The Lions of Fifth Avenue will help your book club uncover the mysteries woven between two time periods. The author, Fiona Davis does a wonderful job intertwining the stories of two women eighty years apart. The novel alternates between Laura Lyons in 1913 and her granddaughter Sadie Donovan in 1993. These women are both connected to each other through the New York Public Library.
Your group will dive back into the story as you follow along with our The Lions of Fifth Avenue book club questions and discussion guide. Discuss the major themes of female empowerment, free-thinking women in the early 20th century, and the fight against the oppression of women’s rights. All that, while also discussing family intrigue, sacrifices, and secrets kept over generations.
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The Lions of Fifth Avenue Synopsis
The Lions of Fifth Avenue, Fiona Davis
It’s 1913, and on the surface, Laura Lyons couldn’t ask for more out of life—her husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library, allowing their family to live in an apartment within the grand building, and they are blessed with two children. But headstrong, passionate Laura wants more, and when she takes a leap of faith and applies to the Columbia Journalism School, her world is cracked wide open. As her studies take her all over the city, she is drawn to Greenwich Village’s new bohemia, where she discovers the Heterodoxy Club—a radical, all-female group in which women are encouraged to loudly share their opinions on suffrage, birth control, and women’s rights.
Soon, Laura finds herself questioning her traditional role as wife and mother. And when valuable books are stolen back at the library, threatening the home and institution she loves, she’s forced to confront her shifting priorities head on . . . and may just lose everything in the process.
Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie Donovan struggles with the legacy of her grandmother, the famous essayist Laura Lyons, especially after she’s wrangled her dream job as a curator at the New York Public Library. But the job quickly becomes a nightmare when rare manuscripts, notes, and books for the exhibit Sadie’s running begin disappearing from the library’s famous Berg Collection.
Determined to save both the exhibit and her career, the typically risk-averse Sadie teams up with a private security expert to uncover the culprit. However, things unexpectedly become personal when the investigation leads Sadie to some unwelcome truths about her own family heritage—truths that shed new light on the biggest tragedy in the library’s history.
10 Book Club Questions for The Lions of Fifth Avenue
- Laura writes in her note that “it was all ultimately her fault, that her own actions initiated a cascade of tragedies.” Do you agree that Laura is responsible, why or why not?
- Living in the early 1900’s, in what way was Laura a woman ahead of her time? How was she different than most women in that era?
- In what way does attending the Heterodoxy club change Laura’s outlook on her life, and how does it influence her actions?
- Since the early 20th century, how have things changed for women? How have things not changed?
- Sadie argues for a harsher sentence for the book thief at the trial, protesting that what was stolen was more than just a number of pages, but “pieces of Western history and culture that have a dramatic impact…the loss of these items is a detriment to all of humanity.” Do you agree with her?
- Other than their gender, how are Sadie and Laura similar? How are they different?
- How is Sadie affected when she finds of the truth about her grandmother’s legacy?
- The author, Davis has stated that this book is “about the power of women’s voices.” Do you agree? If not, do think there are other themes that are more pronounced?
- Both women are considered protagonists in the book, but whose story was more compelling to you? Sadie’s storyline? Laura’s? Why?
- While reading the book, did you suspect the identity of the book thieves? Was your prediction correct?
- BONUS QUESTION. Share this article on the history of the lions which guard the NYPL branch on Bryant and 5th Avenue. They are called Patience and Fortitude. How do those names relate to the library in general or the plot of the book?
Selected Reviews For The Lions of Fifth Avenue
“…What more could a reader want, a story about books. The setting has equal weight the same as a main character with a fascinating library taking center stage. The first story deals with the oppression of women’s rights as they fight pitched battle for every right automatically guaranteed to men. The author makes this work so well because she describes the tyranny and shows the characters immersed in it…”
“Love the premise of both plot lines. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a fan of the execution. There was something about Davis’s writing style that left me cold. The characters, be it their motivations or their personalities or their conversations with one another, all felt stilted and unconvincing. I love the library setting, and the discussion on the importance of books in general and primary sources in particular. But I kept having to suspend my disbelief over the actions and internal struggles of the main characters…”
“This book is a historical mystery set in the New York Public Library with two parallel timelines. I really wanted to love it but it just didn’t deliver. The historical story and protagonist were enjoyable but the modern story just doesn’t don’t work. Where Laura was naive, a product of her time period and upbringing, Sadie just came across as grossly immature. The criminal plot was stretched and the investigation and trial weren’t remotely realistic…”
“I loved this book! It contained so many things that I love ~ NYC, libraries, books, mysteries, and an exploration of the intricacies of life, love, and relationships. The dual timelines were equally fascinating to me, and there were so many twists and turns that I would never have expected when I began reading. It was such an interesting journey to go on, and while the characters faced some challenging times, the ending was ultimately satisfying for me.”
3 Books like The Lions of Fifth Avenue
If you love librarians (and who doesn’t!), then be sure to check out our whole article spotlighting books about librarians. It has fiction and non-fiction picks of the heroes of the stacks. We also have a related list of books primarily set in a library, which is full of cozy, creepy and mysteries libraries. You could also check out our guide for The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post— a Gilded Age tale of the cereal heiress or our guide for Trust, which is also set during the Golden Age.
The Personal Librarian, by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
Belle da Costa Green was far more than a librarian. She was hired by J.P. Morgan to curate his collection of books, manuscripts and artworks, which were housed in the newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. She became a formidable collector and curator, and a captivating fixture on the New York society scene. However, Belle was hiding a secret. She was not the White woman that New York (and Morgan) saw, but rather, Belle was Black. Her family had moved to New York, hoping to pass as White in order to gain a more secure economic life.
This book is a fictionalized account of her life as an extraordinary librarian, curator, lover and “passing” person of Color at a time when it was quite dangerous to do so. It’s a great follow-up read because of the library setting similar timeline regarding women’s rights.
Read it for your book club and use our discussion guide for The Personal Librarian.
The Book of Lost Names, Kristin Harmel
This story is also told in dual timelines, elderly Eva in the present day and a young Eva from the past. It’s a historical fiction inspired by true stories from WWII. During the war, Ava flees Paris and joins a forgery operation in which she helps hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis. She created a coded “book of lost names” to preserve the real names of the children.
In the modern day storyline, the book resurfaces at a library in Berlin, bringing Eva’s past rushing back to her.
The Book of Lost Names is a tense and compelling story of a community of people who risks their lives to help save the lives of Jewish people in need.
This is a great book for fans of The Nightingale.
The Rose Code: A Novel, Kate Quinn
This is a story about three women who become unlikely friends. They form a book club and work secretly as code breakers during WWII. The book follows the code cracking intrigues at Bletchley Park and it has a fascinating storyline involving the people who worked to decode encrypted Garman military communications.
In The Rose Code, the author focuses mostly on the trio of women, who bear the strain of war, loss, and the pressures of a sworn secrecy which will eventually tear them apart.
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