Cover Image: The Orchid Hour

The Orchid Hour

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Little Italy in 1920s New York is rife with the seeds of infamy. Prohibition is in full swing and bootleggers are running booze up and down the east coast. These bootleggers supply speakeasies, which also serve as meeting points for mob bosses and their associates. Powerful players start to stake territory across NYC, laying the foundation for the Five Families. Mafia bosses and their crew pay off local police and polititians, but the G-man is about to pick up the racket and, before long, a war will break out.

The Orchid Hour is like Goodfellas or Public Enemies, but during the early years. Before Charles "Lucky" Luciano officially founded the five families and everything is just getting started. The book has many real life characters in it. Some are mentioned in passing, while others are used to help set the stage. Names like Arnold Rothstein, Guiseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, Owney Madden, Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky, and others can be found in the pages.

The Orchid Hour is at the center of it all, and one woman stands behind the curtain watching it all unfold. The Orchid Hour is a work of historical fiction but it is alive with colorful characters. Some are fictional and are an amalgimation of characteristics that people whould have possessed during the time. Italian immigrants forced into a small corner of New York, the crowded tenements and the stores that dotted Little Italy. Jews fighting for space alongside them and experiencing only slightly less Xenophobia than the Italians. Showgirls and film stars strutting about Manhattan next to the comman man.

Zia De Luca (Lucania) is the woman behind the curtain, working at The Orchid Hour which is owned, in part, by her cousin, Salvatore Lucania aka Charles "Lucky" Luciano. She is only involved in the mafia scene indirectly, but her nearness is the thing that gets her deeper involved. The whole thing feels like the inspiration for a film noire, starring James Cagney or Clark Gable, and Zia is played by someone like Bette Davis. This is something I would love to see translated to a film to bring all these real characters to life right next to these life-like fictional characters.

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Audenzia De Luca has a number of names in this story set in Little Italy section of New York in the 1920's. She goes by Zia to her large extended family, who live under the independence limiting rule of ordine della famiglia - something she soon finds she needs to get out from under. The major portion of Zia's story is during Prohibition, and she finds herself mixed up with the start-up of a new speakeasy named The Orchid Hour. . . .her special talents with plants, specifically orchids (quickly gained by her last employment at the local library) gives her access to the care and maintenance of a kind of hybrid that kicks in super scents at night. . .hence the name of the new establishment:

It was time to find out if the Brassavola magic was real. I leaned down, breathless with suspense, to inhale. My senses came alive. The scent of the Brassavola was like a gardenia but with a trace of something I could only compare to a rich soap, one created for pampering, and best of all, a dash of lemon. I adored lemon, the fruit of Sicily.

My head spun with the delight of the orchid, our Lady of the Night.

An engaging read, transporting one back to the days of F. Scott & Zelda, and the dark shadows of mob bosses.

*A sincere thank you to Nancy Bilyeau, Lume Books, and NetGalley for an ARC to read and independently review.* 52:2

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Set in 1923 New York City, Audenzia (Zia) De Luca lives with her son in her in-laws' home. She's still suffering from the shock of the loss of both her husband and brother in WWI. Her in-laws run a small shop, selling what they think are the best cheeses; Zia does their books, and also works at a public library. Her father-in-law, and other business owners in the area, must pay a local heavy protection money regularly.

Zia misses her cousin Sal, with whom she and her family made the crossing to America from Sicily. Sal is always scheming and has his eye on opportunity, and is often in trouble, something that does not endear him to Zia's in-laws or Zia's older, overly protective brother.

One of the library patrons who loves poetry is friendly to Zia, inflaming the jealousy of a coworker. One day, he is murdered outside the library, and Zia is horrified, both by the murder, and angry when the police suspect her because she's originally from Sicily. When violence comes to the shop, Zia learns that both crimes have a connection to a speakeasy called the Orchid Hour. Sal is coincidentally an investor in The Orchid Hour.

Zia decides to investigate when the police get nowhere, getting Sal to help her infiltrate the club. Zia's world opens up to excitement, beauty, and friendship, leading to big changes in her life.

Author Nancy Bilyeau gives us an entertaining historical novel. Set at the intersection of Prohibition, growing organized crime, and immigration, she shows how New York City is transforming during this period.

Zia is a solid lead, doing what she has to to make a better life for her son. Zia is intelligent and adaptable, speaks multiple languages, and is determined to find the truth and take it to the police. She has to decide if she's going to continue to do things the way her in-laws want, living a small, quiet life under their control. Or is she going to do whatever is necessary to reinvent herself to fit in with her new complex, double life. Her determination moves much of the plot forward, bringing her many new experiences meeting people not quite on the right side of the law, as well as dancers and actors, while growing past the confines others want her to stay in.

This was a compelling story, as Zia gets a sense of who is behind the crimes that have touched her life, as well as a better sense of who her beloved cousin Sal is becoming. I love a story that mixes real facts credibly into fiction, and also creates characters one comes to care deeply for. Bilyeau definitely succeeded.

Thank you to Netgalley and to Lume Books for this ARC in exchange for my review.

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Zia De Luca is an Italian living in New York City in 1923. She loves her library job, but cutbacks and her nationality force her to move on. She tries to contribute to her in-laws's cheese shop until another tragedy strikes. Now, she decides to move outside of the family circle and work at The Orchid Hour, a new speakeasy in Greenwich Village. Here, she's exposed to crime and learns more about her family and herself.
I like Zia's coming of age. Even though she's a 27-year-old widow with a child, she has lived sheltered in the protective and safe cocoon offered by her extended family. I appreciated watching her make her own decisions and embrace change as she evolved.
I enjoyed the historical aspect of this novel, too. It portrays a potentially true look at everyday, crime and political life in NYC in the 1920s. And it helped me understand how poorly immigrants were treated.
The end felt disjointed and rushed, which was disappointing.
I want to learn more about orchids now!

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A slow but interesting story that gives us a glimpse at speakeasies, gangsters, and life in New York during the Roaring Twenties.

Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for this digital arc in exchange for my honest review which is not affiliated with any brand.

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A great mystery story full of historical content and very clever. I enjoyed this book and couldn't stop reading it. My thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review.

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I was immediately engaged with this novel's setting, characters and plot, so much so that when I finished reading it, I was so disappointed that it had ended. I wasn't sure how to review this book because WHAT I read I loved….I just found it very disappointing not to have learned more about the time in history and the backstory and further development of several of its characters (like Lieutenant Hudgins….which would have made his "story" more emotional. This novel had so much potential for layering the plot and the development of character that I felt as though a massive balloon of anticipation had been unceremoniously popped.
So, WHAT I read is definitely a 5, but I can't seem to recover from the disappointment I felt at the end, so with that, I feel compelled to give it a 3.
Thank you to Lume and Netgalley for the free copy.

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Thank you to Netgalley, the publishers and of course the author for gifting me this advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

I was very pleased to receive an early copy of this book as I had seen good recommendations. Based in NYC in 1923 and following the life of Zia De Luca after she is framed for the murder of a poet in her home town of Little ITaly where she lives with her son and in-laws (following the death of her husband in The Great War). However when the police struggle with the investigation Zia seeks out her cousin who guides her to the shadow realm of The Orchid Hour so she can find the real perpetrators before the find her and discover what she can do.

I really enjoyed this read, it captivated me and was full of mystery, historical fiction and the suspense was so atmospheric.

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I really like this author, but this work is not my favorite. I had hoped the orchid reference worked further into the story, but not so. The story centered around the Mafia is good and sad at times, but I feel it fell a bit short of how much more the author could have added to explain the blurb, "The orchid's scent will bewitch you...."

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It’s 1923 and librarian Zia De Luca’s life is turned upside down when a patron is gunned down outside her library, and she’s named the prime suspect. From there it’s a domino of tragic events. With the police blinded by prejudice and corruption, she decides to find the truth on her own. Her quest leads her to The Orchid Hour, a speakeasy run by her shady cousin Sal. Little by little she finds herself seduced by the glamor and excitement of the underworld and discovers a facet of herself she didn’t know existed.

There’s a mystery involving orchids, prohibition agents, and mistaken identity as well.

The good: Bilyeau does a great job of capturing the anti-immigrant environment in the 1920s. We hear a lot about the glamor of the Roaring Twenties, but rarely do we look at how racist and inequitable that time could be. Zia becomes a suspect solely because she’s Italian. Other characters are insulted because they are Irish or Jewish.

I also liked Bilyeau’s portrayal of Mulberry Street and NYC’s Italian ghetto. Cheese shops, wagon venders, over-crowded streets – she captured them nicely.

The bad:. I found the opening chapters bogged down by long passages of info dumping and I didn’t warm to the heroine. I ended up skimming to the end.

All that said, the book has a 4.3 rating on Amazon, so clearly others liked it far more. (In contract, The Vanished Days has only a 3.7 rating.) And, I’ll admit that I might have been sensitive about the info dumping because it was information that I’d gleaned from the same research books. This is why I’m adding it as a recommended read. Your experience with the book could be far more positive.

Thank you Netgalley for an advanced read in exchange for an honest review.

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thank you to netgalley for the advanced reading copy. I really enjoyed this and will be getting copies for my shop.

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Not what I expected.
I enjoy Nancy Bilyeau's novels so did not take much notice of the blurb, expecting it to be a botanical themed book.
I was surprised to find it set in New York with two time lines and set in the time of prohibition..
Audenzia is a widow with a young son, she lives in little Italy with her in laws, they have a delicatessen and she helps out there, she is close to them both but particularly her Father-in-law. Adenzia has a job at the local library so does have some independence, she befriends a library user a shabby, older man and also has some conflicts with another member of staff. Staff at the library have to be reduced and Audenzia is the one to loose her job, at the same time Mr Watkins her shabby friend is shot and killed. During a police interview, it is revealed that Mr Watkins was deputy Mayor of New York and involved in cleaning up speakeasies and the import of illegal liquor. The local gangs in Little Italy are involved in all of the illegal operations and murders.
Audenzia has to strive to break from the traditional Italian family role to help find the killers of Mr Watkins and her Father-in-Law, this leads her on a very dangerous path.
Slightly confusing at first, but once the characters are sorted out a compelling and interesting read.
Thank you Nancy and NetGalley.

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New York in the '20's is a far cry from today, and a far cry from the old country of Italy for Zia, a young widow in her twenties with a young son. Working as a librarian at a Carnegie library with a large number of immigrant patrons, Zia is the model Italian daughter-in-law until an enigmatic patron is murdered right outside the library. Zia didn't know him well, but he had asked her to do an Italian to English translation of some poetry, and his death, besides being distressing, was also financially impacting. When Zia initially seems to be a suspect, she becomes obsessed in finding the real killer. Her investigation will take her from an undercover job in a speakeasy for the politically connected and seemingly immune from consequences. to an attempt on her life. In a way it's a coming of age story as Zia questions her old country beliefs and aspires to more than traditional norms. The Orchid Hour is a super compelling read, a fantastic historical mystery!

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Who doesn't want to jump in the roaring 20s world of gangsters and speakeasies?
This book promised a glittering world and a roaring story, but for me it lacked luster. Where it did excel and interest was in the history of the Orchid and the clubs of the day. I found that very fascinating.
The characters.... I just didn't root for them or find them endearing. I wasn't invested in them or their story. Despite offering numerous insights into them with the chapters shifting points of view.
As for that chapters from other points of view that just interrupted the flow for me and give it a disjointed feel.
Overall it wasn't for me.
Grab this book and few drinks to slip between the chapters and enjoy a tipple.

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This was such a clever and immersive historical fiction novel. It was set during a time period that I had never read about before and I was so ignorant of the issues that Sicilians had gone through when they moved to the US.

Not only did I learn a lot while reading the book, but I grew very fond of the main character. It was lovely to see her throw off the 'shackles' that had been placed upon her by her feelings of responsibility to her in-laws after her husband's death. It was quite melancholic at times, but the atmosphere of the book shone throughout and I felt myself researching orchids afterwards.

I would definitely read more from this author in the future.

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The year is 1923 and the reader is immersed in the not so 'good 'ol days' of Little Italy, New York. A time when prohibition was the law and the 'Black Hand' enforced a protection racket. A time of first generation immigrants, overcrowded tenements, speakeasy's, rum runners, racketeers, bootleggers, and police corruption.

It was also a period of intense racial prejudice and xenophobia. The Italians disliked the Jewish. The Jewish disliked the Irish. The Irish disliked the Asians. The Protestants disliked the Catholics. And... EVERYBODY hated the Sicilians because of their fear of the Sicilian gangsters. Scarily, it was also a time when the push for eugenics was at its peak.

Our protagonist, Zia De Luca, is a first generation immigrant from Sicily. Since landing in America she has lost her parents to the Spanish Flu, and also her beloved husband and brother in the Great War. Now, at twenty-seven years of age, she and her young son live with her late husband's parents on Mulberry St. in Little Italy. She works in a public library and help out with her father-in-law's cheese shop.

After a library patron enlists her assistance to translate a play, events culminate in his being murdered outside the library. Thus begins a dark spiral that consumes Zia in its wake. Then another murder hits very close to home and Zia is determined to see justice done. She thinks the two murders are connected in some way to a speakeasy called 'The Orchid Hour' and she enlists the assistance of Charles Luciano (formerly named Salvatore and Zia's cousin) to secure her access to the club. She and Salvatore had a strong bond that originated when they suffered the deprivations and squalor of travelling in steerage on the same ship from the old country.

With themes of avarice, bribery, power, and corruption, this novel immerses the reader in its world. The book was well researched and the characters believable. Interspersed with the fictional characters were real historical characters such as J. Edgar Hoover, 'Lucky' Luciano, and many more. New York, the 'Big Apple' is shown to be rotten through to its core. Fans of historical fiction will relish this foray into a rather sordid time in American history.

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I read another of this author's books - 'Dreamland' - and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, despite some strengths, I didn't really like 'The Orchid Hour'.

Here, we have the protagonist, Zia, who lives in 1920s New York. She works at the public library, living her life in and around the Italian immigrant community. Two major things happen: a man she has been helping in the library is shot dead outside. Then, her father-in-law is shot dead in his shop. Zia makes it her mission to get to the bottom of who is responsible. Getting a job at the speakeasy (this is prohibition-era America) 'The Orchid Hour' is high on her list. She knows the answer lies in the dingy back alleys of New York.

The reason I didn't love this is that I don't feel it evokes the time period effectively. Characterisation is quite strong, and there is some well-written prose here. However, it feels too modern - it didn't evoke the 1920s for me in the way that other books have (one notable example is 'The Great Gatsby'). I feel that 'Dreamland' did this and took me to a very different place. 'The Orchid Hour' didn't have the same effect. However, I realise this is subjective and others love it, so maybe it's me!

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC.

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I loved this book! I will definitely recommend it. Thanks so much to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

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A slow burn mystery in 1920s New York with prohibition and all the glitz and glamour of the age really appealed to me. I also really enjoyed Nancy's previous books: The Fugitive Colours and The Blue. I had a harder time with this novel though, which I found a little slow for my taste but this would be a cosy read for an autumn night.

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The Orchid Hour by Nancy Bilyeau was a good mystery read with tons of twists and unraveling bits. I enjoyed the slow burn of the mystery and all of the history that the author included. The main character Zia was a woman of perseverance despite several early tragedies and she definitely didn't take no for an answer. I admired her quiet strength throughout the trials of the book. The 1920s scene was full of bootleggers, gangsters, and private clubs. The glamour of the scene was balanced by the gritty underbelly of crime and desperation that many immigrants faced. I thought the mystery and sleuthing was done well and it was a good read but it was slow at times and I couldn't really get into the story as much as I had hoped.

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