Happy Independence Day everyone. Thanks to audio books and a long drive to Vermont, I managed to squeeze in a number of books in June.
The Wedding Veil by Kristi Woodson Harvey: Harvey’s first historical fiction is more a women’s fiction-historical hybrid. In the present-day storyline, we have Julia Baxter, a young bride-to-be and her grandmother, Babs, a widow. Meanwhile, the historical portion of the book tells the story of Edith Vanderbilt, her daughter Cornelia, and their struggles to maintain Biltmore Estate. The four stories are linked by the famed Vanderbilt wedding veil which may or may not have been passed on to the Julia’s grandmother.
Over the course of the story, each of the four women will face a decision whether to maintain the status quo or try for happiness a second time.
I loved the historical portion of the novel. Knowing very little about Edith and Cornelia Vanderbilt, the first thing I did upon finishing the book was google them for more information. Edith, in particular, was a powerhouse of a woman. Widowed at a young age, she dedicated her life to preserving her husband’s dream home. Biltmore Estates and Biltmore National Park exist largely because of her.
Harvey is a very successful women’s fiction author. (Her Peachtree Bluff series is being developed for television.) While I’ve never read her before, I imagine the present-day storylines are similar in style to her other women’s fiction novels. I confess I wasn’t as drawn to Julia’s story as I was the others, but Bab’s story touched me. You don’t often get to read love stories featuring 80-year-olds in assisted living.
Overall, the book is a sweet, enjoyable story about love, family, and finding yourself. Fans of Fiona Davis and Robin Carr will love it Perfect for a day next to the pool. You can buy it here.
A History of The World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage: Did you know that rum played a role in the British Navy defeating the French at the Battle of Trafalgar? Or that during World War 2, the American military installed Coca-Cola bottling plants on all overseas military bases? Neither did I until I read A History of the World in Six Glasses.
The Six Glasses are beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola. According to Standage, each of these beverages was the signature drink of their time. But these drinks were more than popular. Their development and distribution were instrumental to the development of society. Without them, the world would be a markedly different place.
The idea of viewing history through beverages might sound boring, but A History of the World in Six Glasses is far from it. If you’ve ever been curious as to coffee’s role in the Age of Enlightenment or want to know more about rum’s dark legacy of slavery (what we learned in school is only the tip of the iceberg), then you’ll enjoy this book. Buy it here.
Own It by Diane Furstenberg: Diane Furstenberg designed the wrap-around dress, the fashion staple of career women everywhere in the 70s and 80s. During lockdown, she wrote a short book for Audible in which she gives her advice for living a strong life. I downloaded Own It because it was free and I’m a sucker for life advice.
Arranged like a dictionary, the book features such advice as “Autumn is a season to be celebrated” or “Cool is owning who you are.” The book is hardly earth-shattering, but if you’ve got a long drive and feel like hearing some common-sense reminders about life from a self-made, successful entrepreneur, it’s worth the download. Available here for Audible members.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl: You know those books you want to read but never get around to picking one up? Man’s Search for Meaning is one of those books. The title had been on my radar for years, but somehow, I never got around to getting a copy until this summer.
Frankl is the During World War 2, Frankl and his wife were arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Man’s Search for Meaning, written shortly after his release, details the unimaginable starvation, torture and abuse he and his fellow prisoners endured. Yet, despite the sadness, he and the other survivors found reasons to live. His experiences and observations became the basis for his theory of logotherapy.
The major lesson in the book is that life is full of suffering, but that when we have purpose in life, when we embrace something larger than ourselves, then we can survive. That it isn’t our physical strength or our intelligence that ultimately allows us to reach the other side of dark times, but rather it is our attitude. Humor, understanding, beauty, love, faith – those are the tools of attitude.
I found this book to be amazingly hopeful, especially in light of everything going on in our world right now. I think you will too. Buy a copy here.
Madam by Debby Applegate: Who wouldn’t want to read a book about about prohibition, gangsters, flappers and jazz? Madam is the story of Polly Adler, the most notorious sex procurer of the 1920s. Polly wasn’t an ordinary madam either. She was a shrewd, self-educated, businesswoman who built a million-dollar business from nothing. Throughout the 1920s, every prominent gangster, politician (including Jimmy Walker and FDR), athlete and celebrity in the city, along with many members of the Four Hundred, visited her brothel. Not bad for a Polish immigrant who came to New York on her own at age 9.
Applegate uses Polly’s story to show the dark side of the Jazz Age, from police corruption to drug addiction to the gang wars. At 500 pages, it’s hefty, but Applegate’s doesn’t bore you with academic details. Instead, she fills the book with anecdotes and humor. History buffs (or writers thinking of writing about the Jazz Age) will love it. Buy it here.
I adore each of these authors. Williams and Willig have been auto buys for years, and their books are some of my favorite reads, so it kills me that I found The Lost Summers of Newport only meh .
The premise is intriguing: A modern day reality show is redoing a crumbling Newport mansion and in doing so, threatens to unearth several dark family secrets. Unfortunately, some weak characterization leaves the story wobbly.
The book weaves together three timelines ranging from the Gilded Age to 2019 and focuses on three heroines: Ellen, Lucky and Andi. While there’s nothing specifically wrong with any of the stories, they lack emotional oomph. I think the issue is that the book wasn’t long enough to support the authors’ nuanced writing style. Each story takes a while to build, and then wraps abruptly. I also had trouble rooting for several of the characters, specifically the Italian prince and Andi. They both lacked the depth I’ve come to enjoy from these authors. Buy a copy here.
July is already shaping up to be a book explosion as well. It must be summer reading season. Don’t forget, I have also recently begun doing video episodes of my book review column. You can check it out on YouTube or at Step Into the Story.