I love that Davis sets her historical fiction in and around famous buildings in New York City, and I was very excited to read this one centered at the iconic New York Public Library.
What it’s about
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.
This book ticked so many boxes for me, I was thrilled to receive a copy through NetGalley.
First box ticked: The Lions of Fifth Avenue is my favorite type of book: historical fiction with dual timelines and multiple POVs. Davis is so good at crafting a story across multiple generations, and this book is no exception. The plot flips back and forth between 1913 and 1993 seamlessly, is full of rich detail about the library, and does a great job of capturing the feeling of both time periods.
Next box ticked: interesting female characters. In this book, we get Laura Lyons, who is living the life of many of her contemporaries as a housewife and mother, but wants more for herself. She ends up going back to school for journalism and discovering a lot about herself while she explores the feminist movement in NYC in the early 20th century. We also get Laura’s granddaughter, Sadie, a divorced, childless librarian in the 1990s trying to solve modern day thefts and delving into her family history while also discovering some things about herself. Both characters are well-written and distinct, and I enjoyed being in both of their heads.
Which leads me to another ticked box: feminist themes. Both women go on their own personal journey about what it means to be a woman in their time and discover truths about themselves. I especially loved Laura’s path from housewife and mother to journalist, activist, and feminist essayist. Amelia is a fantastic character as well.
The gorgeous New York Public Library is the setting for both storylines and really becomes a character itself. I had no idea that the superintendent of the library and his family once lived in an apartment inside the library, but that is such a fascinating story in and of itself. The descriptions of the library were vivid and obviously well-researched. And who doesn’t love the magic of a library?
While I appreciated the writing and the characters very much, the ultimate resolution of the mystery seemed a little too far-fetched for me, and ultimately didn’t seem to go well with the rest of the book. Laura’s story was more believable and interesting than Sadie’s, and the ending was just a bit Scooby-Doo, which ended up taking a way from my enjoyment in a way.
Still, a fun and light story about interesting women and a beautiful library. Absolutely worth the read for fans of Fiona Davis and historical women’s fiction.