Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Blog Tour Excerpt: The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba
by Chanel Cleeton
Berkley Trade Paperback; May 4, 2021

At the end of the nineteenth century, three revolutionary women fight for freedom in New York Times bestselling author Chanel Cleeton's captivating new novel inspired by real-life events and the true story of a legendary Cuban woman--Evangelina Cisneros--who changed the course of history.

A feud rages in Gilded Age New York City between newspaper tycoons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. When Grace Harrington lands a job at Hearst's newspaper in 1896, she's caught in a cutthroat world where one scoop can make or break your career, but it's a story emerging from Cuba that changes her life.

Unjustly imprisoned in a notorious Havana women's jail, eighteen-year-old Evangelina Cisneros dreams of a Cuba free from Spanish oppression. When Hearst learns of her plight and splashes her image on the front page of his paper, proclaiming her, "The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba," she becomes a rallying cry for American intervention in the battle for Cuban independence.

With the help of Marina Perez, a courier secretly working for the Cuban revolutionaries in Havana, Grace and Hearst's staff attempt to free Evangelina. But when Cuban civilians are forced into reconcentration camps and the explosion of the USS Maine propels the United States and Spain toward war, the three women must risk everything in their fight for freedom.



Excerpt

“I’m here for a job if you have one. As a reporter. I’ve spent the last few years writing for smaller papers, getting experience where I could.” I gesture to the leather folio in my lap. “I’ve brought samples of my work if you’d like to look at them. They’re not necessarily the kinds of stories I want to cover, but they’re a start.”

“Why do you wish to work here, Miss Harrington?” Pulitzer asks, making no move to take the folio from me.

“Because of the stories you cover, the impact you have. The World has one of the largest circulations in the world.”

Indeed, Mr. Pulitzer has just slashed the World’s price to one cent, saying he prefers power to profits, circulation the measure by which success is currently judged.

“You have the opportunity to reach readers, to bring about change, to help people who desperately need assistance,” I add. “I’ve admired the work you’ve done for years. You’ve long set the tone the rest of the New York newspaper industry follows. You’ve filled a gap in the news, given a voice to people who wouldn’t have otherwise had one. I’ve read the articles you wrote when you were a reporter yourself in St. Louis, and I admire the manner in which you address society’s ills. You’ve revolutionized the newspaper. I want to be part of that.”

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Guest Post by Rebecca Duvall Scott, Author of When Dignity Came to Harlan

Please join me in welcoming Rebecca Duvall Scott to Let Them Read Books! Rebecca is celebrating the publication of her debut historical novel, When Dignity Came to Harlan, based on the true story of her great-grandmother. Read on for a glimpse into the family history behind the story!

I made up my mind right then and there that I would just have to wade into this move like wading into a pond or lake I'd never seen before - slow and steady, feeling around for my footing and trying to avoid the sharp edges at the bottom that you never see coming.

***

News of what really happened to me - to us - spread through town like wildfire. It caught from one dry gossip tree to another and burned them to the ground with shame.

***

"Y'can do this, child - show 'em why I call y'Dignity," my old friend winked at me.

Skillfully written and sure to draw you in to its pages, When Dignity Came to Harlan is set in the early 1900s and follows twelve-year-old Anna Beth Atwood as she leaves Missouri with her family dreaming of a better life in the coal-rich mountains of Harlan County, Kentucky. Anna Beth’s parents lose everything on the trip, however, and upon asking strangers to take their girls in until they get on their feet, Anna Beth and her baby sister are dropped into the home of Jack and Grace Grainger – who have plenty of problems of their own. Anna Beth suffers several hardships during her time in Harlan, and if it wasn’t for her humble and wise old friend who peddles his wisdom along with his wares, all would be lost.   

Based on a true family history, this is a story of heartbreak and hope, challenges and perseverance, good and evil, justice and merciful redemption. It exemplifies the human experience in all its many facets and shows what it means to have real grit. 

Take the journey with us and see how, with the unseen hand of God, one girl changed the heart and soul of an entire town.  


Every person’s heritage is sacred, but what if yours had the makings of an amazing story? I spent a lot of my childhood at my grandmother’s kitchen table, mesmerized by the anecdotes of our forebears. I could see my great-grandmother, May Wood Elliott Kerr, being packed into a covered wagon with three of her sisters at the tender age of five. She would leave her eldest sister, who was married, behind and journey from Leadwood, Missouri, to Edmonson County, Kentucky, in search of a better life. Upon arrival, however, her parents had no money or place to stay, so they asked neighbors to take the girls in until they could get on their feet. The sisters were parceled out to strangers to earn their room and board, and May, unknowingly, was put into a very harsh home. The saddest part is that her parents never came back, and the girls grew up separated in foster care with many challenges to overcome. 

You know how bad it was? Besides the stories passed down through the generations, we have found documents that list my great-grandmother on the 1910 census as a servant in the foster home … as well as her first marriage certificate where her parents’ names are left blank! She was only five when they left her, remember, so until she reconnected with her older sisters, she didn’t even remember her parents’ names. Among the few photographs that survived the tumultuous time, my favorite is the one where she is holding a cat in front of her foster house. May cut out the man and his wife but kept it because she liked the cat!

I began taking notes for this Christian historical fiction novel in honor of my great-grandmother and grandmother when I was sixteen … which is a good thing because my grandmother suffered a stroke that took her ability to communicate ten years later. I turned in the first 70 pages of the manuscript to my creative writing professor in college when I was a senior, and on graduation day, he shook my hand and said, “Rebecca – please finish your story.” After becoming a wife and a mother, I did indeed turn back to Anna Beth Atwood, the character based on May Wood Elliott Kerr, who I had left in Harlan. I realized I couldn’t have finished it a moment before I did because I had to grow up myself and gain important life experiences to even do it justice. It is a deep-hearted book, and a dream come true. I am grateful the story chose me.


About the Author:

Rebecca Duvall Scott is an accomplished author and the recipient of numerous awards. Her first published work and best-selling memoir, Sensational Kids, Sensational Families: Hope for Sensory Processing Differences, chronicles the research, interventions, and mindset shifts that successfully brought her family through her son’s SPD diagnosis. While she values her special needs initiative, her heart has always been with Christian historical fiction. Her best-selling and #2 Amazon Hot New Release novel, When Dignity Came to Harlan, is based on her great-grandmother’s childhood. Rebecca lives with her husband and their two children in Kentucky and plans to write more in both the Dignity and Sensational Kids series.

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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Guest Post by Jean M. Roberts, Author of The Heron

Please join me in welcoming Jean M. Roberts to Let Them Read Books! Jean is celebrating the publication of her newest historical novel, The Heron, and I'm pleased to have her here today with a guest post about the historical story world her characters inhabit!

The past calls to those who dare to listen…

An invitation arrives; Abbey Coote, Professor of American Studies, has won an extended stay in an historic B&B, Pine Tree House. The timing is perfect. Abbey is recovering from an accident which left her abusive boyfriend dead and her with little memory of the event.

But her idyllic respite soon takes a terrifying turn. While exploring the house, Abbey comes face to face with Mary Foss, a woman dead for 350 years. Through a time/mind interface, Abbey experiences the horrors of Mary’s life, living at the edge of the civilized world in the 1690’s New England.

As Abbey faces her worst fears, she struggles to free them both from the past.


The Heron is a blend of passion and creative energy, woven together to form a single work. I have always loved history. As an American, I also appreciate and enjoy our unique history as a people and a country. There was a time when immigrants to New England were not quite American and not fully English, a very interesting period in our history!

From its inception, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which from time-to-time controlled New Hampshire was a virtual theocracy. It did not become a Royal Colony until 1691. The Puritan elite who ruled Massachusetts quickly dropped their Anglican pretensions and set up a system of congregation churches. A staunch, rigid religion which controlled society, it believed most people were damned to hell and espoused an angry righteous God. Each church chose and hired their own minister. Attendance was mandatory and abstainers were fined. Services held in unheated wooden buildings could last for hours. The fiery ministers exhorting his flock to fear his maker.

Women, children, servants and slaves were under the household government of their father/husband/master. The population was litigious; the quarterly courts were filled with cases of slander and trespass. Neighbors were quick to turn on each other, and report each other’s misdeeds.  Women who did not conform, who strayed too far from accepted norms, might find themselves accused of witchcraft. Physical punishment was not only tolerated but encouraged. Men who did not chastise their wives were seen as weak. Abuse was frequent; a part of daily life.

Violence came from without as well. As much as we would like to believe that the land of the ‘new world’ was there for the taking, the Native Americans resisted the takeover of what was their home. The result was frequent attacks and several full-scale wars between the colonists and the native population. Juxtaposed to this frightening, conformist world were the glittering courts of Europe. Hard as it is to believe, but actions taken by European governments, thousands of miles and an ocean away played havoc on the struggling colonies. From 1688 to 1697 King William’s War, the first of four French and Indian Wars raged across New England, sparked by the continental War of the Grand Alliance. Waves of French soldiers and their native allies, swept out of Canada to attack the fledgling towns, defended only by their local militias.

The colonists of New Hampshire built garrison houses, thick-walled buildings, surrounded by stockade walls to provide shelter during times of upheaval. I have found many ancestors who were killed in these attacks, many scalped before they died. Others were taken as captives to Canada, some never seen again. For years at a stretch, they lived in daily fear of attack.

The psychic scars left by living under such conditions must have been almost unbearable. One of the main accusers during the Salem Witch Trials, Mercy Lewis, survived the attack on Casco Bay, Maine, in which her entire family was killed. It is believed that the event affected her deeply. This is the world of The Heron.

About the Author:

Jean M. Roberts is the author of three novels. Weave a Web of Witchcraft, Blood in the Valley, and The Heron. She writes historical fiction with a special focus on American history. Her novel Blood in the Valley was reviewed by the Historical Novel Society.  Jean was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and has deep New England roots. She is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and lives in Texas with her husband. 

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Guest Post by Dianna Rostad, Author of You Belong Here Now

Please join me in welcoming Dianna Rostad to Let Them Read Books! I've had the pleasure of Dianna's friendship for several years now, and I'm thrilled to have her here today in celebration of the publication of her debut historical novel, You Belong Here Now! Read on to learn how her dad helped her write this book and see some photos that helped inspire the story!

Montana 1925: An Irish boy orphaned by Spanish flu, a tiny girl who won’t speak, and a volatile young man who lies about his age to escape Hell’s Kitchen, are paraded on train platforms across the Midwest to work-worn folks. They journey countless miles, racing the sun westward.

Before they reach the last stop, the oldest, Charles, comes up with a daring plan, and alone, they set off toward the Yellowstone River and grassy mountains where the wild horses roam.

Fate guides them toward the ranch of a family stricken by loss. Nara, the daughter of a successful cattleman, has grown into a brusque spinster who refuses the kids on sight. She’s worked hard to gain her father’s respect and hopes to run their operation, but if the kids stay, she’ll be stuck in the kitchen.

Nara works them without mercy, hoping they’ll run off, but they buck up and show spirit, and though Nara will never be motherly, she begins to take to them. So, when Charles is jailed for freeing wild horses that were rounded up for slaughter, and an abusive mother from New York shows up to take the youngest, Nara does the unthinkable, risking everything she holds dear to change their lives forever.


My Father’s Bookshelf

One Christmas my father drove down to Texas and he brought a bunch of old photos of the family ranches in Montana, and stories about how his family lived in this beautiful, but unforgiving land. One picture I always remember is of my grandfather’s old ranch house with a small windmill on the top of it. My grandfather had written a note that he’d put that windmill on there as a boy, hoping it would power just one light bulb—and it did for a time. He tells a great story about walking through the snow near the train tracks to get a wet car battery to store and convert the power from the windmill. My grandfather became an electrician later. All these photos broke open a whole big world where I could see my characters falling into place. I decided then to set You Belong Here Now in 1925 Montana.

My father was pretty excited, and we went down to the library straight away, and later on, he gave me a list of recommendations for books written by writers from Montana or set in the Big Sky state. These books helped me frame the mindset and everyday lives of people living in this quiet, rural place.  

Larry Watson, Montana 1948, White Crosses
Ivan Doig, Sweet Thunder, 
Richard Wheeler, Winter Grass
Ray Grensten, Tracks of the Iron Horse
Elmer Kelton, The Man Who Rode Midnight

From there I discovered:

Judy Blunt, Breaking Clean
Margaret Bell, When Montana and I Were Young
Barbara Van Cleve, Hard Twist
Spike Van Cleve, Forty Years’ Gatherin’s 

As the manuscript began to take shape, he would often read my manuscript for me. One time, he came back with the advice to cut the man fight out of the book, as he didn’t think guys would really believe it. I told him I needed it, and could he help me make it better. He sent me a link to a YouTube video of an old Charles Bronson movie set in New Orleans of an illegal fight much like mine in the book. It helped tremendously. All the goings on of the people watching a fight like that, how it was run by the men putting up the fighters, all those little details gave credence to my scene. The scene was cut after many versions, but I’ll always remember him sending me that video. Or the time we argued about whether butane was available in 1925. Throughout the process of bringing this book to the world, my father was with me every step of the way, giving me advice on rifles vs. shotguns, how they were loaded, cocked, etc., and lots of good feedback on old cars from that era, as he is a great hobbyist of early 20th century automobiles. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Q&A with Brenda Sparks Prescott, Author of Home Front Lines

Please join me in welcoming Brenda Sparks Prescott to Let Them Read Books! Brenda is celebrating the release of her debut historical novel, Home Front Lines, and I'm thrilled to have her here today with a Q&A!

In 1962 tensions are rising between the United States and the Soviet Union. But it is the everyday tensions of home, family, and military life that are top of mind for military spouse and African American Betty Ann Johnson in D.C. and Cuban Lola Montero who is asked to cook for the Soviet troops amassing on her island. At a time when many Americans feel unsettled and fearful of nuclear war, these women harness their agency to prepare their families for the worst in Home Front Lines by Brenda Sparks Prescott.

When Betty Ann catches wind that military preparations are being made for something more than just practice drills, she gathers a small band of military spouses to develop an evacuation plan for their children. Across the Florida Straits, Lola accidentally witnesses the installation of a Soviet missile. She and her sisters secretly make plans to send their children to Florida without their husbands’ knowledge. The two women are on opposing sides of the conflict, but they share the same fierce determination in protecting their children.

Home Front Lines is a story of strong and determined women. It is a story of BIPOC historical fiction in the 20th century, a genre that too often leaves out narratives not directly tied to the World Wars, the Great Migration, or Civil Rights movement. But these communities existed in every time and place, and their stories deserve to be told. 


Hi Brenda! Welcome to Let Them Read Books!

You've had short fiction published in a variety of literary magazines - why the switch to writing a novel?

Brenda Sparks Prescott: I have always been interested in long form fiction. My initial story ideas are often too complex for a short form, especially when coupled with my habit of asking “what if” while building the world in which each story lives. In fact, the original take on what is now Home Front Lines was a triptych story that was about 40 pages long. One of my mentors who was also an editor of a literary journal said it was too long for a short story and too short for a novella. He suggested I get rid of one or two of the three primary elements and make it into a short story. Instead, I kept asking “what if,” which took my original exploration deeper and eventually resulted in this novel. The short form wasn’t completely lost, though, as chapters from an earlier version of the novel were published as stand-alone short stories in literary journals.

How has your experience with Solstice Literary Magazine and the MFA program informed your writing?

Brenda Sparks Prescott: Solstice Literary Magazine and the Solstice MFA program have a common origin in terms of their visionary founders, but they are separate entities that involve overlapping communities. It has been immensely nourishing to be part of these communities, which embody the concept of inclusive excellence through their intentional actions to support diverse voices. I can’t imagine getting this project to publication without their support.