I have just returned from a lovely weekend in Pennsylvania, spending time with my family and visiting with relatives. Most delightedly, I was afforded quite a bit of time to read. As such, I was able to finish digesting the dubious chronicles of Manhattan’s social elite in Anna Godbersen’s decadent Luxe series.
Oops, so sorry for such a formal tone. It seems reading this series has left a mark on my grammar. Anyway, per the title, I’m feeling a little disheartened as I finish this series. I definitely enjoyed reading it. Godbersen writes so deliciously about the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s turn-of-the-century elite that one can’t help but soak it all up. So, in essence, finishing this series has saddened me as I wish there was more to read. However, although I couldn’t tear myself away from the series, I felt myself a little disappointed as the ending didn’t turn out as I expected and wished. Though, this is possibly one of the greatest characteristics of the series–the ability to make you believe you know what will happen next and surprise you all the same. Fear not, while I was momentarily disappointed by the ending, I did find it quite satisfying. As such, I urge you to read this series if you like a good tale of passion, society, and debauchery. For those of you considering getting into this series, you might be swayed by reading my earlier review of the first title, The Luxe. The excitement and mystery of this first novel is certainly carried out through the series’ three other titles, as they take twists and turns you might not ever have imagined.
I will have to be satisfied to wait for the first of Godbersen’s Bright Young Things. This new series of four titles will bring the excitement and scandal of the Luxe series to the Jazz Age, with a new cast of young ladies to live vicariously through. The fist title in the series will be released in October. I wait in anticipation, for the beginning of this new era.
So, I’ve begun digging into my mountain of books. Some have been better than others. But, one has triumphed above them all. I just finished it and I must say, “Fantastic!”
Title: The Luxe
Author: Anna Godbersen
The Story As It Is: The book opens with the obituary of one Miss Elizabeth Holland, the princess of Manhattan society in 1899. On what was to be the day of her wedding to Mr. Henry Schoonmaker, only son of one of Manhattan’s oldest families, everyone instead gathers at her funeral. Jumping back, Godbersen then recounts the weeks leading up to this tragic event. The reader begins to see that Miss Holland and many around her were keeping quite a lot of secrets. This novel gives the reader an inside look at the treacherous world of Manhattan’s high society, where rules matter and appearances can be deceiving. Shifting focus between chapters,we are privvy to the lives of Miss Elizabeth (who is the picture of a perfect lady, totally practical), Diana (her younger sister, who isthe exact opposite and quite the romantic), Penelope Hayes (society upstart and the realization of the word ‘frenemy’), Henry Schoonmaker (a turn of the century Chuck Bass, being all play and no work), and Lina Broud (Elizabeth’s maid and one-time friend). Each has their own rules to follow and, in turn, secrets to hide.
The Story As I See It: The privileged young ladies of this novel live in a world I’ve been known to dream about. They are outfitted in only the best fashions and attend lavish balls. Young men trip over themselves to court Miss Elizabeth. With its obsession with luxury, turn of the century Manhattan appears to me like a fairytale world. Combine this lavish, wealthy society with all the drama and scandal of today’s Gossip Girl and you have The Luxe. Once I started this book, I couldn’t put it down. Each little detail fits together like a giant puzzle as you draw ever closer to the moment of Elizabeth’s death. Was it an accident or was she murdered? Along the way, you have a little bit of everything–romance, mystery, plotting, back-stabbing, and even a little passive aggressive cat-fighting. I don’t want to spoil the book by giving away too many details. I think that this novel’s quality of unfolding its mystery ever so slowly is what makes it truly special.
The Verdict: If you are a fan of Gossip Girl and the sort, you will love this–end of story. If you are very much NOT a fan of Gossip Girl, I urge you to pick this up anyway. While this novel plays out with all the drama of today’s modern equivalent, it does so without the crassness critics of Gossip Girl cite in their dislike of the series. It is, hands-down, a novel that sweep you up into its luxurious, dangerous world and have you feeling like you never want to leave. I have the sequel on request at the library and I am dying waiting.
So, I am going to come right out and say it: Historical fiction is not my thing. I don’t hold anything against it or anyone that enjoys it—it’s just not my cup of tea.
However, I am being persuaded to drop this bias of mine. Really, I’ve been a bit judgmental in lumping all historical fiction together. That’s kind of ridiculous, when you consider the immensity of history. What I realized is that there are so many different eras and cultures and events and situations in ‘history’ that there are infinite possible kinds of historical fiction, with infinite stories to tell. When you think about it, that means–in the genre of historical fiction, there is almost certainly something for everyone. So, what I’m trying to say is:
Don’t judge a book by its cover, or rather, its genre.
In the spirit of forgetting our biases, I will share a historical novel that I read recently. Maybe, for those of you out there like me, it will open up your mind a little bit. For the rest of you who quite enjoy historical fiction, you will definitely like this one.
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
The Story as It Is: Isabel is a teenage slave in the time of the American Revolution. Despite being promised freedom upon the death of Miss Mary Finch, Miss Finch’s nephew sells Isabel and her sister, Ruth, to well-to-do Loyalists in New York City. Isabel is soon faced with a city she doesn’t know, an uncertain future for her and her sister, and a war for freedom that she doesn’t quite understand. In a world where the future of the nation is at stake in the conflict between British Loyalists and American Patriots, Isabel knows only that she seeks freedom from slavery. Isabel is overcome by the difficult struggle to determine what is right and, in turn, often finds herself in dangerous situations as she becomes part of the fight on both sides. In the life of a slave as in the life of a spy, one wrong step can be your end.
The Story as I See It: From the first moment, I was hooked on Isabel’s story. I felt for her, as if I was right there with her—experiencing all the pain, the suffering, the anxiety, and the fear. Isabel is unusually smart and thoughtful, knowing just what to do to keep herself and her sister safe. I couldn’t help but feel respect for her and her cleverness. I wanted Isabel to rise above her situation, to escape the rough hand she was constantly being dealt. Because I loved Isabel so much, I became enthralled in the culture of New York during the Revolution. I was intrigued to learn about the conflict between the British and the Americans from a personal viewpoint. It felt very real and allowed me to become interested in a historical event which I had previously only been bored by while reading a history textbook. As the plight of the slave in America is generally associated with Civil War and Abolition, it was really interesting to consider the role of slaves during the Revolution, where they were owned by masters who supported both sides. It was stirring to read about how slaves felt compelled to share the values of their masters, as they could not be concerned for the fate of the nation as they had to be concerned for their personal well-being.
The Verdict: Even those who claim to not enjoy historical fiction will enjoy this novel. The story is really original. It doesn’t feel like anything else I have read. The character of Isabel is admirable in her cleverness, bravery, and commitment to her family. Readers will enjoy the excitement of Isabel’s action as a spy for both sides. I can’t wait for the sequel!