Angel of Brooklyn by Janette Jenkins

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Angel of Brooklyn by Janette Jenkins

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Kerry King
Reviewed by Kerry King
Summary: Jonathan Crane has returned from his travels in America with a new bride, a former showgirl from Coney Island. Beatrice is captivatingly beautiful and as such, becomes quite the focus of attention in the remote Lancashire village into which she has been transplanted. When the men head off to fight in the Great War, the women of the village take the opportunity to have a much closer look at this glamorous newcomer and discover that Beatrice is not all she says she is.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 337 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099516552

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That night in bed, he turned his face towards her, leaned on one elbow and said, 'I think we should rehearse.'……'So, Mrs. Crane, tell me about yourself.'…..'Make it sound natural.'…..She yawned. 'In New York I worked for a man called Mr Cooper. He had a booth on Coney Island selling picture postcards. Of course, I had no real experience, but he could see that I was honest. And that's where I met Jonathan. He was with Freddy, looking at the postcards. They were very popular cards.'…..They grinned at each other, pleased with the story…

On the eve of the Great War, Jonathan Crane arrives home to the unyielding grey of his home town of Anglezarke, Lancashire with a beautiful new bride on his arm. Beatrice is not immediately warmly received into the embrace of the women of this alien place - her beauty is captivating and the stories about where she grew up, enchanting; Jonathan Crane's new foreign wife is not ordinary among these folk and they are suspicious of her and as sometimes only gritty, British women know how, they are openly and unashamedly hostile toward her. Who is this stunning creature that is trying to infiltrate their lives?

But Jonathan and Beatrice have each other and theirs is a gentle romance; tender, giving, sweet and occasionally blackly funny, the common ground of their union a secret that they have sworn to take to their graves. In spite of everything and probably because of it too, Beatrice stoically sallies forth, and as Jonathan goes to War, she joins in with the War Effort, filling her days with the knitting of scarves for the men on the Front whilst her nights are pervaded by dreams of Coney; the salty tang of the sea, the sweet sugared scent of the candy floss and the decadence of the nightlife, with its muscatel and music. And its secrets.

They are hard days and Beatrice is alone among these harsh women, without the man she loves; but slowly, very slowly, the folk of Anglezarke begin to thaw towards Beatrice and she allows herself to believe that she might be happy here in this bleak, desolate, black brackened landscape. Until, that is that through a series of incredibly unlikely and equally unfortunate coincidences, her secret - the story of how she became the Angel Of Brooklyn - is revealed.

Angel of Brooklyn is a delightfully illustrative novel about a homesick new bride with a big secret. It is charming and tender in equal measure and Jenkins tells the story of her heroine with a beguiling innocence that captures your imagination from the beginning. The opening line is a showstopper A week before they killed her, Beatrice told them about the dead birds, and you may at first think it the biggest spoiler of all time, but it most assuredly does nothing more than pique the reader's interest in the unfolding of the tale – the fact that Beatrice dies is almost irrelevant. It's why and how she ends up dead that holds your fascination.

I've read many books that have been set in same period (the days before the start of The First World War) and many of those were not as successfully told as this. The innocence of the time that is still within 100 years of today is ably conveyed and the decorative comparison of Coney Island and Morecambe Bay is a pleasure.

This is a lovely novel. Like Jonathan Crane, you cannot fail to fall in love with Beatrice – her lack of worldliness in the life she had in Coney Island coupled with her disarming unfamiliarity and latter determination to get to grips with life in England, a place that she feels is empty, is cleverly but delicately chronicled by Jenkins. Her narrative voice sculpts the story, page by page, skilfully and artistically until you turn the last page in surprise as you had not realised you were there yet and I can only recommend Angel of Brooklyn to you, with a glad, if bittersweet, heart.

As for a follow on choice, I would probably have to point you in the direction of The Memory Keeper's Daughter because, like Angel of Brooklyn, it is a beautiful, bittersweet story and it will melt your heart. You should also take a look at Debra Adelaide's The Household Guide to Dying, because whilst we are on the subject of bittersweet, you cannot possibly not read it. Same goes for The Time Traveler's Wife, which is now a major movie (though I have not seen it). Our reviewer was less than five star keen on it but I think it is a gorgeous novel, as bittersweet as they come and I loved it, so there is a chance that you might also love it too. You might also enjoy Firefly by Janette Jenkins.

Our thanks, as always, to the kind ladies and gents at Vintage Books who sent this copy to us at Bookbag for review.

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