Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Review of Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict

Author: Marie Benedict
Release date: January 16, 2018
Publisher: Source Books
Pages: 288
Clara Kelley is not who they think she is. She’s not the experienced Irish maid who was hired to work in one of Pittsburgh’s grandest households. She’s a poor farmer’s daughter with nowhere to go and nothing in her pockets. But the other Clara Kelley has vanished, and pretending to be her just might get Clara some money to send back home.
If she can keep up the ruse, that is. Serving as a lady’s maid in the household of Andrew Carnegie requires skills she doesn’t have, answering to an icy mistress who rules her sons and her domain with an iron fist. What Clara does have is a resolve as strong as the steel Pittsburgh is becoming famous for, coupled with an uncanny understanding of business, and Andrew begins to rely on her. But Clara can’t let her guard down, not even when Andrew becomes something more than an employer. Revealing her past might ruin her future—and her family’s. Could Clara have spurred Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist into one the world’s first true philanthropists?
Marie Benedict has penned several novels that includes The Other Einstein and under the pen name Heather Terrell has written The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare. A former lawyer, Benedict is a graduate of Boston College and the Boston University School of Law, and lives in Pittsburgh with her family. In this remarkably fascinating and haunting historical novel Benedict has created a cadre of vulnerable and thought provoking characters that are captivating, appealing, and provocative.
Carnegie’s Maid seeks to describe the amazing turnaround by Andrew Carnegie from steel magnate to philanthropist. He was the oldest son of Scottish immigrants who would become one of the richest and most prolific philanthropist in American history. Clara Kelley is from Galway, Ireland. In 1863, she immigrates to America to help earn money for her family. Upon her arrival in Philadelphia, she assumes the identity of another Clara Kelley.
“They began talking about me as if I wasn’t there. Talking about the other Clara Kelley, in truth, not really me. I listened hard, absorbing the history of the other Clara Kelley . . . slated for a life as the wife of a storekeeper until the family’s fortune turned. Without a dowry, a life as a lady’s maid became Clara’s life instead, and as the positions evaporated in post-famine Ireland, she sailed for fresh opportunities in America. This was the Clara Kelley, I was meant to be . . . I was the only one who knew the real Clara never finished the journey across the Atlantic.”
The reader is immediately drawn into Clara’s life and her resolve to put her family’s needs over her own desires. Her loneliness and isolation in the Carnegie’s home is real and profound. The moments of kindness from her only friend in the house—the butler, Mr. Ford—are poignant and show Clara’s depth of compassion for others.
“The divide between lady’s maid and the rest of the staff was a chasm . . . Only Mr. Ford acknowledged me with a grin. Like me he seemed to exist in a world separate from the two realms . . . Was it because of his color or his station? I did not know, but I was grateful for his small kindnesses in a domain where I was either ignored or obliquely derided . . .”
Her wisdom is revealed through silent observation of Mrs. Carnegie’s rough and discolored hands (obtained through decades of her own hard work). Clara begins to realize that her mistress, although a member of high society is also trying to fit into a foreign culture. Clara’s grit and determination in the face of societal inequalities and prejudices is palpable and must be applauded.
Although the role of Clara Kelley in Andrew Carnegie’s life is fictional, it does make a charmingly romantic story. Imagining a close relationship between Andrew and Clara gives the reader a glimpse into the challenges of the Industrial Age in America, anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiment that limited the options of the working class and what might have inspired Andrew Carnegie to devote so much of his fortune to helping them.
Interesting and well written, Carnegies’ Maid is a love story like no other. Beautifully written and engaging, Marie Benedict has delivered a charming and believable story line. Clara Kelley took an interest in Carnegie’s business dealings, and he listened closely to her ideas and opinions. It’s fun to think that with a hidden past and a fear of being exposed Clara might have had a hand in changing history.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes Literary Legends of the British Isles and America’s Literary Legends.

This review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on January 16, 2018 - https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/carnegies-maid-novel

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Review of The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn

Release date: January 2, 2018
Author: AJ Finn
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 448
Agoraphobia is an intense fear and anxiety of being in places where it is hard to escape, or where help might not be available. Agoraphobia usually involves fear of crowds, bridges, or of being outside alone.
Suffering from this debilitating disorder and depression, Anna Fox is a 30-something child psychologist who lives alone in her uptown New York City apartment. Her husband has left her and taken their eight-year-old daughter with him. Anna hasn’t ventured outside of the house in nearly ten months but still advises several patients by email. She spends most of her mundane life trapped in her home drinking wine, watching classic black and white movies, remembering better times, and peering out her window snooping on the neighbors.
This all changes when the Russell’s move into the apartment across the park: a father, mother, and their teenaged son. One late afternoon, Ethan, the Russell’s 16-year-old son arrives at Anna’s door bearing a gift from her parents. He is a good-looking, lanky kid with a sweet demeanor and they quickly become fast friends: “He looks like a boy I once knew, once kissed—summer camp in Maine, a quarter century ago. I like him,” Anna thinks to herself.
On the surface the Russell's appear to be the perfect family but beneath this fa├žade lays many secrets. They are a troubled family. As the plotline unfolds Ethan hints to Anna that his father is often physically abusive with his mother. One day Anna believes she’s witnessed one of these violent attacks and reports it to the police. Investigators are wary of the allegation and find no evidence of an attack. They think Anna’s alcohol consumption and prescription medications might have compromised her judgment. Undeterred and determined to prove what she saw was real and not an invention of her imagination, Anna continues to spy on the Russell’s, and more shadowy and sinister activities soon unfold.
“It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening . . .”
The Woman in the Window is the exhilarating debut novel by A. J. Finn. A native of New York, Finn has written for numerous publications including the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and the Times Literary Supplement (UK). In this irresistible thriller, Finn has created an atmospheric masterpiece of suspense that harkens back to the days of Alfred Hitchcock.
The Woman in the Window is a powerfully moving and suspense filled portrait of a woman fighting for reason and sanity. It refreshingly breaks away from the stereotypical molds of recently published psychological thrillers and effectively captures the solitary world that often engulfs the life of a severely depressed person.
Overall, Finn does a good job of developing Anna’s character—a woman damaged, taking too many pills, drinking too much, and hiding from the world. He sympathetically conveys the way that her home has become a prison and how her fears, paranoia, and phobias have stopped her from being believed by those she comes into contact with.
Although the characters in this novel are rarely who or what they first appear to be, and the pace is at times a little slow-moving, the storyline and thrilling conclusion are well worth the wait and filled with a series of mind-boggling bombshells. A captivating page-turner that is filled with loads of atmosphere and suspense, The Woman in the Window is a highly recommended read that will most certainly keep the reader guessing to the very end.
Michael Thomas Barry's most recent book is In the Company of Evil: Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950–1980. He is the author of six other nonfiction books and is a columnist for CrimeMagazine.com.

The Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on January 2, 2018 - https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/woman-window

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review of Unnatural Causes by Dawn Eastman

Author: Dawn Eastman
Release date: December 12, 2017
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Pages: 288
Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Unnatural-Causes-Katie-LeClair-Mystery/dp/1683313135/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1513103473&sr=8-1&keywords=dawn+eastman

Dr. Katie LeClair has agreed to join the small town medical practice of Emmett and Nick Hawkins in the small town of Baxter, Michigan. After years of moving, schooling, and training, she wants nothing more than to settle down in a place she can call home.

Katie quickly gets to work in building a life for herself in Baxter. But three months into her new employment Katie’s embroiled in controversy when Ellen Riley, one of her patients, commits suicide by overdosing on prescription medication. The only hitch is that Katie knows that she did not prescribe the medicine and is bewildered as to how her name could have ended up on the bottle of pills. Riley’s family is certain that Ellen would never kill herself but police are convinced that suicide was the cause of death.

“It felt like a kick in the gut. Katie had seen many deaths, but Ellen’s felt Personal. She had known and liked Ellen Riley. The tentative friendship that they’d begun had made Katie feel like she might actually fit in Baxter.”

An autopsy changes the whole scenario when it’s discovered that Riley died from an injected overdose of Demerol and not the pills as previously thought. Never been one to stand on the sidelines, Katie joins the victim's daughter in searching for the truth. They both believe this is a case of murder and not suicide.

“It was always a struggle to convey her concerns without violating privacy laws. In the past, not ever saying the patient’s name had been good enough. But in a small town like Baxter, the news would be in the public domain before morning. She focused on the two things that bothered her the most: the idea of the suicide itself and the fact she didn’t remember writing the prescription that led to Ellen’s death.”

Katie soon realizes that her medical training as a doctor although improbable might possibly blend well with the skills needed to solve the mystery of what happened to her friend. As Katie delves deeper and deeper into the case, she uncovers dark secrets that someone doesn’t want exposed.
Overall, Unnatural Causes is a well written mystery thriller which is filled with plenty of suspense, a touch of romance, and thoroughly engaging characters. Eastman’s writing style is smooth and effective, and the plotline effortlessly evolves through numerous twists and turns while keeping the reader guessing right up to the very end.

A highly recommended read, Unnatural Causes will engage anyone wanting a simple straight forward mystery and in Dr. Katie LeClair, Dawn Eastman has created a strong and appealing new heroine to the thriller mystery genre. Dr. LeClair will most certainly have her hands full of potential killers and a cadre of mysteries to solve in novels yet to come.