“The day we stop fighting for others is the day we might as well pack it all up and go home.”

Chanel Cleeton, The Last Train to Key West

Publisher: Berkley
Publication Year: 2020
Page count: 320
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3.5

Rep: Hispanic American author/ Hispanic MC
TW: Domestic violence, loss of a loved one, miscarriage

Blurb (From Goodreads):

Everyone journeys to Key West searching for something. For the tourists traveling on Henry Flagler’s legendary Overseas Railroad, Labor Day weekend is an opportunity to forget the economic depression gripping the nation. But one person’s paradise can be another’s prison, and Key West-native Helen Berner yearns to escape.

The Cuban Revolution of 1933 left Mirta Perez’s family in a precarious position. After an arranged wedding in Havana, Mirta arrives in the Keys on her honeymoon. While she can’t deny the growing attraction to the stranger she’s married, her new husband’s illicit business interests may threaten not only her relationship, but her life.

Elizabeth Preston’s trip from New York to Key West is a chance to save her once-wealthy family from their troubles as a result of the Wall Street crash. Her quest takes her to the camps occupied by veterans of the Great War and pairs her with an unlikely ally on a treacherous hunt of his own.

Over the course of the holiday weekend, the women’s paths cross unexpectedly, and the danger swirling around them is matched only by the terrifying force of the deadly storm threatening the Keys.

I will have to say, that this book was definitely an entertaining read. One of my favorite books I read last year was Next Year in Havana, so going into this I had high expectations. So, I’m not surprised that this book fell a tiny bit flat for me.

This book takes place in the Florida Keys in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. I don’t read many books during this time period, so it was definitely interesting in that aspect! This book mostly follows the events of the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, one of the deadliest hurricanes ever recorded in U.S. history. You can tell that the author did a lot of research into this tragedy, one that I never knew about. In that aspect, this book will pull on your heart strings as you watch these characters lose everything they have and love.

This book follows the perspective of 3 women: Mirta, a Cuban woman fleeing from Havana after marrying a stranger; Helen, a pregnant woman yearning to get away from an abusive husband; and Elizabeth, an NYC native searching for her brother. Since this book is fairly short, I felt like I didn’t really get to know all of these characters on a deeper level. I think it would have been more effective with only 2 POVs, although it was interesting to see how they all tied together at the end. I was definitely most invested in Helen’s story, and Elizabeth and Mirta’s story kind of fell on the back burner for me.

I think my biggest issue with this book was just… how neatly everything wrapped up. I know that may sound odd, since most books are like that, but it was just a bit too convenient in this book. You must have a lot of suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the ending. Along with that, all 3 of these women are in sticky situations, and escape them by the help of a big, strong man. In Chanel’s other novels, I felt like the romance wasn’t central to the story, but in this novel it was definitely the driving force. Which would have been fine, but these men definitely “save” the women in this novel and I just wasn’t a huge fan.

That being said, I definitely learned a lot about this tragedy that I have never heard of before. Along with that, Cleeton also addresses the mistreatment of WW1 veterans during this time period, and how the government essentially left them high and dry. This was definitely an issue that I hadn’t known about, and I’m assuming most Americans don’t.

Even though this wasn’t my favorite book ever, I am happy I read it. Cleeton is releasing another novel in 2021 and I am definitely excited to read it!

2 thoughts on “Review: The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton

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