August 03, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

City of Promise

Current Status
In Season
Beverly Swerling
Historical Fiction
We gave it a B+

In Swerling’s latest, she nimbly weaves fact-based history and fast-paced fiction into a vivid tableau of 1870s Manhattan. The Civil War has finally ended, and the island is practically aglow with its citizens’ renewed schemes. Everyone from the Vanderbilts (Anderson Cooper’s ancestors!) to just-arrived tenement dwellers is out to stake a claim. The central characters in City of Promise — a one-legged war vet with progressive plans to house the burgeoning middle class, and the brothel-raised Macy’s seamstress he falls for — drive the multipronged plot. But the star is really grasping, filthy, glorious New York, which was as much a lure for the wildly ambitious and the real-estate-obsessed back then as it is today. B+

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