The Lions of 5th Avenue ~ by Fiona Davis

If you like what I like, don’t bother with this one. I’m not sure why I thought it looked good enough to check out.  I’m not big on books about libraries because they seem too specifically targeted at one audience – the women who identified with Jo March in Little Women and with Nancy Drew in those books. And when you throw in historical fiction and a bit too much romance, it gets soppy.  

The Lions of 5th Avenue 
by Fiona Davis 
2020 /  (363 pages)
Read by Ellen Bennett, Lisa Flanigan 10h 37m
Rating: 7.5 / historical mystery

In 1913 Laura Lions is a married mother of three and wants something more in her life. She and her family live in an apartment inside the New York City Public Library where her husband Jack is employed as Superintendent while writing a novel. They don’t have much money. Books from the library go missing. Laura wants to try a career in journalism and goes back to school at Columbia University. There is a lot of talk about freedom and women’s rights. Laura feels trapped. 

In 1993 Sadie, age 23 or so, is the granddaughter of Laura Lions and struggles with having achieved the freedom sought by her mother’s mother, but still wanting to be married with children. Sadie works at the library where there have been a series of thefts of old books, some quite valuable. So Sadie investigates and meets Nick Adriano, from a private security firm.  

The chapters alternate between the time frames as the two plot threads catch up with each other and find a satisfactory conclusion. There isn’t much interplay between the stories but they do mirror each other in several ways and that’s quite interesting.  A healthy suspension of disbelief was necessary for me, but the story was apparently compelling enough that I managed.  And Davis gets an A for tension building, especially in the last 15% (?) which is page-turning.  

But the story line is predictable (for me) and holds to today’s standards (not those of 1914) so female readers will be comfortable.  There’s even a typhoid vaccine being pushed in the 1914 story. 

There are lots of ideas and themes to explore but they boil down to women’s choices and duties – motherhood, responsibility, careers, ambitions and husbands.

If this book had been much longer I wouldn’t have bothered to finish. As it is I was glad it came from the library.  The writing is about a 7th grade level (if that) with content at about 11th grade.  I suppose it would make a nice young adult book (ages 15-22).  If there were a high school women’s studies class someplace …

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