Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Review of Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict

Image of Carnegie's Maid: A Novel
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.
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

Author: AJ Finn
Release date: January 2, 2018
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 Russells appear to be the perfect family but beneath this façade 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 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.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review of Strangers in Budapest by Jessica Keener

Image of Strangers in Budapest: A Novel

Author: Jessica Keener
Release date: November 14, 2017
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Pages: 352
Buy the book from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Strangers-Budapest-Novel-Jessica-Keener/dp/1616204974/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510762879&sr=8-1&keywords=jessica+keener

Budapest is a city of ambiguities and secrets, stunningly beautiful, historic but mysterious. It is to this enigmatic place that a young American couple, Annie and Will, move with their infant son shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. For Annie it is an effort to escape the ghosts from her past; for Will it is a chance to try his wings as an entrepreneur in Hungary’s newly developing economy.
Only weeks after moving there they receive a request from friends back home asking them to check up on an acquaintance, an elderly friend who has also recently moved to Budapest. What the couple does not know, of course, is that in complying with that request, they will become entangled in a dark and deadly feud, one that climaxes in a stunning loss of innocence and a shocking end.

Jessica Keener is the bestselling author of Night Swim and a collection of award-winning short stories, Women in Bed. She has taught English literature and writing at Brown University, and her works have appeared in O Magazine, Redbook, the Boston Globe, and others. Her new novel Strangers in Budapest is a fabulously complex and mysterious tale that is full of atmosphere and suspense. It’s a multifaceted novel that explores how our choices affect others and how our past often shapes our future.

Will and Annie are trying to incorporate themselves into the unsettled business world of Budapest in the 1990s. Things go awry when they meet the enigmatic expatriate, Edward Weiss, an elderly Jewish American who is seeking answers about his daughter’s death. Edward is on the hunt for the man he believes murdered his wheelchair-bound daughter and fled with her money.

Annie decides she wants to help him, but she is naively unaware that his plan involves more than just errands and more to do with violent revenge. But Annie has secrets of her own, and grave concerns about her husband's questionable business ventures. Chased by her own demons from the past, Annie’s intentions are well meant but what will be the ultimate results of her involvement with Edward’s pursuit, and will she be liable for the consequences?

Caught between her husband’s shaky business endeavors and Edward’s escalating anger, Annie is plunged into Budapest’s seedier side, where faith and transformation are no competition for the shocking realities of the past. As these storylines begin to converge, the characters reflect on their choices and what they mean for the future.

The plot moves quickly and Budapest of 1995 is the perfect backdrop with its picturesque location, tragic history, and political complications. From the very first pages the reader is bombarded with an air of danger that seems to permeate almost every scene and conversation.

“Mr. Weiss turned to Leo and the burning in his eyes cooled down. How sudden these changes, she thought. She’s seen this sort of thing at the shelter: emotional squalls in grown men, erratic behavior flip-flopping, the way Leo acted when he needed something. She’d seen it with her brother, Greg, when he started drinking in high school.”

Jessica Keener’s Strangers in Budapest is a powerfully provocative psychological thriller that combines engaging characters with a gripping and darkly atmospheric plot. This novel’s gut wrenching discussion of how our past actions often affect our present is both poignant and thought provoking. Within its pages, Keener masterfully examines sorrow and remorse, dishonesty and loathing, and the ultimate search for unattainable redemption, truth, and love.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review of American Drifter by Heather Graham and Chad Michael Murray

Image of American Drifter: A Thriller

Author: Heather Graham and Chad Michael Murray
Release date: November 14, 2017
Publisher: Forge Books
Pages: 320
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/American-Drifter-Thriller-Heather-Graham/dp/0765374870/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510699761&sr=8-1&keywords=american+drifter

With images of war haunting him daily, U.S. Army veteran River Roulet cannot seem to break free of the past. Awake or asleep, it’s impossible to forget the bombs, the death, and the trembling of the earth. In a desperate attempt to distract himself from these horrors, he flees to Brazil, hoping the rich landscape and vibrant culture of Rio de Janeiro will drown out the nightmares. When he arrives the city is preparing for Carnaval and the celebratory goings-on are everything he hoped they would be, and he seems on the surface to be finally getting his life back together.

This stab at a new life takes an unexpected turn when River meets Natal, an impassioned journalist and free spirit who lives with Tio Amato, a notorious drug lord. Her presence in his life rekindles a curiosity for the world that River thought was lost to him forever. It also catapults him back into the life of danger and violence he so desperately sought to escape.

As their relationship starts to blossoms into something more, River kills one of Tio's men, and they must flee the city, pursued by the drug lord and the Brazilian government. During this time River has to use every trick in his arsenal to stay alive. Will River and Natal escape Brazil and will he ever be free of the memories that haunt him?

In American Drifter, Heather Graham and Chad Michael Murray team up to write an electrifying and suspense filled story that is loaded with plenty of twists and turn. Graham is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of over 100 novels and novellas. Murray is an actor, spokesperson, and former fashion model who has appeared in numerous television series and movies that include One Tree Hill, Agent Carter, Fruitvale Station, and Outlaws and Angels.

American Drifter serves as Murray's debut novel. The plotline and character development which includes love, loss, and redemption is well written but a little stereotypical at times. River and Natal’s love affair appears on the surface to be a little too perfect and over simplified, and because of this it is hard to imagine that this would actually work in real life. While the plot twists are predictable and cliché the novel does a good job of compensating for these minor flaws with its colorful setting and atmosphere.

“Carnaval had been celebrated in one way or another since the eighteenth century . . . always a day to enjoy before the deep thought and abstinence of Lent. . . . There were so many wonders to be seen in Rio. But the greatest wonder of Rio was still to come, and one could feel the pulse of the city that was filled with natural beauty and joy.”

Overall, Graham and Murray have produced a worthwhile novel that is sure to be an instant bestseller. The exotic locale of South America and Carnaval will most certainly be enough to keep the reader’s attention and there’s plenty of romance and suspense to go around. Fans of the thriller/suspense genre will not be disappointed.

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.

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on November 14, 2017 - http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/american-drifter

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Review of The Empty House: A Christmas Ghost Story by Algernon Blackwood with Illustrations by Seth

Image of The Empty House: A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth's Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: Algernon Blackwood (author); Seth (Illustrations)
Release date: October 31, 2017
Pages: 58
Publisher: Biblioasis
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Empty-House-Ghost-Christmas-Stories/dp/1771961988/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1510096310&sr=8-4&keywords=the+empty+house

Halloween might seem like the spookiest time of the year but Charles Dickens, M. R. James, Edith Wharton, and other literary greats felt otherwise. They were among the many authors who set their most terrifying stories during the dark and chilly days of Christmastime. Reading a ghost story on Christmas Eve was once as much a part of traditional holiday festivities as turkey, eggnog, mistletoe, and Saint Nick.

“These winter tales did not necessarily explore Christmas themes in any manner. Rather, they were offered as an eerie pleasure to be enjoyed on Christmas Eve with the family, adding a supernatural shiver to the seasonal chill.”

In 2016, Biblioasis, a Canadian independent bookstore and publishing company based in Windsor, Ontario, revived this custom with the release of their first collection of four miniature classic Christmas ghost stories entitled Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories. Seth is the pen name of Gregory Gallant, a Canadian cartoonist and illustrator best known for his series Palookaville and his mock-autobiographical graphic novel It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken (1996). His illustrations have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, McSweeneys Quarterly, and The New Yorker. He is also Lemony Snicket’s partner for the new Young Readers series All the Wrong Questions.

Biblioasis is continuing their successful tradition in 2017 with another set of Christmas Ghost Stories that are selected and illustrated by Seth. This year’s collection features standalone classic short stories by Algernon Blackwood (“The Empty House,” 1906), E. F. Benson (“How Fear Departed the Long Gallery,” 1912), and W. W. Jacobs (“The Toll House,” 1909).

In “The Empty House,” Aunt Julia is an elderly spinster with an obsession for supernatural research. She has the keys to an alleged haunted house on the square and invites her nephews to accompany her on a midnight investigation. What really happened a hundred years ago when a servant girl fell to her death? Eerily, the old house may not be as empty as it appears.

Opening passage from Algernon Blackwood’s “The Empty House”:

“Certain houses, like certain persons, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil. In the case of the latter, no particular feature need betray them; they may boast an open countenance and an ingenuous smile; and yet a little of their company leaves the unalterable conviction that there is something radically amiss with their being: that they are evil.”

The reading of these types of scary tales during the holiday season was a tradition that dates back to at least the 18th century and was at one time as common as decorating the tree or singing carols.
Biblioasis’ Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories series has done an outstanding job of attempting to revive this forgotten custom. These charmingly illustrated classic short stories are sold separately and will make the perfect stocking stuffer for any literary enthusiast on your gift buying list who desires a little scare to go along with their holiday revelries.

Review of Three Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre

Image of Three Days and a Life

Author: Pierre Lemaitre
Release date: November 7, 2017
Pages: 208
Publisher: Maclehose Press
Buy from Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Three-Days-Life-Pierre-Lemaitre/dp/1681441780/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510083592&sr=8-1&keywords=three+days+and+a+life

In 1999, in the small provincial town of Beauval, France, 12-year-old Antoine Courtin accidently kills a young boy in the woods near his home. Panicked, he conceals the body and to his relief and ongoing shame, he is never suspected of any connection to the child’s disappearance. But the boy’s death continues to haunt him, shaping his life in unseen ways.

More than a decade later, Antoine is living in Paris, now a young doctor with a fiancée and a promising future. On a rare trip home to the town he hates and fears, Antoine thoughtlessly sleeps with a beautiful young woman from his past. She shows up pregnant at his doorstep in Paris a few months later, insisting that they marry, but Antoine refuses.

Meanwhile, the newly discovered body of Antoine’s childhood victim means that the case has been reopened, and all of his old fears rush back. Then the young woman’s father threatens Antoine with a paternity test—which would almost certainly match the DNA found on the dead child’s body. Will Antoine finally be forced to confront his crime? And what is he prepared to do to keep his secrets buried in the past?

Pierre Lemaitre’s new novel Three Days and a Life is a captivating and disturbing Hitchcockian thriller with plenty of twists and turns. The prolific French novelist and screenwriter is internationally known for crime novels and has won numerous literary awards that include the prestigious Prix Goncourt and Crime Writers’ Association International Dagger awards.

Three Days and a Life is a psychological roller coaster, and discussing this novel without revealing too much of the plot is a very difficult task. “The branch has fallen from his hands. He looks down at the child’s sprawled body. There is something strange about the posture that Antoine cannot quite place, a helplessness . . . What have I done? And what do I do now?”

The crime he committed when he was 12 was a crime of passion. It was in a fit of anger over the death of his beloved dog. After he disposes of the body he is “overcome with the sheer scale of the tragedy” and spends the next few days agonizing over his actions, expecting to be caught. “In a sickening spasm, the tidal wave in his stomach ripped through his whole body, burned through his belly, and exploded into his throat with a jolt that literally lifted him off the bed.”

This never happens, and others are accused and arrested for the crime. Flash forward twelve years and Antoine has attempted to move on with his life, but guilt is always “intensely present and terribly remote.” The narrative returns to the town and explores the ongoing effects of the crime. “His mind dragged him back to the most harrowing period of his life, one that had come to entirely define his childhood. They would find the body. The investigation would be reopened.”

Yet despite Antoine’s clear guilt, Lemaitre is expertly able to generate just enough compassion for him to draw the reader into an uncertain place where even though they might wish to see justice served they don’t want him to feel any more pain. Overall, Lemaitre magnificently manipulates the readers’ compassions and succeeds in dropping several remarkable plot twists that surprisingly help alter the initial events. Three Days and a Life is a heartbreaking and darkly disturbing psychological page-turner written with simplicity and creativity. A thoroughly captivating suspense-filled read that will not disappoint any devoted thriller enthusiast.