The Lions of Fifth Avenue
By Fiona Davis
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Andra
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 1913 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. (Goodreads)
The Lions of Fifth Avenue is the second book I have read by author Fiona Davis. All I have to say is – VERY engaging story. I am relatively new to reading historical fiction, in addition to dual timelines and to say I was a bit apprehensive would have been an understatement. Would I keep the characters and separate storylines straight? Once I wrote out a family tree to keep everyone straight – I was good to go ☺
The story begins in 1913 with Laura Lyons having big news – she had been accepted to Columbia Journalism School…but how to afford this both financially and from the perspective of running her household? A way is found and we are led on the journey of Laura in school as one of just a very few women in the journalism program. I found the sexism very prevalent and the way Laura handled it quite interesting given the era. Laura also had to endure many hardships once her and her family’s ability to live at the library ended. Without giving anything away – I found her new living arrangements much more in character with the woman she was becoming, as tough as it was. The interaction from the very beginning, and right to the very end of the book, with Dr. Potter (and the Heterodoxy Club) was another powerful storyline.
When we fast forward to 1993, we are following the life of Sadie Donovan – the granddaughter of Laura Lyons as she becomes the curator of the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library. However, Sadie wants to keep her familial relationship with Laura Lyons quiet. There are thefts happening at the library and everyone is a suspect, Sadie included. To solve the mystery of the thefts, Sadie must dig deep into family history and learn of past events, trials and tribulations that she may not have wanted to learn about. How are they connected to her grandmother Laura?
The storytelling was engaging – both story lines (though if truth be told – I found Laura’s storyline just a tad more captivating). I loved that the storylines were linked by books (☺) and a library – the New York Public Library no less. I found it interesting that the superintendent (Jack and his family) were able to actually live in the library. How cool would that be, especially given the cool architecture of this particular library? One of the reasons I found the earlier timeline more captivating was that many topics were touched upon… women’s rights and how they dealt with the oppression – working on changing it one step at a time through her voice as a reporter. Very inspiring.
I found the transitions between periods easy but in all honesty I could not wait for the next chapter dealing with Laura and her life.
Once I was done with this book – I went so far as to research the library. This is what I also find engaging about historical fiction books – they may lead me to learn factual information about an era gone by or events that have happened – to determine how close these works of fiction correspond to fact.
If you like historical fiction, then I suggest you pick up this book, set aside time to read and enjoy – as I am sure you will. Thank you to Fiona Davis for writing such an engaging, entertaining and enjoyable book. I most certainly will be seeking out more titles by this author.