The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home
Author: Denise Kiernan
Published: September 26, 2017
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
The fascinating true story behind the magnificent Gilded Age mansion Biltmore—the largest, grandest residence ever built in the United States.
The story of Biltmore spans World Wars, the Jazz Age, the Depression, and generations of the famous Vanderbilt family, and features a captivating cast of real-life characters including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, James Whistler, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.
Orphaned at a young age, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser claimed lineage from one of New York’s best-known families. She grew up in Newport and Paris, and her engagement and marriage to George Vanderbilt was one of the most watched events of Gilded Age society. But none of this prepared her to be mistress of Biltmore House.
Before their marriage, the wealthy and bookish Vanderbilt had dedicated his life to creating a spectacular European-style estate on 125,000 acres of North Carolina wilderness. He summoned the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to tame the grounds, collaborated with celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt to build a 175,000-square-foot chateau, filled it with priceless art and antiques, and erected a charming village beyond the gates. Newlywed Edith was now mistress of an estate nearly three times the size of Washington, DC and benefactress of the village and surrounding rural area. When fortunes shifted and changing times threatened her family, her home, and her community, it was up to Edith to save Biltmore—and secure the future of the region and her husband’s legacy.
The Last Castle is the uniquely American story of how the largest house in America flourished, faltered, and ultimately endured to this day.
This is a great history book! I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Biltmore has a special place in my heart; I’ve been visiting since I was a kid and it ignited my imagination as a place of finery and magnificence! I’ve said many times that if you haven’t been to visit, you should and I hold to that.
Kiernan laid out not just the history of the house, but the people who built her. George Vanderbilt is the height of refinement and education and Ivan and I have already decided that we need more dapper gentlemen like him. Edith was a classy, yet humble woman who accomplish much. I grew to love them the more I learned and I’m so happy that their legacy survives in that estate.
As a historian, I was happy with the way Kiernan presented the facts. She did extensive research and put all kinds of resources throughout the book. The personal letters were fascinating. I also loved how she focused on the trailblazing that happened at Biltmore. The National Park Service practically started on the estate and the agricultural and forestry development procedures were revolutionary. Overall, this was a great and easy read and I learned a lot!
Here a few pictures of Kim and Ivan at Biltmore:
Why Do I Feel So Sad? A Grief Book for Children
Author: Tracey Lambert- Prater, LPC
Illustrator: Elena Napoli
Published: July 14, 2020
Reviewed By: Jessica
Date Read: August 9, 2020
Jessica’s Rating: 5 stars
Why Do I Feel So Sad? is an inclusive, age-appropriate, illustrated kid’s book designed to help young children understand their own grief. The examples and beautiful illustrations are rooted in real life, exploring the truth of loss and change, while remaining comforting and hopeful.
Broad enough to encompass many forms of grief, this book reassures kids that they are not alone in their feelings and even suggests simple things they can do to feel better, like drawing, dancing, and talking to friends and family.
Why Do I Feel So Sad? is:
- Practical and compassionate—Written for early childhood-aged kids, this book touches on common sources of grief—everything from death to divorce or changing schools.
- Different for everyone—This book normalizes the confusing thoughts and physical symptoms that come with grief, so kids know there’s no one right way to feel or heal.
- Tips for grownups—Find expert advice and simple strategies for supporting grieving kids in your life.
Children don’t have to go through grief alone; this book provides the tools to help them.
This children’s picture book is THE resource aimed for children ages 5-7. It is beautifully and brightly illustrated that enhances each sentence on the page. This is one book I could see a parent reading with a child and also discussing the pictures. Fortunately, this is also another picture book that shows a variety of diversity in the people shown on the pages.
The sentences are simple and also bring about full understanding for the aimed age group. This book shows that children, and yes, also adults can experience grief for a variety of reasons: From death, to the loss of a pet, a move, and possible changes in life such as divorce. The book also shows children that they may feel a variety of different ways with their grief and that is ok.
Throughout the book there are even questions posed to the child that they can answer, which in turn may help the adult they are reading the story with know how to help. It also shows how children can deal with their grief in a positive way. At the end there are resources given for both kids and adults to help with the grieving process.
This is a very well done children’s book that will help all children as they will at some point in life experience some kind of grief.
I received a copy from the publisher via Amazon Vine.[Top]
Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive
Author: Stephanie Land
Narrator: Stephanie Land
Published: January 22, 2019
Reviewed By: Jessica
Dates Read: June 17-24, 2020
Jessica’s Rating: 3.5 stars
“My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter.”
While the gap between upper middle-class Americans and the working poor widens, grueling low-wage domestic and service work–primarily done by women–fuels the economic success of the wealthy. Stephanie Land worked for years as a maid, pulling long hours while struggling as a single mom to keep a roof over her daughter’s head. In Maid, she reveals the dark truth of what it takes to survive and thrive in today’s inequitable society.
While she worked hard to scratch her way out of poverty as a single parent, scrubbing the toilets of the wealthy, navigating domestic labor jobs, higher education, assisted housing, and a tangled web of government assistance, Stephanie wrote. She wrote the true stories that weren’t being told. The stories of overworked and underpaid Americans.
Written in honest, heart-rending prose and with great insight, Maid explores the underbelly of upper-middle class America and the reality of what it’s like to be in service to them. “I’d become a nameless ghost,” Stephanie writes. With this book, she gives voice to the “servant” worker, those who fight daily to scramble and scrape by for their own lives and the lives of their children.
Stephanie Land’s memoir is written and narrated by the author. I enjoyed that I was really hearing her personal story first hand in her own voice. Land shows us the hard life of a single mom and the hard work she put in to take care of her daughter. It also shows how difficult it can be to even get assistance from government programs, let alone to stay on them.
Most of the memoir focuses on her job as a maid and cleaning others’ houses. It made me think about the people who clean our hotel rooms and that they may experience similar life difficulties. (I can’t picture maids who clean homes, as we would never be able to afford one!) I hate to say it was ‘enjoyable’ to read about her working in the people’s homes. What I did not like at all was when she described putting on women’s expensive jackets and going through their personal things. How invasive and wrong!
The memoir has a happy ending, and I think it was the love of her daughter that kept her going through the very difficult times she faced. This memoir leaves you thinking about many things, including not judging someone until you have walked in their shoes, which Land lets us do as she shares the story of her life as a maid.[Top]