Monday, December 14, 2020

The Lions of Fifth Avenue

Title:  The Lions of Fifth Avenue
Author:  Fiona Davis
Publication Information:  Dutton. 2020. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1524744611 / 978-1524744618

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "She had to tell Jack."

Favorite Quote:  "History is made by people in power making decisions, and their notes and writings reveal the decision-making process."

The lions of Fifth Avenue are the two sculptures of lions - Patience and Fortitude - that are found at the entrance to the New York Public Library. The lions were originally names Leo Astor and Leo Lenox after the founders of the library. The new names were given in the 1930s to symbolize the characteristics New Yorkers needed to survive the Depression.

As the title suggests, the book is set in and around the New York Public Library. This aspect is one of the things I have loved about Fiona Davis's books. All of the ones I have read use an iconic New York City building. The books introduce that setting in two time periods and build the stories of two women that in some way link together.

I have enjoyed learning about the buildings and their history although the focus on the building is decreasing with each book that I have read. In some, I have love the stories of both women, and in some, one story is more compelling than the other as is often the case in books with dual timelines.

This book follows the same pattern. The building is the New York Public Library. The times are 1913 and 1993. The women are Laura Lyons and Sadie Donovan.

Laura Lyons lives in an apartment within the library. Her husband is the Library superintendent. She is a wife and a mother to two children. Harry is eleven, and Pearl is seven. For Laura, "time was going by so quickly, and she wanted to do more, be more. The daily chores, the sameness, weighed her down like stones in her pockets. Every day there was yet another dinner to cook, yet another sock to mend." Her story becomes one of feminism and women's rights. Unfortunately, the book chooses to present this as a mutually exclusive choice - career, independence, and ideas vs. home, family, and children. Unfortunately, the book also chooses to introduce an unexpected romance into her story, making her awakening not about independence and equality but a different realization all together.

Sadie is a librarian, recently put in charge of a major collection. She is independent and career focused. However, her thoughts of lack are revealed in repeatedly seeking solace in a book on spinsterhood.

Part of the plot for both women centers on the theft of rare items from the library. Since I love when unrelated books interconnect, I will point out that one of the items stolen in this book is The Tamerlane by Edgar Allen Poe, a book whose history I learned in The Forger's Daughter by Bradford Morrow.

Unfortunately, what really made me the not the reader for this book is the ending. It's hard to say why without a spoiler, but I will attempt to explain. The solution to the mystery of the book thefts in one time period seems unbelievable and in the other is only tangentially related to the main characters. The treatment of the culprits in both scenarios is egregious. Decision made and arguments presented for the abandonment and punishment of the culprits is ridiculous given who the culprits are. Like I said, a cryptic explanation trying not to offer a spoiler.

Unfortunately, for its extremist treatment of a feminist point of view, for its introduction of a romance into what was proceeding to be a story of independence, for its ending, and for the fact the book did not include enough about its historic setting, this book was not for me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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