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review 2017-12-31 17:36
Historical fiction with dark thriller underpinnings
Yesternight - Cat Winters

Winters continues to amaze with detailed historical fiction that delves into the creepy, the paranormal, the supernatural, and the crappy bits of being human.


Alice Lind is a psychologist fresh off of a masters degree and traveling rural Oregon conducting child intelligence assessments for the school system (bc a mere woman can't get into doctoral programs in 1925, natch) when she comes across a child who claims to remember a past life as a drowning victim. Alice wants to help, and not just because it's a fascinating case; she was a difficult child herself, with unexplained, extreme behavior buried in a half-remembered past. But when there's no psychological explanation for the child's supposed delusion - no trauma, no abuse - Alice's journey to solve the mystery may cause more harm than good.


Good period-appropriate worldbuilding, a clear, modern but not overly anachronistic voice, feminist characters and story development, and a taut thriller-esque mystery with supernatural-leaning elements that may or may not be more than human. The ending was a twist and a half, and unfortunately not one I really appreciated, taking the tone of the book to the horror end of the thriller genre. Very well written, though. Heads up on some adult content; a dash of language and sex scenes may offend some readers, but is on the milder side of adult fiction content.

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review 2017-05-18 08:33
Baccano!, Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs (book) by Ryohgo Narita, illustrated by Katsumi Enami, translated by Taylor Engel
Baccano!, Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs - Ryohgo Narita

In the year 2002, a Japanese man has won a trip to New York, and he’s having a terrible time. A bunch of teens mugged him and took his most prized possession, his camera. If he wants to get it back, he’ll have to talk to a member of the Camorra (an Italian crime syndicate). Luckily, the man he speaks to is in a good and talkative mood, and boy does he have a story to tell. It starts in 1711, when an alchemist and his comrades summoned a demon who gifted the alchemist with the knowledge of how to make the elixir of immortality, and continues to New York in 1930.

In 1930, a young man named Firo has just been promoted to executive in the Martillo Family, a Camorra group. At that very same time, two cheerful and energetic thieves named Isaac and Miria have just arrived in the city, determined to right their past wrongs by doing only good deeds. Of course, they have a rather odd notion of what constitutes a “good deed.” And at the same time as all of that, an immortal old man named Szilard is being driven to a meeting by Ennis, his artificially created human servant. Szilard has spent the centuries since he became immortal trying to determine the recipe for the elixir of immortality, and it looks like he might have finally achieved his goal. Unfortunately, a fire makes things more complicated, and the two surviving bottles of the perfected elixir go missing.

Ennis has to track the bottles down or risk getting killed by Szilard. Of course, they just happen to look like regular wine, it’s the Prohibition era, and there are two different Camorra groups, a couple idiot thieves, some thugs, and several FBI agents in the area, so her job isn’t going to be easy.

My first exposure to this series was via the anime, which was confusing, violent, high-energy, and lots of fun. One of the reasons it was so confusing was because it didn’t entirely follow a linear timeline. Viewers would be shown events from 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1711, all mixed together. I have since learned that this is because the anime adapted events from the first three novels. Although this first volume in the series jumped around between the various prominent characters and their storylines, it at least stayed rooted in 1930 (with a few brief glimpses of 2002 and 1711).

Although the more linear storytelling was nice, I’d still advise most English-language Baccano! newbies to start with the anime. The only reason I might tell someone to start with the books instead is if 1) they absolutely needed more linear storytelling and/or 2) they couldn’t stand Baccano’s on-screen gore and violence. While this novel was a lot of fun and contained several bits of information that fans of the anime will love, the writing/translation was...not very good.

The book was very heavy on dialogue, which was probably a good thing, since the issues with the writing/translation were most noticeable in the narrative parts. The phrasing often seemed stilted, and there were times when I wondered how accurate the translation was, because certain statements contradicted each other. For example:

“They couldn’t die from injuries or illness. As long as they didn’t age, they could rely on regenerating even if they fell into boiling lava.

However… The exception was that they could be killed with ease.” (50)

I think that this is referring to the way the immortals could “eat” each other - the only way an immortal (the true immortals, anyway) could die was by being absorbed by another immortal. However, the phrasing is strange. Another contradiction:

“Why? Why did this have to happen now? Why a conflagration now of all times?!

There was nothing here that was flammable!

The liquor… I must haul out the liquor…” (57)

Umm… Liquor is actually quite flammable. And then there was just plain awkward writing, like this:

“In the instant he stood, frozen, the muzzle of a gun appeared from behind the falling Seina’s.” (163)

Seina’s what? I’m pretty sure it’s referring to Seina’s falling body, but the sentence structure made it seem like it was referring to something like “the falling Seina’s gun.”

In addition to awkward writing, the book committed the crime of being a historical novel with, at best, vague and handwavy descriptions. One of the things I had been hoping the Baccano! novels would include was interesting period details. There were a few, here and there, but not nearly as many as I had expected. Instead, more of the focus was on the action and dialogue. On the plus side, that probably contributed to this being a very quick read.

As awkward as the writing/translation was, it somehow never leached the fun out of the overall story. I still enjoyed this combination of Prohibition era setting, goofballs and deadly criminals, and immortality-granting wine. I could remember the end result of the two missing bottles of wine, but I couldn’t remember how they got to where they needed to be, so it was fun trying to keep track of them. Also, it was surprisingly nice to see these characters again. I haven’t seen Baccano! in a few years, and this book made me think that a rewatch might be a good idea.

If I had to pick favorite characters from the anime, I’d probably go with Isaac, Miria, and Claire/Vino. I still found Isaac and Miria to be delightful in this book, but one thing that surprised me was how much I liked and felt sympathy for Ennis. I couldn’t recall her making much of an impression on me when I saw the anime. I think the book might have included details about her history that weren’t included in the anime, but it’s been so long I can’t be sure.

Eh, I should probably wrap this up. Overall, I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected I would, although I’d hesitate to recommend it to Baccano! newbies - try the anime first. If you’ve seen and enjoyed the anime, it’s definitely worth giving this book a shot, if only for the extra character information.


There's a 3-page afterword written by the author. Also, these aren't exactly extras, but the book includes several black-and-white illustrations and 8 pages of color illustrations (or 6, depending on how you're counting). Unfortunately, the color illustrations have text on them that needs to be read, and it's a bit hard on the eyes.

The illustrations were nice enough - often a better way to get an idea of what a particular character was supposed to look like than any of the descriptions in the text, if there were any. However, I did note one possible historical inaccuracy. One of the illustrations showed a 1930 New York cop. I googled their uniforms, and I think Enami might have gone with a more modern uniform design than was appropriate.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-05-14 01:56
LIVE BY NIGHT by Dennis Lehane
Live by Night - Dennis Lehane

I did not realize there was an earlier novel in this series. This is a standalone book. Joseph Coughlin is working on the opposite side of the law than his father who is hoping to become the Police Commissioner in Boston. Joseph is involved in robbery which leads to cops dying. He is arrested and sentenced to prison where he meets Maso, head of a powerful crime family in Boston. After his release from prison he goes to Tampa where he heads Maso's family branch there.

I enjoyed this story. The era of Prohibition, rum runners, and gangsters is portrayed very well here. Joe is not the strong arm. He works to get agreements from all parties involved. He gets involved with Cubans and gets them to work with him and cut out the others. He builds his own mob.

I liked the characters. They were complex--not all good or all bad. I like how Joe backs up his people and how he stands up for what he believes as he gets higher in the organization.

I will be reading more of this author

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review 2016-09-21 00:00
Lost Recipes of Prohibition: Notes from a Bootlegger's Manual
Lost Recipes of Prohibition: Notes from a Bootlegger's Manual - Matthew Rowley I could have used more text and fewer pictures of illegible pages from history, as the actual content was probably about fifty pages, but this was still a fun, light and often interesting read. It probably wasn't news to people who know a lot about the Prohibition in the US, but I learned a lot about the technical side of bootlegging.

I appreciated that the author didn't just lean on his found manual, but pulled recipes and techniques from other period books, and tried to translate how they worked (or didn't!) into modern terms and explained what the originals actually meant. I'm not invested enough in cocktails to start making ingredients, but still enjoyed it.
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review 2016-08-28 05:04
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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