Cover Image: The Frozen River

The Frozen River

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Ariel Lawhon based The Frozen River off of the extensive diaries of Martha Ballard, a midwife in the late 1700s in Maine. Martha had seen a lot as she has delivered babies and knows that every situation is not always as it appears. When a man is found dead in the river, Martha is called to investigate and she sees signs that it was likely murder even if no one else does. The book then follows the events after the man's death and how it relates to another case in town, involving the trial of another man accused of rape. Much of Martha's work deals with everyday life and the difficulties women face, especially when it comes to a woman's autonomy or medical knowledge. Overall, a fascinating story inspired by real events that makes for a compelling read.

Was this review helpful?

I found The Frozen River to be an example of historical fiction at its best. The novel was inspired by Martha Ballard, a midwife in the 1700's, who kept extensive journals of both her personal life and her experiences as a midwife.

The Kennebec River freezes over and leaves a murdered man entombed in the ice. Martha is called to investigate medically. The story follows the mystery of this man's death,

Ariel Lawhorn gives us an excellent historical fiction novel that is well-written and well researched. She does a great job of setting the scene in New England in the 1700's and what follows is a compelling, interesting story.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy of this great novel.
4.5 stars

Was this review helpful?

A smart historical fiction based on the diary of Martha Ballard, a renowned midwife. This was a captivating story and the author masterfully illustrates the characters and the atmosphere of the Puritan times.

ARC was provided by NetGalley and Doubleday Books in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

Lawhon really brought this time and place to life with her writing. Loved learning about what this midwife's life might have been like, especially at a time when women had so little power.

Was this review helpful?

The Frozen River is the latest historical fiction novel by master storyteller Ariel Lawhorn. The reader is immediately drawn into the colonial world of midwife and healer, Martha Ballard. Martha is already in hot water after helping bring to light a horrible event of sexual assault perpetrated by two of society's most respected men. So when she rules that a man found frozen in the river was the victim of foul play, she comes against some strong opposition. But Martha won't stop digging for the truth, no matter what perils lay in her path.

Lawhorn perfectly draws the reader into Martha's world. We feel the pain of the birthing mothers, the biting cold of the colonial winters, and the mettle of a woman intent on finding the ugly truth of matters at hand. Martha is a remarkable woman, both on the page, and in real life. Her intelligence, bravery, and tenacity are inspirational. The story flows smoothly and has a rather satisfying conclusion. As always, be sure to read the author's note after finishing to learn more about the real events to inspired this wonderful story.

Thank you to Netgalley and Doubleday for this ARC. I am leaving this review voluntarily and all views expressed are my own.

Was this review helpful?

Code Name Helene is one of my favorite historical fiction books so I knew I needed to read The Frozen River even though I was unsure if the plot was going to be enough to keep me entertained.

I should have never doubted it. I was hooked!

I love how Lawhon finds these historical woman that we know little about previously and writes these fantastic books centered around them. Her research was impeccable as well.

Was this review helpful?

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon is the first book that I've read by this author. How have I missed her other books I have no idea. This was a fast paced read that was finished in a few days. The Frozen River follows Martha Ballard, a midwife in Halowell, Maine who keeps a daily diary as a record of births, deaths, and other events that happened during her daily life. Martha is called to the tavern to examine a body that was found in the frozen river. Upon examining the body Martha concludes that man had been murdered. Soon Martha becomes involved with trying to figure out the mystery surrounding his death. This book is based on Martha Ballard who was in fact a midwife. Ariel Lawhon did a fantastic job following Martha durning 1789 by using actual fact from a copy of her diary. This is an author that I am going to read more of in the future.

Was this review helpful?

While this is a December read, it was one of the best of the year! While my normal historical fiction era is World War II, who knew that the Revolutionary period would be so fascinating? This is the tale of midwife, Martha, and her involvement in a death--was it an accident or was the man murdered? I learned so much about midwifery, the laws of the time, and how hard it was to be a woman with no rights/power. Highly recommended and will be reading more by Ariel Lawhon.

Was this review helpful?

Another winning take on a real historical person by Ariel Lawhon. I really enjoyed this tale about early American midwife, Martha Ballard. In the authors note, Ms. Lawhon details what was fact and what was speculative, and even knowing that didn't change the fact that Martha Ballard was such a fascinating woman, I can't imagine why more has not been written about her. She was intelligent, bold, and ahead of her time. And like all good historical fiction based on fact, The Frozen River made me immediately go to the internet to start trying to find out more about the protagonist.

One thing, intended by the author or not, this book made me happy to be living today instead of back then. Often when we are told about the very olden days, it is portrayed through very rose-colored lenses and it is tempting to want to go back to a simpler time. However, The Frozen River really showed myriad ways life could be extremely scary as a woman...or a person who wasn't wealthy....or someone of a different ethnicity. I appreciate the wake-up call the book was in making me appreciate how far society has come, even if there are still lots of things to grumble about.

Very entertaining, moving story that provokes thought and emotion.

Was this review helpful?

I have owned The Midwife’s Tale for many years but have not yet read it.
Lawhon beings Martha Ballard to life in this stunning and engrossing book about a late 18th century woman who was not just a wife and mother but also a healer and steadying figure.
I could barely tear myself away from the gripping words.
I loved how the author intertwined fact with fiction and explained the difference in her historical note. In fact she lightened an egregious event which made me wince when I read about it.
I love historical fiction about the colonial and early republic and this book fit the bill.
I was besotted with Emphraim Ballard.

Was this review helpful?

Midwife Martha Ballard has been plying her trade for decades now in 1789 Maine, and has the singular distinction of not yet losing a mother under her care. But her calling isn’t just one of making sure that the women who hire her survive the perils of pregnancy and childbirth. As one of the few literate women in her area, she also records important details about each birth in the journals her devoted husband Ephraim purchases for her:

I keep up with the journals because I enjoy it, but also because it is my <i>job</i>. One of the duties of my profession. As a midwife and healer, I am witness to the details of my neighbors’ private lives, along with their fears and secrets, and–when appropriate–I record them for safekeeping. Memory is a wicked thing that warps and twists. But paper and ink receive the truth without emotion, and they read it back without partiality. That, I believe, is why so few women are taught to read and write. God only knows what they would do with the power of pen and ink at their disposal.

The law requires her to testify to, among other things, the paternity of newborn children as confessed by unwed mothers in the throes of labor. But Martha also records much graver incidents, including the testimony of Rebecca Foster, a pastor’s wife who was brutally beaten and raped while her husband was out of town. Rebecca has no hesitation in naming her assailants. No one is really surprised that one of them is Joshua Burgess, who has a reputation around the town of Hallowell for pressing his attentions on unwilling women.

But the name of her other attacker comes as a shock. Joseph North is not only a colonel but a judge and land agent, and vigorously disputes Rebecca’s claim. When Martha publicly supports Rebecca’s account, she earns his ire as well. Using his power as an important figure in town, North begins to subtly pressure not only the Fosters but the Ballards too. In perhaps the most egregious abuse of his position as agent of the company that owns vast swathes of Hallowell, he commands Ephraim to leave town in the middle of winter in order to redo a survey on a remote parcel of land. Martha figures that North is just punishing them, but Ephraim has a more shrewd assessment of the judge’s motives:

“North wants me to be hundreds of miles away when it comes time for you to testify.”


“Because the law of coverture prevents a woman from testifying in court without her husband present.”

“No,” I shake my head. “I give testimony in court many times a year without you being present.”

“Only because your profession allows you to do so regarding a woman’s declaration of paternity during childbirth. Those parameters do not extend to a situation like this.”

“But if I’m not able to testify next month–”

“Rebecca Foster will lose her only witness, and her allegations will be dismissed,” he says.

Before the case can come to trial, however, Burgess is found dead in the frozen Kennebec River. As one of the few trained medical professionals in the area, Martha is called in to examine his body. There’s no doubt in her mind that he was beaten and hanged to death before being thrown in the frigid waters, but the newly arrived Doctor Benjamin Page is quick to contradict her. The Harvard-trained professional – as he’s quick to inform everyone – believes he knows far more about medicine than a mere midwife, and asserts that Burgess must have fallen into the river and drowned, and that his injuries were all sustained post-mortem. Martha suspects that this verdict benefits only North, who just so happens to be friends with Dr Page.

As Martha remains steadfast in asserting her belief in Rebecca’s tale, she’ll have to continue to fight as well to defend the women of her town from powerful forces who would happily sacrifice the lives of others in order to protect their own reputations. Ariel Lawhon does an amazing job not only of bringing the historical period to life, but also of drawing parallels between Martha’s struggles and the continuing fight of victims to be believed here in the 21st century. Based on the life of a real historical figure, The Frozen River takes only small liberties in fictionalizing the midwife’s life, plausibly turning her into a sleuth who must solve a murder mystery with repercussions for her own continuing peace of mind. Gripping and occasionally harrowing, this is historical fiction that reminds readers of how much we owe the pioneers of the past for the liberties we have today, and how we must fight never to let those hard-earned rights be taken away.

Was this review helpful?

This fascinating account of the winter of 1789 in the life of Martha Ballard, a midwife and healer in Hallowell, Maine, demonstrates historical fiction at its finest. Ariel Lawhon vividly describes not only the bitter cold environment, the hardscrabble life of its residents but also the misogynistic beginnings of our justice system. I was emotionally invested with both the story and the characters from the first page and did not want to put it down. Ms. Lawhon's notes at the end of the book detail her intense research of this intriguing woman whose contributions to history have been largely forgotten. One of my favorite books of 2023!

Was this review helpful?

Admittedly, Puritan time period is not my favorite as a woman’s life basically super sucked back then. Yet, Lawhorn convinced me with an amazing female lead - badass feminist midwife who takes no crap from anyone, and whose husband is an equal partner. A murder, sexual assaults, and trial scenes combine to make this book powerfully relevant to today as well as unputdownable. Highly recommend the audiobook as the narration is fantastic!

Was this review helpful?

Ariel Lawhon takes her historical fiction to a new level with "The Frozen River." Her earlier novels always seemed to lack . . something. . . but this novel does not. Set in Maine during the great freeze of 1789 and featuring a middle-aged woman as protagonist, "Frozen River" has a strong sense of place and time period and despite a few anachronistic attitudes ,is generally brutal when it comes to women's place in that society. Tough and very good.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a DRC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the book designer for a stunning cover!

Was this review helpful?

As fine a book as I have ever read. I enjoyed this rich work of historical fiction immensely. I am grateful to have gained so much knowledge here, all the while totally immersed in the story.

Martha Ballard was a midwife in the early days of the US who kept a journal. It was very unusual in those days for a woman to be able to read and write, but that skill was only one of her abilities.

From the facts known about Martha Ballard, the author, through the magic of historical fiction, gave her a voice. The story was powerful. From the stories of birthing babies, to her care for the community, her love for her family, the involvement of historical figures - the action was riveting, and the story immensely moving. The sense of place was real and the characters were memorable.

I highly recommend this book - it was eye opening in many ways. It would inspire an incredible discussion for a book club.

Was this review helpful?

A 1700s Midwife and a Murder

Martha Ballard, a midwife in Hallowell, Maine in the 1700s was a mainstay of her community. In a time when many women couldn’t read or write, she kept a diary recording births, deaths and other happenings in her family and the community.

When the Kennebec River froze in 1789, the body of a man was trapped in the ice. Martha was called on to examine the body and determine the cause of death. She believes the man was murdered. However, not everyone, particularly the local Harvard trained doctor agrees. The man is one of the men accused of rape four months before. Because of the doctor’s disagreement, Martha is forced to investigate. In pursuit of the truth, she uncovers things that implicate those she loves and force her to decide where her loyalties lie.

Martha is a historical personage and the story is based on the diaries she kept. While the mystery is a major focus of the book. The novel also highlights how women were treated in the 1700s. I thought the author did an excellent job bringing the time to life. Martha is a marvelous character. You can’t help rooting for her. The descriptions are also truly excellent they vividly depict life in a small community in the dead of winter.

I loved this book and can highly recommend it.

Thanks for Net Galley and the publisher for this review copy.

Was this review helpful?

Kudos to Ariel Lawhon, the Author of “The Frozen River,” for writing a captivating, memorable, and thought-provoking novel. I loved everything about this novel and highly recommend it to other readers. This novel is a masterpiece, and I appreciate how the author tells her story and how well-written it is. The Genres for this story are Biographical Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Suspense and Thriller. The author describes the lake in almost a poetic way and vividly describes her colorful and dramatic characters.

Ariel Lawhon describes her enthusiasm and inspiration based on a real character, Martha Ballard. Martha Ballard was a modern-day woman by any standards and had the courage to stand up and fight for what she believed in. In 1789, when women and men were not treated as equals, Martha did get the respect of being a midwife and healer. Thanks to her husband, she learned to read and write. Martha wrote all of her daily activities in diaries that later became historical documents.

In 1789, in Maine, it was a frightfully cold and intense winter. The Kennebec River has frozen, and several men discover a dead man in the ice. This man was accused of rape, and there are several suspects. Unfortunately, the political system sometimes seemed biased, leaving Martha no choice but to discover the truth at great danger.

This was an exceptional novel in 2023 that I highly recommend.

Was this review helpful?

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon is an excellent book about a midwife in the late 1700s. In the beginning of the book, she is called to check a body and determine the cause of death. The body belongs to a man accused of raping a friend and patient of hers, along with another man, who just happens to be a judge. She determines the cause of death to be murder. However, the courts are as equally determined to state that it was an accident. Using her journal as proof, she goes to court and attempts to find truth and justice. A true story about a remarkable woman, this book will make you laugh and cheer. You don’t want to miss it!

Was this review helpful?

THE FROZEN RIVER by Ariel Lawhon 🎧 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ WOW. I felt immersed into the atmosphere of this book from the first chapter. The audio was fantastic! Some pretty heavy themes that are laid out right in the description of the book so I think you’ll know right away if it's for you or not.

Martha Ballard, the local midwife and healer finds herself in the middle of a trial for a suspected murder. After delivering a baby, she is summoned to examine the body of a man who was frozen in the Kennebec River. She recognizes him from a heinous crime performed months ago, of which she recorded her diary.

I loved the vivid descriptions and chilling atmosphere of this book. And I fell in love with Martha who was assertive, confident + an advocate for women in a time where women were not considered equal. And I of course bawled at every birth scene.

I can't believe this was the first book I've read by this author! She's most known for her book Code Name Helene. Have you read it? Seems like I need to make my way through her backlist!

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Mood: 🍷🍫
Spice: 🌶️ implied intimacy between husband and wife
⚠️: check book description for TWs

Was this review helpful?

I read Martha's diary as an undergrad many years ago. I found it to be dry and dull. This story is vibrant and thoroughly enjoyable! Lawhon's ability to bring characters and history to life in an entertaining story is incredible. This novel is an example of stellar historical fiction. I loved the way Lawhon weaved her story into the gaps of real history.

Was this review helpful?