Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Carnegie’s Maid – Marie Benedict

Historical Fiction

Andrew Carnegie is best known for being one of the richest men in America having made his fortune by leading the expansion of the steel industry, and towards the end of his life he was a leading philanthropist. Marie Benedict’s book has been written as a fictional account of how this man was moved to better the lives of others when his early years had been spent focussed on lining his own pockets. To do so she looked at her own ancestors and imagined a young, bright Irish girl becoming a Lady’s Maid to Margaret Carnegie, Andrew’s mother.

We first meet Clara Kelly in December 1868 as her journey across the Atlantic is coming to a close and she’s got to find a way to get to her relatives in Pittsburgh. Clara despite being the second child of her parents has been sent to America to provide a ‘Plan B’ for the family since their leased farm is being carved up following the potato famine and now there are real concerns that the Landlord has it in for Clara’s father.

The premise to the book where a farmer’s daughter ends up being a Lady’s Maid is a great vehicle for studying the man at the centre of the book, Andrew Carnegie. It don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there is a relationship of sorts between Clara and Andrew, after all both were immigrants, Andrew moving the US from Scotland when he was barely in his teens. With the Carnegie family coming recently to wealth the need to never descend into poverty again is one of their key drivers for continued success. I’m pleased to say that the author doesn’t skimp on the less than moral and perhaps legal actions of this great business leader either before his later transformation into someone who champions the education of all.

It’s also nice that this book is populated by strong and intelligent women. Margaret Carnegie, whilst maintaining a tight grip on her household is also very much involved in her son’s business and Clara is also keen to learn more about business as the book progresses.

This is a heavily fictionalised account and shouldn’t be read as anything other than that but that doesn’t stop it being a fascinating insight into the lives of immigrants to America during and after the American Civil War. The descriptions of life both in Ireland and Pittsburgh make for illuminating reading especially the lives of Clara’s distant relations Patrick and Maeve who bring up an ever growing brood in a small and dirty ramshackle home. Patrick working at the Iron foundry whilst Maeve takes in needlework to be completed by poor light in the evenings. By contrast Clara’s efforts to become indispensable in the Carnegie household may mean long hours brushing hair, cleaning and darning clothes but she lives in luxurious surroundings although I pitied her the lack of friends apart from the former slave Mr Ford within the almost prison-like existence.

A fascinating historical tale which is indeed one explanation for Andrew Carnegie’s transformation into one of the best known philanthropists with the book ending with the opening of the free library in Boston built by Andrew Carnegie.

I’d like to thank the publishers Landmark for providing me with a copy of Carnegie’s Maid ahead of publication date of the 16 January 2017.

First Published UK: 16 January 2018
Publisher: Landmark
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Falling – Emma Kavanagh

Psychological Thriller 5*'s
Psychological Thriller

I really enjoyed Hidden by this author and pondered over both the plot and its execution so I was really keen to read her debut novel Falling which was published last year.

This book opens with us meeting Cecilia Williams a flight attendant based in Wales, a place she never intended returning to. That very morning she had packed her bags leaving her husband and young son. Without a backward glance, convinced she has made the right choice she prepares to board the flight, directing the passengers to their seats before take-off. And then both passengers, crew are in the terrifying scenario of a plane falling from the sky. As the plane comes to settle on a snowy hillside torn in two with only a handful of survivors, everything has changed, or has it?

Parallel to this story is that of retired Police officer Jim who on visiting his daughter’s home finds her missing. Jim visits the police station hoping to find his old friends and is instead confronted by a board duty officer more interested in his phone that taking down the details or being remotely interested in the disappearance of Libby, a Community Support Officer. Once the crime is finally reported the man who leads the investigation into her disappearance is Cecilia’s husband Tom.

We also hear from Freya, the daughter of the deceased pilot where she reflects on her life with a rather distant father yet at the same time supporting her younger brother and her distraught mother. There are secrets in this family too, some better hidden than others.

This book is populated by a wide selection of characters, some more likeable than others. I found it difficult to sympathise with Cecilia in particular but as the storyline progressed I came to understand, if not like her. But these characters don’t act in isolation they all have relationships with others and sometimes crossover between the individual stories that I found myself immersed in. Like the characters the relationships cover the range, from close and caring to distant and remote with a scattering in-between. The relationship between Tom and Jim was both authentic and touching, a lovely touch that is often overlooked in this genre of books. The richness of both characters and plots didn’t fail to engage me and I was desperate to piece together all the various elements.

And then there is a setting which in the depth of winter, those cold days that are currently thankfully behind us, gives an added chill to the various mysteries that populate the pages of this intriguing and fresh feeling novel.

This book is multi-layered, complex and deals with difficult issues but it does it so very well. The different viewpoints give a depth to the stories being told and lifts what could be one very confusing sets of episodes into a tautly and engaging read. It is billed as a psychological thriller and the psychological element is definitely present, I’m not quite so sure it fits into the thriller genre being one of those books to ponder over rather than one that gets your heart racing.

I’d like to thank the publishers Landmark who are publishing this book in the US under the title After We Fall on 2 June 2015, for allowing me to read this book in return for an honest review.