The Masterpiece

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Dec 2018

Member Reviews

I tried three times and just could not get into this novel. The subject matter is there, but the characters held no appeal for me.

Read through Chapter 8 but couldn't rouse enough interest to continue. Just not a good fit for my tastes.
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I had seen mixed reviews on this one which is why I think it took me so long to pick up but I am glad that I finally did. I really enjoyed this one. First things first, I enjoyed both Clara and Virginia's perspectives. Both of their POV's and chapters in the different time periods proved to be interesting. I was never bored with either of them which happens often for me when books are told by different characters. I also admired these two women. For Clara in the 1920's, she was a very forward woman character as a woman who had a career during the Depression and before. Women often did not have careers at this time obviously and I admired the feminist perspective of this. I also admired Virgina in the 1970's as she too was forward. As a newly divorced woman, she did what she could to try and provide a familiar lifestyle for her and her daughter, Ruby. She also was a character who I admired due to her past and how it helped her grow even when it was an issue for her.

The plot revolving around art and Grand Central Station was interesting. It was a blast through past to be reminded how important train travel was in the past and how the terminal was described in such luxorious ways. I also learned quite a bit about the history of the terminal and how it was so much more than just a business designated for travel.

You don't have to be a fan of art to enjoy the book. It does not center directly on art to the point where you must be familiar with art but it is a central theme. Even if you aren't a fan of art, the it isn't overbearing to the point which would make it unenjoyable. I knocked down one star because although I was satisfied with the ending, it was a little overwhelming for me. I felt as if everything was building up to be awesome where the ending, although it tied everything in, had less enthusiasm that much of the book otherwise. Still, I loved the book. I enjoyed reading it and will truly enjoy looking at Grand Central Station in a brand new perspective during my next visit. I would pick this book up if you have not already!
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Fiona Davis never disappoints. In this dual-time-track novel, she examines the art studio that graced Grand Central Station before The Great Depression, and tracks the lives to two women whose art transforms their lives.  Extra stars if you love reading about architecture and real-life attempts to save the monuments of New York City from being razed and turned into high-cost ugliness.

Recommended! Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book.
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Grand Central Terminal is the back drop for Clara and Virginia's finding there place in the midst of challenging personnel lives. Clara's story was a little hard to follow.
Fiona Barton did a great job developing Virginina's character and showing how she grows and becomes an independent strong women at  a time in our country that didn't always make it easy for women.
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I’ve wanted to read a Fiona Davis book since reading the premise of The Address, her second (and previous) book. The idea of a time slip novel set around The Dakota intrigued me, especially when combined with a fictional murder mystery. I’ve still not read it, but I grabbed the opportunity to apply for a review copy of The Masterpiece when I saw it on NetGalley. This was another time slip novel, set at a famous historical location, with a mystery thrown in.

I have a habit of looking up almost anything that appears in an historical novel. This time, it meant looking into Grand Central Terminal and the Grand Central School of Art. Because one of the main characters – Clara – was an illustrator, I was drawn to the name of Helen Dryden, who was one of the school’s instructors and an illustrator. While I’d not heard of Dryden previously, it’s evident throughout the book that Davis used Dryden as inspiration for the character. Nowhere is this more apparent than the descriptions of Clara working with the car manufacturer Studebaker. The author’s note at the end also cited fellow art school instructor, Arshile Gorky, as inspiration for another character.

Although Clara and Virginia’s stories are set almost 50 years apart, there are commonalities. Both women struggle for independence in a male-dominated world. Both experience the fall from wealth to near poverty. They, and Virginia’s daughter, are on a path to finding their self-worth. Ironically, Virginia’s daughter favors photography, a medium Clara feels might make obsolete her talent for illustration.

Since the fate of one character was revealed halfway through, I thought I knew what was coming. The narrative seemed to chug on to that destination like the 20th Century Limited train so frequently mentioned. It expertly wove the two lives and time periods until they finally came together with a twist that had me saying, “Wow!” Once I finished The Masterpiece, I wanted to go back to find the clues I’d so obviously missed. The plot, the characterization, and the detail, all made me fall in love with this book. And now I want even more to read The Address! If you’re looking for a great historical novel with strong, yet fallible, characters, I can’t recommend The Masterpiece enough.

Disclaimer: I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not required to write a review, and the words above are my own.
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Readers will appreciate the historical architecture of each time period and love experiencing the energy and glamour of the city.  Davis's latest historical novel brings out the best of New York City.
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I have not read a lot of historical fiction lately so this was a very nice breath of fresh air, it was also my first Fiona Davis book. I will definitely be reading more of her work after reading The Masterpiece. It was a such a entertaining look back and two ladies lives in different generations that loved the same building for different reasons. 

We are introduced to both Clara and Virginia each having a reason to be in Grand Central Terminal for different reasons. Clara who attended and taught at the Art School buried in the building and Virginia having fell on hard times for her job as at the Information Booth. When reading you know that their lives will intersect but are unsure how. This I thought provided for a bit of suspense when reading and wanting to keep turning pages until I could figure it all out!

This is a great book for people who are wanting to test out historical fiction. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to picking up another of Fiona Davis' books in the future.
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Another approachable and polished period piece from Fiona Davis. Juxtaposing the stories of two strong women, one from the 1920s, and one from the 1970s,  Davis has crafted a meaningful mystery. This is the book her fans have been waiting for.
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I thought I would like this better than I did because I love books set in NYC, especially NYC of the past. The Masterpiece is about 2 ladies, Clara and Virginia, and is set in the 10920s and 1970s. Alternating timelines and perspectives are always tricky for me, especially with regard to historical fiction. I did love that their stories intersected around NY's Grand Central Terminal. I found the historic details fascinating, the author clearly did her research. The setting felt very authentic. What didn't work for me all that well was the alternating perspectives. While I liked Virginia better, I found her story fairly boring. I found Clara's story to be more interesting but I didn't connect with her like I did Virginia. This made it hard to enjoy the story as a whole. There were many times I struggles to stay engaged and almost put it down, the plot just felt too slow in too many places. The twist at the end was good but not enough to make me say I really loved this story
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"The Masterpeice" is Fiona Davis's third novel focusing on iconic New York City architecture. This dual period story focuses on Clara Darden, a female illustrator living in the 1920s, and Virginia Clay, a newly divorced single mother trying to make a way for herself. In the center of the two stories is Grand Station Terminal, the beautiful train station in New York.

"The Masterpiece" is not quite as compelling as Davis's two prior novels, but it still is a fascinating read. Clara is a headstrong woman out to make a name for herself in a time when women were coming into their own but still trapped by the dictates of a more conservative era. Even though she is a bohemian artist, her eventual living situation with her upper class "boyfriend" is a little out of step with the time, even the 1920s. 

Virginia's story is a little weak, as her sole purpose is to inform on what is going on at Grand Central Terminal after she gets a job working as a customer service agent. Indeed it is the Terminal that steals the show and Davis lovingly describes every delicious detail as Virginia's story unfurls around the epic battle to save Grand Central.
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Fiona Davis once again creates a tale that interweaves the stories of two women in different time periods.  Clara is an art teacher at a art school at Grand Central Station in 1928. She's an aspiring artist but paying the bills (barely) by teaching. Virginia is a recently divorced woman in 1974. The building is suffering from neglect and a battle is undergoing to preserve or tear down.  Virginia stumbles upon the abandoned art school and finds an old watercolor painting. Who does it belong to?  Virginia aims to solve the mystery, which interweaves the story of Clara.
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Magnificent! Could not put it down. Immerse yourself in Grand Central Terminal during the depression and it's fight to stay alive in the '70s while meeting fascinating characters you'll feel you know and see walking down the street.
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3.8 - a vibrant history of a NYC art school juxtaposed with a more modern story; interesting twists throughout that made it a page-turner
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This was a story about Virginia who is a newly divorced woman in the 1970's who is forced to enter the work world at the information desk of Grand Central Station. This leads her to find room filled with old artwork that she is determined to learn more about. It then goes back in time to the 1920's when Clara Darden was an aspiring artist and life took a hard turn during the Great Depression. Her career is destroyed as well as many things in her life. The two women are linked by the Grand Central Station in New York, which used to be a school of art. 
I loved this book! I love historical fiction and this one hit the mark for me! The characters were engaging, the story was enthralling and I could not put this one down. Her writing was so well done and her imagination in bringing the story was remarkable! This is my first Fiona Davis and I've already picked another one up!
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Recently published!

Beautiful! Magnificent! Heartfelt!

Fiona Davis tells the story of the New York art scene and one woman's quest to conquer it and make herself known. There are so many examples of feminism and women's rights; it was marvelous to read. Inspired by a real female artist, I loved the protagonist and rooted for her success from start to finish. This is also somewhat of a love story with a love triangle that perfectly captures the conflict that the main character feels. And to top it off, there was a hint of mystery that was the cherry on top. So many great elements that made for one very intriguing piece of fiction. 

The Masterpiece was such an elegant, wonderful historical fiction that just made me feel good. The story begins in the roaring 1920's and I could feel the flapper dresses and hip, New York art scene come alive on the pages. It progresses through the Great Depression era of the 1930's and I could instantly feel the shift in Fiona Davis's writing, capturing the desperation and loss of the characters during such a rough economic time. There is also a story line set in the 1970's which ties in wonderfully, particularly when the stories collide toward the end. 

Overall, was it the most incredible book I've ever read? No. Did it blow me out of the water? No. But it was an easy read and made me genuinely happy. I enjoyed every second of it. 

Would highly recommend for anybody looking for a historical fiction that is more upbeat in nature. Sometimes those historical fictions can get a little heavy and serious.

-I was gifted this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Fiona Davis, and Dutton for the opportunity to review.-
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Fiona Davis is a writing genius. This book hooked me even more than her last two. Three words: captivating, genuine and exciting! 

 It tells the story of Clara Darden from 1928-1930 mixed together with Virginia Clay from 1974. The stories flow seamlessly - the understanding of Virginia's fueled by the progress of Clara's. Clara is an artist- one of the very few female teachers at the time. Virginia is a fresh divorcee who finds a job at Grand Central Terminal- the place that used to house the art school at which Clara taught. How it all comes together in the end is wonderful and exciting. 

Davis's descriptive writing about Grand Central Terminal in the 1920s and 1970s allows the reader to imagine themselves in the grand space, in both its best and worst times. The main character, Clara Darden, is a strong female artist in the 1920s who bucks convention and stereotypes about illustrators at that time. Told in alternating chapters, Virginia is a recently divorced cancer survivor who stumbles across artwork at the terminal in the mid 1970s, and she and Clara find themselves with similar interests. I would recommend this novel to readers who enjoy historical fiction and strong female leads
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I loved this book!  Clara is an artist from the 1920s.  Her story runs along side the story of Virginia, a newly divorced woman in 1974.  The two stories parallel until finally they intersect.  Fiona Davis' descriptive narratives have the reader firmly placed in Grand Central Terminal; the grandness of Clara's world against the shabbiness of Virginia's.
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Book review: Women strive to find their place, make their mark in 'The Masterpiece'
By Sandy Mahaffey FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR  Sep 13, 2018  

Everyone in my book club loved Fiona Davis’ “The Address.” They will be just as delighted with her new book, “The Masterpiece.” Davis is extremely deft with historical fiction, making history nearly jump off the page. She also seems to be very fond of New York City’s historical landmarks, and this time has chosen Grand Central Terminal as her focal point.

The dual narrators bring the building to life in the 1920s and the early 1970s. They are both women and both struggling to make their place in a world dominated by men. Claire Darden is a gifted artist who manages to get a job as an instructor at the Grand Central School of Art, located above the terminal. She struggles to have her own artwork accepted and validated, but does manage to spend time as the illustrator of covers for “Vogue” magazine. This is during the ’20s, when the terminal is a splendid piece of architecture. The Great Depression has a devastating effect on the art world.

Virginia Clay, a breast cancer survivor with an art history degree, is recently divorced. She and her college-age daughter, a budding photographer, are struggling to find their new roles in life. Virginia finally manages to find a job at the Grand Central information desk during the ’70s, when the building has been neglected and is being considered as a perfect location to build a skyscraper. She becomes fascinated with the building and stumbles upon the art school during her explorations, even managing to find a mysterious painting.

One could almost call Grand Central Terminal a major character in the story. I was so fascinated by the author’s descriptions of the structure that I found myself searching for photos and even more details online. They are magnificent. It is heartbreaking to think that officials at one time considered not preserving it as a landmark. The groundswell of supporters, including Jackie Onassis, is a remarkable demonstration of the power of the people.

Davis’ stories are character-driven, and these characters are skillfully developed. They live life to the fullest, with challenges, joys, love and loss. The terminal seems to be their bedrock, as well as their connection.

Davis skillfully and beautifully merges their stories in a book I found very difficult to put down. Now I just need to see Grand Central Terminal again.

Sandy Mahaffey is former Books editor for The Free Lance–Star.

By Fiona Barton
(Dutton, $26, 362 pp.)
Published: Aug. 7
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The Masterpiece is a riveting tale set in New York, featuring Grand Central Terminal  and two women who are greatly affected by it, 50 years apart. The first, Clara Darden, is an artist attending and the teaching art classes in the school located inside the terminal. But women artists are not accepted, and Clara struggles for every bit of her success. The second woman, Virgina Clay, struggles with what she feels are physical imperfections that make her unattractive to others, even though her scars are not visible. Both women must deal with powerful unethical men. The Masterpiece takes us into their lives, and the unexpected connection between the two of them and Grand Central Terminal.

One of the best things about the book is the inclusion of historically accurate stories about the terminal itself, which was nearly torn down to make way for a multi story building to be literally built on top of it. That story and the efforts to save the beautiful landmark are artfully woven into Clara and  Virginia's stories.  I sometimes was annoyed with the characters and sometimes frustrated, but their stories are compelling, and I couldn't put it down.
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The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis is a dual timeline novel.  It is April in 1928 in New York City where Clara Darden works as an illustration teacher at Grand Central School of Art.  She is the only female faculty member and looked down upon because she is woman and an illustrator.  After being taken under the wing of Oliver Smith, a poet and Levon Zakarian, a brash artist, Clara’s star starts to rise.  Clara becomes the go-to illustrator for Vogue and she even designs a car.  But looming on the horizon is the great depression and a horrible accident.

Virginia Clay has been divorced almost a year and is forced to get a job in 1974 New York.  After being unsuccessful as lawyer’s secretary, Virginia is assigned to the information booth at Grand Central Terminal.  The building has deteriorated over the years and now there is a lawsuit to demolish the historical landmark to pave the way for a skyscraper.  Virginia gets lost one day and stumbles into the area that once belonged to the Grand Central School of Art.  She spies a beautiful painting hidden behind a cabinet in the storage room after an unexpected encounter.  Virginia is drawn to the work of art and decides to take it with her.  Little does she know that this one act will propel her into a mystery that goes back to 1928 and will include threatening letters.  

I found The Masterpiece to be an engaging story.  It is well-written and has steady pacing.  The POV switches between Clara and Virginia as the tale unfolds.  The transitions were smooth, and it was easy to keep track of the various characters.  Fiona Davis is a descriptive writer which brings the book alive.  I could picture Grand Central Terminal in my mind along with New York from Ms. Davis’ word imagery.  I cannot believe that people wanted to demolish this architectural masterpiece.   I felt she captured the time-periods with the language, clothing, the lifestyles and attitudes.  I could tell that the author did her research and it was interesting to learn the history of the Grand Central Terminal.  Ms. Davis created realistic characters that fit into their time periods.  I preferred Clara over Virginia.  I loved the descriptions of Clara’s artwork and how she evolved as an artist.  I liked that Virginia cared for Grand Central Terminal and was willing to do what was needed to help save the building.  The mystery was clever, and readers will be surprised at the reveal.  Fiona Davis crafted a historical novel with a complex plot that will capture readers attention and hold it until the very end.  The Masterpiece is my favorite novel by Fiona Davis and it is one of the best books I have read in quite some time.
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