Hello, reader friends! We are celebrating the release of Mountain Laurel by Lori Benton with a delightful chat and a giveaway! Lori is one of my special favorites, it’s always a joy to host her and her wonderful stories!
about the author
Lori Benton was raised in Maryland, with generations-deep roots in southern Virginia and the Appalachian frontier. Her historical novels transport readers to the eighteenth century, where she expertly brings to life the colonial and early federal periods of American history.
Her books have received the Christy Award and the Inspy Award and have been honored as finalists for the ECPA Book of the Year. Lori is most at home surrounded by mountains, currently those of the Pacific Northwest, where, when she isn’t writing, she’s likely to be found in wild places behind a camera.
5 favorite secondary characters that you have created
L: Memorable secondary characters add so much to a story. Choosing just five favorites from my own is tough, but here goes.
Joseph Tames-His-Horse (Burning Sky), the Mohawk warrior and clan brother of main character Willa Obenchain/Burning Sky. He’s loyal, fierce, tender, and so in need of love and healing.
Cade/Wolf-Alone (The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn), the half-Delaware, adopted Shawnee, father figure in main character Jesse Bird’s life, Cade is as brooding and mysterious as the blue-misted mountains he and Jesse call home, but you can’t help feeling safer when he’s around.
Stone-Thrower (The Pathfinders duology), Oneida father of the twins, Two-Hawks and William Aubrey. I don’t believe I’ve ever taken a secondary character on a more powerful and poignant journey of transformation than Stone-Thrower’s across these two books (The Wood’s Edge; A Flight of Arrows).
Wildcat (Many Sparrows), while he’s one of the main characters in The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, in this book we see him as a child growing up among the Shawnee Indians. Ten-year-old Wildcat/Jesse stole every scene he was in.
Jemma (The King’s Mercy). Oh, this girl. I fell in love with her tenacious spirit and cheeky wit. We meet her as a young plantation slave with an unquenchable dream of escaping bondage and finding her grandmother’s people, the Cherokees.
B: I couldn’t agree more! I would really love to reread all of these stories to revisit each of these wonderful characters!
What is your favorite activity or hobby not related to books?
L: Landscape photography. I took it up about four years ago and now I keep my Instagram account updated with scenes from around the Pacific Northwest. It’s a great way to creatively unwind and fill the well (because writing as a creative professional pursuit tends to drain it). I’ve found photography and writing complement each other well.
B: I adore your photos! You have skills with words AND cameras!
Share your inspiration behind Mountain Laurel.
L: The inspiration behind Mountain Laurel is a mixture of the profound and the playful. The profound has to do with a novel I read in the late 1990s, Drums of Autumn, by Diana Gabaldon. In it, a minor character, an enslaved young man called Josh, spoke with a Scottish accent though his ancestry was African. Josh grew up hearing primarily his Scottish owners speak, so his speech mimicked theirs. This unexpected attribute drove home to me how the unique circumstances of our upbringing help create who we become.
We’re born with DNA linking us to a certain people group, but extraordinary influences can instill in us unique qualities not all in that group share. My ponderings on Josh, and a long string of what-if questions, led to the creation of several characters in Mountain Laurel—one of them my protagonist, Seona. North Carolina was an easy choice for a setting because I’m familiar with it but when did I want this book to be set? The Revolutionary War movie, The Patriot (Mel Gibson/Heath Ledger) settled that—I fancied the look of the knee-breeches the male characters wore! After learning when they went out of style (after 1800), and not wanting to write about a war, I picked 1793.
B: Fascinating! I fancy me some knee-breeches every now and then. Heath Ledger certainly makes them look appealing!
What did you learn while writing Mountain Laurel?
L: About nine years into my writing journey, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After a year of treatment, I was pronounced in remission and presumed I’d pick up where I left off with the novel I’d been writing at the time of my diagnosis. Instead, I experienced an unexpected long-term side effect of chemotherapy—chemo fog. I could no longer meet the mental demands of novel writing. In those days my identity was wrapped up in being a writer. With that stripped away, who was I? Eventually, I stopped spinning my wheels trying to get back what I’d lost and surrendered to God my desire to write and the hope of being published.
Meantime I read Drums of Autumn. I saw The Patriot. Fast forward a few years and, with a notion of a story set during the 1790s starting to pester me like old times, I felt that passion to write stirring in me again. But could I do it? Not just write a novel, but give myself what amounted to a history degree in the process? Either of those feats alone felt daunting enough. But I took a leap of faith, trusted God for healing, and began writing what would become Mountain Laurel. Over the next five years, I learned that God’s plans for me are good, but His timing is His own. I learned that writing must never again become an idol. I learned how to lean into Him daily for the clarity to write. My mind will never be as sharp as it was before chemotherapy, but in my weakness, He has shown His strength repeatedly.
B: Oh my heart! God is faithful and good. Amen.
What is your reading style?
L: I have never owned an ereader. I prefer print or audiobooks. In fact, I adore audiobooks. If it wasn’t for audiobooks I wouldn’t read half the books I do. Reading print requires one to sit still and sitting still tends to put me to sleep so it can take me weeks or even months to read a book in print. I still manage a couple dozen a year.
B: I’m so glad stories come in all shapes and sizes! We can all enjoy them in a way that fits us best!
What are you working on now?
L: I’m currently finishing up the first draft of Mountain Laurel’s sequel, Shiloh, which happens to also be a sequel to my debut novel, Burning Sky. I have my readers to thank for that. Over the years I’ve received requests to write more of several characters’ stories, but no character has received more such requests than the Mohawk warrior, Joseph Tames-His-Horse, introduced in Burning Sky. While Shiloh is primarily the second half of Ian and Seona’s story, Joseph plays a significant role in it. If you have yet to meet Joseph Tames-His-Horse, then for the sake of his obviously compelling story having the greatest impact, I recommend reading Burning Sky before Shiloh releases in 2021.
B: Can. Not. Wait! Yet, I must (unless you’d like to make other arrangements *wink wink*)! In all seriousness, your stories are ALWAYS worth the wait, my friend! Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us, Lori! Bring on the rereads!
about the book
Mountain Laurel by Lori Benton (Kindred book 1)
North Carolina, 1793
Ian Cameron, a Boston cabinetmaker turned frontier trapper, has come to Mountain Laurel hoping to remake himself yet again—into his planter uncle’s heir. No matter how uneasily the role of slave owner rests upon his shoulders. Then he meets Seona—beautiful, artistic, and enslaved to his kin.
Seona has a secret: she’s been drawing for years, ever since that day she picked up a broken slate to sketch a portrait. When Ian catches her at it, he offers her opportunity to let her talent flourish, still secretly, in his cabinetmaking shop. Taking a frightening leap of faith, Seona puts her trust in Ian. A trust that leads to a deeper, more complicated bond.
As fascination with Seona turns to love, Ian can no longer be the man others have wished him to be. Though his own heart might prove just as untrustworthy a guide, he cannot simply walk away from those his kin enslaves. With more lives than his and Seona’s in the balance, the path Ian chooses now will set the course for generations of Camerons to come.
A story of choice and consequence, of bondage and freedom, of faith and family.
In true Lori Benton style, Mountain Laurel laid my reader-heart bare as the story delved into the anguish of slavery with raw, intimate, often heart-wrenching blows. Unique and authentic characters are the backbone of this unexpected and completely consuming first-installation of the Kindred duology. Innocence, creativity, beauty, passion, duty, arrogance, betrayal, greed, liberty, regret, redemption, faith, and legacy are delicately interwoven in this magnificent tapestry of story.
The intricate complexities of each character, not to mention the breathtakingly twisting plot, leave me at a loss for adequately expressive words! I found myself cheering for these genuine characters one moment and vehemently admonishing their choices the next. On more than one occasion, had certain characters been within reach, I would have shaken them soundly yet my compassion and their own repentance restored them (mostly) to my good graces.
My hazy yet sincere ramblings don’t do this masterfully delivered story justice. Mountain Laurel‘s conclusion is equal parts satisfaction and longing, I highly recommend this inadequately expressed reading-experience and eagerly anticipate Shiloh, the saga conclusion.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher and was under no obligation to post a review. The opinions expressed are my own.
Thanks to the generosity of the author, one fortunate Faithfully Bookish reader friend will win a print copy of Mountain Laurel by Lori Benton.
US only | ends 9/11 | giveaway policy
What are some of your favorite time periods to read about, reader friends?
Be sure to add Mountain Laurel by Lori Benton to your tbr!