Monday, July 9, 2018

The Underground River by Martha Conway (Review and Giveaway!)

From the moment I read the book description, I wanted to read this book. Martha Conway created a cast of interesting characters and introduced me to the concept of a floating theatre. A good clean read! There's also a giveaway.

Book Details:

Book Title: The Underground River by Martha Conway
Category: Adult Fiction, 352 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / Southern Fiction
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication Date: June 20, 2017
Content Rating: PG + M (This is a clean novel, however it does deal with the topic of slavery)

Book Description:

The New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

Set aboard a nineteenth-century riverboat theater, this is the moving, page-turning story of a charmingly frank and naive seamstress who is blackmailed into saving runaways on the Underground Railroad, jeopardizing her freedom, her livelihood, and a new love.

It’s 1838, and May Bedloe works as a seamstress for her cousin, the famous actress Comfort Vertue—until their steamboat sinks on the Ohio River. Though they both survive, both must find new employment. Comfort is hired to give lectures by noted abolitionist, Flora Howard, and May finds work on a small flatboat, Hugo and Helena’s Floating Theatre, as it cruises the border between the northern states and the southern slave-holding states.

May becomes indispensable to Hugo and his troupe, and all goes well until she sees her cousin again. Comfort and Mrs. Howard are also traveling down the Ohio River, speaking out against slavery at the many riverside towns. May owes Mrs. Howard a debt she cannot repay, and Mrs. Howard uses the opportunity to enlist May in her network of shadowy characters who ferry babies given up by their slave mothers across the river to freedom. Lying has never come easy to May, but now she is compelled to break the law, deceive all her new-found friends, and deflect the rising suspicions of Dr. Early who captures runaways and sells them back to their southern masters.

As May’s secrets become more tangled and harder to keep, the Floating Theatre readies for its biggest performance yet. May’s predicament could mean doom for all her friends on board, including her beloved Hugo, unless she can figure out a way to trap those who know her best.

My Review:
Reviewed by Laura Fabiani

From the moment I read the book description, I wanted to read this book. Martha Conway created a cast of interesting characters and introduced me to the concept of a floating theatre that traveled along the Ohio River entertaining the folks of the small towns along the river. The UK version of this book is titled The Floating Theatre and I think it's a better title than The Underground River because the story revolves around the life of actors and theatre.

I must admit the first third of the story was slow for me. The author's way of introducing each character through flawed physical traits was annoying at times. My imagination was going nuts trying to picture each character and this distracted me. It was only once May, the main character finds work on the Floating Theatre that my interest perked up to the point where I was so invested in the story that I could not put the book down. For this reason, I'm so glad I persisted in reading!

Essentially, I found this to be a coming-of-age story about a young woman who needed to find her own way out of the shadow of her conniving cousin. May learned to make friends, to come out of her shell, and to be courageous in helping others. She finds herself in a difficult predicament and uses her wits. She needs to learn to trust others and she learns what it's like to fall in love for the first time.

How May becomes unwillingly involved in helping runaway slaves happens well into the novel, and I wished it had happened sooner. May grows as a character and I grew to admire her by the end of the novel. She is a survivor. A good-hearted young woman who speaks her mind and relies on her skills to help others. I also liked Hugo, the boat captain.

The Underground River is atmospheric, well-written and captivating once we get past the awkward first descriptions and character introductions. I did love Conway's descriptions of the Ohio River and boat life, however. The smells, sounds and feel of that life came alive beautifully under her penmanship, as did the life of actors in the 19th century. 

If you like historical fiction and a cast of distinct characters, The Underground River will immerse you in the life of actors on a floating theatre performing at a time in history when doing what was right was unlawful and unjustified. A good clean read!

Disclosure: Thanks to HFVBT for sending me this book for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.

Praise for The Underground River

“Creating a perfectly straight seam finds echoes throughout the book in plot devices and metaphors, even in saving souls, and it may come as a surprise how lively and sustaining this lost art can be. Twain has his ‘Life on the Mississippi.’ Conway’s life on the Ohio makes you see the place, through May’s eyes, in all its muddy glory.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“The Underground River is both a dear love story and a page-turning adventure about the Underground Railroad—and an unwilling participant. An extraordinary cast of memorable characters gives this book irresistible appeal while the setting on the watery boundary between North and South places them in a dangerous and morally ambiguous territory. A captivating, thoughtful, and unforgettable read.” (Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House and Glory over Everything)

“It is part of Martha Conway’s gift as a writer to weave stories from the richest and most interesting periods of American history. Set on a nineteenth-century floating theatre on the Ohio River, The Underground River is a riveting and atmospheric novel about slavery, betrayal and redemption, with a memorably forthright heroine, and a plot as fast flowing and twisty as the river itself.” (Louisa Treger, author of The Lodger)

Buy the Book:

About the Author

Martha Conway grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, the sixth of seven daughters. Her first novel was nominated for an Edgar Award, and she has won several awards for her historical fiction, including an Independent Book Publishers Award and the North American Book Award for Historical Fiction. Her short fiction has been published in the Iowa Review, Massachusetts Review, Carolina Quarterly, Folio, Epoch, The Quarterly, and other journals. She has received a California Arts Council Fellowship for Creative Writing, and has reviewed books for the Iowa Review and the San Francisco Chronicle. She now lives in San Francisco, and is an instructor of creative writing for Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program and UC Berkeley Extension. She is the author of The Underground River.

For more information, please visit Martha Conway’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.

Enter the Giveaway!
Ends July 26, 2018

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on July 26th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

The Underground River

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  1. Sounds like an interesting read! I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

  2. I'm not big on historical fiction so I'm not sure this is for me but I'm glad it turned out to be a winner for you.

  3. Thanks so much for hosting Martha's blog tour & for your review!

    HF Virtual Book Tours


Thank you for commenting! I appreciate your feedback.

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