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Anna Godbersen

REVIEW: Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen

REVIEW: Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen

Dear Ms. Godbersen,

This review took me far longer to produce than it should have. It was no fault of the book. The blame rests entirely upon my shoulders. But once I was able to clear some time to devote to reading, I devoured the first book in this series, Bright Young Things, in an afternoon. The same thing can be said about this book. What can I say? I’m a sucker for great relationships between female characters.

beautiful days anna godbersonBeautiful Days picks up where its predecessor, Bright Young Things, left off, following the lives of three remarkable young women in New York City during the 1920s. Stunning socialite Astrid continues her tempestuous relationship with a bootlegger’s son, Charlie. Charlie’s half-sister, Cordelia, has joined the family’s illicit business after the violent murder of her father. And Cordelia’s childhood friend, Letty, continues to dream of becoming a star.

Things aren’t easy for them, however. Despite her newly announced engagement to Charlie, Astrid remains discontent. After the death of his father, Charlie has had to take the reins of the family’s bootlegging business. This leaves little time to spend with Astrid, who is used to being the center of attention and the darling of everyone’s eye. She dislikes taking second place to anything and the strain begins to show on their relationship.

Cordelia, on the other hand, feels inadvertently responsible for her father’s death after an ill-advised affair with the son of the family’s main rival. To make her feel better, Charlie puts her in charge of opening the family’s first speakeasy. Unfortunately, she finds her attention distracted by the straitlaced flyboy, Max Darby, who is the only man immune to her charm.

Meanwhile, Letty finds herself adrift. While she finds herself esconed in luxurious surroundings, it takes her far away from the city where she thought she’d find her destiny. Instead of becoming the star she thought she was meant to be, Letty shadows Cordelia and Astrid, being drawn into their lives and intrigue.

I won’t lie. This isn’t a deep book. It’s easy fluff. But it’s entertaining fluff, filled with glitz, glamour, romance, and a little action and intrigue. Essentially, it’s better-written Gossip Girl without the catty narrator. It’s not to everyone’s taste but if you’re in the mood for it, it can really hit the spot.

What I like best is that the focus remains solidly on the female characters. Yes, their romantic lives and interests do play a role in the story but why shouldn’t it? Their relationships with men are as important as their relationships with each other. I really enjoyed how different each girl was from another — and not in the stereotypical beauty, brain, and brawn sort of delineations either. All three girls are definitely beautiful but each in their own ways: Astrid is the stunning ingenue, Cordelia is the mysterious beauty, and Letty is the waifish starlet. Each behaved in completely believable ways relevant to their backgrounds — Astrid is privileged, Cordelia was the unwanted orphan, and Letty came from a very conservative family.

I also liked that they supported each other despite each having their own lives independent of their friends and the men in the life. When they needed distractions or a shoulder to cry on or just someone to talk to, they were there for each other. Sometimes other things got in the way but there was always a reason for it and even better, the girls were aware of being unable to support the others. After reading so many books in which there’s a loner heroine with a chip on her shoulder (yet who’s always surrounded by guys!) or girls who fight each other for whatever reason, sometimes I just like being able to read those sorts of interactions in fiction. It’s a palate cleanser.

Of the three girls, I do think Letty’s storyline is the weakest in this book. I suppose it can’t be helped. With Astrid’s melodramatic antics and Cordelia’s troubles, her simple struggle to get on the stage would get overshadowed. Given the way Beautiful Days ended, I’m hopeful we’ll see more of her blossom in the next book. I definitely liked the turn of events at the end.

While I’m still lukewarm on the idea of Astrid and Charlie — all that fighting and making up must get exhausting and I still not-so-secretly hope for something between Astrid and the riding instructor at the country club — I am particularly intrigued by Cordelia and Max’s relationship. I like the push and pull of this particular couple because it makes sense: Cordelia is a bootlegger’s daughter who recently joined the family business while Max is a media darling and complete teetotaler. But the reveal at the end of the book made me root for them even while it made me terrified of what might be in store for them in the next book. Even if I hadn’t read Bright Young Things’s prologue, I’ve read your previous series. I know how these things go — one of the girls ends up dead!

I thought Beautiful Days was a great addition to this series and in fact, I liked it better than the first novel. What can I say? I prefer danger and intrigue over Romeo and Juliet star-crossed forbidden-style romance. I understand the allure, but it’s been done to death. So far, I’m on-board for the next one! B

My regards,
Jia

Previous book in this series: Bright Young Things

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Dear Author

REVIEW: Rumors by Anna Godbersen

Dear Ms. Godberson,

book review I admit I passed on the first book in this series, The Luxe, when it came out earlier this year. The tagline of Gossip Girl does the Gilded Age turned me off. Young adult novels featuring catty, backstabbing characters do nothing for me. And while the Gossip Girl TV series is watchable, I find the novels they’re based on unreadable. But then I read a few reviews that piqued my interest so when I got the chance to review Rumors, the second book in the series, I jumped on it. I’m glad I did.

Although I haven’t read The Luxe, I didn’t find that a problem. I think you do an excellent job including enough details to clue in new readers without resorting to mindnumbing infodumps. At the same time, I think you left out enough details that I feel I can go back and read The Luxe without finding it boring or repetitive because I already have an idea of what happens.

Set in Manhatten at the end of the 19th century, The Luxe series follows multiple younger members of the upper society elite. When Rumors opens, it’s mid-December 1899 and society is still reeling from the untimely death of its brightest ingenue, Elizabeth Holland. It doesn’t help that the gossip rags continue speculating that Elizabeth is still alive. And as expected given that she is a young, beautiful woman, the rumors range from kidnapping by a gang of thieves to being sold into slavery.

I think it’s funny that the gossip mill chose to focus on such outlandish possibilities. It makes for a better story, but the truth is even more scandalous. Elizabeth faked her own death so she could run off to California with the family coachman, with whom she’d had a secret, illicit relationship for years. Only two people know the truth: Elizabeth’s younger sister, Diana, and Elizabeth’s best friend, Penelope Hayes.

Considered by society to be impetuous, wild, and nothing like her perfect older sister, Diana has a problem. She’s fallen in love with rich heir and notorious playboy, Henry Schoonmaker, who was also previously engaged to Elizabeth. It was that engagement which drove Elizabeth to faking her own death in the first place. The Holland family, formerly the cream of Manhatten’s crop, has fallen onto hard times lately and it was Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry that would have saved them from disaster.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of Elizabeth’s decision, Diana finds herself stuck. Both Diana and Henry must observe the proper mourning period for Elizabeth’s death. But when that period ends, then what? While Henry may love Diana, she’s the younger sister of his dead fiancee. It doesn’t take much effort to predict what society’s reaction will be.

On the other hand, there is backstabbing Penelope. With Elizabeth gone, she intends to assume the position of society’s brightest ingenue and she’s already well on her way there. What’s more, she wants Henry for herself. One of Henry’s previous dalliances, she will do everything in her power to get him back and keep him for good.

The parallels to Gossip Girl are obvious. Elizabeth is The Luxe‘s equivalent to Serena, and Penelope is Blair. But while I find the omniscient narrator of Gossip Girl to be obnoxious and off-putting, Rumors‘s narrative voice is almost charming. I wish I could say why exactly I prefer the latter over the former. Maybe it’s the historical setting over the modern one. The book is told in a manner reminiscent of old-style, high society gossip columns aiming for urbane sophistication even while gleefully ruining its members’ reputations. Each chapter is even prefaced by an excerpt from various gossip columns, newpaper clippings, and even high society handbooks, all of which contribute to the Gilded Age flavor.

It also helps that for all their money and social status, the characters are easy to identify with. Elizabeth gave up everything for the love of her life. She’s out of her element in California but she has no regrets. Diana is suffocated by society’s expectations and trapped by her family’s current situation. Penelope is tired of being second-best and much like Gossip Girl‘s Blair, I think her scheming provides the most interesting storyline in the book. Henry’s past affairs and less-than-sterling reputation influence his perspective on his relationship with Diana. I personally think he’s a bit of a fool but I guess when you’re goodlooking and have lots of money, you don’t need much sense. Lina, Elizabeth’s former maid, seeks to improve her lot in society, even if it means lying about her identity and pretending to be something she’s not.

While I thought the end of the book — specifically the closing action — was a bit rushed, this was a good, light read for me. Not exactly original, given the success of Gossip Girl, but I think the historical setting adds a nice flavor. B

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in Hardcover from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.