The Formula of Secrets.

Book Review for “Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl” by Renée Rosen.

Summary: In New York City, you can disappear into the crowd. At least that’s what Gloria Downing desperately hopes as she tries to reinvent herself after a devastating family scandal. She’s ready for a total life makeover and a friend she can lean on—and into her path walks a young, idealistic woman named Estée. Their chance encounter will change Gloria’s life forever. Estée dreams of success and becoming a household name like Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein, and Revlon. Before Gloria knows it, she is swept up in her new friend’s mission and while Estée rolls up her sleeves, Gloria begins to discover her own talents. After landing a job at Saks Fifth Avenue, New York’s finest luxury department store, Gloria finds her voice, which proves instrumental in opening doors for Estée’s insatiable ambitions. But in a world unaccustomed to women with power, they’ll each have to pay the price that comes with daring to live life on their own terms and refusing to back down.”

Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Fiction; Settings: Era/s: Historical – post WWI through post WWII, Contemporary – 1980s; Location/s: USA – New York (mostly); Other Categories: Novel, Biographical, Women, Coming-of-Age, Romance.

Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl

You wouldn’t know it by looking at me (or my medicine cabinet) that early on in my working career I worked in the cosmetics industry for five whole years. I wear almost no makeup, and I hardly use any creams or lotions (except for the treatment of medical conditions, or to keep from getting sunburn). Furthermore, later in my career I had some not-so-pleasant run-ins with the foundation that came from this particular family’s fortune. So why, you might wonder, was I interested in reading about the world-famous Estée Lauder? Well, it might be because she was Jewish (despite her denying it much of her early life), and it might be because I love a rags-to-riches story. Obviously, both of those are true, along with the fact that I already knew that Rosen knows how to tell a good story. Plus, I love a good historical, women’s, biographical fiction novel. Well, this one certainly ticked all those boxes for me, and here’s why.

First of all, I appreciated how Rosen decided to approach this story by using the fictional Gloria as her main observer of Estée’s early life, and the struggles Estée went through to get her business started. Using Gloria is also a way to keep from having an unreliable narrator, especially if you know that Estée wasn’t the most forthright person regarding her own origin story. In this way, Rosen takes a woman who herself has much to hide from the world, and places her alongside Estée so we can see both parallel and contrasting elements in their lives and careers. It also gives us more of a chance to be sympathetic of Estée, since Gloria can point out her faults, and paint her as an ambitious, yet flawed person. Gloria serves as a type of mirror for Estée, one in which she sees not just Estée, but her own reflection with her.

Into this mix, we also get a couple of cameo appearances from author Lee Israel, who wrote an unauthorized biography of Estée Lauder in the 1980s. Rosen uses an interview between Israel and Gloria to start the book off, and then backtracks to the beginning of the early days of Estée’s career, and introducing her to Gloria. Now, many people have come to dislike the mechanic of dual timelines, but this is one that works better than most. In fact, I’d say it was one of the best uses of a secondary timeline I’ve ever read. You see, Rosen fictionalizes that the interview with Lee Israel was the inspiration for Gloria to push Estée into writing her own memoir, and to get it published before Lee Israel’s book. The fact is that Estée’s autobiography was released just under a month before Lee Israel’s book came out. (Which makes you wonder if this bad timing wasn’t part of what led to Lee Israel’s downfall, which ended up landing her in jail for forgery and fraud.)

All this lets Rosen mix some fiction into a whole lot of facts, to develop not one, but two very human women, that form a strong enough friendship that could weather both the driving ambitions and shameful secrets they both had. Rosen also blends just the right amount of romance into all this, the twist of which was very satisfying. Finally, including the two books about Estée’s life also helped Rosen lead up to an ending that not only closes the tale perfectly, but which also made me cry! Yes, I cried at the last lines of this book. That’s why I’m wholeheartedly recommending this novel, even to those who have no interest in the beauty industry, with full marks of 5/5 stars!


fc16c-netgalleytinyBerkley Publishing Group (will) release(d) “Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl” by Renée Rosen on April 25, 2023. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Blackwell‘s, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (until they close on April 26), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks),, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), Barnes & Noble, new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Indiebound via and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic). I would like to thank the publishers for giving me the ARC of this novel via NetGalley.

This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Release Challenge (#14), Historical Fiction Reading Challenge (#11).

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9 thoughts on “The Formula of Secrets.

  1. I haven’t read anything by this author but the subject is intriguing, plus having lived in NYC for many years I really enjoy books set there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I appreciate your review because it helps me think through my own review. You loved this more than I did and your thoughts about Gloria help tremendously! In fact, I’ll definitely link to your review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If I saw the book in the shop I probably wouldn’t pick it up on the basis of the cover image but I’m tempted now by your description of the content. I worked for a company that supplied raw materials to Estee Lauder and we had the option of buying “goodie bags” from them at an incredibly low cost. So I have masses of the stuff. Would be good to know something of the woman behind all those bottles and tubes

    Liked by 1 person

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