Book Review: A Lady of Good Family by Jeanne Mackin

A Lady of Good Family by Jeanne Mackin


Spotlight on Jeanne Mackin’s newest release. A beautifully written novel of the life of on the the first female landscape artists of the early 20th century, Beatrix Jones Farrand. For a chance to win a $15 Amazon/B&N GC, enter the rafflecopter drawing below.

A Lady of Good Family

Publisher & Release Date: NAL, June 2, 2015

Time and setting: 1895-1920, Europe & America

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 352 pages

Heat Level: 1 Scorching Hot Flame

Rating: 3.5 Gold Crowns

Book Description:

Raised among wealth and privilege during America’s fabled Gilded Age, a niece of famous novelist Edith Wharton and a friend to literary great Henry James, Beatrix Farrand is expected to marry, and marry well. But as a young woman traveling through Europe with her mother and aunt, she already knows that gardens are her true passion.

How this highborn woman with unconventional views escapes the dictates of society to become the most celebrated female landscape designer in the country is the story of her unique determination to create beauty and serenity while remaining true to herself.

Beatrix’s journey begins at the age of twenty-three in the Borghese Gardens of Rome, where she meets beguiling Amerigo Massimo, an Italian gentleman of sensitivity and charm—a man unlike any she has known before….

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Vikki’s Musings

I accepted this book from the publisher via Net-Galley in exchange for an honest review. A Lady of Good Family is a glimpse of what the later days of the Gilded Age must have been like in Europe and America. A time of privilege for member of society and the beginnings of the “Nouveau Riche” told in third person narrative by a fictional character to a group of friends in Massachusetts. It is the story of a remarkable woman, Beatrix Jones Farrand, a renowned landscape artist. It covers a visit to the continent to view the famous gardens in the various countries in 1895 and ends in 1920.

While Beatrix explores Borghese Gardens of Rome, she meets Amarigo Massimo, a man different from any other gentleman of her acquaintance. She is drawn to him, but knows he is not the man for her. However, she is young and wants to fall in love, so she encourages a relationship. Will the mystic of this man prove her downfall, or will reason win out?

Beatrix is a fascinating woman who did not let the dictates of society rule her choices or her life. She chose a path very few women in her time would ever follow. She did not marry as a young woman, just to conform to the times where women were not supposed to work outside the home. While she did marry in her mid-life, she chose a man for the reason of mutual companionship and someone who would not expect her to change the way she lived her life. She is well-known for her incredible work designing Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden, the Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield in Hyde Park, New York and Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C. to name a few.

While a fictional romantic thread runs through the story, which is very enjoyable and one that could have easily happened during this period of history, it is not the main focus of the book. This is definitely not a romance, even though it does tell of a love story. This story delves into the typical marriages of the times and many of them were not happy ones. It deals with divorce when the dissolution of a marriage created a huge scandal and was always the woman’s fault. It is no wonder Beatrix chose to avoid marriage for so long.

What I struggled with while reading this book was the lack of any explanation of some of the characters in the story. Since it is told through the eyes of Daisy Winters, I also did not become invested in the characters and at times had a hard time following along with the story. While the description of the various gardens is vivid, I did not become enraptured with them either. However, that is because I am not a gardener. I am sure anyone who loves gardening and gardens will enjoy the descriptions greatly.

While I did not find this book to my tastes, it is beautifully written and gave me a marvelous look into an age long past. Anyone who loves history and learning about an era that has not had a lot of attention will enjoy A Lady of Good Family. Happy reading!



Lenox, Massachusetts

My grandparents had a farm outside of Schenectady, and every Sunday my father, who worked in town, would hitch the swayback mare to the buggy and take us out there. I would be left in play in the field as my father and grandfather sat on the porch and drank tea and Grandma cooked.  My mother, always dressed a little too extravagantly, shelled the peas.

A yellow barn stood tall and broad against a cornflower blue sky. A row of red hollyhocks in front of the barn stretched to the sky, each flower on the stem as silky and round as the skirt on Thumbelina’s ball gown.  In the field next to the barn, daisies danced in the breeze.  My namesake flower.

I saw it still, the yellows and red and blues glowing against my closed eyelids. The field was my first garden and I was absolutely happy in it. We usually are, in the gardens of our childhood.

When I opened my eyes I was on a porch in Lenox, a little tired from weeks of travel, a little restless.  My companions were restless, too, weary of trying to make polite conversation as strangers do.

It was a late-summer evening, too warm, with a disquieting breeze stirring the treetops as if a giant ghostly hand ruffled them.  Through the open window a piano player was tinkling his way through Irving Berlin as young people danced and flirted.  In the road that silvered past the inn, young men, those who had made it home from the war, drove up and down in their shiny black Model T’s.

It was a night for thinking of love and loss, first gardens, first kisses.

Mrs. Avery suggested we try the Ouija board.  Since the war it had become a national obsession.

“Let’s,” I agreed eagerly.


Author Bio:

Jeanne Mackin ‘s latest novel, A Lady of Good Family, explores the secret life of gilded age  Beatrix Jones Farrand, niece of Edith Wharton and the first woman professional landscape design in America. Her previous novel,  The Beautiful American, based on the life of model turned war correspondent and photographer, Lee Miller won the CNY 2015 prize for fiction. She has published in American Letters and Commentary and SNReview and other publications and is the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers.  She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.  She lives with her husband, Steve Poleskie,  in Ithaca.

A Lady of Good Family is available at Barnes and Nobles, Amazon, and other bookstores.

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