Book Review: The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis


Book Title and Author: The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis
Publication Date and Publisher: August 07, 2018 by Dutton 
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 368 pages
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Date Read: August 6, 2018 (e-arc)

4.25 Stars

Goodreads Synopsis: 

For the nearly nine million people who live in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is a crown jewel, a masterpiece of design. But for Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, it represents something quite different.

For Clara, the terminal is the stepping stone to her future, which she is certain will shine as the brightly as the constellations on the main concourse ceiling. It is 1928, and twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the lauded Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public’s disdain for a “woman artist.” Brash, fiery, confident, and single-minded–even while juggling the affections of two men, a wealthy would-be poet and a brilliant experimental painter–Clara is determined to achieve every creative success. But she and her bohemian friends have no idea that they’ll soon be blindsided by the looming Great Depression, an insatiable monster with the power to destroy the entire art scene. And even poverty and hunger will do little to prepare Clara for the greater tragedy yet to come.

Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia Clay’s life. Full of grime and danger, from the smoke-blackened ceiling to the pickpockets and drug dealers who roam the floor, Grand Central is at the center of a fierce lawsuit: Is the once-grand building a landmark to be preserved, or a cancer to be demolished? For Virginia, it is simply her last resort. Recently divorced, she has just accepted a job in the information booth in order to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. But when Virginia stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, her eyes are opened to the elegance beneath the decay. She embarks on a quest to find the artist of the unsigned masterpiece–an impassioned chase that draws Virginia not only into the battle to save Grand Central but deep into the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931.

My Review:

The Masterpiece is an enchanting piece of historical fiction and well deserving of all 5 stars! This is my first time reading a novel written by Fiona Davis, but it will definitely not be my last! 

My mother is an artist and was an art history professor until she retired, so art has always been a fascinating and beloved part of my life. I immediately knew based on the synopsis that I would thoroughly enjoy this story since thanks to my mother and her passionate love of all things New York and it’s unique and extraordinary art history, I already knew of the history surrounding the Grand Central School of Art.

However, I never imagined Davis would make me fall in love with this novel by constructing such a stunning literary masterpiece by richly drawing the characters of Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, two strong, intelligent, vibrant women living in entirely different eras looking to make a new start in their lives while using the historic landmark of the Grand Central Terminal and the Grand Central School of Art as the focus of the novel. 

The story alternates beautifully between the two women as Davis tells the story of the two women employed at Grand Central Terminal almost fifty years apart. Clara is chasing her dream of becoming an illustrator for Vogue while being the only female teacher at the Grand Central School of Art. She is highly talented, passionate, and ambitious, but art is a male-dominated world in the 1920s. As she chases her dreams, she finds romance, continues to struggle in the male-dominated society even after proving her worth as an artist once Vogue hires her, especially when the Great Depression hits America. Then a terrible tragedy strikes in the early 1930s and Clara is never heard from again. 

Virginia, a breast cancer survivor is a newly divorcee in 1974 from her rich, lawyer husband. She’s struggling with her new lifestyle, to support herself and her teenage daughter Ruby, and to come to terms with herself post-cancer.

Virginia takes a job at Grand Central Terminal as an information-desk clerk and while there, she begins to explore the terminal and discovers the long locked up art school and a mysterious painting that might just answer what happened to Clara Darden. Her finding stirs up questions that the people she turns to for answers will apparently do anything to stop her from discovering. While searching for answers about the painting, Clara, and the art school, Virginia finds out that the terminal, now dirty and in disrepair, is in danger of being destroyed, so she also makes it her mission to help save the historical site. 

The novel is extremely well-researched and well-written; it truly is like a wondrous masterpiece itself. The characters, even the ones you dislike, are richly detailed and masterfully woven into the novel. The plot is spellbinding and it was as if I had stepped back into both decades with the effortless and passionate way Davis told the story. The two plots converged in an unexpected yet flawless way, and there are appearances by Jackie Onassis, who is fighting to save the terminal that just made the novel that much more special for me…if you know me, you know that I have a Jackie O obsession!

Just like fine art, this is a magical and enchanting novel that is historical fiction at its finest. I really cannot recommend The Masterpiece highly enough to lovers of historical fiction since it is a stunning, beautiful read. Davis tells a captivating story that will definitely keep you engrossed as it did me. 

**Thank you Edelweiss and Dutton for the ARC copy to read in exchange for my fair and honest review.**

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22 thoughts on “Book Review: The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

  1. Beautiful review, Stephanie! I have read almost all glowing reviews of this one, and then yesterday, I saw one for three stars…so I was hoping I could skip it. Nope, doesn’t look like I can! Would you believe I bought her first two books and have not read them yet? Story of my life! I appreciated that info about your mom teaching art history. I love the stuff. I was influenced by a high school art teacher of mine and still keep in touch with her on facebook! I also took photography from her, but we won’t tell her I take pictures of books these days! 😂Loved your review, my friend! ♥️

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    1. Thank you, Jennifer! I’m surprised there was a 3 star review on this one but then again, not everyone likes the same books! You have to read it! And I have to read her other two, lol. I’m not surprised that you love art history! Oh, yes, we would take the summers and travel to art museums all over the country and went to several trips to Europe when I was growing up, and I can say that it was a unique visit with her since she knew so much about the art-talk about educational! I love being so close to the NC Museum of Art and like to just go there to relax. That’s wonderful! I bet she would love your pictures; they are gorgeous! My photography skills are lacking. I used to cut off at least 1 person’s head when taking a pic, but I’ve gotten better. Still, I am no photographer, lol. I can paint (?), but that is the extent of my artistic talent. Thank you again! ❤

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      1. Painting is not easy to do! I tried so hard, but I didn’t ever feel I was that good. My teacher does amazing watercolors and I need to buy one for our home. I had a friend growing up whose mom worked at NC Museum of Art as a curator! What a job! ♥️ Every place we have traveled, we have to see the art. Luckily my husband enjoys it too. I can imagine it would even more special to share with your mom and with all her knowledge. Thank you for the compliment on my pictures! If I had more time, I could do a better job, but they already are a bit time-consuming. Did you spend any time at Ackland at Carolina? I love it so much! ♥️

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      2. That would be lovely! I have one drawing that my mom did, but it’s not hanging up. Maybe I’ll hang it up one day. It’s gorgeous though. That would be a wonderful job! I have to too; my husband is less enthusiastic, but he goes if I make him. You’re welcome! I bet they are! It takes me just 30 min to take a selfie that has all my face in it, lol. I did! I love Ackland. Right now they are hosting he Outwin: American Portraiture Today exhibition from The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. My oldest son went with me to see it (he loves art and is very talented), and we both enjoyed it a lot!


      3. You should! It’s good! Oh, lol! I should. She drew it for my daughter (it’s a guardian angel), so I definitely should. But we haven’t seen each other but 3x since 1995, so I guess it’s complicated. Still, it’s gorgeous.

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    1. I just adore Jackie. I wasn’t alive of course when she was First Lady, but I’ve always been fascinated by her during those years and beyond. She was truly a great lady. I need to read Davis’ other books! Thank you!


  2. Fantastic review! I cannot tell you how excited I am to read this book! It will also be my first Fiona Davis book. I saw this cover and knew instantly I wanted to read it. I’m hoping to start it next week!

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