The Frozen River
By: Ariel Lawhon
Narrator: Jane Oppenheimer
Random House Audio
Publication Date: 12/05/2023
My Rating: 5 Stars + (ARC)
TOP BOOKS OF 2023
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 investigates a shocking murder that unhinges her small community.
Maine, 1789: The Kennebec River freezes, entombing a man in the ice. Martha Ballard is summoned to examine the body and determine cause of death. As the local midwife and healer, Martha is good at keeping secrets. Her diary is a record of every birth and death, every murder and debacle that unfolds in the town of Hallowell. In that diary she also documented the details of an alleged rape that occurred four months earlier. Now, one of the men accused of that heinous attack has been found dead in the ice.
While Martha is certain she knows what happened the night of the assault, she suspects that the two crimes are linked, and that there is more to both cases than meets the eye. Over the course of one long, hard winter, as the trial nears, and whispers and prejudices mount, Martha’s diary lands at the center of the scandal and threatens to tear both her family and her community apart.
In her newest offering, Ariel Lawhon brings to life a brave and compassionate unsung heroine who refused to accept anything less than justice on behalf of those no one else would protect. The Frozen River is a thrilling, tense, and tender story of a remarkable woman who had the courage to take a stand, and in the process wrote herself into American history.
About the Author
Ariel Lawhon is a critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author of historical fiction. Her novels include: THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS; FLIGHT OF DREAMS; I WAS ANASTASIA; CODE NAME HÉLÈNE; THE FROZEN RIVER (coming December 2023); and WHEN WE HAD WINGS (co-written with Kristina McMorris and Susan Meissner). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, Indie Next, Costco, Amazon Spotlight, and Book of the Month Club selections.
She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four sons. She splits her time between the grocery store and the baseball field.
Connect with Ariel
Q&A Interview with New York Times
bestselling author, Ariel Lawhon
Behind the Book and the Author
Exceptional Authors. Standout Books. Elevator Talk.
INTRIGUING QUESTIONS. INQUIRING READERS WANT TO KNOW
Behind the Book
Welcome to the second December #AuthorElevatorSeries —where we go behind the book and the author. Today, we are honored and thrilled to have Ariel Lawhon, New York Times bestselling author —(a favorite), with us for the first time with her riveting new novel, THE FROZEN RIVER.
Join us as Ariel shares some fascinating behind-the-scenes exclusives from the book and fun moments from this multi-talented author.
Q. Give us your best ELEVATOR PITCH for THE FROZEN RIVER?
ARIEL: The Frozen River is based on the life and diary of Martha Ballard, a real eighteenth century midwife who investigates a shocking murder that unhinges her small community.
Q. DESCRIBE THE FROZEN RIVER in three words or less.
ARIEL: Thrilling. Tense. Tender.
Q. INSPIRATION: The spark that ignited the novel? Where were you when the idea came to you? (I love the doctor’s office story).
ARIEL: I was pregnant with my fourth son and was sitting in my doctor’s waiting room. He was late for my appointment because he’d gotten stuck at the hospital with a tricky delivery. So I’d gotten stuck in his waiting room. I finished the book I’d brought with me. Then all of the magazines that were littered around. All that was left to read was a pile of scary pamphlets. But underneath them was a small devotional called Our Daily Bread. So I opened to the devotion for that day and read the story of Martha Ballard, a midwife in late 1700’s Maine who delivered over a thousand babies in her career and never once lost a mother in childbirth. I ripped the page out of the devotional, stuck it in my purse, and my doctor walked in minutes later.
Q. Ariel, THE FROZEN RIVER is inspired by real events. Tell us a little about re-creating this extraordinary and remarkable character.
ARIEL: To the best of my knowledge there are only two books in the world that tell Martha’s story (apart from my novel). The diary that Martha kept for thirty years. And a biography called A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Ulrich researched Martha’s diary (now located at the Maine State Library) and other documents of the day to write her biography. I used these two resources to create my story. However, Martha’s diary itself was the most important. In it she kept a record of every birth and death, every murder and debacle that happened in her community. The events recorded in that diary are the inspiration for my novel.
Q. WRITING: You mention in your Author’s notes you collect people. I love this. Tell us more.
ARIEL: Well, to be precise, I collect people who have long since lived and died. I collect their stories. Their histories. I love novels about real people or events and am always on the lookout for stories I’ve never heard, or for those that I only know a little bit about (like the Hindenburg). Some people collect rocks or coins or stamps in their passport. I collect people.
Q. RESEARCH: Any fascinating research for the novel, or anything you learned along the way?
ARIEL: Fun fact: four in ten first pregnancies in Martha’s day happened outside of marriage. Turns out, the Puritans were no so pure.
Q. OTHER READING: Any other reading you would recommend about the heroic Martha Ballard?
ARIEL: Definitely read A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
Q. CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Your favorite character to write, and/or most challenging?
ARIEL: I love to write about good marriages. I think they are underrepresented in fiction. The fact is that it’s easier to write about a bad marriage. The conflict is already there. But a good marriage is ten times harder to write because all of the conflict has to be external. Yet I find that a good marriage, well-written, is one of the most compelling relationships possible in fiction.
Q. ADAPTATION: For fun, do you have any cast of stars in mind for any of your leading roles for movie or TV series?
ARIEL: I would love to see Rosamund Pike play Martha Ballard.
Q. WRITING: Do you have a favorite chapter or scene in the novel you enjoyed writing the most?
ARIEL: I particularly love the scenes where Martha is putting Dr. Benjamin Page in his place. The rivalry between obstetrics and midwifery is one of my favorite parts of the novel.
Q. UPCOMING: Can you share what you are currently working on or what is next in ten words or less (or more)?
ARIEL: I’m in the middle of writing a novel about Grace O’Malley, the pirate queen of Ireland.
Now, more up and close and personal with Ariel. Continue reading below:
Behind the Book
BIRTH STATE? or (Country)
FAVORITE THING ABOUT WHERE YOU RESIDE?
It has all four seasons!
FAVORITE KITCHEN/COOKING/HOME/GARDEN PRODUCT OR TIP
My coffeemaker. Couldn’t function without it.
FAVORITE MAKEUP/HAIR TIP?
I’ve bought pretty much every single product by Merit Beauty.
Coffee is my pat on the butt in the morning and wine is my high five at night.
Neither. I like daylight. I’m at my best between 10:00 and 2:00. I am a pigeon.
Dogs! Particularly labs.
YOUR FAVORITE LIFE LESSON QUOTE?
“Sorry means you don’t do it again.” (It’s what I tell my kids all the time).
IF YOU WERE STUCK IN AN ELEVATOR ALONE WITH ONE CELEBRITY, AUTHOR, OR CHARACTER— WHO WOULD IT BE? (Male or Female)
I’d love the chance to have a long, uninterrupted chat with either Stephen King or Diana Gabaldon.
YOUR SECRET TALENT?
I only have 9.5 fingers thanks to a childhood accident but I can still type 120 words per minute!
FAVORITE READING FORMAT?
FAVORITE TV SERIES? (Or Movie/Video) binge-watch, series, etc.?
IF YOU WERE GRANTED 3 MONTHS OF UNINTERRUPTED WRITING TIME—WHERE WOULD IT BE?
A Quiet Scenic Mountain Cabin surrounded by nature.
YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO WRITE?
At home, at my desk.
IF YOUR LIFE WAS A BOOK, WHAT WOULD BE THE TITLE OF YOUR CURRENT CHAPTER?
“No One Is Coming to Save You.”
DESCRIBE ONE THING ON YOUR DESK, CURRENTLY?
A dozen sticky notes, each with a task on my to-do list.
DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE WRITING?
Nope. I prefer silence.
INTROVERT OR EXTROVERT?
IF YOU WERE TO WRITE A BOOK ABOUT YOURSELF, WHAT WOULD BE THE TITLE?
"What Could Go Wrong?"
A FAVORITE SPORT?
NAME SOMETHING YOU FEAR?
God. And my mother.
SPONTANEITY OR STABILITY?
Thank you, Ariel, for spending time with us today!
Meet Ariel on Tour!
"A richly satisfying drama . . . A vivid, exciting page-turner from one of our most interesting authors of historical fiction.” —Kirkus, starred review
“The narrator of Ariel Lawhon’s The Frozen River is another stalwart heroine. . .detailed descriptions of the routines of village life give this narrative its intimate sense of connection — and set [the narrator] up for a pivotal confrontation.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Outstanding. . . Martha is an extraordinary character. . . Lawhon's first-rate tale should entrance readers passionate about early America and women’s history.”
—Booklist, starred review
"Lawhon combines modern prose with the immediacy of her source material, making for an accessible and textured narrative. This accomplished historical powerfully speaks to centuries-old inequities that remain in the present day."
— Publisher's Weekly
“Atmospheric, unique and elegantly written, The Frozen River will satisfy mystery lovers and historical fiction enthusiasts alike”
—BookPage, starred review
An NPR Best Book of 2023
"Fans of 'Outlander’s' Claire Fraser will enjoy Lawhon’s Martha, who is brave and outspoken when it comes to protecting the innocent. . . impressive."
—-The Washington Post
“Compelling . . .a most uncozy mystery that addresses the unbalanced power dynamics of men and women, rich and poor.”
—NPR, Weekend Edition
"Part murder mystery, part historical fiction . . . this novel has a gothic, wintry feel that makes it an ideal fireside read.”
"A thoroughly engaging, rich story with a murder mystery; secrets, gossip, and hypocrisy; a corrupt judge; a tightly knit community of villagers; women at the mercy of a patriarchal society; and the early stages of a developing justice system following the Revolutionary War. . . Turn the last page, and you will want more of this world she has created."
—Historical Novel Society
“With exquisite prose and gripping immediacy, Ariel Lawhon recreates the extraordinary story of Martha Ballard, a real-life yet little-known midwife and healer in Maine who kept a diary in the years after the American Revolution. The Frozen River is so vivid, so textured and multilayered, that I felt I’d opened a door and entered post-revolutionary America, walking beside Lawhon’s compelling characters in a time and place riven by hardship, disease, and misogyny, but also intense love and searing natural beauty. This novel was unlike anything I’d read before, and it left me awe-struck.”
–Lauren Belfer, New York Times bestselling author of City of Light and Ashton Hall
Bestselling author and master storyteller Ariel Lawhon returns following Code Name Hélène with her best yet, THE FROZEN RIVER. Based on the life and diary of a remarkable woman, Martha Ballard, an eighteenth-century midwife— investigates a shocking murder that unhinges her small community. When a man accused of rape turns up dead, an Early American town seeks justice amid controversy. Meticulously researched, intense, gripping, and beautifully written —A masterpiece and work of art. The author is at the top of her game! Maine, 1789: The Kennebec River freezes during the winter, where they find a man frozen in the ice. Martha Ballard (a 54-year-old midwife) is called to examine the body and determine the cause of death. Martha is a local midwife and healer. She also keeps an extensive diary of all the happenings, from births, deaths, murders, and more, in the town of Hallowell. Martha is good at keeping secrets. With that being said, she has the details in her diary of the alleged rape that occurred four months earlier. Now, one of the men accused of this crime has been found dead in the ice. Martha suspects the two crimes are connected and there is more to it. Martha is convinced that Burgess was beaten and hanged before he was thrown into the water. As the trial draws near, there are suspicions, rumors, prejudices, and speculations. Martha's diary lands in the center of the scandal and threatens to rip apart her family and community. The author brings to life a woman you may or may not have heard about, offering a glimpse into America's history and small-town life from the perspective of a midwife with inside information. Martha is a true heroine with courage (in a man's world) who refuses to accept anything less than justice and wants nothing more than to protect those wronged. THE FROZEN RIVER is truly a masterpiece! Words cannot adequately describe this powerful, transporting novel. I cannot imagine all the work and effort that went into the writing of this novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the Author's Note and the details about the inspiration, the writing of the book, the research, Martha, and the year of the long winter in 1785 (which the author changed to 1789-1790). I found all the information fascinating, including Martha Ballard—the great-aunt of Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. She is also the great-great-grandmother of Mary Hobart, one of the first female physicians in the US. THE FROZEN RIVER is a powerful, compelling, suspenseful, and richly woven story of an overlooked heroine. Top Books of 2023, and highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and strong women. I loved the romance between Martha and her husband, Ephraim! The characters come alive on the page. It's an ideal book club pick for further discussions and will surely hit the bestseller list! You will witness Martha's life, from her bravery, talent, and resources to her wit. Stay tuned for my #AuthorElevatorSeries Interview with Ariel, where we go behind the book and the author! Thanks to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for an advanced digital reading copy for review. I also won a beautiful print copy from the Goodreads giveaway. #CoverCrush @JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks My Rating: 5 Stars + Pub Date: Dec 5, 2023 Author Elevator Series QA Dec 2023 Must-Read Books Dec Newsletter Top Books of 2023