Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann

Synopsis:

Amanda Rosenbloom, proprietor of Astor Place Vintage, thinks she's on just another call to appraise and possibly purchase clothing from a wealthy, elderly woman. But after discovering a journal sewn into a fur muff, Amanda gets much more than she anticipated. The pages of the journal reveal the life of Olive Westcott, a young woman who had moved to Manhattan in 1907. Olive was set on pursuing a career as a department store buyer in an era when Victorian ideas, limiting a woman's sphere to marriage and motherhood, were only beginning to give way to modern ways of thinking.  As Amanda reads the journal, her life begins to unravel until she can no longer ignore this voice from the past. Despite being separated by one hundred years, Amanda finds she's connected to Olive in ways neither could have imagined.

Simon & Shuster |  June 11, 2013 |  416 pages

My Review

4 Stars

Stephanie Lehmann's latest novel, Astor Place Vintage, is a dual time narrative set in New York City in both the modern-day and the early 20th century.  When vintage store owner Amanda Rosenbloom agrees to purchase clothing from a wealthy client, she has no idea that her latest acquisitions will yield more than just dresses and skirts.  For Amanda's purchase also includes an old diary that she finds sewn into the lining of an old fur muff.  The diary was written by Olive Westcott, a young woman who lived in New York City at the turn of the 20th century.  Intrigued by Olive's story, Amanda quickly becomes lost in the pages of the diary.  As Amanda learns more about Olive's life and her struggles to achieve independence in a society where women are still expected to conform to strict social conventions, she comes to realize that she is at a crossroads in her own life.   This realization forces Amanda to confront some of her life choices -- choices that she knows are limiting her future.

I'm a sucker for dual time narratives, and Astor Place Vintage didn't disappoint.  Alternating between Amanda and Olive's stories, Lehmann's characters are well-developed and engaging.  While I initially found Olive's narrative to be the more intriguing of the two, by the end of the novel I had become equally enthralled by Amanda's story.  While I can't condone some of the choices Amanda has made, I ultimately found her to be a sympathetic character, and I very much wanted her to take charge of her own destiny.  Olive is portrayed as an intelligent and wholly capable young woman, one who is determined to attain her dream of becoming a department store buyer even though the odds seem to be against her.  Readers will undoubtedly find Olive's story to be a compelling one.

One of my favourite aspects of Astor Place Vintage is the social history that it recounts.  Through Olive, the reader gains an appreciation of the daily life of single, working class women in New York City in the early 20th century, as well as for the workings of a large department store.   It is also through Olive that the reader becomes aware of some of the more restrictive societal rules and expectations placed on women.  For example, were you aware that reputable places of accommodation (e.g., hotels and apartment rentals) would not permit unescorted women to stay, no matter what their circumstances?   Setting also plays a prominent role in this novel, and I think Stephanie Lehmann does a fabulous job bringing New York City of both yesterday and today to life. 

Well-written with engaging characters and story lines, Astor Place Vintage is recommended to fans of dual time narratives, historical fiction enthusiasts interested in the early 20th century, and to readers who enjoy novels featuring strong female protagonists. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.


Astor Place Vintage is currently on tour!  Click here to check out the tour schedule.  

About the Author
Stephanie Lehmann received her B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and an M.A. In English from New York University. She has taught novel writing at Mediabistro and online at Salon.com, where her essays have been published. Like Olive and Amanda, she lives in New York City.

For more information, please visit www.AstorPlaceVintage.com and www.StephanieLehmann.com.  You can follow Stephanie on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and tumblr.

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6 comments:

  1. Hooray for this book! I was incredibly pleased with it :) I'm glad you liked it too!

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    1. I'm glad I read it! I'll definitely recommend this one.

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  2. Oh, yeah!!! I can't wait to read this.

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  3. This book was a lot of fun to read, and I especially enjoyed the depiction of early NYC and all the insight into women's lives. I bought a copy at the HNS conference, and it kept me entertained during the many hours I was stuck waiting at the airport!

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    1. I loved the depiction of early NYC -- one of the books many strengths, I think.

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