| StarNews Correspondent
Kristy Woodson Harvey, author of the popular “Peachtree Bluff” books, lives on the North Carolina coast. When her family’s home was damaged by Hurricane Florence in 2018, though, they temporarily relocated to Asheville, near where she grew up.
That experience, and a cousin’s wedding, apparently inspired “The Wedding Veil,” Harvey’s new novel, centered around Asheville’s famous Biltmore Estate. The result is a tale that’s a little more substantial than the typical summer rom-com.
The plot runs along two tracks. Starting in the 1800s, we follow Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, who grows up to marry George Washington Vanderbilt II, the bookish heir who envisioned a French-style chateau rising among North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains.
In the present we meet Julia Baxter, who’s about to marry Hayes, her high school sweetheart.
Then, at the bridesmaids’ breakfast — held in the Biltmore gardens, naturally — someone texts a video to Julia and everyone else, showing the feckless Hayes making out with another woman.
Enraged, Julia calls off the wedding and heads off on her honeymoon trip to the Caribbean by herself.
Meanwhile, back in 1914, George dies far too young. Edith has to manage the unfinished palace and grounds while discovering that most of George’s money is gone. And she must raise her daughter, Cornelia, who’s a bit of a handful, while finding some way to turn Biltmore into a money-making proposition.
In the British Virgin Islands, things pick up when Julia meets Conner. He’s actually one of Julia’s heroes, a rising star in New York architecture. Plus, he’s charming, dashing, “adorable” (Julia’s word) and what’s more, he’s clearly taken with Julia. Let’s just say she’s not returning Hayes’ texts.
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Meanwhile, Julia’s grandmother Babs — who organized that fateful breakfast party -— is making changes, too. After a year of widowhood, she abruptly decides to sell the big, empty house and move into a retirement community, where she meets an old flame from her college days.
Fans of such books as “Under the Southern Sky” and “Slightly South of Simple” should be pleased with Harvey’s signature mix of romance, comedy and family drama.
Added in is a mystery: How did Julia and Babs’ family acquire a vintage 1920s wedding veil? The veil is identical to the one Edith is seen wearing in her wedding portraits — but the Vanderbilt veil somehow disappeared.
Alas, the Vanderbilt storyline is not as successful as Julia’s or Babs’. Harvey clearly did her homework and works hard to dramatize the family’s lives. (George and Edith actually did book passage on the Titanic before canceling at the last minute.) But their dialogue seems stiff, and their chapters read like some slow docudrama on The History Channel.
Readers who’d like to know more about Biltmore should read Diane Kiernan’s nonfiction book “The Last Castle.”
As for “The Wedding Veil,” the ups and downs of Julia and Babs should be enough to keep Harvey’s loyal fans entertained.
‘THE WEDDING VEIL’
By Kristy Woodson Harvey
Gallery Books, $27