Seeing as I work in a library, I took the liberty of trying to find some books to suggest to our Library Director - who then disperses the options and then people may or may not choose to pick them up depending on the budget we have at that time. One of those books came in a couple weeks ago, I guess right after I returned from vacation, and I loved it!
It is called "The American Heiress," a historical novel by Daisy Goodwin. It is lush and descriptive on all of the things I care about - fashion and interior design. And thankfully, unlike many historical novels, it is not ALL a smoozy overly graphic romance novel. Because I am not into that at all, ew. Full disclosure, there are maybe two scenes that are of romance level graphicness, but they are not pages worth of descriptions, so you are safe. Ha!
"The American Heiress" starts off at a Gilded Age ball in Newport, Rhode Island, held by a new money family - the Cash's - who are leaving the season to go overseas to find their daughter, Cora, a titled husband. She has no trouble finding someone after she injures herself during a hunting outing... the Ninth Duke of Wareham, Ivo aka Maltravers. (the names in this book are a bit ridiculous)
In Wharton-esque fashion, everything is described. The buildup to the wedding, the food being served (all of the weird ones of the period including several kinds of aspec which my grandmother still serves at Thanksgiving... ew.), the wedding gifts, wedding dress, jewelry, homes and mannerisms of people. One guy spanks his wife with a hairbrush because she was acting inappropriate. HA! Okay, probably not funny but I was amused. A hairbrush. Ouch.
What is fun is that due to Cora's injury, there is a bit of a mystery element that as a reader you can see through but poor ignorant Cora is completely blind to. Apparently her injury is bad enough that she suffers from a slight case of short-term memory loss from the day she went riding. She gradually becomes less naive as the book nears its end, but it is fun to see how a side story adds a couple subplots to the book and develops into something more dramatic by the climax.
I also loved the subplot about Cora's South Carolinian maid Bertha, who is from a mother who is a slave and a father who is white. She has been given all of Cora's hand-me-downs (which means they were worn once, obviously) and she is light-skinned enough to pass as a lady in certain portions of the book. She strikes up a romance with a white English butler and I enjoyed reading her observations of their relationship - how the dynamic is different in New York City versus England, how he does not totally understand the stigma when he wants to marry her, and how socially it is not totally acceptable that they be together but she loves him too much to really care what other people think as long as neither loses their job.
Poor Cora thought married life would be more warm and light-hearted than it is for her in England - but it is fun to watch dynamics shift for her over the course of the text! I mean, duh GF you are in England. Things are a bit stiff sometimes even if you are loaded with $$ and gorgeous. Let it go. She thankfully tries to modernize her home since he father gave her a huge trust that only she has access to - winning!! Of course, the hubby kind-of resents that but it is fun to read about her missions - indoor plumbing, for example, was a big deal to him. Also her swimming in cold water while pregnant.
I would definitely recommend it for a beach read or any sort of vacation, really. Fun and something mindless - but I did not necessarily feel like I lost any time reading it as it was a fun, short-term amusement.