Title: Astor Place Vintage
Author: Stephanie Lehmann
No. of Pages: 416
Origins: Touchstone Publishing
Bottom Line: Charming story with some surprising twists
“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 ever have imagined.”
Thoughts: Amanda Rosenbloom is at a crossroads. As she creeps ever closer to forty than to thirty, she finds her life completely different from what she ever expected. Her relationship of six years puts the “dys” in dysfunctional, and she begins to doubt whether that situation will ever improve. Her business is booming, but her landlord has decided to increase her rent to something she can no longer afford. Her chronic insomnia is beginning to affect her health. As she struggles with these issues, she finds herself inexplicably drawn into the past and specifically into the life of one Olive Westcott, thanks to a mysterious journal found sewn into the lining of one of her recent acquisitions for her store’s inventory. As hers and Olive’s story’s begin to parallel one another, Amanda realizes that there is more here than she ever expected.
In Stephanie Lehmann’s Astor Place Vintage, Amanda is the type of female lead that made Bridget Jones or the Sophie Kinsella Shopaholic books so popular. Her life is slightly chaotic, and she is a bit of a mess, thanks to her insomnia, her depressingly awkward love life, and her business troubles. Still, her attempts to straighten out her life as befits someone of her age are fun and yet tragically funny. Her story line is predictable and straight-forward, but her personality is so large that a reader does not mind the lack of surprises.
Olive is Amanda’s anti-thesis in many ways and yet, their lives take similar turns that make a reader realize just how similar they really are. Yet, it is with Olive in which a reader will invest the most time and sympathy. For one, her circumstances are completely foreign to modern readers, with the separation between the sexes so prevalent in 1907. She also has to overcome more than Amanda, from the loss of her mother and her father, as well as the familiarity of her childhood lifestyle. Both Olive and Amanda have the American can-do attitude, but Olive’s is more pronounced because it was such foreign territory for a woman in her age.
While Olive is daring and Amanda is charming, the story itself is interesting but forgettable. In fact, one will be hard-pressed to remember key plot points within a few short days of reading the novel. This does not make Astor Place Vintage terrible. In fact, the story is darling with the right combination of dramatic setting, great characters, and fascinating historical backdrop. Still, there is nothing earth-shattering or truly thought-provoking within it that would induce a reader to dwell on the novel long after finishing it.
Stephanie Lehmann’s Astor Place Vintage is a simple but lovely novel about love and honesty and individual strength. Olive’s adventures take some very unexpected twists, which help improve what starts out as a fairly lackluster story. Amanda is quirky and awkward, in that Bridget Jones’ way, but still enjoyable. However, it is Olive that endears herself to a reader, as she struggles to overcome her sudden change in fortune and circumstances as well as the male-dominated society that was the early 1900s. The story itself is a great reminder of how far we as a society and women as a gender have come.