One of our recommended THE SPANISH DAUGHTER by LORENA HUGHES books is


A Novel

Set against the lush backdrop of early twentieth century Ecuador and inspired by the real-life history of the coastal town known as the birthplace of cacao, this captivating #OwnVoices novel from the award-winning author of The Sisters of Alameda Street tells the story of a resourceful young chocolatier who must impersonate a man in order to survive…

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 plantation 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 WWI,

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Set against the lush backdrop of early twentieth century Ecuador and inspired by the real-life history of the coastal town known as the birthplace of cacao, this captivating #OwnVoices novel from the award-winning author of The Sisters of Alameda Street tells the story of a resourceful young chocolatier who must impersonate a man in order to survive…

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 plantation 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 WWI, 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 plantation…

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 plantation—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.


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  • Kensington
  • Paperback
  • December 2021
  • 352 Pages
  • 9781496736246

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About Lorena Hughes

LORENA HUGHES is the author of THE SPANISH DAUGHTERLorena Hughes is the award-winning author of The Spanish Daughter and The Sisters of Alameda Street. Born and raised in Ecuador, she moved to the United States when she was eighteen. Her previous work has won first place at the 2011 Southwest Writers International Contest in the historical fiction category, earned an honorable mention at the 2012 Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, and placed quarter-finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakout Novel Award. Named one of 9 Rising Latina Authors You Don’t Want to Miss by HIP LATINA, she’s the coordinator of the UNM Writers Conference. Lorena lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Author Website


A Publishers Marketplace Buzz Books: Fall/Winter 2021 selection

“An atmospheric and captivating mystery set against the backdrop of 1920s Ecuador, The Spanish Daughteris an engrossing, suspenseful family saga filled with unpredictable twists and turns.”—Chanel Cleeton, New York Times bestselling author of Next Year in Havana

“A lushly written story of bittersweet family secrets and betrayals that ultimately celebrates the healing power of hope, resilience, love—and chocolate!”  —Andrea Penrose, author of Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens 

“A lyrical and nuanced study of family and belonging. Readers will fall in love with The Spanish Daughter’s unique setting amidst the cacao plantations of Ecuador in 1920, its lush and vivid prose, and compelling and audacious heroine.” Anna Lee Huber, USA Today bestselling author of Murder Most Fair

“A deftly written story entangling family, identity, chocolate and murder, set in the lush golden days of Ecuador’s cacao boom in the early twentieth century. Hughes gradually weaves the separate tales of her narrators into a single strong thread, drawing you into the world of three very different sisters united by deception and loss. An exciting debut from this fresh voice!”—Shana Abé, New York Times bestselling author of The Second Mrs. Astor

Discussion Questions

  1. Was Puri justified in deceiving her family? Why or why not?
  2. Have you heard of real-life women cross-dressing to protect themselves or to perform activities that were reserved only for men? What are some examples? Do you think those women excelled in their fields?
  3. Just like cacao beans transform into chocolate, Puri goes through a personal transformation after her experience of posing as a man. What are some of the things she discovers about herself and the opposite sex? How do her preconceptions regarding men and women change by the end of the novel?
  4. How do you think Angélica, Catalina, Alberto, and Elisa would have reacted if Puri had presented herself as their sister when she first arrived? How about Martin?
  5. Do you think Catalina was in love with Franco? What linked them together? How do you think her lie shaped the course of her life? Should she have told the truth at some point?
  6. Martin tells Puri that his relationship with Angélica is complicated. Do you think they loved each other or just accustomed to one another? Do you think Puri is better suited for Martin? Why or why not? Do you see a future for them together?
  7. Do you think Alberto had a true religious vocation despite his transgression? What are your thoughts regarding the Catholic Church’s expectations for young men who enter priesthood?
  8. Which of the sisters did you relate to the most? Was there a storyline or perspective that interested you the most?
  9. Did you know anything about Ecuador before reading this novel? How has your perception of this country changed since you read it?
  10. What were some of the cultural and historical details that surprised or interested you?
  11. Family and jealousy are important themes in the novel. Puri longed for an intimate relationship with her father and later, with her siblings. Yet, she envies their closeness to her father. Similarly, her sisters experienced a desire to meet her, but were also jealous of her. Were you satisfied with the way their stories ended or would you prefer a different outcome for them?


Chapter 1



Guayaquil, Ecuador

May 1919


Surely they could all see through my disguise.

A drop of sweat slid down my forehead. I was definitely not dressed for the weather, which was akin to one of those Turkish Baths gentlemen visited. The corset squeezing my small breasts was not helping matters. Neither was my husband’s vest, his jacket, or his bow tie. The fake beard made my face itch. If only I could scratch it, but any wrong move might tear it off. Even worse, my spectacles were fogging up and making everything blurry.

How did I ever think I could pull this off?

A tremor rippled over my entire body as I reached the end of the pier. Calm down, you can do this. I took a deep breath, but my lungs didn’t seem to get enough air. I did, however, get a mouthful of the stench of fish and smoke coming from the ship.

This was madness.

Herds of people waited for us to descend the plank. Some carried signs, others waved at my fellow passengers from the distance. I pictured one of them pointing at me in ridicule.

I can still go back inside.

I turned around and smacked into a shoulder behind me. With all the shouting, shuffling of feet and dropping of bags, I hadn’t seen the young man jostling in my direction. I shifted to the side and he rushed past me, ramming into an old lady strolling in front of us. She squealed as she fell on the ground.

Bruto!” she called after him.

I darted toward her and helped her up—her bony arms as fragile as toothpicks.

“Are you all right?” I said in a low voice.

“Yes, I think so.” She snatched her hat from the ground. “That man is an animal! But thank you, caballero. At least there are still a few gentlemen around.”

I smiled at the irony but more importantly, it gave me a small measure of confidence that my disguise was working. I was about to ask her if she needed to see a doctor when a woman—older than Methuselah—approached us, leaning over a bamboo cane for support. I’d never seen so many wrinkles and spots on a single face.

¡Hija!” she told the lady I’d just helped.

¡Mamá!” the old lady said, hugging her mother. The women had a lot to say to each other and left without giving me a second glance.

If only my mother could be here to help me with my ordeal, but she’d passed away three years ago.

And now Cristóbal.

My throat tightened.

But I couldn’t fall apart at this moment. I was already here. I had to follow through with my plan, no matter what.

A Moorish tower in yellow and white stripes rose behind a cluster of hats and palm trees. It reminded me of Torre del Oro, back in Sevilla, a slice of my old life appearing before my eyes to reassure me everything would be fine.

That was what my mind said. My legs told a different story. They had become as heavy as lead. At any given moment, someone—anyone—could attack me. But I had no way of knowing who or if I would be able to even move.

Get a hold of yourself, Puri. Relax.

I scanned the strange faces around me. Certainly, my father’s lawyer would be among these people, though I had no idea what he looked like. I hoisted my husband’s typewriter and dragged the trunk with my other hand.

What was that song mamá used to sing to calm me down?

Ay, morena, levanta la mantilla que cubre

Tus ojos que son maravilla.

A flock of seagulls cawed over my head. I walked past a row of canoes moored along the dock and a group of women carrying umbrellas to shield their faces from the unforgiving sun. Behind them was a man in a dark suit that stood out among the white jackets and hats like a black bean in a bowl of rice. He was holding a sign with my name; the words written in curly, black letters.

María Purificación de Lafont y Toledo.

Lafont from my French father, Toledo from my Spanish mother.

I stopped in front of him.

“May I help you, Señor?” he said.

Señor. Another small mercy. He was shorter than me, but I’d always been tall for a woman. His wide skull was reminiscent of those early humans in Cristóbal’s archeology books. His eyebrows were coarse and primitive, nearly joining one another.

I coughed in order to make my voice hoarser. “I’m Cristóbal de Balboa, María Purificación’s husband.” If I spoke slowly, I could reach the lower register of my voice.

“Tomás Aquilino at your service.”

I was right. This was the lawyer who’d sent the letter informing me of my father’s death. He glanced behind me.

“Where’s your wife? I thought she intended to come herself.”

A sharp pain hit my chest and it had nothing to do with my corset. This ache came every time I thought of what had happened to Cristóbal. I studied every line on Aquilino’s forehead, the glint in his eyes, the corners of his dry lips. Could I trust him?

I took a deep breath.

“Unfortunately, my wife perished aboard the Andes.”

Aquilino looked appropriately shocked. “Dios mío santísimo! How?”

I hesitated. “A case of Spanish Influenza.”

“And they didn’t quarantine the ship?”

“No.” I let go of the trunk. “Only a few passengers contracted it, so it wasn’t necessary.”

He stared at me in silence. Did he know I was lying? I’d never been a deceitful person and I despised having to do this.

“What a disgrace,” he finally said. “We didn’t hear anything about it here. My sincere condolences, señor.”

I nodded.

“Help me with my trunk, will you?” I said, not as a favor, but as a command. Men didn’t ask, men ordered.

Aquilino grabbed the other end of the trunk and together we carried it across the street. It was heavier than a dying bull, but I couldn’t let the lawyer see how weak I was. By the time we reached the vehicle, I was panting and a layer of sweat covered my face and armpits. No wonder men sweat all the time!

He plunked down his end of the trunk next to a glossy, black Ford Model T. I hadn’t known many people in my hometown who owned a car, much less an imported one. I wouldn’t have imagined there would be such modern vehicles in a place that Cristóbal had called a “land of barbarians.” This Aquilino must make good money as a lawyer, or maybe he was one of those men who found other means to build a personal fortune? Favors here and there, perhaps even a hand—a sort of tax, if you will—on another person’s inheritance. Or maybe, he himself came from money.

I’d only traveled in an automobile a couple of times. In my native Sevilla, I walked everywhere. But when I visited Madrid to see about the expired patent to my grandmother’s invention—her fabulous cacao bean roaster—I rode an automobile similar to this one, except that these seats seemed softer. Or perhaps it was my exhaustion.

Pushing on a lever by the steering wheel, Aquilino informed me that, unless I’d made other arrangements, I would spend the night at his house. We would depart to Vinces first thing in the morning to “see about Don Armand’s will.” He was unable to look me in the eye as he said this.

I recalled the words from the letter—I’d read it so many times I’d already memorized it:  As one of the beneficiaries, you are required to come to Ecuador and take possession of your portion of your father’s estate or to appoint a representative who may sell or donate the property on your behalf. 

One of the beneficiaries.

I’d been giving this some thought. I’d never heard of my father having other children, but one could never be too sure with men. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’d started a new family here. After all, he’d left my mother twenty-five years ago to pursue his dream of owning a cacao plantation in Ecuador. It was inevitable that he should have found someone else to share his bed. The incident aboard the ship left no doubt that someone wasn’t pleased with my coming. The question was who.

During the drive, Aquilino inquired about María Purificación’s passing, shaking his head and clucking his tongue in apparent disappointment. It was surreal to talk about my own death, to hear my name repeated as though I weren’t present. I wanted to scream at the injustice of it all. I wanted to demand an explanation on Cristóbal’s behalf, but instead, I played along. I needed to make him believe I was my husband.

I looked out the window. Guayaquil was far from the village I’d envisioned and more modern than many towns in Andalucía. We drove past the river—the Guayas, he said—toward a quaint neighborhood along a hill stacked with colonial houses bursting with flowerpots in balconies and entryways. Aquilino said it was called Las Peñas and the hill, Santa Ana. The serpentine, cobbled streets reminded me of the small towns near Sevilla. The realization that I might never return to my country hit me for the first time since I’d left. Even more heartbreaking was to think that Cristóbal would never explore this new place with me. I stared at my hand, empty without the warmth of his.


We stopped at a light blue house with a mahogany door and entered. In all likelihood, Aquilino was a bachelor; there was not a single feminine touch in his parlor. No flowers, no porcelain objects, no embroidered linen. Instead, stale landscapes hung on the walls and the life-size sculpture of a Great Dane stared back at me.

A door on the far side of the parlor opened and a girl with cinnamon curls entered, drying her hands on a lime apron. Her dress so loose it swallowed her.

“Lunch is served, patrón,” she said with a soft voice.

Gracias, Mayra.”

The table in the dining room was much too large for just one person. My eyes set on the colorful dishes awaiting us. The girl called Mayra had prepared us fried sea bass, rice with calamari, and plantains—which they both called patacones.

In the last week, I’d skipped several meals—I couldn’t eat after the nightmare I went through on the Andes—but today, I was ravenous.

Aquilino gestured for me to sit down and he took the spot at the head of the table while Mayra served us. Although I was curious about Aquilino, I didn’t ask him anything. I feared that if I spoke too much, he would discover my secret. So, I said as little as possible, answering the maid with single syllables, nodding often and shaking my head when appropriate. This seemed to suit Aquilino just fine. Like my husband, he said very little. I’d also gotten into the habit of coughing frequently to make my voice hoarse.

“Are you all right, Mr. Balboa?”

Great. The lawyer was going to think I’d contracted influenza as well.


I returned my attention to my plate. It was odd but impersonating a man was giving me a freedom I’d never had before. As a woman and the owner of the only chocolate shop in my hometown, I’d always been a tireless hostess. It had always been my job to make my guests feel at ease, to be the peacemaker if there was a disagreement. I often anticipated everyone’s wishes (More wine? Another piece of chocolate?) and avoided uncomfortable silences. But today, I was free to enjoy my food without looking over my shoulder to make sure everyone’s plates were full.

“Just wait until you try Mayra’s dulce de higos,” he said. “She picks them from the backyard tree.”

Mayra set a bowl in front of me. My mouth watered at the sight of fig preserves swimming in syrup. A slice of white cheese rested on the saucer.

ways been curious about this mysterious male habit, but I wasn’t sure I could deliver a proper exhalation. Cristóbal sometimes produced immaculate, blue circles, a source of ultimate pride for him.

At my hesitation, Aquilino’s bushy eyebrows arched. Smoking was a sign of a true man, and I must pass the test. I glanced at the Great Dane by the entrance—even he seemed to be waiting for my reaction. I took a thick cigar between my fingers, mimicking Aquilino’s resolve as he tightened his lips around it, and lit it.

The first inhalation hit my chest like a flame. Aquilino gave me the sort of look one might reserve for a curious insect as I coughed incessantly and hit my chest with my hand a few times, attempting to free the inferno from my body.

“You don’t smoke, Mr. Balboa?”

“Only pipe,” I gasped. “In my country, the tobacco is more pure.” Whatever that meant. I’d heard men speak about the quality of tobacco and its purity, but to me, all of them stunk in the same way.

Aquilino lit his own cigar. He had no problems inhaling or exhaling.

“I must ask you, sir,” he said, his voice carrying the same solemn tone of a priest. “What are your plans now that your wife, que en paz descanse, is no longer with us?”

I had to tread carefully. I couldn’t come across as a threat to anyone.

“I will probably return to Spain. I have no interest in either the country or the cacao business. To be quite honest, this was my wife’s dream—not mine.” The burn in my throat had given my voice a natural coarseness that I decided to use to my advantage. “I must ask you, Dr. Aquilino, are there any other heirs?”

“Just two. Don Armand had two daughters in Vinces: Angélica and Catalina de Lafont.”

Two sisters.

The news hit like a slap in the face. It was one thing to suspect something, to consider a possibility. It was something else to receive confirmation that there were, indeed, real blood relatives. My father had betrayed me and my mother. He’d raised two daughters, whom he probably loved more than me, while I’d waited for him to return to Spain for over two decades. But he was never planning to come back, I now realized. He’d made a new life without us, discarding us like an old newspaper. What an idiot I’d been—religiously writing all those letters to him, sitting for hours by the window, drawing his portrait. In my childhood innocence, I’d always expected him to walk through the front door, his arms filled with presents, and then take me on one of his adventures.

“Angélica is the eldest,” he said. “Well, in reality, there is a brother, too. But he renounced his inheritance.”

A brother as well. And he renounced the fortune?

“He’s a priest.” Aquilino stared at his cigar with appreciation. “He took the vow of poverty.”

A priest, of all things. My father hadn’t been a religious man, not according to my mother’s recollections. Then how did he produce a priest? I, myself, was filled with doubts. Although I would never voice them out loud. But if it was true that this brother had renounced my father’s money, had it been a voluntary vow or a forced one?

“What about their mother? Is she also an heir?”

“No, Doña Maribel Alvarez passed away a few years ago. But we’ll get into all the details tomorrow.”

My father had hidden so many things from us. It stung worse than his death. Good thing my mother hadn’t lived to see so much deceit. Another woman, another family. Did he think he could make amends by leaving me a portion of his estate? What good would that do when I never had him? I would never know what his voice sounded like, what cologne he used, or feel the warmth of his hugs.

A thump against the window startled us both. We moved toward the pane in time to see a speckled bird wrecked on the pebbles outside the house.

“A sparrow-hawk,” Aquilino said.

I remained silent, unable to keep my eyes from the dying bird.

“The poor creature must not have seen the glass,” he went on. “It didn’t know what it was getting itself into when it came here.”

“What is this syrup?” I asked, savoring the spicy, cinnamon-tasting juice.

Panela,” Mayra said.

If I could find a way to mix this with chocolate, I’d have a winner.

After devouring the dessert, Aquilino guided me toward the parlor, pointed at a stiff velvet couch, and sat across from me. He picked up the cigar box and offered me one. I hesitated.





Q&A with Lorena Hughes


Where did the idea for The Spanish Daughter come from?

I’ve always loved movies where people cross-dress, but I noticed that almost all of them were comedies. I had been reading a lot about real-life women who dressed as men to fight in wars, or practice medicine, or even to write, such as George Sand, so I knew I wanted to give the subject a serious treatment (although I can’t fully escape the humor that sometimes filters in my writing). Around the same time, I found out that there was a small town in Ecuador called Little Paris (Paris Chiquito) where French landowners had grown cacao beans for export and turned the country into a top exporter. That gave me my setting as I love to set my stories in my native country. The final inspiration came from a little-known historical fact I learned in an obscure corner of the internet: the inventor of the cacao and coffee bean roaster was a Spanish woman in the mid-19th century (I even found her patent with her signature!) Somehow, I had to combine all these elements! My answer was Puri, the protagonist born from all these intrepid people.

What are your approaches to writing novels? 

I don’t always have the same approach as the ideas for my novels come to me in different ways. Sometimes I get inspired by something I read, or something someone tells me, or maybe a place that I visit. After I get my initial idea, I think about how I’m going to execute it, who my characters are going to be, what’s going to happen, etc. My next step is to write a long summary or an outline. This can take many days or weeks and it changes constantly. But the longest part, by far, is writing the first draft because sometimes the characters are so new I don’t really know them, or I may get stuck on a plot point and it may take months to come up with a solution. After finishing the first draft, I take a break, and then I reread and edit the manuscript as much as possible before sending it out to my critique partners and beta readers.

How did you pursue writing?

Since I was a child I was always interested in storytelling. However, I never considered the possibility of becoming a professional writer. Especially because I was more of a visual artist: I took painting lessons in high school, got a degree in fine arts, and worked as a graphic designer and illustrator after I graduated. When I had my first child, I quit my job, and during his naps, I would write short stories and my first novel (which at the time was meant to be a Spanish soap opera). From then on, it became an obsession and I couldn’t stop.

What are some of your most favorite recent reads? And an all-time favorite?

Lately, I’ve been reading many psychological thrillers, but I also read a lot of novels by Liane Moriarty. I love how she infuses humor in otherwise dramatic situations. I also enjoyed Susan Meissner’s Secrets of a Charmed Life—beautifully written. I have many all-time favorites, but one of the books that started my love for literature was a novel by Brazilian author José Mauro de Vasconcelos called My Orange Lemon Plant.

What do you want people to know about your books?

If you like unconventional settings, family secrets, lots of surprises and stories about women fighting for their dreams in patriarchal societies, you’ll probably enjoy my novels.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I learned that I can handle bad criticism a lot better than I ever thought I could.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

I love it when I’m not sure how I’m going to develop a scene, but everything comes together the moment I’m writing it. I love being surprised by what my characters say and do.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

When I’m detangling my hair in the shower (it takes a looong time, ha!) But I’m probably at my most focused when I’m writing an actual scene. Magical things happen when you let your characters’ actions and dialogue flow in the page without censoring anything.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you.

People may be surprised to know that the walls in my parents’ apartment are covered with pictures I painted during my teenage years.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

I love this quote from Calvin Coolidge:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”



Dear Reader,

The inspiration for Puri’s story started with a little spark that was lit, like so many others, while I was casually browsing the internet. I came across a list of women inventors and on it was the name María Purificación García, a Spanish woman who was said to have developed the cacao bean roaster in 1847. This would have been a revolutionary invention, but I could unearth very little information on the woman behind it. The only detail I could find was her name in a historical archive in Spain – proof at least that she had in fact patented the idea.

I learned that women were not allowed to develop in fields such as warfare or medicine, so many of them had to register their patents under their husbands’ names. Some even disguised themselves as men in order to pursue their work.

I had to do something with all this information! But The Spanish Daughter is not a story about María Purificación García…

That’s because I have long been fascinated by the history of my native country in the early-20th century, when Ecuador became one of the top cacao-exporting countries in the world. This booming industry took off after a group of French landowners moved to the coast of Ecuador so they could grow cacao for export. To feel at home, they replicated their own miniature Eiffel Tower in the town of Vinces (aka Paris Chiquito). It was the perfect setting for a historical novel!

As I tried to weave together these elements of female inventors, reasons why a woman would have to disguise herself as a man, Ecuador’s cacao industry in the early-20th century, and “Paris Chiquito,” Puri was born. The granddaughter of this remarkable woman inventor, the daughter of a French landowner, and herself a chocolatier who introduces those she meets in the exporting country of Ecuador to the irresistible allure of chocolate.

Thank you so much for spending some time with my novel and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I would love to hear what you think. If you would like to share your thoughts online, please use the hashtag #TheSpanishDaughter and you can find me at