Category Archives: Book Announcement

Vacationing in the Past with Edward Lear

Sometimes I need a change from the present day with its endless news—endless recycling of stories that make me sad or mad or both. That’s when I lose myself in reading about the past. For the last week or so I’ve been reading a new biography of Edward Lear. Remember him? He was the author of children’s verse such as

The owl and the pussycat went to sea

In a beautiful pea-green boat

They took some honey and plenty of money

Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

Even more famous are his limericks, which have become almost as familiar as Mother Goose rhymes.lear limerick

Like most people I had no idea that Lear was not primarily a poet, but rather a respected painter specializing in birds and landscapes. That was how he made his living and the reason why he traveled ceaselessly around Europe and the Middle East. I learned all this from a sparkling new biography by Jenny Unglow called Mr. Lear; a Life of Art and Nonsense.

 During the past two weeks I’ve spent much of my spare time dipping into Edward Lear’s remarkable life. Unglow makes his life memorable by describing his unusual family life—he was the 13th of 14 (or possibly more) children and was raised primarily by an older sister because his mother couldn’t cope with all the babies.

Born in 1812, Lear was able to take advantage of the speedy travel made possible by the spread of trains across Great Britain and most of Europe and the steamships that took him to Greece, Malta and Sicily. His network of friends gave him companionship when he was in foreign lands. Although not an aristocrat, he found patrons among wealthy families who valued his pictures and enjoyed his cheerful company and his way with children. He was welcomed everywhere he went.Lear_Macaw

Certainly his life wasn’t easy. He suffered from a range of ailments including epileptic attacks as well as episodes of depression. He longed for the stability of marriage and family life, but his emotions centered on men and he never found a way of balancing his desires with the rules of Victorian society. Still, he maintained his friendships and found satisfaction in his work, although like all of us he often complained of overwork.

The past was not a happy place, and I wouldn’t want to live there, but visiting it now and then is refreshing. I urge you to read Jenny Unglow’s book, which is available now in libraries and bookstores as well as on Amazon.com.

People have lived through worse times than those we are going through today. Reading and writing about them today gives me perspective on the life and times of the 21st century. That is why I have set my Charlotte Edgerton mystery stories   in the 1840s, a tumultuous period in both Europe and America. Charlotte Edgerton and her friends lived through many of the same events that Edward Lear did.

Later this month, the fourth Charlotte Edgerton mystery Death Enters the Convent will be published. I’ll write more about that in my next post.

 

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Death Calls at the Palace–a new Charlotte Edgerton Mystery

death-calls-at-the-palace-smallAs she mourns the death of her infant son, Charlotte Edgerton finds the gray skies and gritty poverty of an unfamiliar city almost more painful than she can bear. London in 1846 is far from the gracious society Charlotte and her husband Daniel had imagined. Dark skinned strangers from Britain’s far-flung empire are demanding justice, but the young Queen Victoria and her court seem unwilling to listen. Even worse, Charlotte’s naive brother Tom is being drawn into a radical political group that Charlotte fears will lead him to violence and perhaps death. Meanwhile the city is growing more and more crowded with impoverished immigrants from famine-stricken Ireland. When one of her young Irish friends—a kitchen maid—dies in a tragic fire, Charlotte believes it was no accident. But uncaring policemen scoff at her suspicions and refuse to investigate. Charlotte discovers that she must search for the villain on her own.

In volume 3 of the Charlotte Edgerton Mysteries series, Charlotte and Daniel have left the boisterous streets of New York and moved to London where Daniel takes up a new job on a weekly newspaper. After their adventures in New York City (which you can read about in volume 2 of the series, Death Visits a Bawdy House) they find themselves in a city even more dangerous than the one they left behind.

During these past months while I was finishing this book the U.S. presidential campaign was in full swing. I couldn’t help thinking about how today’s campaign echoed what was happening in London more than a century ago. Some things never change—when famine and war devastate a country, people move on to more prosperous places. But often they find little welcome there. Wealthy men struggle to hold on to their traditional privileges, while working people fear their jobs and way of life will disappear. But all is not doom and gloom even in London. Charlotte Edgerton and her family find new friends and new hope as they struggle for greater justice and freedom in an old country.

To celebrate the publication of this third volume in the Charlotte Edgerton Mysteries series, I will send a free copy of the book to the first three people who write a comment on this blog post. I hope you enjoy the story!    

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Rigged election? Ask the Chartists.

With a national election coming up soon, there has been much talk about whether or not the national election might be “rigged”. When Donald Trump said, during the third presidential debate, that he wasn’t sure he would accept the results of the election, chartist-electionreporters and the social media went wild. The idea that an election must be fair and accepted by the country is basic to maintaining a democracy. Trust in elections has worked well for American voters and there have not been serious challenges to a national election for many years. But if you look back in history, the struggle for free and fair elections has been long and hard.

The American way of voting was based largely on the British system, but that was badly flawed. Only men who owned property were allowed to vote at all. Men who were elected to Parliament were not paid for their service, so you had to be wealthy if you wanted to run for a position in Parliament. Actually, the British don’t say they “run” for office; they “stand” for election. I guess that sounds more genteel.

The elections, however, were not very genteel. Even though an important reform bill was passed in 1832 to do away with some of the most obvious unfairness in elections—like having a member of Parliament who represented no one but himself –the elections were still not honest. Candidates would bribe men to vote for them. Pubs were filled on election day with representatives of the candidates who would buy drinks for any voter who promised to cast his vote for their candidate.

chartist-newpaper-cuttingDuring the 1840s, a surge of protest against the way things were for the average working man began to grow. The Chartists was an organization formed to take power away from the aristocrats and make sure that average people would get fair treatment. They had six demands:

  • Manhood suffrage. Every man, regardless of class or property, should have the vote.
  • Annual elections.
  • An end to the regional differences in the electoral system.
  • Secret ballots (no one else would know for whom you voted).
  • The end to property qualifications for MPs. This would mean that a man wishing to be an MP would no longer have to own property or land worth a set amount of money.
  • Payment for MPs. This would enable men who were not already wealthy to stand for election to Parliament.

Both men and women joined the Chartist struggle and women were especially scorned by many anti-chartists in the media. Here is one view from the opposition:

femalechartists001

The struggle was hard and long. I’ve been living with it for the past year and more as I’ve been writing my newest Charlotte Edgerton mystery Death Calls at the Palace. Finally my book is about to appear and you will be able to buy it on Amazon.com in plenty of time for holiday gifts. I’ll announce its appearance as soon as it becomes available.

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Solving a mystery about my mystery story

The other day someone told me that the ebook version of my Charlotte Edgerton mystery Death Visits a Bawdy House looked very strange on her Kindle. The letters on the page came out in different sizes and were in a variety of fonts. When I clicked over to the Kindle shop, I saw what the reader meant—something was dreadfully wrong with the text.

Death Visits a Bawdy House takes place during a hard-fought election in New York City in 1844 and we all know that election seasons can bring out the worst in people, but this was no election skirmish. I clicked right over to the Kindle publishing page and started Death Visits a Bawdy House (Small) (1)investigating. Lucky for me a Kindle helper was quick to respond and explain what I could do to correct the problem that occurred with the uploading of the original file. She walked me through the process and a new, corrected version of the Kindle edition of the book is now online at the Amazon.com site

To celebrate having the book available now, I have made the Kindle version FREE to download from September 15 through September 19. If you had trouble downloading the book in the past, or even if you didn’t, you are welcome to get a copy free of charge during this free period. Tell your friends and family about the opportunity.

The story of Death Visits a Bawdy House takes place in New York City during the boisterous days of the 1840s when Charlotte Edgerton moves to the city from staid Boston.  She is overwhelmed by the crowds and the glamour of the women who stroll along Broadway.  But when first one and then another of the glamorous “sporting girls” who work in the city’s famous brothels is murdered, Charlotte becomes aware of the darkness that lurks behind the bright glow of Broadway.

In a city where abolitionists are not popular and suspicion of free blacks runs high, the arrest of a black man for the crimes enflames much of the city. Charlotte discovers that police can be bigots, politicians are not always honest, and kindness can lead to danger. When a ruthless murderer tricks her into becoming a prisoner in a deserted school, Charlotte must rely on her wits to save herself and a helpless child.

Be sure to download your FREE copy of the Kindle edition of Death Visits a Bawdy House between September 15- 19, 2016.

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Margaret Fuller and the Flag

As the Fourth of July approaches, United States embassies around the world are hosting American expats, tourists, and local citizens at parties celebrating American independence. These parties are often the highlight of the embassy season and, depending on how lavish they are and how large the american flagcountry, can be a major financial headache. American corporations with local outlets often contribute to the costs. These receptions usually feature large cakes baked in the shape of an American flag and flags decorate the walls of reception rooms and flutter from flagstaffs on the building.

Americans abroad were not always so assured in using the symbols of the country. Back in 1847, when Italians were struggling to forge a more democratic government, a group of Americans living in Rome wanted to honor the opening of a new more representative Council by flying an American flag. They soon discovered there was not an American flag to be found anywhere in the city. As Margaret Fuller, wrote, the Maargaret_fuller_lgexpats were undaunted and decided to make their own flag. She reported: “they hurried to buy their silk—red, white and blue, and inquired of recent arrivals how many States there are this Winter in the Union, in order to make the proper number of stars”  Unfortunately, just as the Americans had managed to produce a suitable flag, an ordinance was passed forbidding the display of any flag except the Roman ensign.

Today it is hard to imagine an American flag as a changeable symbol with a fluctuating number of stars. It has been more than half a century since a new state was admitted to the union. But during the early years of the Republic, America was just establishing its traditions and beginning to take its place in the world. Margaret Fuller, a journalist, writer, and feminist, was one of the people who helped to make the United States aware of its importance as a symbol of freedom and democracy. Two years after the incident of the flag-making, Margaret was in Rome and watched the invasion of the French army on July 4, 1849. On the very anniversary of the day America gained its freedom, the Romans lost theirs. It would be many years before Italy would become a free and united country.

Margaret Fullermargaret_book-cover04.jpg was a brilliant and influential woman. She changed the way Americans view the world. As a journalist and activist, she demanded both votes and jobs for women.
During this month when we celebrate America’s independence and the men and women who built the country, you can get a free ebook copy of my biography of this remarkable woman, Margaret Fuller: an Uncommon Woman. Just go to www.smashwords.com , search for the title and use the code SFREE to get your copy.

 

 

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Death Visits a Bawdy House—a new Charlotte Edgerton Mystery

When Charlotte Edgerton moves to New York City from staid Boston in 1843, she finds the crowds on Broadway and the attractions of P.T. Barnum’s new American Museum thrilling. She is young, idealistic, and in love. The future looks bright for Death Visits a Bawdy House (Small)herself and her devoted Daniel. But when first one and then another of the glamorous “sporting girls” who work in the city’s famous brothels is murdered, Charlotte becomes aware of the darkness that lurks behind the bright glow of the city.

In a city where abolitionists are not popular and suspicion of free blacks runs high, the arrest of a black man for the crimes stirs high emotions. Charlotte and Daniel discover even police can be prejudiced, politicians are not always honest, and kindness can lead to danger. When a ruthless murderer tricks her into becoming a prisoner, Charlotte must rely on her wits to save herself and a helpless child.

I am happy to announce that my second Charlotte Edgerton Mystery book has been published and is now available in print and Kindle format at Amazon.com. Death Visits a Bawdy House paints a picture of New York City as it was in the years before the Civil War. Young men and women from the country were flooding into the city looking for jobs and trying to build new lives, but often what they found was poverty and corruption.

While I was researching background for this novel, I learned a great deal about life in New York during the tumultuous 1840s. New York was becoming the commercial center of America, but the commerce depended on a supply of cheap labor. Women especially were expected to work long hours as milliners or dressmakers at wages so low they often could not pay for a room in a respectable boarding house. If they took a job as a servant in one of the wealthy houses, they often had to fend off the advances of their employers or other men in the family. No wonder that many young girls envied the prostitutes who strolled up Broadway flaunting their beautiful clothes. Were those women better or worse off than the married women who struggled to take care of their husbands and children in the over-crowded slums of the city? That’s not always an easy question to answer.

I have been surprised to see in the past week or so that the question of whether prostitutes should be treated as criminals, victims, or independent sex workers has come up again in the news. At its world conference this month, Amnesty International, a global human rights organization, passed a resolution proclaiming that Sex Workers Rights Are Human Rights. After two years of studying the issue, Amnesty International has decided to call on governments to decriminalize consensual sex between adults. That’s a radical position and there has been lively discussion and much opposition to this decision. Nothing about the issue is clear cut. I certainly find it difficult to decide what we should do about sex workers. How can we protect women against sex trafficking, but still allow them to choose to be sex workers if they wish? It is fascinating to me that the question that was a lively discussion back in the 1840s is still being debated now.

But we don’t have to spend all of our time debating great issues. Take some time off and read the story about Charlotte and Daniel and their life in New York City—Death Visits a Bawdy House.

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Bronson Alcott–a Sixties Radical One Hundred Years Early

This week we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision outlawing racially segregated school in the United States. That ruling followed a long history of white Americans choosing to keep African Americans out of the schools attended by white children. It’s a shameful history and not one we want to remember, but fortunately at least we can be proud of the people who over the years took chances and tried to build an integrated education system.

One of these risk takers was Bronson Alcott, eccentric friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, believer in communal living, non-stop talker at public meetings, extreme vegetarian (vegan long before that word was invented) and inspired educator. More than 175

picture of Bronson Alcott

Bronson Alcott

years ago, Alcott opened the Temple School in Boston. From the beginning the school caused scandal. Not only were the children encouraged to express their opinions without being punished, but Alcott answered their questions no matter how frank. Alcott’s assistants kept a record of the lessons and these reports were published so parents learned what was going on in the school. Many were shocked to discover that children were encouraged to talk about the Bible as though it were just a collection of stories. They even asked embarrassing questions about the birth of Jesus. Most parents and teachers expected children to accept Biblical stories with respect and without question. Alcott always questioned.

Despite the unconventionality of the Temple School, some parents in Boston continued to send their children to it until Alcott 1837_TempleSchool_Boston1went a step too far—he admitted a young African American girl, the daughter of freed slaves, into the school. That was so unconventional that soon Alcott was teaching only that girl and his own children. He was forced to close the school. It would be more than a century before the country was ready to admit that integrated schools should be the norm rather than an exception.

Alcott lived at a time when people were questioning many of the accepted practices of American life. The 1840s were to the nineteenth century what the 1960s were to the twentieth century. The country was just emerging from the great depression of 1837, and many people wanted to try new ways of living and working. Forming communes where people could share their living and working skills? That was a popular notion and Alcott was friendly with George and Sophia Ripley, who started Brook Farm in Massachusetts. The idea was that everyone would share the work of the farm and the household so that each person would have time to pursue intellectual interests. Brook Farmers dreamed of milking cows in the morning, plowing fields and preparing meals in the afternoon, and then having time to write poetry and argue about philosophy in the evening.

Brook Farm wasn’t quite radical enough for Bronson Alcott. He and his wife, along with his friend William Lane, took their daughters (including Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women) and founded a commune called Fruitlands. There the family and the few members who joined them struggled to keep the farm without imposing on farm animals to labor at pulling plows—the men pulled the plows themselves. The group was strictly vegetarian and Abigail Alcott, Bronson’s wife, was forbidden to give their daughters milk from their only cow. Abigail resented that restriction, but she put up with it at least for a while. But farming without farm animals was extremely difficult and Bronson and Charles Lane spent much of their time traveling and giving lectures to raise money. The commune soon collapsed and Bronson and Abigail took their girls to Concord where they lived near Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Bronson Alcott spent most of the rest of his life as a writer and lecturer, although he never was able to earn much money from these activities. His friend Emerson helped him financially and after his daughter Louisa May Alcott became a successful writer, she was the major support of the whole family. It is easy to laugh now at his eccentricities. Many of his ideas have been discarded, but his principles of education are now widely accepted. As Emerson and others realized, he was an influential figure whose conversations and friendships left a lasting mark on American life.

Bronson Alcott is one of several historical figures who make a

A Death in Utopia

A Death in Utopia

cameo appearance in my mystery story A Death in Utopia, which gives a fictional account of events that might have happened during the turbulent 1840s in Massachusetts.

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