Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss
Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: A Search for Normalcy
Author Guest / January 20, 2021

As we turn the page from a miserable 2020 into what everyone hopes will be a much better 2021, we’ll look at fiction that involves people trying to rebuild their lives after the even-greater tragedy of World War I—which traumatized the world by adding the first global pandemic on top of an already-horrific war.  In settings varying from England to France to Italy, this month’s collection of stories demonstrates that nothing is stronger than the human spirit’s will to survive. We’ll begin in England with THE POPPY WIFE by Caroline Scott.  Three brothers, Harry, Will and Francis, head off to war, leaving behind family and Francis’s wife Edie.  Only Harry returns.  But while Will’s death is confirmed and Harry was present when Francis was wounded and was convinced the wound was mortal, Francis is only “presumed” to have been killed in action.  When Edie receives a photo of Francis that appears to have been recently taken, she’s convinced he must still be alive.  She enlists Harry, who is working in France for grieving families who hire him to photograph the gravestones of the men they’ve lost, to help her look for Francis. As the story moves back and forth between…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: Larger-Than-Life
Author Guest , Author Spotlight / December 16, 2020

What a year 2020 has been!  Most of us can’t wait to see the last of it, along with fervent prayers that 2021 will be a much better 365 days.  While we’re waiting to move on, what better to distract us than novels about famous, larger-than-life heroines? Elise Hooper’s FAST GIRLS: A NOVEL OF THE 1936 WOMEN’S OLYMPIC TEAM deals with women who aren’t as famous as the others we will feature—but ought to be.  Veteran of the first women’s delegation to compete in the 1928 Olympics, Betty Robinson overcomes a horrific accident to join two newcomers as part of the 1936 Women’s Olympic Track Team. Farm girl Helen Stephens wants to escape the hardships of rural life, while Louise Stokes sees excelling in competition as a way to overcome the restrictions placed on Black Americans. All three must fight against the prevailing view that women are too “delicate” for competitive sports and should confine their activities to the home.  Hooper sets the struggle for an increased role for women against the vivid backdrop of political intrigue that was the Olympics held in Hitler’s Germany. From talented but lesser-known to the center of international scandal, we have THE WOMAN BEFORE…

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…

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…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: RED HOT SUMMER
Author Guest / August 19, 2020

As the hot breath of August inspires us to escape the heat with cold drinks, swimming pools, and air-conditioned spaces (alone or properly socially-distanced, of course) we’ll look at escapes into fascinating views of nineteenth-century life. Two of these visions focus on the California coast.  In CALICO PALACE by Gwen Bristow, two women from vastly different backgrounds arrive in California on the eve of the 1849 Gold Rush.  Kendra’s army colonel stepfather brings the family to San Francisco as commander of the city’s defenses during the Mexican War.  Marny travels from Honolulu to set up a gaming establishment.  Both end up following the gold craze into the mining camp of Shiny Gulch, where they set up the Calico Palace, a tent that evolves over time to become the most elegant gambling house in California. Rich in detail about the rapid rise of a sleepy town into a major economic powerhouse, Bristow’s tale illuminates the stories of miners and settlers, gamblers, and drifters, those dreaming of fortunes built on gold dust, and those ready to profit from those dreams. In BELLE CORA by Phillip Margulis, small-town New York girl Arabella Godwin grows up to become a woman so infamous, relatives back…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: Resisting the Beast
Author Guest / June 17, 2020

Last month we looked at lives impacted by World War I.  This month we’ll continue reading about the extraordinary feats and stoic acts of heroism men and women find themselves capable of when tested by the cataclysm that was World War II—a fitting topic as our world continues to battle an invisible modern-day enemy. Not all the heroics happen in desperate clashes between uniformed soldiers.  Jennifer Ryan’s THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR shows us the increasing strain of worry and scarcity in a small village on the English home front.  When the men of Chilbury go off to war, the vicar suggests that the church choir, stripped of its male voices, suspend operation.  Instead, several forthright ladies decide they will “carry on singing” as the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir.  Presented through letters and diary entries, the author follows the lives and struggles of the choir’s members, including an agonized widow whose only son goes off to war; a flirtatious teenager drawn to a mysterious artist, a refugee hiding secrets, and the choir director who inspires them.  Intrigue, heartbreak, and courage carry the ladies of this small town through these dangerous and desperate days. From England, we switch to Norway in UNDER DARKENING…

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…