My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Friday, July 31, 2020

ARC Review: The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

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 finds herself 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.

I have been a huge fan of author Fiona Davis, having read several of her previous books, including The Masterpiece and The Chelsea Girls.  She has a knack for finding dramatic tension in all kinds of situations.  In The Lions of Fifth Avenue, her latest book, the New York Public Library is the backdrop for a story of the changing roles of women in the early part of the twentieth century.  A mystery involving a stolen book ties the stories of Laura Lyons, a young married woman in 1914, with that of her granddaughter Sadie, a librarian in 1993.

This book was filled with the conflicts of the times, between the traditional roles of women and an awakening to the potential women have to contribute to society.  With strong characters and a story that incorporates a fascinating mystery, this was a wonderful reading experience.

What I Liked:
Social Issues:
The early part of the twentieth century was a time of change.  Millions of immigrants were arriving in America, many settling in New York.  And the traditional roles of women were in question, as the suffragette movement took hold.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue shows the tenements of New York with all the overcrowding, disease, and poverty.  It also shows how many were concerned and took action to alleviate suffering.  The health programs aimed at reducing infant mortality were quite progressive for its time.  And women lead the charge!

Women were also beginning to question why their roles in life were limited to homemaking and child-rearing.  Topics such as birth control were deemed obscene.  Women were dependent on their husbands for their economic well-being.  But women were waking up to the injustices of their situation.

Laura, Jack, and Amelia:
In 1914, Laura seems happy with her life.  She is married to a kind man and has two sweet children.  They live in (yes, in) the New York Public Library, in a hidden apartment reserved for the superintendent of the building.  That is her husband, Jack's job.  But he has ambitions to become a published author.

But, as the story progresses, Jack shows that he is a man of his time.  His career goals are all important.  He takes for granted that Laura will support his needs above her own.  In fact, he doesn't seem to register that Laura has any needs beyond being a wife and mother.  I  loved all the layers of their relationship.  Jack is trying to be supportive of Laura.  But how can he really?  His world view is stubbornly anchored in the previous century. Laura is truly attempting to be content, but it's a losing battle.

Then, Laura meets Amelia.  Amelia is a female doctor who's working with tenement families.  Her assertive ways, and independence, helps Laura open her eyes to she's missing out on.   She also awakens a desire in Laura that she never could have imagined.  This was a woman way ahead of her time.

Sadie is Laura's granddaughter and the focus on the part of the story that takes place in 1993.  She is independent, has a career, and lives her life on her own terms.  But she also is a bit of a loner, particularly after her divorce.  While she has a life that Laura would approve of on the surface, Sadie is wary of taking chances and is not happy.  Her challenge is learning how to be comfortable with her choices.

In both stories, rare books are being stolen from the Library.  Laura's husband Jack is the main suspect in 1914, and Sadie (the curator of one of the collections) is suspected in 1993.  With Sadie's reputation on the line, she is determined to find out what is going on.  She learns of the earlier thefts and wonders if there is some connection to the current burglaries.  I like how Sadie uses her skills as a librarian to research everything from the architectural plans of the library, to relics in the library's collection to look for clues.

What I Was Mixed About:
Historical Details:
While the author does a very good job of presenting the social issues of the early part of the twentieth century, some of the smaller details of daily life are lost.  I really cherish these small glimpses into how people lived in bygone times.  I would have loved to know the challenges of being a homemaker (doing the laundry must have been rough!).  This would have provided more context for Laura's discontentment.


Release Date:  August 4th, 2020

Author:  Fiona Davis

Publisher:  Dutton Books

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  368 Pages

Source: Edelweiss

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  Who knew a mystery revolving around a stolen book could be so compelling!  A wonderful historical fiction. 

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2020 Reading Challenge
MsArdychan has read 2 books toward her goal of 120 books.


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