After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she'd make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility--no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one's station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else . . . and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.
In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey's grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won't see a dime of the Camden family's substantial estate. Instead, her -cousin- Melinda--Camden's biological great-granddaughter--will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda's vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in . . . and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell's Island.
One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages--for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City--and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side's gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich--and often tragic--as The Dakota's can't hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden--and the woman who killed him--on its head.
My Thoughts:The Dakota is one of NYC's most well known buildings but mostly because of its tragedies and celebrity tenants, not necessarily for its beauty. I love old buildings and their unique characters which is what first drew me to this story. Buildings and homes just are not made with the craftsmanship and beauty they once were in our overly efficient and cookie cutter world. Reading a historical fiction novel (a new personal favorite) about such a building intrigued me.
While the story of its inception was merely a small backdrop, the Dakota was definitely a major character in this story of love, loss and betrayal. The two main characters, Sara and Bailey, are both drawn to the building for different reasons but both find love and betrayal there. Both women were also victims of money and all of its trappings.
This book made me very grateful to NOT be a woman in the 1800's! I enjoyed this story quite a lot and found reading of this era and the beginnings of New York City to be very interesting. There was a middle area where things slowed down for me but then came a plot twist that I was very surprised by...things flew by after that.
While I wish a few more of the smaller plotlines would have been fleshed out a bit more and the ending seemed a tad rushed, I found the lives of Sara and Bailey to be intriguing. They may have been separated by one hundred years but they were both searching for the same things; love and acceptance. 4/5 stars
Author's site: http://www.fionadavis.net/