About this book: (from the publisher) The Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin, the boldest of four artistic sisters in a family living in genteel poverty, knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, the boy next door and her first love.
When Charlie proposes instead to a woman from a wealthy family, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up and turns their story into fiction, obsessively rewriting a better ending. Though she works with newfound intensity, literary success eludes her—until she attends a salon hosted in her brother’s writer friend John Hopper’s Fifth Avenue mansion. Among painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under the handsome, enigmatic John’s increasingly romantic attentions.
Just as she and her siblings have become swept up in the society, though, Charlie throws himself back into her path, and Ginny learns that the salon’s bright lights may be obscuring some dark shadows. Torn between two worlds that aren’t quite as she’d imagined them, Ginny will realize how high the stakes are for her family, her writing, and her chance at love.
About the author: (from her website) Joy Callaway’s love of storytelling is a direct result of her parents’ insistence that she read books or write stories instead of watching TV. Her interest in family history was fostered by her relatives’ habit of recounting tales of ancestors’ lives. Joy is a full-time mom and writer. She formerly served as a marketing director for a wealth management company. She holds a B.A. in Journalism and Public Relations from Marshall University and an M.M.C. in Mass Communication from the University of South Carolina. She resides in Charlotte, NC with her husband, John, and her children, Alevia and John. Connect with her online at JoyCallaway.com.
Reminds me of: The Paris Winter by Imogene Robertson
If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for occasional profanity and mature themes
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Reflection: In the mood to get lost in another time and place and learn something literary along the way? Then consider this well-spoken debut, an artful tribute to…well, the arts. As other novelists have done for the salons of London and Paris, Joy Callaway does here for the budding artists’ scene of nineteenth century New York, illuminating both its glowing facade as well as its darker underside. In extravagant detail, she explores what it meant to be an artist of virtually any stripe in that time and place, whether it be male or female, writer, painter, musician, or even fashion designer (millinery).
What makes this story particularly remarkable is that all of these disciplines are represented in one talented family. More remarkable still, Callaway based her novel on stories gleaned from her own family tree. I saw shades of Little Women in its familial themes of love, loyalty, and conflict — though it has a far different tone.
If at times the dialogue tilted slightly toward expository, that may be forgiven as these bits are nestled amidst narration rich in meticulous detail. The Fifth Avenue Artists Society is a love letter to family, and the arts, and an imaginative serenade on the subject of why art matters. It pays tribute to those who paid high sacrifices to practice their craft — and recognizes the pain that results when artists are denied the opportunity to express themselves in their chosen art form.
Thanks to She Reads and Harper for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
Bonus! I have one print copy of The Fifth Avenue Artists Society to give away to a lucky reader (U.S. residents only, please). Enter here:
After words: Do stories like these inspire you to trace the stories in your own family tree?