Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: "Astor Place Vintage" by Stephanie Lehmann

Astor Place Vintage Stephanie Lehmann
Published: June 11, 2013
ISBN: 9781451682052
Genre: Chick Lit / Historical Fiction
Source: Personal Copy (Kindle)

The past has a seductive allure to Amanda Rosenbloom, especially when it comes to vintage clothing. She’s devoted to running her shop, Astor Place Vintage, but with Manhattan’s rising rents and a troubled economy, it’s tough to keep the business alive. Meanwhile, she can’t bring herself to end an affair with a man who really should be history. When Amanda finds a journal sewn into a fur muff she’s recently acquired for the shop, she’s happy to escape into the world of Olive Westcott, a young lady who lived in New York City one hundred years ago.

As Amanda becomes immersed in the journal, she learns the future appeals to Olive. Olive looks forward to a time when repressive Victorian ideas have been replaced by more modern ways of thinking. But the financial panic of 1907 thrusts her from a stable, comfortable life into an uncertain and insecure existence. She’s resourceful and soon finds employment, but as she’s drawn into the social circle of shopgirls living on the edge of poverty, Olive is tempted to take risks that could bring her to ruin. Reading Olive’s woes, Amanda discovers a secret that could save her future and keep her from dwelling in the past.

It’s Olive, however, who ends up helping Amanda, through revelations that come in the final entries of the journal. As the lives of these two women merge, Amanda is inspired to stop living in the past and take control of her future. 

My Thoughts:
This is one of those books that has been on my radar for a while but I just now had the chance to sit down and read it.  It was definitely a promising prospect--the plot convention of two stories separated by time is something that appeals to me, as is the time period of Olive's story.

And, indeed, there were things I found enjoyable.  I really loved how Lehmann took the time to juxtapose the New York City of 1907 upon the New York City on 2007.  She does an admirable job of really going over the geography of the city and how things have changed.  I also appreciated the period photographs she included in the book.

I also found Olive's story line intriguing.  A young woman who, through no fault of her own, falls from her place in society but still has the gumption to pull herself up and achieve her dreams.  Lehmann spends quite a bit of time highlighting Olive's naivete in the ways of passion, which actually fits quite well into her character and serves to draw a clear distinction between the life she lost and the life she had to live.

On the other hand, I found Amanda's story line almost unbearable.  A woman who has been a 6 year relationship with a married man and then wonders why she's stuck?  That is just a tired story that's been told too many times.  I never felt any empathy for Amanda and, therefore, had no patience for her.  I can see how Lehmann was trying to tie the characters of Olive and Amanda together, but it either just didn't connect, or it connected too easily to be believable.

There were some other issues with this book.  I respect Lehmann's attempt to illustrate the issues women had to face in the early 20th century in Olive's narrative, but she just tried to cram too much in.  She talked about religion, women in the workplace, childbirth, birth control, sexual fidelity, and immigration.  Phew!

I also didn't find Lehmann's style as readable as I thought I would.  She isn't a difficult author to read, but there is just something a bit uncomfortable in her voice that I found a bit irritating.  It was almost as if she were not completely natural in her writing.

I think if this book had been just about Olive, I would have loved it.  As it is, it was just a lukewarm read for me.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

Astor Place Vintage
by Stephanie Lehmann

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