When We Caught Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for When We Caught Fire by Anna GodbersenChicago, 1871: Emmeline Carter is about to blast her way into Chicago’s high society, helping her father make good on his rise to wealth with her engagement to Chicago’s most eligible bachelor.

Living in luxury and the envy of so many society debutantes should be enough for Emmeline. It isn’t. Instead, as her engagement looms, Emmeline can’t stop thinking about her carefree days she used to share with her best friend Fiona Byrne and her sweetheart Anders Magnuson. Now Fiona is Emmeline’s maid and Anders a distant memory.

Fiona hopes that Emmeline’s engagement will bring her friend everything she wants–and allow Fiona to pursue Ander’s herself without guilt. Then Emmeline surprises everyone by risking everything she has gained to see Anders one last time.

As friendships are tested and bonds are broken, even the smallest spark might change everything for these three friends and the city they all call home in When We Caught Fire (2018) by Anna Godbersen.

This standalone novel plays out over the course of the summer as Emmeline, Fiona, and Anders move toward the cataclysmic Great Fire. The novel alternates between chapters following Emmeline and Fiona’s points of view.

Godbersen once again brings the past to life with evocative descriptions of the city (and, of course, the fashions) of the time. While the main focus is on the Great Fire, When We Caught Fire also explores the inequality and corruption that ran rampant through the Gilded Age.

At its core, When We Caught Fire is a story about a friendship and a love triangle. The relationships between the three characters remain the driving force of the story even as the events of the fire play out in the novel’s explosive final act.

An open ending and nuanced characters allow readers to draw their own conclusions while fleshing out the story. When We Caught Fire is frothy, slightly sensational, and utterly entertaining. Recommended for readers who want their historical fiction filled with all the gory details and juicy parts.

Possible Pairings: A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper, Alex & Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

Bright Young Things: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“They were all marching toward their own secret fates, and long before the next decade rolled around, each would escape in her own way–one would be famous, one would be married, and one would be dead.”

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen1929: Cordelia Grey and Letty Larkspur are leaving their stifling Ohio town behind to seek fame and fortune in New York City. With a big voice and hopes to match, Letty knows it’s only a matter of time before she hits it big in the biggest city of all. Cordelia is seeking other things–things she can’t even tell her best friend Letty without looking like a fool–even if Cordelia knows her future is in New York.

Along the way to their dreams the girls will face hardships and separation. They’ll meet cads and swells. One of them will even take up with one of New York’s elite flappers–a girl named Astrid Donal.

Everyone comes to New York expecting big things. But Cordelia and Letty will both have to make hard choices to get everything they want while the Jazz Age is still raging in Bright Young Things (2010) by Anna Godbersen.

Bright Young Things is the first book in Godbersen’s 1920s series. It is followed by Beautiful Days and The Lucky Ones. (Godbersen is also the author of the bestselling Luxe series.)

I love historical fiction. Show me a book set anywhere between 1900 and 1940 and there is a 99% chance that I will want to read it. I especially love the 1920s and flappers. (I even wrote a research paper in high school about 1920s fashion. But that’s another story.) My point in sharing all of this? I am pretty well-read when it comes to 1920s–fashion, social mores, history.

What does that have to do with Bright Young Things? It’s part of why I didn’t like it more. I wanted to love this book and I wanted to be excited about the series. But after reading so many other books set in the period the plot and setting started to feel very familiar.

Most of the characters in Bright Young Things are privileged; they have money, they have status, they get what they want. They’re careless like Tom and Daisy Buchanan. And that is great if you want to re-live the frenzy and decadence of The Great Gatsby. But if you want more nuance or something new, well, that isn’t going to be found in Bright Young Things as it treads familiar themes with the decadence of the 1920s, the thrill of speakeasies and the danger of falling for the wrong boy.

My favorite parts of the story were when Letty struck out on her own and found work as a cigarette girl–something I never read about–which was fascinating and ended all too soon. Besides Letty the other characters felt painfully vapid and superficial.

Godbersen lays all of the groundwork for the series with the sprawling prologue and introduction of characters who will be key later in the story. But I never felt excited enough while reading Bright Young Things to feel any urgency in continuing with the series (if I ever will).

This would be a great introductory read for anyone hoping to start reading historical fiction in general or about the 1920s specifically. If you already know about the period and want to move beyond the basics I’d suggest The Diviners by Libba Bray which delves deeper into a variety of areas during the decade albeit in the midst of a supernatural murder investigation.

Possible Pairings: The Diviners by Libba Bray, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, New York City: A Short History by George J. Lankevich, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

The Luxe: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Luxe by Anna GodbersenThe day Elizabeth Adora Holland died was a sad day for New York City. A shining beacon of the city’s high society, tales of Elizabeth’s life brightened the days of those who read about her in the local papers. That she should be buried on the very day of her wedding to Henry Schoonmaker, the city’s most eligible bachelor, only makes the young socialite’s sudden death that much more tragic.

Life for the New York elite was easy in 1899 when servants still catered to a family’s every whim and a family’s name almost meant more than its fortune. Almost . . . .

But the weeks before Elizabeth’s death were anything but easy in The Luxe (2007) by Anna Godbersen.

Godbersen peels back the veneer of some of New York’s wealthiest (fictional) families to reveal a world of intrigue, betrayal, and even danger in the first novel in the Luxe series. It should also be noted that reviews citing The Luxe as a thinly disguised historical Gossip Girl are not far off.

While Godbersen creates a compelling plot that will have readers anxious for the next installments in the series, her characters are distinctly feeble by comparison. The story revolves around the events leading to Elizabeth’s untimely demise, but the story follows many points of view including Elizabeth’s younger sister, her dashing fiance, her embittered maid, and her ruthless-social-climber best friend. None of whom are particularly convincing or likable.

Godbersen struggles to portray Elizabeth as a beach of moral fortitude in a world rife with corruption and selfishness. But even the author cannot maintain the lofty pedestal she created for Elizabeth ultimately making her appear at best to be an irresolute hypocrite and at best as a spoiled (largely oblivious) brat. Everything that seemed meant to endear Elizabeth to readers served instead as further annoyance.

Her sister Diana is equally frustrating. Diana comes off as a slightly dim, intensely annoying, poor little rich girl for the majority of the story as she fantasizes about a life bereft of her family’s ostentatious wealth. Her general air of recklessness and thoughts turning constantly to handsome young men do little to improve her character.

Even with the lackluster, inaccurate, and generally unconvincing characters The Luxe does manage to provide readers with a strong story with several twists along the way. This page-turner will be a book readers will love to hate–or hate to love.

Possible Pairings: The Shadows by Megan Chance, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, Vixen by Killian Larkin, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Bowery Girl by Kim Taylor