Book Review: All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church

All the Beautiful Girls UKAbout the Book

It was unimaginable. When she was eight years old, Lily Decker somehow survived the auto accident that killed her parents and sister, but neither her emotionally distant aunt nor her all-too-attentive uncle could ease her grief.  Dancing proves to be Lily’s only solace, and eventually, she receives a “scholarship” to a local dance academy – courtesy of a mysterious benefactor.

Grown and ready to leave home for good, Lily changes her name to Ruby Wilde and heads to Las Vegas to be a troupe dancer, but her sensual beauty and voluptuous figure land her work instead as a showgirl performing everywhere from Les Folies Bergere at the Tropicana to the Stardust’s Lido de Paris. Wearing costumes dripping with feathers and rhinestones, five-inch heels, and sky-high headdresses, Ruby may have all the looks of a Sin City success story, but she still must learn to navigate the world of men – and figure out what real love looks like.

Format: ebook, hardcover (368 pp.)                   Publisher: 4th Estate
Published: 6th March (ebook), 5th April 2018    Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

From the book description, I was expecting to be immersed in the atmosphere of 1960s Las Vegas and I definitely got that.  Elizabeth Church shows the reader both the surface glamour – the famous names, the glitzy costumes, the fantastic parties, the extravagant gifts – and the seedy underbelly – the drugs, the physical toll, the expectation to charm men attracted to the casinos by the beauty of the showgirls, to ‘give them memories’ to take home to their dull, everyday lives.  Lily/Ruby mingles with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. (‘a hepcat seducer who lured with junkie, fast-talking patter’), Paul Anka, Joe DiMaggio, Tom Jones.  She learns of key events of the 1960s – the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the moon landings – while Vegas carries on regardless. However, eventually the glitter fades revealing a life that is shallow and empty. ‘Ruby was well aware that no one wanted her for who she was, for what she read or thought…To them, she was just like Vegas – all glitz and glamour.  An anonymous blur, like a passing freight train.’

However All the Beautiful Girls is more than just the story of a Las Vegas showgirl.  It’s a bildungsroman that charts Lily’s emotional journey as she struggles to overcome family tragedy, a traumatic childhood, thwarted ambition, the lure of the darker side of the showgirl lifestyle and find a sense of self-worth, acceptance and love.

When she leaves her hometown of Kansas, she seeks to reinvent herself, adopting a new name – Ruby Wilde.  ‘If Kansas could go from sea to prairie, if a frog egg could radically transform itself from an almost-fish with gills to an amphibian that left water for land, then Lily could transform, too.’  She dreams of becoming a dancer; dance being the one thing in her life that brings her joy.  Arriving in Las Vegas she sees only possibility, star struck by the glamour of her new surroundings.  ‘This, Ruby realized, is what happiness feels like.  Freedom.  Bubbling champagne, yellow birds, music and dance and neon and possibility.’

You somehow know it’s not going to be that easy.  The scars Lily bears are not just psychological and hers will be an emotional journey of success, love, loss and betrayal.  Aside from a few valued friends, the one positive and constant presence in Lily’s life is her faithful benefactor – the equivalent of a ‘fairy godmother’ – driven by motivations of their own.   In the end, it transpires that Lily is not the only one with secrets and I’ll readily admit the author took me completely by surprise at one point.  I do love an “I wasn’t expecting that!” moment in a novel.

I really enjoyed All the Beautiful Girls.  It turned out to be a much more intense read than I’d been expecting – in a good way – but it has to be said there are some scenes that are hard to read.   I loved Lily for her determination to follow her dream and to believe in herself, despite everything that happens to her along the way.  The way Lily overcomes the tragedies that befall her made me think a little bit of the film ‘A Star Is Born’, starring the wonderful Judy Garland.  What made it just short of 5 stars for me was the ending which wrapped up everything a little too quickly.

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, 4th Estate, in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Powerful, emotional, intense

Try something similar…Woman Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole (click here to read my review)

Elizabeth J ChurchAbout the Author

Elizabeth J. Church is the author of The Atomic Weight of Love, which was a #1 Indie Next List selection and a Target Club Pick, and was shortlisted by the ABA Indies Choice Book Awards for adult debut book of the year and the Reading the West Book Awards for best adult fiction. All the Beautiful Girls is her second novel.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church

    1. I’ve not read that one but I added it my wishlist even as I was part way through this one. It’s lovely when you get a sense you’ve discovered a brilliant author early on in a book.


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