The Mysteries and History of Grand Central Terminal in NYC revealed in The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

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My Review:

Choosing a book to read is personal and everyone gravitates toward what they believe will resonate with them.  My dance class book group is eclectic and we all have different and varied interests.  Last month we chose to read The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis.  This book choice was a huge success for our group – strong women characters, art history, Grand Central Terminal, and our common love and appreciation for early 1900s New York City and the 1970s when many of our early city memories began.

The Masterpiece is a dual timeline historical fiction novel, featuring Clara, a young woman illustrator trying to rise to the top of her career in a male dominant field of artists in the 1920s.  She teaches at the Grand Central School of art and aspires to be a well known illustrator.  Clara is confident and persistent, but when the depression hits, she becomes impoverish and is faced with setbacks and tragedy.

Virginia, a divorced mother trying to make ends meet in 1974, gets a job at the dilapidated and filthy Grand Central Terminal in the information booth.  The building’s existence is in question – will it be preserved or is it in danger of being demolished?  While snooping around in the forgotten rooms above the train terminal she comes upon a beautiful painting.  Virginia’s search for the artist leads her to discover a famous illustrator who has since disappeared from history.

The characters are lively, with deep history and strong emotions…we really get to know them, understand their challenges and feel their passions.  The backdrop is New York City and the Grand Central School of Art above Grand Central Terminal.  A little mystery, a little art, a little love…tragedy, triumph and NYC…our book group loved it!

We had the amazing opportunity to FaceTime with Fiona Davis during our discussion and she provided us with insight into her writing process including her deep dive into research.  She told us Clara was written with Helen Dryden in mind, the woman who created the cover art for Vogue Magazine in the 1920s.

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In the story there is a character, Levon, who painted a picture of himself as a boy with his mother.  Fiona based that character on the painter, Arshile Gorky and here is that painting.

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When conjuring up Clara, Fiona had actress Tilda Swinton in mind.  Once you get to know Clara, this makes perfect sense!

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We learned that Fiona wrote this book in chapter order, rather than one timeline and then the next, keeping it interesting for herself as each day she was starting fresh with a different time period.  Her discipline is to be admired as she is on track to write a book a year…The Chelsea Girls will be published summer 2019.

In our book club, we are fortunate to have Brie, an artist/photographer, and she contributed with several photos of the current Grand Central Terminal, including the Whispering Gallery and the famous information booth, all shiny and clean.

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We all enjoyed the book and our special evening with Fiona.  Including the author in book group meetings adds such a unique and wonderful element to the discussion.  We look forward to welcoming more authors into our discussions in 2019!

Goodreads Summary

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About the author:

Fiona Davis is the nationally bestselling author of THE MASTERPIECE, THE DOLLHOUSE and THE ADDRESS. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction. Visit her at www.fionadavis.net, facebook.com/FionaDavisAuthor/ and on Instagram and Twitter @fionajdavis.

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I first met Fiona in 2016 when her debut historical fiction novel, The Dollhouse, was released.  Her first book talk was at the Westport Library and we connected.  That story took place at the Barbizon Hotel in NYC and coincidentally, my mother lived there during the time Fiona wrote about.  Since then, she has written The Address, which takes place at The Dakota on the upper west side, and now The Masterpiece.  She has returned to the Westport Library several times to participate in author and reader/writer events.  I was thrilled to be able to welcome her to my bookclub via FaceTime to discuss The Masterpiece!

The Address by Fiona Davis plus author interview!

 

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My Review:

Last year, author Fiona Davis published her wonderful debut, The Dollhouse, rich in history about the Barbizon Hotel in NYC. Keeping with iconic Manhattan landmarks, her fabulous new release, The Address is set in alternating timelines; in the late 1800s during the building of the Dakota, the architecturally stunning residence on the upper west side of Manhattan, Sara, a housekeeper at a fancy London hotel meets Theo, the talented NYC architect, takes a job at the newly built Dakota, and craziness ensues. Their budding relationship remains hidden from his wife and children as they bond, it turns passionate and a crime is committed. In 1985, fresh out of rehab and penniless, designer Bailey, a descendant of the wealthy Dakota architect, without genetic proof, is not in line for the healthy inheritance.  Her cousin, Melinda, set to take over the family riches, hires her to orchestrate the renovation of the building and Bailey learns of her architect relative’s murder by a crazy lady named Sara.  And so the two compelling stories come together with rich historic detail and wonderfully creative characters, revealing the secrets from inside the unique and wonderful Dakota.
I had a chance to connect with the lovely Fiona Davis and ask her a few questions about her new and successful career as an author.

 
What has been the high point in your writing journey from the release of The Dollhouse to now?  From your first public book talk to a People Magazine feature, you have accomplished so much in such a short time!
I have to say, the first book talk for The Dollhouse seemed so scary! It was at a library in Westport, CT and there were more people than I expected to show up for a debut author. My knees were definitely knocking. But I loved every minute of it, especially answering questions after the reading. Now I adore doing Q&As and book talks, and I think those are my high points. The readers are so knowledgeable and inquisitive and their support has been amazing.

What are you reading now and what do you recommend for the summer?

I’m currently reading Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta, and next up is Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. I’d recommend Eve Chase’s The Wildling Sisters, Jamie Brenner’s The Forever Summer as great vacation/beach reads.

Can you tell me a little about what you are working on now?

The next book is a similar structure, two times periods with a connecting mystery, set in Grand Central Terminal, and I’m having such a good time researching and writing it. I won’t give away too much, but I will say I’ve learned some really surprising things about the building that I can’t wait to share with readers.

Are you developing a “formula” or pattern you use for writing? 

I do love setting books in architectural landmarks and using dual time periods, so I definitely have a trend going on there. Once the Grand Central book is done, I’ll start thinking about other locales and possibly structures, but so far I’ve been having the time of my life. The pattern for each book, even though it’s similar, is incredibly challenging and rewarding.

I am now officially excited for the new book, I loved The Dollhouse, and I highly recommend the Fiona Davis’ new release.  With two connected stories, old New York, ornate architecture, an illicit affair, an illegitimate child, an insane asylum, and the beautiful Dakota on the upper west side, The Address is a perfect mix of history and mystery, fast pace and fun.

As seen on Goodreads:

After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility–no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else . . . and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.

In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her -cousin- Melinda–Camden’s biological great-granddaughter–will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in . . . and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages–for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City–and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich–and often tragic–as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden–and the woman who killed him–on its head.

With rich historical detail, nuanced characters, and gorgeous prose, Fiona Davis once again delivers a compulsively readable novel that peels back the layers of not only a famed institution, but the lives –and lies–of the beating hearts within.

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About the Author:

Fiona Davis is the author of The Dollhouse and The Address. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a masters at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction. Visit her at www.fionadavis.net, facebook.com/FionaDavisAuthor/ and on Instagram and Twitter @fionajdavis.