I've never read a bad historical title from Lake Union Publishing. This imprint seems to publish mostly historical fiction, thrillers, and women's fiction - three genres of books that I used to avoid, but now love, and features two of my favorite historical fiction authors: Amy Harmon and Lindsay Jayne Ashford. Every time I see new books from this publisher on Netgalley, I immediately request all of them, and I'm constantly buying them on sale from Amazon. I had visions of a small publisher, probably where the CEO wears a sunhat and evening gloves and all hands meetings are had over high tea, but no - apparently it's an imprint of Amazon Publishing, how very disillusioning.
BITTERSWEET BROOKLYN attracted me with that exquisite cover, and held me with the premise. Thelma Lorber is a young Jewish woman when we first meet her, cleaning up the dead body from one of her mobster brother's "fixings." She wonders, as she cleans, how she got to this place. The narrative is only to happy to show us, transporting us to Thelma's childhood in an abusive home with a neglectful mother and cruel, domineering sister. Her brothers, the only people who care about her, are torn from her and sent to an orphanage while she suffers under the tyranny of her female relatives and, later, under the attentions of a predatory stepfather.
I thought it was interesting that the author gave this character her first name. I wouldn't be able to do that - it feels too personal, especially considering all the bad things that befall the main character in the book. Thelma's life is one big heartbreak, and even the good things that happen to her - like being taken in by a warm Italian family or meeting her true love in a dance hall - don't have happy endings. I think if you read this book expecting a thriller or a romance, you'll be unhappy, since it is neither. It's a character study in regret and disappointment, and Thelma's insights as she looks back on her life through the experience of adulthood at the end are probably the best part of the novel.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
3.5 out of 5 stars