Published 30th April 2019 by Berkley.
Read May 2020.
New York, 1965: The Big Apple is filled with opportunities for small town country girls on the hunt for adventure.
Alice Weiss, fresh from her small Midwestern town, arrives in New York to pursue her dream of becoming a photographer, inspired by her late mother's love of both the big city and photography. But for now she needs a job.
With the help of an old friend of her mother, Alice finds herself working as the secretary of Cosmopolitan magazine's new controversial editor-in-chief, Helen Gurley Brown, even though she knows nothing about the magazine world.
Fortunately, Helen Gurley Brown, author of the bestselling no holds barred book, Sex And The Single Girl, is new to magazine life herself, and she takes an immediate liking to Alice.
Helen has been handed somewhat of a poisoned chalice by her bosses, who seem intent on letting Cosmopolitan fail after falling sales, but she is not to be discouraged. She has a whole new and brazen vision for Cosmo, to make it appeal to younger women who are interested in fun and freedom - including in the bedroom - and it is going to take a lot of dedication in order to get her dream off the ground.
Alice is keen to back Helen all the way, but she is completely unprepared for the new world she has entered and finds it hard to keep hold of her own hopes and dreams. With editors and writers refusing to work for Helen and resigning, memos and article ideas finding themselves in the wrong hands, and members of the staff secretly working to undermine her, the going is tough.
The battle lines have been drawn. Can Helen save a dying publication by daring to talk to women about all things off-limits, and can Alice keep her head among all the glamorous parties, fancy restaurants and Don Juans - especially since she has been told she can have it all?
Park Avenue Summer is a heady mix of fact and fiction that gives the reader a glimpse inside the crazy world of the Cosmopolitan offices of 1965, after the introduction of the groundbreaking and controversial new editor, Helen Gurley Brown.
I imagine there can't be many women who have not leafed through the pages of Cosmopolitan magazine - even if only in a dentist's waiting room - so the type of content included should be familiar to most of you out there. But have you ever thought about how the transition from the staid women's magazines of the 1950s (full of knitting patterns, etiquette guides and ads for domestic products) to the modern, sexy magazines we have today, actually happened?
Let's go back to Renee Rosen's compelling world of the Cosmo offices of 1965 for a clue. Love her or loathe her, Helen Gurley Brown is one of the reasons why women's magazines started to change. For a start, even the idea of a woman being Editor in Charge of a magazine for women readers was a radical idea, especially one who had written such a scandalous book as Sex and the Single Girl, and it is interesting to speculate whether Hearst intended this appointment to fail from the very start, so they could finally close down Cosmopolitan for ever and maintain the status quo - or if this really was an opportunity to save the magazine.
Gurley Brown certainly had a fight on her hands to bring about the changes she wanted in the format of the magazine, to appeal to a whole new set of readers - the ones she thought of as "her girls" (even if it was not quite as vociferous as the way Rosen describes it), and it was fascinating to see the likes of well-known names such as Nora Ephron appearing in the new line up.
Much of Gurley Brown's philosophy may have been unpalatable to her co-workers, both male and female, and her brand of feminism was certainly contentious, but I think we can be in no doubt that her vision was a successful one and Cosmopolitan went from strength to strength under her guardianship (at least for the majority of her time there) - the sales figures don't lie - and her legacy is one we should all be grateful for, I think.
But this is also a coming of age story, told through the eyes of small town girl Alice, who is fresh to the big city and intent on chasing her dreams - and finding herself in the process. I really liked the way Renee Rosen takes you right into the heart of a steaming New York summer of 1965 - the sights, the sounds, and the smells are all so beautifully described that you can feel yourself walking the sidewalks with Alice as she soaks up everything the city has to offer - accompanied by her trusty Leica.
It is via Alice that we see the evolution of Cosmopolitan magazine, and this was a brilliant device by Renee Rosen as it really immerses you in the intoxicating world of the Mad Men era, crossed with The Devil Wears Prada - the glamorous parties, the chic restaurants, the suave men, the drinking and the smoking - that turn Alice's head, at least at first. Alice has been told she can demand it all, but is this what she really needs, or even wants?
Alice has to navigate this world while keeping hold of her dreams and herself, and this part of the story is really touching. I loved Alice's desire for roots, family and connection - the way she ultimately decides what is real underneath all the hollow promises and glitz and directs her own destiny in terms of her career and love life.
There is a lot to take from this book and I think it makes an ideal choice for those of you looking for good book club choices. It's a fascinating blend of historical fiction, and real-life events, with a heartwarming story, and it kept me turning the pages right to the very satisfying end - and it has the most wonderful cover too! I, for one, will be searching out more of Renee Rosen's books in the future.
Park Avenue Summer is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer, in paperback ebook and audio book formats.
Thank you to Ben at Turnaround Publisher Services for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
From the cover of the book:
Most people discover their love of reading first and then decide to try writing. For Renee Rosen, it was just the opposite. From the time she was a little girl she knew she wanted to be a writer and by age seventeen had completed her first novel, with what she admits was the worst opening line of all time. Her hopes of being the youngest published author on record were soon dashed when her “masterpiece” was repeatedly rejected. Several years and many attempts later, Renee finally became a reader first.
Since then she has been fortunate enough to study the craft of writing from such esteemed novelists as Michael Cunningham, Susan Minot and Carol Anshaw.
Renee now lives in Chicago where she is working on a new novel.