Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann

Astor Place Vintage. Stephanie Lehmann. Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster. June 2013. 416 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781451682052.

Imagine living your life as a working young woman in 1907 or in 2007.  What would be the same and what would be different?  Believe it or not, not much, although as this novel depicts two women from each period run into society’s strictures and mistakes of their own.  This is the story of Olive Westcott, a young woman living in the earlier part of the 20th Century.  She wants to be a retail seller of clothing in the worst possible way, but her father and business owners will not allow social pressures to make her dream possible.  A woman could never go anywhere alone, let alone work without a male reference or supporter.  She is up to the fight however, when her father no longer has that ever-present influence in her life.  She proves that times are slowly changing by starting at the bottom as a salesgirl at a department store. 

How do we know all this? Amanda Rosenbloom, who owns a clothing shop named per this novel’s title, finds Olive’s journal.  Amanda is in a bit of a quandary herself.  She’s an insomniac dating a married man.  She knows her future with him is going nowhere fast but lacks the strength to end it, at least initially.  As it turns out, the economy in New York City is changing as well, and Amanda finds herself being evicted so the owner can charge a more exorbitant rent to the next person.  After all, New York, both in Amanda and Olive’s time, is prime territory for real estate and business.  Amanda will prove to be creative and resourceful in her attempt to save her business, find a better place to live, and seek a satisfying romance.

Tall order for Olive and Amanda, yes; but Stephanie Lehmann offers the reader two females with all their strengths and weaknesses who are all the more likeable because they are so real!  Lehmann also offers us through quaint, exciting and painstaking detail a thorough panorama of the architecture, interior designs, fashions in clothing, food, music, and art prominent in both time periods.  This is an elegant picture of New York as it evolved over 100 years and a delight to relish equally with the story! 

Astor Place Vintage is very finely written and a hugely entertaining read!

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

The Moon and More.  Sarah Dessen. Viking: Penguin Group (USA). June 2013. 384 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780670785605.

Emaline is very happy with her life. She works at her grandmother’s beach resort and has a steady boyfriend, Luke, who is described as “hot” without a shirt.  Her job involves making sure everyone has a comfortable stay and she has made no plans for the future, not because she fears anything but just seems to take life as it rolls by day after day.  But that’s about to change quite a bit – life is change at certain stages whether one wants it or not, and the essence of this story is how one embraces, fights, or flies from it.

When Emaline is taking a VIP package of wine and fruit to one of the more luxurious resort areas, she meets a summer intern named Theo, who is working with a snooty director on a documentary film about a famous painter who lives like a regular guy and really doesn’t want the hype.  Add to the mixture that Emaline’s absent father all of a sudden shows up exhibiting interest in his daughter’s education and college application process.  At first she is cautious, then enthused, and later shocked by his on again, off again presence.  She and Luke start to fight, have some misunderstandings, a betrayal and then a break-up.  But as upset as she is initially, she begins to realize the future may not have as many predictable scenarios as she had hoped. 

Forced to turn down a Columbia University acceptance, she decides to go to a local college but she’s not so sure that Luke will be part of that future picture.  Maybe she should change her plans totally.  But things get complicated when a relationship with Theo starts to grow and her father moves into the area, bringing her half-brother Benji along, who comes to worship the ground Emaline walks on. Mom and Grandma are not so sure about all these changes!

This is a tough, tender novel full of shifts in points of view about certain people.  The characters are presented with all their best assets and toughest, weakest flaws.  Unlike other books where characters paint black and white caricatures, Emaline learns to deal with whatever comes moment to moment.  Love is a changing phenomena as well and passion is something to follow with all of one’s being!  Readers will love this very real, smart and sassy character and the story threading and weaving its way around her town of Colby, a place built on sand that is far more solid than one could dream!  Very nicely done, Sarah Dessen! More please!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Royal Mistress by Anne Easter Smith

Royal Mistress. Anne Easter Smith. Touchstone Books. May 2013. 489 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781451648621.

Jane Shore lived a harsh life! Rejected by her father, married to an impotent mercer, loved by many men but chosen by King Edward, she was grateful for the favors of her King.  Londoners and members of the Court grew to respect her because of her many acts of charity and care for those far less fortunate.  Jane is not one to involve herself in the political intrigues and betrayals of the Court, but she does relate them without bias.  After Edward's untimely end due to his own decadent lifestyle, Jane is accused of crimes that force her to undergo public penance; the accuser is Edward's brother, Richard, first Protector of the heir and then King after Edward's children are proven to be illegitimate.  Richard is given an interesting portrayal in this novel; determined to "clean up" the Court he is extremely harsh.  We also get an interesting take on the "disappearance" of the two Princes and an amazing execution ordered without the granting of a trial to Jane's second lover.  Yes, everything herein has been presented in other novels, but Anne Easter Smith's comprehensive depiction of all the significant characters and their alliances and betrayals is fascinating and unique.  Very, very well written and presented!  Highly recommended!