Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss
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…

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…