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The Wedding Veil

LIST PRICE $10.99

About The Book

This “masterfully woven…literary home run” (New York Journal of Books) follows four women across generations, bound by a beautiful wedding veil and a connection to the famous Vanderbilt family from the New York Times bestselling author of the Peachtree Bluff series.

Four women. One family heirloom. A secret connection that will change their lives—and history as they know it.

Present Day: Julia Baxter’s wedding veil, bequeathed to her great-grandmother by a mysterious woman on a train in the 1930s, has passed through generations of her family as a symbol of a happy marriage. But on the morning of her wedding day, something tells her that even the veil’s good luck isn’t enough to make her marriage last forever. Overwhelmed, she escapes to the Virgin Islands to clear her head.

Meanwhile, her grandmother, Babs, is also feeling shaken. Still grieving the death of her beloved husband, she decides to move into a retirement community. Though she hopes it’s a new beginning, she does not expect to run into an old flame, dredging up the same complicated emotions she felt a lifetime ago.

1914: Socialite Edith Vanderbilt is struggling to manage the luxurious Biltmore Estate after the death of her cherished husband. With 250 rooms to oversee and an entire village dependent on her family to stay afloat, Edith is determined to uphold the Vanderbilt legacy—and prepare her free-spirited daughter Cornelia to inherit it—despite her family’s deteriorating financial situation. But Cornelia has dreams of her own, and as she explores more of the rapidly changing world around her, she’s torn between upholding tradition and pursuing the exciting future that lies beyond Biltmore’s gilded gates.

In the vein of Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman and Jennifer Robson’s The Gown, The Wedding Veil is “a sparkling, fast-paced joy of a book that celebrates love, family, and the right to shape one’s own destiny” (Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author).

Excerpt

1. Julia: Follow the Rules: Present Day

JULIA Follow the Rules Present Day


My mother had been telling me for months that an April wedding in Asheville was risky. Snow isn’t out of the question, Julia, she’d reminded me over and over again.

But as I stood awestruck at the brick pathway that led to the conservatory at Biltmore Estate, admiring a field of tens of thousands of orange and yellow tulips, their faces turned toward the sun, it felt like snow was definitely out of the question. A long table sprawled in front of the brick and glass space, with a massive garland of roses, hydrangeas, and, of course, tulips running its entire length.

“It’s perfect,” Sarah, my best friend and maid of honor, whispered in this holy quiet. I nodded, not wanting to break the silence, not wanting to disrupt the overwhelming peace.

Sarah linked her arm through mine. “Are you ready?”

I nodded automatically, but what did that even mean? Could anyone ever be ready? My wedding wasn’t until tomorrow, but this bridesmaids’ luncheon was the start of the wedding weekend. While my fiancé Hayes and his friends shot skeet and drank bourbon and did whatever else a groom and his groomsmen did before a wedding, I would be here sipping champagne and eating tea sandwiches with my mother, my bridesmaids, my aunt, and the women in Hayes’s family—including his mother. Their difficult relationship made my feelings about this event complicated. What made them simpler was the woman responsible for the splendor of this day: my grandmother Babs.

Maybe a person couldn’t be responsible for the day—after all, no one could control the weather. But Babs was the kind of woman who seemed like she could. She—along with my aunt Alice, who was my wedding planner—hadn’t just picked the brown Chiavari chairs that went around the table and had umpteen meetings with the florist and agonized over every detail of the menu for this luncheon. She had actually, somehow, made this day a perfect seventy-two degrees filled with beaming sunshine and fields of impeccable tulips because it was my day. Even if she didn’t quite approve of the groom.

Babs never came out and said she didn’t approve. But I felt it. I knew.

My mother on the other hand…

“It’s here! It’s here!” she practically sang from behind me. I turned to see Mom and her twin sister coming up the path.

“So getting here an hour early to have a glass of champagne by ourselves didn’t really pan out, did it?” Sarah said under her breath.

“On the bright side, Mom looks like a glass of champagne,” I said.

She was wearing the most perfect champagne-colored sheath with a tiny belt at the waist and chic tan pumps. Aunt Alice was clad in an eerily similar dress in pale blue, but with a wrap. I hadn’t actually seen either of these outfits on my mom or aunt, but I had heard about them for months.

“They look gorgeous,” Sarah said. “And very well coordinated.” They had perfect matching blowouts, although Mom’s hair was much lighter, verging on blond, while Alice still made the valiant attempt to keep hers dark, even though it meant that covering her grays was a constant battle.

“Did I tell you about the PowerPoint?” I asked.

Sarah furrowed her brow, which I took as a no.

“Babs took an iPad class at the senior center so she could better assist with all the wedding details. She made everyone in the family send photos of their outfits—complete with shoes, accessories, and purses—for each event. Then she made a presentation and distributed it to the entire family to serve as a packing list. Let’s just say,” I added, as Mom made her way to us, “some of the first outfits we sent to Babs didn’t make the cut.”

Sarah burst out laughing. When it came to important family events, Babs didn’t leave anything to chance.

Mom smiled and leaned over to hug and kiss Sarah and me. “No, no,” she said, picking up on what I’d just said and imitating Babs. “Don’t think of them as cuts. Think of them as edits.”

Alice wrapped her arm around me. “Well, girls, we made it. It’s here. We’re all wearing the appropriate outfits. It isn’t snowing.”

“What is so wrong with snow?” I asked.

“It’s a logistical nightmare,” Aunt Alice said.

“Where is Babs?” I asked, finally realizing she wasn’t here. We had all gotten ready at the Asheville mountain house that had been in her family for generations, and I had assumed she would ride with Mom and Aunt Alice since Sarah and I had left early.

At that same moment I heard, “Girls, come quickly! You have to see this!” from behind me. One of the conservatory doors flung open and I saw Babs, all five foot two of her, in a navy knit suit, pillbox hat, and kitten heels, looking as though this estate belonged to her. She waved us over and we hurried in.

I’d been told we were having this event outside in the gardens, another point of panic for my poor mother and her snow. But as I stepped through the door, I realized that wasn’t wholly true. Amid the palms and hydrangeas, orchids, and birds-of-paradise, and—best of all—what must have been hundreds of butterflies, a small table held a chiller bucket with an open bottle of champagne and five flutes. Quick as a wink, Babs began filling the glasses and handed one to each of us. “I thought we’d toast our girl before we went outside for lunch,” she said.

I smiled, looking around at my four favorite women. Sometimes my mom drove me batty, but I loved her dearly. She and my aunt Alice seemed to be in a world-ending spat as often as they were getting along, but they were always there for me. Sarah was my ride or die. She had been since we were five years old, when she had stood up for me after I was wrongly accused of talking in class. Her job as a public defender was no surprise to anyone. And then there was Babs, who inspired me every day with her tenacity, her spunk, and, like any wonderful grandmother, her wisdom.

Now she raised her glass and said, “To my bright, beautiful Julia, who has always been poised to take on the world. May you find your eternal happiness, my darling girl.”

Everyone raised their glasses gleefully, but as we all clinked, I felt a familiar panic welling up in my throat. Could I do this? Could I marry Hayes tomorrow? And, maybe more important, should I?

Follow the rules, I thought. Follow the rules. The other women might have been toasting to my wedding, but Babs was testing me. She was asking me why I had changed course so suddenly, why I hadn’t stepped into the life I always thought I wanted. I stood taller, straighter, convincing myself that I was doing that. Hayes and our family were my future. The rest would work itself out.

My friends began filing inside the butterfly garden as well then, a man in a black-and-white uniform appearing to serve them champagne. Seeing all these women gathering to support me, to support my marriage to the man I loved, reminded me that my uneasy feelings were silly. Every woman felt nervous before her wedding. Right?

I looked up at the dozens of panes of glass—handmade, no doubt—that formed the roof of this historic building. I wondered what it would have been like to draw the plans for the massive arched windows inset in this beautiful brick. Realizing I was jealous of the architects who lived more than a century ago, I wondered if perhaps I had done the wrong thing, walking away from my dream career. I looked down to see that a butterfly had landed on the rim of my flute. Sarah snapped a picture with her phone, startling me out of my thoughts, as Babs clinked her glass with a fork. “Ladies, we have a quick surprise before lunch is served.”

I moved over to Babs as the guests murmured excitedly. “Being inside the conservatory isn’t enough of a surprise, Babs?” I whispered, so as not to scare off the butterfly.

“In life, and especially at a party, there can never be enough surprises, Jules.” She raised her eyebrows. “It’s the surprises that direct our path.”

As if she’d heard, the monarch on my glass spread her orange and black wings and flew off into the orchids, back where she belonged.

A woman who looked to be in her midfifties, dressed in a black-and-white Biltmore guide uniform, appeared in the doorway with a stack of books. “I am delighted to introduce one of Biltmore’s finest guides,” Babs said to the group, “who is here to take us on a tour of the conservatory and gardens. And, in honor of Julia’s wedding, we have a very special treat. With the help of the Biltmore staff, we have compiled a book of photos from Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding day for each of you.”

I put my hand to my heart. “Babs! You didn’t!” I had visited Biltmore Estate with Babs many times while growing up, and over the years, I had developed quite a fascination with the house and maybe even more so with Cornelia Vanderbilt, the little girl—and later, woman—who grew up and lived here. I knew she had been the first bride of Biltmore, but I couldn’t recall ever seeing any photographs from that day. As the guide handed me a book, my heart swelled. Babs was so thoughtful.

“Do you remember the first time I brought you here?” Babs asked. “You were the only six-year-old in the world who was as thrilled about the architectural details of Biltmore as you were about the candy shop.”

I laughed. “And you were the best grandmother for getting me an annual pass every year for my birthday.”

“Some kids like Disney World.”

“I guess this was my Disney World.” I smiled.

Babs put her arm around my waist and squeezed me to her side. “I love that we get to have yet another memory here at Biltmore, that this place we’ve always loved so much gets to be a part of the most special weekend of your life.”

I opened my photo book to the first page and Babs clapped her hands with excitement at the photo of Cornelia Vanderbilt, standing by the grand staircase at Biltmore, exquisitely dressed in a satin gown and holding a streaming bouquet of orchids and lilies of the valley. The guide, smiling at the group, said, “If you look at the first photo in your book, you can see that Cornelia’s veil included Brussels rose point lace.” I really zeroed in on it. Babs and I leaned closer, gasping in unison.

“It is a sight to behold, isn’t it, ladies?” the guide asked.

I could feel my heart racing, but that was silly, wasn’t it? I was just so keyed up about the wedding, the excitement of this day. But then again…

Sarah glanced over my shoulder. “Whoa. That’s crazy.”

“Isn’t it?” I replied. “Is Cornelia’s wedding outfit on display somewhere?” I asked the guide.

She shook her head ruefully. “The gown has been lost to history, as has the heirloom veil worn by Cornelia Vanderbilt, her mother, Edith, and Edith’s sisters and mother. Their whereabouts are a mystery. But a team from London re-created Cornelia’s wedding outfit from photographs in painstaking detail and with some difficulty. It is part of the Fashionable Romance exhibit that will be opening here at Biltmore soon.”

“Jules! We should go!” Sarah trilled.

I locked eyes with my grandmother. She had seen it too, hadn’t she? “Babs?”

“What?” Her face was a blank canvas.

Turning away from the guide, I said in a low voice, “It’s just that… don’t you think this looks like our veil?”

“I think so,” Sarah chimed in.

Babs smiled. “Oh, Jules, I think your love of Biltmore has gotten the best of you.” She looked down at the picture. “Won’t it be great that you get to wear something that looks kind of like the Vanderbilt veil on your special day?”

I peered at her, but she just smiled.

“All right, ladies!” Aunt Alice said. “It’s time to celebrate our lovely bride!”

I laughed as my bridesmaids gathered around, champagne flutes in hand, to corral me to the table.

I looked down at the photo again. That veil just looked so similar. Then again, I was at Biltmore—the place where I had spent so many hours dreaming of finding my own happily ever after—the day before my wedding. Babs was probably right: my Vanderbilt obsession had finally gotten the best of me.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Wedding Veil includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Four women. One family heirloom. A secret connection that will change their lives—and history as they know it.

Present Day: Julia Baxter’s wedding veil, bequeathed to her great-grandmother by a mysterious woman on a train in the 1930s, has passed through generations of her family as a symbol of a happy marriage. But on the morning of her wedding day, something tells her that even the veil’s good luck isn’t enough to make her marriage last forever. Overwhelmed and panicked, she escapes to the Virgin Islands to clear her head. Meanwhile, her grandmother Babs is also feeling shaken. Still grieving the death of her beloved husband, she decides to move out of the house they once shared and into a retirement community. Though she hopes it’s a new beginning, she does not expect to run into an old flame, dredging up the same complicated emotions she felt a lifetime ago.

1914: Socialite Edith Vanderbilt is struggling to manage the luxurious Biltmore Estate after the untimely death of her cherished husband. With 250 rooms to oversee and an entire village dependent on her family to stay afloat, Edith is determined to uphold the Vanderbilt legacy—and prepare her free-spirited daughter, Cornelia, to inherit it—in spite of her family’s deteriorating financial situation. But Cornelia has dreams of her own. Asheville, North Carolina, has always been her safe haven away from the prying eyes of the press, but as she explores more of the rapidly changing world around her, she’s torn between upholding tradition and pursuing the exciting future that lies beyond Biltmore’s gilded gates.

In the vein of Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman and Jennifer Robson’s The Gown, The Wedding Veil brings to vivid life a group of remarkable women forging their own paths—and explores the mystery of a national heirloom lost to time.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. When we first meet Julia at her bridesmaids’ luncheon the day before her wedding, she experiences a moment of panic about getting married. She soothes her nerves by thinking “Follow the rules. Follow the rules” (pg. 9). How do each of the narrators “follow the rules”? Do they ever decide not to follow the rules? Discuss how Julia’s mother, Meredith, did follow the rules, and how it affected her life and marriage.

2. The wedding veil is what weaves the characters and their stories together in the book. Discuss how it impacts each person who wears it. What does it represent for each of them?

3. Throughout the book we see characters creating second chances for themselves: Julia by making the decision to leave Hayes, forge her own path, and go back to school; Babs and Edith by allowing themselves to find love again; and Cornelia by leaving the life she knows and searching for her own happiness. Have you ever had a second chance at something? Do you wish you had?

4. Edith and Cornelia recognize their privilege and feel a strong sense of social responsibility, often lending a helping hand within their community. Was this common of that time? How do they compare to today’s very wealthy class in this regard?

5. When Julia returns from St. Thomas, she and Babs visit Biltmore Estate. While admiring the beauty and extravagance of it, Julia also acknowledges the “impracticality and inefficiency” of it (pg. 268). She thinks to herself, “that was part of being an architect—creating structures that fit the times” (pg. 268). How do Julia’s reflections on architecture also apply to her feelings about her own life and the choices she has to make?

6. Discuss how the family traditions of the characters bring them closer to the people in their lives. Does tradition ever create unfair expectations?

7. In the penultimate chapter of the book, Babs confesses to Julia that she was the one who anonymously texted the video of Hayes with another woman to the bridesmaids’ group the day before Julia’s wedding. How do you think Babs handled this situation?

8. Cornelia Vanderbilt grew up in the limelight. How do you think this affected her mental health and the decision she ultimately makes to leave her home, her marriage, and her life to move to England to find her calling? Were there other contributing factors?

9. When Babs’s mother is reflecting on the moment she received the wedding veil on the train, she remembers experiencing uncertainty about marrying Babs’s father. When Cornelia hands her the veil, she tells her, “What you need is a sign” (pg. 252). What other “signs” do the characters use throughout the book to help them make decisions?

10. Although Julia loves Hayes, she never feels completely confident that being with him is the right decision; still, she sometimes finds it easier to make decisions based on safety and comfort vs. being true to her own feelings. Discuss how some characters find comfort in playing it safe, while others find it restricting.

11. Moving on is an inevitable part of everyone’s lives. How does Edith handle George’s death and moving on with her life? How does Babs handle moving on from Reid? And how does Julia handle moving forward from her relationship with Hayes?

12. After Babs moves to Summer Acres she immediately reconnects with Miles. She feels conflicted, as if she is betraying her late husband. She understands that she will always mourn Reid and that there is a possibility she will mourn the loss of Miles one day too, but realizes it would perhaps be worst of all to mourn a relationship that was never given a chance. Do any other characters in the book come to this realization too? How so?

13. The four narrators are from different times and upbringings. Discuss what they have in common. How are they different?

14. Throughout the story, we see different women moving through different phases of their lives. How does what they want in life change as they move through these different phases?

15. In the chapter “Mistress of Biltmore”(pg. 235), George tells a young Cornelia, “Writing and art are what we use to make sense of our lives. But it is science and math that truly govern them. The words might lead you astray, but the numbers are fixed, unchanging” (pg. 236). What role do you think this plays in Cornelia’s fascination with and dependence on numerology?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Imagine Cornelia as a young woman today. How might her life path be shaped by the presence of social media?

2. Does your family have any heirlooms? Share with the group and discuss their significance to your family.

3. Research a local place of historical significance. How did this place, and the people surrounding it, help shape your community as it is today? Perhaps you can plan a group trip to explore it.

4. Think about something that you have always wanted to do (learn to paint, take a language class, etc.) but never felt was attainable. Discuss this with the group and strategize about how you can take the next step toward this goal.

5. Cornelia married John Cecil in 1924. What dishes and beverages were popular among the upper class during this time? Create a menu for their wedding.

About The Author

Photograph by Bud Johnson

Kristy Woodson Harvey is the New York Times bestselling author of nine novels, including The Wedding Veil, Under the Southern Sky, and The Peachtree Bluff series, which is in development for television with NBC. A Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s school of journalism, her writing has appeared in numerous online and print publications, including Southern Living, Traditional Home, USA TODAY, Domino, and O. Henry. Kristy is the winner of the Lucy Bramlette Patterson Award for Excellence in Creative Writing and a finalist for the Southern Book Prize. Her books have received numerous accolades, including Southern Living’s Most Anticipated Beach Reads, Parade’s Big Fiction Reads, and Entertainment Weekly’s Spring Reading Picks. Kristy is the cocreator and cohost of the weekly web show and podcast Friends & Fiction. She blogs with her mom, Beth Woodson, on Design Chic, and loves connecting with fans on KristyWoodsonHarvey.com. She lives on the North Carolina coast with her husband and son where she is (always!) working on her next novel.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Pocket Books (May 21, 2024)
  • Length: 464 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668025307

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Raves and Reviews

Praise for THE WEDDING VEIL
"Masterfully woven...[a] literary homerun. This split-time narrative will delight readers of both contemporary and historical novels. As with all her books, Harvey delivers her trademark glamour and lighthearted spirit, all while weaving in fashion, architectural design, and the dramas that play out in daily life. It’s a delightful, well-shaped novel that leaves readers with a burst of joy in the end. And who knows? Readers may even close the book believing that with a little magic, a family may be able to survive all the hardships to create their own little happy ever after."New York Journal of Books

"Bestselling author Kristy Woodson Harvey will undoubtedly knock this out of the park."—Zibby Owens, Katie Couric Media

"The author easily switches between the time periods to locate momentous events in the characters’ lives and connect each story line with the veil at the center. Harvey, ever a fine storyteller, manages to keep the pages turning."Publishers Weekly

"Finding inspiration in the true story of Edith Vanderbilt and her mysteriously disappeared wedding veil, Harvey intertwines a veil's generations-spanning journey, the lives of the women who wore it, and the strength required to remove the veil and follow one's heart instead."Booklist

"The author of the Peachtree Bluff series brings her signature warmth and Southern charm to this story about four women across generations that are bound by a beautiful wedding veil and a connection to the famous Vanderbilt family. Like sweet tea, Woodson Harvey's writing coats your soul with heart."—E! Online

"Connecting the early days of the Vanderbilt dynasty in 1914 to a panicked family in present day American south, The Wedding Veil is an awe-inspiring novel."—Brit & Co

"From Asheville, N.C., to the British Virgin Islands, and from Manhattan to Raleigh, four women across the generations—all of them shaped by love and circumstance—find a way to summon their inner strength against the odds. A delightful, glamorous fairy tale—laced with a slice of history, a bit of fashion, and a lot of Harvey's signature wit and warmth—for those of us who know that 'happily ever after' only arrives after we've learned to stand on our own."—Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Vanishing Stars

"Woodson Harvey’s latest is a knockout—a perfect blend of historical fiction (two generations of Vanderbilts and their iconic North Carolina mansion) and modern love (a runaway bride and her grieving grandmother). Her masterful intertwining of the storylines makes for a read that’s both sweeping yet incredibly intimate, with perfect pacing and characters who surprised at every turn. I didn’t want it to end."—Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnolia Palace

“Kristy Woodson Harvey seamlessly intertwines the past and present in a multi-generational tale as elegant and charming as the elusive Vanderbilt veil itself. Through an exploration of love, family, and identity, The Wedding Veil guided me on a heartfelt journey brimming with endearing characters and delightful twists. I absolutely loved it.”—Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of Sold on a Monday

"Kristy Woodson Harvey weds history and modern day into a fascinating and astonishing marriage. With Harvey’s signature charming and heartfelt prose, The Wedding Veil explores love in all its dazzling facets across four generations and two families. Seeking answers to the extraordinary mystery of the Vanderbilt’s lost heirloom, Harvey unveils the past to bring truth to the future. Including an unrivaled and elegant Biltmore setting, The Wedding Veil is enchanting, surprising and Harvey at her story-telling best.”Patti Callahan, New York Times bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis

"Kristy Woodson Harvey expertly weaves together the mystery of the missing Vanderbilt wedding veil with the stories of four incredible women, all searching for their independence, their purpose, and ultimately their happiness. Told with her signature wit and warmth, The Wedding Veil is as glittering as the women at the heart of it!"—Julia Kelly, international bestselling author of The Last Garden in England

"Kristy Woodson Harvey’s entrée into historical fiction is breathtakingly charming. While Harvey has been a major player in contemporary women’s fiction for a number of years, her historical voice, her research, and her elegant prose earn her a place of respect in this new genre as well. A beautifully told story that is sure to be one of the year’s best."Aimie K. Runyan, bestselling author of The School for German Brides

"[A] sweet, multiperiod saga...Harvey treats her subjects with gentle care, smoothing their trials with wisdom and hope. With its lavish central symbol and peek into Vanderbilt history, The Wedding Veil has a strong, sentimental allure."Historical Novel Society

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