A Well-Behaved Woman


A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts

By:  Therese Anne Fowler
# of pages:  400
Challenges:  A to Z, What’s in a Name? (“woman”)


Goodreads description:

In 1883, the New York Times prints a lengthy rave of Alva Vanderbilt’s Fifth Ave. costume ball–a coup for the former Alva Smith, who not long before was destitute, her family’s good name useless on its own. Marrying into the newly rich but socially scorned Vanderbilt clan, a union contrived by Alva’s bestfriend and now-Duchess of Manchester, saved the Smiths–and elevated the Vanderbilts.

From outside, Alva seems to have it all and want more. She does have a knack for getting all she tries for: the costume ball–no mere amusement–wrests acceptance from doyenne Caroline Astor. Denied abox at the Academy of Music, Alva founds The Met. No obstacle puts her off for long.

But how much of ambition arises from insecurity? From despair? From refusal to play insipid games by absurd rules? –There are, however, consequences to breaking those rules. One must tread carefully.

And what of her maddening sister-in-law, Alice? Her husband William, who’s hiding a terrible betrayal? The not-entirely-unwelcome attentions of his friend Oliver Belmont, who is everything William is not? What of her own best friend, whose troubles cast a wide net?

Alva will build mansions, push boundaries, test friendships, and marry her daughter to England’s most eligible duke or die trying. She means to do right by all, but good behavior will only get a woman so far. What is the price of going further? What might be the rewards? There’s only one way to know for certain…

Review:  I checked this book out thinking it was a non-fiction biography.  However, I quickly discovered that it is actually a novel based on a real person and true events.  In the back of the book the author says why she decided to write a book about Alva Vanderbilt, where she found her references, and why she included certain elements in the book.

The story follows Alva Vanderbilt’s life from before she was a Vanderbilt to her extravagant life after marrying William K. Vanderbilt.  At the time, the Vanderbilts were new to New York City high society (basically the nation’s high society).  Alva was influential in the Vanderbilts’ acceptance.  The same energy, positivity, and tenacity that helped her accomplish that feat served her well in the years to come as she changed both NYC’s appearance and society.  As the years wore on, she also made a huge difference in women’s rights in the U.S. and Britain both intentionally and unintentionally.

Alva questioned norms and stood up for herself.  This novel allows the reader to see her point of view and question the information that has previously been published about this strong willed woman.  Of course it’s fiction and there’s no way to know exactly what Alva thought about or how she acted in private, but the author claims to have researched Alva’s life thoroughly and explains why she chose to portray Alva the way she did.

I recommend this book to fans of historical fiction and biographies.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: Interesting, well written, informative.

Gracie: A Love Story


Gracie: A Love Story

By: George Burns
Published: 1988
# of pages:

Goodreads description:

Her name was Gracie Allen, but she was on a first-name basis with America. There was only one Gracie, and Gracie: A Love Letter is the story of her life, as told by the only person who could, George Burns. Brings to life the charming woman who was smart enough to become the dumbest woman in show business history.

My review:  My mother-in-law gave me a copy of this book after telling me a little about it first.  I’m so glad she did because I would never have picked this up and given it a chance otherwise.  I had vaguely heard of George Burns and Gracie Allen before this, but I didn’t know anything about them, but they have a fun story.

This biography is written by George Burns, vaudeville/television/film star who was married to Gracie Allen, also a vaudeville/television/film star.  They worked together on stage and were able to convert their act to television when it became popular.

Burns is a great storyteller and the narrative was filled with lighthearted jokes and quips, usually at his own expense.  Just when that becomes overwhelming, he changes the tone to be more serious while discussing Gracie and how quietly intelligent and practical she was.  Honestly, it’s amazing that I was able to thoroughly enjoy a biography written about a person and by a person I never cared about before reading this book.  Now that I’ve read it I’d like to look up an episode of their TV show just to see them in action.  They also starred in a film with Fred Astaire that I’d also like to watch.

Gracie sounds like an amazing woman and I only wish there had been more serious discussion about her day-to-day life.  It’s great that George gives her the credit for their success and that one of his reasons for writing the book was to tell everyone that she wasn’t as ditsy as she made herself out to be.  But she sounded so fun, I wish I could transport myself back in time to meet her.

I recommend this to everyone.  Even if you don’t think it’s something you’d enjoy, give it a chance!

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Well written, funny yet sincere, interesting.

Elon Musk

25541028Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

By:  Ashlee Vance
Published:  2015
# of pages:  392


Goodreads description:

In Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, veteran technology journalist Ashlee Vance provides the first inside look into the extraordinary life and times of Silicon Valley’s most audacious entrepreneur. Written with exclusive access to Musk, his family and friends, the book traces the entrepreneur’s journey from a rough upbringing in South Africa to the pinnacle of the global business world. Vance spent more than 30 hours in conversation with Musk and interviewed close to 300 people to tell the tumultuous stories of Musk’s world-changing companies: PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity, and to characterize a man who has renewed American industry and sparked new levels of innovation while making plenty of enemies along the way.
Vance uses Musk’s story to explore one of the pressing questions of our time: can the nation of inventors and creators which led the modern world for a century still compete in an age of fierce global competition? He argues that Musk–one of the most unusual and striking figures in American business history–is a contemporary amalgam of legendary inventors and industrialists like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and Steve Jobs. More than any other entrepreneur today, Musk has dedicated his energies and his own vast fortune to inventing a future that is as rich and far-reaching as the visionaries of the golden age of science-fiction fantasy.

My opinion:  I added this to my TBR list after my husband told me a little about the car company Tesla.  He didn’t mention Musk by name, but just talked a little about the company.  I was interested, but not overly so.  When I saw this biography on Goodreads, I decided to check it out, especially since I’m always looking for books my husband will enjoy too.  I’m very glad I decided to give it a try even though non-fiction in general, especially biographies, aren’t what I usually read.  I’m glad I checked it out since it’s an awesome book about a man who has created some impressive companies.

This biography tells the story of Elon Musk and how he became the founder/co-founder /major shareholder of companies such as PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity.  Basically, he took the concept of a Silicon Valley startup and went on to create major industries that are completely different than anything that came before.  Aerospace and car manufacturers have been around for decades, but Musk has not only created new spacecraft and cars, he’s changed the entire manufacturing processes to make those products.

I’m not terribly interested in space travel, but I was impressed with how much cheaper Musk has made launching rockets and transporting things to space.  I also admire his goal in reducing waste in the aerospace industry by reusing rockets.  Musk’s plans to travel to Mars actually seem possible to me after reading about how determined he is and how he’s created these companies through all kinds of trials.

I also fell in love with Tesla.  I’m ready to buy one!  Once again, I’m impressed with how Musk has deviated from the traditional auto industry through design, the manufacturing process, and the process of selling Tesla’s vehicles.  I’ve been on Tesla’s website a few times and visited some forums discussing the Model X SUV to find out more about Tesla.  I can’t afford a Model S or Model X, but maybe someday I could buy one used or maybe the Model 3 at some point after it’s released.

I wish more people who are as innovative and determined as Musk would come to be involved in other industries, companies, and even government.  Just because something has always been run a certain way doesn’t mean that way is best.  The fact that Musk has turned the space and auto industry upside down gives me hope that other things in the U.S. and other parts of the world can drastically change to be more cost effective, more creative, more efficient, and less wasteful.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  A very well written biography that held my attention, fairly portrayed Musk, and described technical things in a way even I can understand.