Monday, January 15, 2018

Carnegie’s Maid Blog Tour & Giveaway

Carnegie’s Maid Blog Tour & Giveaway


From the author of The Other Einstein, the mesmerizing tale of what kind of woman could have inspired an American dynasty.


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 woman with the same name 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.

With captivating insight and heart, Carnegie’s Maid tells the story of one brilliant woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world’s first true philanthropist.

Don't forget to read my review of this novel here! 

 


About the Author:
Marie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms and for Fortune 500 companies. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College, with a focus in history and art history, and a cum laude graduate of the Boston University School of Law. She is also the author of The Other Einstein. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

(Don't worry, if you can't enter the contest, or you don't win a copy of this book you can always buy it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery) or from an IndieBound store near you.

No purchase necessary to enter or win. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

Open to legal residents of USA who are 18 years or older. Giveaway begins January 15 and ends January 31. Enter the Giveaway during the Promotion Period online by submitting the entry form. The entry form can be found through the above form. Winner will be selected by Random.org and be notified by email. Winner has 48 hours to respond before a new winner is selected. 3 winner(s) will receive 1 finished copy of Carnegie’s Maid (approximate retail value or "ARV": $25.99US). By providing your information in this form, you are providing your information to Sourcebooks. Sourcebooks does not share or sell information and will use any information only for the purpose of this giveaway. Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads are in no way associated with this giveaway.


Praise for Carnegie’s Maid

 

"[an] excellent historical novel." -Publishers Weekly

 

"Feels like Downton Abbey in the United States...Benedict demonstrates the relevance of history to the present day in this impeccably researched novel of the early immigrant experience. Deeply human, and brimming with complex, vulnerable characters, Carnegie’s Maid shows the power of ambition tempered by altruism, and the true realization of the American Dream." -Erika Robuck, national bestselling author of Hemingway's Girl

 

"In Carnegie’s Maid, Marie Benedict skillfully introduces us to Clara, a young woman who immigrates to American in the 1860s and unexpectedly becomes the maid to Andrew Carnegie's mother. Clara becomes close to Andrew Carnegie and helps to make him America's first philanthropist. Downton Abbey fans should flock to this charming tale of fateful turns and unexpected romance, and the often unsung role of women in history." -Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan's Tale

 

"With its well-drawn characters, good pacing, and excellent sense of time and place, this volume should charm lovers of historicals, romance, and the Civil War period. Neither saccharine nor overly dramatized, it's a very satisfying read."     -Library Journal

 

"...engaging. The chaste romance will draw readers of inspirational fiction, while the novel is constructed to appeal to those seeking a tale with an upstairs-downstairs dynamic and all-but-invisible female characters who are either the impetus for or the actual originators of great men's great ideas. For Fans of Liz Trenow, Erika Robuck, and Nancy Horan." -Booklist

 

"Marie Benedict has penned a sensational novel that turns the conventional Cinderella story into an all-American triumph. Young Clara Kelley steps off the boat from Ireland into Andrew Carnegie's affluent world, where invention can transform men and women into whatever they dare to dream." -Sarah McCoy, New York Times and international bestselling author of The Mapmaker's Children and The Baker's Daughter
 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Owning Your Team Colors

Green: A Novel by Sam Graham-Felsen


Everyone knows that middle school is the worst. Not only are these kids thrown into a new environment with new teachers and a bunch of new kids, they’re also dealing with the onset of puberty and all those hormones. Into this traumatic situation, Graham-Felsen places his protagonist, David Greenfeld. It is 1992 and David is starting sixth grade at the Martin Luther King Jr. School in Boston. The problem is, not only is David mostly on his own, but he’s also one of the few white kids there, and to make things worse, he’s also half Jewish. Somehow, David becomes friends with Marlon Wellings, a kid who lives in the “projects” and has the same ambitions to get out of King and into “Latin,” the comprehensive school that has more graduates getting into Harvard than any other.

It was interesting to note that the blurb on the publisher’s website for this book says this book is, “Infectiously funny about the highs and lows of adolescence, ...” Then further down the page I found that Publishers Weekly called this book “subtly humorous.” Okay, so, to start with, funny and humorous are probably the last adjectives I would ever use to describe this book. In fact, not only did I find this book to be extremely serious, this is probably one of the most difficult books to read I’ve ever experienced. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its quirks or lighthearted passages, but there are some very grim messages that Graham-Felsen is highlighting here, which should not be ignored or taken lightly.

To explain the part about why I found this a difficult book to read, I have two reasons for this. The first is the easy one, and that was the language that Graham-Felsen used here. What made it difficult for me was how much slang and jargon that Graham-Felsen included in the text. In fact, I found it to be so extreme in places, and in many instances found myself at a loss to understand what the author was trying to convey. This had a very jarring effect on the first half of the novel, making it feel like I was watching a home movie, filmed by someone with intermittent Parkinson’s. Just when I thought I was getting into the flow of the text, another slew of slang words would come up to shake that up. I initially found this unnerving, but as the book progressed, it just made me feel old. Ultimately, I did my best to ignore them, and succeeded in that some of the time, but I felt that in general Graham-Felsen over did it with the slang.

The other difficult thing about this book was the essential message I believe Graham-Felsen was trying to convey here. Aside from the usual problems of being a sixth-grader, one thing that Graham-Felson notes here is what his protagonist calls “the force.” This isn’t a Star Wars reference, per se, but rather that underlying feeling that David gets regarding being white in a mostly non-white environment. Graham-Felsen notes that his protagonist felt this “force” growing ever since the Rodney King/South Central riots that followed the acquittal of the police in the death of Rodney King. What this “force” is, then, is the incursion of racial fear, anger and hatred within both the white and the non-white populations, coupled with increased violence. It is as if Graham-Felsen is trying to point to the Rodney King ruling as the turning point that led to the very divisive atmosphere that the US is living through right now. It doesn’t matter if this theory is right or wrong, because watching David try to work through being at the center of this “force” – both internally and externally – is why this is rightfully called a coming-of-age story.

The question is, does David succeed? Of course, you’ll have to read the book to find out, and even then, you’ll probably need to decide for yourself, since Graham-Felsen doesn’t hand you the answers on a silver platter, and that’s a good thing. All of this is to say that while this isn’t an easy book to read, and while I didn’t find it at all humorous, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. In fact, one of the cleverest things about this book is how Graham-Felsen uses the rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Charlotte Hornets, and their team colors as a metaphor for racial identity and tensions. This is one reason why I found this a very powerfully effective story, which is highly relevant, particularly for today’s younger audiences, but also for adults. I’m certainly going to recommend it, but the language and style here is the main reason I can’t give it higher than four out of five stars.




Penguin Random House released "Green" by Sam Graham-Felsen on January 2, 2018. This book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo - eBooks and  audio books, eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Cinderella or Pygmalion?

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict


Clara Kelly was not who everyone thought she was, and this accident of mistaken identity lands her the position of lady’s maid in one of the wealthiest homes in all Pittsburgh, that of the Carnegie family. If Clara is to help her family back in Ireland, then keeping up appearances is what she’ll have to do, even when Mrs. Carnegie’s eldest son Andrew starts to treat her not like a household employee, but as an equal and maybe something more.

At first glance, this looks like a classic Cinderella story, but on closer inspection, we see many divergences. Cinderella wanted to free herself from her terrible family, and Clara hopes to some day reunite with hers. Cinderella let her emotions carry her away, but Clara does everything she can to keep hers in check. More importantly, Cinderella had very few ambitions of her own and it seems she left her fate to others, while Clara knows she can rely only upon herself to survive, and possibly one day thrive in this new world. Finally, Cinderella was transformed from a poor peasant into a princess by a man, but Clara is forced to transform herself to improve her life and the lives of her family. With all these differences, perhaps this is the opposite of a Cinderella story, except for the fact that both come from nothing and end up with something better.

On second thought, maybe this is more like a Pygmalion story than Cinderella one. If we go back to the Greek mythology of Pygmalion, we know this is the story of a sculptor who falls in love with one of his statues, who the gods bring to life so the two can marry. Of course, it is the sculptor whose name is Pygmalion, and not the statue, but that’s beside the point. The parallel here in Benedict’s story is that Clara begins to come out of her shell when she begins studying the Carnegie businesses and Andrew begins to help her with her investigations, and later consult with her on these topics. However, unlike in Ovid’s tale, but closer to George Bernard Shaw’s play of the same name, we understand from the prologue of Benedict’s book that Andrew and Clara do not end up as a couple. Where Benedict combines the two is in how both Clara and Andrew end up transformed in one way or another through their association with each other.

Of course, it is less important to decide if this is a Cinderella story, a Pygmalion story, both or neither, than it is to see how carefully Benedict draws out this story. When it comes to this, I have to say that Benedict did a perfectly lovely job. We love Clara because she is strong, principled, while at the same time, willing to do almost anything to save her family. We admire Andrew because he’s that self-made, self-taught man who started with nothing and struggled to become one of the wealthiest people in the world. Even so, neither of them are perfect; Clara knows she’s living a lie, and Andrew’s affluence seems to have made him forget where he came from. Benedict melds these two characters – her fictional Clara and what she’s garnered about the real-life Carnegie – into a tale that is both charming and heartwarming, while at the same time, poignant. More importantly, Benedict lets you have empathy for Andrew, despite his faults, so that the emotional connection between him and Clara makes perfect sense.

I also found that although the story takes place in the mid-1800s, Benedict carefully highlights many things that are very relevant to today’s world, some of which borders on political commentary – in particular, class struggles, inequitable wealth distribution, and how money and power sometimes blind the affluent to the socioeconomic troubles around them which their greed often causes. Although this might sound like Benedict takes up a preaching soap-box, in fact, the style of the prose here is anything but that. Benedict uses language here in a very measured way, to build up an atmosphere of wariness that slides between guarded hope and discernible anxiety, without ever getting either maudlin or miserable.

Overall, I found this a very absorbing and enjoyable read. Benedict is a very talented writer with a gentle style, who has given us a book that isn’t overly heavy or romantic, has a very good balance of historical fact and creative fiction, with carefully developed, sympathetic characters and a well-rounded, believable story. The only thing that kept this from being perfect for me was at the very end. However, since I don’t give away any spoilers, I’ll leave it to say that I can warmly recommend this book and happily give it four and a half stars out of five. (Now I want to read Benedict’s first novel, “The Other Einstein” even more than I did before.)




Sourcebooks Landmark will release "Carnegie’s Maid" by Marie Benedict on January 16, 2018. This book is available (for pre-order) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, Kobo audio books, eBooks, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Border Life


All the Rivers UK Edition

All the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan


Liat is spending time in the New York apartment of friends, while she studies for her translation degree. Hilmi is living in Brooklyn, trying to make it as an artist. Their whirlwind romance would be uneventful except for the fact that Liat is Jewish and comes from Tel Aviv, and Hilmi is a Palestinian from Ramallah, in the West Bank. With this book, Rabinyan brings us an
exquisitely crafted, modern “Romeo and Juliette” story that strikes at the heart of how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can tear people apart.

NOTE: As the year 2015 was ending, the Israeli Ministry of Education, headed by Naftali Bennett, announced that they were banning Dorit Rabinyan’s novel from being part of the Israeli High School literature curriculum. This immediately turned this book into an "overnight" best seller, and spurred translations for the international literary world. Well, thank you Minister Bennett, because had you not banned this book, I would never have gotten to read it (yes, I can read Hebrew, but being dyslexic, it is a very slow and tedious process). Bennett claimed that his ban wasn’t racist, but rather he objected to the “portrayal of the IDF” in the book (which got, maybe, all of five sentences). However, we all knew that what he was really objecting to was the taboo romance between an Arab man and a Jewish woman (so yes, he is a racist). Ironically, if Bennett had bothered to read the book before banning it, he would have found out that the absolute last thing this tragic love story does is promote interracial or inter-religious relations.

All politics aside (difficult as this may be), I believe that what Rabinyan has achieved here is simply stellar. As noted above, essentially this is a classic plot of star-crossed lovers, using a setting where everything in their lives, both internal and external, is against them. Hilmi is making a life in New York, and Liat’s life is in Israel. While neither of their families would approve of their relationship, Rabinyan also shows us the internal turmoil that both Hilmi and Liat have knowing from the onset that their relationship is doomed. That neither of them can view their emotions as casual, only means that neither of them can walk away without causing each other and themselves pain. Even when they’re both back home, and only an hour away from each other, their worlds are still separated, both by a boarder and by history. All of this is told from Liat’s viewpoint, where each piece of her connections to Hilmi come across with both sensitivity and profound emotions, that leap from the page and affect us viscerally.

It isn’t easy to describe just how deeply this book touched me. On the one hand, I’m a hopeless romantic; love should be able to conquer all; and we can’t help who we fall in love with. When it comes to love, the only thing that should matter is what kind of a person you are, not your religion or your nationality. Yet, knowing what I know and how impossible their situations are, I didn’t want Liat and Hilmi to get overly attached. I could almost feel their internal struggles going on within me, mostly because of the deep empathy that Rabinyan evokes through this story, which is precisely what excellent writing is all about. I only wish that I could have read this in Hebrew, because as blown away as I was with this translation by (Man Booker International Prize winner) Jessica Cohen, the original must be even more amazing.

In short, there is nothing here that I could fault with this book. The plot, the characters, and above all, the writing, are all carefully crafted and come across with remarkable depth, beauty and poignancy. I can’t simply recommend this book, I must urge you to read it, and it deserves even more than a full five stars (take THAT, Minister Bennett, and what's more, I'm updating my 2017 "best of" list to include this as tied for first place).




All the Rivers US Edition
Serpent’s Tail in the UK released "All the Rivers" by Dorit Rabinyan on March 2, 2017, and Penguin Random House released it in the USA on April 25, 2017. This book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, Kobo audio books, eBooks, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books (free worldwide delivery, support literacy) as well as from an IndieBound store near you.

PS/FYI: Am Oved published “Gader Chaya,” the original Hebrew version of this book, in 2014. "Gader Chaya" is Hebrew for hedge, but a purely literal translation would be "live border."

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Calculating Woman

Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini


This is the fictionalized story of Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace. In real life, not only was she the only legal child of the famed poet Lord Byron, but she was a talented mathematician and scientists, who made huge contributions to those worlds during the late 19th century. In Jennifer Chiaverini’s novel, she becomes much more than that.

Although I usually start my reviews with the positives and then follow them with misgivings, I’m going to depart from tradition with this book, and I hope you’ll understand why. As some of my readers already know, I’ve noticed that with historical fiction, authors don’t always know how to reach the perfect balance between fiction and facts. This happens most often when there is a plethora of true information available about that person, even when it seems that few people know about them. This is precisely the problem I had with this book. While it may seem unfair of me, once again, the book I was hoping to read and what I received, were two different things.

To be specific, I already knew a little bit about Lady Lovelace, in that she had some hand in the mathematics that went into building a machine that many would consider the forerunner of today’s computer. I also knew about the punch-cards used in Jacquard looms to create intricate patterns and designs for woven fabrics, and how those cards eventually led to using a similar system for inputting data into computers (and I’m old enough to have worked on a computer like that). So, my interest with the Lovelace of then and learning more about what she did that led to computers was irresistible to me. Unfortunately, the opening 30% of this book focused solely on Lord Byron and his marriage to Ada’s mother, through their disastrous separation. While this give the reader great insights into Ada’s long-suffering mother, and motivation for how she treated her only daughter, I’m almost certain that this could have been deleted from the book without any detriment whatsoever.

When Chiaverini finally got to Ada’s tale, I was really hoping that we’d get quickly into the real meat of the story. However, Chiaverini starts out by leading us to believe that Ada could recall the most obscure details of her early life, even from her first weeks and months after her birth. With this conceit, coupled with a surplus of intrigues and scandals within the extended Byron family (that lasted decades), Ada’s accomplishments seemed overshadowed, apart from the many references to how deeply (almost obsessively) she loved to study math and science. Of course, the irony here is how often Chiaverini notes that Ada wanted to do something and be recognized in the world for her own accomplishments, and not just as Lord Byron’s only legitimate daughter.

You might ask, therefore, why I bothered to finish reading this book. The fact is, I couldn’t stop reading it because Chiaverini is such a marvelous writer. Her style beautifully fits the period, with lush descriptions (although I could have done without some of the details of the dresses) that made every scene come alive. Yes, there were times when I found myself skimming some of the text, but that was very rare. I know I use the word “compelling” often when reviewing books, but when the shoe fits… and Chiavernini’s prose just kept me fascinated, so kudos to her for that. Furthermore, the readers will feel an intimacy with Lady Lovelace throughout this book, as Chiavernini writes it fully from Ada’s viewpoint, as a type of fictionalized memoir.

In addition, I must admit that Lady Lovelace’s contributions to the field of math and science, though significant in hindsight, weren’t what anyone could call massive, or extensive, or even large. What she accomplished were three very important influences upon Charles Babbage and his “engines.” Those were her suggestion to use the Jacquard loom punch cards for more efficiency of entering data, her publication of her notes on Babbage’s work, and her writing an algorithm for one machine. By the way, that algorithm is arguably considered to be the first “computer program.” So, with only two breakthroughs and one major publication (which the world of science initially lauded, but then dismissed after they found out that it was written by a woman), I realized that any historical fiction novel about Lady Lovelace would be very thin indeed if it didn’t include at least some of her family’s history – both famous and infamous.

In short, if you’re looking for a book about Lady Lovelace that divorces her from her renowned father and his notorious life, this isn’t it, but I’m afraid that novel will either never get written, or will be very short. However, if you’re looking for a novel that encompasses everything that Lady Lovelace was and did, and everything that influenced her short life, this is just the thing. Mind you, I personally think it included far too much extraneous information (particularly the first 30% of the book), but that only proves how marvelously well researched this book is, and that’s in Chiaverini’s favor here. All things considered, I’m still willing to recommend this book, but I can only give it three stars out of five.




Dutton (a division of Penguin Random House) released "Enchantress of Numbers" by Jennifer Chiaverini on December 5, 2017. This book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo (eBook or audiobook), eBooks, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

My Top Five (or more) Books of 2017



Those of my readers who have been following this blog for a while, know that I had to stuff seven novels into my favorites of 2016 list, and eight books ended up on list for 2015. This year, I have nine books that deserved a full five stars. Notably, one of these is a non-fiction book. Since I usually make these lists about fiction, that one non-fiction five-star book will get a special award. That means that once again, I need to cram eight books into this list. With no further ado required, let the countdown begin.

#5 – Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney – this novel took its inspiration from real-life poet and Macy's ad-writer Margaret Fishback, who gained fame for her clever ads and humorous poetry in the 1930s. This delightful book of historical fiction brings an essentially unknown woman into the limelight at last. (Oh, and by the way, where have you been all my reading life, Kathleen Rooney?)

#4 – Girl in Disguise by Greer McCallister – in McCallister's second novel, she takes on telling the story of Kate Warne, America's (and maybe the world's) first female detective, who walked into the Pinkerton's Detective Agency in 1856 and insisted Pinkerton take her on as an agent. With the little information left about Warne and her escapades, Macallister succeeds in weaving a story of intrigue and mystery in a tale that will fascinate as well as educate.

#3 – Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss TIED with The Golden House by Salman Rushdie – Krauss’ long awaited fourth novel is, to my mind her best yet. In this book, Krauss gives us parallel stories of two characters that travel from New York to Tel Aviv, while neither of them ever meets the other. Despite these disconnected tales, Krauss leads us to draw our own comparisons and contrasts with what she both reveals from and hides underneath their adventures. Rushdie’s latest novel moves back into the realm of solid reality, to revolve around the newest wealthy family at "The Gardens," a gated New York Community - the Golden family. Not only do they all have strange names (straight out of ancient Roman and Greek history and mythology), but they themselves seem a bit odd. René is a fellow resident, with ambitions in filmmaking, including a project to document the Golden family, but René hasn't decided if he should tell their true story or make up something fictional; either way, René can't seem to stay away from the Golden House.

#2 – See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt – the infamous Lizzie Borden was a woman that the public (but not a jury) believed murdered her father and stepmother with an axe. Since the science of forensics at the time was primitive at best, they found neither proof of Lizzie's guilt nor any other suspects. That means we will never know the whole truth. Using this mystery, Sarah Schmidt devises her own ideas about Lizzie Borden, her family and the murders, all of which she put into her dark and highly emotive debut novel.

#1 – The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce TIED with the novel Beartown by Fredrik Backman AND the novella The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman – last year, Backman’s novel and novella got demoted (after grabbing the first-place spots in 2014 and 2015) to the second-place spot, but both of his two works of this year left me breathless. However, Joyce’s fourth book had me bawling like a baby, so I couldn’t place her novel any lower on this list. UPDATE: I have decided that I must also include All the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan as another book TIED for first place this year (although it was first published in Israel in 2014 in Hebrew, the English version only came out in 2017, so it does deserve to be here as well)!


NON-FICTION Award Not Quite Lost: Travels without a Sense of Direction by Roz Morris – who would have thought that a self-published book would be so absolutely delightful, but this one certainly is just that. Morris, who is an accomplished ghost-writer, took the step to finally publish under her own name, and the world is better for it. This lovingly written diary takes us along Morris' many travels (mostly across Britain), where random entries in hotel or B&B guest books spark the imagination and become new adventures both thrilling and beautiful. Although I haven’t read her fiction (not really my thing, as they’re kinda fantasy/Sci-Fi books), if this little memoir is anything to go by, they must be wonderful.

That’s it for this year, and here's wishing everyone a 2018 filled with more amazing books. (Who knows, but maybe I'll need to make that list a "top ten" one!) You can find my previous lists here:


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