Thursday, September 8, 2016

Book Review: "The Dollhouse" by Fiona Davis

The Dollhouse Fiona Davis
Published: August 23, 2016
ISBN: 9781101984994
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher

You might enjoy this book if you like: Stories about single girls in the 50s, dual-time stories, stories within stories

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. 

My Thoughts:
This is a case where I went into the book pretty blind--I agreed to read it based only on the fact that the author graduated from my Alma Mater. It is rare that I get to have that experience so I always savor it when it comes along.  Did this book live up to that honor?  Yes...mostly.

This was a book that I couldn't put down.  Davis has a very clear and engaging voice that suits this story very well.  She also crafted three fascinating characters in Rose, Darby, and Esme.  Rose's story was especially affecting as the poor woman made some really, really bonehead choices (and is called out on them), but she is also in an incredibly difficult point in life.  Darby and Esme, and their friendship, are both nostalgic and unique.  They are, on the surface, exactly what you would expect from female characters in the early 1950s...but then that starts to fall away and we are left with two women trying to forge their own roads in life.

The plots were well crafted and kept my interest.  I don't think I can go so far as to say there were "twists and turns," but there were, shall we say, some swerves that kept me interested and on my toes.  Davis balances both stories and is able to keep the momentum going at an even clip throughout the book.

I also enjoyed how the location of the Barbizon (or "The Dollhouse") almost became a character in its own right.  I've seen many authors try something like this and, more often than not, it comes off as contrived.  However, I didn't feel that here...I felt that the location was necessary and integral to the story.

Now for what didn't work for me.  I've been reading more books that I would like lately where it switches between two different stories in two different time periods.  I realize there is nothing wrong with that and that this is really a matter of preference, but I just didn't feel like it worked as well as it should have here.  Because the reader is given so much more information about Darby and Esme than Rose is, some of Rose's research and discoveries seem too pale or superficial.  Overall, the two stories came together like too puzzle pieces that don't quite fit.

Is that a deal-breaker for me?  Ultimately, no.  I do feel that it impacted my enjoyment of this book, but not so much that it ruined the experience or overshadowed what I did like about this book.  This is a book that I would recommend, albeit with some care.  But I was impressed enough that I will be reading whatever Fiona Davis brings us next.

I was given a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

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