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Bittersweet Brooklyn: A Novel

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  488 ratings  ·  110 reviews
In turn-of-the century New York, a mobster rises—and his favorite sister struggles between loyalty and life itself. How far will she go when he commits murder?

After midnight, Thelma Lorber enters her brother Abie’s hangout under the Williamsburg Bridge, finding Jewish mobster Louis “Pretty” Amberg in a puddle of blood on the kitchen floor. She could flee. Instead, in the d
Paperback, 352 pages
Published November 6th 2018 by Lake Union Publishing
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Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
4 bold stars to Bittersweet Brooklyn! ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Late one evening, Thelma Lorber arrives at her brother’s hangout. There she finds Louis “Pretty” Amberg, a mobster, covered in blood on the floor. Instead of running, Thelma stands by her older brother, Abie.

Thelma is the youngest, most devoted sister. Abie is the doting brother. Thelma is a widow with a young son, and Abie is all she has to anchor her.

Bittersweet Brooklyn is an ambitious family saga taking place over years of Thelma’s life. It’
DJ Sakata
Favorite Quotes:

His response to those who disliked or disrespected him was schmuck. It was his favorite Yiddish word in a language that contained more bendy terms for shaming and cursing than the Eskimos had for snow.

There’s nothing wrong with those gams, little sister. You got the magic leg. You step off a curb and shake it, and the Prince of Wales is going to stop his carriage.

It aggravated her that Annie could nurture Julius, Adele, and Eli and, with a swivel of her head, spew dragon fire tow
Bittersweet Brooklyn is a dark story but a beautifully, poignant one. Its noir narrative portrays the lifestyle of so many who came to the US full of dreams and hopes only to find that life was as hard in the US as it was in the country they left. Many, however, had no choice except to flee their home country due to pogroms and death camps and war. It’s not too terribly different today, if at all. There are struggles to survive, struggles to fit in, to find one’s place and where there is no “wel ...more
Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell

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I've never read a bad historical title from Lake Union Publishing. This imprint seems to publish mostly historical fiction, thrillers, and women's fiction - three genres of books that I used to avoid, but now love, and features two of my favorite historical fiction authors: Amy Harmon and Lindsay Jayne Ashford. Every time I see new books from this publisher on Netgalley, I immediately request all of them, and I'm constantly buying them o
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

Bittersweet Brooklyn by Thelma Adams is a heart-wrenching historical fiction novel that was not at all what I expected.

What it's about: Thelma is the youngest of a family of 4 children, fatherless, and has a mom that prefers her oldest Annie while struggling with life as a Jewish widow. Annie is left in charge of the 3 younger siblings, including Thelma, and isn't exactly the picture of love and affection when she is just a kid herself. Told from 1905 through 1935, this is a family
Rebecca Rosenberg
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Bittersweet Brooklyn rips open the raw emotions of a Brooklyn family during WWII that deals with death, poverty, estrangement, lack of love. When the father dies, the Jewish family is left to fend for themselves, distraught and bone-poor. The mother descends into abject misery, leaving the oldest daughter to raise the family. While the children face the orphanage, and complete rejection, they grow older, looking for the very aspects they missed in their demeaning upbringing. Four children, four ...more
The Lit Bitch
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

As many of you know, I am a sucker when it comes to pretty covers. I love the elegance of this cover. Not only does the woman on the cover seem intriguing, but the text and the angle suggested that it was going to be a little more edgy, almost like a classic noir film or something.

After reading the description, I was eager to start reading it. It sounded a little like The Godfather and I was excited to read something a little more edgy and different in the historical fiction genre.

Camille Maio
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Bittersweet Brooklyn is gripping from Page one. An intimate look at the dynamics of a broken family in gangster-riddled New York, it will have you rooting for protagonist and antagonist alike as wounds are open, healed, scarred, and exposed. With some of the finest dialogue I've ever come across, this is one I will not soon forget. ...more
Patricia Sands
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Full disclosure: this is not an easy read. Not every author can write a story such as this. Thelma Adams has the talent and intellect to do so. I don't intend these comments to be negative but rather I hope they highlight the commitment, research and excellence in the craft of writing required to succeed as Adams has with this dark and haunting, yet touching, family saga. I often had to put the novel down for a day or two, sometimes feeling quite emotionally exhausted, but then I could not wait ...more
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc-netgalley
I received this from in exchange for a review.

In turn-of-the century New York, a mobster rises—and his favorite sister struggles between loyalty and life itself. How far will she go when he commits murder?

Great story, good read! A few great things going for this historical fiction book set in New York. There were many iconic images and how city living is described made me feel like I was right there in the tenements. The writing is good and moves the story along at a good pace. I
Sally Koslow
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Bookies! Bubbes! Bossy big-mouths! Thelma Adams’ Bittersweet Brooklyn takes you back to an early twentieth century Williamsburg teeming not with too-cool-for-school Millennials, but rough-and-tumble Jewish and Italian immigrants. You’ll race through this raucous historical saga, admiring its gritty detail and street-smart dialogue. Thelma Adams brings to life an unforgettable family ruled by filial love, yet divided by biting dysfunction.
If you love big family sagas, Bittersweet Brooklyn fits the bill! Thelma Adams beautiful writing made me feel as thought I had taken a step back in time to 1920’s Brooklyn. At times, I didn’t like the main character, Thelma, because of her selfishness. But the author did a wonderful job of creating a sympathetic, hard as nails character who fought her way through the adversities of her life and circumstances. Excellent!!
Literary Redhead
BITTERSWEET BROOKLYN takes the reader into the heart of gangster-controlled New York during the 1920s and ‘30s, in this fully absorbing tale about Thelma Lorber, a woman thrust into mobster life through her beloved older brother’s involvement. She’s faced with the ultimate struggle when he commits murder. As a widow with a young son, she has much on the line in this engaging novel that exposes the impact of mob violence on women. Immerses you in this tragic family’s life over decades, shown thro ...more
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A haunting family saga told fromThelma, the youngest. This story is gritty, gangster filled and emotional. At times it was so closely related to my own family it left me wounded and shedding a tear. A family ripped apart at the seems and many of the issues that Jewish and Italian immigrants faced. A truly remarkable story that you won't forget. The writing is brilliant and so vivid it literally breathes. Hauntingly Beautiful. A great book club selection as there just so many things you'll want t ...more
Barbara White
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
BITTERSWEET BROOKLYN is a haunting family saga that pins the reader in a specific moment of history, yet tells a timeless tale of immigrant, dysfunctional family patterns, and the desperate need to survive in a sometimes inhospitable world. It is a dark, intense read. There is hate, there is violence, there is mental illness that is neither understood no treated in an effective manner, and yet there is also love and dancing, a fascinating heroine, and a bond between a brother and a sister that I ...more
Kate Vocke (bookapotamus)
Step aside Sopranos, there's a new family in town… and although the women in this family might not be tommy gun slinging gangsters - they are running their own show, living their lives the best way they know how, and trying to hold it all together while the boys go out to play.

The story is rich with history - I savored every description of early 1900’s Brooklyn and felt like I was transported back in time. We take an epic journey following one tough, but vibrant little girl who desperately seek
Ann Creel
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Enthralling historical fiction

In Bittersweet Brooklyn, Thelma Adams shows us a family living rather dark lives, and yet she manages to make them into sympathetic characters. The historical details enrich the novel, and lots of strong dialogue makes it feel fast-paced. The story had me in its grips from page one and continues to haunt me. Kudos to the author for wrenching so much emotion out of me. A great read.
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rcbc-tbr
Thank you NetGalley, Lake Union and Thelma Adams.

This was a hard book for me to read. It touched on so many things that happened to the youngest daughter in a much unloving family. Thelma was a baby who needed love as do all children. Her mother and sister didn’t know the meaning of the word love, caring or empathy. They are cruel and so mean. Very unlovable people. Abie and Louis were the boys that were just in the way. Annie, the oldest girl, was given complete control over everything, includi
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Bittersweet Brooklyn is, unfortunately, not for me. I disliked the violence and much of the story line. For this reason, I couldn't connect with this story. ...more
Nov 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This story follows the lives of the Lorber children into their adulthood. I was initially interested in the mob plot, but this story is more than that. This story covers everything from first loves, yentas, Italian festas, to the more depressing and grisly factors of life (mental illness, child abuse and death). Overall a good read that makes you feel like you stepped back in time and want to go to Coney Island for a ...more
Elisabeth Comet Readings
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was initially drawn to this book by its cover and then after reading the synopsis, I was certain this was a story I wanted absolutely to dive into. So, I’m very grateful today to have been offered the chance to read this both complex and unputdownable story and find out about this great author.

From the beginning, I was hooked on this family and their dynamics, and I found difficult to define the characters as good or bad ones. As a matter of fact, every character has its own burden of values a
Sílvia Désire
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
For the first book of the decade, let’s go back to the 20’s

Soundtrack: Why don’t you do right - Peggy Lee
Kathleen Kelly
Feb 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
"It's tough torching a fresh corpse, so the Williamsburg Boys Club killers stuffed their shredded victim into the back of a Buick."

Thus starts Bittersweet Brooklyn by Thelma Adams. Louis "Pretty" Amburg is the corpse and because Thelma just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, she was tasked with cleaning up the mess. The Williamsburg Boys Club is a ratty apartment that Thelma's brother Abie has. It is a gathering place for the mobsters so as to not be caught by the cops.

Linda Zagon
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Linda's Book Obsession Reviews "Bittersweet Brooklyn" by Thelma Adams , Lake Union Publishing, November, 2019

Thelma Adams , author of "Bittersweet Brooklyn" has written an intense, intriguing, heartbreaking, emotional, and suspenseful novel. The Genres for this story are Fiction and Historical Fiction. The timeline for this story starts at the turn of the century and goes forward to Immigration, the Wars, and the Mob.  Much of the story is told in Brooklyn, where Jewish and Italian immigrants gr
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
The opening chapter of this novel really got me hooked. Thelma pays an unplanned visit to her brother Abbie’s. She lets herself in, and soon discovers she has arrived on a gruesome murder scene. She ends up having to clean the scene while her brother and his fellow mobsters remove the body. The bulk of the novel takes us back to their childhood. A father who died young, a mother who couldn’t cope, poverty, an older sister who had to effectively raise Thelma and resented coins so, overcrowding in ...more
Bambi Rathman
Nov 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bittersweet a good name for a book that had me feeling bittersweet reading it. It felt dark, heavy and tragic through most of it. Painful event after painful event. But there were also parts that gave me hope, too. It's the story of Thelma Lorber and the extremely dysfunctional Jewish family she grows up in. Her mother is left a resentful widow when Thelma is very little. Thelma's sister, Annie, has to pick up the pieces and she is resentful she has to hold the family together. Th ...more
Jaymi The OC Book Girl
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this title! Perfectly captured early 1900-1935 Brooklyn. I was completely transported back in time. This is an emotionally charged, character driven read. Brutal, dark, desperate. The dialogue was snappy and the descriptions of flappers, gangsters, Jewish and Italian families made me fly through the pages.

Thelma has two older brothers she adores and a sister who unwillingly raised her when their mother was widowed. Her sister Annie made all the decisions and was cruel and abusive. Thelm
Heather Burch
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Not to be missed! Smart and complex, Bittersweet Brooklyn is a riveting journey into a glamorous and deadly underworld. Fascinating characters and a backdrop of New York in the 1920’s kept me churning through pages. Add in twist after twist to an already vibrant plot, and you’ve got the makings of a perfect read! No one writes women in history better than Thelma Adams. I loved this book!

Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is so well written and has a great story. The characters are fantastic. The story just left me so depressed. The main character has nothing but bad luck. She basically loses everything important to her. There’s death, tragedy, loss - just so much sadness. Story wise, it is amazing though!
Leanna Mattea
Aug 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What to say about this story, it certainly packs a wallop! It had everything you want in a great book. Complicated characters that you like or disliked a lot. A dysfunctional family like none you’ve ever encountered, with nothing to give to each other. Certainly love was missing, with Thelma growing up, begging for affection from her mother and sister Annie. Annie, a horrible person, committing her own brothers to an orphanage, and withholding any affection from her baby sister, running the fami ...more
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Thelma Adams is the author of the best selling historical novel The Last Woman Standing and Playdate, which Oprah magazine described as "a witty debut novel." In addition to her fiction work, Adams is a prominent American film critic and an outspoken voice in the Hollywood community. She has been the in-house film critic for Us Weekly and The New York Post, and has written essays, celebrity profil ...more

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