Thursday, January 4, 2024

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon

From the New York Times bestselling author of I Was Anastasia and Code Name Hélène comes a gripping historical mystery inspired by the life and diary of Martha Ballard, a renowned 18th-century midwife who defied the legal system and wrote herself into American history.

Maine, 1789: When the Kennebec River freezes, entombing a man in the ice, Martha Ballard is summoned to examine the body and determine cause of death. As a midwife and healer, she is privy to much of what goes on behind closed doors in Hallowell. Her diary is a record of every birth and death, crime and debacle that unfolds in the close-knit community. Months earlier, Martha documented the details of an alleged rape committed by two of the town’s most respected gentlemen—one of whom has now been found dead in the ice. But when a local physician undermines her conclusion, declaring the death to be an accident, Martha is forced to investigate the shocking murder on her own.

Over the course of one winter, as the trial nears, and whispers and prejudices mount, Martha doggedly pursues the truth. Her diary soon lands at the center of the scandal, implicating those she loves, and compelling Martha to decide where her own loyalties lie.

Clever, layered, and subversive, Ariel Lawhon’s newest offering introduces an unsung heroine who refused to accept anything less than justice at a time when women were considered best seen and not heard. The Frozen River is a thrilling, tense, and tender story about a remarkable woman who left an unparalleled legacy yet remains nearly forgotten to this day.

Hardcover, 432 pages
Published December 5, 2023
 by Doubleday
4.5/5 stars

The Frozen River was my final read of 2023. Ariel Lawhon is one of my go to authors because of her unique storylines and how she takes pieces of history weaving together an authentic story.

Beginning in 1789 The Frozen River is the story of Martha Ballard and told from her point of view. While there is drama playing out with the murder of a man once accused of rape, this is ultimately Martha’s story. Taking place over the winter months this captivating read was atmospheric as the author described the elements, the treatment/violence and inequality against women. Martha was a woman ahead of her time. There were many interesting characters, and as Martha went back in time with her memories it wasn't hard to really get to know her and the family.

I loved the extensive author notes at the end where the author reflected on what was fact verse fiction and her motivation to tell Martha's story.

There were parts that felt a bit slow and drawn out but ultimately this was a great book to end the year with.

The Frozen River is a story of family, compassion, injustice, and righting wrongs.

This book was part of my 2023 reading off my shelf challenge.

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