Tag Archives: the last train to key west

A Look Back: Four Star Books

2020 is coming to an end, and for my own curiosity, I thought I would share the books that were good books, but not quite my favorite in the last 12 months. I count December 2019 in this collection since I’m obviously not done with December 2020 yet. This is a long one, but I divided by continuing books in a series (like book 2 or 3), the first book in a series or a standalone, collections (of devotionals, poems, or essays), and nonfiction.

Continuing Books in a Series

Vengeful – the second book in the duology by Victoria Schwab. The two scientists continue to wield their powers. Other characters with their own powers are introduced. It wasn’t as good as the first book, but the story is beautifully written as a whole.

The Toll – The final book in the Neal Schusterman series. In a world where death is no longer a threat, society has created a job that culls the growing population. The series is quite the ride, and while I wasn’t crazy about the ending, it still wrapped up things well.

The Hand on the Wall – The perfect end to the murder mystery by Maureen Johnson. This is the last book of the Truly Devious series. Set in an elite private school in Vermont, Stevie has been invited to attend because of her detective skills and unique interest in a murder mystery that happened at the school during the 1930s. But after she arrives, strange things happen and there is more than one murder mystery to solve.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance – Second book in the Legacy of Orisha series by Tomi Adeyemi. Based in African mythology, magic has disappeared and those who used to wield it have been cast aside as second class citizens or worse. But when the chance to restore magic is presented to Zelie and possibly a chance to level the playing field, the threat of war hums in the air. This book especially, but the whole series, shows how prejudices can blind even the best of intentions. This particular book wasn’t as strong as the first, but it definitely seemed more like a bridge to a final book.

The Night Country – This is the second book in the Hazelwood series by Melissa Albert. This series has been either loved or hated by readers. I enjoy the story which is based on a series of dark fairy tales. It follows a girl named Alice who, in this book, is really trying to figure out who she is and what sacrifices she is willing to make to save the ones she loves. Not as great as the first one, but still a pretty stellar read.

The Queen of Nothing – The final book in the trilogy by Holly Black. Jude and her sister watch their parents’ murder and are whisked away to the land of fairies where they have to learn to survive. She learns about true power and true love. There is a bit of problematic aspects in her relationship with Cardan, but overall, her character transformation is well done.

A Gathering of Shadows – Second book in the Shades of Magic series by Victoria Schwab. After the events of the first book, the characters are once again connected but this time, it’s a tournament of magic. Alucard Emery is introduced as well as new revelations with the other main characters.

Standalones or First Books in a Series

The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Magical story by Alix E. Harrow about writing and books and believing in yourself. January is a young girl with an absent father and doting guardian. Her father works for her guardian, and one day she finds a door on the estate. After the door appears, she can summon it in the written word. And the adventure, and her true identity, emerge.

Parable of the Sower – One of the books I read for a book club that scared me. What a book to begin reading in 2020! Octavia Butler writes a dystopian future set in 2024 after a global climate crisis and a socioeconomic collapse. It was interesting to see how much people tried to hang on to their old lives as the world collapsed. I saw parts of this played out in real life only months later. It probably add to my anxiety.

The Bear and the Nightingale – First book in a trilogy by Katherine Arden. Set in Russia and, I believe, based on Russian myths, Vasya comes from a line of magical and crazed women, and when she starts to connect to the supernatural creatures, the whole world gets turned upside down. Good bit of violence and heavily uses 14th century Russian history which lost me at times.

All Systems Red – Science Fiction read by Martha Wells. The first part of the book was a bit slow, but it really took off in the end. The book is written through the perspective of an sentient AI robot that is acting as security for a research team. But when things go amiss, the team starts to realize that someone is sabotaging them and the robot, SecUnit, is all that stands between the success of their mission or their death.

The Space Between Us – This was a book club pick by Thrity Umrigar. It was a heartbreaking, but the relationships were fascinating. There are also a lot of triggers – rape, abuse – both verbal and physical, abortion and loss. It is set in Bombay and follows the lives of two women in different classes, and the limitations and freedoms they find in their lives. Really appreciated the connection of mental health and pregnancy loss.

The Gilded Wolves – First in the series by Roshani Chokshi based, I think, on Eastern mythologies, particularly Hindu practices. It is a heist book with magical realism aspects, though the characters didn’t seem as well-rounded as I would have liked. It definitely ends in a cliffhanger so it is obviously part of a series.

Blonde Roots – Really good book by Bernardine Evaristo answering the question, what if white people were the enslaved instead of black people. It changed the geography, what was defined as beautiful, and really showcased the microprejudices and how they affect day to day living.

An American Marriage – Tayari Jones is a hard author to read because I don’t agree with her characters’ choices. But the reason I am so uncomfortable really comes from the fact I never have had to make these hard choices because other opportunities were available to me. Really exemplifies privilege in many forms. Roy is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, and his newly-wedded wife Celestial must make hard choices that will affect both their futures.

The Last Train to Key West – Historical Fiction by Chanel Cleeton that follows three women as they face a terrible hurricane in Florida during the Great Depression era. In addition to this deadly storm, each woman is also trying to navigate their own stormy lives which come together in unexpected ways. There is mention of pregnancy loss and abusive marriage in this book.

Station Eleven – Another pandemic-related apocalypse book by Emily St. John Mandel. This was a flu-type of pandemic so it was perfect for 2020. After 99% of the world’s population dies, the ones left have to learn to survive on no electricity, internet or running water. There is a traveling symphony that shares the classics of Shakespeare and others to various towns, which is quite a dangerous job since they don’t know just what they are walking into, even if they have been there before. There is a lot of loss and sadness in the book, which the author beautifully explores from different perspectives.

We Hunt the Flame – First book in a series by Hafsah Faizal. The second book is on my list to purchase. The land has become cursed, and Zafira the secret Hunter and Nasir, the Prince of Death, must come together to try to restore magic and heal their land. Another story based in culture and mythology.

Silver Sparrow – Another book by Tayari Jones (the hard author to read because I don’t agree with her characters’ choices). This book, though, explores privilege more directly. James Witherspoon is a bigamist, but his secret family is the only one that knows. First part comes from his secret daughter’s perspective and the second part is from his other daughter.

Collections

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter – Really good collection of writings from different authors (including C.S. Lewis which drew me to the book in the first place) about Lent, Jesus, and Easter. It didn’t line up to the 40 days of Lent, but it was still a nice devotional to read during that time.

Space Struck – A collection of poems written by Paige Lewis. Lots of really incredible lines, though some of it did go over my head. Clever observations, Biblical references and chances from perspective from poem to poem

Nonfiction

The Self-Evolved Leader: Elevate Your Focus and Develop Your People In a World The Refuses to Slow Down – This book was sent to me by the author, Dave McKeown. It is well-written and easy to follow with lots of journaling and practice throughout the book. But I was not its target demographic. Still rated it pretty highly.

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 – Book by Joanna Faber and Julie King that was empowering, validating, and helpful, though not the only parenting book you should have on your shelf. It deals with rage and frustration (which all parents can identify with) and some tools to help.

How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Calmer, Happier Parent – This feels like a trend that I read this year, but it was different than the above parenting book in that Carla Naumburg focused directly on anger management. I felt that though this was directed towards parents, it is helpful for any relationship.

Chasing Vines: Finding Your Way to an Immensely Fruitful Life – Beth Moore’s new book that compares our life in Christ with viticulture (or growing grapes on vines). It was informative and inspiring, though not my favorite study of hers.

On Immunity: An Inoculation – Another timely read book by Eula Biss. This is a collection of thoughts about immunizations, vaccines, and being a member of a community. Fascinating history of how vaccines started, how they have evolved, and why people may be hesitant to take them. Also why it is ultimately important to take them if you are able.

What are some of your 4 star books this year?

Gift Ideas for Christmas

Christmas is coming. I mean, some people have had their decorations out all month. And I know that gift lists are already being shared. If you are looking to add to your list or are looking for a gift idea for someone else, I may be able to help. I have read a lot of books this year (and some in years past) that I think are very noteworthy and would make great gifts

For the kid selections, I will preface this with the fact that these books are based on my own experience of having a toddler. Here are some of our favorites this year.

I try to buy a new Christmas book every year, and this year my favorite children’s book author released one in September called All The Colors of Christmas! In a nutshell, it’s a beautifully illustrated, beautifully written book full of nostalgia and the real meanings of the Christmas season listed by color.

The Truly Devious series by Maureen Johnson is a double murder mystery set in an elite boarding school. Each of the three books in the series reveals a little more of the clues of each mystery, one set in the 1930s and one present day. The character growth and inclusion in this series is stellar. I wrote about the first one here.

Neal Shusterman’s The Arc of the Scythe series is a bit more science fiction. It faces the ideas of death, mortality, love, and humanity in a three book series. It also strives to be inclusive as well. While the ending wasn’t what I expected, it was still a fun ride. The first book’s review is here.

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton, which is more of a straight historical fiction based on a hurricane that Florida in 1935. It follows three different women as they are searching for different things within their lives, defining what freedom really is in a post-WW1 America.

For a literature friend, or someone who loves Jane Austen books, The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner is an absolute delight. There is the trigger warning of pregnancy loss, but I felt that it was appropriate and well done. I wrote more about it here.

The last three are my favorite authors, so any from them I would recommend, but here are a few ideas.

Deborah Harkness who wrote the All Souls Trilogy. She is a professor and historian which comes across in her books in a beautiful way. I first read Discovery of Witches back in 2014 and wrote this review.

VE Schwab, or Victoria Schwab, is also an amazing author who writes YA, Adult, and Middle Grade. There are so many I could recommend. Most of her books are in paranormal or fantasy genres. Her middle grade series starts with the City of Ghosts which is excellent, and the next (and I think final) book in the series is coming out soon, so it would be a fun series to read straight through!

Erin Morgenstern hasn’t written as many books, but the ones that she has are amazing, lyrical fantasies. I would recommend Night Circus first, though her books are not connected. I just felt like the Night Circus was a little easier to follow for someone who hasn’t read her before.

This year there have been a lot of books about race and racial justice, and a lot of suggestions in this category from years past. I haven’t read nearly as many as I would have like, but if you have someone in your life who is reading these topics, I would recommend How to Be Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi. It follows his own journey in social justice, people who inspired him and mistakes he made.

Another book in this category that leans more towards history, particularly within the church is The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby. I learned a lot about the evolution of the church in America, both white and black.

And finally, Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski has to have been my all time favorite book this year. It changed the way I saw stress and how I was contributing and sabotaging my own life. Game. Changer.

There are so many books that I loved this year, that it was hard to suggest just a few books. What are some books you have enjoyed this year?

The Last Train to Key West: A Review

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s a story of three women with vastly different lives and a hurricane headed for Florida that is going to upend every one of them.  At the beginning of the book, their lives cross at a diner in Key West.  Each also seems to have a knight in shining armor that will help them navigate through the story.  There are also some abusive husband triggers with one of the women.

Helen is a pregnant waitress who is with an abusive husband.  She is afraid that if she tries to escape, Tom will come looking for her and hurt her or the baby.  There was also some references to previous pregnancies that ended in loss, so she is also constantly afraid she will lose this baby.  Mirta is from Cuba and newly wed to someone she doesn’t know.  Her dad had backed the wrong political power and after the politics shifted, she is told that she has to marry this gangster with ties to the new regime in hopes that it will save the family.  And then Elizabeth, a once wealthy debutante whose family lost all their money in the stock market crash.  She is engaged to someone but has run to Florida to try to find a man who will hopefully save her from this engagement and save the family that is falling apart.

There is profanity, but it’s not a significant part of the dialogue.  There are kissing scenes and implications of more, but nothing quite graphic.  And the violent content comes from the abusive relationship, and also a violent assault that ends in a death, as well as all the dead from this hurricane.

Overall, the story is fascinating.  I had never heard of this hurricane that happened so soon after the stock market crash of 1929.  It was interesting to see what else was going on at the time that we don’t usually discuss in history books.  The story felt alive and moved well with the looming storm approaching.  Plus, I love how everything connected in the end and there was a sense of hope for the future.