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The Frozen River

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This is my favorite book of Ariel Lawhon's that I've read to date. It's incredibly atmospheric and a perfect wintertime read, set during a long, cold winter of its own. It's inspired by a remarkable, real life midwife, Martha Ballard, whose record and dedication would still be impressive today. Readers should know that the story in large part revolves around s**ual assault resulting in pregnancy, and there are many mentions of stillbirth and other pregnancy and birch complications, but these are all handled with sensitivity. It's an immersive story and a window into a time period and place I haven't read extensively.

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The diary of an 18th century Maine midwife provides the basis for Ariel Lawhon’s latest novel. Between the actual daily log book entries, the author has turned Martha Ballard’s diary into a gripping thriller. The characterization is perfect, she makes you understand if not love each individual. The prose is delicate, yet powerful and at times graphic. Murder, betrayal, love loyality and compassion set against a bleak Maine winter.
Every women’s reading club will understand and appreciate this timeless novel.

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The Frozen River
Author: Ariel Lawhon
Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2023
Publisher: Doubleday Books

Martha Ballard was a midwife and healer in the late 18th Century who lived in a small town near the Kennebec River in Maine. She recorded the details of her work and life in journals for several decades. Based upon those journals, Ariel Lawson was inspired to write the Frozen River. I’ve thought for days how to describe this book and cannot find a superlative that describes how good this book is. All I can say is that The Frozen River, like its author, is in a class by itself.

The Frozen River follows Martha and events in her community through a six-month period during the winter and spring of 1789-1790. If you like books with strong women, you will love Martha’s story. Martha lived in a time when women still had few legal rights. Women who age birth outside of marriage were shunned. Rape victims had almost no hope of justice. Women couldn’t even appear in a court of law without a husband or father present. Yet Martha courageously fought for and defended these women. She always pursued truth and justice for both women and men. She delivered babies, tended the sick and injured, testified in courts about rapes, murders, and other crimes all while caring for her own family. She stood her ground in an exceedingly male dominated world. She was respected then and should be an inspiration to all women today.

This story is immersive and throughout you see the love Martha had for her patients, her family, and her community. The author draws the reader into the intimate stories of Martha and her patients. She fills your heart with compassion for these women and with love for this midwife. I especially loved her relationship with her husband, Ephraim, and their love and support for each other. The Frozen River is full of the love, hope, and wisdom that Martha Ballard clearly had for small town on a frozen river in Maine.

I received an ARC of this book from Net Galley. Thank you to DOUBLEDAY Books and Ariel Lawson for the opportunity to read this novel.

Note to readers: The author is known for her extensive research and exactness in portraying her characters. 1) Always read her Author’s Note as she explains in details her resources and any deviances from fact. 2). Never read her Author’s Note until you have read the ENTIRE NOVEL as there will be spoilers in her notes. You’re welcome.

#thefrozenriver #ariellawhon #doubleday #doubledaybooks #netgalley #midwife #midwives #historicalfiction #rape #misogeny #Maine #bookstagram

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Martha Ballard was a midwife, an unsung hero, who lived in a small town in Maine during the late 1700s, when America was a very new country. Thankfully she kept a meticulous diary from around age 50; during her life she delivered close to 1,000 babies without a single death. The slim facts of her remarkable life, mostly gleaned from her journals, form the scaffolding of Ariel Lawhon’s fictional recreation of this woman and her community, with a tantalizing murder mystery folded into it, which Lawson uses to excavate the environmental, cultural, social, and legal swings and shocks of this new age.

Martha has just delivered a baby when she is called to examine a man whose body has been retrieved from the frozen Kennebec River. Martha determines that it is not a simple case of a man drowning in the river, he has been beaten and killed beforehand, most probably by hanging. Woven into the dead man’s story is a rape accusation by the former pastor’s wife who claimed she was brutally assaulted by the deceased, and to confound matters, also by the judge who would normally try these cases. In part due to her gender, Martha gets hamstrung by the legal system and begins to do her own detective work which leads to a great web of confusion and corruption with the possible involvement of some of her family members.

But Martha is a vocal forceful woman, whose advocating of female outcasts has at times made her unpopular with the closed social circle of her town, and also with the new stuffy and rather unexperienced doctor, who sees her as ill-prepared and too ignorant to tend to women in childbirth. Their territorial skirmishes are some of the most lively in the book. Martha stands her ground; she is lovingly supported by her sensitive, sensual poetry-loving almost too perfect husband Ephraim who almost seems transplanted from the 21st century stalwart of women’s fiction. Threaded through the narrative are appearances by a semi-magical silver fox that seems to have wandered in from another story in another genre. And the Native Americans of this area, the get short shrift, though they are used in several plot points. Still this book raises some piercing questions about how early American society and its fledging legal system dealt with land rights, murder, rape, premarital sex, and unmarried mothers. Also impressive are Lawhon’s painstaking efforts at recreating the enormous amount of work required for day to day living for Martha and her family, from making meals, to tending to livestock to spinning thread to making candles from reeking deer tallow. The social strata that knits the town together are also carefully explored; the secondary characters add depth and complexity to the story, I would have liked to hear more from them and perhaps a bit less from Martha’s interior musings. Ultimately though I am grateful to Lawhon for bringing Martha Ballad’s story, even in fictionalized form, to a wider audience. Recommended for those who like a strong historical fiction brew, with a perspective that often gets overlooked: the demanding lives of rural women and men piercing together a challenging society in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War. Recommended for those who like historical fiction with a perspective that often gets overshadowed-the, aftermath of the revolutionary war.

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This book was well written and interesting. It is set in Maine during the late 1700s about a midwife who delivers babies, but also gives testimony about a murder that happened. Strong family ties is portrayed in this book. It was interesting to note that midwives during this time period were not taken seriously as compared to a male doctor from Harvard.

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I knew it… I just knew it! I knew that Ariel Lawhon would bring me to tears with yet another of her amazing novels. As I’ve said in the past (and someone else said recently), once again Lawhon gives us an example of historical fiction at its best. You know, I could easily stop writing this review right now, and just tell you that if you haven’t read anything by Lawhon, and if you like literary, historical fiction, you’re missing a WHOLE lot, and you’d best get started NOW! You see, since I read her first book, I’ve been hooked, and Lawhon has yet to let me down. However, I don’t think that any of her books have ever made me laugh before – smile a bit, chuckle in amusement, but not laugh. Okay, so it was a bit of an evil laugh, but yes, it was a laugh all the same. I couldn’t help myself from letting out that guffaw, and nor, apparently, could Martha stop herself from saying it (if you read the book, you'll understand).

But enough of that. Let me try to tell you why you should read this novel. First and foremost, as I’ve come to rely on with Lawhon’s books, her writing is just velvety soft, and smooth. With it, Lawhon builds an atmosphere that is unmistakable to be of the era about which she’s writing. Now, that might sound a touch boring to you, but I can assure you that is not the case in the least. In fact, Lawhon is able to deceptively and carefully build the tension in her novels so that when we reach the climax, we don’t realize just how wound up we’ve become in the story. That’s when the explosion of action comes, and we practically hold our breath until it comes to its conclusion. This one came at nearly 90% of the manuscript, and while I had an inkling about a couple elements that would be included, I wasn’t totally prepared for it. The thing is, it wasn’t really a twist, but it was probably better than a twist.

Obviously, I wouldn’t have shed a tear if Lawhon hadn’t made me emotionally invested in Martha along the way. What an incredible woman she was, and yes, she really existed, which is why I’m calling this biographical fiction (despite what Lawhon says in her notes about the poetic licenses she took with the action)! Now, I know that not everyone likes a first-person narrative, because you’re never sure just how reliable our narrator is. It also tends to keep us from knowing things that happen outside the narrator’s purview, which can leave gaps in the story. However, Lawhon really knows how to use that POV while still giving us the whole picture, and we believe every word. Certainly, Martha’s writing in her journal/diary every day helped with that. (And yes, thank you, Ms. Lawhon for “translating” those entries into understandable text, among other things.)

The thing is, this is such a rich story, with all the intricacies of many complex relationships, combined with the closed-in life in a small town, and yet it feels so simple and straight-forward. Plus, telling this story during one of the hardest winters of that time (see the title of the novel) meant that the tensions were elevated due to the isolation that the whole town and its residents experienced. Yes, we now all know what it is like to be essentially trapped at home, or forced to remain within certain boundaries for long periods of time. In the author’s notes, Lawhon does say that this was her Covid-19 book, and yet these parallels are truly subtle. In fact, it all comes down to what Martha says in many of her diary entries “I was at home.” How simple, yet evocative, right? In short, I really loved this book, and I’m wholeheartedly recommending it with an unequivocal five out of five stars! Thank you, Ms. Lawhon, for yet another gorgeous novel about a very special woman!

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Thanks to Doubleday for the eARC.
I always know I am going to get a well thought out, in-depth story when it comes to Lawhon, and this was no exception. While I did find it started a bit slow, I was fully invested in this story by the end. I had no idea who Martha Ballard was before reading this, and what a fascinating a life she lived. Lawhon brought to life such a tumultuous year and captured the complexities of facing these issues in the late 1700s in such a vivid way. I liked how the frozen river was its own character and how it influenced so much of this story. There's an intriguing mystery and lots of complicated conflict. It was easy to root for and hate certain characters. Why I keep coming back to Lawhon is because I know I'll get such a deep historical fiction story about an amazing woman who I wouldn't know about otherwise. This was so good, and I can't wait to potentially revisit it someday.

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This was so good, I loved absolutely every second of it! Set in the late 18th century and told from the perspective of a midwife, it's part mystery, part legal suspense, and a lot of discussion on how women were treated. 
Quick synopsis: Martha Ballard is a midwife, and called to examine a body found in the river. She suspect he's been murdered, and there are many potential suspects since he was one of two men accused of raping a women a couple months earlier. Martha wants to find out the truth and bring the other rapist to justice. 
This is objectively on the longer side and sometimes the plot was on the slower side. But I absolutely could not put it down, I was so completely engrossed in the story, and even outside the murder & trials, there was so much tension just related to how Martha and other women were treated. 
I have just so many good things to say about this book - the writing is amazing, the story is engaging, the ending was perfect, and I loved learning about the true Martha Ballard from the author's note. I cannot recommend this enough, this is one of my top 5 books of the year!

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Ariel Lawhon has written another fascinating book of historical fiction. Martha Ballard a midwife a strong woman kept me intrigued her character her story makes this a brilliant read for me.I will be recommending literary fiction at its best. #netgalley#doubledaybooks

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This book was phenomenal! I’m not a huge historical fiction reader, but books like this are the reminder that I need to change that.

This book is long and was a little bit slow to start, but once I reached the 15% mark, I could not put it down and wished it could have gone on for longer. Martha was such an incredible character. The devotion she had to her job and those she loved was fierce, and I loved seeing her strength and smarts play such a big role throughout the book. Her relationship with her husband Ephraim was special to read about, and I appreciated how supportive he was, especially given the time (1700s). The fact that Martha Ballard was a real person who inspired this book was even more powerful to learn.

The mystery element of the story really drew me in. There are several factors at play in regard to this storyline, so I felt like there was always something left to figure out. The pieces all came together at the end, and though there are some twists, I feel like the journey to get to the end was the real star. There’s some really heavy content throughout, and I felt like it was always handled with care and honesty.

For me, this book was a celebration of women (and specifically Martha Ballard)- for the work they do, and for all the big and small ways their contributions matter.

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Absolutely loved this new release! I will be choosing it as one of my store's book club picks. Truly Gripping!

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Quick and Dirty⁣
-18th century Maine setting⁣
-based on true story of midwife ⁣
-middle aged female MC⁣
-highly feminist ⁣
-SA trigger warnings ⁣

Thoughts ⁣
I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book all Fall and couldn’t wait to read it. Why? Code Name Helene, one of Lawhon’s previous works, is my FAV historical fiction. Needless to say I had HIGH hopes for this new book. I didn’t know what to expect but I hoped her eloquent writing style would capture my attention and keep me engaged. Thankfully I was not disappointed! The Frozen River is such a terrific book from start to finish. The first chapter sucked me in immediately, and Lawhon’s masterful first person narrative kept me turning pages/listening compulsively for the entire book. The early settler style setting added a degree of lawlessness that made the events of the story so much more impactful. And as Martha stood up for wrongs against the local women she supported you can’t help but cheer for her, knowing that she risked everything to right wrongs. One of the reasons she was such an special character: the relationship with her family. As a mother and wife she has everything to risk and nothing to gain by standing up for others. Yet she still does what she believes is right and just, relying on the support of her loving husband throughout the story. The marriage between these two characters is something to admire. I loved the older female MC representation, and I think my over-40 friends will especially appreciate reading about aching knees and adult children. As for the mystery/suspense aspects of the story I can only say that Lawhon delivers! I was hanging on to her every word the whole book. Highly recommend!!!

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This book was amazing! I loved the detailed historical tidbits and how you could really sink yourself into this time period and story.

The Frozen River tells the story of Martha Ballard, a small town midwife in post-Revolution America, and her journey to find justice for her friend as well as solve the murder of her assailant found frozen in the river.

I loved how well-researched this book was. Every historical detail and the looks at Martha’s every day life were exquisite. I found the mystery compelling and needed to know what happened! I also loved the themes of justice and feminine rage. That ending absolutely AMAZING.

I highly recommend for fans of historical fiction, Call the Midwife, and feminist historical figures.

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Wow! One of my top books of the year. Such an amazing story told in a masterful way by one of my favorite historical fiction writers. I was immediately drawn into the story and Martha Ballard's amazing life. The Maine setting is so vivid, I could feel the cold blast of snow and smell the woodsmoke. I learned so much about this post-Revolutionary time in America and was surprised at the lingering repercussions of the French and Indian War. And the author's note at the end shouldn't be missed (but don't read it until AFTER you've read the book!).

This book is perfect for fans of strong women in historical fiction and would be especially good for any Outlander fans looking for a novel about another stubborn and intractable female healer in colonial America. Such a good book to curl up with on a long winter's night. You won't be able to put it down!

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I highly recommend The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon. This novel is a historical mystery set in the there are mid to late 18th century. The protagonist, Martha Ballard, has a prolific career as a mid-wife. She is trusted, shrewd, and smart. She lives with her husband and her six surviving children ranging from adult to young adolescent. At the center of the story a mystery unfolds. Martha is summoned to the local town tavern to examine a body pulled from the frozen river and give her assessment as to the cause of death. To Martha it is clearly the body of a badly beaten and hanged man. The dead man, Joshua Burgess, is a much hated mad in town, and even Martha isn't sad he has met this fate. Just as she is ruling it a murder, a young Harvard educated doctor, Dr. Page, arrives at the tavern after being summoned. He throws around his title as doctor and Ivy education as he concludes that this man has not been murdered, but dies from accidental drowning. A court case ensues. (Dr. Page will remain a thorn in Martha's side throughout the book.)

While the curious death of Joshua Burgess remains at the core of the novel, the author does an excellent job of pulling the reader into the life of Martha Ballard and the people centered around her. The mystery of Joshua Burgess is not the only fascinating plot line. Burgess' death is complicated by the fact that he is hated by many because he is know to assault women. He has recently been accused of rape by the pastor's wife, Rebecca Foster, and just the night of his murder he was seen at a local dance accosting women, including Martha's daughter, Hannah. Martha's son, Cyrus, steps in and saves his sister and he and Burgess, along with others are kicked out of the dance. When Martha realizes that Cyrus and Burgess had an altercation the evening of his murder, she is right to assume suspicion will be cast his way. There are many people who have cause to hang Burgess, including the pastor whose wife said Burgess raped her alongside Colonel North, who is the town judge and also accused in the rape of Mrs. Foster alongside Burgess.

Was Burgess murdered? If so, who killed him? Will Rebecca Foster receive any justice and Col. North be found guilty?

This novel was packed full of plot; however, unlike so many plot-driven novels it does not lack character development. I felt this book was the perfect blend of plot and character.

Upon reading the Author's Note, I added another star to the review! Seriously, don't skip the Author's Note! The author is well-researched and I can't believe that I have not come across her previous novels. I WILL be reading more from her. Thank you goes to Netgalley and DoubleDay Books for this incredible ARC.

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Code Name Hélène is one of my all time favorite books, so when I saw that Ariel Lawhon had a new historical novel, this time about a midwife in the early days of the U.S., I jumped at the chance to read it early.
Inspired by the life of Martha Ballard, who kept diaries regarding the births and deaths in her small town, this book takes place in 1789 Maine. When a murder takes place, it quickly comes to light that the dead man is one of two men accused of rape. What follows is a scandal that forces the town to choose sides, and Martha’s own family is not spared.
I cannot stress enough how much I loved this book. It kept me company the night before the scheduled induction of my third baby - reading about what an amazing midwife Martha was during that time was oddly soothing. And Martha herself was a fierce, amazing character - she excelled at her job, had a loving husband and family, and the respect of her community.
It was the epitome of gripping historical fiction with a dash of mystery, the perfect read for the upcoming winter season, and easily one of my favorite books of the year.

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Wow! Just WOW! This book is historical fiction at its finest! This book follows Martha Ballard who was a midwife. She kept track of her deliveries, deaths, and even a murder in her town of Hallowell. The murdered man was accused of rape a few months before being found murdered. The trial has Martha as a witness and her diary as evidence. In a time when men rule the world and everything in it, Martha is so very brave. I really enjoyed this book.

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What a terrific read this is! Martha, a midwife in 18th century Kennebec Maine, knows many secrets- secrets some will kill to prevent coming out. Chief among these relate to the horrible abuse of Rebecca Foster, wife of the pastor. The novel opens with the discovery of one of those attackers under the ice of the river, dead not from drowning but from hanging. Who killed Burgess is one thread of this well crafted novel which focuses as much on Martha's work as a midwife as on the mystery and the trial of Rebecca's living attacker, Colonel North, whose control hovers over the town. Martha struggles with her conscience, with her patience, with the newly arrived Harvard educated doctor, with so much but she is confident in her abilities as a midwife. Her back story, the reasons for her understanding of Rebecca's plight, comes out slowly. Lawhorn has a way of capturing the atmospherics of the period and the situations, the smells, the tastes, the cold. She's also created memorable characters, or perhaps more accurately, especially in the case of Martha, brought them to life from the written record of the period. Don't miss the afterword, which has additional information. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. This is an immersive, educational, thoughtful, thought provoking, and impressive read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

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Authors like Ariel Lawhon remind me of how that I actually really like Historical Fiction. And Lawhon had the incredible talent of sucking me into her incredible story telling. This was a very unique read and so different than anything on the market.

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Wonderful read full of drama and interesting characters! The story is very well written and the setting is perfect. Highly recommend for historical fiction fans!

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