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review 2017-09-13 22:10
Historical fiction for those interested in the history of New York, women’s history during WWII, and followers of Egan’s career.
Manhattan Beach: A Novel - Jennifer Egan

Thanks to NetGalley and to Scribner for providing me with an ARC copy of this book (due for publication in October) that I freely chose to review.

I read Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad a few years back and I was fascinated by its language, the stories, the way the story was told, and its inventiveness. When I saw Egan’s new book on offer at NetGalley I couldn’t resist. I have not read any of Egan’s other novels, but this one is very different from A Visit. For starters, this is a historical fiction novel. Both from the content of the novel and from the author’s acknowledgements at the end, we get a clear sense of how much research has gone into it. The novel covers a period around World War II, in New York and the surrounding area, and focuses on three stories that are interconnected, and are also connected to seafaring, the seafront, New York, and to the war era. The story goes backwards and forwards at times, sometimes through the memories of the characters, and sometimes within the same chapter, we get to see how that particular character got to that point. Although the story is narrated in the third person, we are firmly inside the character’s heads, and we can be at sea one minute, and the next at home remembering one gesture, a smile…

Anna Kerrigan is the strongest character and the one we spend more time with. We follow her story and know of her circumstances: a severely disabled sister, a father who disappears, and a mother who decides to go back to her family. Anna is a young woman, independent and determined to live her own life. She has never made peace with her father’s disappearance and remembers a strange encounter, when she accompanied her father as a child, with a man later revealed to be a gangster. Anna’s story was the one I was most interested in. Partly, because she was the character we got to know in more detail, partly because of her eagerness and determination, as she decides to become a diver and does not give up until she achieves her goal (at a time when being a woman severely limited one’s options, even during the war, when there were a few more openings, as she was already working at the Navy Yard). Her relationship with her sister, her training to become a diver (and you feel as if you were with her inside the incredibly heavy suit), and her obsession with finding out what happened to her father make her somebody to root for, although I found it difficult to engage at an emotional level with the character (it was as if she was contemplating herself at a distance and always analysing what she was doing, except for some brief moments when we get a sense of what she is feeling).

Dexter Styles is a strange character: he married a woman of the upper-class, and he has a good relationship with her father and her family, but by that point he was already involved in some shady deals and the underbelly of New York clubs and gambling joints, and he is smart, elegant, classy, but also ruthless and a gangster. I’ve read in a number of reviews that there are better books about New York gangsters of the period, and although I don’t recall having read any, I suspect that is true. I found the background of the character interesting, and his thoughts about the links between banking, politics, legal business, and illegal enterprises illuminating, but I am not sure I would say I completely got to know the character and did not feel particularly attached to it. (His relationship with Anna is a strange one. Perhaps it feels as if it was fate at work, but although I could understand to a certain extent Anna’s curiosity and attraction, Styles did not appear to be a man who’d risk everything for a fling. And yet…).

Eddie, Anna’s father, makes a surprise appearance later in the book and we get to learn something that by that point we have suspected for a while. From the reviews I’ve read, I’m probably one of the only people who enjoyed Eddie’s story, well, some parts of it. I love Melville (and the book opens with one of his quotes) and when Eddie is at sea, in the Merchant Navy, and his ship sinks, there were moments that I found truly engaging and touching. He is not a sympathetic character overall, as he takes a terribly selfish decision at one point in the book, but seems to redeem himself (or is at least trying) by the end.

This is a long book, but despite that, I felt the end was a bit rushed. We discover things that had been hidden for most of the book, several characters make life-changing decisions in quick succession, and I was not totally convinced that the decisions fitted the psychological makeup of the characters or the rest of the story, although it is a satisfying ending in many ways.

The novel’s rhythm is slow, although as I mentioned above, it seems to speed up at the end. There are jumps forward and backwards in time, that I did not find particularly difficult to follow, but it does require a degree of alertness. There are fascinating secondary characters (Nell, the bosun…), and the writing is beautifully descriptive and can make us share in the experiences of the characters at times, but I also felt it didn’t invite a full emotional engagement with them. I was not a hundred per cent sure that the separate stories interconnected seamlessly enough or fitted in together, and I suspect different readers will like some of the characters more than others, although none are totally blameless or sympathetic. An interesting book for those who love historical fiction of that period, especially those who enjoy women’s history, and I’d also recommend it to those who love seafaring adventures and/or are curious about Egan’s career. 

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review 2016-08-28 05:04
THE GANGSTER'S KISS by Ginger Ring
The Gangster's Kiss (Love is a Dangerous Thing Book 1) - Ginger Ring
  Gangsters, sheriff, and judge on the take. The sheriff hires John to be a bodyguard to his sister, not knowing she was a witness to a murder. John and Grace are attracted to each other but Grace does not want a gangster.

I liked the story and characters. I enjoy that era of Prohibition. John and Grace have a lot to deal with as John is looking for his sister and Grace is looking to leave the town. The threat of death is always close to the surface. Ms. Ring captured the era well.

I have to read the next book in the series. I want to know what happens, if John finds his sister, or if the gangsters find John and Grace.
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review 2016-08-25 20:00
SUCH A DANCE by Kate McMurray
Such a Dance - Kate McMurray

M/M romance set during Prohibition in NYC. Eddie is part of a comedic duo who everyone thinks are a couple. The theater manager wants to highlight the female part of the duo so he fires Eddie because he's gay. Eddie has been seeing Lane who manages a speakeasy for the mob. Lane's done some things he's not proud of but it's kept him alive. The two struggle with getting closer to one another. When the cops raid the speakeasy, Lane and Eddie have to determine where they go from there.

I liked these men. Neither is what the other expected. Both are determined characters with strong opinions. Eddie has to come further to accept his need of Lane. The secondary characters are an eclectic group and fun. They too have their stories to tell.

I love this era of gangsters and speakeasies. The author captures it well as she shows the underbelly of Prohibition and the gay community in the 1920's. The story is good. I had a hard time putting it down to go to work.

I look forward to reading more by this author.

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url 2013-10-12 23:28
Tarnished Souls: Frankie and Gent available for preorder

Tarnished Souls is now available for preorder on Dreamspinner Press. Do you like 1930s gangsters? 

 

Hollywood’s Golden Age is not all glitz and glamor. Mob boss Frankie Monetti controls the unions and the studios, which makes him and the syndicate very rich. But after five years, Frankie runs afoul of the law andthose who put him in power. 

Primo hit man, and Frankie's lifelong friend, Arvin “Gent” Vitali, goes west with orders to clean up the mess and then bring Frankie back to New York to answer for his double cross. But as the noose closes tighter around Frankie's neck, Gent questions where his loyalty truly lies. Is business just business or is freedom worth the risk?

 

Release date - November 19. Order your copy now.

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review 2012-08-17 00:00
Gangsters, Guns and Me - Jamie Foreman Gangsters, Guns and Me - Jamie Foreman What an absolutely fantastic read. Gangsters and the underworld have fascinated me for many years since I was a kid. I love reading about it and watching it, but especially when it's a true story. I think a lot of people will have heard of Freddie Foreman and I have read quite a few books on the Krays but this book by Freddie's son Jamie, now known as Derek Branning in EastEnders lays bare things I haven't read about before.

A lot of the time it was easy to forget that you were reading somebody's true life story and it was like watching a movie or reading a novel. The first half of the book was pretty slow going but the last half of the book was unputdownable. Reading about Jamie having to go on the run across the world was just amazing and despite the circumstances surrounding why he had to go, it sounds like such a great adventure. I am a massive believer in fate and also the paranormal and there are some things in this book which prove that such things exist, I won't ruin them and say what they are here but again it's so hard to believe that such things can happen and again it's like something in a novel except its not, it's real life and it actually happened.

I loved the relationship Jamie has with his father and the fact that no matter what he was always his idol and he always looked up to him. Despite the fact hat he [Freddie] did do some pretty bad things, like a lot of East End villains he still had a set of morals and rules that he lived by and that's good in my opinion. The only thing I wish is that the book was longer and that we could have learnt more about Jamie when he got back to the UK, but the book is a musts read for anybody with an interest in this sort of thing and I would love a second book from Jamie picking up where this one finished. It literally is jampacked with fantastic stories, he certainly has had an eventful life, the sort of life which could easily be made into a TV show or movie.
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