Friday Book Whimsy: The Magnolia Palace

Author Fiona Davis has made her writing career by setting her stories in famous New York City landmarks. From The Dakota — famous apartment coop where John Lennon lived and was gunned down — to the New York City Library — with its famous lions and which, unbeknownst to me, has a live-in apartment within, Davis makes the iconic landmarks come alive.

The Magnolia Palace takes place in one of NYC’s renown mansions — the Frick mansion, home to steel magnate Henry Clay Frick. The millionaire was a famed patron of the arts, and his home eventually became The Frick Museum, which is home to many well-known pieces of art.

Lillian Carter had been the model for some of NYC’s most famous statues. Upon the death of her mother, along with her becoming older and less interesting for artists, she is unemployed. She stumbles into a job working as the personal assistant for Helen Clay Frick, the daughter of Henry. Helen is irascible and independent, but endlessly tries to win the love of her father. Unfortunately, her sister died at a very young age, and her parents spend too much time mourning her loss. Helen can’t seem to measure up.

Though Lillian hadn’t expected to have such a job, she basically becomes not only Helen’s assistant, but an expert on art too. She guides Helen through her difficult times.

Meanwhile, some 40 years later, model Veronica Weber, like Helen, is having trouble finding success as a model. One night she gets locked into the Frick Museum, which is without electricity because of a blizzard, and meets up with a young art expert, Joshua. Together, they solve several mysteries.

All of Davis’ novels take place in famous NYC buildings, but most don’t use real-life characters. While the author tells the reader up front that the story is a novel and she makes up story lines that aren’t based on fact, the novel is lively and contains many truths.

I hope that the author doesn’t run out of famous buildings to use as settings in many more books. Let’s see, the Empire State Building, Ellis Island, the Chrysler Building……

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.