The Secret of the Nightingale Palace by Dana Sachs (William Morrow)

Yesterday was the sort of Sunday that Seattle loves to inflict on its inhabitants, so dark that my lamps were on all day and the rain trickled on and off in an annoying drip. I picked up a book that I had been meaning to read for a week, fell into it, and stayed there until bedtime--The Secret of the Nightingale Palace is that sort of book.

This morning I woke up haunted by its heroine, simply because I'd never encountered her in fiction before. Surprisingly and originally, center stage wasn't taken by the young widow, but the 85-year-old grandmother.

Goldie pops into life on the first page and it's clear that she isn't the typical matriarch; if Anna "had known it was her grandmother calling, she would not have answered at all." Fortunately she picks up and begins a reluctant adventure, driving her grandmother from Manhattan to San Francisco in a vintage Rolls-Royce.

At the onset of World War II, Goldie was given a portfolio of priceless Japanese prints to keep safe for a friend who faced internment. Now she wants to return them to her friend's brother, who owns a large antique business on the opposite coast--and what Goldie wants, Goldie gets.

What begins as a simple road trip novel is soon usurped by Goldie's story, Goldie's style, Goldie's secret. The story folds back into San Francisco of the 1940s, where a smart and charismatic young woman finds her footing in one of the city's leading department stores. She falls deeply in love with a man she can't have and has the brains to go on with her life without him. She educates herself in deliberate ways. "I made a conscious decision," she tells a friend, "I decided to love Madeleine Vionnet and to hate Schiaparelli."

Much of Goldie's life is pragmatic, but it's always suffused with joy--she never ventures into Scarlett O'Hara territory. She's too smart for that. And she's smart enough to never tell everything she knows--her inner life remains wrapped in Armani and Jean Paul Gaultier until the last page of the last chapter.

Nothing in this delightful novel is exactly what it is expected to be. The Nightingale Palace itself is an elegant joke, Goldie's successful first marriage is based upon an unspoken truth, the reason for her cross-country odyssey with her granddaughter becomes almost irrelevant as the trip progresses. What is always marvelously clear is Goldie's allure, undimmed by age.

"Cognizant" is one of Goldie's favorite words. By the time she is done, everyone who meets her is cognizant of how love of life can keep a woman vibrant, attractive, and a force of nature well into old age.~Janet Brown