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.

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