The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton

Thursday, July 9, 2020


by Chanel Cleeton
Genres: Historical, Romance, Adult
Publisher: Berkley Publishing
Publication Date: June 16th 2020
Source: ARC received for review
Star Quotient: ★★★★
Kiss Factor: ✷✷✷1/2

These historical fiction books by Chanel Cleeton have been a highlight of my reading experience in the past few years. They are evocative and vivid in their characters and settings. There was no doubt that I would be reading The Last Train to Key West after loving both Next Year In Havana and When We Left Cuba.

Set in 1935 Florida Keys, The Last Train to Key West tells the interconnected story of three women whose lives change dramatically after the 1935 Labor Day hurricane. First, we have Helen, a pregnant woman stuck in an abusive marriage. Then, there is Mirta, a young Cuban woman who recently got married in an arranged marriage and is on her honeymoon with her new, potentially dangerous, husband. Finally, there is Eliza, a woman from New York in search of a long-lost relative. All three of these women seem to have nothing to do with each other, but there is a thread holding them all together. I generally struggle with books that have multiple POVs, but it was a seamless experience here. I thought they were all three equally important additions.

I had a softer spot for Helen, however, as hers was perhaps the most heartbreaking scenario. Despite the difficult position she was in, Helen was a headstrong and fierce character. Her love towards her unborn child, her genuine kindness towards the folks she met really resonated with me. She finds some solace and some company in the form of a man who has been keeping an eye on her at the restaurant where she works as a waitress. I wasn't sure what to make of John in the beginning, but he proved to be such a strong and vital presence in her life. The friendship followed by the kinship they shared was very soft. My second favorite character was Eliza. She had this cool and flirty external persona, but she was a vulnerable young woman who has basically been betrothed to a mob leader back in New York by her family. She too finds love in an unexpected source. Though not the focus of her story, it was a sweet romance. Mirta's story also fascinated me. I have to admit to being terrified for her because her husband wasn't a clear-cut man. He certainly had his way with words and could charm anyone, but it was hard for me to gauge whether he was sincere about his feelings towards his new wife. Her character arc was super engrossing, but I don't wish to spoil it for readers who haven't picked up the book yet.

Chanel Cleeton knows how to pen a story that completely draws you in and holds your attention. One of the things that I love the most about her books is how vivid her writing is. She has a way with her words that essentially transports you into her historical settings. She captured the atmosphere before, during, and after the hurricane so brilliantly. The story was fraught with danger, heartbreak, and ultimately hope. Throughout the entire book, I was waiting for what would happen next with bated breath. It was a riveting of an experience for me. Compared to Cleeton's other books though, this wasn't as emotionally intense for me, which isn't necessarily a bad thing because it's very much of an expectations issue on my part. It's still a very beautifully written book, but perhaps not as evocative as Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba.

Chanel Cleeton has made a name for herself in the historical fiction genre and all the praise she receives is very well-deserved. If you haven't read her books yet, I highly recommend giving them a chance. Even if this isn't a genre you normally read, you should give it a shot as I believe there's something for everyone in these stories.


Let's chat!
Do you read historical fiction? What are some of your favorite books in the genre?
Let me know in the comments below!

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