Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Friday, April 4, 2014
Author: Ruth Hull Chantilien
Publication Date: December 2, 2013
Publisher: Amika Press
Paperback: 484 pages
As a clever girl in stodgy, mercantile Baltimore, Betsy Patterson dreams of a marriage that will transport her to cultured Europe. When she falls in love with and marries Jerome Bonaparte, she believes her dream has come true—until Jerome’s older brother Napoleon becomes an implacable enemy.
Based on a true story, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is a historical novel that portrays this woman’s tumultuous life. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, known to history as Betsy Bonaparte, scandalized Washington with her daring French fashions; visited Niagara Falls when it was an unsettled wilderness; survived a shipwreck and run-ins with British and French warships; dined with presidents and danced with dukes; and lived through the 1814 Battle of Baltimore. Yet through it all, Betsy never lost sight of her primary goal—to win recognition of her marriage.
Watch the Book TrailerLINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Buy the Book
Barnes & Noble (Paperback)
Barnes & Noble (Nook)
Ruth Hull Chatlien has been a writer and editor of educational materials for twenty-five years. Her specialty is U.S. and world history. She is the author of Modern American Indian Leaders and has published several short stories and poems in literary magazines. The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is her first published novel.
She lives in northeastern Illinois with her husband, Michael, and a very pampered dog named Smokey. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found gardening, knitting, drawing, painting, or watching football.
Connect with Ruth Hull Chatlien at her website or on Facebook.
Friday, March 28, 2014
Publication date: 3/18/2014
Edition description: (2 volume set)
My thoughts: When I was offered the opportunity to review the book at Scandalous Women, I was a little wary. I’ve gone on record about the overload of historical fiction set during the Tudor era. And the title gave me pause as well. QUEEN ELIZABETH’S DAUGHTER? Was this going to be some sort of alternative history where Elizabeth and Robert Dudley have a child who is smuggled away and doesn’t learn of her heritage until later? (I’m pretty sure that someone has written this book!). However, when I read the summary, I was intrigued. While I had heard of Madge Shelton, I had no idea that there was another Mary Shelton who had a connection with the Tudors. My interest was piqued.
Orphaned at the age of 3, Mary has grown up at the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Mary is not just Elizabeth’s ward, but she is also her cousin through the Boleyns. The Queen is the closest thing to a mother that Mary has ever known but she is also her sovereign which makes for a complicated relationship. We meet Mary when she is fifteen and just blossoming as a woman. Her childhood nemesis has finally noticed her as a woman, and she experiences her first love. When Elizabeth learns that Mary is in love with a young man of little fortune, she sends him away from court. The Elizabeth that we meet in this book is just entering middle-age, experiencing the first signs of aging, and having to deal with the wandering eye of the love of her life, Robert Dudley. And then there is Mary, Queen of Scots who is a constant threat through the machinations of the Duke of Norfolk and other Catholic nobles. Feeling that her life is spinning out of control, Elizabeth tries to control the things that she can, namely the love lives of her maids of honor. This Elizabeth is not always admirable or likeable, but Barnhill does an excellent job of letting the reader into to her psyche through her talks with Blanche Parry. These sections of the book come between chapters and are narrated in the first person while the rest of the book is told in third person, mainly through the eyes of Mary Shelton.
I really liked Mary; she is hard-headed, stubborn but also loyal and intelligent. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, but she also has her sweet and vulnerable moments and at times she’s wise beyond her years. The love story between Mary and Sir John Skydemore (or Scudamore according to Wikipedia) is touching, tender and funny. I truly believed their love story. The relationship between the two grows slowly. Sir John is a widower who is twelve years Mary’s senior when the book starts. I confess that when he first expressed his interest in Mary, I had to remember that 15 was not too young to be married. There are no villains in the book per se, although the Earl of Oxford comes across as a thoroughly despicable character. Barnhill’s portrait of him will convince you that there is no way that this man wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare! He has about as much depth as a wading pool.
The last section of the book kept me on tenterhooks as events spiraled out of control. This was the section where I really had difficulty liking Elizabeth. Her motivations were incredibly petty and could have cost and innocent man’s life. One can see echoes of her father, Henry VIII, in her actions. She proves to definitely be her father’s daughter.
The book is filled with minute details of the lives of the maids of honor, the enormous preparations need for the Queen’s summer progresses around the country, her nightly beauty rituals, and the clothes. At times, I felt that these details slowed the book down, and were repetitive. The reader is told over and over again, how draining it is, and how cramped the quarters often are.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a pleasant way to spend the last few days of winter, curled up in bed with a good book, or a good Nook in my case.
About the author: Anne Clinard Barnhill (http://anneclinardbarnhill.com/) has been writing or dreaming of writing for most of her life. For the past twenty years, she has published articles, book and theater reviews, poetry, and short stories. Her first book, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ, recalls what it was like growing up with an autistic sister. Her work has won various awards and grants. Barnhill holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Besides writing, Barnhill also enjoys teaching, conducting writing workshops, and facilitating seminars to enhance creativity. She loves spending time with her three grown sons and their families. For fun, she and her husband of thirty years, Frank, take long walks and play bridge. In rare moments, they dance.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
With “12 Years A Slave” nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, it seemed appropriate to have an event that celebrated the woman that he unwillingly left behind, when he was kidnapped into slavery. Anne Northup was born in 1808 in a town called Sandy Hill in upstate New York. Like Solomon, she was born free. She was of mixed race, African, Caucasian and Native American. From a young age, she apprenticed in the kitchens of the taverns in the nearby towns. She worked at the Eagle Tavern & Sherrill’s Coffee House, eventually becoming not just a skilled cook but also a kitchen manager. She was an ambitious, independent free African-American woman in 19th century New York. In 1828, she married Solomon with whom she had 3 children, Margaret, Elizabeth and Alonzo. The couple owned a farm in Hebron in Washington County, but they also worked at various jobs to provide a better life for their children. After they moved to Saratoga Springs, Anne worked from time to time at the United States Hotel and other public houses, gaining a reputation for her culinary skills. At the time that Anne and Solomon lived in Saratoga, there were about 65 free black families that lived in the area, providing a growing labor force.
While living in Saratoga, Anne Northup made the acquaintance of Eliza Jumel, who spent her summers in the resort town. After Solomon’s disappearance, Eliza invited Anne and her children to come live and work in her mansion in New York City where they lived for several months. Alonzo worked as an apprentice to Madame Jumel’s coachman. No doubt Elizabeth and Margaret helped Anne out in the kitchen. After a few months, Anne moved back upstate, where she worked for several families and establishments in the area. Anne eventually worked on and off for Madame Jumel for three years. No doubt she felt that if Solomon could manage to smuggle a letter out, which he did at least three times, he would contact her there. Historians know that Anne worked for Madame Jumel for a few months, because she later testified during the struggle over Madame Jumel’s will, which was a regular Bleak House affair.
The day started off at 3 pm with a talk by Professor Jane Lancaster from Brown University, who is writing a biography of Eliza Jumel. She discussed the relationship between Anne and Eliza Jumel. According to Professor Lancaster, because Eliza had grown up in a multiracial brothel run by madam of color, she had a more tolerant attitude towards race relations than was common at the time. Eliza inviting the family to come to New York wasn’t charity by any means. Anne, no doubt, worked hard for Madame Jumel. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Eliza used what influence she might have had to try and help Anne find Solomon.
After Jane Lancaster’s talk, local historian Greg Washington took us on a brief tour of the mansion and the local neighborhood as Anne would have experienced them in the 1840's. Unfortunately it was cold as hell outside, so most of us just stood around shivering while he talked. He talked briefly on the differences between slavery in the North and the South. While both Solomon and Anne were born free, Solomon’s father was not, although his father was freed in his master’s will. Slavery had only been abolished in New York in 1827. The South’s economy was mainly agriculturally based, with slaves providing the labor force, whereas in the North, manufacturing and industry began to become major players. Most families in the North, if they had slaves, probably only had two or three.
At the end of Greg’s tour, we gathered in the kitchen where food historian Tonya Hopkins shared with us a little bit of what Anne’s life would have been like working in the kitchen. The kitchen at the Jumel mansion currently looks more colonial than Victorian. Anne, however, would have had access to the latest invention, the stove by the time she came to work for Madame Jumel. The kitchen is quite small although larger than most New York apartments. I tried hard to imagine what it would have been like for Anne in the kitchen, roasting a chicken in the hearth, baking bread in the oven. It must have been incredibly strenuous. Her only help probably would have been her daughters.
Finally at around 6 pm, came the highlight of the evening, dinner. Curated by food historian Tonya Hopkins, the dinner recreate some recipes that would have been familiar to Anne, for a three-course formal dinner, while leading a conversation about Anne’s life and career. The meal was prepared by Chef Heather Jones and a staff pulled from ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) and the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). Tonya explained to us that menus, as such, didn’t exist back in the early 19th century. Guests would have found out what was for dinner until they sat down at the table. While talking about the influences on Anne’s cooking, Tonya mentioned that most of the black population in the North would have come from the West Indies. This lead to what could be called a “creolelization” of food. Tonya pointed out that soul food is actually American food, all American food essentially is fusion food, a mélange of tastes and recipes from all the immigrants to this country.
There was a bit of discussion of whether or not Anne would have been able to support her 3 children as a cook in the 19th century. Apparently a critic of the film suggested that it wouldn’t have been possible. Tonya told us that she believed that since Anne had a reputation as a chief, and was in high demand, that it would have been possible but that Anne might have been paid in room and board, and her children probably went to work at an early age to help make ends meet.
Our second course was a dandelion salad with lardons and a hit of balsamic. I had never had dandelion greens before, as far as I was concerned they were weeds, but they were quite tasty if a bit bitter. Tonya informed us that Anne’s recipes were not written down because she was illiterate. All of her knowledge would have been in her head. Our dinner was based on dishes that she might have cooked at the establishments where she worked. Her only known recipe is for something called cracker toast. You take crackers, spread them with butter and then soaked in milk, then toasted in the oven until the milk is gone. To create the menu for the dinner, Tonya examined all the menus and recipes from the places that Anne had worked, the Eagle Tavern, the United States Hotel, also regional cooking in the area in upstate New York where Anne lived.
The main course was ham in a Madeira sauce and roast chicken with apple sauce, glazed turnips, and mashed potatoes. I normally don’t eat meat, but I was starving, so I hate the chicken which was delicious, as were the turnips, a root vegetable that I don’t normally eat. And finally for dessert, we had something called a jumble (another word for cookie) that was sort of like a spice cookie. It was flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and rosewater.
It was such a fabulous evening, and the people at my table were wonderful, that I didn’t want to leave. I hope that the Morris-Jumel mansion does more events like this. I would also love to do my “Noted and Notorious New York Women,” lecture for them as well. For another account of the evening, here is a link to an article written by my tablemate Sylvia Wong Lewis.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
You guys, this show is twisting itself in knots to try and figure out ways to keep Mary and Francis from getting married. As you probably recall, Nostradamus predicted that marriage to Mary will be the death of Francis. And Henry, for some reason, decided that it's vitally important that Mary stake her claim to the throne of England. Diane de Poitier's plot to have Bash legitimized was discovered, so she convinced Bash to leave the court.
Meanwhile, the man of the hour, Nostradamus is stabbed in the neck by Clarissa, the girl in the burlap sack. And we don't even find out what happens to him in the next episode! Is he lying dead in the basement? I guess everyone is so busy with the whole "Bash will be the next king," idea that Nostradamus has completely been forgotten.
Of course this is all part of one of Catherine's plans to ruin Bash. She's like the Wiley E. Coyote of the French court. Apparently if anyone finds out that Bash is related to this traitor, he will never be able to be King. Mary, who is nothing if not helpful, decides to help Bash escort Isabella somewhere safe before she gives birth. After taking away all of Catherine's luxuries, Mary leaves the Three Stooges aka Lola, Greer and Kenna to watch Catherine to keep her from pulling any funny business.
Bash, Mary, and Isabelle ending up getting stuck in The Dark Forest where evil lurks aka heretics. They set up a tent for the night and Bash puts up protective symbols to keep them safe which Mary tears down thinking they were put there by the heretics. She then realizes that Bash's family are also heretics. She and Bash argue about the whole thing which was pretty boring, and Mary was incredibly judgmental (wait until she gets back to Scotland and has to deal with Presbyterians!). Frankly by this point, I was bored with the entire episode. I didn't care about Isabelle and her baby, or the pagans in the woods.
The only interesting bit in the whole episode was Catherine de Medici taunting Kenna. The best line of the night, of course, belonged to Catherine. "Where are you going? I'm not done abusing you yet. You're taking away all my amusement." And then Lola, who is the only one of three to really have any brains, tells Catherine that they have forged letters from her plotting against the King which she threatens to make public if any harm comes to Bash or Mary.
The sad thing about this show is that if the real Mary, Queen of Scots had been this strong, decisive, and level-headed she might have kept her throne and not ended up on the chopping block. She even offers Bash a way out, telling him that he doesn't have to marry her and become King, that she would understand if it was all too much for him. Bash, to his credit, tells her no that he's willing to go through with it if only so that he has a storyline on this show.
Nothing of real historical significance happened in either of these two episodes.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Later the mansion was bought by a wine merchant by the name of Stephen Jumel, who lived in the mansion with his much younger wife Eliza. You can read guest blogger Audrey Braver's post on Eliza Jumel Burr here. Eliza Jumel was a piece of work to say the least. Not many people know her name now but she was the subject of several historical novels over the years. I'm amazed that there hasn't been a major biography about her. I've become a little obsessed with her myself.
The paranormal sleepover was the night of my birthday, November 2nd, which also happens not only Marie Antoinette's birthday, was also All Soul's Day or the Day of the Dead. It was the perfect night, when the veil between the living and the dead is supposed to be at its thinnest. I didn't own a sleeping bag, (I'm a total Bloomingdale's camper), so I moseyed on over to Target to pick one up. For the grand sum of $21, I was fully equipped for my night in the mansion.
The evening started at around 8 pm. It was kind of eerie walking up to the mansion from Broadway. I'd only ever been up to the mansion in the daytime. I could imagine horse drawn carriages pulling up the drive to drop guests off for an evening supper and dance at the mansion. Tea, coffee, and snacks awaited us. My friends, paranormal author Leanna Renee Hieber and her husband, and bookseller Stacey Agdern joined me for the adventure.
I've been fascinated by the paranormal since I was a child. I've done past life regressions (and no, I wasn't anyone famous!). I watch Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures on TV. There have even been instances in my life that I can't explain, the feeling that my parents, who are deceased, watch over me. So I guess you can say that I'm a skeptical believer. Still I wasn't sure that we were going to have any sightings at the mansion.
“Acoustic Archives” presented their findings from previous readings at the mansion. One of the docents then took us on a tour of the mansion, giving us details of the various sightings of Madame Jumel over the years. From there we went down to the kitchen and there's where the magic happened. EVF meters were handed out for those of us who wanted to measure any paranormal activity. There was a clear presence in the kitchen near where Stacey, Leanna and I were sitting. I'm not kidding you, the meter went off the charts where we sitting on bench in the back, and when we moved to a different bench, the presence (whatever it was) followed us. And it was distinctly chilly where we were sitting which shouldn't have been the case given how many people were in the kitchen. Normally, the more people, the warmer the room. We weren't even sitting near the back door.
Eventually we joined the men (we had kicked them out earlier because we thought they were inhibiting any women spirits who might be in the kitchen) upstairs in Eliza Jumel's bedroom. And that's when s*%t started to get real. One of the guys from Acoustic Archives set up a flashlight in the middle of the floor. The idea was that if there was any spirit or entity in the room they would answer our questions by making the flashlight flicker. Well Madame Jumel was quite talkative, (perhaps she knew it was my birthday and didn't want to disappoint me!) particularly when the subject of children was mentioned. All of a sudden the flashlight went crazy. One of the stories that the docent told us was how Madame Jumel had appeared on the balcony of the mansion during a school visit. There was also a rumor that Madame Jumel had an illegitimate son during her years as an actress. After her death, a young man appeared claiming to be her son. He went to court to try and overturn her will, trying to claim a portion of her estate.
Overall it was an exciting night although I'm a little old to be sleeping on hardwood floors, especially hardwood floors that are over 200 years old. Castles, Secrets & Legends on The Travel Channel recently did a segment on a séance that was held at the mansion in the sixties which you can see below:
Murder in the Mansion Video : Castle Secrets & Legends : Travel Channel
Also, apparently Ghost Adventures also did a segment at the mansion but they haven't shown it yet. I'm interested to know if anyone has had any paranormal experiences while visiting a historic home or site.