Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I need to preface my review with an understanding. I’m a professor of writing, and I oftentimes write reviews like I’d write an analysis of a book, especially when an author decides to provoke my literature brain. I choose, however, to write my reviews informally yet with the formality of literary analysis. So…warning, Staci Hart challenges my brain with her writing, hence causing me to write the type of review that won’t tell you how hot Kash and Lily are together. Instead, this review seeks to magnify the brilliance of Staci Hart’s writing in Gilded Lily, her newest book, via my analysis. Consider yourself warned.
You can read Staci Hart’s Bennet series without having read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the story that inspires it. However, if you know JA’s book, then you see some of the genius of Staci Hart’s books in this new series. For example, Kitty, a Bennet sister in Pride and Prejudice, is a background character, usually partnered with Lydia, the misbehaving sister. While we are led to believe that Kitty will engage in the same at-risk, silly behavior of her sister, we never really find evidence of it in Jane Austen’s story. In her newest book, Staci Hart plays with this idea of existing in the background, of assumed perceptions. Like Kitty, Kash, the hero of Gilded Lily, seems, like a background character, happy to plant and grow, a seeming player who isn’t interested in relationships, but, rather, hookups. His connection and association with Luke, his formerly player younger brother, inspires people’s perceptions of Kash. To some degree, readers of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice mischaracterize Kitty too based on the actions of her younger sister, Lydia. We never get to know the true Kitty, and it’s a realization that we may be “seeing” her with the worst of expectations based on her association with her sister. Similarly, the concept of Kash is also based on the assumptions of the other characters in his story and us, the readers. It’s Staci Hart’s brilliant look at the way in which we determine the truth of people based on their appearance and our assumptions. What we find in Gilded Lily are people who are so much more than our assumptions.
The title of this book is the first indication of Hart’s talent. To gild the lily means to try to “adorn or embellish” something that is already perfect. It’s a hint to the heroine of the story, Lila. Lila is an overachiever. As an event planner for a top, well-respected event planning business, she’s learned early on that appearances are necessary towards achievement. Her direct report/manager is a nightmare, yet Lila as an overachiever strives to surpass her manager by being the very best, ignoring her manager’s slights. Daily, she strives towards perfection. She shows it through her appearance and her work ethic. Her drive for perfection makes others assume that she is a robot, someone who is emotionless. Her actions “gild the lily” of her persona, causing others to make assumptions about her just as people make assumptions about Kash. To a certain degree, Lila pretends. It’s her way to survive an unruly boss and horrible clients. Through the character of Lila, Hart illustrates the way in which there is always something more to a person. We find that Lila is indeed a person with feelings; however, it takes the right person to “see” the true essence of her if they take the time to do so, to see past her “pretending,” the gilding of the lily of her personhood. In this characterization, Hart flexes her literary muscle as she constructs the humanization of Lila through the progression of the story.
Like Lila, Kash also pretends. Of the two, he shows more of his real self; however, there are assumptions about him that he never corrects. In a sense, he accepts what others believe about him even if they are false. From his statement t-shirts to his connections with women, Kash pretends to be the person who others believe him to be. Yet, Kash is more.
We initially see Kash and Lila as opposites. Hart considers their story as enemies-to-lovers, and it seems, in the beginning, they are more enemies than friends. However, Kash and Lila have more in common than we first realize. There are more assumptions here, as the story plays out and we see these two are simply two sides of the same coin about other people’s judgments about them. As their story progresses, we recognize their similarities and revel in their differences as those differences make for a complete soulful connection. Again, this is further evidence of Hart’s creativity and ingenuity in her craft.
Personally, I can’t help but revel in Hart’s writing. Throughout Gilded Lily, I was drawn to her prose, her style. The way in which she uses the allusion to Kitty in Pride and Prejudice along with her metaphor of perfection to illustrate the need to search for the truth of a person by “seeing” them, to let go of past dreams for the spirit of today, and to love fearlessly in the face of your truth is her superpower in her book. This professor’s brain couldn’t stop analyzing her pages, mining them for the golden nuggets of truth hidden in her prose. The romance is a given in Gilded Lily. Kash and Lila are a beautiful pairing, completing each other in the most delicious way. Reading their journey isn’t hard in and of itself. It will make you feel complete when the story is done. What we should celebrate about Hart’s book is its insistence on living “real” lives, accepting people in their truth, and loving people fiercely into that truth. What we see and perceive isn’t usually what is real. Maybe if we took the time to accept each other’s truths, our society would look a lot like the love of Kash and Lila. Read this book.
In love and romance,