New mystery explores New York in the 1910s and 1990s

Deborah Feingold Photography

Patience and Fortitude, the marble lions gallantly standing at the steps of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, were only 2 years old when Jack Lyons, along with his wife and two children, moves into a large apartment hidden away on the library’s mezzanine floor. It’s all part of Jack’s job as superintendent, an intriguing fact that Fiona Davis uses in her latest historical mystery, “The Lions of Fifth Avenue,” which was selected as “Good Morning America’s” August Book Pick.

“While researching, I discovered that when the library was built, the architects included a seven-room apartment deep inside, where the superintendent and his family lived for 30 years. I thought it would be the perfect setting for my book and I invented a fictional family — the Lyons — and decided to tell the story from the wife’s point of view in 1913, as well as from her granddaughter’s in 1993,” said Davis, who chose 1913 because that decade was when women made great strides, socially and economically. “What surprised me about the 1910s was just how actively women were involved in feminist causes, including the right to vote, the right to birth control, and the right to exert agency over their own lives. There was a huge movement forward in terms of the ‘New Woman,’ one who considered herself equal to men.”

Living in the library creates an opportunity for Jack’s wife Laura, who yearns to be more than a housewife, and is mentored by Jack’s boss, who encourages her to find her own writing voice and helps her win entry to the Columbia School of Journalism. But Laura soon learns that she doesn’t want to be relegated to writing housewife-like features for the women’s section as expected, and instead becomes a noted essayist and crusader for women’s rights.

“It was wonderful to step back in time and imagine what it all was like then,” said Davis, noting that both she and Laura attended Columbia. “I earned my master’s degree there, so it was fun to draw on that experience.”

Fast forward 80 years in time to when Laura’s granddaughter, Sadie Donovan, a curator at the New York Public Library, is chosen to step in at the last moment to curate the Berg Collection of rare books. Among the rare papers are those of Laura Lyons, who had been forgotten over time, but whose writings are now being celebrated again.

At first proud of her connection to her grandmother and excited that Laura once lived at the library where she now works, Sadie hides their connection after discovering her grandmother and grandfather were caught up in a scandal about a rare book of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry, typically stored under lock and key, that’s gone missing.

Before long, history is repeating itself when Sadie finds that vital materials about her grandmother are also missing, and only a few people had the opportunity to take them, including Sadie herself. Soon Sadie, already shattered by her husband’s infidelity and the couple’s ultimate divorce, is the prime suspect of the theft. Her reputation is on the line as is her grandmother’s and solving the mystery is the only way to redeem them.

Park Avenue Summer

Chicago author Renee Rosen describes her latest novel, Park Avenue Summer as “Mad Men Meets the Devil Wears Prada.”

Chicago-based author Renee Rosen typically writes novels about historic periods and people in Chicago, such as Windy City Blues; White Collar Girl and Dollface.

              But in Park Avenue Summer, her latest novel, which she describes as “Mad Men Meets The Devil Wears Prada,” she takes us to New York City during the era of Helen Gurley Brown, first female editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine and the author of the scandalous ’60s best-seller, Sex and the Single Girl.

Like many of us, Rosen read Cosmo when she was young. Rosen remembers quickly flipping to the “Bedside Astrologer” column.

Author Renee Rosen

“I was looking for guidance on my 16-year-old love life,” she says, noting that all the time she spent poring over the glossy pages of Cosmo essentially shaped her view of female sexuality and female empowerment. “She changed the face of women’s magazines,” she said of Brown.

“Park Avenue Summer” tells the story of Alice (Ali), who moves to New York City after breaking up with her boyfriend and ends up getting her dream job, working for Cosmo.

Like she does for all her books, Rosen threw herself into full research mode, wanting to convey the story through Alice’s eyes.

“I even went down to the Port Authority to get the feel of what Alice would have seen and felt when she arrived,” Rosen says.

Because Rosen had lived on the Upper West side in New York for a year, she knew where Ali, as a single working girl, would live — an area in the East 60s called “the girl’s ghetto.” She walked the streets until she found the exact apartment she had envisioned for Ali.

All in the name of research, she visited Tavern on the Green, 21 Club, St. Regis and the Russian Tearoom, all swank places still in business that were popular back then. But best of all, a friend introduced her to Lois Cahall who had worked for Brown.

“Helen Gurley Brown was like a second mother to Lois,”  Rosen says.

“She and I became good friends, and she vetted the book for me. It was like a gift from the gods, because she knew so much about Brown and Cosmo and that time.”

Rosen is very much an admirer of Brown and what she accomplished.

“She really wanted to help women be their best,” she says. “She wanted them to know that they could get what they want even in what was then a man’s world.”

Park Avenue Summer

              Chicago-based author Renee Rosen typically writes novels about historic periods and people in Chicago such as the age of jazz (Windy City Blues); mid-20th century journalism (White Collar Girl) and the Roaring Twenties (Dollface). But in Park Avenue Summer, her latest novel which she describes as “Mad Men the Devil Wears Prada,” she takes us to New York City during the era of Helen Gurley Brown, first female Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine and the author of the scandalous best seller, Sex and the Single Girl.

              Like many of us, Rosen read Cosmo (as it was known) when young.

              Rosen remembers quickly flipping to “Bedside Astrologer” column.

              “I was looking for guidance on my 16-year-old love life,” she says, noting that all the time she spent poring over the glossy pages of Cosmo essentially shaped my view of female sexuality and female empowerment, too. “She changed the face of women’s magazine.”

              Park Avenue Summer tells the story of Alice (Ali), who moves to New York City after breaking up with her boyfriend and ends up getting her dream job, working for Cosmo.

              Like she does for all her books, Rosen threw herself into full research mode, wanting to convey the story through Alice’s eyes.

              “I even went down to the Port Authority to get the feel of what Alice would have seen and felt when she arrived,” says Rosen.  

              Because Rosen had lived on the Upper West side in New York for a year she knew where Ali, as a single working girl would live—an area in the East 60s called “the girl’s ghetto.” She walked the streets until she found the exact apartment she had envisioned for Ali.

              All in the name of research, she visited Tavern on the Green, 21 Club, St. Regis and the Russian Tearoom, all swank places still in business that were very popular back then. But best of all, a friend introduced her to Lois Cahall who had worked for Brown.

              “Helen Gurley Brown was like a second mother to Lois,” says Rosen. “She and I became good friends and she vetted the book for me. It was like a gift from the gods, because she knew so much about Brown and Cosmo and that time.”

              Rosen is very much an admirer of Brown and what she accomplished.

              “She really wanted to help women be their best,” she says. “She wanted them to know that they could get what they want even in what was then a man’s world.”

Ifyougo:

What: Rene Rosen has several book signing events in the Chicago area.

When & Where: Tuesday, April 30th at 7 p.m.  Launch party at The Book Cellar Launch Party, 4736 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL.

When & Where: Wednesday, May 1 at 11:30 a.m., Luncheon at The Deer Path Inn, 255 East Illinois St., Lake Forest, IL. $55 includes lunch and book. Seating is limited and reservations are required. Sponsored by Lake Forest Bookstore. 847-234-4420; lakeforestbookstore.com

When & Where: Wednesday, May 1 at 6:30 p.m. The Book Stall, 811 Elm St, Winnetka, IL 847-446-8880; thebookstall.com.  In conversation with Susanna Calkins who is celebrating the release of Murder Knocks Twice, the start of a new mystery series set in the world of Chicago speakeasy in the 1920s.

When & Where: Monday, May 13 at 7 p.m. The Book Table’s Authors on Tap series with author Jamie Freveletti. Beer Shop 1026 North Blvd., Chicago, IL. 847- 946-4164; beershophq.com

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