The world has expectations of you, of how you are to shoulder your burdens with grace, of the role you play, and as soon as you don’t live up to those expectations, it’s easier for others to cast you aside rather than change how they view the world. We are defined by what we do for others, by our relationships, by what we have to offer.
This book is fitting, seeing as we were just under the threat of a tropical storm/hurricane. I read Cleeton’s previous novels, Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba last year. I really enjoy her books because they are familiar. The culture, the settings - it all feels like I’m reading about my own family or home state. The Last Train to Key West was no different. While the Keys are very different from neighboring Miami, I’ve been there enough times to know what the landscape is like. Reading about it before it was fully developed, in post-Depression America was really interesting. One of the reasons I love historical fiction is that I always learn something new from historical novels. Until I read this book, I had no idea that veterans were sent to camps in the Keys when they returned from World War I (and I would bet that a lot of people out there didn't know that, either). The Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was a historic storm - one of only four category 5 storms to ever hit the United States. It is, to date, the third most intense Atlantic hurricane on record and is tied for first with Hurricane Dorian as the strongest landfalling hurricane.
The story centers around three women who cross paths in Key West over Labor Day weekend in 1935, and find themselves faced with a bevy of problems as a hurricane barrels towards the Florida Keys. Helen is a Key West native who feels trapped in her current situation - pregnant and with an abusive husband. Mirta is a young woman from Cuba whose family's status changed after the Cuban Revolution of 1933. She has been married in an arranged marriage and is trying to find her footing with her new husband. Elizabeth is a young woman whose family has been heavily affected by the Great Depression. Her trip to Key West is a last ditch effort to save her family. The women's paths all cross unexpectedly, and the way they withstand all the storms in their lives is a testament to the resilience of women everywhere - especially in that time period, when so much of what a woman did was for duty and what was expected of her.
The novel’s climax is the landfall of this intense hurricane, and having been through a couple of them myself, I could feel all the emotions that the characters were experiencing. While some of the details don’t seem plausible, when you’ve actually been through a hurricane, they very much are. There’s romance, history, and suspense tied in, and the book reads easily. I really enjoyed it and it was an easy read. I probably wouldn't read it if a hurricane is headed toward us, but this week would probably be a good time to check it out!
Also, several of you asked me if it was part of her other two books, and while it can be read as a standalone book, it does tie back to Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba. This is from Cleeton's website:
How is The Last Train to Key West related to your first two books?
The Last Train to Key West is set in 1935, over two decades before the events in Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba. It can be read as a standalone, so if you haven’t picked up my first two books, it’s a great place to jump in. The novel features three heroines with two recognizable last names. One of the heroines is related to Nick Preston from When We Left Cuba and another one of the heroines is a Perez and is Beatriz and Elisa’s aunt (their father’s sister). I’m loving writing about the Perez family and for my next few books we’ll go back in history a bit and meet some of the Perez ancestors.
After a couple of really heavy reads back to back, I was in desperate need of a good, light summer read. Enter Kevin Kwan's Sex & Vanity. I picked it up because Kelly Saks and Maria Tettamanti both mentioned it in the span of a few days (consider me influenced). Once I realized that Kwan is the same author of Crazy Rich Asians, I was even more excited to read it - I never read the Crazy Rich Asians series but I did love the movie, and I might even read those books in the future, too.
I really enjoyed Sex & Vanity, and it one hundred percent made me wish I could take a trip to Capri soon! After the heartbreaker that was American Dirt, this lighthearted read which pokes fun at the uber and nouveau riche was exactly what I needed.
Lucie Churchill is a girl caught between two worlds - born to a blue blooded New England socialite and an American-born Chinese daughter - she has always pushed down her Chinese side to fit into the high society of New York. While she is in Capri for a wedding under the watchful eye of her older cousin Charlotte, she meets George Zao. She hates everything about him, until she doesn't. At the wedding, her cousin Charlotte catches them in a heated romantic exchange, and she makes it known that she does not approve. Lucie puts George out of her mind, until years later, when she is newly engaged and their paths cross again in New York.
And while it was light and funny, it was also a really important commentary on how culture plays a huge role in our lives and how being of a mixed heritage can really affect how someone is treated even within their own family, especially when one of those backgrounds is deemed as "less sophisticated." It's probably not award-winning literature, but a good summer read nonetheless.
I truly enjoyed reading Sex & Vanity, and I think you will, too!
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Lydia is a bookstore owner in Acapulco, Mexico. After her husband Sebastian, a journalist, exposes one of Mexico’s biggest cartel leaders, the cartel retaliates. Lydia and her son Luca are forced into a new, dangerous world filled with peril at every turn as they try to escape to “el Norte” to save their lives.
I mentioned in my last post that books help me to see things from a new perspective, and transport me to a different place. American Dirt did exactly that. When I posted on Instagram Stories that I was reading it, I had several people send me messages saying that "the book had given them anxiety." I laughed it off, but when I was reading it, I totally understood. As a matter of fact, my anxiety was heightened all week last week, and I'm kind of thinking it was related.
As a mother, I think this book was so affecting to read because I was really able to get into Lydia's shoes. I was able to understand her motivation, her disregard for safety, her lack of thought sometimes - just to keep her son safe.
There has been some controversy surrounding the book because it is written by a non-Latin, non-Mexican, non-POC - Jeanine Cummins, a white woman. Even so, I think the story was thoughtfully told, and while there were some nuances that weren't perfect (especially if you already speak Spanish), I still think this is a book that can offer a unique perspective to the world. If nothing else, it can open your eyes to just how much illegal immigrants go through to cross the border. For some us, we are lucky enough to never have to experience that. But many of our families have experienced it in some way or another - leaving Mexico, leaving Cuba, or leaving one of the numerous other places where their lives have been put in mortal danger or the threat of their freedoms being revoked has somehow been held over their head. And to me, it doesn't matter who wrote something - a good piece of literature is one that makes you think, makes you feel, and makes you understand. And Cummins does that.
I highly recommend this book, but not without some warnings. It is a HEAVY read. There is loss, there are some seriously loaded topics which could be triggering for some. But if you've never read about the plight of an immigrant, or the desperation that could cause someone to come to the United States illegally, then I definitely recommend picking this book up.
Buy it on Bookshop here.
Buy it on Amazon here.
I have always loved to read. I remember sitting at home and reading alongside my mom, and just absolutely devouring the Nancy Drew books. I'm pretty sure I had the entire collection of hardcover books (which my parents still have saved!). As I got older, my love for reading only grew. We drove to Orlando a lot to visit my aunt, and I remember reading so much on those road trips.
I can actually recall one instance in maybe 3rd or 4th grade where I was made fun of for enjoying reading - I would take a book out to recess and sit in the shade reading - and a friend told me that I was going to let life pass me by while I was sitting there and reading. What she didn't know is that I was traveling to places I had only imagined in my mind. She also didn't know that her words didn't really bother me because I had read so many books with strong female characters who had also been made fun of or been through some kind of adversity. Reading had given me perspective and insight that I might not have otherwise learned, and I'm forever grateful for all the reading I did in those early years. There are a few reasons why I love reading.
A love of reading is also something I hope to pass on to both of my children, and I hope that they will follow by my example. We read together as much as we can, and I always encourage them to pick up a book, but I know that they will always follow what I am doing more quickly than what I am saying. So tell me, why do you love reading?
Now, go pick up a book!
I put A Burning on my list because it was a TODAY SHOW #ReadwithJenna Book Club Pick. I honestly didn't even know what it was about, and the first couple of chapters were a little tough for me to get through. But once I got to know the characters, Jivan, PT Sir, and Lovely - I couldn't put it down. This is Megha Majudmar's debut novel.
“Mother, do you grieve?
The book focuses on the three characters and how they are trying to somehow rise in modern-day India. Jivan wants to move up to the middle class, PT Sir has aspirations to be something more than a physical education teacher at an all girls school, and Lovely, a social outcast, wants fame. After a terrorist attack on a train, Jivan makes a careless comment on Facebook and is subsequently arrested. The three characters' stories are intertwined and each sacrifices something to get what they want.
The writing is good. Jivan and PT Sir are both educated, and when the story is told from their perspective, you understand that. Lovely has been studying English, and that is apparent in her voice as well.
The book is tense but well-paced - I stayed up very late more than one night because I wanted to read "just one more chapter." I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and even more so because it's a culture and class system I don't read about often. The book addresses a lot of social inequities, bias in the media, and how social media and politics can be a very slippery slope.
It's definitely not a light read, so if you're not in the mood for something heavy and charged with social injustice, this isn't the book for you.
Have you read A Burning? What are your thoughts?
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