Cover Image: The Chelsea Girls

The Chelsea Girls

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The Chelsea Girls follow the lives of two aspiring actresses from the ravages of World War Two, to the streets of New York. Where they find the freedoms they watched young men die for, be threatened by the very people sworn to protect them.

Summary -

"...We took a cab home together, both of us eager to put this day behind us. But as we waited for the elevator, a man who'd been sitting on the lobby's couch rose and called Hazel's name.
'Yes?'
'Are you Miss Hazel Ripley?'
'That's me.'
He handed her an envelope with her name typed on it in capital letters. 'I'm here to serve a subpoena from the House Un-American Activities Committee..."

Hazel Ripley and Maxine Mead met during the War, traveling with the USO tour in Italy. Theirs was a slow developing friendship, Hazel a little dazzled and star struck by Maxine's sultry beauty. But what they witnessed and shared during the War created a powerful friendship. A friendship Maxine found easy to put aside when Hollywood and a movie actress career came calling.

While Maxine sought out her fame in the bright lights, Hazel returned to New York to work as an understudy on off Broadway plays. After a dispute with her mother about her lack of ambition and future, Hazel checks into the Chelsea Hotel. A place that harbors and supports artists of all kinds. At the Chelsea, Hazel begins to write her play about what happened during the War. A play that would soon garner her the attention of a powerful Producer and the opportunity of a lifetime. To be a playwright and director.

Maxine's Hollywood career began to fizzle almost as quickly as it began. She finds herself back in New York, at the Chelsea, at just the time Hazel's big break was coming her way. Maxine quickly realizes that the lead in the play is perfect for her and just what is needed to put name back in the limelight.

But in 1950s New York, Broadway is about to come under attack. Under the leadership of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Federal Government will begin a witch hunt for communists. They put pressure on actors, directors, producers and stage hands to name names and to turn on the community of artists. Soon they begin to zero in on Hazel and Maxine.

"...Wait a minute. What do you mean, 'It was all worth it?'
Maxine delicately, wiped her mouth with her napkin. 'You know, all this craziness.'
'What exactly did they ask you at the hearing?'
'Oh, gosh. The usual, 'Was I am communist?' That sort of thing.'
'Did they ask you about anyone else?'
'No. Not really.' Maxine shifted uncomfortably in her chair.
For a moment, neither spoke. The truth rippled through Hazel, like a snake slithering up her spine and wrapping itself around the curves and dips of her brain..."

Hazel cannot comprehend the depths of the betrayal. But what Hazel never realized is that there is so much more to Maxine Mead than the sensuous actress. So much more that Hazel never knew about her friend. So much, that Hazel never really knew Maxine at all.

Review -

The story of the Chelsea Girls is a good story. The setting powerful and eclectic. The characters, written as they are here, could have been cut out as paper dolls and played with as a child. So lacking in depth are they.

(SPOILER ALERTS!!)

The topic of McCarthyism back in the 1950s is as relevant today. When there is such a divide in the country and fear controls so much that surrounds us, the abuse of power looms over us all. There is no doubt that artists suffered at this time, the televised hearings are a testament to how unfair and unjust the actions of the Government were. That so much of the country stood silent and still is even more of a testament to the lack of fortitude shown.

There is no doubt that the Entertainment industry suffered greatly and more so that their hearings were made so very public. So many actors and directors turned on one another during this time and the damage done to reputations were irreparable. Friendships were shattered. Something we are seeing with the division along Political party lines. Not only friendships, but family relationships as well.

The Topic and Setting in this novel are interesting and intriguing. Where it loses it for me are with the characters. I can some it up simply as, men are bad and women are good. Even if a woman does a bad thing, well it's because some man made her do it or, it's to protect and take care of someone else. So her bad is really good.

The men in this novel are mostly on the side of House Un-American Activities Committee, the interrogators and the investigators. There is also the Russian spy who is physically and emotionally abusive. The other men cower and hide, allowing the women to be victimized and smeared, as long as the men themselves are not tainted with label of being a communist.

The women, with few exceptions (a domineering mother and career minded actress) are well intentioned and strong. They band together against the onslaught of the hunt for communists. They are the rallying cry against the injustice of it all.

Hazel, a pillar of strength and self-righteous indignation. Yet still unable to stand up for herself against her mother and unable to accept the love of her boyfriend if he does not do and think as she wants him too. God forbid that he might have thoughts and ambitions of his own.

Maxine, an ambitious and career minded woman who has denied herself so much in life so that she may achieve her goals. She basks in her glory and notoriety. But the truth is that she is a fraud.

You see, the bad guy in this story, the true bad guy...is not a guy at all. It is not even the Politicians or the Investigators. The real bad guy is Maxine Mead herself.

Maxine poses as a good friend and in her own mind, is even convinced that she is. She takes advantage of Hazel's big break and inserts herself into the play to play a part that initially Hazel doesn't want to go to her. She then makes sure that she is receiving all the attention, as she is the big name, a movie star starring in a play. She then tanks her performance, destroying any chance the play has of making it big and heads back to Hollywood and a plum part in a movie. In doing so, to be able to be cleared for the part, she names names. She throws actors and directors to the wolves and clears herself. She even gives them Hazel.

But that is not even all of it. Because Maxine is actually a covert Russian spy and has been using her position as an actress and movie star to infiltrate the Entertainment Industry and convert others to the communist cause.

But the novel is written in a way that we are led to believe that Maxine is a victim as well. Yes she suffers a great deal of physical abuse at the hands of her superior in the spy ring. But Maxine does so much on her own. So much of what Maxine does is self serving. Yet we are suppose to accept her as another victim? Sorry, not buying it and unfortunately, this story can't sell it.

That is too bad, because if Maxine had been sold as the bad guy, without all the excuses for her actions; this book would have been far more interesting and readable.

Not up to the hype.
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What a fabulous book! I absolutely LOVED The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis. The paperback edition comes out tomorrow and I am excited to get my hands on a copy to add to my collection. You definitely need to check out this fun and exciting story set in New York at the famous Chelsea Hotel - THE haven for artists, creatives,  and musicians.  The story takes place during the 1940s through the 1960s and it covers a host of issues, history, and politics.  We have the complexities of female friendship to sift through, along with the fears of McCarthyites pounding on your door asking for names. It was fascinating and thrilling to read all about it. 

At the heart of the story is dynamic duo, Maxine Mead and Hazel Riley - two friends who are reunited at the Chelsea Hotel. They've each found a bit of success in their own right and have decided to make their mark in NYC.  They reside at the Chelsea Hotel and are surrounded by every kind of creative-minded individual you can imagine.  Life is exciting, thrilling, and filled with hope, hard work, and creativity.  Except, life can also turn out to be difficult and filled with politics that can ruin a life.  Yep, McCarthyism is sweeping the nation and knocking on the Chelsea Hotel's doors.  Yikes! Looks like Maxine and Hazel are headed for a rather difficult time. 

Fiona Davis has written a terrific story with such richly developed characters, you can't help but want to keep reading about them. And, I'm including the Chelsea Hotel when I'm talking about the characters, because that building is mostly definitely a character in itself. I just loved getting to know Maxine and Hazel and the denizens of the Chelsea. Plus, the descriptions of the hotel and city are so much fun to take in. I just loved reading this book. 

I would definitely recommend The Chelsea Girls to fans of Davis and to anyone looking for their next great read - you don't want to miss this one!
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Fiona Davis is a master at writing engaging historical fiction based on real events. Highly recommend her books, including The Chelsea Girls!
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This novel follows two women who met during the final years of WWII through performing plays for troops to keep morale high. 

Maxine is the dazzlingly beautiful actress who can captivate an audience in any time or place. 

Hazel is more talented with the pen and paper, writing furiously with a lifelong dream to produce a broadway play.

After the war, the women eventually take separate paths, Hazel staying in New York and Maxine going off to Hollywood to become a star on the silver screen. When the two lifelong friends get to work together again, a darker past is revealed as the Red Scare forces many former Russian informants and communist believers to come forward and be punished. 

Hazel’s livelihood and play is endangered by Maxine’s true past and as the truth comes out, Maxine and Hazel struggle to understand what the other woman needs. 

Be prepared for tragic confessions, breathtaking reveals, and so much more throughout this gripping snapshot of McCarthyism’s consequences.
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The Chelsea Girls is just another favorite read for me recently, as I had been craving a historical fiction to mix things up. I can always look to Fiona Davis to bring unforgettable characters with amazing storylines all wrapped up in her books.

I loved the 1940s and 1950s timeline, with New York City as the backdrop. Davis truly creates this world that you can fall into, and find yourself so drawn to the characters too.

Thanks Netgalley and Dutton for the free copy. All opinions are my own
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Fiona Davis is a literary master mind of our day! I absolutely love everything I have ever read by her and thankfully The Chelsea Girls completely lived up to my expectations! Davis was able to make me feel like I was literally walking into history and right into The Chelsea!  The characters were very interesting to me and I genuinely loved them.  I loved the friendship between the girls and how it evolved them into better people.  I thought it was a huge part of the story line and it was done well.  I also really enjoyed how she was able to thread true events into the story and make it sound so put together.  I highly recommend this book to anyone!
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Richard M. Nixon and Roy Cohn both make an appearance as villains in The Chelsea Girls: A Novel by Fiona Davis, a former Broadway actress and costume designer who left it behind and became a novelist.

Nixon is in “The Chelsea Girls” as a Congressman on the House Un-American Activities Committee, who at a hearing in 1950 interrogates the (fictitious) heroine of the novel, Hazel Ripley, the daughter of a famous stage actor who as a young actress could get work on Broadway only as an understudy but then writes her own play for The Great White Way and is hired to direct it. Cohn, who’s best known now as Donald Trump’s lawyer and mentor, is in the book in his first real-life public role as investigator for Senator Joseph McCarthy; in a private meeting, he interrogates the other main character in the book, the (fictitious) actress and eventual movie star Maxine Mead.

“Although this is a work of fiction, I hewed closely to the stories of several blacklisted artists,” Davis writes in an “Author’s Note” about the blacklist at the end of her book, in which she includes a list of non-fiction books and memoirs “vital to my research.”

But it would be misleading to call “The Chelsea Girls” simply a novel about Broadway and the blacklist, for several reasons – the main being a surprise twist in the plot more than halfway through the novel.

The awkwardly introduced twist struck me as so historically suspect (despite the claims in the author’s note) that it sent me hunting for an actual history book of the era, which I found, to my delight, in the newly published Broadway and the Blacklist by K. Kevyne Baar.

Below, then, are reviews of both.



The Chelsea Girls

Fiona Davis’s novel focuses on the friendship of the two women, Hazel and Maxine, who meet on a U.S.O. tour in Italy in 1945 during World War II. In the first several chapters, they bond over their effort to help the young son of a German officer who is threatened first by a mob of Italians and then by the U.S. Army. Paul ,who speaks only German, tells Maxine (whose grandmother is a German immigrant) that he was working for the Resistance. The boy reminds Hazel of her own brother, who was politically active before he joined the Army and died in combat overseas.
We next see the two in New York City in 1950, where the bulk of the story takes place, told in alternate chapters by Maxine in the first person and from Hazel’s perspective but in the third person. Before the war, Hazel was famous among theater people as an understudy who never got to go on stage for the star; producers would hire her because she seemed to be a good luck charm. Now, armed with greater confidence and experience gained at the USO tour, and inspired by her brazen friend Maxine, she falls into playwriting and directing. Maxine returns from Hollywood and winds up starring in Hazel’s first play.
Those expecting an insider’s insights into Broadway will be rewarded with only a few choice tidbits, e.g.: “From her stints understudying, she knew that a good stage manager – who acted as the glue that held the cast, crew and production teams together — was the key to a smooth ride when it came to wrangling the strong personalities of the theater world.”
There are also some engaging moments when Hazel gets caught up in the Red Scare, such as the oily encounter with a self-appointed vigilante patriot from whom she has to clear her name after she is listed as a subversive:
“I’ll review your file again, and we will have a conversation. Once you convince me that you are not a member of the Communist Party and have never been, I will pass your file on to the FBI. They’ll interview you, and you’ll tell them anyone else you think might be a communist sympathizer. Once we’re all on the same page, I’ll take your name off and give the green light that you’re hirable.” He paused. “It costs two hundred dollars.”
As a novelist, however, Davis has what you could call divided loyalties, or competing agendas. Hazel moves out of her parents’ home and into the Chelsea Hotel, which is described at such enormous length that it would be baffling if you didn’t know that one of Davis’s signatures as a novelist is to set each of her books in a particular New York City landmark.
And so, the story of how Hazel and Maxine get caught up in the Cold War is just one of several in this overcrowded book.
This wouldn’t have bothered me as much if the events felt fully grounded in the reality of the time and place. Of course, it’s silly to want to fact-check a novel, but I felt an urge to Google all along. (One of many examples: Hazel is listed as a subversive in “Red Channels,” but why would this actual right-wing publication, subtitled “The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television,” list a theater artist?) That urge greatly intensified after the twist.
I suppose it unfair to disclose the big reveal, but since it ruined the read for me, I feel obliged to offer a general summary without details: Suddenly, we’re introduced to a cabal of evil Communist spies, including an entertainer who has an especially villainous handler (he engages in spousal abuse), and who is alarmed when their comrade the real-life Julius Rosenberg (who is mentioned but does not appear as a character) is arrested for passing nuclear secrets to the Soviets.
Why would the author turn a supposedly well researched look at the Red Scare and its effect on Broadway innocents into a potboiler about conniving Commies? A clue comes from a line that one of the characters says, who’s being attacked by both right and left: “She’d managed to be vilified by both ends of the political spectrum, no mean feat.”
No, indeed. I suspect this was Davis’ misguided attempt to appear balanced – to acknowledge that, yes, we now know there were indeed spies, but there were also innocents accused, lives ruined. But as the journalist Edward R. Murrow reportedly said after he exposed anti-Communist crusading Senator Joseph R. McCarthy as a liar and a demagogue in a series of broadcasts: “There are not always two equal sides to every story.”
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Fiona Davis has established herself as a quality writer in the historical fiction genre with previous titles such as The Dollhouse and The Address, both great reads.  The Chelsea Girls is yet another hit which should please Davis' fans as well as newcomers.  Having read her previous works and enjoying them immensely, I consider myself among her fans and have to say that even for Davis, this book is stellar.  This isn't your typical WWII story.  This does cover the end of the war, but this book centers mostly on The Red Scare.  It is a topic and time period I haven't seen covered enough in the historical fiction genre and one I feel deserves more attention.  I was pleased not only with the setting but also the characters.  I liked Maxine and Hazel but also had issues with them which, of course, made them all the more real.  They and their friendship had depth and character.  I will miss them now that I have re-joined reality.  Give this to women looking for books about women's friendships, historical fiction fans, and fans of Ms. Davis, of course.
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I am thankful for the opportunity to read and review this book.  The following is my review as posted on Goodreads:
Loved it! I read a lot of WWII historical fiction, but have never read anything that continued on into the McCarthy Era after the war. This novel did a fantastic job weaving together the bright lights of Broadway with the darkness of espionage, suspicion, and conspiracy theories of the second Red Scare. This novel was a heartbreaking story of broken friendships and broken dreams, with a little bit of hope sprinkled in. I’d definitely recommend reading it!
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*I received a galley of this book from Dutton in exchange for an honest review- all opinions are my own.*

I love a book that opens with a hint about what's coming in the end. But, you get lost in the story and end up forgetting that hint, so it's a pleasant surprise at the end! I was in desperate need of a good historical fiction read and this totally satisfied my craving! This was my first Fiona Davis- and now I'll definitely be picking up some more of her books ASAP.

This book is set during a time when Russia had everyone scared, and *anyone* could be a spy. A time when Hollywood and Broadway were great, and there were secrets lurking around every corner. It's about friendships and hardships, secrets and how far you;ll go if you believe in something. 

I loved the character of Maxine. She's strong and sassy, and everything you would want to be when faced with the hardships of war and scandal. She's funny and super smart- and willing to do anything for her friends. She's flawed, but in a beautiful way. She's someone I would want as a friend.

Hazel is a timid hurricane. She's thoughtful and a little bit of a wallflower. But her strength runs deep and she's not afraid to fight for what she wants. She's a hard worker- but she won't throw anyone under the bus to get ahead.

I love that this is a sweeping novel, spanning many years. The friendships are so genuine and you can almost feel that you're there. You want to be there at the Chelsea, surrounded by the artists. Living the bohemian existence of New York at that time. 

This was a lovely book to escape into and I would recommend it if you love this time period, love strong women characters, and like to read about deep friendships!
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Fiona Davis' latest book does not disappoint.  This is the story of a friendship between two women that spans decades - starting overseas in World War II and continuing through 1950's New York City.  It is the story of a playwright and an actress in the turbulent times of McCarthyism and the Cold War.  And it is the story of another New York City landmark - the historic Chelsea Hotel.  The book is well-researched and full of richly drawn characters.  Different from Davis' other books, this one does not go back and forth between two time periods.  Even though I have thoroughly enjoyed her other books and Davis does a remarkable job weaving two time periods together, I was very happy that this book did not do that.  It was beginning to seem like having a story set in dual time periods was becoming Davis' "formula" - even though she does it very well.  

I thoroughly recommend The Chelsea Girls to anyone who loves historical fiction, New York City, and the theatre. Davis does a remarkable job telling the story of a dark period in American history where the government was going crazy trying to find communists.  Unfortunately, many in the film and theatre industry were attacked and careers were ruined.   Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book.
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Exactly the novel I needed during quarantine. Fun, light, and a complete page-turner. I've already recommended it.
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I saw some negative reviews for this book and put it off too long. Pleased to report that I enjoyed it thoroughly: spanning the end of WWII through the late 1960s, encompassing McCarthyism, communist spies, and the broadway theater scene, all with the iconic Hotel Chelsea as a backdrop and a colorful cast of characters. Even with all that, it’s fun to read and not complicated (exactly what my squirrel brain needs right now).
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As always, Fiona Davis delivers in this startling story about life post-WWII in the theater industry in NYC. This was a time when the FBI and USA government was going crazy about finding the infiltrating communists. So much so that they accused innocent people and ruined many people's lives. Davis does a fabulous job of telling this story. 

The Chelsea Hotel
Yes it's a real place. And yes it hosted many celebrities and artists (of all kinds) over the years. I love the little drops of descriptions during the book that are clearly famous people you likely know; but Davis doesn't use their names as our (fictional) characters don't know these celebs at this time. This hotel is noted for many crazy events; but perhaps most famous for being where Sid Vicious (of the Sex Pistols) is said to have murdered Nancy Spungen in the 1970's.
I love how Davis always chooses a prominent, historical building to feature in her stories. In this case the Chelsea Hotel feels like a character at times. As though the hotel is living, breathing, and dictating people's lives. Is it fate or the hotel pushing who ends up in an elevator together and/or who chooses to stay overnight? I love the drama of it and the mystery it creates. 
"The Chelsea Hotel. A 'she', like a lumbering redbrick ship filled with foolish dreamers,"

Fiction vs Truth
As with so many historical books these days the core story and characters are fiction; but a lot of truth is incorporated. Davis describes her inspirations at the back of the book and gives a fulsome list of resources she used to research the historical events and people of the time. For me nothing felt off, although the communist hunt is not something I know about super well. What is important in the end is that the stories of our fictional characters could be 100% true and are certainly truthful in many ways. And of course the power struggles, greed, and selfishness of those with even a tiny bit of power are still very true today. 
"The world is run by men who want power, who will say anything to attain it, and do anything to retain it."

Scary Truths, Even for Today
As I type this it is March 23, 2020 and we are in the midst of the COVID-19 virus crisis with no known 'end' in sight. Civil liberties are being taken away from many as areas lock down all unnecessary movement in entire countries! The slippery slope mentioned in the quote below certainly rang true to me; as governments are making the best decisions they can in this unknown playing field. I imagine this is not unlike the choice by many European countries to surrendered to the Nazis in WWII or when to enter into another war (the Korean War is mentioned a number of times). And it's certainly true that people were hunted down for being suspected communists, detained unjustly with no actual evidence, and pressured into false confessions during this time. All pieces of the story Davis touches on; and all possible scary realities that may be in our (not so) near future. 
"Of course, she had nothing to hide. But it was the principle of the matter, the slippery slope into censorship, that irked her to no end."

Overall
I believe I would have loved this book irregardless of what is happening in the world today. It was just 'luck' that it came up for me to read at this moment. The Chelsea Girls felt like the perfect read to draw parallels between then and now; but also gave a sense of security. I don't believe agents are banging on doors accusing people unfairly of treason in Canada and so at least one piece of the past will hopefully not repeat itself. 
The Cold War saw many things happen that would have been unthinkable prior to WWII; and today is no different. We are always living in unprecedented times. The thing about history is that we should ensure we pay attention and learn from it. The below quote really resonated with me in the end; even though I believe lock downs are the only way to fight the virus it is a sobering thought that we have reached this point in 2020. 
"We must promise to be vigilant against our own worst tendencies. Only by doing so will our country sustain it's ideals of freedom."

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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The story structure of The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis ends up completely different from the first three books I have read by Fiona Davis. I enjoyed reading about the McCarthy era. I wish I had learned more about the building as I have in her other books. The characters and the story itself seems a little distant and seems to miss the emotional connection. That being said, I am still looking forward to her next book. 

Read my complete review at http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2020/03/the-chelsea-girls.html  

Reviewed for NetGalley.
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Historical Fiction with romance, spies, politics, friendship and betrayal. USO tours and McCarthy era paranoia from the theater perspective make for a good read
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While the main characters in this book are actress Maxine Mead and playwright Hazel Riley, even more prominent is the storied Chelsea Hotel, the place to be if you're into the creative arts scene in mid-20th century New York. Maxine and Hazel want to use the Chelsea as a catalyst for their Broadway show, but get caught up in Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt aimed at rooting out Communism, at the cost of many innocent lives and careers. In this era of blacklisting, the two friends find there is much more to lose than their dream of Broadway. The Chelsea Girls is yet another entry into Fiona Davis's love affair with New York hotspots; one can imagine being set down among the poets, artists, and entertainers through the author's vivid descriptions. This book doesn't contain the dual timelines of the author's previous works, but is nonetheless engaging, disturbing and even sadly relevant to today's happenings. I found it slightly less appealing than Davis's previous books, so would give it 3.5 stars, but a necessary and interesting read, all the same. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital review copy; this is my honest opinion.
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I had a really hard time with this book. It was my first by Fiona Davis and I just don't think she is for me. I felt that the relationships developed way too fast and the story felt like it totally glossed over important details and events, especially in the beginning of the book. After getting about 1/3 of the way in I stopped and unfortunately did not finish this book.
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I was never really into reading historical fiction--until I started reading Fiona Davis. I adored her book The Masterpiece, and I loved The Chelsea Girls even more! Hazel is a Broadway actress who has never actually taken the stage. She has always been the understudy--and she is just fine with that. When she goes overseas to entertain the troops, she meets Maxine Mead and they become fast friends. When she returns to America, Hazel decided to stay at the Chelsea Hotel, and while she is there, she pens an amazing play. This brings Maxine back into her life, along with love and heartbreak. I whipped through The Chelsea Girls in a few days because I just could not get enough! I loved the mix of drama with the historical aspects, and I learned quite a bit about behind the scenes of Broadway plays. Absolutely loved it!
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Fiona Davis is one of my must-buy authors. I adore her writing. I adore her characters. I adore her take on historical fiction. She knocked it out of the park with this one. I am obsessed with art, art history, and architecture. This is why I am so drawn to her books. The Chelsea House is one that I enjoy reading stories about and hearing its history. Being drawn into it with these characters, Hazel and Maxine, who are just amazing, was such a fun ride. Hazel is another character from 2019 that I just adored. This book is set during the 1940 and 1960s. There’s lots of talk about Communism within the entertainment industry. I cannot lie; I was slightly less interested because of the political aspect of this book. But it works so well! This will be one I will want to read again in the future.
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