Friday Book Whimsy: The Lions of Fifth Avenue

I love to learn things while reading an enjoyable novel. I have learned more about some of the landmarks of New York City from author Fiona Davis than I would have if I had read a history book on the magnificent city. Did you know, for example, that there was once an art school in Grand Central Station? I learned that in The Masterpiece, by the same author. Did you know that cattle used to graze outside of the Dakota Apartments, home to many famous people? You would if you had read The Address.

I certainly had no idea that there was once an apartment inside the enormous New York City Public Library where the superintendent of the library could reside with the family. The apartment still exists, in fact, though it is apparently no longer used as an apartment.

NYC’s main library is located on Fifth Avenue and guarded by the famous sculpted lions. In 1913, Laura Lyons and her family move to New York City from their quiet home in the country where her husband is the superintendent. His job allows them to live in the apartment hidden deep within the library. It’s a big change for the family, but not as big as the one that Laura seeks. She dreams of attending the Columbia School of Journalism and becoming a journalist.

With the help of family and friends, she manages to come up with the money for the year-long program. She not only learns how to investigate and write a story, she learns that there are women who have so much more freedom than she ever has. Laura gets caught up in the excitement, and it changes her life — and the lives of her family — immensely.

At the same time, some priceless books and manuscripts go missing, and everything points to her husband being the culprit. Laura knows this can’t be true, but is too caught up in her new life to take it as seriously as she might.

In the back-and-forth style so popular these days, the author also introduces us to Laura’s granddaughter Sadie, who is also a librarian at the same library in 1993. Ironically, she must also deal with books and manuscripts that are going missing, and she is a prime suspect. While trying to figure out what’s going on, she learns that a similar thing happened to her grandfather. Could the two things be related?

I will admit that this was not my favorite of Fiona Davis’ novels. That prize goes to The Chelsea Girls, a novel about the McCarthy hearings. But as a lover of books, and a HUGE fan of libraries, I found the book references interesting, and the clear love of literature shown by the main characters heart-warming.

Part mystery, part romance, part women’s fiction, The Lions of Fifth Avenue makes for a decent read.

Here is a link to the book.

 

Friday Book Whimsy: The Address

Back in 2016 I read (and reviewed) The Dollhouse, the debut novel by Fiona Davis, and LOVED IT. In that novel, Davis told the story of the Barbizon Hotel in New York City, a hotel for single women in New York City that opened in the 1920s.

In The Address, the star of the show is the famous Dakota Apartments located on the upper west side of NYC, just a stone’s throw from Central Park. Unfortunately, one of its more recent claims to fame was that it was where John Lennon – a Dakota resident — was shot and killed in 1980.

In 1884, working class Sara Smythe manages to make it to head housekeeper at a famous London hotel. She so impresses one of their residents – wealthy Theodore Camden —  that he coaxes her into leaving London and moving to New York City to become the manager of an apartment building for which he is the architect. Theodore offers opportunities to Sara that were virtually unthinkable in that day and age.

This leads to that, and they become romantically involved despite the fact that he is unhappily married.

Fast forward a hundred years and meet Bailey Campden, who is a kissing relative to the Campden family because her grandfather was the ward of Mr. Campden. Bailey is fresh out of rehab and looking to get her life back together. She moves into the apartment of her cousin, who is a direct descendent of Theodore Campden and who is – along with her brother – in line to inherit his fortune. Bailey’s job is to oversee the modifications of the apartment which has fallen into disrepair.

It is an interesting story line, and I loved learning about the Dakota. I was unaware, for example, that at the time it was built, it was flat out in the country. Residents looked out upon cows. It was a huge risk to build a luxury apartment in the mid- to late 1880s.

Having said that, I am quite frankly really tired of the back and forth between characters and time periods that authors seem to rely on these days. Not only that, but some of the story seemed quite a stretch, i.e. a period of time Sara spent in an insane asylum, where she is rescued by famous journalist Nellie Bly.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book enough to recommend it, especially for those interested in New York City as a story location. The history was interesting and I like the author’s writing style.

Oh, and the cover art is beautiful!

Here is a link to the book.