Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Guest Blogger Katie Kennedy Tells Us Who Wasn’t Her Favorite President


It’s guest blog time! Today we’re welcoming one of my dear friends and fellow shenaniganizers (and history nerd!) Katie Kennedy, who courageously agreed to share some of her current historical research with us, even though flaming bags of doggie doo were involved. She is the author of The Constitution Decoded  (Workman) and a forthcoming collective biography of the presidents, The Presidents Decoded (Workman, January 2023), both for MG/YA readers. She has also written two young adult novels, Learning to Swear in America and What Goes Up.


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I’m writing a collective biography of U.S. presidents for middle grade and YA readers, but I suspect that plenty of teachers and parents will be sneaking peeks as well. It’s meant as a companion to a plain-language explanation of the Constitution I wrote a couple of years ago. Writing the book has led me to rank the presidents idiosyncratically: Who would I take swimsuit shopping with me? (Not plain-spoken Harry Truman.) Who would be a good companion on a desert island? (John Kennedy, who once escaped from one.) Who would make me homicidal fastest if I were stuck in an elevator with him? Why, John Tyler, of course. When people list the presidents, they often forget Tyler (1790-1862), which is a little strange because in his day he had the popularity of a flaming bag of doggie doo. Seems like a guy we’d remember.


When he was in Congress, Tyler opposed the Missouri Compromise (1820), which outlawed slavery above Missouri’s southern border. Tyler objected because he thought slavery should be allowed everywhere. A decade later, South Carolina tried to secede; Tyler was the only U.S. Senator to oppose the Force Bill, which gave President Andrew Jackson the power to enforce a federal law if a state refused to recognize it. Jackson was desperately trying to hold the country together and he managed to do it—but he sure didn’t get any help from John Tyler. 


Tyler was William Henry Harrison’s running mate in the 1840 presidential election. Harrison died a month after taking office and Tyler became the third president in five weeks. (The first was Martin Van Buren, who served before Harrison.)


Tyler was a strict constructionist who thought the Constitution granted no power it didn’t explicitly list—that is, until Harrison died, at which point he declared himself to be the actual, not acting, president, although the Constitution didn’t say that the vice president became president if the executive died in office. (The Twenty-Fifth Amendment clarified the point—in 1967.) Most members of Congress thought he wasn’t a real president, but he returned letters addressed to “Acting President” unopened and his wife had the band play “Hail to the Chief” when he arrived at official functions, starting that tradition.


Tyler was a Whig but he vetoed Whig bills. He belonged to the party not because he agreed with its platform, but because he disliked Andrew Jackson’s Democratic party. His entire cabinet resigned (except for Secretary of State Daniel Webster, who was negotiating an important treaty). People referred to Tyler as “His Accidency” and Whigs kicked him out of the party—while he was the sitting president. It was Tyler who refused to return the Amistad defendants to Africa after their victory in the Supreme Court, making it necessary to raise private funds. Tyler was also the first president to have articles of impeachment drawn up against him—which were filed by a representative from his home state of Virginia. Congress did not go forward with the impeachment, however.


Tyler did find someone who liked him. Two years after his first wife, Letitia, became the first First Lady to die in the White House, he married Julia Gardiner. Tyler had fifteen children, the most of any president.


When the Civil War began Tyler voted for Virginia’s secession and was elected to the Confederate Congress, making him the only president who clearly committed treason after leaving office. He died in 1862, before the war ended, and was never tried.


How bad was Tyler? When the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported his death it wrote, “His beautiful residence has been occupied by Union soldiers, his magnificent State has been ravaged by war, and the country so prosperous when he administered its affairs, is rent with civil war. John Tyler did perhaps as little as any man to prevent these evils.” Ouch.


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Thanks, Katie! Some day we'll have you back to discuss your favorite presidents to go fishing in Alaska and to go out for ice cream with. 😉

 You can find Katie’s The Constitution Decoded (and her other books as well) at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Kobo, or at your local independent bookseller.


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The Forgery Furore is Here!

The Forgery Furore, first book in The Ladies of Almack’s series, is out today!

Young widow Annabel Chalfont, Countess of Fellbridge, has two small sons to raise, a mountain of her late husband's debts to pay off, and a secret: she's a shadow-shaper, able to manipulate shadow as anyone else might clay. She and six other high-born ladies with equally extraordinary abilities defend England against supernatural crime--but the world knows them only as the Lady Patronesses of Almack's, Regency London's most exclusive social venue.

The social season of 1810 starts out like any other year, but a sudden influx of strangers to Almack's exclusive balls means only one thing: someone is forging vouchers, and the evidence points to Annabel. And if finding the forger and clearing her name aren't challenging enough, there's dealing with her husband's old crony, the Marquess of Quinceton, and his hungry wolf stare...

The idea for a series of Regency-set stories featuring the Lady Patronesses of Almack’s as supernatural crime fighters came to me years ago. I’ve worked on it on and off for a long time, but it was only in the last couple of years that all of my ideas around it coalesced into an actual coherent series rather than a set of vaguely linked stories.

The Ladies of Almack’s mixes actual figures and events with my own characters and “speculation” on what might have happened behind the history we know about. Annabel and her fellow Lady Patronesses will go through many adventures together, eventually saving England from a dastardly Napoleonic plot…but of course, there’s a slow-burn romance wrapped up in it as well, along with (I hope) some light-hearted fun.

You can read the first chapter of The Forgery Furore on my website…and if you’d like a further taste of the Ladies of Almack’s, my short story “Just Another Quiet Evening at Almack’s” can be downloaded from BookFunnel by my newsletter subscribers.

Look for the second Ladies of Almack’s adventure, The Vanishing Volume, on April 5…and for their further adventures at the beginning of each month. All are available direct from the publisher, Book View Cafe, as well as from Amazon (affiliate link), Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple, and Smashwords, and in print from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Free to Fly, Free to Read

Nearly 10 years ago (how time flies, like this nineteenth century heroine!), I introduced you to Marie Madeleine-Sophie Blanchard, Napoleon’s Chief Air Minister. Sophie’s story refused to leave me alone, so I’ve continued to research her and her accomplishments. They have only made her more fascinating!

Sophie was a nervous little thing—afraid of loud noises, afraid of riding in carriages. But she found her strength in an unlikely place—taking death-defying rides in hydrogen balloons! She was the only female balloonist at the time to take solo flights. She was one of the only aeronauts to toss out fireworks from her balloon to the thrill of the crowds. She went higher and farther than many male balloonists. Her one failure?

She could not give Napoleon what he most wanted—a balloon invasion of England.

England ruled the waves at the time. Crossing the Channel by ships filled with the vast French forces Napoleon needed to invade would have seen many if not all of the vessels, and their occupants, sinking below the water. But if balloons could be launched, Napoleon reasoned, they might be set down on the very shores of England, if not the Prince Regent’s front lawn!

Sophie knew better. The prevailing winds ran up the Channel, not across it. Only a few, her famous husband, Jean-Pierre Blanchard among them, had crossed the Channel by balloon, and always from England to France. The state of ballooning at the time, with little way to maneuver the craft aside from rising or falling to catch the wind, meant there was no way to fight the air currents. Jean-Pierre’s Channel crossing craft had had wings on the sides, allegedly to pilot the craft. Sophie knew they had been for show only. Her husband had been a visionary, but few of his devices ever worked.

Until their daughter made them work. Yes, I am delighted to report that my research into Sophie Blanchard is about the bear fruit. Look for Celeste Blanchard to star alongside intrepid British inventor Loveday Penhale in May’s The Emperor’s Aeronaut!

Napoleon is determined to conquer the world with his steam-powered weapons. Nothing in England can stop him … except two young lady inventors.

In 1819, France is surrounded by armies. With Russia in the north, the Karlsruhe Confederacy in the east, and a pirate kingdom in the south, Napoleon cannot break out, nor can the English Navy seem to break in. Europe  teeters on the edge of a sword. Whichever side rules the air will win.

Celeste Blanchard, daughter of the Emperor’s disgraced Air Minister, is running out of time to develop an air ship that can carry his armies to England and restore her mother to glory. But on a daring and desperate test flight, she is blown off course … and washes up, half drowned, on the shores of Cornwall, in the heart of enemy territory.

Loveday Penhale, cosseted daughter of gentry, has her own inventions to build, even as pressure mounts to behave like a proper young lady and seek a husband instead of a design for a high-pressure steam engine. But when Arthur Trevelyan, heir to the neighboring estate, Gwynn Place, asks for her help in rescuing an unconscious young woman on the beach, Loveday discovers an aeronaut and an inventor as skilled as she is. Between them, a friendship blossoms, and Loveday wonders if they might even pull off the impossible and invent an air ship that will catch the eye of the Tinkering Prince Regent, who has offered a prize to anyone who can help England break the impasse. Celeste’s loyalties are torn in two. If she is caught working secretly for France, she will lose her friend, the love of an honorable man—and her life. But if Napoleon learns she has betrayed him, she will be executed on sight. 

Can friendship prevail in the face of war? Or is there a third solution—one where everything hinges on the bravery and daring of a Cornish debutante and the Emperor’s aeronaut?

Available for preorder at


Apple Books 


Barnes and Noble 

Google Play 

In the meantime, I am also delighted to report that The Matchmaker’s Rogue is free from now through March 22 at fine online retailers.

The admired hostess of the spa in the little village of Grace-by-the-Sea, Jesslyn Chance plays matchmaker to those who come to take the waters, promenade through the shops, and dance at the assembly. But when a rogue returns from her past, Jess finds herself suddenly at sea. Larkin Denby is back on a mission: to identify the mysterious Lord of the Smugglers who takes England’s secrets to France. As Jess works with Lark to uncover the fellow, the matchmaker may find that the best match for her is the rogue who stole her heart years ago.



Barnes and Noble 

Apple Books 


Feel free to fly!

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Soup That Never Was

This post was inspired by a social media post I recently ran across that I found fascinating, and had to share with you. It’s about a soup that never was.

Yes, that’s right: a historical soup that never seems to have existed in real life.

Brown Windsor Soup appears in all sorts of modern cookbooks as an historical recipe, a Victorian staple, and even as Queen Victoria’s favorite soup. In my copy of Jane Garmey’s Great British Cooking*, it’s called a “hearty beef soup, once extremely fashionable…. For many years, a particularly unappetizing version was continually served by British Railways in their dining cars, which may explain its present demise.” It appears in the Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook and several other modern volumes of Victorian cookery.

There’s only one problem: were you to go back in time to the Victorian era and, say, try to order it in a restaurant, they wouldn’t know what you’re talking about. Brown Windsor Soup didn’t actually exist, according to food scholar Glyn Hughes, author of The Lost Foods of England (which is totally on my to-buy list!)

When Hughes was beginning research on his book documenting English gastronomy, Brown Windsor Soup seemed like an easy topic to start with; everyone knew what it was, and even had memories of the dreadful version served on trains (see Jane Garmey’s comment above.) But when he started consulting Victorian cookbooks, he could find no mention of itanywhere. Intrigued, he pored through the British Newspaper Archive and even paid researchers to comb through the records of the National Railway Museum. There was nary a single mention of it in Victoria’s reign. Certainly recipes for hearty beef soups existed, but not under this name. Not until the 1920s did it begin to appear in cafeterias and cafes (and likely railway stations dining rooms) as a filling, if dubious and dreary, menu item.

So where did the legend of Brown Windsor Soup as a Victorian staple come from?

Hughes points to a few things, among them toiletries and radio.

It seems that there was a Windsor Soup, or potage à la Windsor, on her majesty’s menus. It was the creation of Charles Francatelli, one of the queen’s chefs whom we’ve met before. But Francatelli’s Windsor Soup was a creamy white soup made with rice, not brown and beefy...and while it’s not known to have been a particular favorite of her majesty, Francatelli’s cookbook was a staple in Victorian households for decades. Other Victorian cooks created their own Windsor soups, but again, most borrowed heavily from Francatellis recipe, and were decidedly white.

But there was Brown Windsor Soap—a toiletry that was well known as a favorite of Queen Victoria (and Napoleon!), complete with a picture of Windsor Castle on its packaging (and still available today.)

And then there was The Goon Show. This popular (and very goofy) radio show of the 1950s (featuring Peter Sellars in his pre-Inspector Clouseau/Pink Panther days—if you ever have a chance to hear them, do!) latched onto “Brown Windsor Soup” as a recurring comedic gag, a stand-in for all stodgy English cuisine (and, by extension, stodgy Britishness.)

Might all of these—a real Windsor soup, a very popular product with a similar name, and the hilarity of radio—have mixed themselves up with a twentieth century invention into a sort of cultural pseudo-memory? Hughes thinks so—and is astonished by the resistance to his research by people who are convinced to this day that they used to eat Brown Windsor soup on trains.

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Not imaginary or Victorian is that there is currently a giveaway for The Forgery Furore, the first installment in my new Regency fantasy series The Ladies of Almack’s, on Goodreads. You can enter it here; entries are open till March 20. Good luck!



*Amazon affiliate links are used in this post.