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The Dollhouse: A Novel Hardcover – August 23, 2016
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"Rich both in twists and period detail, this tale of big-city ambition is impossible to put down."—People
"The Dollhouse is a thrilling peek through a window into another world—one that readers will savor for a long time."—Associated Press
"An ode to old New York that will have you yelling for more seasons of Mad Men."—New York Post
“Davis paints a scene of Darby’s 1950s glamour for her audience that’s a smart juxtaposition to Rose’s modern-age New York, jumping between time periods clearly with often elegant prose. . . . Davis’s descriptive words are transporting. . . . [A] poignant beach read.”—New York Daily News
"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."—RealSimple
"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."—InStyle
"Davis layers on relationships and intrigue, while building tension through her story structure. . . . The pace quickens as the story hurtles to its surprising—but satisfying—end. Who said history had to be dull, anyway?"—BookPage
"Davis’s impeccably structured debut is equal parts mystery, tribute to midcentury New York City, and classic love story. . . . Darby and Rose, in alternating chapters, weave intricate threads into twists and turns that ultimately bring them together; the result is good old-fashioned suspense."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Fiona Davis’s debut novel deftly blends the contemporary and midcentury storylines to form a wholly absorbing and entertaining read. . . . Period fiction mingled with twists and turns that keep the reader engrossed until the very last page."—Bookreporter.com
"Davis’s debut novel . . . [is] a lively one, tripping along at a sprightly clip."—Kirkus Reviews
"Get ready for glitz, glamour, and a whole lot of sleuthing."—Brit + Co
"Clever and full of twists. . . . A story well told."—New York Journal of Books
"Sensory and vivid. . . . A zippy plot and [a] refreshing focus on the lives of women many would overlook."—The Dallas Morning News
"Highly readable, The Dollhouse conjures up 1950s New York convincingly. In particular the now-vanished world of the Barbizon Hotel for Women, with its antiquated rules and intriguing array of female personalities and tragic fates, lives on in the pages of the novel in delectable detail. . . . This is no mere ‘chick-lit,’ but feminist-inspired entertainment."—Historical Novel Society
"Fans of Suzanne Rindell’s Three-Martini Lunch will enjoy this debut’s strong sense of time and place as the author brings a legendary New York building to life and populates it with realistic characters who find themselves in unusual situations."—Library Journal
"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
"Multigenerational and steeped in history, The Dollhouse is a story about women—from the clicking anxiety of Katie Gibbs's secretaries to the willowy cool of Eileen Ford's models, to honey-voiced hatcheck girls and glamorous eccentrics with lapdogs named Bird. Davis celebrates the women of New York's present and past—the ones who live boldly, independently, carving out lives on their own terms."—Elizabeth Winder, author of Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953
"Two coming-of-age stories rolled into an ode to New York City and the young women—of past and present—who have tried to forge lives and careers there. Poetic, romantic, crushing, and soulful."
—Jules Moulin, author of Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes
About the Author
Fiona Davis 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 ten years, she changed careers, working as an editor and writer specializing in health, fitness, nutrition, dance, and theater.
She's a graduate of the College of William & Mary and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is based in New York City. She loves nothing more than hitting farmers' 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.
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Top Customer Reviews
Ms. Davis did her homework well because she perfectly describes the Barbizon of the fifties era. The hotel was akin to a glamorous, expensive college dormitory, complete with stricter rules than I lived under at Mount Holyoke College. While I cavorted unfettered around Manhattan, my Barbizon friends obeyed a curfew and a draconian dress code. It was a godsend for well-to-do parents who were reluctant to unleash their daughters in Manhattan and for young women who were not quite prepared to strike out on their own.
What a perfect home for Darby McLaughlin, daughter of what seemed like the mother from hell. Darby, from small Defiance, Ohio, had no self-esteem, thanks to her overbearing, social climbing mother, who sent her to New York with several self-help books and strict orders to excel at Katie Gibbs. Afraid of her own shadow, Darby is unfortunately assigned a room on a floor occupied by Eileen Ford models. She does not know it then, but this is the beginning of Darby's problems. If the hotel had had a room for her on the Katie Gibbs floors, chances are that there would have been no story.
Completely daunted by the glamorous and often catty, nasty models, Darby craves friendship and finds it with Esme, a young Puerto Rican hotel elevator operator. Mingling with the help is verboten at the Barbizon; this is likely the first rebellious act of Darby's life. Esme introduces plain, self-conscious Darby to the underbelly of Manhattan. After their clandestine rendezvous, the two young women frequent a bebop club on the lower East Side, an area off-limits to Barbizon girls. Throw in a little love interest, and Darby's transformation is nearly complete.
Deftly interwoven with Darby's story is that of Rose Lewis, a present day journalist, who lives at the Barbizon. The hotel had been converted to condos several years prior when it had become a dinosaur. Certain longtime residents had been allowed to remain in their spartan accommodations, and Rose dons her investigative journalist's hat when she hears of an incident between Darby, her downstairs neighbor, and Esme. Darby refuses to talk to Rose, but she successfully cajoles other residents, now in their eighties, to reminisce about the old days at the hotel. Bits and pieces of the story emerge, but Rose cannot put everything together without input from Darby.
As the story progresses, both women are plagued with trouble. Darby becomes almost obsessed with the alternative lifestyle and neglects her schooling. Staying out all night becomes her new normal, and she feels the exhilaration of breaking away from her mother. Rose's boyfriend unceremoniously dumps her and evicts her from the condo. And the hits keep coming.
The chapter headings make it simple to delineate the two storylines. Slowly but surely the tension builds because I have no idea how the Darby-Esme story will play out. But what fun I had getting to the end! The attention paid to detail is remarkable and entertaining, especially in the chapters that take place in the fifties. When Darby's mother ordered a Jell-O salad, for example, I remembered that those ghastly masses of jiggly green were de rigueur on every lady's lunch menu.
Despite wanting to solve the Darby-Esme story, I savored this book. The writing flowed effortlessly. The transition between 1951-2 and 2016 was seamless. By a writer with lesser skills, the story could have been choppy. The characters were wonderful and well developed. I felt genuine empathy for Darby and Rose and will not soon forget them.
A stellar debut leaves me waiting for the next Fiona Davis book.
I was completely unaware of the seamy side of the city and could not understand why I had so many restrictions.
Reading the book, I was often concerned for Darby's safety.
This book did it.
It's fantabulous, a fantabulous, well written blend of scandal, secrets, heartache, and missed opportunities revisited, with a strong feminine lesson. You don't NEED a man. You only need gumption, girl. And courage. If you WANT a man, then by all means, have one, but don't feel you should/must have one.
The story goes back and forth between a modern-day journalist living in the old Barbazon hotel for women turned condos and a small-town girl from the midwest in 1952, also residing in the Barazon. Each woman is facing similar problems in different scenarios, be it their careers or love lives, also family obligations.
I liked both stories. My favorite part about the past story was experiencing life at the Barbazon during that time, the fashion shows on the 18th floor, the girls sneaking their fellows in the stairways, etc. And the clothing descriptions, as I'm a vintage clothing fan. The modern story, I appreciated how the heroine very slowly learned that being without a man was okay, that there was no need to destroy herself and bypass what she wanted in order to have one. I loved watching this heroine evolve with each new revelation she discovered about the past heroine.
I also appreciated that I couldn't and didn't figure everything out by page ten. Far from it. I was just as surprised by the conclusion as the heroine herself.
And this book has it all: troublesome family, questionable friends, romance, scary moments, drugs, jazz singing, mean girls, fashion....
I highly recommend it.