Tuesday, March 19, 2019

New Mexico, Land of the Free? Guest Post by Loretta Miles Tollefson, Author of Not Just Any Man

Please join me in welcoming Loretta Miles Tollefson to Let Them Read Books! Loretta is here today with a guest post about New Mexico in the 1820s, the setting of her latest novel, Not Just Any Man.

Just a man. Known for his character, not the color of his skin. That’s all Gerald, son of a free  black man and an Irish servant girl, wants to be. It’s an impossible goal in slave-holding Missouri, but in the West, mountain men and villagers alike seem to accept him without question.

New Mexico is all that Gerald hoped for, but shortly after he arrives in Taos, he realizes he wants more than he’d thought: A girl with her own complex ancestry and a high mountain valley with intriguing potential. 

Can Gerald survive the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Mohave Indians, and the arid south rim of the Grand Canyon as well as the fellow trapper who hates him for the color of his skin? Can he prove to himself and the girl he loves that he is, after all, not just any man?

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New Mexico, Land of the Free?

Not Just Any Man is set in New Mexico under Mexican control, but its story is actually propelled by events in the United States, specifically Missouri. Before it became a state in 1820, Missouri wasn’t a bad place for a free person of African ancestry to live. Free Blacks didn’t have the social or economic mobility of Whites, and most of them subsisted as menial laborers, but they could legally hold property and enter into apprenticeship agreements. And work was readily available: in the countryside during harvest and other high-activity seasons, and on the river the rest of the year.

But in 1820, Missouri entered the Union as a slave-holding state. Almost immediately, the lives of its free citizens of African descent began to change. Travel was restricted. The sale of goods was limited. And there were fewer jobs available as more and more slaves were imported  to work the new state’s crops and river cargo. But one of the most egregious changes was to the penalty for enslaving a free Black.

Up until 1825, anyone caught enslaving a free Black in Missouri was automatically sentenced to death. Without benefit of clergy, which meant they’d go to their reward without spiritual guidance or comfort. Under the new law, the penalty for enslaving a free Black was reduced to a maximum of thirty lashes and ten years in prison.

This sentence was further reduced if the enslaved person was returned to freedom. If this happened, the penalty was simply a $1000 fine and court costs. While this was a significant amount of money in the 1820s, it certainly wasn’t death.

Not Just Any Man imagines that, given the new laws, the safest place for a free Black in 1820s Missouri was somewhere else. For a single man, New Mexico was a logical place to head. There was economic opportunity there, and, perhaps even more importantly, Americans of any skin color were not only welcome, they were invited to become full citizens.

In the 1820s, Mexico’s attitude toward racial differences was remarkably different from the United States. This was especially true in New Mexico, where frontier conditions left little time to worry about the color of each other’s skin. Families of all ethnic and racial backgrounds freely participated in every aspect of community life, including government land grant programs. In fact, historical records indicate that at least one family of African ancestry lived in the Taos area, where Gerald Locke, Jr., fleeing Missouri and its laws, arrives in the late 1820s. And where he finds the love of his life.

No one in New Mexico seems to care about Gerald’s race or ethnicity. Even the girl. It turns out that his only problem is the attitude of other American trappers. Or of one of them, at any rate. The one who also has his eye on the girl. But you’ll have to read the book to find out who that trapper is and what he does about Gerald. Can Gerald survive the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Mohave Indians, and the arid south rim of the Grand Canyon as well as the one man in New Mexico who hates him for the color of his skin? Can he prove to himself and the girl he loves that he is, after all, not just any man?

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Book Blast + Giveaway: The Lost History of Dreams by Kris Waldherr

The Lost History of Dreams by Kris Waldherr

Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Atria Books
Hardcover & eBook; 320 Pages
Genre: Historical/Gothic/Mystery

A post-mortem photographer unearths dark secrets of the past that may hold the key to his future, in this captivating debut novel in the gothic tradition of Wuthering Heights and The Thirteenth Tale.

All love stories are ghost stories in disguise.

When famed Byronesque poet Hugh de Bonne is discovered dead of a heart attack in his bath one morning, his cousin Robert Highstead, a historian turned post-mortem photographer, is charged with a simple task: transport Hugh’s remains for burial in a chapel. This chapel, a stained glass folly set on the moors of Shropshire, was built by de Bonne sixteen years earlier to house the remains of his beloved wife and muse, Ada. Since then, the chapel has been locked and abandoned, a pilgrimage site for the rabid fans of de Bonne’s last book, The Lost History of Dreams.

However, Ada’s grief-stricken niece refuses to open the glass chapel for Robert unless he agrees to her bargain: before he can lay Hugh to rest, Robert must record Isabelle’s story of Ada and Hugh’s ill-fated marriage over the course of five nights.

As the mystery of Ada and Hugh’s relationship unfolds, so does the secret behind Robert’s own marriage—including that of his fragile wife, Sida, who has not been the same since the tragic accident three years ago, and the origins of his own morbid profession that has him seeing things he shouldn’t—things from beyond the grave.

Kris Waldherr effortlessly spins a sweeping and atmospheric gothic mystery about love and loss that blurs the line between the past and the present, truth and fiction, and ultimately, life and death.

Here is the exclusive Book Trailer...

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Praise for The Lost History of Dreams

“Scheherazade-like . . . haunting. . . Waldherr avoids cliché in her rich descriptions and hints of supernatural presence that never cross into melodrama. Additionally, while most gothic tales offer only darkness and tragedy, a surprising amount of light and joy imbues the ending here. Fitting, perhaps, for a novel that uses stained glass as a symbol for heavenly possibility, even in the face of death. Waldherr writes that “love stories are ghost stories in disguise.” This one, happily, succeeds as both.” – Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Wuthering Heights meets Penny Dreadful in Kris Waldherr's The Lost History of Dreams, a dark Victorian epic of obsessive love, thwarted genius, and ghostly visitations….Eerily atmospheric and gorgeously written, The Lost History of Dreams is a Gothic fairy-tale to savor." --Kate Quinn, author of The Alice Network and The Huntress 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Blog Tour Guest Post: An Abiding Fire by M.J. Logue

Please join me in welcoming M.J. Logue to Let Them Read Books! M.J. is touring the blogosphere with her new novel, An Abiding Fire, the first book in a mystery series featuring characters from her Uncivil War series. I'm happy to have her here today with a guest post about one of her favorite pastimes, which also would have been a popular pastime in the 17th century, although her protagonist wasn't so fond of it! Read on and enter to win an ebook copy of An Abiding Fire!

How do you solve a murder when you are one of the suspects?

1664, London

Life should be good for Major Thankful Russell and his new bride, Thomazine. Russell, middle-aged and battle-scarred, isn’t everyone’s idea of the perfect husband for an eligible young woman, but the moment Thomazine set eyes on her childhood hero, she knew they were destined for one another.

But Russell, a former Roundhead, now working for the King’s intelligence service, was never going to have a simple life in Restoration London.

Unable to shake suspicions of his Parliamentarian past, someone seems hell-bent on ruining his reputation — and his life.

Whispers about his sister’s violent murder follow him and accusations of treason abound.

When more deaths occur, Russell finds himself under suspicion.

He is ready to escape from the capital, but Thomazine is determined to find the truth and clear the name of the man she loves.

But who is the real killer, and why are they so keen to frame Russell? More importantly, will they succeed?

And has Thomazine’s quest put them all in mortal danger?

Having a Twitter chat earlier today with a fellow Sapere author, we were discussing embroidery. Seems it's fallen from grace a little of late, and, reader, I am here to tell you that I embroider, and I'm proud of it!

It started as a portable thing to do with my hands at re-enactment events and it sort of growed, like Topsy. (If you're wondering at this stage what this has to do with my writing, keep reading...although if you've already read Abiding Fire, you probably know where this is headed!) It started as little fancies in the corners of things and now it's a cap which is the joy of my heart, all covered with flowers and bugs and beasties, pea-pods that open to show little golden peas, bees with three-dimensional wings...lovely things that are nice to touch as well as to look at.

Which got me to thinking about Thomazine Russell, and the rather significant ribbon she embroiders for her husband-to-be at the beginning of the book. Obviously, it has a consequence in the book she never imagined – no, as they say, spoilers – but such a trivial, pretty little slip of silk would have been fairly important in any young woman’s life.

In the 17th century ribbons were a big part of dress: buttons were fiddly and expensive to make, as were brass hooks and eyes, but any halfway competent young woman could use a tape loom at home to produce lengths of tape for everyday fastenings. Silk-weaving was a much more profitable activity undertaken by professionals, and there are some amazing examples still extant of brocaded and metallic silk ribbons commercially woven. A ribbon was a popular lovers' gift, an inexpensive trinket which was both useful and intimate, and it was a custom at many weddings to have knots of coloured ribbon, symbolizing tying the matrimonial knot, which were loosely sewn to the bride's skirts which would then be pounced on and pulled off by friends and family as mementoes. One merchant’s wedding in Exeter in 1635 lists amongst its expenses the princely sum of £5/13s for his ribbons and favours. That’s a lot of ribbon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Blog Tour Excerpt: It's Getting Scot in Here by Suzanne Enoch

It's Getting Scot in Here
by Suzanne Enoch

Wild, Wicked Highlanders #1
On Sale February 26, 2019
ISBN-13: 978-1-250-29637-5
St. Martin’s Paperbacks

London socialite Amelia-Rose Baxter is nobody’s fool. Her parents may want her to catch a title, but she will never change who she is for the promise of marriage. Her husband will be a man who can appreciate her sharp mind as well as her body. A sophisticated man who loves life in London. A man who considers her his equal—and won’t try to tame her wild heart...

Rough, rugged Highlander Niall MacTaggert and his brothers know the rules: the eldest must marry or lose the ancestral estate, period. But Niall’s eldest brother just isn’t interested in the lady his mother selected. Is it because Amelia-Rose is just too. . . Free-spirited? Yes. Brazen? Aye. Surely Niall can find a way to soften up the whip-smart lass and make her the perfect match for his brother for the sake of the family.

Instead it’s Niall who tempts Amelia-Rose, despite her reservations about barbarian Highlanders. Niall finds the lass nigh irresistible as well, but he won’t make the mistake his father did in marrying an Englishwoman who doesn’t like the Highlands. Does he have what it takes to win her heart? There is only one way to find out...



Once upon a time—in May 1785, to be exact—Angus MacTaggert, Earl Aldriss, traveled from the middle of the Scottish Highlands to London in search of a wealthy bride to save his well-loved but crumbling estate. Aldriss Park had been in the MacTaggert family since the time of Henry VIII, when Domhnall MacTaggert, despite being Catholic and married, declared publicly that Henry should be able to wed as many lasses as he wanted until one of them got him a son. Aldriss Park was the newly minted earl’s reward for his support and understanding.

For the next two hundred years Aldriss thrived, until the weight of poor harvests, the ever-intruding, rulemaking Sassenach, and the MacTaggerts’ own fondness for drinking, gambling, and wild investments (including an early bicycle design wherein the driver sat between two wheels; sadly, it had no braking mechanism and after a series of accidents nearly began a war within the MacTaggerts’ clan Ross) began to sink it into disrepair.

When Angus inherited the title in 1783, he realized the old castle needed far more than a fresh coat of paint to keep it from both physical collapse and bankruptcy. And so he determined to go down among the enemy Sassenach and win himself a wealthy bride. The English had made enough trouble for him and his over the centuries, so they could bloody well help him set things right.

On his second day in London, he met the stunning Francesca Oswell, the only offspring of James and Mary Oswell, Viscount and Viscountess of Hornford—who had more money than Midas and a bevy of very fine solicitors—at a masked ball where he dressed as a bull, and she as a swan. Despite the misgivings of nearly everyone in Mayfair, Angus and Francesca immediately fell madly in love, and married with a special license ten days later.

A week after that, Angus took Francesca back to Aldriss Park and the Highlands, where she found very little civilization, a great many sheep, and a husband who preferred brawling to dancing, and he discovered that her father’s solicitors had arranged to keep the Oswell family money in Francesca’s hands. This made for some very spectacular arguments, because there is nothing more combustible in the world than an impoverished Highlands laird in disagreement with an independently wealthy English lady about his own ancestral lands.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Blog Tour Guest Post: Innocence Lost by Sherilyn Decter

Please join me in welcoming Sherilyn Decter to Let Them Read Books! Sherilyn is touring the blogosphere with her debut historical novel, Innocence Lost, first book in the Bootleggers' Chronicles! I'm thrilled to have her here today with an insightful post about how she used research to shape her characters, weave her story around historical events, and bring the Roaring Twenties to colorful life. Read on and enter to win a prize pack!

In a city of bootleggers and crime, one woman must rely on a long-dead lawman to hunt down justice…

Philadelphia, 1924. Maggie Barnes doesn’t have much left. After the death of her husband, she finds herself all alone to care for her young son and look after their rundown house. As if that weren’t bad enough, Prohibition has turned her neighborhood into a bootlegger’s playground. To keep the shoddy roof over their heads, she has no choice but to take on boarders with questionable ties…

When her son’s friend disappears, Maggie suspects the worst. And local politicians and police don’t seem to have any interest in an investigation. With a child’s life on the line, Maggie takes the case and risks angering the enemy living right under her nose…

Maggie’s one advantage may be her new found friend: the ghost of a Victorian-era cop. With his help, can she find justice in a lawless city?

Innocence Lost is the first novel in the Bootleggers’ Chronicles, a series of historical fiction tales. If you like headstrong heroines, Prohibition-era criminal underworlds, and just a touch of the paranormal, then you’ll love Sherilyn Decter’s gripping tale.

Which Comes First: The Research or the Story?
by Sherilyn Decter

In every author of historical fiction lies the beating heart of a passionate researcher. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing. While I include real people, real events, and real settings into the Bootleggers’ Chronicles series, they are fictionalized to help drive the story further.

There are numerous books, articles, and online resources available for researchers looking to learn more about the 1920s in America. It was a tumultuous time. The destruction and brutality of World War One and the entrepreneurial opportunities created through Prohibition set the stage for significant change.

I try to have the characters in my novels be ‘of their time.’ Often I have to wrestle with timing--a great event won’t fit neatly into the timeline of the plot. There is the recurring question of how to incorporate authentic attitudes toward people who are different, toward women, that sometimes grate on our modern ear. And don’t get me started on the different standards of personal hygiene!

Maggie Barnes, the main character of Innocence Lost, is a woman of her time. She’s mistrustful of the immigrants that have poured into Philadelphia because of the Great War, families from other countries that are there because of the economic opportunities or fear of what’s happening back in their home countries. She struggles as she learns to share her city and her neighborhood with these strangers.

I found the sections where Maggie battles often and loudly with her mother--a woman born in a different century--about hair length, skirt length, women’s independence, and language amusing to write. Ah, the ‘younger generation’ is always with us.

Keeping Innocence Lost as authentic as possible, I had great fun poking my nose into how people lived in the 1920s. It’s the beginning of the modern era, so familiar to us from stories told around our own dinner tables by older family members, and yet a hundred years ago. What would Maggie’s laundry day look like? How and where would she buy groceries? What did flappers wear under all that fringe?