Vivid period details and a forthright heroine help smooth the rough edges of this rags-to-riches story.

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East Side Story

Rosa Rizzio and her friends take different paths to escape the poverty of New York City’s Lower East Side during the 1940s.

In 1942, Rosa Rizzio was a junior high dropout eager to start making money. Growing up during the Great Depression in a crowded, dirty cold-water tenement, she and her Italian-immigrant family lived through grinding poverty. In the time before President Roosevelt’s New Deal and free school lunches, her mother sometimes stole food just to give them one meal a day. Now, with a war raging and jobs plentiful, Rosa charts a path toward financial security that begins with a summer job waitressing then develops into work as a rumba instructor (she changes her name to Rose Rice). Eventually, by the age of 15, she finds herself becoming the pampered mistress of Sam Cohen, a married garment-industry millionaire. She’d prefer someone young, handsome and single—and also rich—but you can’t have everything. Over the years, one childhood friend marries and moves to Long Island; another goes to college; and still another, Ruthie, on the brink of respectable marriage, throws over her potential husband in order to pursue a richer man, with disastrous results. Rose’s hardheaded gold-digging isn’t that different from her mother’s attitude toward theft: “Her family had to eat somehow. They had to dress somehow. And they had to keep warm somehow. It is a question of survival.” No amount of low-wage work could ever earn her the gowns, jewels and high life she craves, Rose reasons. Her sugar daddy wants to pay, so why not let him? By her own lights, she’s a good friend: “When youse go out with Sam’s friends, don’t be ashamed to axk them for money. If youse don’t, they won’t give youse anything and you’ll wind up with nothen but jelly beans,” she advises Ruthie. The novel has its faults—substandard punctuation and grammar, spelling by ear (“Old Lang Zain,” “By Mir Mister Shane”), haphazardly shifting points of view, far too much unnecessary detail, and wandering timelines—but it is undeniably engaging, much like coming across an old diary. Seeing Rose walk step by step into the life of a kept woman is fascinating, and it’s impressive how well debut author Tarcici depicts the temptations of glamor. Rose’s choices are not unlike those made today by young men who want—for various reasons—to be players in the drug trade. Though her family may disapprove, Rose becomes their main breadwinner; they have to eat somehow. Mercenary and vulgar as Rose is, she has the pluck and the luck to get what she wants.

Vivid period details and a forthright heroine help smooth the rough edges of this rags-to-riches story.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2010

ISBN: 978-1434983213

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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A heartfelt look at taking second chances, in life and in love.

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BEACH READ

Two struggling authors spend the summer writing and falling in love in a quaint beach town.

January Andrews has just arrived in the small town of North Bear Shores with some serious baggage. Her father has been dead for a year, but she still hasn’t come to terms with what she found out at his funeral—he had been cheating on her mother for years. January plans to spend the summer cleaning out and selling the house her father and “That Woman” lived in together. But she’s also a down-on-her-luck author facing writer’s block, and she no longer believes in the happily-ever-after she’s made the benchmark of her work. Her steadily dwindling bank account, though, is a daily reminder that she must sell her next book, and fast. Serendipitously, she discovers that her new next-door neighbor is Augustus Everett, the darling of the literary fiction set and her former college rival/crush. Gus also happens to be struggling with his next book (and some serious trauma that unfolds throughout the novel). Though the two get off to a rocky start, they soon make a bet: Gus will try to write a romance novel, and January will attempt “bleak literary fiction.” They spend the summer teaching each other the art of their own genres—January takes Gus on a romantic outing to the local carnival; Gus takes January to the burned-down remains of a former cult—and they both process their own grief, loss, and trauma through this experiment. There are more than enough steamy scenes to sustain the slow-burn romance, and smart commentary on the placement and purpose of “women’s fiction” joins with crucial conversations about mental health to add multiple intriguing layers to the plot.

A heartfelt look at taking second chances, in life and in love.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0673-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Jove/Penguin

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Another success for the publishing phenom.

UNDER CURRENTS

An abused boy fights back, escapes, then returns as an attorney to his beloved hometown, but just as he’s falling in love with a transplanted landscaper, a series of attacks from shadowy enemies jeopardizes their happiness.

“From the outside, the house in Lakeview Terrace looked perfect.” Which of course means that it wasn't. We're introduced to the horrifying Dr. Graham Bigelow, who beats his wife and, increasingly as the boy gets older, his son, Zane. On the night of Zane’s prom, a particularly savage attack puts him and his sister in the hospital, and his father blames Zane, landing him in jail. Then his sister stands up for him, enlisting the aid of their aunt, and everything changes, mainly due to Zane’s secret diaries. Nearly 20 years later, Zane leaves a successful career as a lawyer to return to Lakeview, where his aunt and sister live with their families, deciding to hang a shingle as a small-town lawyer. Then he meets Darby McCray, the landscaper who’s recently relocated and taken the town by storm, starting with the transformation of his family’s rental bungalows. The two are instantly intrigued by each other, but they move slowly into a relationship neither is looking for. Darby has a violent past of her own, so she is more than willing to take on the risk of antagonizing a boorish local family when she and Zane help an abused wife. Suddenly Zane and Darby face one attack after another, and even as they grow ever closer under the pressure, the dangers become more insidious. Roberts’ latest title feels a little long and the story is slightly cumbersome, but her greatest strength is in making the reader feel connected to her characters, so “unnecessary details” can also charm and engage.

Another success for the publishing phenom.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-20709-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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