A review by the CE.
Rosepoint Publishing: Five of Five Stars
In nationally bestselling author Fiona Davis’s latest historical novel, a series of book thefts roils the iconic New York Public Library, leaving two generations of strong-willed women to pick up the pieces.
It’s 1913, and on the surface, Laura Lyons couldn’t ask for more out of life—her husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library, allowing their family to live in an apartment within the grand building, and they are blessed with two children. But headstrong, passionate Laura wants more, and when she takes a leap of faith and applies to the Columbia Journalism School, her world is cracked wide open. As her studies take her all over the city, she is drawn to Greenwich Village’s new bohemia, where she discovers the Heterodoxy Club—a radical, all-female group in which women are encouraged to loudly share their opinions on suffrage, birth control, and women’s rights. Soon, Laura finds herself questioning her traditional role as wife and mother. But when valuable books are stolen back at the library, threatening the home and institution she loves, she’s forced to confront her shifting priorities head on . . . and may just lose everything in the process.
Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie Donovan struggles with the legacy of her grandmother, the famous essayist Laura Lyons, especially after she’s wrangled her dream job as a curator at the New York Public Library. But the job quickly becomes a nightmare when rare manuscripts, notes, and books for the exhibit Sadie’s running begin disappearing from the library’s famous Berg Collection. Determined to save both the exhibit and her career, the typically risk-adverse Sadie teams up with a private security expert to uncover the culprit. However, things unexpectedly become personal when the investigation leads Sadie to some unwelcome truths about her own family heritage—truths that shed new light on the biggest tragedy in the library’s history.
This book is a romp through the changing morays of women in America during the early and last decade of the 20th century. The story takes place in the marble confines of the New York Public Library. The building superintendent, Jack Lyons, and his wife Laura were resident caretakers of the building and as such at the time made their home in the library.
The struggle for the right to vote and the development of women as independent members of society was just beginning. Jack sees himself as a writer who will produce a great American novel and thereby produce a good income for his family. Every spare minute of his day not working for the library was spent in that endeavor. Laura is given the position of curator of the Berg Collection of early books by such luminaries as Poe and Whitman, while being expected to raise the children and do all of the chores of keeping their home. Laura wants to write as well.
New York saw a large increase in the population in the second decade of the century; primarily poor and struggling immigrants. Disease was particularly cruel during that time period and wages extremely low. A year at Columbia School of Journalism including books and tuition was $170. Laura receives a scholarship for one term or $85.00. Now in addition to being a curator and family matriarch, she becomes a student. Meanwhile, her husband used any time available to “write” his novel.
The male students were given assignments to review trials or the mayor’s speeches. The females were sent to cover neighborhood conditions. Hardly the same interest in the topics. Laura meets one of the new social workers, Dr. Amelia Parker, a no-nonsense large woman who takes no guff from anyone. She is teaching immigrant women how to care for their children. She takes Laura under her wing and introduces her to the Heterodoxy Club. The group is scorned by society and the topic cannot be written about but is the topic assigned for her master’s thesis.
Her granddaughter Sadie Donovan is hired at the library to do basically the same tasks as her grandmother so many years before, without her grandmother’s yoke of family and husband. Books disappear during both ladies’ tenures and they are suspected of being the thieves. The author skillfully intermingles the two lives drawing parallels nearly a century apart. Both women are fighting the upward battle of emancipation.
The dual plots move along smoothly and my interest was held throughout. I became sympathetic to the plight of both of the women and their crass treatment in general during the time period. Success for any woman seemed to require the overcoming of societal morays and prejudices along with reduced pay and increased responsibility. This is a fulfilling novel, well written and paced with empathetic characters and a joy to read. 5 stars CE Williams
Receiving this digital download free from the publisher and NetGalley did not affect my opinion of the book or the content and this is my honest opinion. Highly Recommended.
Genre: Historical Literary Fiction, Historical Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Literary Fiction
Print Length: 365 pages
Publication Date: To be released August 4, 2020
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
Title Pre-Order Link(s):
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The Author: Fiona Davis is the nationally bestselling author of historical novels set in iconic New York City buildings, including THE CHELSEA GIRLS and THE ADDRESS. She began her career in New York City as an actress, working on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down to write fiction. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages and she’s based in New York City.
©2020 CE Williams – V Williams