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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.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

14 Comments

  1. Marg
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 04:48:32

    I bought the first book purely on the basis of the beautiful cover! I haven’t read it yet (and won’t be for a while because my sister who never reads has it at the moment), but I have heard mixed reports about it.

    I am glad that you liked this second one though, because there have been a few not so good reviews for this one too!

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  2. Jana J. Hanson
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 07:43:44

    Despite the Gossip Girls “tie-in” and the Alloy Productions association, I *love* these books. A wonderful escape, a quick and easy read and the kind of “drama” that keeps me hooked to the gossip blogs! I’m so glad I only have to wait until January for the third in the series.

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  3. Meriam
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 09:28:44

    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.

    That’s funny, because The OC and Gilded Age tagline is what convinced me to buy The Luxe (what’s not to love?) I’m planning a review (it’s crying out for a review), but overall I found it shallow, trashy, predictable – and highly readable. When it’s out in paperback in the UK, I plan to read Rumours, too.

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  4. Jia
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 10:03:27

    I'm planning a review (it's crying out for a review), but overall I found it shallow, trashy, predictable – and highly readable.

    Exactly. I found the book highly entertaining but it does fall more into the “guilty pleasure” category, and that’s all right. We all need books like that in our lives.

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  5. Susan/DC
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 12:20:20

    While these books aren’t high on my list (way too many other books sitting on my nightstand, dresser, desk, and in cartons and bookcases throughout the house), I think they look like fun, fast reads. What I adore are the covers. The knowledge that publishers can produce such beautiful, distinctive product makes me even unhappier with the interchangeable cliches most romances are stuck with.

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  6. Brie
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 13:23:20

    Thanks for the Rumors review. Each time I see the cover of The Luxe, I want to grab the book. I haven’t because I had no idea what it would be like. Your review has sold me on this series though. And since I’m not familiar with the Gossip Girl books and I’ve never watched the show, the similarities shouldn’t resonate with me and cause comparison.

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  7. Sara
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 13:58:34

    I haven’t read Rumors yet, mainly because I was afraid it wouldn’t be as good as The Luxe, which I adored. However, after reading your review, I purchased Rumors immediately (BooksOnBoard has discounts on the eBooks of both Rumors and The Luxe). I can’t wait to get started!

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  8. Christina
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 14:14:16

    The covers grabbed my attention, immediately, and I think the concept of Victorian age novels for today’s girls is really quite interesting. Anyway, I hope these books are enjoyable enough that I won’t regret spending my money on them. If they are good enough, I just might end up purchasing the next book in this series.

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  9. trisha
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 18:29:52

    For me, I think this series is turning into what Twilight turned into for others. Meaning the first book totally hooked me in spite of its flaws, so I HAD to find out what happened next. But I could not get into Rumors, ended up skimming it…and still want to know what’s gonna happen in the subsequent books (which I’ll probably end up skimming, too).

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  10. Christine
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 21:58:54

    Thanks for the review, Jia. My 13 year old daughter and I both read The Luxe earlier this year and enjoyed it very much. Neither of us has read The Gossip Girl books, so the reading experience was fresh for both of us. If anyone is interested, she and I posted reviews of The Luxe on her blog that you can read here. We haven’t yet read Rumors, but definitely intend to.

    On a side note, my daughter’s 7th grade Language Arts teacher had the students write book reviews for their independent reading selections throughout the school year as a means to assess their reading and writing skills. Isn’t that great? I encouraged my daughter to start a blog since she had several book reviews in her notebook. In the end, there aren’t many entries on her blog, because once school got out in June, she says she’d rather just keep reading than take time to write reviews. I hope her 8th grade teacher requires book reviews as well. I think it’s a great skill.

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  11. Christie
    Sep 23, 2008 @ 01:08:50

    BLAH BLAH BLAH! THE SEQUEL MADE ME SICK! STUPID STUPID STUPID AUTHOR WITH NO GOOD REASON FOR RUINING THIS SERIES FOR ME! I WILL NOT READ THE THIRD BECAUSE SHE TOTALLY RUINED IT!

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  12. Kyle Bailey
    Jul 21, 2010 @ 00:04:43

    Michelle Trachtenberg of Gossip Girl is the most beautiful, she is better than Blake Lively.*”-

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  13. Dumbbell Set Weights `
    Oct 11, 2010 @ 19:24:56

    Gossip Girl have very pretty cast, i like Blake and Michelle coz they are really gorgeous”‘*

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  14. Tara
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 22:51:54

    I thought Rumors was just as good if not better than the first in the series, The Luxe. Although The Luxe possesses the advantage of being the first in a series, Rumors deals with more complex storylines and introduces a wide range of interesting and unique characters, such as Mrs. Holland getting ill and the Hollands being in danger of losing their fortune. The Diana/Penelope/Henry triangle rises in tensions and creates the highlights of the novel, while Lina continues rising in the ranks of the other Socialites. This is an element not found in most novels set in the 1900s. I would recommend this book to teenagers with a taste for good literature while still looking for “teenage” themes, or young adults who are more fun-loving in their reading choices.

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