I have updated my review and giveaway policies page (now just titled Policies above). If you are entering a giveaway, please read and abide by the applicable policy.

Attention Authors! If you arrived here looking for information on the Two Sides to Every Story guest post series, see the tab at the top of the page for more info!

Search This Blog

Friday, November 30, 2012

Movie Review: Sarah’s Key

sarahs key

Sarah’s Key
Hugo Productions
111 mins.
July 22, 2011
Rated: PG-13

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay was a book that I devoured and the subject matter would not let me go. It was so passionate, emotional, intense, and heart-rending. When I saw that the movie was coming out in theatre I had a mixed reaction to seeing it – would it be one of those that is faithful to the book or something that spins its own yarn? And more importantly, would I like it? I didn’t see this in the theatre – because the only way I wanted to see it was at a little local indie theatre, but I didn’t make it there before they switched films – however I finally got around to requesting it from Netflix.

This movie, like the book, jumps back and forth between the historical events of the 1940’s and the present day. In my opinion the historical sections were the much more interesting and well done; this is where the action of the story takes place, the Vel’ d’Hiv round up. You could sincerely feel the fear and emotion of what was going on then. These scenes were beautiful to look at – in a sort of macabre way. The modern day scenes featuring Kristin Scott Thomas as Julia Jarmond were more reflective and about solving the mystery.

I thought that the “historical” characters were well acted while I found the modern characters to be more one-dimensional with less than believable emotions. I found that I did not really care about what happened to Julia because they did not fully develop her story as much as in the book. Here she was primarily a vehicle to find out the story of Sarah Starzynski, and her own personal ordeals were only touched upon in the briefest of ways. For someone who has read the book, the narrative of the film didn’t quite pull at the heart strings – it hit all of the main elements, however it lost some of the pathos. In order to love this story you need to really be invested in both the modern and historical characters – this film half-heartedly does this with the historical, but didn’t put much effort on the modern. I would have liked a little bit more from the historical tale – to visually see a little more of the harsh reality Sarah faced. While a terrible ordeal, I think it would have created a deeper sense of the characters future decisions and created more of a connection to the character – as done in the book.

As is common for me, I preferred the book to the movie – however if you had not read the book, and did not have any intention to, it was a decent rendition. I do think that you get more out of the film by having read the book as you can fill in some of the gaps.

You can read my review of the book here.

Check out this trailer:



Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Review: Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt


Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt
Hardcover, 352 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
April 7, 2012

Genre: Historical fiction

Source: Received from the author for review

Daughters of the Witching Hill brings history to life in a vivid and wrenching account of a family sustained by love as they try to survive the hysteria of a witch-hunt.

Bess Southerns, an impoverished widow living in Pendle Forest, is haunted by visions and gains a reputation as a cunning woman. Drawing on the Catholic folk magic of her youth, Bess heals the sick and foretells the future. As she ages, she instructs her granddaughter, Alizon, in her craft, as well as her best friend, who ultimately turns to dark magic.

When a peddler suffers a stroke after exchanging harsh words with Alizon, a local magistrate, eager to make his name as a witch finder, plays neighbors and family members against one another until suspicion and paranoia reach frenzied heights.

Sharratt interweaves well-researched historical details of the 1612 Pendle witch-hunt with a beautifully imagined story of strong women, family, and betrayal. Daughters of the Witching Hill is a powerful novel of intrigue and revelation.”

Going in to reading Daughters of the Witching Hill I had never before heard of the Pendle Witches. I of course had heard of, and read widely, about the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, and had read some about various witch trials in England, but this particular group was unknown to me. Mary Sharratt does a fabulous job of initiating a novice into the basics of who these Pendle Witches were and what brought about their downfall.

While I found the story of the Pendle Witches to be not nearly as dramatic as those that surround the Salem Witches, I discovered that there seems to be a set of characteristics that typify these witch hunts/trials: they tend to be poor women from the outside of town, usually based on some type of grudge, and more often than not their spells and potions were types of religious prayers and homeopathic cures. One thing I always find interesting is how easily a town will turn on people they had traditionally went to for a cure when their horse was lame or their child was deathly ill. These were people that they obviously trusted and had developed a history as a person who could cure ills - however when bad news comes knocking at your door, the innate nature of self-preservation kicks in.

The first half of Sharratt’s book focuses on developing the characters of her witches and I surprisingly found them easy to make connections with. The second half deals with the unraveling of their life as accusations of witchcraft and their sham trials spiral out of control. This was a very fast read for me – read it in one day – and while it is not a high action novel – the drama of the daily life of these women pulls you in. There was one thing that I did not like about the novel – and I won’t go into much specifics because it might give the ending away – however I think the book would have been overall more enjoyable for me if the last chapter was omitted. It felt very out-of-sync with the rest of the novel and a little contrived. The information it contained would have possibly been better included into the afterward or an epilogue rather than as the last actual chapter.

Author Mary Sharratt also has written Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. You can visit Sharratt’s website or blog for additional information about the books. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?

You can also watch the book trailer below.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

My reviews of other books by this author:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, November 26, 2012

Author Interview with Susanna Fraser & Giveaway!!

I am excited to welcome historical romance author, Susanna Fraser, here to The Maiden's Court today - please help me to welcome her!  Although I don't typically read a lot of historical romance but her newest novel, An Infamous Marriage, sounds very interesting.  Stay tuned after the interview for a giveaway.

Northumberland, 1815

At long last, Britain is at peace, and General Jack Armstrong is coming home to the wife he barely knows. Wed for mutual convenience, their union unconsummated, the couple has exchanged only cold, dutiful letters. With no more wars to fight, Jack is ready to attempt a peace treaty of his own.
Elizabeth Armstrong is on the warpath. She never expected fidelity from the husband she knew for only a week, but his scandalous exploits have made her the object of pity for years. Now that he's back, she has no intention of sharing her bed with him—or providing him with an heir—unless he can earn her forgiveness. No matter what feelings he ignites within her… 
Jack is not expecting a spirited, confident woman in place of the meek girl he left behind. As his desire intensifies, he wants much more than a marriage in name only. But winning his wife's love may be the greatest battle he's faced yet.

I noticed from your website that you like to write about the period revolving around the Napoleonic Wars. What is it about this period that captures your attention?

Much of it is the incredible amount of upheaval that took place between 1789 and 1815. I imagine what it would’ve been like to be born in France or Britain in the 1760’s or 70’s, into a relatively stable world. Then, just as you’re coming of age or establishing yourself as an adult, what you’d always thought of as the natural order of the world explodes in a chaotic reinvention, and stays unstable and almost constantly at war for a good quarter century. I’m drawn to writing characters negotiating their lives and loves in the midst of that shifting world.

Was writing something that you always aspired to do or was it something that snuck up on you? Why did you choose to write historical romance as opposed to another genre?

I dreamed of being an author from the time I wrote a long story for a fourth grade class assignment. But all through middle school and high school I fell into a pattern of starting stories but never finishing them, and by my early 20’s I’d concluded I wasn’t really meant to be a writer, or I wouldn’t keep stopping 50 pages in.

Then, right around my 30th birthday, I had an idea for a story that I couldn’t get out of my head. Eventually I started writing it just to get the characters to shut up, thinking I’d get three chapters in and stop just like every other time. A little over a year later I had my first completed manuscript, and I haven’t looked back.

As for why historical romance, it’s one of the main genres I read--the others being mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and adventurous historical fiction (think Sharpe and Aubrey/Maturin). I write the kind of books I like to read. So far that’s meant historical romance, but I could definitely see myself branching out into fantasy or historical fiction in the future. (Mystery NSM--I rarely figure out whodunnit before all is revealed, so I’m not sure I could produce a sufficiently twisty plot.)

When you set out to write a novel where do you start - with a historical storyline or event that intrigued you or with a romantic storyline that you want to pursue and the historical part just will fall into place?

Somewhere in between. I’ve done enough general research on the era to have a rich mental stock of interesting facts and events, and I’m always thinking about character types and story tropes I’d like to explore. So my initial brainstorming process is putting my character/trope file next to my history file and figuring out which combinations would work well together. For example, An Infamous Marriage was marriage-of-convenience/infidelity-and-forgiveness/Waterloo.

How has the experience of writing your newest novel, An Infamous Marriage, differed from your previous novels? Anything that has become easier to do or something that you encountered with this subject that was difficult?

An Infamous Marriage was the first time I’ve sold a book on proposal rather than as a complete manuscript. That made it the first time I had to commit to and deliver by a deadline, all without deviating too much from the synopsis my publisher had accepted. The feeling of triumph I got from delivering it to my editor on schedule was almost as great as the first time I finished a manuscript.

Are you working on anything currently and if so, can you tell us anything about it?

My first novella will be coming out in 2013. Its title and release date remain TBD, but it’s an interracial romance set in the aftermath of the Battle of Vittoria in 1813, with a black British soldier for a hero. I’m working on a proposal for a full-length sequel to the novella, and I’m planning to try my hand at a Christmas novella as well.

When you are not writing, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?

I like to cook, read, and go to Mariners games. I never miss a new episode of Castle or Chopped, and lately I’ve been catching up on Doctor Who. When I had more spare time I used to sing alto in a choir, and I’d like to get back to that someday. For now I just try to find a sing-along Messiah or two every December.

I look forward to replying to your comments, but it’ll be late in the evening in most North American time zones before I get a chance. I have a full-time 8-5 day job and don’t get much time online till the evening.

Susanna Fraser wrote her first novel in fourth grade. It starred a family of talking horses who ruled a magical land. In high school she started, but never finished, a succession of tales of girls who were just like her, only with long, naturally curly and often unusually colored hair, who, perhaps because of the hair, had much greater success with boys than she ever did.

Along the way she read her hometown library’s entire collection of Regency romance, fell in love with the works of Jane Austen, and discovered in Patrick O’Brian’s and Bernard Cornwell’s novels another side of the opening decades of the 19th century. When she started to write again as an adult, she knew exactly where she wanted to set her books. Her writing has come a long way from her youthful efforts, but she still tends to give her heroines great hair.

Susanna lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter. When not writing or reading, she goes to baseball games, watches Chopped, Castle, and The Legend of Korra, and cooks her way through an ever-growing cookbook collection.

You can find Susanna on her: Website, Facebook, Blog, and Twitter

Now for the giveaway - there are 2 parts to this.

Hosted here, on The Maiden's Court, there is a giveaway for 1 E-book copy of An Infamous Marriage by Susanna Fraser (you can indicate the file type you want).  Open Internationally.  The giveaway ends December 16th.  You can enter to win by filling out the Rafflecopter below - please be advised, there is one mandatory entry - leave a comment on this blog post!

Also - there is a *grand prize* giveaway following the completion of Susanna Fraser's blog tour.  One commenter selected from all commenters throughout the tour will be selected for the grand prize - a $50 gift certificate to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Powell's Books (see why the note about commenting above is so important).  You get one entry per blog tour stop that you comment on.  You can follow along with the blog tour at Susanna Fraser's blog. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Upcoming HF Blog Hop!!

This is just a quick post to say keep your eyes open for the 1st Annual Historical Holiday Blog Swap - which yours truly is participating in!

It will run from December 10th to December 17th and is being hosted by Passages to the Past.  You will be able to enter to win historical related prizes at the various participating blogs as well as be entered for grand prize giveaways (right now consisting of a $25 gift card to Amazon or Barnes & Noble as well as some book prize packages).  My giveaway will be open to the USA and Canada - not sure what the prize will be yet - working on that!  You can check out the other blogs participating (or sign up your blog yourself) here.


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Movie Review: The Conspirator

The Conspirator

The Conspirator
The American Film Company
122 mins.
April 15, 2011
Rated: PG-13

The Conspirator tells the story of the trials of those believed to be involved in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln, focusing particularly on the trial of Mary Surratt. I found her story to be very interesting as the case presented against her was almost entirely circumstantial while the cases of the others involved were sounder. Her trial actually made me quite angry from the perspective of a student of criminal justice because so many rules were violated in her case. We also follow Frederick Aiken, who turned out to be a member of Surratt’s defense team. One of the things that I found interesting after reviewing The American Film Company’s website is that there is not a lot of information known about Aiken. One thing I would have wished for more of would be the actual plot and carrying out of the assassination and capture of John Wilkes Booth. It only occupied about the first 10 minutes of the film and left me wanting for more. Otherwise, the plot and pacing of the story were fairly well done.

For the most part, I thought that this film was very well cast. There were several marquee names and others B list names that I recognized, among them: James McAvoy (as Frederick Aiken), Robin Wright (as Mary Surratt), Evan Rachel Wood (as Anna Surratt), Justin Long (as Nicholas Baker), Alexis Bledel (as Sarah Weston), Norman Reedus (as Lewis Payne) and Jonathan Groff (as Louis Weichmann). I thought that Robin Wright was very impressive as Mary Surratt – the right amount of strength and fear. On the other hand, I thought that Justin Long looked very out of place in the time period. He has a very distinctive look and he looked like a modern day man dressed in the costume of the 1860’s. It immediately didn’t work for me.

The setting and costumes were beautifully rendered. You got a very sound feel for the period and the upheaval caused by Lincoln’s assassination.

I am quite impressed with this early outing by The American Film Company and look forward to the other films they have in the pipeline. You can read more about this film at the AFC website.

Check out this trailer:



Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mailbox Monday #126


Welcome to Monday…on Tuesday!  Hope you all have a short week this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday.  Anyone going Black Friday shopping?  For the first time in a few years I am not – having second Thanksgiving with my parents (going to my boyfriend’s parents on Thursday).  We are in charge of Thanksgiving dinner this year – somehow I think we will do ok.

Anyway – received two books this week. 

For review from the author (review at some point in January) – The Journey by David Heldt.  This is the second book in the series that begins with The Mine (also to be reviewed in January).  These are both in Ebook version.

I also received a copy of At Drake’s Command by David Wesley Hill (also on Ebook) from the publisher.  This one sounds like it might be more to my boyfriend’s liking so I passed the book on to him (since he got the Kindle Fire for an early Christmas gift) and will likely guest review the book her on the blog.

That’s all for me!  How did you fare this week?  Any big Thanksgiving plans?

Mailbox Monday is on a monthly blog tour and for the month of November it is being hosted by Bermuda Onion’s Weblog.


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review: The Gilded Lily by Deborah Swift & GIVEAWAY

The Gilded Lily by Deborah Swift
Paperback, 480 pages
St. Martin’s Griffin
November 27, 2012
★★★★ ½☆

Genre: Historical fiction

Source: Received from publisher for review as part of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour
“A spellbinding historical novel of beauty and greed and surprising redemption.
England, 1660. Ella Appleby believes she is destined for better things than slaving as a housemaid and dodging the blows of her drunken father. When her employer dies suddenly, she seizes her chance--taking his valuables and fleeing the countryside with her sister for the golden prospects of London. But London may not be the promised land she expects. Work is hard to find, until Ella takes up with a dashing and dubious gentleman with ties to the London underworld. Meanwhile, her old employer's twin brother is in hot pursuit of the sisters.
Set in a London of atmospheric coffee houses, gilded mansions, and shady pawnshops hidden from rich men's view, Deborah Swift's The Gilded Lily is a dazzling novel of historical adventure.”

Knowing that the author had previously released The Lady’s Slipper, and knowing that it was a companion piece to The Gilded Lily, I tried to find the opportunity to read it first, however due to time constraints that just did not happen. I had concerns that I would feel like I was missing something. I am happy to say that is not the case at all – however at times I made note that I would probably have had a more well-rounded reading experience had I read The Lady’s Slipper first.

Swift’s strongest skill is her ability to create a living, breathing world in which to place her characters. The pages just oozed 17th century London and the reader is instantly transported into the same dark alleys and hard-times that the characters are enduring. I especially enjoyed the fairs on the frozen Thames River. My previous reading experience with this time period has always been within and around the royal court and its entourage and the world Swift creates is almost as far as you can get in the other extreme. We experience poverty, sickness, hunger, freezing temperatures, etc among other travails the characters need to endure. We get the opportunity to peek into several professions of commoners – perruquiers (wig makers), shop attendants, maids, and pawn brokers – not necessarily common places for novel heroines to frequent.

Regarding one of the biggest did-she-or-didn’t-she moments in this novel, we are kept in the dark from about page 4 up until almost the end of the novel. While this would usually be something that frustrates me, the pace of this novel was so rapid that you didn’t even notice that you were suddenly 300 pages in and at that point almost done with the book. The book was narrated intermittently by three different characters and this was executed very well. You were never confused as to who was telling the story or what their unique perspective was.

A quick word about the cover (the US version) – for once I think that the cover artist may have actually read something of the novel because as I read the description of an outfit Ella was wearing I immediately turned over the cover – and there it was! Great job!

I can say that The Gilded Lily has been among my favorite reads this year and will likely end up within my top 10 reads. I anxiously await the time to be able to read The Lady’s Slipper.

Author Deborah Swift also has written The Lady’s Slipper, a companion book to The Gilded Lily. You can visit Swift’s website or blog for additional information about the book. You can read a sample of the novel here.

You can also watch a book trailer below:

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

My reviews of other books by this author:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).

Today was the kick-off day for the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for The Gilded Lily. You can follow the rest of the tour either at the HFVBT site or on Twitter with the following hashtag: #GildedLilyVirtualTour.

I also have the opportunity to offer 1 copy of The Gilded Lily to a lucky entrant. Giveaway is open internationally. The last day to enter the giveaway is December 1st. Complete the rafflecopter below to be entered to win. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Winner of The Lincoln Conspiracy

Happy Sunday everyone.  As is typical for a Sunday – I have a giveaway winner to announce. 

The winner of The Lincoln Conspiracy by Timothy L. O’Brien is….Maureen C!!!

Congratulations!!!  The winner has already received an email requesting mailing information and will then be passed on to the publisher.  If the winner does not respond within 5 days a new winner will be selected.

If you did not win this giveaway – why not check out the other stops on the blog tour and enter giveaways there.  Here is the rest of the tour schedule.


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Weekend Cooking: War Cake

Weekend Cooking

So some of you will have noticed that I have been re-reading/reading for the first time some of the Dear America diaries. Since I have been listening to them on audio book I didn’t remember that there were all kinds of extra historical content at the back of the books. Usually I peruse the Scholastic website to find the historical recipes that they have for certain books, but they didn’t cover the book I was looking for, My Secret War by Mary Pope Osborne (they primarily are only featuring the books that have been re-released since 2011). So I went over to Amazon and with their Look Inside feature I was able to access all the back pages with the historical content and found a recipe for War Cake.

As My Secret War is set on the home-front of the United States during World War II one of the aspects that is featured in the book is rationing. War Cake is a recipe that took into account the rations that were in place at the time. War Cakes came in many varieties. This version uses less sugar (because apparently sugarcane could be converted into gunpowder somehow) and also doesn’t use eggs or milk. I have heard from a co-worker whose wife makes a War Cake for her history class that her recipe uses bacon grease because that was something that was save due to rations on butter and oil.


War Cake
Makes 1 Cake

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
1 cup raisins
2 Tbsp. butter/margarine
1Tbsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
1 ½ cups flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ cup chopped walnuts


1)  Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour an 8”x4” (loaf pan).
2)  Place brown sugar, water, raisins, margarine, cinnamon, and cloves in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and cook gently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool until mixture is lukewarm.
3)  Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
4)  Add flour mixture to the cooled sugar mixture, beating until the batter is smooth. Stir in the walnuts.
5)  Spread evenly in the baking pan and bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto the rack to cool completely.

Recipe from My Secret War by Mary Pope Osborn, pg 178.


I have to say that my boyfriend was NOT interested in me making this cake. He certainly didn’t want to eat anything that had less or none of the ingredients that make a cake the “way it should be”. So initially I gave in to make boxed Halloween Fun-Fetti cake, except guess what, we had no eggs! So War Cake it was (which because of the rationing didn’t require eggs!)

Also, apparently I read the recipe wrong and used an 8”x8” baking pan, so they came out more like bars than bread but came out good none the less. Use a little less time (about 15-20 minutes) if you use the square baking pan.

I was pleasantly surprised by this cake. I don’t typically like raisins or walnuts in deserts but it really make the cake. It had a spice cake flavor which was nice. I topped the cake with a thin layer of cream cheese frosting which enhanced the flavor. My boyfriend even liked it. He said that he wouldn’t ask for it for his birthday but would eat it if it was made. So I guess that is a decent endorsement considering how against the cake he was. An interesting experiment in wartime rationing (I would never have eaten the bacon grease one I described earlier, and I sent this War Cake recipe home with my co-worker for his wife!).

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and any post remotely related to cooking can partake!


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The WPA and a Little Local History

In the novel Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara there is a lot of discussion about the WPA – Works Project (or Progress) Administration. Several characters in the book variously discuss trying to find jobs as artists in this relief program set up during the Great Depression. Artists were hired to create murals, depict local histories, or simply to beautify local areas. They also employed many laborers to construct various building projects. According to Wikipedia “almost every community in the United States had a new park, bridge or school constructed by the agency, which especially benefited rural and western areas”. These little tidbits brought to mind something I remember my librarian at my middle school telling me – there is a beautiful set of murals in the old middle school library (where I used to attend) that depict the life and time of the American spy during the revolution, Nathan Hale. He was a local hero in our town because he had lived in East Haddam and taught school there prior to the Revolution. I remember her mentioning that these murals were created as a part of the WPA. So now about ten years after that early discussion off I went to find out more about these murals.

The first problem was that I didn’t know the artist’s name, so it made it difficult to Google anything. Secondly, the school was closed about 3-4 years ago when a new school was built, so no one is in there currently that I could contact to get me some information. However, with a little digging, I did find a photo online with the artist’s name, W. Langdon Kihn. He is known for his works about Native Americans and many of his paintings are on display in art galleries. He also lived in my hometown for many years. Below it was something a little more interesting, FERA Project 1935. Now, the next logical question was what is FERA, because I thought this was a WPA project.

Apparently FERA, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, was a precursor to the WPA. It existed from 1933-1935. Like the WPA, they too employed unskilled workers in local and state government jobs as well as employing artists. So my librarian either had the wrong program, or more likely I remembered it incorrectly, but my local school’s murals were created because of these programs.

Below are some of the images that I have found of the murals from various sources (please be advised that none of these pictures are my own). There is currently an effort to try to save these murals because as the building stands empty with no plans in the works for its usage, these important local artworks are being exposed to a non-climate controlled environment. Apparently they are reporting it will cost more than $20,000 to take down the canvasses properly, or $8,000 to do high resolution digital photos of the works to then print on canvas to keep in the historical society. I really hope that they can save these murals because they have always had a place in my heart and are an important piece of local history. If you are interested, you can read more about the local effort to save the murals and how to donate to the cause.

Isn’t it amazing what a book can make you learn about a related topic?

nathan hale birth placeBirthplace of Nathan Hale, Coventry, CT
Photo Credits: Kevin Hotary for the Reminder News

nathan hale
General Scenes from the Life of Nathan Hale
Photo Credits: Kevin Hotary for the Reminder News

nathan hale school house
The Nathan Hale School House – a local landmark
Photo Credits: Kevin Hotary for the Reminder News

nathan hale captured
The Capture of Nathan Hale by British Troops
Photo Credits: Kevin Hotary for the Reminder News

nathan hale execution
Nathan Hale being Led to Execution for Spying
Photo Credits: Kevin Hotary for the Reminder News

w langdon kihn
Plaque with Artist’s Name: W. Landon Kihn, FERA Project, 1935
Photo Credits: David Winakor


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: My Secret War by Mary Pope Osborne


My Secret War: The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck,
Long Island New York, 1941
by Mary Pope Osborne
Dear America Diary Series
Unabridged, 3 hr. 15 min.
Barbara Rosenblat (Narrator)
April 1, 2008

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Source: Downloaded audio from my local library

“In a diary that brings to life the dramatic happenings on the home front during World War II, Madeline Beck is living in a boardinghouse with her mother while her father is on an aircraft carrier guarding the Pacific Coast. After discovering that a German U-boat has landed near her home - a little-known, true incident on Long Island - she and her classmates form "Kids Fight for Freedom" and participate in the home front war effort.”

This is another diary in the Dear America series this time focusing on the home-front effort during World War II. I haven’t read very much set during WWII, but what I have has primarily been set abroad. Not only was it new and interesting to see how the home-front reacted to the war, but also to see it from a child/teenager perspective was novel. We see many of the typical things such as book, blood, scrap and can drives, but I really liked how Madeline founded the “Kids Fight for Freedom” club. I’m sure that there were many such clubs like this where even the kids were doing what they could to ensure that their fathers/brothers/relatives would come home.

The main character’s father is in the military so we see what it is like to have a family member serving overseas. The letters that they send and receive are so precious to them and are a lifeline throughout the war. Madeline and her crush get caught up in the secret German U-boat landing. While this is a real event, it almost felt fantastical the way it was portrayed. The events surrounding the landing felt like right out of a spy/action novel rather than what you would necessarily expect from a Dear America novel.

This was a different take on the typical war story. There is sadness and dark times, but also times where the characters pull together to help each other through and forge deep ties with other community members. Even as an adult, I learned a lot about the way of life in a small town during this time period.



The narrator of this book was FABULOUS! I always say that when listening to a diary, the narrator has to be very convincing and truly evoke the character that they are voicing. You need to be able to believe that you are hearing the inner musings of the diary’s author – be in their brain perhaps. The narrator had the right mix of emotion, excitement, and sadness as were appropriate.

Author Mary Pope Osborne also has written Standing in the Light (another book from the Dear America series) as well as two books from the spin-off My America series (as well as other books). You can visit the author’s website for additional information about the books. If you are looking for activities to enhance your reading experience with your children, check out this discussion guide/lesson plan from Scholastic.

This book is currently out of print, but you can find it from used sellers or try your local library. Scholastic is currently working on re-releasing many of the books in the Dear America series as well as releasing new books in this series. More when it becomes available.

My reviews of other books in this series:

Reviews of this book by others:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N.


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Author Interview with Kim Rendfeld

Today I have the opportunity to host an interview with Kim Rendfeld, author of The Cross and the Dragon.  Her novel is set during the reign of Charlemagne which is such a different time period for historical fiction.  Read on for more about her work!


Your novel, The Cross and the Dragon, is set during the time of Charlemagne, around the year 778 – this is not a typical choice of time or setting.  What was it about this period that inspired you to set this novel, and your other works-in-progress, here?  How did you come to be interested in Charlemagne?

A German legend about Roland (Hruodland in The Cross and the Dragon) compelled me to find out who this guy was, and that led me to researching this period. What I found was great fodder for a writer. Among aristocrats in the Carolingian era, and the Middle Ages in general, the political and the personal were intertwined. Whom the king married was not only cause for gossip, but had real political consequences, including peace or war.

At the beginning of The Cross and the Dragon, Charlemagne (King Charles in my novels) is going to war with his ex-father-in-law, who is threatening Rome. I didn’t make that up. (If you’d like to know more about Charles’s high stakes family feud see my post on Unusual Historicals)

Charles was a complex man and every choice he made was political, from whom and whether he married to his choice of clothes (for more about the latter, see Unusual Historicals). He was intelligent and one of the few people able to read. Seeking knowledge himself, he had his sons and his daughters educated. He adored his daughters.

Charlemagne coinCharlemagne Coin
Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Yet he was also ruthless. Exhibit A: a mass execution of 4,500 Saxon warriors. In his defense, I will say he was responding to brutality. The execution followed devastating losses in battle from an enemy who burned churches and killed indiscriminately, young and old, male and female (more about that incident in my post on Unusual Historicals).

His personal life was complicated. He divorced his first two wives, yet was a steadfast husband to his last three. He seized land from his first cousin (and ex-brother-in-law). And one of his sons tried to overthrow him.

How can I resist this era?

Your website indicates that the story told in The Cross and the Dragon is inspired by legend; can you tell us more about this?

**What I’m about to say is a spoiler, so readers who would like to avoid it should proceed to the next question. **

Spoiler text is written in a white font, highlight this passage to read the answer to this question!

During a family vacation in Germany, I learned about the legend behind the construction of Rolandsbogen, an ivy covered arch on a high Rhineland hill. Roland builds the castle for his bride and goes off to war in Spain. He survives an ambush in the Pyrenees, but his wife is told he died. Not wishing to marry another, she takes a vow of chastity and joins the convent on Nonnenwerth, a nearby Rhine island. Roland comes back too late and spends the rest of his days at his window trying to catch a glimpse of her to and from prayers.

This legend is not true. The historic Hruodland died in the ambush at the Pass of Roncevaux. Yet the story left me with questions such as “Why would someone lie to the bride?”

**End of spoiler**

This time period would be difficult to research, I would imagine.  Is this true and where did you have to go to find your sources, and what kind of information did you have access to?

This era lends itself to a paucity of information. Few people could read and even fewer could write. But fortunately, some people did write things down, although they had an agenda, and better yet, scholars have translated medieval Latin for the rest of us. (Historical novelist’s disclaimer: any mistakes are mine and mine alone.)

My library includes:

  • Einhard’s The Life of Charlemagne translated by Evelyn Scherabon Firchow and Edwin H. Zeydel, written about 830-33, at least 16 years after King Charles’s death. You can read an older translation at Fordham’s Medieval Sourcebook.
  • Carolingian Chronicles, which includes the Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, translated by Bernard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers, written by several anonymous authors in the eighth and ninth centuries and one of Charlemagne’s grandsons.
  • P.D. King’s Charlemagne: Translated Sources, a collection of annals, letters, contemporary biographies, capitularies, and more.
  • Pierre Riché’s Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, which describes details of life outside the wars.

You have a companion piece to The Cross and the Dragon titled The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar and a work-in-progress about Fastrada, a queen of Charlemagne.  What can you tell us about these works?

Ashes is about Leova, a pagan Saxon peasant who has only her children left after losing everything in Charlemagne’s 772 war—her home, her husband, her faith, even her freedom. Leova will do whatever it takes to protect her children and seek justice against the kin who betrayed them. Yet the most agonizing dilemma for her and her family is what they will do when they find out a Frankish friend and protector is the soldier who killed her husband.

Ashes is mostly done. I’m making revisions to address issues my then editor at Fireship Press pointed out in The Cross and the Dragon such as head-hopping and use of Elizabethan English that doesn’t quite work in a medieval setting. I’m also delving a little deeper into historical details such as some of the practices of the Continental Saxons’ religion. Not an easy thing when you consider that they didn’t have a written language as we know it and the medieval Church did whatever it could to obliterate the religion, which it saw as devil worship. Readers who are interested can check out drafts of an excerpt and the first chapter, posted at www.kimrendfeld.com.

I have a rough draft for my novel about Fastrada, Charlemagne’s fourth wife, the most influential and the most hated. The core of this story has a modern ring to it: son who thinks he was cheated out of his inheritance rebels against his father, and when he’s caught, he blames his stepmother for his bad behavior.

I first learned about Fastrada in Einhard’s biography of Charlemagne. Einhard says Fastrada’s cruelty caused Pepin (Charles’s son from the first marriage) to rebel. I wondered: what did this woman do? None of the sources specify.

Medieval people defined cruelty as a bad thing you did to your own people; slaughtering the enemy was something to celebrate. We know about 4,500 executed Saxons from the Franks, who would have called the killing justice. The closest thing I can find to a medieval definition of cruelty is that some Thuringian rebels were blinded, barbaric to us in the 21st century but a standard punishment in Rome and Greece. Fastrada likely would have considered people who threatened to kill her husband traitors deserving harsh penalties.

Battle_of_Roncevaux_PassBattle of the Pass of Roncevaux
Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Primary sources indicate that Charles and Fastrada loved each other. An unusual entry in the Royal Frankish Annals says how they rejoiced to see each other again when Charles returned from Rome, and a letter from Charles expresses disappointment she hasn’t written to him and asks her to inform him about her health.

My take on Fastrada is that she might have been maligned, the victim of a backlash by men resentful of her power.

You previously worked as a journalist. What has it been like to shift to writing fiction?  Have you always wanted to write a novel?

Journalism has been both a help and a hindrance in writing fiction. Journalism’s time and space constraints taught me to get to the point. Maturing as writer has made me care more about having readers understand the story than impressing them with my cleverness.

But I had to break some habits. By its nature, journalism is distant. A news report does not take sides. It presents all sides, if possible, and lets readers make their own conclusions. Fiction is intimate. Readers are inside the character’s head. The writer is manipulating their emotions.

I flirted with the idea of writing fiction since high school in the ’80s and in the early ’90s made an attempt at a science fiction dystopia that, thankfully, never got published. I started on The Cross and the Dragon in the late ’90s because the legend I talked about earlier followed me home and refused to leave me alone until I started to write.

When you are not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?

With a full-time job, I have very little spare time. But I enjoy gardening. On nice days, it’s difficult to sit inside and write when I could be digging in the dirt or harvesting cherry tomatoes. On a related note, I enjoy cooking, although lately I’ve been sous chef to my husband. He made sure I got fed while I was in the throes of revisions.

My husband and I also like to take trips together, sometimes to state parks in Indiana, sometimes to Las Vegas. Anyplace we’re together is good.

Rendfeld grew up in New Jersey and attended Indiana University, where she earned a BA in journalism and English, with a minor in French. She was a journalist for almost 18 years at Indiana newspapers, including the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, The Muncie Star, and The News and Sunin Dunkirk, and won several awards from the Hoosier State Press Association.

Her career changed in 2007, when she joined the marketing and communications team at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Rendfeld gets paid to agonize over commas and hyphens, along with suggesting ways to improve writing, and thoroughly enjoys it. She is proud to have been part of projects that have received national recognition.

Rendfeld, a proud member of the Historical Novel Society, lives in Indiana with her husband and their spoiled cats. The couple has a daughter and two granddaughters.

Rendfeld opines about writing, history, and whatever else inspires her on her blog, Outtakes, and welcomes followers on Twitter.  You can also visit her on her website.


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mailbox Monday #125


Nothing says welcome to Monday like a full mailbox!  At least I have this Monday off due to Veterans Day!

This week I received 2 books -

The first is the audiobook version of Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly.  I really enjoyed the audio last year of Killing Lincoln so I am looking forward to this one.  I just need to finish Marie Therese: Child of Terror first…I received this one from the published through Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer Program.

I also received (2) copies of Aztec Revenge by Gary Jennings and Junius Podrug from the publisher.  I have no idea why I received 2 copies – so there will likely be a giveaway hosted here at some point.  My boyfriend read the first 2 books in the series (whereas I haven’t read any and this is the 5th or 6th book) so he might read/guest review this one for me here on the blog.  Will let you know more on this venture later.

That’s all for me folks, how about you?

Mailbox Monday is on a monthly blog tour and for the month of November it is being hosted by Edgy Inspirational Romance or BermudaOnion’s Weblog if it isn’t posted.


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Winner of Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow

Just a quick Sunday night update - the winner has been selected for the giveaway of a copy of Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey.  And that winner is:

Margaret Literary Chanteuse!!!

Congrats to you Margaret!!!  I have emailed the winner for her mailing information and if I do not receive a response within 5 days a new winner will be selected.

Thanks to everyone that entered!  This was a great turnout!!

If you did not win you might want to check out other stops on the Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow blog tour to see if any of their giveaways are still active.  I believe that you can still get in on the giveaway at The True Book Addict.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Quabbin Reservoir–the Inspiration for the Novel, Cascade

While I was in the midst of reading Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara I happened across a story on my local news. I don’t even remember what the story was about but they were showing the Quabbin Reservoir located in Western Massachusetts and something about it triggered something that made me think of the book. Well wouldn’t you know it, the events in Cascade are based on the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir – where 4 towns were dis-incorporated and “drowned” in an effort to bring more water into Boston.

So since that day, about 2 weeks ago, I have immersed myself in Quabbin. My boyfriend grew up not 20 miles from there and had never been there – but we plan to rectify that this spring, hopefully – and you know when I do I will post photos. There are lots of recreational opportunities there today as well as a visitor center where you can learn more about the reservoir. But here are some interesting facts to get us started:

  1. The area that now holds Quabbin Reservoir used to be the towns of Enfield, Dana, Prescott, and Greenwich, Massachusetts, as well as portions of several neighboring towns.

Enfield was the most prosperous of the 4 towns – there were many textile and wood product mills in the town. One of its notable residents was Edward Clark Potter who crafted the lions that stand outside the New York Public Library. There was also a railroad and 2 state highways that bisected this community.

Photo Credits

Dana was also a prosperous industrial center – their main industries were palm leaf braided hats and soapstone.

Photo Credits

Greenwich was more rural featuring a lot of farming but also had silver plating and match factories. They also featured several prominent summer camps and a golf course. During the winter, they exported ice for ice boxes in New Haven and New York. Most of the town is now below water with the exception of the tops of Mt. Liz, Mount Pomeroy, and Curtis Hill – which now stand as islands.

Photo Credits

Prescott was the smallest and most rural of the four. Accordingly they harvested primarily apples and had dairy farms, charcoal kilns and sawmills. It was the first city to sell to the water authority. There were only about 300 residents at the time of dis-incorporation.

Photo Credits

   2.    In the early 1900’s city managers knew that Boston was
          beginning to have a water accessibility problem, which would
          only increase over time. They began looking for ways to bring
          more water into the city. By 1930, it was decided that this extra
          water would have to come from the Swift River.

   3.    As you can expect there was opposition from the towns – who
          took their case to the Massachusetts Supreme Court – and
          ultimately lost.

   4.    All four towns were dis-incorporated on April 28, 1938. Some
         buildings were relocated, but a majority of them were razed to
         the ground and vast areas of trees were cut down and cleared.
         In all, almost 2500 people were relocated and 7500 bodies were
         removed from the local cemeteries and relocated at Quabbin
         Park Cemetery.

   5.    Water began to fill the region on August 14, 1939 following the
          sealing of a tunnel and it would take about 7 years to fill the
          reservoir completely. In the time prior to its completion, the area
          was used as a practice site for bombing planes prior to WWII.
          You can read more about that here.

What you can visit today: Most of the town of Dana is still above water and you can access the town common by foot where there is a marker denoting it. There are also cellar holes. Prescott Peninsula is still above water and can be visited with a tour by the Swift River Valley Historical Society once a year. You can still visit some parts of Enfield today – the entrance to Quabbin State Park and their headquarters are located on former Enfield property as well as Quabbin Observatory and Enfield lookout.  You can visit the Department of Conservation and Recreation website for more information.

Here is a really interesting set of photos I found on the Friends of Quabbin website. They show the area of Enfield from three different dates: 1927 (prior to dis-incorporation), 1939 (following the razing of the town) and 1987 (the reservoir is fully flooded) all from the same viewpoint.




Sometimes you can learn some fascinating things from reading a book! To quote Dr. Seuss – “Oh the places you’ll go!”.

You can read more about the Quabbin Reservoir and the drowned towns at the Friends of Quabbin site.


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Book Review: Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara


Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara
Unabridged, 11 hr. 36 min.
Madeline Lambert (Narrator)
August 21, 2012

Genre: Historical fiction

Source: Received download from publisher as part of Solid Gold Reviewer program at Audiobook Jukebox

“During the 1930s, a conflicted new wife seeks to reconcile her heart's ambitions with binding promises she has made

1935: Desdemona Hart Spaulding was an up-and-coming Boston artist when she married in haste and settled in the small, once-fashionable theater town of Cascade to provide a home for her dying father. Now Cascade is on the short list to be flooded to provide water for Boston, and Dez's discontent is complicated by her growing attraction to a fellow artist. When tragic events unfold, Dez is forced to make difficult choices. Must she keep her promises? Is it morally possible to set herself free?”

I have to admit that the first thing to catch my attention about this book was the cover- absolutely gorgeous and refreshingly different than most historical fiction on the market today. From there, the setting called out to me – Central Massachusetts in the 1930’s-40’s. Not only is that where I live but it is one of my favorite periods in American history because of the way of life and the onset of the war. And then there is the plot device of a town (like one I grew up in) that might or might not be destroyed because a big city needs more water.

The beginning of the book moved a little slowly for me. The author uses this section well to establish the characters, particularly to get us into the mind of the main character, Dez Spaulding. It is also to establish a connection with the town of Cascade – the daily goings-on and the way of life in a small community. After reading the whole book I can safely say that although it felt slow while reading, it was necessary to make you care about what might or might not happen to Cascade.

Once you reach a little more than half-way the pacing of the novel picks up significantly as we are dealing less with character development and more with what is going to happen to Cascade and all of the events surrounding that decision. For me, the real “ah-ha!” moment was when I realized that this book was loosely based on a real event that happened in Massachusetts in the 1930s – several small towns were completely dismantled to create the Quabbin Reservoir (more on this story to come this week). I also very much appreciated the inclusion of the Works Progress Administration and the desire of several of the artist characters to be a part of it because this is another aspect that hits close to home for me (again, more to come later). Once I engrossed myself in the local history my interest in the story really grew and could not put the book down.

The only thing that bothered me while reading this book was that every now and then there would be a statement that felt out of place, usually in relation to the us being told that “four years from now I would remember…” or something to that effect. It just seemed to clash with the way the rest of the story was written and I didn’t think that it added much to the reading experience.

This is one of those books that will stay with you for a long time after reading it. The characters are well-crafted and do not feel stereotypical or cookie-cutter – they feel like living, breathing, people. The plot is fairly unpredictable – just when you think you have figured out where it is going, it goes in a different direction. There is even a surprise at the end which had me saying out-loud “NOOOO!”. I also liked the ending – despite everything that happens. Cascade is a book that will make you think a little and was another one in which I waited a little while before deciding to write the review because I needed time for it all to settle into my mind.



I had a few more qualms with the audiobook narration. Frankly, I didn’t really like the narrator chosen for this book. Despite the beautiful prose, the narration was what frequently made me put the book down. For at least the first ¾ of the book the narrator didn’t really have any modulation or tonality to her voice. It all felt very blah – this could have contributed to how slow the first portion of the book felt to me. Toward the end of the book either I was too sucked into the story to notice it anymore, or she changed her manner of speaking because the end was, in my opinion, better narrated than the beginning. When she would voice one of the men characters it was very poor in my opinion – I would have preferred that she hadn’t tried to make male voices and it all sound the same. Also, these voices would often frequently be spoken softer than her typical narration of the main character – I’m not sure if this was a production issue or not, but I had to frequently turn up the volume during dialogues.

This is author Maryanne O’Hara’s debut novel. You can visit her website or blog for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?

You can also watch the book trailer below.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court