Motherless and destitute, Frieda Hope grows up during Prohibition 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 whenever she is 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, so she joins a team of rumrunners, speeding into dangerous waters to transport illegal liquor. Frieda becomes swept up in the lucrative, risky work—and swept off her feet by a handsome Ivy Leaguer who’s in it just for fun.
As danger mounts and her own feelings threaten to drown her, can Frieda find her way back to solid ground—and to a love that will sustain her?
“There was too much money to be made. And how much is ever enough?”
The Whiskey Sea by Ann Howard Creel is beautifully written, with characters who draw you into the story and a setting so vivid that you can feel the dampness of the sea against your skin and smell the salt air. It spotlights an intriguing part of history that I hadn’t ever really considered before now, and it does so from the perspective of a young woman (though in third person) who bucked against society’s norms.
I’ve read several novels set during Prohibition on the East Coast, but they’ve usually been focused more on the upper class. The Whiskey Sea approaches the time period with a lens on rum-runners, the rather rag-tag band of fishing boats and schooners that dodged the Coast Guard – as well as organized crime – to bootleg alcohol for speakeasies and the like. As they ran their boats on the darkest nights – with no illumination – and carried large amounts of money or expensive cargo, rumrunning was highly dangerous. It was also highly lucrative. But it was certainly a man’s endeavor, and it would have been virtually unheard of for a woman to join a rum-running operation.
Frieda is one of the most complex characters I’ve read in a while. She’s a lot prickly but she loves fiercely. She’s courageous but at the same she makes a lot of foolish decisions, the effects of which are far-reaching. She holds a grudge with little provocation and she keeps at arms’ length the people who love her the deepest, but she’s also willing to sacrifice everything to provide for those same people. She’s driven by her mother’s history and her sister’s future, but she’s restless in her own present.
Bottom Line: Everything that makes Frieda such a complex character also makes The Whiskey Sea sobering and heartbreaking and captivating. Packed with moments of action and high tension, the rum running scenes will have you holding your breath and wishing you had someone’s hand to hold for reassurance! Alternately, the romantic and familial elements to the story may leave you a little blue, their bittersweet cloak draping over your shoulders as you read. If you like historical fiction, I found the time period of The Whiskey Sea to be absolutely fascinating and something I would like to learn more about.
Reviewer’s Note: For my readers who prefer only “clean fiction”, The Whiskey Sea does contain a scattering of profanity and the implication of intimate scenes, though nothing explicit.
(I received a copy of this book in exchange for only my honest review.)
My Rating: 4 stars / Very intriguing!
Ann Howard Creel was born in Austin, Texas, and worked as a registered nurse before becoming a full-time writer. She is the author of numerous children’s and young adult books as well as fiction for adults. Her children’s books have won several awards, and her novel The Magic of Ordinary Days was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie for CBS. Creel currently lives and writes in Chicago. For more information about Ann’s work, visit her website.
Other Books by Ann Howard Creel
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