Tag Archives: historical novels for 2013

Casade is a Refreshing Novel of Literary Distinction that Deals with Change, Hope, and Dreams

CascadeCascade, by Maryanne O’Hara, is a beautifully written book. At the same time poignant and heart-wrenching, it’s also touching, revealing, and strong in the essence of knowing oneself.  At times when we don’t always know what is the best decision, this book shows a way to have the power to not meet societal norms or dictates, but to follow your heart and your mind’s desires.

I’m so happy to have read Cascade, as it shows a depression-era woman defying the odds and following her own true path.  It’s a vibrant novel that deals with the true issue of women’s rights. The right to own her own thoughts, plans, ideas, and to formulate her own journey. Women still struggle with this today, but in the 1930s, especially with the financial foundation of America crumbling, women did not usually have the means to pursue their dreams, especially creative dreams. People were losing money, which meant less was spent on luxury items like art, theatre, writing, and weekend get-aways.

Taking place in these bad economic times, the novel opens with artist Desdemona Hart Spaulding knowing she should be content with her good-looking Lindbergh look-alike and rich-to-the-times pharmacist husband even if she doesn’t love him….or want kids badly, as he does with a virulent immediacy. 

Dez is an artist and wishes to pursue her dreams, but she made the decision to marry him to survive at the moment.  Her father’s town playhouse was losing money, as most things were during the Great Depression, and he fell ill.  When he died, he left the playhouse to Dez’s husband, Asa. As she struggles with having made that decision to marry Asa, and vies with herself about not being able to be happy with being content, she meets a Jewish salesman, Jacob, of whom she shares a love of art.

Amid her own internal struggle is the dilemma in the town of Cascade, Massachusetts, where she lives at the opening of the book. Cascade is on the government’s list as a possible site to drown under water in the overflow from a new reservoir being built for Boston. She feverently wants to save her father’s Shakespearean theater, but it’s closed for business and not many rich city dwellers are apt to return to see the plays anymore.  She uses her artistic and creative ideas in order to add to the fight against the state government, showcasing the loveliness of Cascade. I enjoyed reading about her creative ideas as I also enjoy art as well as fighting for great causes in creative ways.

However, when her idea brings household recognition, she sees her dreams of being a professional artist within her sights and New York City keeps calling. Then there is Jacob. A murder. And a mystery is added to the mix.

Overall, the book truly deals with Dez’s emotional turmoil to come to terms with feeling confident about making her own decisions as a woman. She worries over pleasing others with her decisions, but just can never shake the feeling that she isn’t where she belongs.

Cascade was emotionally saturated with grief, loss, love, hope, survival, and desire. Above all, it takes the reader on a journey about change and being true to self. It was a great reminder about tossing the feelings of guilt that come with pursuing creative dreams.  I throughly loved this book and it’s a must read for fans of true literary fiction.

Note:  This is a great book for book clubs, reading groups, or discussion-oriented platforms. There is much to discuss in this book including women’s roles in society and family, government “land issues,”  living in a hurting economy, fighting for a cause, and more.

Come back tomorrow for an exclusive interview with Maryanne, where she discusses some topics you won’t want to miss, plus there will be a giveaway!

 CASCADE, Synopsis~

CascadePublication Date: April 30, 2013
Publisher: Penguin Books
Paperback; 384p

A Slate Magazine “Best Books 2012″
A People Magazine “People Pick”
A Library Journal 2012 “Best Bet”

During the 1930s in a small town fighting for its survival, a conflicted new wife seeks to reconcile her artistic ambitions with the binding promises she has made

Fans of Richard Russo, Amor Towles, Sebastian Barry, and Paula McLain will devour this transporting novel about the eternal tug between our duties and our desires, set during in New York City and New England during the Depression and New Deal eras.

It’s 1935, and Desdemona Hart Spaulding has sacrificed her plans to work as an artist in New York to care for her bankrupt, ailing father in Cascade, Massachusetts. When he dies, Dez finds herself caught in a marriage of convenience, bound to the promise she made to save her father’s Shakespeare Theater, even as her town may be flooded to create a reservoir for Boston. When she falls for artist Jacob Solomon, she sees a chance to escape and realize her New York ambitions, but is it morally possible to set herself free?

Praise for CASCADE

“The protagonist is Desdemona Hart, a woman drowning in the choices she’s been forced to make: a marriage of necessity to save her father’s legacy and put a roof over his head as he dies……trouble escalates, and so will the rate at which you turn the pages. Cascade is perfect for sitting by the fire on a chilly day contemplating the immutability of things.” –Slate: 2012 Best Books, Staff Picks

“When state engineers created the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1930s, four Central Massachusetts towns disappeared beneath the waters. In her debut novel, Cascade, Ashland resident Maryanne O’Hara chronicles the fate of one such (fictionalized) town and its inhabitants, notably Desdemona Hart Spaulding, an ambitious artist trapped in a loveless marriage. O’Hara, a former Ploughshares fiction editor, shapes her protagonist’s story to pose questions like: If art is not lastingly valuable, what is? Ponder that over your next glass of tap water.” –Boston Globe, Best of the New, 2012

“Gorgeously written and involving, Cascade explores the age-old conflict between a woman’s perceived duty and her deepest desires, but in O’Hara’s skilled hands the struggle feels fresh and new.” –People Magazine

Link to the Official Book Trailer: http://www.maryanneohara.com/cascade-trailer/

Author Maryanne O’Hara, Biography~

Maryanne O'HaraMaryanne O’Hara was the longtime associate fiction editor at the award-winning literary journal Ploughshares. She received her MFA from Emerson College fifteen years ago, and wrote short fiction that was widely published before committing to the long form. She lives on a river near Boston.






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Interview with Author Alana White: Her Life, the Italian Renaissance, and Writing

Yesterday, we presented information and a review of Alana White’s historical fiction novel The Sign of the Weeping Virgin.  If you missed it, you can see it by clicking HERE.

Today, we have an amazing interview with White where we talk about the Pope’s recent resignation, why it’s important to make time for yourself to write, and if times have changed much in regards intrigue and family drama. You’ll also read what scenes were cut out of her newest book and why. I think you’ll enjoy it!

And remember at the end to check out the information on the GIVEAWAY!!

Hi Alana, it’s so nice to spend some time with you doing an interview here on Oh, for the Hook of a Book!  I’m looking forward to getting to know you better.

Hi, Erin, Thank you so much for having me.  It’s a privilege, and I appreciate it.

Let’s dive in…

Q:  Is The Sign of the Weeping Virgin your first novel?

A:  No.  My first novel, Come Next Spring, is a coming-of-age story set in the Smoky Mountains in 1949.  In it, my protagonist, who is very romantic-minded, writes a letter to Margaret Mitchell wanting assurance that Rhett Butler eventually returned to Scarlett O’Hara after Gone With the Wind ends.  And so, till the end of the story, along with the main character, we readers wait for Margaret Mitchell’s reply.  Set in Tennessee, Come Next Spring received good reviews, and it is available online.

Q: When did you first discover your love of words? Is then when you started to write, why or if not, when?

A:  I have always been a reader—one of those kids whose parents say, “Why don’t you go outside and play for a while?”  I think I was just born this way.  I started trying to write a novel when I was twelve.  As you might expect, I didn’t get very far.  I discovered it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  It still isn’t.

Erin Comments:  Me too. And though I’ve been writing ever since, I haven’t got as far as completing that novel yet. Though life gets in the way, I suppose there is something to the time being right also.

Q:  What is your writing process like?

A:  If I don’t begin writing in the morning, it doesn’t get done.  Too many distractions, too many ways to put writing last.  Because it is hard, for me, at least.  As much as I’m loath to admit it, I’m a perfectionist.  So, mornings are when I go over pages from the previous day, tweaking, and asking more questions, looking over my notes to see what happens next.  Also, to refresh my memory of where I am in the story, and what my characters were doing and thinking the previous day.

Erin Comments: Distractions are always a problem, especially for me too. I’m also a perfectionist so it takes me much longer to get something exactly right. J

Q:  What has been the worst thing you’ve had to overcome on your writing journey?

A:  Finding the courage and the means to protect time for myself.  We are all pulled in so many different, important directions, right?  In the opening pages of Weeping Virgin, I thank my husband for giving me “the gift of time.”  And I mean that sincerely.

Erin Comments: I love what you said: “to protect time for myself.” So true.

Q:  What other novels have you written or are writing?

A:  I’ve completed a YA novel with a teen boy as the protagonist.  I need to introduce him to the world.  Time issues, again.  This week, I began the next book in the Guid’Antonio Vespucci mystery series.  So, it’s back to him and Florence (in my mind and heart, anyway), and that makes me happy, indeed.

Q:  What is it that draws you to the City of Flowers (in other words, Florence)?

A:  I truly don’t know why Florence has tapped into my heart.  Of course, the Italian renaissance intrigues me, as it has done so many people.  The richness, the intrigue, and the personal stories.  Today, when you go there, you walk through the same byways and past the same huge stone palaces that were there in the days of the Medicis and the Vespuccis.  In some ways, very little has changed.  Today, rather than Lorenzo de’ Medici striding around the walled city, Florentines have a charming, thirty-something mayor who rides the streets on his bicycle.

Q:  What do you think of the present Pope’s resignation? Do you feel this will make someone a novel years from now?

A:  I think it took courage and cooperation for him to resign his place.  When I say cooperation, I mean there may have been people who would have preferred him to remain Pope, no matter the conditions.  And, yes!  The first thing that occurred to me when I heard the news was along the lines of people jockeying for position, what lengths will they go to, etc.  No doubt Daniel Silva, whose terrific fictional Gabriel Allon character is a “friend” of the Pope in Silva’s novels, is already sharpening his pencils.  I hope so.

Q: How do you feel that historical intrigue and family drama has changed over time and why?

A:  You know, I don’t believe it has so much.  We have different trappings, but I think in the end our hearts beat for the same things: our children, their future, who is at the forefront in government (not only ours), wars, love and betrayal in all its shapes and forms.

Erin Comments: I totally agree, we just don’t always see it as clearly.

Q:  What are your other historical interests?

A:  That’s a terrific question.  If I had all the time (there is that word, again) in the world, I would write about small town southern life in the 1930s and 40s.  Probably this is because I come from a childhood background of sitting on the front porch listening to my mother and grandmother’s stories.  (Or juicy gossip, if you will.)

Q:  What authors have, or do, inspire you? What books do you like?

A:  I mentioned Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series; I like it and probably was drawn to it in the first place because the fictional Gabriel is the world’s greatest art restorer.  So, there is the link to art, and that attracts me.  These books aren’t historicals, but they read like it.  I loved Susan Vreeland’s Clara and Mr. Tiffany.  I like books that open a new world to me.  Clara certainly did that—women designed much of Tiffany’s line, but weren’t given credit for it till just recently.  And—I like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series!

Erin Comments:  You must love art history as much as I do.  I have to tell you that one of my top 10 books of all time is Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Vreeland. I even reviewed it on this site and included photos of Tiffany’s glass work that I took at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Also, I am a crusader for women’s issues, as well as liking New York history circa late 1800s to the 1920s, so I was REALLY impressed by this book.

Q:  What is your best -loved hobby outside of writing and reading?

A:  Genealogy.  I spent a long time tracing my family’s roots and enjoyed it tremendously.  But as those of you know who have entered that zone, it’s like eating chocolate chip cookies.  It’s almost impossible to stop.  Also, I like estate sales.  Interesting: both activities deal with the past.

Erin Comments:  I have done Genealogy since I was in high school and though time has got in the way of intense research since I’ve had children, I still like the feeling I get when I open up another “door.”  Sounds like you enjoy anything historical or vintage like me.

Q:  What feelings or message do you hope that readers take away from The Sign of the Weeping Virgin?

A:  That people are all connected in some deep place and way.  We have the same feelings and basic emotions, we weep and work for the same things.  We’re equal in myriad ways, whether then or now, wherever we may be.

Q:  Is there more to the story than what you were able to fit into the novel?

A:  I love this question!  Yes!  I had two rousing scenes with the antagonist who actually did plot the conspiracy to rid the world of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici, the two young unofficial leaders of the Florentine Republic at the time of Weeping Virgin.  The villain’s name is Girolamo Riario, and he was married to Caterina Sforza, by the way.  I hated cutting Caterina’s scenes, but it was all just going on too long.  Anyway—Caterina threatened to steal the story!

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A:  I would love that.  I’m on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/authoralanawhite?ref=hl

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/AlanaWhiteautho

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/338557.Alana_J_White

And at: www.alanawhite.com

I appreciate you participating in this exclusive interview as you shared your world with us!  I just love how writing brings history alive. Best of luck to you and your work!

This has been fun, Erin.  Thanks again for having me.


A lucky reader can win ONE (1) tangible copy of The Sign of the Weeping Virgin for their library. It’s open INTERNATIONALLY!!  Please leave a comment here, the previous review post, or on my Facebook post, including your email so I can notify you (OR email me at hookofabook(at)hotmail.com)!

You can enter until 11:59 p.m. EST on February 26, 2013.

One (1) extra entry for following this blog! Please let me know you did so.

Alana White, Biography~

Alana WhiteAlana White’s fascination with the Italian Renaissance led to her first short historical mystery fiction, then to a full-length novel, The Sign of the Weeping Virgin, forthcoming from Five Star Mysteries in December 2012. Set in Renaissance Florence, The Sign of the Weeping Virgin features lawyer Guid’Antonio Vespucci and his adventurous young nephew, Amerigo Vespucci, as they investigate crime in Renaissance Florence. Alana’s articles and book reviews appear regularly in Renaissance Magazine and the Historical Novels Review. In young adult+ books, she is the author of Come Next Spring, a novel set in 1940s Appalachia, and a biography, Sacagawea: Westward with Lewis and Clark. She is currently working on her second Guid’Antonio Vespucci mystery.

See more on Alana White and her work at:  www.alanawhite.com

The Sign of the Weeping Virgin Synopsis~

TSOTWVPublication Date: January 9, 2013 | Five Star Publishing | 384p

Romance and intrigue abound in The Sign of the Weeping Virgin an evocative historical mystery that brings the Italian Renaissance gloriously to life.

In 1480 Florentine investigator Guid Antonio Vespucci and his nephew Amerigo are tangled in events that threaten to destroy them and their beloved city.

Marauding Turks abduct a beautiful young Florentine girl and sell her into slavery. And then a holy painting begins weeping in Guid Antonio s church. Are the tears manmade or a sign of God s displeasure with Guid Antonio himself?

In a finely wrought story for lovers of medieval and renaissance mysteries everywhere Guid Antonio follows a spellbinding trail of clues to uncover the thought-provoking truth about the missing girl and the weeping painting s mystifying and miraculous? tears all pursued as he comes face to face with his own personal demons.

See more reviews, interviews, and guest appearances during White’s virtual blog tour by clicking on button below:



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