Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: The Whiskey Sea by Ann Howard Creel

Many, many years ago now, my mom read a book by Ann Howard Creel called The Magic of Ordinary Days and needed to talk about it. In fact, it was this book that inspired the creation of our now long standing summer book club, so when I was offered the chance to read Howard's newest book, I was intrigued. The Whiskey Sea, Howard's latest, is quite different in topic from that earlier novel although it does share some similarities in theme.  Like the earlier novel, it would make a wonderful book club choice, begging, as it does, for discussion.

In a small, seaside fishing town not far from New York City, Frieda Hope is the oldest daughter of the town prostitute. No one knows who her father is. When her mother dies, Frieda and her younger sister are left alone in the world until a solitary fisherman named Silver takes them in. Growing up in Silver's care, the girls are cherished and cared for. Frieda is drawn to the sea and wants nothing more than to go out fishing once she's finished with school. She's prickly and defensive, wanting to survive and thrive in a man's world, so when Silver sells the boat she'd hoped to one day own to provide her with the money to go to secretarial school or the like, she is crushed. Even for the love of this crusty old fisherman, she cannot bring herself to give up her dream. Apprenticing with the boat's gentle new owner, she learns to work on engines, earning a reputation as a skilled mechanic. And when she's offered the lucrative job of being the engineer on a bootlegger's boat, it's a position she can't and won't turn down despite the disapproval of those closest to her. It is the only way she can continue to support her sister's academic ambitions and pay for the care that Silver, incapacitated by a stroke, needs. But descending into the illegal world of rum-running changes her life in more than just financial ways, testing her courage, introducing her to an intoxicating love, and revealing things about the past and her own character she might not have wanted to know.

Frieda is a tough character. She knows what she wants and she will bulldoze her way to it if anyone stands in her way. She is unconventional and stubborn and she holds a grudge against the town for their treatment of her mother in life and in death. She tries very hard to minimize her femininity not only because of her desire to do "man's work" but also in an effort to be something other than her mother was. Her damn the torpedoes personality can be a handicap to her when she doesn't consider all of the potential outcomes of her choices, not the people she could hurt, nor how she might hurt herself. But Frieda's character shows a tremendous amount of growth throughout the novel, going from a determinedly unthinking woman to more thoughtful one able to consider others beyond herself. The backdrop of Prohibition and the evolution both of flouting the law and of enforcing the law add a unique and interesting angle to the story. Creel does a good job conveying not only the thrill of the danger but also the sick feeling, the monotony, and the fear that accompanied each and every trip out to pick up contraband. The secondary characters in the novel were foils that highlighted the growing that Frieda was doing but they were charming or interesting in their own right, written briefly but as real people. The novel is a quick read, only bogging down a bit during the love story. Creel weaves in issues of surviving in difficult times, coming of age on one's own terms, and love of many types into the story. This is a compelling read for fans of historical fiction with an interest in the Prohibition and for those who appreciate strong women.

For more information about Ann Howard Creel and the book, check out her webpage. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

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