Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The Virgins of Venice

Good morning, dear readers! Join me in welcoming author Gina Buonaguro to the blog today to introduce her novel, The Virgins of Venice. It's a great opportunity to lose yourself in the 16th century.

Welcome, Gina!

~ Samantha 


The Virgins of Venice

Guest Post by Gina Buonaguro

In sixteenth-century Venice, one young noblewoman dares to resist the choices made for her.

Venice in 1509 is on the brink of war. The displeasure of Pope Julius II is a continuing threat to the republic, as is the barely contained fighting in the countryside. Amid this turmoil, noblewoman Justina Soranzo, just sixteen, hopes to make a rare love marriage with her sweetheart, Luca Cicogna. Her hopes are dashed when her father decides her younger sister, Rosa, will marry in a strategic alliance and Justina will be sent to the San Zaccaria convent, in the tradition of aristocratic daughters. Lord Soranzo is not acting only to protect his family. It’s well known that he is in debt to both his trading partners and the most infamous courtesan in the city, La Diamante, and the pressure is closing in.

After arriving at the convent, Justina takes solace in her aunt Livia, one of the nuns, and in the growing knowledge that all is not strictly devout at San Zaccaria. Justina is shocked to discover how the women of the convent find their own freedom in what seems to her like a prison. But secrets and scandals breach the convent walls, and Justina learns there may be even worse fates for her than the veil, if La Diamante makes good on her threats.

Desperate to protect herself and the ones she loves, Justina turns to Luca for help. She finds she must trust her own heart to make the impossible decisions that may save or ruin them all.

Connect with the author

Gina Buonaguro is the co-author of The Wolves of St. Peters, Ciao Bella and The Sidewalk Artist, as well as several romance titles under the name Meadow Taylor. The Virgins of Venice is her first solo novel.

She has a BA in English from Villanova University in Pennsylvania and earned an MA in English from the University of British Columbia while on a Fulbright Scholarship. Born in New Jersey, Gina Buonaguro lives in Toronto.

Connect with her on her websiteFacebookLinkedIn

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Cover Reveal!

Dear readers, I'm excited to finally share this with you! The cover art for my James A Hamilton biography was designed using a family portrait owned by one of his descendants. I am so thankful that I was put in contact with them through Columbia University during my research. Columbia holds James A Hamilton's former estate, Nevis, and it is now their Nevis Laboratories campus. They have been very supportive of my research, and I loved my visit to James's home. 

The image of the portrait that I was provided with was one that I had not found online or in any library collection during my research, so I was beyond excited when Helen Hamilton Spaulding gave her permission to use it for the cover design by Pen & Sword.

You might also notice James's signature in the background. I've spent so many hours trying to read his letters that I am going to need to schedule an eye exam, but I loved how he ALWAYS included his middle initial reminding everyone of the father of whom he was so proud. 

This book is in the editing stage right now and scheduled for publication in January 2025. I really can't wait to share it with you. It not only examines the life of James Alexander Hamilton, but through his experiences and connections you will relive the early republic era. James was born in the year of the Constitutional Convention, served in the War of 1812, watched his son and nephew leave to fight in the Civil War, and advised countless presidents and leading men of the early nineteenth century. I hope you will enjoy learning more about him and our country's roots.

You can preorder your signed hardcover copy directly through my bookshop.

Thank you for your ongoing support of my writing and this project!

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip

Good morning, dear readers! As soon as I read the premise of this novel, I knew it was one to share with you. Gail Ward Olmsted has found a fascinating historical woman to feature, and you all know how I love the kind of story that shines a light on a lady who has been left too much in the historical dark. Read on about Katharine Prescott Wormeley, a Civil War Nurse and road trip adventuress!

~ Samantha


Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip: An Excerpt

Guest Post by Gail Ward Olmsted

The history behind the story:

In the fall of 1907, Katharine decides to drive from Newport, Rhode Island, to her home in Jackson, New Hampshire. Despite the concerns of her family and friends, that at the age of 77 she lacks the stamina for the nearly 300-mile journey, Katharine sets out alone. Over the next six days, she receives a marriage proposal, pulls an all-nighter, saves a life or two, crashes a high-society event, meets a kindred spirit, faces a former rival, makes a new friend, takes a stroll with a future movie mogul, advises a troubled newlywed, and reflects upon a life well lived; her own! 

Join her as she embarks upon her remarkable road trip.

Here's a sneak peek from Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip!

The lighter side of serving as a volunteer nurse on a hospital ship during the Civil War

“But it wasn’t all bad,” I told him. “When things settled down a bit, we nurses were able to chat with the soldiers or read to them. We even wrote letters to their loved ones for them.” I smiled brightly. “That was my favorite activity, the writing of letters. Just to know that they could tell their families back home how they were faring . . . well, it was quite the rewarding experience I can tell you that.” 

I felt tears well up in my eyes, and I quickly wiped them away. Many of those letters would have arrived at their intended destination long after the soldier who had dictated it had died from his injuries. I hoped that the last words they received had provided some solace to the grieving families. It had been an honor and a privilege to be involved in their lives in that way. I remembered trying and failing to imagine what it would have been like to receive a letter like that, dictated by a loved one, transcribed by a well-meaning stranger.

Keep reading Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip

More about the remarkable Katharine:

Katharine Prescott Wormeley (1830-1908) was born into affluence in England and emigrated to the U. S. at the age of eighteen. Fiercely independent and never married, Kate volunteered as a nurse on a medical ship during the Civil War, before founding a vocational school for underprivileged girls. A lifelong friend and trusted confidante of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, she was a philanthropist, a hospital administrator, and the author of The Other Side of War: 1862, as well as the noted translator of dozens of novels written by French authors, including Moliere and Balzac. She is included in History’s Women: The Unsung Heroines; History of American Women: Civil War Women; Who’s Who in America 1908-09; Notable American Women, A Biographical Dictionary: 1607-1950 and A Woman of the 19th Century: Leading American Women in All Walks of Life

Get your copy of Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip 

 or read FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

Connect with Gail Ward Olmsted

Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary. After penning a pair of contemporary novels featuring a disgraced attorney seeking a career comeback (Miranda Writes, Miranda Nights) she is back to writing historical fiction featuring an incredible woman with an amazing story. Watch for Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip on June 13th.

Connect with Gail on her website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Book Bub, Amazon Author Page, and Goodreads

Monday, June 3, 2024

Saving the Union

James Alexander Hamilton wrote extensively about the issues connected to the US Civil War, including slavery, constitutionality, and preservation of the Union. The evolution of his thoughts on these topics helped me understand the mindset of Americans - or at least Northerners - of the early 19th century. From our modern point of view, it is easy to argue that the Civil War was a single-issue war, but, of course, the truth is much more complicated. 

My guest today has delved into the challenging task of discerning the attitudes and mindsets of a past generation in order to write their stories as accurately as possible. What did preservation of the Union mean to Northern soldiers? Author Richard Buxton digs into this question with some great insights.

Welcome, Richard!

~ Samantha


Saving the Union

Guest Post by Richard Buxton

As a writer of historical fiction, I’m constantly fearful of misrepresenting the past. In practice, it’s impossible not to. The wonderful Hilary Mantel, in her 2017 Reith lectures reminded us that, ‘History is not the past, it’s the method we’ve evolved for organizing our ignorance of the past.’ Even where you have first-hand accounts, written at or close to the time, they all have their own spin. Hilary, never one for understatement, went on to say that history, ‘is the multiplication of the evidence of fallible and biased witnesses combined with incomplete accounts of actions not fully understood by the people who performed them.’

We might think of the American Civil War, the backdrop for my trilogy, as on the cusp of modern times; it’s end at Appomattox just shy of one-hundred and sixty years ago. There are very extensive army records, both official and unofficial, some photographic evidence, and lots of newspaper coverage. So getting most details right (the weather, the uniforms and equipment) should be achievable. Events tend to be presented subjectively, so are a little harder. How then to deal with a broadly held attitude or motivation?

One issue I struggled to understand is what Union meant to soldiers fighting for the North in the American Civil War, the Union being the collection of states then constituted. Today we just call it the U.S.A or the States. I played with it in the title for the trilogy, Shire’s Union; Shire fights for the Union but it also hints at his often-forlorn hopes for a future with Clara. But the idea of Union meant much more to the people at the time. It’s very evident that the long-standing irritant of slavery was the underlying cause of the war, but preservation of the Union was a far more widely cited motivation than abolition for the early volunteers in the Union Army. It was also the principal objective of the government. Lincoln famously said, ‘If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.’ This was written well over a year into the fighting. Only later would an end to slavery get equal billing with saving the Union. And those were the two great outcomes of the struggle: slavery was abolished and the Union was restored.

Image reference:
Library of Congress 2003674570;
Created/Published New York
by Currier & Ives, c1861

But what did Union mean to the soldiers of the North? It’s hard to get at, especially for someone who’s British, where we have our own – often conflicted – ideas of Union. When the young America partially dissolved and went to war with itself, it was only eighty-five years old. The very identity of America was bound up with the idea of Union, with a hard-won rejection of old European monarchies. The Union represented a new consensus about freedom. America’s frontier was a little way west of the Mississippi at the outbreak of war, ‘the states like multi-coloured fields reaching across a half-finished farm,’ as Shire thinks when tearing a page from his father’s atlas. States like Ohio, Illinois and Iowa, were on the frontier themselves just a few decades before. Many soldiers were first or second-generation immigrants, whose spoken language was other than English. Their own or their parents’ escape from the European experience was not so distant. Most believed that preserving a Union of states bound together by freedoms for the individual was worth battling and possibly dying for. It’s subtly different than fighting for your country. It’s fighting for an idea. An end to Union – disunion - meant backsliding towards autocracies and suffering that they believed they had left on the other side of the Atlantic.

Distilling any of this into a novel through the thoughts and actions of your characters is challenging to say the least, and is best done with a very light touch. Shire’s squad in the 125th Ohio all have their own reasons for fighting. One is out to revenge his parents’ deaths at the hands of pro-slavery bushwhackers, another is a furnace worker after the sign-up bounty. Shire himself primarily sees the army as a means to get south and closer to Clara. Mason, a part-Iroquois lawyer, is perhaps the most nobly motivated, fighting for equality for all and seeing the Union, flawed as it was, as freedom’s best chance.

You might consider that the case for the Union is made easier by exposing the argument for succession made by the new Confederacy: the smaller collection of states who decided to begin and then fight a long war to preserve and extend slavery. Against that lowest of benchmarks, it’s not too hard to see why people would fight for the other side. Common humanity isn’t exclusive to our century. Ultimately, after Lincoln made his emancipation proclamation in the middle of the war, the case for the Union and for abolition were effectively merged. Winning the war would deliver both.

I was researching in Tennessee the day of the Brexit vote, the UKs decision to leave the European Union. The day before, I’d been reading firsthand accounts from the 1860s in the archives of the East Tennessee History Museum in Knoxville.  Disunion – secession – came in via democracy. Each southern state voted to depart, leaving American patriots, notably in Eastern Tennessee, high and dry, forcing them to leave a Union they fervently believed in. What came after was horrific. Outside the killing of a generation on the battlefields, at home there was imprisonment, murder and fratricide. The grief and the strife lasted for decades. Even today, over a hundred and sixty years later, you can still easily find echoes of the war.

As I sat in Eastern Tennessee, the day after the vote, reading the voices from America’s time of disunion, the parallels with the problems in Europe were frightening: a Union arguing over its own imperfections, hotheads on both sides exaggerating dire consequences, freedoms of the individual clashing with economic imperatives. Different sorts of Union often only come about after schism: the United States after the war of independence, the League of Nations after World War I, the European Union has its roots in the ashes of World War II. Sadly, disunion is rarely any less painful.

Ultimately, people don’t read historical fiction to brush up on constitutional matters. We read it to empathise with the characters, their struggles and triumphs, to enjoy the odyssey and the climax. Perhaps, above all, to be transported to another time. To achieve the latter, a writer is obliged to strive to see their characters’ world through their hearts and minds and try to understand the wider questions and motivations of their age.

Shire's Union Trilogy

Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty.

Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.

The Shire’s Union trilogy is at once an outsider’s odyssey through the battle for Tennessee, a touching story of impossible love, and a portrait of America at war with itself. Self-interest and conflict, betrayal and passion, all fuse into a fateful climax.

Written by award winning author Richard Buxton, the Shire’s Union trilogy begins with Whirligig, is continued in The Copper Road, and concludes with Tigers in Blue.

Read Shire's Union Trilogy through Amazon or Amazon UK!

Connect with Richard Buxton

Richard lives with his family in the South Downs, Sussex, England. He completed an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University in 2014. He has an abiding relationship with America, having studied at Syracuse University, New York State, in the late eighties. He travels extensively for research, especially in Tennessee, Georgia and Ohio, and is rarely happier than when setting off from a motel to spend the day wandering a battlefield or imagining the past close beside the churning wheel of a paddle steamer.

Richard’s short stories have won the Exeter Story Prize, the Bedford International Writing Competition and the Nivalis Short Story Award. His first novel, Whirligig (2017) was shortlisted for the Rubery International Book Award. It was followed by The Copper Road (2020) and the Shire’s Union trilogy was completed by Tigers in Blue (2023). To learn more about Richard’s writing visit

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Women in the Civil War

I'm pleased to welcome Kinley Bryan as my guest today. She shares insight into the roles of women during the American Civil War, a subject I find interesting because James A Hamilton's daughters participated in some of the work described. James was in his seventies at the time, but he still served as an advisor to President Lincoln and Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase. The Hamilton women had long been involved in charitable work, so they naturally answered the call for help when war broke out between the states. Before I get carried away talking about the Hamiltons, I will turn it over to Kinley!

~ Samantha


Women in the Civil War

Guest Post by Kinley Bryan

As both a reader and writer of historical fiction, I’m always interested in women’s experiences of historical events. My latest novel, The Lost Women of Mill Street, offers a look at the American Civil War from the perspective of southern female mill workers. It’s one perspective of many, for women took on myriad new roles during the war. In the North, women of all races and social classes contributed to the Union war effort by organizing sanitary fairs and working as nurses. They also served as spies and—though forbidden—combatants. And some southern Unionist women courageously helped Union soldiers in times of danger.

Sanitary Fairs

Soon after the start of the war, women began organizing soldiers’ aid societies. In June 1861 the United States Sanitary Commission was formed under the authority of the government, although it was privately funded. Women and girls throughout the North knitted socks, sewed shirts, and collected money to support the USSC. Women also organized sanitary fairs in cities throughout the North to raise money for the sanitary commission. These fairs featured art, parades, dances, museums, merchandise sales, and auctions, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Before the war, few female nurses publicly practiced medicine. In the first couple months of fighting, both the Union and Confederate armies preferred having men serve as nurses, believing women did not belong in hospitals. However, the armies were soon overwhelmed with wounded soldiers and those in charge reconsidered their views. 

In June 1861, Dorothea Dix was appointed Superintendent of Nurses for the Union Army and led the recruitment of women to serve in the nursing corps. According to the Army Heritage Foundation, roughly 3,300 women served as nurses for the Union Army during the war, overcoming their male colleagues’ objections “through appeals to national pride, patriotic duty, and through hard work and dedicated service to the sick and wounded soldiers that filled the nation’s hospitals.”

Southern Unionists

The South was not unified in its view on secession. In Women of the War by Frank Moore, published in 1866, the author recounts the experiences of a number of women from seceded states who courageously helped the Union Army. In one instance, two Tennessee women in the dark of night waved lanterns at an approaching Union Army train; after the train slowed to a stop, the women warned them that Confederate guerillas had destroyed the railroad bridge up ahead.

Moore also describes how, in 1862, a Kentucky woman whose husband fought for the Union was home alone when eleven Confederate soldiers raided her property. As they relaxed by the fireplace, she stole their muskets, shot and killed one who tried to get them back, and the next morning marched the rest at gunpoint to a nearby Union camp.

Spies and Combatants

Though women were barred from military service, there were some who, disguising themselves as men, served in the Union Army. Others served as spies. Harriet Tubman, the formerly enslaved woman known for leading hundreds of people to freedom on the Underground Railroad, was also a Union spy. Having volunteered for the Union as a cook and nurse, she was recruited by Union officers to establish a network of spies behind enemy lines. Disguised as a field hand, Tubman led scouting and spying missions and reported valuable intelligence to Union officers. At the same time, she continued to help enslaved people flee to freedom.


The Lost Women of Mill Street

1864: As Sherman’s army marches toward Atlanta, a cotton mill commandeered by the Confederacy lies in its path. Inside the mill, Clara Douglas weaves cloth and watches over her sister Kitty, waiting for the day her fiancĂ© returns from the West.

When Sherman’s troops destroy the mill, Clara’s plans to start a new life in Nebraska are threatened. Branded as traitors by the Federals, Clara, Kitty, and countless others are exiled to a desolate refugee prison hundreds of miles from home.

Cut off from all they've ever known, Clara clings to hope while grappling with doubts about her fiancĂ©’s ambitions and the unsettling truths surrounding his absence. As the days pass, the sisters find themselves thrust onto the foreign streets of Cincinnati, a city teeming with uncertainty and hostility. She must summon reserves of courage, ingenuity, and strength she didn’t know she had if they are to survive in an unfamiliar, unwelcoming land.

Inspired by true events of the Civil War, The Lost Women of Mill Street is a vividly drawn novel about the bonds of sisterhood, the strength of women, and the repercussions of war on individual lives.

Connect with Kinley Bryan

Kinley Bryan's debut novel, Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury, inspired by the Great Lakes Storm of 1913 and her own family history, won the 2022 Publishers Weekly Selfies Award for adult fiction. An Ohio native, she lives in South Carolina with her husband and three children. The Lost Women of Mill Street is her second novel.

Connect with Kinley on her website, Twitter(X), Facebook, Instagram, Book Bub, Amazon Author Page, and Goodreads.