Friday Book Whimsy: The Chelsea Girls

Author Fiona Davis writes novels about historic locations and addresses in New York City.  The Dollhouse is about the famous Barbizon Hotel, a safe place to live for young women in the 1920s and 1930s who were alone in NYC and trying to make it on their own.  The Address is a fictional account of a group of folks living at the Dakota Apartments, which was THE place to live in the late 1800s. The Masterpiece told the fictional story of an art institute that at one time was located in Grand Central Station.

In her most recent novel, The Chelsea Girls is located in — no surprise — Hotel Chelsea in NYC. The hotel at one time was the address for artists of all types, from actors to writers to visual artists. It is also the home of our two protagonists — Maxine Mead and Hazel Riley. Both aspiring actresses, they meet working as part of a USO group entertaining troops in Naples at the very end of World War II. Maxine is strong-headed and confident while Hazel lacks confidence. Nevertheless, they become fast friends.

At the end of the war, Hazel returns to New York City and finds a residence at The Chelsea. Maxine goes to L.A. to become an actress. In 1950, she returns to New York, and is integral in getting a play that Hazel has written into the hands of an interested producer. Not only that, but Maxine convinces him that Hazel should be the director. He agrees, provided that Maxine be the leading lady.

Trouble begins when Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare turns to the entertainment industry to seek out communist sympathizers. Both Hazel and Maxine get caught up in the trials, leading to a fascinating and educating story that shows both sides of the issue.

I have read all of Davis’ books, and The Chelsea Girls is far and away my favorite of the four. I love books set in the 1950s. I love books set in NYC. And I love books from which I can learn some history. The Chelsea Girls meets all of those criteria.

The characters were complex and interesting. Surprises abounded. A touch of romance and a touch of mystery.

It will probably be one of my favorite books in 2019.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Masterpiece

I love books that provide me with a historical perspective. I especially love when I can learn something new from a novel. I realize a reader has to take care to remember that it is a novel; still, I always hope that the author has done enough research to make a reasonable attempt to educate their audience accurately.

Author Fiona Davis has written two previous historical novesl: the first — The Dollhouse — provided the reader with a clear picture of the famous Barbizon Hotel in NYC, where young women trying to become models or actresses or secretaries could live and feel safe. Her second novel — The Address — used the famous (or infamous) Dakota Apartment on NYC’s upper west side as its location. I liked that book a bit less than the author’s first. Still, I loved what I learned about perhaps the most well-known apartments in New York.

Fiona Davis takes the reader on an artistic journey with her third novel, The Masterpiece. The star of this novel is a real-life art school that existed in the 20s and 30s in Grand Central Terminal — The Grand Central School of Art. In the late 20s, Clara Darden teaches at the school. She is the lone female teacher, and struggles to maintain respect simply because she is a woman. Fifty years later, divorced Virginia takes a job — her first following her divorce — at Grand Central Terminal in the information booth. This leads to that, and she discovers a hidden painting by Clara Darden.

The reader is taken on a journey of two women becoming independent in different ways. The Masterpiece is also the story of Grand Central Terminal, and the art school that lived within. It was the work of some committed people that prevented Grand Central from being torn down and made into condos. Sound familiar?

I liked The Masterpiece a lot better than The Address. I felt the characters were much more realistic and the back stories were more interesting. It provided a history lesson while reading a book with interesting characters.

Here is a link to the book.