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What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age

What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age

By: Renee Rosen
Publisher: New American Library
Publish Date: November 2014
ISBN: 978-0-451-46671-6
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: November 19, 2014

Retail legend Marshall ('Marsh') Field is Renee Rosen's anchor character in her wonderfully engaging epic saga and latest novel, What the Lady Wants.

Nineteenth century Chicago is well underway in its transformation of becoming the proving grounds of some of the most notable success stories in America's 'Gateway to Empire.' It is 1871 and the night before the infamous Chicago fires--an inferno that would level the world of society's famous and certainly most fortunate. Delia Spencer's and Marshall Field's worlds are about to collide. Something as simple as her search for silver hair combs to complete her languish outfit for a party the following evening would be the beginning of their lives together in a truly unconventional way for decades to come.

Chicago's elite are enjoying the finer things in life. In the distance, the land is ablaze with the approaching fires. Earlier in the evening the Spencer sisters had nothing more to worry about than preening and primping for the event of the season. Palmer house was hosting a party. Abby Spencer was all but betrothed to Augustus which left Delia ('Dell'), the last of the Spencer sisters to marry off. An explosion rocks the festivities and the sight of the blaze is rapidly approaching their safe haven. Chicago is ablaze and the formidable fire is proving it isn't selective toward the intended destruction it plans to leave behind in its wake. As pandemonium escalates and the guests trample one upon the other to escape the rapidly approaching flames, Dell is separated from her family. Earlier in the evening, she had met the infamous Marshall Field. He has hold of her hand now and is guiding her to safety in one moment only for the two to be separated in the next. When Dell is finally reunited with her family, she has a fleeting recollection of that moment in time when she and Marshall Field met. Somewhere in the depths of her soul, she knew this was not happenstance. Sadly, life had another plan for her. The journey of Delia Spencer and Marshall Field coming together was a road filled with obstacles of desperation, heartache and insurmountable tests and their ultimate reality would be the fact there are no guarantees in life in the end.

Renee Rosen has written a wonderfully historical account of an epic period of time in retail history. She plays out the behind-the-scenes life and times of the front-facing retail magnate Marshall Field--a man who refused to give up and embrace the challenge of constant do-over's bigger and better each time in his complex life. Ms. Rosen strategically plants the seed of forbidden love between Marsh Field and Dell Spencer in "Scarlet Letter" fashion that deliciously treats her audience to the shock and awe of watching the plot grow. There is a lot to be said when the formula of wealth and taboo come together and Rosen is a master at spinning the twists and turns. The writing has a solid pace and Ms. Rosen knows how to breath credible life into characters that blend perfectly with the times. I am always pleased to read a body of work that is injected with renowned historical account. Ms. Rosen has done her homework and done it well. She has used her detailed research and penned an intriguing story about the life and times of the man responsible for the retail empire: Marshall Field's. This is a fantastically written book and without question, an engaging read. Well done Ms. Rosen.

Quill says: Renee Rosen definitely gives the reader what he/she wants in her latest novel, What the Lady Wants.

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