The Magnolia Palace: Book summary and reviews of The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis

The Magnolia Palace

A Novel

by Fiona Davis

The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis X
The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis
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Book Summary

Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue, returns with a tantalizing novel about the secrets, betrayal, and murder within one of New York City's most impressive Gilded Age mansions.

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.

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Media Reviews

"Davis returns with the captivating story of a missing diamond and the history of New York's Henry Clay Frick House, before and after it became a museum...[she] smoothly combines fact with fiction, and offers beautiful descriptions of the family's art collection. The colliding narratives and comprehensive descriptions of the historic mansion make for Davis's best work to date." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Davis adeptly interweaves two compelling story lines to shine a light on another NYC landmark (after novels set in the Chelsea Hotel and the New York Public Library). This is historical fiction at its best, with well-developed characters, detail, art history, and mystery." - Library Journal (starred review)

"Davis embellishes the real lives of the Frick family and Audrey Munson, a sculptors' muse, in a tale that will thrill fans of Anna Pitoniak and Karen Harper. She also jumps skillfully between the Roaring Twenties and the Swinging Sixties as another model explores the Frick Collection decades later. Davis' insider's perspective on the esteemed Frick family gives equal weight to those who kept the family afloat." - Booklist

"Fiona Davis has deployed an unmatched skill for unspooling compelling dramas amidst some of New York's most glittering historical moments.…The Magnolia Palace tells the story of two different women whose lives are changed at the Frick mansion, giving readers the chance to soak in dual eras of history all while great love, epic loss, dazzling fortunes, and foul play are afoot." - Town & Country

"Fiona Davis is at the top of her game in this intriguing, high-stakes novel about an iconic New York City landmark, the Frick mansion, and two women, fifty years apart, whose stories intersect within it. A family saga and historical thriller in one, The Magnolia Palace is a fast-paced, immersive delight." - Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and The Exiles

"I savor every glorious new Fiona Davis novel and The Magnolia Palace has it all—two intriguing heroines, two fabulous time periods to get swept up in, and a delicious mystery that keeps you on tenterhooks. I loved every minute of it!" - Martha Hall Kelly, New York Times bestselling author of Lilac Girls and Sunflower Sisters

"Once again, using her trademark brilliance, Fiona Davis transports her readers into a mysterious past lurking beneath the surface of our modern day world. In The Magnolia Palace, two very different women from two eras enter the Gilded Age realm of famous industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick and his imperious daughter Helen and become part of a thrilling mystery centered on the Frick mansion that stretches through the decades. Readers will never look at a historic building quite the same way again." - Marie Benedict, New York Times bestselling author of The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

This information about The Magnolia Palace was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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The Magnolia Palace
It is a terrific historical fiction with wonderful characters. I fell in love with Miss Lilly Carter. I enjoyed this book from beginning to end!


Captivating historical fiction with a mystery
Thanks to Penguin Group Dutton & NetGalley for a digital advance reader's copy. All comments and opinions are my own. #TheMagnoliaPalace #NetGalley

I have never been disappointed by anything I've ready by Fiona Davis and her newest novel stands up to my expectations. It is a dual timeline (1919 and 1966) with a strong, independent women in each period, plus a variety of memorable characters and a mystery. The storylines come together at the end of the novel in a very satisfying conclusion.

Davis says in her Author's Note how she "likes to layer a fictional story over the scaffolding of historical facts," and she has done so quite cleverly in The Magnolia Palace. The palace itself was the home of the immensely wealthy Frick family and is today's Frick Collection, a world famous art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection features Old Master paintings and European fine and decorative arts, including works by Bellini, Fragonard, Goya, Rembrandt, Turner, Velázquez, Vermeer, and many others.

We are introduced to the Collection and the Frick family in 1919 through Lillian Carter, or as she was known at the time, Angelica the artists' muse. Through a fortunate misunderstanding, she is hired as Helen Frick's personal assistant and moves into the Fricks' home. This works out well for her since she needs to keep a low profile due to being a murder suspect, which is another misunderstanding. The alternate timeline is 1966, and features British fashion model Veronica Weber, who inadvertently finds herself locked in the museum with a museum intern during a snowstorm.

Both of the young female main characters are models with unstable financial situations, without anyone to depend on other than themselves. And on top of that Lillian is falsely suspected of murder. Whether 1919 or 1966, both women have precarious social standings, but the pair ultimately demonstrate integrity when faced with the opportunity to be dishonest and deceitful.

Davis does an excellent job in describing the Fricks' style of living: the clothes, the food, the music, and the classes - as well as the art, of course. But it is ultimately the characters that make the book so readable. I had trouble putting it down as I became involved in Lillian's predicament of being so entrenched in the Frick family instead of following her dream of being a Hollywood star. By introducing Veronica's story, Davis has the opportunity to explain what really happened back in 1919. But alternating between the two women's narratives creates a delicious tension that kept me turning the pages.

Elizabeth @Silver's Reviews

Elizabeth @Silver's Reviews - Another Fiona Davis Gem
Lillian, known as Angelica in the art world, was beside herself after her mother died and was running out of jobs and money.

Her landlord was hounding her to pay rent when he murdered his wife and the police found a note from her that was a bit compromising. They thought Lillian was in on the murder so they could be together.

Lillian escaped out the fire escape when the police arrived, slept on a bench in Central Park for the night, and accidentally was drawn into the Frick Mansion for a job she hadn't applied for but got hired.

Lillian worked for Miss Helen the daughter of Fricks. She was a task master, and Lillian became involved in all the good and bad things happening in that household.

Then in 1966 we meet Veronica a model and Joshua a museum curator.

Veronica was in the Frick Museum for a photo shoot when she was sent out of the room and then became lost in the mansion. When all the models and crew left, she was locked in the museum. That's where she met Joshua and where they worked together on a scavenger hunt that was decades old and was a hunt devised by Helen Frick for her suitor.

Veronica had stumbled upon the clues as she was fumbling her way around in the dark, slipped, and saw pages sticking out of organ pipes. The pages revealed something similar to a game of clue. The clues mention the Magnolia Diamond.

What could the Magnolia Diamond be?

Did Helen hide it in this museum all those years ago when it was the residence of the Frick family?

Would Veronica find it?

What was its significance to the Frick family?

Since Veronica was stuck in the museum, she figured she would have to let Joshua in on this game and solve the clues together. Why not try to find the Magnolia Diamond. They had nothing else to do. It could be very valuable and get Veronica out of debt.

The hunt lead to solving mysteries that were fifty years old.

The blending of the two time lines and the intriguing story line is signature Fiona Davis as she again gives us another wonderful history lesson.

THE MAGNOLIA PALACE is a gem with a mystery, a murder, a famous family, and memorable characters you will connect with and a book you will not want to miss. 5/5

This book was given to me by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Betty J Taylor

Interesting piece of history
I always enjoy books by Fiona Davis as I learn about NYC’s historic landmarks while reading a well written historical fiction. Her books are also perfect for book clubs.

“The Magnolia Palace” features the Frick Museum, one of New York City’s most striking Gilded Age mansions. As is typical of Davis’ books, this one is written as a dual timeline alternating between 1919 with a murder mystery within the Frick family and “present day” 1966 when a model and an archivist become locked in the museum overnight.

I enjoyed the story of “Angelica” (Lillian Carter aka “Miss Lilly”) who was one of the most sought-after artists’ models in New York City. Statues of her are at various landmarks in the city. I never really thought about the women who posed for statues, which is one of the main points of this book. Miss Lilly is hired as personal secretary to the demanding and eccentric Helen Clay Frick. Thus, Lilly is thrust into the middle of the Frick family’s daily lives.

While the Frick family seemed to have it all, the unveiling of secrets and schemes within their house was interesting. Mr. Henry Clay Frick was nasty to his daughter Helen. Mrs. Frick locks herself away day after day. Martha, the oldest child, died at a young age. And siblings Helen and Childs do not get along.

Overall, I found the story fascinating and am eager for another story by Fiona Davis. I think anyone with an interest in the architectural landmarks of NYC will enjoy this book.

I received an Advance Review Copy of this book. All opinions are my own.


Mystery Enveloped in Art
Set against the backdrop of the art-filled Frick Mansion, a renowned sculptor’s muse, hiding in plain sight as a private secretary, finds herself in the middle of Frick family drama and entangled in a web of accusations. Decades later a winter storm brings together an unlikely pair, a Frick Museum intern and a would-be model, who complete a scavenger hunt to unravel an almost 50 year old legacy of intrigue leading them full circle to where it all started. A captivating read for mystery and art lovers alike.

Kris Anderson, The Avid Reader

An intriguing historical novel
The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis is a dual timeline novel that takes readers between 1919 and 1966. Lillian Carter, an artist’s model known as Angelica, finds herself on the run after her landlord is killed and the police suspect her of the crime. Sheer luck has her obtaining the position as personal secretary to Miss Helen Frick, the youngest daughter of Henry Clay Frick. Miss Lilly, as she is called, works with the mercurial Helen. She learns to manage the household, organize functions, handle the household accounts, and much more. Miss Lilly hopes to earn enough money to get to Hollywood where she can become an actress. Henry Clay Frick tasks Miss Lilly with helping to get his daughter wed. He promises her a nice sized bonus if she can get Helen engaged by Christmas. Miss Lilly gets drawn into the family drama that soon lands her in a precarious situation. Veronica Weber was discovered in London after an unfortunate (or in this case fortunate) haircut. She lands a plum assignment that has her in America in 1966 doing a photoshoot for Vogue at the Frick Museum. After an altercation with the photographer, Veronica hides out in pipe room (where the pipes for the pipe organ are arranged) to avoid the other models. She ends up locked in the building with an assistant archivist during a blizzard. Veronica had found clues for a scavenger hunt in the pipe room and the pair unravel the riddles. The result of the hunt could help settle Veronica financial dilemma and solve two long unsolved crimes. I thought The Magnolia Palace was well-written with developed characters. The author captured both time periods, but I thought her portrayal of 1919 was spot on. I could tell that she did her research on the Frick family and their collections. I am amazed at the art they collected. Their home which is now a museum is just beautiful. We get to see what daily life was like inside the Frick mansion in 1919 with the demanding Henry Clay Frick and the difficult Helen Frick. I liked the action and activities that propelled the story forward to the end. The ending nicely wrapped up the book. I appreciated the author’s note at the end along with her reading recommendations. I was baffled by a detail in the last chapter. I thought it was a week or so since the previous chapter, but then there was a 1977 reference. I wish the date has been clearly specified. The Magnolia Palace is an intriguing historical novel with a misplaced diamond, a lady lost at the loss of a loved one, a demanding dad, a devoted daughter, a strange scavenger hunt, an attractive art assemblage, and a mysterious mystery.

...3 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Fiona Davis Author Biography

Photo: © Deborah Feingold

Fiona Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of six historical fiction novels set in iconic New York City buildings, including The Magnolia Palace, The Dollhouse, The Address, and The Lions of Fifth Avenue, which was a Good Morning America book club pick. Her novels have been chosen as "One Book, One Community" reads and her articles have appeared in publications like The Wall Street Journal and O the Oprah magazine.

She first came to New York as an actress, but fell in love with writing after getting a master's degree at Columbia Journalism School. Her books have been translated into over twenty languages and she's based in New York City.

Link to Fiona Davis's Website

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