Tuesday, July 10, 2018

G1023 Book Review of The underground river by MARTHA CONWAY

Name of Book: The Undeground River

Author: Martha Conway

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6020-2

Publisher: Touchstone

Type of book: 1838, sinking boat, Underground Railroad, Ohio River, map lines, North and south,  freedom, babies, acting, sewing, adventure.

Year it was published: 2017


The New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

Set aboard a nineteenth century riverboat theater, this is the moving, page-turning story of a charmingly frank and naive seamstress who is blackmailed into saving runaways on the Underground Railroad, jeopardizing her freedom, her livelihood, and a new love.

It’s 1838, and May Bedloe works as a seamstress for her cousin, the famous actress Comfort Vertue—until their steamboat sinks on the Ohio River. Though they both survive, both must find new employment. Comfort is hired to give lectures by noted abolitionist, Flora Howard, and May finds work on a small flatboat, Hugo and Helena’s Floating Theatre, as it cruises the border between the northern states and the southern slave-holding states.

May becomes indispensable to Hugo and his troupe, and all goes well until she sees her cousin again. Comfort and Mrs. Howard are also traveling down the Ohio River, speaking out against slavery at the many riverside towns. May owes Mrs. Howard a debt she cannot repay, and Mrs. Howard uses the opportunity to enlist May in her network of shadowy characters who ferry babies given up by their slave mothers across the river to freedom. Lying has never come easy to May, but now she is compelled to break the law, deceive all her new-found friends, and deflect the rising suspicions of Dr. Early who captures runaways and sells them back to their southern masters.

As May’s secrets become more tangled and harder to keep, the Floating Theatre readies for its biggest performance yet. May’s predicament could mean doom for all her friends on board, including her beloved Hugo, unless she can figure out a way to trap those who know her best.


Main characters for me include May, a talented and brave young woman who has passion for sewing and creating accurate period costumes. She has no desire to be an actress and is happy to be behind the scenes. There is also Comfort, Mays cousin who seems to thrive on being on stage and tends to be standoffish. Hugo is the owner of the theater flatboat and is dealing with a loss of his sister Helena as well as trying to train May into taking het place. He comes from England and his accent gets thicker whenever he is upset. There are other secondary characters as well such as Mrs. Hidden who wants to take Helenas place; Mrs. Howard, who is an abolitionist and helps with undnnerground railroad and also some of her friends as well.


For me what struck out the most are lines and how much we depend on lines to create our thoughts and feelings towards something.


The story is in first person narrative from May's point of view. What I feel are the strong points  of the story are the characters, the story itself, and the amazing research that was behind the tale. It's obvious that a great amount of love and planning went into the tale to make it what it is, and for it to be relevant in any day or age.

Author Information:
(From the book)

Martha Conway grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, the sixth of seven daughters. Her first novel was nominated for an Edgar Award, and she has won several awards for her historical fiction, including an Independent Book Publishers Award for Historical Fiction. Her short fiction has been published in the Iowa Review, Massachusetts Review, Carolina Quarterly, Folio, Epoch, THe Quarterly,  and other journals. She has received a California Arts Council Fellowship for Creative Writing adn has reviewed books for the Iowa Review and the San Francisco and is an instructor of creative wrting for Stanford University's Continuing Studies Program and UC Berkeley Extension.

For more information, please visit Martha Conway’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.


Prior to reading this book, i have never heard of the flatboat theater, and its also neat to discover a novel with a strong heroine who dares to take charge of her life and isn't about to  submit meekly. I also enjoyed the adventures that May has had and going on a river tour with her. The north and south lines aspects were pretty fascinating in my opinion and very interesting in trying to figure out where are slave places and free places. For an incredible adventure that takes place in 1830s, I would recommend the novel.

This is for HFVBT

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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