Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Book Review: The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton

Pages: 320
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: June 16, 2020
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author:  When We Left Cuba
My Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "In 1935 three women are forever changed when one of the most powerful hurricanes in history barrels toward the Florida Keys in New York Times bestselling author Chanel Cleeton's captivating new novel.  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."

Elizabeth Preston is leaving her New York City life to make her way down to the Florida Keys. The year is 1935 and the Keys are still an up and coming destination mixed with tropical forests.  But that doesn't stop Elizabeth from going; she is escaping her life back in the city to look for her brother, who after the war, is working at the Veteran Work Camps in the Keys.  The conditions at these camps are horrific and she is worried about him.  Plus, she needs his help.  Once she arrives at the Keys, she meets Helen, a waitress at the local diner.  Helen's life isn't great. She is married to an abusive husband and she has a baby on the way. Essentially, she is trapped.  Then there's a new woman at the diner, Mirta, who is here on the Keys as a stop on her lavish honeymoon.  Her recent marriage is part of a arrangement, so she barely knows her husband.  There's definitely chemistry between the two, but she starts to uncover some unsavory aspects of his business. Plus, she misses her home back in Cuba.  These three women's lives intersect in The Last Train to Key West as Labor Day weekend approaches.  If you know history, you know there's a deadly storm heading right their way.  Chanel Cleeton's latest novel, The Last Train to Key West, was an absolute delight. It's one of my favorite historical novels of the year.

Sometimes when there are three characters in a novel and the author takes turns sharing their points of view, readers can gravitate towards one character over the other, but that was not the case in The Last Train to Key West. I was truly invested in each woman's life.  I was dying to know what Elizabeth was running from and her quest to find her brother tugged on my heartstrings.  Helen's situation as especially upsetting as her husband is a total jerk.  I, along with her, would hope she would find away to escape his deadly clutches, but she is extremely pregnant. So, this complicates things.  Lastly, there's Mirta. Her story was especially interesting as she is leaving her life behind in Cuba for something more in America; however, she finds out her new marriage may be more than she bargained for. What exactly is her husband, Anthony, involved in? As she gets to know Anthony, I really did like him despite his questionable career. I enjoyed how their love story unfolded, but I was aware of the huge storm approaching their perfect blue-skied honeymoon.  Cleeton somehow brought all three women's stories together and I loved it as they are all strong women in their own right.

I have read at least two other novels about this historical storm that hit the Florida Keys, so I knew what was coming. However, it didn't get old.  Cleeton made me care so much about the women, that I was hoping they would make it out unscathed.  If you don't know about the deadly Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, it is quite a story; in fact, some of the events during the storm are so eye opening and horrific. It's not something you can easily forget, especially the bungled effort by the government to help the Veterans leave the Keys before the hurricane's arrival.  Without radar, it was very hard to predict the storm's path and let's just say after this monster of a storm, there wasn't a train to the Keys ever again.  

My only issue with The Last Train to Key West was that I had to suspend my disbelief a few times---not about the hurricane, but about a few other coincidences that just seemed a bit too easy and too convenient.  However, it didn't stop me from enjoying the novel. 

So, if you are interested in learning more about the Labor Day Hurricane and you are looking for a good historical beach read that will keep you on your toes, definitely check out The Last Train to Key West. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it had me planning my next escape to the Keys....but not during hurricane season.  

Are you a fan of Cleeton's historical novels? Have you read any books about the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935? Let me know in the comments below. 


  1. I am SO SO looking forward to this one. I just finished When We Left Cuba and absolutely loved it. This one sounds incredible!

    1. I hope you enjoy it! I look forward to your thoughts on it. Thanks for visiting, Michele!

  2. I've really been loving this series and can't wait to read this one!

    1. I still need to read her first novel--hopefully soon! Thanks for visiting, Angela!

  3. I haven't read this author and didn't know about the hurricane. This book does sound good.

    1. The hurricane is really fascinating--although terrifying. Definitely check the book out when you can. Thanks for visiting, Marg.


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