fine, but there were places where the language here felt a bit too modern for the setting. For example, would upper class people, even children, say “yeah”? I’m not so sure. On the other hand, there were times when Hughes’ atmosphere felt like it belonged in an even earlier setting than this story. I’m not sure how to explain that, its just that some bits felt older than the rest. Despite this, I’m willing to accept that my assessment with this might be clouded by the fact that I know nothing about the history or people Ecuador – not from then and not as it is now. So, I could be basing this on a basic misconception, and for that I apologize.
Still, there was one other problem. As much as I’m sure that Puri did a great job with disguising herself (although the details of how she did this were sketchy, at best), the premise of her pasting on a fake beard and using her husband’s glasses was a trifle thin. Yes, if she kept herself mostly away from her half-relatives, and the other people of the plantation, I can see where she might have been able to keep up the ruse during rare visits. But Puri is right under their noses almost the whole time. Furthermore, it felt like Puri went out of her way to act like a rural-bred man, when she could easily have excused herself from certain things by being truer to her actual husband’s urban roots and habits. For example, Cristóbal couldn’t ride a horse, so why would Puri pretend he could? Cristóbal didn’t smoke, so why would Puri pretend he did?
In any case, if we set those things aside, there is still quite a bit of good things here to be appreciated. First of all, I think Hughes had a really good idea for the plot. Essentially, it is a type of murder mystery novel, and Hughes does know how to give us some red herrings, while throwing in a twist or two. Mind you, there were times I was frustrated that things weren’t getting anywhere fast enough, and the climax was a touch too long in coming, for my taste. In addition, Hughes includes a couple of romantic bits that add to the tension, which were more in aid of the mystery than they were in aid of anything emotional.
That said, I think the best part of this book is how Hughes portrayed Puri. Yes, she could be a bit naïve at times, but that was necessary to help make the mystery more difficult to resolve. Plus, because the narrative is in Puri’s voice, we don’t figure things out before she does. Puri is intelligent and strong, while at the same time, she has some trouble learning how to observe the world from a man’s perspective, and react to those around her in a way that allows her to continue the subterfuge. I very much enjoyed that balancing act, which Hughes also injects with some lovely descriptions of the places and people around her. While Hughes’ style isn’t poetic, it has a nice level of lyricism to capture most of the intended atmosphere.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, and although there were a few things that rubbed me a little bit the wrong way, I never thought they bothered me enough to force me to quit reading. Part of this was probably because I was hoping to get a bit more about Puri making chocolates for this estranged family, as the little that’s in here is just a teaser, that made me hungry for more. That means it isn’t really culinary fiction, so you’ve been warned. For all this, I think I can still recommend it, with a few reservations, and since I liked Puri and Hughes’ writing style, I’ll give this book four out of five stars.
Kensington Books released “The Spanish Daughter” by Lorena Hughes on December 28, 2021. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and US (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and US, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.