Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Editorial Book Review: Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip by Gail Ward Olmsted #HistoricalFiction #WomenInHistory #EditorialReview #TheCoffeePotBookClub

*Editorial Book Review*

Katharine’s Remarkable Road Trip

by Gail Ward Olmsted

In the fall of 1907, Katharine decides to drive from Newport, Rhode Island, to her home in Jackson, New Hampshire. Despite the concerns of her family and friends, that at the age of 77 she lacks the stamina for the nearly 300-mile journey, Katharine sets out alone. Over the next six days, she receives a marriage proposal, pulls an all-nighter, saves a life or two, crashes a high-society event, meets a kindred spirit, faces a former rival, makes a new friend, takes a stroll with a future movie mogul, advises a troubled newlywed, and reflects upon a life well lived; her own! 

Join her as she embarks upon her remarkable road trip.

Katharine Prescott Wormeley (1830-1908) was born into affluence in England and emigrated to the U. S. at the age of eighteen. Fiercely independent and never married, Kate volunteered as a nurse on a medical ship during the Civil War, before founding a vocational school for underprivileged girls. A lifelong friend and trusted confidante of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, she was a philanthropist, a hospital administrator, and the author of The Other Side of War: 1862, as well as the noted translator of dozens of novels written by French authors, including Moliere and Balzac. She is included in History’s Women: The Unsung Heroines; History of American Women: Civil War Women; Who’s Who in America 1908-09; Notable American Women, A Biographical Dictionary: 1607-1950; and A Woman of the 19th Century: Leading American Women in All Walks of Life

A remarkable road trip, with a remarkable woman

We meet Katharine Prescott Wormeley as she is setting off on a road trip from her current home in Newport, Rhode Island to her residence in the White Mountains town of Jackson, New Hampshire. With an almost 300-mile journey ahead of her, Katharine’s sister, friends and doctor have all expressed their concern as to whether she has the stamina to complete the trip alone, but she is not to be deterred, and she sets out, with plans to see friends along the way, and a determination not to let her 77 years stop her.

Her plans for the journey are sensible, and except for one planned glamourous society party, entirely sensible. She’s arranged where to stay, how long she’ll be driving each day as a result and is looking forward to seeing old friends and sharing memories as she goes.

But best-laid plans and all…

Over those six days, Katharine manages to receive a marriage proposal, save lives, make new friends and acquaintances, reconnect with important people in her lives (and in one case, a person potentially awkwardly connected to an important person her life), and throughout it all, reflect on her own life through these encounters. As Katharine reminisces (memories brought up through conversations with the people she meets), we learn more about this extraordinary woman, who certainly has led a unique and adventurous life.

Originally from Ipswich, Suffolk, Katharine volunteered during the American Civil War, serving as a nurse, and encountering two men we hear of in this novel: her great friend Stephen, and the famous Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape designer behind some of America’s most famous public parks. Having never married, Katharine has maintained her independence throughout her life, and she won’t give it up now, despite advice / concerns from people around her. Through her work as one of the most popular translators of literature of her time, she can do what she wants with her autumn years and decides to relocate to a place she adores.

Katharine understands that she might not be travelling this road again, certainly not all the way back to Rhode Island, and there’s a melancholy to some of her reminiscences, especially when she’s encountering the young along her way. However, from a young child concerned for her father, to a young wife with worries about her marriage, and a bright woman with ideas for the future, Katharine imparts her wisdom and advice with kindness, leaving behind her a certainty of positivity.

Thanks to the expert style of the author here, the balance of exposition from Katharine’s early life, and her current adventures on the road is expertly delivered. When we do dip into Katharine’s memories for a little while at a time, there is a relevance to her thoughts. We first get a detailed insight into her friendship with Frederick Law Olmsted when she meets his widow, Mary (I have previously read the author’s novel of Mary’s life, and to ‘meet’ her again in the pages of this novel was a delight). We hear snippets of her experience as a nurse when she is helping an injured man she encounters when her car overheats, which make perfect sense in context. And when she’s thinking about love, she reveals parts of her scandalous past in Paris.

This novel has done what I love in historical fiction; taken a real person, but one which the general public might not be overly familiar with, and telling their tale in the context of the world around them. I personally find this not only entertaining, but educational (I love learning something about a period when I read a novel set ‘there’). For me, this isn’t a period I know particularly well, so to read about the events of the time, and through the eyes of somebody with a degree of prominence, is especially interesting.

The language here too, feels appropriate to the setting. There are hints of English slang, due to Katharine’s background (both from here and those she meets along the way), and the difference between the age, background, and class of each of her companions, however temporary, feel genuine and true to their character.

As I said before, there’s a melancholy to Katharine’s thoughts at times, and she repeatedly references the illness that her doctor has diagnosed, as well as the notion that she’s approaching the end of her days. However, throughout it all, she remains upbeat, and reflects on the good life she’s managed to live. She’s done good across so many of her roles, whether through nursing, charity, or literature, and continues to do so even as she travels. Therefore, for me at least, I was left with a positive, uplifting feeling having reached the end of the book.

The setting, characters and attitudes are all captured so well by the author. There are snippets of history spread throughout, and Katharine herself stands out as such a kind yet potentially domineering character. She is not to be messed with, whether you’ve known her for decades or minutes, and that vivacious attitude comes through out incredibly strongly on the page.

Recommended for both readers who are already fans of the period, or those who want to read about a strong, determined character, and learn a little bit more about a new time to them. 

Highly Recommended.

Review by Jennifer C. Wilson
The Coffee Pot Book Club

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Gail Ward Olmsted

Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel, Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary.

After penning a pair of contemporary novels featuring a disgraced attorney seeking a career comeback (Miranda Writes, Miranda Nights) she is back to writing historical fiction featuring an incredible woman with an amazing story. Watch for Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip on June 13th.

For more information, please visit her on Facebook and at gwolmstedauthor.carrd.co.

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  1. I'm thrilled that you enjoyed taking a road trip with Katharine!!