Cover Image: The Frozen River

The Frozen River

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Member Reviews

A body is found in a frozen river in Maine in 1789 and Martha, the local midwife, is called to pronounce death. She finds rope burns and abrasions that lead her to conclude that the man was beaten and hanged. Controversy ensues when a new doctor in the town proclaims she is mistaken and that the death might be accidental. What really happened and who is involved, becomes the basic premise of the novel. Martha is determined to discover the details surrounding the death but her investigation is complicated by secrets and the fact that the town’s judge thwarts anyone who makes claims he dislikes. He himself has been accused of wrongdoing and Martha is well aware of his bad behaviors. But it’s 1789 and townfolk often administer their own retribution. They don’t always rely on courts to satisfy injustices.

The book is based on the real Martha Ballard who was a successful midwife. She, like all women of the time, had to deal with the subservient role assigned to females. The new young doctor in town tests her reputation, leading some to dismiss her skill as a midwife, though there are many who continue to value her. Martha is dogged in her determination to help the women of her town and to learn the truth behind the body from the frozen river.

The plot is very engaging and the female characters are often shown as victims. They are subject to abuse, must toil hard with little appreciation, and have no say in their lives. Martha stands out as a true trailblazer. She is a wonderful example of early feminist efforts to give women respect and empowerment. Her care for her patients transcends birthing children and she is a beacon of hope to many in the community. This is a wonderful novel about women and resiliency, about one woman’s attempts to bring justice and sound medical care to women who so desperately need a champion.

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Readers expect historical fiction to transport them to a different place and time, but when the genre shines a subtle mirror on the present and reflects shocking societal similarities – in this case 235 years later – it is all the more powerful. That’s this book.

The book-jacket copy tells you, already, that this is the story of a midwife and healer – based on the real-life woman, Martha Ballard. You know there will be babies and family and heartache. And love. You also expect examples of the role (and mistreatment) of women in the 1780s. I expected this, of course, but was reminded, with the Roe vs. Wade reversal, how women still are at the mercy, largely, of male lawmakers.

That’s not what this book is about, but it made me think. In fact, the novel doesn’t take a political, in-your-face stance like so much fiction today (which I am growing weary of). The author set out to write a book about Martha. About people. Not hot topics. It’s billed as a murder mystery, but the characterization is deep and there are lovely hat tips to Shakespeare as well as a fox with metaphorical significance.

It’s a book, as I said, that bridges decades and makes the reader think – about women, yes; about great love; about family love; about justice; about bucking the system; and about being honorable, good human beings. And I think that is why it’s resonating with so many readers. We see ourselves in these pages. Lawhon is a talented author, so it also doesn’t hurt that her writing is assured and often poetic.

I attended her reading in Phoenix last week and she said, “I figured no one would want to read about this, so knowing no one would want to read it, I took a chance and just threw it all in there,” (referring to the mystery component, the rape, the animal symbolism, the medicine, the law)… Well… I’m here to say, along with many others… it worked! Lawhon also admitted… all those romantic gestures in the book … they were inspired by her own husband.

Highly recommend. I mean… who better than Ariel Lawhon to write a novel about a midwife plucked from the pages of history who gave birth to nine children? Lawhon, herself, has four boys and her mother’s births were all performed by midwives at home. Being among the oldest, she witnessed one of those as a teen, and, as an adult, the home birth of one of her sister’s children.

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I am FLOORED! This book was so good. It was always on my radar, but all the excellent reviews I’ve seen pushed it right to the top. I’m so glad I read it sooner rather than later. It was the perfect atmospheric winter read.

Let’s talk about Martha. I have never heard of her. I absolutely love to read historical fiction books about people/events that are less widely known. Her characterization was one of the best things about this book. She loved her family, advocated for the people she came into contact with, and never wavered on what was right. She was brave and courageous, and I was rooting for her the entire time.

Her relationship with her husband, Ephraim, was what dreams are made of. I enjoyed the little snippets of their life together, and how he supported her to no end.

Along with insights into Martha’s and her family’s everyday lives, there is also both a murder and assault case that are being brought to trial in their town. The truths of what happened were slowly and expertly revealed. We get a snapshot of how women were considered unequal to men in that time period. It was heartbreaking and had me getting mad at different points.

Just absolutely amazing. I enjoyed every single minute of reading this book.

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Martha Ballard is a midwife in a small town in the period right after the Revolutionary War. A death in the small town implicates many town residents. Including one of Martha's sons. The man found dead is one of two men accused of raping the pastor's wife. Martha's strong personality leads her to seek out the truth of what happened the night of the murder, and the more she investigates the more guilty one of the town's respectable members becomes.

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Thank you NetGalley for the opportunity to read and give an honest review of this book.

This historical fiction book takes place in 1798. It is about the life of
midwife, Martha Ballard. We get to know Martha’s husband and children.
We see moments of happiness and times of grief that Martha and her family experienced. We get to know Martha’s neighbors and the folks in her village.

On a cold winter night, as the river is freezing, a body is found and pulled, frozen from the river. Martha is summoned to check out the dead man and she determines that he was most likely murdered. Thus, the mystery begins. The victim was not especially liked. He had been accused of raping a woman in the village and he was awaiting his trial. Potentially, there are several people that had motive for the murder. Will Martha be able to solve the murder?

This book is well written. The characters are interesting and well developed. The clues throughout the book lead to a logical conclusion.

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Oh my word. I really enjoyed this book! I was captivated by Martha and her story. I loved how dedicated she was to her job of midwifery., seeing how she treated each of her patients with respect and knew her job so well. I loved her relationship with her husband and children. I appreciate how she wasn't perfect and acknowledged when she messed up or when her emotions got the better of her. I loved how fierce she became at injustice, in particular the double standard for men and women. It was interesting to read about New England at this time. The story line of the rape case and the murder was captivating and frustrating at the same time. The villain was clear from early on and he was infuriating throughout. I love a book that can bring out emotions in me and while I didn't cry for this one, I did have lots of feelings. I just loved Ariel Lawhon's author's note at the end as she shared what was factual and what was adjusted or imagined for the sake of the story. This was an easy 5 stars for me and already a potential favorite of the year.

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"The Frozen River" is near-perfect historical fiction about the real-life midwife Martha Ballard. It's only very loosely a mystery, but it's a fascinating look at gender roles in early America. Highly recommended!

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The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon is an incredible journey in time as we learn about Martha Ballard’s incredible life. I love that Lawhon brought this remarkable woman to life as her strength, smarts, honesty, and compassion are all things we can learn from.

The book starts with a jolt as a man accused of rape is found dead in the frozen river. Ballard, a midwife and healer, is called to the scene which starts this compelling plot. The mystery behind what actually happened is woven through the story as well as several subplots that focus on some of the townspeople.

I found life in the late 1700s to be fascinating. Whether scenes took place in the town, the courthouse or at one of the frolics, I was completely invested. I loved the way Martha mothered, and her relationship with her husband was beautiful. Her smarts were on display at all times and the fact that she journaled with precious quill and ink was certainly ahead of her time.

The pacing for this book was spot on and her ability to create tension with the antagonists were done well. The characters were flawed, yet relatable, and the story was shrewdly layered to keep the pace moving.

The author’s note at the end of the book shares how she learned about the real Martha Ballard but do not read the notes until you finish the book. It will spoil the experience of reading this gem. I had the luxury of listening to the gorgeous narration of Jane Oppenheimer while also reading it.

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I so loved this book. As most historical fiction, I always learn something and this was no exception. Although it started a little slow for me, I quickly fell in love with the characters and sometimes had to remind myself that this was set in the late 1700's!

Loved it and can't wait to read more by Ariel Lawhon - she is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors!

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What an incredible novel! It’s no wonder The Frozen River is receiving so many rave reviews! This multi-layered historical fiction based on the life (and journals) of a real life mid-wife was so rich and compelling and I absolutely loved the Martha they Ariel Lawhon gave us. The mystery, the court case, the love between Martha & Ephraim, their life and children together, and the wild events of that frigid winter were so powerfully and beautifully written, I never wanted to stop reading! And that ending! So satisfying!

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5 stars. Another knock it out of the park story by Ariel Lawhon. I very much enjoyed learning more about Martha and her life and loved the wintry setting for this novel. It took me a bit to get settled into the story but once I did I was hooked.

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The Frozen River is, in a word: Remarkable! This is not only one of the best historical fiction novels I've read, it's one of the best novels I've read in general. Martha Ballard is a new to me historical figure I had never heard of and I learned more about small town life in the 1700s than I can recall knowing prior. I also loved how much the natural setting and winter season played a part in this story.

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This book had absolutely captured me. I was hooked. I even learned some new things about life in the 1700's that I wasn't aware of. Really enjoyed the characters and the plot.

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Thank you NetGalley for the advanced digital copy of Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon in return for my honest review.

The Frozen River was one of the best historical fiction books that I have read in a long time. It is an engaging story based on Martha Ballard, a wife, mother and midwife in Maine during the 1700(s). She kept a diary of births, deaths, crimes, even the weather, and it served as her recorded legacy.. There were some of the nicest characters as well as the most vile; they were so well-developed, relatable and authentic that the reader felt very connected to their favorites and fiercely reviled the actions of the evil ones. I especially loved Martha’s husband, Ephraim, and their interactions were the best. It was so nice to read about a happy marriage. Lawhon writes so well that the reader experiences every emotion. This was my first book by this author, but I have already ordered another one of hers because I just love the way she writes. This story centers around a man found dead in the frozen river, one of two who were accused of rape. The story is compelling. Highly recommended.

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Excellent research went into this historical novel. I learned a lot about midwifery and the constant struggles woman underwent during the 18th century. A lot of similarities to what is happening these days from this story. Martha was a strong willed woman whose views were ahead of her time. And there was a mystery she solved.

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In 1789 Maine, a deeply impactful event unfolds as a body is discovered frozen in the town's central river. Martha Ballard, an educated midwife, is summoned to investigate the cause of death, setting off a series of profound consequences. With a meticulous eye, Martha meticulously records the extraordinary occurrences of this unusual winter in her diary, which includes births and deaths, as well as the nuanced complexities of the town's social fabric.

The narrative delves into a world where women are undervalued, unable to testify in court without male presence, and burdened with unequal consequences for societal transgressions. Amid this backdrop, Martha advocates for justice for these women, using her personal journal as a critical piece of evidence. Lawhorn skillfully captures the essence of this historical period, weaving a tale of mystery and intrigue that showcases meticulous research and well-developed characters.

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This is a wonderful novel set in post- revolutionary war Maine. It is based on a real character, Martha, and the journals she left behind. Martha is the local midwife and healer for the town. When a body is found in frozen in the river she becomes the coroner as well. She examines the body and declares the man was murdered. The story that follows leads us t the murderer and also tells us all about Martha.

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I love Ariel Lawhon, I love historical fiction, and these two go together so perfectly. This was such a great story, I could not stop listening once it got started. I had not heard of Martha Ballard prior to this book and I know Lawhon took some liberties with her, but my goodness she was a bad a** and I admired her courage to always speak up for what is right. This is a phenomenal read all around and the audio is just fantastic. I highly recommend this one, it is so, so good.

Thank you to Doubleday Books for the digital copy and to LibroFM for the ALC to review.

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Fabulous!!! This is a fascinating story based on the life of Midwife Martha Ballard. She was a midwife in the years following the American Revolution and she kept a diary that survived to become an important document that reveals what life was like during those years.

Ms. Lawhon has used parts of that diary and mixed it with a bit of fiction that was so interesting and fun to read.

Read this book!!

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I'm in total awe of Ariel Lawhon! She writes such well researched, beautiful novels inspired by historical figures and events. I've just fallen in love with her work and this one does not disappoint! The Frozen River is inspired by the actual diary of a midwife and healer in the 1700's. Not only does it tell the story of saving the lives of babies, mothers and others, it spotlights the injustices of a flawed legal system and unveils the secrets of several crimes. This one is highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, crime mysteries and courtroom drama alike. My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

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