Sue Corbett, ROBIN MICHELI, and Clarissa Cruz
July 25, 2011 12:00 PM

Conquistadora

by Esmeralda Santiago |

REVIEWED BY SUE CORBETT

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NOVEL

After reading the diary of an ancestor who explored with Ponce de Leon, Ana Larragoity Cubillas falls in love with the idea of conquering the New World herself-a far more adventurous life than a 19th-century Spanish girl of her aristocratic upbringing might generally expect. Then she meets twins Inocente and Ramon, who own a sugar plantation in the tropics, and senses she’s found her destiny. Ana persuades Ramon not only to marry her but to talk his father into letting her and the brothers manage the hacienda, located on an isolated coast of Puerto Rico. What follows is an enthralling family saga interlaced with meticulously researched details of how the Caribbean economy of the day sustained itself through slave labor. The dilettantish twins have regrets after experiencing the privations of plantation life, but they are no match for steely Ana (think Scarlett O’Hara with jet black hair and a bullwhip), who won’t let hurricanes, cholera or even outright revolution keep her from turning a profit raising cane. Santiago, author of the memoir When I Was Puerto Rican, uses her larger-than-life character to illuminate a pivotal moment in the history of the Western hemisphere.

The Summer of the Bear

by Bella Pollen |

REVIEWED BY ROBIN MICHELI

NOVEL

Set three decades ago amidst Cold War tensions in Europe, Pollen’s affecting novel centers on a woman who retreats with her children to a remote Scottish island after the puzzling death of her diplomat husband. The plot artfully combines spy-thriller elements with the improbable yet riveting journey of an escaped grizzly bear on the island, but the central drama is the family’s painful struggle with grief and suspicion. A thrilling tale that also unravels mysteries of the human heart, The Summer of the Bear is spine-tingling.

Then Came You

by Jennifer Weiner |

REVIEWED BY CLARISSA CRUZ

NOVEL

Weiner’s latest revolves around an unborn child with one hell of a potential extended family: a Princeton coed who’s donated her eggs to a surgically enhanced gold digger and her millionaire husband, said husband’s daughter, and a woman considering surrogacy to pay the bills-and that’s just for starters. As always, Weiner’s subject is topical, her characters richly drawn. Then isn’t as comical as her past novels, but its sharp take on class and family keeps it juicy.

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