For one of America’s favorite holidays, that gathering of families and friends to give thanks for blessings and to share meals, I’m offering a dessert selection of books guaranteed to be delicious. Fashion, gossip, weddings, tales of artists and actors…what could be better?
We begin with Jennifer Robson’s THE GOWN. As recent royal weddings demonstrate, the fashion world’s most feverish speculation revolves around the material and styling of the gown chosen by a royal bride. In 1947, in the midst of a harsh winter after a long, grim war of rationing and privation, anticipation at the upcoming royal wedding was one of the few topics to lift the spirits of war-weary Britons. This was nowhere truer than with Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the prestigious fashion house Norman Hartnell, who are thrilled to be selected for the honor of embroidering the iconic gown to be worn by Princess Elizabeth at her wedding to Prince Phillip. Seventy years later, Heather Mackenzie is mystified to receive a legacy from her grandmother Nan–a set of embroidered flowers that closely resemble the motifs used on Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown. As Heather sets out to uncover the truth behind the embroidery, her story intertwines with that of Ann and Miriam, a tale replete with behind-the-scenes of life in a fashion house and the struggles of Britons recovering from a devastating war, all of it underlined by a timeless portrayal of the power that love, friendship, and sheer grit have to help people survive the most desperate circumstances.
As if one royal wedding weren’t enough, with Hazel Gaynor’s MEET ME IN MONACO, we’re treated to a second!
Escaping from persistent paparazzi, movie star Grace Kelly takes refuge in the Cannes shop of perfumier Sophie Duval, beginning a friendship that will stretch across years. The pursuing photographer, war veteran James Henderson, is equally struck by his brief meeting with Sophie. When the press and the glitterati flock to Monaco for Grace’s wedding to Prince Rainier, Henderson joins the throng, intent on capturing the perfect image of Grace–and perhaps the affection of her chance-met friend, Sophie. Replete with details about the royal wedding, the perfume business, and the sights and smells of the magnificent Cote d’Azur, Gaynor’s book is a sensual delight.
Switching continents, we return to New York and the glitter of the movie business in THE CHELSEA GIRLS by Fiona Davis. Two theatre performers who become friends during a World War II USO tour of Naples, actress Maxine Mead and playwright Hazel Riley take up residence in the iconic Chelsea Hotel, a mecca for artists, writers, filmmakers, and poets. But their dream of staging a Broadway play runs into the difficult political situation of the 1950s when Senator McCarthy’s exploitation of the “Red Scare” turns into a witch-hunt against artists and performers. Full of rich detail about the hotel and its guests, as well as the more ominous aura surrounding the Senate investigations that threaten reputations and even lives, Davis presents a fascinating microcosm of artistic and political America.
We finish up in the 1960s with PARK AVENUE SUMMER by Renee Rosen. Midwesterner Alice Weiss leaves her sleepy hometown for New York City, her dream to become a fashion photographer. She seems to have found the right track when she lands a job working for the first female editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, Helen Gurley Brown. But this is the beginning of the feminist revolution, ignited in no small part by her new boss’s scandalous bestseller, Sex and the Single Girl. With writers and editors taking upsides, some, like Alice, fervently support the independence Brown celebrates, while some are outraged enough at her breaking of the traditional rules of female behavior to leak confidential memos, articles, and cover designs in an attempt to sabotage Brown’s leadership. Against the backdrop of extravagant parties, duplicitous men, and high fashion, Rosen pens an absorbing portrait of a young woman discovering who she is–and what she really wants.
Ready to settle in for a dessert of fashion, photography, intrigue and royal weddings? Give thanks for splendid writers like Robson, Gaynor, Davis, and Rosen!
BOOKS RECOMMENDED IN THIS COLUMN:
A Novel of the Royal Wedding
From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century–Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown–and the fascinating women who made it.
“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”
–Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding
London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.
Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?
With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.
Set in the 1950s against the backdrop of Grace Kelly’s whirlwind romance and unforgettable wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco, New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb take the reader on an evocative sun-drenched journey along the Côte d’Azur in this page-turning novel of passion, fate and second chances. . .
Movie stars and paparazzi flock to Cannes for the glamorous film festival, but Grace Kelly, the biggest star of all, wants only to escape from the flash-bulbs. When struggling perfumer Sophie Duval shelters Miss Kelly in her boutique to fend off a persistent British press photographer, James Henderson, a bond is forged between the two women and sets in motion a chain of events that stretches across thirty years of friendship, love, and tragedy.
James Henderson cannot forget his brief encounter with Sophie Duval. Despite his guilt at being away from his daughter, he takes an assignment to cover the wedding of the century, sailing with Grace Kelly’s wedding party on the SS Constitution from New York. In Monaco, as wedding fever soars and passions and tempers escalate, James and Sophie–like Princess Grace–must ultimately decide what they are prepared to give up for love.
Women’s Fiction Historical [William Morrow Paperbacks, On Sale: July 23, 2019, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780062885364 / eISBN: 9780062885371]
The bright lights of the theater district, the glamour, and danger of 1950s New York, and the wild scene at the iconic Chelsea Hotel come together in a dazzling new novel about a twenty-year friendship that will irrevocably change two women’s lives–from the national bestselling author of The Dollhouse and The Address.
From the dramatic redbrick facade to the sweeping staircase dripping with art, the Chelsea Hotel has long been New York City’s creative oasis for the many artists, writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and poets who have called it home–a scene playwright Hazel Riley and actress Maxine Mead are determined to use to their advantage. Yet they soon discover that the greatest obstacle to putting up a show on Broadway has nothing to do with their art, and everything to do with politics. A Red scare is sweeping across America, and Senator Joseph McCarthy has started a witch hunt for Communists, with those in the entertainment industry in the crosshairs. As the pressure builds to name names, it is more than Hazel and Maxine’s Broadway dreams that may suffer as they grapple with the terrible consequences, but also their livelihood, their friendship, and even their freedom.
Spanning from the 1940s to the 1960s, The Chelsea Girls deftly pulls back the curtain on the desperate political pressures of McCarthyism, the complicated bonds of female friendship, and the siren call of the uninhibited Chelsea Hotel.
Women’s Fiction Historical [Dutton, On Sale: July 30, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781524744588 / eISBN: 9781524744595]
Mad Men meets The Devil Wears Prada as Renee Rosen draws readers into the glamorous New York City of 1965 and Cosmopolitan magazine, where a brazen new editor-in-chief–Helen Gurley Brow–shocks America and saves
a dying publication by daring to talk to women about all
things off-limits. . .
New York City is filled with opportunities for single girls like Alice Weiss, who leaves her small midwestern town to chase her big-city dreams and unexpectedly lands the job of a lifetime working for the first female editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley Brown.
Nothing could have prepared Alice for the world she enters as editors and writers resign on the spot, refusing to work for the woman who wrote the scandalous bestseller Sex and the Single Girl, and confidential memos, article ideas, and cover designs keep finding their way into the wrong hands. When someone tries to pull Alice into a scheme to sabotage her boss, she is more determined than ever to help Helen succeed. While pressure mounts at the magazine and Alice struggles to make her way in New York, she quickly learns that in Helen Gurley Brown’s world, a woman can demand to have it all.
Buy PARK AVENUE SUMMER: Amazon.com | Kindle
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After five seasons…
She was still on the shelf!
Part of The Cinderella Spinsters. Miss Emma Henley knows she’s neither pretty nor rich enough to land a husband. Instead she’s thrown her passion into good causes. But this season she’s tempted by a flirtation with Lord Theo. The dashing rake is just as determined to stay unwed as she is. It’s scandalous…but if she’s never to marry, perhaps he can show her the pleasures of the marriage bed!
Romance Historical [Harlequin Historical Romance, On Sale: September 17, 2019, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781335635419 / eISBN: 9781488047565]
About Julia Justiss
Real, intense, passionate historical romance
After twelve years as a vagabond Navy wife, an adventure that took her from Virginia Beach, VA, to Monterrey, CA, to Tunis, Tunisia to Oslo, Norway and back, Julia Justiss followed her husband to his family’s East Texas homeland. On a hill above a pond with a view of pasture land, they built an English Georgian-style home. Sitting at her desk there, if she ignores the summer heat, she can almost imagine herself in Jane Austen’s Regency England.
In between teaching high school French and making jaunts to visit her three children (a Seabee in Gulfport, MS, a clothing buyer in Houston and a mechanical engineer in Austin, TX) she pursues her first love—writing historical fiction.