7 reviews

Astor Place Vintage: A Novel
by Stephanie Lehmann

Published: 2013-06-11
Paperback : 396 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 7 of 7 members
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 ...
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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.

Editorial Review

Author One-on-One: Stephanie Lehman and Lauren Willig

Lauren Willig

A native New Yorker, Lauren Willig thoroughly enjoyed getting to travel back in time to a different point in the city's history with Stephanie Lehman's Astor Place Vintage (although she will confess to owning no vintage clothing of her own, unless one counts the relics from college at the back of her closet). Lauren Willig is the author of eleven novels, all of which go back and forth between past and present: the bestselling Pink Carnation series, set between the Napoleonic Wars in the early nineteenth century and London in 2004, and her new stand-alone novel, the New York Times bestseller The Ashford Affair, which zig-zags back and forth between Edwardian England, World War I London, 1920s Kenya, and 1999 New York.

Q. What inspired you to write Astor Place Vintage?

A. My biggest inspiration for Astor Place Vintage is the metropolis of Manhattan. Ever since moving here from San Francisco, I’ve been fascinated, especially through the architecture, by how much the past still asserts itself into the city’s present. It’s so easy to imagine people from a hundred years ago walking down the same streets and living in the same buildings. This sense of shared space between two time periods really captured my imagination.

The first decade of the 20th century particularly attracted me because it was an amazing time of transition. Horses clipped-clopped on the streets while subways ran underground. Vaudeville theaters showed moving pictures. Lots of Victorian attitudes were still enforced, like restaurants that seated unescorted women in separate dining rooms and hotels that refused to rent them rooms. Meanwhile, women were increasingly working outside the home and experiencing unprecedented independence in a booming urban environment that encouraged everyone, male or female, to become avid consumers -- especially in those big new department stores.

Q. I loved how you brought us into the life of Olive in early 20th century New York City. How did you discover so many details about department stores at the time?

A. I spent a lot of time at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business branch on 34th Street. Ironically, this is located in what used to be the B. Altman Department Store. They have a huge collection of trade magazines from the era like Dry Goods Economist and Corset and Underwear Review, so I was going straight to the sources. I even found some Siegel-Cooper employee newsletters from that period on microfilm. I also read every novel to be found that had the setting of a department store.

Q. Amanda’s Astor Place Vintage felt like a real vintage store to me! Do you visit vintage clothing stores often? Do you have a favorite?

A. I’ve been attracted to vintage for years, and it has not been good for my closet situation. When you’re constantly fighting the urge to buy one of those portable clothing racks that people use for big parties, you know you’re in trouble. Amanda’s store is modeled on some shops I like in the East Village. But I enjoy digging for buried treasure, so I buy most of my vintage clothing at thrift stores and flea markets.

Q. Amanda works so diligently to restore some of the old garments she acquires. Do you sew also?

A.Though I’m not nearly as proficient as Amanda, I do love to sew, and this is actually a recent development that occurred in the process of writing the novel. You could say I aspired to be more like the character I was creating. I discovered that the break from words, sentences, and computer screens is like a mental vacation. Plus, as a novelist, it can take years to complete your project, but you can sew a dress in a few days, wear it, and have that gratification.

Q. What’s your favorite item of vintage clothing in your wardrobe?

A.I see you’ve saved the hardest question for last. After much deliberation, I’m going to say that it’s a Marimekko/Design Research sixties shift dress that I wheedled from my mother. I even have a home movie of her wearing it when I was little. Too bad it won’t fit until I lose those five pounds I’ve been trying to get rid of for the past ten years.


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Discussion Questions

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?

Suggested by Members

by ADMINOFFICER (see profile) 10/20/13

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Lauramay (see profile) 01/21/15

  "A wonderful read"by Tldacosta (see profile) 06/23/14

I really enjoyed this book. I felt like I truly was able to feel everything that the characters felt. The strength of these women was inspiring and motivating.

by ctorr1218 (see profile) 04/26/14

  "A Good Read!"by katya005 (see profile) 01/23/14

  "Asstor plafe vINTAAGE"by ADMINOFFICER (see profile) 10/20/13


  "Is That Really How It Was Back Then?"by Willow2676 (see profile) 09/20/13

Lot to talk about, fashion, how far women have come in society, journaling, friendship, comparing life then and now.

  "I loved Olive. Amanda not so much"by Gardenkeeper29 (see profile) 09/20/13

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