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Review: Historical Fantasy Priestess of Ishana Based on Bronze Age by Judith Starkston #histfic #fantasy #bookreviews

Priestess of Ishana, Review –
Tesha Series, Book One
Judith Starkston
Historical Fantasy

priestess cover 500x750px

Today I’m doing a review of Judith Starkston’s historical fantasy novel Priestess of Ishana, which is book one of her Tesha series. Book two is coming out soon and Judith will be back very soon with a guest article for us, “The Queen Behind the Character.”

We know so little of the Hittite culture, don’t we? I’m enamored by the ancient civilizations and especially drawn to some of them as it’s such a puzzle to figure it all out. These people lived but so far removed from us. What were they like? Like us? Or were there supernatural elements of the gods? Art and fiction point us in all sorts of directions. I’m an overall historical fiction reader as well as fantasy and when they mix, I know it’s probably going to be something I might enjoy. With Judith Starkston, we always get strong female leads torching the way who are modeled after real life classical people of the past.

I first encountered Judith’s work with Hand of Fire, which was about Briseis and the Trojan War, and thoroughly enjoyed it. In her new series, we meet fifteen-year-old independent, strong priestess Tesha during the Bronze Age and Hittolian era, when real life queen Puduhepa reigned. Tesha is modeled after her, bringing real historical elements to the fiction. Learning more about the Hittite culture through this book was exciting, and I’d say… magical… but it WAS a magical time wasn’t it? We can’t know for sure, but I think so. Hittite and Greek culture brings us stories of the gods and Priestess of Ishana was no less filled with the magic, drama, and intrigue of these supernatural legends.

First let me say what I love the most about Judith’s writing is her prowess with historical details as a sturdy foundation for her fiction. That makes her world-building phenomenal in the way that her descriptions make us feel as if we are there (as if she herself traveled there and is interposing details she saw). On that level, it feels as if she entered a portal in time in order to bring back knowledge to us. Her ability to create time and place we can visually see in our heads in such a stunning way is the sign of a wonderful storyteller. She has opened our eyes to history in a way that isn’t documented many other places and has woven it into a story that would propel anyone’s learning, let alone entertain readers.

Second, I am always enamored by Judith’s female leads. My daughter is a young, strong fifteen-year-old and so I loved thinking about her in this role (and think this is a great book as well for that age reader), but also, big shoes to fill! I love that Judith is bringing these lost women of history to the stage from these ancient eras. Her character of Tesha is fiesty, intelligent, and a woman of great strength in a time where military action and intrigue was prominent. Her dialogue, her dimensional work on Tesha, was so good it made you feel as if you might really know her. She centers her tale of Tesha in her teen years as a priestess of Ishana and I’m extremely happy we’ll be able to see her grow in this series.

Even if all that is good enough for me, as I read a lot of historical fiction books based on strong females in history (forgotten or otherwise), the addition of the magic and supernatural with a curse from the dark Underworld weaved in created momentum, action, and excitement. Hattu, who Tesha meets at the temple, is the younger brother of the Great King, and is arrested as an evil sorcerer by her father (high priest and governor). Tesha believes him innocent. She starts on a trek to save him but risks her family’s honor doing so. This is where the mystery and romantic elements come into the story and all was well-written and attention grabbing for me as a reader.

Judith has another win for me with this book and this series. I can’t wait to read more and follow Tesha’s story! Grippint, accurate ancient history mixed with supernatural intrigue and mystery, drama and intrigue, and highly-developed characters with intricate details – Priestess of Ishana has for all the makings of a stellar book for readers of YA to adult. This is another must for any shelf of books featuring women lost to history. I highly recommend this book to historical fiction readers as well as historical fantasy and fantasy readers. You’ll be breezing through it’s pages like you were swept back in time and then not want to return home.

priestess cover 500x750pxPriestess of Ishana, Synopsis –
Tesha Series, Book One

A curse, a conspiracy and the clash of kingdoms. A defiant priestess confronts her foes, armed only with ingenuity and forbidden magic.

An award-winning epic fantasy, Priestess of Ishana draws on the true-life of a remarkable but little-known Hittite queen who ruled over one of history’s most powerful empires.

A malignant curse from the Underworld threatens Tesha’s city with fiery devastation. The young priestess of Ishana, goddess of love and war, must overcome this demonic darkness. Charred remains of an enemy of the Hitolian Empire reveal both treason and evil magic. Into this crisis, King Hattu, the younger brother of the Great King, arrives to make offerings to the goddess Ishana, but he conceals his true mission in the city. As a connection sparks between King Hattu and Tesha, the Grand Votary accuses Hattu of murderous sorcery. Isolated in prison and facing execution, Hattu’s only hope lies in Tesha to uncover the conspiracy against him. Unfortunately, the Grand Votary is Tesha’s father, a rash, unyielding man, and now her worst enemy. To help Hattu, she must risk destroying her own father.

If you like a rich mixture of murder mystery, imperial scheming, sorcery, love story, and lavish world-building, then immerse yourself in this historical fantasy series. See why readers call the Tesha series “fast-paced,” “psychologically riveting,” and “not to be missed.”

Praise for Priestess of Ishana

This time the throne is bronze. – Tinney Heath, Author

What George R.R. Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’ did for the War of the Roses, Starkston has done for the forgotten Bronze Age Hittite civilization. Mystery, romance, political intrigue, & magic… – Amalia Carosella, Author

Purchase Link 

Amazon 

Start this series with book one now, as book two is available soon.

Sorcery cover - 500x750pxSorcery in Alpara, Synopsis –
Tesha series,
Book Two

A curse that consumes armies, a court full of traitors, a clutch of angry concubines and fantastical creatures who offer help but hate mankind.

Tesha’s about to become queen of a kingdom under assault from all sides, but she has powerful allies: her strategist husband, his crafty second-in-command, and her brilliant blind sister.

Then betrayal strips her of them all. To save her marriage and her world, she will have to grapple with the serpentine plot against her and unleash the goddess Ishana’s uncontrollable magic—without destroying herself.

Purchase Link –

Amazon

Judith Starkston, Biography –

Author Photo (1)Judith Starkston has spent too much time reading about and exploring the remains of the ancient worlds of the Greeks and Hittites. Early on she went so far as to get degrees in Classics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cornell.

She loves myths and telling stories. This has gotten more and more out of hand. Her solution: to write historical fantasy set in the Bronze Age.

Hand of Fire was a semi-finalist for the M.M. Bennett’s Award for Historical Fiction. Priestess of Ishana won the San Diego State University Conference Choice Award.

Sign up for her newsletter on her website JudithStarkston.com for a free short story, book news and giveaways.

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Book News: Medicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot – Dark tale of Marguerite de Valois and 16th Century French Court #histfic

Medicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot Reveals New Cover and Availability for first time in paperback and e-book! Have a look at that amazing cover…!!

Medicis Daughter graphic 1

Long before my good friend Sophie Perinot was writing about 18th century French royalty caught in a Revolution, she was plumbing the dark, intrigue-filled depths of the 16th century Valois court on the eve of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

MÉDICIS DAUGHTER, her dark tale of Marguerite de Valois, daughter of Catherine de Médicis, sister to three kings, is NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK AND E-BOOK with a dramatic new cover! Let me tell you, I am in LOVE with this cover. I reviewed this title to high praise a few years ago when it came out in hardback from Macmillan/Thomas Dunne. I really love this book and I highly recommend it to historical fiction readers who love intelligent and elegant prose. I also did an interview with Sophie that really delves into this story and her writing.

Medicis Daughter graphic 2

⚜ ⚜ PRAISE FOR MÉDICIS DAUGHTER ⚜ ⚜

“Amid the glamorous intrigues of the 16th-century French court, Marguerite de Valois, the youngest Medici daughter, deftly balances secret escapades and public duties… Perinot matches the rhythm of Margot’s life to the political storms: as the battles escalate, so do the perils of love and lust. A riveting page-turner skillfully blending illicit liaisons and political chicanery.”―Kirkus Reviews

“This is Renaissance France meets Game of Thrones: dark, sumptuous historical fiction that coils religious strife, court intrigue, passionate love, family hatred, and betrayed innocence like a nest of poisonous snakes.” ―Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Huntress

“Absorbing… an engrossing read.”―Publishers Weekly

“An enthralling page-turner which lovers of royalty fiction and strong female leads should enjoy thoroughly.”―HNR Magazine

medicis daughter graphic 3

⚜ ⚜ ⚜ BUY LINKS ⚜ ⚜ ⚜

AMAZON: https://amzn.to/2kPdFyt

NOOK: http://bit.ly/MDonNOOK

KOBO: http://bit.ly/MEDICIS_DAUGHTER_Kobo

iBooks [Coming Soon]

SCRIBD: https://www.scribd.com/book/426935416/Medicis-Daughter

If you’re a fan of intrigue, drama, and historical fiction with a dark slant, pick this one up NOW. You won’t be sorry. ❤

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Interview: Author Gina Marie Guadagnino on Debut Novel The Parting Glass, Featuring Irish-American Characters

Interview, Author Gina Marie Guadagnino of The Parting Glass

Hello everyone! After over two weeks of respiratory illness in our house, and all time spent recovering, taking care of home and others (partner, kids, parents), the brakes going out on my car and needing fixed, and then mad crazy catching up on my actual freelance publishing work load that pays the bills, I was able to get back to the Oh, for the Hook of a Book! site today. Alas, I missed putting up my usual St. Patrick Day post with books, movies, and treats. I did make Irish Stew on Sunday though!

I read The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino before succumbing to the ick, which meant I read just prior to its March 5 release date, and it fittingly has Irish characters set in mid-1800s NYC! I’ll have a review, and others, I’m catching up on, but I was able to conduct an interview with Gina in which we talk about her books, themes (Irish immigrants, LGBT+ characters), and how she writes historical and dark fiction like me. She even gives writers some good advice, with this being her debut novel.

Enjoy the interview and let us know what you think in the comments!

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Hi Gina! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m very happy you’ve joined us today. Not only is it Women in History Month, but it’s the celebration of the release of your debut novel, The Parting Glass, which is a book that combines quite a bit – an NYC historical setting, plight of Irish immigrants and the scene of the day coupled with their various relationships, intrigue, as well as love and LGBT+ themes. We have much to explore, especially since I’ve come to learn you are also a writer of dark fiction like me as well.

Parting Glass Cover

First, come in and join me. In honor of your arrival, though it isn’t relative to what Irish-Americans would eat or drink in 1837, the time period of your book, I’ve baked my Irish Soda Bread with raisins and brewed some fresh Irish coffee. If it’s too early to make yours with whiskey, then just tell me how you’d like it. Have a seat in my plush library chairs and I’ll be in.

Emma's Soda Bread

Acutal photo of the Irish Soda Bread my 15 year old daughter and I baked this weekend for St. Patrick’s Day!

Gina: Hi Erin! Thanks so much for having me. I should be good like my protagonist Maire and refuse a belt on a workday, but how often does a girl get to publish her debut novel? So I guess you can make mine a double! That soda bread smells delicious, by the way.

Erin: Mmm, it does – and cheers to special occasions! Now that we are settled, let’s begin. I work, write, and read in history as well as dark fiction and so you’ll find a mix of those peers and readers following along with our talk. First, The Parting Glass is your debut book. Tell us about it in your own words and your inspiration for writing it.

Gina: When I started writing The Parting Glass, I had recently moved to Florida so that my spouse could pursue a PhD, and I was really missing New York. I had either lived or worked or studied on Washington Square for the ten years previous to our move, and all I could think about was going back, so I started writing a short story set on the Square. My primary focus is on historical fiction, so I started thinking about the kinds of people who would have lived and worked there when the brick row houses were new. At first, my goal was to expose the various strata of individuals in a single house, with almost a Downton Abbey kind of feel, but quickly, the stories of Maire, Seanin, and Charlotte came to the fore.

Washington Square drawing

Houses on Washington Square North, New York / Image sent by Gina

Washington Square North

Washington Square North / Image provided by Gina

Erin: It’s described as having an “Upstairs Downstairs” feel regarding its use of characters that are the hired help intertwining with the NYC elite they worked for at the time. You’ve studied American history, and Irish history, do you feel most people today realize that this concept didn’t end in the New World even as late as the mid-1800s? (These days, I don’t! lol!) What do you feel most people lack to understand about society in NYC then and how the Irish immigrants fit into it?

Gina: I think that most people have a general idea that American retained a robust servant class throughout the 19th century, yes. The massive influx of Irish peasants fleeing the Great Hunger in the 1840s and 50s resulted in a disproportionate number of Irish domestic servants in the latter half of the 1800s, but The Parting Glass takes place in the 1830s. I tried to use the temporal setting to explore the diversity of New York’s servant class, using the Walden’s household as a microcosm. You have Irish immigrants like Seanin, of course, but you also have New Yorkers of English and Scottish extraction, like the housekeeper and butler, Mrs. Harrison and Mr. Buckley. Then you have former slaves, like Mrs. Freedman and her deceased husband, Frank. Mrs. Freedman her son Young Frank, and the scullion Agnes all would have been slaves before they were freed in New York’s Emancipation Act of 1827. Most of the rest of the servants are people who would consider themselves “native” New Yorkers – so you see that, at the time The Parting Glass takes place, Irish immigrants played a much smaller role than they would only a decade later.

Erin: Interesting! What are the types of struggles on the surface that some of your characters are struggling with in society? What public persona is each trying to retain, no matter their social standing?

Gina: In terms of Society with a capital S, Charlotte and Prudence are the characters struggling most with the chafing expectations of maintaining their social standing. Charlotte never questioned that the trajectory of her life would include a grand society marriage before she met Seanin, while Prudence’s love of music had previously made marriage seem a dull prospect. The irony here is that when Prudence actually does fall for someone who would make a society match desirable for her, the potential groom is infatuated with Charlotte. Meanwhile, amongst the society of servants, Maire is struggling to fit in, pretending that she is not Irish. The irony for her is that her brother, who is open about his Irish ethnicity, is better-liked amongst the Walden’s servants than she is.

Erin: What are the challenges they are facing and hiding under the depth of surface? Your characters lead double lives – why did you choose to unravel these themes within your work? What did you hope to show in the parallels?

Gina: I really wanted to subvert the historical marriage plot with which we’re all so familiar. So many books about women set in the early 19th century fixate on the need for women to marry to secure their places in society. Even when those women are conflicted or have other mitigating factors in their lives, respectable marriage is still the ultimate goal. I wanted to explore women for whom that goal was unsatisfactory: queer women for whom marriage was not an option, women who prized art and autonomy over matrimony, women who prized love over status, sex workers who were ambitious about staying sex workers. I wanted to use the hidden narratives to express the unexpected ways in which women like Maire and Liddie were less burdened by societal expectations than more privileged women like Charlotte and Prudence whose lives were laid out before they were born.

Erin: I feel you were courageous in writing these characters, even today. Which was your favorite character to write? Which was the most challenging?

Gina: Liddie was by far my favorite character to write. She’s witty, ambitious, and practical; she doesn’t suffer fools. I had been thinking about writing a character like her for quite a while – 19th century sex workers and brothel owners are a fascination of mine – and she fit so seamlessly into The Parting Glass. Because I love Shakespeare, I gave her a theatrical origin story so that I could have her spouting some of my favorite Bardic quotations. Charlotte was actually one of the hardest characters to write. She’s naturally placid and aloof, very self-contained, and since we only see her through the eyes of the other characters, it was hard for me to strike the right tone with her!

Erin: Of course, your book is well-researched and intelligent in its foundation, but it’s not completely heavy on the themes of the dueling sociality of the characters (meaning it’s an entertaining, captivating read), but also explores love and forbidden desires. What did you decide to push the boundaries of writing and themes for readers? How did you?

Gina: You know, this might sound strange, but I really don’t think I was pushing too many boundaries here. Love and desire are really very basic human emotions that color so much of what we do. That was true a thousand years ago, it was true in the 1830s, and it’s true today. I think that you can write a book with intense political themes and then complicate matters with affairs of the heart and have the whole thing harmonize because that’s just what humans do.

Erin: Of the themes in your novel, what are the primary connections and correlations that you hope readers will leave with? Are you a believer that as people vary, that will vary?

Gina: I hope that people will leave the story aware of how little has changed in our society with regard to the way we legislate women’s bodies, the bias with which we treat immigrants, the marginalization of LGBTQ+ people, etc. And I hope that, being struck by those parallels, people are galvanized to do something about it.

Erin: Your book has been described as having tinges of Sarah Waters, due to its exploration of lesbian characters, but also Edith Wharton mixed with Emma Donoghue (via the amazing author Kris Walderr). To that end, do your characters develop with us in understanding themselves? Does a greater feminine achievement exist or is it a searching of mean for all various people within your characters?

Gina: I think Maire definitely develops along with the reader in terms of who she is and what she’s capable of. Without giving too much away, Maire starts off the book having completely suppressed all her desires in life beyond her desire for Charlotte, and even there, she has ceded her claim to her brother. She is, in many ways, the perfect servant because her mistress’s desires are her own. She doesn’t even believe she has the right to the sexual desire she feels for Charlotte. Over the course of the book, as the secret life Maire has build begins to unravel, as she meets other women who are willing to risk their comfort or their station to achieve their goals, she slowly comes into her own.

Erin: You’ve achieved something all writers search for with a debut novel, to be published traditionally by an exceptional house. How did this process happen for you? What do you feel helped you to accomplish this? (And congratulations!!)

Gina: Thank you! (clink Irish coffees!) It was a slow process. It took me five years to write and revise the novel – I think by the time I got around to querying agents, I was using draft 5. And then it took me about 18 months – and 181 query letters! – before I was offered representation by the amazing Alexandra Machinist at ICM. Alexandra truly believed in this novel – in its messy characters and complicated themes – and she had a vision of the type of editor to whom it would appeal. Trish Todd at Atria (formerly Touchstone) connected with the novel right away, and in our first call together, I knew my book was going to be in great hands.

Erin: In addition, what tips would you have for aspiring novelists?

Gina: I know that everyone says “be tenacious; don’t give up,” and while that’s obviously true in my case, I will also say “find the right allies.” Not every novel is right for every agent or every publisher. So figure out what your core message or values are, and find others who share them. Those are the people who will help propel your vision.

Erin: In looking through your website, I noticed that you not only write short stories like me (I have published a collection of dark poetry and stories and have contributed so anthologies in the genre), but that you’ve written dark fiction as well! I think dark fiction lends itself well to short works. What have you enjoyed about writing darker stories? Which has/have been your favorite(s) you’ve written?

Gina: The thing is, I never actually sit down and say to myself, “okay, I’m going to write something dark.” I set out to write something historical, or something with a supernatural element, or even something comical, and then they just come out dark anyway! I’m not sure what that says about me! Perhaps ironically, the one time I did try to write a truly dark story – about a woman who is unable to remember whether or not she committed a murder – I was unable to get it published. But that was years before Girl on the Train and that whole genre, so maybe I should try submitting it again!

Erin: You should! I was thinking I wanted to edit an anthology of women and crime, and this would be perfect. Now I just need someone to publish it and let me curate it. haha!

I’m wondering if you’re like me in how your writing and reading adventures cover a wide array. Are there darker elements you’ve brought to your longer or historical fiction like The Parting Glass? If so, what or why not? (In my personal opinion, I feel like the obsession element leans toward that!)

Gina: Obsession can be very dark, and lead people to dark places, so that’s certainly an element in my longer fiction, as in The Parting Glass.

Erin: Do you feel you will continue to write dark flash or short story pieces? What about a novel trending more towards dark fiction or horror?

Gina: Can I tell you a secret? I kind of hate writing short stories! It’s so hard for me to be concise and wrap up a short story neatly or satisfyingly. I have enormous respect for talented short story writers because that style of writing is such a struggle for me. In general, I tend to write longer work, with rare and occasional sparks that become standalone short stories. My current work in progress is something I’m calling a “reverse gothic novel.” In a traditional gothic novel, the characters believe that horrific and wild and sometimes supernatural things are happening around them, but in the end, there is a perfectly logical (if sometimes far-fetched) explanation. My latest novel, which takes place in the 1810s, is about a family who prides themselves on being so logical and rational that they never suspect that the events unfolding around them are as wild and outrageous as they really are!

Erin: That sounds fun and Gothic is my thing. Keep me updated!

I believe that you are completing more graduate studies, but in Irish studies this time? What have you studied previously and why, and also, why now Irish studies? How does this help you, or will help you, in your writing? Do you plan to write more historical novels?

Gina: I did my undergraduate work in English with a double minor in Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Irish Studies, and I also have my MFA in Fiction. I plan to write many more historical novels set in Ireland and the Irish diaspora, and I wanted to pursue a degree in Irish Studies to support the research I do for my novels. I find the academic work I do deeply inspirational, and I already have so many avenues I want to explore as a result of my studies.

Erin: Some easier questions now! What are some of your favorite historical reads? What are some of your favorite dark fiction reads?

Gina: Well, we’ve already mentioned Sarah Waters and Emma Donaghue; they’re obviously high on the list. I love the works of Lyndsay Faye – particularly her Gods of Gotham trilogy. For medieval historical fiction, Nicola Grifith’s Hild and Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death – the latter of which definitely qualifies as a dark read! I also love Jo Baker’s Longbourne, and Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, which certainly has some dark elements to it. And speaking of Kris Waldherr, as we were a moment ago, her debut novel, The Lost History of Dreams, is a delightfully dark historical work, out next month!

The Lost History of Dreams

Erin: We have a lot of reading interests in common! Since it’s Women in History month, who is a woman of history that you feel more people should know about and why?

Gina: I’m going to go with Asenath Hatch Nicholson, who I just learned about in my Irish Women’s History class. She was a social reformer and philanthropist (despite often being in dire financial straits herself) who was deeply concerned with the plight of the Irish in Five Points, and eventually became instrumental in the relief efforts during the Great Hunger. She was a fascinating and complicated woman with a mind of her own. While I don’t agree with all of her political or religious views, she was a true humanitarian, and a unique spirit. Go look her up!

Asenath_Nicholson

Asenath Hatch Nicholson / Image provided by Gina 

Erin: And since it’s March, and St. Patrick’s day was something we recently celebrated (one of my favorites!), can you share with us a favorite St. Patrick’s day recipe, story or legend, or something unique for readers?

Gina: This might sound a little out there, but go with me. My all time favorite Irish dessert is something I once had in a pub in Dublin in 2001. It was a huge slice of soda bread, topped with a scoop of Guinness ice cream, covered in dark chocolate whiskey sauce. Over the years, I have tweaked various recipes until I have perfected my own version of it, which I’ve attached. If you have a soda bread recipe of your own that you love, feel free to substitute that. And, like Ina Garten always says, if you don’t want to make your own Guinness ice cream, store bought is fine!

Irish Soda Bread:

3 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

3 tbs caraway seeds, plus more

1 cup raisins

1 ½ cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425. In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, caraway seeds, and raisins. Add the buttermilk. Dough should be sticky, but easy to handle. Knead into a ball with floured hands. Place in a floured pan or cookie sheet, flouring only under the loaf to prevent burning. Flatten into a 7-inch circle with your hands. To allow expansion, cut a deep cross from side to side in the top of the dough with a sharp knife dipped in flour. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the bread is crusty brown. Cool before slicing.

Guinness Ice Cream:

12 ounces Guinness stout
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups half and half
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
6 raw egg yolks, sterilized

In a large saucepan, simmer the Guinness until reduced by 3/4 in volume, about 8 minutes. Combine the cream, half and half, and sugar in a medium, heavy saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pan and add the vanilla bean halves. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat.

Beat the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Whisk 1 cup of the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks. Gradually add the egg mixture in a slow, steady stream, to the rest of the warm cream. Whisk thoroughly until thickened. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing down against the surface to keep a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Remove from refrigerator and add the Guinness reduction, whisking until well blended. Pour into the bowl of an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until ready to serve.

Dark Chocolate-Whiskey Sauce:
2 cups whipping cream
¼ cup honey

¼ cup whiskey
20 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, combine cream and honey over medium heat until just simmering. Reduce to low and add the chocolate and vanilla, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in the whiskey. Let stand until cool but still pourable. Serve over Guinness ice cream.

To Assemble:

Lay a thick slice of soda bread at the bottom of a bowl. Add a generous scoop of the ice cream and smother the whole thing in chocolate-w

Erin: WHAT?!! Irish Soda Bread sundae. Oh, my! Thank you for the recipes!

What else do you have planned for 2019 or beyond besides anything you might have already mentioned? What is the future looking like for you? What are you most looking forward to?

Gina: I’m actually headed to Ireland soon on a research trip for novel number three. It’s going to be set in Donegal during the Great Hunger, and I’m hoping start drafting it this summer. I haven’t been to Ireland since 2006, and I’m really excited to be heading back. I’ll be there for over a week, and in addition to my research in Donegal, I’m looking forward to visiting some old favorite spots, and getting to a few new places I’ve always wanted to visit.

Erin: Where can everyone find you online to connect?

Gina: My website is www.ginamarieguadagnino.com, and I can be found on both Instagram and Twitter at @mymarginalia – because you can’t spell marginalia without Gina!

Erin: Thank you so very much Gina for enduring all my questions! I have an overactive curiosity for people, places, things. I hope that you will stop by again in the future and wish you the best of luck with The Parting Glass and all things in the future. Let’s kick back and enjoy a few more drinks before you go!

Gina: Thank you so much, Erin! It’s always such a pleasure to sit down and talk with people like you who have such a deep appreciation for the historical! Thanks for making this a fun visit!

Parting Glass CoverThe Parting Glass, Information –

Pub date: March 5, 2019
Publisher: Touchstone
Hardcover; $26.00
ISBN: 978-1501198410

Will a brother and sister’s steadfast vow withstand their wild devotion to the same woman? THE PARTING GLASS, a tempestuous nineteenth century love triangle threatens all that one secretive servant holds dear, is Gina Marie Guadagnino’s lush and evocative debut.

Posing as a lady’s maid in 1837 New York City, Maire O’Farren must tread carefully. The upper echelons of society despise the Irish and Maire, known to her employers only as Mary Ballard, takes great care to conceal her native lilt and lineage. Nor would the household be pleased with a servant who aids her debutante’s midnight assignations with a stable groom. Least of all would they tolerate a maid who takes a stronger liking to her charge than would be deemed entirely suitable for her sex.

Maire tends to wealthy young heiress Charlotte Walden’s every whim and guards her every secret. Though it pains her, Maire even delivers her brother Seanin to her beloved’s bed each Thursday night, before shedding her clandestine persona and finding release from her frustration in the gritty underworld around Washington Square. Despite her grief, Maire soon attracts the attentions of irreverent and industrious prostitute Liddie Lawrence, who soothes Maire’s body and distracts her burning heart.

As an English baron and a red-blooded American millionaire vie for Charlotte’s affections, Seanin makes calculated moves of his own, adopting the political aspirations of his drinking companions and grappling with the cruel boundaries of class and nationality. As Seanin rises in rank in a secret society and the truth of both women’s double lives begin to unravel, Charlotte’s secrets soon grow so dangerous even Maire cannot keep them. Forced to choose between loyalty to her brother or to her lady, between respectable society or true freedom, Maire finally learns that her fate lies in her hands alone.

Deeply researched and finely rendered, THE PARTING GLASS captures the delicate exuberance of nineteenth century high society, while examining sexuality, race, and social class in ways that feel startlingly familiar and timely. Perfect for fans of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith and Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin, Guadagnino’s captivating upstairs/downstairs historical fiction debut will leave readers breathless.

Gina Marie Guadagnino, Biography –

Gina Marie Guadagnino Author Photo by L.M. PaneGina Marie Guadagnino received a BA in English from New York University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the New School.

Her work has appeared in the Morris-Jumel Mansion Anthology of Fantasy and Paranormal FictionMixed Up: Cocktail Recipes (and Flash Fiction) for the Discerning Drinker (and Reader).

She lives in New York City with her family.

Praise for The Parting Glass

Downton Abbey meets Gangs of New York in this darkly compelling debut. A claustrophobic love triangle of stifled desire and class warfare plays out to deadly, devastating effect. A gem of a novel to be inhaled in one gulp.” —Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of THE ALICE NETWORK

“Knotted thickly with secrets both fervid and calculating, to read THE PARTING GLASS is to enter a jungle of passions and lies. Immaculately researched and gorgeously written, this book is noteworthy for its grasp of the agony caused by hiding cracks in the human heart. A thoughtful, lyrical, sensuous, moving tour-de-force.” —Lyndsay Faye, author of JANE STEELE

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Fresh Off the Hook: Interview with Janet Benton, Historical Author of Lilli de Jong

Last summer I read and reviewed the wonderful book, Lilli de Jong, by Janet Benton. You can read my thoughts on the book in my review I posted last year, right here. I really enjoyed this historical fiction title about an unwed mother in 1883 Pennsylvania who is banished from her Quaker home, and yet, never gives up her fight.

Many others enjoyed it as well as it acquired numerous accolades following its release such as being an finalist for The Langum Prize in American Historial Fiction 2017, a GoodReads Semifinalist, Choice Awards 2017, in Historical Fiction, and many more which you can find below.

Now, in celebration of the paperback release last week, with a new cover you can see below, Janet stops by the site for an interview. Congratulations, Janet! 

Readers, enjoy the interview – it’s fascinating! Come on by and enjoy the discussion and a cool drink with us.

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Paperback Cover

Hi Janet! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m glad you could drop by Ohio today, which isn’t far from you, we are neighbors to the Pennsylvania folks. In fact, I meant to tell you I saw that you went to college at Oberlin. I live just 45 minutes from there and frequent it often. Such a wonderful place.

Can I interest you in some peach iced tea? If you’d prefer another drink, let me know what you’d like. We could sit on the porch since it is summer, but not so hot at the moment. My 14-year-old has been baking muffins over summer break. Mostly blueberry.

Janet: Thanks, Erin! Lovely to know you’re near Oberlin. I haven’t returned since graduation but hope to do so in 2018.

Erin: Have a seat and I’ll pour the iced tea. Let’s talk about your book, Lilli de Jong. This was your debut novel, but yet, you seem like such a seasoned writer. As an editor, both freelance and for a publisher, I read and edit many books and submissions. So I say it with all honesty that your debut work was written with an experienced hand. Have you been writing awhile? When did you start to write Lilli?

Janet: I’ve been telling stories since before I could write, and I’ve spent three decades so far as an editor, writer, and teacher of writing, so I’ve got a lot of experience with words. I started to write Lilli, in tiny bits, a few lines now and then, about a dozen years before the novel was finished.

Erin: I know most writers don’t want to be asked about their inspiration, but I truly would love to let readers into your mind. How did you decide to write this book?

Janet: While I had a newborn baby, I began to learn about mothers of the past, including unwed mothers who were forced by prejudice to give up their newborns, most of whom died. I also learned about the profession of wet nursing and found out that many unwed mothers became wet nurses as a way to earn a living, since they had milk. A voice began to come to me while I was nursing my baby! I go into much more detail in the author’s note at the end of the novel.

Erin: In your research, what was the one item you had most trouble pinning down or working into the puzzle or plot of the novel (without giving spoilers)?

Janet: I’m afraid the one thing that comes to mind would be a spoiler!

Erin: You researched in Germantown. What was that like now as compared to then? What did you find most fascinating?

Janet: There are many buildings still standing that Lilli would have seen (if she had been a real person) in 1883. But many more are gone—and most of all, the meadows, farms, and other relatively open spaces—even ponds and streams—are gone. The area had more small factories then, though, which no doubt created noise and pollution. Overall, it’s less prosperous now, and a lot more crowded.

Erin: I feel this book is so important to our generation and future generations in terms of women’s rights. What is your public stance on various portions of women’s rights and what do you hope to have readers learn about them through your book?

Janet: I am a committed feminist, which means I believe that someone’s sex should not affect their life prospects. I also know that our culture has to do a better job of supporting motherhood, with paid parental leave (for fathers, too) and many other ways of lessening the lifelong financial penalties that mothers pay.

Erin: Your character development is so strong. How did you get into their mind, especially those of Quakers, to really make Lilli and the others come alive off the page?

Janet: That’s the writer’s job—if you can’t do that, you won’t have much of a story. In the case of this novel, though, I only had to get into Lilli’s mind, since she is telling the story in her diary. Her mind and heart were places I loved finding my way into and living in while writing!

Erin: I felt so close to Lilli by the end and so admired her courage and strength. I am the mother of three and not once did I think I wouldn’t do the same! And yet, for so many women  it was so much worse even that what it ended up for Lilli. What stories did you come across that hurt your heart for women of this time period? How do you hope your work helps to share their trials?

Janet: Congratulations on being the mother of three! So many aspects of women’s lives at that time hurt my heart greatly. They couldn’t vote, for one thing. They were paid drastically less than men—the difference was even greater than it is today. Many working women were so poor—working six or seven days a week, 12-hour days—that they could hardly buy food and pay rent on a shared room. And if married, they faced issues related to keeping their earnings, getting a divorce, home ownership, rights to children, and so on. It was also terrible to read how restricted women’s lives were—public speaking was considered shameful, for instance, though many powerful women did it anyway, such as Lucretia Mott, the Grimke sisters, and Sojourner Truth. We still don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment guaranteeing women equal rights in all aspects of civic life.

Erin: What plans do you have for more novels? Yes, I am hoping you write some!

Janet: I have several novels in process. I hope to be able to focus on a certain one, which at this point takes place in the present day, by December 2017—after three more months of frequent book events.

Erin: If you didn’t already answer, I saw that you have a degree in religion. I am assuming this helped you choose making your character, Lilli, a Quaker, but do you think you’ll write more books that have a religious bent?

Janet: I think it’s safe to say that everything I write is concerned with issues of meaning, such as, How do we make sense of suffering? What makes life worthwhile? What lessons do we learn from experience? What are our obligations to humans and the earth? How can we love one another better? What do we owe in exchange for this gift of life?

Erin: Also, I am curious, in studying religion, sometimes those seeped in religion did the most judging to the character in your book. How do we bring compassion to everyday lives now instead of judgment? How do we learn from the past?

Janet: Good questions! I think we learn from the past by imagining the lives of those who came before us—imagining them as full, real people, not so different from us. And as far as bringing compassion instead of judgement to what we see in our everyday lives, there’s a powerful message in the expression “There but for the grace of God go I.” Whether we think of God or fate or happenstance as the grace here, we could have ended up in the same difficult circumstance, had we faced the same challenges all along. This is always an accurate awareness to have in the face of others’ suffering. If you take that message to heart, it’s difficult not to have compassion.

Erin: Thanks so much for stopping by Janet. You’re welcome back anytime so keep me abreast of any new releases! Let’s have another blueberry muffin while we enjoy the summer breeze.

Janet: Thanks so much for inviting me, Erin! And thanks to your fourteen-year-old for the blueberry muffins.

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Hardback Cover

Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

Publication Date: May 16, 2017 (Hardcover)
Paperback: July 10, 2018
Nan A. Talese
Hardcover & eBook; 352 Pages

Genre: Fiction/Historical/Literary

READ AN EXCERPT.

A young woman finds the most powerful love of her life when she gives birth at an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. She is told she must give up her daughter to avoid lifelong poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.

Pregnant, left behind by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a home for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overtakes her heart. Mothers in her position face disabling prejudice, which is why most give up their newborns. But Lilli can’t accept such an outcome. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family’s home to the streets of a burgeoning American city. Drawing on rich history, Lilli de Jong is both an intimate portrait of loves lost and found and a testament to the work of mothers. “So little is permissible for a woman,” writes Lilli, “yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”

Praise, Accolades, Awards –

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | iTunes | IndieBound | Kobo | Powell’s

Praise for Lilli de Jong

“Lilli de Jong, discharged from her teaching job and banished from Quaker meetings because of her father’s selfish choice, finds comfort in the affections of her father’s apprentice, Johan. The night before he leaves to embark on a new life, she succumbs to his embrace with his promise that he will send for her. Soon thereafter, a pregnant Lilli finds herself shunned and alone, her only option a Philadelphia charity for wronged women. Knowing that she must relinquish her newborn, she is unprepared for the love that she feels for her daughter. Lilli quickly decides to fight to keep her, but in 1883 that means a life of hardship and deprivation. Telling Lilli’s story in diary form, debut author Benton has written a captivating, page-turning, and well-researched novel about the power of a mother’s love and the stark reality of the choices she must make. VERDICT A great choice for book clubs and readers of Geraldine Brooks.” – Library Journal, Starred Review

“A powerful, authentic voice for a generation of women whose struggles were erased from history—a heart-smashing debut that completely satisfies.” —Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

“Beautifully written, emotionally resonant, and psychologically astute, Lilli de Jong is the story of an unwed mother in late 19th-century Philadelphia who, facing peril at every turn, will do almost anything to keep her daughter alive. Benton turns a laser eye to her subject, exposing the sanctimony, hypocrisies, and pervasive sexism that kept women confined and unequal in the Victorian era—and that still bedevil many women today. A gripping read.” —Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and A Piece of the World

“A stunning ode to motherhood. Lilli de Jong reminds us that there is no formula to being a good mother. Love is the essential ingredient, and only it gives everlasting life to our legacies. A debut of robust heart that will stay with me for a very long time.” —Sarah McCoy, author of The Mapmaker’s Children

“Janet Benton’s remarkable novel Lilli de Jong is historical fiction that transcends the genre and recalls a past world so thoroughly that it breathes upon the page. From the first sentence, Lilli’s sensitive, observant, determined voice casts an irresistible spell. Benton combines rich, carefully researched detail with an imaginative boldness that is a joy to behold—though reader, be warned: Lilli’s story may break your heart.” —Valerie Martin, author of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

“[A] gorgeously written debut . . . Lilli’s fight to craft her own life and nurture her bond with her baby is both devastatingly relevant and achingly beautiful. A stunning read about the fierceness of love triumphing over a rigid society.” —Caroline Leavitt, author of Is This Tomorrow

“The trials Lilli undertakes to keep her baby are heart-rending, and it’s a testament to Benton’s skill as a writer that the reader cannot help but bear witness. In a style reminiscent of Geraldine Brooks, she seamlessly weaves accurate historical detail as well as disturbing societal norms into the protagonist’s struggles . . . An absorbing debut from a writer to watch.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A heartrending debut . . . Benton’s exacting research fuels Lilli’s passionate, authentic voice that is ‘as strong as a hand on a drum . . . that pounds its urgent messages across a distance’ . . . Lilli’s inspiring power and touching determination are timeless.” —Publishers Weekly

“A harrowing look at the strictures of nineteenth-century American society. . . . [Lilli] is a full-fledged heroine, persevering despite seemingly insurmountable odds. . . her voice is distinctive, her fierceness driven by a mother’s love.” —Booklist

“I loved this novel. Lilli de Jong is deeply moving and richly imagined, both tragic and joyous. Janet Benton has an exceptional ability to bring history to life . . . It’s not only a compelling, beautifully crafted historical novel, however: it’s also important . . . Lilli’s life-and-death struggle is shockingly common to women even today.” —Sandra Gulland, author of the internationally bestselling Josephine B. Trilogy

“Writing with a historical eye akin to Geraldine Brooks and incisive prose matching that of Anthony Doerr, debut novelist Janet Benton magically weaves a gripping narrative of hardship, redemption, and hope while illuminating a portrait of little-known history. The result is an unforgettable and important reflection on the maternal and, ultimately, the human bond. Stunning!” —Pam Jenoff, author of The Kommandant’s Girl

“A confident debut . . . Sentence by carefully-crafted sentence, Benton ensnares the reader.” —The Millions

03_Janet Benton.jpgAuthor Janet Benton, Biography

Janet Benton’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Glimmer Train, and many other publications. She has co-written and edited historical documentaries for television.

She holds a B.A. in religious studies from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and for decades she has taught writing and helped individuals and organizations craft their stories.

She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Lilli de Jong is her first novel.

Visit Janet Benton’s website for more information and updates. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Goodreads.

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Cover Reveal: THE BLUE by Historical Thriller Author Nancy Bilyeau

My writer friend Nancy Bilyeau has penned a new book, following the success of her historical fiction series that started with Oprah pick THE CROWN. I am so excited for her new book!!! Nancy is a fabulous author and talented journalist/editor and screenwriter. She is currently the editor of The Big Thrill, the digital magazine. Not only is Nancy amazing, but this book looks divine. I LOVE the color blue and anything featuring history of porcelain or art, so this will be right up my reading shelf. Maybe yours too! I’m pleased to be one of the first to reveal it today!

And so, I give you, THE BLUE!! Coming Fall 2018.

The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau

Publication: Fall 2018
Endeavour Quill

Genre: Historical Fiction

What would you do to possess the most coveted color in the world? The year is 1758, and a headstrong woman artist, 24-year-old Genevieve Planche, is caught up in a high-stakes race to discover the ultimate color, one that threatens to become as deadly as it is lucrative. When Genevieve’s mission is complicated by her falling in love with the chemist behind the formula, she discovers the world of blue is filled with ruthless men and women and how high the stakes really are. The story sweeps readers from the worlds of the silk-weaving refugees of London’s Spitalfields and the luxury-obsessed drawing rooms of Grosvenor Square to the porcelain factory of Derby and, finally, magnificent Sevres Porcelain in the shadow of Versailles. And running through it all: the dangerous allure of the color blue.

“Bilyeau’s sumptuous tale of mystery and intrigue transports the reader into the heart of the 18th century porcelain trade—where the price of beauty was death”’ E.M. Powell, author of the Stanton & Barling medieval mystery series.

Praise for Nancy Bilyeau’s Fiction

“Bilyeau deftly weaves extensive historical detail throughout, but the real draw of this suspenseful novel is its juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy, and betrayal.” —Review of The Crown published in Oprah, which made the book a pick of the month.

“English history buffs and mystery fans alike will revel in Nancy Bilyeau’s richly detailed sequel to The Crown.” —Parade magazine review of The Chalice

“The story in The Tapestry is fiction, but it is a sheer joy to have Henry’s court recreated with an eye to the reality of its venality, rather than the trendy Wolf Hall airbrushing of its violence and rapacity. The tone is always modern and light, but with none of the clumsy thigh-slapping faux period language. Bilyeau’s writing is effortless, vivid, gripping and poignant, bringing Tudor England to life with sparkling zest. If you want to see the Reformation from the side of the English people rather than the self-serving court, it is tough to do better than this trilogy.” —Review of The Tapestry by Dominic Selwood, published in The Catholic Herald

“As always, Bilyeau has done her historical homework, bringing the drama, and details of Henry VIII’s court to life. You’re basically watching the rise and fall of Catherine Howard, Thomas Cromwell, Walter Hungerford and Thomas Culpepper through Joanna’s eyes. Her private moments with the king were among my favorites in this book. This a true historical thriller. It’s a Tudor novel full of suspense, intrigue, brutality, and death. It’s a well researched page turner. If you’re looking for an exciting historical read, this will be on your list.” —Review of The Tapestry by Sandra Alvarez for Medievalists.net

“Nancy Bilyeau’s passion for history infuses her books and transports us back to the dangerous world of Tudor England. Vivid characters and gripping plots are at the heart of this wonderful trilogy. Warmly recommended!” —Alison Weir, author of The Marriage Game: A Novel of Queen Elizabeth I and many bestsellers

“Nancy Bilyeau’s polished, inventive debut has all the ingredients of the best historical fiction: a broad cast of characters, well-imagined settings, and vivid story-telling… In Joanna Stafford, Bilyeau has given us a memorable character who is prepared to risk her life to save what she most values, while Stafford’s desperate search for a lost religious relic will satisfy even the most ardent mystery fans.” —Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches

About the Author

Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, DuJour, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. She is currently a regular contributor to Town & Country and the editor of the digital magazine The Big Thrill. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel and an Oprah pick, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013. The third in the trilogy, THE TAPESTRY, was published by Touchstone in 2015. The books have also been published by Orion in the UK and seven other countries.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

For more information, please visit Nancy Bilyeau’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads

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Review+Interview: My Dear Hamilton with NYT Best-selling Authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

I’m so excited today to be back with a new post on Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Why am I jumping for joy? Because New York Times best-selling historical fiction authors, Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie are here!! Right now, they are not only physically touring to various events in numerous states, but they are also dropping by around the online world to author and blogger sites. Anyone knows me, knows I love history! Following my review below of MY DEAR HAMILTON: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, we sit down for an interview!

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I’m always very happy to feature Stephanie, as I adore her work, her style, her sense of humor, her intellect, and her supportive nature for other authors, but I’m very happy she’s clued me in to Laura as well. Together, they are a dynamo writing duo of historical fiction of early America, something I love to study and read about, but as well, most of my followers know how much I focus on women in history overall. I’ve always loved Stephanie bringing women of the ancient world to light (her book on Cleopatra Selene is one of my favorite all time books), but now, in the past two years, with Laura, she’s been diving into women of the American Revolutionary period and it’s been refreshing!

I’ll be offering my review here for the book, in short form, first, but please then stay and read the wonderful interview I had with them both. I think you’ll find it as interesting as I did. If you scroll beneath, you’ll find an excerpt too, and further, a giveaway, and all the information you can imagine. Enjoy!

Review –

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, exceeded even my high expectations! It was finely tuned, detailed, flowing as movie screen for the mind, rich, conveying, and just overall, a beautiful story of a woman relying on her own inner strength to blossom into a very influential and intriguing female of the time – one readers deserved to know more about!

I sit back in awe of their mastery of the art of historical research and being able to dissect information and facts in order to imagine real people from history in such a way as we feel as if we truly can visualize them. They are believable, relatable, and engaging in such a way that it propels the reader through the story. Characterization is key in novels, and with this novel, I feel their legacies coursing through me. I almost feel I know so much more about the soil of America, the tapestry of people, place, and time, and to know how it felt to be a part of the building of this country. I feel drawn to know more of those featured in the book, but more so, to learn more about others of the time not featured in the book, if that makes sense. It’s a good book that won’t let you forget and draws you in so much.

My Dear Hamilton is around 600 pages, which could seeming overwhelming, especially if you are used to other various kinds of historical fiction and have not yet read work by these authors, but trust me, it won’t feel like you just read that big of a book. It flows so well, with a seamless voice so that you won’t even remember you’re reading two authors, and you’ll find it senseless to put down. I’d earmark a whole weekend in before your summer festivities start, or else take a very long day at the beach. This book will absorb you, but you’ll also absorb it. If you look at it critically, you’ll realize that there is so much factual information needed to be known to write it, but as your reading it, that will ease off you in a way that just lets you get lost in the story. After reading it, you’ll realize you learned so much, but having a lot of fun doing so!

Having a history degree myself, though not a scholar especially in regards to Hamilton, I can tell that most of this book is seeped in real events and written with painstaking formulating, based on reading of real letters, documents, informational sources, etc. in order to create an image of Eliza, Alexander, and other cast of people in the book. Once you immerse yourself in so much information on a person, people, or place, or all, you can then begin to project an image. I feel that is what this book does. Of course, with fiction, you can create scenarios, based on conjecture, encounters that *could* have occurred, but many that are provable as well. With dialogue, it’s always fiction, hypothetical in many cases, though can also be seeped in fact based on the way a person talks in letters or so forth. Anyway, it’s my best guess for anyone wondering how factual this book is for learning, then absolutely it’s very biographical and a great way to learn history in a more relaxed environment; however, there are lots of juicy details too!

The excellent thing is that while writing using the information, these writers do it so well, they infuse passion into the pages. There is drama, struggles, adventures, romance, intrigue, conflict, sadness, and so much emotion. I had a great time laughing actually as they infuse quite a bit of underlying humor into the prose.

Word choice, imagery, descriptive and flowing sentences all will carry the reader away to another time and place. It’s a stellar portrait image of a view of what it was like at this pivotal time in the forming of our country, full of fervor and igniting wills and minds, and Dray and Kamoie are able to show all this to the reader written through the eyes of Eliza. But not only that, we are able to see more clearly the roles of women at this time, not just the group of men known as the Founding Fathers or those surrounding them. More personally, we see Eliza’s struggles with her marriage, with the ups and downs that so many of us can feel, to the downright secrets and critical thinking some of us have had to do. I can appreciate Eliza’s determination, which made me pull for her throughout the novel!

I’m not a huge fan of Hamilton in general, myself, but I certainly am now of Eliza and I did learn a lot about Alexander Hamilton as well! I know about the whole Hamilton musical craze, and would like still adore seeing it, but this book really propelled Eliza’s story to the forefront for me. I want to know more of the women of this time period and how they trail blazed the way for independence early on, even long before ever gaining being able to even vote. So, what am I saying? Basically, that reading this book should be as exciting for you as going to the theater to SEE Hamilton!, because for me it gave me the euphoria of one, minus the music of course. If you’ve seen, or are a fan of the musical, then it’s definitely a great accompaniment to your pleasure of all things the musical brings too.

Personally, I really enjoyed learning that Eliza came from Dutch heritage in New York in the 1600s, as some of my maternal ancestors were of Dutch descent living in New York as well. I wonder if their paths crossed – most likely! I really enjoy learning about Dutch culture, especially in early America, and have been researching it, and I appreciated the nuggets of description from it interspersed in the book. It just is another example of all the little touches that make this book glimmer.

Of note also is that I think it’s wonderful they include so much in their author’s note, a Q and A, notes about how the book differs from the musical, discussion questions, and such. It’s a wonderful way to round out the book into a real experience. And that you can find so much more online on their websites is so much fun.

Dray and Kamoie make Eliza shine. This book is polished. This will be one of my top historical reads of the year, no doubt. I appreciate their detailed research, elegant writing, dancing story line, and the infusion of vigor and heart that their own passion for history brings to the pages. This is bench-mark for historical fiction novels, and undoubtedly, for American History fiction. I highly recommend for money well-spent. I’ll be dropping 5 stars on online sites.

-Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Hook of a Book
Author of Breathe. Breathe.

And now for the interview…..

Interview –

Hi ladies! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I know you are on a whirlwind tour currently to bookstores and libraries in various states, so thank you for swinging by here for a few moments. I’ll put on the teapot, but I know you’re both so busy with the book launch, I’ll be sure to make it a short chat.

What type of tea would you prefer? Did they drink something special in colonial America? Whatever it was, I’m sure it was with sugar or Washington might still have his teeth!

SD: They were fond of rum punch, and we’re fans of it too, but not while on tour! So we’ll settle for a cup of Paris tea from Harney & Sons. Vive La Revolution!

Erin: Stephanie, I love Harney & Sons tea, but you know, I see no problem in sneaking in the rum punch at all – I have a feeling it’s needed! And what better way to celebrate your release!

I almost feel as if I’m overwhelmed with questions to ask, and I’m also trying not to ask things you’ve already talked about a bunch of times, but I’m sure I will. The good thing is, maybe my readers haven’t read the answers yet.

For Stephanie, I’ve known you awhile and been reading your work for some time, watching this unfold, but how difficult was it when you migrated toward writing American History as compared to ancient historical fiction or other categories you’ve written in? Did you feel it less when writing My Dear Hamilton after writing America’s First Daughter?

SD: I had this crazy notion that writing early American history was going to be easier than writing ancient world history because more information was available and I’d have to make less stuff up. So. Wrong. Not only are there a lot of blanks that still exist, but the Founding Fathers kept pretty excellent letters, so there’s a deluge of information and research that you have to get through. Fortunately, it’s all fascinating and I love it! As for writing My Dear Hamilton after America’s First Daughter, I thought it would be easier because Hamilton wrote fewer letters than Jefferson. Little did I know, they were all at least twice as long.

So the moral here is, and let me channel author Kate Quinn for an instant, with my hand on my hip, is that you should never think anything you write will so easy because these historical figures just LOVE to wreak havoc.

For Laura, since you have been teaching American History and have written non-fiction, comparatively, can you talk about how your plunge to historical fiction has been for you?

LK: It’s been really exciting. I’m not new to fiction–I’ve authored over thirty novels in other genres–but America’s First Daughter and My Dear Hamilton were the first books that allowed me to bring together my historical training and my love of writing fiction. Generally, historians readily acknowledge that even writing non-fiction history requires a recognition of the gaps in the historical record and offers at least a little room for (clearly labeled) speculation or imaginings. So nothing about dramatizing the past or extrapolating unknown moments and scenes from sources about a similar event at another time, for example, made me uncomfortable. Just the opposite was true, in fact. Through writing these novels, I’ve become convinced that historical fiction can make valuable contributions to our understanding of the past and can reveal universal truths even when the facts aren’t completely accurate. So it’s been an intellectually interesting experience and I’m completely hooked!

Erin: I totally agree with you! And you can still learn so much!

You write so seamlessly, how is this achieved when I imagine you probably had different writing styles starting out? What have you learned from each other and what do each of you feel the other brings to the projects?

SD: One thing we both share is agility. We’ve both written several other genres. We can write funny, we can write contemporary, we can write suspense or romance or fantasy. And that meant that we were able to adapt to each other’s writing voice. But we also edit each other’s words freely, which means that our words are all interspersed and that helps to smooth out any seams. But we each have complementary strengths that we play to. And we’ve definitely learned from each other. We talk about that a lot. Just one very small example out of many others that I could give is that Laura is the queen of clarity and heartfelt moments. I’ve learned from her when to be less abstract as a writer, when to linger in an emotional moment longer than I might otherwise, and to spell it out. She also makes brilliant connections all the time, and we fire back and forth on how to exploit them!

LK: Hearing that the writing feels seamless is one of our favorite compliments! It was important to us that the books read as if they’d been written by one author, not two. And we were thrilled that none of our friends nor family nor even our editor could tell which of us had written what parts of the books! The way we trade chapters, revise freely, and work together at the same laptop when we get toward the end and are working on revisions and copyedits means that there’s no page in the book that we both haven’t touched, which we think is key to creating that seamlessness. Stephanie’s right–we talk a lot about what we’ve learned from each other. I’ve learned so much from her about crafting the most impactful narrative structure, which includes everything from finding the right prologue to organizing the scenes in a chapter in a way that best highlights the conflict and draws the reader in. And Stephanie is the queen of identifying and playing up themes in a way that makes a book really resonate. So our writing is a true collaboration from beginning to end!

Erin: Yes, I feel I need tissues now, seriously, this is amazing to see writers connecting with such joy and bringing such a labor of love to the readers. I’ve read some of Stephanie’s work already, so yes, I do feel it’s seamless but I can also see knowing this, what each of you added to it to become a single, new author.

Many years ago, when I started my site and working on projects in publishing and in my own writing, all the agents were saying no to American History and especially Colonial History themes. That saddened me, because I wanted to read more from this time period, but not only in non-fiction reading. I was thrilled to see not only more biographical historical fiction start to be published about women, especially women who stood in the shadows of history’s men, but also in American History. When America’s First Daughter hit big last year, I knew maybe the tide would start to turn even more. Besides your book, what else do you contribute to the change in publishing and reading American/Colonial fiction?

SD: Oh gosh, you might be giving us too much credit there, but we certainly would love to think we played a positive role in it! I think right now the country is having a reflective moment; we’re trying to come to terms with who we are and what direction we should be going. It’s difficult to do that without remembering where we came from. So early American history is a natural place to look.

LK: I agree. And early American history is also having a bit of a cultural ‘moment’ with (much more influential!) things like Hamilton: An American Musical, the Outlander TV series, and the recent AMC series, TURN: Washington’s Spies, just to name a few. Really, historical TV series from all eras seem to be doing really well. Think of The Crown, Victoria, Downton Abbey, the White Princess/White Queen series, The Last Kingdom, or even the new The Terror. Clearly, popular culture is opening some doors where historical stories are concerned.

Erin: Oh yes, and I love all those shows, even Sleepy Hollow and Salem!

Do you feel that we need this more than ever now with the political climate? How does this change history’s views of women besides finally memorializing these women more properly?

SD: I’ll let Laura answer the question on memorializing women, but I’d say in terms of the political climate that both parties like to lay claim to the Founding Fathers. But part of our mission has been to demonstrate that no modern political party owns them and that very little about their ideas or their accomplishments was as simple as we like to pretend.

LK: Stephanie and I feel strongly that centering historical women in their own stories is an important enterprise that makes a real contribution–because stories like ours make it clear that the Revolutionary War wasn’t won by white men alone, and the new nation wasn’t built by white men alone, either. All groups in society–enslaved persons, free black people, Native Americans, and women–played important roles in, made sacrifices for, defended, and contributed to the founding of the United States. Certainly, we saw how much Patsy Jefferson and Eliza Hamilton did to make possible the work and contributions of the important men in their lives. Neither Thomas Jefferson nor Alexander Hamilton would’ve been able to achieve all they did without the assistance and contributions of these women. That’s a story that deserves to be told.

Erin: *More Kleenexes please!* Yes, absolutely!! And I just love that you are telling these stories too. Please keep doing so!

As Stephanie I think knows, my 18-year-old American history buff of a son has George Washington plastered completely all over our home and doesn’t go a day without speaking of him – in fact he drinks from a Valley Forge mug every morning. He was this way BEFORE the craze – you know the Hamilton craze, but now it seems it’s cool to like American History! How do you feel the craze for the Hamilton musical, music, the Founding Fathers, and so forth, got its foot-hold, but further, how is it being sustained so dramatically? Did this make your book more fun to write? Did it influence it at all?

SD: I love that your son drinks from a Valley Forge mug! That’s so fantastic. Tell him that I see that I need to up my game when it comes to Founding Father bric-a-brac. We are totally screaming fangirls of the musical and think it is that special and rare kind of art that did a genuine public service. And continues to do so! Laura just saw it again, so she can speak more about that.

LK: Our new My Dear Hamilton was in part inspired by the musical–I doubt this is any surprise! I happened to see it during its first week on Broadway, and the next morning Stephanie and I talked about Eliza and decided to make her our next heroine. And we pitched the idea to our editor that very afternoon–that’s how sure we were! Now, we were already searching for the perfect historical figure after writing about Patsy Jefferson, and we loved the idea of writing next about a founding mother of the north. While writing–or driving to book events–I can’t tell you how often we listened to the musical’s soundtrack, but suffice it to say that we both know the lyrics by heart! That definitely did make it fun. As did discussing the storytelling choices that Lin-Manuel Miranda made in the musical and how we might be making some different choices in our book. We thought readers might find those differences interesting enough that we wrote an essay on the subject that’s available in the back matter of the book!

Erin: I will tell him Stephanie! He’s always inspired by you though and your glee for cool stuff and locations. He just thinks there needs to be a George Washington musical. haha!

I absolutely love to think about travel to all the historic sites in America that have something to do with early American History. I am sure, and I think I saw, that you traveled places in your research for My Dear Hamilton. What was the favorite place each of you visited and why? Did it make it into the book?

SD: Laura can tell you about our favorite that made it into the book, but I’ll tell you my favorite that didn’t. When we were visiting Fraunces Tavern, they had an exhibit that included a sash worn by the Marquis de Lafayette during the Battle of the Brandywine where he was injured in our cause, and it was still stained with his blood! Fraunces Tavern makes it in, but there was no good way to mention that sash!

Erin: WOW!

LK: In writing My Dear Hamilton, we actually visited a number of historical sites. But I think our favorite–in that it was so impactful to us and on a particular scene in the book–was the Trinity Church graveyard. First of all, we found some humor in the fact that there’s a check cashing business on the other side of the street directly opposite Alexander’s tomb. And that seemed…oddly appropriate in some way! But more seriously, when we visited the graveyard for the first time, the Trinity Root sculptor was still there–a huge 9/11 memorial of the trunk and root system of a tree that’d been knocked down on that terrible day. The sculpture was both sad and haunting and powerful and hopeful–because the roots show all the things beneath the surface that you don’t normally see, but which are vital to sustenance and stability. And that made us think a lot about Eliza Hamilton’s character. It felt, at least in part–in both its sadness and its strength–like an analogy for our book. And that sculpture absolutely influenced the tone of the scene we wrote in My Dear Hamilton that takes place in that graveyard.

Erin: That’s totally amazing! Thank you so much for sharing that!

I know there is a gigantic amount of research that goes into writing a book of this magnitude. How did you complete it so quickly together? What are your tips for researching and writing historical books based on true people’s lives like this? Where did a majority of the research come from?

LK: Since Eliza appears to have destroyed most of her own letters, we had to pull resources from everywhere we could find them. That involved significant usage of the Founders Online website via the National Archives, as well as archival research in New York and Albany. We also used a wide variety of papers from other people and institutions of the era, including, for example, Tench Tilghman’s journal, the papers of other members of the Schuyler family, papers of an investigation from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the published recollections of the Washington National Monument Society. That’s just the basics of what you have to do when you choose to write about a real person, though I’m not sure either of us would characterize the research work as having been quick!

Erin: No, it’s NOT quick, and I can certainly understand how time consuming all the research was – but that’s what I mean, to me, I feel it would take 10 years to sift through and also write a book like this, and you both did it all in less than a year! I love hearing the different places you found your information to formulate your characters and book. I’ve been researching a historical fiction book for what seems like forever. I always thinks it’s clever fun to see all the things you can uncover and from where!

In continuing on that, how do you keep on schedule? (Notice I didn’t ask how you stay sane haha)

SD: Hah! Good thing. Keeping on schedule is tough. I’d say between the two of us I’m the more schedule-oriented in that I plan everything out on multiple calendars. But Laura’s scratch it on the back of a napkin method works okay for her too.

Erin: I wish I had your planning skills, Stephanie. Always in awe. I am more of a napkin person myself, Laura. haha. I always hope I’ll get divine advice to change to be more organized to get done more efficiently, but then, I guess it’s all what works for each individual. 

I was so happy for all your success of America’s First Daughter and I’m rooting for you to have as much or more success with My Dear Hamilton. So, what’s next? Will you endeavor to write another next year together or get busy on separate projects?

LK: We’re currently collaborating on a novel on the women of the French Revolution and are having a lot of fun jumping to America’s “sister revolution.” Stay tuned for more on that–we’ll be excited to share when we can!

Erin: Ooooh! I look forward to it!

If you could do a cross-over book featuring a person from American History time-traveling to an ancient civilization, who and where would you choose to feature?

SD: You get bonus points for asking us a question we’ve definitely never been asked before. I’m gonna say Thomas Jefferson to the ancient kingdom of Meroe where the Kandake might have taught him some useful and important things.

Erin: Yay! Very clever!

Bonus question – I mean what was it like to present at the SMITHSONIAN!!?? *drops mic*

SD: AMAZING! Dream come true.

LK: It totally brought out both of our inner history geeks!

Erin: With that, though I’d love to pick your brain more, I’ll let you head out for your next event! Best wishes again for the success on My Dear Hamilton and congratulations to you both for all your hard work! Stop again anytime. Thank you both!

SD: It’s been a pleasure as always, Erin. Can’t wait to hear what you (and your son) think of the new book!

Erin: Thanks, Stephanie. Of course, you can read what I thought here now, and I’m passing along the book to Nassem now. He’s been anxiously awaiting it since the day you announced!

LK: Loved your thoughtful questions, Erin! Can’t wait to do it again!

Erin: Thank you, Laura, I look forward to it!

*Passes more rum punch all around, because…we can…for Liberty!*

Enjoy an Excerpt!

The night before our wedding, the ball at our house was attended by all the best of Dutch Albany society. The Van Rensselaers and the Van Burens, the Ten Broecks and the Ten Eycks, the Van Schaicks and the Douws, and so many others. Neither snow nor ice nor howling wind seemed to deter our New Netherlander friends and neighbors from coming out to the Pastures for the celebrations.

Amidst boughs of holly and the light of countless candles, the grand hall on our second floor hosted festivities that included food and drink, dancing and music, and games and toasts. We danced minuets, cotillions, and Scottish reels until my feet ached and my heart soared. Alexander never seemed to tire, and I determined to keep up with him through every bar and set. I danced with Mac and my brother-in-law, Mr. Carter, a man eight years Angelica’s senior, whose business supplying the army for once permitted him time to join in the festivities. But Alexander could never wait long before declaring himself impatient and claiming me again.

My fiancé appeared more at ease than I’d ever seen him before, and perhaps that wasn’t a surprise, as these days of rest and merriment were the first break from military service he’d had in five years. Indeed, his eyes sparkled as he asked, “May I steal you away for a moment?”

“By all means.” I’d been hoping for a quiet opportunity to give him my gift. He took my hand and led me around the edge of the dance floor as we were stopped again and again by well-wishers, until we finally escaped down the stairs and into the cooler air of the dimly lit sitting room, which afforded us a modicum of peace and privacy. There, Alexander asked me to wait. And while he ducked away I seized the moment to pull my gift from its hiding place in the cabinet next to the fireplace. Alexander returned before I’d barely completed the task—and held a large sack of his own.

“Whatever is that?” I asked.

“He grinned and nodded at what I held in my own hands. “I could ask the same.”

I smiled. “A wedding gift for my husband.”

He feigned a frown and stepped closer. “Your husband, madam? Do I know him?”

Playing his game, I said, “Oh, you know him very well, sir. And your gift is for?”

He came closer yet. “For my wife-to-be. And before you ask, indeed, you know her well. She has a good nature, a charming vivacity, and is most unmercifully handsome”—he arched a brow and closed the remaining space between us—“and so perverse that she has none of those affectations which are the prerogatives of beauty.”

How did he always manage to set my world a-tumble with his words? “Oh, you must be a lucky man, indeed. I hope you’ve shown her your appreciation.”

He barked a laugh. “You saucy charmer!”

I sat in the chair closest to the fire so that I could see by the greater light there, and Alexander pulled up a chair of his own so that our knees touched. With a nervous smile, he placed the heavy sack onto my lap. I untied the its string and worked the coarse cloth over the solid object inside. Impatience rolled off him so forcefully that I had to tease him further by taking great pains to slide the sack evenly off, a little on this side, and then a little on that.

“And to think someone once told me you were the Finest Tempered Girl in the World,” he said with a chuckle.

Jenoff Quote Card

Wife, Widow, and Warrior in Alexander Hamilton’s Quest for a More Perfect Union

From the New York Times bestselling authors of America’s First Daughter comes the epic story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton—a revolutionary woman who, like her new nation, struggled to define herself in the wake of war, betrayal, and tragedy. Haunting, moving, and beautifully written, Dray and Kamoie used thousands of letters and original sources to tell Eliza’s story as it’s never been told before—not just as the wronged wife at the center of a political sex scandal—but also as a founding mother who shaped an American legacy in her own right.

Order your copy of MY DEAR HAMILTON today!

A general’s daughter…

Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she’s captivated by the young officer’s charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton’s bastard birth and the uncertainties of war.

A Founding Father’s wife…

But the union they create—in their marriage and the new nation—is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all—including the political treachery of America’s first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness.

The last surviving light of the Revolution…

When a duel destroys Eliza’s hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband’s enemies to preserve Alexander’s legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she’s left with one last battle—to understand the flawed man she married and imperfect union he could never have created without her

✭✭✭ ORDER MY DEAR HAMILTON TODAY✭✭✭

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Stephanie Dray, Biography –

 

STEPHANIE DRAY is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal & USA Today bestselling author of historical women’s fiction. Her award-winning work has been translated into eight languages and tops lists for the most anticipated reads of the year.

Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer and a teacher. Now she lives near the nation’s capital with her husband, cats, and history books.

Stephanie Dray Website |Newsletter | Facebook |Twitter | Dray & Kamoie Website

 

Laura Kamoie, Biography –

Laura Kamoieis a New York Times bestselling author of historical fiction, and the author of two non-fiction books on early American history.

Until recently, she held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction under the name Laura Kaye, also a New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels.

 

Laura Kamoie Website |Newsletter | Facebook |Twitter |
Dray & Kamoie Website

 

 

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Women in History: Waiting for Baby the Medieval Way by Anna Belfrage

In the last post, I reviewed Anna Belfrage’s The Cold Light of Dawn, and now, as part of her online tour for the release of the book and my Women in History series, Anna has stopped by to talk about pregnancy “rules” in the 14th century. At the end of the article, she gives an excerpt from her book showing how this culture was practiced in her book, but as well showing the remarkable ease in which her main characters loved and conversed with each other.

Thank you for a wonderful post, Anna!

Waiting for the Baby the Medieval Way

by Anna Belfrage, historical fiction author of The Cold Light of Dawn

In our time, women are generally encouraged to live their life as normal while pregnant. “Being pregnant is not an illness,” some will say, and this is one of those truisms that may very well grate on the ears of the pregnant lady in question. Yes, a pregnancy is not an illness, but for some it is a hardship.

I imagine the wise old women back in the 14th century were of the same opinion: being with child was a blessing, not an ailment. However, the medical (and social) expertise of the time considered it very important that a woman nearing the delivery date be shielded from the more brutal aspects of life, which is why high-born ladies generally spent the last month or so of their pregnancy in confinement.

Confinement meant the lady in question was restricted to her rooms. To avoid too much sensory stimulations, the windows were shuttered, the walls hung with fabrics in muted colours and pastimes were restricted to things like sewing or praying. Men were strictly forbidden—unless it was a priest. Personally, I would have gone bonkers.

Lower class women could not afford confinement. First of all, they probably shared one room with their entire family, so where was she to be confined? Secondly, her family depended on what income she may have brought in, be it doing laundry or baking or brewing beer. No, our lower class mothers worked until the baby decided it was time to enter the world and likely were back at work some days later, even if a recently delivered woman was considered unclean until she’d been adequately churched. The solution to that little problem was that the woman in question worked from home for some weeks.

The confined woman was expected to rest, to turn her focus inwards as she prepared herself for the coming ordeal. Everyone knew women birthed their children in pain and blood—a divine punishment meted out to women because of Eve’s curiosity in the Garden of Eden. Accordingly, all expecting mothers knew they were in for a tough time. There were no drugs, no anaesthetics, no caesareans. If the baby got stuck or died in utero, the mother died as well. And she often did. So the expectant mother spent a lot of time praying: for the child, for herself. She prayed to God, the Virgin and to St Margaret of Antioch.

I suspect most women were in two minds about the confinement. Yes, it gave them ample opportunity to rest, but there must have been an element of frustration—especially if the soon-to-be-mother was one of those women who carry their children with ease. Some women seem to have avoided being confined—Edward I’s second wife, Margaret of France, is famous for having given birth to her eldest son after a long and gruelling ride. But for most, there was no choice.

The confinement chambers were ready. The bed had been re-hung in the mildest of yellows, the walls adorned with tapestries depicting flowers and gentle creatures such as unicorns. A sanctuary for the expectant mother, the rooms were furnished with cushions and expensive carpets, a brightly coloured wooden statue of the Virgin and her child adorning the altar in the adjoining little chapel.

A new chair set before the hearth, a basket of embroidering silks with which to pass the time, ells of fine linen to convert into smocks and gowns for the eagerly awaited babe. Yes, all in all, the chambers were ready—and as asphyxiating as a prison, Kit thought, supervising the two men who were finalising the hanging of the heavy drapes that were to cover the windows. Once Philippa retired within these walls, she would not be seen until after the birth of her child.

“Never,” Kit told Adam when she was given leave to accompany him on a walk. “Promise me you’ll never demand that I retire to my chambers for my laying in.” They were well into the cooling shade of the woods, the river running silent and dark beside them.

“You’ve been brought to bed of seven babes without being thus confined. Why would things change now?” He drew her close and kissed her brow. “Besides, I dislike being deprived of your company and proximity, no matter that Mabel maintains it is most inappropriate that we share a bed all the way to the birthing.” There was a twinkle in his eyes. “Sharing in every sense, sweeting.”

She laughed softly. “Philippa is of a like mind, but for her there is no escaping the conventions.  Isabella is adamant: the queen goes into confinement after Sunday mass.” She pressed her bosom against his arm in a provocative gesture. “Five more days in which she can share her nights with her husband.”

02_The Cold Light of Dawn

The Cold Light of Dawn by Anna Belfrage

Publication Date: February 16, 2018
Matador & TimeLight Press
eBook & Paperback; 434 Pages

Series: The King’s Greatest Enemy, Book #4 Genre: Historical Fiction

After Henry of Lancaster’s rebellion has been crushed early in 1329, a restless peace settles over England. However, the young Edward III is no longer content with being his regents’ puppet, no matter that neither Queen Isabella nor Roger Mortimer show any inclination to give up their power. Caught in between is Adam de Guirande, torn between his loyalty to the young king and that to his former lord, Roger Mortimer.

Edward III is growing up fast. No longer a boy to be manipulated, he resents the power of his mother, Queen Isabella, and Mortimer. His regents show little inclination of handing over their power to him, the rightful king, and Edward suspects they never will unless he forces their hand.

Adam de Guirande is first and foremost Edward’s man, and he too is of the opinion that the young king is capable of ruling on his own. But for Adam siding with his king causes heartache, as he still loves Roger Mortimer, the man who shaped him into who he is.

Inevitably, Edward and his regents march towards a final confrontation. And there is nothing Adam can do but pray and hope that somehow things will work out. Unfortunately, prayers don’t always help.

The Cold Light of Dawn is the fourth in Anna Belfrage’s series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord and his king.

Purchase Links –

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes and Noble

Anna Belfrage, Biography –

03_Anna Belfrage.jpgAnna was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result she’s multilingual and most of her reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction. Possessed of a lively imagination, she has drawers full of potential stories, all of them set in the past. She was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Ideally, Anna aspired to becoming a pioneer time traveller, but science has as yet not advanced to the point of making that possible. Instead she ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for her most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career Anna raised her four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive…

For years she combined a challenging career with four children and the odd snatched moment of writing. Nowadays Anna spends most of her spare time at her writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and she slips away into her imaginary world, with her imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in her life pops his head in to ensure she’s still there.

Other than on her website, www.annabelfrage.com, Anna can mostly be found on her blog, http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com – unless, of course, she is submerged in writing her next novel. You can also connect with Anna on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

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Tour Schedule is HERE!

Hashtags: #TheColdLightofDawnBlogTour #AnnaBelfrage #historical #historicalfiction #blogtour #booktour #HFVBTBlogTours #amreading #bookblogger #bookbloggers #books #reading #giveaway #bookgiveaway

Facebook Tags: @hfvbt @annabelfrageauthor

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @abelfrageauthor

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a complete set of The King’s Greatest Enemy series to one winner & two winners will win a paperback copy of The Cold Light of Dawn! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on March 30th.
-You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Enter to Win HERE!

 

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Filed under Guest Posts, women in history

Review: Medieval Historical Fiction – The Cold Light of Dawn by Anna Belfrage

Anna Belfrage is probably a name that longtime readers of my site have heard before when visiting. This historical fiction writer has probably been reviewed, interviewed, and hosted on my blog upwards of almost 15 times. I must really like Anna and her work – and yes, I do!! From her time travel historical Graham Saga to her newer one, The King’s Greatest Enemy, her stories always capture my attention. I’m proud that her books take up a whole shelf of my bookcase with their beautiful covers. I even can see Anna’s beautiful smile and her energetic essence emanating from them.

She’s proved and earned her regard with me and so I couldn’t be more pleased to share my review of The Cold Light of Dawn, the fourth book in her The King’s Greatest Enemy series, as well as a wonderful guest post that you’ll find in the post following this one. Check out the information for the book and then follow it into my thoughts on the book.

02_The Cold Light of Dawn.jpg

The Cold Light of Dawn by Anna Belfrage

Publication Date: February 16, 2018
Matador & TimeLight Press
eBook & Paperback; 434 Pages

Series: The King’s Greatest Enemy, Book #4 Genre: Historical Fiction

After Henry of Lancaster’s rebellion has been crushed early in 1329, a restless peace settles over England. However, the young Edward III is no longer content with being his regents’ puppet, no matter that neither Queen Isabella nor Roger Mortimer show any inclination to give up their power. Caught in between is Adam de Guirande, torn between his loyalty to the young king and that to his former lord, Roger Mortimer.

Edward III is growing up fast. No longer a boy to be manipulated, he resents the power of his mother, Queen Isabella, and Mortimer. His regents show little inclination of handing over their power to him, the rightful king, and Edward suspects they never will unless he forces their hand.

Adam de Guirande is first and foremost Edward’s man, and he too is of the opinion that the young king is capable of ruling on his own. But for Adam siding with his king causes heartache, as he still loves Roger Mortimer, the man who shaped him into who he is.

Inevitably, Edward and his regents march towards a final confrontation. And there is nothing Adam can do but pray and hope that somehow things will work out. Unfortunately, prayers don’t always help.

The Cold Light of Dawn is the fourth in Anna Belfrage’s series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord and his king.

Review – 

I’ve really had a wonderful time reading this series, which was at first supposed to be a set of four. You can find my reviews of In the Shadows of the Storm (#1), Days of Sun and Glory (#2), Under the Approaching Dark (#3), and now I’ll be discussing The Cold Light of Dawn (#4). I have a particular fondness for medieval historical fiction and so I was thrilled to read this series, with book four culminating into all the drama, intrigue, action, and peril one might imagine from the pages of not only a medieval book, but specifically a Belfrage book. And for those of you that haven’t read Anna, you should know that her books are riddled with it, as well as a good dose of wit, snark, and above all else, resilience. The Cold Light of Dawn is no exception, and in fact, features a high level of all the emotions of life one might handle while also being sautéed in a frying pan. This means that at times, you’ll feel so deeply for characters in the novel you’ll cry, sometimes cheer or sneer, and sometimes just get angry. This is what makes TCLOD a stellar read as it holds nothing back. I think if I remember right at first it was supposed to be the final book, and it certainly does climax, but in the afterword at the end of the book, Anna revealed that she left the door open for more books in this series. Her characters, once again, lead her, and her main male squeeze of the book, Adam, seems to think he needs more time. I certainly fine with that.

The Cold Light of Dawn takes place in early 14th century after the rebellion. Edward II has died, leaving Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer as regents since Edward the III was so young when he was crowned. However, he’s growing older and coming into his own, and Adam is caught between his mentor in Mortimer and his loyalty and respect for this young King who is showing his own capability while they are showing they might just be power hungry. You can read this book as a stand-alone, but there is so much more depth given to the characters and their situations if you read the series.

As readers, we see the story through the eyes of Adam and Kit, a couple who both have important roles at court, but that seem to have to judge the ebb and flow of so many just to keep on the right side. And sometimes, that leads to betrayal even when you try your best. But Adam and Kit know how to survive and keep their bond strong, even through the good times and bad. Anna always creates proper couples in the highest character development, juxtaposing them to each other in the most natural ways. You feel as a reader that Adam and Kit truly exists and your cringe and groan for them, as well as smile as their debates, discussion, and banter. As for the other characters, Anna always seems to match off people in twos, or less, and she gives them so much depth that it makes her one of the BEST authors in regard to creating a cast that is easily identifiable, accessible, and discernable. In this fourth book, Adam really shines at his best though. He probably was worried it was the end of his story because things sure did get exciting for him in all sorts of ways, but also by the end, terribly heart-wrenching.

Those who know me and my reviews know I don’t really ever talk directly about plot or what happens in books, as I want that journey to be the reader’s own, but her dialogue, flow, continuity, and scenes were tied together in a way that made you turn each page as if you were right there in the story. As far as historical accuracy, Anna is the utmost painstakingly perfectionist in her research, and it shows, to create a detailed backdrop that gives us a good glimpse to this time period and reign of court.

I’d highly recommend all of Anna’s books, including The Cold Light of Dawn. If you haven’t read any books by Anna, you could even start with this one, but I’d certainly give the whole series a whirl. Her writing, on this fourth book, and in all, creates a story(ies) you get lost in. There isn’t heavy-handed history or the type that is so dry you’d rather not learn even learn history let alone enjoy it. It’s captivating, almost like a dream, and always over before you want to close the last page.

Once again, Anna creates a skippy plot, engaging dialogue, and beautiful descriptive scenes in The Cold Light of Dawn, and then, wraps them all up in extraordinary characters migrating on a spectacular dramatic voyage in which they polish the dramatic era of the 14th century with a wide range of emotions and intense finesse.

Purchase Links –

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes and Noble

Anna Belfrage, Biography –

03_Anna Belfrage.jpgAnna was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result she’s multilingual and most of her reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction. Possessed of a lively imagination, she has drawers full of potential stories, all of them set in the past. She was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Ideally, Anna aspired to becoming a pioneer time traveller, but science has as yet not advanced to the point of making that possible. Instead she ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for her most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career Anna raised her four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive…

For years she combined a challenging career with four children and the odd snatched moment of writing. Nowadays Anna spends most of her spare time at her writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and she slips away into her imaginary world, with her imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in her life pops his head in to ensure she’s still there.

Other than on her website, www.annabelfrage.com, Anna can mostly be found on her blog, http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com – unless, of course, she is submerged in writing her next novel. You can also connect with Anna on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

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Tour Schedule is HERE!

Hashtags: #TheColdLightofDawnBlogTour #AnnaBelfrage #historical #historicalfiction #blogtour #booktour #HFVBTBlogTours #amreading #bookblogger #bookbloggers #books #reading #giveaway #bookgiveaway

Facebook Tags: @hfvbt @annabelfrageauthor

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @abelfrageauthor

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a complete set of The King’s Greatest Enemy series to one winner & two winners will win a paperback copy of The Cold Light of Dawn! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on March 30th.
-You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Enter to Win HERE!

 

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BREATHE. BREATHE. News and Sale!

Hi readers,

I hope you all have had a FABULOUSLY divine Christmas or Holiday Season and are looking forward to ringing in the New Year in style. Besides working and managing my children’s busy schedules, my family and I have been able to spend some time together finally too. I plan to hang out with Tim and the kids over the New Year holiday eating, watching movies, and playing games. Beyond that, I’m busy making a TON of goals for 2018 from all things personal to business to writing. I’m demanding a lot of myself in many areas.

One of the best parts of 2017 was publishing my poetry and short story collection, BREATHE. BREATHE. via Unnerving. I am beyond thrilled and grateful at the reception it’s received. It’s part biographical and trauma-based poetry seeped in real life, half supernatural and folkloric in nature, and then the short stories are a mix of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and domestic revenge, to put it as succinctly as possible. However, there is so much for everyone in this collection whether you’re a contemporary reader, a historical reader, a horror or suspense reader, or just a reader who likes to feel deeply. I’ll be writing a longer year-end wrap-up later, but for now….

I just wanted to let readers know that as a thank you for this fine two months that BREATHE. BREATHE. has had, the publisher Unnerving, has put it on SALE for just .99 cents until Dec. 31!! I’d be honored if you’d give it a try. Maybe you have an Amazon gift card to spend and can buy it for your kindle or share the news with a friend. Very soon, if not already, the print version should go on sale as well from $14 to $9!

With an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars, you can find it on sale on Amazon HERE.

Breathe Sale Un

I’d appreciate your support in a purchase or sharing with a friend or on social media. Feel free to use the graphic below if you’d like. THANK YOU. Your support means everything to me right now. We’ve had a rough year, and this…well, it just makes more hopeful.

As always, look forward to your thoughts on my writing, and don’t forget, authors thrive on the reviews you can leave, no matter how short and sweet.

Always in friendship,

Erin

 

About BREATHE. BREATHE.

BreatheBreatheBreathe. Breathe. is a collection of dark poetry and short fiction exploring the surreal depths of humanity. It’s a representation of how life breaks us apart and words put us back together. Purged onto the pages, dark emotions flow, urging readers into murky seas and grim forests, to the fine line between breathing and death.

In Act One, readers are presented with a serial killer in Victorian London, a lighthouse keeper with an eerie legacy, a murderous spouse that seems to have walked right out of a mystery novel, and a treacherous Japanese lady who wants to stay immortal. The heightened fears in the twilight of your minds will seep into the blackest of your nights, where you have to breathe in rhythm to stay alive.

In Act Two, the poetry turns more internal and pierces through the wall of denial and pain, bringing visceral emotions to the surface unleashing traumas such as domestic abuse, violence, and illness.

In the short stories, you’ll meet residents of Valhalla Lane whose lives are on a violent parallel track to collision, a man who is driven mad by the sound of a woodpecker, a teenage girl who wakes up on the beach and can’t find another soul in sight, a woman caught in a time shift pitting her against the Egyptian goddess Anuket, and a little girl whose whole world changes when her favorite dandelion yellow crayon is discontinued.

Amid these pages the haunting themes of oppression, isolation, revenge, and madness unfold through folklore, nightmares, and often times, raw, impulsive passion crafted to sear from the inside out.

With a touching foreword by the Bram Stoker nominated author Brian Kirk, Breathe. Breathe. will at times unsettle you, and at times embrace you. Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, a veteran writer and editor of the written word, offers up a mixed set of pieces, identifying her as a strong, new voice in dark fiction that will tear the heart from your chest, all the while reminding you to breathe.

 

PRAISE for BREATHE. BREATHE.

“Erin paints scenes and evokes emotions with precision and skill. These are the kinds of stories and poems that tighten your chest and leave you holding your breath.” – The Scary Reviews

“Breathe. Breathe. is as honest and raw as writing gets. Erin bares her soul with these poems, particularly during Act 2 in which the verses take on a much more personal and reflective nature.” -The Grim Reader

“Breathe. Breathe. is a great collection of poetry and short fiction. The poems are dark and vivid. They touch at the core of the human condition. The poems are gritty and chilling. You can feel the doom and dread in each of the poems. Breathe. Breathe. is an emotional rollercoaster. The characters are troubled, and the author gives them just enough depth.” – Cedar Hollow Reviews

“I am certain many readers {and not only female} will find themselves breathing shallower, or holding their breath, as the vividness of these scenes awakens memories. Other readers who may not have these particular types of painful memories, will nonetheless wince in empathy. I am equally certain very few will walk away untouched, and very few will forget.” -The Haunted Reading Room

“Raw, risky, and brave.” – Selcouth Station

“I feel the poems are at their best when folkloric in nature – I particularly like “Ningyo’s Misfortune”, “The Driftwood of Wishes”, and “Offerings to Nang Tani”. The short stories “Destination: Valhalla Lane Loveless, Ohio” and “Life-Giver of the Nile” are both clever and brutal, and the standout.” – Julie K. Rose, author of Oleanna and Dido’s Crown

“Wow. This collection really leaves bruises on the soul. I’m not a huge fan of poetry, yet, I found myself glued to the words and emotions pouring out of this author. The short stories were great too. My favorite was “Lunch Served at Noon”, as it had a Twilight Zone-ish quality to it. To fans of dark literary fiction and poetry, I recommend giving Breathe. Breathe. a try.” – Tim Meyer, author of Sharkwater Beach

“At times sinister, definitely dark, atmospheric and heavy with foreboding, this collection of poetry and short stories from Erin Al Mehairi touches our deepest fears. Murder, domestic violence and even an ancient Egyptian goddess all move within these pages where nothing is ever simple or straightforward.” – Catherine Cavendish, author of Wrath of the Ancients

It’s full of the unexpected – bits of lace cut through with the odd and the horrible and the beautiful. Through it all I sense the power of a survivor!! And I love that!” —Sue Harrison, internationally bestselling author of Mother Earth Father Sky (Ivory Carver Trilogy) “Breathe. Breathe. is at times haunting, visceral, bittersweet, and tender. Erin Al Mehairi bares her soul and invites readers to devour it whole.” —Hunter Shea, author of We Are Always Watching “Erin Al-Mehairi weaves a web of narrative and poetry both beautiful and nightmare-inducing in Breathe. Breathe., invoking heartache and the need to see through the shining masks life presents us to confront the darkness it truly holds.” —Michelle Garza, co-author of Bram Stoker nominated Mayan Blue

“I loved Dandelion Yellow.  I was hyperventilating at the end, but it was such a beautiful, painful and artful tale. I’ll be saying that last line to myself for weeks at least. Just beautiful.  I’m re-reading the rest.  One read just isn’t enough because DAYUM.  Beautiful.” –  Somer Canon, author of Vicki Beautiful and The Killer Chronicles

“In Breathe. Breathe., Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi employs sharp, jagged words arranged in sparse, disturbingly visceral clusters to force readers to “breathe” through the fear and pain of abuse and personal terror. It’s a sense reinforced by the deceptively quiet but disquieting story, “Dandelion Yellow.” Filled with sharp sensory detail, the highlight is “Life-Giver of the Nile,” an evocative circular time-shift tale in which an Egyptologist’s soul is required by Anuket, ancient and modern goddess of the Nile, for a greater purpose. Whether in poetry or prose, dark kernels nestled within horror tropes indicate that Al-Mehairi writes from the gut and from the heart but with the fierceness of a survivor, the soul of a fearless champion. This mixed collection is a fine introduction to a strong, intriguing new voice in dark fiction.” -W.D. Gagliani, Bram Stoker Finalist, author of Wolf’sTrap (Nick Lupo Series)

Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Biography –

Erin Al-Mehairi Bio Photo.jpgErin Sweet Al-Mehairi has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She has 20 years of experience in the communication and marketing fields and is currently a writer, a journalist, a publicist, and an editor among many other things.

She writes fiction, essays, stories, and poetry and is an avid reader of many genres. She has edited poetry anthologies, novels, fiction pieces, and other various non-fiction and journalistic pieces. As a journalist, she’s written, interviewed, and edited for various newspapers, magazines, media outlets, and online news sources at both ends of the spectrum in media and public relations.

As an entrepreneur, she owns two businesses: Addison’s Compass Public Relations and Hook of a Book Media, in which she acts as a PR/Marketing Consultant, publicist, and editor for authors, publishers, and others. She also handles marketing and PR for Sinister Grin Press, where she is also an editor. Her third pursuit is writing her own works for publication. She volunteers her time in the community and is the chairwoman on the board of directors for a local mental health center and rape crisis and domestic violence safe haven.

She is the mother of three school-aged children and a cat. She lives with her family in rural Ohio nestled in the forest—a place just ripe for nightmares. Her passions are reading, writing, book hunting, hiking, and entertainment such as movies/film, television, and music. Oh, and she bakes, because you can’t do any of that without cookies.

Erin is a co-host with her Marketing Morsels segment on Project Entertainment Network’s The Mando Method, an award-winning weekly podcast for new and veteran writers.

Breathe. Breathe., published by Unnerving, is her debut collection and a mix of dark poetry and short stories and has been an Amazon best-selling paid title, debuting at #2 in Women’s Poetry. She is also featured in the anthology from Unnerving called Hardened Hearts, which published in December 2017. Her story “Dandelion Yellow,” from Breathe. Breathe. is also featured in the My Favorite Story anthology of the Project Entertainment Network, which published also in December of 2017.

You can e-mail her at hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com and find her easily at http://www.hookofabook.wordpress.com. You’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest where she loves new friends.

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Review: Lilli de Jong is Story of a Courageous Mother

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Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Nan A. Talese
Hardcover & eBook; 352 Pages

Genre: Fiction/Historical/Literary

READ AN EXCERPT.

A young woman finds the most powerful love of her life when she gives birth at an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. She is told she must give up her daughter to avoid lifelong poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.

Pregnant, left behind by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a home for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overtakes her heart. Mothers in her position face disabling prejudice, which is why most give up their newborns. But Lilli can’t accept such an outcome. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family’s home to the streets of a burgeoning American city. Drawing on rich history, Lilli de Jong is both an intimate portrait of loves lost and found and a testament to the work of mothers. “So little is permissible for a woman,” writes Lilli, “yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”

Review

I’ll just tell you upfront to please read this book if you love historical fiction books that make you feel as if you are living yourself in that time and place. It’s so wonderfully well-written and drew me in page by page in a very insistent manner. I could almost feel as if I were living with and among the characters. I was shocked, horrified, tear-stricken, yet I felt proud of the protagonist as well and became full of admiration by the time I reached the end.

Lilli de Jong, is the story of a fictional woman, though it could be the story of so many women. The limits put on women during this time period by society, and men, was so tragic. This book not only brings it to light, but it reminds us it was actually worse than any of us could have ever thought. It also is petrifying as we watch the state of society inching along today and the growth of some of the feelings that men (and women) have towards women, especially in accordance with their reproductive or motherhood rights and the amount of shaming that still occurs of those who get pregnant out of wedlock. Lilli de Jong is almost like a more modern telling of the Scarlet Letter, as the character of Lilli certainly was scorned  with a similar, though intangible, mark for no other reason than having a baby when not married to the father.

What I loved about this book was obviously Janet’s character development, first and foremost. For a debut novel, this was a tremendous feat. Her pacing and dialogue was spot on and moved the story along quickly. Yet, the research hours poured into this book was also clear, and as a reader, I learned so very much of the time period, the societal and government rules, as well as through her descriptions, learned of the surroundings, which allowed me to be immersed further into the story.

The story of Lilli is such an important one. Janet truly has set the bar high for herself should she endeavor to write further novels, but I also hope she does, as I can’t wait to read more of her writing. She tells a story in a very meaningful way, creating even sad subjects into delightful reading. I shed a tear to two reading this, as well as balled my fists in anger a time or two, and feel compelled to hope that this book could also be used a learning tool for many who wish to change culture and continue to go forward with progress for women’s rights, but also of course, it’s important for others to read as well so that they can understand through the emotion and trials of Lilli just how important forgiveness can be as well as helping hands. Further, I suppose, redemption as well, and that things such as this are not only the fault of the woman, but the men too. I was so tired of judgement, even more than I already am, after reading this book.

This is the story of a woman’s courage, strength, and fortitude. It’s the story of a mother, all mothers, and their undying and unwavering love for their children. Love knows know boundaries between mother and a child and a true mother will go lengths to defend and support her children. I will carry this story around inside myself for a long while, just as all women carry the stories of those who came before us. This book should go on required reading lists.

I must applaud the author for her willingness to write this book and show the errors of our ways during this time period. Her observations from research, her ability to put herself in the shoes of another (her character – but more so, any real people who dealt with this), not having experienced this herself, are absolutely commendable. I can tell she is a very empathetic, in-tune, connective type of person. Those people make the best writers and preserve for prosperity the stories of others unlike most writers can do.

I should note after reading that I felt a kinship to the character of Lilli as well, due to her heritage and Quaker origin. Though my ancestors weren’t Quaker as far as I know, great-grandparents of mine (maybe 8 or 9 x) on my mother’s side did hail from the same area the character lived in at the start of the book, Germantown, which was a quarter in Pennsylvania. Having done my own cultural and historical research on the family for personal knowledge and my own historical writing, I could feel a sense of place when reading about her. It was very interesting and I loved this added personal touch for me.

Lilli de Jong is an outstanding debut flush with detail and movement that I would highly recommend to all readers of historical fiction or those interested in women’s rights. It’s an enjoyable read with a courageous character that I hope, for humanity’s sake, all of us can see some tiny part of ourselves in.

*I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest critique.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | iTunes | IndieBound | Kobo | Powell’s

Praise for Lilli de Jong

“Lilli de Jong, discharged from her teaching job and banished from Quaker meetings because of her father’s selfish choice, finds comfort in the affections of her father’s apprentice, Johan. The night before he leaves to embark on a new life, she succumbs to his embrace with his promise that he will send for her. Soon thereafter, a pregnant Lilli finds herself shunned and alone, her only option a Philadelphia charity for wronged women. Knowing that she must relinquish her newborn, she is unprepared for the love that she feels for her daughter. Lilli quickly decides to fight to keep her, but in 1883 that means a life of hardship and deprivation. Telling Lilli’s story in diary form, debut author Benton has written a captivating, page-turning, and well-researched novel about the power of a mother’s love and the stark reality of the choices she must make. VERDICT A great choice for book clubs and readers of Geraldine Brooks.” – Library Journal, Starred Review

“A powerful, authentic voice for a generation of women whose struggles were erased from history—a heart-smashing debut that completely satisfies.” —Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

“Beautifully written, emotionally resonant, and psychologically astute, Lilli de Jong is the story of an unwed mother in late 19th-century Philadelphia who, facing peril at every turn, will do almost anything to keep her daughter alive. Benton turns a laser eye to her subject, exposing the sanctimony, hypocrisies, and pervasive sexism that kept women confined and unequal in the Victorian era—and that still bedevil many women today. A gripping read.” —Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and A Piece of the World

“A stunning ode to motherhood. Lilli de Jong reminds us that there is no formula to being a good mother. Love is the essential ingredient, and only it gives everlasting life to our legacies. A debut of robust heart that will stay with me for a very long time.” —Sarah McCoy, author of The Mapmaker’s Children

“Janet Benton’s remarkable novel Lilli de Jong is historical fiction that transcends the genre and recalls a past world so thoroughly that it breathes upon the page. From the first sentence, Lilli’s sensitive, observant, determined voice casts an irresistible spell. Benton combines rich, carefully researched detail with an imaginative boldness that is a joy to behold—though reader, be warned: Lilli’s story may break your heart.” —Valerie Martin, author of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

“[A] gorgeously written debut . . . Lilli’s fight to craft her own life and nurture her bond with her baby is both devastatingly relevant and achingly beautiful. A stunning read about the fierceness of love triumphing over a rigid society.” —Caroline Leavitt, author of Is This Tomorrow

“The trials Lilli undertakes to keep her baby are heart-rending, and it’s a testament to Benton’s skill as a writer that the reader cannot help but bear witness. In a style reminiscent of Geraldine Brooks, she seamlessly weaves accurate historical detail as well as disturbing societal norms into the protagonist’s struggles . . . An absorbing debut from a writer to watch.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A heartrending debut . . . Benton’s exacting research fuels Lilli’s passionate, authentic voice that is ‘as strong as a hand on a drum . . . that pounds its urgent messages across a distance’ . . . Lilli’s inspiring power and touching determination are timeless.” —Publishers Weekly

“A harrowing look at the strictures of nineteenth-century American society. . . . [Lilli] is a full-fledged heroine, persevering despite seemingly insurmountable odds. . . her voice is distinctive, her fierceness driven by a mother’s love.” —Booklist

“I loved this novel. Lilli de Jong is deeply moving and richly imagined, both tragic and joyous. Janet Benton has an exceptional ability to bring history to life . . . It’s not only a compelling, beautifully crafted historical novel, however: it’s also important . . . Lilli’s life-and-death struggle is shockingly common to women even today.” —Sandra Gulland, author of the internationally bestselling Josephine B. Trilogy

“Writing with a historical eye akin to Geraldine Brooks and incisive prose matching that of Anthony Doerr, debut novelist Janet Benton magically weaves a gripping narrative of hardship, redemption, and hope while illuminating a portrait of little-known history. The result is an unforgettable and important reflection on the maternal and, ultimately, the human bond. Stunning!” —Pam Jenoff, author of The Kommandant’s Girl

“A confident debut . . . Sentence by carefully-crafted sentence, Benton ensnares the reader.” —The Millions

03_Janet Benton.jpgAuthor Janet Benton, Biography

Janet Benton’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Glimmer Train, and many other publications. She has co-written and edited historical documentaries for television. She holds a B.A. in religious studies from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and for decades she has taught writing and helped individuals and organizations craft their stories. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Lilli de Jong is her first novel.

Visit Janet Benton’s website for more information and updates. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Goodreads.

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away TWO Notebooks featuring quotes from Lilli de Jong! Notebooks are spiral-bound (4×6 inches) with 50 blank pages. To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Direct Link: https://gleam.io/REPTM/lilli-de-jong

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on July 28th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to residents in the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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