Cover Image: The Mayor of Maxwell Street

The Mayor of Maxwell Street

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Thank you netgalley for the arc.
This book was great and the ending was perfect.

This book started out slow. It was well written and engaging, but I didn't even know where it was going with the "mayor of Maxwell st" until 30% into the book.
The second half of the book hooked me though and I could not put it down.

Was this review helpful?

I really enjoyed this debut novel set in Prohibition-era Chicago. Penelope “Nelly” Sawyer, the daughter of a wealthy horse breeder from Kentucky, is making her debut in Black society in the summer of 1921. An aspiring journalist, Nelly learns about the elusive Mayor of Maxwell Street, a powerful man who controls Chicago’s underground crime scene. Aided by Jay Shorey, a biracial man passing as white, Nelly becomes entangled in a maelstrom of criminal activity that threatens her life and the lives of her family and friends.

Against a backdrop of speakeasies, lavish parties, and a dizzying, multi-cultural night bazaar, the novel explores the effects of Jim Crow laws in post-Civil War America, class differences between Chicago’s wealthy and poor Black and white populations, and women’s positions in early 20th century society. Cunningham peppers her story with Arc Deco details, historic Chicago buildings, Roaring Twenties fashion, and expensive cars - I could almost hear music playing in the background as I read.

While some of the plot points are unrealistic - Nelly narrowly escapes death at the hands of the mob a few too many times - the overall story was intriguing, and I was invested in the outcome. After viewing the behind-the-scene stories in the highlights on Avery Cunningham’s Instagram account, @averywritesbigbooks, I have an even greater appreciation for the historical details included in the book. A few content warnings for graphic violence, depictions of racism, racial slurs, and drug and alcohol use.

I read a complimentary digital (e-book) ARC thanks to @netgalley and @hyperionavebooks;
the cover of this book so stunning, I might have to buy a physical copy!

Note: the formatting of the digital book was so wonky, it was a challenge to read it. There were also some grammar and vocabulary errors that took away from the story.

Was this review helpful?

The fact that this is Avery's debut novel is awe-inspiring. At no point could I determine where each plot line would take me and I was never not entertained. This is one of the most unique historical fiction pieces I've ever read. I quite literally, was on the edge of my seat in the last 50 pages.

Was this review helpful?

I found The Mayor of Maxwell Street to be a wonderful debut from Avery Cunningham. I was pulled into the story immediately. What I enjoyed most about this book is Nelly as a main character! Although there were many instances I didn't agree with her choices, I thought she was so well-written and thoughtfully developed as a character. She really made the story for me! There are places in the middle of the book where I felt the pacing got to be a little slow, but overall I thought this was an engaging and satisfying read and I'm definitely looking forward to whatever Avery Cunningham writes next!

Was this review helpful?

This book was so good! I really enjoyed the era and the wonderful story building that the author managed to capture. I loved the character development and the witty banter between them.

I am a huge fan of historical fiction and this one was very well written and a pleasure to read.

4 stars

Was this review helpful?

I cast my vote in favour of The Mayor of Maxwell Street by Avery Cunningham.

This rich, vibrant novel shines a light on the relationships and machinations of the African-American uppercrust during a sweltering Chicago summer in the Prohibition Era. The descriptions of the parties, the clothes, the speakeasy played out like a movie in my mind, and at times I almost felt like I was there.

The three main characters - Nelly, Jay, Tomas - each have their own dreams and schemes. Nelly is a young woman who just wants the freedom to pursue her potential, regardless of her sex or race. She is drawn to the enigmatic Jay, a man full of secrets and surprises, while also building a relationship with the wealthy and influential Tomas,

There is so much to enjoy about this novel - the building mystery surrounding The Mayor of Maxwell Street, the snippets of history, the intriguing cast of secondary characters (some of whom almost deserve their own book!) and Nelly herself, who is such a strong, smart, capable woman.

The Mayor of Maxwell Street is such a pleasure to read and experience, until its final few chapters. The conclusion feels rushed and under explained, which means what started as a great book ends up being just a good book.

However, I will still recommend this book to others because of all it has to offer, and the fact it could launch some fascinating discussions!

Thank you NetGalley for the opportunity to read The Mayor of Maxwell Street.

Was this review helpful?

A captivating debut novel from Avery Cunningham. This historical fiction, with its fair share of mystery and romance, captures 1920s Chicago and early 20th-century Black society beautifully. The story is a poignant commentary on race and class, and the intersection of both. Nelly's determination to be more than her last name makes her a formidable, although flawed, heroine. This book gives serious Peggy Scott vibes for fans of The Gilded Age!

Was this review helpful?

3.5 stars, rounded up.
1920's Chicago is the locale for wealthy Black families to come for a summer of events culminating with a cotillion for young Black daughters to find suitable mates. Nelly is the daughter of a horse breeder from Kentucky whose brother recently died in a car accident. As the sole surviving child of the proclaimed richest Black man in the country, she is considered quite the catch.

Jay Shorey is biracial and grew up poor in Alabama from where he had to escape when he was young. He ended up in Chicago running a speakeasy. He is intrigued with Nelly from the first time he sees her. Also interested in Nelly is Tomas, a European nobleman of Mexican descent. Thomas has the respectability that Jay does not.

The story is much more thana romance since Nelly herself wants a career as a journalist. She had written some stories anonymously with her brother's help but with him gone she had to present herself to the editor who was not happy seeing a young Black woman as a writer. He gave her one assignment he didn't think she could handle, find out who the Mayor of Maxwell Street is. A man who was not known to many but held great power over the gangs in Chicago. This is where the underbelly of Chicago is put on display.

The story goes in a lot of directions and there were times when I had to question who a certain person was. I actually expected there to be more about the racism of the time than there was. There were certainly references to it like when the cotillion was at a location that didn't normally allow Blacks to enter through the front door but Nelly and Jay (who could pass for White) were all over Chicago. I questioned Nelly's decisions more than once but I did like the ending.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

Was this review helpful?

The Mayor of Maxwell Street is a historical fiction set in Prohibition Era Chicago. This story had a lot of promise but along with that came several plot holes and unrealistic happenings. Overall, for how hyped up this book was, I expected something different/better and I felt like it had the potential to be that.

Was this review helpful?

My thanks to Hyperion Avenue for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘The Mayor of Maxwell Street’ by Avery Cunningham. This is a work of literary historical fiction with elements of crime drama.

What a fantastic debut this was. It is set in 1921 Chicago and focuses on the life of Penelope (Nelly) Sawyer, a Black heiress. She is the daughter of Ambrose Sawyer, whose affluence has catapulted his family to the heights of Black society. The Sawyers and other wealthy Black families have gathered in Chicago to hold a Grand Cotillion.

Following the death of her only brother, Elder, in a road accident Nelly suddenly becomes the season’s premiere debutant. Yet Nelly has aspirations beyond marriage and society influence. For the past year she has worked secretly as an investigative journalist, sharing the achievements and tribulations of everyday Black people who are living in the shadow of Jim Crow.

She is especially keen to discover the identity of the head of an underground crime syndicate, known as the Mayor of Maxwell Street. In the course of her investigations she encounters speakeasy manager Jay Shorey and enlists his help. Yet before too long the two are caught up in the dangerous world of Prohibition-era Chicago. No further details to avoid spoilers.

While Nelly is the novel’s main protagonist we also are given insight into Jay’s origins. He was born in rural Alabama to a murdered biracial couple yet forced to flee. Jay is able to ‘pass’, something that Nelly does not approve of, stating: “I was raised to stand firm in my heritage. I can’t imagine pretending to be anything other than what I am.”

When Nelly along with a number of other Black patrons are required to leave an art exhibition featuring acclaimed African-American artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner, her friend Mabel observes: “We can’t even enjoy our own art unless it’s on their terms. Oh, well.”

In this scene and others Cunningham addresses the prejudice that her Black characters deal with on a regular basis in a matter of fact manner that underlines how the community has become used to the racism and charts their own path.

I was not aware of the alternative High Society established by wealthy Black Americans and admire how well the author portrayed this. In addition, Jay’s story was poignant and contrasted with the privilege that Nelly experiences.

Overall, I found ‘The Mayor of Maxwell Street’ a fascinating novel that held my attention throughout. There were definitely links with ‘The Great Gatsby’, which the author confirmed in interviews. Avery Cunningham is clearly an author to watch and after this stunning debut I look forward to news of her future projects.

Highly recommended.

Was this review helpful?

This was a really great book! I loved the strong female character, Nelly, and the cast of side characters. The setting reminded me of Great Gatsby, and the writing was detailed I could picture the locations and characters. I enjoyed the mystery twist on this too, it really pulled me in! It was a bit long in some areas, and I had trouble knowing which character was speaking at times, but over all its a good book!

Was this review helpful?

Chicago, the roaring twenties and the start of the Prohibition set the stage for this well written historical novel. While investigating one of the biggest crime lords in this dangerous city, Nelly finds herself drawn into racism and hatred while also meeting Jay Shorey and a Mexican polo player. Full of action, worth the read.

Was this review helpful?

Avery Cunningham's debut novel, "Mayor of Maxwell Street," is a historical fiction that offers readers a look into the life of a black debutante in Chicago during the early 1920s. While it might not be an instant classic in my opinion, it is a unique story.

The shining star of this story is Nelly Sawyer, a remarkable character who defies the societal rules of her time. Despite living in an era filled with racial and gender inequality, she becomes a professional writer and investigator. Nelly's intelligence and determination make her the best part of the book. Avery Cunningham's writing style is effortless, which makes it easy for the reader to immerse themselves in the vivid world of the 1920s. She expertly recreates a vibrant historical backdrop, which allows readers to travel back in time to Maxwell Street.

"Mayor of Maxwell Street" is an interesting read but not one of my favorites. The plot is engaging but struggles with pacing; however, the book's compelling characters make it worth picking up. Avery Cunningham has a bright future as an author, and I look forward to reading more of her work. If you're seeking a historical novel with a strong and unforgettable female lead, consider giving this book a chance.

Thank you to NetGalley and Hyperion Avenue for this advanced reader's copy in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Was this review helpful?

Loved the historical context and having a different lens for the 1920’s Great Migration era, especially as a nearly-lifelong Chicagoan. It’s quite sad though that some of the institutions mentioned in the book, like The Chicago Defender, are no more while the city’s racist past feels too much like its present. As for the narrative, I liked Nelly and her ideals as a woman who really isn’t looking for a lifetime of being told what to do but Jay’s story was so murky. There were blanks that really needed filling that would have made his role in the story a bit more plausible but overall, I enjoyed this book. Though I saw flaws, they weren’t enough to keep me from finishing and imagining how a costume or set designer would translate it to a movie. Fill in those narrative gaps and a film adaptation of this book could be visually stunning. Many thanks to @netgalley and @hyperionavebooks for providing the digital arc! I bought a physical copy with the intention of gifting it but the cover is just too gorgeous so I kind of want to keep it!

Was this review helpful?

An engrossing debut. The ending was a surprise with regard to who the mayor was. His reasoning behind his behavior wasn't surprising however; rather it seemed petty and the costs were too high.

Loved that it was set during Prohibition Chicago. Loved that it focused on the upper and lower echelons of Black Chicago.
Didn't like some of the misspellings and sketchy grammar. I'm fully aware this was an advance copy, but even those should have good spelling and grammar. Stuff like this will turn off a nitpicky reader. But I hung in to see how everything panned out.

A solid read, for the most part. Thanks to NetGalley for this advanced copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Was this review helpful?

Who is the Mayor of Maxwell Street? Having read this very long novel I am not entirely sure that I know!

The Mayor of Maxwell Street is a debut novel from Avery Cunningham, and its a bit of tome.

The length of the novel didn't detract from my enjoyment but it is a long novel so you will need to set aside some serious time to complete it.

For me there were two facets to this novel - Nelly Sawyer the unexpected debutante thrust onto Chicago society after the death of her brother makes her sole heiress of a Kentucky Stud farm. Or Nelly Sawyer the naïve investigative journalist searching for the elusive Mayor of Maxwell Street in the Chicago's underbelly.

Or the third fact Nelly Sawyer the black flapper looking for a good time and a good drink.

I enjoyed all Nelly's and enjoyed going to parties, underground clubs and balls with her and her friends. But Nelly actively seeks out Chicago's underbelly and is lucky to escape with her life. And for me this is where the novel falls down a bit. Nelly befriends the mysterious Jay Shorey she is introduced to Chicago's underbelly and ends up fighting for her life.

But who is Jay Shorey? The reader knows a Gatsby type character who escaped a Southern plantation with the clothes on his back, transformed to an apparently mysterious, rich, white business man. A bi racial Jay Gatsby.

Like The Great Gatsby's this is billed as being a love story, and like Daisy, Nelly chooses the rich man over Gatsby. I am not entirely sure why but she makes it clear her name and her horses are important to her.

Despite the unsatisfactory love story (I never liked this element of Great Gatsby always felt Jay was too good for Daisy), I enjoyed The Mayor of Maxwell Street. I loved going through Chicago's underbelly, particular when they are looking for the elusive Lantern. I also enjoyed Sequoia who almost deserves her own novel.

This is a long novel, full of choices and behaviours that are annoying and questionable but as a debut novel its one of the best I have ever read. All attention to detail with the hair, the wigs, the dresses the wigs and the blatant racism it all comes together rather well. My only is that the prologue and the epilogue brought nothing more to the novel so not sure why they were included.

Was this review helpful?

I received an advance reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. I started this novel with a lot of interest and hope for an engaging protagonist and a storyline that would keep me riveted throughout. Unfortunately, I did not find that in this novel. Perhaps it's not the right fit for me as a reader, but my overall impression is the characters are under developed and the storyline was fairly predictable.

Was this review helpful?

I received a copy from NetGalley for an honest review. The cover is beautiful. The story has a lot of potential but I felt like it wasn’t completely developed and it became confusing. I felt that the reader had to come to their own conclusions about events that occurred in the story. I think this book is worth a read nonetheless

Was this review helpful?

✨Book Review✨

“𝐒𝐡𝐚𝐦𝐞 𝐝𝐨𝐞𝐬𝐧’𝐭 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐞 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐟𝐞𝐞𝐥 𝐚𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐲𝐨𝐮, 𝐛𝐮𝐭 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐟𝐞𝐞𝐥 𝐚𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫𝐬𝐞𝐥𝐟.”

Hello book friends! This book needs a place on your TBR pile. Preferably on top! 📚

Newfound author, Avery Cunningham is a literary marvel when it comes to historical fiction. I’m typically a WWII historical fiction fan, but she easily swayed me to the 1920’s with her debut novel, The Mayor of Maxwell Street. You can sense the level of research and dedication she put into it!

💭 What I enjoyed:

- I’m a sucker for a well-written novel, especially one with a poignant epilogue. The prologue and the epilogue served as bookends, perfectly tying the book together.
- Learning about the lives of the black upper class during the Jim Crow laws amidst the violence of Prohibition-era Chicago
- Well-paced rich, vivid prose
- Surprising twists and turns
- Witnessing a strong black woman proving that she can achieve whatever she desires despite being told otherwise

💭 What I wasn’t a fan of:

- I got confused at a few places, and I had to look some words up. This was pretty minor because I do that a lot. Particularly in historical fiction novels.
- I initially had a minor issue with the book being 500+ pages long, but I blew through that and didn’t even mind the number of pages in the end!

For those of you who like strong, powerful, underrepresented FMCs, and historical fiction set in the 1920’s/prohibition era, this book is for you.

*Chef’s kiss* on that epilogue, @averywritesbigbooks! p.s. Room for a sequel? ☺️

Was this review helpful?

This story felt very different than what I expected from the premise. I liked the idea of a young woman from the elite of “Colored” society as a main character. And Nelly was an interesting main character. She’s a reluctant participant in society, happier on their Kentucky farm with their horses. But after the death of her elder brother, she’s forced onto the Cotillion circuit in Chicago, as her parents seek a good marriage for her. There she meets Jay, a biracial young man of unknown origin who often passes as white. She also meets Tomas, a European nobleman of Mexican descent. There’s the obvious romantic cliche of which man she’ll pick.
I have mixed feelings about the story. It was like the author didn’t really know what she wanted this book to be about. The story never quite gelled for me. While I found Nelly an interesting character, her rationale for trying to find the mayor didn’t work for me.
The society Nelly lives in is protected as can be, but they are still exposed to racism and Jim Crow. As Jay says, he wants the options that are given to the white man. But the whole time I was reading this, I was left with questions. While Cunningham went out of her way to detail the dresses and the parties, I didn't feel like Cunningham really gave me a sense of how the society really functioned. The plot had some major gaps in it along with scenes that just felt totally unrealistic. And the big twist at the end was obvious to me from near the beginning.
My thanks to Netgalley and Hyperion Avenue for an advance copy of this book.

Was this review helpful?