The Social Graces [Book Review]

April 20, 2021

Would you enjoy reading about an outrageous and real-life feud?

The Social Graces by Renée Rosen

The Social Graces by Renee Rosen (cover) Image: 4 young women in 1880s dress walk arm in arm away from the camera toward an arch in the background

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, Rivalries, Women’s Fiction

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

My Summary:

Thank you, #NetGalley @BerkleyPub #BerkleyBuddyReads #BerkleyWritesStrongWomen for a complimentary eARC of #TheSocialGraces upon my request. All opinions are my own.

extravagance…society…women’s power…rivalry…feuds…women behaving badly

Set in the late 1800s, The Social Graces shares the story of the historic and notorious feud/rivalry between Mrs. Caroline Astor and Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt as witnessed by New York Society during The Gilded Age. In this time, when women often found their power in society, simple wealth wasn’t enough. Your status in society depended upon old money or new money. Caroline is from old money and is the reigning Queen of society while Alva is from Mobile, Alabama and married into the wealthy Vanderbilt family. Alva soon discovers that mere wealth isn’t enough to get accepted into the top 400 of New York Society, so she sets out in cunning and devious ways to get accepted and perhaps even dethrone Caroline.

Caroline Astor

Caroline Astor

Alva Vanderbilt (in costume)

Alva Vanderbilt (in costume)

My Thoughts:

Interesting! This might be my surprise read of the year….I wasn’t expecting this book to be fascinating! Of course, people behaving badly is always entertaining, right?! In her author notes, Renêe Rosen mentions that the challenge in writing the story was to make these two very wealthy women of privilege interesting….to make the reader care about them. In my opinion, she succeeds in what she sets out to do because in the beginning I didn’t care for either Caroline or Alva or their privileged life and by the end I did! It was also interesting to read about women’s lives (well, rich women’s lives) and their roles in society. We’ve come a loooong way, ladies!

Three Perspectives: We hear this story of rivalry and high society from Caroline Astor and Alva Vanderbilt (both third person), and from SOCIETY (first person). Caroline is a keeper of Society’s rules/traditions and trains her daughters to take over her place. Image is everything. Although she is devoted to her children, she finds it difficult to accept the fashions, ideas, and behaviors of a new generation. She reminds me a bit of Emily Gilmore in Gilmore Girls! Alva has suffered hardships and marries into wealth. She is shocked to discover that she’s not fully accepted into high society and makes elaborate plans to force Caroline into recognizing her. Some of her plans involve her love of architecture, and she actively participates in the design of their mansions (bigger, better, and more ornate than Caroline’s) and a new Opera House (because the committee wouldn’t let her buy a box in the existing one). Probably the most entertaining of their competitive activities are their extravagant balls (all-night parties with several-course, middle-of-the-night dinners that serve breakfast in the morning) and their outrageously expensive gowns (in the millions today) and party favors. A most interesting perspective is from Society. Do you like nonhuman narrators? I really do! The inanimate narrator adds a great deal of thoughtfulness and complexity to the story. Here we are able to step back from the story and look at what’s happening, form opinions and critiques, and reflect on the role Society plays in our own lives. How are you influenced by society? Do you follow social media influencers? Have you tried to break into Instagram cliques? Do you notice a difference in Society’s rules between generations? Between you and your parents or grandparents? Do you let Society influence you in certain ways? I think this discussion topic would be perfect for an IRL book club with multigenerational women!

Mrs. Astor's New York City mansion

Mrs. Astor’s New York City Mansion


The Vanderbilt New York City Mansion

The Vanderbilt New York City Mansion

Themes and Discussible Topics: acceptance, friendship, society’s “rules,” image, rivalry, competition, when do you have enough, betrayal, grief, and women’s roles and power.

Recommended: Although it is difficult for me not to judge Caroline and Alva and think about the many wealthy women in that era who DID use their wealth and status to make a difference in the world, I am still fascinated with their lives and the era. I enjoy thinking about how far women have come and appreciate Alva for taking risks that opened doors for the next generation of women. Whereas Caroline embraced her role, Alva always fought for something more (architecture, design, breaking the party rules, asking for a divorce, etc.). I’m enthusiastically recommending this well-written story of women in the Gilded Age for fans of histfic, for readers who have heard of the Astors and Vanderbilts and want to know more, and for book clubs looking for discussable reads.

Content Considerations: death of a young adult child

My Rating:  4.5 Stars (rounded to 5)


The Social Graces by Renee Rosen (cover) Image: four women in old fashioned dresses and large brimmed hats stand with their backs to the came looking at an arch in the distance

The Social Graces Information Here

Meet the Author, Renée Rosen

Author Renee RosenRenée Rosen is the bestselling author of PARK AVENUE SUMMER, WINDY CITY BLUES, WHITE COLLAR GIRL, WHAT THE LADY WANTS and DOLLFACE. She is also the author of EVERY CROOKED POT, a YA novel. Her newest novel, THE SOCIAL GRACES about Alva Vanderbilt and The Mrs. Astor vying control of New York society during the Gilded Age will be published April 20, 2021 by Penguin Random House/Berkley.

Renée lives in Chicago where she is at work on a new novel about the iconic cosmetic queen, Estee Lauder coming in 2023.
Visit her online at:


Is The Social Graces on your TBR?

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    • It was an interesting read because I started out bored and gradually grew more interested …it was well done in that it got me to care!

    • Yes! It was great! If you liked Death as a narrator in Book Thief or Music as a narrator in Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, you might like this unique narrator!

  1. Wow, great review Carol. I would not have thought this would be a book you would enjoy, but 5 stars. I guess the old adage, not to judge a book by its cover fits here. So glad you enjoyed this one.

    • I started out apprehensive and I wondered! I admire the author for being able to make me care about them! It was quite entertaining! My mom and I both liked it. I hope you give it a try!

  2. The fact that she actually got you to care about these two is impressive – I am not a fan of entitled people 🤣

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