After her two powerhouse historical fiction novels—Next Year In Havana and When We Left Cuba – chronicling the Perez family after the Cuban Revolution, Cleeton shifts tone and historical eras for LAST TRAIN TO KEY WEST. (There is a connection to the Perez family here, though. One of the three main female characters is the aunt of the main characters in those two books.)
The book takes place in 1935, in the period just before, during and after the 1935 Labor Day hurricane, which basically decimated the Keys. Cleeton does an amazing job bringing this catastrophe to life through the eyes of the novel’s characters, especially the women who are facing watershed moments in their own lives. Their seemingly random interactions and the fateful timing that bring them together on the eve of the devastating storm will have unexpected consequences, offering redemption and freedom in that strange way life does sometimes, even in the wake of destruction.
Cleeton’s affinity to Florida, Cuba and these areas’ history makes for some very unique storylines, and her ability to research these threads and then bring them to life through realistic characters living through such complicated times gives us a huge gift in exploring past events we haven’t seen much of in historical fiction.
Perhaps most interesting, aside from the characters’ individual struggles, were the spotlights on the WWI veterans’ camps that were ultimately destroyed by the hurricane, as a snapshot on the way those men were treated when they returned from arguably the worst battle experience in modern history.
Cleeton threads a lot of people, history and experiences together in this book, and as they all tie up together in the end, it makes for a very satisfying read indeed!
I loved this one, and all of her Perez family titles.
THE LAST TRAIN TO KEY WEST
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.
(This review is part of Read-A-Romance Month. Hope you’ll come back every day to check out my book recommendations. You can find the calendar here. Also check out The Romance of Reading, a Facebook “book club” where we’ll have great authors guest hosting every week.)
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