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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mailbox Monday #101

This is Mailbox Monday on Wednesday - I had some reviews scheduled as part of a tour for Monday and Tuesday - check them out if you haven't already!!!.

Anyway, this week I received two books for review from Sourcebooks.  I received the follow up to His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm - Courtesan's Lover.  This book follows one of the secondary characters from His Last Duchess following the events of the first book.  I loved Kimm's writing style so I am looking forward to reading this one.

I also received Her Highness, the Traitor by Susan Higginbotham.  This looks to be a story about how Jane Grey became queen - from the perspectives of Frances Grey and Jane Dudley.  I am looking forward to this one too!

Did you receive any books this week?

Mailbox Monday is on a monthly blog tour and for the month of February it is hosted by Metroreader.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: The Turning of Anne Merrick by Christine Blevins

The Turning of Anne Merrick by Christine Blevins
Book 2 in the American Independence series
ARC, Paperback, 448 pages
Berkley Trade
February 7, 2012
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Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Received from the publisher for review as part of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
The new United States of America. 
It’s 1777, and a fledgling country wages an almost hopeless struggle against the might of the British Empire. Brought together by a fateful kiss, Anne Merrick and Jack Hampton are devoted to each other and to their Patriot cause. As part of Washington’s daring network of spies, they are ready and willing to pay even the ultimate price for freedom. 
From battlefields raging along the Hudson, to the desperate winter encampment at Valley Forge and through the dangerous intrigue of British-occupied Philadelphia, Anne and Jack brave the trials of separation, the ravages of war and an unyielding enemy growing ever more ruthless. 
For love and for country, all is put at risk-and together the pair must call upon their every ounce of courage and cunning in order to survive.

I read this book as a standalone – although I have had the first book for over a year and had every intention of reading it first, but alas, time was not on my side (I just barely finished this one in time for my review tour stop!). There were moments and references that were made that I knew were in relation to something from book 1, but they were explained enough that I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything critical to my understanding and enjoyment of this book. It did however make me itch to pick up the first book!

This novel had a little bit of everything that I look for in a good read. The story was never slow or dragging – we moved right along from one event to the next. There was great character development and I’m sure if I had read book 1 I would have seen the characters grow from there too. I instantly took a liking to the characters and can’t wait to read more about their adventures. There were moments that pulled on the heart-strings and I certainly shed a few tears. One of most remarkable aspects of this novel is that although it is a book about the American Revolution you really get to see and feel both the rebel and loyalist sides. While Anne serves as a spy amongst the British troops there are times where you feel her sympathy for the soldiers and people fighting. You see how both sides dealt with feelings of hopelessness and excitement, passion and determination, and how the side they are fight on is the side of right. It really gave the book a well rounded feel for the world.

In terms of structure of the book, I loved the addition of maps throughout the book. The novel is broken up into segments that take place along the British movement from Fort Anne, the rebel encampment at Valley Forge and in occupied New York City. At the beginning of each of these sections there is a map showing places that are referred to in the section and really helps to give you a better sense of the world around the characters.

A couple of random comments to round out this review. I loved the little nod to American hero Nathan Hale (who remains nameless in the book). Growing up in East Haddam, CT he holds a small place in my heart. Our school system is in part named after him and he taught school in our town for awhile and you can still visit his school house. As soon as I saw the mention of a heroic spy who was captured, I recited the lines from heart “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country”. I also think that this could be a great war drama film. With the action, romance, and excitement it would be enjoyable.

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:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Christine Blevins

midwife of the blue ridge
Midwife of Blue Ridge

the tory widow
The Tory Widow (Anne Merrick #1)

Find Christine Blevins: Website | Facebook | Twitter

Follow the Tour

At the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour site 
On Twitter#TurningofAnneMerrickVirtualTour .

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Review: The Legacy of Eden by Nelle Davy

The Legacy of Eden by Nelle Davy
ARC, Paperback, 384 pages
January 24, 2012
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Genre: Epic Family Saga, Historical

Source: Received for review as part of Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc blog tour
“An epic, sweeping tale of a dynasty rotten to the core, driven by ambition, lust – and hatred. 
For generations, Aurelia was the crowning glory of more than three thousand acres of Iowa farmland and golden cornfields. The estate was a monument to matriarch Lavinia Hathaway’s dream to elevate the family name—no matter what relative or stranger she had to destroy in the process. It was a desperation that wrought the downfall of the Hathaways—and the once-prosperous farm. 
Now the last inhabitant of the decaying old home has died—alone. None of the surviving members of the Hathaway family want anything to do with the farm, the land or the memories. 
Especially Meredith Pincetti. Now living in New York City, for seventeen years Lavinia’s youngest grandchild has tried to forget everything about her family and her past. But with the receipt of a pleading letter, Meredith is again thrust into conflict with the legacy that destroyed her family’s -great name. 
Back at Aurelia, Meredith must confront the rise and fall of the Hathaway family…and her own part in their mottled history.”
This was a book like I haven’t read before; it sort of defies being placed in a distinct genre category for me – part historical, part family saga, and part gothic drama. We learn about each generation of the family on the Aurelia farm – her Grandfather and his siblings, her Father and his siblings, and then finally Meredith and her sisters. You get some historical references to World War II, the Vietnam War, hippies – but really you learn what life was like in small farming communities.

The first couple of chapters were a little slow going for me, mostly because you are quickly swept into the family history and I had a hard time discerning who was who and also who was telling the story. We are basically following Meredith through her memories and what she knows of her family’s rise and ultimate downfall.

As each generation is fleshed out we really get to see more and more of the cracks and problems within the family – each of them has some epic problems. You can start to see how things could go wrong over time but the author really leaves you hanging as to what ultimately brought the family to its lowest until the final chapters.

After I got through the first couple of chapters the story took off for me and raced at a breakneck pace until the very end. You will find yourself wrapped up in the characters and not wanting to put the book down because you just have to know what they did next. While this wasn’t a typical type of read for me, I enjoyed it immensely

If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book (scroll down the page about halfway)?

You can also watch the book trailer below.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Mini Blueberry Cheesecakes

Another edition of Weekend Cooking and this one takes us back to the Gilded Age of Newport!

These warm winter days we have been having here lately, and the flowers that I have seen starting to spring up early, led me to thinking about the Newport Flower Show. I have not been to the actual flower show, but I have been to Newport during it and everything is so beautiful. One of the grand houses that always has beautiful flowers (and the name implies it too) is Rosecliff.
Rosecliff at Newport, RI

You may have seen Rosecliff before and not know it – have you ever seen The Great Gatsby or Amistad? Portions of these films were set here. It was also modeled after the Grand Trianon at Versailles.

Anyway, Rosecliff was known for its lavish garden parties that were hosted amongst the gorgeous flowers. This week’s recipe comes from the garden party themed dishes from Entertaining Newport Style.
A Rosecliff Garden Party Under the Tent

Mini Blueberry Cheesecakes
Serves 8

1-2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
16 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 Tablespoons brandy
1 pint fresh blueberries

1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 8 ramekins lightly.
2) Beat the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in a mixing bowl until blended and creamy. Beat in the eggs. Fill the ramekins ¾ full with batter.
3) Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the centers are set. Let stand until cool. Chill, covered, for 4-6 hours.
4) Combine the cream and the brandy in a mixing bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.
5) To serve, top each cheesecake with a generous amount of whipped cream and sprinkle with blueberries.

This was my first try at cheesecakes and I was surprised at how easy it was to make. I actually cut the recipe in half (because I only have 4 ramekins) and it worked out great. I would recommend adding sugar to the whipped cream, at least a tablespoon – otherwise it is going to taste like fluffy brandy. If you like that taste that’s fine, but I liked it MUCH better with some sweetness to counteract the strength of the brandy. This was the perfect sized portion for a dessert and quite tasty. It would be refreshing for a summer party for sure.

I also have noticed from cooking these historical recipes, they used brandy in an awful lot of things.  Which is ultimately a good thing for me since this bottle of brandy is going to sit forever if my cupboard otherwise!

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

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Friday, February 24, 2012

James A. Garfield National Historic Site

Did you know James Garfield was the last president born in a log cabin? Neither did I!

The James Garfield National Historic Site (this is not the log cabin he was born in) is located in Mentor, Ohio and is operated by the National Park Service. Although Garfield was only president for approximately 200 days before succumbing to the gunshot wound from an assassin there is a much to learn about this Union general and career politician at the site. The house is beautiful and something that I would love to have the chance to visit someday, but it won't likely be soon.

The Visitor Center provides a museum like exhibit located in what was once a carriage house. Areas of focus are his early life, Civil War career and his rise through the political rankings and also his assassination. You can then tour Garfield’s house complete with furnishings while listening to a guided tour – approximately 35 minutes. Then there is the expanse of grounds you can walk, enjoy a picnic, and just have a relaxing afternoon.

If you want a little more than that – stop by the site on the first or third Saturday of the month for more in-depth tours. A Behind the Scenes tour takes place on the first Saturday. You get to tour these additional areas: basement, servant’s quarters, third floor, windmill and the barn. The third Saturday features an in-depth look at Garfield’s Civil War career. You can learn about his participating at the Battle of Chickamauga and at Sandy Creek and tour the area of the house that was reserved for the family of Joe Rudolph – Garfield’s brother in law. Both of these tours are 1 ½ hours long and reservations are required.

Also, the Garfield Park is taking part in the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War with events throughout 2011-2015. Check out their special events calendar for those events if you are interested.

Admission to the park is $5.00 per person, kids under 15 are free.

To check out a panoramic of the Garfield Historic Site and hear a brief description of the site – go to the Historybuff website.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Audiobook Review: Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
Unabridged, 9 hr. 47 min.
Random House Audio
Paul Michael (Narrator)
September 20, 2011
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Genre: Non-Fiction, Presidential Biography

Source: Downloaded from my local library
“James Abram Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back. 
But the shot didn't kill Garfield. The drama of what happened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in turmoil. The unhinged assassin's half-delivered strike shattered the fragile national mood of a country so recently fractured by civil war, and left the wounded president as the object of a bitter behind-the-scenes struggle for power—over his administration, over the nation's future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. A team of physicians administered shockingly archaic treatments, to disastrous effect. As his condition worsened, Garfield received help: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, worked around the clock to invent a new device capable of finding the bullet. 
Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, The Destiny of the Republic will stand alongside The Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman as a classic of narrative history.”

This was one of those books where I was interested in reading it mostly because of the cover and had no idea if I was going to like the subject or not. President James Garfield I had no prior knowledge about – with the exception that he was assassinated. I didn’t have an interest in the man, hadn’t heard any early reviews of the book, and basically read it because it fulfilled a segment on my quest to read a book about all of the presidents. However, what I walked away with was a powerful respect for an intelligent man, disappointment for the country over his assassination and an all consuming passion to tell everyone I know about this great man.

I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed this book. First of all it is written in a narrative style and the story just moves right along and keeps you riveted to the story – at no time did my mind wander. It is also more than just a story of one man; the story truly has 3 threads – the story of James Garfield (the main narrative), the story of Charles Guiteau (the assassin) and that of Alexander Graham Bell. I won’t spoil for you how Bell becomes involved – as you read you are like, “how does this relate at all”, but I assure you that it all ties together in the end. While you may think that a book with storylines about an assassin and his victim will be tinged with a hatred and respect respectively, that really is not the case here. Millard lets you see a well rounded view of the president – including the fact that he had an affair while away from his wife – as well as what I believe to be a fair view of a clearly mentally unstable man (Guiteau).

You could feel the author’s passion in every word that she wrote and that passion is passed on to the reader. I ran the gamut of emotions with this work – and that is not easy for non-fiction to do. There were moments that brought tears to my eyes, moments of anger and frustration, and sympathy and admiration. This book truly made me care very much about a man and president that I had no interest in. Since I put the book down, the story of James Garfield has not left my mind. The fact that there was the medical understanding at the time to have saved his life and this man could have likely been one of our great presidents and yet they still managed to mess up at every turn has left me exasperated.

I highly recommend this read to anyone who is looking for a good non-fiction read and especially anyone interested in the presidents. I cannot wait to have the opportunity to read her other book on Theodore Roosevelt, although I’m giving it time in between as I am still caught up in Garfield’s story.


One of the things that I cannot be remiss to mention is the quality of the audio production – it was fantastic. The narrator was wonderful. One of the aspects that I enjoyed the most was that when he was reading a quotation you knew it was a quotation because he would alter his voice and create a voice for the character. The regular narrative was read in his standard reading voice. I have read several non-fiction books on audio format and one of the most difficult things can be to tell if what you are hearing is the words of the author or a quotation of someone. That is never the problem here and it keeps you interested.

If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the print book or this audio sample below (links to Audible) 

Play symbol 85x85

You can also watch the book trailer below.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Candice Millard

the river of doubt
The River of Doubt

hero of the empire
Hero of the Empire

Find Candice Millard: Website | Facebook | Twitter 

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Video Clip - Book Talk with Candice Millard

I wanted to share this video with you.  This is a full-length segment of CSPAN's Book TV with Candice Millard - author of Destiny of the Republic about President James A. Garfield.  She speaks at the James A. Garfield Historic Site about the book and the man.  I encourage you to watch this segment (it's 54 minutes long) and learn something about this great man.

I had intended to write a post today about his surprise election - however I found this video which does talk about his election in a much more eloquent manner and provides additional information about the man.

It doesn't allow embedding, so here is the link.  Hope you enjoy it!

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Songs of the Assassination of James Garfield

This week I will be sharing some posts with you about the 20th president, James Garfield.  He was someone that I knew almost nothing about, but after I finished reading Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard he is someone I deeply admire.  So stay tuned all week for some different facts about Mr. Garfield.

Today I wanted to share a 2 video clips and song lyrics that I found about the assassination of James Garfield.  I love finding folk songs about historical events.  It is interesting that a president who was only in office for just shy of 6 months has 2 popular (at their own time) songs about him.  I guess it goes to show how the emotional legacy persevered.

First up - Mr. Garfield - this was first recorded by Bascom Lamar Lunsford in March of 1949.  This is an epic narrative of the events and emotions surrounding the assassination of James Garfield.  While it was somewhat popular in this version, Johnny Cash made it even more so on his album of songs of the Old West (which James Garfield was not a part of but anyway).  Below I have a clip of Cash performing the song as well as the lyrics (be prepared, I said it was an epic!).

Me and my brother was down close to the depot
When I heard the report of a pistol
I hollered, "I wonder what was that!"

He run out and come back and he said
"That was a report of a pistol"

And I thought I was gonna faint when he said it
"Mr. Garfield's been shot down, shot down, shot down
Mr. Garfield's been shot down low"

Lord, I knew the President was supposed to be down the depot that day
But I just wouldn't let myself believe that he'd been shot

Me and my bother run out there and everybody was all confused
And hollering' and running' round
And I stepped up to this one lady and I said that

"Ma'am what was it really that happened Ma'am?", and she said that
"Mr. Garfield's been shot down, shot down, shot down
Mr. Garfield's been shot down low"

Well, it looked like everybody felt just about as bad as I did
Everybody started drift off to home
Me and my brother did too

Then a few weeks later, I heard that the President was still alive
So I told my brother, I said, "Hey let's get on a train
And go to that Big House up there and see how the President is"

"Let's go up there to where he's laid up hurt and sick we'd see him"
So we went on up there and that big White House
And there was a soldier boy standin' round upside, outside

And, I sidled up to him and I said to that soldier boy
I said "Who was it that did it?
Who was it that shot the President?"
And he said that, "It was Charlie Guiteau that shot Mr. Garfield"

And I said, "Charlie Guiteau done shot down a good man, good man
Charlie Guiteau done shot down a good man low
Charlie Guiteau done shot down a good man, good man"

That soldier boy said that
Miss Lucretia Garfield was always at his bedside
In the heat of the day fannin' him when he was hot

And he said just that mornin' that he had been at the window
And he'd overheard Miss Lucretia and Mr. Garfield talkin'
And Mr Garfield said, "Crete, honey", he called her Crete

He said, "Crete, honey, if somethin' worse would happens to me"
He said, "You get yourself a good man"
And she said, "Now James", she called him James

She said, "James, I won't hear to that now
'Cause I love you too much"

And he said that "You'll make some good man a good wife, good wife
You'll make some man a good wife gal
Don't pull in single harness all your life, good gal
Don't pull in single harness all your life"

That's what he said, "Don't pull in single harness all your life"

Well a little while later, we come back around there
And things have changed
The flag was hangin' halfway up the flagpole

And everybody was cryin' and standin' 'round sad
And I walked back up to this soldier boy and I said
"Soldier boy, is he, is Mr Garfield?" and he said, "Yeah, he's gone"

Gonna lay him by that cold lonesome branch down low
Mr. Garfield's been shot down low
Oh, Mr. Garfield's been shot down, shot down, shot down
Mr. Garfield's been shot down low

Have you heard the news?
Mr. Garfield's been shot down, shot down, shot down
Mr. Garfield's been shot down low, Lord

The second song that I have for you is called Charles Guiteau - this was first recorded in 1927 by Kelly Harrell and has been more popularly recorded by the Phipps Family.  This song is about the assassin.  Apparently this song has been used for other assassins as well and the details are just changed to fit each one.  I have a video of someone performing the song below as well as the lyrics.

Come all you tender Christians
Wherever you may be
And likewise pay attention
To these few lines from me.
On the thirtieth day of June 
I am condemned to die

For the murder of James A. Garfield
Upon the scaffold high.

My name is Charles Guiteau,
My name I'll never deny,
To leave my aged parents
To sorrow and to die.
But little did I think
While in my youthful bloom
I'd be carried to the scaffold
To meet my fatal doom.

I tried to play off insane
But found it would not do;
The people all against me,
It proved to make no show.
Judge Cox he passed the sentence,
The clerk he wrote it down,
On the thirtieth day of June
To die I was condemned.

My name is Charles Guiteau,
My name I'll never deny,
To leave my aged parents
To sorrow and to die.
But little did I think
While in my youthful bloom
I'd be carried to the scaffold
To meet my fatal doom.

And now I mount the scaffold
To bid you all adieu,
The hangman now is waiting,
It's a quarter after two.
The black cap is o'er my face,
No longer can I see,
But when I'm dead and buried,
Dear Lord, remember me.

My name is Charles Guiteau,
My name I'll never deny,
To leave my aged parents
To sorrow and to die.
But little did I think
While in my youthful bloom
I'd be carried to the scaffold
To meet my fatal doom.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mailbox Monday #100

This week I received 1 book in the mail which I am excited to read. I received The White Pearl by Kate Furnivall from Penguin Books.  I have not yet had the chance to read any of her other books, but I have been dying too - such interesting choices of subjects.  This one too caught my eye because of the setting - Malaya.  Here is the book blurb:
Malaya, 1941. As the glamorous wife of a plantation owner, Connie Hadley’s life appears pampered and comfortable. But she is hiding devastating secrets that could destroy her marriage.

Life is changed for ever on the day of the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. As Japanese Zero aircraft attack the town of Palur, Connie takes the decision to flee to Singapore on the family’s boat, The White Pearl. 
She sails with her husband and son, three friends and the enigmatic boat dealer Fitzpayne, who is the only one who can navigate the islands of the South China Sea. In desperation, short of food and constantly in danger, fear strips away good manners; tensions arise on the yacht and anger causes deadly divisions between friends…

Did you receive any books this week?

Mailbox Monday is on a monthly blog tour and for the month of February it is hosted by Metroreader.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Sunday, February 19, 2012

John and Abigail Adams Video

As I was looking over some of my notes/resources from the last week, I noticed that I failed to post this short little video from the History Channel about the love of John and Abigail Adams.  So I decided to post it now to still share with you all.  Enjoy!

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Legacy of Eden Scavenger Hunt

I have the pleasure today of hosting one of the stops on the Legacy of Eden by Nelle Davy blog tour. By now you have already read the guest post by Nelle (if you haven't, here is the link) and there will be a review forthcoming in two weeks. Today I have the chance to present you with a small teaser from Chapter 1. If you are interested in reading all of the first chapter you simply have to follow along with the Scavenger Hunt, as a piece of the chapter will be presented at each stop.

So far there have been 15 stops, so you might want to check those out before reading the below section if you desire to read the entire first chapter, otherwise continue on for a teaser preview.

Here is today's excerpt:

"Only later did I come to realize how she had longed to be at the receiving end of such jealousy, that she had geared her life toward that moment. It had for so long been the other way around.

Can you understand? Can you discern even from these fragmented recollections the hold that place could have? Why those who lived there would do anything to protect it regardless of the consequences? It was stronger than the bonds of community, this love, stronger in the end than that of family. It affected all of us. Not the same, never the same, but it always left its mark and you knew then who you truly were and why you bore your name.

On the rare occasions my sister and I have talked since resuming contact a few years ago, our conversations have tiptoed around her bitterness—her, I should say, justified anger. Out of fear or diplomacy we have steered clear of anything that might have forced us down a path on which we would have to confront what is between us. I have done this dance mainly on my own."

Follow onward tomorrow at Bea's Book Nook!

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Interview with Margaret Wurtele & Giveaway!

The Golden Hour is a beautiful coming-of-age novel set in World War II Tuscany. From reading the description of the novel the time and place just sucked me in. I had the wonderful opportunity to interview the author, Margaret Wurtele, and gain some insight into this novel. Please join me in welcoming her and stay tuned at the end for a giveaway!

A vast number of books have been written about events around and during WWII. What sets your book apart? Why choose to set your story in Italy?

I am going to answer the first two questions together. I did not choose WWII or the setting in Italy in the abstract, but rather the whole thing was sparked by a specific incident. See question number 2!!

You have written two memoirs in the past – what led you to writing this novel? What is it about this period that led you to write about it?

In 2004 my husband and I traveled to Tuscany and rented a house with two other couples, friends from California’s wine country, where we live part time, grow grapes and make wine. One day we were invited to lunch at an estate near Lucca where one of the couples purchased olive trees for their Sonoma land. Our host spread a table out under a leafy shade tree near the stately old villa. After we finished eating, he began to reminisce about the last year of World War II.

He told us how the Nazis had taken over the great house next to us; how they had forced the family to live in a few small rooms at the back. After the armistice, he said, his mother – then only 17 – fell in love with the translator for the Allied troops who had liberated them – a much older Jewish man. Despite all the Nazis had put them through, her father still objected to the match on the grounds that he was Jewish. The irony of that – that someone who had been so persecuted would mirror the values of his tormentors onto his own daughter – stuck with me, and I left that day burning to write about it.

It was indeed a leap into writing fiction. Whereas in the memoirs I could rely on my own journals and personal experience, in the novel, it all had to come from my imagination. I took a fiction writing class, did a lot of research and then, for the first few chapters, worked with an experienced editor before I found my fiction legs!

I know that you and your husband own a winery and that your main character, Giovanna, has a winery in her family. Does your winery experience come into play in this novel at all – or is it used more as a setting?

I think part of the reason I was so attracted to Tuscany is its similarity to Napa. In writing about the landscape, I felt truly at home. There are several dynamics in the novel where our own winemaking experience came into play. The young Mario wants to impress Giovanna’s father, so he studies viticulture and makes suggestions on their winemaking techniques. Mostly, however, it is a backdrop for a coming-of-age and a love story.

Giovanna is 17 years old in this novel – would you say that this is a book that young adults could enjoy as well as adults?

I think young adults might enjoy the novel a lot. It was not written for them, but the coming-of-age kind of story always used to interest me when I was that age.

Do you have any other writing plans in the works? Is there a subject that you would just love to write about?

I am waiting for the inspiration for the next piece of fiction to strike – I know how much work and dedication it takes to complete a novel, so I know I need to feel the same kind of passion for my subject that I felt for The Golden Hour.

I would also like to return to the memoir mode, to write about our life in Napa – finding the land, renovating the old stone winery – and to reflect on the process of my own aging in the context of growing grapes and making wine.

Margaret Wurtele is the author of two memoirs. She and her husband split their time between Minnesota and Napa Valley, where they are owners of Terra Valentine Winery. Visit her online at www.margaretwurtele.com.

Now for the giveaway.  I have one copy of The Golden Hour to offer for a giveaway thanks to Penguin Group.  It is open to the US and Canada and the last day to enter is March 3rd.  Good luck!

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day with John and Abigail Adams

I had the opportunity this past Saturday to go to a very interesting event at Old Sturbridge Village.  They had an event in honor of Valentine's Day called Sweet Romance: An Evening with John and Abigail Adams.  Instantly I was intrigued by the title alone and brought my obliging boyfriend with me.

We were treated to about an hour long re-enactment/reading of several letters between John and Abigail Adams from the early days of their courtship up until approximately the 1790's when he was returning from the Continental Congress to home.  This fit perfectly into the time period that Old Sturbridge Village represents.  The two re-enactors were dressed up to look like John and Abigail and they played off of each other well in reading their letters.  They even answered questions in character.

It was very cool getting to hear their letters read aloud - I have read through many of them in the past months for my research project I was working on.  They are full of wit, teasing, and love.  After the reading we walked over the tavern and saw old fashioned chocolate making demonstrations, tasted some hot chocolate (which I really didn't like) and had a chocolate and cheese pairing tasting.  All in all it was an enjoyable evening.

I wanted to share a few of the letters with you.  John and Abigail wrote many, many, many letters to each other throughout their lifetime.  Here is an excerpt from a letter from John to Abigail.

I recorded a clip of the letter reading from the event on Saturday.  Here is one comical letter between John and Abigail where he responds to her request of a list of her faults.  You might have to turn your volume way up and listen closely, we were not too close to the front and there is audience noise.  You can take a look at what this actual letter looks like at the Massachusetts Historical Society page and then clicking on the images there.

Hope you enjoyed this little Valentine's Day break.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mailbox Monday #99

This week I received one book in the mail and it was one that I was sort of surprised to see.

I received Abby Finds Her Calling by Naomi King.  I had agreed to host a guest post by the author next month and then a copy of the book showed up a few days later.  It isn't my typical read - it is a book about the Amish and somewhat of a romance.  Here is a synopsis of the book:
The first in a warm-hearted new series featuring two Amish families and their community in Cedar Creek, Missouri. 
The Lambright family’s eldest daughter, Abby, runs her own sewing shop. There, she mends the town’s clothes and their torn relationships. But the town maidel has sworn off any suitors of her own because of her unrequited love for James Graber, who is about to marry her younger sister, Zanna… 
On the wedding day, Zanna is nowhere to be found, breaking James’ heart. Zanna has brought shame to her family, but there’s more in store for them when they discover how far she has fallen. Long-buried secrets come to light, and they test the bonds of the Cedar Creek community. Abby is at the center of it all, trying to maintain everyone’s happiness. But will she ever find her own?

I will have a guest post and giveaway for you all on March 12th, so stay tuned.

What came in your mailbox this week?

Mailbox Monday is on a monthly blog tour and is being hosted for the month of February at Metroreader.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Tatiana's Macaroni and Cheese

I love macaroni and cheese and have always enjoyed trying out different recipes to see what combinations of cheese or add ins make the best gourmet mac and cheese. This recipe comes from Tatiana's Table by Paullina Simons.

I loved the vignette that went along with this recipe.  Tatiana is trying to help her son to be "American" and she decides that they are not eating American foods.  So she tries out a recipe for Mac and Cheese - I ask, what could be more American, except maybe hamburgers?  She also likes to try out differed add ins - like me!

Tatiana's Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 6-8

1 lb elbow macaroni, cooked
5 cups milk
1 large onion, peeled and left whole
5 Tbsp. butter
5 Tbsp. flour
1 lb. extra sharp cheddar
8 oz. Swiss or Gruyere cheese
1 lb. mozzarella
1 tsp. salt
Pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Optional: Bacon, cooked crisp and chopped or thick ham, small cubed and lightly fried

1) Preheat oven to 350 F degrees.  Grease a rectangular oven safe 9x13 casserole dish.  Shred all cheese and set aside.
2) In a medium saucepan heat milk and onion until bubbles just form around the edge of the pan.  Turn off heat and let onion infuse into the milk.
3) Meanwhile, melt butter in a 5 qt. saucepan on medium heat.  Add flour and cook, stirring gently for 3-4 minutes.  Discard the onion and slowly add the milk to the roux paste, stirring constantly.  Heat until milk mixture thickens and starts to bubble slightly.  Add salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne.  Remove from heat and add cooked macaroni.  Add half the cheddar, half the Swiss, and half the mozzarella cheeses and mix.
4) Spread into the prepared casserole.  Sprinkle with the remaining cheeses and bake for 30 minutes until cheese is bubbling.

This is one of the better mac and cheese recipes I have tried recently.  I went with adding in bacon - because I too believe that everything can be made better with bacon - and we didn't have any ham in the house.  I also chose Swiss cheese instead of Gruyere since we had made one with Gruyere recently.  The outcome was a very creamy, cheesy dish.  I have had problems before where it isn't creamy enough, but this one was perfect.  My boyfriend gave it the green light too.  The cheese on top gave it a little bit of a crisp crust...so good!  

I don't think that infusing the milk with the onion added much in the way of taste.  You really didn't have any taste of onion.  I think I would probably finely dice the onion next time.  Also, I would add more cayenne, maybe 1/2 tsp total - you couldn't taste that either.

Overall a very good dish.  Stay tuned next week...we make dessert!

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

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Winner of By the King's Design

Happy Sunday everyone. I just wanted to take a quick minute to announce the winner of the giveaway for By the King's Design by Christine Trent. That winner is...

Jeanne Miro!!!

Congratulations and I hope you enjoy the book. I will be sending out an email to get your mailing information.

Thanks to everyone that entered! There are still a few more days left on this tour and if you would like to enter some of the other giveaways for this book, stop by the HFVBT website to check out all of the tour stops.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Friday, February 10, 2012

Author Interview with Taylor M. Polites

I had the chance to ask debut author, Taylor M. Polites, a few questions about his novel, The Rebel Wife.  Continue reading to learn more about his book and why he wrote it.

I see that you have a Masters in Fine Arts. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I can definitely say that as early as fifth grade I was writing. I did a group of short plays that my fifth grade class acted out. I was writer and director. What a trip that was! Since then, I have always harbored the desire to write. In my teens, I used to draw maps of antebellum Southern towns. I drew the houses and their floorplans, then began filling them with people and soon the people were part of a story. Not too many years later, I picked the towns and people back up to develop the town of Albion, Alabama. Getting my MFA in creative writing from Wilkes University was one of the best things I did for myself as a writer. I learned a LOT about writing in the program and had the greatest mentor and guide a person could ask for, Kaylie Jones. There is nothing like learning about writing from a great writer!

The Rebel Wife is set in the Reconstruction South. What led you to set your novel during this time period? Specifically, why Alabama?

Alabama is where I grew up. I was born in Huntsville in North Alabama. The city has a beautiful antebellum historic district called Twickenham and a late 19th century district called Old Town. I don’t think I realized how unique it was to have such a well preserved downtown with residential streets that truly have the feel of the 19th century. Having memories of those historic places and hearing the stories about the people who lived there served as an initial inspiration for the daydream towns I created in my teens and ultimately my much more earnest and researched daydream town of Albion. As I grew up, I continued to read and research in an effort to understand the place and the period. Reconstruction is a fundamental, but neglected, part of the history of the Civil War. The most ambitious civil rights effort in history was undertaken during that time—and the period also witnessed its total abandonment. High hopes and great loss. A drama as great as the Civil War—and ultimately the ending that defines what the war was about. It seemed a perfect setting for a novel about the meaning of the war to people who lived then, as well as the myths we have inherited about the period.

Did you find it difficult to write from a female perspective? What led to the choice of a central female character rather than a male protagonist?

Yes! I did find it difficult. There were moments where I thought, “What am I doing trying to project myself into the body of a 29 year old woman in 1875? What on earth do I know about this?” But as a writer, too, I like a good challenge. It definitely put my imagination to work. I have always had a fascination with strong women characters from my first acquaintance with Scarlett O’Hara, at least (I was about 13). Women in fiction have always been a big draw for me—and real women from the Civil War period also fascinated me. There is a wealth of voices that remain to us in letters, diaries, memoirs and essays. From Louisa McCord, the firebrand conservative political philosopher of mid-19th century South Carolina, to her peer Mary Chesnut, the smart, ambitious and witty diarist who moved in the highest political circles during the war. There are Huntsville voices, too, that served as muse for me. The passionate and frank letters of Kate Fearn Steele to her husband, Matt, collected along with other family letters in Cease Not to Think of Me. And the vain Virginia Clay Clopton, who is changed by tragedy during the war and becomes the most ardent petitioner to the President during the imprisonment of her husband in Fortress Monroe. Her memoir, A Belle of the Fifties, tells her life story in her own words (more or less, she had a co-writer). Whenever I was going to sit down and write, I would open up Mary Chesnut’s diary or Kate Fearn’s letters and read passages to get a sense of the voice and point of view of these women.

Did you encounter any difficulties while researching this novel?

Research for me reveals more answers than it poses problems. I have spent so much time from about the age of fifteen mentally projecting myself into this period, reading the sources, studying the archives, reading monographs, that I have a good feel for its political currents. The day-to-day detail came from newspapers and other periodicals, like Godey’s Lady’s Book (the Providence Athenaeum has a staggeringly complete collection). Godey’s is like a Martha Stewart Living of the 19th century, with a strong dose of Vogue. There is a big focus on fashion, gossip at the court of the Emperor Napoleon III and Empress EugĂ©nie in France, recipes, housekeeping tips, poetry, serialized novels, and handiwork, like crocheting antimacassars or making slippers or sewing kits or tobacco bags. The major difficulty from the research was probably knowing when enough was enough!

Do you have any future novels in the works that you can share with us?

I am working out the details of another Albion novel, this one set on a lonely plantation along the banks of the Oosanatee River during the Great Depression, when much of life, particularly farming life, in North Alabama remained as it had one hundred years before. But the Depression brought big changes to the Tennessee River valley—government programs of relief, employment and cotton control brought bureaucrats far closer to the people than ever before. The Tennessee Valley Authority was created which created dams at various spots on the Tennessee River and its tributaries, bringing flood control, navigation, electricity and fertilizer along with more scientific farming techniques. The old world of sharecroppers with a team of mules was giving way to the Great Migration, large, mechanized corporate farms, and new technology. A fascinating time in a world that was still very attached to the Civil War and its memories—particulalry at a time when those memories were reaching the height of their mythologization.

Thank you so much for taking the time and blog space to talk to me!

And thank you Taylor for taking the time to share you new book with us and your passion behind it!

Taylor M. Polites is a novelist living in Providence, Rhode Island with his small Chihuahua, Clovis. Polites’ first novel, The Rebel Wife, is due out in February 2012 from Simon & Schuster. He graduated in June 2010 with his MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. He has lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts, New York City, St. Louis and the Deep South. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a BA in History and French and spent a year studying in Caen, France. He has covered arts and news for a variety of local newspapers and magazines, including the Cape Codder, InNewsWeekly, Bird’s Eye View (the in-flight magazine of CapeAir), artscope Magazine and Provincetown Arts Magazine.

You can find Taylor at his website or blog, Facebook and Twitter.  You can follow The Rebel Wife blog tour on its own website.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court