Book Review for “A Bright Young Thing” by Brianne Moore.
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Summary: “In early 1930s England, a young firebrand finds herself on a fraught and dangerous road to independence. … Astra Davies defies all the conventions. Clever, witty, and determined, Astra smokes, drinks, plays a mean piano, and gallivants around London with her beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. But Astra finds herself in a tight spot when her parents die suddenly, leaving her with a raft of debts. With few marketable skills and a closet full of family secrets, Astra has two choices: find a rich husband or make her own way. … From the bustle of London to the country estates of the aristocracy, Astra embarks on a journey that tests her brains, wit, and mettle as never before. But one way or another, Astra Davies is dead set on proving she’s no ordinary Bright Young Thing.“
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical – 1930s; England; Other Categories: Novel, Family Saga, Romance.
Well, talk about a pleasant surprise! That is to say that this book wasn’t what I was expecting, and when I asked for this book, I was actually thinking that I wasn’t sure if this one was really for me. But you see, I’m trying to find more historical fiction books that don’t focus on wars – particularly the two world wars (what with everything in the news being so terribly depressing). So, when I saw a book set in 1930s England, I didn’t read all that much more, and put in my request. And what a good thing I did so, because I have to say that it was a delight from start to finish!
Okay, let me get my one niggle out of the way and then put that aside for my praise. That would be that I really felt very sorry for Astra because of all the trials and tribulations that Moore sent her way. First, she’s suddenly orphaned, then finds out she might be destitute, and her parents have been keeping some very dark family secrets from her all her life. If that isn’t enough, while trying to figure out how to start her new life – both financially and emotionally – she becomes the target of an unreasonable vendetta against her, with a slew of slanderous rumors about her, invented by the sister of one of her closest friends. My niggle is that these lies got a touch convoluted and complex, and there was a very small interlude when I got confused, and wondered if just one of her family’s secrets could have been eliminated. But that confusion was very short-lived, and I soon understood why Moore added all of them – probably for the sake of more tension and a better climax.
Now, I have to say that from the moment I started reading this novel, I was reminded of some other authors I recently got to know. One of them being Anne Morice and her Tessa Crichton series of mystery novels. Astra’s way of relating to the love interest here – Jeremy Harris the Earl of Dunreaven – was practically a copy of Tessa’s way of relating to Robin Price. By this I mean that both these women are very much independent, and as these two men begin to show their interest and affection, they use their wit to pretend to be dismissive, while allowing the gentle flirting to shine through. Mind you, Astra denies her attraction to Jeremy until she can no longer ignore it (mostly because she has so many other things going on in her life), while Tessa does seem to fall for Robin much sooner, while still holding up her banter throughout. See now, that’s how I like my romance – intelligent and clever, with each person in the relationship supporting the other. I’ll have none of that business of women filled with angst, or swooning, ready to put aside their own needs, careers and/or goals in hopes that a man will whisk them away from their troubles, like some knight in shining armor for me, thank you very much. There are only a few warming tingles, and no smutty sex scenes, which fit Astra and Jeremy to a tee. Therefore, to my mind, Moore did this just perfectly.
This brings me to Moore’s writing style, which also put me in mind of Beatriz Williams. I have described her prose as sparkling, and that’s precisely the same word I’d use to describe Moore’s. Even when Astra is having a hard time with getting her life in order, there was a light air to the writing. Furthermore, there’s no small amount of humor put into some of the minor characters, alongside a touch of social commentary. This light touch continues even with these serious subjects (the country’s economic problems, and some awareness that there might be more winds of war in the offing), Moore remembers that the circles in which Astra traveled were generally less aware of the plight of others than those with less privilege and wealth. Moore also allows Astra to raise at least a little bit of awareness among her friends, which only shows how special Astra is, as a person. Frankly, if this book would be the first of a series, I think I’d very much want to read all of the sequels.
Obviously, with all this praise, and everything that I admired in this novel, the big question is – did it make me laugh and/or cry? The answer to that question is – YES, actually, both. Okay, they weren’t belly laughs, and I wasn’t uncontrollably weeping, but I did giggle quite a bit, and I did tear up here and there. Also, it occurred to me that there might be some parallels of this book to Jane Austen’s Emma – sans the bad matchmaking – but I could be mistaken. I thing that all of this enough for me to very warmly recommend this book and award it a full five out of five stars! (It also made me wonder if her debut novel, which looks overtly romantic, is actually not your typical romance. I now see it is considered a retelling of Austen’s Persuasion, not to mention the culinary aspects included. Hm… maybe I should get myself a copy of that one.)
Alcove Press (a division of Penguin Random House) released “A Bright Young Thing” by Brianne Moore on September 7, 2021. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and US (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and US, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.