The bright lights of the theater district, the glamour and danger of 1950s New York, and the wild scene at the iconic Chelsea Hotel come together in a dazzling new novel about a twenty-year friendship that will irrevocably change two women's lives—from the national bestselling author of The Dollhouse and The Address.
From the dramatic redbrick facade to the sweeping staircase dripping with art, the Chelsea Hotel has long been New York City's creative oasis for the many artists, writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and poets who have called it home—a scene playwright Hazel Riley and actress Maxine Mead are determined to use to their advantage. Yet they soon discover that the greatest obstacle to putting up a show on Broadway has nothing to do with their art, and everything to do with politics. A Red scare is sweeping across America, and Senator Joseph McCarthy has started a witch hunt for Communists, with those in the entertainment industry in the crosshairs. As the pressure builds to name names, it is more than Hazel and Maxine's Broadway dreams that may suffer as they grapple with the terrible consequences, but also their livelihood, their friendship, and even their freedom.
Spanning from the 1940s to the 1960s, The Chelsea Girls deftly pulls back the curtain on the desperate political pressures of McCarthyism, the complicated bonds of female friendship, and the siren call of the uninhibited Chelsea Hotel.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||9.00(w) x 6.30(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Fiona Davis is the nationally bestselling author of The Dollhouse, The Address, and The Masterpiece. She lives in New York City and is a graduate of the College of William & Mary in Virginia and the Columbia Journalism School.
Read an Excerpt
Naples, Italy, April 1945
She hated Maxine Mead, and Italy, on first sight.
When Hazel had first auditioned for the USO tour, back in New York, she'd imagined arriving abroad and gingerly stepping off a plane to a cheering group of GIs. The stage would be a grand opera house or something similarly picturesque, like what she'd seen in the newsreels of Marlene Dietrich and Bob Hope entertaining the troops. Hazel would be sure to call them men, not boys, as the USO Actors' Handbook advised. After all, many of them had been fighting for four years now. They deserved respect as well as some wholesome entertainment, a respite from the fighting.
Upon boarding the Air Corps plane at LaGuardia Airport, Hazel was informed that she'd be replacing a member of an all-female acting troupe who'd come down with jaundice. Not until the noisy tin can of a cargo plane was aloft was she told her destination: Naples, Italy.
After a bumpy landing, Hazel lugged her two suitcases off the plane and stood on the tarmac, exhausted and confused, waiting for someone to tell her where to go, what to do next. The stifling heat was made worse by the fact that she'd been given the winter uniform, including wool stockings and thick winter panties. Every inch of her from the waist down itched as though she had ants crawling up her sweaty legs. Her uniform-a greenish-gray skirt, white blouse, long black tie, and garrison cap that she'd admired in the mirror back in New York-was now a stinking, wrinkled mess.
Finally, a soldier pulled up in a Jeep and called out her name. He tossed her suitcases in the back before helping her into the passenger seat.
They lurched off over a road battered by potholes, passing demolished apartment buildings and churches. Several women picked through a pile of garbage by the side of the road, stopping to stare at Hazel with dead eyes before turning back to their work. A group of ragged, emaciated children, one of whom sucked on his dirty fingers, watched the scavengers. Yet across the street, a tidy line of schoolboys walked past the desolation as if nothing were wrong. The air smelled of rotting vegetables; dust kicked into Hazel's nose and made her sneeze. Early in the war, the newspapers had published aerial photos of the city showing almost all of it up in smoke, annihilated by relentless bombing. While many of the inhabitants sought safety deep underground in the ancient Roman aqueducts and tunnels, at least twenty thousand people had been killed.
She tried to envision what it would be like if New York had been similarly decimated, she and her mother out with their shopping bags, stepping over chunks of concrete, going about their day. She couldn't imagine it. "This is terrible. There's hardly anything left," she said.
The driver shrugged. "Naples was the most bombed site in Italy."
"The residents rose up and resisted the Germans, right?" She tried to remember what she'd read in the papers. "Looks like they paid dearly for it."
"Sure did." He made a sharp left, off the main road. "They told me to take you directly to the stage."
She would have thought they'd give her a moment or two to freshen up after her interminable trip. "Is the acting company rehearsing?"
"Nope. It's a show." He nodded at the men trudging along the side of the road in the same direction, smoking cigarettes. "This is your audience." At the sound of a low rumble above them, every helmeted head snapped up, scouring the skies. But it was only thunder, from a slate-colored cloud to the west, far out over the sea. The helmets snapped back down.
A show. Good. She'd have a chance to watch the other actors. In New York, she'd been given the script for Blithe Spirit, which had been a big hit on Broadway four years earlier, along with instructions to learn the maid's role, and she had managed to memorize some of the lines during the flight.
The lines were the easy part for Hazel, as she'd been a serial understudy for the past few years. Hazel's hope, when she first auditioned for the USO, was to be able to break out of her understudy rut and finally act onstage in a real performance. This was her chance to try something new, so that when she returned to New York, she'd be taken seriously as a major actress, not just a backup to be called upon when the leading lady got the flu. Which, with Hazel's bad luck, had never happened. She'd even established a reputation among producers: Hiring Hazel Ripley as an understudy guaranteed that your leading lady would never miss a show. Twenty plays now under her belt, without going on even once.
Every night, she'd feel a guilty flicker of relief as the star flounced through the stage door, healthy and raring to go, but Hazel attributed her own reticence to her lack of experience. Surely, once she'd gotten a taste of performing in front of an audience, she'd become just as competitive and eager to take center stage as her brother and father had been. She was a Ripley, after all.
Her mother, Ruth, thought that joining the USO tour was a terrible idea, listing off the names of entertainers who had been injured or killed while abroad, usually in plane crashes. "And let's not forget that pretty Jane Froman, who almost lost both legs when her plane crashed into a river in Portugal," Ruth had said. "Accidents happen all the time. You know that's true."
Hazel had changed the subject fast, recognizing the dangerous quiver in Ruth's voice. But she remained undeterred. The opportunity to get onstage while supporting her country was too good to pass up, and she viewed it as a way to honor her brother's memory while, at the same time, stepping out of his shadow. Not to mention the pay was ten dollars a day plus meals. She'd filled out a long questionnaire, had her fingerprints taken, and gotten inoculated for diseases she'd never even heard of. And now, finally, she'd arrived.
The Jeep pulled into an enormous field, where Mount Vesuvius smoked away in the distance. Soldiers had taken seats on long benches facing a truck. One side of the truck bed was folded down to expose a platform furnished with a small table and four chairs; a drab-olive canopy was strung overhead. A flag hung from one side, with the words uso camp shows written in blue on a white background. This was the stage, although it couldn't be more than fifteen feet wide. A few hundred soldiers milled about, chatting and smoking cigarettes, with hundreds more still making their way across the field.
"Over there." The driver pointed behind the truck, where a large tent had been erected. "That's where the performers are." He helped her out and handed her the two suitcases. One held the remaining dastardly uniform and other sundries, while the other was full of her best dresses. The Actors' Handbook had listed a series of dos and don'ts: For the stage, bring dresses that you'd wear on an important Saturday night date. Travel as a unit at all times. If you behave properly, you'll increase your chance of making the better tours and improve your living and feeding conditions. Made them sound like livestock, that last one.
"I'd walk you in, but we're not allowed inside." The driver's neck turned red at the very idea. "Good luck."
"No! Don't say that."
The soldier's eyebrows knitted together with concern. "What?"
"You're supposed to say, 'Break a leg.'"
He broke out in a wide smile. "Right. Break a leg."
Hazel nodded goodbye and slid through the opening in the tent flap backward, awkwardly maneuvering her suitcases inside.
"Well, it's about time."
Hazel blinked, her eyes adjusting to the dark interior.
A woman around her age, with hair the color of fire, did a slow turn, the better to show off a curvy figure that oozed out of a green silk dress. Behind her, three women perched on low stools in front of a splintered mirror, applying the final touches of stage makeup.
The redhead's lip curled. "Hazel Ripley, where the hell have you been?"
At least she knew she was in the right place. "I came straight from the plane." She shrugged, lifting the suitcases a couple of inches to prove it.
"Get out of that and into something pretty. They just called ten."
"They just called ten minutes. That means it's ten minutes until showtime." The redhead took a dramatic pause. "Have you ever even acted before? I swear, Jaundiced Jenny is out, and in her place we get Hayseed Hazel."
The other women giggled.
Hazel stood tall. "I've acted before. I know what it means. But I can't go on."
This must be some kind of joke they played on all the newbies. "Because I haven't rehearsed and don't know any of the blocking." She put down her suitcases and brushed the dust off her skirt, realizing as she did so that it made her seem like a prissy schoolmarm. She let her arms fall to her sides.
"You're the maid. How hard can it be? Do you know your lines?"
"I studied them on the plane."
"Then you'll be fine. Just enter and exit when you're supposed to."
A voice came from outside the tent. "Miss Mead!"
"Yes?" the redhead called back.
"Someone to see you."
She looked at her watch. "Hayseed, get some makeup on and get out of that uniform. See you ladies in the wings."
Hazel waited a beat. Surely these women would all burst into laughter, now that the joke had been played out, but they just turned back to the mirror.
The redhead seemed familiar. Maybe Hazel had seen her in a show or at an audition back in New York. "Who is that?" she asked.
"That's Maxine Mead. Our fearless leader." The speaker, a tall brunette fitted out in a lemon-yellow dress, stood and shook Hazel's hand, introducing herself in a deep alto as Verna.
"Do we have a leader?" Hazel was still waiting for an acknowledgment of the prank. "I thought we were all second lieutenants."
"Maxine runs the show." Verna shrugged and introduced the other two ladies. Phyllis was a rotund milkmaid type with rosy cheeks, and Betty-Lou was a tiny slip of a girl, perfect for playing kids' parts, most likely.
"She's joking, right? About me going on?"
Verna shook her head. "No. We've been holding the curtain, waiting for you. You can get ready over there."
But this was ridiculous. No rehearsal at all? Hazel didn't even know which actress was playing which character. A lump lodged in her throat at the thought of all those men out there, waiting for the entertainment to begin. This had been a terrible idea. She'd be put on the next plane home, back to doing crosswords in the understudy's dressing room.
Trembling, Hazel changed into one of her plainer dresses, as befitting a maid, and tied the apron Verna tossed over around her waist. She turned away so the other girls wouldn't see her hands shaking as she looped the ends into a bow.
After standing in the wings for countless shows, watching others perform, this would be the first time she'd actually step onto the stage? Before thousands of people, with no rehearsal? She yanked the script out of her bag and leafed through the first scene, trying to imprint the cues in her head. The words swam around on the page as her heart pounded in her rib cage.
Another loud clap of thunder. "Will they cancel it if it rains?"
"You kidding?" said Phyllis. "Some of these men walked miles to get here. They ain't going anywhere."
Hazel followed the other girls behind the big truck. The rain was holding off, but probably not for long, judging from the soggy feel in the air. Hazel longed for a bolt of lightning to hit the truck and cancel the show. Anything to not have to go onstage in front of this sea of men, in a strange country, when she hadn't eaten or slept in what felt like a week.
She waited in the wings, which was really a small set of stairs that led onstage, forcing back tears. Betty-Lou handed her a tarnished silver tray. "Here's your prop." Hazel couldn't even whisper anything back-by then, her throat had closed up. She'd wanted desperately to act in a play, but not like this.
Even worse, her character had the first entrance.
The lights went up.
She couldn't go out there. Into the spotlight.
"What are you waiting for?" A solid shove from Maxine, who'd silently reappeared, propelled her up the stairs. Hazel placed the tray on a table downstage as Verna entered from the other side. Hazel had no idea what Verna said, her mind had fuzzed over, but she answered with "Yes'm," her first line. She managed to utter the next few, hoping she got them in the right order, before scampering like a dog with its tail between its legs back to the safety of the wings.
The soldiers roared with laughter. Backstage, Betty-Lou gave her a pat on the shoulder. "Not bad."
The show continued. The other members of the cast were loud and confident, especially Maxine, who was a force of nature as the psychic Madame Arcati. The two male parts were played by men, presumably soldiers who'd volunteered. Each time Hazel ventured out, she relaxed a little more.
When she wasn't onstage, she watched the eager faces of the soldiers in the first few rows. The men were desperate for entertainment, for something else to think about besides the war, and even when the rain began falling in sheets, no one stirred.
Unfortunately, in spite of the men's rapt attention, her performance was far from perfect. She stepped on the other girls' lines instead of waiting her turn to speak, and missed a couple of entrances.
But she'd done it. She'd acted on a stage, in front of people. Terribly, no doubt about that, but as the men whooped and whistled during the curtain call, Hazel managed a proud smile.
Reading Group Guide
1) The Chelsea Hotel is one of the main characters in and of itself. What does it represent? What is its personality and how does it change and evolve? How does it affect the lives of the other characters?
2) How do Hazel and Maxine use writing to make sense of the world around them? Where do you think their motivation to write comes from? Do you use writing in a similar way?
3) Do you think the political pressures of McCarthyism are still relevant today? Why or why not?
4) What did you think of Charlie and his desire to join the FBI? How do you think his relationship with his father shaped his ambitions? Were you rooting for him and Hazel? Why or why not?
5) When Maxine flubs her lines on opening night, her career doesn’t suffer, but Hazel’s does. Why do you think that is? How would you have reacted in Hazel’s situation? Do you think she has a right to be bitter about the success of Wartime Sonata’s revival, or should she be grateful?
6) If Maxine had not made the tragic choice she did, do you think she and Hazel would have renewed their friendship? If you were in Hazel’s shoes, would you forgive Maxine? Why or why not?
7) How do Hazel and Maxine subvert or conform to 1950s expectations and gender roles?
8) Do you think McCarthyism made romantic and friendly relationships difficult? Why or why not? If so, what were the complications and the consequences of having a relationship?
9) “Maxine’s bravery in the square, as well as now, with the major, astonished Hazel. She wished she were that brash. But she wouldn’t dare question an authority figure. Always the understudy, in life as well as in art.” How does Hazel transform throughout the novel, and does the word “understudy,” which she considers to have negative connotations, change in meaning as well?
10) What do you think influenced Maxine’s best and worst decisions in the book? Would you have made different ones? If so, in what instances and why?
11) The theater district was such a vibrant scene in the 1950s. Did you have a favorite setting in the book? If you could go back in time to any of the places mentioned, which would you choose?
12) How is theater represented not only on Broadway in the book, but also in the political arena today? Does the House Un-American Activities Committee reflect any views held today?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
All her stories are so well written and interesting. She brings her charscters to life and mixes fact with fiction making her novels rich with history blended with excellent story telling. Chelsea Girls was no exception.
The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis is Historical Fiction with romance, spies, intrigue, politics, suspense, friendship and betrayal. The story starts out in World War II with American‘s fighting the national socialists of Germany. The story continues into the 1950‘s with the fight against the communist socialists from Russia stealing our technological secrets. It ends in the late 1960‘s with the effect on the characters lives caused by the socialist spies, the overzealous prosecution by the anti-socialists and by each person manipulating others to accomplish what they desire. I enjoyed the book especially because of all the historical information. At first the story seemed to be a slow starter but then the action started revealing more with each intriguing plot. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. I appreciate the opportunity and thank the author and publisher for allowing me to read, enjoy and review this book.
Fiona Davis sets her novels in iconic New York City locations. She has told stories set at the Barbizon Hotel for Women, The Dakota, Grand Central Station and now at the Chelsea Hotel. In each of her three prior novels, the narrative took place during two eras; in this book, the author follows two characters in the same time period. They are actress Maxine and would be actress and playwright, Hazel. The novel opens with Hazel joining a USO troop in Italy during WWII. These scenes were so evocative, both in terms of the war and the emotions raised for the performers. This beginning left me feeling very excited about the rest of the book except...for a while, I then found the narrative less engaging. However, round about chapter 18 there was a twist and I again became very involved in the story and the characters' lives. It is worth sticking with the book in my opinion. Much of this book centers on the activities of HUAC, the House Un-Amercian Activities Committee. Who is a Communist? Who is being targeted unfairly? Should we be rooting people out and encouraging them to turn on others? What are the consequences to everyone when a government sponsored witch hunt is going on? You will think about these issues as you read and may also find the subject relevant in our current political climate. In addition to HUAC, the reader spends time at the Chelsea Hotel, the Tonys, on Broadway and more. There are actors, government workers, names dropped of famous and real Chelsea Hotel denizens and more. Most of all, readers will connect with Hazel and Maxine, their friendship and its challenges. All in all, this was a good read. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my e-galley. All opinions are my own.
I have to start by saying I loved this book. I started reading The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis with some preconceived notions. What I thought was going to be a sweet coming of age story about two actresses trying to make their way in New York City turned out to be so much more, far surpassing my expectations. The story begins as two young women, both aspiring actresses, meet on a tour with the USO during the last leg of WWII. Near opposites, they balance each other well and become very close - each feeling it must be what it's like to have a sister. The story follows them through the 50s and 60s - they separate and come together as life takes them through Hollywood and Broadway - and their stays at the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. Individually and together, despite their talents, their efforts to make it in the entertainment industry were greatly hampered by the witch hunts that were so common in the McCarthy era. Simply snubbing someone or passing over them for a part was enough to get you blacklisted or worse, turned into the feds as a communist spy. Their bond was strained at times, as is often the case with sisters, but never truly broken. I loved everything about this book, from author Fiona Davis's unique writing voice - her words flow beautifully, to the complicated and realistic relationship between these two young women, and the ease with which the story moves through time. I also greatly enjoyed the picture her words painted of the great Chelsea Hotel. Very much a third leading character in this story, the Chelsea has a long history as a bohemian home and sanctuary for artists of all types, and is also famous as one of the most haunted hotels in America. This book is easily in my top five favorites I've read so far this year. Highly recommend. *I'm not sure how I missed Fiona Davis's first three novels, but can't wait to read them as well.
1945 Hazel Ripley has arrived in Italy to entertain the troops with the USO. There she meets Maxine Mead but they don’t automatically click as friends. The work is hot and grueling, but Hazel gets to interact with the soldiers and some locals as they perform. After the war ended, Hazel went back in New York where she does some radio shows. When she sees Maxine again, she learns she is staying at The Chelsea and suggests she stay there too. There she meets many people in the entertainment business and takes part in the parties. Hazel has written a play and it has been picked up and now Hazel is the director and Maxine is playing a leading role. Before long, both find themselves being accused of being communist sympathizers. As the story continues, the special friendship between Hazel and Maxine is tested as far as it can go. This is part of the McCarthyism period led by Senator Joseph McCarthy who targeted people who worked in the government and entertainment world trying to blacklist them as communists. They were convinced that there were webs of communists infiltrating everywhere. The government investigators were controlling, and ruthless men who would do anything to trick or even blackmail people into “outing” their friends. So many people gave names of what they knew were innocent people just to get themselves off the blacklist. So many lives and careers were completely ruined. At the first of the story, I came so close to giving this book a DNF designation. However, I pushed myself to continue with it. Why? Because I loved her first novel THE ADDRESS so much. There are some examples of real friendship and people dedicated to their love of entertainment. It’s also a dark book and not at all uplifting. However, I’m sure many readers will enjoy it, if for no other reason that to see the types of people who inhabited The Chelsea over the years. Copy provided by Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Spanning the 1940s thru 1960s, THE CHELSEA GIRLS pulls back the curtain (literally) on the political pressures of McCarthyism, complex bonds of female friendships, and the creative call of the NYC Chelsea Hotel I've been a fan of Fiona Davis since her debut, THE DOLLHOUSE (2016), about The Barbizon Hotel, home of girls in secretarial school in the 1950s, and was thrilled to receive a copy of her forthcoming THE CHELSEA GIRLS, about another iconic NYC hotel. It's elegantly shabby--there's glam and gliz and danger in the 1950s Manhattan, following WWII. Many great artists, playwrights, musicians, actors, and poets call the Chelsea home, but something else stalks these halls. Hazel Ripley has spent her life on the sidelines--always an understudy, never a lead. And she's still reeling from the death of her beloved brother. She and Maxine strike up a friendship while on a USO tour and it's through Maxine that she learns of the Chelsea Hotel as a mecca for creative types. When she returns to NYC after the war, she finds herself at the Chelsea and blossoms into a budding playwright full of promise. But she's female and the play is about the war and there are a few other obstacles in her way. But the Red Scare is sweeping across America and Senator Joseph McCarthy has begun a witch hunt for Communists and the theater/performing arts folks are scrutinized closely. This is a little known era/movement to me and I enjoyed (?) learning a bit about this slice of history. THE CHELSEA GIRLS, told in a three-act structure: the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, thus a slight deviation from Davis's typical dual timeline structure, we get a complicated glimpse at the friendship between Maxine and Hazel, an introduction to the theater lifestyle, but also darker aspects as well--spies, homosexuality in a less-accepting time, suicide, and Communism. I found the writing in THE CHELSEA GIRLS less compelling than Davis's earlier works, but it could very well have just been me--and a topic I was less familiar with. I especially love art and architecture and wanted more of this in the narrative (as have been the case with earlier works)--while some of this is touched upon, I desired a stronger visual. Further, I failed to truly connect with either Maxine or Hazel. And some events felt like there was little set-up and didn't feel wholly organic. This could be because I am reading an early edition. Davis's research into the era and the colorful personalities at the hotel was evident. I felt the narrative truly came to life in the 'third act' (1967). It has me curious about the Chelsea Hotel and maybe a little inspired artistically myself. There may be some overlap in the storytelling techniques of Sara Ackerman here, in both ISLAND OF SWEET PIES AND SOLDIERS and THE LIEUTENANT'S WIFE meets Amber Brock's LADY BE GOOD. Those who have an interest in the Golden Age of Hollywood might enjoy Anne Girard's PLATINUM DOLL and also, on a more literary/contemporary side, Laura Acampora's THE PAPER WASP. L.Lindsay|Always with a Book
|Thank you to @NetGalley @duttonbooks #partner| The Chelsea Girls opens during WWII. The two main characters, Hazel and Maxine, meet on a USO tour in Italy and their friendship is born out of shared trials and circumstances. After the war they return to the states. Hazel returns to New York and her life in the theater world. Maxine goes to Hollywood to try and make it on the silver screen. The rest of the book follows the next 20 years as they endure separation, develop their own lives, and then reunite on the stage in New York. The bulk of this story takes place during the McCarthy era which I found especially interesting as I haven't come across much historical fiction set during those years. I leaned a lot about a very tumultuous time for those caught up in the Red Era accusations and blacklisting, especially when so many of the allegations were false. The fear that gripped a few powerful people and then engulfed the country is disturbing. I appreciate novels like The Chelsea Girls to help those of us who didn't live through that time experience the events and feelings of such a chilling period of history. I loved the portrayal of female friendship in this book. I also appreciate how The Hotel Chelsea was a character of its own. I was unfamiliar with this landmark and enjoyed looking up photographs of the building and reading additional stories about this incredible place. I did find the development of this novel to be a bit slow for my personal taste but I'm glad I stayed with the book. The themes of friendship, standing up for what's right, and the depiction of a chilling time of American history are not to be missed.
Fiona Davis never disappoints! I love that each of her books includes a New York landmark as a backdrop.
The Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan has a long history of being home for numerous famous writers, playwrights, authors, and artists of varying kinds. After serving in the USO in Europe during WWII, Hazel Riley and Maxine Mead are staying there while preparations are ongoing for the opening of Hazel’s play Wartime Sonata. It’s a play about the fierce loyalty and dedication of American soldiers during WWII. Hazel has discovered she may not be a talented actress Like Maxine but Hazel definitely has a gift for writing and producing plays. Maxine has become famous as a gorgeous and talented actress but her life is beleaguered by her boyfriend Arthur, someone who floats between being a great lover and abusive destroyer. It’s Hazel who protects Maxine in her darkest moments and mistakes. However, all of this is about to be drastically changed with Senator Joe McCarthy’s program to out all Communist card-holders or supporters. The FBI are suddenly following Hazel and many of the actors in her world. Eventually Maxine mistakenly gives Hazel’s name to an FBI agent as just an associate of the Communist party years ago, but it’s enough to do irreparable damage! Their friendship is tarnished forever. Will it be possible to save Hazel’s brilliant play and career? Fiona Davis depicts this time with details that elicit the same fear in the reader that these artists endured as investigations, interviews, and black lists moved forward relentlessly condemning those associated with a Communist association. The resulting taint left a residual negativity that ruined careers, lives and relationships with no possibility of escape. This is not one of America’s finest hours and Fiona Davis depicts the atmosphere and facts with stunning accuracy, right up to the tragically stunning end. Hazel will endure but will never be the same again! Well-told historical fiction by a highly skilled author that is a must read!
This was my first time reading bestselling novelist Davis (The Address, The Dollhouse), known for centering complex fictional stories around iconic addresses or buildings - her newest novel wonderfully showcasing the infamous bohemian haven for artists known as The Chelsea Hotel in New York City. The Chelsea Girls opens with Hazel's arrival in Naples, Italy in what would be the final months of WWII. A young woman from a theatrical family trying to find her own place in the theater, Hazel has joined the USO tour to escape the understudy hell she found herself trapped in, in New York - and soon meets the loud, flamboyant leader of her small theatrical group of USO ladies, Maxine. Hazel resents Maxine at first, even while sort of envying the woman her boldness and seeming lack of fear, and the two become friends, Maxine soon regaling the more naive Hazel with tales of her stay at The Chelsea Hotel back in her own New York days, making the place sound almost magical to the girl. Flash-forward to post-war New York in 1950, and though Maxine has ventured to California Hazel finds herself a little smothered by the memory of her more outgoing, talented older brother - killed during the war - via her mother, who always favored Ben. After an argument with mom, Hazel decides to break away for a few days' reprieve, remembering Maxine's story of the infamous Chelsea - and indeed, Hazel's arrival there, the reader's introduction to the hotel, is so beautifully written the hotel becomes a character in the novel, as well. It's no wonder that, even though Hazel does make up with her mother, she remains where she is, calling The Chelsea her new home even as the hotel seems to direct Hazel- at last - to her real passion: writing. But things are not entirely at peace in New York - in America - as Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt for communist sympathizers grows in momentum from Los Angeles, eventually heading east as Hazel's hard work pays off in her play's mounting of a Broadway production ... just as Maxine, now a fairly famous film star from Hollywood, arrives back in New York and into Hazel's life as its potential star. Much of The Chelsea Girls deals with the blacklist and its aftermath; the lives, careers, and artistic works destroyed by the winds of fear-mongering and hate in the wake of the red scare. And while my own love for New York made the city and The Chelsea leap from nearly every page in this well-written novel, I just couldn't seem to emotionally connect with either Maxine, or especially Hazel, on a level necessary to be fully engaged in the story - which, I think, is why I was unable to fully suspend disbelief enough for certain twists and turns in the plot that (at least initially) seemed too convenient or unrealistic. As the story builds toward its climax, however, I was able to "buy into" the plot points a lot more (thanks to Davis's strong writing skills), by the end coming to a better understanding of the complexities of the friendship between Hazel and Maxine - but still wish I'd felt more bonded to either/both of these women, who for me never fully leapt to living, breathing life off the page. A wonderfully-written, meticulously-researched novel - also a worthy homage to New York City theater and The Chelsea itself - where maybe some more backstory, or time spent with Hazel and Maxine in their earlier years, might have left me more emotionally invested in their story. 3/5 stars
Fiona Davis’ latest historical novel takes place both in Italy at the end of WWII and in NYC at the Chelsea Hotel. Two women meet as USO performers in Italy and bond over a tragic event involving a young German boy whose demise adversely affects both women. When they return to the States, one woman heads to Hollywood while the other returns to her mother’s home in NYC to take up her career as a Broadway actor, albeit always the stand-in and never the star. Hazel Riley wants to tell the story of what happened in Italy and writes, over the course of a couple of years. She moves out of her mother’s house and into the Chelsea Hotel in order to finish it. With the help of an aging star, Hazel’s play is produced on Broadway. Movie star, Maxine Mead surprises Hazel and shows up unexpectedly and renews their friendship just as the McCarthy era begins and it is sweeping their way. Davis deftly tells the story that McCarthy’s witch hunt results in fear and terrible consequences of being named by the Senator’s Committee. She creates a friendship between two very different women that survives the privations of WWII Italy, but may not survive a witch hunt by a power-hungry politician. Davis’ main characters are well-drawn and nuanced. The reader can easily grasp how down trodden Hazel is because her mother’s full attention is on Hazel’s older brother and only rests upon Hazel after her brother is killed during the war. Her mother wants to control every aspect of Hazel’s life until Hazel finally finds the courage to leave her mother’s home. Maxine, while less fully developed, is still drawn with an understanding of the need to be tough as nails, while hiding a terrible secret, even if one is a marshmallow inside. The author easily transports the reader to New York City in the 1950s and the excitement of Broadway and fear of McCarthyism. If you love well-written historical novels with a twist at the end, then put this book on your to-be-read list very near the top. It’s well worth the read. My thanks to Dutton Books and Edelweiss for an e-ARC.
An Iconic Hotel, Talented Women, and McCarthyism Hazel Ripley was supposed to be an actress following in the footsteps of her famous family, but she’s never achieved better than understudy status. To try to improve her chance to shine, she joins a USO troop in Italy during WWII. There she meets Maxine Mead, a talented actress. Hazel also finds her calling, writing radio scripts for Maxine to read. In the fifties, Hazel and Maxine come together again in the famous Chelsea Hotel. The gorgeous Victorian hotel has been famed for creative artists who lived there. Hazel has now written a play and Maxine is to star in it. Their hopes are high, but this is a volatile time in the entertainment industry. McCarthyism is sweeping the country and the girls are caught up in it. For me, the best part of the book was the excellent descriptions of the Chelsea Hotel. I could see the art, the furnishings, and best of all the out of the way spaces and passages that are unique to the hotel. The author has done an excellent job of folding her substantial research into the story. The history of the McCarthy era and the House Un-American Activities Committee was fascinating and gave a good background for the plot which centered around love, trust, freedom, and wartime memories affecting the main characters. This is a good historical novel that well creates the era and showcases the famous Chelsea Hotel. I received the book for this review from Net Galley.
What a fun, interesting place The Chelsea Hotel must have been. Hazel was in a family of performers, but Hazel wasn’t a performer. Hazel was a playwrite. We meet Hazel when she was on tour with the USO during the war. Hazel met many actors and became friends with them. We follow Hazel as she moves out of her childhood home and into The Chelsea Hotel during the McCarthy Era. When her friend, Maxine, from the USO moves in too, their friendship is renewed. The description of the hotel's decorations, the secret places and passages in it, and the furnishings was fascinating. The impeccable research Ms. Davis had to do definitely shows. I had do a bit of googling of the hotel myself. :) History buffs and theater goers will again be treated to a very descriptive story line that has Ms. Davis taking you back in time. I do have to say THE CHELSEA GIRLS was a bit tedious to read, but I loved the history of the hotel and its inhabitants. The characters in the book were believable and most were likable. The ending was satisfying and nicely wrapped up the story line.. 4/5 This book was given to me by the publisher via NETGALLEY in exchange for an honest review.
This is a marvelous story that takes the reader from the war zones of Naples during WWII to Broadway, during the McCarthy era. We meet Maxine Mead, an up and coming actress, and Hazel Ripley, also an aspiring actress who has foundered in the role of understudies. They are part of an USO troop in Naples Italy, as the war is winding down. Returning to New York, Hazel starts writing, working meaningless radio spots and Maxine is off to Hollywood And stardom. They reunite in NY at the iconic Chelsea Hotel, and Maxine’s determinatio I loved Julie Kibler’s debut novel Calling Me Home, one of my favorites. I was grateful to received an ARC of #Home for Erring and Outcast Girls, from #Net Galley and #Penguin Random House, for an honest review. This novel was very well researched and a fascinating history of the Berachah Home for wayward girls in Texas. It’s the story of Lizzie and her daughter who seek refuge there, after being abandoned by her husband, and used her for gain, by lending her out to other men. A short time after they arrive, Mattie comes along with her dying child Cap. They make their home in this tight knit and rigidly controlled religious community. While this story was aching to be told, I struggled to keep characters straight, as it jumped back and forth in time. The whole story of Cate, both her early teens and her post college life, in which she researched and followed the history of the Berachah Home, just added to the confusing cast of characters and timelines. I wanted to like this book, more than I can say. Wonderful story, painstaking research and a talented author, with the ability to tell a compelling tale with well developed characters. This just didn’t come together for me, although I will take away the heartbreak of Lizzie, Mattie and all the other Erring girls that found their way to the refuge, in turn of the century Texas. Their story needed to be told, another bad mark on our country’s history of abusing women and treating them as second class citizens, which unfortunately continues to occur. It is worth the read, to hear their story and their struggles, and the road they paved for those of us that followed! n to star in Hazel’s debut play This is a journey of best friends that embraces deep friendship, secrets, and betrayals that tear many lives apart. It was a dark and cruel time in our history and Fiona Davis managed to weave a wonderful story into those turbulent times. She has developed strong, likable and interesting characters, while introducing us to the historic Chelsea, and the glittering world of the Broadway era, post WWII. I loved this book and am grateful to NetGalley and PenguinRandom House for the ARC, for my honest review. It’s a 5 star effort! #TheChelseaGirls #PenquinRandomHouse
Fiona Davis is the queen of historical fiction revolving around legendary NYC landmarks. She covered the Barbizon Hotel in "The Dollhouse," Grand Central Station in "The Masterpiece" and The Dakota in "The Address," and now she tackles The Chelsea Hotel in "The Chelsea Girls." Hazel and Mazine meet while performing on a USO tour during WWII and reunite years later when they work together on a Broadway show. With the Red Scare taking hold, their friendship, artistic vision and livelihoods are tested by the government's crusade against Communism. The story of how the theater community was impacted by the Black List and McCarthy's witch hunt is one I hadn't read about before and the plot kept me guessing. Having been fascinated by The Chelsea Hotel myself, I would have liked to learn more about it and its colorful inhabitants but the main characters help bring it and the era to life. I really looked forward to this book and truly enjoyed it. I'm excited to see which iconic NYC spot Davis will write about next! Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin for providing me with an ARC of this book. All opinions are my own.
Thank you NetGalley, Penguin Group; Dutton and Ms. Fiona Davis for the opportunity to read this Advanced Readers Copy of "The Chelsea Girls" "The Chelsea Girls" is a tour de force story taking us from the fields of World War ll USO shows to Broadway and then on to movie sets of old Hollywood. Filled with intrigue, deceptions, half truths and scathing dark secrets these characters come alive in this fast paced novel. Living at the famous Chelsea Hotel after the war has ended, "Hazel", ambitious and shy aspires to be a playwright, "Maxine", glamorous and outgoing, dreams of Hollywood stardom. However, amidst the turbulent years of the McCarthy administration and campaign, their journey is a twisted tale of lies, spies and treachery that time can't heal. Fiona Davis, bestselling and beloved author of The Masterpiece, The Address and The Dollhouse brings us her latest Historical Fiction creation that should not be missed!
Whether it’s the Barbizon, the Dakota, Grand Central Terminal or The Chelsea Hotel, Fiona Davis has the great talent of weaving her wonderful stories around some of New York City’s most interesting and iconic landmarks. I’ve long been intrigued by the Chelsea Hotel and its history with its wide range of artist inhabitants (check out Leonard Cohen singing about fellow resident Janis Joplin in Chelsea Hotel No. 2.) In The Chelsea Girls, we are taken back to the 1940s to 1960s and the lives of Hazel Riley and Maxine Mead who met near the end of WWII performing for the USO. After the war, Hazel heads to the famed hotel and soon reunites with Maxine, now a starlet in Hollywood. Hazel has written a play inspired by events during the war and Maxine heads back to NYC with the hope of starring in her friend’s new play. With the Red scare now descending upon Broadway, Hazel is forced to deal with its threat on her dreams and ultimately her friendship with Maxine. What an enjoyable read. Many thanks to Edelweiss, Dutton/Penguin Publishing Group and Ms. Davis for the ARC. (And let’s hope that when the current renovations of the Chelsea Hotel are complete, there will be enough of its former self left for all its ghosts to find their way home.)
The Chelsea Girls is the first book that I’ve read by Fiona Davis but won’t be the last. This story begins in 1945 in Naples as Hazel Ridley, former Broadway understudy meets Maxine Mead, USO actress.. The two form a bond in Europe that continues after the war in New York City. Hazel, moving on from acting, writes her first play while living at The Chelsea. Maxine, returning from a failed Hollywood film career, takes on the lead role. But nothing goes right for Hazel. It’s 1950, and the McCarthy era is in full swing and on the hunt for communists on the Great White Way. Hazel and Maxine get caught up in the times, ending Hazel’s promising career but seemingly catapulting Maxine to stardom again in Hollywood. The two meet again in 1967 after the witch hunt dies, but Hazel, no longer an innocent finally sees her “friend” clearly. I enjoyed learning a little about this period of time. I can’t recall reading any other story that addresses the McCarthy era. I also love stories of female friendship. And stories that have New York City as the backdrop. I look forward to reading more from Ms. Davis. I was provided an e-copy of this book for an honest review from the publisher. Thank you! #netgalley #thechelseagirls
Kudos to Fiona Davis, Author of "The Chelsea Girls" for writing such intriguing, intense, captivating, riveting, enthralling, historical and entertaining novel. The Genres for this Novel are Historical Fiction and Fiction. The author writes about The Chelsea Hotel and its history, and the entertainment industry. In a good portion of the novel the McCarthy era, and witch hunt for Communists is mentioned. Fiona Davis vividly describes the architecture, landscape, and characters in her novel. The dramatic cast of characters are described as complex and complicated. There are betrayals and danger. Friendship is one of the themes in this novel, and the timeline is approximately 20 years. Hazel Ripley first meets Maxine Mead in a USO tour during World War Two in Italy. The two work together to entertain the troops and then do a radio show. Up to this point, Hazel has been an understudy in the theater. Both seem to work well together. The Chelsea Hotel has been historically known as the hub for creativity. Writers, musicians, actors, artists, and others have been known to stay there. New York City is where the Chelsea Hotel is located. After the war, Hazel goes to The Chelsea hotel hoping to be a playwright. Hazel does write a play, and Maxine returns to become one of the actors in the play. Unfortunately, the political times are not stable in the entertainment history. Senator Joseph McCarthy is looking at the industry for communists. There is a book that blacklists suspected people in this industry. In this amazing story, there is espionage, love, betrayal, danger, and shattered dreams and hopes. I highly recommend this intense thought-provoking novel.