Friday, November 30, 2018

Fiction/Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: The Vanderbilt Edition

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan (2017)

In The Last Castle, Denise Kiernan tells the story of Biltmore, the largest private home in America, constructed by George Vanderbilt in the late 19th century in Asheville, North Carolina.  I visited Biltmore as a teenager, but of course, I didn't remember many of the specifics, so I wanted to read this book to get more information on the house and the family.

I could tell that Kiernan had really done her research.  There was so much information within the pages, not just about Biltmore, but about the extended Vanderbilt family and also current events of the time.  Sometimes it felt overwhelming, especially with the sheer number of names in the book.  I also felt like the actual construction of the house wasn't as big a part of the story as I would have thought.  I mean, this house is over 175,000 sq. ft. and it took years to build!

The book was very readable, though, and I flew through it in two days.  I loved learning about how George wanted to create not just a house for himself, but an entire village in the area, as well as promote other projects such as forestry.  His wife Edith was an intriguing character, particularly after George passed away and it was left to her to manage the estate.  She was a big part of the community, whether she was handing out Christmas gifts to the employees or establishing a crafts school that also sold handmade goods.  4 stars



A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler (2018)

A Well-Behaved Woman tells the story of Alva Vanderbilt, who married into the wealthy but socially downtrodden family in order to help her own destitute family.

Alva is a pretty amazing character.  She wasn't typical of women of her time.  Yes, she married for financial reasons (not uncommon then), but she wasn't content to play the roles society established for her.  She worked extremely hard to get the entire Vanderbilt family accepted into high society.  Architecture was a passion of hers (the Newport "cottage" Marble House was all her doing), and she was also interested in charitable endeavors.  I loved how she was never afraid to be honest; I had to chuckle sometimes at the things that came out of her mouth.  I loved the setting, as well; the Gilded Age was a time of great wealth, especially for the Vanderbilts, and it was a fun glimpse into the lives of the super-rich.

The story is well-written and flows nicely, although with many historical fiction novels that focus on the life of a single person, there isn't really a whole lot of plot.  No tension or drama, and the story petered out a bit at the end.  4 stars

28 comments:

  1. Ohh! I love the sound of both of these books. I have A Well-Behaved Woman on my TBR list! I can't wait to read it. Great review!

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  2. I love reading about headstorng women. I'm sure I'd enjoy the second book :)

    Ronnie @ Paradise Found

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  3. Both of these sound great! I’ve read a few books about European royalty and liked them. I should probably read something about American “royalty.”

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

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    1. It really is fun to read about the lives of people who have more money than I can ever imagine.

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  4. I have a copy of The Last Castle on my nightstand, but plan to take a short break from nonfiction in December. Think I'll put it on my January list. Thanks for the reviews!

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  5. These sound great! I have a copy of A Well-Behaved Woman, so you've made me want to bump that up on my TBR. Great reviews!

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  6. I remember when Gloria Vanderbilt was big, and I took an interest in the family. I love lifestyles of the rich and famous, so that would appeal to me. Totally unrelated: every time I see the cover for A Well Behaved Woman, I think of the Vampire Academy books, because they have the same exact VA symbol on them.

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    1. Ha, that's a funny coincidence about the covers!

      I know, I love reading about the uber-wealthy, too.

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  7. These are so interesting! I grew up a couple hours away from Biltmore and really wanted to get married there, but I still have never been.

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    1. It was so fascinating! I would love to go back someday.

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  8. These both sound very interesting. I've always been fascinated by the Vanderbilts and have always wanted to visit Biltmore.

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    1. It's such a cool place, I hope to go back someday.

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  9. I read The Last Castle last year, I think, and really loved it. I thought it was fascinating as a story of a family, and an example of what the United States was like at that time. There are a lot of names, but I usually just let those fly by me when I read history -- lazy reader!

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    1. There were lots of names I recognized, but even the family itself was getting so large that it was getting hard to keep track of everyone!

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  10. I'm curious -- what is a private home mean in this context? I've never heard of that before.

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    1. It just means it was the Vanderbilt family home. When they originally built it, they used it just for themselves and it was exclusively owned by them.

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  11. Both of these books have been on my to-read list for awhile, but I've not gotten to them. They both sound great and they seem like the perfect pairing.

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    1. It was really fun to read the nonfiction first and kind of figure out the members of the family, and then see them fictionalized.

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  12. I love this post! I have both books, but have only read (and loved!) the second! I need to read the first. Wonderful reviews, Angela!

    Jennifer Tar Heel Reader

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  13. That must have some reading on the Vanderbilt's house wow, they have a huge house and I guess I might be somewhat confusing with all the names. Alva sounds like a strong determined woman, I like her already! I might have to check these out tho. Thanks for these reviews to help me decided on some books.

    Mary

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    1. Awesome, Mary, I hope you enjoy them if you do read them!

      I can't imagine having a house that big, or ever even thinking I would need that!

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I'm so glad you stopped by, and I would love to hear your thoughts! Comments are always greatly appreciated!