Pre-Reading: I won?! I won a Goodreads Giveaway?!
I'm bouncing between 3 and 4 stars. Rough around the edges in places, but it's got charm and atmosphere. Fails Bechdel Test unfortunately :/
Disclaimer: This book was provided free from Goodreads Giveaway. This has not influenced the rating of the book whatsoever. (Winning a Giveaway did influence the happiness of the reviewer, however.)
Jersey Leo is a bartender working a speakeasy (funneling money to his dad, The Champ, in New York to fund a kid's club called the Hy-Hat) when his old elementary school friend, Garvey, now on death row, ropes him into a twisted nest of booze, evil cops, greed, and violence.
I had never heard of John Florio, Jersey Leo, or Blind Moon Alley before I got a bug to finally win more than one Goodreads Giveaway in the almost 4 years I've been a member of this site. That, in a nutshell, is what led me to this book - well, also, I *DO* love stories set in the Roaring Twenties/Prohibition era.
NOTE: I jumped in at book 2 and had no problems getting up to speed. Kudos to the author there.
Unlike many historical fiction I've had the chance of reading, this book actually feels like the time period it's set it. It's dark and gritty; I almost felt like I was watching a black and white movie. We saw speakeasies, people were constantly drinking, it was all about dirty cops, gangs run by sociopaths and sensationalism. The voices of the characters felt very appropriate (no weird modern anachronisms in their speech that I noted, though I'm no expert to be sure).
I was also rather impressed with the character choice. Jersey Leo is a black albino. Number 1, HOORAH for a non-white character! Number 2, HOORAH for a character with a disability! Number 3, HOORAH for a character with a disability that isn't just mentioned once and disappears. (The albinism constantly is burning Leo or comes up in conversation.) So already, Leo, our viewpoint character, is off to a good start. It's nice to have a character who speaks like his background suggesets, who is insecure, who cries (particularly guys!!), and who is a good balance of good and bad. Leo isn't perfect; he tries, he fails sometimes, he puts his trust in the wrong people, he is realistic.
A lot of the cast was indeed black. I mention this because I shamefully kept assuming white until I read something about "black kinky hair" or "black skin". I bring this up, not as a failure of the story (Philadelphia was a bit site of the Black Renaissance apparently - another plus for this book is that it made me look up more info on the era, always a +1 star in my book!), but as a failure of ME. A sign of my privilege. And a call to myself to stop assuming "white" when a character appears on set.
My biggest "problem" would be with the women. There are three - Angela, Myra, and Madame. They were written fine (maybe not so much Angela, as she's almost portrayed as a Madonna figure, but then, this IS written in Leo's POV, so YMMV), but none of them talk to each other, failing the Bechdel test. Sad, because the book came SO CLOSE. Also, there was quite a bit of slut-shaming, particularly of poor Madame. And yeah, it's the 20's/30's, but I can still comment on it.
The story has LOADS of twists and turns, some expected, some unexpected. And really, at the end of the day, it's quite entertaining. I enjoyed myself immensely, found myself very interested in the "whodunnit", even if I turned out to be partially right.
This is probably one of the best self-published books I've read. The writing is good, solid work - no boundless editing issues or problems with grammar. The historical setting is deftly employed, the characters are intriguing, the story interesting. My biggest disappointment comes from the treatment of women, but that is always something than an author can tackle in future books.
Now that I've run through my thoughts and feelings on this book (and running through the books I've given 3 stars in the past), I'm bumping up to 4 stars.
Thank you, John Florio, for a chance to read your book.