Empire Girlsby Suzanne Hayes, Loretta Nyhan
The critically acclaimed authors of I'll Be Seeing You return with a riveting tale of two sisters, set in the intoxicating world of New York City during the Roaring Twenties.
Ivy and Rose Adams may be sisters, but they're nothing alike. Rose, the eldest, is the responsible one, while Ivy is spirited and brazen. After the unexpected death of their father/p>… See more details below
The critically acclaimed authors of I'll Be Seeing You return with a riveting tale of two sisters, set in the intoxicating world of New York City during the Roaring Twenties.
Ivy and Rose Adams may be sisters, but they're nothing alike. Rose, the eldest, is the responsible one, while Ivy is spirited and brazen. After the unexpected death of their father, the women are left to reconcile the estate, when they make a shocking discovery: not only has their father left them in financial ruin, but he has also bequeathed their beloved family house to a brother they never knew existed. With only a photograph to guide the way, Ivy and Rose embark to New York City, determined to find this mysterious man and reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
Once in New York, temptations abound at every turn, and soon the sisters are drawn into the glitzy underbelly of Manhattan, where they must overcome their differences and learn to trust each other if they're going to survive in the big city and find their brother. Filled with unforgettable characters and charm, Empire Girls is a love letter to 1920s New York, and a captivating story of the unspoken bond between sisters.
Hayes and Nyhan team up once again (after 2013's I'll Be Seeing You) with this Jazz Age tale of two sisters close in age but otherwise far apart. Rose is more serious, and she considers it her duty to look after her wild younger sister and their father. Ivy is a dreamer who longs to go to New York and become a star. When their father suddenly dies, the siblings find out they have an older brother and that he is the rightful heir. The only clue to his whereabouts is a photograph taken in front of Empire House, a boardinghouse in New York City. The girls travel there, renting a room at Empire House, where the residents are welcoming but secretive. Ivy finds work at a speakeasy while Rose becomes a seamstress, and they try to figure out their future as their brother is still nowhere to be found. VERDICT Although the ending is too neatly wrapped up and some secondary characters could be more fully developed, the sisters' internal struggle to realign their dreams and heal the breach in their relationship adds pathos and makes for an ultimately satisfying read. With historical details of Prohibition-era New York, romance, and some elements of mystery, this novel of sisterhood should have wide appeal.—Christina Thurairatnam, Holmes Cty. Dist. P.L., Millersburg, OH
When their father dies unexpectedly and leaves their home to a half brother they never knew they had, Ivy and Rose Adams head to Jazz-Age New York City to find their missing sibling, each full of expectations and unprepared for the changes the city will wreak.Neither plain, practical Rose nor beautiful, dreamy Ivy are prepared for the sudden death of their father. Devastated by grief, they are further rocked when they learn he was on the brink of financial disaster and that he left the management of his home and estate—such as it is—to Asher, a son from a previous marriage. More mysterious, Asher seems to have disappeared since he returned from the Great War. Ivy and Rose take it upon themselves to find him: Rose, because she wants to convince him to sign their home over to them, and Ivy, because she feels her brother will somehow take the place of the father she was so close to. But following the few clues their father left takes the girls down paths they never expected; it makes them question their roles in the family and their own personalities as they've always understood them, causing enormous friction between them before allowing them to move beyond their preconceived notions of who they are and who they might become. Hayes and Nyhan have written an imaginative and elegant tribute to the timeless complications of young women coming of age, set against the glitter and jumble of New York in the 1920s. Family tensions are ratcheted up through death, misunderstanding, jealousy and the shadow of war, and the sisters find that once they leave the comfort of their father's love and their childhood home, they are both challenged and liberated.Lovely and lyrical.
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Read an Excerpt
THE EVENING MY father died, I was stirring the stew in our big comfortable kitchen as I read another chapter of Bleak House. The pages, already wrinkled from breakfast and lunch, now had a big smear where I'd laid the spoon down. Most of my books wore the same battle wounds. But I didn't really mind because I thought that the smudges and stains added character to their pages. A story within a story. It was careless, and I meant it to be so. Most nights, when all the work was done for the day, I could sit and look at those messy pages, remembering the young girl I was before becoming the only responsible person in our little family of three.
As the grandfather clock in the foyer struck six, I'd already placed our dinner on the table. Six had always been our dinner hour. Our mother was the one who'd chosen that time, and I worked hard to maintain the tradition. We lost her in 1918, when the flu swept through the world, cleaning out the dusty corners and finding everyone even those of us who lived quiet lives in small towns like Forest Grove, New York.
I turned fifteen that year, and Ivy, fourteen. Our parents always babied and favored her, so she seemed younger then. Even though our mother was far too ill to pull me aside and give me a dramatic talk about passing the torch, I still believed she'd want me to be the one to look after our household. I was her best helper, and I took that role seriously. It was my job to watch over Ivy, my father and our home, Adams House, as well.
None of that seemed to matter to Ivy and Father when I had to coax them in from their garden every night. It was our evening ritual of cat and mouse. I cooked and then had to chase them, and by the time we were seated around the dining room table, the meal I'd prepared would be cold.
Mother and Father had traveled the world before they found out I was "on the way." That's when they gave up their vagabond ways and returned to Father's ancestral home. I always believed that Adams House belonged to me. It became a living breathing part of my soul. Every clapboard of it, each column, all the curved arches. Mine. From its spires to the precarious-looking turrets, to the wide, wraparound porch. All mine. None of them loved it as much as I did. I considered Adams House to be a full member of the family, and as the years went by after Mother died, I took solace in the fact that I'd traded in the last bit of my childhood for full ownership. Adams House would be my legacy, payment in full for the years I spent in charge.
"Are you coming in or aren't you?" I shouted out the top of the cottage door in the kitchen. "I prepared your favorite, Papa. Beef stew and biscuits. If you don't come inside now, it will be a pasty mess."
That evening was damp and raw. There'd been a lot of rain, and I watched the two of them come up from the ground, each with mud on their knees and flushed with the raw spring winds. Ivy began to yell something back at me, but father hushed her, placed his arm around her shoulders and guided her toward the house. It was good to see some pink in his cheeks. He'd gotten a pale, gray look over the winter months. I'd started to worry over him.
"Make sure you clean up before you take your seats," I said.
"Make up your mind, Rose. Do you want us eating cold food or not?" said Ivy.
Father interjected before the two of us could begin a real argument. We always seemed to begin to argue if there was less than ten feet between us.
"Don't fret, Rosemary. We'll wash our hands at least."
"There's soapy water in a basin in the sink already. I know how long it takes to wash hands, so make sure you don't dally. The both of you," I said and returned to the dining room to arrange the silver.
Though we were twenty-two and twenty-one respectively, Ivy'd held on to her childish ways, and our Father never discouraged her. Ivy, at dinner, absolutely had to sit next to the French doors closest to the foyer so she could bolt from the room as soon as the meal was over. She despised being still and any sort of hard work, and was always running off here or there, dropping everything at the first opportunity to go on trips with Father, or swim and frolic in the small lake next to our house.
My wild little sister, Ivy, made the promise I'd given my motherto watch over herdifficult to keep. She was different from the rest of us in both demeanor and appearance.
I'd always wondered if the physical contrasts between Ivy and myself were a manifestation of our distinctive personalities and constant disagreement. I had light hair, where hers was dark. I carried more of our father's looks, though my hair was not quite blond enough, and my face had more angles. When I was a little girl, still free to daydream about things, I liked to imagine that our parents picked up bits and pieces of the distant lands they'd explored, and Ivy and I were born with those traits, as well.
As I got older, I began to believe Ivy was born of their more exciting adventures, while I was born of more bland destinations. I did have one feature that could be construed as mysterious, though. My eyes. They were a bright, icy blue. Ivy's eyes were light green, calm like a tropical sea. I swear, I often thought that some terrible mistake was made. Ivy had an aloof streak that would go along with my eyes, not hers. And for whatever reason, Father and Motherwhen she had been with uscould never see it.
"She has the soul of an Egyptian Goddess!" Father would say when she'd do something absurd. When we were little scraps, those statements would make me cringe, slam doors and run to my room. After Mother died, I had no time for tantrums, so I grew used to Father's adoration of Ivy. Just as I grew used to Ivy's way of curling around Father's feet like a cat, or waking him up early in the morning when he'd shout, "Aces high in the ever-lovin' sky!" to greet the new day, and the two would erupt in rollicking laughter. I'd listen from my own tidy room and pray they wouldn't bring any neighbors over. Or stray cats.
But I envied her beauty and simply adored her thick, exotic hair. I almost went mad when she came home from town with her hair bobbed the previous autumn. I was weeding in the garden, planting tulip bulbs at the precise time of the season our mother would have been doing the same.
"Ivy! Your hair!" I said, getting up and pulling off my gloves so I could touch the ends that angled in toward her face.
Father, who'd taken her and approved of the drastic cut, smiled. "I think it's marvelous. All the modern women are doing it, Rosemary. You should, too. I'll take you next week, if you'd like."
"I'd rather die," I said, and went back to my chore. Ivy and I didn't speak for days. She glared at me with those eyes of hers, and I glared right back.
Father and Ivy finally sat down at the dinner table. I looked through the doorway to the grandfather clock and noted the time.
"It is almost seven, you two. I simply cannot keep chasing you around. Soon you'll have to make your own dinners," I said, giving them both a good stare as I ladled the stew out into their bowls.
"Your eyes are a peculiar color for a practical girl, Rosemary," Father said, reaching for a biscuit. "People might get the wrong impression of you."
"Her posture will erase any sort of misunderstanding about our Rose's disposition, Papa. She stands straight like a board. No flexibility whatsoever," said Ivy.
"I'm going to agree with you, sister. I am vain about my perfect posture. You should try it, you know. Mother always told us "
Ivy shot me a look across the table. She was right to stop me. Father didn't like it when we talked about Mother. It made him sad, and that was one place where we agreed. We both loved our papa very much even if it was for different reasons.
"Ivy," said Father. "Be a love and pour your old papa a drink. And Rosemary is right, you know. You should stand up straighter. It's a skill that comes with practice, not birth. You do slouch, my darling."
"Papa, you shouldn't! It's not good for you. And you've barely touched your food. I made your favorite on purpose."
He'd been picking at his meals for weeks, and I couldn't tell if it was worry, or if it was his health or if it was a simple matter of our father beginning a new project in his mind. He was a botanist and illustrator, and he frequently lost himself in new ideas for drawings, books and experiments.
"Oh, Rose. Don't be such a stick. I wonder, do you ever get tired of worry? It must be exhausting." Ivy went to the cupboard under the china cabinet and brought out a bottle of Scotch. Father had bought cases of it before prohibition became law.
She poured father his drink.
"Thank you, Ivy," he said, pushing himself back from the table a bit and taking a long sip.
"And you can have another if you'd like. I'll keep the bottle right here," said Ivy, looking straight at me as she said it, holding the neck of the bottle protectively.
"If that bottle makes a ring on my lace tablecloth, I'll have to soak it for a week. You could be careful with my handiwork, even if you don't want to be careful with our father's health," I said. It was a mean thing to say.
One would think my sister and I would be closer. We even shared a bedroom when we were small. It was a sweet, lovely space with whitewashed walls. Mother and Father knew that I liked things clean and crisp. Not Ivy, though . As soon as Ivy turned seven, she demanded her own room, stating, "I hate all that white. May I have a bedroom that is painted blue?"
Our distance doesn't come solely from our separate rooms; it comes from differing priorities and versions of the world. Ivy always saw things in a way that I could not. The world, it seemed, was made for her. Every tree, every idea, every bit of love was created for her, and she was determined to take it all. I didn't understand her "the world is my oyster" view of life. Hard work has always been the thing that makes me proud. In the time since our mother's death, I'd become the provider for our household, as well, making lace and sewing clothing for the dress shops in Downtown Forest Grove.
As Father picked at his meal and drank his Scotch, I looked at the three of us closely. Memory seems to understand important moments before our consciousness has a chance to catch up. I suppose a part of me knew that everything would be different in the morning.
I looked at my sister, who was trying to hide her boredom, looking over her shoulder at the clock. She was eager to leave the table and didn't like to wait until everyone was finished.
And then I looked at Papa, ready with a smile or an approving nod for each of us, sitting at the head of the table, holding court. With Ivy and I on either side. His companions.
I was about to clear the table when a visitor came calling. Father rose quickly and had to steady himself before he walked slowly into our foyer to answer the door.
"Who do you think that is?" Ivy asked.
"I don't know," I said.
There were murmurs, and Ivy started to get up, as well, but I motioned for her to stay put.
"Yes, I am aware," I heard Father say, and then the hushed dialogue continued.
"Join me as I smoke a pipe, won't you, Lawrence? This is a lot for me to take standing up," said Father as both men walked into our line of vision. Father looked into the dining room as our visitor took off his fedora. We'd known Lawrencewe all called him that, because Father didfor two years. He'd become our solicitor. He was a tall, thin man who reminded me a bit of a willow tree.
I stood up with as much grace as I could muster and walked to the two of them.
"Lawrence, how nice of you to stop by. Are you hungry? I have plenty of dinner left over. You remember Ivy, of course."
"Of course," said Lawrence. "Talented Ivy, who we are sure will be famous one day."
Ivy got up and gave a large, exaggerated bow.
"And Rose, it's been only a few months since I saw you, but you seem so grown-up now."
"She is grown," said Ivy. "She's twenty-two, and that makes her a spinster."
She was at my side, and she nudged me with her shoulder. I had to look deep into her eyes to make sure she was teasing me. Ivy likes to tease when she's unsure of herself.
Mr. Lawrence cleared his throat. "As ever, it's lovely to see all of you." He looked a bit nervous.
"And you, Lawrence, though I wish it could have waited until tomorrow. My daughters and I do cherish our evenings together," said Father, and then turned to me. "Rose," he said, trying to keep his voice calm. I could hear the tension, though. I knew it because I shared that trait with him. A tightening of the voice when you want to remain calm. "Mr. Lawrence and I need to discuss business. Might you stay away from the drawing room this evening?"
"But Father, my monologue. I've been working on it for days," whined Ivy.
"Hush, Ivy," I said.
She rolled her eyes at me.
Lawrence was the one to save the moment. "There's no reason for us to rush our talk, Everett. Why don't we all go into the drawing room, I'd love to see Ivy's monologue. It's been an age since I've been to the theater. I do enjoy a good play."
"Why, Lawrence, I never took you for a man of the arts!" said Ivy.
"There is much you don't know about me, Ms. Adams," he said, taking her arm and escorting her to the drawing room.
"I have always found it odd that you are a young man with an old man's profession. Solicitors are sneaky characters in novels and films. Are you a criminal, Lawrence?"
"I don't think so, Ivy," he replied, and they laughed.
Ivy was always a flirt. She couldn't help it, really. Her whole body flirted. Her swinging short hair was as good as a wink. Her painted lips were practically a kiss. Her short dress, an invitation. I was both jealous and fascinated by her. And that night, she fascinated Lawrence, as well.
As our father took Lawrence away toward his cigar box and phonograph, Ivy stuck her tongue out at our guest's back. One thing I do love about my sister is that she can always make me laugh, and at that moment I had trouble suppressing my giggles.
Gathering there together, as was our usual evening ritual, was strange with a guest. My parents used to have parties when Ivy and I were little girls. But as the money grew tighter, there were fewer and fewer gatherings. I'll admit, that night was exciting because of his presence, even though we all sensed the gathering storm.
Our rituals were sacred to me. Every night, after dinner, we'd gather as a family in the drawing room and end the day with entertainment and comfort. This was the best time of the evening for all of us, even restless Ivy. Though old and well used, the furniture in the drawing room was beautiful, and I always made sure to place fresh flowers in the most curious and delightful places, as our mother used to do. In the fall I replaced the flowers with colorful leaves, and in the winter, pussy willows from the marshland by the lake.
Usually, I'd commence walking up and down the room with books piled on my head, while father smoked his cigar.
Then I'd take out my sewing, and we'd watch Ivy perform.
Meet the Author
Loretta Nyhan is the author of The Witch Collector and coauthor, with Suzanne Hayes, of I'll Be Seeing You. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and sons.
Meredith Mitchell is an actress who has performed in film, in television, and on stage. Her film work includes Mona Lisa Smile and The Reunion. She has recorded numerous audiobooks, and she earned her MFA in acting from Brandeis University.
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I really wanted to like this book. I was disappointed the moment I began reading this book, but I always give stories a chance, so I continued. I didn't get one ounce of a 1920's feel. I was disappointed, because the cover really reeled me in, and I figured it would be a glistening tale of the Roaring Twenties, but I was wrong. I felt that the characters were quite annoying at times, and the plot was thin. Overall, it wasn't terrible. I enjoyed parts of it, but it's definitely not a great 1920's novel. This story had such potential, and it fell flat.
I read this book with anticipation that it would be a very emotionally gripping story about two sisters that were the main characters of the book. However, it was quite shallow and full of way too many coincidences! I was quite disappointed from the start, but I decided to go ahead and read through to the end. But it never really got any better. Spoiler alert--it does have a happy ending, but far too trite for my taste!
So so book. I really liked the first book, I'll Be Seeing You, by Hayes and Hyhang and I like the books by Suzanne Hayes under the name Suzanne Palmieri, but I found Empire Girls lacking. I didn't really like the characters, finding them shallow. It was also hard toward the end to follow the connection they were trying to make between several family members (no spoiler for you). The story could have been better developed and the characters not so bland. Interesting but not quite a winner.
Empire Girls truly captured my heart. vI personally loved this book - the time (1925), the setting (Greenwich Village, NY), two sisters in search of an unknown brother, a boarding house filled with new people to meet, what a great cast of characters. I loved the growth of the two sisters, and how their growth surprised each of them. The book brought me to tears several times. I would defitely recommend this little treasure. Thank you Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan.
Wonderful uplifting characters and story. Loved the developing relationships. The time period and setting added to the feeling of the story. Just a really lovely book. Highly recommended!!! Another excellent historical fiction book is The Partisan by William Jarvis. This book also has a special romantic development that is treated with respect. It also has effects which were the result of war. Both books deserve A+++++++
This was a really fun read. I loved the girls --- The relationships were very touching. I am close with my sister and sister-in-laws and just bought additional copies. I also loved living in the 1920s New York for a while! The city really came to life. What an exciting period! A good summer find