REVIEW of Seven Years of Grace in Historical Novel Society
Seven Years of Grace by Sara Rath REVIEW

Lectures were popular entertainment in the pre-Civil War decade. Politicians and entertainers roamed the country, giving speeches on everything from anti-slavery to mesmerism. Achsa Sprague, a young woman from rural Vermont, becomes a highly popular lecturer, and Seven Years of Grace is her story.

Intelligent and strong-willed, Achsa began teaching school in 1839, when she was only twelve. In 1850 she is skeptical of a doctor wielding “spirit forces” but allows him to draw off “infective magnetism” from her body. Illness which has debilitated her for years improves, and Achsa has a vision of angelic Guardians directing her to heal others. This transformation becomes Achsa’s most popular lecture topic, and for seven years she presents herself as a medium to sellout crowds. Putting herself into a trance, she composes epic poetry on request, defends spiritualism and women’s suffrage, and urges audiences to turn from such evils as slavery and brutal prisons.

Sara Rath mined the Vermont Historical Society’s collection for her impeccably-researched historical novel about Achsa Sprague. Based on Achsa’s correspondence and newspaper accounts, Ms. Rath explores the spiritualism fad. Critics decry it as promoting Free Love, and even Achsa comes to question the spiritual love she shares with a married supporter.

Ms. Rath does a great job of creating a very human Achsa from centuries-old letters, and working those excerpted letters into Seven Years of Grace. Many are presented in an elaborate italic appropriate to the era, but tiring to read. However, that’s my only complaint. Fans of antebellum America and the spiritualism craze shouldn’t miss this one.

March 2018: January, 2016: Winter is a good time for writing, and my next northwoods novel is slowly taking shape (working title: "The Last Resort on Star Lake.") I will note my progress as it moves along.

My last big project, SEVEN YEARS OF GRACE: The inspired mission of Achsa W. Sprague, (known by various working titles, see 2014 below) was published in March, 2016 by the Vermont Historical Society & the University of Wisconsin Press. Research for this historical novel has been in process since 1998 and I am extremely pleased with the result...very happy Achsa's story will soon reach out to others and her message and inspiring wisdom shared.

SPRING - 2014
I've finished my work on "Axy's Diary: Thoughts of a Long-Tried Heart," which has consumed my own thoughts since I began researching the life of this remarkable woman in 1998. It has become a non-fiction novel (or historical novel) and is currently awaiting publication, but I am certain readers will be swept up in the real story of Achsa Sprague's life and difficult times. [Summer 2015 -- I thought it was finished then; silly me!]

Meanwhile, I've decided to teach "How To Write a Cozy Mystery" at The Clearing in October of this year, so am beginning a short "cozy" of my own: "Priscilla Dash and The Portrait of Doom." This is just for fun.

Fans have been requesting yet another in the "Star Lake" series, so I have started "The Last Resort at Star Lake," which will feature many of the characters introduced in the two previous novels. I like to have several projects moving along at the same time and this will be further researched this summer during time spent at our northwoods cabin.

26 August 2012 ~ It's been a rough summer for us here in the Lower Wisconsin River Valley. In addition to suffocating heat and lack of rain, we lost our beloved chocolate lab, Sadie, to cancer. Anyone who's had a dog in their family understands our grief so deeply felt. She was the model for the lab "Molly" in my latest novel, so the irony of her passing now is especially difficult. Then in early August Del was informed that he needed his aortic valve replaced ASAP. Recovery took longer than anticipated but he is now (in autumn) doing very well.

Meanwhile, "The Waters of Star Lake" is enjoying good sales and receiving incredibly fine reviews. For your reading pleasure I'll include this from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

FICTION: "The Waters of Star Lake," by Sara Rath
Special to the Star Tribune Updated: July 21, 2012

A feisty widow comes into her own during a visit to her family's north woods retreat, where she confronts wolves and the legacy of John Dillinger.>/b>

In Sara Rath's entertaining third novel set in northern Wisconsin, both nostalgia and new adventures vie for Natalie Waters Lindquist's attention. Widowed two years, she plans to spend a quiet summer away from her Madison home in her family's ancestral summer cabin -- for the first time alone. As she sweeps away the dust and mouse droppings, brushes aside the cobwebs, and opens the bare-bones shanty Grandpa Waters had built in 1927, she's besieged with memories of the idyllic summers she spent there as a child on little Lake Sundog, near better-known Star Lake. She recalls, too, the many visits she and her husband, Charlie, made there, first with their two sons, neither of whom loved the place the way she had, and later, as a couple, rekindling their romance there with fantasies of John Dillinger and his molls. The remoteness of the area had attracted Chicago's gangsters, and Dillinger's legend still brings tourists to search for traces of the infamous botched sting that sullied J. Edgar Hoover's reputation. Natalie and Charlie had had one final bittersweet visit there before he died.

But it doesn't take long for her memories to dissipate and adrenaline to flow as Natalie faces down a timber wolf that's attacked Molly, her chocolate Lab, on their first night Up North. She's galvanized into action, hurtling along winding rural roads to get help for her canine companion, bleeding in the back seat. At the Last Resort, a local beer joint, she encounters Bud Foster, the bar's on-the-wagon owner with a fearsome secret, who takes her and the wounded dog to the local vet.

A twinned double plot escalates from this point through the rest of this action-packed novel: one subplot involves a continuing ecological debate -- to kill or preserve wolves -- and the other, a zany mission dubbed "Thundersnow," involving a search for buried treasure Dillinger is reputed to have left when he and Baby Face Nelson made their getaway in 1934. A pair of locals in their mid-70s -- Ginger, a bossy, frizzy-haired bartender, and her ladylike friend Lily -- challenge Natalie to help them find the mobsters' loot said to be buried nearby.

Along the way there's romance for Natalie with a retired wolf biologist; the thawing of a strained relationship with her sullen 14-year-old granddaughter, Minnow, visiting from New York; a "Road Kill" July 4th picnic, and some surprising revelations about Natalie's grandparents' dog. This would be a great book to bring along on vacation -- light, amusing and compulsively readable.

Kathryn Lang, for 20 years editor of SMU Press in Dallas, is now a freelance editor and reviewer

Questions or Comments

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So glad to see there will be a sequel to "Star Lake Saloon...". Do you have a publishing date for "The Waters of Star Lake"?

Thanks for your questions about "The Waters of Star Lake" -- the novel has been published by UW Press this spring and many of your favorite characters appear. Here's a radio interview I did with Wisconsin Public Radio on Monday, June 11 --

http://podcast.wpr.org/mlr/mlr120611f.mp3 --


Dear Sara - I was first introduced to "Spook Hill" when I married my husband in 1971 and he took me to visit his grandmother in Wonewoc. I asked the inevitable question of why it was called Spook Hill. As a boy, my husband and his mischievous friends would sneak through the woods behind their house and climb up the hill into the camp. He repeated stories they were told about some of the cabins being haunted. They would get so frightened, the slightest noise would send them scrambling back down to the safety of their own yards. Grandma Emma just laughed and shook her head. She passed away in 1998. One summer not long after her passing, my husband and I visited the Spiritualist Camp and we met with a medium for a reading. We had lost our son the same year and it was very comforting to experience that communion with him. The camp is in a beautiful setting although the buildings are indeed in need of repair. I'm looking forward to reading your book "Night Sisters" while on vacation in Arizona. We plan to visit Sedona....another very spiritual place!

Cyndi Ruetten

Ms. Rath,
I enjoyed "Star Lake Saloon and Housekeeping Cottages," but fell in love with "Night Sisters." Part of the charm is the Wisconsin setting; I live in
Waukesha and though I am a proud native of the UP, Wisconsin has been my home for most of my 59 years and I am always thrilled to see a book set in
our state. Spiritualism has been one of the (probably too many) topics I've read about and been interested in over the years so the theme of your novel grabbed me right away too.

Thanks so much for a couple of great books, and
I look forward to your next novel. Oh, I don't know if the author has any say in the jacket illustration, but my compliments to whoever designed that great picture!


Terese M. Robinson

Hello Sara My late father, John Moffitt, CBE was given a copy of your book "About Cows" from Bob Walton in Wisconsin, and a newspaper cutting about the book in the Wisonsin State Journal in 1987. The book has passed on to me, being a dairy farmers daughter and an artist who paints cows, there is a great connection. Regards Sue Moffitt

Hey there - your Star Lake Saloon ...I indulged myself with Star Lake and some Summer Wine while sitting on my deck surrounded by plants not pines, unfortunately. You write a good book. Since I love Wisconsin's North I was very pleased to find something to feed on --NLV

Hi Sara I just started reading your book Star Lake Saloon and Housekeeping Cottages. Your book speaks right to my heart(long story)-thank you. Kim Rusch from Oconomowoc, WI.

I first became acquainted with your book Star Lake Saloon and Housekeeping Cabins when it was reviewed in the Appleton Post Crescent. When I was growing up, my family camped at Star Lake near Sayner, Wisconsin. I was intrigued with the thought of reading something about the area that was so special to me as a child. I thoroughly enjoyed your book and found it hard to put down. It was a great escape. Paulette Laffin, Appleton, WI tnc256@aol.com

What a treat! I very much enjoyed the book, and will recommend it, especially to friends who have "places up north." Nann Blaine Hilyard Zion-Benton Public Library Zion, Illinois

I was first drawn to your book when I read that it was about northern Wisconsin. Being one of those "Chicago people", I vacationed with my family up north quite frequently. Your book captures the sounds, smells and tastes of my childhood vacations. I don't read a lot of books but I savored every page of Star Lake Saloon and Housekeeping Cottages. I have not gone on a vacation for a few years now. Your book took me back to my favorite state without my leaving the backyard. Thanks. Gerry Piwowarczyk, Chicago, IL

Checked out Star Lake at my local library to read while vacationing at a resort(with cabins) in upper Minnesota. Had no idea of subject or setting. How ironic... I truly ENJOYED the book...one of the best I have read...hard to put down! Looking forward to the next one. Wish you well, R.A.Kronblad

I just want to tell you I enjoyed your book. I live Hannah's life at an 11 cabin resort in Hazelhurst, South of Minocqua. It has been in my family since my grandparents and my husband and I are now raising our boys 6, 8 and 11 at the resort. My cleaning crew loved your description of cleaning being a social occasion between everyone and the light hearted gossip. I think cleaning with the ladies is one of the best parts of running the resort. We are either related or good friends and we have a good time. I also liked the desciption of naming the guests. We do not use their home towns, but do come up with some, usually are based around some experience with them, "the stinky bathroom guy, The hairy spring spaniel people, etc. I am passing a well worn copy of your book around my resort, it was given to me by one of my Madison guests who met you at a book signing. So hats off to your wonderful book about my life, thanks for saving me and my husband the hardship of writing a book! Jenny Gibson


Star Lake Saloon & Housekeeping Cottages

Click and type in a question or comment


(1 ) “Hannah’s name was a palindrome.” How does this first sentence reflect the theme of the novel? (A palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same, backward and forward). Hannah feels the synchrony of her name promises a steady balance. Does this statement foreshadow the novel’s events? Does Hannah eventually achieve equilibrium at the end of the book?

(2) At the beginning of the novel, Hannah may not be an exemplary figure but she has traits that many of us share. Are the results of her reinvention truer to her heart than the life and identity she leaves behind in Madison?

(3) One of the themes the author returns to again and again in the book is the inevitability of change – in the environment and in people’s lives, and the disparity between Hannah’s past and present selves. On page 107, Hannah tells herself “Predictability can be reassuring.” Do you agree or disagree with this? Would you be willing to risk a big change in your own life, even if it caused disruption or readjustment for the rest of your family?

(4) Discuss Hannah’s changing opinion of Dennis Windsor. On page 33 she felt she had “met a dependable ally who had nothing but her best interests at heart.” By page 263, Hannah makes a move to destroy his career. Is Windsor really a villain, or can you empathize with his motives?

(5) On page 291, Chloe says “I like the mother I had up at Star Lake better than the mother I have down here.” Compare the relationships between the women in the story, especially
Hannah as daughter of Lily and as mother of Chloe; Chloe’s relationship to Hannah;
Lily’s relationship to Hannah and to Chloe. Does Hannah treat her mother like Chloe treats her? In what ways are Lily and Ginger alike?

(6) Three generations of women (including Ginger) are ultimately responsible for the continuation of Hal Larkin’s legacy. Why doesn’t Dan Kerry take a more pro-active role?

(7) What makes Ginger such a likeable character?

(8) Hannah fantasizes about Dan Kerry when she is back in Madison and “in the safety of her own bedroom…She would not risk conjuring such dangerous fiction at Star Lake…But it was harmless to pretend here, so many miles away.” Do you agree that such fantasizing is harmless?

(9) Tyler Cole plays a complex part in the book. On page 287, why is Hannah so upset when he says “I’ve met someone else,” and she asks, “Willowy?” Do you think Hannah would have married him, after all? Do you think she should have?

(10) Metallic mining played an important role in the development of Wisconsin as a state. Today it is strictly regulated by the Department of Natural Resources. How do you feel about further economic and residential development of “wilderness” areas? Would you be likely to purchase a cottage that was once part of a family resort?