By far the best book I’ve read thus far this year is The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis, the one title that was not on my TBR list. I was in a browsing mood and clicked the “Try Something Different” link on my local digital library site. The Dollhouse showed up, and I was immediately intrigued by the synopsis:
Fiona Davis’s stunning debut novel pulls readers into the lush world of New York City’s glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where in the 1950s a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors lived side by side while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success, and where a present-day journalist becomes consumed with uncovering a dark secret buried deep within the Barbizon’s glitzy past.
When she arrives at the famed Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, Darby McLaughlin is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren’t: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn’t belong—a notion the models do nothing to disabuse. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she’s introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that’s used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.
Over half a century later, the Barbizon’s gone condo and most of its long-ago guests are forgotten. But rumors of Darby’s involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952 haunt the halls of the building as surely as the melancholy music that floats from the elderly woman’s rent-controlled apartment. It’s a combination too intoxicating for journalist Rose Lewin, Darby’s upstairs neighbor, to resist—not to mention the perfect distraction from her own imploding personal life. Yet as Rose’s obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed. (Goodreads)
The Barbizon is not only the setting of the story, but also a character in the book. The hotel plays a central role, evolving over time as much as Darby and Rose do. Like its effect on Rose, the Barbizon would not leave me alone; and days after tearing through the book, I found myself pouring over articles about the historical building and its famous residents.
A mixture of fascinating history, rich characters, and suspenseful mystery, this is a five-star story. I can’t wait until August, when Davis’s next book is released!
The Princess Diarist
I wonder how different the experience of The Princess Diarist would have been had I read it prior to Carrie Fisher’s death, especially considering the several references she makes to her own “future” obituary. Though her stream of consciousness sometimes bordered on rambling, I found myself wanting more. More sordid behind-the-scenes tales from the filming of Star Wars. More heartfelt (and surprisingly beautiful) poetry about her feelings for Harrison Ford. More Carrie Fisher period. It’s hard to come away from this book and not want to be Carrie’s friend.
What did you read in May? Let me know in the comments – I’m always looking for the next great book!