June 4, 2013 · 9:02 am
Astor Place Vintage: A Novel by Stephanie Lehmann (Touchstone, $16.00, 396 pages)
The theme of Astor Place Vintage is familiar — vintage clothes, an old apartment and mysterious experiences provide a marvelous link to the past. It’s as if The Secret Lives of Dresses melded with Her Fearful Symmetry and The Secret Keeper. Alternating chapters, from 2007 and 1907, make for engaging reading. The issues faced by women who choose to be on their own, but a century apart, are similar and yet not.
This is a multi-generational tale about women; however, it is clearly not chic lit. Author Stephanie Lehmann has invested serious time and effort researching very early 1900s New York City. The restaurants, stores, street names and events portrayed (such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire) are real. Numerous excellently-reproduced photographs allow the reader to have a glimpse into the working world of women of that era. Department stores and garment factories were their primary employers.
In 2007, Astor Place Vintage shop owner, Amanda Rosenbloom, who is nearing 40, wishes she could convince her lover of many years, Jeff, to leave his wife. Jeff has been subsidizing the shop and the apartment upstairs; in other words, Amanda is a kept woman. Her livelihood is in peril when she receives a notice to vacate the store. Relocating is unrealistic as shop rents have become astronomical.
In 1907 upper middle class 20-year-old Olive Westcott moves to NYC with her widower father who manages a Woolworth’s store. She yearns to be on her own. Be careful what you wish for! Olive’s life takes a sharp turn and the tale begins in earnest.
A very elderly woman, Jane Kelly, who is 98, is the living link between the clothes worn by Olive and Amanda’s shop. Although the book is a novel, the lives of the characters naturally lead to intrigue and prompt the reader to speculate how the story lines will converge.
This is Stephanie Lehmann’s fifth novel, and while it is the first of hers that this reviewer has read, it won’t be the only one. Ms. Lehmann’s smooth writing style, excellent dialogue and meticulous research efforts prove to be an unbeatable combination.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Insightful, charming and wholly entertaining.” Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner.
Astor Place Vintage will be released on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.
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Tagged as 1907, 2007, a novel, Amanda Rosenbloom, Astor Place Vintage, best novelists, book preview, book review, excellent dialogue, female protagonists, fiction, Her Fearful Symmetry, historical fiction, historical novel, Joseph's Reviews, June book releases, Khaled Hosseini, Kindle Edition, new book releases, New York City, Nook Book, recommended books, Ruta Arellano, Stephanie Lehmann, The Kite Runner, The Secret Keeper, The Secret Lives of Dresses, Touchstone Books, trade paperback release, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, Vintage Clothes, well researched novel, women's literature
November 15, 2012 · 10:31 am
The Secret Keeper: A Novel by Kate Morton (Atria Books, $26.99, 496 pages)
Every family has a secret or two. It might be an escapade by great-aunt Sally that nobody wants to acknowledge for fear of losing social standing in the community. On the other hand, it might be a secret so huge and shocking that it lays buried in the subconscious of the only witness to the event.
Author Kate Morton makes good use of poetic illusions and warped time as she slowly peels back the layers of a family history with Laurel Nicolson (a renowned actress), Vivien Jenkins (a lovely and wealthy socialite), and Dorothy Nicholson (the mother of Laurel, her sisters and her brother) at its center. The tale switches back and forth between time periods, mostly World War II and 2011. Although the reader is provided with ample notice of the time switches, there exists a vague sense of unease and confusion conveyed by Laurel and her sisters.
Perhaps the fact that this is a story with action locales in the English countryside and sea-shore, London, as well as a flashback to Australia adds to the sense of wondering and aimlessness felt by this reviewer. The descriptions of the devastation wrought by the London bombings are no doubt accurate and they are terrifying. Also, there were times when a look back at prior chapters was necessary to clarify character names and roles. This mild discomfort was well worth enduring for the remarkable payoff Ms. Morton reveals at the conclusion of her saga.
Far North: A Magnus Jonson Mystery by Michael Ridpath (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 384 pages)
Get ready for a strange adventure when you read Far North. By strange I mean out of the ordinary in terms of setting and vocabulary. The setting is Iceland and the time is post-2007 economic crash that basically ruined the economy of the country. While the rampant cheating and leveraging engaged in by business and banking moguls all over the world caused great harm, it was devastating for this cold and wind-swept country of less than half a million residents.
Basically, the tale is an English style detective story displaced to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. As such the reader is treated to a nice travelogue with multi-generational murders and Nordic style myths and sagas. Time switches among several periods beginning with August 1934 and progresses in odd intervals toward the fall of 2009. Main character/protagonist Magnus Jonson is a detective of Icelandic background whose home is Boston, Massachusetts. Magnus is hiding from gangsters he has fingered in Boston as he attends the police academy in Iceland.
Conveniently, Magnus is the sort of detective that can’t help detecting, even when the case may not be his own assignment. Along the way he coordinates with other detectives to make sense of revelations he has made. Childhood traumas have a way of insidiously seeping into the actions of damaged adults. That lesson is hammered home throughout the gripping tale.
Note to potential readers: The complex naming system for people in Iceland may be confusing and the pronunciation of geographic names may be daunting. Don’t let that get between you and an exhilarating chase to the end.
Review copies were provided by the publishers.
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Tagged as 2007 economic crash, 2009, 2011, A Magnus Jonson Mystery, a novel, Atria Books, Australia, Bestselling author, book review site wordpress, book reviews, Boston, childhood traumas, damaged adults, detective story, England, English detective story, family novel, family secrets, Far North, fiction, gripping tale, hardbound book releases, historical novels, Iceland, Joseph's Reviews, Kate Morton, Kindle Edition, Laurel Nicolson, London, London bombings, Magnus Johnson, Massachusetts, Michael Ridpath, Minotaur Books, murders, mystery, New York Times bestselling author, Nook Book, Nordic myths, recommended books, Ruta Arellano, strange adventure, The Secret Keeper, time switches, Time Travel Mysteries, Wordpress book review site, World War II
November 13, 2012 · 12:37 pm
A review of The Secret Keeper: A Novel by Kate Morton, and more.
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Tagged as a novel, Australia, book review, book review site wordpress, Coming Up Next, England, family secrets, Joseph's Reviews, Kate Morton, new book releases, New York Times bestselling author, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper, Wordpress book review site