Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway: The Lost Duchess by Jenny Barden


Once a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, Emme Fifield’s only hope of surviving the scandal that threatens to engulf her is to escape England for a fresh start in the new America.

Emme joins Kit Doonan’s rag-tag band of idealists, desperados and misfits bound for Virginia, but such a voyage will be far from easy and Emme finds her attraction to the mysterious Doonan inconvenient to say the least.

As for Kit, the handsome mariner has spent years imprisoned by the Spanish, and living as an outlaw with a band of escaped slaves; he has his own inner demons to confront, and his own dark secrets to keep…

Ebury Press | June 2014 (Paperback) | ISBN: 978-0-091949-67-9

My Review

Jenny Barden's latest release, The Lost Duchess, is not your typical work of Elizabethan-era historical fiction.  While the novel opens at Queen Elizabeth I's court and includes a familiar cast of aristocrats (Edward Seymour, Earl of Surrey), adventurers (Sir Walter Raleigh) and political advisors (Francis Walsingham), it is the Roanoke Colony and the people who sought to establish it that are at the heart of this novel. 

Young Emme Fifield is a lady in waiting to the Queen, one with the world seemingly at her feet.  But when a brief encounter with an unscrupulous man jeopardizes her position at court, Emme is forced to reconsider her future.  Faced with few options, Emme pins her hopes on an upcoming expedition to the Americas financed by Sir Walter Raleigh and led by John White that seeks to establish a colony on the Island of Roanoke.  Unfazed by the dangers associated with an ocean crossing and the hardships involved with settling in the New World, Emme convinces the Queen to let her go.   Accompanying the expedition is Kit Doonan, a sailor who was once held captive in the Spanish Main and escaped to lead a band of Cimaroons.  While Kit and Emme have instant chemistry, the secrets they harbour threaten their chances for happiness; a situation made more pronounced by the harsh realities of living in a colony that is surrounded by enemies intent upon its destruction.   The Lost Duchess explores not only the fate of Emme and Kit, but also that of the Roanoke colony itself.

Having enjoyed Jenny Barden's debut novel, Mistress of the Sea (click here to read my review), I was eager to read The Lost Duchess.  I wasn't disappointed.  Jenny Barden has once again crafted a beautifully written and well-researched historical novel, one that features a memorable cast of characters, and an entertaining and informative narrative.  My favourite aspect of this novel is its New World setting.   I've read many works of historical fiction set in the Elizabethan era, but The Lost Duchess is the first that features the Roanoke colony at its core.  While little is known about the fate of the colony and its inhabitants, Barden's interpretation is a plausible one.  While the political and strategic considerations that impacted on the future of the colony receive only minimal attention in the book, Barden includes just enough detail to ensure that the reader understands the key issues.   This detail has also left me wanting to read more about England's first attempts at colonization and the strategic considerations behind them. 

While Kit Doonan's character is first introduced in Mistress of the Sea, enough of Kit's back story has been included in The Lost Duchess to ensure that the novel stands well on its own, and that reading the books in publication order is not necessary. 

Recommended to readers who enjoy historical fiction set during the Age of Discovery, as well as to readers interested in a fictional account of the lost colony of Roanoke. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Source: I was provided with a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. 


I'm pleased to host a giveaway for one copy of The Lost Duchess courtesy of Jenny Barden.  Giveaway details are as follows:

- The giveaway is open internationally;
- To enter, simply leave a comment below with your email address;
- Only one entry is allowed per person;
- The giveaway will be open until midnight (EST) August 24th; and
- The winner will be selected using random.org and will be notified by email.  

Good Luck! 

post signature

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Book Review: The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier


From the author of the New York Times bestseller Juliet comes a mesmerizing novel about a young scholar who risks her reputation—and her life—on a thrilling journey to prove that the legendary warrior women known as the Amazons actually existed.

Oxford lecturer Diana Morgan is an expert on Greek mythology. Her obsession with the Amazons started in childhood when her eccentric grandmother claimed to be one herself—before vanishing without a trace. Diana’s colleagues shake their heads at her Amazon fixation. But then a mysterious, well-financed foundation makes Diana an offer she cannot refuse.

Traveling to North Africa, Diana teams up with Nick Barran, an enigmatic Middle Eastern guide, and begins deciphering an unusual inscription on the wall of a recently unearthed temple. There she discovers the name of the first Amazon queen, Myrina, who crossed the Mediterranean in a heroic attempt to liberate her kidnapped sisters from Greek pirates, only to become embroiled in the most famous conflict of the ancient world—the Trojan War. Taking their cue from the inscription, Diana and Nick set out to find the fabled treasure that Myrina and her Amazon sisters salvaged from the embattled city of Troy so long ago. Diana doesn’t know the nature of the treasure, but she does know that someone is shadowing her, and that Nick has a sinister agenda of his own. With danger lurking at every turn, and unsure of whom to trust, Diana finds herself on a daring and dangerous quest for truth that will forever change her world.

Sweeping from England to North Africa to Greece and the ruins of ancient Troy, and navigating between present and past, The Lost Sisterhood is a breathtaking, passionate adventure of two women on parallel journeys, separated by time, who must fight to keep the lives and legacy of the Amazons from being lost forever.

Ballantine Books | March 2014 | 608 pages (hardcover) | ISBN: 9780345536228

My Review

Anne Fortier's latest novel, The Lost Sisterhood, is a fast-paced adventure that transports the reader between modern day Europe and North Africa, and the classical world of Ancient Greece and Troy.  When Oxford philologist and Amazon enthusiast Diana Morgan is approached by a mysterious stranger and offered the chance to decipher an obscure ancient language, it presents her with an opportunity she can't turn down.  Diana soon finds herself in North Africa studying inscriptions left on an ancient temple that had been buried for centuries, inscriptions that lead Diana to uncover not only the name of the first Amazonian queen, Myrina, but also to trace the origins of the fabled, female-only tribe.   Excited by her discovery, Diana sets off on a quest to trace Myrina and the Amazon's path and, hopefully, unearth the treasure supposedly removed by the Amazons from Troy in the aftermath of the Trojan War.  Diana is joined on her quest by Nick Barran, a perplexing and secretive man employed by the same foundation that hired her.  As Diana and Nick attempt to retrace Myrina's steps and uncover the mythical treasure, it isn't long before they realize that their own movements are also being tracked.   It seems Diana and Nick are not the only ones searching for the treasure, and that their opponents will stop at nothing to keep Diana and Nick from it.

There are many aspects of The Lost Sisterhood that I enjoyed, not the least of which is the novel's heroine, Diana Morgan.  Diana is an intelligent, resourceful,  and curious woman, one who is committed to the truth and advancing knowledge.  Most important to me, however, is that even though she is a fictional character Diana felt very real.  As such, while the quest Diana undertakes is a remarkable one, readers will nevertheless be able to easily relate to Diana herself.   Diana is not the only heroine of this novel, however, as Diana's story is complemented by that of Myrina's.  Like Diana, Myrina is a well-drawn character, and I enjoyed how Fortier used her to convey the story of the Amazons.  Often times when reading novels that feature dual time narratives I find myself strongly drawn to one narrative over the other.   In The Lost Sisterhood, however, I found both Diana and Myrina's story lines to be equally compelling.  Both are quick moving and captivating, and Fortier is able to seamlessly move between the two without interrupting the novel's flow.    

Another strength of The Lost Sisterhood is how Fortier  successfully fuses many aspects of Amazon, Greek and Trojan myth with history, and it is obvious that Fortier undertook a significant amount of research in order to write this novel.  While debate exists as to whether or not the Amazons really did exist, at least in the form depicted by legend, by drawing on this history Fortier makes a compelling case for their existence.  As a result, the Amazons are now a subject I'd like to explore further through non-fiction.  

If you're a fan of adventure novels, books that feature strong heroines, dual-time narratives or books that are set (at least in part) in the classical world, I highly recommend giving The Lost Sisterhood a try.   I can't wait to read what Anne Fortier writes next! 

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

post signature

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book Review: Blackwell's Paradise by V.E. Ulett


Relive the pleasure of falling into the past in Volume II of Blackwell’s Adventures.

The repercussions of a court martial and the ill-will of powerful men at the Admiralty pursue Royal Navy captain James Blackwell into the Pacific, where danger lurks around every coral reef. Even if Captain Blackwell and Mercedes survive the venture into the world of early nineteenth century exploration, can they emerge unchanged with their love intact. The mission to the Great South Sea will test their loyalties and strength, and define the characters of Captain Blackwell and his lady in Blackwell’s Paradise.

Old Salt Press | January 2014 | 300 pages 

My Review

Blackwell's Paradise is the second installment in V.E. Ulett's Captain Blackwell series.  At the heart of this series, which is set primarily on the high seas in the early 19th century, is Royal Navy Captain James Blackwell and his wife Mercedes.   In Blackwell's Paradise, Captain Blackwell, his crew, and Mercedes find themselves headed for the Pacific on a mission of exploration.  But as Blackwell's ship approaches the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), an ill-fated mishap has disastrous consequences for both Blackwell and Mercedes, testing their love and resolve, and putting Blackwell's mission in jeopardy.

As was evident in the series' first novel, Captain Blackwell's Prize (click here to read my review), V.E. Ulett is clearly at home writing about 19th century nautical life.  While there is considerable attention paid to detailing the activities involved with running and serving on a ship of war,  Ulett never overwhelms the reader with nautical jargon.  As a result, this is a novel that can be enjoyed by readers already familiar with nautical historical fiction, as well as by those brand new to the genre.   Ulett's characters and prose feel authentic, helping to convey a strong sense of both time and place.   While Captain Blackwell and Mercedes form the core of this novel, Ulett has once again created a solid cast of supporting characters, some of whom carry over from Captain Blackwell's Prize.  

While the characters and plot are engaging, one of my favourite things about Blackwell's Paradise is its setting.  A good deal of this novel is set on the Sandwich Islands, and Ulett does a great job conveying the customs, beliefs and politics of the Islands and its peoples.  While not featured prominently, King Kamehameha has an important role in the novel, and I was intrigued by his quest to control the whole of the Islands.  

Overall, Blackwell's Paradise is an entertaining and educational novel, one that is sure to appeal to fans of nautical historical fiction.  Although Blackwell's Prize can be read as a stand alone novel, I recommend reading Captain Blackwell's Prize first. 

I'm looking forward to finding out what adventures Captain Blackwell and Mercedes embark upon next! 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of Blackwell's Paradise from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

post signature

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway: Daughter of the Gods by Stephanie Thornton


Egypt, 1400s BC. The pharaoh’s pampered second daughter, lively, intelligent Hatshepsut, delights in racing her chariot through the marketplace and testing her archery skills in the Nile’s marshlands. But the death of her elder sister, Neferubity, in a gruesome accident arising from Hatshepsut’s games forces her to confront her guilt…and sets her on a profoundly changed course.

Hatshepsut enters a loveless marriage with her half brother, Thut, to secure his claim to the Isis Throne and produce a male heir. But it is another of Thut’s wives, the commoner Aset, who bears him a son, while Hatshepsut develops a searing attraction for his brilliant adviser Senenmut. And when Thut suddenly dies, Hatshepsut becomes de facto ruler, as regent to her two-year-old nephew.

Once, Hatshepsut anticipated being free to live and love as she chose. Now she must put Egypt first. Ever daring, she will lead a vast army and build great temples, but always she will be torn between the demands of leadership and the desires of her heart. And even as she makes her boldest move of all, her enemies will plot her downfall….

Once again, Stephanie Thornton brings to life a remarkable woman from the distant past whose willingness to defy tradition changed the course of history.

NAL Trade | May 6, 2014 

My Review

Daughter of the Gods, the latest novel from Stephanie Thornton, tells the story of Hatshepsut, one of only a few females to ever rule as an Egyptian pharaoh.  Having read and enjoyed Thornton's first novel, The Secret History (click here to read my thoughts on it), I jumped at the chance to review this one.  Am I ever glad I did -  I loved this book!   

There is a lot to like about Daughter of the Gods.   The novel's heroine, Hatshepsut, is vividly portrayed.  Even though I didn't always agree with the choices she made, I quickly came to admire Hatsheput's intelligence, perseverance, dedication and sacrifice.  It was not difficult to understand why she is considered one of ancient Egypt's greatest rulers.  In addition to Hatshepsut, Daughter of the Gods is full of memorable characters whether they are figures central to the story or just sit on the periphery of it.  I particularly enjoyed Thornton's characterization of Hatshepsut's nephew Tutmose, her friend Aset (who is also mother to Tutmose), and her bodyguard Nomti. 

Thornton's writing is lovely, and her descriptions of Egyptian royal life and customs help to create a strong sense of both time and place.  I was captivated by Hatshepsut and the world in which she lived right from the opening pages.  Given few details concerning Hatshepsut's life and rule exist, Thornton had significant latitude to fill in the blanks.  Using what little is known of Hatshepsut as a foundation, Thornton has crafted a thoroughly engaging and entirely plausible narrative.  The story moves quickly, never losing focus or getting bogged down in excessive detail.  While the novel comes in at well over 400 pages, Daughter of the Gods doesn't feel like a long book.  In fact, I enjoyed the novel so much that I wouldn't have minded if it had been even longer.  

I noted in my review of The Secret History that Thornton's writing reminds me of Kate Quinn's, and that is still the case.  As I was reading Daughter of the Gods, however, I found myself thinking of Michelle Moran's Egyptian novels.  While I'm a big fan of both Quinn and Moran, after reading both of Thornton's novels she is now the one whose works most stand out for me.  As such, if you love Kate Quinn and Michelle Moran's books you definitely need to check out Stephanie Thornton.  You won't be disappointed.

Highly recommended to all fans of historical fiction, especially those who enjoy reading novels about lesser known historical figures.   I can't wait to read Thornton's next novel, The Tiger Queens

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher as part of Stephanie Thornton's virtual book tour, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Daughter of the Gods is currently on tour!  Click here to check out the tour schedule. 

About the Author

Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.

“The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora” is available from NAL/Penguin, and “Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt” will hit the shelves May 2014 and “The Tiger Queens: A Novel of Genghis Khan” will follow in Fall 2014.

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


I'm pleased to host a giveaway for one paperback copy of Daughter of the Gods.   Giveaway details are as follows:

- Open to residents of Canada and the United States only;
- To enter simply leave a comment on this post including your email address;
- One entry per person;
- The giveaway will close at midnight (EST) on May 16, 2014.
- The winner will be selected using Random.org

Good Luck!

post signature

Friday, May 2, 2014

Book Review - 1066: What Fates Impose by G.K. Holloway


England is in crisis. King Edward has no heir and promises never to produce one. There are no obvious successors available to replace him, but quite a few claimants are eager to take the crown. While power struggles break out between the various factions at court, enemies abroad plot to make England their own. There are raids across the borders with Wales and Scotland.

Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, is seen by many as the one man who can bring stability to the kingdom. He has powerful friends and two women who love him, but he has enemies will stop at nothing to gain power. As 1066 begins, England heads for an uncertain future. It seems even the heavens are against Harold.

Intelligent and courageous, can Harold forge his own destiny – or does he have to bow to what fates impose?

Matador Publishing | March 4, 2013 | 440 pages

My Review

G.K. Holloway's debut novel, 1066: What Fates Impose, transports the reader to England just prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066.  At the centre of this novel is Harold Godwinson, son of England's most powerful nobleman and a respected Earl in his own right, who is best known to history as the English monarch beaten by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.  But, as is vividly shown in this novel, there was much more to Harold than his last battle. 

Given that G.K. Holloway's novel is not the first work of historical fiction I've read about Harold Godwinson or the events leading up to the Norman invasion, much of 1066's storyline was already familiar to me.  As I'm interested in time period covered by the book, however, I was curious to read Holloway's interpretation of the historical figures and events synonymous with the era.  The novel's principal protagonist, Harold, is portrayed as an honourable, intelligent, and strong man.  This matches the impressions I'd gleaned of Harold from the other Conquest-era novels I've read.  King Edward (aka Edward the Confessor) on the other hand, comes across as a weak ruler, one who too easily puts his trust in those who seek to use him for their own ends.  Aside from well developed characters, another strength of this novel is the attention it pays to the complex politics of the era, both within England and abroad.  But 1066: What Fates Impose is not only a novel of politics and battles, there is also a well-drawn romantic element to the storyline. 

1066: What Fates Impose is a well-written, engaging, and superbly researched work of historical fiction.  Holloway has added enough historical detail to give readers a real flavour for 11th century England while ensuring that the narrative isn't bogged down in it.  Whether you are new to historical fiction set in England around the time of the Conquest, or are already familiar with the period's people and politics, 1066: What Fates Impose is recommended.   I look forward to reading more from G.K. Holloway. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel as part of G.K. Holloway's virtual book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

1066: What Fates Impose has been touring the blogosphere for the past couple of weeks.  Click here to link to additional reviews. 

About the Author

I have been interested in history since I was a boy, which I suppose explains why, when I came across a degree course in History and Politics at Coventry University that looked tailor made for me, I applied right away.

In my first year at Coventry I lived in the halls of residence within a stone’s throw of the Leofric Hotel. In the opposite direction, just a short walk from my halls, is the bell tower that houses a clock, which when its bell chimes the hour, produces a half size model of naked Lady Godiva riding a horse for the titillation of tourists. Above her, Peeping Tom leans out of a window for a better view. In all of the three years I was there, it never once occurred to me that I would one day write a book featuring Earl Leofric and his famous wife, as key players.

After graduating I spent a year in Canada before I returned to England to train as a Careers Officer in Bristol. Later, I lived and worked in Gloucestershire as a Careers Officer and then in Adult Education as an Education Guidance worker.

After I met my wife, I moved back to Bristol to live and I worked at Bath Spa University as a Student Welfare Officer for a number of years. It was about this time I read a biography about King Harold II which fascinated me so much I read more and more about the man and the times. I found the whole pre-conquest period of England so interesting I couldn’t understand why no one had written a novel about it. So, I decided to write one myself. Now, after many years of study and time spent over a hot keyboard, I have finally produced thatnovel.

1066: What Fates Impose is the result of all that study and hard work and is the first book I’ve written. I am now working on a sequel.

post signature

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Spotlight: To Live Forever by Andra Watkins


Is remembrance immortality? Nobody wants to be forgotten, least of all the famous.

Meriwether Lewis lived a memorable life. He and William Clark were the first white men to reach the Pacific in their failed attempt to discover a Northwest Passage. Much celebrated upon their return, Lewis was appointed governor of the vast Upper Louisiana Territory and began preparing his eagerly-anticipated journals for publication. But his re-entry into society proved as challenging as his journey. Battling financial and psychological demons and faced with mounting pressure from Washington, Lewis set out on a pivotal trip to the nation’s capital in September 1809. His mission: to publish his journals and salvage his political career. He never made it. He died in a roadside inn on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee from one gunshot to the head and another to the abdomen.

Was it suicide or murder? His mysterious death tainted his legacy and his fame quickly faded. Merry’s own memory of his death is fuzzy at best. All he knows is he’s fallen into Nowhere, where his only shot at redemption lies in the fate of rescuing another. An ill-suited “guardian angel,” Merry comes to in the same New Orleans bar after twelve straight failures. Now, with one drink and a two-dollar bill he is sent on his last assignment, his final shot at escape from the purgatory in which he’s been dwelling for almost 200 years. Merry still believes he can reverse his forgotten fortunes.

Nine-year-old Emmaline Cagney is the daughter of French Quarter madam and a Dixieland bass player. When her mother wins custody in a bitter divorce, Emmaline carves out her childhood among the ladies of Bourbon Street. Bounced between innocence and immorality, she struggles to find her safe haven, even while her mother makes her open her dress and serve tea to grown men.

It isn’t until Emmaline finds the strange cards hidden in her mother’s desk that she realizes why these men are visiting: her mother has offered to sell her to the highest bidder. To escape a life of prostitution, she slips away during a police raid on her mother’s bordello, desperate to find her father in Nashville.

Merry’s fateful two-dollar bill leads him to Emmaline as she is being chased by the winner of her mother’s sick card game: The Judge. A dangerous Nowhere Man convinced that Emmaline is the reincarnation of his long dead wife, Judge Wilkinson is determined to possess her, to tease out his wife’s spirit and marry her when she is ready. That Emmaline is now guarded by Meriwether Lewis, his bitter rival in life, further stokes his obsessive rage.

To elude the Judge, Em and Merry navigate the Mississippi River to Natchez. They set off on an adventure along the storied Natchez Trace, where they meet Cajun bird watchers, Elvis-crooning Siamese twins, War of 1812 re-enactors, Spanish wild boar hunters and ancient mound dwellers. Are these people their allies? Or pawns of the perverted, powerful Judge?

After a bloody confrontation with the Judge at Lewis’s grave, Merry and Em limp into Nashville and discover her father at the Parthenon. Just as Merry wrestles with the specter of success in his mission to deliver Em, The Judge intercedes with renewed determination to win Emmaline, waging a final battle for her soul. Merry vanquishes the Judge and earns his redemption. As his spirit fuses with the body of Em’s living father, Merry discovers that immortality lives within the salvation of another, not the remembrance of the multitude.

Read an Except HERE.  

World Hermit Press | March 1, 2014

Buy the Book

Amazon (Kindle Ebook)

Amazon (Paperback)

Barnes & Noble (Nook Ebook)

Barnes & Noble (Paperback)

About the Author

Hey. I’m Andra Watkins. I’m a native of Tennessee, but I’m lucky to call Charleston, South Carolina, home for 23 years. I’m the author of ‘To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis’, coming March 1, 2014.  It’s a mishmash of historical fiction, paranormal fiction and suspense that follows Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark fame) after his mysterious death on the Natchez Trace in 1809.

I like:


eating (A lot; Italian food is my favorite.)

traveling (I never met a destination I didn’t like.)

reading (My favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo.)

coffee (the caffeinated version) and COFFEE (sex)

performing (theater, singing, public speaking, playing piano)

time with my friends

Sirius XM Chill

yoga (No, I can’t stand on my head.)

writing in bed

I don’t like:

getting up in the morning

cilantro (It is the devil weed.)

surprises (For me or for anyone else.)
house cleaning


Author Links

 | Facebook
 | Twitter
 | Goodreads | 
 | Pinterest

Natchez Trace Walk

The Natchez Trace is a 10,000-year-old road that runs from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. Thousands of years ago, animals used its natural ridge line as a migratory route from points in the Ohio River Valley to the salt licks in Mississippi. It was logical for the first Native Americans to settle along the Trace to follow part of their migrating food supply. When the Kaintucks settled west of the Appalachians, they had to sell their goods at ports in New Orleans or Natchez, but before steam power, they had to walk home. The Trace became one of the busiest roads in North America.

To launch To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, I will be the first person of either sex to walk the 444-mile Natchez Trace as the pioneers did since the rise of steam power in the 1820′s. March 1, 2014 to April 3, 2014. Fifteen miles a day. Six days a week. One rest day per week. I will spend each night in the modern-day equivalent of stands, places much like Grinder’s Stand, where Meriwether Lewis died from two gunshot wounds on October 11, 1809.
I will take readers into the world of the book. You’ll see the places that inspired scenes and hear the backstories of different characters, with running commentary by my father, who’s tagging along with me.

I’ll also have a daily YouTube segment where I answer reader questions about the book, my walk, my arguments—I mean—interactions with my dad, and whatever readers want to know. Ask me anything at mystories(at)andrawatkins(dot)com. 

You might see yourself on this site during my tour.

To Live Forever is currently on tour.  Click HERE to check out the tour schedule.  You'll find reviews, giveaways, author guest posts and more!

post signature

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Researching a Historical Novel: A Guest Post from Linda Little (Includes Giveaway)

I'm super pleased to welcome author Linda Little to the blog today with a guest post about researching a historical novel.  Linda is the author of the recently recently novel Grist, and is currently touring the blogosphere with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours (click here for the tour schedule).

Be sure to check out my review for Grist here

Take it away, Linda!


Researching for a historical novel can be a challenging business. Who among us has not read a historical fiction, come across some inaccuracy, and gone crowing through the house, “Look, she said they ate Corn Flakes and Corn Flakes haven’t been invented yet!” But when the shoe is on the other foot, then what? Now other people will be scanning my work for errors. I’ve adapted new standards in accuracy since I’ve learned what it is to be the person trying to compose in another time period. For me, the most import goal is to create characters that interact with the time, that express the time, and that personify the time. Of course we want to be as accurate as possible in the objects and styles that surround the characters but I think the worst historical fiction is the one that furnishes the period properly, dresses characters in period costume, but then peoples it with modern men and women. Cultural and intellectual history is by far the most important aspect of the temporal setting.

I have both an advantage and a disadvantage here. I have some academic background in history. This means I know what is most important, but it also means I know how much this entails and how difficult it is to achieve in its totality. Particularly in the lives of women it is difficult to assess levels of freedom and social censure in rural areas and in the lower classes. It can be difficult to know how people felt about the complications and combinations that naturally occurred in life. Modern western women in take for granted that women should have equal opportunities to choose their lives—equal to men, that is. It can often be a stretch for us here in the wealthy, post-industrial West to embrace the fact that this assumption is only true for us here and now and that in most places in the world this is not true today and it was not even true here until about the 1970s or 80s. It is important to grasp these cultural truths as wholes not as isolated facts. Culture influences everything a person expects and everything their neighbours expect. It drive what people have, do, want, and fear.

The three the most important historical sources for me in writing Grist were a diary of a Pictou County miller named James Barry, an 18/19th century millers’ guide, and a social history book called Sojourning Sisters. James Barry was clever, eccentric man who bought an old mill, refurbished it, and operated it through the last half of the nineteenth century as his main source of income. He was also a musician and composer and a bookbinder. He also appeared to loan money on occasion. He kept a daily diary—a practise picked up by his daughter upon his death. While much of the diary records weather and comments about his health, he will also go off on occasional riffs about religion or politics or, more commonly, the short-comings of his mother-in-law. The causes of the big disagreements in his family life are left unstated. Sometimes he will talk about the mill and milling. I think the character of James Barry might make an interesting study but I was interested in his milling activites, his chores, his prices, his debts, his purchases and profits. A few lines in Grist came from his words. The one I remember vividly is: “he ate like a Mohawk.” This must have been an “expression” and is particularly interesting because the Mi’kmaq are the first nation here. So he is not talking about real people or anyone he has met. This is part of a more generalized racist language. My guess is that this expression was probably widespread and indicates how far the local first nation population was from everyday sensibilities and awareness.  “He was a sorry tool for the job,” is another Barry-ism and one of his favorite comments about other men. While Barry was quite the egoist and an eccentric, Ewan’s character does not reflect him. Ewan had his own problems. I did not study Barry deeply enough to know him, nor was I particularly interested in the real man. I wanted to make my own character. But a few turns of phrase from the day can go a long way to making a piece sound authentic. And what I find is that once our ears become attuned to the language we are reading it can be surprisingly easy to come up with “expressions” that sound authentic, even if they are made up.

The Young Mill-Wright and Miller’s Guide was written at the end of the 18th century by Oliver Evans and was revised and reprinted in many editions through the 19th century. The edition I used was the eighth edition, originally published in 1834. I had first seen it in the provincial archives in Halifax in the rare book section and I had to wear archivists’ gloves to read it. I’d made a couple of trips to the city to make notes from it when Lee Valley tools (Algrove Publishing) reprinted the book for sale in their stores. Imagine my delight! Really, what are the odds! So I had my own copy—text diagrams and all—right by my keyboard. The drawings at the back of the book were the drawings young Ewan first saw and recognized as the manifestation of mechanical theory. The laws and lists that he takes into himself as kind of a religion in his search for order in a chaotic world are taken directly from this text.

The third resource I would like to mention is, Sojourning Sisters: The Lives and Letters of Jessie and Annie McQueen by Jean Barman (U of T Press, 2003). This is a scholarly work but eminently accessible.  It is a great read in its own right. The introduction gave succinct and valuable context. The bulk of the work is built on letters exchanges between two McQueen sisters and their family at home in Sutherland’s River, Pictou County, Nova Scotia. These letters give 19th century language for young women who lived at the same time and in the same locale as Penelope. Language, attitudes, and the ethos of the time rise off these pages. Again, Penelope is in no way drawn from these adventurous young women; what’s the point of writing a novel if you forego the fun of building your own characters?

I looked at lots of other resources and I certainly looked up all sorts of details on the web. What a resource the internet is—we never had that when I went to school! (Clearly, there is less and less excuse for getting details wrong.) But at some point it is important to get going on your characters and your story. Anyone who has researched anything knows you could be at it forever. It can take over and kill the very project it is supposed to be fostering. The more we find, the more questions are uncovered. I think it is important to get a sense of the backdrop then get going. Once you are on your way it can be relatively easy to fill in the facts and details you need as they come up. We enter a new world when we create and what fun to make that world in a time or place removed from our own. This is what makes historical fiction so rewarding to write and to read. 


About the Author

Linda Little lives and writes in the north shore village of River John. Originally from the Ottawa Valley mill town of Hawkesbury, she lived in Kingston and St. John’s before moving to Nova Scotia in 1987.

Linda has two award-winning novels, Strong Hollow and Scotch River. She has published short stories in many reviews and anthologies, including The Antigonish Review, Descant, Matrix, The Journey Prize Anthology, and The Penguin Book of Short Stories by Canadian Women.

In addition to writing, Linda teaches at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and is also involved with River John’s annual literary festival, Read by the Sea.

For more information visit Linda Little’s website.


I'm pleased to host a giveaway for one paperback copy of Grist.   Giveaway details are as follows:

- Open to residents of Canada and the U.S. only;
- To enter simply leave a comment on this post including your email address;
- One entry per person;
- The giveaway will run until midnight (EST) April 25, 2014. 

Good Luck!

 post signature