I have updated my review and giveaway policies page (now just titled Policies above). If you are entering a giveaway, please read and abide by the applicable policy.

Attention Authors! If you arrived here looking for information on the Two Sides to Every Story guest post series, see the tab at the top of the page for more info!

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Bloggiesta - The Plan

So, here are my goals for this weekend. I don't know how much I will complete - I happen to be WAY behind on reading for reviews that are upcoming VERY, VERY soon. But I will try to still work in some of the tasks.

  • Update my Review Policy page -add a section about contest rules
  • Work on my calendar/scheduling for April
  • Create an Upcoming page
  • Finally create my Amazon store button (or maybe get help from my boyfriend on this one)
  • Update my To Be Reviewed widget and I Recommend widget
  • Update some links for my recent reviews
  • Create an actual description for my rating system
  • Respond to review request emails
  • Clean up my Google Reader subscriptions
  • Work on SEO
  • Consider Pinterest usage for the blog
Bloggiesta is being hosted at It's All About Books.  Click on the link to go to the starting line and participate.  I will cross out as I complete goals.

Challenge Updates

Pinterest @ Joy's Book Blog - added a board for Author Interviews, Reviews in 2012, and Weekend Cooking.  Also added a follow me on Pinterest button to the sidebar.  If anyone needs an invite to Pinterest let me know!

5 Ways to Spiff Up Your Book Reviews @ The Bluestocking Society - some helpful hints - ps. if you have been looking for HTML to add stars to your reviews, check out the website!

Get Noticed by Search Engines (SEO) @ Good Books and Good Wine - I updated one post, my review of The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick for ease of searching.  However to update all my posts is going to take forever and be a labor of love.

Windows Live Writer @ The Reading Housewives of Indiana - I might try using this for my posts - but it will take some getting used to.  UPDATE - I wrote and prescheduled my first post through Live Writer and it was actually very easy!  Here is a screen shot of my sample post in Windows Live Writer:

Summary/Wrap Up: I was able to get more tasks completed than I expected too and still get some reading in too.  I still have a lot to work on in terms of my SEO - that will be a long project.  I however didn't finish the one thing that was my #1 goal for this - revising my review policy.  I will get to it sometime this week.  Another great bloggiesta.  Thanks everyone for hosting challenges, giving advice and dropping by!

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: A Light on the Veranda by Ciji Ware

A Light on the Veranda by Ciji Ware
ARC, Paperback, 480 pages
Sourcebooks Landmark
March 1, 2012

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Historical Fiction

Source: Received for review from the Publisher
“A ‘stand-alone’ sequel to Midnight on Julia Street, this novel tells the story of Daphne Duvallon, a wayward southern belle and Juilliard-trained harpist, who returns to Natchez, Mississippi from New York’s cut-throat classical music world, weary from professional battles and personal despair. Still wounded from the uproar that ricocheted through her family when she ditched Jack Ebert, her philandering groom, literally at the altar, she has an unexpected rendezvous with her future when she meets Simon Hopkins, a nationally-renown nature photographer with a dark secret of his own. Reinventing her life as a jazz musician while sorting through a series of bizarre collisions with her nineteenth century ancestors—and Simon’s as well—Daphne begins to get the feeling that she might well be better off making her way as a second-rate musician at society weddings than as a wildly successful woman band leader whose past is deeply rooted in the ‘Land that Time Forgot.’”

I can’t say that I have read a novel set in the Deep South, but the “Land that Time Forgot” was a wonderful setting for A Light on the Veranda! Ciji Ware creates the entire experience for you from the food, to the gorgeous old mansions, to the music – and oh what wonderful music! I love music and the jazz that Ware features in this novel makes you just want to run out and attend a jazz concert – certainly one like the Aphrodites! She really makes you feel like you have been there yourself.

This was also my first experience with a “time slip” novel. While most of the story takes place in a contemporary setting, fragments of the novel are set in the 1800’s. With these segments we learn about the life of some of the family members of Daphne, and Sim, Jack, and others from around the Natchez area. These time slips fit perfectly into the story and helped move the plot along and provide Daphne with some interesting references regarding experiences she was going through at the time. They never felt jarring or out of place – I just wanted more of them! Through these time slips we get a sense of 19th century plantation life.

For the most part I enjoyed the characters. Jack is quite is evil villain – I would really not want to get on his bad side, let me tell you! Sim is a sweet guy with a lot of baggage but someone you can really get behind and root for. Daphne got on my nerves from time to time with her constant flip flopping and relationship woes – but based on some of her experiences it does make sense.

I didn’t realize that this was a sequel of any kind to Midnight on Julia Street, having not yet read that novel. I do believe the blurb that says this works as a standalone because I did not feel the least confused about the plot points or backstory.

I also have to give kudos to Ware on her inclusion of safe sex. Reading primarily historical novels I don’t usually encounter this issue, however contemporary novels don’t typically address the issue either. It almost felt a little shocking to me to actually see the issue raised in the book, but then I felt “way to go!”.

Ciji Ware has written several fiction novels including: A Race to Splendor (link goes to my previous review), Wicked Company, A Cottage By the Sea, Island of the Swans, and Midnight on Julia Street. You can visit Ware’s website or blog for additional information about the books. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?

My reviews of other books by this author:

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Music from A Light on the Veranda

As so much of A Light on the Veranda by Ciji Ware is about music, I just had to put together a player for some of the songs mentioned.  I arranged the songs sort of like the progression through the novel - classical to jazz.  Make sure you listen to Peel Me A Grape - a song from a dramatic portion of the novel.  Enjoy!

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Couple of Winners...

I just wanted to take a few minutes today to announce the winners of the giveaways for Abby Finds Her Calling and both of the Christine Blevins giveaways.

First up, the two winners of Abby Finds Her Calling:

The winners are... Wendy Newcomb and Maureen Timerman!  Congrats!

Secondly, for the Christine Blevins Revolutionary Survival Kit, the winner is...

Teressa Oliver!!! Congrats!

And finally, for the copy of The Turning of Anne Merrick by Christine Blevins, the winner is...

Rhonda Lomazow!!!

Thanks to everyone that entered.  I currently have a giveaway running for a sample of the fragrance inspired by the new book The Book of Lost Fragrances by M. J. Rose.

I am sending out the emails to the winners.  Please respond with your mailing information within 7 days or I will have to select a new winner.  Thanks!

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Giveaway - Fragrance from The Book of Lost Fragrances

I have the chance to offer a giveaway of a sample of the fragrance Ames Soeurs - the fragrance inspired by M. J. Rose's new book, The Book of Lost Fragrances.  Enter your information into the form below.  Open to US residents only.  Last day to enter is April 7, 2012.  Good luck!

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Friday, March 23, 2012

Guest Post by M. J. Rose

Please join me in welcoming author M. J. Rose as we are treated to what led to the writing of the new novel, The Book of Lost Fragrances.  Such a fascinating story!

What Inspired The Book of Lost Fragrances?
Guest Post by M. J. Rose, author of
The Book of Lost Fragraces

I was reading Cleopatra (69 BCE to 30BCE), who was the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, and found she was fascinated with and some say obsessed by scent. Marc Anthony built her a fragrance factory where he planted now extinct flora and fauna including groves of balsam trees (important in the creation of perfume at the time) confiscated from Herod.

In the 1980s a team of Italian and Israeli archaeologists believe they unearthed the factory at the south end of the Dead Sea, 30 km from Ein Gedi.

Residues of ancient perfumes along with seats where customers received beauty treatments were found there.

Cleopatra was said to have kept a recipe book for her perfumes, entitled Cleopatra gynaeciarum libri. The book has been described in writings by historians Dioscorides, Homer and Pliny the Elder. No known copy of the book exists today.

When I read about that book, I knew I had the idea for a new novel.
How fascinating?!  I have always loved reading or watching things about Cleopatra and I did not know about this fragrance factory.  I will have to check it out.  Thank you for writing this wonderful post.  It is the perfect trigger for a novel!

You can find M. J. Rose on her website or blog for further information about her books.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Historical Spotlight: John Quincy Adams and The Amistad

Growing up in Connecticut I was exposed to the requisite amount of history class time spent learning about the Amistad.  For those of you that don't know, the Amistad was a slave ship that was overtaken by the Africans on-board and eventually came to be docked in New Haven, Connecticut.  From there a trial occurred to determine whether these Africans were free or if they should be returned to Spain or slavery.

One of the requisites of my 8th grade history class was to watch the movie version of Amistad - it had come out only a year or so before.  I remember the movie being powerful and moving, however I need to see it again to refresh my memory.  To that effect, I didn't remember that John Quincy Adams was involved in the Amistad trial until I read it in Paul C. Nagel's John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life.

John Q. Adams was the principal attorney for the Africans and defended their right to be free and not returned to Spain.  He made a speech that was approximately 8 hours long before he finally closed their argument.  His arguments ultimately won them their freedom.

Did you know that he never changed anyone for his legal fees?

I wanted to share some awesome references that I found in relation to JQA and this historic case:

Here is JQA's 8 hour speech-

Here are visuals of a letter written by JQA requesting the papers in relation to the lower court proceedings for this case which came prior to the Supreme Court - Pg 1 and Pg 2 -

And finally, here is a video clip from the Amistad movie representing JQA's 8 hour speech as performed by Anthony Hopkins:

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Book Review: John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life

John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life by Paul C. Nagel
Unabridged, 18 hr. 48 min.
Blackstone Audio, Inc
Jeff Riggenbach (Narrator)
October 8, 2009

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Source: Downloaded audio from my local library
“John Quincy Adams was raised, educated, and groomed to be President, following in the footsteps of his father, John. At fourteen he was secretary to the Minister to Russia and, later, was himself Minister to the Netherlands and Prussia. He was U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, and then President for one ill-fated term. His private life showed a parallel descent. He was a poet, writer, critic, and Professor of Oratory at Harvard. He married a talented and engaging Southerner, but two of his three sons were disappointments. This polymath and troubled man, caught up in both a democratic age not to his understanding and the furies of passion, was an American lion in winter.”
John Quincy Adams is one of the presidents that we learn about in school mostly under the preface of “he was the son of John Adams” and his failure of a presidency and time spent as a Congressman are sometimes highlighted. One aspect that we are almost never treated to is his private life, interactions with his parents, his wife, and his children. Paul C. Nagel sets out to provide us with an insight into Adams private life as well as feature his public life. There is a nice preface to the book where Nagel spell out exactly what he sets out to do any why – the why is the part you almost never get and it was a nice touch.

The first thing that I enjoyed about this book was the fact that the author frequently refers to John Quincy Adams as JQA – which made me feel like we were in-sync because that is what I always refer to his as too! This book also really made me feel for JQA as a person. I sort of felt bad for him – he wanted a left very different than that which he led. He wanted to be a writer and would much rather have been left to his rhetoric and learning than to be pushed into politics.

We also get to see a much more personable side to one who is always portrayed as a cold person. We see a loving relationship with his wife, Louisa, which is not common in other sources and the relationship feels more real. We see how his relationship with his mother was contentious, at best, as she was always sticking her nose into his life and pushing him to be what she wanted.

The author did a great job and portraying JQA as someone that was flawed but could still be admired and brought a personable portrayal that was long overdue.



I don’t have much to say about the narration of the audio – it was standard reading – nothing flowery etc. Not bad but not exciting either.

Nagel also has written two other books on the Adams family – The Adams Women and Descent from Glory.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mailbox Monday #103

Well this week my mailbox was entirely school related - but that's not a terrible thing.  I have to start gathering my research for my paper on the historiographical issues/debate of the Norman Conquest of 1066.  I spent an intense 12 hours working on the proposal and putting together/collecting my sources this week (including a mild panic attack that this was never going to work and I would drop out of school!  I still haven't went into the online classroom to read the other student's proposals!)

I bought a Kindle a few weeks ago - primarily to save me on textbook and research material costs for this class, and it is already starting to pan out.  I was able to acquire 5 of the books I was looking for and they were all free!

Anyway, here are the great sources that I have acquired - some of which I might have read even without this project:

  • Makers of History: William the Conqueror by Jacob Abbott – Kindle
  • The History of England from the Norman Conquest to the Death of John (1066-1216) by George Burton Adams – Kindle
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – Kindle
  • The Bayeux Tapestry: The Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest by John Bruce Collingwood – Library
  • The Debate on the Norman Conquest – Historiographical Issues by Marjorie Chibnall – Amazon
  • The History of the Norman Conquest of England its Causes and its Results, Vol 4 by Edward Augustus Freeman – Library
  • The History of England, Volume 1 by David Hume – Kindle
  • A Short History of England, Ireland, and Scotland by Mary Platt Parmele – Kindle
The Chibnall book is the one that cemented my research topic for me.  A whole book on historiographical issues on the the topic I chose!  What are the chances of that?!  Anyway, there is A LOT of reading in my future and please forgive me if I am not around too often!

Did you get any awesome books this week?

Mailbox Monday is on a monthly blog tour and for the month of March is being hosted at Diary of an Eccentric.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bloggiesta 2012 is Almost Here

It is almost that time again - Bloggiesta time!!!  It is being hosted this year by Suey at It's All About Books (you can click on this link to sign up).  Bloggiesta will be March 30th - April 1st.  We all have things that we know we have needed to do to clean up our blogs for awhile - and this is the perfect opportunity!  It is a fun experience with friends all doing the same thing.  Last year I accomplished SO much and I have some things to catch up again with this year - especially since I have been focusing on school and not doing little housekeeping things.  I don't know that I will be able to dedicate quite as much time as last year, but any amount will be an improvement!  Hope to see some of your there too! 

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Weekend Cooking: Tea Sandwiches

We went to a tea party event about a year ago and I LOVED the tea sandwiches that they had there and have wanted to make something similar pretty much since the event ended. I finally decided that today was the day and I was going to use two recipes from the Entertaining Newport cookbook – they held teas all the time, they must have perfected the recipe!
The Tea House is in the lower left with Marble House in the background

Here is a little historical tidbit about Newport and tea parties. Marble House, one of the beautiful Newport Mansions, has a Chinese Tea House on its grounds – which I honestly don’t remember seeing when I toured it, but rest assured it is there. You can even host social or business events there today if you have the funds!

Close up of the Tea House
The Tea House was formally opened on July 25, 1914 and for the next 3 years it served as a local rallying point for the “Votes for Women” movement. Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont and her daughter Consuelo, 9th Duchess of Marlborough, were vocal supporters of the women’s suffrage movement. She even had special china ordered with the motto “Votes for Women” emblazoned on it. The tea house was closed in 1917 when Mrs. Belmont left the property to never return to the home again.

Some Votes for Women replicas in the Mansion store

Here are a couple of the recipes that accompany this section:

Cucumber Sandwiches
Makes 12 sandwiches

2-3 Tablespoons butter, softened
8 extra-thin slices brown bread or canned brown bread
2/3 cup goat cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
2 Tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1 English cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced

1) Spread a thin layer of the butter over 1 side of each bread slice
2) Combine the goat cheese, cream cheese, and onion in a bowl and mix well. Spread over the butter on 4 bread slices.
3) Divide the cucumber evenly among the 4 bread slices. Top with the remaining 4 bread slices
4) Trim the crusts from the sandwiches, and cut each sandwich into 3 fingers or your desired shape.

Smoked Salmon Mousse on Toast Points
Makes 20

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
2 Tablespoons cold water
¾ cup sour cream
8 oz fresh salmon, poached and flaked
2 teaspoons grated horseradish
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Buttered toast points – white or pumpernickel bread

1) To prepare the mousse, sprinkle gelatin over water in a heavy 1 quart saucepan and let soften for 1 minute. Cook over low heat, stirring, until gelatin is dissolved.
2) Add ¼ cup sour cream and cook over low heat, whisking constantly to prevent clumping, about 3 minutes.
3) Transfer to a bowl and stir in salmon, horseradish, dill, salt, pepper, and remaining ½ cup sour cream. Chill, covered, until firm, about 1 hour.
4) Serve on buttered toast points and garnish with fresh dill

Okay, for us one of these was a hit and the other a total miss. I loved the Cucumber Sandwiches. The only change that I made to the recipe was to use a French baguette instead of brown bread as I’m not a fan of brown bread and had them as individual sandwiches. My boyfriend doesn’t like cucumbers so he had them with just the spread and we both enjoyed them immensely. The spread itself would even be good on a bagel in the morning – we have leftovers and that is what I am planning on doing with them.

The Salmon Mousse was a real miss. First of all, where is the “smoked” in the recipe? I bought smoked salmon to solve that problem. Second, it didn’t come out like a mousse at all. A mousse is supposed to be light and airy, again another problem here since it is nothing like that. The gelatin was weird, however I tried it. It tasted like sour cream and chunks of salmon – nothing like a mouse. Next time I think I will use the same spread as the cucumber sandwiches and just add the flakes of salmon on top of the spread. That would have been very good, and I should have just listened to my first impression when I saw the gelatin. Neither of us enjoyed this sandwich.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Any post remotely related to cooking can participate.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: Look to the East by Maureen Lang

Look to the East by Maureen Lang
Book 1 in The Great War series
Paperback, 368 pages
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc
September 2009

Genre: Christian Historical Fiction

Source: Received from Holly at Bippity, Boppity, Book in a giveaway
“A village under siege. A love under fire. 
France, 1914 
At the dawn of the First World War, the small village of Briecourt is isolated from the early battles while a century-old feud between the Toussaints and the de Colvilles still rages in the streets. But when the German army sweeps in to occupy the town, families on both sides of the feud are forced to work together to hide stragglers caught behind enemy lines. 
Juliette Toussaint may have been adopted from a faraway island, but she feels the scorn of the de Colvilles as much as anyone born a Toussaint. So when she falls in love with one of the men in hiding—a wealthy and handsome Belgian entrepreneur—she knows she’s flirting with danger. 
Charles Lassone has been waiting in the church cellar, safe from the Germans for the moment. But if he’s discovered, it will threaten the entire village—including Julitte—and could cost Charles his life.”

This was a series that I have been dying to read for awhile because it is set during The Great War (WWI) and I have not read anything set during that era. I have had books 2 and 3 but was having a difficult time finding book 1. I can honestly say that this was worth the wait!

This book takes place in a small village in France where the villagers had a feud like the Hatfields and the McCoys. Throughout the book we meet characters from both sides of the feud and see them grow and come together during a time of great turmoil for their town. It shows how in the face of adversity things can be put aside for the time to deal with a greater issue.

This is a Christian fiction novel and the religiosity is upfront but not the absolute focus of the entire novel. The main character, Julitte, prays at many times throughout the novel but it is very fitting within the events they are going through. She questions God and how they could be put through such events. These are common occurrences during times of war and created a depth to her character and felt very fitting and believable to the setting.

The beginning of the novel was my only issue with the whole book. It was a little slow and awkward. I think it needed a little more in the exposition of introducing us to the characters. Once we get into the war period, the story comes together, it picks up and charges to the end. One of the strongest aspects of the novel is the emotions of the characters. You can vividly feel the fear, love, and internal struggles that they face and were the aspect that really helped suck you into the story.

The main character of book 2 is mentioned briefly in passing in this book and I can’t wait to find out more about her.

Maureen Lang also has written the 2nd and 3rd book in The Great War series, Whisper on the Wind and Springtime of the Spirit respectively. You can visit Maureen’s website for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).



Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Interview with Larry Peterson

Today I have the chance to welcome Larry Peterson, author of The Priest and the Peaches.  His book is a historical fiction novel set in the Bronx in the mid-1960s targeted to a YA audience.  There is humor and sadness but most of all an inspiring story.

What was the inspiration behind your novel?

My brothers, sister and I did lose our folks when we were quite young but I never actually considered writing about anything relating to those days. Then, about four years ago our brother, Bobby, suddenly passed away. After his funeral we were all hanging out with old friends at a pub in Monroe, NY. Stories of "back in the day" began to flow free and easy and before you knew everyone was laughing and more and more memories were being triggered. Even though it was a sad time it also became a beautiful time. That was when I began thinking of using our experience as the basis for "The Priest and The Peaches."

Do you see any of yourself within the cast of characters you created?

Yes, I'm sure I can find part of myself in Teddy Peach.

Why did you choose to write a Young Adult novel?

I did want to write this at the YA level because I wanted to demonstrate to the younger folk the power of family love and forgiveness. We do live in a very "me-istic" society where self-gtratification seems to be revered and I simply wanted to present another side to that mind-set showing that giving of oneself instead of thinking of yourself can be very rewarding.

What do you hope a reader can take away from your novel?

How imporatnt it is to L-Y-N (Love your neighbor).

What difficulties, if any, did you encounter while writing this novel?

The development of the antagonist, Beatrice Amon, was challenging but as she began to come "alive" I entered into her bleak world and began to really understand her. I believe I was able to capture the "real" Beatrice and share her with the reader.

Your book is set in the Bronx; do you have experience living in this area? How did you capture the character of this city?

Thanks for the easy question. I was born and raised in the Bronx. It is part of who I am. As I began to write the book the sights, smells, sounds, the people, the streets and so on turned into a DVD inside my head. It is amazing to discover how many memories you have stored inside you that are resting dormant just waiting to be ignited.

Thank you Larry for taking the time to stop by and enlighten us about your new book!

Larry Peterson was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. A former Metal Lather/Reinforcing Iron-worker, he left that business after coming down with MS. He, his wife and three kids moved to Florida 30 years ago. Larry began doing freelance newspaper commentary after graduating from Tampa College in 1984.

His first children's picture book, Slippery Willie's Stupid, Ugly Shoes was published in 2011. In 2012, his full length novel, The Priest and the Peaches was released and he is presently working on the sequel.

He lives in Pinellas Park, Florida and his kids and six grandchildren all live within three miles of each other.

He also has a blog where he posts weekly commentary. You can also find Larry on Facebook and Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mailbox Monday #102

This week's mailbox was a short one - but that is really, really, really good as I have become crazy busy and am trying to figure out how I'm possibly going to read all of these books in time!

The eagerly anticipated Empress of the Seven Hills by Kate Quinn arrived! Actually it arrived twice - which means there will be a nice giveaway for you all in the near future!!!

I can't wait to read this one as I loved her first two books.

That's all for me, did you get anything you were just dying for this week?

Mailbox Monday is on a monthly blog tour and for the month of March it is being hosted at Diary of an Eccentric.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, March 12, 2012

Guest Post by Naomi King - Author of Abby Finds Her Calling

Today I have the opportunity to share with you a guest post by Naomi King, author of Abby Finds Her Calling, the first book in the Home at Cedar Creek series.  While not really a historical novel, the ways of the Amish today can bring many readers back in time.  Read through the guest post and at the end there is a giveaway!

Researching the Amish
Guest Post by Naomi King, author of
Abby Finds Her Calling

While I had written a series of faith-and-family stories before I wrote Abby Finds Her Calling, taking on a whole new genre about a culture who prefers to remain removed from worldly things (such as fiction!) requires fresh research. Different methods—and, most definitely, on-site, hands-on experience among Amish folks. While, yes, the Internet provides a lot of easily accessed information, there’s no substitute for being inside an Amish home or hearing the clip-clop, clip-clop of those beautiful horses’ hooves as a buggy transports you to another place and time—even though you don’t, in reality, leave the present day!

True enough, I immersed myself in dozens of Amish novels by Beverly Lewis, Cindy Woodsmall, Marta Perry, and other authors to get a feel for these stories before I submitted the proposal for the Home at Cedar Creek series. I knew immediately that these authors had an advantage because they lived near Lancaster County and/or had family who used to be Amish, so I looked for an angle that would set my series apart. Since Jamesport, Missouri—largest Old Amish settlement west of the Mississippi—was only a couple hours from where I lived, it served as my home base as I devised my fictional Missouri settings of Cedar Creek for this series (located in northeast Missouri where there really is a Cedar Creek, but no town by that name) and Willow Ridge, which is located on some idyllic, imaginary spot near the Missouri River, for the Seasons of the Heart series I write as Charlotte Hubbard. You don’t think of Missouri as Plain country, but more than fifty communities of Amish and Mennonites live there.

I sincerely believe God gave me a nudge in Jim Smith’s direction, when he became my private tour guide in Jamesport. Because he grew up there—spent his youth among the Amish who now own the businesses around town—those families know and trust him. He got me into homes, back rooms of stores, and answered a gazillion questions about what he was showing me as he took me around, with the warning that I was NOT to say anything about being a writer. His Amish friends protect their privacy and refuse to be exploited in print or by the press, and of course Jim didn’t want to lose their trust in him as a local tour guide who brings guests to their businesses, either.

Now, Jim’s an email away if I have questions. And because the Amish in Missouri have some different traditions than those who live in Lancaster County, say, it’s important to have a source person when questions about clothing, wedding traditions, or other day-to-day details come up in my books—or when my editor nails me on a detail by saying “is this Amish?” in the margin of the manuscript I’m revising. Recently Jim emailed me to say that I “passed the Amish test”—meaning the Burkholders, who own a store in Jamesport, are going to stock both of my series in their book section! This pleases me even more because they are the couple whose real-life house fire inspired the scenes of the fire and rebuilding of the Ropp home in Abby Finds Her Calling.

Another informative source about the Amish is The Budget, the international weekly newspaper of Plain folks. I thoroughly enjoy reading the weekly columns that scribes from each settlement in the U.S. (as well as places like Belize, Israel and Nicaragua) send in, along with recipes, the obituaries, the ads . . . it’s like the local society page of any small town newspaper, but on a national level. And in its way, it’s similar to Facebook in that you learn who-all went to visit Essie Miller’s sick mother or who was in the vanload of folks from Bloomfield attending Mose Troyer’s funeral two states away. Little tidbits of daily life, or carriage wrecks, or accidents on the farm remind you that these folks live a simpler life. And the section asking for card and/or money showers for Plain folks who have incurred large medical bills (the Amish don’t believe in carrying health insurance: they take care of their own) astounds me. I’ve heard of families who received $70,000 or more from people all over the country, some of whom they don’t even know.

My “bible” for factual information is Dr. Donald Kraybill’s book, The Riddle of Amish Culture—although, because his research is based on Lancaster County, some of his information differs from what I’ve learned about Missouri Amish. His accounts of church services, weddings, how people dress, schools, and everything Amish make his book my go-to resource when I describe such events in my stories.

Do I always get it all right? Of course not. But then, it’s just as easy to mess up information about people in your own non-Amish town or even in your own family when you write novels. My mission as I write these books is to imbue my characters with enough Amish flavor to fascinate my readers, to make them wish they could visit Abby Lambright’s sewing nook the Cedar Creek Mercantile, or to ride the county roads in one of James Graber’s custom carriages behind a beautiful retired race horse. If my stories lift spirits and make my readers wish they could get their hands on the next book in the series (Rosemary Opens Her Heart, 10/12) right now, instead of having to wait, then the research I’ve tucked between the lines of these stories has been well worth my time.

You can find Naomi King on her website and Facebook to learn more about her works.

And now for the giveaway! I have two copies of Abby Finds Her Calling for 2 readers from the United States.  Giveaway ends March 24th, 2012.  Enter the form below.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Baked Apples

Happy weekend all! Man is it going by fast! I just wanted to throw a quick line out there that I have been EXTREMELY busy over the last week (and probably the next two weeks as well) with school and overtime at work so I may not be responding as much around here or on your blogs as I would like, but I am still reading all your comments and filling my reader with articles to go back to later!

Ok, on to the actual cooking!

This weekend I have pulled from an entirely different and unexpected historical source. I have been reading the Dear America diaries recently and found that on the Scholastic companion site for these books some of the recently re-released books have recipes to go along with the stories. Only one of the books I have read so far has recipes, but as they re-release books they have been adding to their site. You can check out all of their historical recipes here.

The book I read was Dear America: The Winter of Red Snow - The Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777 and the recipe I chose was Baked Apples. According to the Scholastic site, baked apples would only have been served during late summer or autumn, when apples, were readily available, but I couldn't wait that long!

Baked Apples
Serves 4

4 large apples
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup currants or raisins
1 Tablespoon butter
¾ cup boiling water

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wash the apples and remove the cores to 1/2 inch of the bottom of the apples. Use a spoon to dig out any seeds. Make the holes about an inch wide.

2) In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, pecans, and currants/raisins. Place the apples in an 8" by 8" baking pan. Stuff each apple with the sugar mixture. Top each apple with 1/4 tablespoon of butter. Add the boiling water to the baking pan.

3) Bake the apples for 30 to 40 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Remove the apples from the oven and baste the apples several times with the pan juice.

4) Serve warm with vanilla ice cream on the side.

We used currants in our take on this and only made 2 apples.  Our batch didn't have any pan juices at the end, it was just water, so I didn't baste them afterward.  Maybe when we cut down the recipe we did too much as the mixture didn't overflow the apples and create a tasty juice, however the apples were still very good.  The currants and pecans were a nice added touch I have never had in baked apples before.  We went with the currants to try something more traditional and different from what we would normally have.

I would recommend the 40 minutes if you use large apples as at 30 minutes they were only soft for about half of the apples.  I also have always been taught to remove a peel of skin from around the entire apple to prevent them from exploding when they expand, and although this recipe didn't say to do that, their picture on the site looked like they did, so I did anyway.  And of course I forgot to buy ice cream so I was a little disappointed, but the apples were still great themselves.

A great quick and relatively healthy snack option for you and your family.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Any post remotely related to cooking can participate.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Review: Alcestis by Katherine Beutner

Alcestis by Katherine Beutner
Unabridged, 10 hr. 36 min.
Iambik Literary
Diane Havens (Narrator)
April 13, 2011

Genre: Historical fiction, Mythology

Source: Received for review from publisher as part of Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer Program
“In Greek myth, Alcestis is known as the ideal good wife; she loved her husband so much that she died to save his life and was sent to the underworld in his place. In this poetic and vividly-imagined debut, Katharine Beutner gives voice to the woman behind the ideal, bringing to life the world of Mycenaean Greece, a world peopled by capricious gods, where royal women are confined to the palace grounds and passed as possessions from father to husband. Alcestis tells of a childhood spent with her sisters in the bedchamber where her mother died giving birth to her and of her marriage at the age of fifteen to Admetus, the young king of Pherae, a man she barely knows, who is kind but whose heart belongs to a god. She also tells the part of the story that's never been told: What happened to Alcestis in the three days she spent in the underworld before being rescued by Heracles? In the realm of the dead, Alcestis falls in love with the goddess Persephone and discovers the true horror and beauty of death.”

This book was hit and miss for me and I had been dying to read it for so long that it was a little disappointing to me. I love reading Greek mythology – all of the interfering Gods and Goddesses, Heroes etc. I also have enjoyed reading novelized treatments of these myths as the world is fleshed out for us and we get to know more about the characters themselves.

Where this book was its strongest was with the depictions of Greek culture and mythology. We are treated to the requisite interfering Gods and the rites and sacrifices that were a daily concern. We get an accurate picture of how women were treated in Greek life. Alcestis was characterized as a decent daughter and wife who continued to feel the loss of her sister years earlier to an illness. The first half of the book was enjoyable – and this is the portion that is based on the myth.

Where the story let go for me was the part that was entirely the creation of the author – when she descends into the underworld. The character of Alcestis seemed to have an abrupt shift of personality. She still longed to find her sister (which felt in character) however it was made quite clear that she was unhappy in her life – which had not really been hinted at during the entire first half of the book. While in the underworld, Alcestis falls in love with the Goddess Persephone – which felt very out of character for her and there was an awkward love scene – because it came out of nowhere and didn’t feel right to the character that had been established thus far. I did enjoy how the underworld was described and how we were treated to what life was like for those who had passed on. The world itself was very well crafted; however the abrupt character shift was lost on me.

Included at the end of the novel was a very good historical note about what is known to us from the Alcestis myth and what we know about her descendents and who they were and what role they played in mythology.

If there was more consistency to the character of Alcestis I would have been much more happy with the novel and it probably would have improved by a whole star.


I also did not like the narrator for this book. Her voice annoyed me and there were many times where she tried to be dramatic, but this failed. It just didn’t come off well.

You can visit Katherine Beutner’s website/blog for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?

You can listen to the author reading the prologue here. And if you want to listen to an excerpt of the actual audio book go here.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New Find: Open Yale Courses

I promised that I would keep you all in the loop when I found something awesome while working on my Masters, and this is just the thing!

So, I had to watch a video for my Historiography class and we were talking about the Christians and New Testament - and quite frankly I was bored out of my mind! - until I watched the video and made a great discovery.

Yale University has a feature online called Open Yale Courses.  Basically the gist is that they have video recorded many of their introductory courses and provide them online to anyone free of charge - it is essentially as if you are auditing a class.  They have the entire lecture series for various subjects including: Astronomy, Chemistry, English Lit, Math, History etc.  Particularly of interest in the history section: Intro to Ancient Greek History, The American Revolution, Civil War and the Reconstruction Era, European Civ, Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600, Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society Under the Tudors and Stuarts, France Since 1871, and Roman Architecture.

All you have to do is open the course and then there is a selection of videos - usually the entire semester is available to you.  They also provide access to the syllabus and course materials if you are interested and indicate the books used during the course for further research.  If you click on any of the links I provided above it will take you to the section for that course.

As much as I have had it instilled in me to be anti-Yale (my college was one of their local rivals) I think that this is a wonderful service that they are offering.  I intend to take advantage of some of these courses as well as continue viewing the rest of the series on the historical significance of the New Testament.  I do hope that you too find some interest in these materials as they are great references and you get access to some of that Yale education free of charge!

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Book Review: Winter of the Red Snow by Kristiana Gregory

The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777
by Kristiana Gregory
Dear America Diaries series
Unabridged, 3 hr. 50 min.
Live Oak Media
Barbara Rosenblatt and Jennifer Ikeda (Narrators)
February 15, 2006

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Source: Downloaded audio from my local library
“Eleven-year-old Abigail Jane Stewart's fictionalized diary about her life, family, friends, and neighbors, and the sides they have to choose in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, during the height of the Revolutionary War, renders a vivid portrayal of one of the most memorable and crucial winters in American history. Abby's life with her family is quickly upended when they are awakened by the unfamiliar sound of drums. General George Washington is leading the Continental soldiers into their winter encampment at Valley Forge, PA.”
As a kid I loved reading the Dear America diaries although I only read a few of them back then. I have recently found myself interested in them again (of course after I gave away all of mine and when the majority of them are still out of print!). However, as of 2010, Scholastic has begun to reprint many of the books as well as release new ones.

The Winter of Red Snow was my second read in this series (however it is the first I am reviewing at this time). I have to admit that I never spent much time thinking about that winter at Valley Forge – and when I did, it was usually about the soldiers and how they were hungry, cold, and drummed into shape my Von Stueben. However, this book led me to consider the effects on the residents of Valley Forge with all of the soldiers camped in the backyards, literally. Throughout this diary we learn about how the families frequently gave up goods, supplies and food for the soldiers, took jobs to help the encampment, and the sicknesses that could affect them too. We also make a quick trip to Philadelphia during this book where the British troops are encamped for the winter and get to see a comparison of how they wintered compared to the Continental army. Trips are made into the Continental encampment and the headquarters building for General Washington and we learn a lot about the lives of the soldiers.

This book is less of an adventure story and I found it a little less enjoyable than some of the other books in this series because of it. Throughout the story the Continental Army is just waiting out the winter and at the end of the book it is spring and they have set out again. There is great historical information though. If introducing the series to a young one in your life, I might not start out with this book, but once they are sucked into the story mix it in.

This was also my first piece of fiction with George and Martha Washington as characters. They were portrayed very much the way I would expect them to be – the General is very regal, strong, but quiet. Martha is warm, caring, and 100% supportive of the cause.

One of the unique aspects of this diary that I enjoyed was the inclusion of recipes in the diary. Martha Washington’s famous 40 egg cake (!) is included as well as a recipe for onion soup, and another that I cannot remember at this time. This lends itself to a cooking experiment!

There was a very extensive historical note at the end of this diary. They set up the events that preceded Valley Forge as well as a summary of what happened afterward to the surrender at Yorktown. There was a lot more of a note in this than many other historicals that I have read and I think this is wonderful especially for the youth who these books are designed for. There is a sequel to this book, Cannons at Dawn and I am interested as to where this book takes us, since at the end of Winter of Red Snow the soldiers have left Valley Forge.


There were two narrators of this book – the first was the narrator for the actual diary and the second narrated the historical note at the end. The narrator for the diary was wonderful at conveying a youthful sense to her narration and really made you feel like you were listening to the inner thoughts of Abby as she wrote in her diary. There was emotion and emphasis where there should be. The narrator of the historical note was sufficient in her role, but I am not sure why they needed two different narrators.

Kristiana Gregory also has written several other books in the Dear America series. There is also a sequel to Winter of Red Snow entitled, Cannons at Dawn. You can visit the Scholastic website for additional information about the book and activities to do with your children and recipes to make. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?

My other reviews of books in this series:

Other reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court