Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss
Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: FAMOUS ROMANCE
Author Guest / June 16, 2021

Although marriages take place all during the year, June was traditionally the month of brides and weddings. For this June, as we emerge from isolation to actually be able to attend events like weddings again, we’ll look at novels that relate the stories of some famous romances and marriages based on real events. Starting with the royal, we have BEFORE THE CROWN by Flora Harding.  In the years before World War II, young Princess Elizabeth’s visit with her family to the Royal Naval College leads to her meeting the naval cadet detailed to escort and entertain them—Prince Phillip, son of the deposed Greek king and nephew of her uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who becomes the major supporter of the romance.  Smitten with the handsome blond prince, Elizabeth’s attachment never waivers.  Nine years later, with the Prince a decorated combat veteran intent on a brilliant naval career, Elizabeth will fight tenaciously against her family’s reluctance and the court’s disapproval to insist on marrying none but this penniless foreign prince.  A tale of “royal secrets and forbidden love.” A commoner who became royal stars in our next selection, THE GIRL IN THE WHITE GLOVES by Kerri Maher.  Defying her proper family to…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: VIKING SPRING
Author Guest / May 19, 2021

The Viking invaders played a big part in the Conquest world of 1066 England whose stories were featured in last month’s column.  With May being spring in Norway—when we lived in Oslo for three years, our landlord declared the second week of May to be officially “spring” and allowed us to clear any remaining snow off our lawns then—this month we will explore more stories that illuminate the Viking world by interpreting the lives of historic and legendary Viking women.  As with the world of 1066, this era seems to attract writers who produce multi-volume sagas.  What greater delight to an avid reader than discovering a new series? We begin with THE NORSE QUEEN by Johanna Wittenberg, which reinterprets the life of the Viking queen Asa.  In the ninth century, Viking power is just developing, with the land still fragmented into thirty warring kingdoms that continually raid each other to pillage and capture wives and slaves.  Fifteen-year-old Asa, daughter of the King of Tromoy, is sought as a bride by Gudrod, king of a neighboring province.  Her refusal to wed him sparks a bitter reprisal, in which her family is killed, and to save her people, she must marry her…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: SPRING OF A NEW AGE
Author Guest / April 21, 2021

Coming out of a long winter after an even longer lonely miserable year, we look forward to a spring of hope and new beginnings.  In keeping with that, this month we’ll examine stories that reveal the backdrop to a moment of history that signaled a radical new beginning for England, when the ruling mastery of the island shifted forever from Saxon and Viking kings to the Normans.  But in a departure from the tomes of most historians, these novels look at these well-known events through the eyes of the lesser-known queens of the conquest era. We begin with SHADOW ON THE CROWN (THE EMMA OF NORMANDY TRILOGY #1) by Patricia Bracewell.  In 1002, young Emma of Normandy is sent across the Narrow Sea to marry much-older King Eathelred of England in a bargain to guarantee peace between the two kingdoms.  Told from the point of view of four protagonists—Emma, King Aethelred, his son Aethelstan and ealdorman’s daughter Aelfgifa of Northhampton, the story tracks Emma’s progress at the court.  Mistrusted by her husband, resented by her stepsons and harassed by a beautiful rival who would take her place, Emma must quickly learn to maneuver her way through the treacherous alliances of…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: The Ides of March
Author Guest / March 18, 2021

Every high school student reads about the famous betrayal of Caesar in the Shakespeare play but few learn much more about the period.  Especially lacking are in-depth portrayals of the females who played important but often under-reported roles.  The selection of books this month seeks to address that imbalance by offering striking fictional depictions of some dynamic and fascinating Roman women. Before Rome became the major power of the ancient world, there was the rival Etruscan city of Veii.  In THE WEDDING SHROUD: A TALE OF ANCIENT ROME BOOK ONE, author Elizabeth Storrs illuminates the rivalry between the two by means of an arranged marriage between a high-born Roman maiden and Veientane leader Mastarna.  Caecillia is an unwilling bride, dispatched to marry a man she’s never seen to cement a truce between the two cities.  To her surprise, she discover Veii in 365 BCE to be a much larger, more sophisticated city than Rome, a place where she can own land and make her own decisions, something impossible in Rome’s patriarchal society in which women are mere chattels of their fathers, brothers or husbands. Over time, she and her chance-given husband come to share a deep and sincere love, but…

Julia Justiss | History ReFreshed: The Valentine of Success
Author Guest / February 17, 2021

The month of romance conjures up thoughts of candy, cards, sweethearts, and gifts.  But for women who have historically struggled to make a place for themselves that isn’t defined or restricted by men, a truly sweet treat is to read uplifting stories of women who struggled–and succeeded–in expanding the narrow roles thrust upon them, striking out to master new ventures. In Karen J. Hasley’s WAITING FOR HOPE, a girl from a San Francisco brothel escapes the past to establish a new life and a new identity in the beauty of the wilderness.  After inheriting land and a cabin, Hope Birdwell sets off for 1905 Wyoming Territory, determined to succeed as a homesteader.  There she meets the Davis family, who offer her friendship and assistance, and John Thomas, a man in whom she might just be able to believe.  But when a brutish man from her past tracks her down, threatening all she’s grown to love, it will require all her courage and ingenuity to defeat his menace and emerge victorious. We meet another strong heroine determined to create a new life for herself in LOVE OF FINISHED YEARS by Gregory Erich Phillips.  After arriving at Ellis Island in 1905, German…

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…