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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

The Dollhouse

ISBN: 9781101984994

Publisher: PENGUIN GROUP Dutton

Publication Date: 8/23/2016

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: 4 Stars The Dollhouse. . . . That's what we boys like to call it. . . . The Barbizon Hotel for Women, packed to the rafters with pretty little dolls. Just like you." Fiona Davis's stunning debut novel pulls readers into the lush world of New York City's glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors lived side-by-side while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success in the 1950s, 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.

NY Daily News

My Review

A special thank you to Dutton and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Fiona Davis’s debut, THE DOLLHOUSE, indulging and intriguing-a classic of the renowned historical Barbizon Hotel, a hotel for women, later known as Barbizon 63. The boys called it "The Dollhouse", packed to the rafters with pretty little dolls.

From the Roaring 20s through the 1960s, there was no address more glamorous than New York’s “women only” Barbizon Hotel.

A combined charm school and dormitory, it would shelter a parade of yet-to-be-discovered damsels—Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Candice Bergen, Sylvia Plath, Ali MacGraw, and many more—nurture their ambitions, and leave some with broken hearts.

Attracting the single elegant, and stylish, the Barbizon young women were chasing their dreams: stardom, independence, or a husband.

The famed Barbizon Hotel takes center stage with a present-day journalist, obsessed with the secrets of one of the Barbizon hotel’s oldest residents. Told in alternating chapters of 2016 and 1952, The Dollhouse is a coming-of-age story, mystery, historical, and love story.

Davis delivers a dazzling multi-generational historical fiction, symbolic of the cultural change as women began to come to New York City for professional opportunities, but still wanted a "safe retreat" that felt like the family home, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

1952- Darby McLaughlin travels to New York from small town Ohio to enroll in secretarial school. Her father died, her mother remarried, and she is using her dad's insurance money to pay her way.

Darby wants to be able to support herself without a man. She learns of girls jumping to their death from the fourteenth floor. Does she really want to be here? She is told she is a Barbizon girl now.

Darby meets Stella Conover and he gals, with the Eileen Ford modeling agency. Stella is from Granite Falls, NC, a southern belle. She tries to play down her accent, since it makes her seem unsophisticated.

She soon meets Esme, a young maid who works at the hotel. As the two become friends, she draws her into a world (underbelly of drugs), the nightlife, and convinces her to work at a jazz night club.

Could Esme be a bad girl? Secrets. Esme refused to define herself as a hotel maid. Maybe Darby didn’t need to define herself as a boring secretary.

Flash forward to modern day-2016, Rose Lewin, a journalist, is living at the Barbizon, which now houses condos, and working on a story about the hotel’s earlier, more glamorous jazz age days. Her personal life is going down the tubes, and her lover goes back to his wife, and she is kicked out of her condo.

Back in the day, it was the place to stay if you were a single girl in New York City. Some women were even grandfathered in after it went condo. Is there a story here? What secrets does the hotel hold?

Delving into the life of Miss McLaughlin, Rose begins to uncover a conspiracy and mystery. A death of a Barbizon maid, Esme. Rose finds she can get lost in the research for the Barbizon story, a welcome distraction from her own troubles. She needed this story. A killer story.

A bygone era at the Barbizon in New York City--from secrets, shocking twists, a drug scandal, heroine rings, romance, identity switches, an accident, money, tragedy to crossing lines--mixed with glamour, glitz, and dreams. What happened on the terrace in 1952?

A group of elderly ladies who live in rent-controlled apartments, who've been there for years. One goes back as far as 1952. A tragic history. The woman in 4B was an enigma, living alone with a tiny dog in the same apartment year after year. How did she fill her time? Did she have a family or someone she could rely on?

From Darby and Rose, the author weaves a twisty story from the classic age reminiscent of exciting times. (always love the Palm Beach references). The parents took care of the bills until they were handed off to Prince Charming. Lots of competition.

Intriguing, mesmerizing, alluring, crossing over to the darker side, with desires, and scandal -as women try to make their place in an ever changing world.

Well-researched, rich in history and character, cleverly crafted, an engaging debut set in the lush world of New York’s glamour.

From privilege, tragedy, wealth, and the lure of the city. From the beautiful fashion, historic architecture, and style- one of the most exciting times in history. In the hotel’s heyday, from the 40's through the late 60's, it housed a roster of remarkable women in their not-yet-discovered years.

From the women's internal struggles; for the right career, the right guy, risks, and the perfect life— a constant companion to many of the girls who lived within the chic Barbizon’s cloistered walls.

Looking forward to more from this author. Love the stylish cover! I also listened to the audiobook, narrated by Tavia Gilbert, for an engaging performance.

Review Links:

LibraryReads List

August 2016

LibraryReads has announced the top ten books available in August that librarians across the country love. Read More

Advance Praise

"Davis’s impeccably structured debut is equal parts mystery, tribute to mid-century New York City, and classic love story ... Davis juxtaposes the elegance and dark side of a bygone era —its jazz, glamorous models, career-minded women, and nascent heroin market — with the crass, digitally obsessed, and cutthroat media world of today. What crosses the divide is the chance for disappointment and loss to give way to purpose and love." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Davis delivers a fast-paced, richly-imagined debut that’s almost impossible to put down.”— Kathleen Tessaro, author of The Perfume Collector “The ghosts of the famed NYC women’s hotel come to life in The Dollhouse. Davis expertly weaves together the stories of several women who lived in the Barbizon during its heyday in the 1950s, and the broken-hearted journalist who decides to get the ’scoop’ on a decades-old tragedy that happened in the building. A fun, page-turning mystery.” —Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist and Three-Martini Lunch

“In her page-turning debut, Fiona Davis deftly weaves the storylines of two women living at the famed Barbizon hotel for women…Davis alternates the chapters between each woman until the twists and turns of their respective storylines ultimately weave together, upping the anticipation along the way.”—

“Davis’ debut novel …[is] a lively one, tripping along at a sprightly clip…” —Kirkus Reviews

“This suspenseful novel about a woman who took a decidedly different path—and the journalist who wants to uncover her secrets—will quicken your pulse.”—

“Get ready for glitz, glamour and a whole lot of sleuthing.” —Brit + Co

“An ode to old New York that will have you yelling for more seasons of Mad Men.” —New York Post

About the Author

Author Photo Credit Kristen Jensen

F I O N A was born in Canada and raised in New Jersey, Utah and Texas. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway and in regional theater. After 10 years, she changed careers, working as an editor and writer and specializing in health, fitness, nutrition, dance and theater.

She's a graduate of the College of William and Mary and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is based in New York City. She loves nothing better than hitting farmer’s markets on weekends in search of the perfect tomato, and traveling to foreign cities steeped in history, like London and Cartagena. The Dollhouse is her first novel. Read More

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