Thursday, January 25, 2024

What I'm Reading: Red Clay, Running Waters

Red Clay, Running Waters is a debut novel from author Leslie K Simmons, featuring the true story of Cherokee advocate John Ridge. I am connected with Leslie through Historical Writers Forum and had a peek at the first chapters of this moving novel before its publication. When I was offered the opportunity to read the entire finished product, of course, I said yes. My dear readers will undoubtedly recognize why I was drawn to this tragic protagonist.

From the opening scene, there is a heartbreaking quality about this book. The reader does not need to have deep knowledge of US history to know that Ridge's quest to help lead an independent Cherokee nation within Georgia, or at least have his people maintain some level of autonomy, is doomed from the start. Joining him on his journey is an emotive ride. 

John becomes aware of what the Cherokee people are up against when he travels as a teenager to missionary school in Connecticut. Accepting that Christianity is the price he must pay for an excellent education, he leaves home with lofty goals. Seeing cities like Philadelphia and New York forces him to accept that there will be no holding back the wave of white settlers spreading westward from the east coast. The Cherokee Nation must survive through diplomacy, for it will not be able to do so through power.

John Ridge

An unanticipated result of John's time in New England is his marriage to Sarah Northrop, the daughter of the white family working at the school. The couple underestimates the negativity the revelation of their relationship is met with. John slowly realizes that the white Christians believe the Indians deserve the gospel but not equality. “The respect I believed we gained through our efforts are merely platitudes, a means for the Whites to congratulate themselves on their condescension and benevolence.”

One aspect of the Cherokee's story will likely surprise readers. While most will have some idea of what the Trail of Tears was, less is known about the Cherokee Nation before removal. John and Sarah Ridge lived in an expansive plantation home and enslaved many people. Slave ownership is not excused in this story, though the Ridges are portrayed as benevolent owners, as much as one can be who claims others as property. A few mentions of those who are cruel are made but only as exceptions. There are a few moments of John contemplating the similarity of the Cherokee position to that of blacks, but never to the extent that he considers that blacks too deserve their freedom. It adds a real-life complication to the story to have those suffering from racism practicing it themselves.

At almost 700 pages, this book is a commitment to following Ridge through each step of his struggles. The author does not leave anything out or cram multiple events into one as has become common in modern historical fiction, creating a highly accurate rendition of events but one that moves thoughtfully if sometimes slowly.

The true character of Andrew Jackson is on full display. One character states, “This man of the common people who spurned aristocracy seems to have no issue with treating others like subjects.” I couldn't agree more and have included similar observations in my upcoming biography of James Alexander Hamilton, who served as Jackson's temporary Secretary of State and advised him throughout his presidency. Unfortunately, few people have been as dependent on the outcome as a presidential election as the Cherokee Nation, and Jackson's second term was a disaster for them.

I learned a lot reading this book, and I'm still not sure exactly how I feel about John Ridge. He was devoted to what he felt was right, but was there a way that would have resulted in less heartache? Even in hindsight, I can't say. Neither he nor his family deserved what happened. More than that I will not say, so that you can read his story for yourself in Red Clay, Running Waters.

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Friday, January 19, 2024

The Beauty Doctor


The Beauty Doctor an Excerpt

Guest Post by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

“I was wondering if you’ve ever done a nose reconstruction using a forearm flap. They call it the Italian method.” 

He gave her a puzzled look. “Why are you asking?” 

“Because I met a woman who needs such an operation.” 

“Why? What happened to her?” 

“She’s suffering from syphilis. She hasn’t a penny and—” 

His teacup met the saucer with a clank. “This is not a charity hospital, Abigail.”

“But the poor woman—” 

“Have you lost your senses? I’ve been doing everything possible to build an exclusive beauty practice! You’ve seen the class of people we’re attracting here. Do you think for one minute any respectable woman would want to lie on the same operating table as some lady of the night with a syphilitic nose? I am about to create the most ambitious beauty institute the world has ever seen, and I assure you the sick and indigent will not be among my patients. If that’s the sort of medicine you prefer, then I suggest you join some holy order of sisters and become a missionary.” 

“I merely thought, as a doctor, you’d feel that some small part of your skills might be applied for the benefit of those less fortunate.” 

“If I might nudge your memory, you were the one to object when I fixed the ears of that young street urchin. Certainly, he qualifies as the less fortunate of whom you speak. Look what I did for him! And did I ask for anything in return?” He let out an exasperated sigh. “Listen, my goal is to be recognized as the world’s foremost beauty doctor. Others have different goals that you may consider loftier, and that’s fine. But I’m perfectly satisfied with mine.” 

His words only frustrated her more. “I see little difference between an operation to create beauty and one to restore it.” 

“You may be clever with words, but you’re missing the essence of what beauty surgery is all about. Would anyone look at the result of a nose restoration such as you describe and say, Oh, if only my nose could look like that? No, they would never call a nose like that beautiful.” 

“The important thing is not what others say, but how the patient feels. And I believe that any nose, even an imperfect one, would make the woman in question feel a great deal better about herself.” Impulsively, she seized on something else. “What about the twins? You’re willing to operate on them. Are they the type of clientele you’re hoping to attract to the Institute?” 

“The twins are a unique situation. Obviously, there is much to be gained by operating on them in a public forum. Proving, in the most memorable fashion, the miracles a skilled beauty doctor can achieve. And by the way, for our publicity, the twins are allegedly the secret progeny of foreign royalty. All very hush-hush, of course.” He chuckled, the cleverness of this little intrigue lightening his mood. “As you can see, I intend to compromise none of the Institute’s reputation for exclusivity.” 

He turned back to his reading, signaling the end of their conversation—except for the casual question, “How many patients do we have this afternoon?” 


His head popped up from the paper. “None?” 

Abigail took vengeful pleasure in his dismay. “You sound surprised, but you know things have slowed down considerably.” 

“I suppose. So many of the ladies are away for the summer. And I have been preoccupied as well.” He thought for a moment. “All right, why don’t you place another advertisement in the New York Clipper? A few more of those theater types wouldn’t be such a bad thing in a slow season.” 

Abigail rose from her chair. “Yes, sir,” she muttered, shutting the door behind her with a good deal more force than necessary. 

As she made her way down the narrow hall, thoughts of her father flooded her mind. She couldn’t remember him ever refusing to treat a patient, regardless of their circumstances. Abigail had wanted so much to be like him. The urgency of her desire to help Riana proved that at least a part of her still felt the same. But she was not a doctor. She could do nothing on her own. There were people who needed her, yet she had no way of helping them. As for the twins, they would have surgery tomorrow—unless there was someone who could stop it.

Love this excerpt? Read The Beauty Doctor!

A Bone-Chilling Mystery-Suspense-Thriller Set in the Edwardian Era

Finalist, Eric Hoffer Book Award

"Beauty is power," Dr. Rome told her. "And with enough power, one can achieve anything."

Straightening noses, trimming eyelids, lifting jowls . . . In the year 1907, his revolutionary beauty surgery is considered daring, perhaps dangerous. Still, women want what Dr. Rome promises. Neither is his young assistant Abigail Platford immune to Dr. Rome's persuasive charm.

Abigail once dreamed of becoming a doctor, though of a much different sort. That dream ended with her father's tragic death from a medical error for which she holds herself responsible. Dr. Rome, who proudly displays his medical degree from Johns Hopkins, seems to believe in her. If he were willing to act as her mentor, might there still be a chance to realize her dream of someday becoming a doctor serving New York City's poor?

But something feels terribly wrong, as though an insidious evil is closing in. Broken promises, lies, and intrigues abound. The powerful are threatening to destroy the weak, and a doctor's sacred duty hangs in the balance. Abigail no longer knows who to believe; but with Dr. Rome now her mentor and her lover, she desperately wants to trust him.

Even when she discovers that one of their patients has mysteriously disappeared.

From bestselling author Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, a suspenseful work of historical fiction grounded in the social and moral issues of the Edwardian era in America. Second Edition with Author's Preface.

Get your copy of The Beauty Doctor or read FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

Connect with the author

Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is the author of bestselling historical novels. Her 2023 release, Sisters of Castle Leod, is an Amazon Kindle #1 Bestseller (Historical Biographical Fiction, Historical Literary Fiction), winner of the 2023 Maxy Award for Historical and Adventure Fiction, and an Editors’ Choice of the Historical Novel Society. Her biographical novel Temptation Rag (2018) was hailed by Publishers Weekly as a “resonant novel . . . about the birth and demise of ragtime . . . in which romance and creative passions abound.” Elizabeth’s 2017 historical mystery-suspense-thriller, The Beauty Doctor, was a finalist for the prestigious Eric Hoffer Book Award. The book’s re-release (Jan. 4, 2024) features a stunning new cover and an Author Preface with insights into social and moral issues of the Edwardian era that frame this shocking fictional story set in the early days of cosmetic surgery. Before becoming a full-time author, Elizabeth was executive editor of an international aesthetic surgery journal, and senior consultant to the National Cosmetic Network in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University’s plastic surgery educational program. Learn more about Elizabeth and her books at You can also connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon Author Page, Goodreads.