Friday, June 30, 2023

Times A'Changing

Eleven years and as many days ago, I tackled Blogger for the first time. Titled “Confessions of a Befuddled Author,” that initial post expressed my very real confusion about the blogoverse as a whole and my own place in it, combined with the awkwardness of writing about the sixteenth century while being expected to master twenty-first-century technology to promote my work.

The issue was not then and is not now the technology itself. I actually have a well-developed inner geek. I love trying out new software and solving those bizarre problems that computers throw our way from time to time. I spend much of my day hunched over my trusty Mac and my evenings reading on a tablet. I’m a whiz at Adobe InDesign, Affinity Publisher, and Word—not so much with Photoshop or its equivalents, but I can at least get around without bumping into walls. And after eleven years, I have become quite comfortable with Blogger and its quirks.

In other ways, I am wildly out of touch. I rarely watch television; I haven’t kept up with the latest movies, pop stars, or trends. I discover new slang most often while scratching my head over crossword puzzles. My characters, living as they do in the 1530s and 1540s, are clueless about emojis, and for the most part so is their creator.

Yet however much I resist change, I realize that at times it is necessary. For years, my blog lived at one site while my website was hosted by another (Wix), but a couple of months ago Wix decided that it would no longer link directly to Blogger.

At first, I let it slide, hoping the policy would change. But then I realized that my own site is secure, whereas Blogger is not and that without the weekly blog posts my site updates very rarely, which discourages attention from search engines. So I gritted my teeth and decided to switch. Since the beginning of June, I have posted everything in both places, but that is about to end.

I have not abandoned Blogger entirely. Since I started the blog on June 18, 2012, I have made almost 600 posts, which have attracted more than 420,000 views, including almost 10,000 this past month. So for as long I can, I will keep those older posts available to view at But for future posts and updated news of all sorts, please check Look forward to connecting with you there!


Friday, June 23, 2023

The Anatomist's Widow

I encountered the Lady Darby novels through a circuitous path of Amazon recommendations—mostly in connection with other series I have covered in New Books Network interviews. Specifically, my interest in
C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr books and Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs novels led to
Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby and Verity Kent novels. At first, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to commit to another series, never mind two, but I kept coming back to them and eventually decided to give them a try.

What drew me to the Lady Darby books in particular was their setting, which is a little off the beaten path. Most of them take place in Scotland during the 1830s. The Regency has ended—in fact, George IV has died, leaving his brother William as king—but the Victorian era has yet to begin. Familiar figures—the Duke of Wellington, Lord Melbourne, and so on—make their appearance, but the contexts are different. And the contrast between rich and poor, as well as the harsh restrictions placed on society ladies, inspire important elements of each plot.

When we meet the series heroine—Kiera, Lady Darby—in The Anatomist’s Wife, she is a young widow in her mid-twenties. A gifted portrait painter, she is in a state of emotional near-collapse caused by the abuse she endured during her three-year marriage and the even more traumatic investigation that followed her husband’s death. A social outcast, she has taken refuge in her brother-in-law’s castle, but a house party arranged by her sister reawakens all of Kiera’s fears. When one of the guests turns up dead, she is the prime suspect. To clear her name, she agrees to assist Sebastian Gage, another guest and a semi-official  inquiry agent, to find the suspect. Gage is, to put it mildly, not Kiera’s type: a self-assured, relentlessly flirtatious gentleman who employs all the social skills that Kiera so noticeably lacks in pursuit of his goals.

Fast forward two years, when A Fatal Illusion opens, and a great deal has changed. Over the course of ten cases, Gage and Kiera’s partnership has become firmly established. So when Gage’s arrogant, disobliging father is attacked in Yorkshire, the pair of them set off to find out what happened and to provide whatever aid they can.

Somewhere along the way—perhaps around book 6, A Brush with Shadows—I realized that, thanks to my connection with the New Books Network, I could sidestep Amazon’s unending pleas that I pre-order the latest book and go straight to the publisher. As a result, I had the chance to interview Anna Lee Huber  about the entire series toward the end of last month. The interview went online this week, though, to coincide with the book’s release on June 20, and you now have the chance to listen to our conversation. Read on to find out more.

As usual, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

This—the eleventh installment in Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby Mysteries featuring Kiera and Sebastian Gage—opens in Yorkshire in 1832. The two of them have come a long way since their first acrimonious meeting two years earlier; in fact, they have married and produced an infant daughter. Yet Kiera, Lady Darby, is still known by her detested first husband’s title—a courtesy extended by society that she would much rather forgo in favor of being plain Mrs. Gage.

On this occasion, Gage has received word that his father has been attacked and left for dead on the Great North Road. Despite years of neglect and mistreatment, Gage rushes to his father’s side, bringing his family with him. After discovering his father alive, if not well, Gage and Kiera set out to discover who attacked him and why, but they have to contend with both the victim’s refusal to share all he knows and resistance from the locals, who are determined to protect a group of highwaymen (or is it a group of smugglers?) whom they believe to be the nineteenth-century equivalent of Robin Hood.

As always in these mysteries, the setting comes vividly to life, the problems unknot themselves in satisfying but not always predictable ways, and the characters slowly move toward greater understanding of themselves and others. If you haven’t encountered Kiera and Gage before, you should certainly seek out their adventures. But do yourself a favor and start with book 1, The Anatomist’s Wife. Although you can tackle the books in any order, you will enjoy them more if you read them as I did, from start to finish.

As I noted last week, because of changes to Wix, which hosts my main author website, and my own desire to consolidate my author persona in one secure location, I will be transferring my blog to my main site,, at the end of June 2023. The older posts—dating from June 2012!—will continue to be archived here for as long as I can make that happen.


Friday, June 16, 2023

Making Stuff Up

I’ve made no secret of the fact that one reason I chose to set my historical novels during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible—who became the nominal ruler of Russia a few months after his third birthday and held the throne until his death at fifty-four—was because the history of that period is so dramatic that the stories almost tell themselves. When I began, I intended to start not long after Ivan’s accession to the throne and end with the suspiciously convenient death of his mother, Grand Princess Elena Glinskaya, four and a half years later. That is, indeed, the span of my first series, Legends of the Five Directions.

But when I found myself with a group of characters whose stories I’d planned to tell but had no room for—having had entirely unrealistic ideas of just how much I could cover in a single book—I was having too much fun to quit and decided to bring the series forward into the even more troubled and chaotic years that followed Elena’s death. That brought me, in due course, to the bride show held for the by then sixteen-year-old Ivan and, as of the current novel, the Great Moscow Fire that followed it. Or more accurately, as I discovered when I began to research the topic, not one fire but a series of three that wreaked havoc on Moscow from mid-April to late June, killing thousands and destroying the livelihood of many more.

This was sixteenth-century Europe, so governments thought nothing of catering to the wealthy and ignoring the woes of the poor. But in this case, so many people lost family members as well as all their belongings that the survivors lost patience with the callousness of those in charge and rioted in the streets. And because this was a time when people liked to blame their misery on sorcery, rumors circulated accusing the tsar’s grandmother, a Serbian princess (rightly or wrongly, Serbians were considered particularly likely to indulge in witchcraft), of turning herself into a bird and flying over Moscow, dripping liquid derived from a human heart to set the city ablaze.

An incredible story, to be sure, and from a historical standpoint highly questionable, not only because of its content but because of when the story appears in the official annals. If I were writing an academic article, I would exhibit extreme skepticism, mining the tale for evidence of who might have gained from spreading such nonsense decades after the last embers of the Great Fire fizzled into ash.

But I’m writing a novel, and the story is wonderfully indicative of how people dealt with trouble back then (and sometimes even today). The question for me is, as always, how to blend the lives and thoughts of my fictional characters into the broader historical arc created by the royal coronation and wedding, followed so closely by the near-destruction of Moscow.

Like most of us, my characters aren’t anticipating disaster; their problems, however important to them, seem quite small next to the larger drama playing out behind them. Yet they must interact with that bigger world, using outside events to solve their issues and get to where they need to go. How do they cope with tragedy? What strengths and weaknesses do they reveal? Do they resist the pressure of the maddened crowd or give in to the prejudices of their day?

I don’t know yet. But I’m about to find out. No doubt Yuri and Anna, like their predecessors, will surprise me. Just a few days ago, a cat showed up in the story and demanded, as cats will, a place at Anna’s side. I have yet to discover what role Mila the Cat will play, although I’m sure she will tell me when I need to know.

But as I write in almost every historical note, the most outrageous events in my novels are almost always historically attested. The old adage really is true: you can’t make this stuff up, because no one would believe you if you did.

As for the most outrageous coincidence in this particular novel, I think I’ll save that for a future post.

Because of changes to Wix, which hosts my main author website, and my own desire to consolidate my author persona in one secure location, I will be transferring my blog to my main site,, at the end of June 2023. The older posts—dating from June 2012!—will continue to be archived here for as long as I can make that happen.

Image: Apollinary Vasnetsov, Boyar Houses at Night (1918) looking distinctly smoky, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Reimagining Tragedy

I encountered Katharine Beutner’s new novel, Killingly, through a NetGalley recommendation and was instantly hooked. I graduated from Mount Holyoke College, and although that was a long time ago now, I still have fond memories of South Hadley and its environs. But I had never heard of this case of a missing student, either when I lived on the campus or in the years since. Fortunately, the author agreed to speak with me for a New Books Network interview, which posted just this week, around the time of the book’s release.

To be clear, this novel draws on a historical event, and some of the characters and details are also historical. But the book itself is, as advertised, a psychological thriller that includes fictional characters and a lot of (fascinating) speculation about what happened to Bertha Mellish, the missing student, and what might have been going on in her family that precipitated the story events. Read on—and, of course, listen—to find out more

As always, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

In 1897, a Mount Holyoke College junior named Bertha Mellish disappears from campus overnight, leaving no word for her family. It’s a time when female college students are still considered “queer” (in the old sense of peculiar as well as the modern understanding of the word), although the college administrators insist that their primary purpose is to produce excellent wives and mothers. But even this community of oddities considers Bertha strange, by which the other girls mean that she pays too little attention to parties and boys, too much to her schoolwork and social causes.
Bertha’s only true friend is Agnes Sullivan, a young woman from a poor Boston family who has been forced to conceal her Catholic upbringing to gain admission to the college. Agnes, a would-be doctor (an even greater anomaly in late 19th-century culture than a woman with a college education, although not inconceivable), grieves Bertha’s absence but insists she has no idea where Bertha might be. Dragging the rivers and lakes turns up nothing, supposed sightings of the missing girl lead nowhere, and the police would be willing to write the case off as closed if only her relatives and the family doctor would let it go.

Almost from the beginning, it’s clear that Agnes knows far more than she lets on, but finding out what really happened to Bertha and why is a long, winding trail of suspense. Through the overlapping stories of Agnes, Bertha’s sister Florence, Dr. Henry Hammond, and the inspector whom Hammond hires to find the missing girl, Katharine Beutner keeps us on the edge of our seats as she unravels their tangle of secrets and lies. Perhaps the most intriguing element is knowing that however fictional the plot and many of the characters, the story derives from the real-life disappearance of a Mount Holyoke student in 1897, the mystery of which has never been solved.

Image of Mount Holyoke College’s Seminary Hall in 1886 public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Interview with Amy Barry

As detailed by Amy Barry in her latest historical romance—Marrying Off Morgan McBride, released just this week—Epiphany Hopgood, better known as Pip, has been having a hard time finding a husband in her small home town of Joshua, Nebraska. It’s 1887, and a woman’s future is pretty much limited to husband and children. So at the “ripe” age of 22, Pip is desperate enough to answer an ad in Matrimonial News for a mail-order bride, even though the man advertising describes himself as a “bullheaded backwoodsman with a surfeit of family.” After all, he wants a woman with a mind of her own, and Pip has that. He wants a good cook, and if there is one area where Pip excels, it’s in the kitchen.

But when Pip reaches Montana, she discovers that her bridegroom, Morgan, has no idea she exists. And as we might expect, things go downhill from there. But the whole journey, including its final resolution, is tremendous fun. Amy Barry was kind enough to answer my questions, so read on to find out more.

This is your second historical romance featuring the McBride family. Could you tell us a bit about the first, Kit McBride Gets a Wife?

It’s 1886, and the four McBride brothers live high in the Elkhorn Mountains of Montana, raising their irrepressible little sister Junebug, who has had more than enough of looking after a passel of grumpy mountain men. She’s sick of doing their laundry and of cooking and cleaning for them. So she secretly orders up a mail order bride for Kit, her hulking blacksmith of a brother. A brother who cares more for book reading than finding a wife to help Junebug out. But Junebug has no plans to sell some poor woman a false bill of goods—she tells the truth about her brother—snoring, cantankerousness, and all. When Maddy Mooney arrives in their mountain meadow, she’s not what any of them expected. But she might be exactly what Kit (and his little sister) needs.

Kit and Morgan’s sister, Junebug, is the motivating factor in both novels. What makes her so determined to find wives for her brothers?

Junebug is no one’s fool, and she’s certainly no one’s maid or wife. So why should she act the housewife for her brothers, doing all the womanly chores? As far as she can see, they need wives to milk the cows and cook their dinners and wash their pestiferous underwear. And Junebug needs a woman or two around. Because no girl wants to be outnumbered by mountain men. Especially mountain men like her brothers, who are grumpy in the extreme and never let her go fishing when there are chores to be done, and there are always chores to be done.

Junebug herself is a wonderful character. Tell us a bit about her.

Junebug’s mother died when she was young, and her father ran off and left her in the care of her four older brothers, rough mountain men who didn’t have the slightest clue about raising a girl. Morgan is the eldest, and he’s been Junebug’s rock through her hardest days. Even if he is a captious, nagging, irascible blockhead of a parental figure. Junebug is a force of nature, completely untamed, without any citified manners. She’s wilier than her brothers, with less scruples, and a much bigger vocabulary. They don’t stand a chance.

Introduce us, please, to Epiphany (Pip) Hopgood. We know early on why she answers the advertisement for a mail order bride, but what is it about her personality that makes her the perfect heroine for your purposes?

Pip has always been too much for her hometown. She’s too tall, too big, too loud, too opinionated. She’s like a square peg in a round hole. After being rejected by every single eligible bachelor in the county (even the ones old enough to be her grandfather), Pip begins to wonder if maybe it’s not her that’s the problem. Maybe it’s the men. So she’s on the hunt for a man who doesn’t mind “too much” woman. She’s more than a match for Morgan McBride. In fact, she’s even more than a match for Junebug. Maybe …

The men in Joshua, Nebraska, spurned Pip as a potential bride, mostly because of her looks, but Morgan feels differently. What does he see that they missed?

Morgan isn’t looking for dainty and girly and mannered. He doesn’t care a fig for a frilly pink dress and a well-turned ankle. He’s a rougher sort of man, the kind used to being holed up for the winter in a cabin with a bunch of mountain men. When he meets Pip, he doesn’t see any of her “flaws” as flaws. In fact, her height, sharpness, quickness, and stubbornness knock him flat. And if he doesn’t like the feeling … well, he certainly can’t resist it …

What does Morgan really want out of life, since he’s clearly not looking for a wife?

Morgan inherited a bunch of kids to raise after his ma died, and he’s been chafing under the responsibility ever since. He longs to get them raised so he can light out of the mountains and live a life alone on the trail, free. He’s spent six years playing parent, with no one who understands the burden he carries, and he’s sick of it. He wants to be responsible for no one and to no one. Or so he tells himself.

The trip to Buck’s Creek is as eventful for Pip’s grandmother as it is for Pip herself. What does Granny Colefax hope to gain from the journey to Montana?

Pip’s grandmother is a firecracker of a woman who has no intention of being stored in the attic like a bit of old furniture now that she’s aging. She takes the opportunity to chaperone Pip as a chance to run away from her staid life back in Nebraska. She’s going to start anew, and that includes remembering how it feels to be a woman and doing a bit of courting. She’s letting her hair down and showing her granddaughter how life should be lived. One mountain man at a time.


The end of this novel indicates that Junebug hasn’t entirely given up on her matchmaking. Are you working on the next book now, and what can you tell us about it?

Oh, I’m hoping you’ll get to come back to Buck’s Creek again soon. Let’s just say, Beau and Junebug get into a little competition over who can find the best mail order bride, and it gets out of hand. There might not be one, or two, but maybe Seven Brides for Beau McBride. Fingers crossed, readers like the McBrides enough to want more marital mayhem!
Thank you so much for answering my questions!

My very great pleasure!

Amy Barry writes sweeping historical stories about love. She’s fascinated with the landscapes of the American West and their complex long history, and she’s even more fascinated with people in all their weird, tangled glory. Amy also writes under the names Amy T. Matthews and Tess LeSue and is senior lecturer in creative writing at Flinders University in Australia. Find out more about her books at

Images of cowboy (1888) and a cattle ranch in the Elkhorn Mountains of Montana public domain via Wikimedia Commons.