Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss
Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: Hard Truths
Author Guest / May 20, 2020

The devastation of war tests the human spirit to its limits, as individuals struggle to survive in desperate and dangerous circumstances.  With the war we’ve all been fighting the last few months against an invisible enemy, the topic is even more timely.  The following stories enthrall, astound, and invite us to look past the minor irritations and minutiae of our everyday lives and concentrate on what is truly important. This was certainly the case for the women involved in SEVEN DAYS IN MAY by Kim Izzo.  Despite the savage war being fought on the Western Front–and a warning from Germany that any ship crossing the Atlantic puts itself at-risk–New York heiresses Sydney and Brooke Sinclair stick to their plan to sail to England, where Brooke is to marry Edward Thorpe-Tracey.   While Brooke is excited to marry into the aristocracy, independent Sydney is drawn to the suffragette movement. Full of confidence in the future, the girls and Edward board the Lusitania for the seven-day voyage.  Meanwhile in England, Isabel Nelson, after escaping a scandal in Oxford, is grateful to have landed a secretary’s job at the British Admiralty’s mysterious Room 40.  Recognizing her skill at codes and cyphers, she’s soon put…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: Moving On
Author Guest / April 15, 2020

Moving out of winter doldrums into the warmth and light of summer is always an energizing time. In the historical fiction we look at this month, through struggle and persistence, women from very different pasts move beyond the limits of their beginnings to a flawed but fuller life. In THE GARMENT MAKER’S DAUGHTER by Hilary Adrienne Stern, Lena Rothman and her brother arrive at Ellis Island in search of the American Dream.  In early 20th century New York, their stories intersect with those of fellow immigrant Daniel Cowen, who longs to study law, labor organizer Jake Brenner, and his girlfriend Sophie. Stern follows her protagonists through the next fifty years, from sweatshop work, labor strikes, the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the fight for woman’s suffrage, continuing the story into the second generation with Lena’s daughter Rachael. Focusing primarily on Lena, we follow her efforts to defeat the obstacles placed in the way of immigrants, workers, Jews, and women as she carves a life for herself and her family in this new land, carrying through her story the themes of love, friendship, betrayal, survival, and hope. Laura Moriarty presents us with another story of changing values and perspectives in…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: God Bless Ireland
Author Guest / March 18, 2020

Continuing my tradition of featuring Irish-set historical fiction for the month of St. Patrick’s Day, I’m offering up a round of novels that begin before The Great Hunger of the mid-1840’s and continue up to after World War II.  Erin go Bragh! We begin with GALWAY BAY by Mary Pat Kelly.  Drawing on anecdotes from her own family history, author Kelly begins her multi-generational saga in Ireland of the “before times”—before the potato blight that brought starvation and forced exile.   Like other fisherman and tenant farmers, Michael Kelly and his young bride Honora Keeley must sell their catch and their harvests to pay their rent, leaving them dependent on potatoes for food.  When the blight destroys the potato crop three out of four years, determined not to let their children starve, Michael and Honora join two million of their countrymen and emigrate to “Amerikay.” With her sister Maire, Honora and their children make their way northward from New Orleans to Chicago, fighting discrimination and opposition as they settle there and help turn this once-frontier town into a thriving metropolis.  The story continues with their sons who fight in the Civil War, and eventually in Ireland’s struggle for independence from British…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: Four Fabulous Women for February
Author Guest / February 19, 2020

For your Valentine gift this year, I’m offering up an in-depth fictional look at four fascinating women who defied the rules of their time to live life on their own terms, bringing them fame, notoriety, love, and heartbreak. Moving chronologically, we begin with THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN by Stephanie Barron.  When beautiful, willful, wealthy Jennie Jerome, who grew up in Gilded Age Newport and Second Empire Paris, agrees to marry the son of a duke she’s known for just three days, she’s thrust into the maelstrom of British politics and society. The husband of the new Lady Randolph Churchill is a member of the Marlborough House Set, well-born men seeking political rank and fortune.  As a charming but free-thinking American skeptical of British social rules, Jennie quickly wins both admirers—and enemies.  Mother of one of the twentieth century’s most important men, she works to further her husband’s Parliamentary career while remaining true to herself.  And when, as tragic illness loosens her husband’s grip on sanity, she falls in love with compelling diplomat Count Charles Kinsky, she must decide how much destruction she’s willing to risk to follow her heart. The Churchill story continues with LADY CLEMENTINE by Marie Benedict, which gives…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: January 2020 – Looking Ahead, Looking Back
Author Guest / January 15, 2020

The traditional character associated with the month of January was Janus, the Roman god portrayed as two heads looking in opposite directions, one forward and one back.  Often the New Year is a time of appraisal of what has worked—or not worked—in the year gone by as we set new goals for the year ahead. The theme of past events reinterpreted in the light of the present is a trope popularized by novelist Kate Morton and other best-selling authors.  So for this month that traditionally draws upon the past to make reflections about present and future, we’ll look at several works of historical fiction that pinball back and forth between the current day and significant events in the past. Perhaps because the dangers and privations of war create drama and reorder all of life’s priorities, the “then” portion of all these stories takes place in either the World War I or II era. We begin with LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb.  The novel is written as a series of letters, beginning in October 1914 and continuing throughout the war, between Evie Elliott, her brother Will, and his best friend Thomas Harding, interspersed with chapters featuring…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: The Gift of Self – Extraordinary Women
Author Guest / December 18, 2019

Christmas—the time for exchanging gifts with those we love.  But sometimes, the greatest gift we can give is to ourselves, sorting through the clutter of everyday life and conventional expectations to discover who we really are—and having the courage to pursue that.  In this month’s selections, we look at four women who manage just that. We begin chronologically with ENCHANTRESS OF NUMBERS by Jennifer Chiaverini.  Ada Byron Lovelace was the famed Romantic poet’s only legitimate child, who grew up estranged from the father her bitter mother thought deranged.  Because of her mother’s fears that she might inherit her father’s “insanity,” Ada was from childhood kept away from tales of fantasy and make-believe and led to pursue mathematical and scientific studies, subjects in which she excelled.  Though she debuts and makes the expected society marriage, she never gives up her intellectual pursuits, maintaining contacts with a number of leading scientists and philosophers. Through one of her former tutors, she meets inventor Charles Babbage and becomes fascinated by his “Difference Engine,” one of the earliest versions of a computer.  She will eventually write for Burbage’s machine an algorithm that some consider the first true computer program.  Before her tragic early death, she…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: A Thanksgiving Treat
Author Guest / November 20, 2019

For one of America’s favorite holidays, that gathering of families and friends to give thanks for blessings and to share meals, I’m offering a dessert selection of books guaranteed to be delicious.  Fashion, gossip, weddings, tales of artists and actors…what could be better? We begin with Jennifer Robson’s THE GOWN.  As recent royal weddings demonstrate, the fashion world’s most feverish speculation revolves around the material and styling of the gown chosen by a royal bride.  In 1947, in the midst of a harsh winter after a long, grim war of rationing and privation, anticipation at the upcoming royal wedding was one of the few topics to lift the spirits of war-weary Britons.  This was nowhere truer than with Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the prestigious fashion house Norman Hartnell, who are thrilled to be selected for the honor of embroidering the iconic gown to be worn by Princess Elizabeth at her wedding to Prince Phillip.  Seventy years later, Heather Mackenzie is mystified to receive a legacy from her grandmother Nan–a set of embroidered flowers that closely resemble the motifs used on Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown.  As Heather sets out to uncover the truth behind the embroidery, her story…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: Druids, Gods, and Prophecies
Author Guest / October 16, 2019

For historical fiction this month, we travel back into the mystic past to explore the land of Druids, Danes, and followers of the Norse gods of Valhalla. What better way to honor Halloween than to delve into an era rich in mythic and supernatural traditions? We begin in the Nordic lands of the ninth century with Johanne Hildebrandt’s two-book series that chronicles the fascinating, violent period when the Scandinavian lands were fought over by adherents of the old gods and those converted to the new religion of Christianity. In THE UNBROKEN LINE OF THE MOON (VALHALLA BOOK 1,) as war rages between Vikings and Christians, rich and beautiful Sigrid holds to the old Norse gods, particularly the goddess Freya, who comes to her in dreams and reveals to her the future. Though her father wants her to marry Erik, a local king, to secure peace between Goths and Swedes, she finds herself drawn to Sweyn, a warrior seeking to overthrow Danish ruler Harald Bluetooth. Will she become Erik’s Queen, or risk all to follow her heart? In ESTRID (VALHALLA BOOK 2), Sigrid’s story merges with those of her twin offspring, Olaf, heir to the kingdom of Svealand, and his sister…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: Into the Sunset with Westerns
Author Guest / September 18, 2019

With summer already headed into the sunset in most locales, we’ll take a look at fiction set in the most famous of “into the sunset” areas–American-set and Western novels.  After decades of tremendous popularity, with the exception of a few movies and books–the “Lonesome Dove” series and remakes of “True Grit”–the genre has been out of favor recently.  But a few new and notable novels would like to reverse that trend. Proceeding chronologically, we begin with 355: THE WOMEN OF WASHINGTON’S SPY RING by Kit Sergeant.  Following the lead of the popular AMC TV show “Turn,” Sergeant presents the intertwining stories of three women who might have belonged to the secret spy ring referred to in Washington’s notebooks.  Meg Moncrieffe returned from boarding school in Ireland to find a colony in revolt.  Though her sympathies were initially with the British, her love for Aaron Burr persuaded her to look at another solution.  Elizabeth Burgin’s loyalties lay strongly with the colonists’ side after her husband died aboard one of the notorious British prison ships.  When a Culper Ring member approaches her, she’s ready to put herself–and her family–at risk to bring down the men who caused her husband’s death.  Initially furious…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: The Renaissance, A Lush Splendor
Author Guest / August 21, 2019

Complex as its luxurious brocaded gowns in rich colors, the Renaissance abounds in stories of intrigue, political maneuvering, lust, and murder, and features larger-than-life historical figures.  In this month’s column, we will look at four novels exploring this world of splendor and violence. We begin with THE VATICAN PRINCESS by C.W. Gortner, which features one of the Renaissance’s most fascinating characters, Lucrezia Borgia.  This novel, narrated in her own voice, deals with the central portion of her life, after her father, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, becomes Pope Alexander VI.  The beautiful Lucrezia and her brothers Cesare and Juan are stars of the Papal court–but also pawns in the political power games that seek to maintain the Borgias as the dominant family of Renaissance Italy. Her first marriage is annulled when the winds of fortune change, after which she is allied to a Prince of Naples.  His later death, and the convoluted scheming between marriages, lead to charges by her enemies that she was involved in murder and even incest. A third marriage to the Duke of Ferrara, scion of the equally powerful d’Este family, finally provides a measure of stability for a girl who has been forced to survive in a…