The Masterpiece

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Dec 2018

Member Reviews

"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.

THE MASTERPIECE
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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In 1928, Clara Darden is proud to be the only female faculty member at the Grand Central School of Art, but she has to fight to be taken seriously as an instructor and an artist. Clara specializes in illustrations for magazines, but she is more talented than most of the male artists on staff, which causes resentment. Clara is forced to take drastic measures to bring attention to her fabulous artwork, but then she disappears in 1931.

In 1974, newly divorced Virginia Clay gets a job at the Grand Central terminal building. Things don’t go as expected for Virginia, but on a terrible day at work, she is pleased to make an exciting discovery within the terminal building. She finds rooms that had been part of the art school and in one of the rooms, discovers a beautiful watercolor that could be valuable not only in terms of its price tag but also its place in the art world.

The Masterpiece alternates between Clara and Virginia’s point of view. It starts with Clara’s story to lay the groundwork for Virginia’s discovery years later and her experiences after finding the watercolor. Telling the story this way helps to build suspense about Clara’s life, but it means it takes longer to connect with either woman and to get to the more interesting parts of the story. Each woman is a product of their times and make some questionable decisions in their personal lives, and I don’t always like them. This also made it hard for me to get into the story. However, the pace picks up as the book continues. In the later chapters, both Clara and Virginia’s best qualities come out making them easier to relate to. It’s exciting to see all they ultimately accomplish.

Although what happened to Clara was unknown and there are questions about the watercolor, this isn’t a typical mystery. The set-up was there for more of a thriller, but it wasn’t that kind of book. The story starts slowly for me, however I’m glad I stuck with it. The payoff at the end was well worth the wait. I was surprised by the twist in the story and how it ended. I enjoyed the message of hopefulness and refusal to give up on something you believe in. I greatly enjoyed the author’s note at the end of the book giving the historical background about Grand Central Terminal and the Grand Central School of Art. I didn’t realize how much of the book was based on actual historical events. This made me appreciate the story more with the way fact was mixed with fiction and and raised my overall impression of the book.

~ Christine
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This novel left me with a thirst for knowledge.  I have never really been curious about Grand Central or Art in all honesty, but I was left so intrigued by what I've learned here.  This story was concluded perfectly but I desire more information.  I don't give 5 star ratings often, but when I do, its because a novel has stuck with me or opened my mind to learn more.  This novel has done both.
I am not a huge Historical Fiction fan; however, this is the second book by Fiona Davis that I have read and fell in love with.  I love reading stories set in two different time frames, with several different characters meeting in some way at the end.  The reveals are amazing.  I was blindsided near the end.

This novel has everything, History, Mystery, Romance, Heartbreak, and Culture.

I would recommend this book to everyone.  There is something for literally everyone to fall in love with.  

I would also like to point out that this novel has several strong women protagonists and expresses the women's rights and movements without becoming overpowering.  

Fiona Davis is one of those authors that I will read anything she writes without even knowing anything about the book. She is just that amazing.
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Ms. Davis’s novels never fail to teach me something. Like who knew (ok someone did) there was an art school in Grand Central in NY during the 1920s. Which introduces us to Clara and Levon who are teachers at the famed school. Levon is more well known and Clara teaches illustrations. She’s lowly on the teaching pole but she’s quite talented.

Things turnaround for both of them as Clara gets contract work with Vogue for her illustrations. She also finds love with a handsome poet, Oliver who supports her in every way.

We are also introduced to Virginia in the 70s who is a divorcee who has to look for work and she finds it in the information book in Grand Central.

I loved how the storylines converged because I really wasn’t expecting it at all. Clara was a confident woman in her day and believed in her artistic abilities.

If you love historical fiction you’ll love The Masterpiece.
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4 stars! 

After loving Fiona Davis’ previous novel, The Address, I was thrilled to get my hands on The Masterpiece. This book was told in two POV‘s - Clara and Virginia, 50 years apart. I loved the Grand Central Station setting and learning about its history, especially the Grand Central School of Art in the late 1920’s and early ‘30’s. 

Ms. Davis really does a great job in her historical storytelling. I learn a lot from reading her books. In fact, she is one of the very few authors who turned me on to historical fiction - a genre that I was never a big fan of.  Thanks to her, I find myself exploring more books from this genre and really liking them! I look forward to seeing what’s next from her! 

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Group Dutton for the advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It paints a great picture of the glamour, decay, and promise of Grand Central. The author masterly ties the story lines together.  I loved learning more about the history and I am already planning my trip to New York!!

I was given an ARC of this book.  All opinions are my own!  :-)
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Fiona Davis is a master at intricately weaving characters and setting together to create unforgettable stories. In The Masterpiece she deftly weaves back and forth between the 1920's and the 1970's creating a portrait of the many ways in which woman must fight for their place in order to be fully seen in the world. art teacher Clara Darden and divorcee Virginia Clay seem to have very little in common, including living fifty years apart. But when Virginia is forced to take a menial job, she stumbles across a mysterious painting and suddenly, her life is connected with Clara's in ways she could never have imagined. As Virginia seeks to solve the mystery of the painting and the artist, Clara's story is revealed stroke by stroke, and Virginia, herself, is recreated into something more real and lovely than before.  Bit by bit these two women are revealed to be more than previously realized, and overarching it all is Grand Central Terminal. Although fallen into neglect, it too will be revealed as more lovely and vital than previously recognized.
Davis's book is a beautifully rendered exploration of what it means to find yourself after years of being unseen. It's about courage and tenacity and the power of beauty and creativity. Filled with unforgettable and vibrant characters, this story is completely captivating.
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Author Fiona Davis has created a niche writing rich novels with complicated  characters, enmesh in multi-layered plots set in iconic New York City buildings. THE DOLLHOUSE is set in the Barbizon Hotel, and focuses on the lives of two women between 1950s and today. THE ADDRESS takes place in the iconic Dakota. Her new novel, THE MASTERPIECE (Dutton) turns the spotlight on Grand Central Terminal.

For the nearly nine million people who live in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is a crown jewel, a masterpiece of design. But for Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, it represents something quite different.

For Clara, the terminal is the stepping stone to her future, which she is certain will shine as the brightly as the constellations on the main concourse ceiling. It is 1928, and twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the lauded Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public's disdain for a "woman artist." Brash, fiery, confident, and single-minded--even while juggling the affections of two men, a wealthy would-be poet and a brilliant experimental painter--Clara is determined to achieve every creative success.

Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia Clay's life. Full of grime and danger, from the smoke-blackened ceiling to the pickpockets and drug dealers who roam the floor, Grand Central is at the center of a fierce lawsuit: Will the once-grand building a landmark be preserved, or demolished? For Virginia, it is simply her last resort. Recently divorced, she has just accepted a job in the information booth in order to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. But when Virginia stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, her eyes are opened to the elegance beneath the decay.

Lots of twists and turns, in addition to strong female characters and an added art class. THE MASTERPIECE is simply masterful.

*****
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Divine. Fiona Davis is the master of bridging the past and more recent past, and The Masterpiece is no exception.
Focused on the history of Grand Central, The Masterpiece flashes between two women - the art teacher and budding illustrator Clara Darden, and divorcee Virginia Clay who finds herself finding herself working in a dilapidated Grand Central Terminal. The book goes back and forth between Clara's career and Virginia's discovery of Clara's art school, and subsequently Clara itself. 
The writing is perfectly balanced between flowery (in the best way) details and swift pacing of both women's stories. Each character is slowly unraveled over the course of the book to reveal their full nature, and the book has the classic Davis twist that will leave you mind spinning, your heart full, and with the pure satisfaction of having read an excellent book.
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The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis is about two women, fifty years apart, whose parallel stories suddenly intersect at New York City's historic Grand Central. It's clearly well researched regarding what was happening at the train station in the late 1920s and early 1970s, on the verge of the Great Depression, and later, at risk of being demolished. 
I am a character-driven reader and this book's characters did not grab me. I sympathized with them as they both had struggles they had to overcome, but even with those struggles I failed to connect and care for them. Because I never connected to the characters, a fairly predictable plot, and many convenient coincidences this book just didn't work for me. It had interesting elements, namely Grand Central Station, so I can see why people have enjoyed this book.
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