Review: The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

Review: The Wicked City by Beatriz WilliamsThe Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow on January 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams recreates the New York City of A Certain Age in this deliciously spicy adventure that mixes past and present and centers on a Jazz Age love triangle involving a rugged Prohibition agent, a saucy redheaded flapper, and a debonair Princetonian from a wealthy family.
When she discovers her husband cheating, Ella Hawthorne impulsively moves out of their SoHo loft and into a small apartment in an old Greenwich Village building. Her surprisingly attractive new neighbor, Hector, warns her to stay out of the basement at night. Tenants have reported strange noises after midnight—laughter, clinking glasses, jazz piano—even though the space has been empty for decades. Back in the Roaring Twenties, the place hid a speakeasy.
In 1924, Geneva "Gin" Kelly, a smart-mouthed flapper from the hills of western Maryland, is a regular at this Village hideaway known as the Christopher Club. Caught up in a raid, Gin becomes entangled with Prohibition enforcement agent Oliver Anson, who persuades her to help him catch her stepfather Duke Kelly, one of Appalachia’s most notorious bootleggers.
Headstrong and independent, Gin is no weak-kneed fool. So how can she be falling in love with the taciturn, straight-arrow Revenue agent when she’s got Princeton boy Billy Marshall, the dashing son of society doyenne Theresa Marshall, begging to make an honest woman of her? While anything goes in the Roaring Twenties, Gin’s adventures will shake proper Manhattan society to its foundations, exposing secrets that shock even this free-spirited redhead—secrets that will echo from Park Avenue to the hollers of her Southern hometown.
As Ella discovers more about the basement speakeasy, she becomes inspired by the spirit of her exuberant predecessor, and decides to live with abandon in the wicked city too. . . .

My Review:

I picked up The Wicked City because I absolutely adored A Certain Age and wanted to read more by this author.

The Wicked City is a very different book from A Certain Age, even though the lion’s share of the story is set in the same period, the early 1920s, and among some of the same people. Possibly even the same people.

But The Wicked City is a story split between two very different eras and two very different women, with each story blending just a bit into the other.

In the late 1990s, Ella Hawthorne has just moved into a slightly crumbling apartment with a whole lot of character (and characters) in Greenwich Village. She’s also just left her philandering husband, after catching him screwing a prostitute in the hallway of their condo building while he was pretending to fetch a pizza. If the whole scene hadn’t been so tragic, at least in its consequences, it would have slipped into farce.

But Ella’s drama isn’t in her impending divorce, it’s in the building of her new sanctuary. There’s a stream of hot jazz emanating from the basement of the building next door, and that beautiful music is coming not from a live club, but from the ghost of the speakeasy that once thrived there.

While Ella’s late 20th century story is interesting, the real heart of The Wicked City lies in the events of the 1920s, events that centered around both the speakeasy and the apartment building next door, where Geneva Kelly lived in the 1920s and Ella Hawthorne finds herself in the 1990s.

Ella’s story is a tale of wandering husbands, forensic accountants and handsome jazz musicians of the past and present.

Geneva Kelly’s story, on the other hand, is a tale of cold-hearted bootleggers, hot federal agents, and deadly family secrets.

Geneva’s stepfather was an abusive two-bit criminal back home in Western Maryland, but only Gin seems to have seen his true face. Everyone else saw the charm, while she experienced the rot underneath. But after she fled her Appalachian home town for the bright lights of the big city, Duke Kelly moved from small-time crook to big-time racketeer, controlling a major piece of the illegal booze market in thirsty New York, as well as every single soul in his little town.

It was Prohibition, and the feds were looking for a way to take Duke Kelly down. Gin was too, so when a handsome federal agent offered her the chance to get the goods on the snake, she was all in.

Until she was very nearly all the way out.

Escape Rating B+: At first, the story moved a bit slowly, as did A Certain Age when I look back. Both stories take a while to get themselves set up, but once they do, the action careens quickly from boat chase to shoot out to romance, and back again, with lightning speed.

Particularly Gin’s story. Ella’s story feels less fleshed out, and I’m not convinced it was really necessary. Gin’s story is the one that sparkles like a flapper’s sequined dress.

While we don’t feel much of Ella’s dilemma, we do become all too well acquainted with Gin’s. She fled her hometown in the wake of her stepfather’s abusive, and she tries very hard not to look back. She’s also a young woman with not enough education and no family ties trying to make a living in the big city. Some of her choices arise from desperation, and some from pure pragmatism. It’s a hard-knock life.

She wants to bring her stepfather down, which makes her a plum ripe for the plucking by Prohibition agent Oliver Anson. She’s attracted to his stalwart honor even more than she is his good looks. But like everyone else in her life, Anson is keeping secrets that threaten both Gin’s life and her heart. Everything that happens between them feels screened by a haze of smoke and mist, and neither ever knows quite where the other stands until the very end.

cocoa beach by beatriz williamsIn addition to the connection between Gin and Ella, there’s also a connection between Gin and the characters in A Certain Age, and indeed the characters of many of the author’s previous books. It’s not such a tight connection that the reader needs to worry about having read the other books, and it’s also not completely revealed or resolved. But these people all inhabit the same social circles, and everyone seems to know, or at least know of, everyone else.

I’m looking forward to exploring this more, both in the author’s upcoming novel, Cocoa Beach, and by diving back into some of her earlier works. All in all, I’m glad I took this little trip to The Wicked City.

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Review: A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

Review: A Certain Age by Beatriz WilliamsA Certain Age by Beatriz Williams
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 336
Published by William Morrow on June 28th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The bestselling author of A Hundred Summers, brings the Roaring Twenties brilliantly to life in this enchanting and compulsively readable tale of intrigue, romance, and scandal in New York Society, brimming with lush atmosphere, striking characters, and irresistible charm.
As the freedom of the Jazz Age transforms New York City, the iridescent Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue and Southampton, Long Island, has done the unthinkable: she’s fallen in love with her young paramour, Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome aviator and hero of the Great War. An intense and deeply honorable man, Octavian is devoted to the beautiful socialite of a certain age and wants to marry her. While times are changing and she does adore the Boy, divorce for a woman of Theresa’s wealth and social standing is out of the question, and there is no need; she has an understanding with Sylvo, her generous and well-respected philanderer husband.
But their relationship subtly shifts when her bachelor brother, Ox, decides to tie the knot with the sweet younger daughter of a newly wealthy inventor. Engaging a longstanding family tradition, Theresa enlists the Boy to act as her brother’s cavalier, presenting the family’s diamond rose ring to Ox’s intended, Miss Sophie Fortescue—and to check into the background of the little-known Fortescue family. When Octavian meets Sophie, he falls under the spell of the pretty ingénue, even as he uncovers a shocking family secret. As the love triangle of Theresa, Octavian, and Sophie progresses, it transforms into a saga of divided loyalties, dangerous revelations, and surprising twists that will lead to a shocking transgression . . . and eventually force Theresa to make a bittersweet choice.
Full of the glamour, wit and delicious twists that are the hallmarks of Beatriz Williams’ fiction and alternating between Sophie’s spirited voice and Theresa’s vibrant timbre, A Certain Age is a beguiling reinterpretation of Richard Strauss’s comic opera Der Rosenkavalier, set against the sweeping decadence of Gatsby’s New York.

My Review:

There’s a pun in the title of this fascinating story. The protagonist, Mrs. Theresa Sylvester Marshall, often refers to her 40-something self by the coy term, “a woman of a certain age”. But in addition to Theresa’s “certain age”, the time period in which this story takes place is also “a certain age”. It’s the Jazz Age of the 1920’s. Prohibition, speakeasies, bootleg gin, the lost generation of young men and women who survived the war, the hedonistic freedom of an era of excess without restraint.

Until it all crashes at the end of the decade, but no one sees that coming in the early 1920s. From here, it seems as if the good times will roll on forever.

Among the New York City upper-crust, Theresa is one of the shining stars. Her family is old New York blueblood, and her husband is new New York money. But she is also a woman slipping from youth to middle-age, and she is in the throes of a crazy and slightly desperate fling.

She’s in love with her young lover, and that turns out to be a recipe for disaster.

Not that it’s a problem for her husband – they have an understanding and he has a young mistress of his own. But Captain Octavian Rofrano is an honorable man who wants to marry his lover, and Sylvo Marshall is a middle-aged man who wants to grab at happiness one last time before it is too late.

And in helping her brother enact an old family tradition, Theresa makes the mistake of introducing her lover to the woman he has been searching for all his life.

When the dust finally settles, everyone’s world is a much different place from where they began. Except for Theresa and Sylvo. They find themselves right back where they started.

Escape Rating A-: For the first third of the book, the story seems a bit slow. Or perhaps I should say quiet. The action is set up in a way that tries to pull the reader into the middle of the story, but doesn’t quite gel at first.

Once it gels, it takes off like the gallop of Man o’ War, the famous horse that brings Theresa and Octavian together. Once the story gets its legs under it, so to speak, I couldn’t put it down, not even when I needed to be someplace urgently. Once the story grabbed me, I could not let it go until the end.

About that beginning – we find ourselves reading a gossip columnist covering the latest “trial of the century”. Theresa is one of the witnesses, as is nearly everyone else in this drama. And her scandalous relationship with her young Captain really gives the gossip mongers something delicious to chew over.

Some of what they are chewing over showcases the shallowness and self-absorption of that upper-crust. It’s only as the layers are stripped away that the people develop depth and become interesting (very interesting) enough to care about.

But as we see the events that led up to the trial, we get involved in the lives of all the players. Because the young lady that Theresa’s brother wants to marry is the daughter of the accused murderer. And she’s the woman that Theresa’s young lover should have been with all along.

But he’s the person who exposed her father’s crime – if her father committed a crime at all. Something that the jury will have to decide.

In the events leading up to the trial, we discover just how entangled all of these relationships are.

The central relationship in this story is the one between Theresa and Octavian, who she always calls “Boy” or “Boyo”. And that’s the way she refers to him in her own head, whenever she thinks about him. As much as she claims to love him, it’s clear that what she really loves is the idea of him and the way that he makes her feel. And she certainly doesn’t see him as anything approaching an equal. He’s a toy that she indulges, and that she indulges herself with. He’s not a separate entity in his own right, until he begins to pull away.

It is ironic for Theresa that all of the events that turn her life upside down are at her own instigation. She’s the person who insists that Octavian present her brother’s ring to Sophie as part of an old family tradition. She’s the one who asks Octavian to look into the Fortescue family to find out if there are any major skeletons in the family closet. And in the end, she’s the one who finally does the right thing.

Which redeems her character, and takes the whole story from interesting to awesome.

I tried to describe A Certain Age at dinner, and fell into hyperbole. It’s a Jazz Age story. And a coming of age story. And a story of the “lost generation”. It’s a woman finally finding herself. And another woman losing her identity. And a story about the dawn of aviation. And a bit of murder mystery. It’s just a great read. Enjoy!

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Review: Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, Lauren Willig, Marci Jefferson

Review: Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, Lauren Willig, Marci JeffersonFall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, Lauren Willig, Marci Jefferson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, historical fiction, historical romance
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on March 1st 2016
Publisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month . . .
November 11, 1918. After four long, dark years of fighting, the Great War ends at last, and the world is forever changed. For soldiers, loved ones, and survivors, the years ahead stretch with new promise, even as their hearts are marked by all those who have been lost.
As families come back together, lovers reunite, and strangers take solace in each other, everyone has a story to tell.
In this moving, unforgettable collection, nine top historical fiction authors share stories of love, strength, and renewal as hope takes root in a fall of poppies.
Featuring:
Jessica Brockmole
Hazel Gaynor
Evangeline Holland
Marci Jefferson
Kate Kerrigan
Jennifer Robson
Heather Webb
Beatriz Williams
Lauren Willig

My Review:

There’s something about World War I that seems unbearably sad, even more so than World War II. I think it’s the sense that even though the war itself isn’t as simple or as clear-cut as the next war, there is so much more that died in that fall of poppies. So many different hopes, dreams and expectations. World War I changed the world in so many ways, where World War II seems like a continuation of a process that had already started with that first “World War”.

The stories in this anthology all center around World War I, and particularly around November 11, 1918, that singular moment when the war ended and everyone was left to look at the wreckage left behind and figure out how to pick up the pieces. Or even what pieces to pick up.

All of the stories in this collection are excellent, but there were four that particularly spoke to me, each in a different way.

Something Worth Landing For by Jessica Brockmole is a sweet love story. A young American airman comes to the rescue of a weeping Frenchwoman outside a doctor’s office. He has just been cleared to fly, and she has just discovered that she is pregnant. When the doctor begins berating the young woman about the baby, Wes decides to help her. At first, all his thinking is about getting her away from the doctor’s slightly slimy clutches. But as Wes and Victoire talk, he offers to marry her. He expects to die, a not unreasonable expectation for WWI flyers, and their marriage will leave her with his name and his widow’s pension. He gets someone on the ground who will send him letters, and she gets respectability. But as they write to each other, they discover they have a surprising chance at much more than either of them ever hoped for.

All for the Love of You by Jennifer Robson is also a sweet love story, but it is a story about the enduring power of love, and its ability to overcome all obstacles, even time, distance and injury. It is guaranteed to give you an earworm for the song.

The Record Set Right by Lauren Willig will remind readers of Out of Africa and Circling the Sun, even as its story deals with two wounded survivors looking back at their war, and the lives that followed, 60 years after the Armistice that both brought them together and tore them apart. It’s a story that asks questions about how responsible we are for the lies we tell, and for the lies we believe. Now that the truth is revealed, it is much too late to change the past. But in spite of the betrayal that led them to the lives they had, are they better off dreaming of what might have been? Or were they robbed of the life they should have had together by a lie told by a selfish man who loved them both? They’ll never know and neither will we.

And last but not least for this reader, The Photograph by Kate Kerrigan. The armistice in this book is the same as all the others, November 11, 1918, but the war is not World War I. Instead it is set in Ireland, where the Easter Rising of 1916 has led to outright rebellion. So while Irish troops are fighting as part of the British Army in the trenches, back home in Ireland the British Army is attempting to keep down the Irish Republican Army. This story takes place both in the present day and in 1918, as one family confronts its past and its future. This story is lovely and sad, but ends with hope for the future.

Escape Rating A-: All of the stories in this collection have their moments, and they all serve their theme well, sometimes in surprisingly different ways. As with all collections, not all of them spoke to this reader, but the ones that did echo in my thoughts like the sound of artillery over the trenches.

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