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Interview with Dorothea Jensen, author of Liberty-Loving Lafayette: How ‘America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman’ Helped Win Our Independence

If you missed my review of Liberty-Loving Lafayette last week, please do check out this fun way for kids to learn some U.S. history.

Today, we have a treat for readers and writers with an interview. Dorothea Jensen has graciously answered some questions about her love of Lafayette and her writing inspirations and advice.

Please give her a warm welcome, and do ask your own questions in the comments.

Why such an interest in Lafayette? What does he represent/mean to you?

I have always been interested in history. During the Revolutionary War Bicentennial, my husband and I happened to move to a small town near Philadelphia. My kids learned to ride bikes at Valley Forge, and we often visited historical sites such as the Brandywine battlefield, Independence Hall, etc. When we later moved back to Minnesota, I wanted to keep this sense of history alive for my children, so I wrote a novel about the American Revolution for middle graders, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm. This has been in print since 1989.

Despite making up one story about our historic struggle, however, my interest in Lafayette himself was not sparked until 1997, when I happened to meet an elderly woman who told me that as a little girl her great grandmother had received a kiss (called a buss at the time) from Major General Lafayette in 1824 during his Farewell Tour. That buss had been passed down in her family to her. Of course, first I asked her to pass it along to me, and then I started reading about Lafayette. I’ve been reading and writing about him ever since.

First of all, I found out that Lafayette visited my town in 1825, and went right past my house. Then I learned more and about the man himself, and found him to be hugely appealing. Not only was he charming, idealistic, enthusiastic, and courageous, but he also had a wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humor. He also was a lifelong abolitionist. In addition to being an effective military leader (despite his youth and inexperience), his close friendship with and loyalty to George Washington helped the commander-in-chief weather some difficult challenges, such as the Conway Cabal. Finally, Lafayette played a huge role in gaining more support from France and making the French alliance work, which was certainly crucial to our final victory.

What inspired you to start writing? What motivates you to continue writing?

Like many authors, I was inspired to start writing because I was a passionate reader as a child. I read constantly and especially loved historical novels like The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Sherwood Ring. I didn’t start trying to write for publication until I was in my mid-thirties and the last of my three children was born. I decided to write historical fiction such as that I loved as a kid. I have written two historical novels for MG/YA so far: The Riddle of Penncroft Farm and A Buss from Lafayette.

The Izzy Elves stories came about because of a childhood experience during which I thought Santa had been trapped under our Christmas tree. I decided create stories in rhyming verse based on the rhythm and rhyme scheme of Clement Moore’s 19th century classic, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” The main difference is that my eight elves—Bizzy, Blizzy, Dizzy, Fizzy, Frizzy, Quizzy, Tizzy, and Whizzy—are savvy in modern technology. I have written five Izzy Elf stories so far: Tizzy, the Christmas Shelf Elf; Blizzy, the Worrywart Elf; Dizzy, the Stowaway Elf; Frizzy, the S.A.D. Elf; and Bizzy, the Bossy Boots Elf.

Why I keep writing is simple. I do so because story ideas keep occurring to me and I just can’t ignore them. I have to write them down and see where they lead.

Give us an inside look at your writing routines. How do you start your day? How long do you write each day?

My routine varies hugely depending on the stage of composition. Sometimes I spend upwards of 10-12+ hours working. Of course, when I am writing historical fiction, I am doing research as well as writing, and these days I am also required to spend a great deal of precious time on promotion (not my favorite activity).

As time goes by and my memory becomes a bit less reliable, I am starting my days by composing lists of writing tasks and goals to focus on.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? Do you need silence? What are some of your must-haves while writing?

My main requirement is silence. I have to hear the dialogue etc. in my head, and I find music too distracting. I can write anywhere as long as it is relatively quiet. Parts of my books have been created on airplanes and trains, and in libraries, dentist and doctors’ offices, etc. As long as I have a computer or a piece of paper at hand, I can write wherever I am.

Provide new writers with 1-2 pieces of writing advice that will inspire them to keep going when writer’s block hits or publishing seems impossible.

The way I avoid writer’s block is pretty simple: I usually work on two very different writing projects at once. If I get stuck on one, I work on the other one for a while and it “unsticks” me. For example, while I was writing A Buss from Lafayette, a historical novel set in my small New Hampshire town during Lafayette’s Farewell Tour, I was also working on Frizzy, the S.A.D. Elf, one of the modern Christmas stories I write in homage to Clement Moore’s classic poem.

The main character in the MG/YA novel, Clara, is unhappy because she has a stepmother (her late mother’s older sister), who is trying to make her act like a lady. Clara also is a target for teasing because of her red hair. In the elf story, Frizzy, who styles the hair of Christmas dollies, feels unhappy every time Santa takes them away for delivery. (She has something called “Seasonal Affection Distress,” as this happens every single Christmas.) The ways in which Clara and Frizzy deal with their emotional problems are nothing alike, to say the least, but bouncing back and forth between their stories always freed up and fired up my imagination for them both.

(I must comment here that until writing the above paragraph, it had never occurred to me that an important element in both Clara and Frizzy’s stories is hair.)

Of course, when I was writing Liberty-Loving Lafayette: How “America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman” Helped Win Our Independence, it was a slightly different dynamic, because it was nonfiction history told entirely in rhyming verse. I did, however, couple this effort with writing another elf story, Bizzy, the Bossy Boots Elf. (It occurs to me as I write this that Lafayette and Bizzy share only one thing: both were/are excellent leaders!)

I must admit that I never planned on creating a history in verse. After writing A Buss from Lafayette, however, I knew a lot about Lafayette. Oddly enough, I found that rhyming couplets about him just started popping up in my head. Besides, although Buss tells much of Lafayette’s story, it is done through historical fiction, and Lafayette must share the stage with Clara. Once I decided to write Liberty-Loving Lafayette, I started thinking of it as a companion book for Buss, as in it I tell the complete story of Lafayette’s role in our War of Independence.

I wrote both Liberty-Loving Lafayette and Bizzy, the Bossy Boots Elf during the pandemic lockdown in 2020. This activity proved to be an excellent antidote to the claustrophobia and isolation of that situation.

Thank you, Dorothea, for sharing with us part of your writing journey and advice.

Mailbox Monday #656

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

This is what we received:

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci, which I purchased.

Stanley Tucci grew up in an Italian American family that spent every night around the kitchen table. He shared the magic of those meals with us in The Tucci Cookbook and The Tucci Table, and now he takes us beyond the savory recipes and into the compelling stories behind them.​

Taste is a reflection on the intersection of food and life, filled with anecdotes about his growing up in Westchester, New York; preparing for and shooting the foodie films Big Night and Julie & Julia; falling in love over dinner; and teaming up with his wife to create meals for a multitude of children. Each morsel of this gastronomic journey through good times and bad, five-star meals and burned dishes, is as heartfelt and delicious as the last.

Written with Stanley’s signature wry humor, Taste is for fans of Bill Buford, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Ruth Reichl—and anyone who knows the power of a home-cooked meal.

Granddaughter of Dust by Laura Williams for review.

In Granddaughter of Dust, brilliant debut poet Laura Williams presents a compelling collection of poems whose perspective demonstrates an original outlook and heartfelt emotions. Williams has crafted a deeply moving collection that addresses themes of religion, culture, and a personal journey of growth. Bringing a unique voice to familiar characters from our collective experience, Williams provides the reader with an unexpected view, and her readers will connect to the raw emotion and depth of feeling found in these verses. Williams’ free form style and use of rhythmic repetition evoke a lyrical feeling which lingers long after the page is turned.

Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron for review.

May 1816: Jane Austen is feeling unwell, with an uneasy stomach, constant fatigue, rashes, fevers and aches. She attributes her poor condition to the stress of family burdens, which even the drafting of her latest manuscript—about a baronet’s daughter nursing a broken heart for a daring naval captain—cannot alleviate. Her apothecary recommends a trial of the curative waters at Cheltenham Spa, in Gloucestershire. Jane decides to use some of the profits earned from her last novel, Emma, and treat herself to a period of rest and reflection at the spa, in the company of her sister, Cassandra.

Cheltenham Spa hardly turns out to be the relaxing sojourn Jane and Cassandra envisaged, however. It is immediately obvious that other boarders at the guest house where the Misses Austen are staying have come to Cheltenham with stresses of their own—some of them deadly. But perhaps with Jane’s interference a terrible crime might be prevented. Set during the Year without a Summer, when the eruption of Mount Tambora in the South Pacific caused a volcanic winter that shrouded the entire planet for sixteen months, this fourteenth installment in Stephanie Barron’s critically acclaimed series brings a forgotten moment of Regency history to life.

What did you receive?

Inheritance of Aging Self by Lucinda Marshall

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 66 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

*** full disclosure: Lucinda, who is a member of my poetry workshop group, is a great mentor and a golden angel to poets in the poetry community***

Inheritance of Aging Self by Lucinda Marshall explores what it means to age, to see our ancestors in the mirror, and to make peace with the life we’ve led, left behind for others to make sense of, and the life we have in the present. Life is just one patchwork quilt, isn’t it? Yes, Lucinda is a quilter, a natural puzzle maker.

From "My Grandmother's Tea Cups" (pg. 1)

...
I see the you in me
as I become the wearer
of your papery skin,
an inheritance 
with its own design,

Patterns and textures take center stage in Marshall’s poems, weaving together a quilt her family will cherish always. But there are the emotional ties woven in each square, from the anger at aging and loss of youth to the acceptance of the multi-faceted you, a beauty beneath the perception of who you were then, like in “Mirror Image.”

Marshall says in “Contemplation of Succulence in Sonora”: “I do know that erosion changes us–// a whittling away, until only bones and distillation/ remain to provide the grounding” Some of us take longer to find our grounding, drifting from place to place, family to family, friend to friend, but these experiences eventually ground us in who we are and who we are not.

In this effort, we also need to learn how to create our own boundaries to preserve our mental well-being, like Marshall’s “I Do Not Ask” and “Serenity Prayer For Singular Existence” remind us. Boundaries are necessary to ensure burnout is kept at bay, that we can be our best selves when others need us, and that we can fulfill our own desires and dreams, even if others don’t quite understand.

Marshall’s collection hinges on the title poem, which comes midway through the book. Where the narrator comes to terms with aging and the potential for lost memory, lost sense of self, fewer days ahead. It is an unsettling moment when age becomes a reality you can no longer ignore. “she wonders what it feels like to be ashes,// what part of who she is will be left/,” says the narrator of “What Remains.”

Inheritance of Aging Self by Lucinda Marshall is about the universal, solitary journey we all travel on. Don’t be mistaken, we are journeying with our past, present, and future side-by-side and no one can reconcile those facets of our selves but us. We must come to terms with all that we are and what remains, what we leave behind, how others will know us and remember us, and what pursuits will be of greatest importance in our waning years. That “Unicorn” is in the surf, it’s just out of reach unless we’re willing to believe and lunge forth toward it.

RATING: Quatrain

Photo Credit: Jaree Donnelly

About the Poet:

Lucinda Marshall is the author of the full-length poetry collection, Inheritance Of Aging Self (Finishing Line Press,2021) and is available for purchase from Finishing Line Press, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. Marshall is an award-winning artist and writer whose poetry has appeared in Global Poemics, Broadkill Review, Foliate Oak, The Rising Phoenix Review, and Poetica, among others, as well as in the anthologies “Poems in the Aftermath” (Indolent Books), “You Can Hear The Ocean” (Brighten Press), “Is It Hot In Here Or Is It Just Me?” (Beautiful Cadaver Project), and “We Will Not Be Silenced” (Indie Blu(e) Publishing). Her poetry has won awards from Waterline Writers, Third Wednesday, and Montgomery Magazine.

She lives in Maryland and is the Founder of both the DiVerse Gaithersburg (MD) Poetry Reading, the Gaithersburg (MD) Poetry Workshop, and has served as a volunteer mentor for the Gaithersburg Teen Writing Workshop, part of a program run by the Maryland Writers’ Association.

The Haunted Library: The Hide-and-Seek Ghost by Dori Hillestad Butler

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Haunted Library: The Hide-and-Seek Ghost (book 8) by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is another caper in which Claire and Kaz are called upon to uncover a ghost at a fellow classmate’s house. Trouble is, the classmate’s mom believes her son is making up the ghost stories so they don’t sell the house and move. Oh, and this classmate has a tendency to play pranks on other students. Kaz doesn’t trust that he is telling the truth about the ghost.

Further complicating the situation is Kaz’s parents, who still view Kaz and Little John as children to shelter, but they’ve been living their lives without them.

The Haunted Library: The Hide-and-Seek Ghost (book 8) by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is another strong book in the series that will keep young readers guessing. We have more books in this series to read, but I think my daughter’s taking a break from the series as we work on her reading skills.

RATING: Quatrain

Liberty-Loving Lafayette: How ‘America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman’ Helped Win Our Independence by Dorothea Jensen

Source: Author
Paperback, 64 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Liberty-Loving Lafayette: How ‘America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman’ Helped Win Our Independence by Dorothea Jensen is a rhyming narrative of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, and how he came to the United States to help us fight against the British in the Revolutionary War. In well written rhyme, Jensen will engage young readers in the life of Lafayette as a young man (only 19) eager to fight for freedom.

What I love about this book is that it takes history and makes it come alive for children with verse. It includes portraits and other art from the time of the war and beyond to illustrate the story, and uses some modern phrasing, like “good to go,” to make it relatable to younger generations of readers. While this is a succinct look at Lafayette’s contributions, there are resources, a glossary of terms, and larger explanations, as well as a bibliography, in the back of the book for teachers and parents to use and help children understand history a little better.

Liberty-Loving Lafayette: How ‘America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman’ Helped Win Our Independence by Dorothea Jensen would be a great addition to classrooms and home libraries, especially for those kids and parents interested in teaching American history. Kids will learn about no only the inspirations for Lafayette’s decision to come to the United States but also about how he played a key role in military successes.

Rating: Quatrain

Mailbox Monday #655

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

This is what we received:

Liberty-Loving Lafayette: How “America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman” Helped Win Our Independence by Dorothea Jensen for review.

“An ode to the great Lafayette, beautifully told and richly illustrated…” —Alan R. Hoffman, Translator, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825: Journal of a Voyage to the United States, and President,The American Friends of Lafayette.

“A great addition to the [Lafayette] canon” —Diane Shaw, Director Emerita of Special Collections & College Archives, Lafayette College

“Dorothea Jensen brings Lafayette to life for all ages”—Chuck Schwam, Publisher, American Friends of Lafayette Gazette 

Inspired by the Broadway hit, HAMILTON, and by Longfellow’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” author Dorothea Jensen wrote this short rhyming narrative about the Marquis de Lafayette and his crucial role in our Revolutionary War.

A glossary and extensive endnotes supply further information about the historical figures and events mentioned in the poem. This playful historical account is aimed at middle schoolers, as well as young and older adults. It would be entertaining and educational to perform in a classroom or other settings, such as events celebrating the upcoming bicentennial of Lafayette’s 1824-5 Farewell Tour of America.

A Few Things You Will Learn from this Book:

  • Who the unlikely person was who inspired Lafayette to help America
  • How Lafayette’s powerful father-in-law tried to discourage his plan
  • Why such a high rank was given to an inexperienced 19-year-old
  • How Lafayette helped strengthen the crucial French Alliance
  • What Lafayette’s key successes were as a military commander in America

Jensen has previously written two historical novels for young readers (middle graders and young adults) about Lafayette and about the American Revolution. These are entitled A BUSS FROM LAFAYETTE, and THE RIDDLE OF PENNCROFT FARM.

The Rescue of Elizabeth Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Variation (Pride and Prejudice Variations) by Bella Breen, which was free on Kindle.

Elizabeth will marry Mr. Collins even if Mrs. Bennet has to drag her to the altar.

When Mr. Bennet dies, Mr. Collins takes over Longbourn. He shows his true character when he vows to force the Bennets from their home unless he is given Elizabeth Bennet’s hand in marriage.

Elizabeth, who has promised only to marry for love, refuses. But as her mother and sisters take increasingly drastic steps to force Elizabeth to wed, how long can she resist?

Will Elizabeth make the ultimate sacrifice to save her family from being cast out?

Mr. Darcy fights his attraction to Elizabeth, but when he discovers Elizabeth is set to marry Mr. Collins, the next day, he must face his feelings before his love slips away. Can he rescue Elizabeth before it’s too late? And if so, will the pair of them survive Mr. Collins’ revenge?

What did you receive?

Guest Post & Giveaway: Why Lady Susan by Alice McVeigh, author of Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel

Welcome everyone to today’s latest guest! Alice McVeigh has written a different kind of Jane Austen story, and I love that she chose to write about Lady Susan!

Here’s a little about the book:

Familiar characters abound – Frank Churchill, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy himself – but Susan – mischievous and manipulative – is the star. This is Austen that even Austen might have loved, with a touch of Georgette Heyer in the romantic sections. Fans of Bridgerton will also relish this classic regency romance, the first in a six-book series.

Sixteen-year-old Susan Smithson – pretty but poor, clever but capricious – has just been expelled from a school for young ladies in London.

At the mansion of the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she attracts a raffish young nobleman. But, at the first hint of scandal, her guardian dispatches her to her uncle Collins’ rectory in Kent, where her sensible cousin Alicia lives and “where nothing ever happens.”

Here Susan mischievously inspires the local squire to put on a play, with consequences no one could possibly have foreseen. What with the unexpected arrival of Frank Churchill, Alicia’s falling in love and a tumultuous elopement, rural Kent will surely never seem safe again…

Please welcome Alice:

Thanks so much, Serena, for inviting me to write about my new novel, Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel. In her note Serena wrote, “Lady Susan is so interesting! And I so rarely get offered anything to do with Austen’s other works.”

Some of you will probably read that last sentence twice. I did not – not because I’m hugely clever but because I too have Pride and Prejudice fatigue.

Now before I get brick-batted, I should say that, in common with every other writer I know, I love P&P. I simply object that it is actually more “searched for” on Google than Jane Austen is.

Yes, you read that right. P&P is more famous than Jane Austen, herself. It has also inspired more film adaptations, theatre productions, spinoffs, zombies and graphic novels than every other book she wrote – all put together – not only once, but several times over.

Of course, it isn’t as complex as Emma or as autumnal and elegant as Persuasion – it really is as light and liquid as Austen herself jokingly complained (“it is too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade…”) Also, unlike all her other books, it can be read as straight romance, despite Austen’s trademarked ironic social commentary. And yes, so outrageously rich is Mr Darcy that – in today’s terms – it even qualifies as “billionaire romance”!

Yet its sparkle is so rare, enviable, and skilful that I know of no serious academic who would wish her – were she still around – to alter a single word.

Despite this, I think that P&P worship has got out of hand.

The first time I noticed was when I received a disgruntled review of my new novel from an Amazon reader whose only beef was that – to her limitless grief – Mr Darcy did not appear.

My retort – which of course I never penned – would have been, “That’s because Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel is, um, a prequel to Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, and not a sequel to P&P. Mr Darcy never appears in Austen’s Lady Susan.”

Once I stopped grinding my teeth, I made cracks about how I should have included Darcy, within my own book club… At least, I did until Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel received its first Kirkus review.

I had perhaps got my hopes up a little, as Susan had already won First Place in the Global Book Awards, a gold medal in the PenCrest Book Awards, an IndieReader gold medallion, and – most amazingly – been rated 10/10 in Publishers Weekly.

The Kirkus reviewer, however, described it as “spirited but ultimately unsatisfactory”. And why? – you’ve already guessed. Because Mr Darcy and Eliza Bennet never appear. How could it be called a prequel, she or he argued, when only Lady Catherine, of all the P&P characters, really feature in my book at all?

Yes, even Kirkus, the premier source of reviews, possesses at least one reviewer who assumes that every Austenesque prequel has to be a prequel to P&P, the only book she ever wrote.

To be fair to Kirkus – once I’d stopped kicking the furniture long enough to complain – they seemed mortified. They instantly offered me a second review, free of charge, and the second reviewer really liked it. (“An intelligent prequel packed with enjoyable Austen references… McVeigh displays a brilliant, spot-on command of Austen’s diction and tone.” Thank you, Kirkus Reviews!)

But my point still stands. P&P first… the rest nowhere! ☹

And this is a terrible thing for all of Austen’s other works of utter genius. It can even be a pretty terrible thing for the stars of its numerous adaptations, with actor Colin Firth being Example A. He has publicly complained that – grateful as he was for having been cast as Mr Darcy – it had so identified him to most filmgoers that he had missed out on interesting roles afterwards. The curse of P&P!

Anyway, on to Lady Susan!

So, why did I choose to write a prequel to Lady Susan? Why didn’t I simply join other Austen-struck writers doing spinoffs of P&P?

First, because Lady Susan represents Austen’s only attempt at showcasing serious villainy. Austen’s Lady Susan makes Mrs Norris of Mansfield Park look almost civilized – and even the wickedly passionate Maria Bertram like some kind of a Girl Scout. When not amusing herself by seducing married men – or by wrecking the peace of her family by attempting to seduce their rich young heir – Austen’s Lady Susan is trying to force her gentle daughter into marrying a man she loathes. Why would anyone wish to write a book about Lady Susan?

Well, partly because I became fascinated in how she became so villainous, at 35 – her age in Austen’s Lady Susan. In my own novel she’s still just sixteen and – though certainly self-interested and notably manipulative – is also witty, engaging and affectionate. There are hints as to her ultimate character – if anyone’s character is set by their mid-thirties – but the reader is certainly hoping that her machinations will triumph with regard to her cousin Alicia’s love match – in fact, the reader’s pulling for young Susan all the way.

Yes, I give clues – she remarks at one point, “It was a very pretty letter. It was almost too pretty to burn” – but it would take an alert reader to spot them.

Why isn’t “my” Susan closer in character to Austen’s Lady Susan? – It isn’t just because I’m saving most of the character development for the sequel. It’s really because I simply find it impossible to imagine that any sixteen-year-old could be truly villainous – I don’t see how they could manage it in the time. I was also too charmed with the idea of her engaging with Frank Churchill, and with her taking the fancy of Lady Catherine de Bourgh… In fact, the whole idea of the prequel had been percolating in my brain for ages. It just took me about fifteen years to get up enough nerve to write it! (My agent was also against it, as being too close to genre fiction.)

But now I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, I’ve done Jane Austen a tiny favor. I know many people who have gone back to Lady Susan and read it, mostly for the first time, having read Susan, A Jane Austen Prequel.

Of course, Susan would be selling still better had I only been smart enough to instead scribble Darcy as the Bloodthirsty Vampire Headmaster of Hogwarts or Eliza Bennet: Buttered Scones with Strawberry Jam (A Cosy Mystery).

Hmm. Now there’s a thought…

Thank you, Alice, for sharing why you wrote about Susan!

About the Author:

Alice McVeigh’s Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel is the first in a series of six Austenesque books published by Warleigh Hall Press (it is now available in audiobook). The second in the series (Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation) will be published in January. Alice has previously been published in contemporary fiction by Orion/Hachette and in speculative thrillers (using a pen name) by UK’s Unbound Publishing. You can contact Alice here.

Enter the Giveaway: (1 ebook and 1 audiobook – 2 winners)

Leave a comment and let us know if you prefer an ebook or audiobook by Nov. 5 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Poets v. the Pandemic: This Is What America Looks Like reading

If you missed last week’s reading of Poets v. the Pandemic, where I was one of the featured readers from the This Is What America Looks Like anthology, you can view that below:

I highly recommend this anthology, not just because I have a poem inside, but because there are some stellar writers in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area. So many stories and poems touch not only upon the pandemic and its impact, but also racial justice, the news circus, and the world through real Americans’ eyes.

Buy a copy, I’ll sign my poem when I see you!

I am so honored to read with local poetry icons like Reuben Jackson, Karren Alenier, Elizabeth Knapp, Gregory Luce, and Fran Abrams.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 40 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a brief look at the extraordinary lives of these brilliant mathematicians — Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dr. Christine Darden. My daughter and I read this book together and were learning a great deal about not only the role of math in the building of airplanes and spacecraft, but also the history of the time when segregation still existed and women were not allowed in meetings or even on scientific teams.

In one illustration, my daughter commented about the separate water fountains and noted that the one for “coloreds” looked more like a toilet with a spout than a water fountain. I think this was her interpretation of the differences between those facilities and she was taken aback at how awful just that aspect was. Kids are far smarter than adults sometimes.

As we read, we looked up the real women on the internet to check out more of their accomplishments and look at the projects they worked on, and my daughter was particularly interested in the wind tunnels that Mary Jackson worked with. I think it was because the visual of the giant fan behind Jackson and her team didn’t demonstrate the airplane models being tested. The internet helped with that.

While we loved the illustrations and how vivid they are, we wondered about the earrings the ladies wore — stars, planets, moons — were these accurate to their daily accessories or just a nod to their role in the space race? My daughter also loves learning about the landing on the moon and what was said, and the biographies in the back about each woman was fantastic because we learned more about each of them, though we were saddened to learn that only one of them is still alive, as Katherine Johnson passed away in 2020.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a delightful introduction to these stellar women and their accomplishments against all odds — racism and sexism. This generated some great discussion with my daughter and since she loves history, it was a great read for us.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of  Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. She is also the founder of The Human Computer Project, an endeavor that is recovering the names and accomplishments of all of the women who worked as computers, mathematicians, scientists, and engineers at the NACA and NASA from the 1930s through the 1980s. She is a Hampton, Virginia native, University of Virginia graduate, an entrepreneur, and an intrepid traveler who spent 11 years living in Mexico. She currently lives in Charlottesville, VA.

About the Illustrator:

Laura Freeman is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree. Her work on “Hidden Figures” written by Margot Lee Shetterly, was recognized with an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Children, reached the New York Times Best Seller list and was listed as one of “Ten Books All Georgians Should Read”. Her art has been honored at the Society of Illustrators in NYC and in the Annuals for Communication Arts and American Illustration.

Mailbox Monday #654

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

This is what we received:

Kaddish by Jane Yolen for Gaithersburg Book Festival.

Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, is recited in a time of deep sorrow. In it, the sacredness of the Almighty One is affirmed. In her new gathering of sixty poems, award-winning author Jane Yolen gives us a feminist view of Biblical themes and personalities such as Eve, Sarah, David and Goliath. The poems then morph into those about the Holocaust and after. Yolen’s unflinching and stark record of the many death camp horrors serve as reminders of that era’s brutality and the unrelenting suffering visited upon an innocent people. “Knowing means remembrance,” Yolen writes–as each poem becomes a memorial, a teaching, a warning for our and future generations. Her book concludes: “… no Jew truly escapes/that time, those places,/unscarred, unscathed./I have no numbers on my arms,/But I have studied the charts,/the cities, the deaths,/till I know them by heart.”

Inheritance of Aging Self by Lucinda Marshall, which I purchased.

Lucinda Marshall’s debut poetry collection, Inheritance Of Aging Self, explores our inherited understanding and experience of illness, death, grief, and sense of place.

In poems that she began to write during the final years of her parents’ lives, Lucinda Marshall’s debut poetry collection, Inheritance Of Aging Self, is an exploration of aging, illness, and death, as we witness them in the lives of our elders and loved ones, of grieving and ultimately the impact this heritage has on our sense of identity and place as we in turn age.

The title poem of the collection was included in the Maryland State Arts Council’s “Identity” exhibit in 2021 and “Winter Beach” was the first-place winner in Montgomery Magazine’s 2019 “Montgomery Writes” contest.

When Your Wife has Tommy John Surgery by E. Ethelbert Miller for Gaithersburg Book Festival.

Much-honored Washington, D.C. poet activist E. Ethelbert Miller delights and surprises us with his deft imaginings and portraits. Ethelbert’s poems play out in baseball rhythm and express the joy of living, despite the bitter challenges in today’s world. These poems define our time and allow us to see ourselves as human through the lens of baseball, family and music.

When Your Wife Has Tommy John Surgery and Other Baseball Stories is Miller’s second book of baseball poems. Here he touches new bases. There are poems about Marcel Duchamp and Ornette Coleman as well as Whitey Ford and Don Larsen. Miller’s poems move the outdoor game indoors where there are moments of disappointment and despair. Baseball can be a blues game. Tommy John surgery is a way of holding onto hope. Many of these poems were written during the Covid pandemic. They beckon fans back to the ballpark. They remind us to enjoy a game that is precious  and maybe even essential to our wellness. Coming after If God Invented Baseball, Miller seems to emerge from a literary dugout after a brief rain delay, ready to celebrate the American pastime again.

What did you receive?