Home is Where the Library Is: The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

A woman dressed in a bright yellow dress walks while reading through a grand lobby with well-lit doors and windows behind her.

by Cherise T.

I have a favorite photo of my kids where my son is wearing his baseball cap backwards and my daughter is wearing a poncho as a skirt. Today, my son’s visors often still point in reverse and my daughter never misses the opportunity to transform an article of clothing into something original and extraordinary. 

Where, you ask, was this photo taken? In front of the New York Public Library, the revered Fifth Avenue building guarded by two marble lions. A library with an eight-room apartment on the mezzanine.

Having never read a novel by the popular historical fiction author Fiona Davis, I was attracted to the plotline of The Lions of Fifth Avenue, not only because of my love for libraries but because I have entertained the fantasy of enjoying unlimited access to stacks and stacks of books. Deep, dark stacks with first editions and handwritten notes by famous authors. One of my favorite books in the HCLS collection is The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems because I can sink into Dickinson’s creative process and believe, for phrases at a time, that I am sharing a word journey into an otherwise fathomless mind. 

Told through the dual lenses of 1993 and 1913-18, The Lions of Fifth Avenue reads both as historical fiction and mystery. The plot weaves the interconnected stories of a family with a deep multigenerational connection to the New York Public Library. In 1993, Sadie Donovan strives for an ever more significant leadership role as an NYPL librarian and curator. In 1913, Sadie’s grandmother, Laura Lyons, aspires to be a journalist in a society where women’s professional opportunities were limited. Whereas Sadie works at the NYPL, Laura actually lives there in the apartment reserved for the family of the superintendent of the NYPL, who happens to be Laura’s husband, Jack. Laura and Jack live in the apartment with their children, Henry and Pearl. Both Sadie and Laura walk up the same steps and pass the same stone lions, and they face parallel hurdles in their careers and their romantic relationships. They share devotion to family and an insatiable attraction to investigation and knowledge. And Sadie and Laura contend with the theft of treasured library materials, setting them up as witnesses and suspects. 

Although the protagonists of the novel are fictional, the framework has historical roots. At one time, NYPL superintendents resided in the library, and the first superintendent who lived in the Fifth Avenue building raised children there. True as well is the unfortunate fact that rare books have been stolen from the library over the years. Fascinated by NY’s architectural landmarks, Davis writes novels revolving around different city buildings including the Barbizon Hotel, Dakota apartments, Chelsea Holtel, and Grand Central Terminal. Her writing has a real feel for New York City, and the plot twists in The Lions of Fifth Avenue make it a page turner. Climb the stairs between the lions, settle in to live in a library for a bit, and see if you can solve a few mysteries. 

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

The book cover depicts someone tearing through the pages of a book as if through a curtain, with a dark abyss behind and a bare arm reaching from inside the book.

By Eliana H.

“Hell is a series of hallways.” I think I can believe that. In The Library of the Unwritten, author A.J. Hackwith imagines not only Hell, but a variety of realms of the afterlife, down to the bureaucracy that governs them.

Claire Hadley has been Hell’s Librarian for a few decades now. She runs the Unwritten Wing, home to all of the stories that authors never actually wrote. Brevity, Claire’s assistant, is a former muse, and the two are joined by a demon, Leto, as they set off to retrieve a character who has escaped from his book and made his way to earth to seek his author. As they are ready to return to the Library, an angel shows up, expecting them to have a completely different book – the Devil’s Bible. 

Before they know it, Claire, Brevity, Leto, and Hero find themselves on an adventure to try to avert war between Heaven and Hell. They know such a battle would spell disaster for the humans who would be caught in the middle. In the end, all of the library’s resources will be needed to defend against those who would harm it. 

Hackwith does a beautiful job describing the worlds they travel through as we learn more about the intriguing cast of characters, none of whom are quite what they seem. She also demonstrates the politics of the different domains. 

This book was refreshing in the way it tied different beliefs and mythologies into an original premise with unique characters. I was captivated throughout. The journal entry or two from librarians through the ages beginning each chapter, which hinted at some of the challenges they faced in previous eras, were a helpful touch. This is the first book in a new series, so I look forward to learning more about the past – both Claire’s and the library’s – as well as further adventures to come.

The Library of the Unwritten is available from HCLS in print and also as an eaudiobook through OverDrive/Libby.

Eliana is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. She loves reading, even if she’s slow at it, and especially enjoys helping people find books that make them light up. She also loves being outside and spending time with friends and family (when it’s safe).