Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Book Review: The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

Media Type: Print Book
Title: The Wicked City
Author: Beatriz Williams
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Pages: Paperback; 384
Release Date: December 26, 2017
Source: HarperCollins / TLC Book Tours
HDB Rating: 3 Keys to My Heart

Genre: Historical Fiction

Recommended to: Readers who are fans of Beatriz Williams and enjoy reading dual-narrated and dual-time period stories.

Add it on: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
In the first book of a breathtaking new trilogy by bestselling author Beatriz Williams, two generations of women are brought together inside a Greenwich Village apartment —a flapper hiding an extraordinary past, and a modern-day Manattanite forced to start her life anew.

When she discovers her banker husband has been harboring a secret life, Ella Gilbert escapes her SoHo loft for a studio in Greenwich Village. Her charismatic musician neighbor, Hector, warns her to stay out of the basement after midnight, when a symphony of mysterious noise strikes up—laughter, clinking glasses, jazz piano, the occasional bloodcurdling scream—even though the space has been empty for decades. Back in the Roaring Twenties, the basement was home to one ofthe city’s most notorious speakeasies.

In 1924, Geneva “Gin” Kelly, a quick-witted flapper from the hills of western Maryland, is a regular at this Village hideaway. Caught up in a raid, Gin lands in the office of Prohibition enforcement agent Oliver Anson, who persuades her to help him catch her stepfather, Duke Kelly, one of the biggest bootleggers in Appalachia.

But Gin is nobody’s fool. She strikes a risky bargain with the taciturn, straight-arrow Revenue agent, and their alliance rattles Manhattan society to its foundations, exposing secrets that shock even this free-spirited redhead.

As Ella unravels the strange history of her new building—and the family thread that connects her to Geneva Kelly—she senses the Jazz Age spirit of her exuberant predecessor invading her own shy nature, in ways that will transform her existence in the wicked city.
In all fairness I should probably start this review with the fact I've never read any of Beatriz Williams' previous books, so I don't have any standing knowledge of her writing or characters. So it actually surprised me when I picked up this book and started enjoying it as a standalone, only to slowly fall further and further out of sorts with what was actually going on. I feel like I should warn any potential readers that although this is technically a standalone first book, there are references to Williams' other books here too. I had a friend who has read more of her works than I have explain them to me, and then everything made more sense after that. So, if you're lost, you might want to do a little digging. Just a PSA.

Now, on to The Wicked City. This is a dual narration book, alternating between the POVs of Ella Hawthorne in 1998 and Gin (Geneva) Kelly in 1924. I have to say, I was a little disappointed that Ella didn't get more of the limelight here. I actually enjoyed her story immensely, and felt like she got cut out more than she should have. Struggling to make her way in a world where she was once so happy, and now all alone, I so felt for her. While Gin's story was wonderful, and intriguing, the focus on her didn't create strong ties between these two women's stories. It felt more like Ella was just a filler story to connect Gin's story to present day events. There's a "ghost story" of sorts that works hard to make this connection, but I'm still not convinced. Add in the fact that the ending is wide open to make way for another book, and there are tons of loose threads floating out there, and you'll see why I was on the fence about that.

I can definitely say that Gin's story is well done though. Down to the vernacular, you can feel the vibe and grit of the 1920's. From speakeasies, to bootleggers, to prohibition era agents, it all draws you in to Gin's day to day life in Manhattan. I loved how easily Williams showed Gin's deep love for this Manhattan, despite its less than desirable aspects, and how realistic her life felt on the page. Despite not always feeling like her story tied into Ella's, I can't say that I didn't enjoy seeing life through Gin's eyes. Her story was wild and unpredictable, much like her character, and I appreciated that. In fact, had this been a story that only focused on her, I probably would have happily rated it much higher. It was the stretches of tying this back to other stories, and to other characters, that kept giving me issues.

Truth be told, I'll probably seek out more of Beatriz Williams' books, if for no other reason than I really enjoyed her writing style. I would also like to fill in some of the questions I have for myself, and give some of her other characters a chance. I still feel like it should be noted somewhere though that this book is a little difficult to read as a newbie to Williams' work. If you're willing to enjoy the story without fully understanding every little reference and nuance, you'll be fine. If you're nitpicky, like I am, you might have an issue. I'd say this is worth a read, as long as you know what you're in for! 1920's Manhattan is a fascinating place to take a literary trip to!

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion. Amazon link is an affiliate link. I will receive compensation if you purchase through that link.


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