Thanks to authors Finola Austin, Melanie Benjamin, Greer Macallister, and Kristina McMorris, along with Back Room host Karen Dionne for an evening of great conversation!
“It was so much fun! The time flew by.”
Finola Austin’s debut historical fiction novel, Brontë’s Mistress, was released by Atria Books in August 2020. Finola is an England-born, Northern Ireland-raised, Brooklyn-based historical novelist and lover of the 19th century.
Her masters dissertation focused on the works of Victorian sensation novelists Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Wilkie Collins. Her interest in literature continued beyond her academic studies and she founded the Secret Victorianist, an award-winning blog dedicated to nineteenth-century literature and culture.
By day, she works in digital advertising. She lives in Brooklyn, with her Siberian cat, Arabella, and too many books.
Find her online at finolaaustin.com.
Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novels The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about Truman Capote and his society swans, and The Aviator’s Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Her latest novel, Mistress of the Ritz, is a taut tale of suspense wrapped up in a love story for the ages, the inspiring story of a woman and a man who discover the best in each other amid the turbulence of war.
Previous historical novels include the national bestseller Alice I Have Been, about Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland; The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, the story of 32-inch-tall Lavinia Warren Stratton, a star during the Gilded Age; and The Girls in the Picture, about the friendship and creative partnership between two of Hollywood’s earliest female legends—screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford.
Her novels have been translated in over fifteen languages, featured in national magazines such as Good Housekeeping, People, and Entertainment Weekly, and optioned for film.
When she isn’t writing or speaking, she’s reading. And always looking for new stories to tell. Learn more at melaniebenjamin.com.
Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister is a novelist, poet and playwright who earned her MFA in creative writing from American University. Her debut novel The Magician’s Lie was a USA Today bestseller, an Indie Next pick, and a Target Book Club selection.
Her novels Girl in Disguise (“a rip-roaring, fast-paced treat to read” – Booklist) and Woman 99 (“a nail biter that makes you want to stand up and cheer” – Kate Quinn) were inspired by pioneering 19th-century private detective Kate Warne and fearless journalist Nellie Bly, respectively.
Her next book, The Arctic Fury, is forthcoming from Sourcebooks in December 2020.
A regular contributor to Writer Unboxed and the Chicago Review of Books, she lives with her family in Washington, DC. Learn more at www.greermacallister.com.
Kristina McMorris is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author published by Sourcebooks Landmark, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Kensington Books. Her novels have garnered more than two dozen prestigious awards and nominations, including the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, RWA’s RITA® Award, and a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction.
Since her debut released in 2011, Kristina’s published works have expanded to include the novels Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, The Pieces We Keep, and The Edge of Lost, and Sold on a Monday in addition to her novellas in the anthologies A Winter Wonderland and Grand Central. Rights to her books have also been sold to numerous foreign publishers, Readers Digest, Doubleday, the Literary Guild, and more.
A frequent guest speaker and workshop presenter, McMorris holds a B.S. in International Marketing from Pepperdine University. For her diverse achievements, she has been named one of Portland’s “Forty Under 40” by The Business Journal. She lives with her husband and two sons in Oregon, where she is still sleep deprived but eagerly working on her next novel. Learn more at kristinamcmorris.com.
Karen Dionne is the USA Today and #1 internationally bestselling author of the award-winning psychological suspense novel The Marsh King’s Daughter published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in the US and in 25 other countries and The Wicked Sister (August 2020), also from G.P. Putnam’s Sons. The Marsh King’s Daughter was named a 2018 Michigan Notable Book, took home the Barry and the Crimson Scribe Awards for Best Novel, and was chosen as one of the best books of 2017 by iBooks, Hudson Booksellers, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Irish Independent, The Florida Sun-Sentinel, Library Journal, Shelf Awareness and many other booksellers and reviewers and is in development as a major motion picture.
In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls The Wicked Sister “A devastating, magic realism–dusted psychological thriller . . . Dionne paints a haunting portrait of a family hurtling toward the tragic destiny they can foresee but are powerless to stop.” Visit Karen at www.karen-dionne.com
Brontë’s Mistress by Finola Austin
Yorkshire, 1843: Lydia Robinson—mistress of Thorp Green Hall—has lost her precious young daughter and her mother within the same year. She returns to her bleak home, grief-stricken and unmoored. With her teenage daughters rebelling, her testy mother-in-law scrutinizing her every move, and her marriage grown cold, Lydia is restless and yearning for something more.
All of that changes with the arrival of her son’s tutor, Branwell Brontë, brother of her daughters’ governess, Miss Anne Brontë and those other writerly sisters, Charlotte and Emily. Branwell has his own demons to contend with—including living up to the ideals of his intelligent family—but his presence is a breath of fresh air for Lydia. Handsome, passionate, and uninhibited by social conventions, he’s also twenty-five to her forty-three. A love of poetry, music, and theatre bring mistress and tutor together, and Branwell’s colorful tales of his sisters’ elaborate play-acting and made-up worlds form the backdrop for seduction.
But Lydia’s new taste of passion comes with consequences. As Branwell’s inner turmoil rises to the surface, his behavior grows erratic and dangerous, and whispers of their passionate relationship spout from her servants’ lips, reaching all three protective Brontë sisters. Soon, it falls on Lydia to save not just her reputation, but her way of life, before those clever girls reveal all her secrets in their novels. Unfortunately, she might be too late.
Purchase Brontë’s Mistress at an independent bookstore near you.
Purchase Brontë’s Mistress online at www.bookshop.org.
Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin
Nothing bad can happen at the Ritz; inside its gilded walls every woman looks beautiful, every man appears witty. Favored guests like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor walk through its famous doors to be welcomed and pampered by Blanche Auzello and her husband, Claude, the hotel’s director. The Auzellos are the mistress and master of the Ritz, allowing the glamour and glitz to take their minds off their troubled marriage, and off the secrets that they keep from their guests—and each other.
Until June 1940, when the German army sweeps into Paris, setting up headquarters at the Ritz. Suddenly, with the likes of Hermann Goëring moving into suites once occupied by royalty, Blanche and Claude must navigate a terrifying new reality. One that entails even more secrets and lies. One that may destroy the tempestuous marriage between this beautiful, reckless American and her very proper Frenchman. For in order to survive—and strike a blow against their Nazi “guests”—Blanche and Claude must spin a web of deceit that ensnares everything and everyone they cherish.
But one secret is shared between Blanche and Claude alone—the secret that, in the end, threatens to imperil both of their lives, and to bring down the legendary Ritz itself.
Purchase Mistress of the Ritz at an independent bookstore near you.
Purchase Mistress of the Ritz online at www.bookshop.org.
The Wicked Sister by Karen Dionne
From the bestselling and award-winning author of The Marsh King’s Daughter comes a startling novel of psychological suspense as two generations of sisters try to unravel their tangled relationships between nature and nurture, guilt and betrayal, love and evil.
You have been cut off from society for fifteen years, shut away in a mental hospital in self-imposed exile as punishment for the terrible thing you did when you were a child.
But what if nothing about your past is as it seems? And if you didn’t accidentally shoot and kill your mother, then whoever did is still out there. Waiting for you.
Purchase The Wicked Sister at an independent bookstore near you.
Purchase The Wicked Sister online at www.bookshop.org.
The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister
A dozen women join a secret 1850s Arctic expedition–and a sensational murder trial unfolds when some of them don’t come back.
Eccentric Lady Jane Franklin makes an outlandish offer to adventurer Virginia Reeve: take a dozen women, trek into the Arctic, and find her husband’s lost expedition. Four parties have failed to find him, and Lady Franklin wants a radical new approach: put the women in charge.
A year later, Virginia stands trial for murder. Survivors of the expedition willing to publicly support her sit in the front row. There are only five. What happened out there on the ice?
Set against the unforgiving backdrop of one of the world’s most inhospitable locations, USA Today bestselling author Greer Macallister uses the true story of Lady Jane Franklin’s tireless attempts to find her husband’s lost expedition as a jumping-off point to spin a tale of bravery, intrigue, perseverance and hope.
Purchase The Arctic Fury from an independent bookstore near you.
Purchase The Arctic Fury online at www.bookshop.org.
Letters from Home by Kristina McMorris
It’s 1944, and although foreign battles are escalating, the war seems distant in every way to sensible college student Liz Stephens. That is, until her chance encounter with charming infantryman Morgan McClain at a USO dance in Chicago. Their deep connection feels mutual to Liz, but to her dismay, her bombshell roommate, Betty, is the one who promises to write the deploying soldier.
Singer Betty Cordell delights in the prospect of a dashing serviceman filling her life with adventure, marital bliss, and societal circles outranking her modest roots. It only makes sense for her to beg Liz for help penning an eloquent letter to Morgan, now bound for a dangerous front. After all, she’s certain the beauty of Liz’s ghostwritten prose would ensure a courtship as enviable as their roommate Julia’s relationship with her beloved sailor-and Betty is right, though not how she foresees.
Likewise, Julia Renard’s betrothal is more complicated than it appears. When tempting opportunities arise, the future she always envisioned as a devoted wife and mother risks derailment. And yet, as the Allies edge toward victory, every person-through heart-wrenching choices and life-altering letters-will discover within themselves profound courage, bittersweet hope, and the true meaning of home . . .
Purchase Letters from Home from an independent bookstore near you.
Purchase Letters from Home online at www.bookshop.org.