Friday, November 24, 2023

The Middle Generation

I'm doing something a little bit different for this stop on the Coffee Pot Book Club tour for The Middle Generation. Normally, I would welcome author M.B. Zucker to the blog, as when he visited before. However, this time, I couldn't resist the opportunity to read his newly released novel and share my review with my dear readers. So, welcome to my blog's first book review! 

As some of you know, I have great admiration for John Quincy Adams, the protagonist of The Middle Generation. I was captivated from the first page when I realized that Zucker had not only written about the great JQA, he had done so in first person from John Quincy's point of view!

How exciting!

And how intimidating! I have toyed with the idea of writing a novel about Dolley Madison, but I hesitate when I think about being tasked with writing dialog for the Great Little Madison. How could I sufficiently enter that amazing mind? So, I was enthralled to see how this author had done so with one of the most accomplished statesmen of the nineteenth century.

The book opens with Adams in a cabinet meeting where he is the smartest person in the room. He is always the smartest person in the room, and like most men who find themselves in this position, he knows it. I laughed to myself at his observations of Treasury Secretary Crawford (whose presidential candidacy I'm sad to admit James A Hamilton supported). It was a great start that sets the stage for the intellectual story interspersed with Adams snark that this novel promised to be.

We also see the more personal side of JQA, and how he holds his family to the same high standards to which he holds himself. This habit, inherited from his own parents, is damaging to relationships and many of the Adams clan that turn to alcoholism to escape it, but John Quincy, like his father before him, demands perfection.

When John Adams informs his son that he "must" achieve the presidency - and hold it for two terms, JQA feels the pressure even as an adult at that time serving as Secretary of State.

"It was now an issue of life and death. Failure would destroy me and my family. A disgrace for generations. Through history. My name synonymous with shame."

This just before Abigail rings in with her own dig at them both, "Yes! We shall have a two-term President in this family."

And you thought you came from a dysfunctional family!

This novel is introspective. It serves to give access to the reflections of John Quincy Adams to those who will never read his volumes of diaries. Having read some of the entries that have pertained to my own research, I believe Zucker has retained the character of JQA in the thoughts and dialog he has written for him. And there's lots of dialog. As is appropriate for a novel about JQA, more time is spent in conversation than in action, and those discussions take place with all of the biggest names of the day: Monroe, Calhoun, Clay, and a variety of foreign diplomats.

The reader gains an appreciation for the work of Secretaries of State that often gets little attention or respect. JQA worked tirelessly to gain the US status as a strong, independent nation, and he had a vision for his Presidency that would have benefitted Americans if they hadn't been so obsessed with the authoritarian brute they elected to replace him instead. Adams was, like many great men before him, too far ahead of his time.

This novel ends before he fully realizes that, with his inauguration and hopes still intact. Maybe Zucker will write more about JQA. I'd love to follow him through his presidency and the defense of the Amistad captives - those years where he fully recaptured any virtue he might have feared lost through his partnership with Clay.

I wish Americans were more interested in these formative years of the early 19th century. If you are, I recommend picking up this book.

The Middle Generation: A Novel of John Quincy Adams and the Monroe Doctrine
by M.B. Zucker

The classical era of American history began with the Revolution and ended with emancipation. Between these bookends lies the absorbing yet overshadowed epic of a new nation spearheading liberty’s cause in a world skeptical of freedom arriving at all, much less in slaver’s garb. M. B. Zucker takes readers back to that adolescent country in the care of an enigmatic guide, John Quincy Adams, heir to one president by blood and another, Washington, by ideology. Adams is the missing link between the founders and Abraham Lincoln, and is nigh unanimously regarded as America’s foremost Secretary of State. Through Adams’ eyes, readers will experience one of history’s greatest and most forgotten crises: his showdown with Europe over South American independence, the conflict which prefigured the Monroe Doctrine. 

With his signature dialogue and his close study of Adams’ 51 volume diary, M. B. Zucker’s The Middle Generation is a political thriller and character piece that surpasses his achievement in The Eisenhower Chronicles and ascends to the cinematic heights of the historical epics of David Lean and Steven Spielberg. It is an unforgettable portrait and a leap forward for one of our rising historical fiction novelists. 

Get your copy at Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble.
If you're in the DC area, check out your local B&N for copies!

Connect with M.B. Zucker

M. B. Zucker has been interested in storytelling for as long as he can remember. He discovered his love of history at fifteen and studied Dwight Eisenhower for over ten years. Mr. Zucker earned his B.A. at Occidental College and his J.D. at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He lives in Virginia with his wife.

Connect with him through his website or on TwitterFacebook, InstagramLinkedInAmazon Author Page, and Goodreads

If you enjoyed this review, please join me on Goodreads! While I don't review 100 books each year as I once did, I do share what I'm reading & some reviews on those books that I feel most strongly about. I'd love to know what you're reading too!

London Tales

If you've read my Women of the American Revolution, you might remember Dolley Madison's escape from Washington DC before British soldiers captured and burned the city. This was the biggest news in the US in 1814, but what was happening in London? Author Tim Walker joins me today with an excerpt from his London Tales.

Welcome, Tim!

~ Samantha

Holly's Dream, An Excerpt

Guest Post by Tim Walker

In the winter of 1813-14 the River Thames froze over for the last time, allowing an ice fair to attract revellers onto the frozen river. At her father’s suggestion, 14-year-old Holly attempts to erase a recurring nightmare of a face under the ice by telling the story of the unfortunate victim, Mabel…

The moon disappears behind the clouds, but the street is lit by gas lanterns on high poles. I’ve rarely walked around after midnight, so I find these new gas lamps to be the most wondrous things, and I glance up at the flickering flames. We head east, past Westminster Abbey, following the line of the river. Night watchmen hunch over their brazier, warming their hands. One turns to stare at us as we hurry past, but says nothing. After a while, I turn at the sound of horse hooves on the cobbles, and gasp at the sight of Master Albright’s footman on his Hanson carriage, swishing his whip over the horse’s rump.

“Quick, this way!” I hiss, in a loud whisper, grabbing Mabel’s hand and running down a narrow passageway between two warehouses towards the river.

We run along the embankment and onto Old London Bridge, its leaning houses lit up by gaslight. There are lights from the windows, as some foolhardy folk still stubbornly dwell in the structures condemned for demolition. To cheer us up, I start singing in puffs of cloudy breath:

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

Mabel smiles and sings the next bit, as we swing our arms:

Build it up with wood and clay,
Wood and clay, wood and clay,
Build it up with wood and clay,
My fair lady.

“It’ll take much more than wood and clay to fix this bridge,” I say, stopping to look back. The bridge approach is shrouded in darkness, and all is still.

I lead Mabel between houses to the railings to catch our breath and I look down on the river. The edges are still solid ice with people on. Ice flows to my left are like an army of snow dwarves bobbing down the dark central channel. I study the pinpoints of light where coals glow red in braziers as groups huddle around, warming their hands or toasting bits of meat on skewers. I’m transfixed in that moment and feel myself frozen to the spot. A squeeze on my hand brings me to my senses.

“They should be careful,” Mabel says in cloudy puffs, “that ice will be thinning.” There is fear in her eyes at a returning memory, and I hug her.
A girl screams, and a shudder runs through me, but it’s only a redcoat soldier, grabbing a girl who struggles playfully. She breaks away from his grasp and shuffles across the ice in shoes wrapped in rags, glancing back, hoping he will follow. He does and grabs her arm by the steps that go to the embankment walk. 

The Authors Note:
Between 1609 and 1814, the surface of the river Thames froze over twenty-four times. Londoners marked some of these occasions with Frost Fairs, erecting market stalls, playing games and cooking meat on the icy surface of the river. Holly’s Dream is set in 1814, the year of the last frost fair, during the reign of ‘mad’ King George III. It was the year before the Battle of Waterloo, where the Duke of Wellington and his allies finally put an end to Napoleon’s dream of a European empire ruled by France and cemented Britain’s rise as a major military power.

The story centres on the abduction or purchase of poor children to work under strict supervision in return for board and lodgings, a common practice in the 18th and 19th centuries. Children would be trained to make household goods or be forced to work at a range of jobs from house maids to chimney sweeps. The most unfortunate would have been the victims of sexual abuse or forced into prostitution.

London Tales

This collection of eleven tales offers dramatic pinpricks in the rich tapestry of London’s timeline, a city with two thousand years of history. They are glimpses of imagined lives at key moments, starting with a prologue in verse from the point of view of a native Briton tribeswoman absorbing the shock of Roman invasion. The first story is a tense historical adventure set in Roman Londinium in 60 CE from the perspective of terrified legionaries and townsfolk facing the vengeful Iceni queen, Boudica, whose army burnt the fledgling city to the ground.

Further historical dramas take place in 1381 during the Peasant’s Revolt, the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the last ice fair on the frozen Thames in 1814. These are followed by a romance set during the Blitz in 1941, then the swinging Sixties and wide-flared seventies are remembered in the life story of fictional policeman, Brian Smith. Moving on, an East End family get a fright from copycat killings that are a throwback to the 1888 Jack the Ripper murders.

There’s a series of contemporary stories that reference recent events, including the London terrorist bombings of 2005, a literary pub crawl and a daring prison break, building to the imagined death throes of London in a chilling, dystopian vision. These stories are loosely inspired by the author’s personal experiences and reflections on his time living and working in London in the 1980’s and 90’s. Adaptability, resilience, conformity and resolve are recurring themes.

London Tales evokes the city’s rich history and the qualities that were needed by Londoners at various times to survive and prosper – from the base and brutal, devious and inspired, to the refined and civilized. 

Available from Amazon in e-book, paperback, Kindle Unlimited and audiobook formats, London Tales is a companion volume to Thames Valley Tales.

Book cover designed by Sean McClean, shows elements from stories.

Connect with the author

Tim Walker is an independent author living near Windsor in the UK. Although born in Hong Kong in the sixties, he grew up in Liverpool where he began his working life as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper. After attaining a degree in Communication Studies he moved to London where he worked in the newspaper publishing industry for ten years before relocating to Zambia where, following a period of voluntary work with VSO, he set up his own marketing and publishing business. He returned to the UK in 2009.

His creative writing journey began in earnest in 2013, as a therapeutic activity whilst recovering from cancer treatment. He began writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages, in 2014, inspired by a visit to the part-excavated site of former Roman town Calleva Atrebatum at Silchester in Hampshire. The series connects the end of Roman Britain to elements of the Arthurian legend and is inspired by historical source material, presenting an imagined historical fiction of Britain in the fifth and early sixth centuries.

The last book in the series, Arthur, Rex Brittonum, was published in June 2020. This is a re-imagining of the story of King Arthur and follows on from 2019’s Arthur Dux Bellorum. Both titles are Coffee Pot Book Club recommended reads. The series starts with Abandoned (second edition, 2018); followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017); and book three, Uther’s Destiny (2018). Series book covers are designed by Canadian graphic artist, Cathy Walker.

Tim has also written two books of short stories, Thames Valley Tales (second edition 2023), London Tales (2023); a book of verse, Perverse (2020); a dystopian thriller, Devil Gate Dawn (2016); and three children’s books, co-authored with his daughter, Cathy – The Adventures of Charly Holmes (2017), Charly & the Superheroes (2018) and Charly in Space (2020).

Tim took early retirement on medical grounds and now divides his time between writing and helping out at a Berkshire-based charity, Men’s Matters.

Find out more about the author at his website, Goodreads Author Page, Amazon Author Page,

Sunday, November 19, 2023

City of Chaos

Good morning, dear readers! If you haven't read Masterworks yet, here's more inspiration to pick up your 99c copy. Author Tempest Wright joins me today with some of the history behind her story, A Good and Proper Lunacy. Welcome, Tempest!

~ Samantha


City of Chaos

Guest Post by Tempest Wright

“Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ”—Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!”

This was the slogan of the French Revolution. 

But the Rebellion of 1832, while sometimes mistaken for that revolution, was nearly 43 years after the original started. That being said, it worked perfectly within the time of Hughes Merle, the artist I tried to bring to life in A Good and Proper Lunacy. Once I began my research, I was a little surprised at just how much chaos there was in Paris after that first and pivotal revolution. So let me introduce you to the City of Chaos.

A Tale of Kings

Once the floodgates of the first revolution opened, there was no stopping it. Parisians within the span of fifty years, watched their monarchy fall; the resulting republic give way to the Reign of Terror; the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonapart and then the attempted restoration of a Bourbon monarchy. Keep in mind they were at war for almost 20 years while these changes took place.

The Bourbon Restoration included the nearest relatives of the guillotined King and Queen, waiting for the chance to be the new monarch. The second of them was Charles X. 

His preference for the ultra-royalists in his government earned him no popularity and when it seemed clear that the government under him did not care for their “constitutional monarch”, Charles tried to silence opposition through restricting the press and pushing the country back to its Catholic faith. When these did not succeed in demanding respect, Charles sought to dissolve the elected chamber and restore himself as the all-powerful monarch of France. 

You may imagine how this was received. 

In 1830, the July Revolution took place, making Charles X flee, and abdicate on the condition that his grandson be the next ruler. But the government cared little for his opinion. Thus, the next King, still of Bourbon descent, Louis- Phillipe, paraded through a hostile crowd towards Hotel de Ville, where he won the support of Republican Lafayette. As Lafayette was something of a symbolic leader of the revolution, his support for Louis was accepted by the people, and Louis-Phillipe became the next King of France. 

The Revolution of 1832

Two years had passed and some of the revolutionaries had soured on Louis -Phillipe and their “Citizen King”. The Republicans thought it a failure; they had risked their lives in 1830 to create a Republic, not to put another King on the Throne. The middle class and bourgeoisie however, were victorious in finding a King that would allow them to retain their power of influence- most of the voting or suffrage was done by these men. 

Thus a new rebellion was spawned; one that Victor Hugo immortalized, and one in which we find Hughes Merle, Gabriel, and Dr. Abbot struggling through the barricades of revolutionary Paris, each with their own ends. 

The City of Slums and Barricades

Few people today would ever think of Paris as a slum. 

But in 1832, Paris, slums were common. While some of the streets in the city, such as the Rue Saint-Honore, were wider and the houses within them catered to the middle and upper class, many of the poorer neighborhoods had retained what Victor Hugo quoted as, “their medieval charm”. Streets were narrow and winding through parts of the city, sometimes housing as many as ten people from the same family in one room

These streets – narrow and cramped – were ideal for barricades. Rebellions and revolutions erupted multiple times during the Bourbon Restoration and barricades were an integral part of these rebellions. They provided shelter and protection from which to fire whatever weapons against the King’s army, and slowed down its progress. But in 1832, Louis Phillip’s cannons saw that the rebellion was quenched – and quickly. 

City of Sons and Rebels

In many of the sources I’ve found, including The Insurgent Barricade by Mark Traugott and the artist biographies I could find on Hughes Merle, there is little support for Louis Phillipe’s way of defending his government. It was brutal, but there shouldn’t be much surprise either.

Those with power in “The Citizen King’s” reign had seen first-hand what a republic could do. Louis Phillipe and Francois Guizot, his advisor credited for the army’s harsh retaliation, had been in exile from their home, and even saw some of their father’s pay the ultimate price at the hands of the First Republic. 

While not condoning King Charles X entitled right of Kings, Louise Phillipe’s government didn’t want a repeat of Robespierre’s Reign of Terror. 

But as Louis fed the hands that gained him power, the poor suffered, and the income gap widened. Cholera spread in the summer of 1832, killing thousands and propagating theories that we might as well call, “conspiracy theories” that the King used it to off his opposition. Such theories, we know now to be ludicrous. Republican activists gave rise to the people’s fears, and propped up revolutions and rebellions that fed others in later years. Revolution had literally become a way of life. 

City of Light

The city of Paris as we know it today, was reformed in the 1870’s. Since then, it has become known as the City of Light, and garnered tourists with its wide streets, shops and cafes, that make us think of a Paris so different from the one Hughes Merle knew. 

But it’s there. Buried in history, maybe, but not that deep. And that is how within the lifetime of one artist, a City of Chaos transformed into the City of Light.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Masterworks: Legacy


Good morning, dear readers! If you haven't already heard, I have a short story included in the latest Historical Writers Forum anthology, and it features James A Hamilton. I'm still buried in research to complete my biography of James due out in early 2025, but you can read this short story, along with ten others, for only 99c on Kindle.

The theme of this anthology is works of art, and each story is based upon a painting, sculpture, musical instrument, or some other artistic inspiration. One clever story is told from the point of view of a painting that has been observing visitors since Elizabethan times. Mine is based upon the Robert Ball Hughes sculpture of Alexander Hamilton that was destroyed in the Great Fire of New York, less than a year after its installation in 1835.

Can you imagine growing up as the son of such a famous, brilliant, controversial man? One who was forever remembered in his prime, since he never lived beyond it? James A Hamilton lived to be ninety, and during the Civil War he was in his seventies, with a long and interesting life to reflect upon. His mother had instilled in him a deep need to honor his father's legacy. Did he think he had sufficiently done so?

He had failed to save the marble statue during the Great Fire, though he had been part of the tireless team that managed to halt the advance of the flames. However, in many other, more important ways, James would have made his father proud, perhaps especially in how he spoke in favor of abolition of slavery during the Civil War.

Read my James A Hamilton story, Legacy, in Masterworks, the latest anthology from Historical Writers Forum! Only 99c on Kindle, FREE with Kindle Unlimited, and available in paperback.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Many One Sings of the Grass: The Historical, Legendary, and Religious Roots of Robin Hood

I'm pleased to welcome author Avellina Balestri to the blog today! She shares that there is much more to the character of Robin Hood than most of us realize. Join us to dig deeper into this familiar legend!

~ Samantha


Many One Sings of the Grass: The Historical, Legendary, and Religious Roots of Robin Hood

Guest Post by Avellina Balestri

“There’s many one sings of the grass, the grass, and many one sings of the corn, but those that sing of good Robin Hood know little where he was born.” – Traditional ballad

When writing my novel Saplings of Sherwood, the first book in a planned Robin Hood retelling series, The Telling of the Beads, I did so with the keen awareness that I was simply adding another thread to an already impressive tapestry. The legend of Robin Hood seems destined to never outgrow its own relevance, even as it resists being pinpointed with any historical certainty. It has been adapted to the needs of every era and medium of storytelling, and its popularity shows no signs of waning. 

The tales draw inspiration from the exploits of medieval English outlaws who came to be regarded as folk heroes for defying oppressive hunting restrictions and lightening the purses of travelers from privileged classes. They dwelt in the vast forests of Sherwood and Barnesdale and sometimes forged mutually beneficial alliances with those on the margins of society. Other historical sources include the feats of Saxon and Welsh rebels who took a stand in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, and supporters of Simon de Montfort, who challenged the authority of the crown in order to establish a regular parliament. Their daring resulted in them being banished, and branded with the epithet “wolf’s heads.” 

Beyond history, the enigmatic Green Man of myth prefigures Robin Hood in his style of executing primal justice and challenging passers-by to test their mettle. We find here the archetype of the trickster and mischief-maker who, like the wily Reynard the Fox of medieval fables, leads us on a wild goose chase, only to turn on his heel and pursue us instead. He is the essence of all things that grow and wither in their allotted time, proclaiming that “no man dies before his day,” and when he appears with the antlers of a stag and blows his hunting horn, the souls of the deceased are gathered together and swept into the Wild Hunt, which takes them across the veil to the Otherworld. 

This unique combination of cultural facets, through which each passing generation has shone new light, serves as a testament to the endurance of the human spirit. It is a song that never sleeps, for it strikes a universal chord within our consciousness that makes us merry even amidst travail. In this way, there is truth to the saying that Robin Hood dwells in all the forests of the world. He is an everyman who straddles classes and embodies natural law, enforcing an order carved deeper than any man-made construct, something eternal, even divine. He is the thin line between chaos and concord, the Lord of Misrule and the Prince of Thieves, who reflects the image of our complex yearnings for wholeness in a corruptible universe. 

In addition to the character’s universality, he also possesses a particularity of place. He is a personification of the soul of England, shining bright with the memory of the ancient Anglo-Saxons and their unique expression of liberty. He springs up from the fertile ground of poaching culture, defending the rights of Englishmen to share in the bounty of the land. In his kingdom of merry Sherwood, all serfs are made free and all displaced find a home. The greenwood is the heart of England, and we are invited into it with all hospitality, but must expect our status to be leveled. Robin Hood is a king for the common man, and rules by the consent of those who love him. 

Yet there are boundaries which he remains within, and therein lies his greatest power. He does not give himself over to the seduction of the wilderness, but holds himself to a code that often surpasses that of the establishment. He cannot cast out the conquering Normans, but must learn to live with, and even learn from, them. Like the Magna Carta, he exists to curb tyranny, but he would happily shed his blood as a loyal subject of his rightful King, acknowledging an authority above his own. He is not simply a wish-fulfilling fantasy, for he mingles with our reality, walking a tightrope between rebellion and restraint. In this, he is the incarnation of that quiet revolution defining the history of his country, that gleam within the diamond set in the silver sea. 

My first introduction to the legend came at age six when I fell in love with the charming and clever fox from the Disney animated feature. While it was expected that parental figures might meet an untimely end for the sake of a main character’s coming-of-age arc, Robin was a roguish hero who I still feared might come to harm for putting his life on the line, time and time again, on behalf of the most vulnerable in his society. This showed another side of love that went beyond the instinctive sacrifice of a parent for their child and was offered freely to strangers. 

“I only wish I could do more,” Robin tells the mother rabbit in one of my favorite scenes, as he hands her a bag of coins. “And keep your chin up. Someday there’ll be happiness again in Nottingham. You’ll see.” 

“Oh, Robin Hood,” she murmurs, tears filling her eyes, “you risk so much to keep our hopes alive. Bless you. Bless you.” 

This, to me, is the heart of the film and the character – the reason why he became real to me when I was young and feels no less real to me now. It is why I could not go romping in the fields and woods surrounding my house without picking up sticks to brandish or bend into bows. It is why I could not put pencil to paper without scribbling new adventures in Sherwood, in words and drawings. It is why I became a lover of Britain, her colorful history and heritage, and the endearing and indomitable spirit of her people. It is what ultimately led me to roam the courtyard of Nottingham Castle where the famous Robin Hood statue and plaques are to be found, soaking in the timeless drizzle of English rain. 

And yet I never ceased to be haunted by the thought that he could be killed. Collections of the tales often end with the melancholy scene of Robin shooting his last arrow as he bleeds to death, having been betrayed at his weakest moment of illness and old age. I have come to see transcendence at play here, not unlike that present in the Arthurian Cycles when the Kingdom of Camelot crumbles, and the mortally wounded King Arthur is borne across the sea to nurse his grievous wounds. With few words of consolation offered, we are yet given cause to hope that should everything in this world come undone, there is a deeper reality that endures, and for which we should strive. Time is a part of eternity, and we are all bound up in the fathomless mystery of dying and rising. 

Delving into such classic literature from Christendom, one can see the Gospel of Jesus Christ undergirding it. Many of Robin Hood’s adventures take the form of parables where the last are made first, and the first last. Outcasts feast at table while hypocrites are dispossessed. He may rob and ridicule unscrupulous bishops and abbots, but he is still, at heart, a true son of the Church, who will not plunder even candlesticks consecrated to the purpose of divine worship. He is remembered as one who shows “mercy on the erring and pity to the weak” and cites “the dear Christ” as the reason he spares his enemies with his last breath. 

In the original ballads, Mary, the Mother of Christ, is said to be the only woman in Robin’s life. Although an earthly lover eventually made her way into the legendarium, the name Maid Marian is ripe with implications. Throughout his career, Robin is shown refusing to be disturbed while “telling his beads” for himself and his men, and risks capture to attend Mass for feasts of the Virgin, known as “lady days.” He also maintains a strict code of behavior in the company of women, as if the Blessed Mother herself were crossing his path. He is no knight, yet his sense of chivalry puts to shame many who wear the belt and chain. “I never hurt fair maid in all my time,” he states in the ballad chronicling his death, “nor at my end shall it be.” 

Like Robin’s connection to the Green Man, Mary’s prominence in the legends is believed by some to be a nod to the Lady of the Land, to whom pagan chiefs would offer their fealty in exchange for a prosperous reign. However, there is no reason to suppose that Robin worships Mary as a goddess, as has been suggested in certain recent retellings. As a Catholic Englishman in the country known as “Our Lady’s Dowry,” he venerates her as the grace-filled mother of his Savior, who spoke prophecy of God’s deliverance to the oppressed peoples of the world in her Magnificat: “He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” 

For years now, I have hungered for a novelization of the story that manages to capture the spiritual ethos of the setting without reducing it to a tangle of superstition and legalism. Unfortunately, most modern versions, on paper and screen alike, either strip the religious references or distort them through a secular lens. As a practicing Catholic myself, I hope that my series manages to portray a living faith that weds the piety of the age to the paradox of the situation. Indeed, it is the irony of Robin’s position as the leader of a robber band who still shows greater virtue than many executors of the law and clerics of the Church that makes his story so unfailingly poignant. 

In many ways, I am a literary traditionalist, and hit all the major beats of the source material. However, I used creative license to fill in the spaces and establish characters before they become defined by their narrative roles. While I did not subvert the placing of heroes and villains, I did add layers of nuance to both ends of the spectrum. I also shed light on the individual experiences of peasants, townsmen, outlaws, guards, and other sectors of society that all too often receive short shrift in favor of following the major players. 

Regarding style, I walked a careful line between romanticism and realism. Robin’s medieval world brims with both the banality of evil and the beauty of grace, as does our own, and I believe the interplay of these two realities is the essence of stories worth telling. I have a deep distaste for pointless shock factor, and I did my best to approach even the most intense subjects in as tasteful and empathetic a manner as possible, while still retaining the raw emotional impact. The intended audience is mid-teens and up, though I suggest that sensitive readers who are disturbed by the darker elements of the medieval period proceed with caution. 

Since the accumulated legendarium was compiled over so many centuries, placing Robin during the reigns of various monarchs, it was impossible to maintain strict historical accuracy and still capture the evolving nature of the story. I settled on the most popular version that situates Robin’s outlaw career during the age of Richard the Lionheart and the Third Crusade, but you will find references to past eras and foreshadowing of future ones. My method takes inspiration from G.K. Chesterton, who wrote in the preface to The Ballad of the White Horse that the purpose of myth is to “telescope history.” 

My personal advice to all those who wish to be historical fiction writers is to cultivate a healthy respect for the time and place you will be representing. Do not sink into presenting and patronize our predecessors, but try to see the world as they might have seen it. While there are various differences, there are also many similarities grounded in the universality of human experience. Dehumanizing our past and other-izing our ancestors is unfair both to them and to us. 

This is especially true of stories set during or inspired by the much-maligned Middle Ages. Too often it is reduced to mud, blood, and manic depression instead of portraying not only negative aspects of medieval life but also the truly vibrant cultures that flourished during the period. It was a world far from colorless stagnation and humorless fanaticism. Indeed, perhaps taking enjoyment in the merriment of history found in age-old stories and songs is part of redeeming our own sometimes skewed image of the past. 

With no further ado, I would like to quote the introduction of Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood: “I lift the curtain that hangs between here and no-man’s land. Will you come with me, sweet reader? I thank you. Give me your hand.” 


Avellina Balestri is an author and editor based in the historic borderlands of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Her stories, poems, and essays have been featured in over thirty print and online publications. She has published two books: Saplings of Sherwood, the first book in a Robin Hood retelling series, and Pendragon's Shield, a collection of poetry. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Fellowship & Fairydust, a magazine inspiring faith & creativity and exploring the arts through a spiritual lens. Under its auspices, she hosted a literary conference at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford, England, commemorating the legacy of J.R.R. Tolkien. She also has the honor of representing the state of Maryland at The Sons of the American Revolution National Orations Contest in Greenville, South Carolina. For more information about the author and how to purchase her published works, visit her Amazon author page, website, or Fellowship & Fairydust.  

Monday, October 23, 2023

Veuve Clicquot and Madame Pommery: Women Champagne Makers in the 1800s

Good morning, dear readers! As you know, I love shining a spotlight on remarkable women in history, so when I had a chance to host author Rebecca Rosenberg and her novels about female Champane makers of the 19th century, I jumped at the chance. 

Welcome, Rebecca!

~ Samantha


Veuve Clicquot and Madame Pommery: Women Champagne Makers in the 1800s

Guest Post by Rebecca Rosenberg

The next time you watch the bubbles rise in a perfectly gorgeous glass of champagne, you might want to toast Veuve Clicquot and Madame Pommery who grappled with the difficult unpredictable art of making champagne in the 1800’s. As well as being mothers, these women dealt with pandemics, laws against women owning business, years of Napoleonic wars, and Napoleon himself to create champagne!

The Legal Loophole that Clicquot and Pommery slipped through!

In the 1800s, women in many countries were legally barred from owning businesses unless they were widows. However, a few women who managed to overcome these legal challenges and become successful champagne makers.

Two of the most notable women champagne makers of the 1800s were Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin and Madame Jeanne Alexandrine Pommery. Both women were widows who pioneered champagne making and forged two of the largest and most successful champagne houses in the world.

Clicquot and Pommery were innovators in the champagne industry. Clicquot developed many of the modern techniques used to make champagne, including the riddling process, which makes champagne clear instead of cloudy. Pommery created the first Brut Champagne, a crisp, dry champagne, instead of the dessert beverage that was popular in the early 1800’s. She also focused on the export market, and she helped to popularize champagne all over the world.

The champagne makers of the 1800s faced many challenges, but they were able to produce some of the finest champagne ever made. Women champagne makers, such as Madame Clicquot and Madame Pommery, were particularly successful in overcoming the legal and social challenges of the time. Their dedication and hard work helped to make champagne one of the most popular and sought-after wines in the world.

Making Champagne in the 1800s

Making champagne in the 1800s was a difficult and challenging task. The winemaking process was not fully understood at the time, and there was a lot of trial and error involved. Champagne makers also had to contend with a number of challenges, including:

· Diseases and pests

· Weather

· Technology

· Logistics

Despite these challenges, champagne makers in the 1800s were able to produce some of the finest champagne ever made. They developed new winemaking techniques and technologies that helped to improve the quality and consistency of their wines. They also worked to develop new markets for champagne, both within France and abroad.

Pandemics of 1800’s (Yes they had them too!)

There were several pandemics that occurred in Europe during the 19th century, including the cholera pandemic of 1830-1833, the plague pandemic of 1855-1858, and the influenza pandemic of 1889-1890. These pandemics had a devastating impact on the European population, killing millions of people and causing widespread social and economic disruption.

The pandemics of the 19th century also had a significant impact on the European economy. They led to disruptions in trade and commerce, and they caused a decline in agricultural production. The pandemics also had a negative impact on the development of new technologies and industries.

The Devastating Effect of Wars on Champagne.

Veuve Clicquot was just starting to make champagne when Napoleon waged twelve years of Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) against the crowns of Europe. Napoleon sought to spread of the French Revolution and dominate Europe. The Napoleonic Wars had a devastating impact on Europe. An estimated 6 million people were killed in the wars, including soldiers and civilians. The wars also caused widespread economic hardship and social disruption.

Madame Pommery faced the Franco-Prussian war (1870-1871) when Prussia and the United German states invaded France, and the Prussian army commandeered her home and winery.

Both Clicquot and Pommery had to continue making champagne, even as the armies were stealing it for themselves.

· The wars disrupted trade and commerce, making it difficult for champagne producers to export their wines.

· The wars made it difficult to obtain the raw materials needed to produce champagne, such as grapes and sugar.

· The wars led to a decline in demand for champagne, as people were more focused on surviving than on celebrating.

· The war caused a number of champagne producers to go out of business.

So, when you tip your next glass of champagne, remember what they went through to bring us such pleasure! My favorite champagne quote by my next Champagne Widow:

"I drink champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty." ~Lily Bollinger

The Champagne Widows Series


“A-Tour-de-Force” Publisher’s Weekly BookLife Prize

MADAME POMMERY, Creator of Brut Champagne
"A tour-de-force of historical fiction, Madame Pommery is a deeply fascinating work that blends true-to-life details with artfully crafted elements." --Publishers Weekly BookLife Prize

Madame Pommery is a story of a woman's indomitable spirit in the face of insurmountable odds. Set in Champagne, France in 1860, Madame Pommery is a forty-year-old widow and etiquette teacher whose husband has passed away. Now she must find a way to support her family. With no experience, she decides to make champagne, but no champagne makers will teach her their craft. Undeterred, Madame Pommery begins to secretly excavate champagne caves under the Reims city dump and faces numerous obstacles to achieve her dream. From the Franco-Prussian war that conscripts her son and crew to the Prussian General Frederick Franz occupying her home, Madame Pommery perseveres. She even must choose between her champagne dreams and a marriage proposal from her former lover, a Scottish Baron. Inspired by a true story, Madame Pommery is a heroic tale of a woman's strength and determination to create a champagne legacy. If you enjoyed the novel Sarah's Key, you will enjoy Madame Pommery. 

Get your copy of Madame Pommery, or read FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

CHAMPAGNE WIDOWS, the First Woman of Champagne

EDITORS CHOICE HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY This engrossing historical novel by Rebecca Rosenberg follows Veuve Clicquot, a strong-minded woman determined to defy the Napoleon Code and become a master champagne maker. In 1800 France, twenty-year-old Barbe-Nicole inherits her great-grandfather's uncanny sense of smell and uses it to make great champagne, despite the Code prohibiting women from owning a business. When tragedy strikes and she becomes a Veuve (widow), she must grapple with a domineering partner, the complexities of making champagne, and the aftermath of six Napoleon wars. When she falls in love with her sales manager, Louis Bohne, she must choose between losing her winery to her husband to obey the Napoleon Code, or losing Louis. In the ultimate showdown, Veuve Clicquot defies Napoleon himself, risking prison and even death. If you enjoyed books like 'The Widow of the South' by Robert Hicks or 'The Paris Seamstress' by Natasha Lester, you'll love 'Veuve Clicquot'.

Connect with the author:

Rebecca Rosenberg is an award-winning novelist, champagne geek, and lavender farmer. Rebecca first fell in love with methode champenoise in Sonoma Valley, California. Over decades of delicious research, she has explored the wine cellars of France, Spain, Italy, and California in search of fine champagne. When Rebecca discovered the real-life stories of the Champagne Widows of France, she knew she’d dedicate years to telling the stories of these remarkable women who made champagne the worldwide phenomenon it is today. 

Rebecca is a champagne historian, tour guide, and champagne cocktail expert for Breathless Wines. Other award-winning novels include The Secret Life of Mrs. London and Gold Digger, the Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor.

Connect with Rebecca on her websiteFacebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Book Bub, Amazon Author Page, or Goodreads.  

Friday, October 13, 2023

Falling for Autumn

One of the first people I asked to read Plantagenet Princess Tudor Queen before it was published pointed out some of my Americanisms that needed to go. The one I remember most vividly was referring to autumn as fall. Upon thinking about it, I agreed that autumn does sound so much nicer, and I've tried to get into the habit of referring to this beautiful, chilly season by the term favored on the other side of the pond.

In October 2019, I was in Ottawa, Illinois, doing research for the book that would become Luminous. I hadn't decided on a title yet, but I was completely drawn into Catherine Donohue's story and felt so honored to walk the streets she had walked and go to Sunday morning worship at her church. Starved Rock was and is a gorgeous place for an autumn hike, so I did, imagining Catherine doing the same all the while.

In Luminous, it is during a trip to Starved Rock that Catherine and Charlotte first encounter a little bird that they would meet several times through their tragic journey. This element of the story was taken from a newspaper article in which a descendent of Charlotte's mentioned that she would say a little bird was a visit from Catherine long after her friend had died of radium poisoning. I decided this little bird deserved its own place in the story and called it Hope.

The following October, in 2020, I was on a rather different trip. Along with my husband and youngest son, I toured the old Northern Michigan Asylum in Traverse City. Now called the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, this lovely old place is partly renovated shops and housing and part dilapidated ruins that get a creative mind churning. At the time though, I couldn't think of what exactly to do with this amazing setting.

A few months later, I was approached about writing a ghost story for Historical Writers Forum, and I knew just where mine would take place. Besides the breathtaking views of trees and surrounding lakes, the old asylum has tunnels that used to serve as its heating system. An Edith Wharton style ghost story started forming in my mind and eventually was published in the Hauntings anthology.

My story was titled Among the Lost, and since I had recently published Luminous, I decided to set it during the same time, 1927, and give a nod to my Ottawa ladies in a glow-in-the-dark painting owned by one of the asylum residents. I also couldn't resist having another patient who loudly and randomly quoted Dante, which gave me the title. If you've already read Hauntings, you know what is discovered within the tunnels of the asylum, if you have not, my story is currently free here.

Living in Michigan, I have a love-hate relationship with autumn. It's absolutely gorgeous, and I love the onset of sweatshirt weather, going on hikes, and trying to take photos that capture nature's majesty. However, Michigan's seasons aren't as balanced as they should be, and that crisp wonderfulness quickly devolves into cold, wet, snowy bleakness. If we could just get more than a couple weeks of perfect pumpkin spice fall...

This October, I am working on two James A Hamilton projects, neither autumn themed I am sad to say, but one that will be available to my dear readers soon. You probably already know that I am working on a biography for Pen & Sword that is scheduled for publication January 2025, but if you've been enjoying my posts about James and would like something sooner, you're in luck! This year's Historical Writers Forum anthology contains short stories based on works of art, and I decided that mine would be the marble statue of Alexander Hamilton that was destroyed in New York's Great Fire of 1835. In this short story, James reflects on his life and ponders if he has honored his father's legacy. Masterworks is available for pre-order now for only 99c and will be available through Kindle Unlimited on November 1st.

One more little bit of news before I go. In response to requests for signed copies of my books and for those who prefer to "shop small" rather than through Amazon, I have opened up a little online bookshop. Orders here will be filled directly from my home to yours, so I can sign books and will include little bonuses like stickers and bookmarks. Please keep small businesses, and especially independent writers, in mind as you consider your Christmas shopping this year. 

Enjoy this fantastic season while it lasts, and happy reading!

All photos taken by me at Starved Rock State Park, the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, and around my home in southwest Michigan. If you enjoy my photos and writing/research updates, please follow me on Instagram or Facebook.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Burning Secret

Lately, I've been on the lookout for novels that take place in 19th century America, so when I came across RJ Lloyd and his Burning Secret I was eager to invite him to my blog and talk about his story. It takes place in one of our loveliest, sunniest states - Florida! But I'll let him tell you more.

~ Samantha


Burning Secret

Guest Post by RJ Loyd

Thanks for inviting me as your guest. Burning Secret begins in London on New Year's Day 1881, with Enoch Price recorded in the London Gazette as a bankrupt, facing a sentence of several years in the debtors' prison. By May that year, he had deserted his wife and three young daughters and was onboard the SS Polynesian bound for a new life in Jacksonville, Florida. By the time Enoch steps ashore on Hogan Street jetty, Jacksonville, he has changed his identity and become Harry Mason. Harry's first work came a few days later as a bartender at The European House, a bar in the Dutch style run by Nicky Arend at 80– 82 West Bay. 

Burning Secret is a true story. Well, almost. The novel blurs the lines between fact and fiction as it reconstructs the real life of Harry Mason, and is a story that many can relate to through their own ancestors and family histories. The recollections of my cousins on both sides of the Atlantic drove me, almost inevitably, to tell the story of this extraordinary and complex man. The novel operates on several levels: as a fast-paced thriller with plenty of derring-do, a morality tale of good vs. greed, and how life can easily corrupt the pursuit of happiness. Some have even suggested it's a tragic love story.

Most of the book is set in Florida. Harry arrives in Jacksonville at a time when it was still regarded as a frontier town, only sixteen years after the end of slavery and the American Civil War, when Florida had fought on the defeated Confederate side. By 1888, Harry had married, bigamously, and lived with his wife and children at 509 West Adams Street in the district of LaVilla. That same year, a deadly outbreak of Yellow Fever decimated Jacksonville. In 1901, the city was razed to the ground by the Great Fire of Jacksonville, a conflagration that had started at the Cleveland mattress factory at Beaver and Davis Streets. Harry plays a pivotal role in the city's recovery from these catastrophes. But his audacious gamble to promote, against fierce public opposition, the 1894 World Heavyweight Boxing Championship fight between Gentleman Jim Corbett and the English challenger Charlie Mitchell turned his fortunes from bartender to millionaire. 

Harry began to spread his wings, buying, under dubious circumstances, the Acme, Aragon and Everette Hotels on Julia and Forsythe Street. But Harry wanted more than a few saloons and hotels. He was determined to build an empire on political power and influence. On 15 June 1897, Harry was elected to the Jacksonville City Council, representing the eighth ward of Ortega Venetia and Avondale. In 1903, he was elected to the Florida State House of Representatives. 

Throughout Harry's life, there was always the whiff of things not being entirely straight. During the final two decades of his life, he celebrated opening his own bank, The Bank of South Jacksonville, on the northwest corner of Hendricks and St. Johns Avenue (now Prudential Drive) and was chairman of several prosperous businesses. His most outstanding achievement was building the Hotel Mason on the junction of Bay and Julia Street, which opened on 31 December 1913. The largest and most opulent hotel in Florida (demolished in 1978).

Harry died on 5 November 1919 at his home, the Villa Alexandria, which, at that time, was located near the junction of River Road and Arbor Lane in the district of San Marco. It was originally built by the Mitchell family in the 1870s and came into Harry's ownership in somewhat opaque circumstances.

Surprisingly, whilst many of Harry's friends, business partners and historically important contemporaries are recorded in Jacksonville to this day, one must dig very deep into obscure records to find his name. Only one photograph of him survives, taken in 1903 when he was elected to the House of Representatives. 

Harry is buried alongside his American wife at Evergreen Cemetery, Jacksonville, Florida.

Inspired by actual events, Burning Secret is a dramatic and compelling tale of ambition, lies and betrayal. 

Born in the slums of Bristol in 1844, Enoch Price seems destined for a life of poverty and hardship-but he’s determined not to accept his lot. 

Enoch becomes a bare-knuckle fighter in London’s criminal underworld. But in a city where there’s no place for honest dealing, a cruel loan shark cheats him, leaving Enoch penniless and facing imprisonment. 

Undaunted, he escapes to a new life in America and embarks on a series of audacious exploits. But even as he helps shape history, Enoch is not content. Tormented by his past and the life he left behind, Enoch soon becomes entangled in a web of lies and secrets. 
Will he ever break free and find the happiness he craves? 

Influenced by real people and events, Enoch’s remarkable story is one of adventure, daring, political power, deceit and, in the end, the search for redemption and forgiveness. 

Connect with RJ Lloyd

After retiring as a senior police officer, R J Lloyd turned my detective skills to genealogy, tracing his family history to the 16th century. However, after 15 years of extensive research, he couldn’t track down his great-great-grandfather, Enoch Price, whose wife, Eliza, had, in living memory, helped raise his mother.

It was his cousin Gillian who, after several more dead-ends, called one day to say that she had found him through a fluke encounter. Susan Sperry from California, who had recently retired, decided to explore the box of documents given to her thirty years before by her mother, which she had never opened. In the box, she found some references to her great grandfather, Harry Mason, a wealthy hotel owner from Florida who had died in 1919. It soon transpired that Susan’s great grandfather, Harry Mason, was, in fact, Enoch Price. 

From this single thread, the extraordinary story of Harry Mason began to unravel, leading R J Lloyd to visit the States to meet his newly discovered American cousins, and it was Susan Sperry and Kimberly Mason, direct descendants, who persuaded R J Lloyd to write the extraordinary story of their ancestor. 

R J Lloyd graduated from the University of Warwick with a degree in Philosophy and Psychology and a Masters in Marketing from UWE. Since leaving a thirty-year career in policing, he’s been a non-executive director with the NHS, social housing, and other charities. He lives with my wife in Bristol, spending his time travelling, writing and producing delicious plum jam from the trees on his award-winning allotment. 

Connect with him on his Website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon Author Page, or