Review: The Whiskey Sea

The Whiskey Sea Cover

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Motherless and destitute, Frieda Hope is determined to make a better life for herself and her sister, Bea. The girls are taken in by a kindly fisherman named Silver, and Frieda begins to feel at home on the water. When Silver sells his fishing boat to WWI veteran Sam Hicks, thinking Sam would be a fine husband for Frieda, she’s outraged. But Frieda manages to talk Sam into teaching her to repair boat engines instead, so she has a trade of her own and won’t have to marry.

Frieda quickly discovers that a mechanic’s wages won’t support Bea and Silver, and is lured into a money-making team of rumrunners supplying alcohol to New York City speakeasies. Speeding into dangerous waters to transport illegal liquor, Frieda gets swept up in the lucrative, risky work—and swept off her feet by a handsome Ivy Leaguer who’s in it just for fun.

Just finished my third read of 2018, and decided that I need to write my first post since move in day approximately two weeks ago! I’m thrilled that I can count this as my 2/30 read of the year on my Goodreads Challenge & that it also classifies as my first #BeatTheBacklist read of the year! Yay for progress being made!

Now onto my thoughts on The Whiskey Sea by Ann Howard Creel.

I was surprised by how much I liked this one! I got it as a freebie for my Kindle, but honestly, I probably would have paid money for this one based on the synopsis alone. This is one of those stories that constantly catches you by surprise in some ways, but is utterly predictable in others.

The beginning frames Frieda and Bea’s life with Silver as ones of those “David and Goliath,” or “underdog upset,” stories. You genuinely care about them, know the whole world is against them and everything that is their existence, but you want them to win it all in the end. 

Ann Howard Creel creates this grimy, harsh “man’s world” and throws these two girls in it, giving the novel depth and heart. Frieda and Bea are true foils of one another, but their loyalty and love for each other is the only type of bond that sister’s share. They lean on one another, and on their adoptive father, Silver, who provides them with a respectable life they deserve, but otherwise might not have had if their mother was alive.

The dynamic isn’t a traditional nuclear family for this time period, but you feel their love for one another. As times grow hard, Frieda has to grow up fast, and that is when she realizes the only way to get Bea out of this world she’s accepted as her own life is to turn to rumrunning.

With prohibition in full swing this makes Frieda’s new occupation illegal, and more dangerous than she can imagine. Of course, the majority of the story, Howard Creel ensures drama stays off the high seas, concentrating it mostly on Frieda’s love life. Which makes sense, considering that is a deficient area of her character, so her romantic interests and falling in love for the first time definitely lend to her growth.

However, meaningful character development and important plot points occur with all the characters, not just within the love triangle that Ann Howard Creel sets up. Strong characterization enables the character’s to drive course of the plot, which is necessary since the major narrative’s climax doesn’t occur until the third to last chapter.

The historical part of this novel is intriguing, but not entirely atmospheric. I didn’t feel entirely transported to this era, but that could also be due to the fact that the main setting is simplistic when compared to the glitz and glamour of the 1920s.

Another thing that I found slightly lacking was the love triangle. It was blatantly obvious that Hicks carried a flame for Frieda to everyone. And that was fine, but the majority of his character was described as completely tortured by her initial lack of interest in him. Multiple times we got this indication, and I don’t think it needed to be laid out so obviously. I did love Hicks’ devotion to her though. And I especially loved how he taught her trade, and respected her as a professional, independent woman.

Then there was Charles, or “Princeton,” as he is often referred to. Urgh. I grimaced at the majority of Frieda’s scenes with him. Yes, I understand your first love is this great, momentous thing, and you’re able to get swept away so easily that you lose a piece of yourself. That piece of it was evident through Howard Creel’s descriptions of their scenes together. However, I didn’t trust him from the start. Even when the author attempted to make him amenable, I just couldn’t find anything I liked about him. She attempted to draw comparisons to them being two people tramped in a certain class, but I just couldn’t buy into. As a result, I wasn’t a fan of that piece of that dynamic within the story.

However, I loved Frieda’s character, and I wanted to see her story through to the end. I loved her journey of self-discovery, and how she grew as a person from start to finish. Of course, I was probably fated to love this story due to her character alone. Female protag’s in historical dramas who break societal barriers are totally my thing. I was slightly disappointed by Bea’s decisions by the end of the novel, and found it hard to be 100% ok with what she did. Because Frieda was risking her freedom and essentially her life, to make a better life for Bea. But I was glad their sisterly relationship remained intact.

If you’re looking for a historical read with a central focus on character growth and development, you want to read this. If you love strong female protagonist’s from this time period, then you want to read this. I would go back to this author for another read.

Anyone out there have other historical fiction rec’s from the 1910s-20s? Bonus points if it includes a badass female protagonist! Or has anyone read anything else by Ann Howard Creel? I’d love to hear some additional titles by her!

Blog-Signaturs

Pshht…stay tuned for my next post in a few days. Rough doodles and mad colors will likely blind you as I show another way I track my bookish progress.

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