November 30, 2011

When I'm Human (Review: The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Knight
Julie Kagawa
Harlequin 2011

The Iron Knight is the fourth book in Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series. This review contains spoilers for the previous books.

Prince of Winter, Ash, finds himself cast adrift in Faerie. Disowned by his family. separated from his true love and unable to ignore his previously iced over emotions he has only one course of action should he wish to rejoin Meghan in her metal realm.  He must become human, a mortal living in the land of the Fae.  It is not an easy goal to achieve and has consequences impossible for him to understand yet he cannot live without Meghan so sets of o with a motley crew of companions, not least Robin Goodfellow and one, rather irascible, cat.

Ash, prior to The Iron Queen, had been one of my favourite characters. Arrogant to the point of rudeness, conflicted in ways that often made him terribly cross, yet slowly thawing his icy heart to allow Meghan in. Latterly, however, he became rather dull, worrying about his worthiness in terms of Meghan and, glumly, the state of his eternal soul. It all reminded me far too much of a certain sparkly blood-sucker. The Iron Knight seemed the perfect opportunity to see more of Ash, whom I hoped had gotten over his angst. Well, he really hasn't although he’s pretty focused on his quest which helps one forget about his general glumness. As the protagonist of his own story, readers really do get inside his head but a miserable place it is.  Mourning over lost love is understandable but Ash takes it to extremes, especially considering the fact that he’s on a quest to ensure his place by his new love’s side. Admittedly, the memory of Arianna plays an important role in The Iron Knight, but it's not like she was ever far from the forefront of his mind. Also, his ongoing feud with Puck is just so last century. However, despite is ardent cries of "woe is me" (not literally, but I wouldn't have been surprised) he is honourable, committed to Meghan and packs a hefty swoon factor so I still rather like him. Just.

In one respect it is easy to relate to Ash's air of long suffering once you consider his that he travels with the most irritating of characters.  Puck is much the same as he was when last seen in The Iron Queen. His reasons for accompanying Ash o are vague at best and one suspects that it might be as much to annoy his arch-frenemie as anything else. He's certainly not the ideal questing companion - more a Pippin or Merry than a handy Legolas. He flitters about the place, getting everyone into trouble and making uniformly unfunny jokes and asides.  While he clearly cares for Ash and Meghan, Puck as a character is at his best when glimpses of his ancient and more dangerous nature shine through. He is not a particularly likable character but I suspect this is at least semi-intentional on the part of the author.  Enough, though, about two-legs - it is the animal companions that rather steal The Iron Knight.  The return of Grimalkin is extremely welcome. A truly fabulous creation who comes close to knocking my favourite cat (the magnificent Mogget) from the top of the fish pile. Here is is joined by a lupine companion in the form of the Big Bad Wolf and yes, I do mean that one - the embodiment of nightmarish fairy tales the world over and proud of it (actually, I might get that on a t-shirt). The two of them riff hilariously but are at their most impressive as two ancient creatures joining Ash's curious hike in order to preserve their immortality (in the case of the Wolf) and ensure an ongoing stream of favours (in Grimalkin's).

The storyline of The Iron Knight is fairly straightforward - and who doesn't like a good old quest, right?  However, it's a little slow to get going and lacks the wonderfully original Iron Fey, the constructs that lifted Kagawa's previous books above the usual Fae fare. While the group trek through hitherto unseen aspects of Faerie they are joined by a new character and one whom is most unwelcome in that they merely serve to increase Ash's melodrama and moan a lot. Sadly, this plot strand rather drags the story down. There are, though, some beautiful set pieces as the group edge closer to their destination and often the situations they find themselves in are eerily sinister. In particularl, Ash's starkly honest glimpse of what it means to be human is extremely well executed and promised an interest denouement to his tale. Sadly, Julie Kagawa seems to have lacked the courage of her convictions in this regard though and backs away from an ending that would give The Iron Knight some much needed weight.

For fans of the Iron Fey trilogy, The Iron Knight is an interesting read. One might think that it would be particularly exciting for Teams Ash and Puck but sadly, with out Meghan's rose tinted lenses they are, respectively, a little to melodramatic and downright annoying. While The Iron Knight doesn't reach the levels of originality or writing previously seen in Kagawa's cleverly imagined Faerie nor does it entirely disappoint. As a companion book it is a pleasant enough read but, while I wait with interest and excitement for Julie's next venture, I hope that the Iron Fey, the Iron Knight and even the gorgeous Grimalkin have been firmly left to their happy endings.

The Iron Knight is available now.  Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin for providing this title for review.

November 24, 2011

Like Dust, I Rise (Review: Crossed by Ally Condie)

Ally Condie
Puffin 2011

Crossed is the second book in the trilogy that started with Matched. If you have not read Matched then this review will contain spoilers for the first title. You have been warned. 

Three months on from the events of Matched, Cassia has endured the manual labour of several work camps.  Her Match, Xander, remains a constant presence in her life, hovering constantly on the edges of her vision, a supportive and sometimes tempting alternative to the elusive Ky.  However, when an opportunity presents itself to search for Ky, Cassia grasps it leaving behind the safety of Society in favour of the mysterious Outer Provinces.  Ky himself has spent months living a life fraught with danger, burying the dead and chanting a continual mantra over their bodies.  He is lost without Cassia and, like her, takes the first opportunity to search for her, yearning for their shared language and lost future.

Cassia is fierce in her determination to find Ky, yet every step she takes is underwritten by a quiet shock as she processes what she now knows about Society.  At first she seems torn -while she understands that Society is highly manipulative she is also aware that it has, to an extent, protected her throughout her life.  However, as the novel progresses the balance tips as she encounters evidence of real cruelty. Her angry reaction to this speaks perfectly of her feelings of betrayal and her character development is always believable.

Ky, though, is of far greater interest.  While in Matched he was an alluring yet ultimately mysterious enigma, here he becomes fully three-dimensional.  His is a story steeped in loss, propaganda, guilt and blood and as a result his views of Society and any rebellion against it are painted in shades of grey.  For Ky, the most important aspect of life has become Cassia who grants him his only real solace. As he watches her slow metamorphosis from Society member to potential rebel he finds himself in conflict, torn between his love for her and his desire to remove them both from any faction that might wish to control them.  He is, from start to finish, a joy to read.

Other characters in Crossed add texture to Condie’s story, subtly adding both variety also contributing to her vision of the world.  Vick, Indie and Eli stand almost as alternative versions of Xander, Cassia and Bram – illustrations of how the other half have lived.  Indie is a particularly clever character, her motivations constantly unclear, adding an edge to every scene she appears in.  Hunter represents a faction in the world of Matched and Crossed that has not been explored previously and which adds depth and sadness.  Xander, while appearing only briefly in Crossed is ever present, not only for Ky and Cassia but also for others in their group and slowly emerges as one of the most interesting aspects of the story.

Crossed, in comparison to Matched, is a rather quiet read. The characters all find themselves in a state of flux, moving from one mindset to another and this is mirrored by a literal journey.  Finding themselves in the Outer Provinces, they begin a journey through the Carving, a vast labyrinth of canyons on which one side lies Society and on the other a mythical rebellion, known only as The Rising.  There isn’t a moment where they deviate from their quest but, for all that, very little happens with the focus being the relationship between Ky and Cassia and their joint relationship with the obstacles they continue to face.  It’s a rather bold to move the overall story along so slowly, yet Crossed ends beautifully with Condie neatly arriving at what is clearly beginning of the end, promising intriguing things in next year’s final instalment. However, Crossed doesn’t always read quite as smoothly as its triumphant predecessor.  The duel narrative structure, while successful in allowing reader’s insight to Ky, is often confusing with their individual voices lacking strong enough differentiation. Another sticking point is the poetry used to such great effect in Matched which now occasionally seems forced.  Condie has a tendency to rather hammer a point home and the use of Tennyson’s beautiful poetry and its link to the Rising is referenced to the point of inanity.

These are small gripes, however, when set against the ongoing trilogy as a whole.  As with Matched, Condie’s writing is gorgeous.  Sometimes stark, sometimes lyrical, frequently mesmerising she is infinitely readable.  She bravely explores, through Cassia and Ky, the nature of love and what it truly means to be together in the face of hardship giving her books a maturity not always seen in Young Adult fiction.  With Matched, Condie upped the stakes as far as dystopian fiction was concerned and she continues to do so in Matched – certainly her trilogy is sure to stand above many others when concluded in 2012 and I highly recommend that everyone continue to read through to a finale that is impossible to predict.

Crossed is available from 24th November.  Many thanks to the publisher for sending me this title to review.

November 15, 2011

The World Breaks Everyone (Review: Beautiful Chaos by K. Garcia and M. Stohl)

Beautiful Chaos           
Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Razorbill 2011

Beautiful Chaos is the third book in The Caster Chronicles. If you have not read Beautiful Creatures or Beautiful Darkness then this review WILL contain spoilers. You have been warned.

The world is broken. By claiming herself at the end of Beautiful Darkness, Lena has split not only her light and dark aspects but also rendered the universe unable to function. Darkness seeps from every corner, choosing its epicentre as Gatlin. Life for Ethan and Lena is irrevocably changed.  Ethan, in particular, is struggling with events.  Nightmares plague his sleep and creep into his waking world, Amma mutters and lies, his father writes about an Eighteenth Moon and he is barely able to touch Lena any longer. Add to this apocalyptic weather, a much changed Link, an ex-siren struggling with her mortality as well as the crazed prophecies of Abraham and his leech, Hunting and the scene is set for the end of the world as we know it.

Ethan is a character much changed by events. While he continues to cling to the life he knew he is more than aware that Lena’s actions and his own destiny as a Wayward are leading him towards an uncertain and sinister future. He’s grown up a lot and is far surer of his actions than in the previous two books. While he spends much of this book keeping difficult secrets as the narrative progresses he moves towards his somewhat inevitable decision believably, bravely and with not a little difficulty.  He continues to be one of the stronger male protagonists in YA and his bleaker moments can be very moving.

Lena is a harder character to like. While her behaviour in Beautiful Darkness may have been explained away, her dismissive attitude towards it is more than a little irritating. In particular, her attitude towards Liv is infuriating, hypocritical and unfair. Throughout the series, Lena has had a tendency to navel-gaze and she doesn’t appear to be growing out of it any time soon, spending much of Beautiful Chaos bemoaning her actions in an awfully emo sort of way.  Her saving grace is that Ethan adores her and often she is a character made likable only by the believability of his love.

As with the previous books, other characters are beautifully written in Beautiful Chaos. Link, as Linkubus, is as charmingly puppy-like as ever (albeit in a slightly scarier way); Ridley is as frighteningly unhinged; Macon as charming and Abraham as terrifying. Beautiful Chaos also gives readers insight into Seraphine’s past, which is fairly interesting (if not a little predictable) and grants a closer look at the mysteriously wicked John Breed – with strange consequences. The Sisters shine once more, this time with added pathos and Amma continues to by the lynch pin of the series, to heartbreaking affect.

Beautiful Chaos as a whole is far darker than the previous titles in The Caster Chronicles. Having carefully woven together a complex mythology, Garcia and Stohl to some extent delight in destroying the world they have created. As the story progresses it becomes clear that previous portents of doom have not been exaggerated and it is hard to imagine things ending at all happily. As with previous instalments, Gatlin itself is central to the storyline and both it and its inhabitants are used to great dramatic effect. The writing is at times extremely lyrical while at others suitably sparse. There are scenes that are tremendously moving juxtaposed against those that are darkly frightening.Particularly successful are the set pieces involving an increasingly insane Ridley and those between Ethan and his Aunt Prue. Special mention must also go to the scene involving Ethan and the lens of a video camera – chilling in the extreme.

The Caster Chronicles are all long, detailed stories and readers may find it necessary to return to Beautiful Chaos (even, perhaps, Beautiful Creatures) to remind themselves of the world that swirls confusingly around Ethan and Lena – certainly, reading these titles again would be no hardship. However, regardless of any re-reading, Beautiful Chaos is a thrilling roller-coaster of a story, murky with the shadows of a difficult destiny and haunted by the superstitions of the Deep South leading, one assumes, to a stunning finale in 2012.

November 12, 2011

YAck Attack!

Recently I was pretty delighted when invited to join an international book club being set up by two bloggers. I’m a sucker for flattery and the invite-only status suckered me right in. Christened the YAckers, we now consist of a several bloggers and it’s all jolly good fun.

Every month, one of us suggests a book which we then all read and discuss at our super secret, er, Facebook hideout after which the discussion is collated and posted on a blog. These discussions are NOT reviews, they are our instant reactions to the book that we’ve read together. They are NOT particularly politically correct and they often contain SWEARY words. I KNOW – we are living on the EDGE. Basically, it gives us all an opportunity to spraff on about books without having to be particularly constructive so please don’t expect any great literary critique. Last month, I suggested A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan. As the group was still in the initial stages, not everyone was able to participate but those who stepped up to the plate were:

Melissa from The Book Nut
Donna from Bites
Laura from A Jane of All Reads
Sandy from Pirate Penguin Reads
Jillian from Random Ramblings

And this is what happened. Word to the wise, we really didn't like this one so leave now if you are easily offended, have a heart condition or are heavily pregnant. You have been warned.

Rosalinda Fitzroy has been asleep for sixty-two years when she is woken by a kiss. Locked away in the chemically induced slumber of a stasis tube in a forgotten subbasement, sixteen-year-old Rose slept straight through the Dark Times that killed millions and utterly changed the world she knew. Now, her parents and her first love are long gone, and Rose— hailed upon her awakening as the long-lost heir to an interplanetary empire— is thrust alone into a future in which she is viewed as either a freak or a threat. Desperate to put the past behind her and adapt to her new world, Rose finds herself drawn to the boy who kissed her awake, hoping that he can help her to start fresh. But when a deadly danger jeopardizes her fragile new existence, Rose must face the ghosts of her past with open eyes— or be left without any future at all (summary courtesy of Goodreads).

A Long, Long Sleep? I'd rather have taken a long, long nap. I rarely don't finish a book but I really couldn't be bothered with this one and only completed it in order to write up this post. Having struggled through to the end, I feel no better. Character-wise I entirely detested Rose. I found her alternately vapid, arrogant and repeatedly stupid. I really couldn't have cared less about her past OR her future. None of the other characters were particularly interesting, bar Xavier who was the most intriguing aspect of the plot. I quite liked the dog, though, which says a lot as I'm not really a dog sort of person.  Also, and this is just a small gripe, I don't believe that Rose would be referencing Apocalpyse Now (she refers to something as Apocalypse Then) over 100 years after it was released. Yes, I know it's a cinematic classic... but really? Seriously? I don't think so. Apart from anything, I don't think that sort of cinema would really have been her THING. She was too busy being drugged to sleep by her wonderful parents and lusting after toddlers or something.

The writing was actually quite nice, but the new youth venacular which seemed forced and kept making me cringe. The world building was sadly lacking, with little making sense which was unfortunate as there was a lot that could have been explored. Basically, I didn’t enjoy the book – there are so many well researched, exciting Dytopias on the YA shelves but sadly, this is not one of them.

“That’s two votes for the dog as favourite character,” says Laura, “I think he should have bit the bitch when the whole paints thing was blamed on him....and he got robo-tased and had to go to the vet...” and in case you thought I was joking about the whole toddler thing, Laura summed it up succinctly by stating that “she fell in love with a toddler, slept until he grew up and then they made out. That was hot”. Something tells me that in this case, hot means uncomfortably repulsing (I mean, did NOBODY learn from Jac-Esmee?). As Melissa put it “that thing with the toddler? Creepy”.

And it seems I wasn’t the only one to have issues finishing the book – Sandy was the most successful when it came to completing the challenge.. BUT (and it’s a bit but, hence the capitalisation), “Um...I read most of it but I didn't FINISH it. I liked it enough but I didn't *need* to read on to see what happened next. I liked Otto a lot though. Blue Alien Thief ftw. ♥”. Otto was OK actually, although his morals seemed questionable.

I was also not the only person to dislike Rose and it would seem that we all felt a little disappointed with the lost potential of her character. As Donna says: “There was so much potential here to really dig into the character's reaction of waking up 62 years later and all of the repercussions. Instead we get ‘OMG ur awake! You're totally princess of the universe and you're mega rich and here let's put you into school with all of the rest of the mega rich kids who despise you but you're so freaking humble and weak but you're uber-modest and would have probably been in the remedial classes at any other school for how much your grades sucked but you can get into any class you want because the hot boy that totally frenched you to wake up a corpse has got a hard-on for you and you got some robot guy after you but no-ones knows why and you're obviously TSTL to do anything about it’.”

Actually, Donna had irritations to vent. These particularly related to the science bit: “The utter science fail was what really pissed me off. Here we have a chick that was in what's pretty much a coma for 62 years unsupervised. That leaves me having to assume that that machine, in 62 years, never suffered a power failure (despite all the construction going on over her head), shit happened to the extent that everyone that who knew about her was annihilated, and the machine had enough sustenance to maintain life for 62 uninterrupted years. Failtastic failbots of the failverse. Not to mention when she woke up she was just a bit stiff with some bad hair. Right. Because her muscles totally wouldn't have atrophied, she'd still remember how to use all of her motor functions and she totally wouldn't be a vegetable or something more closely resembling the Crypt Keeper upon waking. That's all assuming that she could feasibly survive something like that. Which she couldn't. And only Peter Griffin thinks mouth to mouth resuscitation is a valid kiss. And all of that was in the first goddamn chapter. And apparently the world exists in the ether because, from what I read I couldn't figure out where it was set. There was some talk of other planets/moons so I'm assuming it was Earth but that was never validated. Also, I'm not big on Sci-Fi but even I can tell you inserting a couple of hovercraft does not a Sci-Fi world make”.

She continues, “I really liked the sterile gene that plants mutated into and then people ate the plants and then people couldn't have babies anymore. How a mutated gene in a plant could have any bearing on human sperm is beyond me. I must have missed that part of science class. But apparently you can eat it and it effs with a guy's bobblies and kills the population as a result. If this is what the world turned out to be, perhaps it was for the best. You know, natural selection and all”.

Yet surely it can’t have been all bad? Can it? Really? Well, when pushed to think of some good points I have to admit I was stumped. However, Sandy came to my rescue by pointing out that she “liked Rose and Otto together. They actually had normal conversations and talked about stuff like normal people (despite the fact that he's, um, an alien.) I never liked Bren and Xavier...sigh. I have conflicting feelings for him and Rose but I gotta say, that ending choked me up a little” And, do you know what? She’s right – the ending has real pathos and doesn’t take the easy way out.  Laura “liked the didn't show up on my Kindle, mind you, but it looked nice on Goodreads” while Donna helpfully informed us that “the library binding was nominally waterproof”. However, dedicated to the last, poor Jillian could only respond “I just finished it.. I kinda wish I didn't”.

So in conclusion, A Long, Long Sleep was really not the one for us Yackers. Luckily our next book, The Name of The Star by Maureen Johnson has proved a big hit so keep your eyes peeled for our discussion which will be posted on Jillian’s blog some time in the next month and contain fluffy bunnies, cheeping chicks, murder, death and ghosties. Or somesuch.

November 10, 2011

This Heart Within Me Burns (review of Torn, by Cat Clarke)

Cat Clarke
Quercus 2011

When Alice King heads from London to the Scottish countryside for a school trip, her biggest concern is leaving her widowed father at home alone. When her group arrive in Scotland, though, things take a turn for the problematic when Alice, her best friend Cass, emo Rae and outsider Polly are roomed with uber mean queen, Tara Chambers. As the week progresses and Tara and her minions become increasingly cruel, Cass and Polly decide to take matters in to their own hands. When their plans go awry, Alice finds herself immersed in a situation of which the repercussions are immense and consequences desperately final… and so begins a classic, twisted tale about the line between what is right and what is easy and how even easy can be so very, very difficult.

Alice is an extremely relatable character who finds herself in a truly horrible situation. Her narrative voice is strong and her personality shines through even when she is at her most conflicted – perhaps then especially so. Her reaction to the situation she finds herself could easily be repulsing were she not written so carefully, but Alice is not a bad person.  In fact, Alice is a rather nice girl albeit one who has made some bad, bad decisions. Her saving grace is that these decisions taunt her relentlessly (some extremely literally) and watching her work through this torment and come to her final conclusion is mesmerising.

Her supporting cast are no less fascinating. While Cass clearly cares for Alice, she’s big on self-preservation and as readers learn more about Alice’s childhood friendships one wonders if Cass perhaps exploited situations to her advantage. Throughout the book it is hard to figure out whether Cass is a friend or a frenemy and that alone makes for edgy reading. Rae, of all the characters, is known least about and this is used to great effect as she fades into the background of Alice’s guilt when she is possibly the person who would most relate to Alice’s own confusion. Jack is believable both as a teenage boy and a loyal brother and Alice’s dad is another beautifully written character, portraying perfectly the father who so desperately wants to do right by his child. However, the stand-out character must be the chameleon-like Polly. Her metamorphosis over the course of Torn is at once fascinating and deeply disturbing adding a creeping horror to proceedings. Finally, there is Tara, lurking and smirking in the background, slowly emerging as a girl who may not have been all she seemed.

At first glance, the storyline of Torn – teenage prank gone wrong – may seem familiar, even hackneyed but to dismiss it as such would be a grave mistake. While other writers may have been tempted to use this premise as the basis for an angst ridden mystery, Cat Clarke rather deftly uses it as a basis for a fascinating study of guilt, grief and the constantly shifting currents of teenage hierarchy. However, Clarke doesn’t veer entirely away from mystery and thriller territory here and at times Torn is very frightening (not to mention quietly gruesome) - fans of Edgar Allan Poe would do well to take a look at this modern day riff on the themes he so often wrote on in an equally creepy fashion.

As with her debut, Entangled, Torn is not an entirely easy read and this is largely to do with Clarke’s ability to get inside the head of teenage girls. Clarke captures vividly the reality of teenage interaction – illustrating perfectly the ease at which the bullied become bullies and vice versa.  Her writing is captivating and extremely moving – the final scene between Alice and her father is sure to engender more than a few tears. Clarke is also mistress of the literary sucker-punch, her sparse yet haunting prose often deliverying a sly one-two, leaving readers gob-smacked. With Torn, Cat Clarke has cemented her place as an author to watch. This is the contemporary title that others in the UK (not to mention America) need to beat and I can honestly say that there are few titles that I have read that are as skilfully written.  Pick up a copy as soon as you can.

Torn is released in the UK on 22nd December and is available for pre-order at Amazon and The Book Depository now.  Thank you to Quercus for sending me this title to review.

November 04, 2011

Little Town Blues, Melting Away (Review: Beautiful Days by Anna Godbherson)

Beautiful Days (Bright Young Things, #2)
Beautiful Days
Anna Godberson
Razorbill 2011

Beautiful Days is the follow up to Bright Young Things.  If you haven't read the first book then this review contains spoilers.  If you have, then go right ahead, dahling!

After the life changing events of Bright Young Things, Cordelia, Letty and Astrid have spent a long summer recuperating and adjusting to the odd turns their lives have taken. Cordelia has been lazing in the sun, mourning the death of her father while finally assured of a place in his household; Letty is gratefully accepting of the Gray's hospitality although concerned that her dreams of fame are still a long way from being realised and Astrid, while happy to be engaged to her darling Charlie, is somewhat bemused at the lack of a ring on her finger. Indeed, they all find themselves in a strange limbo – but not for long... In the midst of prohibition, these three are entangled in bootlegging, warring families and a fierce turf war not to mention glamour, high fashion and breathless romance and so Beautiful Days once again immerses readers in the world of 1920's New York with its many thrills and spills.

Cordelia is an odd sort of dame. She would appear to be completely changed from the small time Ohio girl who ran away from the alter in order to find her father but this change seems to be rather contrived as Cordelia appears to have carried with her since birth a sense of entitlement and a somewhat arrogant manner. In Beautiful Days, one might expect her to be a bit traumatised – her father is dead, she nearly killed a man she thought she loved – but whenever her mind does drift to such unpleasant things she merely shrugs them of with a distasteful sniff. It's not a particularly endearing quality. She also seems to have little loyalty to her friends, particularly not to Letty whom she repeatedly discards and lets down in favour of her new life. She's also somewhat lazy, although her brother Charlie does finally manage to gee her into running his latest club but she doesn't appear to learn any real lessons over the course of the book and is, I'm afraid, not the most likeable character.

Letty, however, fares slightly better. While, as in Bright Young Things, she can seem a little silly her initial wide-eyed wonder at New York and its glamour has started to wear off. Over the course of the book she becomes increasingly savvy and although her self-belief sometimes verges on out and out egomania (well, at the very least extreme vanity) it does push her to knuckle down and do some hard graft, albeit briefly. Letty, to a certain extent, can be as navel-gazing as Cordelia and her interactions with the lovely Grady are painful to watch. However, unlike Cordelia, Letty recognises her mistakes and aims to improve in the future. Time will tell how successful this improvement will be as some of her naïve silliness still remains and events at the end of the book could prove either her making or her undoing.

As with Bright Young Things, Astrid is by far the most likeable character in Beautiful Days. While she too exhibits signs of laziness, selfishness and silliness she's far more self-knowing than the other two. In fact, she often makes rash decisions in full awareness of their stupidity but in her case these come across as more charmingly impetuous than awful. She's often very funny and her relationship with her mother is actually pretty interesting to read. Where Cordelia seems cold and Letty seems, well, sometimes a bit wet, Astrid is absolutely full of heart and of all the romantic relationships the one she has with Charlie is the most believable (irregardless of its crashingly naive, almost certainly doomed to failure, whirlwind nature). Astrid is the character that readers are most likely to want to return to and her fellow protagonists are bettered by her presence.

Other characters pepper the pages of Beautiful Days but are mostly well-written yet underplayed irrelevancies who add colour but little else. The exception to this may well turn out to be the fabulously monickered Max D'Arby who's intent is far less clear than the messages he sky-writes. In fact, the time that Cordelia spends with him and his family later in the book could prove to be interesting and actually makes a stab at some sort of social commentary, although a very weak one.

Beautiful Days, as a whole, is all surface and no depth. Considering the world that the girls live in and the men they are close to, little is said regarding legal ramifications and while there are certainly some dramatic scenes, generally boot-legging is made out to be a jolly old scuffle rather than the perilous activity it surely was. However, as an entirely fun immersion into a gorgeously oppulent world it is not to be missed. The New York of Beautiful Days, is a place of wonder and much can be forgiven when a book can sweep readers away with its sense of place. If you enjoyed Bright Young Things then pick this one up, the characters are developed in surprising ways and the plot is a lot of fun. If you have yet to read Anna Godberson then this series is certainly the place to start.

Beautiful Days is available now.  Thank you to the publisher for providing me with this copy for review.