Book Review · Books & Reading · Story & Characters

Book Review – “Vixen”

Vixen Flappers book cover
The Story:
[From GoodReads:]
Jazz . . . Booze . . . Boys . . . It’s a dangerous combination.

Every girl wants what she can’t have. Seventeen-year-old Gloria Carmody wants the flapper lifestyle—and the bobbed hair, cigarettes, and music-filled nights that go with it. Now that she’s engaged to Sebastian Grey, scion of one of Chicago’s most powerful families, Gloria’s party days are over before they’ve even begun . . . or are they?

Clara Knowles, Gloria’s goody-two-shoes cousin, has arrived to make sure the high-society wedding comes off without a hitch—but Clara isn’t as lily-white as she appears. Seems she has some dirty little secrets of her own that she’ll do anything to keep hidden. . . .

Lorraine Dyer, Gloria’s social-climbing best friend, is tired of living in Gloria’s shadow. When Lorraine’s envy spills over into desperate spite, no one is safe. And someone’s going to be very sorry. . . .

My Take: When it comes to historical fiction, I tend to gravitate towards stories set in either the Victorian Era or the Roaring 1920s. Hence, when this novel appeared on my reading radar, I was intrigued and decided to check it out.

This was one of those rare books that I actually made myself finish in a day – not to get it done and over with but because I just had to know what happened! While the quasi-soap opera drama won’t be to everyone’s tastes (and I’m usually not a fan of that myself), it works quite well here thanks to the grandiose settings and larger-than-life characters who still manage to be relatable.

Vixen is actually told in alternating POV through the voices of the three main characters, Gloria Carmody, Clara Knowles, and Lorraine Dyer. Normally, I shy away from books with multiple POVs as either a). the technique isn’t necessary (re: Allegiant) or b). there are too many story threads to keep track of. But Vixen pulls it off as Gloria, Clara, and Lorraine’s respective narratives are vastly differently and, even if they’re witnessing the same situation simultaneously, they sound like distinct characters and present uniquely individualized viewpoints. I honestly think the story would have been dull if it had been related by just one of these ladies, so in this case I’m glad we were given the chance to see the story through three trains of thought. As such, there are a great deal of secrets that, as readers, we’re let in on, but the fun is seeing how and when these secrets will be revealed to or discovered by other characters and what happens in the aftermath.

Our first viewpoint character is Gloria, a high society girl who isn’t really all that into her appearances-are-everything lifestyle. Though she’s engaged to a young power player among Chicago’s elite, she feels more drawn to the forbidden worlds of speakeasies and jazz music. Naturally, this generates dramatic tension in that, as Gloria tries to start a singing career, as well as a relationship with a Black jazz musician (considered a social taboo at the time), she’s forced to live a double life. Naturally, there’s consequences for if and when her secret is discovered and this only adds to the tension.

The second viewpoint character is Clara, Gloria’s cousin, who isn’t everything she claims to be. Clara plays the part of a down-home country girl fresh from the farm when inwardly she’s anything but. In truth, she’s a reformed flapper who’s running from her past, something she’ll do nearly anything to keep hidden. Naturally, Gloria’s family thinks Clara is the bee’s knees (to use some period-appropriate slang) but Clara’s old self starts to resurface. Out of the three ladies, I enjoyed Clara the most as she was the voice of reason most of the time. She sees how Gloria is enamored with the flapper lifestyle, something she herself has lived through and now lives to regret. Thus, these two ladies present interesting contrasts: Gloria is the flapper wannabe because she sees it as a glamorous lifestyle, and Clara is the ex-flapper who knows the dark truth behind such a life.

The third and final viewpoint character is Gloria’s friend, Lorraine, who I liked as an antagonistic character but not so much as a person. She struck me as a very needy girl who craved being in Gloria’s shadow as if it was her lifeline and sought to rise to the same social standing as Gloria. In the same way, Lorraine never seemed to be genuinely happy for her friend, which made me question how close their relationship truly was, and I sensed Gloria cared more for Lorraine than the other way around. While I started off feeling bad for Lorraine as she initially puts on airs of being the sidekick to the prettier, more popular girl, it didn’t take long for her true colors to bleed through and reveal a vindictive heart.

Collectively, these three ladies were a great combination that played off of each other’s light and dark sides. In this way, rather than being force-fed any particular moral, the reader is able to see how the truth catches up with each young woman. Yet each instance carries its own consequences, both good and bad, that shows how each woman’s sins finds her out as well as how confession can be good for the soul.

Regarding the setting, while I’m not a 1920s history buff, it certainly seems accurate – from the architecture, to the fashion, to the slang – and doesn’t feel phoned in. I was also glad this wasn’t a historically-placed novel where the characters sounded like they were transplanted from modern times. The overall atmosphere here is enthralling, from the opulent mansions and penthouses of pristine high society to the smoky, boozy, claustrophobic world of the speakeasy circuit. It fits with the characters and presents an interesting sandbox environment for them to develop and play in. Plus it’s a real treat for the senses.

Plot-wise, don’t expect anything high-brow. This is not literary fiction and, as stated, it’s more akin to a soap opera set in the 1920s but with far more class. However, even though the story hinges on three women trying to carve out their own paths in life (some more illegal than others), it never struck me as openly immature. This is intended to be YA but the three leads, to their credit, don’t come across as juvenile, not even the spiteful Lorraine. Likewise, there is a shocking betrayal near the end that I honestly didn’t see coming, but it doesn’t feel like it arrives out of the proverbial left field. It fits with the plot and adds a suspenseful twist that undoubtedly will carry over into the rest of the trilogy. So while this novel doesn’t technically end on a cliffhanger, the characters’ stories are left ajar and a new face emerges who promises to be a fascinating addition to the other books.

Content:
Content-wise, this is a fairly tame novel but I’d probably recommend it for older teens and adults due to its overall story, which I don’t sense anyone younger than 16 would really get into:
Language – There is some profanity but it isn’t pervasive and stays confined to the PG arena. A racial slur is used once or twice to refer to Gloria’s boyfriend, but its usage is in a cultural/historical context.

Violence – There are a few scenes where characters are threatened by mobsters or intimated anonymously but either no one comes to harm or the ones doing the threatening are hurt or killed in self-defense.

Sexual Content – Despite the novel’s title, there are no sex scenes but it is implied that Gloria and her boyfriend eventually sleep together (but whether it’s meant in a sexual context or not is kept vague). Elsewhere, characters make casual (though infrequent) references to sexual activity in the form of 1920s slang words, kiss, flirt, and seduce (usually while inebriated) but nothing is ever graphically described or openly smutty. Elsewhere, some characters admit to affairs or infidelity but nothing is ever described in detail. Honestly, I was surprised at how tame this novel was and, while it certainly sounds like it could have been trashier, it’s actually not that risque at all.

Drug/Alcohol Content – It is worth nothing though that underage characters do drink and smoke; however, the legal drinking age of 21 wasn’t enacted until 1984, nearly 60 years after the time period in which the novel takes place. Therefore, seeing seventeen-year-old Gloria down drinks in a speakeasy didn’t bother me as it would have fit with the cultural (or, perhaps in this case, counter-cultural) norms of the time. Drinking is portrayed as glamorous albeit it’s tied into the flapper/speakeasy lifestyle, which carries its own risks and isn’t presented as a good model for living.

The Run-Down:
flapper smiling happy good
Overall, Vixen is like a really good ice cream sundae: it’s probably empty calories but it’s just so much fun as it’s an honest treat to read and is easy to devour (minus the annoying brain freeze). I really liked this book and was hooked from beginning to end. Yet it possesses some very dark edges that keep it from becoming a fluffy read. Beneath the setting’s fashionable facade, we witness three young women struggle with their future (Gloria), their past (Clara), and their present (Lorraine) in interlocking ways that present plenty of twists and turns, some of which are unpredictable (at least for me). Fans of historical fiction set in the Roaring 1920s will enjoy this, I sense, especially if they prefer a little more fiction and fun in their historical fiction. And I certainly need to get a wiggle on and read the rest of the trilogy to see how it all wraps up!

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