I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Beauty and Attention by Liz Rosenberg
Published: October 25th 2016 by Lake Union Publishing
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
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Beauty and Attention by Liz Rosenberg is the story of a 1950s New York socialite who feels stifled by the options available to a respectable young lady in society. When Libby Archer is orphaned, she decides to leave New York to visit relatives abroad, even though she has a suitor at home. Libby wants freedom and adventure, and Ireland seems like a dream come true. Disclaimer: Beauty and Attention is loosely based on A Portrait of a Lady, which is one piece of classic literature which I have not read. This likely colors my opinion of the story, and should be taken into account as you read this review.
At its essence, Beauty and Attention is about two things: love, and choices. As Libby travels, she encounters several young men, and yet she keeps rejecting them because she’s a free spirit who doesn’t want to be tied down. And when Libby eventually succumbs to the social pressure to make a choice, she feels trapped by her decision, and finds herself cast in the very role she’s been trying to avoid. Reading this novel made me realize yet again how lucky I am to be alive today, in a time when women have far greater options in life, and whom (and even whether) we marry is not the choice that defines our destinies.
I have so many feelings about this book. I loved the way the author described life abroad. It made me want to jump through the pages and into Europe. It’s when we progressed past the early part of the story and Libby started interacting with her suitors that things got a bit complicated. I admired Libby’s independent spirit, but pretty much her entire existence and storyline is defined by the men around her. I wanted to see more character depth, and to see Libby involved in adventures that didn’t involve her suitors. I’m not sure whether this novel would even pass the Bechdel test. That said, I was also empathetic towards her as she finds herself propelled by social forces beyond her control. And by the end of the story, Libby once again takes charge of her own fate.
I found myself drawn to the minor characters far more than to Libby herself. I’m always happy to see LGBT characters mentioned in historical fiction, because way too often we fall into the trap of thinking that folks having non-heterosexual orientations is something new (spoiler: it’s not).
All in all, I think I’d have appreciated Beauty and Attention a lot more if I’d have read Portrait of a Lady first. Even so, it was lovely glimpse into expat life in the 50s, and I’m happy to have read it. Many thanks again to TLC Book Tours for introducing me to so many great books outside my comfort zone!
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