Marie Benedict is a master writer of historical fiction. She is one of my favorites as she writes historical novels that focus on women. (Marie Benedict is actually a pseudonym used by Heather Terrell.) A list of her novels can be found below at the end of this review.
Her latest published novel, written with Victoria Christopher Murray, is The Personal Librarian. This novel tells the story of Belle da Costa Greene, JP Morgan’s personal librarian. Belle grew to be an incredibly important and powerful woman in New York City, despite the fact that she was hiding a secret that had the power to destroy her life and the lives of people in her family.
In her twenties, Belle was hired by J. Pierpont Morgan to curate his massive collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork. He had recently built the Pierpont Morgan Library and needed someone to organize its works. Belle and JP Morgan worked together for years to create a library that would hold up to his legacy. She traveled the world and became known for her impeccable taste, as well as her shrewd and unique ways to negotiate for works that both Morgan and Belle wanted to add to their world-class collection.
Belle had a major secret though. She is actually Belle Marion Greener, the daughter of Richard Greener, who was the first Black graduate of Harvard and was a well-known advocate for equality. Belle instead passes as white, by saying that she has Portuguese heritage. She doesn’t have Portuguese heritage though, as Belle is African American. Her mother’s decision to have her family pass as white tore her marriage apart, wreaking havoc on the small semblance of normalcy that they had created for their family.
The Personal Librarian tells the story of Belle, a woman well known for her intellect and style, but whose secret led her to carefully craft the white identity that let her have the lifestyle she desired. She spent her life walking a tightrope that could have snapped at any moment. Belle’s legacy lives on in this novel created by Benedict and Murray.
This book is also available in the following formats:
Marie Benedict’s other novels are listed below as well as who they are about:
- The Other Einstein – Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein’s first wife, a woman who was a physicist
- Carnegie’s Maid – Clara Kelley, lady’s maid in Andrew Carnegie’s household
- The Only Woman in the Room – Hedy Lamarr: inventor, screen star, and scientist
- Lady Clementine – Clementine Churchill, Winston Churchill’s wife
- The Mystery of Mrs. Christie – Agatha Christie’s mysterious eleven day disappearance in 1926
- Her Hidden Genius – to be published in January 2022, which tells the story of British scientist Rosalind Franklin who discovered the structure of DNA. Her research was used without her permission by Crick & Watson to win the Nobel Prize.
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I grew up in a small town where beauty pageants happened every summer. Moving away to college, I discovered that spending your summer watching beauty pageants was not the norm. I honestly had not thought much of the pageant life again until recently when I discovered The Accidental Beauty Queen sitting on the new shelf at work. The premise was intriguing, so I decided to give it a try!
The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson tells the story of two identical twins. Charlotte and Ginny Gorman look alike, but that is where their similarities end. Charlotte is an elementary school librarian who absolutely loves her job. Being a librarian allows her to spend her day around books and help her students. Her twin sister Ginny is a beauty pageant contestant. Building her brand through various social media platforms, mainly Instagram, Ginny works hard to fill their mother’s beauty pageant shoes(not literally). Their mother died when both Ginny and Charlotte were young and Ginny chose to honor her by competing in the same pageant she had competed in before.
Ginny is a repeat beauty pageant contestant, someone who has been after a crown for as long as Charlotte came remember. Her ultimate goal? Being crowned Miss American Treasure. Charlotte may begrudgingly support her sister, but she still doesn’t understand the appeal. Charlotte accompanies Ginny to her latest beauty pageant because she’s promised a week of vacation with Harry Potter World close at hand. Staying in the same room with Ginny, Charlotte is privy to some behind the scenes looks as Ginny prepares. Ginny is pretty sure she has this pageant in the bag.
It all comes crashing down when Ginny has a severe allergic reaction to the dinner she shares with Charlotte the night before the competition begins. After Charlotte rushes Ginny to an urgent care (under cover and in secret, of course), they both realize that Ginny will not be back to her normal beauty queen self for at least three days. Those three days are the bulk of the pageant! At her wit’s end, Ginny begs Charlotte to fill in for her for those three days. Her doing so would allow Ginny the time she needs to heal, but she would be able to swoop in at the end for the finals. Reluctantly agreeing to help, Charlotte soon finds herself thrown headfirst into full-blown pageant life. Ginny gives Charlotte a makeover full of push-up bras, glittery pageant gowns, hair extensions, false eyelashes, and full faces of makeup. As Ginny tries to prepare Charlotte for everything that goes into a pageant, Charlotte quickly finds out that there is way more to this way of life than crowns and gowns.