Review: “The Masterpiece” by Fiona Davis

37504654Title: The Masterpiece

Author: Fiona Davis

Publisher: Dutton Books / Penguin Publishing Group

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Books-a-Million

(Digital ARC graciously provided by Penguin Publishing Group via their First to Read program)

 

New York’s Grand Central Terminal provides common ground for two women in Fiona Davis’ latest historical.

For the nearly nine million people who live in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is a crown jewel, a masterpiece of design. But for Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, it represents something quite different.

For Clara, the terminal is the stepping stone to her future, which she is certain will shine as brightly as the constellations on the main concourse ceiling. It is 1928, and twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the lauded Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public’s disdain for a “woman artist.” Brash, fiery, confident, and single-minded–even while juggling the affections of two men, a wealthy would-be poet and a brilliant experimental painter–Clara is determined to achieve every creative success. But she and her bohemian friends have no idea that they’ll soon be blindsided by the looming Great Depression, an insatiable monster with the power to destroy the entire art scene. And even poverty and hunger will do little to prepare Clara for the greater tragedy yet to come.

Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia Clay’s life. Full of grime and danger, from the smoke-blackened ceiling to the pickpockets and drug dealers who roam the floor, Grand Central is at the center of a fierce lawsuit: Is the once-grand building a landmark to be preserved, or a cancer to be demolished? For Virginia, it is simply her last resort. Recently divorced, she has just accepted a job in the information booth in order to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. But when Virginia stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, her eyes are opened to the elegance beneath the decay. She embarks on a quest to find the artist of the unsigned masterpiece–an impassioned chase that draws Virginia not only into the battle to save Grand Central but deep into the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931.

Goodreads

Fiona Davis has long been on my long TBR list since her first book, The Dollhouse, was released in 2016. I don’t know why, but for some reason I’ve never read any of her books so, when I saw that this one was up for request on Penguin’s First to Read, I grabbed my chance to change that.

And boy, it had me asking why I waited so long.

Going back and forth in time between late 1920s and mid-70s, The Masterpiece is told from the point of view of two women – Clara Darden and Virginia Clay. Together, these two very different but resilient women tell a stunning and engaging story with art and tragedy at its heart and New York’s Grand Central Terminal in the backdrop.

I absolutely loved this story. It had everything I was looking for in a historical fiction – romance, mystery, and whole load of well-researched historical background.

While both women’s stories were interesting, I was more drawn to Clara Darden. She is brash, unapologetically ambitious, talented and confident, and I loved her for all those characteristics. Her story is more about her fight for recognition as a female artist in a world dominated by men. She also adds a little romance into the story as she draws the attention of two wildly opposing men – wealthy, budding poet Oliver Smith and passionate, temperamental but talented painter Levon Zakarian. These two men would influence Clara’s story, helping her reach her dream of drawing cover illustrations for Vogue and challenging her to step out of her comfort zone to create what is to be her masterpiece, The Siren.  This work, thought to be destroyed in a tragic train crash serves as a tie to Virginia’s story.

I loved how Clara and Virginia connected. They are both different and similar both of the same time. Virginia’s challenges may have been different from Clara’s but both women faced them with incredible tenacity and toughness, and I think the latter saw this as well nearing the end of the book. I’m sure she saw a bit of her younger herself in Virginia, and I think this is why she still kept on talking to the younger woman even though her tendency towards insistence and naivety initially annoyed her.

Meanwhile, for Virginia who is still struggling with her mastectomy and recent divorce, the solving The Siren’s mystery  and helping save Grand Central from demolition gave her a new sense of direction. She’s bulheaded in her own way, never stopping her search even when blocks are thrown her way. It’s sublime but it takes a certain amount of strength to push through all those challenges especially after what Virginia has already been through, and this, for me, is what makes her character so relatable and likable.

The dual perspective and the time-jumping were seamless. And, for a historical fiction, this one was actually pretty fast-paced, which was a nice surprise for me. The bits of Grand Central history weaved into the narrative were fascinating, adding more color and richness to Clara’s and Virginia’s stories.

I definitely and insistently recommend The Masterpiece to everyone and anyone who loves historical fiction. I cannot rave about this book enough. It was just that good!

Review: “Ghosted” by Rosie Walsh

36464087Title: Ghosted

Author: Rosie Walsh

Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books/Penguin Publishing Group

Publication Date: July 24, 2018

Rating: ⭐⭐1/2

Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Books-a-million

(Digital ARC graciously provided by Penguin Publishing Group via their First to Read program)

 

Romance, mystery and family drama abound in Ghosted, Rosie Walsh’s first novel published under her real name.

When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. To Sarah, it seems as though her life has finally begun. And it’s mutual: It’s as though Eddie has been waiting for her, too. Sarah has never been so certain of anything. So when Eddie leaves for a long-booked vacation and promises to call from the airport, she has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call.

Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened–there must be an explanation.

Minutes, days, weeks go by as Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth.

Goodreads

It seems like the typical love story.

Sarah and Eddie meet in a quiet rural lane in Gloucestershire. Their attraction is instant, immediately becoming lovers only after a whole day together talking over drinks at their local pub. They spend six more days together, cocooned in the bliss of their newfound love. Their week is halted, however, when Eddie leaves for his planned vacation to Spain. Secured in the knowledge that they will see each other again, Sarah and Eddie part exchanging phone numbers and social media details so they can still keep in touch.

Eddie neither calls nor texts. Even on social media, he is silent. Like a ghost, he seems to have vanished into thin air. Distraught and worried that something bad might have happened to him, Sarah stalks his accounts, sends him numerous messages and calls his number all to no avail. Friends tell her to let Eddie go, to accept that he has changed his mind about her and them, but Sarah just cannot, convinced there is a reason behind Eddie’s radio silence. When she proves herself right, she must confront ugly events from her past if only to have a chance at a future with the man she has fallen in love with.

I really, really wanted to love this book. It just looked like something that I might like, but a couple of days after finishing, the only thing I’m feeling for Ghosted is ambivalence.

Without even giving much focus on their insta-love, Eddie and Sarah’s characters just felt flat to me. I couldn’t connect with them no matter how much I wanted to. Shallowly drawn and caricature-like, there wasn’t much to go about these two. I did not care what happens to them, if they get back together or not, probably because I did not get to know Eddie and Sarah well enough to even develop a bit of empathy for their characters. The same goes for the rest of the cast. Even the extraneous plot lines featuring these secondary characters – the affair between Sarah’s two best friends, Jenni’s IVF, her ex-husband’s new relationship – felt surface and don’t add anything to the story as a whole.

The mystery element of this story, however, was what kept me reading.

The puzzling letters, the constantly mentioned but absent younger sister, the dropped clues about a tragic accident – all these were intriguing enough that I continued reading Ghosted.  Things started to become interesting about halfway through the book when, finally, more details about Sarah’s younger sister Hannah and the accident she was involved in were revealed. But this high point did not last long for me as the twists Walsh kept on throwing got very old fast. The revelations felt contrived and unbelievable, and by the end of the book, I just did not care for it anymore.

Rosie Walsh, who has written several books under her pen name Lucy Robinson, definitely had some good ideas for this book; it was in the execution of these ideas though that she failed. I hate to admit this, but Ghosted just was not for me.

 

First Line Fridays: “Ghosted” by Rosie Walsh

First Line Fridays (feature photo)

First Line Fridays is a weekly feature hosted by Hording Books.


Hello everyone! It’s Friday again and today I’m going to be sharing the fist line of the book I’m currently reading, Ghosted by Rosie Walsh.

36464087

Dear You,

It’s exactly nineteen years since that luminous morning when we smiled and said good-bye. That we would see each other again was never in doubt, was it? It was a question of when, not if. In fact, it wasn’t even a question. The future might have seemed as unsubstantial as the curled edge of a dream, but it unequivocally contained us both. Together.

 

 

 

 

It’s a beautiful line but it is quite misleading. I’m still reading this book, only about halfway through it and am still figuring out the story. Ghosted, from what I’ve read so far, mixes romance with a little bit of mystery. I will review the book once I’m finished.

See you again next Friday!

💗💗💗

Rachel

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