Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss
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…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: Daring and Danger – A Tribute to WWII
Author Guest , History / July 17, 2019

Continuing with WWII fiction in honor of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we’ll focus on stories that illumine some fascinating but lesser-known people and events in the war, most based in historical fact. We begin with THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM by Marie Benedict.  In pre-WWII Austria, beautiful—Jewish–actress Hedwig Keistler catches the eye of the wealthiest man in Austria, arms dealer Fritz Mandl.  Knowing that marriage to the powerful Mandl may keep her and her family safe from the rising tide of anti-Semitism, after a short courtship, Hedwig weds him.  Certain his glamorous wife doesn’t care about or understand the weapons he develops and sells, Mandl discusses them freely around her with his business partners.  But Hedwig is brilliant as well as beautiful, with a life-long interest in science nurtured by her father. When Mendl becomes ever more abusive and controlling, Hedwig flees from him, first to London and then to America—where she becomes film star Hedy Lamarr.  But she also carried with her the plans for the Nazi’s weapons systems—and an invention of her own that will pave the way for secure communications and cellphone technology. A look behind the glamorous façade, Benedict’s book reveals a woman as…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: Strength and Glory
Author Guest / May 15, 2019

As May brings the perfume of spring flowers, hinting of the warmth of summer to come, thoughts turn to vacation, rest and renewal.  What better way than to be an armchair traveler than to delve into historical fiction that explores the exotic worlds of the Far East? We begin in India with John Shor’s BENEATH A MARBLE SKY.  A cultural icon, the Taj Mahal is instantly recognizable.  Shorr’s novel gives us the story behind the building of this remarkable memorial by the emperor of Hindustan, Shah Jahan, in honor of his beloved wife Mumatz Mahal. Told through the eyes of the couple’s eldest daughter, Princess Jahanara, we are transported to a vast empire constantly rent by rebellion and religious strife, a place of fabulous wealth and dire poverty.  Trained in the techniques of strategy and influenced by her mother, the emperor’s favorite wife and confident, Jahanara takes over from that lady, advising her father, trying to protect her brother Dara, the rightful heir, from the machinations of his ambitious brother Aurangzeb, supervising the construction of her mother’s memorial—and falling in love with its architect, a man she can never marry.  Shorr’s novel reveals the richness of the princess’s world, full…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: Lesser-Known Tudors: The Lives of the Not-So-Famous and Powerful
Author Guest / April 17, 2019

One of the first harbingers of spring in my area is the appearance of several tiny flowers that thrive in the grass, a miniature violet with a bloom smaller than a fingernail and one plant with a bitty yellow snapdragon-shaped flower.  Easy to overlook, they are nonetheless beautiful. For this month of emerging spring, we will likewise look at the stories of some fascinating but relatively unknown Tudor ladies.  Most readers are familiar with the great names that dominate historical fiction of that era—King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Bloody Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth I.   Bypassing the famous, we begin with the woman who made one of history’s most shocking mésalliances. While most of the historical fiction interest centers on the later Tudors, ROOT OF THE TUDOR ROSE by Mari Griffith features the couple that began it all: Catherine of Valois and Owen Tudor.  All looked well for this French princess who married Henry V and soon gave him an heir.  But after his early death on campaign in France, Catherine is reduced to queen-dowager, living in the household of her young son, the boy-king Henry VI, and watched over by counselors eager to prevent an ill-advised remarriage–particularly her…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: The Wearin’ O’ the Green
Author Guest , History / March 20, 2019

For March, where can we look to for inspiring historical fiction but Ireland?  And as might be expected in a land of poets, leprechauns, fairies and tragic history, Ireland’s story lends itself to passionate sagas.  The first of the two series we’ll look at in honor of this St. Patrick’s Day is a three-book historical fiction epic featuring real Irish revolutionaries Robert Emmet and Michael Dwyer. In TREAD SOFTLY ON MY DREAMS, the first volume of the Liberty Trilogy, Gretta Curran Browne introduces Robert Emmet, born of the Protestant elite who rule Ireland.  But though, as the son of the State Physician of Ireland, his place is among the privileged, he also grows up imbued with a deep love of the land and a strong commitment to justice.  Troubled by the inequities and repression he sees around him, he sacrifices his brilliant scientific future and his standing among the elite by joining the United Irishman, a society which advocates the union of Catholic and Protestant.  Deemed a traitor to his class and religion, he is forced to flee to France, leaving behind Sarah Curran, the girl with whom he’s fallen in love. He returns five years later to begin his…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: Tapestry of Art and Scandal
Author Guest / January 16, 2019

Something about the richness and vibrant color of the brocade gowns of the Italian Renaissance calls up to me the decorations of the winter season—bright golds, reds, purples and candlelight glowing against the dark of winter.  So for this New Year’s column, we will look at several works of historical fiction that illuminate the art and politics of Medici Florence and Borgia Rome. We begin with BOTTICELLI’S MUSE by Dorah Blume.  Drawing upon much of what is known about the artist’s life, Blume presents the political and artistic cosmos that is Renaissance Florence through the focus of one of history’s most compelling painters, Sandro Botticelli.  While under the patronage of Piero Medici, during a visit to his sister at her convent, Sandro meets and falls in love with Floriana, a Jewish weaver who will be the inspiration for his masterpiece La Primavera. But disruptive forces are at work, the radical priest Savonarola exhorting not just against Jews, but decrying books, art and the Medici rulers themselves.  Deftly handling a large cast of characters, including notables Lorenzo Medici and Lucrezia Borgia, Blume’s story draws out the heart of Florence during one of its most tumultuous periods. The Savonarola movement also plays…

Julie Justiss | History ReFreshed: For Richer or Poorer
Author Guest , History / December 19, 2018

With Christmas nearly upon us, thoughts turn to gifts, gift-giving and what a “gift” truly means.  What could be a greater blessing than realizing the “American Dream,” proving that with hard work and determination, a person can come from anywhere with virtually nothing and achieve whatever success they desire?  The set of stories we’ll look at this month feature both “haves” struggling to fit into their world and “have-nots” determined to create for themselves a future better than their past. Moving chronologically, we begin with THE SATURDAY EVENING GIRLS CLUB: A NOVEL by Jane Healey.  The author follows the lives of four young immigrant women in Boston’s North End, who find friendship and hope for a better life amid pottery-making and conversation at the Saturday Evening Girls Club.  All must fight not just poverty and prejudice, but the traditional expectations of their conservative ethnic families. Enterprising Caprice longs to become an entrepreneur running her own hat shop; bookish Ada, to obtain a college education, stunning Maria to avoid becoming trapped, like her Italian Catholic mother, in marriage to an abusive alcoholic, while timid Theo yearns to escape the rigid requirements of her strict Jewish tradition.  The friendship and support forged…