Appearing this week: Kai Thomas' IN THE UPPER COUNTRY


Very nice to see Kai Thomas's luminous In the Upper Country appear from Viking today. Check out our preview of the book and, if you can, my conversation with Kai in Publishers Weekly






So19 Reviews: CLARA McKENNA'S MURDER AT THE MAJESTIC HOTEL


Clara McKenna's fourth Stella and Lyndy mystery appears this week from Kensington, and true to the series generally it's lively, well-plotted, and full of vivid period detail. This installment opens a day after the autumn 1905 wedding of the American heiress and British peer, who arrive at York's luxurious Majestic Hotel expecting a leisurely visit. To their consternation, the honeymoon suite they booked weeks before is occupied by confectionary king Horace Wingrove, who has persuaded his way into the booking with a sentimental story, a box of chocolates and a bribe. The newlyweds settle  into the Royal Suite across the hall only to be awakened the next morning by the shrieks of the chambermaid who has just discovered Wingrove's strangely ruddy corpse. The ins and outs of the Majestic's heating system, the disappearance of the recipe for Wingrove's most popular chocolate, and a ceremonial visit to York by one of Queen Victoria's granddaughters all factor into the mystery, which is further complicated by some of the couple's quirky relations. Yorkshire's historic appeal is well depicted, but the new technologies such as telephones and electric lights are also given their due; Wingrove's business and products are inspired by the era's real Yorkshire-based confectionary companies, while a dangerous plot targeting Princess Ena reflects real threats to royalty, including Ena herself, during the period. Enriched by these turn-of-the-century issues, Murder at the Majestic Hotel is a fun cozy read for those chilly fall nights...but do make sure you have plenty of good chocolate at your side before you begin to read. You can buy the book on Bookshop, Amazon, and your local bookstore and find out more about Clara on her website, Facebook page, and Instagram.

A contemporary image of a street, in York's Petergate
district, much like the view on the novel's cover.
Courtesy of Alex McGregor, iStock Photo.


York Minster features prominently in the story.
Engraving of York Cathedral by William Martin courtesy of the British Library.

So19 Interviews: BRIAN MARTIN on FROM UNDERGROUND RAILROAD TO REBEL REFUGE

Today I'm delighted to chat with Brian Martin about his nonfiction book From Underground Railroad to Rebel Refuge: Canada and the Civil War, published this week by our friends at the ECW Press. Brian's book is a fascinating look at the people who crossed the Canadian border, moving in both directions, in the years before, during and after the Civil War. Combining detailed research with a flair for storytelling, Brian's book does full justice to its complex facts and colorful personalities. From Underground Railroad to Rebel Refuge amplified my understanding of the era, the war, and the meaningful, if also artificial, line of demarcation that is the U.S./Canada border. I was also moved by its broader evocation of the diverse ways in which people seek not only refuge, but places in which their particular talents and aspirations (whether admirable or not) can thrive. Like many strong works of history, the book is at once specific to a particular period and yet also timeless, speaking both to what changes and to what remains the same in the human experience.

Brian Martin lives in London, Ontario, where he was a journalist for more than forty years, writing the stories of events and people across Southwestern Ontario. He has written ten books, two of them about true crimes, several biographies and baseball histories. During his journalism career, he sometimes wrote about the flight of enslaved Black persons to Southwestern Ontario and the communities they established. He only recently learned about the flight of former enslavers and Ku Klux Klan leaders who were among the Americans who found refuge in Canada. You follow Brian as Chip Martin on Facebook and @ChipatLarge on Twitter and buy the book on Bookshop, Amazon U.S. and its international sister sites, and through your local bookstore. All that said and with thanks to Brian for his kindness in speaking with me, here's our chat.

Q. Tell us about the book’s inception and evolution.

A friend in London who is an historian and an undertaker alerted me to the presence of more than a dozen headstones in a large London, Ontario cemetery in the city a bit more than two years ago. They were for prominent former citizens of South Carolina and their families. Two of those were members of the South Carolina legislature that voted to secede from the Union in late 1860, one of the triggers for the Civil War. These families also owned large plantations in the Charleston area that were worked by many enslaved persons. I was fascinated by their final resting place in Woodland Cemetery's “Millionaire’s Row” alongside the most prominent and wealthy families of London of the day. My research into that question prompted me to consider the bigger picture of migration to Canada before, during and after the Civil War, as well as the southbound traffic that also unfolded. The finished book is divided into three parts to address each of those aspects. 

Before the war, newcomers were primarily Black persons, both free and enslaved, who found new lives and freedom, primarily in Southwestern Ontario. During the war, London profited by selling to both sides of the conflict and its streets were filled with buyers, spies, plotters, and skedaddlers (draft dodgers) among others. After the war ended, former plantation owners like those buried in London were joined by Ku Klux Klan members. Confederate generals and others settled elsewhere, primarily in today’s Niagara-on-the-Lake. Former Confederate president Jefferson Davis lived in the Montreal area for a few years.

So19 Previews: Kai Thomas's IN THE UPPER COUNTRY

I recently reviewed Kai Thomas's excellent debut novel for Publishers Weekly, and had the additional pleasure of interviewing the author for the magazine. (Some magazine contents are behind a paywall, so you may or may not be able to visit those links.) Appearing in January 2023, In the Upper Country probes freedom, family, and the interconnections between white, Black, and Indigenous communities in 1859 Canada. It centers on the meeting between Lensinda Martin, a reporter for the Coloured Canadian newspaper who lives in the Black village of Dunmore, and an elderly woman named Cash who arrives there via the Underground Railroad. As Cash and Lensinda talk, surprising links between their lives are revealed; the women’s own stories are enriched with threads involving Cash’s Indigenous husband, Black Canadians during the War of 1812, and the American enslaved people who have settled in Dunmore among others. Definitely worth putting on your list if you, like me, love striking prose, resonant women's stories, and nuanced depictions of the 19th century experience. Coincidentally, two recent So19 interviews also deal with books involving Canada and the Civil War; click on the book titles to read my chats with Bob Kroll, the author of the novel The Punishing Journey of Arthur Delaney, and Brian Martin, whose nonfiction book is From Underground Railroad to Rebel Refuge: Canada and the Civil War. 

So19 Interviews: BOB KROLL on THE PUNISHING JOURNEY OF ARTHUR DELANEY

I’m pleased to share a chat with Bob Kroll, whose The Punishing Journey of Arthur Delaney appeared from ECW Press on June 7, 2022. Inspired by a little-known 19th century court case, the novel concerns a Canadian man who places his three children in an orphanage after the death of his wife. (Though it may surprise us today, this wasn’t an unusual decision for 19th- and even some 20th-century widowers without relatives or servants who could raise their families.) Delaney fights for the Union in America’s Civil War, spends three subsequent years incarcerated as a prisoner of war, and then works his way back to Canada. His mission now is to find his children, but both they and the orphanage are gone. Kroll’s narrative captures the complexity of family bonds and the challenges that confront us as we try to repair—or even just face—the mistakes we’ve made in the past. I loved the novel’s rich characters, haunting evocation of the Canadian landscape, and nuanced portrait of 19th-century life. You can check out The Punishing Journey of Arthur Delaney as well as Bob's other ECW titles on the press's website and buy the book through your local independent bookstore and platforms including Bookshop, Amazon US and Amazon Canada. With warm thanks to Bob for his time and ECW for its always-efficient coordination, here’s our conversation.

Q. You’ve written in many forms and genres over your decades as an author. Could you give readers some background on your career?

I studied history at Providence College and at the University of New Brunswick. I worked on farms and in the woods until embarking on a forty-year writing career. I cut my teeth writing television and radio ads, as well as history-based radio dramas for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. I wrote shipwreck documentaries for the Discovery Channel and docudramas for Canadian and American museums. I’ve published two anecdotal histories with Nimbus Publishing and three contemporary crime novels with ECW Press.

I realized years ago the one thing I could do reasonably well was write. For better or for worse, I stayed at it for a long time.

19 ON 19: The British Library's UNTOLD LIVES Blog

Written by a variety of scholars, the British Library's Untold Lives blog highlights quirky historical moments, images, documents, and, of course, people in richly illustrated mini-essays that range from the heartbreaking to the hilarious. The list below synopsizes just a few of my favorite C19-related posts from this extraordinary resource.




1. The Bookbinders' Provident Asylum is built in 1843 to provide a refuge for aged and incapacitated book trade workers and their widows, as well as "females who have worked at the business for at least ten years." 

So19 Interviews: ROBERT MORRISON on THE REGENCY YEARS

Today I’m delighted to share my conversation with biographer and literary critic Robert Morrison about his most recent book, The Regency Years: During which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love and Britain Becomes Modern. My So19 essay on the book appears here. My conversation with Rob about his edited and annotated edition of Jane Austen’s Persuasion appears here and our chat about his biography of Thomas De Quincey can be read here.

Robert Morrison is British Academy Global Professor at Bath Spa University and Queen’s National Scholar at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. The Regency Years was shortlisted for the Historical Writers’ Association Crown Award and named by The Economist as one of its 2019 Books of the Year. Morrison’s biography of Thomas De Quincey, The English Opium Eater, was shortlisted for the James Tait Black prize. His annotated edition of Jane Austen’s Persuasion appeared from Harvard University Press, and for Oxford University Press he edited a selection of De Quincey’s writings. You can hear Rob read from The Regency Years here, read his recent essay on Jane Austen and Netflix's Bridgerton here, and find out more about Rob and his work on his website. The Regency Years is available for purchase through Amazon.com, Bookshop.org, or your local bookstore.

Q. The Regency Years conveys a huge amount of information from a huge array of different sources. Before we jump into the content of the book, tell us a bit about your research and writing process.

When I began the book I thought I knew the Regency period quite well. It is brief, beginning in 1811, when George III lapses permanently into some form of insanity, and ending in 1820, when George III dies and his eldest son, who had been ruling Britain as the Prince Regent, becomes George IV. The Regency falls right in the middle of the broader literary movement known as “Romanticism,” about which I have taught and researched and written for many years, and which is typically said to begin with the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 and to end at some point in the 1830s with the passage of the Reform Bill, or the rise of Charles Dickens, or the crowning of Queen Victoria.