Sarah Waller

Following The Other Einstein, her debut novel about Albert Einstein’s first wife, author Marie Benedict once again centers a stirring historical tale on a one-of-a-kind woman. In Carnegie’s Maid, Benedict creates a fictional woman who influences Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from industrial tycoon to the creator of thousands of free lending libraries, resulting in an imaginative story of forbidden love and the injustice of social classes.

Clara Kelley, an immigrant farm girl from Ireland, arrives in industrial 1860s Pittsburgh and expects to work in a mill to support her family back home. Instead, just off the ship, she assumes the identity of a different Clara Kelley, a second-class passenger who did not make the voyage, and finds herself the lady’s maid to Andrew Carnegie’s mother. Using her quick wit and family-taught education, Clara soon becomes indispensable, but she endangers her position by forming an ever-deepening relationship with Andrew, learning his business secrets and sharing ideas.

Benedict evokes the time period through her graceful writing style, which can seem stiff at first but soon immerses readers in “Downton Abbey”-esque drama. With meticulous historical detail, the luxury of the Carnegies’ world is juxtaposed with the destitution of the poor, as Clara balances her place among the elite while sympathizing with her family, sending money to them overseas and bringing her cousins food on her scarce holidays.

Though Clara is fictional, it’s as important as ever to have stories of the strong women behind men, reminding us of the invisible feminists throughout history.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Following The Other Einstein, her debut novel about Albert Einstein’s first wife, author Marie Benedict once again centers a stirring historical tale on a one-of-a-kind woman. In Carnegie’s Maid, Benedict creates a fictional woman who influences Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from industrial tycoon to the creator of thousands of free lending libraries, resulting in an imaginative story of forbidden love and the injustice of social classes.

Based on true events, David Rocklin’s sweeping second novel conveys the complex speech of bodies and art through beautiful prose. This story of a forbidden bond is compelling and tender, revealing the language of love that is often silent.

After the 1868 war between British forces and the Ethiopian Empire (Abyssinia), Prince Alamayou, the son of the emperor Tewedros, is taken to Windsor under the wing of Queen Victoria. Philip Layard, a doctor’s apprentice who met Alamayou as he was escaping the flames of his burning home, travels to England with him and becomes his companion to help him understand the court’s culture. Although Philip doesn’t speak any Amharic (the language of Abyssinia), he and Alamayou find that words aren’t necessary. They communicate with gestures and through Alamayou’s paintings, finding a love they are careful to hide. Alamayou’s artwork captures the attention of the queen, who is mourning her late husband. Alamayou and Victoria form an unlikely friendship, but once he starts to use English, it is clear he will not play the “grateful foreigner” role. When Parliament wants to try Alamayou for his father’s crimes, Alamayou’s friends must find a way to convey his innocence to the court. All the while, the two men wonder if they’ll have to separate from the home they’ve found in each other.

In this important novel, Rocklin captures the raw emotions surrounding the era’s realities of sexuality, gender and race, and the fear of losing everything. Though Rocklin stays in the heads of his characters a bit too much, this is historical fiction at its most delicate, revealing a desire for history to be reversed, to undo the damage of privilege and xenophobia.

Readers will feel present with Alamayou and Philip in this heartbreaking, stirring portrait.

Based on true events, David Rocklin’s sweeping second novel conveys the complex speech of bodies and art through beautiful prose. This story of a forbidden bond is compelling and tender, revealing the language of love that is often silent.

Ken Follett follows The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End with a tale of espionage, political intrigue and extreme faith during a time of never-ending religious conflict. Full of adventure and suspense, A Column of Fire is an inspiring and thrilling portrait of one of Europe’s most perilous times in history.

In 1558, Ned Willard wonders if he will ever be reunited with his first love as he finds himself on the opposite side of the religious divide. Amid the power struggle between Catholics and Protestants in England, Ned and others must decide whether they value friendships and family over loyalty and convictions.

When Ned decides to work for Protestant Princess Elizabeth, he must say goodbye to all that Kingsbridge holds: his family, friends and Margery Fitzgerald, who is being forced to marry another young man. When Elizabeth takes the throne, Catholic Europe turns against her and her tolerant beliefs. She organizes England’s first secret service, with Ned at the forefront, to bring her news of assassination plots, rebellions, and to keep an eye on those threatening to take her throne. Over the next 50 years, Ned and Margery fight for their individual beliefs and watch as those in power tear apart families, cities and countries in the name of faith—all while Elizabeth tries to maintain that no one should be killed for wanting freedom to worship and doing her best to rule as a single woman.

Follett is a master of historical fiction, with meticulous research, adept storytelling and an ability to capture the reader’s interest with colorful, smooth language. As captured in his previous books in the Kingsbridge series, Follett’s characters are lively, full of emotion and relatable, making the book’s length of no great concern for old fans or new readers alike.

Ken Follett follows The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End with a tale of espionage, political intrigue and extreme faith during a time of never-ending religious conflict. Full of adventure and suspense, A Column of Fire is an inspiring and thrilling portrait of one of Europe’s most perilous times in history.

When Stella Krakus, curator at a renowned Manhattan art museum, finds an unusual map among the possessions of a missing colleague, the strangest week of her life turns into an insatiable quest to discover the map’s origin. Through the smart, dazzling prose of a witty narrator, accomplished poet Lucy Ives creates a mysterious historical adventure sure to delight and inspire.

Thirty-something Stella is enduring almost more than she can handle. Complete with a fading workplace affair, annoying appearances by her almost-ex-husband, lunch with her glamorous and successful mother and a museum sponsor who wants to take over the world’s water supply, her week could not be more bizarre—until her coworker Paul is pronounced missing. As Stella begins to solve the mystery behind the map of a historical utopia, she is pulled into the museum’s origins and realizes there was much more to Paul and his work than she knew, with the potential to alter her life and her career as she knows it.

Impossible Views of the World is an original debut ringing with smart prose, engaging humor and cultivated taste. Similar to the brilliance on display in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Ives’ genius is apparent in the intricate way she weaves ironic confession, romantic comedy and artful treatise with explorations into the historic art world. The novel is best read thoughtfully to fully capture the details of Stella’s academic discoveries and the playful writing style incorporated into the banter between the lively characters. Readers are invited into Stella’s mind as she navigates the plethora of emotions that come with an early-30s crisis. Full of intelligence and imagination, this relatable literary mystery will charm even the most apprentice art devotee.

When Stella Krakus, curator at a renowned Manhattan art museum, finds an unusual map among the possessions of a missing colleague, the strangest week of her life turns into an insatiable quest to discover the map’s origin. Through the smart, dazzling prose of a witty narrator, accomplished poet Lucy Ives creates a mysterious historical adventure sure to delight and inspire.

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