An Author and Her Books, Fiona Davis
Fiona Davis turns iconic New York City landmarks into fascinating Historical Fiction novels
It’s no secret that I love historical fiction, and my favorite HF books are dual-timeline books set in the US. A few years ago, I stumbled across The Dollhouse: A Novel by Fiona Davis. I devoured the book in one afternoon and then moved on to The Address: A Novel, which I found as entertaining as The Dollhouse was. With six books written so far, Fiona Davis is one of my favorite authors. I will read anything she writes, and I anxiously await every one of them. I have an ARC of her newest book, The Magnolia Palace: A Novel, which I will read closer to the publication date of January 25, 2022; that is, assuming I can wait that long.
Davis began her adult career in NY City as an actress on-and-off-Broadway and in regional theater doing plays, but not musicals, she says. She earned her master’s degree from the Columbia Journalism School and became an editor and then a freelance journalist. In August 2016, she published her first HF book, The Dollhouse: A Novel. All six of her books feature iconic landmark buildings in NY City and strong, determined, courageous women at the center of each storyline.
The “landmark building” aspect of each of her novels is what attracts me most to her books. The building becomes a character, and she features the history of each building with unique facts and weaves the people into the storyline about the building. In reading each book, the reader has a picture of what the building looked like back then versus now, how the characters and the building interacted with each other, along with a storyline mystery tying both together. I find that I’m usually drawn more to the historical storyline, but that’s because I really enjoy reading about the history of these iconic buildings. She is methodical in her research, and I appreciate that as a reader. I learn a wealth of information about historic buildings that I never knew I was interested in.
Her books in publication date order, along with a brief description of each:
The Dollhouse: A Novel, set in the 1950s at the Barbizon Hotel, tells the story of Darcy and her friends as they begin their schooling and careers in NY City. Fifty years later, journalist Rose Lewin investigates Darby and the mystery surrounding the Barbizon Hotel.
The Address: A Novel, set in 1884 at the NY apartment house The Dakota, follows Sara Smythe and 100 years later Bailey Camden, as their stories intersect over Bailey’s grandfather, the excesses in how each woman was raised and changes everything Bailey thought she know about her grandfather.
The Masterpiece: A Novel, set in 1928 at the Grand Central Terminal’s prestigious Grand Central School of Art. 50+ years later, as factions fight over the terminal's future, these two timelines collide in a way that I did not see coming.
The Chelsea Girls: A Novel, set in the 1950s at the Chelsea Hotel, tells the story of the artist community, the relationships among the artists, and the effect of McCarthyism in that community, on their friendships, and in their careers.
The Lions of Fifth Avenue: A Novel, set in 1913 at the NY Public Library as Patience and Fortitude, the lions, watch over the patrons and residents of the library. Eighty years later, Sadie works at the library when rare books go missing, which links the two storylines together to conclude with an ending I wasn’t expecting.
The Magnolia Palace: A Novel, set in 1918 at the Frick mansion, tells the story of Lillian taking a job at the mansion after losing her mother in the Spanish Flu of 1918. Nearly 50 years later, Veronica takes a job at the Frick Museum, the same building as the Frick mansion, and discovers hidden messages that lead her and a co-worker on a quest to reveal the truth about a decades-old murder in the Frick family.
Some articles and other links related to Fiona Davis and her books:
An article in The Columbus Dispatch around the time of The Masterpiece’s release discussing how she chose the buildings for each of her books thus far.
An interesting post on the blog, Who I Met Today, details her early history in NY City, her early writing career, and what made her pivot to writing novels.
Good Morning America interview about The Lions of Fifth Avenue and the NY Public Library, the book’s setting.
An interview with HEC Books about The Masterpiece: A Novel.
A Washington Post interview about The Chelsea Girls: A Novel (paywall).
If you haven’t read any of Fiona Davis’ books before, you can start anywhere as the only thing they have in common is historic buildings and dual-timeline storylines. Each book is separate so choose one of her books based on the landmark building that interests you the most.
I hope you enjoyed this look at Fiona Davis and her unique take on historical landmarks in NY City as much as I enjoyed writing it. How she places those landmarks in her books and creates incredible storylines around fascinating people will keep me reading her books as long as she continues writing them.
If you have read some of her books, which one did you like the best? Which timeline holds your interest the most, or does that vary from book to book? Tell me in the comments what you think about her books and the questions above.