I love Nancy Bilyeau’s novels and needed a fast read to distract me from thoughts that had been weighing me down during this Advent season. So, I purchased THE GHOST OF MADISON AVENUE.


A fast read it was (it’s a novella) but one that will stay with me. In ten chapters, Bilyeau weaves many threads: New York during the Gilded Age, the wonders of the Morgan Library, the barely met but ever present J. P. Morgan himself, the close-knit and diverse Irish-American community, family ties that bind, hurt and heal, and twin stories of love lost. Of course, as the title indicates, this is also a ghost story. But here the supernatural, as in the Sister Joanna trilogy, guides the arc of the story without veering into horror tricks.

We meet Helen O’Neill, a middle-aged widow and denizen of the Bronx. She has never recovered from the untimely death of her husband but finds some solace in the embrace of her upwardly mobile family, and her own professional achievements. She has just been hired by Belle da Costa Greene, Morgan’s fascinating librarian, to tend to the treasures of his collection. Because Helen has a gift with ancient artifacts. A gift best described by ancestral Irish lore. Certainly a gift that has allowed her to rise from kitchen hand to unofficial conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Maybe the same gift that makes her notice an oddly dressed young woman on Madison Avenue.

As with every great read, the turning of the last page opens more doors. I now want to return to the Morgan Library to look at it with a new eye. I also want to learn more about J. P. Morgan and his librarian, Belle da Costa Greene. Yes, she is a historical character.

THE GHOST OF MADISON AVENUE helps us refocus on the true meaning of the season, on our loved ones, present and departed, how much we miss those we lost, and how we wish their ghostly presence would watch over us through the trials of life.

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