Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss
Tessa Arlen | Exclusive Excerpt: POPPY REDFERN AND THE FATAL FLYERS
Author Guest / November 30, 2020

Half a dozen women, standing by a makeshift bar in Didcote’s Air Transit Auxiliary’s mess turned appraising faces toward us. For one panicky moment I felt I was back at boarding school on the first day of term. “Good morning, Miss Redfern, I’m Vera Abercrombie, Didcote’s commanding officer.” A compact looking woman with a direct no nonsense gaze introduced herself. I suppose, like everyone else who first met her, I was surprised that the Didcote ATA commanding officer wasn’t the standard issue senior male RAF officer with a waxed moustache. Vera Abercrombie was probably in her mid-thirties, but her fair northern skin was deeply lined, either from years of flying, or put there by the burdensome responsibility of her war-time job. She carried a clip-board with a sheaf of papers pinned to it and her glance strayed to it often, as if she might have inadvertently overlooked some small but important detail. There are not many women who have shot to the heights of command that Vera Abercrombie had achieved, without being conscious of their seniority every hour of their long working day, but there was no arrogance in her greeting and no feeling that this was her ‘show,’ and…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: Family as a Blessing and Bane
Author Guest / November 18, 2020

As we approach the (much different this COVID year) Thanksgiving holidays, traditionally a time of fetes and family gatherings, this month’s selection of novels explores families and family-like relationships that can be either blessing or curse. We begin with THE WRIGHT SISTER by Patty Dann.  While everyone is familiar with the famous brothers who made the first flight at Kitty Hawk, few know about the sister who supported and took care of her famous brothers for most of her life.  After Wilbur’s death, at age 52, Katherine married a widowed friend of the family, Harry Haskell.  Furious and feeling betrayed, Orville remained with a housekeeper in Dayton, Ohio, while his married sister began a new life in Kansas City.  The story is told via her (unanswered) letters to the brother who never forgave her for “abandoning” him and her “marriage diary,” detailing her joy in her new life, her enthusiastic support for the suffragette cause, and her never-realized hopes to reconcile with her brother. A vivid portrait of a woman who was long restrained from becoming all she could be by the demands of her restrictive family. We continue with a better-known woman in LEARNING TO SEE: A NOVEL OF…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: The Aftermath of Upheaval
Author Guest / October 21, 2020

Like many, I’ve posted ironic images on my Facebook pages comparing the 2020 Year of COVID to many things–a hula hoop made of barbed wire, a pinata that’s actually a hornet’s nest, a time clock that sent us in March from Standard Time not to Daylight Savings Time, but into the Twilight Zone. So perhaps more than in “normal” times, we can identify with protagonists who are attempting to reconstruct their lives in the aftermath of unprecedented upheaval. And aside from a world-wide pandemic, nothing uproots people and disturbs lives like war. We begin with a novel by three of the most talented writers penning historical fiction today, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White.  The trio collaborated to create ALL THE WAYS WE SAID GOODBYE, using an iconic Parisian hotel as a locus for their stories.  Aurelie de Courcelles is devastated when, at the outbreak of World War I, her home is taken over as a German headquarters.  The dilemma is made more difficult when she discovers the commander’s aide de camp is the handsome young man who charmed her during her debut season in Paris.  Despite their opposing loyalties, friendship deepens into love…until betrayal drives Aurelie back to…

Bryan Litfin | Do One Thing Well
Author Guest / October 14, 2020

Years ago, when my kids were younger, I took my family to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It was billed as the “Greatest Show on Earth,” and it certainly lived up to its name. We had seats front and center, so the whole spectacle was laid out before our eyes. The children in the audience weren’t the only ones oohing and aahing at the grand performance. The adults were amazed, too. All the regular elements were part of the show. The ringmaster led the events with his booming voice. The clowns made us laugh with their silly antics. The dancers entertained us with their choreographed routines. But it was the skill of the acrobats that really made an impression on me. At one point, a group of them climbed poles whose tops swayed in the rafters far above the floor. The performers weren’t attached to safety lines, nor was a net stretched below them to break a fall. Apparently unbothered by this, the acrobats scampered up the pole to a tiny platform, where they did handstands on even hung by their feet. One slip and they would have been in big trouble. Yet they seemed perfectly at…

Jennifer Vido | Jen’s Jewels Interview: MILLICENT GLENN’S LAST WISH by Tori Whitaker
Author Guest / October 9, 2020

Jen: What inspired you to write Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish? Tori: When I was around five years old, I was at a big family reunion and overheard some older, distant cousins allude to the tragedy that I’ve fictionalized here. That mental vision of what happened stayed with me throughout my life. Years after the woman who was involved had already passed, I asked three people close to her if she’d ever spoken about it. They each said they’d had but one conversation in all the time they’d known he–—and they each had a different detail to share with me. I took those few details and built a whole story around them. The novel is set in two time periods. How much research was needed in order for the story to ring true with readers? I began with a sweeping search for information about the late-WWII years and early 1950s. Besides learning about fashion, media, foods and so forth, I discovered things like the need for prefabricated houses for growing families, and I wove that into my story. I read accounts written from women of the period, too–some of whom felt confined in their suburban homes and by a society that…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: Amazing Women for Unusual Times
Author Guest / September 16, 2020

History is replete with examples of women who, despite the restricted roles their society intended them to occupy, manage to break out and become extraordinary.  With all of us now living in such unprecedented times, it seems fitting to immerse ourselves in the stories of women who managed to excel despite their societies and circumstances. We begin in England and earliest chronologically with MARGARET THE FIRST by Danielle Dutton, based on the life of seventeenth-century duchess Margaret Cavendish.  Daughter of a Royalist family and one of the queen’s attendants, Margaret was exiled with the royal household after the overthrow of Charles I.  She meets the worldly and much older William Cavendish, who becomes fascinated by this shy but unconventional woman who writes poetry and philosophy.  William becomes her husband and life-long advocate who champions her writing and encourages her unusual pursuits.  With the return of the monarchy under Charles II, she and her husband are established at the heart of the Restoration court, where she earns fame as “Mad Madge,” a newspaper celebrity both feted and mocked for her feminist writings, utopian plays, and the scientific work that made her the first woman invited to be part of the Royal…

Michelle Shocklee | UNDER THE TULIP TREE: Exploring the Power of Forgiveness
Author Guest / September 11, 2020

Forgiveness is one of the themes woven throughout the pages of my historical time-slip novel, Under the Tulip Tree. In it, Frankie, a 101-year-old former slave, tells the story of her life to Rena, a young white woman who works for the Federal Writers’ Project, a government program that employed thousands of out-of-work writers, teachers, librarians, and others during the Great Depression. As an unlikely friendship emerges between the two women, a startling revelation threatens to undo the bond of respect and admiration they’ve nurtured. Can they overcome it? The answer hinges on one word: forgiveness. Forgiveness means different things to different people, but in Under the Tulip Tree and in this article, I’m referring to the biblical definition. The original Greek word that appears in the New Testament is aphiemi, a verb with several meanings: to send away; to expire; to let go; to disregard; to give up a debt; to keep no longer. In Under the Tulip Tree, both Frankie and Rena are faced with situations that require them to forgive someone, yet forgiveness is not easy. In fact, it can be one of the hardest things we’ll ever do, especially if the offense left us traumatized. As…

Laura Morelli | 20 Questions: THE NIGHT PORTRAIT
Author Guest / September 9, 2020

1–What’s the name of your latest release?  THE NIGHT PORTRAIT: A Novel of WWII & da Vinci’s Italy 2–What is it about?  THE NIGHT PORTRAIT is a dual-timeline historical novel about the creation of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings, Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine, and the woman who fought to save it from Nazi destruction during World War II. It’s a story of two women of art, two men of war, one painting, and one obsession.  3–What word best describes your main character(s)?  Determined. Brave! 4–What makes your story relatable?  I wanted THE NIGHT PORTRAIT pinned squarely on the historical record, but my goal was also to bring these two very different eras to life. I want readers to ask themselves what they might do in similar situations. The four different narrators deal with challenges that sometimes seem insurmountable. I believe historical fiction allows us to relate emotionally to the larger human experience. Following a protagonist’s story makes us ask what we would do, facing such challenges. An immersive historical tale allows us to understand how we are connected to the long threads of history. 5–Who are the people your main characters turn to when…

Andy Andrews | Exclusive Excerpt: JUST JONES
Author Guest / September 9, 2020

He wore blue jeans and a white T-shirt with leather flip-flops. His longish, snow-white hair framed a deeply tanned face and the most startling eyes Keely had ever seen. In fact, they were the first thing she’d noticed after being placed in the cell. The old man’s eyes were blue, but it was a lighter–no, a brighter–shade of blue than she had ever seen. It was as if his eyes had been encased in crystal. There was a clarity to them Keely was unable to define. She had heard of eyes that sparkled, but always considered that specific description a way of referring to excitement reflected in a person’s face. But this old man? His eyes really did sparkle. He had already been in the cell when Keely was locked in during the early morning hours. When the door had shut behind her, the officer quickly departed. Keely simply stood by the door with tears streaming down her face. She had been angry, afraid, and drunk. Now, her head pounded ferociously, but she was beginning to recall those first moments in the cell. The old man had stood when she walked in, Keely remembered. And he had said something. What…

Wendy Holden | 20 Questions: THE ROYAL GOVERNESS
Author Guest / August 28, 2020

1–What’s the name of your latest release?  The Royal Governess 2–What is it about?  The childhood of Queen Elizabeth II. In particular Marion Crawford, the unknown young Scottish teacher who helped make her the monarch she is today. 3–What word best describes your main character(s)?  Contradictory! Marion Crawford never intended to work for royalty. She wanted to work with children right at the other end of the social scale; in the slums of Edinburgh. She wanted to make a difference and help close the gap between the haves and have nots. Then a chance meeting with the Duchess of York, mother of Princess Elizabeth (now the Queen) changed her life forever. She was a royal governess for nearly twenty years, but her story ended very sadly. After a perceived betrayal, the royal family cut her off forever. 4–What makes your story relatable?  It shows the Queen as a vulnerable human being. She can come across as controlled and formal, but The Royal Governess reveals her as a loving and sensitive child. The warm and close relationship between her and Marion is the heart of the book. The two of them show a familiar period of British history from the entirely…