“West With Giraffes” by Lynda Rutledge

Genre: Historical Fiction/Coming of AgeWest with Giraffes
Publisher:  Lake Union Publishing
Pub. Date: Feb. 2021

Itsy-Bitsy Review

An old man relives the adventures of his youth while he spends his last days in a nursing home. Reminiscent to the novel, “Water for Elephants,” “West With Giraffes” is also a romantic period drama set in the Depression.  It too is part: historical fiction, coming-of-age, an unconventional love story, and discovering that animals can be your most meaningful friends. “West” is based on the true story of two giraffes that made headlines for surviving an overseas trip where they were left for dead. The tale is a good one, giving us a snapshot of the extreme culture of zoos, but the writing often had a predictable feel—one too many clichés. However, I did appreciate that the author included the actual newspaper clippings on the giraffes in her novel.  It added authenticity to the story. Possibly, because I am a huge fan of “Elephants,” with its flawless pacing that I did not see in “Giraffes,” unfairly influenced this review.  Still, I recommend that you try this novel if you enjoy historical fiction centering on animals. I believe, like “Elephants,” the novel would make a very good movie.

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“Manhattan Beach” by Jennifer Egan

Genre:         General Fiction (Adult)Manatthan Beach

Pub. Date:   Oct. 3, 2017

Publisher:    Scribner

Here is the thing about this author, Jennifer Egan: she is brilliant, I might go as far as to say there is a something Shakespearean in her writing, complete with betrayal and tragedy. But like Shakespeare, for me, she can be hard to follow. I did read her 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” “Goon Squad” has a complicated narrative with each chapter written as a tweet, or a music chart, or a PowerPoint presentation. In other words, her writing style is unique in this work.

In “Manhattan Beach” the author writes a traditional novel. The story spans from the years of the Great Depression to WWII. We meet the Kerrigans, a Brooklyn family, and learn of their successes and failures. There is twelve-year-old Anna, her adored father, Eddie, her mother and severely disabled little sister. They are a Brooklyn Irish family that is barely scraping by in the 1930s with a strong father-daughter bond. Sounds familiar right? But this is not “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” There is another protagonist, the New York gangster, Dexter Styles. The father works for him. The book’s title comes from the gangster’s wealthy home on Manhattan Beach.

This is a hard review for me to write because the book is clearly well researched, which is always a plus. The feel of the novel is realistic, as are the characters. Furthermore, I love historical fiction and as a native New Yorker, I was drawn into the story with its sharp observations of NYC in this time frame. Maybe it is the plot that bothered me? There didn’t seem to be a steady tempo. I felt as though I was reading three different stories about the girl, the father and the gangster. It is when Egan flashes forward several years that I began to have trouble with the storyline.

Anna at 19 is working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Her father has mysteriously disappeared. She alone is the breadwinner. She elbows her way into a job as their first female diver. She also sleeps with Dexter (who initially doesn’t realize whose daughter she is). Of course, there is a disastrous outcome. The affair’s beginning seems so unlikely that it reads absurd. No matter how talented the author is, this just feels like way too much soap for my taste. I cannot talk about the father’s fate for it would be a spoiler, but that also is a bit hokey.

So what do you say about a book written by an extremely talented author, in your favorite genre, with interesting characters that keeps you hooked until it doesn’t? I am not sure. (I wish I could quote to explain, but the publisher doesn’t allow this since the book is not yet published). Maybe, I need to brush up on my own skills. Or, maybe, it would have read better as interconnected short stories. Either way, I can safely recommend that you read this book if you wish to get lost in the world of the past, the Navy, a young woman breaking into a man’s field, speakeasies, nightclubs and the end of Prohibition. As well as a lovely family saga, expect your heart to break for them. Just don’t be surprised when things start getting far-fetched.

This is an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) book.  I received this novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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