The Lions of Fifth Avenue [Book Review]

September 4, 2020

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis (cover) Image: a woman in a yellow dress stands with an open book inside a large museum type room

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, New York City

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.


Told in two timelines, The Lions of Fifth Avenue tells the stories of Laura Lyons (1913) and Sadie Donovan (1993) and their experiences at the New York City Public Library. In 1913, Laura’s husband is the superintendent of the library and their family actually lives in an apartment inside the library. Laura wants more from life and is bored at home with her two children, so she enrolls in journalism school and becomes involved with a radical group of  women feminists meeting in Greenwich Village. Meanwhile, valuable books are stolen from the library and her family is under suspicion. In 1993, Sadie is the Curator at the New York City Public Library and also shares a secret connection with the famous essayist, Laura Lyons. The library experiences the theft of a few valuable pieces and Sadie’s job is in jeopardy. Truths come to light regarding Sadie’s family history as the case is investigated.

My Thoughts:

Setting: The New York City Public Library setting is the star of The Lions of Fifth Avenue! (Even though Fiona Davis names one of her characters Laura Lyons.)

Construction of the NYC Library in 1908
NYC Public Library under construction in 1908. Image Source: Wikipedia
The two lions in front of the NYC Public Library on a snowy day
The two lions of Fifth Ave. on a snowy day. Image Source: Wikipedia
Lion of Fifth Ave (closeup)
Lion of Fifth Avenue. Image Source: NYC Public Library
NYC Public Library (present day)
New York City Public Library (present day). Image Source: NYC Public Library Visitor’s Guide

Characters: For me, Laura is not an especially likable character. It’s always sad and disheartening when children are neglected. Uncovering the truth drove Sadie’s story line, and her personal growth caused me to prefer the present day story line over the past.

Writing: I enjoyed the easy-reading story telling style of Fiona Davis, the unique setting she used, and common themes that appear between timelines. However, I think some of the mirroring of events between the two timelines tends to be a bit gimmicky. For example, if a child disappears or a book is stolen in one story line, you can be sure that as soon as you transition to the alternate story line, a child will disappear or a book will be stolen. Each event is compelling within its story line but the appearance of the events in each story line soon became predictable. This is a minor concern and certainly can be attributed to personal taste.

Genre Discussion: Often, I feel like women’s fiction is disguised as histfic. Writers use historical settings like the New York Public Library to tell their stories, but there’s very little history (no main historical event or historical person) in the story. Do you feel that histfic needs to revolve around an actual historical event or historical person that directly affects the characters’ lives or do you feel that any book set in the past with appropriate world building detail (and a historical building) is historical fiction? Another element to consider is the amount of modern thinking that infiltrates the story. Honestly, when I hear “histfic,” I expect it to revolve around some historical event. I think I might categorize Lions of Fifth Avenue as “light histfic.” Maybe I’m way off base here. These are interesting points to ponder (for book nerds!) and I’d like to discuss it more in comments or at some time in the future.

Themes: A few thoughtful themes in Lions of Fifth Avenue include childhood trauma and neglect, feminism, mother/child relationships, self actualization, family secrets, traditional vs. modern roles, and friendship.

Recommended: Overall, Lions of Fifth Avenue is a solid well-written story which I recommend for fans of dual (past and present) timelines, for those who love the NYC Public Library, and for readers who appreciate hisfic that doesn’t involve war. There will be lots to discuss at book club for this one.

Content Consideration: reference to a suicide, child neglect (in the sense of lack of attention paid due to preoccupied parents)

My Rating: 3.5  Stars

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The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis (cover) Image: a woman in a yellow dress stands with an open book inside a large museum type room

The Lions of Fifth Avenue Information

Meet the Author, Fiona Davis

Author Fiona Davis

Fiona Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of historical novels set in iconic New York City buildings, including THE LIONS OF FIFTH AVENUE (a GMA book club pick) and THE CHELSEA GIRLS. She began her career in New York City as an actress, working on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down to write fiction. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages and she’s based in New York City.


Have you been the the New York City Public Library?

Is The Lions of Fifth Avenue on your TBR or have you read it?


My Summer TBR is almost complete (just waiting for two September releases)

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Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

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  1. I’ve always been curious about this author, especially those titles that scream historical fiction but if there’s little historical fiction to it, there’s a huge chance that I’ll feel more than cheated and disappointed by it all! Great review, Carol! 🙂

  2. Nice review Carol. I always love how she centers her stories around a building. The library called to me with this one. It is too bad this is not one of her stronger stories (others have felt that as well) and perhaps that is why I have not rushed to read this one yet. I do have a copy of it and will get to it eventually. I am sure I will enjoy it when I finally make the time.

  3. I have been pondering the histfic question, Carol, and I think that if it accurately depicts the way of life in the time period it is based in, it’s histfic. Sometimes it’s nice to just read about life without it being overshadowed by a major event. ❤📚

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