What’s Ashley Reading?: The Magnolia Palace

The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis

First line: Lillian Carter stood half naked, one are held up like a ballet dancer, the other hanging lightly down at her side, and calculated how long she could avoid paying rent while her landlord was in jail.

Summary: In 1919, Lillian Carter, is an artist model who is famously known as Angelica. She has posed for sculptures all over New York City but when she gets entangled in the death of her landlord’s wife she goes on the run. In a case of mistaken identity she is hired as the private secretary to the daughter of one of the richest men in the country. In the hopes of lying low and earning some money to escape to Los Angeles she sees that life in the home of the rich is not as glamorous as it may seem.

In 1966, Veronica Weber, is an English model who arrives at the Frick Museum for a photo shoot, only to be locked inside during a blackout snowstorm. While waiting out the storm, she and an archivist follow the clues to a mysterious treasure hunt only to find something that has been missing for nearly five decades.

My Thoughts: Fiona Davis does not disappoint. She writes some wonderful novels that incorporate history, art and sometimes a little bit of a mystery. This was no different. I had never heard of Angelica. In the book she uses a different name than the real life Angelica but many of the statues mentioned in the book are real. Of course I had to look up pictures of them and the Frick Museum. I have heard of the museum but knew nothing about the family. It was interesting to get a little background to it and its famous works of art. I would love to visit and see the masterpieces that line the walls.

I wonder if Miss Helen was as stubborn as she is made out to be. She is definitely not a likeable character. But she was also a product of her time. A wealthy woman who lived in the shadow of her family. At the end in the author’s notes she gave several books to read for more information. I will be adding them to my ever growing list.

The story was well written and enjoyable just as her other books have been. Highly recommended for lovers of art and history.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Lions of Fifth Avenue

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

First line: She had to tell Jack.

Summary: Laura Lyons and her family had recently moved into the superintendent’s apartment in the New York City Public Library. It seemed like a dream come true to be surrounded by so much history and knowledge. But even with everything seeming so perfect she knows something is missing. She takes a chance and applies to Columbia Journalism School. When she is accepted she doesn’t realize how much her life will now change.

Eighty years later, Sadie, Laura’s granddaughter is working in the same library. She has been preparing an exhibit when books, very valuable books, begin to disappear. As she helps search for them she worries that the blame may be put on her because of her family’s past. It seems that the past is repeating itself.

My Thoughts: I am so happy that Davis went back to her old style of writing. I love her stories that have intertwining stories from different time periods. She does them so well. I was really disappointed in the Chelsea Girls when she diverged from this format. It did not have the same magic as her other books have had.

The author does a wonderful job of bringing the landmarks she writes about to life. They almost become a character in the story as well. These buildings have so much history. I would love to one day be able to visit them. And the fact that there are all these secrets or unknown parts of each building are fascinating. Who knew that there were apartments in the New York library? I for sure didn’t. It would be a dream to live in such an iconic location.

I highly recommend this to anyone who wants a gentle read with a little mystery thrown in. The history and story are easy to get lost in.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Rhys Bowen and Beatriz Williams.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Chelsea Girls

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis

First line: In the dead of night, during the dreary month of March, the Chelsea Hotel is a quiet place.

Summary: Hazel Ridley is from a stage family. Her father spent years on Broadway, her mother as his manager and her brother was an aspiring actor but Hazel has never been able to find her big break. She decides to sign up for the USO tour. When she arrives in Italy she meets Maxine the leading lady of the troupe and they quickly become close friends.

Upon Hazel’s return to New York City she finds an apartment at the Chelsea Hotel in order to work on her idea for a play based on her time in the war. With Maxine as the leading lady it appears that the show is going to be a hit until her name appears on the list of suspected Communists. As the Red Scare begins to take over the country, Hazel is worried that her show and life may not be what she once believed it would be.

My Thoughts: Like Davis’ other works, this centers around a New York City landmark, the Chelsea Hotel. It plays just as much of a role as the characters. It is the home of creative types during the twentieth century including Mark Twain, Andy Warhol and Arthur Miller. The hotel has a fascinating history. As with other historical novels I love to look at pictures. It is a gorgeous old building.

The Chelsea Hotel in New York City

I learned more about McCarthyism and the Red Scare while reading The Chelsea Girls. It seems like a scary time. The Cold War is going on. You do not know who you can trust. Neighbors are turning in neighbors. This brought it more to life than many of the history textbooks I have read throughout my school years.

I was rather disappointed in The Chelsea Girls. In her previous novels there is a dual narrative with one being in the past (usually the 1920s) and one being modern. It was not so in this case. It did switch between the two main women but it did not seem to have the same magic as her others do. I liked it but it is probably my least favorite.

FYI: Try her other books, The Address, The Dollhouse and the The Masterpiece.