Friday, January 21, 2022

Book Review: The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis

Pages: 368
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: January 25, 2022
Publisher: Dutton
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: The Lions of Fifth Avenue
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Eight months since losing her mother in the Spanish flu outbreak of 1919, twenty-one-year-old Lillian Carter’s life has completely fallen apart. For the past six years, under the moniker Angelica, Lillian was one of the most sought-after artists’ models in New York City, with statues based on her figure gracing landmarks from the Plaza Hotel to the Brooklyn Bridge. But with her mother gone, a grieving Lillian is rudderless and desperate—the work has dried up and a looming scandal has left her entirely without a safe haven. So when she stumbles upon an employment opportunity at the Frick mansion—a building that, ironically, bears her own visage—Lillian jumps at the chance. But the longer she works as a private secretary to the imperious and demanding Helen Frick, the daughter and heiress of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick, the more deeply her life gets intertwined with that of the family—pulling her into a tangled web of romantic trysts, stolen jewels, and family drama that runs so deep, the stakes just may be life or death.  Nearly fifty years later, mod English model Veronica Weber has her own chance to make her career—and with it, earn the money she needs to support her family back home—within the walls of the former Frick residence, now converted into one of New York City’s most impressive museums. But when she—along with a charming intern/budding art curator named Joshua—is dismissed from the Vogue shoot taking place at the Frick Collection, she chances upon a series of hidden messages in the museum: messages that will lead her and Joshua on a hunt that could not only solve Veronica’s financial woes, but could finally reveal the truth behind a decades-old murder in the infamous Frick family."


The year is 1966 and Veronica Weber is an aspiring model. She has landed her dream job at a photo shoot on location at the Frick Collection in New York City.  Things don't go as planned though and she ends up sulking at the museum and consequently finds some hidden old papers. These papers aren't just any old papers though; she realizes that they are old scavenger hunt clues, which she thinks may provide the location of the missing pink diamond once owned by Henry Frick.  The other parallel story line, which takes place 50 years earlier, is from Lillian Carter's point of view.  Lillian is a former artists' model who is now working as Helen Frick's personal secretary hoping to escape the scandal, which is currently following her.  Even though her very resemblance is found in many of the statues from the time period, including some at the Frick household, she is trying to be incognito as Helen's secretary.  Lillian's part of the story is slowly developed as readers come to realize her role in not only the Frick household, but also the diamond's disappearance.  Fiona Davis's The Magnolia Palace is a wonderful historical novel filled with suspense, historical details, and a lot of art.

I really enjoyed Lillian from the start of The Magnolia Palace. I could tell from the beginning that she was going to be one of those characters that I didn't always agree with, but I cared about nonetheless.  She tends to run away from her problems, instead of facing them, and that makes for a very entertaining story.  For example, when she somehow gets tied into her landlord's homicide case, she runs from police instead of subjecting herself to the questioning.  She makes an awful lot of rash decisions without her mother's guidance; however, you can't help but root for her. When she finds herself at the Frick household interviewing for the position of a personal secretary to Helen Frick, she can't believe her luck. She literally happened upon this opportunity as it was a case of mixed-up identities. Since she was running from the police, this turned out to be serendipitous.  Lillian thinks this job will just be temporary (so there's no harm in concealing her real identity) as she is just trying to get enough money to head out to California to pursue her dream of acting; however, things get super complicated.

The parallel story line in The Magnolia Palace is from Veronica's perspective and is fifty years later. At first, I had no clue how Davis was going to tie these two seemingly different plot lines together, but once Veronica ends up at the Frick Collection for her photo shoot, I knew we were headed in the right direction.  Veronica encounters these hidden papers and with Joshua, the archivist's, help, they realize the importance of them.  Could they withhold Frick family secrets as well as the location of the missing pink diamond?

The Magnolia Palace includes a lot of action and a lot more suspense than I thought it would have. I was pleasantly surprised by the mystery and how it unfolded.  Davis is quickly becoming one of my favorite historical authors, especially if you are looking for a historical mystery.

Have you read The Magnolia Palace? Is it on your TBR list? Are you a fan of Fiona Davis? Let me know in the comments below. 


  1. I'm so looking forward to this one - Davis does dual timelines so well and I'm always interested in learning more about the iconic NYC buildings she chooses to highlight!

    1. Yes! I agree. I think you'll like this one. Thanks for visiting, Angela!

  2. I enjoyed this as well, Christina. Davis' research into the Frick family and the mansion really shines. The mystery element was a surprise to me. I loved it. Best, LA

    1. I agree, Laurel! I have really come to enjoy her historical novels. Thanks for visiting!


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