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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Hamilton and Peggy! by L.M. Elliott - Book Review, Interview & Giveaway

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Review by Suze

Peggy Schuyler and her sisters are close. They're the daughters of General Schuyler, an important military man, who's given them an upbringing filled with books and information. Angelica is the beautiful bold one and Eliza is the angelic sweet one with the good heart. Peggy keeps wondering where that leaves her. She's looking for her place in life and finds it in a time of war. Peggy is intelligent and she's a brilliant strategist. She constantly finds herself in the middle of conspiracies and witnesses several battles. Peggy can stand her ground and her terrific brain and quick wit are her specialty, but also the reason some men are finding her difficult to handle.

Love is the reason the Schuyler sisters have eventually separated. Angelica elopes and Eliza falls in love with the charismatic Alexander Hamilton. Because Eliza is popular and has many suitors, Hamilton asks Peggy to help him win her sister's heart. He's a clever man and Peggy finds him an interesting companion. Talking to him is never boring and even though his advice can be hurtful, he doesn't give it with that intention. Alexander Hamilton manages to find a place in each Schuyler sister's heart. In a time of war long absences are normal and everyone's life is in danger. Will Peggy be able to contribute to the defeat of the enemy and is there a chance her wishes for the future will come true?

Hamilton and Peggy! is a fantastic gripping story. I was fascinated by the strong, proud and incredibly smart Peggy. She can stand up for herself, she's loyal to her family and even though she wants to be loved more than anything else in the world, she knows her duty to her country comes first. I absolutely loved her fierce personality. Peggy might think she's existing in the shadows of her popular sisters, but she isn't. She's a force to be reckoned with and she's special just like her sisters. I loved their connection, it isn't always easy having to compete with two older sisters who can't do anything wrong, but love and family always wins. I enjoyed reading about their bond, their personal growth and their political visions. I love strong heroines and Hamilton and Peggy! definitely delivers in that area.

L.M. Elliott has written an interesting story. I loved how well she's done her research. It's visible in every sentence of Hamilton and Peggy! Peggy helps General Schuyler with his work, which gives a lot of insight in the war. The book is set in the last quarter of the eighteenth century and America is in turmoil. L.M. Elliott describes the chaos and losses, the difficulties of war and finding funds to fight, the strategies needed to defeat the enemy and much much more in a terrific detailed and vivid way. I learned a lot while reading this book, while I was enthralled by the compelling story at the same time. I love it when a book teaches me something and spellbinds me completely as well. Hamilton and Peggy! has incredible main characters, they're multilayered with intriguing minds and fabulous conversational skills. I highly recommend this amazing book that captivated me from beginning to end.

Advice

If you love intelligent coming of age stories based on real history you don't want to miss Hamilton and Peggy!

About L.M. Elliott


L.M. Elliott was a Washington-based magazine journalist before becoming a New York Times best-selling novelist. Her latest and 9th historical novel for Young Adults is HAMILTON AND PEGGY: A REVOLUTIONARY FRIENDSHIP—an in-depth portrait of the youngest of the Schuyler sister trio made famous by Lin-Manuel Miranda's smash hit Hamilton and known tantalizingly to its fans only as "And Peggy!" Elliott's novels include GIVE ME LIBERTY, a look at the American Revolution through the eyes of a young fifer in the 2nd VA Regiment and a runaway slave with the Royal Ethiopians, also published by HarperCollins and Katherine Tegen Books imprint.

Another recent novel is SUSPECT RED, a McCarthy-era story of two teenage boys caught up in the Red Scare's paranoia, chosen as a NCSS/CBC Notable (National Council of Social Studies and Children's Book Council) and a TXLA's TAYSHAS High School Reading List Recommendation.

She is best known as the author of the WWII stories UNDER A WAR-TORN SKY—an NCSS/CBC Notable Book in Social Studies, Jefferson Cup Honor Book, a Bank Street College of Education’s Best Book, and winner of the Borders Original Voices Award—and its companions, A TROUBLED PEACE (also an NCSS/CBC Notable) and ACROSS A WAR-TOSSED SEA (a Jefferson Cup Overfloweth title).

Her other books include DA VINCI'S TIGER, a biographical novel about Ginevra de’ Benci, the young poet portrayed in the only Leonardo da Vinci work permanently housed in all of the Americas; ANNIE, BETWEEN THE STATES, an IRA Teacher’s Choice and NYPL Book for the Teen Age; and FLYING SOUTH.

As a journalist, Elliott wrote frequently about women’s issues and medical stories, including a nonfiction adult title on domestic violence. She holds a BA from Wake Forest University and a Masters in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill. She is a lifelong Virginia resident and history-lover.

Links

Website // Blog // Facebook // Twitter

Interview

1. Can You tell our readers a little about yourself?

I was a Washington DC magazine journalist and nonfiction book author for 20 years, covering women’s issues, mental health, and the arts, before turning to fiction. I call myself an “accidental novelist,” since my first work was a highly fictionalized version of a factual article I had done about my father’s homecoming from WWII. A B-24 bomber pilot lost behind Nazi lines for months, presumed dead by the Army Air Corps and his family, my father literally showed up—unannounced— in the driveway of my grandparents’ farm, five days before Christmas 1944. So I was handed an exquisite story by real life. (I always say if someone writes a boring WWII novel, they need to find other work—the anecdotes are so moving!) In UNDER A WAR-TORN SKY, my protagonist Henry Forester became an everyman for shot-down American and British airmen who survived because of the kindness and courage of French civilians and the Resistance.

I had fully planned to return to my staff position at the magazine, but I was so lucky with that novel (close to a million copies sold now) that I stayed with historical/biographical fiction. What a privilege and delight it has been to learn about historical figures like Peggy Schuyler!

I’ve really relished covering a wide variety of topics—two companion WWII stories, DA VINCI’S TIGER, a biographical fiction set in 15th century Florence about the young poetess in Leonardo’s first portrait, whose only remaining line of verse is: I beg your pardon, I am a mountain tiger (how could I NOT want to write her story!); another Revolutionary War book with a younger male protagonist, and SUSPECT RED, a McCarthyism-era story of two teenage boys swept up in the paranoia of the 1950s Red Scare.

If I were more sensible I would stick to one time period because the learning curve for each era is so steep! But I truly love the discovery involved in writing these books. I am also incredibly blessed in my adult children who are both creative artists themselves and who help me in my research.

Other personal interests: my children, of course, music (I play piano and flute) and horseback riding. (My daughter was a competitive eventer. I am purely a pleasure amateur, although I can back a horse trailer out of anything now! A skill I learned for the love of my daughter!) I also love to travel, to attend theatre and film, to raise peonies, and bird-watch.

2. You write historical fiction with young main characters how did you get into that?

Both my children were precocious readers when they were preteens and, especially with the WWII books, I had their sensibilities very much in mind as I wrote. But research into these stories dictated young main characters as well. Most of the airmen on those WWII bombers, for instance, were as young as 19 or 20-years-old. Peggy Schuyler is also, in so many ways, the perfect Young Adult protagonist.

YA literature features teen and millennial characters, dealing with gut-wrenching conundrums of self-concept and goals, experiencing life challenges and the world order for the first time with righteous intensity and idealism. That allows for large character growth and revelations, coming-of-age plotlines and quests, and strong, intimate narrative voice. Any topic can be tackled—war, suicide, bullies, abuse—but there must be an undercurrent of hope, even within dire circumstances or bittersweet endings. The hope that if we try hard enough, stick to our integrity and commitment to humanity, that we can indeed push that Sisyphus boulder up the hill to betterment. Even if it’s just an inch. Teens, university students, and 20-somethings, you see, still believe. And thank God for it! Oh, and the story better reverberate with emotional truth. This population and adult BS (equivocation or justification) do not mix.

Although fewer of us tackle it, historical YA literature carries another element students hunger for—humanizing the history they must learn in high school and college. Showing all those dates, treaties, and political movements through the eyes of an ordinary “everyman” character—a person with a proverbial beating heart, who experiences fears, love, longing, and moments of truth that readers can empathize with, worry about, and turn each page wondering what happens next, even if they know the overarching historical outcome (like the Americans winning their Revolution). The motivating question is does that character, that person who could be the reader, survive intact physically and emotionally? That’s what a good piece of art can do for a time period. As one national education expert said of the runaway hit Hamilton, the American Revolution used to be “the castor oil of social studies,” and now “is the sexiest topic there is.”

More than half of YA novels are purchased by adult readers, by the way. (Many of them, like PEGGY and most of my other novels, slide into the “cross-over” category of “ New Adult,” also speaking to the life-issues of 21 to 30-year-olds.) Classic novels people may not realize fit the category’s parameters include Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and Alcott’s Little Women.

3. Describe the mains characters of Hamilton and Peggy! in 7 words each.

Peggy: witty, well-read, defiant, brave, fiercely devoted, revolutionary

(Peers called her “a wicked wit,” "endowed with a rare accuracy of judgment in men and things," “spritely,” “a favourite of dinner tables and balls,” even “wild”)

Hamilton: mercurial, eloquent, flirtatious, petulant, charismatic, haunted, swagger

Eliza: gentle, wise, unconditional love, artistic, modest, BFF

(Peers called her: “the little saint of the Revolution.”)

Angelica: vivacious, yearning, intellectual, clever conversationalist, ringleader

(Peers called her “the thief of hearts.”)

General Schuyler: stubborn patriot, ingenuous spymaster, loving papa, chivalrous

4. Your stories are based on real historical events, how do you handle the research?

With joy! And a true love of the treasure hunt of discovery that primary documents offer. That’s where you get all the gems for plot and characters’ personality and reactions to historic events. And with stubborn discipline, because it’s often that one last footnote that you feel too exhausted to look at the yields the best, most moving and revealing anecdote. And finally with brutal stoicism (ha ha) when you realize you can’t possibly use half of the fascinating tidbits you’ve unearthed because that would take 5 books, not one!

Those choices are so hard! In PEGGY, for instance, I had to cut a scene in which a young mother—and wife of the commanding Hessian officer with the British forces invading upstate New York—describes what she endured on the march and the Battle of Saratoga. Her dialogue came directly from a journal that a real-life baroness meticulously kept and which recounted in wrenching memories what it was like to be a woman in hostile territory, threatened in battle, traveling with three daughters all under the age of 6. But as evocative as the scene was, it did not further Peggy’s narrative, so it had to be cut.

I create fiction very much as the old journalist I am—researched facts dictate what I write. If a real-life character appears in a scene he/she was factually there on that date and circumstance. When I can, dialogue comes directly from letters or journals kept by that person. For instance, when George Washington gives Peggy love advice, I quote directly a letter GW wrote a beloved niece. Characters must speak if not in the specific words, definitely in the tone of the times. As feisty as Peggy genuinely was given what her peers said of her, she could not suddenly become a Tris or Katniss.

When I have to interpret history for specific plot points, whatever my character does has to be plausible given the facts I do know. For instance, I never found absolutely irrefutable evidence that Peggy aided her father in his spy craft. However, it is entirely likely given the fact she was in the right place at the right time, her documented rather bodacious personality, her facility with language, the strong bond between Schuyler and Peggy, and the fact he suffered gout that could make it difficult for him to write on some days. The least she would have done is play secretary for him occasionally. The Schuyler mansion was command central for the northern campaign and her father’s library “the room where it happens.” With all those couriers, Iroquois sachems, and spies coming and going constantly, there is no way Peggy sat passively, needlepointing, and not engage with them. (See James McHenry’s comment about her below for more proof!)

5. Peggy is a brave and smart heroine, what do you like most about writing strong female main characters? 

They are solace and inspiration, validation and revelation! Proof that a woman can survive, even thrive, when independent and sticking to her own beliefs!

And the most wonderful thing is when I find real-life women who truly were “females of agency.” Facts prove Peggy Schuyler managed to maintain an independent feminist ideal within 18th century restrictions—a Revolutionary in her own right. (see answer 3!)

Peggy was the only one of the famed three Schuyler sisters to actually be in Albany consistently during the war to witness and potentially aid her father Philip Schuyler's work—as war strategist during the Northern campaign, GW's most trusted spy-master, negotiator with the Iroquois nations, and liaison with French troops. As such she legitimately offers a wondrous window into some of the Revolution’s most momentous events as well as the behind-the-scenes influence women could exert. Peggy even dashed into the fray of an attempted kidnapping of her father to save her baby sister. One of Hamilton's closest friends criticized Peggy as being like "Swift's Vanessa"—too keen on talking politics with men to be truly likable. “Tell her so,” James McHenry wrote Hamilton, “I am sure her good sense will soon place her in her proper station.” Ha! Peggy clearly persisted.

Highly literate. Fluent in French. Teaches herself German by reading her father’s engineering manuals. Devoted to her sisters in a Jane Austen us-against-the-rogues-of-the-world way. Dismissive of a guy who thinks she speaks up too much. Wow—I was thrilled to be able to write about such a woman.

I think Peggy’s narrative speaks particularly to little sisters who feel overshadowed by talented older siblings; anyone who has doubted a BFF’s romantic choice and worried what to say about it; any smart-girl who has intimidated male classmates too much with her eloquence or intellectual prowess to be invited to homecoming dances; and any woman who wants to join her nation’s political debate and/or speak her mind against women being labeled.

6. Where does your love of history come form and how did you get the idea to combine it with your other passion, writing?

History is a human drama, the story of how we got to where we are today. It’s palpable parable! You have to see history as being not a bunch of dates and statistics BUT the choices ordinary people, like you and I, make in times of danger or upheaval; moments of cultural earthquake as we define right and wrong; battles between what is the most ennobling in the human spirit versus the most terrifying. The story of individuals digging down deep within themselves to find the courage to act bravely when all around them conform out of fear; choosing compassion over mob-mentality and cruelty. ….What could possibly beat that in terms of storytelling?! If I do my job right, you’re just reading a good story, in which you actually learn a little history without even realizing it—by osmosis. Magic!

7. If you could travel back in time, which era would you visit and what would you do? 

That’s so hard to choose! I have been so fascinated and awed by the people I’ve learned about for my novels…. But here are two examples: I’d so love to attend the Midwinter’s Ball, Feb. 23rd, 1780, presented in the musical Hamilton and in my chapter 10. Roads were “so shocking,” the snowfall so heavy, only 16 women made it through to dance with 65 officers that night. Bet their feet hurt! Washington absolutely loved to dance, especially the minuet, which was performed one couple at a time with the entire assembly watching and critiquing—four minutes of intricate patterns and balletic movements, plies and mini-jetes. Wouldn’t you love to see GW doing that??? And to experience the Revolutionary espirit-de-corps on the dance floor that night—glorious.

I would also love to go back to 15th century Florence, featured in my biographical novel DA VINCI’S TIGER about the young poetess Leonardo painted. To witness the Joust of 1475, in which one of the Medici brothers rode into the lists under an enormous banner painted by Botticelli of his Platonic Love, Simonetta Vespucci (who historians believe was the inspiration for the famed Birth of Venus.) Such pageantry and poetry in that event.

8. You write about war and uncertain times, how do you prepare to write the difficult scenes that come with political unrest? 

I read and read and read, all the firsthand accounts I can get my hands on as well as scholarly synopses of the cultural milieu and political forces at work. Then I open my heart and dare to feel the wash of anguish and fear, mourning or to-the-bone relief that flow out from those letters and journals. I search for little details that encapsulate much. For instance, for my WWII trilogy, I read that when the first trains of concentration camp survivors returned to Paris, citizens came holding sprigs of lilac and lipstick thinking the travelers would simply need to freshen up a bit. That’s how little they knew of the realities of those death camps. It had rained that morning, and what was left behind after the train emptied and pulled away were puddles filled with lilacs that Parisians had dropped in horror when those doors opened and they beheld the first survivors to return.

My children used to joke that if they saw me with my head down on my desk to not bother me, I obviously was working. Often I was weeping over something I had read. But oh what a privilege to help those stories live and to introduce you to those courageous people who lived long ago. Feeling their stubborn commitment to their causes, their misgivings, their quick, life-or-death decisions to show compassion, or their stolen moments of affection and happiness amid the carnage of war, that’s what humanizes history.

9. You talk to students about writing, what’s the most important message you can give a young aspiring author?

To not be afraid of the fact writing is messy, a process. Nothing is perfect from the onset. It takes going back and chiseling, maybe even cutting. To read their writing aloud to themselves because if they trip over a phrase it has an inherent clumsiness to it that needs to be tweaked. Writing is like music, it needs pacing and rhythm; character motifs; its elements harmonizing with themselves; and a backbeat of themes, all leading to a conclusion that makes sense, even if it is a surprise.

Read. Experience. LISTEN to the people around you. Watch their faces. Life will drop stories right at your feet IF you are paying attention and reverberating with the world around you.

10. What are your plans for the future? 

I’m currently working on something that’s a bit out of character! A contemporary story mixing whimsy and troubling current events with a clash of old and new cultures within Virginia plus a good dog story. Tentatively called “Storm Dog.” I hope it makes readers laugh and think.

After that, I am still searching for another good Revolution story, and considering one set in medieval England.

Giveaway

One very lucky reader of With Love for Books will receive a signed hardcover copy of Hamilton and Peggy! and a signed bookplate by L. M. Elliott.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winner will be notified by email and has 3 days to respond. All of our giveaways are international.

19 comments:

  1. Would love to read!

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  2. Hamilton and Peggy! sounds like a fascinating study of the life and loves of Peggy Schuyler.

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  3. I followed instagram's "https://www.instagram.com/l_m_elliott/" after I realized "https://www.instagram.com/lmelliott/" was a different person. Anyway, congratulations to the author on her feat of research and imagination!

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    1. thank you all so much! I hope you do have the chance to read PEGGY. She was a complete delight to research and write. I've written a number of blogs and mini bios about the characters on my website if you're interested. www.lmelliott.com

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  4. It sounds lovely, just the type of book I like to read.

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  5. This story about Angelica, Eliza and Peggy does sound so good. Growing up with sisters, this makes me nostalgic for the good old days, and all the added excitement to these characters make it a must read!

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  6. This looks like a fantastic read! would love to get lost in it!

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  7. This sounds like a great book, thanks for the chance.

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  8. It's so true what you say about writing being a messy process. My students think it should be perfect from the outset and it holds them back.

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  9. sounds a brilliant read thank you

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  10. Absolutely intrigued! a fan of historical fiction, I can't wait for this read - TY for the offer !

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  11. Sounds amazing. I love meeting new authors.

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  12. I love historical fiction! I'm looking forward to reading this one!

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  13. Thanks for the great prize and competition! Good luck everyone.

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  14. I've learnt more about North American history than in my time in school thanks to this interview and review! Mind you, I did grow up in Ireland so perhaps that's understandable!

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