Cover Image: The Frozen River

The Frozen River

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The Frozen River is an 18th-century historical mystery that follows Martha Ballard, a midwife in Hallowell, Maine, who finds herself trying to solve a murder that possibly connects to her friend’s violent rape. The story covers one tumultuous year in Ballard’s life as she manages her large family, births babies, fights for justice, and conducts autopsies.

I loved reading a historical fiction novel that was during “peace time” and shortly after the American Revolutionary War. It was a refreshing change from the typical 20th-century novels of the genre.

Ariel Lawhon wrote The Frozen River based upon on a woman who did exist, left behind daily diary entries, and has been forgotten to history. I have enjoyed past books by Lawhon and knew I could trust her to thoroughly research a story. And she did not let me down! Lawhon was prodigious in simulating daily life in Colonial Maine and the nascent United States. I was fascinated with all the details Lawhon managed to include without weighing down the story’s pace.

The Frozen River managed to be both gripping and beautifully written. Lawhon crafted this book with vivid descriptions, creating a chilling atmosphere. In doing so, she wrote the Kennebec River as a character itself that greatly influenced the town. Furthermore, I became immersed in this story and infuriated alongside Martha. My spouse may have laughed at me yelling at the book several times. (If a book elicits a response from me, that usually means it is good.)

My only quibble with this book was that I wanted to know Martha more. I felt like who she was at heart was kept at a distance. We only come to know her as someone in the town does, as an outspoken, confident woman who championed women and justice.

Overall, The Frozen River is a novel filled with vivid detail and an engrossing mystery. Lawhon has written yet another deep, yet readable historical novel about an amazing women, of which few have heard. I recommend this book, especially if you are tired of WWI and WWII stories.

Note: I received an advanced reader's copy of this book from its publisher, Doubleday Books. Regardless, I always provide a fair and honest review.

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The Frozen River by Ariel Lawson was a mystery at a time from the 1780s on the Kennebec River. The river had started to freeze and a man was found frozen in the ice. Maine was still owned by Massachusetts and rules were enforced by men for men. He was brought into the local tavern and the midwife was called on to determine his cause of death. The dead man, according to Martha, was murdered, despite the fact that a new local doctor believed otherwise.

Martha Ballard was a midwife and a healer for the area around Hallowell, Maine. Her husband runs a mill on the river. Their mostly grown children still live at home or at least in the area. Martha and her difficult horse Brutus were welcome almost everywhere. She kept a journal to document the weather, but mostly to chronicle her daily work. As a midwife, Martha had some leeway, but not a lot because she was a woman and therefore under her husband's authority.

This starts an interesting tale of the people and their lives on the Kennebec River during the winter in Hallowell, Maine. The river, the settlers and the winter along with a murder all interact to create a fascinating tale. Martha as the main character with her healing skills allows her to meet and help various people and find clues about the murder. Her husband and children are important characters that support her and all hold some information that could be helpful.

I found this story fascinating. I was interested in the court system, medical trends and the way people interact. I found myself cheering on Martha as she figured out the who, what and why of the murder. The Frozen River by Ariel Lawson was a great read!

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A historical telling of the life of a midwife with murder and intrigue. Martha Ballard, whose character is based on a real midwife named Martha Ballard. Has a patient who is taped and a trial ensues. In the meantime, several gripping storylines make place moving the novel right along. Well researched with memorable characters and flowing dialogue. The character of Martha reminds me of Claire in Outlander. No time travel here but a strong woman and a riveting story.

Copy provided by the publisher and NetGalley

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Fantastic! This story held my interest from the beginning! Rich characters, setting, and the plot was paced well.
First time reading this author and I'll definitely read more!

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Fascinating story, even more so when you realize how much of it is based on true events! Reminded me a lot of Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet

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Really enjoyed this historical fiction mystery centered around a real midwife's accounts. This story kept me engaged and reeling to the end with multiple subplots that were equally interesting and all led toward a solid conclusion. Can't wait to meet the author in person at a book signing in January!

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If it was possible to give Ariel Lawhon’s The Frozen River more than five stars, I would. I loved every single word of it. Not only is it based on the life of an actual midwife in 1790s Maine, but Ariel Lawhon takes entries from Martha Ballard’s actual daybook and crafts a book that is sure to speak to not only lovers of historical fiction, but to mystery/thriller/suspense lovers too. This is one of those books that I will be telling all my bookish friends about. If you only pick up one book this year, this should be the one.

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This is historical fiction at its best. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Martha Ballard and the world she lived in. We don’t often think deeply about what life was like in the early days of the U.S., especially when the justice system was brand new and the biases were being baked in. The stories told in this book were stark. The author also did fantastic work in portraying the natural world of the winter in the late 1700s - what it was like for Martha and others to get around on horseback, what it was like to have that river freezing up and then thawing again at the end of winter. I cannot wait to read more by this author.

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It's a beautiful thing, to go back in time with authors as they bring back to life important people from the past so we can hear their story.
Taking place in Maine in the late 1700's when the Kennebec River is frozen. Martha Ballard is a married, lifelong midwife. She has ushered in hundreds of lives, not many of the women in this rural area have access to a doctor. Many of the women fall pregnant before a marriage takes place. Martha is privy to this information, and quite a lot of other personal information like who the father is but she keeps this information to herself. Margaret keeps a daily diary with personal information about her clients. The judicial system, if you could even call it that is so different than today. Quite a bit of the book involves a rape trial of a woman accusing the town's judge and another man. Where is the justice? It reminds me of Reba's song, The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia. There's a similarity there. There is also a spectacular murder trial.
As the author says this work of fiction is what could have happened in Martha Ballard's life and not a biography. The book is inspired by real events. I like realistic books, and this is written like a biography. If I can learn something from the historical fiction, I read I am all for it, may it be a person, place or event I am here for it. This book has inspired me to start reading biographies again in the new year. I do need to add some non-fiction back into my reading selections and this would be a great way to start. The book is compelling, and it leaves me to wonder how many other fascinating people from the past I have yet to meet through books to hear their story.

Pub Date 05 Dec 2023
I was given a complimentary copy of this book.
All opinions expressed are my own.

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@gmabookub has picked a winner!

At 448 pages or 15 hours, this is not a tiny book. And yet I blew through it because I simply couldn’t put it down. I was immediately engaged and invested in the story.

Set in the late 1700s, this is the story of a badass midwife who isn’t afraid to go head to head with the men in town to defend a woman raped by two of the most influential men in their area. A dead body uncovered in the frozen river, accusations of rape, mistreatment of women, there is a lot packed into this one winter. The daily diary kept by the midwife, Martha Ballard, is at the center of it all.

Based on the diaries of the real Martha Ballard, this book has something for everyone - historical fiction, murder mystery, a trial, bad guys, and a heroine to cheer for.

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I was so excited to read this pick from the 2023 book releases and let me tell you that I was not disappointed!

This historical mystery is inspired by the diary of Martha Ballard, an 18th-century midwife, who never lost a single mother in over 1000 deliveries.

When a man found entombed in ice, also happens to be the same man accused of a horrible attack, Martha tries to seek justice for the women that nobody else wants to protect. I loved this book from Martha's point of view and I am a huge fan of Lawson's writing. She is the absolute queen of biographical fiction.

This book is brilliantly written and so well-researched that I could not put it down.

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This was just okay for me. A like, not a love. 3.5 stars, rounding down to 3.

When I saw Ariel Lawhon had a new book coming out this year, I was ecstatic. Her novel, Code Name Helene, is one of the best historical fiction books I have read in a long time. I recommend it all the time to HF readers, because I know they will enjoy it as well. I had plans to purchase or retrieve her latest from my library as soon as it was available, so imagine my delight when this dropped into my inbox a couple weeks prior to its release date. Then the day I pick this book up, I discover it is GMA December book club pick! Yay! We are definitely in for a treat here, folks! And the reviews that are currently out there are all solid 4 and 5 stars. People are loving this book! Needless to say, my expectations were set high and rightfully so! Lawhon is an amazing researcher and author.

However, I, unfortunately, do not fall into that category. Oh, I wanted to be! I just didn't get that gripping, all consuming feeling while reading this one like I did with Lawhon's previous book, and it hurts for me to have to say that. I am not quite sure what about this book did not work for me, but I found myself bored while reading it. I do have somewhat of a theory as to why that I'll dive into more below.

The setting was beautiful. It was described with such vivid details. It wasn't hard for me to imagine this brutal winter in Maine, and the time period this story took place. Remarkably, it was not bogged down with too much detail, or became too wordy to where I was not able to enjoy the story taking place.

It just felt different than Code Name Helene for me, which with the author not having much to go on with the protagonist, Martha Ballard, and her life, but her daily journals I recognize this not an easy feat to capture. But I think because of that it just felt like I was reading a mystery novel set in the 1700's versus a historical fiction novel where I am learning all about the amazing life of midwife in the beginning days of our country. Don't get me wrong! We learn about Martha, and what it took to be a healer and midwife during this time. However, I felt the murder mystery aspect overshadowed the historical fiction, and we get more of a Nancy Drew element to the whole story. And that is okay! If you walk in expecting that, you'll possibly enjoy this book. I just was not realizing that was what I was going to get upon reading this book.

As always with historical fiction, some of my favorite parts are the end when the author delves into what was true and what was fiction, and Lawhon did not disappoint with providing those details. It amazes (and saddens) me that the only reason we know about this woman, who delivered over 1000 babies and did it so well she never lost a mother during childbirth (!!) is her journals and her diligent record keeping. It is a testament to how little women were regarded in history and I love how Lawhon brings these women to light and gives them a voice! I look forward to her next book and I cannot wait to see what it will be about.

**Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me an advanced copy of this book and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion. I am posting this review to my Goodreads account immediately and will post it to my Amazon & Instagram accounts upon publication.

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This is my favorite kind of historical fiction book to read! I love when I read a book that teaches me something as well as evokes emotion.

The book is about Martha who is a midwife who has delivered hundreds of babies and documents her experience. She has seen many births, deaths and illicit affairs.

The book starts off with Martha delivering a baby and then being called to determine the cause of death of a man. After examination she says he has been hanged and murdered before his body was tossed in the river and frozen in the ice. Her diary is a key factor in figuring out stories and throughout the book we meet more people with their own stories.

I was immediately drawn to the story and the mystery of the man in the river kept me guessing and on my toes the whole time.

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My 5th 5-star review for an Ariel Lawhon novel.

I don't read a lot of historical fiction but when I see Ariel Lawhon has a new novel coming out, I instantly request a galley. This one has been sitting in my Kindle for a few months but I finally got to it. It took me over two weeks to finish this novel, not only because of the length but because of the large cast of characters and multiple storylines. Despite it taking a long time to read, I was totally invested in every aspect of the story...just like in each of her previous novels.

I definitely recommend this novel.

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Readers who enjoy historical fiction will love this book. This is truly a remarkable story about Martha Ballard, a little known midwife and her life in Maine during the 1700s. Based on historical events, readers will learn about the early years of the judicial. system which proves to be quite interesting. Readers will want to sure to read the afterward. Highly recommended!

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Martha is the closest thing to a medical professional they have in her area. She is brilliant and people call on her for everything. She ends up involved in a murder mystery.
This is all based on fact!
This is a wonderfully researched novel. You can tell the author worked tirelessly to make this happen.

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I’ve read extensively from Ariel Lawhon, and this is by far her best work and I’ve enjoyed her prior works!

This book follows Martha, a midwife in the late 1700s. She is often the only medical professional available in her community, so in her position she is privy to much that goes on. When a man is found brutally murdered, it plunges her into the midst of both a murder and rape trial. Martha is a very real person with extensive journals that Lawhon was able to draw from and use in this work. The book is compulsively readable, while also being historical fiction based on reality. Martha is an incredible heroine and Lawhon does a wonderful job of educating the reader on this remarkable life. This book is hard to set down, and had me in tears at points. The compassion shown to incredibly difficult moments is well done, and I’m always so grateful to authors who can transport us across time and shine a light on someone we should all know. Lawhon does a fantastic job with this book.

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A man has been found frozen in ice. Martha Ballard, the local midwife, has been called in to examine the body and determine the cause of death. She comes to one conclusion, but the physician of the town comes to another. Martha knows the truth and she does not stop, even when it could damage her reputation and her well built life as she knows it.

I loved everything about this book. Martha is a character that is tough as nails and smart as a whip! And this time period…oh my word. What women went through to just be heard, not even believed, just heard!

The research that went into the tale is amazing. I loved learning about the court system in that time period. I had no idea about some if the processes and the way things worked back then.

I have said this before and I will say this again…I LOVE A BOOK WHICH HAS ME RESEARCHING. I could not wait to look up Martha Ballard and to learn more about her life!

Need a book which is intense and will keep you up long into the night…THIS IS IT! Grab your copy today!

I received this novel from the publisher for a honest review.

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This book incredible! Stories with strong women are my favorite and Ariel always hits the mark with that.
I was engrossed in the mystery of this book from the very beginning. The characters in this book, each one, draw you into the story even further.
Martha and Ephraim. I loved getting glimpses into their past and hearing more about their love story.
The setting is this book is also another character. You can feel the cold in your bones.
I highly recommend this book!

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This is the Historical Fiction I've been waiting for to reignite my passion for the genre. Told during the later 1780's, The Frozen River is inspired by the life of midwife Martha Ballard. The author is quite deliberate at informing the reader of when and why she took liberties with timelines and possible actions which I appreciated but none of those issues detracted me from the plot.
Who is Martha Ballard? A midwife that had the learning and audacity to actually write down in a journal or ledger the births that she attended. This record is what puts her on the map of important women many decades into the future. She also is the great-aunt to founder of The Red Cross, Clara Barton.
The plot though is so much more than babies. There is a murder and mystery afoot and with her family threatened, Martha makes it her business to determine what actually happened. Sexual assault is a heavy theme throughout. The dynamic between Martha and her husband, Ephraim, bring a welcome gentleness to a harsh landscape and way of life.
I heartily recommend The Frozen River for not only Historical Fiction lovers, but those that enjoy a strong main character and a mystery.

Thank you to DoubleDay books for providing an early e-copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

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