Book Review for “The Lions of Fifth Avenue” by Fiona Davis.
Excerpt from the Goodreads summary: 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. 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. … 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.
I have long wanted to read something by Fiona Davis, but until this book came along, the publishers denied my requests for ARCs. Of course, when I received the okay for this book, obviously I was thrilled. Not only does this novel tick most of my boxes, the setting of the New York Public Library was even more of a draw. Seriously, what avid reader doesn’t like reading books that take place in libraries and book stores, right? I was also pleased that the title was a bit of a pun, what with one protagonist having the last name Lyons, and the other being one of her direct descendants. The pun, of course, is because one of the things this building is famous for are the huge lions that sit on either side of the entrance to the building.
I should start out with the things that didn’t work for me completely with this book, which isn’t much, but it did make a small difference in my rating. The biggest problem I had with this book was the pacing, which I felt was a bit inconsistent. The beginning really drew me in and got me hooked, which was certainly a very good thing. However, there were parts in the middles of both of the narratives that felt somewhat repetitive and I can point to a few scenes in each story line that could easily have been cut out to have kept up the pace. The other thing that bothered me was the ending to the contemporary story which I found to be somewhat contrived. I can’t say more because (as you know) I never put any spoilers in my reviews. On the other hand, the conclusion of the historical section was far more believable and satisfactory, even though part of that story’s conclusion doesn’t happen until the contemporary story ends. (Sorry again for being mysterious here.)
Now I know that dual timelines sometimes put readers off, but I can assure you that these are very nicely done with this novel, and we easily shift between them without any confusion. Furthermore, while there were things about both Sadie and Laura that felt a touch similar, this made sense since they are related by blood. So, when Sadie said something that sounded a bit like Laura, I didn’t have a problem with that, and in fact, I found it quite appropriate. In this, I should mention that there were things about both women that made them each feel a touch tedious, particularly regarding their levels of anxiety over one or another problem in their lives. This might sound like a negative but I would generally disagree, since no one is perfect, and Davis’ allowing them to be similarly flawed only furthered the familial connection between them.
Furthermore, the similar types of thefts in both the timelines provided us with an exciting link between the two generations. I must say that Davis really knows how to throw in just the right amount of twists and turns into a plot, and it took me quite a long time to figure out who the perpetrators were. That’s a real plus for me, since I often get bored with mystery novels when I can figure out the culprit long before the characters. Which means that this is a family saga, with a literary mystery that makes it into a page turner as well. Add this to a very clear writing style that is just descriptive enough to color the atmosphere with just the right shades of emotion at just the right points in time, and you’ll get yourself one thoroughly enjoyable read. Now, I’ve read some reviews that said this isn’t Davis’ best book, and if that is true, I truly look forward to looking into her previously published novels, as well as those to come! For all this, I think I can warmly recommend this book with a very healthy four and a half stars out of five.
Dutton (Penguin Publishing Group) will release “The Lions of Fifth Avenue” by Fiona Davis on August 6, 2020. This book is (or will be) available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), or Thriftbooks.com, as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.