Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Masterpiece - Historical Fiction Review

Rating: Very Good
Source:  NetGalley

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 the 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.

Genre: Fiction - Historical

Why I Picked This Book:
  I love a historical fiction and the blurb really pulled me in.  I love when a dual timeline is connected like this.

My Impression:
  Over the last few years Fiona Davis has added several books to my TBR but this was the first one I've picked up.  It definitely won't be the last.  Dual timelines are tricky at times.  Don't make them distinct enough and they're confusing.  If one plot is more intense than the other than one feels like a waste of time.  This was a good balance which made for an enjoyable read.  The time periods picked were smart.  1920s New York and 1970s New York might as well be on different planets and I liked that both women were facing very timely issues that felt appropriate for the time periods they existed in.

First, we had Clara in the 1920s desperately trying to make it as an illustrator and completely on her own in the city.  Clara is ambitious and opinionated and scared.  She gets so frustrated by the injustices and just the futility of trying to get someone to listen to her at times and I liked that she didn't always have the words to express her frustration which made her a character I could really relate too.  She wasn't always the most likable and at times I felt like her decisions were questionable but I enjoyed her story and was dying to find out just what had happened.

50 years later in a much more dangerous and run down Grand Central we have Virginia.  I really sympathized with Virginia who has found herself, after surviving breast cancer, newly and unexpectedly divorced.  She's trying to start over again and find her footing as herself even though she was a bit reluctant to do so.  My grandmother found herself divorced about this time period so I think that made this storyline a little more poignant for me.  As well, I loved a good discovery based plot and I was fascinated by Virginia's discovery of the illustrations and her fascination with them had me heavily invested.

I found this to be a quick read.  The characters weren't the most likable but I did find them to be sympathetic and interesting.  I'm so glad I took the time to finally read Fiona Davis and I'm already looking forward to reading more from her.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?
  Yes!  I'm already looking forward to my next book from her!

Would I Recommend this Book?
  If you enjoy historical fiction this is one you really should try.  I don't think you'll be disappointed!


  1. My daughter is reading this now. She loved her earlier books, too.

  2. I have several of Fiona Davis' books on my TBR list as well, but I have yet to pick one up. One of these days! Glad you enjoyed this one.

  3. I am looking forward to reading this one, and am glad you liked it. I have come to really enjoy novels with dual time lines, but I can definitely see how finding a good balance between the two can be a challenge for an author.

  4. Ooo, I have not tried this author. I love the two timelines, although admittedly the 1920s timeline appeals to me more.

  5. I haven't read anything by this author but I keep eyeing her titles on other blogs. I've been in Grand Central Station a few times and it's an awe-inspiring location. Now I want to read this book, so thanks for a good review.