The Last Train to Key West [Book Review]

June 12, 2020

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton (cover) Image: a young woman in a blouse and skirt stands on a Florida beach looking into the distance

Genre/Categories/Setting: Romantic Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Florida

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

My Summary:

one holiday weekend + three women in danger + a hurricane

Thanks, #netgalley #berkleypub for a complimentary e ARC of #thelasttraintokeywest for review. All opinions in this review are my own. Pub Date: June 16, 2020.

Key West is a popular destination for tourists. In the 1930s, it is also an opportunity to forget the economic depression. The three women in The Last Train to Key West have very different reasons for finding themselves in Key West on Labor Day Weekend, 1935: Elizabeth travels to Key West from New York City and is desperately searching for a WW1 veteran who is rumored to have been sent to work on the railroad; Key West native, Helen, wants to escape an abusive marriage; Mirta comes to Key West from Cuba for her honeymoon. Rounding out the weekend is an FBI agent, a kind friend, an abusive husband, a secretive groom, and the destructive 1935 Labor Day Weekend hurricane.

Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad

Overseas railroad

Photo Source: Wikipedia: Key West News Co

Key West, Florida

location of Key West, Florida

My Thoughts:

A Learning Opportunity: One of the reasons historical fiction is my favorite genre is because of the knowledge gained. Three events that I know nothing about are featured in this story: the Overseas Railroad, the devastating hurricane of 1935, and the (WW1) veteran camps in Florida. Reading histfic usually sends me down Google research rabbit holes! I need to note, though, that I would categorize The Last Train to Key West as women’s fiction with a historical background. It’s my opinion that the focus is more on romance and relationships than historical events.

Characters: We have three complicated, complex, and believable characters. Two of the three female protagonists in The Last Train to Key West are definitely likable! The third is interesting but I’m not sure about likable. Elizabeth is impetuous, determined, and daring. Helen is brave, kind, and a survivor. These two characters connect meaningfully in the story. Mirta is naive and practical but I thought of her as an outlier in the relationships. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Helen because of her commitment to doing the right thing.

Writing: Despite some heavy themes, I consider The Last Train to Key West an escapist read. The story is told from three points of view in one timeline which includes a few flashbacks to build backstories. The narrative and plot are easy to follow which makes the reading fluid and quick. I read the story in one day. The first part of the story is character-driven as we are introduced to the three unique and intriguing protagonists. The last half of the story is plot-driven as Elizabeth’s search intensifies, Helen attempts a daring escape, Mirta realizes who she married, and the hurricane hits. Part of the reason I consider this an escapist read is that it engaged me from beginning to end, the plot is riveting, the ending is resolved in a meaningful way, there’s an emphasis on romance, and I feel satisfied with the read. Time well spent.

Setting: I appreciate the author’s vivid descriptions of Key West, the overseas railroad, the scenery, the plight of the soldiers, and the devastating hurricane.

Themes: Thoughtful themes include poverty and wealth, determination, bravery, survival, romance, and second chances.

Content Considerations: references to spousal abuse

Recommended: I’m enthusiastically recommending The Last Train to Key West for those who are looking for lighter romantic historical fiction, for fans of Chanel Cleeton, and for readers who love an engaging story with a historical setting and a side of suspense. Pub Date: June 16, 2020.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

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The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton (cover)

The Last Train to Key West Information

Meet the Author, Chanel Cleeton

Author Chanel Cleeton

Originally from Florida, Chanel Cleeton grew up on stories of her family’s exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. Her passion for politics and history continued during her years spent studying in England where she earned a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Richmond, The American International University in London, and a master’s degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics & Political Science. Chanel also received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. She loves to travel and has lived in the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.

Learn more about her on her website at Keep up with Chanel’s latest news, book giveaways, and more on her monthly newsletter at


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