Cover Image: One Brilliant Flame

One Brilliant Flame

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Member Reviews

Unfortunately this was not for me.  I didn't care about the characters, or the story.  But liked that you learned about Key west and the history.
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This book was fantastic! I really enjoyed it and it kept me guessing throughout, which is difficult for most books to do. I felt like I connected with the characters and really enjoyed the plot!
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Did not finish this one. Chapters alternate among characters. The plot was interesting, but the characters were flat to me and I didn’t feel invested.
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A well written historical account of the cigar industry in Key West, Florida, circa 1886. The lives of 3 young women are presented with Zenaida, a daughter of a former slave, helping to run her mother's boarding house; Sofia, daughter of a rich factory owner in search of love; and Chaveta a talented cigar roller searching for her place in a man's world. Thoroughly researched and with flowing words, the talent of this author is showcased. Recommended reading.
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The key to your happiness should not be in someone else's pocket.

Joy Castro brings this image to life in her novel One Brilliant Flame. The story is told mainly through the voices of her six main characters. And they have quite the story to tell dealing with Key West on the fringe of The Great Fire of 1886. Key West served as a hub between those revolutionists in Cuba fighting for their freedom, the city of Tampa on the mainland, and the heavy footprint of Spain impeding their advancement.

Life in Key West circled around the cigar rollers who worked long hours at the Las Flores Cubanas factory where millions of cigars were expertly assembled. A reader, poet, and journalist, Feliciano Galvan, read novels and newspapers to the workers to speed production. Chaveta, named for a sharp blade, was one of their finest workers. Chaveta took to cutting her hair short and wearing men's trousers. As long as she produced, no one questioned her attire.

Sofia Robles was the daughter of a rich businessman who owned sugar mills and cigar factories. We'll observe a great change in Sofia's persona as time passes. She is friends with Zenaida who gives English and Spanish lessons and works at her mother's boardinghouse. Zenaida is on a far lower social rung than Sofia and their friendship soon comes under question.

Libano manages things at the cigar factory. He notices great changes in the social climate as the unrest in Cuba is felt in Key West. Maceo is one of the most complicated of these characters. He is a product of his experiences in Cuba as a guerilla fighter. He comes to Key West to heal from his wounds. His relationship with Zenaida is tightly wound and will nearly be his downfall.

One Brilliant Flame was a 3.5 Stars kicked up to 4 Stars because of the solid research by Joy Castro. Her Author's Notes at the end describes her familial connection to Cuba and Key West. The first half of the novel carried more weight for me than the last half. Nearing the end, Castro implements long dissertations in which key characters reflect on war, slavery, women's rights, and so on. Actions would have carried more weight. But the subject matter is rightfully intense and the time period was filled with righteous anger and discontent including the U.S. entering into the Spanish American War. Joy Castro should be applauded for One Brilliant Flame.

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to Lake Union Publishers and to Joy Castro for the opportunity.
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I desperately wanted to like this book. I pushed through longer than I usually would before giving up on a book. But no matter how much I read I never began to care about the characters. And in spite of being excited to be reading about a historical set of events I don't know much about I had to walk away because I didn't care about the characters.
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This is a character driven history of a time in Key West and Cuba. The readers hired for the cigar rolling factories are something I knew nothing about. Three girl friends of different socioeconomic backgrounds showcase the political upheaval and the  social classes. The men as main characters are as well drawn as the women. Fine historical fiction with some unexpected twists and plenty of literary references make this an enjoyable read.

Copy provided by the publisher and NetGalley
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This was not the book for me.  Although I enjoy Historical fiction I couldn’t get past some of the characters.  The book was well written and based on true events.  I’m not familiar with the events in Key West during this time period.  I would like to learn more about it.  Sadly this was not the book to start with. I wanted to DNF it as I was not comfortable with some of the content.
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Interesting historical fiction.  Set in Key West in 1886, this is narrated by six young people all wrapped in plans for the future of Cuba at a time of unrest and dissatisfaction.  Zenaida, Sofia and Chaveta have the loudest voices but the men Feliciano, Libano, and Maceo have their say as well.  Don't worry if you like me struggle a bit at first to keep everyone straight as each character quickly develops.  It's very atmospheric- you'll feel the cigar factory and hear the lectors reading to the workers,  I learned something about the period and the region- always a postive.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  A very good read.
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This novel is about the expat Cuban population in Key West in the late 19th century. Plots to overthrow the Spanish abound. Many people on the island work for cigar factories, and the workers hire "lectors" to read to them while they work. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book. While the characters are richly drawn and interesting, it's not clear in the beginning of the novel how they are related. However, the novel picks up and becomes quite interesting after the first chapter or so.  There's all kinds of plot twists. Some of them seem a bit too modern for this time period. However, overall, this was an interesting read and taught me something about American/Cuban history I didn't know before.
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Zenaida, Chaveta and Sofia are friends, but they are from very different backgrounds in Key West.

Zenaida is the daughter of a murdered journalist and a mother who runs a boarding house, Chaveta, one of six children, works in the cigar factory, Sofia's father owns cigar factories.

All go eagerly to listen as the lector reads to the workers at the cigar factory. 

The new lector is different from those who came before him - young, fiery and an anarchist.

Change is about to come to Key West, but what form will it take?

An enjoyable read.
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I owe my thanks to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for gifting me the opportunity to read this, prior to the release date of 3 January 2023.

In the spirit of candidness, historical fiction is not typically a genre that I engage with. But something about this one drew me in. Perhaps the fact that, admittedly, I was fairly ignorant as to the history behind this tale - being born, raised and educated in the UK, our history classes focus on Europe, touching on on American history with regards to the civil rights movement, and the consumerism of the 20th century. I was so enthralled by the rich, vibrant history portrayed here that I was encouraged to research as I read, enveloping myself further into the culture.

But a backdrop can only do so much. Whilst the chosen setting and time period is, undoubtedly, a selling point for this book, it is Castro's affinity for weaving a story with beautiful prose and a poetic nature that truly does it justice. As a reader, I felt as though I was being transported there; I could feel the build up, this undercurrent through the whole story that feels like electricity; suspense escalating as you get closer and closer to the end. You know something colossal is going to happen; you simply don't know what.

Throughout, the descriptive writing inspires feelings of humor, sadness, shock and awe. It's a beautifully crafted story.

Told primarily through the switching POV's of Zenaida, Chaveta and Sofia (with a few cameos from the mens' POV too), the characters feel impossibly real. Each of them is brought to life upon the page, and there are no two-dimensional characters here. All complicated, with their own desires, agendas and thoughts. From Sofia, who seems little more than shallow and selfish at first, before the calculating, cunning nature of hers is bared for the reader; to Zenaida, quiet and dutiful, but burning with the revolutionary passion of her father within; and Chaveta, named for the knife with which she works, as sharp and fierce as any blade.

There were moments that truly shocked me, with twists and turns that I truly did not anticipate. I think that is rare for a book, these days. And there were moments that left me feeling raw, and desperate for what they were going through. But there was also a great deal of warmth; of optimism; of the belief in a better future.

I absolutely adored this in a way that I didn't expect to. Not least because of the genre, but also because of how little I knew about the history going in. But Joy Castro's writing is stirring, powerful and an absolute joy to read; her characters each relatable in some way or another, and the story itself cleverly and engagingly told.

An easy 5/5 stars; an an easy recommendation to anyone who even considers reading this one. Do it. You won't regret it.
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I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction, but the cover and description of this book pulled me in. And I'm so glad it did! Castro paints a vivid and detailed picture of life in the cigar factories of Key West in the 19th century. I didn't want the story to end, and I wanted to keep reading about all the characters!

The story is told from many points of view, alternating between chapters. Each character is richly developed along the way. There was just enough suspense and intrigue to keep me reading curiously, but at the same time, I wanted to read slowly so the book wouldn't end.

Castro's writing is breathtaking. The lectors' speeches, the poets' poems, and the political debates of the war between Cuba and Spain were woven together to create a rich story of the 6 main characters. Knowing it was based in part on the author's family history made it that much more intriguing to read.

Definitely one to pick up!
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Joy Castro did an excellent job at transporting the reader to Key West back in the 1800s. I knew almost nothing about the area during this time period, but she was able to paint.a vivid picture of what things may have been like.The story bounces around between multiple characters’ points of view, though we spend the most time with Zenaida, Sofia, and Chaveta, three young friends from very different backgrounds. Each woman, and the young men that also have their own chapters, have very distinctive voices. Without seeing who was the narrator of a chapter, it was easy to guess who was speaking within the first couple of sentences. I think that was one of the strongest points of the book. My favorite character was definitely Chaveta. She is bold and seemed to be so different from all the women surrounding her. The only downside of the novel was how rushed the ending felt. Most of the novel went at a slow and steady pace, but during the last fifth or so, we were just hit with revelation and twist after twist. Looking back, I could see some of the events coming, but it also simultaneously felt like it came from nowhere. That’s not to say that the ending was unenjoyable; I still thought that it was well written, it just felt like the pacing was from a completely different book.Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this eARC.
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This is everything that I love in a historical fiction book and so much more. The storyline was absolutely riveting and had obviously been very well researched. I loved it.
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This was a really well done story, it was a great historical novel. The author Joy Castro has a great writing style and I was invested in what was happening in this story. It had a great suspenseful atmosphere and I enjoyed reading this overall. The characters worked so well in the time-period and I was glad to get to know them. I look forward to reading more from Joy Castro.

“Let’s go to Spain,” I’d said to her when we were alone. “Or to New York.” My secret wish was that he’d feel the sting of our abandonment, or even just a sudden consciousness of himself, stripped of the cushion of her attentions."
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Key West was booming in the late nineteenth century, filled with snow birds fleeing cold Northern winters, it was also teeming with workers eager to learn the trade of cigar making from the masters who have arrived from Cuba. Among those workers are young people eager to create a better world back in Cuba, one free from the heavy colonial rule of Spain. Set against the backdrop of Victorian Florida and the Great Key West Fire, this is a thrilling, but poignant story of a people fired up for a change that will ultimately prove a failure.
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