Review: Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow

I was sitting in a law school classroom when it first hit me. It was my third year, and I was taking a class titled Law and Literature. We would read a piece of literature and then come to class and discuss the great questions of life and humanity that the readings provoked, much like a college English class (which was bliss to me!). I was surprised when I saw multiple Old Testament readings on the list.

We were a class made up of believers and skeptics, atheists and agnostics, the dormant and the devout. And when I opened my Bible to read the passages, that fact was all I could think about. For the first time in my life, I was having a Bible study with people who hadn’t been taught to think the “right” way. They were from all over the country, from deeply varying backgrounds, and a lot of them were reading those passages for the first time. And suddenly, that was how I was reading the scripture, too. I was stripping away everything, all of my own preconceived notions, every sermon I had heard preached on the passage, and every point I had ever felt compelled to prove, and I was just…reading. Because I knew when I got to class the next day, absolutely no one in that room would carry the same lenses to the table. And that was when it finally struck me: this was what I should have been doing all along.

What does this have to do with Amanda Hope Haley’s latest book, Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow: How to Trust the Bible When Truth and Tradition Collide? Everything. God’s revelation to me that I was reading scripture with “lenses” set me on a course of laying aside everything and simply searching for His character in scripture. What I didn’t know was that my cousin (yes, cousin!) was writing a book on that very topic!

Amanda delves deep into the very structure of the Bible, exploring how the holy manuscripts were written, compiled, and translated and teaching us to cherish each passage for its unique literary structure and voice. That contribution alone would have been enough, because she lays out that complicated history in such an easy-to-understand format that the reader leaves enlightened rather than overwhelmed.

But she goes deeper, teaching us how to view science’s relationship with the Bible in a healthy manner (the passages on creation literally made me tear up!), how to look at scripture in context rather than “cherry-picking,” how to read slowly and carefully, and ultimately, how to strip everything away, everything you have ever heard, everything you are “supposed” to read into scripture, and just listen.

Particularly helpful, I thought, was the chapter entitled “Too Many Cookbooks in the Christian Kitchen,” which talks about the problem, not new to our generation, of preferring to follow a doctrine, or a denomination, or legalism, or a man, which is so easy for us to do, isn’t it? I think a lot of times these problems start as we try to boil our beliefs down into a teachable message to take out into the world. But we forget to fluff the stew back up again to learn God in the fullness of His glory. Amanda does a wonderful job reminding us of just how important it is to do that.

Her tone is conversational and easy-to-read. I found that the scripture she used as examples throughout was particularly well-chosen. You feel like you’re in a really fun classroom and she’s the teacher at the front with a blackboard breaking it all down into understandable language. And finally, I will add that what Amanda does is more than just teach hermeneutics (a word we learn in the last chapter!). She presents the beautiful, awe-inspiring picture of God’s plan. It seeps in when you least expect it, moving you to emotion and prodding you to reflect on what an awesome God we serve.

Highly recommended! Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow: How to Trust the Bible When Truth and Tradition Collide is now available! See below for a link to your favorite retailer.

Amazon link:

Barnes & Noble link:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mary-magdalene-never-wore-blue-eye-shadow-amanda-hope-haley/1130410625#/

Books-A-Million link:
https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Mary-Magdalene-Never-Wore-Blue/Amanda-Hope-Haley/9780736975124?id=7747825568139

Target link:
https://www.target.com/p/mary-magdalene-never-wore-blue-eye-shadow-by-amanda-hope-haley-paperback/-/A-78288182

Wal-Mart link:
https://www.walmart.com/ip/Mary-Magdalene-Never-Wore-Blue-Eye-Shadow/229907139

French Huguenots in South Carolina

History Behind the Story #1: French Huguenots in South Carolina

In celebration of the recent release of Southern Rain, I announced that I would be doing a series on the History Behind the Story.  Today, I bring you the first in the series: a look at French Huguenots in South Carolina!

It was very subtle in Southern Rain, but there were a few indications of the heritage I chose for the lead family, the Ravenels. I was surprised during my research of the Charleston aristocracy of the 19th Century to find that a huge proportion of them were descended from French Huguenots.  That was a bit of a head-scratcher: how did a people go from being oppressed, persecuted, and run out of their country to being at the very top of the food chain and oppressing others in just a few generations?  But first, what is a Huguenot?

Think 16th and 17th Century France.  A little event called the Protestant Reformation was happening after the bombshell dropped by Martin Luther. The ideas that were being espoused were things like personal faith rather than church intervention and that scripture alone was authoritative.  Obviously, the desire to reform the Catholic Church stirred up a lot of tension and threatened the power structure of Europe.

It’s important to remember that, while they were religious minorities, most Huguenots in France still had a great deal of wealth and power. The very term “Huguenot” is ethnoreligious and cannot be translated purely into the word “Protestant.” The Protestants in France, while largely ethnically similar to the Catholics, became almost a separate ethnic group, but one in which many of the members had aristocratic ancestries similar to the noble Catholic families.

In certain areas, tensions ran high, forcing the Huguenots to give up their faith or flee France as refugees.  A war was begun with the Massacre at Vassy, in which royal troops ambushed and murdered or injured hundreds of Huguenots in their place of worship.  Political intrigue and death ensued. Mass slaughters of Huguenots were enacted throughout France.

Happily, this conflict ended in the Edict of Nantes, which granted a great deal of concessions to the Protestants. For a time, there was peace (sort of). The peace was ruptured utterly by the Edict’s revocation by Louis XIV (The Sun King), which resulted in cultural or literal genocide of Huguenots, either by forced conversions, executions, or what many saw as no choice but to flee.

Do I see Charleston in the future of many of the Huguenots?  Yes!  Now, Huguenots were fleeing all over the world by hundreds of thousands, so the Lowcountry was just one refuge.  But it was a refuge that ultimately stuck for those who did immigrate to the area. A Huguenot Church was quickly established there and is in operation to this day!

The Huguenots settled throughout the Lowcountry near Charleston along the Ashley and Santee Rivers and near the Sea Islands. Anne LeClercq says of those who settled there, “The French Huguenot had come to Upper Saint John’s after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and found in the somber beauty of the Santee Swamp, with its forest walls of oak and cypress, an area inhabited only by wild animals and widely separated villages of Santee Indians.”[1]  They were no longer oppressed.  In fact, they thrived.

Those who settled the area were either of elite heritage or were highly skilled artisans and tradesmen. They quickly assimilated, often intermarrying with other settlers, and were very prosperous because of a mixture of hard work and industry, a background of knowledge of what it took to amass power and wealth, and a dogged determination to make something of the second chance they had been given.  In short, while the elite in Charleston were made up of families from all over Europe, the Huguenots quickly became one of the largest groups that made up the elites.  LeClercq names a few of the family names: “Porchers, Gaillards, Mazycks, Palmers, Ravenels, Cordeses, Marions, Dwights, and Gourdins.”[2]  I chose the surname Ravenel from a list of French Huguenot names since I wanted the central family to be of that heritage. The way I have heard it pronounced in Charleston in present day is Ravv-uh-nell, with a slight emphasis on the first syllable.

The Huguenot assimilated in another way, too: they affiliated with larger Protestant denominations and, in a generation or two, largely lost their Huguenot ties. You’ll notice when you read Southern Rain that the historical Ravenels are Presbyterian. You might be wondering about that, since that denomination is largely associated with Scotland, but that was one of the churches into which the Huguenots poured over in America. For one, they had the same roots (Presbyterianism also grew out of the Reformation), and they also maintained similar beliefs.

And what about the fact that the Huguenot and their descendants became some of the largest slaveholders in the South?  One would almost guess, based on the Huguenots’ oppression and commitment to faith, that they might have been friends of abolition, and perhaps some were. But in large part, they were not. The amassing of wealth and aristocracy in South Carolina happened quickly, but its full fruition did occur over the course of several generations. For instance, from the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 to 1859 when we see the height of the Ravenels’ wealth, five or six generations have passed, and the descendants were probably very similar in their beliefs to the majority of South Carolinians of European descent.  And yet, that isn’t to say that slaves weren’t owned by those of Huguenot heritage generations before the Civil War, or even by that first generation.  While one can’t say with certainty what initiated the slaveholding status of Huguenots, Nancy Maurer sees it as another evidence of the assimilation necessary to achieve wealth and status.[3]  And that may be largely true, since it quickly became obvious that the most successful occupation in the Lowcountry was that of planter.  By the third generation, nearly all South Carolinians of French heritage (and South Carolinians in general) were slaveowners.[4]  We’ll talk about the enslaved people of the Lowcountry in the next article, including their heritage and daily lives.

Many sources seem to indicate that the Huguenots assimilated so effectively that they lost all cultural identity as French and all cohesiveness as an immigrant group.  I don’t find that to be true. You have only to visit Charleston to find French influences in everything from architecture to naming, and especially in its unique and wonderful cuisine.

I’ll leave you with a bit of a cliffhanger! You’ll notice that in Southern Rain, Frederick Ravenel, who is the ancestor of the modern Ravenels, says with all of the political incorrectness of his era, “I wouldn’t want Catholic children,” and seems to hold to that determination throughout.  Yet, we know that the modern Ravenels are, in fact, Catholic. Hmm…how did that happen? Guess you’ll have to read the second book in the Torn Asunder Series to find out! 😊

[1] LeClercq, Anne Sinkler Whaley, An Antebellum Plantation Household (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006), pp. x.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Maurer, Nancy, The Evolution of French Identity: A Study of the Huguenots in South Carolina, 1680-1740 (2006), pp. 12.

[4] Ibid, 66.

Sources:

Reformation (2019), https://www.britannica.com/event/Reformation.

Huguenot History, https://www.huguenotsociety.org/heritage/history/.

LeClercq, Anne Sinkler Whaley, An Antebellum Plantation Household (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006).

Maurer, Nancy, The Evolution of French Identity: A Study of the Huguenots in South Carolina, 1680-1740 (2006).

Protestant Immigration to Louisiana, https://www.britannica.com/event/Reformation.

Image Credit:

Carolina, The French Huguenots, https://www.carolana.com/Carolina/Settlement/french_huguenot_settlers.html.

*P.S. I tried to include both scholarly and more readable sources. I have many more.  If you would like them, just ask, and I’ll get the links to you!

History Behind the Story Series

To celebrate the release of Southern Rain tomorrow, I am launching a series of fun articles dealing with the history behind the story.  I thought it might be fun to look at some the circumstances that molded the plot lines for the book and give you an opportunity to ask any historical questions you might have.  Right now, I’ll give the list of topics I’m planning to cover.  Let me know if there’s a topic you would like to see that isn’t mentioned, and I’ll cover it, too!

  1. French Huguenots in South Carolina
  2. Enslaved People of the Lowcountry
  3. Fashion on the Brink of the Civil War
  4. Societal Rules and Quirky Charleston Customs
  5. Kissing Cousins – Did People Really Marry Their First Cousins?
  6. A Break-down in Civilities – Rhetoric Before the War
  7. The Congregationalist Church in New England
  8. Abolition in New England
  9. The Navy Before the Civil War
  10. Rose O’Neal Greenhow

Happy National Read a Book Day!

Reading has always been a part of my life.  I was fortunate enough to be born into a family who made reading a priority (and who was patient with my bookworm ways!).  My mom is an elementary school principal who believes very strongly in the cognitive, social, and emotional benefits of reading to children from their earliest years.  She wears a lanyard which says “Read 20 every day,” encouraging parents to read to their children for at least twenty minutes.  Just yesterday, while babysitting my two-year-old niece, we read no less than ten books together.  And the really neat part is: she LOVES it and seems to think there’s something magical within the covers.  Her parents read to her all the time, so she will probably always have a love for reading.

I strongly believe that the benefits of reading are just as huge for adults.  It keeps our minds active, calms us, opens our eyes to new worlds, piques our interest, gives us something to think about, and, often, it changes us.  There are books that have altered the entire way I view the world.  Books give us empathy, whittle away at our prejudices, let us walk in someone else’s shoes.  Then there are humorous books that lift our spirits and have us altering our bleak outlook and realizing that everything is going to be okay.  And finally, there is the sheer enjoyment value.  There’s nothing like a really good book to spark the joy of living.  And the best part is, if you don’t have a background as a reader, it is absolutely never too late to start!

And so, in honor of all of this, I thought I would give honorary awards to books that have meant something to me.  Here we go!

Best Young Children’s Book:
The Snowy Day,
by Ezra Jack Keats

Best Intermediate Children’s Book:
The Doll People,
by Ann M. Martin

Best YA Book:
Stormbreaker (The Alex Rider Series), 
by Anthony Horowitz

Best Historical Christian Fiction:
A Bride Most Begrudging, 
by Deeanne Gist
Ties with
The Lady of Milkweed Manor, 
by Julie Klassen

Best Modern Christian Fiction:
Surrender Bay,
by Denise Hunter

Best Christian Suspense:
Shadows of Lancaster County, 
by Mindy Starns Clark

Best Mystery:
The Lord Peter Wimsey Series,
by Dorothy L. Sayers

Best Mainstream Historical Fiction Biopic:
America’s First Daughter, 
by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

Best Perspective-Shifting Book:
The Blue Castle, 
by L,M. Montgomery

Most Heart-Changing Book:
Redeeming Love,
by Francine Rivers

Most Hilarious Book:
Now That You Mention It, 
by Kristan Higgins

Best Mainstream Historical Romance:
Bath Tangle, 
by Georgette Heyer

Best Literary Romance:
Persuasion, 
by Jane Austen

Best Historical Biography:
Thomas Jefferson and the Art of Power,
by John Meacham

Best Historical Non-Fiction
Flyboys, 
by James Bradley

Best Nonfiction Relationship Self-Help:
Who’s Picking Me Up from the Airport (and Other Questions Single Girls Ask),
by Cindy Johnson

Best Book on Prayer:
Open Mind, Open Heart, 
by Thomas Keating
Ties With
Discerning the Voice of God, by Priscilla Shirer

Let me know which books your awards would go to!  Happy National Read a Book Day!

-Tara

 

 

 

 

Review: Spirit Baby

Nina Little’s travelogue-memoir is highly recommended for anyone who is struggling with infertility or anyone who loves someone who is struggling with infertility. But its resonance doesn’t end there. As an insight to Chinese travel, culture, and history, I know of no other book which so comprehensively, respectfully, and authoritatively covers this ground. Every new city or village has its own flavor, which the author brings magically to life.

Little uses her reporter skills to weave a compelling tale, seamlessly travelling between travel journal and a gripping, raw personal tale. For the memoir aspect, the book’s greatest values are its unwavering honesty and its invaluable message: You are not alone.

Spirit Baby is almost literary in its handling of human emotions. Its writing tone reflects its subject’s feelings as we move from heartbreak to hope. You’ll be hooked from Page 1.

Southern Rain: Q & A Time!

Hello, friends! I thought it would be fun to conduct an interview before the release of my upcoming novel, Southern Rain. My sister, Hannah (long-time first reader, long-suffering sounding board, and editor-extraordinaire), has compiled a list of questions, and you’ll see a few others which were asked by friends! Do you have any questions? Ask them in the comments or send me a DM on Instagram, and I’ll answer that, too! Happy reading!

Hannah: Charleston is a great setting. Is this typical for you?
Tara:  Yes! My books are set all over the South. I try to pick locations which best suit the characters and storylines, so you’ll find a variety of settings in my books, some in amazing cities and some very rural.

Hannah: Do you relate to your main characters?
Tara: Hmm, that’s a tough one! I’m very different from Adrian, but his family kind of reminds me of mine, and we’re both vegetarians! Adeline is much more laid-back than I am, but any time she’s feeling awkward, you can be sure I’m channeling myself (or my sister!)! I admire John Thomas very much as a character, so he’s maybe more aspirational. And with Shannon, there’s a strong front which covers a lot of fear, and I think we can all relate to that.

Hannah: Are any aspects of the stories based on your own experiences?
Tara: I would like to say that I went to Charleston and met a handsome stranger, but alas… 😉 For the most part, no, the stories aren’t based on my own experiences, except to the extent they draw on human emotions.

Hannah: What themes should readers expect from this novel?
Tara: I think courage versus fear, coming of age, and coming to terms with our past as the future is kind of thrust upon us are a few. And of course, love! (And all of its complications…)

Hannah: What makes your books good?
Tara: Basically, I write what I want to read. I seek out elements that have you page-turning and try to channel that throughout the whole book. Now, opinions might differ, but what makes a really good book to me is one that focuses on the subtleties of human emotions, possesses lightning chemistry between characters, has the occasional spontaneity, and deals with real-life issues, or at least feelings to which we can all relate. I deeply believe in humor, just as much as I believe in dealing with difficult topics with seriousness and empathy, since both are a reflection of real life, at least for me.

Hannah: Do you conduct research for the historical parts?
Tara: I like to read books or articles for the details that make a story feel more realistic or grounded to the era. I also visit historic sites like house museums or battlefields. Those can help you with the feeling you need to create. I’m bad with dates and easily forget specifics, so I always have a timeline pulled up on my laptop.

Marisa: When did your love for the South and the Civil War Era begin, and what caused you to become fascinated with that time period?
Tara: My mom was a 5th and 6th grade history teacher (and is now principal at the same school!) while I was growing up, and she was the BEST at inspiring kids to have a love for history. But funnily enough, I started out with an aversion to the Civil War. I adored history but remember looking at pictures of the battles in our textbook and feeling horrified. All those lives lost, the country ripping apart, and so many desperate stories. There was a happy ending (the end of slavery), but there were a lot of sad stories surrounding the freedmen’s lives, too, and I guess I was just too tender-hearted to make the Civil War Era my focus.
Until… I needed to fulfill my history credits at Tennessee Tech, and one of Tech’s fabulous history professors was teaching his nearly famous course on the Civil War and Reconstruction. I thought, “Well, I hate the Civil War, but it’s history, which is better than, you know, Algebra, so I’ll take it.”
He really brought the Civil War alive for us. It was an intensive course, with multiple books, articles, papers, etc., and we were required to learn battle movements and plans for all of the major battles and recite them in narratives on our tests. We covered all aspects– the home front, the lives of the enslaved, theories that developed in the post-war era… It was really a wonderful course, but I still wasn’t sold.
Then I got a Civil War story idea while touring a plantation in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. (This was several years ago, and a different story from Southern Rain.) While I was writing it, I would tell people, “This isn’t my kind of book. I hate the Civil War. Why am I writing this?” But when I was finished, my sister sat down and read it in one sitting, and I began to see the possibilities.
After that, I wrote a series which follows several siblings in Civil War Era Virginia (which I hope to publish once the Torn Asunder series is complete!). The Virginia series is my favorite thing I’ve ever written, and I think setting a family drama in that era and researching minute details for so long is what finally sparked my fascination with the Civil War. The opportunities for drama are boundless in the Civil War, the range of human emotions breath-taking. We see the best and worst of humanity, and, as an author, that’s exciting to explore. I realized that if I could get a little braver in dealing with a very tough time period, there was a wellspring of experiences to be discovered and retold.
And as for my love for the South– I’m Southern-born and bred, so that helps! There is a lot of rich culture in the South which is fun to dig into. But mostly, I really wanted to write characters who resonated from my experience. And, for me at least, that meant sticking close to home. But my historical male lead in Southern Rain is Massachusetts-born and bred, which I loved, so you never know where I might take you in the future! (P.S. Marisa, I gave you a really long answer – sorry! 🙂 )

Hannah: How do you (or do you?) stay unattached/unbiased in historic movements or historical characters’ moral actions?
Tara: So much of what our historical characters do or believe can be mind-boggling or even morally wrong to our modern eyes. So the writer has two choices: tell the story like it would have been or sugar-coat the past. That’s not always an easy decision to make, but for the most part, I try to tell the truth. It seems like the best course, and largely, I think that’s the reason readers of Historical Fiction pick up a book: to be transported to another time and place and maybe learn something along the way. For the big questions of morality, I let the peers of the characters judge them as they would have during the time period in question. An example would be Lydia Bennett being engraved on our memories as a flighty girl because everyone in the Regency Era would have said so. A more modern pen might have taken a more sympathetic look at the full picture (she was young, her father was absent-minded, her mother was driving her to be married, etc.) and ultimately ended on a more forgiving note that really wouldn’t have been accurate to the Regency Era. But we want that accuracy as readers of Historical Fiction, or otherwise, we would be reading modern books. Slavery is the obvious example from Southern Rain, and, of course, it takes everything within the modern author not to be heavy-handed with the message, “This is an affront to human dignity!” But I think the facts send that message more effectively, so I try (try!) to take my emotions out of it and let the story tell itself.

Hannah: Did anything in this book challenge you or take you out of your comfort zone?
Tara: Yes! This is the hardest book I have ever written for reasons too numerous to undertake, but largely because the chemistry between the two main couples was delicate, and I kept smashing it and having to fix it. As for my comfort zone, two things immediately come to mind. 1) There were some storylines dealing with feminine health, and proper Southern ladies don’t talk about that. (Okay, I’m seeing that that is funny now and will try to get over my missishness.) 2) There was a storyline which felt a little too edgy for me, definitely out of my comfort zone, but when I prayed about it, I got an enthusiastic, “Yes, go for it!” So, yeah… Sometimes, you just take a leap of faith!

Hannah: What distinguishes you from other historical/romance authors?
Tara: I find that the publishing world pushes authors to write what is called high-concept. Basically, that means you have a cute story hook that will propel the whole story. (Example: With one month left until the big baking competition, Chef Laura is on a mission to find the perfect cake. The only problem is that so is her chief rival, Chef Tom. Will love ensue as they work toward their goal?) On the other end of the spectrum, you have full-fledged literature, which I call high-brow. Those are great, too, and they look deeply at the questions of life and humanity. But my favorite kind of book is those which pull some elements from both: the readable quality of high concept with the depth of literature. So I call my writing style middle-brow: enjoyable reading with a dose of grounded reality.

Hannah: Do you write Christian Fiction or General Market?
Tara:  I would say General Market. I am a Christian, and you will always find Christian elements in my books. I have always tried to be sensitive to whether I am called to write on the Christian market, because I do think that is a calling. I love Christian fiction (a good 70% of my shelves are filled with it!), and really, my books could, for the most part, sit on a Christian Fiction shelf and not be out of place. However, one day, I was gearing up to enter a Christian contest, which, if won, could offer a very lucrative deal. I was plowing ahead, mind you, no prayer involved, or at least only minimal reflection (anyone else have this tendency?). I spent hours formatting my submission to the guidelines, writing a cover letter, proof-reading with a fine-tooth comb… Only to feel, at the last minute, right before I hit “submit,” that unmistakable pull that said, “Don’t do that.” And of course, when we feel that, obedience is always the best course. I closed my laptop, and that was that. So, for the time being, I feel led to market to a broader audience.

Hannah: What age group or audience do you target?
Tara: I think there’s something for everyone in my writing. As far as age – I do deal with some heavy topics: emotions and sin and life and the fall-out from all of that which reflects the human experience. There is romance, but it’s more of a camera panning away variety than a panoramic view. There are a few (as we say in the South!) cuss words because, á la Rhett Butler, there are times when, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a darn!” just doesn’t cut it. Would I have let my sister read it when she was a young teen? Yes, even though I was a helicopter-older sister about what she read. But I would encourage parents to read first and then make that decision on their own, since everyone feels differently. And, as always, if there are any questions, just contact me, and I will be happy to answer!

Hannah: Why did you choose this book – out of all your completed manuscripts – to be the first published book?
Tara: Well, the simple answer is that I felt led to do so. I have other manuscripts which I would have felt more comfortable putting out there, but I felt that pull with Southern Rain, and I am trusting that God has a plan!

Hannah: What do you hope the reader gets from this novel?
Tara: This is a little hard because Southern Rain is part of a three-book series, which I kind of see as one unit. So you may not see the whole picture when you end the first book, but I’m thinking you will by the third. And I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just say generally that several themes do present themselves, and I think you’ll see them. If you don’t, that’s fine: reading is all about what the reader gets from the book, not what the writer intends.

Hannah: What font do you write in? It says a lot about a person. 😉
Tara:  Calibri (Body) 11. I know, so lame. But I love it. No, I’m kidding, it’s just what auto-filled to my Word document, and I got really used to looking at it and couldn’t change when I tried.

Kelly: What is the one book that you’ll read again and again?
Tara: Can I pick two? A Bride Most Begrudging by Deeanne Gist and Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer.

Kelly: On a Friday night, what would we find you doing?
Tara: I’ll usually be watching something on Amazon or Netflix while eating Chipotle. After that, I usually turn the TV off and write if the muses are speaking or read if my eyes aren’t too tired from work. Or sometimes I go and stay with my mom, and we chat and watch British mysteries!

Hannah: What types of books can we expect to see from you in the future?
Tara: Of course, there will be two more books in the Torn Asunder Series, which will be available in the Spring of ’20. After that, like I mentioned above, we’ll be sticking in the Civil War Era (unless something changes!) with a three-book series set in Appomattox, Virginia, which focuses on five siblings and their experiences in life, loss, and love during the Civil War. After that, we might visit Jacksonian America for a family drama, revisit the Civil War, or maybe something modern– who can tell? I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts as we go!

Again, if there’s anything you’d like to ask me, just fire away! Hope you enjoyed the interview!

Review: America’s First Daughter

I cannot say enough about America’s First Daughter. As I was just beginning to read it, I looked at my sister and said, “This is the most well-written book I have read in…” I couldn’t remember when. Usually, the highest compliment I give a book is that it was a page-turner, but I need to take just a moment to honor the craft that Kamoie and Dray put to use in this book. The words flowed like honey. The characters sparkled. The descriptions drew you into the time period. The emotions were beautifully displayed. The scenes were well-chosen. Your trust in the authors is complete.

Now, about the actual story. I can’t say it better than Erika Robuck did in her great quote which is on the back of the book: “Not since Gone with the Wind has a single-volume family saga so brilliantly portrayed the triumphs, trials, and sins of a family in the American South.” That is a powerful appraisal.  Full disclosure: I love Revolutionary and Early Republic history, I love Thomas Jefferson, and I love the American South. But I think you would like this book even if you liked none of those things.

Now, don’t go into it expecting a traditional historical romance. There is romance, and it is beautifully done. But it isn’t neat, isn’t always happy, and it doesn’t necessarily leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. And there’s a lot more than just romance. I would liken this book to Nancy Moser’s fabulous Washington’s Lady, although that book is a little easier to swallow for its sweet, real-life affection between George and Martha. But the books are similar in that they don’t allow you to feel sheltered from the hardships that, historically, men and women faced. People die. Marriages break. People live in despair. And life goes on. I hope I haven’t scared you away because this book is well-worth your time. I just wanted to make sure you were buckled up for the ride!

We follow Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph from childhood through her father’s death. She was an amazing, flawed, strong woman, and it was a joy to view the world through her eyes.
I consider that this book has four great triumphs and three minor downsides.
One triumph is its portrayal of Patsy’s husband, Thomas “Tom” Mann Randolph. I haven’t seen such a deep, honest, and rich psychological study of a character in fiction perhaps ever. The authors “go there” with Tom in ways which have you shifting uncomfortably in your seat, cringing, hating, and yet, remarkably, still feeling sympathy.

Another triumph is Sally Hemings. What an amazing woman! We can’t know what her relationship with Patsy was like, but this felt spot-on. The choices she made, her relationship with Jefferson, and her status at Monticello were on point based on my research. But to give her a personality, a character based off what we do know about her – that gave the book real value.

Another value of this book is rescuing William Short from disappearing into the abyss of history. He was a remarkable, radical figure which has hitherto been rather lost to American knowledge.

The last triumph of this book is perhaps its greatest. I think a lot of historical novelists are afraid to tell the truth as seen from their characters’ eyes. I have felt those pressures: do I say what my character in this era really would’ve thought or modernize their point of view to what we think today so that no one feels uncomfortable? The fact of the matter is that we as historical novelists are dealing with people who lived sometimes hundreds of years ago, who have their own set of experiences and beliefs that are often quite different from ours. This book fearlessly explores that dynamic, dealing with hard topics empathetically and respectfully through Patsy’s eyes while not masking her flaws or the era’s. In this book, we see the truth about history and human weakness and the effects of sin. We see joy and love and hope, too. We see the truth, ugly and beautiful.

Now for my minor grievances (no book review about Jefferson would be complete without a listing of grievances, would it?).

One is that the character of Thomas Jefferson himself often didn’t feel fully fleshed out. For Patsy’s youth we really dig into his psyche, but after that, he kind of felt like a character to fill a chair at the table. I wish he had been a little more dynamic so that we could understand Patsy’s utter devotion and sense of responsibility. Related is another point about Jefferson, which is not a criticism, but a caution. One danger, I think, in seeing things through Patsy’s eyes is that readers might walk away feeling like they know the man Jefferson, but I don’t think that was the purpose of this book. Everything dealing with him was done respectfully and accurately, but since we have only Patsy’s perspective, and since she is no different from anyone else in that she always worried her loved ones weren’t quite capable without her, we don’t get the full impression. For that full impression, and for a non-fiction which reads as fast as good fiction, I would highly recommend Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson and the Art of Power.

Another thing, which is totally unimportant, is that I don’t think the portrayal of James and Dolley Madison was the best. That was not the focus, and you can overlook it.

Finally, this book took forever to finish. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to condense an entire life, and such a life, into one volume, but it was really long. It is actually larger than it looks because the pages are quite thin and full. It was also emotionally and historically heavy, which is really the only explanation for why it took me three times as long to read a book that was beautifully written and held my interest. I was ready for it to be over, but I certainly didn’t feel like I wasted my time. It was, on the whole, a very moving experience.

Five out of five stars, which I don’t give lightly. Now go read it!

-Tara