Author Jennifer Chiaverini is no stranger to research—she's included historical elements in many of her 23 novels. In her latest, Mrs. Grant and Madam Jule, she goes back to the 19th century to explore the life of First Lady Julia Grant and her slave, Jule. In a guest blog post, Chiaverini shares five of the most memorable tidbits from her extensive research.
guest post by Jennifer Chiaverini
In March 1865, only a few weeks before the end of the Civil War, the tempestuous Mary Lincoln accompanied her husband on a visit to General Ulysses S. Grant’s military headquarters at City Point, Virginia, where she had a very public meltdown. In the thankless role of Mrs. Lincoln’s hostess, Julia Grant tried to calm her, only to bring Mrs. Lincoln’s wrath down upon herself. Mrs. Lincoln angrily accused the general’s wife of coveting her place in the White House, a charge Mrs. Grant calmly denied—little suspecting that four years later, her husband would be sworn in as the 18th president of the United States and she would become First Lady.
This astonishing altercation between Mary Lincoln and Julia Grant has gone down in history thanks to the many eyewitness accounts recorded in letters and memoirs, but most people today don’t know these five other surprising things about the famously friendly and admired First Lady Julia Grant:
1. Julia Grant was afflicted with strabismus, more colloquially known as crossed eyes.
Her vision was so impaired that she could read, write or sew only briefly before the strain exhausted her, so Ulysses often read aloud or wrote letters for her. She was self-conscious of her appearance, and whenever she was photographed, she almost always sat in profile in an attempt to disguise her condition. As Ulysses’ fame grew and Julia became more of a public figure, she inquired about corrective surgery so that she “might not be so very, very plain.” She was disappointed to learn that nothing could be done, for the operation could have succeeded only if it had been performed in childhood.
2. Julia claimed to experience prophetic visions and dreams
She was correct so often that her family learned to trust her intuition. In her memoirs, published 73 years after her death, she describes several unsettling premonitions that she later learned coincided with moments her husband had been in grave danger on the battlefield. In Washington a few days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender, she was seized by such intense, overwhelming dread that she begged Ulysses to depart for their home in New Jersey immediately. A few hours after their train left the capital, the actor John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre.
3. Although Julia and Ulysses enjoyed a long and happy marriage, when they first fell in love, their families did not want them to wed.
Although Julia’s mother thought highly of Ulysses and supported the match, her father argued that Julia’s constitution made her poorly suited for the arduous, roving life of a military wife and suggested Ulysses marry her younger sister instead. When Ulysses rejected this proposal, Julia’s father insisted on a long engagement while the enamored lieutenant was off serving in the Mexican War. For their part, Ulysses’ staunchly abolitionist parents were appalled that their son intended to marry the daughter of Missouri slaveowners, and they refused to attend the wedding.
4. Throughout the Civil War, rather than remain safe at home, Julia often lived with her husband at military headquarters.
Ulysses hated to be away from his family, and as the army moved, he would summon Julia to join him as soon as he established a secure location. According to historian Candice Shy Hooper, during the four years of the Civil War Julia traveled more than 10,000 miles to be with her husband, sometimes through enemy territory. In an era when long-distance travel was difficult and exhausting even when the trains ran on time, the weather was fair, and the roads weren’t thick rivers of mud, Julia—and her four young children, who often accompanied her—risked disease, death and capture whenever they journeyed between home and headquarters.
5. Although Julia was married to the commander in chief of the Union armies in the war that would end slavery in the United States forever, she herself kept slaves.
Her favorite maid—a woman also named Julia but usually called Black Julia or Jule—often accompanied her mistress when she joined Ulysses at military headquarters. Both women risked certain danger as they journeyed to and from the field of war, but for Jule, the hazards of travel also brought knowledge and opportunity, and she eventually made a daring bid for freedom. Though historians debate whether Julia or her father was actually Jule’s legal owner, there is no doubt that the future First Lady benefited from the enslavement and exploitation of other human beings for almost 40 years.
author photo by Steven Garfinkel
This week's new paperback releases include four thought-provoking novels for book clubs:
By Lisa See
Random House • $16 • ISBN 9780812982824
From the author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, the story of three young Chinese-American women who meet at a Chinatown nightclub shortly before the start of World War II.
The Husband's Secret
By Liane Moriarty
Berkley • $16 • ISBN 9780425267721
With 1.7 million copies sold to date, Moriarty's intriguing #1 bestseller about the secrets we keep finally makes its paperback debut.
Boy, Snow, Bird
By Helen Oyeyemi
Riverhead • $16 • ISBN 9781594633409
Oyeyemi's twist on Snow White—recast as a story of race and identity in 1950s New England—won critical raves and the #3 spot on our Best Books of 2014 ranking.
The Book of Unknown Americans
By Cristina Henríquez
Vintage • $14.95 • ISBN 9780345806406
Told in alternating first-person voices, Henríquez's poignant novel examines the dreams and challenges of immigrant families who have fled to America in search of a better life.
Amanda Filipacchi takes a darkly comedic stab at friendship, identity and the value society places on women's appearances in her latest satirical novel, The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty. Our reviewer writes that the novel "takes on some thorny issues and speaks to both the mind and heart at the same time. Not to mention the funny bone." (Read the review here.)
We asked Filipacchi to tell us about three books she's been reading lately, and she graciously agreed to share.
I read somewhere that Lionel Shriver only eats one meal a day, in the evenings. I wanted to see what kind of writing that produced, so I chose to read the novel of hers that’s about eating a lot and then starving. The experience of reading the book was made even more interesting by my knowledge that the author had starved while writing parts of it. To be more specific, it’s a novel about a very overweight man who goes on a diet and loses a lot of weight with the help of the novel’s main character—his sister. I learned that starvation produces excellent writing, making it much more enjoyable for the reader than it is for the writer.
My favorite novels are the ones that change my perception of reality. And that’s what I always try to do for readers in my own novels. Up In the Air changed my perception of the reality of airports. It’s a funny, intriguing and ultimately moving novel about a man whose job (of firing people in so gentle a manner that they’re supposed to almost not notice they’re being fired) requires him to travel so much that he doesn’t have a home—he lives in airports. I am certain that for the rest of my life I will never again be in an airport and not think of Walter Kirn’s novel. Thank you, Walter. I’ve never liked airports much, and you’ve made them a little more homey.
On a more serious note, The Blazing World is a novel about gender-bias in the art world; in other words, the unfair difference in the way men and women’s artistic endeavors are received and perceived due to prejudice and sexism. This is an important book about an important and tragic topic. There is a line in the novel that sums up the problem brilliantly: “All intellectual and artistic endeavors, even jokes, ironies, and parodies, fare better in the mind of the crowd when the crowd knows that somewhere behind the great work or the great spoof it can locate a cock and a pair of balls." There is the same problem in the literary world (and in all arts). Thank god we female writers have the organization VIDA: Women in Literary Arts helping us out by doing the essential work of “counting” the men vs. women who are reviewed or hired as reviewers at various publications. VIDA has been helping to bring more attention to this problem, and some improvements have started happening, thanks at least in part to them.
Thanks so much, Amanda! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
Author photo by Marion Ettlinger
It's still early in 2015, but at least one unknown female author has already rocketed to the top of bestseller lists (we're looking at you, Paula Hawkins!). Which other women will join her this year? Here's our list of the top 10 candidates.
THE FAIR FIGHT
Riverhead • April 14
Fans of authors like Sarah Waters and Michel Faber will thrill to Anna Freeman's debut, The Fair Fight, an exciting historical novel set in the little-known world of women's bare-knuckle boxing. Yes, in 1800s England, women—at least, some women—were allowed to escape the confines of the home to fight for prizes that were twice the annual salary of a housemaid (one of the few occupations for women at the time). But Freeman, who is a poet and lectures in English at Bath Spa University, goes beyond the blood splatters and missing teeth to take a broader look at the limitations of class and gender, encouraging readers to ponder who (if any) among her characters is given a fair fight.
Thomas Dunne • April 21
An artful mix of suspense, fantasy and social critique, Emily Schultz's The Blondes puts a feminist twist on the dystopian stories that have been crowding fiction shelves for the last several years. It's the near future in New York City, and grad student Hazel is pregnant after an affair with a married man. She's also confined to the house thanks to a mysterious virus that is turning blonde women into cold-blooded killers (luckily, Hazel is a natural redhead). Now blondes are no longer the butt of jokes but the world's worst nightmare. Schultz's work has been praised by the likes of Margaret Atwood and Stephen King (who gave an unwitting bump to her first novel, Joyland, when he published a book by the same name)—look for The Blondes to be embraced by an equally diverse group of readers.
Pamela Dorman • May 5
Retellings of Jane Eyre are not exactly thin on the ground (see 1 2 3 4), but Queens-born writer Patricia Park takes a fresh tack in her debut, Re Jane. She casts the quiet but strong-willed heroine as a mixed-race Korean orphan living with relatives in 2001 Flushing—and that's just the first twist Park puts on her decidedly 21st-century, girl-power take on the beloved classic, which sends its heroine from Brooklyn to Gangam and back again. Park, a Korean-American who spent time in Seoul on a Fulbright scholarship and has studied under the novelist Ha Jin, expertly details the cultural divides facing her heroine, adding another dimension to a tale that might otherwise seem too familiar.
GIRL AT WAR
Random House • May 12
It's impossible for those who have not experienced civil war to truly know what it's like—and that's one of the themes of 28-year-old Sara Nović's sensitive debut novel, Girl at War. Moving back and forth between 1991 Croatia and 2001 New York City, the story follows main character Ana as she survives a dangerous childhood and attempts to transition to a new family and culture in the United States. Nović's descriptions of Ana's wartime childhood convey how war can be both shocking and mundane as violence becomes part of everyday life. Girl at War was acquired and edited by Random House's David Ebershoff, who knows his talent: He was the editor of not one but two of the 2013 Pulitzer winners (The Orphan Master's Son and Embers of War).
Amistad • May 26
Novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez's 2010 debut, Wench, was a word-of-mouth hit with readers and explored a lesser-known corner of American history: the resorts where plantation owners would vacation with their enslaved mistresses. Her long-awaited second novel, Balm, takes an equally unflinching look at America's past and should bring this talented writer to an even bigger audience. Set in post-Civil War Chicago, it follows three strangers—a widowed white woman, a freeborn black woman from Tennessee and a former slave whose wife was sold away from him before the war—who move to the city for a chance to start over but are unable to completely shed their pasts.
THE BOOK OF SPECULATION
St. Martin's • June 23
Erika Swyler's debut, The Book of Speculation, is a bookish mystery with a supernatural twist. In a dilapidated house on Long Island Sound, librarian Simon Watson presides over a crumbling family legacy—until the day an old book arrives on his doorstep. It's the journal of a carnival owner, and it's connected to the drowning death of Simon's mother. Can he solve the mystery before his sister meets the same fate? Swyler, who has written short fiction and worked as a playwright, probes the bonds of sibling love and loyalty with the same authenticity she brings to the book's more magical elements, giving the novel surprising depth. Fans of family sagas with a touch of the fantastic should flock to it.
Harper • July 28
TV producer and author Lissa Evans is well known in her native England (fellow Brit Paula Hawkins is a fan), but this summer she's being published for the first time in the U.S. Crooked Heart is her fourth novel, and her second for an adult audience. Set during World War II, it follows a 10-year-old orphan who's a crime novel aficionado. He's evacuated during the Blitz and rehomed with Vera Sedge, a down-on-her-luck single mother with a penchant for money-making schemes, and the two form an unlikely bond. Their odd-couple friendship will appeal to readers of books like Lost & Found, and Evans' authentic period tone evokes the subtle charm of midcentury classics like I Capture the Castle.
Touchstone • August 18
Susan Barker made the 2008 longlist for the Dylan Thomas Prize with her second novel, The Orientalist and the Ghost, but she's hovered just below most readers' radars. That just might change with the release of The Incarnations, a suspenseful tour through Chinese history and folklore that was described as "China's Midnight's Children" when it was published in the U.K. last year. In modern-day Beijing, Wang, a taxi driver, is being stalked by someone who claims to be his soul mate. As letters appear in his taxi telling the stories of their past lives over the last 1,000 years—all of which end in tragedy or betrayal—Wang's paranoia about his watcher's identity increases, and he begins to wonder if history will repeat itself.
St. Martin's • August 18
Celebrity authors may strike seven-figure deals without breaking a sweat, but for unknown writers, having a book snapped up at a price like that is a little less common. That is just one of the things that makes New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford's first novel, Everybody Rise, a standout. Set in 2006 New York City, the book plumbs the unfailingly popular literary trope of the young and privileged in Manhattan, as seen through the eyes of an imposter in their ranks. The film rights have been secured by Fox 2000.
FSG • October 6
OK, so maybe it's a little sneaky to put an author who's already a bestseller on a list like this. But Sloane Crosley (I Was Told There'd Be Cake) is making a transition from humorous essays to fiction—and I for one am intrigued about how she'll do it. The Clasp is described as "a comedy of manners," which is a novelistic genre that's a perfect match for Crosley's talents. Other intriguing elements include the exploration of how college friendships start to change in your late 20s, a madcap search for a missing family heirloom and a nod to Guy de Maupassant.
Check out our track record by viewing past women to watch lists here.
Quinoa is a satisfying and healthy alternative when you're craving a big bowl of pasta. Try this Quinoa Salad with Feta, Pomegranate and Pistachio from our February Top Pick in cookbooks, The Tucci Table, for a quick and filling meal or side dish that won't cost you extra time at the gym.
Quinoa Salad with Feta, Pomegranate and Pistachio
Felicity introduced me to this healthy alternative to pasta and bread—the staples of the Tucci family diet. Quinoa is a fantastic base to which so many other flavors can be added, like dates, avocado or grilled halloumi cheese. Nutty, delicious and good for you, this quinoa salad blends the sharpness of the feta, the sweetness of the pomegranate and the crunch of the nuts. It can be served as a side or a main.
Serves 4 as a main, 6 as a side
1. Soak the quinoa in cold water to remove its bitterness. Each brand is different, so check the instructions on the package. Then rinse it thoroughly.
2. Bring 3 to 4 cups salted water to a boil. Add the quinoa, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. The quinoa is done when the germ separates from the seed. It should have a little bite to it, too. Strain if necessary. Dress with the olive oil and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and set aside to cool.
3. Gently mix the pomegranate seeds, pistachios or pine nuts and scallions into the quinoa. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Place the mixture in a serving dish and place the feta cheese on top. Scatter the last 2 tablespoons of pomegranate seeds over the top, gently break up the feta, and serve.
This is delicious served with some sliced blood oranges dressed with extra virgin olive oil.
BookPage is thrilled to reveal the cover for The Day the Crayons Came Home, the sequel to the best-selling The Day the Crayons Quit, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers! It will be released this August from Philomel. Click to view larger.
But what have those high-maintenance crayons been up to? We chatted with Jeffers for the release of The Day the Crayons Quit, so for this new book, we wanted to hear from author Drew Daywalt:
Author Drew Daywalt
BookPage: What originally inspired you to share the plight of these grumbling crayons?
Daywalt: It wasn’t really by choice. My crayons told me that if I didn’t bring their plight to the public eye, something terrible might happen to me. What would you do? Like Duncan, I complied. This conspiracy of silence has to end. These little wax cylinders are terrors and the world needs to know!
Last time we checked in on the crayons, they were pretty ticked off, though Duncan did make a concerted effort to honor their many demands. Why are they coming back in this sequel? What do they want this time?
Money. Cold hard cash. They want the Benjamins and they aren’t afraid to use violence to get them. NO, I’M JUST KIDDING! Seriously though . . . poor Duncan. He finally gets one group of crayons to chill out and a whole NEW group shows up griping at him.
In The Day the Crayons Came Home, it’s a whole new batch of crayons, and their complaints are about how Duncan has lost, broken or neglected them. We know all these crayons already, because we're all kind of Duncan. They’re all the ones we melted, broke, lost or otherwise treated crappily when we were kids. (Is crappily a word? Oh man, did I just invent a word? I did! Yes! You’re WELCOME, Webster!) But in all seriousness, what I think makes the new book really special is that it’s a story about homecoming and acceptance no matter what . . . but with lots of complaining.
Illustrator Oliver Jeffers
Which crayon do you most empathize with?
In the new book? I’m Neon Red Crayon. Yeah. For sure. He’s kind of a lovable goof who has no idea where he is or where he’s going, but he’s really enjoying the ride. Or . . . I might be Glow-in-the-Dark Crayon. He draws scary things that then totally freak him out when it’s dark. Also kind of an idiot. Hmmm . . . I’m seeing a pattern here in myself.
What’s your favorite part about working with Jeffers?
He smells nice. Actually, It’s the sense of fun when we’re working. A lot of what Oliver and I do is try to make each other laugh. He also has a cool Irish brogue, which makes me 25% cooler just by standing next to him when he talks. What I bring to the table is that I have large strong shoulders and I could easily carry him if I ever needed to rescue him from, like, a burning building or something.
What would you like kids to remember next time they pick up their crayons?
Not to do drugs.
The animated film rights for The Day the Crayons Quit were purchased by Universal Pictures last year. Hooray for crayons!
Get ready to shake off this freezing cold weather with some great books in March! LibraryReads has tallied the votes of librarians around the country, and these are the March books librarians are most excited about putting on their shelves.
Our Top Picks in both fiction (James Hannaham's bold debut, Delicious Foods) and nonfiction (Erik Larson's fascinating tale of the sinking of the Lusitania, Dead Wake) make the list. Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, steps into fiction with the tale of a very bad cat in Cat Out of Hell, and Ian Caldwell delves into a Vatican murder in The Fifth Gospel. Looking for YA lit? Check out Vanishing Girls, a story of linked fates between a group of teenagers, by Lauren Oliver.
See the full LibraryReads March list here.
Neil Gaiman's Trigger Warning has the feel of a fairy tale collection. But these strange and haunting fairy tales are not recommended for bedtime stories. As he warns in the intro: "There are things in this book, as in life, that might upset you . . . . Consider yourself warned."
Gaiman cuts a fine line between fantasy and reality, with each story plopping you into another dark world that is so similar, yet so disturbly dissimilar, from our own. There are ghoulish old ladies, ominous hounds, rolling fogs and monarchs—there's even a "Doctor Who" story. It's pretty clear that Gaiman's creativity is in no short supply; I can only imagine what having him around a campfire would be like.
This excerpt comes from "A Calendar of Tales":
My mother had a ring in the shape of a lion’s head. She used it to do small magics—find parking spaces, make the queue she was in at the supermarket move a bit faster, make the squabbling couple at the next table stop squabbling and fall in love again, that sort of thing. She left it to me when she died.
The first time I lost it I was in a café. I think I had been fiddling with it nervously, pulling it off my finger, putting it on again. Only when I got home did I realize that I was no longer wearing it.
I returned to the café, but there was no sign of it.
Several days later, it was returned to me by a taxi driver, who had found it on the pavement outside the café. He told me my mother had appeared to him in a dream and given him my address and her recipe for old-fashioned cheesecake.
What are you reading this week?
Best-selling author Robyn Carr celebrates the release of One Wish—the latest in her Thunder Point series—today, so we thought it would be the perfect time to check in with the author. In this blog post, Carr writes about what women's fiction and romance means to her. If you thought romance novels were just about the steamy scenes, Carr is here to set you straight!
When my son was in Iraq, we Skyped almost every day. We had more long and meaningful discussions while he was in a war zone than we had when he lived under my roof. And there were times it could get a little awkward, like when I was on a writing roll, in the story zone, and his first question is, “Do you know David Baldacci?”
“Not personally,” I said. “Why?”
“Someone gave me one of his books and told me to read it; I might like it.”
“I don’t have one,” he said.
“Stand by,” I said.
So I emailed him a book. It was with great satisfaction that I heard him say, “Hey. This is good.”
The more interesting thing happened later. First, he found that many of his female co-workers had known about me for a long time and were fans. That really jazzed him up; finally made his mother somebody. He did some mild raving about the book, and I offered him the next one in the series.
“No offense, Mom, but it’s a chick book.”
Yes, it’s a chick book, something I’m rather proud of. But what I do is write romance and women’s fiction, which is about women, for women and written largely by women. My books, the chick books of this century, celebrate women. And because of the digital age, the response is immediate! Any writer of fiction for women who doesn’t know what their readers most enjoy, what brings the greatest reader satisfaction, is asleep at the switch. They tell us every day: Dear Ms. Carr, I know just how Mel felt because I lost my husband at a very young age. Dear Ms. Carr, I escaped from an abusive relationship and you really nailed it—thank you. Dear Ms. Carr, My son was bullied in high school and I’m so glad to see one of my favorite romance writers address that subject.
I have a lot of male readers, too—I hear from them regularly. One of them surprised and thrilled me. I lost my leg in Afghanistan and it was after reading your book about a soldier in an almost identical situation, I’ve decided I really need counseling. I don’t know how my wife has lived with me this long!
I realize that what I really do when I write romance is less about love and sex and more about hope.
I write about the things that are part of a woman’s world: the family drama, community cohesiveness, neighbors helping neighbors. My readers visit my books daily for the chance to relate to the characters who share their burdens and joys, to use strong characters as role models, to be entertained while they struggle to find their own happy endings. Sometimes, they come to me at their most vulnerable and entrust me to take them on a meaningful journey. By the time I’m on the home stretch of a new book, I realize that what I really do when I write romance is less about love and sex and more about hope.
My son has been home from Iraq for quite a while now, safe and sound, and I’m meeting the most interesting people in Thunder Point. In One Wish, I met a former figure skating champion who craves a quieter life and Mr. Hottie High School teacher, Troy Headly, who is on hand to prove to her that it doesn’t have to be all that quiet. And in A New Hope, which will be out in June, Ginger Dysart chooses Thunder Point as the town in which she’ll reclaim her life. Who would have guessed she’d find it in the arms of a handsome Basque farmer? And there’s more—join me for Wildest Dreams at the end of summer when a world famous triathlete mixes it up with a local nurse, and together, they dare to dream the wildest dreams.
Join me in Thunder Point—the place where wishes are made, hopes are finally realized and dreams come true.