Desert Isle Keeper
The Lions of Fifth Avenue
Fiona Davis is known for writing dual-timeline novels centered around iconic New York City landmarks. In her fifth book, The Lions of Fifth Avenue, she turns her attention to the New York Public Library, creating a multi-layered love letter to books and those who love them.
It’s 1913, and Laura, the wife of the superintendent of the New York Public Library, is trying to figure out what she really wants out of life. She, her husband, and their two children are currently living in an apartment within the library walls, and Laura finds this to be both inspiring and stifling. She’s always loved books, so the idea of literally living among them appeals to her on a bone-deep level, and yet she can’t help but wonder how she’ll be remembered once she passes away. Desperate to leave a tangible mark on the world, Laura enrols in the school of journalism at Columbia University. She’s one of a small group of women to actually get accepted onto the program, and she’s elated at the prospect of honing her craft as a writer.
As time passes and Laura begins learning more about what it actually means to be a serious journalist, her world expands in ways she never thought possible. Suddenly, she’s more than just a wife and mother. She’s someone who might actually have the power to make real change where it’s needed most. Unfortunately, the world isn’t quite ready for a strong, passionate woman like Laura, and a terrible tragedy befalls her family, causing her to question her place in the world.
Eighty years later, Sadie is working as a curator of one of NYPL’s special collections. She’s been tasked with putting together an exhibit, showcasing some of the library’s rarest acquisitions, and she’s eager to prove herself to her superiors. If the exhibit goes well, it could mean a promotion, something she’s been hoping for for years. So, you can imagine how dismayed Sadie is when one of the closely-guarded books goes missing, and Sadie herself is suspected of having something to do with the theft.
As Sadie does her best to solve the mystery of the missing book, she begins pouring through the library’s archives, uncovering deeply buried secrets along the way. In 1913, something terrible happened to the superintendent’s family, and it doesn’t take Sadie long to find eerie connections to her own situation. Now, she’s faced with the difficult task of convincing those in charge that the current book theft is more than it seems to be.
Fiona Davis excels at crafting addictively readable dual-timeline stories. It’s pretty common for me to find one timeline more interesting than the other when reading these kinds of books, but when it comes to Ms. Davis’ work, I’m equally invested in both stories. Laura and Sadie both lead interesting lives, and I couldn’t wait to see how things would turn out for them both.
If you love libraries as much as I do, The Lions of Fifth Avenue will be the perfect book for you. It’s well-researched and filled with all manner of historical tidbits that add extra layers of realism to the overall novel. I loved learning about the struggles faced by early female journalists, something I haven’t read much about before picking up this book. Now though, I’m determined to seek out more information on the subject.
Some people might call this a mystery, but I’d say it feels like historical women’s fiction more than anything else. There are definitely puzzles for the characters to solve, but they don’t feel like the main focus of the plot. Instead, Ms. Davis allows readers to really zoom in on the lives of both Laura and Sadie, two women living in very different times who turn out to be far more similar than they are different, and right now, given all the division I see in today’s society, this feels like a valuable lesson to hold on to, and I’m grateful the author was able to convey it in such an entertaining and meaningful manner.