Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss

Debbie Wiley | A Bookish Trip to the Sunshine State

April 8, 2021

Travel in person is slowly starting to come back now, but some of us have been traveling all along through the wonderful places our books take us. So far this year, I’ve traveled to places such as 1906 San Francisco in THE NATURE OF FRAGILE THINGS, to Helsinki, Finland in THE WITCH HUNTER, to North Carolina in CLOSELY HARBORED SECRETS, and then off to France in THE LOST MANUSCRIPT. However, it always warms my heart to visit books set in Florida, both for the memories they may give me of places I’ve already been as well as learning new and interesting facts about the state I’ve called home for over 20 years.

THE LAST TRAIN TO KEY WEST by Chantel Cleeton is our first stop on the journey, where we meet three women whose lives intersect in Key West. It’s 1935 and a hurricane is approaching. I’ve visited several sites in Key West that talked about Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad but somehow the impact of the hurricane in 1935 was missed by me. Chantel Cleeton brings the tale to vivid life, offering us a glimpse of the hardships of Key West in its early days. I love books that delve into true historical events and Chantel Cleeton does an amazing job with THE LAST TRAIN TO KEY WEST. I can’t wait to revisit some of the sites in Key West after finishing her book!

Next, we stay in Key West (although facing yet another hurricane) but we travel forward to the modern-day in HEMINGWAY’S CATS by Lindsay Hooper. If you’ve been to Key West, you’ve likely visited Hemingway’s House, the nearby Lighthouse, and Sloppy Joe’s, and our main character, Laura Lange, visits all three! Even better, she works at the Hemingway House and so we get an up-close and personal view of many aspects of the home as well as the six-toed cats who reside in the home. HEMINGWAY’S CATS is inspired by the true story of Hurricane Irma and the cats and employees who rode out that monster storm. HEMINGWAY’S CATS has a special place in my heart because of the location alone, never mind that I also rode out Irma (just not in the Keys!) and it’s a book any cat lover or Hemingway fan will relish!

Closer to home, we travel to the Lake Okeechobee area and the sugarcane fields during World War II in WHEN WE MEET AGAIN by Kristin Harmel. The tale alternates between timelines as we meet Emily Emerson in modern day Florida as she uncovers a significant piece of her family history. I had no idea until reading WHEN WE MEET AGAIN that there had been POW internment camps in Florida (including one in the very town I live in now!), so that fact alone would have fascinated me but Kristin Harmel also provides us with a beautiful historical drama that weaves back and forth between the two timelines. Kristin Harmel brings out a long-forgotten piece of Florida history in a very poignant and beautiful tale.

Next up, is my home county and the setting for I COME BEFORE U by Devell L. Hawkins. Toy is the king on the streets of Lakeland and the other drug dealers fear him, but the hustlers under his control are starting to want their own power and a confrontation is brewing. I COME BEFORE U is fictional but based on the author’s own personal experiences and delves into both the highs and lows of the street life. I COME BEFORE U gave me a real gut check about the things I don’t see beneath the surface in areas I’ve shopped and gone out to eat. Even an old Books-A-Million site is referenced! I COME BEFORE U is brutally graphic and raw, yet offers a compelling and distinctive perspective on life on the streets.

We finish up our tour of Florida with the appropriately named, TROPIC OF STUPID by Tim Dorsey. Everyone knows Florida is full of weirdness, but Tim Dorsey takes that weirdness and encapsulates it into hilarious escapades featuring serial killer Serge Storms and his always drunk or high sidekick. We travel back to the Keys and visit some of the smaller, lesser-known keys such as Big Pine Key and No Name Key, while also stopping in at multiple state parks as Serge is determined to get all of the stamps! I love how Tim Dorsey works in sights such as seeing the key deer (always worth a trip to No Name Key just to see them!), while also throwing in a bit of history I didn’t know along the way. Florida is definitely weird, but Tim Dorsey makes the journey fun!

What are some of your favorite books set in Florida?

Debbie Wiley is a Senior Reviewer at Fresh

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