Apparently, with Tuesday’s review I forgot it’s summer—the time for light, bright reading so I’m back today to fix that. Whether you’re traveling to a new destination for a long getaway or just lounging on the porch, it’s a vacation. And for summer, vacation reading shouldn’t be anything you have to work for. To that end, I have two novels that work well as the kind of easy reading that pulls you in, but doesn’t weigh you down.
First of all, this cover! Love it. There are few names in cosmetics as iconic as Estée Lauder. Her skin care was the epitome of luxury to me, the kind of products that signaled I no longer needed drugstore brands (spoiler: I’m still using Oil of Olay products 30 years later). Renée Rosen’s novel Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl is a glossy trip through Lauder’s life as seen from the perspective of her best friend, Gloria. Both women are scrappy New Yorkers, trying to outrun pasts they’re ashamed of, and succeed in business at a time when secretarial work was the only accepted career for a woman. For Estee it’s her passion for skincare and the limelight, but for Gloria, the spoiled daughter of a disgraced financier, working is a matter of survival.
My favorite parts of this novel are the tidbits about the cosmetics world, one of which is the fact that in the 1950s department store cosmetics buyers (the decision makers) were all men. What?! How could anyone have ever thought this was a good idea? Men wear chapstick, let them be chapstick buyers. Picking a shade of lipstick? No.
Glamour Girl is fun reading while still capturing the very real difficulties for women in the 1940s and 50s. Not just professionally but personally as well with both Gloria and Estee navigating the double standard for men and women in dating, marriage, and family. Overall, the back story on Estee and how she changed the face of the cosmetics industry is fascinating but sheer, leaving me interested in something with more coverage about her life.
The Wise women are mother, Wendy, and her daughters, Barb and Clementine. Each is in the midst of a personal crisis in Gina Sorell’s novel, The Wise Women. They range from Wendy lying about her career to Clementine’s husband secretly using the down payment for a house to fund his start-up to Barb, the family’s glue who’s losing her grip.
Wendy has absconded to Florida after being ‘retired’ from the advice column she’s written for decades, but when she finds retirement boring she heads back to NYC because “her girls need her”. Neither woman has requested her presence and so she appears, uninvited, to help as only she thinks she can. Messy family drama ensues.
Does this veer into the outrageous and slightly implausible? Yes, but within the mayhem there are interesting family dynamics and scenarios that feel real and timely. This is quintessential summer reading of the kind you relax into, enjoy, and wraps up neatly at the end.
Want more vacation reading ideas? Sarah and I share the 12 books we’re ready to read in our seasonal Preview episode.
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