Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Review: The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Fiction
ISBN: 9780451490889
Release Date: June 16, 2020
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

In 1935 three women are forever changed when one of the most powerful hurricanes in history barrels toward the Florida Keys.

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.

After the Cuban Revolution of 1933 leaves Mirta Perez’s family in a precarious position, she agrees to an arranged marriage with a notorious American. Following her wedding in Havana, Mirta arrives in the Keys on her honeymoon. While she can’t deny the growing attraction to her new husband, his illicit business interests may threaten not only her relationship, but her life.

Elizabeth Preston's trip to Key West is a chance to save her once-wealthy family from their troubles after 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.

Chanel Cleeton blends beauty and tragedy with The Last Train to Key West. I fell in love with Ms. Cleeton’s writing a few years ago but there’s something gorgeously romantic about her historical fiction writing in particular that never fails to captivate me.

The Last Train to Key West is the journey of three very different women set against the backdrop of one of the most powerful hurricanes in history. Elizabeth Preston is a former society girl who has been abandoned after her family lost everything in the stock market crash. She flirts as easily as breathing, but what most men miss is the spine of steel and bravery beneath the beauty. She flees an engagement she doesn’t want in New York and is headed to Key West to look for someone she hopes can save her among the veteran camps in the outlying areas. Mirta Perez’s family is in a precarious position after the Cuban Revolution of 1933. She finds herself in Key West on her honeymoon with a near-stranger who saved her family. Mirta has wealth and grace on her side, but when her husband’s dangerous business comes to light and threatens her life Mirta’s true strength comes out. And finally there’s Helen Berner, a pregnant Key West native trapped in an abusive marriage. The kindhearted waitress is in a desperate situation and has every reason to be fearful of her husband. Like Elizabeth and Mirta, Helen’s true strength comes out when she’s backed to a wall. I loved watching all three women come into their own over the course of the story.

Each woman is strong in their own way, possessing an inner fire that most don’t see. I loved each of their journeys and the men who wind up capturing their hearts. The powerful and dangerous Anthony, the steady and true John, the quick and reliable Sam… Like the women, each man has a distinctive voice and personality. However, to say too much about them would spoil the journey of discovery. I loved watching the three different storylines weave in and out of each other in the days leading up to and after the hurricane. Ms. Cleeton brings her characters’ worlds to life, blending fact and fiction beautifully. Each character’s background is well-drawn, the events of the hurricane are woven into the story perfectly, and added to that we learn about the veterans of the Great War who were sent down to the Keys and the horrible conditions of the camps. It sounds like a lot, but somehow Ms. Cleeton brings everything together perfectly and makes it all feel organic.

The Last Train to Key West is an utterly addictive read. The story is fast-paced and builds in intensity so much that by the climax I was glued to my Kindle. It takes a talented writer to deliver believable romances set against tragedy and Ms. Cleeton is more than up to the task. The Last Train to Key West is a gorgeous tale that is by turns hopeful and heartbreaking; it’s a story of love and survival that I enjoyed from beginning to end.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.