Astor Place Vintage: A Novel

Astor Place Vintage: A Novel

by Stephanie Lehmann

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451682069
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication date: 06/11/2013
Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 529,640
File size: 16 MB
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About the Author

Stephanie Lehmann received her BA at UC Berkeley and a MA in English from New York University. She has taught novel writing at Mediabistro and online at Salon.com, where her essays have been published. She currently lives in New York City. Visit her online at StephanieLehmann.com and AstorPlaceVintage.com.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Astor Place Vintage includes discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Stephanie Lehmann. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. When Amanda first visits Jane Kelly’s apartment to assess her clothes, she ponders, “funny how styles from your own parents’ day tend to call out with that seductive aura of nostalgia” (page 10). What era’s styles appeal you?

2. While Amanda is being hypnotized, her doctor asks her to think of a place that makes her feel “comfortable and content” (page 29), and she has some difficulty deciding on one. Why do you think it was such a challenge for her? What place would you choose?

3. Olive is both unable and unwilling to rely on financial aid from men—from her father or a potential husband—yet Amanda regularly accepts checks from her married lover, Jeff. Which of the two women seems more modern?

4. Amanda’s fascination with history was originally inspired by her collection of Time-Life books called This Fabulous Century. She thinks, “I used to pore over every word and stare at the glossy photographs with laser-like eyes trying to take in every detail and see beyond the edges to find aswers to questions I couldn’t quite put into words” (pages 74–75). Are there books in your life that have had a similar effect on you?

5. Do you think Olive’s father’s car accident was a true accident, or was it somehow suicide? If Olive had not been forced to find work to support herself after his death, in what ways might her life have turned out differently?

6. A woman of Olive’s socioeconomic background is expected to become a wife and mother; and the idea of working is considered base, and therefore shocking, to friends and family. As a store clerk she is offered low wages and few opportunities for advancement. Despite this, Olive pursues a career. How does this illustrate her character? How do Olive’s ways of dealing with change compare to Amanda’s? How are their challenges different?

7. Amanda continues to see Jeff even though she knows she shouldn’t. Why do you think it’s so hard for her to end the affair? Do you see this as weakness in her character? Does the fact that she dated Jeff before he got married affect your opinion of their affair?

8. When Amanda finds out she is not pregnant, why do you thinks she seem disappointed? How does her pregnancy scare contrast with Olive’s?

9. Psychic Lola Cotton seems to contact Olive’s dead mother, telling Olive: “‘She wants you to know . . . you must not feel guilty. She forgives you’” (page 49). Olive views this with skepticism. Is she too focused on looking forward to deal with feelings about her mother’s death?

10. Amanda wonders whether her whole life is “ruled by nostalgia.” She thinks, “The past doesn’t just go away; it lingers on. You can actually touch and see the remains, and to the extent that these souvenirs survive, the past is the present. You can’t say that for the future. . . . You can never hold the future in your hands” (page 100). Do you agree? Does Amanda spend too much of her life looking back? Why is it so hard for her to leave Jeff? What finally convinces her to do it?

11. As a single woman in the early 1900s, Olive cannot stay alone at a reputable hotel; there are women-only areas in restaurants and bars; the idea of her working is met with significant disapproval; and the Victorian attitudes about women’s sexuality leave her ignorant and unprepared. At the end of the book she thinks, “Perhaps the day will come when women exist in the world as equals to men” (page 386). Do you think that day has come? If not, do you think it ever will?

12. The theme of change as constant and unstoppable is present throughout the novel. Is the past always worth leaving behind? Is newer always better? Is it possible to strike a balance between preserving what is worthy about the past while allowing for modern developments?

13. The author leaves the story open at the end, and we never know whether Jane Kelly reads the journal, whether Amanda starts a relationship with Rob, even whether Olive and Angelina ever open a hat shop. Why do you think the author chose to end her book this way? What do you think happens to the characters? Enhance Your Book Club 1. On Stephanie Lehmann’s website dedicated to the book, www.AstorPlaceVintage.com, you can find out more about the story, read Stephanie’s blog about her passion for vintage clothing and collectables, and discover more about what it was like to live at the turn of the twentieth century. She has a growing collection of New York City historical photographs on www.VintageManhattan.com. Stephanie also has her own website, www.StephanieLehmann.com, where you can learn how she came to be an author and read about some of her thoughts on the process of writing. As a group you can contact her to ask questions or tell her about your discussion. 2. Vintage clothing and fashion are a central element in the book. Have members of your group bring (or better yet, wear) a vintage item of clothing that has special meaning to them. If they don’t have clothing, substitute an object that kindles nostalgia. Have each member take turns explaining the importance of her or his contribution. 3. Have members of your group think of a department store, or any store where they remember shopping in as a child. Is that store still there? What do you remember about shopping there? Share your stories with one another. 4. If you have access to an Italian bakery, order some pastries to enjoy at your meeting: canoli, biscotti, rum baba, and especially sfogliatelle.

A Conversation with Stephanie Lehmann

You are visible online on your personal website and book websites and on Facebook and Twitter. Do you feel these outlets bring you closer to your readers?

Absolutely. I especially like how social media makes it possible for me to enhance the novel with additional material for readers who want to know more. When I was researching Astor Place Vintage, I got completely absorbed in early twentieth century New York City, but couldn’t begin to use all I learned. There are so many great online resources, and it’s great that I can use them to share historical details and photographs on my websites.

Do you ever meet your fans in person? If so, what is the most valuable or helpful aspect of being face-to-face?

I’ve done lots of readings and enjoy speaking to book clubs. Part of the thrill of getting published is knowing that people are going to engage in a world that I’ve been immersed in for years and felt passionate about creating. But reading is a solitary, anonymous act. As the author, I don’t necessarily experience the fact that this story that is so near and dear to my heart has made an impression. Meeting people face-to-face can be a wonderful way to have a dialogue with readers.

Astor Place Vintage is your fifth novel. Does it get easier the more you write? Were there any new challenges this time?

Every time I start a new novel, I feel like I have to learn how to write one all over again. Part of this is the mental intimidation. It’s daunting to create a whole, big “something” from “nothing.” The difficulty also comes from the fact that every novel is different and inevitably poses problems that are intrinsic to the world that’s being created. I like to compare the process to doing a jigsaw puzzle while the final picture keeps changing as you’re trying to find the pieces that fit together.

Astor Place Vintage posed particular challenges because of my decision to set it in two time periods with two main characters whose narratives resonate and come together in a meaningful way. After a few drafts, I realized that it’s one thing setting out to do this and quite another to pulling it off. I began with an outline that became obsolete. It took a lot of trial and error to find my way to a story that fulfilled my intention. Almost every revision seemed to set off a domino effect of changes. Keeping track of the details could be mind-boggling. I like to tell people this novel counts as three books: Olive’s story, Amanda’s story, and the story of both of them melded together.

Each of your previous novels is set in the present, yet Astor Place Vintage explores the world of 1907 New York. What inspired you to include this historical aspect, and why did you select that time in particular?

The answer to this question seems to have taken on its own historical narrative, but here goes.

Hoping to find inspiration for a novel idea, I was browsing the shelves of my neighborhood library. A book by Bella Spewack called Streets: A Memoir of the Lower East Side, caught my eye. Bella was the name of my grandmother, who could’ve been her neighbor if she hadn’t gone straight from Ellis Island to join her father in Sacramento. And I lived on the Lower East Side when I was an NYU student. At that time, my one-room walk-up apartment was considered a coveted piece of Manhattan real estate in the “cool and trendy” East Village. But still, it was pretty decrepit, with a low ceiling, tilting floor, no kitchen, no closet, no light, a tiny bathroom, and proverbial cockroaches that roamed, especially at night. I checked out the book.

Bella Spewack’s memoir transported me back to the first two decades of the twentieth century in New York City. Having landed there, I didn’t want to leave; I launched into a slew of similarly set memoirs and novels, including 81 Sheriff Street by Gertrude Ford, Out of the Shadow by Rose Cohen, Jews Without Money by Michael Gold, Christ in Concrete by Pietro Di Donato, The Rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan, Empty Pockets by Rupert Hughes, Susan Lennox: Her Fall and Rise by David Graham Phillips, and Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska,

The idea of writing a novel taking place in New York City in the early part of the twentieth century would seem to have chosen me. Except I still had no idea what that novel might be.

Next came a trip down to the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street. I went on their tour of apartments done up to look just as they had when people lived at that address between 1863 and 1935. I couldn’t help but notice . . . these apartments were quite similar to my old East Village apartment. Wow. I’d lived in a place worthy of being a museum exhibit—an authentic tenement straight from history, still standing, still being used! Forgive me if I sound like I’ve had too much coffee, but in a way, New York is a living museum. Every street offers some historical revelation that you can only hope will survive the city’s never-ending makeovers.

I still didn’t know how to turn any of this into a novel. But I was more sensitized to the past that surrounded me and began to think differently about my current apartment, where I lived with my husband and two kids. The building went up in 1928. How many families had lived there over the years? I tried to picture people walking from room to room, or looking at themselves in the same built-in mirrors on my bathroom doors. Who slept in my bedroom? Did they have a bed against the same wall? I wished I could see the clothes that used to hang in my closets. What tragedies and celebrations took place in these rooms? Did anyone ever die in these rooms? Did anyone give birth?

The idea of writing a novel that takes place in two time periods took hold. Someone in the present would connect with someone in the past. But who were they? And what were their stories? And how did they connect? Should it take place on the Lower East Side? I still wasn’t sure. One thing I did know: they’d both be women. I can’t help being more interested in the experiences of living as a female. Still, no story idea came to mind.

Around this point a book I once borrowed from my mother, Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Dreiser, Gissing, and Zola by Rachel Bowlby, called out to me from my bookshelf. I’d tried reading it before, attracted by its fun subject of shopping, but had found it too academic. Now I tried again, and this time my interest was piqued by one of the novels she analyzes The Ladies Paradise by Émile Zola, which centered on people who work in a huge department store in 1860s Paris.

Department stores. I had fond memories of going downtown in San Francisco when I was a kid to shop at Macy’s, the Emporium, City of Paris, and I. Magnin. As a matter of fact, I always thought those happy memories were part of why I was drawn to New York. Downtown San Francisco and the streets of Manhattan were both conducive to my favorite state of being: having lots of people around me with no obligation to speak with them.

I was intrigued enough with Zola’s novel to bypass the library and actually purchase a copy. Before I was done reading The Ladies Paradise, I knew I wanted the historical sections of my novel to include the setting of a department store. Not the present time sections, though—department stores of today are so dull compared to shopping on the Internet. I love vintage clothes, though, so why not have my present-day character own a vintage clothing store? It made perfect sense. The modern character would romanticize the past, and the character from the past would aspire to be modern.

I still needed to know when my character from the past lived. Initially, I was attracted to the second decade of the 1900s because the style of dresses was so beautiful then—less corseted, with the empire waist in favor. But as my plot took shape, I realized it made sense to set the novel one decade earlier, during the financial panic of 1907. The fashions of that year didn’t appeal to me as much, but I was mature enough to accept that what the characters wore couldn’t be the decisive factor.

Finally, I was ready to start writing.

Your character Amanda has a love for vintage clothing. Do you share her passion? On your website you discuss hunts for “junktique.” Is that more of a draw for you than clothing?

I love going to flea markets and thrift stores, and might be a hoarder. My first vintage obsession was 1930s kitchenware, inspired by a set of bowls inherited from my grandmother. Now, my dining room is filled with cabinets of dishware that will never be used for an actual meal, a collection of vintage paper napkins that shall never wipe a face, greeting cards never to be sent, and shelves of vintage books—most of which I’ve read. Because I like to sew, I also have stacks of vintage fabrics and jars full of vintage buttons that are waiting for me to stop writing and get crafty.

As for vintage clothes, one closet in my apartment is crammed with dresses from the forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies. They aren’t for wearing, so I don’t restrict myself to buying what fits. Most of them would make too much of a statement for me to feel comfortable in public. So it’s not that I want to be looked at while wearing one of these dresses; I buy them because looking at them gives me pleasure. I might be attracted to the pattern of the fabric, the styling, some particular way the piece conjures a decade . . . or it might just be from an amused sense of “What was that designer thinking?” Also, they were all cheap. I only buy vintage when I’m getting a good deal.

You write about New York, both in the early 1900s and now, with the insight of a true New Yorker. As a native of San Francisco, what originally drew you to New York City? What keeps you there?

I was accepted into the graduate English programs at New York University and also the University of Washington. I’d visited New York a couple times before, hated it, and thought anyone who chose to live there had to be crazy. Seattle, on the other hand, I knew to be beautiful, clean, and filled with “slacker” types like me. But everyone said that New York City was the place to go if I seriously wanted to “be a writer.” I turned Seattle down.

My second semester at NYU, I began dating a guy who was in one of my writing workshops. He happened to be a native New Yorker, and our relationship made it easier for me to get used to the city. About a year later, I moved in with him. Eventually we got married. By then I’d fallen in love—with the city, that is. Sometimes I wonder . . . if I’d gone to school in Washington, would I have married a lumberjack, stayed in Seattle, and written novels set in the Pacific Northwest?

You are married with children, yet the two main characters in the book are single and childless, possibly not by choice for Amanda but in Olive’s case, most decidedly. Each character expresses curiosity about motherhood. Did anything in your experience inform this aspect of the book?

I’ve always focused on aspects of sexuality that challenge my female main characters, so it was only natural for me to delve into how Olive and Amanda grapple, each in her own way, with the prospect of being childless.

This novel is about two businesswomen. They’re passionate about their work, and they’re conflicted about motherhood and marriage. But the potential to have a child is integral to every woman’s existence. After all, a woman lives in a body that is equipped to give birth. She grows breasts that are designed to feed an infant, and bleeds out of her vagina for a few days every month from her teen years until menopause. This goes on whether she ever gets pregnant or not.

I think it’s amazing how invisible the act of menstruation is in our society. By all appearances, it isn’t happening. We’ve managed to keep blood and its stains underneath our clothing and out of sight. But blood is extremely, even unrelentingly, present in the daily life of a woman—much more than in a man’s. This is why I wanted to include a realistic sense of the anticipation, arrival, and presence of blood for my characters.

You include elements of magical realism to enhance your story. Why did you decide to do this?

I don’t lean toward mystical or supernatural ways of thinking, and I didn’t originally intend to have those elements in the novel. As a matter of fact, in my original concept, the novel was primarily about Olive, and Amanda’s story was much less important. I thought she’d mainly serve to bookend the story from the past. But Amanda’s role gradually expanded until finally I reached the point of alternating every chapter between the two characters.

In the process of intertwining their stories, I needed to make sure their narratives had a consistent connection, so I began to play with heightening Amanda’s sense of being haunted by Olive. Apart from adding some mystery, I think it works to bring the reader in more viscerally to Amanda’s fascination with the past and her sense that Olive “speaks to her,” or resonates, on an emotional level.

The blurring of reality and fantasy is something I do experience as a writer. Since I’m constantly visiting the make-believe world of the novel, the characters can take on a life of their own. So, for example, I occasionally walk up Sixth Avenue and stare at the building where Siegel-Cooper used to be – now primarily occupied by a Bed, Bath & Beyond. I’ve had to remind myself that Olive and Angelina never actually worked in that building, and, oh yes, they didn’t exist.

The ending of Astor Place Vintage is left relatively open, with a few questions unanswered. Do you feel it is more authentic to not have the ending neatly tied together?

Yes, it’s more authentic and more in keeping with the themes of the novel.

Amanda remembers staring at the pages of her Time-Life books wishing, she could see beyond the edges. She wants to know more about the people in the photographs and what they were thinking. Olive’s journal gives her a chance to do this. But as Amanda reaches the last entries, she dreads finishing. This is partially because she’s afraid of what she’ll find out, but it’s also because she doesn’t want to say good-bye to Olive.

When she does finish, parts of Olive’s story are unresolved and Amanda goes to Jane Kelly, hoping for resolution. While she does tie up some loose ends, she also accepts that what’s past is past and the entire story can never be known. I think it’s important for the reader to experience that same sense of loss along with Amanda.

In earlier drafts, I experimented with giving Amanda more of a chance to question Jane Kelly about what happens to Olive and Angelina after the journal ends. I was never satisfied with these exchanges. Jane Kelly’s answers didn’t fool me: the author was obviously making arbitrary executive decisions about the fates of these two women.

I do think the important questions are answered enough to satisfy the reader.

Once the story lines of Amanda and Olive come together, and the dramatic action comes to a climax, the story needs to wind down and there’s only so much more that can be told. Beyond that, one can guess, based on character, what will happen to a character, but supplying too much information feels false.

Are you currently working on a new project? Will you continue the story lines of Olive or Amanda in any future novels?

I’m working on another historical idea. It doesn’t involve Olive or Amanda. But I do like to think about what other interesting item of clothing Amanda might come across, so you never know!

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Astor Place Vintage 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Imagine living your life as a working young woman in 1907 or in 2007.  What would be the same and what would be different?  Believe it or not, not much, although as this novel depicts two women from each period run into society’s strictures and mistakes of their own.  This is the story of Olive Westcott, a young woman living in the earlier part of the 20th Century.  She wants to be a retail seller of clothing in the worst possible way, but her father and business owners will not allow social pressures to make her dream possible.  A woman could never go anywhere alone, let alone work without a male reference or supporter.  She is up to the fight however, when her father no longer has that ever-present influence in her life.  She proves that times are slowly changing by starting at the bottom as a salesgirl at a department store.   How do we know all this? Amanda Rosenbloom, who owns a clothing shop named per this novel’s title, finds Olive’s journal.  Amanda is in a bit of a quandary herself.  She’s an insomniac dating a married man.  She knows her future with him is going nowhere fast but lacks the strength to end it, at least initially.  As it turns out, the economy in New York City is changing as well, and Amanda finds herself being evicted so the owner can charge a more exorbitant rent to the next person.  After all, New York, both in Amanda and Olive’s time, is prime territory for real estate and business.  Amanda will prove to be creative and resourceful in her attempt to save her business, find a better place to live, and seek a satisfying romance.  Tall order for Olive and Amanda, yes; but Stephanie Lehmann offers the reader two females with all their strengths and weaknesses who are all the more likeable because they are so real!  Lehmann also offers us through quaint, exciting and painstaking detail a thorough panorama of the architecture, interior designs, fashions in clothing, food, music, and art prominent in both time periods.  This is an elegant picture of New York as it evolved over 100 years and a delight to relish equally with the story!   Astor Place Vintage is very finely written and a hugely entertaining read!
SecondCityGal More than 1 year ago
Just finished Stephanie Lehmann's latest novel, ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE and this book is quickly jumping to the top of my highly recommended books. It's enchanting, rich with historical detail and tells the story of two women from different time periods that will have you rooting for them all the way. I couldn't put it down! This one is a real winner!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Being from NY CITY I absolutely loved reading the book. The story goes from NY during the 1900 to present day. It is a story of two women from two different centuries. It starts with a diary of one of the women to be read by a modern day woman. Lots of references to the history of buildings and how women were to conduct themselves during the 1900's. Great story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How many pages???? Thank you in advance.
sneps More than 1 year ago
Fantastic story about the early 1900's and women's rights! Excellent book about friendships, too! Wow! I read all the rave reviews about this wonderful book, but couldn’t read it until now. Some things are worth waiting for, and this is one of them. I am so glad I had purchased this and had it on my Kindle, just waiting…. Amanda is a single woman, who is in a complex relationship with her high school sweetheart (who is married). Amanda is also the owner of a little vintage shop, where she gets to sell clothes that are more than just a piece of fabric…there are memories woven throughout. Through a series of events, Amanda comes to terms with her relationship, makes huge decisions about her home/place of work, and her life. However, the true magic is in the diary Amanda finds, stitched inside a fur muzzle. Taken back to the early 1900’s, Amanda reads about the adventures of Sadie, Angelina, and Olive. All independent women, with different adventures in their lives, yet they all hold a valuable bond. They all had great stories to tell, however, I was so taken aback by the challenges young women faced back then. With no rights to vote, it was very hard for women back then to even rent a hotel room! Women had to enter through a different door, labeled for women, they weren’t earning near as much as men, deal with issues of wanting to be independent and faced criticism for it, etc. It was just an amazing and horrible ordeal that women dealt with, but still managed to make great strides despite restrictions. I just loved the stories, past and present, and absolutely loved the pictures in the book! I purchased this book on my e-reader, but would definitely recommend buying the actual book to appreciate the pictures better. It’s a fantastic read and one that I’d recommend to anyone wanting to read a great book about friendships, historical fiction, and love books with a bit of mystery!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We chose Astor Place Vintage as our "family reading group" summer selection and we couldnt have done better. We wanted a really good read that was perfect for a number of mostly female readers from age 20 to 64 - who like both literary fiction and totally escapist fiction. This was a perfect balance -- a page-turner that was well-written and engrossing. The two women protagonists - a hundred years apart - gave us a good sense of issues facing women at the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. But mostly it was just a good, heart-warming, interesting story.
beh88 More than 1 year ago
Great story, well written
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an enjoyable read . The contrasting of 2 lives in different eras present and the past and how their passages eventually are intertwined. I had passed this book to two other people who enjoyed it as much as I did.
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
Astor Place Vintage arrived in my mailbox at just the right time. I was wanting to read something light and fun, but not mindless. A mix of chick lit and historical fiction, this book fit the bill. The story is told in alternating perspectives by two women living in New York City 100 years apart—Olive, age 20 in 1907, and Amanda, age 39 in 2007. Amanda drove me nuts. I found her a little shallow and completely juvenile. Plus, she's been having an affair with a married man for years, and the only remorse she ever seems to feel has only to do with what she has lost. Well, boo-hoo! I can't count the number of times I rolled my eyes at her. I didn't feel sympathetic toward her character at all, but I also didn't mind watching the train wreck. But Olive... Olive was a fantastic character! I loved watching her change, become empowered, break away from societal expectations. In a sense, this is Olive's coming-of-age story. I was surprised by how inhibited women of her time and her social class were, by how taboo it was to discuss very normal things that take place in a woman's life. I also didn't realize single women had so much trouble finding a respectable place to live; apparently being unmarried was frowned upon. Astor Place Vintage has a satisfying conclusion, and overall is an engaging read. There are even turn-of-the-century photographs of New York City interspersed throughout. This book is perfect for vacations, the beach... anytime you want something undemanding yet not frivolous. I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.
Trashed_in_California More than 1 year ago
Astor Place Vintage is a seamlessly-woven tale about two women living a century apart but connected by a weird combination of mystical and historical phenomena. Amanda Rosenbloom, a Manhattan vintage clothing dealer battling insomnia and exhaustion, stumbles upon Olive Wescott’s diary (written in 1907-08) while purchasing garments from an eccentric old lady. Amanda becomes enthralled by Olive’s fascinating journal entries, which seem to bring the turn-of-the century protagonist eerily to life. But this isn’t a novel about time travel so much as an imaginative, well-executed story about the interconnectedness of two human souls through time and space. The chapters narrated by Olive offer a marvelous glimpse at feminism’s “first wave” in the form of Olive’s personal challenges as a single woman living and working in the same lower-East Side neighborhood now inhabited by Amanda, but during a far more conventional and inequitable era. Through equally engaging past and present-day narratives, Astor Place Vintage provides an eye-opening education into the plight of women at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the ripple effect their disenchantment had on future generations. Second- and third-wave feminists often forget that an oppressed crop of feisty females laid the groundwork for the feminist surge that took place during the Sixties and Seventies. Women like Olive were not only unable to vote, but also faced societal norms that would keep them both ignorant of their biology and tacitly dependent on men’s physical needs for their financial survival (whether through the “legitimizing” marriage marketplace or the unsanctioned trade of sexual favors in exchange for financial ones). Outside of marriage, women of that era had few viable means of garnering a living wage, much less partaking equally in social and civic life alongside their male counterparts. Olive experiences this injustice firsthand when a devastating setback forces her to find work and fend for herself. I was reminded of Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth in the way Olive had to cope with socioeconomic restraints and sexual mores stacked squarely against women in general, but especially unmarried ones. Readers will easily understand why Olive’s warmhearted co-worker friend, Angelina, supplemented her meager wages by “keeping company” with a wealthy married man. However, ostensibly independent Amanda—a modern-day businesswoman who clearly should know better—strikes a far less defensible bargain by accepting financial help from her married boyfriend, Jeff. Although the fact that he was her high school sweetheart makes their affair somewhat less detestable, I found Amanda rather vexing at times (as I am sure the author intended). Lehmann’s irresolute protagonist yearns for motherhood, yet remains hopelessly embroiled in a dead-end relationship, knowingly trading her prime childbearing years for financial support and erratic male companionship. Though frustrating, I found Amanda’s dilemma both plausible and authentic—and not all that different from Olive’s in the sense that, unlike men, women have a biologically finite time frame within which to link up with a man if we want to create families of our own, and still find it emotionally challenging and less than desirable to remain child-free by choice. Replete with fertile scenes and mounting emotional tension, Astor Place Vintage climaxes with a masterful birthing event that sets this novel apart for its realism and suspense. Until then, it’s an easygoing thrill ride with just a hint of understated edginess. But that passage—including the forthright discussion that follows between Olive and the Johnny-come-lately doctor—imbue this otherwise pleasurable novel with an important substantive component that makes it worthy of “must read” stature as contemporary women’s fiction and historical fiction. (And lest anyone doubt that women could be as ignorant as Olive when it came to sex and reproduction, I can personally attest that my mother, born in 1917, misinformed me that a woman is most likely to conceive immediately before her period. I definitely got a chuckle over Olive’s ongoing confusion over that erroneous detail!) A simply delightful read from first page to last, I didn’t want Astor Place Vintage to end. Nevertheless, Stephanie Lehmann wraps it up neatly and convincingly, leaving the reader perfectly sated yet still longing for more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great easy read and fabulous story. But, be careful this is one that won't let you go until the very last page.
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
Even though I’m not familiar with most of the buildings in New York City, Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann was still a book that I could enjoy.  Amanda has a vintage clothing store and she loves connections to the past.  Not the cheesy 70’s & 80’s past, but the REAL past, like 1900s, 1920s, etc.  As she is struggling with a bad economy and a relationship that has nowhere to go, Amanda stumbles upon the 100-year-old diary of Olive, a NYC transplant from the suburbs.   As Amanda reads Olive’s diary, she realizes that she has the power to make some necessary changes in her life.  At the same time, Amanda discovers that many of the NYC locations she frequents have connections to Olive’s past.   This story is told from both Amanda and Olive’s perspectives, which is something that I always love, especially when done well!   Astor Place Vintage is a light, enjoyable read about two connected women 100 years apart, and one I highly recommend, whether you’re familiar with NYC or not.   Thank you to my friend @ Touchstone Books for this copy of one of her new favorites! This book takes place in NYC – have you been? Thanks for reading,  Rebecca @ Love at First Book