Lately, I've been devoting most of my reading time to historical novels. The stories are well-written, and the research has led me to investigate particular eras. I've learned a lot about perfumery (thanks, M.J. Rose!), Middle Ages abbeys (thanks, Nancy Bilyeau!), and other assorted time periods. The reading can be exhausting, but the rewards are well worth the effort.
A particular favorite time period for me is early 20th century New York, a time of conflict, innovation, and the fight for women's rights. It was a rough-and-tumble period in American history. And the architecture! What seems dated now is, in my opinion, majestic and timeless. When I was a little kid, visiting downtown Portland with my mom and/or grandmother, I was in awe when I looked up and saw the beauty of the buildings. But now that I'm older, most of those same buildings are gone, and the ones that do remain are fighting the good fight in order to survive. Why must we replace such beautiful edifices with structures made of chrome, glass, and concrete? There is no imagination, no interesting embellishments. No gargoyles. Le sigh...
But instead of lamenting, I did some reading, and what I found was wonderful! 'Astor Place Vintage', by Stephanie Lehmann, was just what I needed. Ms. Lehmann did a fantastic amount of research in chronicling this story about a contemporary woman who has found a journal written by a woman who lived in New York in 1907.
Amanda Rosenbloom is the owner of Astor Place Vintage, a vintage clothing store in Manhattan. While she is appraising clothing from an elderly wealthy woman, Amanda discovers a journal sewn into a fur muff. Written by Olive Westcott, a young woman who had recently moved to Manhattan, Amanda learns about Olive's life and her job as a counterwoman at a department store. She also learns about Olive's friendships, and her attraction to Joe, the brother of her friend, Angelina. Although Victorian ideas held women back from pursuing their dreams of freedom, Olive slowly realizes her self-worth. As Amanda reads the journal, her life unravels as the coincidences pile up.
'Astor Place Vintage' is a slow, delightful read at the beginning, but as I kept my nose in the book, I appreciated its darker tones and subtle shift in character perspective. The author's research into early Manhattan was deep and very well presented. And the vintage photographs made the story even more meaningful.
But most of all, it made me glad to be a woman right now, when I can vote, and pursue my dreams without being held back. When I'm not afraid to talk about menopause and childbirth.
This story, dear reader, is more than 'chick lit'. It's a story that speaks to all of us.
'Astor Place Vintage' will be released in June 2013, by Touchstone Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.