Friday, September 18, 2020

Book Review: The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning

 Book Review

The Lost Jewels

Kirsty Manning



Book Description:

Why would someone bury a bucket of precious jewels and gemstones and never return?  

Present Day. When respected American jewelry historian, Kate Kirby, receives a call about the Cheapside jewels, she knows she’s on the brink of the experience of a lifetime. 

But the trip to London forces Kate to explore secrets that have long been buried by her own family. Back in Boston, Kate has uncovered a series of sketches in her great-grandmother’s papers linking her suffragette great-grandmother Essie to the Cheapside collection. Could these sketches hold the key to Essie’s secret life in Edwardian London? 

In the summer of 1912, impoverished Irish immigrant Essie Murphy happens to be visiting her brother when a workman’s pickaxe strikes through the floor of an old tenement house in Cheapside, near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The workmen uncover a stash of treasure—from Ottoman pendants to Elizabethan and Jacobean gems—and then the finds disappear again! Could these jewels—one in particular—change the fortunes of Essie and her sisters? 

Together with photographer Marcus Holt, Kate Kirby chases the history of the Cheapside gems and jewels, especially the story of a small diamond champlevé enamel ring. Soon, everything Kate believes about her family, gemology, and herself will be threatened.

Based on a fascinating true story, The Lost Jewels is a riveting historical fiction novel that will captivate readers from the beginning to the unforgettable, surprising end.

Buy Now:

Amazon Kindle


 My 5-Star Review:

An interesting duel-timeline historical story of a granddaughter searching for answers to her family’s history through antique jewels. The story of her grandmother’s past is rich and beautifully written, and the history of the jewels throughout the centuries is quite interesting. I really enjoyed this story and recommend it to readers who love a story that brings the past and present alive.



About the Author:

 Kirsty Manning grew up in northern New South Wales. She has degrees in literature and communications and worked as an editor and publishing manager in book publishing for over a decade. A country girl with wanderlust, her travels and studies have taken her through most of Europe, the east and west coasts of the United States and pockets of Asia. Kirsty's journalism and photography specializing in lifestyle and travel regularly appear in magazines, newspapers and online.

In 2005, Kirsty and her husband, with two toddlers and a baby in tow, built a house in an old chestnut grove in the Macedon Ranges. Together, they planted an orchard and veggie patch, created large herbal 'walks' brimming with sage and rosemary, wove borders from chestnuts branches and constructed far too many stone walls by hand.

Kirsty loves cooking with her kids and has several large heirloom copper pots that do not fit anywhere easily, but are perfect for making (and occasionally burning) jams, chutneys and soups. With husband Alex Wilcox, Kirsty is a partner in the award-winning Melbourne wine bar Bellota, and the Prince Wine Store in Sydney and Melbourne.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Blending Fact with Fiction Part Two: Ah-Gwah-Ching Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Walker, Minnesota

When I began writing my latest novel, THE ONES WE LEAVE BEHIND, last year, I had no idea we’d be living in the middle of a pandemic by the time it was released. It seemed strange since a portion of my novel takes place during the tuberculosis epidemic. In order to write about it, I did a significant amount of research, which thankfully I enjoy.

In one chapter of my book, the main character, Anna, goes with her father to the Ah-Gwah-Ching Sanatorium in Walker, Minnesota to receive treatment. Since Anna isn’t infected, she can’t live at the sanatorium and is taken in by one of the doctors to work as a mother’s helper. I researched Ah-Gwah-Ching extensively and came up with some interesting facts about the sanatorium.

If you watch any of those ghost hunting shows, they’d have you believe that tuberculosis facilities were full of scary procedures and horrendous care. It was quite the opposite at Ah-Gwah-Ching. The setting was beautiful, the staff worked hard to care for patients, and many, many patients survived to live long full lives.

Originally built in 1907 to house up to sixty-five patients, the Minnesota Sanatorium for Consumptives (its original name before it was changed to Ah-Gwah-Ching in 1922) was founded. By 1927, it grew to 300 patients, and additional buildings had sprung up. Ah-Gwah-Ching – meaning “out of doors” in Objibwa – was built to be self-sufficient in many ways. Located two miles south of the town of Walker, it originally had its own train depot, farm for fresh food, and a dairy herd for fresh milk and other products. The idea was to give patients fresh food and fresh air in order to heal their diseased lungs. There were several types of treatments, such as aspirating the fluid from lungs, collapsing diseased lungs so they could heal, and placing patient beds beside open windows, even in the winter, so they could breathe in the fresh air while lying under warm blankets to keep their bodies warm. In the summer, patients were sent outdoors to lie in the sun because it was thought that the ultra-violet rays could also heal them. (When COVID-19 started this past spring, there was talk about killing the virus with UV light. It wasn’t a new concept – they’d used it for TB patients.)  

The first few months that a patient was at the sanatorium, they were restricted to complete bed rest. That meant never leaving their beds. If they had to be moved, it was done by moving the bed or in a wheelchair. As you can imagine, people grew bored lying in bed for weeks. Many used their time writing letters to family and friends, reading, knitting, crocheting, or tatting. Many of the men even learned how to crochet or knit in order to pass the time. On site, there was a craft shop where patients could sell their fancywork and other items they made to other patients. Some would sell items like gift wrap, bows, and stationery that they’d purchased for resale from companies found at the back of a magazine. A sound system with headphones for each patient was set up throughout the compound so patients could listen to music, prayer services on Sunday, and even sports.

The site consisted of several buildings for patients in varying stages of illness. If you moved from one building to another, it was a big deal. You knew you were healing. In 1934, the Chippewa Indian Sanatorium at Onigum on Leech Lake burned down, and the native residents were transferred to their own building at Ah-Gwah-Ching. A Penal Camp, connected to the St. Cloud Reformatory, was also set up at Ah-Gwah-Ching in 1935, and the prisoners worked the farm and dairy and other jobs around the campus. Unfortunately, because of its remote location, it was easy for many prisoners to escape, and they had to eventually end that program.

Because of the rural nature of the sanatorium, it was difficult to recruit and retain nurses and aides as well as other workers. The turnover was high. Many of the native nurses began working in the facility. Patients rarely saw friends or family because of the distance between the sanatorium and their homes. Many would go months, even years, without visitors. Because of that, the patients grew close to one another, almost like their own little family. If a resident died, they’d all mourn. If someone went home, they’d all cheer.

In 1964, Ah-Gwah-Ching became a state nursing home for patients with “challenging behaviors.” State offices were also located in the facility. In fact, my mother-in-law worked in the offices at Aw-Gwah-Ching in the late 1960s for a while. In the early 2000s, it was still being used as state offices, and a woman I worked with in the non-profit sector had an office there, too. I asked her once if the building was haunted. She told me that she’d heard it was but hadn’t seen any ghosts. So much for the sad souls haunting the sanatoriums.

Ah-Gwah-Ching closed, and all the buildings were demolished in 2008. Much like Diane in my novel, I find that sad. It would have been nice to have even one of the buildings left to remind us of the time when so many lives passed through there in its 100 years of operation. For me, though, it’s personal on a small level. Remember how my character, Anna, went to live with a doctor to care for his children while her father received treatment? That actually happened to my grandmother. Sometime around 1923, my twelve-year-old grandmother accompanied her father to Ah-Gwah-Ching so he could be treated. Her mother has already passed away, and she had nowhere else to go. A doctor kindly took her in for nearly two years, and she helped his wife by babysitting their children. Some of her fondest memories were of swimming in Leech Lake with the children.

While my novel is fiction, I strive to add as much truth as possible because I feel it adds depth to the story. That is the joy of writing historical fiction novels; delving into the past and hopefully preserving it, even after it’s long gone.

My novel, The Ones We Leave Behind, is available for purchase on Amazon in ebook, paperback, and audiobook.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Book Review: Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

 Book Review

Magic Lessons

Alice Hoffman


Book Description:

In an unforgettable novel that traces a centuries-old curse to its source, beloved author Alice Hoffman unveils the story of Maria Owens, accused of witchcraft in Salem, and matriarch of a line of the amazing Owens women and men featured in Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic.

Where does the story of the Owens bloodline begin? With Maria Owens, in the 1600s, when she’s abandoned in a snowy field in rural England as a baby. Under the care of Hannah Owens, Maria learns about the “Unnamed Arts.” Hannah recognizes that Maria has a gift and she teaches the girl all she knows. It is here that she learns her first important lesson: Always love someone who will love you back.

When Maria is abandoned by the man who has declared his love for her, she follows him to Salem, Massachusetts. Here she invokes the curse that will haunt her family. And it’s here that she learns the rules of magic and the lesson that she will carry with her for the rest of her life. Love is the only thing that matters.

Release Date: October 6, 2020

Buy on:

Amazon Kindle


My 5-Star Review:

If you are a Practical Magic fan and have always wondered about Maria Owens’ story, you no longer have to wait. Alice Hoffman has graced us with another amazing story about the Owens’ women starting with the very first one.

Magic Lessons begins when Maria is left in a snowy field as a newborn and Hannah Owens finds her and takes her into her cottage. She raises the girl as her own, teaching her the art of magic. Tragedy marks Maria as a young girl many times, leaving her vulnerable and alone. But when she falls in love with a man who makes promises he doesn’t keep; Maria places the curse that will follow the Owens’ women for centuries.

Magic Lessons has everything you’d expect from a novel by Alice Hoffman. Maria’s story is filled with all you’d expect and so much more. It’s a beautifully written tale that will satisfy your desire for the complete story of the Owens’ women. Another wonderful novel by the talented Alice Hoffman.


About the Author:

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston and New York.

Hoffman's first novel, Property Of, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become Property Of, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff's magazine, American Review.

Since that remarkable beginning, Alice Hoffman has become one of our most distinguished novelists. She has published a total of eighteen novels, two books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults. Her novel, Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club choice, was a modern reworking of some of the themes of Emily Bronte's masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Practical Magic was made into a Warner film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Her novel, At Risk, which concerns a family dealing with AIDS, can be found on the reading lists of many universities, colleges and secondary schools. Her advance from Local Girls, a collection of inter-related fictions about love and loss on Long Island, was donated to help create the Hoffman (Women's Cancer) Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA. Blackbird House is a book of stories centering around an old farm on Cape Cod. Hoffman's recent books include Aquamarine and Indigo, novels for pre-teens, and The New York Times bestsellers The River King, Blue Diary, The Probable Future, and The Ice Queen. Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about loss and love, was published by Scholastic and The Foretelling, a book about an Amazon girl in the Bronze Age, was published by Little Brown. In 2007 Little Brown published the teen novel Incantation, a story about hidden Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, which Publishers Weekly has chosen as one of the best books of the year. In January 2007, Skylight Confessions, a novel about one family's secret history, was released on the 30th anniversary of the publication of Her first novel. Her most recent novel is The Story Sisters (2009), published by Shaye Areheart Books.

Hoffman's work has been published in more than twenty translations and more than one hundred foreign editions. Her novels have received mention as notable books of the year by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, and People Magazine. She has also worked as a screenwriter and is the author of the original screenplay "Independence Day" a film starring Kathleen Quinlan and Diane Wiest. Her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Kenyon Review, Redbook, Architectural Digest, Gourmet, Self, and other magazines. Her teen novel Aquamarine was recently made into a film starring Emma Roberts.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Blending Fact with Fiction: The Minnesota State Reformatory for Women

 Blending Fact with Fiction: The Minnesota State Reformatory for Women

In my latest historical novel, THE ONES WE LEAVE BEHIND, the main character, Anna Craine, is released from the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee, Minnesota, after having served a sixty-five-year sentence for murder. (The original name of the facility was The Minnesota State Reformatory for Women.) In fact, the building on the book’s cover is the original building from 1919 called the Isabel Higbee Hall, named for the woman who literally died at the state capital after testifying in 1915 to the committee of men that women needed their own reformatory rather than being housed at Stillwater Prison. Her death prompted the committee to move forward with her request.

Although my character, Anna, doesn’t go into great detail about her life in the reformatory, we hear tidbits of her time there. That meant I needed to do my homework about the facility, and I was surprised by what I’d found. Completed in 1919, the reformatory began as one large, two-story building that housed eighteen individual rooms for the women, a general assembly room, a dining room, bathrooms, and matron’s rooms. The first floor had staff rooms, a large kitchen, a hospital wing, and the room for the superintendent. The basement housed the sewing room and laundry. There were no bars on the windows or locks on any of the rooms, even the inmate’s rooms. There was no fencing around the grounds. The idea was to reform the women by reward rather than punishment. Over the ensuing years, several cottages were added to the campus to house more women.

The first superintendent, Florence Monahan, is credited with molding the reformatory into the unique place that it became. Prior to running the facility, she was sent by the state to several women’s reformatories across the country to learn how they were run and what she could do better. She was the person who decided that reward rather than punishment was the best way to reform women. The women were expected to work eight-hour days, six days a week. Various jobs included working in the kitchen, cleaning, sewing, working in the office, and outside on their own farm that grew the majority of their food. They were paid six to fifteen cents per day and were allowed to buy personal items through the superintendent’s office once a month. If their behavior was good, they would earn privileges, if not, they’d lose privileges. It worked well for most of the inmates. They were learning skills in a positive environment so that one day they might leave and become respectable members of society.

Word soon spread about the reformatory in Shakopee, and many superintendents of women’s prisons around the country and the world came to visit. They were impressed by how Monahan was running the reformatory and by the behavior of the inmates. Many returned to their own facilities with the hope of making changes that mirrored Shakopee.

As time went on, the number of inmates decreased, and soon two of the cottages were closed. The state decided to use one of the cottages, the Anne Howard Shaw Cottage, as a home for mentally disabled children in 1951. Thirty young girls between the ages of four and twelve were sent there to be cared for and were designated by the state as unable to learn. But between their state-paid caretakers and the inmates who requested to work with the children, they proved the state wrong. The children flourished, as did the inmates who worked with them. The program gave the women a chance to care for someone else and the children an opportunity to learn in a loving environment.

Another program run at the reformatory was the Braille Project in the mid-1950s to 1970. It began with four of the inmates completing their training and becoming Volunteer Braille Transcribers. In the ensuing years, they translated thousands of pages of books and textbooks into braille, earning recognition for their service.

Over the years, the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee has seen many changes. The old buildings were replaced by newer ones, and the farm is long gone. But the women’s correctional facility is still running, and to this day, still has no fence surrounding it. It’s incredible how one woman’s vision, carried on by many other determined women, could bring positive change in society for decades.


THE ONES WE LEAVE BEHIND is available on Amazon Kindle, in paperback, and audiobook.