Thursday, April 29, 2021

Book Review: The Social Graces by Renee Rosen

Pages: 400
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: April 20, 2021
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "The author of Park Avenue Summer throws back the curtain on one of the most remarkable feuds in history: Mrs. Vanderbilt and Mrs. Astor's notorious battle for control of New York society during the Gilded Age.  In the glittering world of Manhattan's upper crust, where wives turn a blind eye to husbands' infidelities, and women have few rights and even less independence, society is everything. The more celebrated the hostess, the more powerful the woman. And none is more powerful than Caroline Astor—the Mrs. Astor.  But times are changing.  Alva Vanderbilt has recently married into one of America's richest families. But what good is money when society refuses to acknowledge you? Alva, who knows what it is to have nothing, will do whatever it takes to have everything.  Sweeping three decades and based on true events, this is a gripping novel about two fascinating, complicated women going head to head, behaving badly, and discovering what’s truly at stake."


Alva Vanderbilt married one of the most wealthy men in America, which means she should have it all, right? Except she doesn't. She isn't one of the Gilded Age's top society members; in fact, she is shunned by Queen Bee Caroline Astor.  Caroline only lets "old money" into her social circle and since the Vanderbilts are nouveau riche and obtained their money from the railroad, they can't ever be properly let into society. Plus, everyone knows that the Commodore's manners are lacking and Alva doesn't quite get the ins and outs of high society. It's the Gilded Age in New York City and if you are one of the wealthy families, dinners, the opera, mingling in high society and their lavish balls are everything.  Alva naively thinks that she can befriend Caroline, but Caroline gives her the cold shoulder for quite sometime.  After more time passes, Alva is determined to be accepted by high society, so she starts to play by her own rules not only for herself, but for her family too.  Meanwhile, both women aren't untouchable. Each face their own triumphs and tragedies as the years go by and it has left them questioning if all of this is even worth it.  Renee Rosen's The Social Graces is a fascinating historical read that will be put you front and center in the opulent Gilded Age.  

I really liked Alva to begin with once I cracked open my copy of The Social Graces. I had read about her before in A Well Behaved Woman and in Husband Hunters, so I was familiar with her story, but I love how Rosen focuses different aspects of Alva, especially when it comes to her struggle to be accepted in society.  Alva is determined to beat Caroline at her own game, so she forces her way into society one way or another. Their rivalry spans decades and they try to outdo each other, but behind the scenes you have real people with real problems. There's untimely deaths, heartbreak, betrayals, disappointments, philandering husbands, and family members who let these women down.  Underneath the gilded surface, Caroline and Alva both have to deal with problems that even money can't rid them of.  As the years go by, Alva starts to care more about the average woman and what she must go through working in factories and their rights. I love this about her as we all know she is to become an important figure in the women's suffrage movement. 

Caroline Astor in The Social Graces was a difficult person to like initially. She shuns Alva for quite awhile and her disregard for other people was nauseating.  However, behind her steely persona is a woman that is relatable. She wants what is best for her daughters despite their best efforts to sabotage their promising futures and she sadly just wants her husband to love her.  However, none of this comes easy for Caroline.  It's kind of heartbreaking, because she presents herself as having it all when out in society, but we know the truth and like Alva even Caroline can't escape tragedy. 

I really enjoyed how Rosen brought the Gilded Age to life memorably in The Social Graces. The posh parties, the outfits, the mansions, the gems, and the scandals were all so entertaining and to know that this was all based on real events makes it that much more enjoyable.  In the end, Rosen reminds us that both women weren't just a pretty face; they contributed great things to society and often aren't remembered for that.  

In sum, fans of Bridgerton would like The Social Graces as well as readers who enjoy stories about strong women.  The Social Graces is one of my favorite historical reads of the year. So, have you read Renee Rosen's novels? Is The Social Graces on your TBR list? Do you like stories about the Gilded Age? Let me know in the comments below.




  1. I love this. I've always wanted to read about the root of wealth from America's affluent families -- the Rockeffellers, the Vanderbilts, the Astors. Definitely something I need to add to my TBR.

    Lovely review!

    1. I really enjoyed the Gilded Age too--so fascinating! Thanks for visiting, Joy!

  2. Really looking forward to reading this one, so glad you enjoyed it!

    1. I look forward to your thoughts on it, Michele! Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Gilded Age NYC is such an amazing setting, and I'm really looking forward to reading about all these interactions between the members of the upper crust!

    1. Right? I love the time period. I look forward to your thoughts on the book! Thanks for visiting, Angela!


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