I am struggling with a grade for this book because there were things that I really liked about it (the setting, the characters, the prose), but there were other parts that I really did not like (the open-ended ending). In the end, I decided on 3 stars because my reservations over the happy ever after and the feeling that a break up was inevitable.
Before I get into what I didn’t like, I want to explain what worked for me.
1. The setting : 1920’s New York City. I’m not sure what it is about that time period that has always called out to me, but I have always loved the 1920’s. It was a period when women were finally starting to get some independence. We could hold jobs outside of the home (even if this was still a rarity), we had won the right to vote, and for the first time we were rebelling against the status quo. The idea of leaving the corset at home and wearing a short dress must have been so freeing. I am honestly surprised that there aren’t more historical romances that take place in the 1920’s. Ms. Brenner did a wonderful job at portraying that decade. There were times that I was so into the prose that I almost expected to see a Model T to come cruising down the block or hear about the raid of a speakeasy on the news.
2. The characters: Charlotte, the main character, was richly drawn and completely relatable (even to this liberated 21st century girl). Her struggle with her non-feelings for her husband, William, and the emergence of her desire for Jake, a bootlegger and the owner of a small, off the grid, speakeasy was palpable. Being raised to be a proper wife, Charlotte didn’t like the idea of disobeying William, but she still wanted to be her own person, separate from William’s wife, and eventually William’s ex-wife. It was fun to see her come into her own through her relationship with Mae, William’s rebellious younger sister, and the catalyst for Charlotte’s own rebellion. Mae is another wonderful character. At 19, she is on the cusp of adulthood, but she is still very much a child. She wants to do what she wants and not what anyone would have her do. This is, of course, a problem for her brother, who became her “guardian” at the beginning of the book. William, the villain of the piece, is not happy with his sister bringing scandal onto his family, and tries everything he can to control her, although Mae won’t have any of that. She was a nice contrast to Charlotte because despite being raised the same way (to think that being a proper society wife was the most important thing in the world) she isn’t willing to submit to anyone. She knew that she wasn’t meant to be someone else’s plaything.
Based on all of that, I should be giving this book 4 or 5 stars, but there were a few things that I didn’t like.
1. Jake : He is supposed to be the hero, but he never really believes in Charlotte. He is always certain that she doesn’t love him and that she is not willing to leave her husband, despite the fact that she has given every indication that she does indeed plan on leaving. If he were a real hero, he would have had faith in his leading lady, but he never once realizes that she is doing everything she can to help him, whether he wants her to or not.
2. William : As I mentioned above, William is the villain and at times he is so evil that he appears to be a bit cartoonish. For example, there is a scene in which William comes home and decides it is time to have sex with his wife, so he forces her to have sex–it is obvious that she doesn’t want it, but he doesn’t care. Then, there is the fact that he just knows that Charlotte and Mae are Up To No Good. He just does. With Mae it is a bit obvious, but it isn’t with Charlotte. I don’t know if it is just supposed to be that he’s a man of his time and his thoughts and actions reflect the time period from which he comes or if it is that he is a complete psychopath. If it was the first, I could kind of understand it, but I fear that it is the second. Personally, I prefer my villains to be multi-layered. I don’t want them to be all evil all the time. Unfortunately, that is how William is presented.
3. The Ending I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I have several problems with it. First, it is a little ambiguous, and it feels as if “To Be Continued” should have been printed underneath it. Too many strings were left dangling. Second, I don’t believe the happily ever after for Charlotte and Jake because about half-way through the book there is another relationship developing and Charlotte finds herself attracted and interested in another man–an attraction that is still there up until three pages before the book ended. I don’t know if Ms. Brenner plans on continuing this story (there is no indication that she is), but I don’t like it when the main relationship is still being threatened in the end.
Another problem I had with the ending was that it just stopped. The action finished, someone is lead of in cuffs, and that’s it. It was the literary equivalent to The Sopranosseries finale.
Altogether, the book was fairly good, but anything that I liked (plot-wise) was spoiled by that ending.