Review: THE CHELSEA GIRLS by Fiona Davis

Review:  THE CHELSEA GIRLS by Fiona DavisThe Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis
four-half-stars
Published by Dutton Books on July 30, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CHELSEA GIRLS Review

 

As a fan of historical fiction and a lover of all things New York City, I have had Fiona Davis’ novels on my must-read list for a while now. I had a feeling she would be a great fit for me, and I’m happy to say that my instinct was correct. Her latest novel, The Chelsea Girls, was everything I hoped it would be and more.  The story begins in Naples Italy during WWII and follows two young women, Hazel Ripley and Maxine Mead, who meet and become fast friends while serving on a USO tour together.  Once the war is over, Hazel and Maxine return to the states, specifically to New York City and the iconic Chelsea Hotel, where they are each looking to jumpstart their careers, Maxine as an actress and Hazel as a playwright.  The Chelsea Girls follows both Hazel and Maxine and focuses on how their lives and their friendship are impacted by the 1950s and specifically the McCarthy Era and the threat of Communism.

The historical aspect of The Chelsea Girls was a huge draw for me.  The 1950s is a period I’ve not encountered in many historical novels so, in many ways, it was a unique and refreshing read. Davis also does an incredible job of portraying just how destructive this period in history was for the entertainment industry.  Joseph McCarthy, the House Unamerican Activities Committee, and everyone else who bought into the hysteria and fear that Communists were infiltrating the U.S. were just relentless and ruthless in their pursuit and takedown of anyone they suspected of having Communist ties.  I was riveted by Davis’ exploration of the way they targeted the entertainment industry, and especially the way they got so many in the theater world blacklisted, destroying careers and lives, often without a shred of real evidence against their targets.

It wasn’t just the historical aspect of the novel that appealed to me though. I was also drawn to The Chelsea Girls because I knew a female friendship was at the heart of the story. And the friendship between Hazel and Maxine does not disappoint. Both characters are multi-layered and just oh so complex and their relationship follows suit.  I became completely invested in their friendship as soon as they met on the USO tour in Naples during WWII and continued to care very deeply for them as they experienced the inevitable ups and downs that come with a 20+ year friendship.  Their relationship is filled not only with love, friendship, support and successes, but also with failures, hurt, and betrayal.  Davis does a beautiful job of weaving together all those elements in such an organic way that it felt like I knew these women and was there watching their relationship evolve over the years.  I didn’t always love both characters, but I was still invested in them just the same.

A final element of Davis’ storytelling that I loved is that she makes the iconic Chelsea Hotel into a character of sorts.  This fascinated me, especially given the host of illustrious artistic types the landmark hotel housed in its day. If the Chelsea were actually a person, he or she would certainly have seen a lot!

As a side note, I also loved that as we follow Hazel’s career as a playwright, we get to follow the steps involved in staging a play on Broadway.  We see it from writing the actual script all the way through to opening night. I found it all so interesting and loved the extra layer that it added to an already multi-layered story.

The Chelsea Girls is an engaging and powerful historical read.  In addition to shedding a light on what a witch hunt the McCarthy Era really was, it’s also a moving story about female friendship and all its highs and lows.  These characters and their experiences are going to stick with me for a while and so I’d highly recommend it to any fan of historical fiction, theater, and female friendships.

Fiona Davis has me hooked now with her special brand of storytelling.  The Chelsea Girls was my first read from her, but it definitely will not be my last!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From Fiona Davis, the nationally bestselling author of The Dollhouse and The Address, the bright lights of the theater district, the glamour and danger of 1950s New York, and the wild scene at the iconic Chelsea Hotel come together in a dazzling new novel about the twenty-year friendship that will irrevocably change two women’s lives.

From the dramatic redbrick facade to the sweeping staircase dripping with art, the Chelsea Hotel has long been New York City’s creative oasis for the many artists, writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and poets who have called it home—a scene playwright Hazel Riley and actress Maxine Mead are determined to use to their advantage. Yet they soon discover that the greatest obstacle to putting up a show on Broadway has nothing to do with their art, and everything to do with politics. A Red scare is sweeping across America, and Senator Joseph McCarthy has started a witch hunt for Communists, with those in the entertainment industry in the crosshairs. As the pressure builds to name names, it is more than Hazel and Maxine’s Broadway dreams that may suffer as they grapple with the terrible consequences, but also their livelihood, their friendship, and even their freedom.

Spanning from the 1940s to the 1960s, The Chelsea Girls deftly pulls back the curtain on the desperate political pressures of McCarthyism, the complicated bonds of female friendship, and the siren call of the uninhibited Chelsea Hotel.

four-half-stars

About Fiona Davis

Fiona Davis is the nationally bestselling author of THE MASTERPIECE, THE DOLLHOUSE and THE ADDRESS. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction. Visit her at www.fionadavis.net, facebook.com/FionaDavisAuthor/ and on Instagram and Twitter @fionajdavis.

Review: THE LAST TIME I LIED by Riley Sager

Review:  THE LAST TIME I LIED by Riley SagerThe Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
Also by this author: Final Girls
four-half-stars
Published by Dutton Books on July 3, 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 370
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 
 
 
 

MY REVIEW:

 
Last year I read and loved Riley Sager’s suspenseful thriller, Final Girls, so when I heard he had a new book coming out this summer, The Last Time I Lied, I couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough.  I got my hands on a copy and sat down one evening to read what I thought would be just a few chapters before bedtime, but instead, ended up being about half the book.  I remember the same exact thing happened to me when I read Final Girls.  There is just something so addicting about Sager’s writing – he draws you into his tale so thoroughly that you just can’t even come up for air until you’ve followed every plot twist and devoured every clue.

Like Final Girls and other thrillers, The Last Time I Lied is one of those books that I think is best to go into knowing as little as possible, but what I definitely want to share with you are some reasons why I think you’re going to want to read this book.

 

4 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD ADD THE LAST TIME I LIED TO YOUR READING LIST:

 

  1. Complicated Protagonist. If you like your characters complex, Emma Davis is your girl. Emma, an up and coming artist in New York, attended Camp Nightingale when she was 13 years old. When the older three girls in Emma’s cabin decide to sneak out in the middle of the night, they leave Emma behind, telling her she’s too young to come with them.  That was the last time anyone saw the girls.

Fifteen years later, Emma is still haunted by their disappearance so much so that she includes the girls in each of her paintings, burying them beneath layers and layers of paints so that only she knows they’re there.  She realizes that she can’t continue like this forever, that it’s becoming an unhealthy obsession. When the opportunity to return to Camp Nightingale unexpectedly presents itself, Emma decides that she needs to go.  If she can figure out what happened to the girls, maybe after all of these years she can finally get some closure and move on…

What makes Emma so complex is that even though I felt tremendous sympathy for what she must have gone through as a 13 year old when those girls went missing and for what she has continued to go through as an adult, I still sometimes got the vibe that she wasn’t being completely honest, that she was keeping secrets.  I found myself skeptical of her version of events, which had me turning the pages even faster, because I wanted to know if I could trust her or not.  Not knowing if I could trust Emma or not really added to the overall suspense of the novel.

  1. Creepy Camp Setting. This is such an atmospheric read.  Sager does a phenomenal job of creating the eeriest girls’ summer camp ever.  Everything about the setting has a real horror movie vibe. The unsolved mystery of what happened to those girls casts a huge shadow over the camp and creates tension and suspense around every corner.  Even though it has been fifteen years, it still feels like something could happen to anyone at anytime.  The land the camp is built on is also the subject of legends and folklore that will make your hair stand on end and wonder if something supernatural is afoot on Camp Nightingale’s  lands.
  1. Dual Timeline.   The Last Time I Lied is presented to the readers in a dual timeline format.  Emma is the narrator in both timelines, the present day one and the one from fifteen years ago.  The modern day timeline follows Emma as she returns to the camp and plays amateur sleuth, trying to see if she can solve the mystery that alluded police detectives all those years ago.  The other timeline follows Emma while she was a young camper at Camp Nightingale. It follows her from her arrival at the camp up through the disappearance of her cabin mates and the ensuing investigation.  Sager does a brilliant job of weaving together these two intricate storylines, revealing key details in the modern timeline and then revisiting the past and showing why exactly the details we’ve just seen are relevant.  I found the story all the more compelling watching the details unfold in this manner.
  1. Web of Secrets and Lies. If you enjoy a mystery that is filled with plot twists that keep you guessing, The Last Time I Lied should be a book after your own heart.  There are so many secrets and lies swirling around throughout the novel that it gets very difficult to know who can be trusted, if anyone, and the lies just further the suspense and add intricate layers to the plot twists.  A popular game the girls played at the camp is Two Truths and a Lie, and the more I read, the more appropriate the game seemed because this is a book filled with people who cannot be trusted.

I especially enjoyed the detective story aspect of the novel as we follow Emma playing detective, trying to uncover some of those secrets and lies and piece together what happened to the girls fifteen years ago.  Emma even requests to stay in the same cabin she stayed in all those years ago in hopes of uncovering some clues that were overlooked that could possibly lead her to the truth of what happened to her friends.   In many ways, the story reads like a modern day Nancy Drew novel.

 

MY FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE LAST TIME I LIED:

 

As much as I enjoyed Riley Sager’s Final Girls, I actually enjoyed The Last Time I Lied so much more.  Maybe it’s the timing – reading a book about a creepy summer camp in the middle of the summer – or maybe it’s just Sager’s superior storytelling abilities, but whatever the reason, this is one of my favorite reads of the year so far.  It kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, which is all that I could possibly want from a thriller, so I definitely look forward to reading more from Riley Sager.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present.

And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.

four-half-stars

About Riley Sager

Riley Sager is the award-winning pseudonym of a former journalist, editor and graphic designer who previously published mysteries under his real name.

Now a full-time author, Riley’s first thriller, FINAL GIRLS, became a national and international bestseller and was called “the first great thriller of 2017” by Stephen King. Translation rights have been sold in more than two dozen countries and a film version is being developed by Universal Pictures.

Riley’s second book, THE LAST TIME I LIED, was published in 2018 and became an instant New York Times bestseller. It was inspired by the classic novel and film “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and one horrible week Riley spent at summer camp when he was ten. A television adaptation is being developed by Amazon Studios.

His next book, LOCK EVERY DOOR, inspired by a lifelong fascination with the grand apartment buildings on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, will be published in July.

A native of Pennsylvania, Riley now lives in Princeton, New Jersey. When he’s not writing, he enjoys reading, cooking and going to the movies as much as possible. His favorite film is “Rear Window.” Or maybe “Jaws.” But probably, if he’s being honest, “Mary Poppins.”