The Personal Librarian [Book Review]

June 25, 2021

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Murray (cover) Image: a young woman in a long red dress stands against the railing of a grand staircase....a small stack of books held to her chest

Genre/Categories/Setting: Biographical Historical Fiction, African-American Women, the Gilded Age, New York City, Passing as White

N*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

My Summary:

Thanks #NetGalley @BerkleyPub #BerkleyWritesStrongWomen #BerkleyBuddyReads for a complimentary eARC upon my request. All opinions are my own.

The Personal Librarian is the fictionalized biography of Belle da Casta Greene, personal librarian to business tycoon, John Pierpont Morgan.  Belle curates a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for the Pierpont Morgan Library. In addition to becoming powerful in the art and book world, Belle develops a reputation as a shrewd negotiator and earns her place in New York Society. However, she has a well-guarded secret…..she is passing as white.

My Thoughts:

Writing: The Personal Librarian is told in a straightforward chronological timeline (with some childhood flashbacks) from one perspective. I love historical fiction when it’s based on a real person and her accomplishment(s). Readers can depend on Marie Benedict for a well-researched story. Because Belle lived a private life and burned her private correspondence to guard her secret, the authors had limited primary documents and had to heavily imagine parts of Belle’s story. I love that Benedict teamed with Victoria Murray for adding authenticity to Belle’s voice as she wrestles with the costs and consequences of passing as white. Although the history is informative and interesting, it’s Belle’s reflections that are the most compelling parts of the story.

Belle is a fascinating, smart, determined, driven, and clever young woman who is driven by success (instilled in her by her mother) as she makes her way in a male-dominated and racist world. She is a bit aloof and always on guard to protect her secret and this doesn’t make her entirely likable but I do admire her, and hearing her (imagined) perspective helps me better understand the challenges and racism she faced.

Recommended: I’m recommending The Personal Librarian for fans of well-researched and well-written historical fiction, for readers who love inspirational stories of real women taking risks and facing and overcoming challenges, and for book clubs.

Related: You might also like The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe, the fictionalized biography of a woman who attends Vassar while passing as white.

My Rating: 4 Stars


The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Murray (cover) Image: a young woman in a long red dress stands against the railing of a grand staircase holding a small stack of books to her chest

The Personal Librarian Information Here.

Meet the Authors, Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

Author Marie BenedictMarie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms, who found her calling unearthing the hidden historical stories of women. Her mission is to excavate from the past the most important, complex and fascinating women of history and bring them into the light of present-day where we can finally perceive the breadth of their contributions as well as the insights they bring to modern day issues. She embarked on a new, thematically connected series of historical novels with THE OTHER EINSTEIN, which tells the tale of Albert Einstein’s first wife, a physicist herself, and the role she might have played in his theories. The next novel in this series is the USA Today bestselling CARNEGIE’S MAID — which released in January of 2018 — and the book that followed is the New York Times bestseller and Barnes & Noble Book Club Pick THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM, the story of the brilliant inventor Hedy Lamarr, which published in January of 2019. In January of 2020, LADY CLEMENTINE, the story of the incredible Clementine Churchill, was released, and became an international bestseller. Her next novel, the Instant NYTimes and USAToday bestselling THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE, was published on December 29, 2020, and her first co-written book, THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN, with the talented Victoria Christopher Murray, will be released on June 29, 2021. Writing as Heather Terrell, Marie also published the historical novels The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare.

Victoria Christopher MurrayVictoria Christopher Murray is the author of nine Essence bestselling novels, including The Ex Files; Too Little, Too Late; and Lady Jasmine. Winner of the African American Literary Award for Fiction and Author of the Year (Female).

She has received numerous awards including the Golden Pen Award for Best Inspirational Fiction and the Phyllis Wheatley Trailblazer Award for being a pioneer in African American Fiction. Since 2007, Victoria has won nine African American Literary Awards for best novel, best Christian fiction and Author of the Year — Female. After four nominations, Victoria finally won an NAACP Image Award in Outstanding Literary Work for her social commentary novel, Stand Your Ground.

Victoria splits her time between Los Angeles and Washington DC.


Is The Personal Librarian on your TBR or have you read it?

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  1. Yes, this is not only a good book, but an important one as well. Too bad it wasn’t released on Juneteenth! My review will come out on the 29th – publication day.

  2. This sounds like a very interesting story. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to leave with the fear of discovery hanging over your head all the time. I will have to see if my library has this one. Great review, Carol.

    • It’s a fascinating story Carla. It reminded me of The Gilded Years, the story of the first black woman to attend Vassar while passing as white. So intense.

  3. I’m on the waitlist at the public library for The Personal Librarian. Having read Marie Benedict’s The Other Einstein, I look forward to reading another one of her novels. I’m intrigued by books written by two people. I’d love to know more about the process Ms. Benedict and Ms. Murray used to bring the various facets of this story together. I can’t wait to read it!

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