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A Stalwart and Bold Abolitionist - an Editorial Review of "That Dickenson Woman"

Book Blurb: Coming soon!

Book Buy Link: Coming soon! Release date October 15, 2022

Author Bio:

When she is not writing in her studio by the sea, Joan Bouza Koster lives with her historian husband and a coon cat named Cleo in an 1860s farmhouse stacked to the ceiling with books. In a life full of adventures, she has scaled mountains, chased sheep, and been abandoned on a island for longer than she wants to remember.

An award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction works in the fields of ethnography, education, anti-racism and the arts, she holds a doctorate from Binghamton University and has published two textbooks on teaching the arts to young children. She is also the author of numerous academic papers based on her ethnographic research on agriculture, shepherding, and weaving in the Southern Peloponnese and on Crete. A professional handweaver, her creative work has been sold across the country.

Joan’s short stories have appeared in several anthologies, and have received awards from Women on Writing, Stone Thread Publishing, Tryst Literary Magazine, and Winning Writers. Her poetry has been published in Potomac Magazine, and her historical fiction has long-listed for the Mslexia Award.

Under the pen name, Zara West, she has published the award-winning romantic thriller series The Skin Quartet. She is currently in the process of writing a historical fiction series about adventurous nineteenth-century women who never should have been forgotten.

A life-long educator, she shares her writing know-how and research into creativity in her top-selling Write for Success series: Fast Draft Your Manuscript and Get It Done Now, Revise Your Draft and Make It Shine, Research Your Subject and Validate Your Writing, and Power Up Your Language and Make Your Writing Shine.

Joan blogs at Women Words Wisdom and Joan Koster Author where she shares the writing of women from all times and places, at American Civil War Voice where she shares tidbits of everyday life, gleaned from 19th-century first-hand sources, at Traditional Greek Weaving where her ethnographic research can be found, and at Zara West’s Journal where she explores the craft of writing. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, ResearchGate, Academia, and LinkedIn.

She is a member of the Authors Guild, Non-Fiction Authors Association, Romance Writers of America, and Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

Editorial Review:

Anna Dickenson might stand half-a-head shorter and act like an undisciplined school girl, but there was something about that girl – a curious air of hope and possibility – that made you want to follow her even if she led you to the pit of hell. Curse the meddling woman.

Throughout history there are silent voices, untold history begging for a story to be told, and this is one of those stories. Anna Dickenson shoves her way, her voice, and her beliefs across the world stage from her very first introduction in this novel. Julia Pennington, and her sister, Gracie, are intent on hearing a speech by the new president Lincoln but all is changed the moment Anna comes into their lives. Julia and Gracie are poor, without any hope for a better future, except for the possible aspirations of Gracie becoming a doctor; and Julia is determined to do whatever is necessary to make sure that happens, even at her own expense and happiness in marrying the mill owner's son, a course brute with other things than marriage on his mind. Yet, Anna bursts into their lives like a tornado... and after that first meeting, she refuses to let go of Julia.

“Go to the devil, Anna Dickenson,” Julia grabbed her bent bonnet from her hand and slapped it on her head. “You – you're the most spoiled and thoughtless person I've ever met. You think everyone should fall at your feet because you have a glib tongue? Well, not me. Leave me alone. And stay away from my sister.”

Yet, Julia and Anna couldn't be more different. Anna is outspoken and bold, a stalwart abolitionist speaking out for interracial marriage, voting rights for women, and the emancipation of slaves. Julia is like a frightened little crab holed up in a shell, snapping her claws out of fear of the future as a wife, and fear of the revelation of her father's thieving past. Fate and circumstance drive Anna and Julia together, especially after an incident with the mill owner's son forces Julia to take drastic action, which sends her sister, Gracie, far away from her, and Julia begging for help at Anna's door.

In a trick of light, she disappeared and reappeared, a wavering silhouette in a trickle of moonlight, her form ghostly, her shadow, long and reedy like a plant grown without light. She hung the dress on the hook behind the door and stepped forward. A beam of light trailed across shoulder bones hunger sharp, slid up the gentle curve of neck and picked out, under skin as pale as cotton dust, the dark crescents of fatigue beneath her eyes, turning her into an apparition of their mother ground down from broken promises.

Anna has her own agenda in life. Whilst she cocoons herself around Julia, enveloping her into her life as a companion and assistant, her eyes are set on becoming the most famous woman of the time – the Joan of Arc for the Union as the war breaks out between the States.

Tonight, she would be Joan of Arc addressing her dauphin, demure, child-like, and worshipful, but with a woman's compassion, consecrated to the hearts and minds of the slaves and the soldiers. She would recognize the greatness of Lincoln's position, and he would recognize hers and send her forth as his champion.

And Anna succeeds as a renowned orator and lecturer, receiving enormous amounts of money for her speeches on abolition and women's rights. She rubs shoulders (literally and figuratively) with the likes of Susan B. Anthony and is the first woman to ever give a political address before the United States Congress. Yet, all the while Julia is relegated to being her shadow... and sometimes must face the reality that all is not what it seems to be with their friendship, in more ways than one. On more than one occasion, Anna leaves her behind... trotting off after Anthony whilst Julia is left to deal with lecherous and ambitious scoundrels such as the newspaperman, Floyd Burns, whose obsession with Anna turns from admiration to lust to violence. However, in all this, Julia remains loyal to Anna... until tragedy strikes her sister, Gracie, and she must make a decision about where true loyalty lies.

“You wear blinders about that woman,” Gracie pressed her lips together. “She's a money-grubbing politician like all the rest. Everything she did was for her own self-gratification. For fame.”

Ms Koster does a remarkable job of weaving the historical facts about Anna Dickenson into this fictional story and her relationship with Julia Pennington. While many things were told and believed about Anna, one thing is for certain and that is her passion for the causes she believed in. The same can be said about Ms Koster and this novel. The writing is excellent, with very few typos, and the development of the characters is very believable, as is the narrative. The intimacies felt at times inserted and unnecessary rather than flowing along with the narrative, and left a sour taste when trying to connect with Anna's character. She did indeed feel very selfish, especially in regards to Julia... but perhaps this was the author's intent. If so, then the goal was achieved; whereas Julia's sudden boldness to make a decision that leads her away from Anna after years of following her every whim like a puppy dog was also a bit unexpected; however, the story is still quite enlightening and the ending satisfying in that the reader completely understands why the path ends the way it does for both women. In all, this novel is a slice of the history of life for women in the mid-1800s in America, and the hardships they faced whether pigeonholed into marriage or falling for someone out of the approved realm of society. Anna, herself, in real life, spoke out loudly for interracial marriage at a time when pure ostracism was the outcome no matter if you lived in the North or the South; and at a time when the mere whisper of something untoward in a newspaper sent your career spiraling into oblivion. Anna Dickenson, like Icarus, soared high for quite a while but after rumors and innuendos shadowed her name, she plummeted from the clouds in the annals of history. Again, Ms Koster's passion for bringing Anna to life, as well as the fictional account of Julia's life, is quite evident in the narrative.


“That Dickenson Woman” by Joan Koster receives four stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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