A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler
First line: When they asked her about the Vanderbilts and Belmonts, about their celebrations and depredations, the mansions and balls, the lawsuits, the betrayals, the rifts—when they asked why she did the extreme things she’d done, Alva said it all began quite simply: Once there was a desperate young woman whose mother was dead and whose father was dying almost as quickly as his money was running out.
Summary: Alva Smith is from an old New York family. However, after the death of her mother and her father’s financial troubles they are nearly destitute. Through the scheming of her friend, Consuelo Yznaga, she meets William K. Vanderbilt. He is the grandson of railroad tycoon, Cornelius Vanderbilt. William is looking to bring his family into New York society and Alva needs to take care of her family by marrying a wealthy husband. With this marriage of convenience Alva appears to get everything she wants. She helps the poor, builds grand new homes and travels the world. Yet it appears that something is missing…
Highlights: Before picking up this novel I had never heard of Alva (Smith) Vanderbilt. I remember the Vanderbilt name from high school history on the robber barons but nothing specific about each individual. I was pleasantly surprised by her story. She was a woman who did so much in a time when women were still thought of as dolls that needed to be sheltered. Her drive leads to grand homes, an opera house, women’s suffrage and a title for her daughter.
I cannot imagine living the life of Alva Vanderbilt. The amount of money she had and what she spent it on. If you have time you should Google their house, Petit Chateau, on Fifth Avenue. Spectacular! The costume ball she threw in 1883 was so extravagant that they spent nearly one million dollars (in today’s money) on champagne alone. Can you imagine?
Lowlights: Alva’s story seemed to drag on a little bit with much of the same thing happening over and over again. I was a little sad that so much of her drive came with the need to be a part of society. I understand wanting to be accepted. Everyone wants to be accepted. And it could be that I just do not come from that world or lifestyle.
FYI: Check out Fowler’s first novel, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.
Still Me by Jojo Moyes
First line: It was the mustache that reminded me I was no longer in England: a solid, gray millipede firmly obscuring the man’s upper lip; a Village People mustache, a cowboy mustache, the miniature head of a broom that means business.
Summary: Louisa Clark is starting a new adventure. She is travelling to New York City to work as a personal assistant. However, the new job is not exactly what she had pictured. With a busy schedule of appointments and society events, she tries to balance work and her new relationship with Ambulance Sam, who is back in England. At one such social event, she runs into someone that reminds her of her past and changes her future.
Highlights: Jojo Moyes is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I have read several of her novels and enjoyed them all. She has a way of writing that makes you feel everything. I laughed at Louisa Skyping with Sam. I nearly cried at the end when she is deciding who she wants to be. I love the character of Louisa Clark. She is quirky. She is funny without always meaning to be. She is not afraid to be herself. She is kind, honest, and loyal. I loved her interactions with all the different people in the apartment building. She is a person I would like to be. A complete optimist. She may have a few sad times but she is always looking at the bright side. In addition, getting to know more about her family. This book gave so much more to the other two. It filled in spaces and brought closure to many of the plotlines.
Lowlights: The more I think about this while writing the more I realize how much I liked it. Nothing to complain about at all.
FYI: Must read Me Before You and After You before reading in order to understand the background and characters. Also check out the movie, Me Before You, starring Emilia Clark and Sam Claflin.
Release Date: January 30, 2018
Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict
First line: The gentle melody of a Christmas song lifted into the air of his study from the street below.
Summary: Clara Kelley is a poor Irish girl who has been sent by her family to America to acquire a job so she can send money home to her parents. When she is mistaken for another Irish immigrant, she gains the job of a lifetime. She is hired as the lady’s maid to Mrs. Carnegie, the mother of the rising industrialist, Andrew Carnegie. When she is discovered reading books in the family library by Andrew they strike up a friendship. They discuss poetry, their past lives and business. As their relationship grows, she continues to worry that she will lose her position and no longer be able to help her starving family in Ireland.
Highlights: I loved the lightheartedness of the story. The character of Clara was one I enjoyed following through the story. The time period is one filled with change. Seeing the friendship between Clara and Mr. Ford. They were two outcasts at the time. Each had their own struggles in the time of the Civil War. It was a nice look into the history and cultural outlook of the era. I liked the relationship between Andrew and Clara. The background of Andrew Carnegie was fascinating. It showcases the American dream. He came to America as a poor young man but he took advantage of every opportunity to become one of the richest men in U.S. history. I enjoyed his discussions about his love of reading that slowly evolve into the idea for the Carnegie libraries. Mrs. Carnegie was fascinating. She is a society woman who was not exactly sure how to be a society woman. She was new money and learning as she went. I liked that she deferred to Clara on how things were done. However, she always seemed to be in control.
Lowlights: I wanted more of the friendship between Mr. Ford and Clara. They have such an interesting dynamic. Clara claims that Mr. Ford was her only friend but we see very few interactions between the two. I liked that they found someone who is as much on the outside as the other.
FYI: The story is fiction but it is a nice story of Andrew Carnegie.