“The Wedding Veil” by Kristy Woodson Harvey looks at a century of strong women | Books

What could be better than a new novel by Kristy Woodson Harvey, the N.C. writer who, since 2015, has steadily been earning fans and praise?

Bear with me, and I’ll tell you.

Her eight previous novels have established her reputation as a “major new voice in Southern fiction.” A common thread in her novels — four standalones and four in the popular Peachtree Bluff series – is her strong belief in and understanding of the importance of family and relationships among women, especially across generations. Another constant is her talent.

If someone feels it necessary to categorize Harvey’s works, she’s usually classified as a writer of women’s fiction. It would be a mistake, though, to dismiss them as mere fluff, good for reading on the beach or an airplane but lacking depth.

Her books are women’s fiction, sure, because they tell stories of strong women who live complex lives, and, I suppose, because women enjoy reading them. While they are entertaining and compelling to read, they also have depth, and they work in some ideas that will stick with you.

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And they are very well written, putting to good use her talents honed as a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism school. She also earned a master’s degree in English from East Carolina University.

As a bonus for those of us who live in or have ties to North Carolina, Woodson Harvey is thoroughly a Tar Heel. She grew up in Salisbury and lived in Kinston for a while before she and her husband moved to Beaufort. She’s set novels in all those places, even though some of the locales have fictionalized names. Her popular Peachtree Bluff series is ostensibly set on the Georgia coast because her editors thought that was a good idea, but her North Carolina readers know the truth …

So, what could be better than another fine novel by this gifted author?

The answer is “The Wedding Veil,” a new novel that not only continues the quality work that has moved onto The New York Times bestsellers list, but also represents another leap forward in her fiction writing. This time, Harvey does a masterly job of combining a thoroughly researched historical novel — again, putting her journalism training to good use — with the sort of contemporary story that established her reputation.

The historical part of the novel is based on the true story of the Vanderbilt women, who managed to keep the Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned home in the United States, going despite many challenges, including widowhood, social pressure and the Great Depression. Harvey was intrigued to learn that the lovely wedding veil worn by Edith Vanderbilt, her mother, her sisters and her daughter Cornelia, had disappeared years ago.

The contemporary side of the story is that of Julia Baxter, who is about to be married wearing the family veil that dates back to her great-grandmother when she decides she can’t go through with the wedding. As Julia tries to pick up the pieces of her derailed life — and perhaps find love again – she is helped by her grandmother, Babs. Still reeling from the death of her beloved husband, Babs is making major changes in her own life when she unexpectedly runs across the man she almost married 60 years earlier.

Harvey deftly moves back and forth in time, and among four points of view — Julia and Babs in first person in the present, and Edith and Cornelia Vanderbilt in third person in the past.

What she creates is a captivating story spanning a century about women making important life choices, as well as a possible answer to the mystery of what happened to the Vanderbilt wedding veil.

Linda Carter Brinson writes a blog about books, Briar Patch Books, at http://lindabrinson.com.