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Grindstone: A Novel by Donna Walsh Inglehart

I read about the “Mystery of Maple Island” my very first season on the island. So I’m long familiar with the legend that a man murdered in 1864 on Maple Island had something to do with the Knights of the Golden Circle and the assassination of President Lincoln. According to the book jacket, Donna Walsh Inglehart’s newly released book, Grindstone: A Novel, was a fictionalized retelling of that legend I’d heard so many years ago. Last week, I settled into an Adirondack chair, sitting on our west rock to catch a cool breeze and began reading.


GRINDSTONE A Novel by Donna Walsh Inglehart

Immediately, I was struck by the spellbinding descriptions of the river and the islands. For years, I have tried to describe the smell of the St. Lawrence and have never been quite able to do it. Donna did. With evocative language, Donna captured the essence of the region and its many moods as the seasons wash over the islands. I have never wintered in the islands, but now after reading Donna’s book, I feel that I have. Donna’s description of the islands comes from personal experience. Her husband’s family has been in the area since the War of 1812. Donna and family spent many summers on Grindstone when their daughters were young.

Her descriptions of the river are timeless. As I was reading, I would occasionally look out from my point on Grenell at the downriver side of Picton Island, imagining the main character, Anya, on Grindstone Island, was looking at the upriver side of Picton Island. It’s as if we were sharing the same timeless world.

The story is set during the Civil War. While the book is a work of fiction, the details of the era are accurate. I came away with a greater understanding of the Irish population that immigrated here and the 94th Regiment Infantry, comprised of young soldiers from this region.

The descriptions of the waterfront of Clayton as it was in 1864 was so loaded with sensory detail that I thought Donna had used a time machine to garner research. As it turned out, she spent hours in Corbin’s pouring over old photographs of Clayton in the 1860’s. When it was time to write, Donna would close her eyes and summon the pictures in her mind’s eye to maintain the thread and feel of the period.

To capture the language of the Irish immigrant she immersed herself in 19th century Irish poetry and prose in order to reproduce Irish syntax.

Before she began writing, Donna gathered extensive research on Confederate covert operations in Canada, the 94th Regiment, and the November 23, 1864 failed terrorist attack on New York City. “At times I was paralyzed with what I didn’t know,” Donna admits.

But the book is more than great river descriptions and historical detail, it is a great story with strong characters. When Donna started, she had envisioned a spy thriller. As she imagined who this stranger to Maple Island might have been, she latched onto the descriptions of the man being very handsome and playing the violin on calm still nights. Slowly, the story took on a more romantic tone.

Donna said her goal was to tell an honest story about who might have been the man on Maple Island. The story is told from the point of view of Anya, a young Irish immigrant left alone to fend for herself as a schoolmistress on Grindstone Island after her father dies and her twin brother enlists in the Union Army. Once Donna created the two main characters, Anya MacGregor and Jonathon Douglas (the fictionalized mystery man on Maple Island), she says, “the characters took over the story.”

This book is a must for every cottage library. It is one of those books that will be treasured by generation after generation and houseguest after houseguest. But now that I think of it, you’ll want a copy for your home library as well to read on those winter days when you are missing the island.

This is Donna’s second book. Her first book, Breaking the Ring (Little, Brown and Company) is also set in the Thousand Islands. And if we keep our fingers crossed, there might be a sequel, because Donna said, “I’m not ready to let these characters go yet.” And, I’m sure after you read Grindstone you won’t be ready to let these characters go yet either.

You can find Donna’s book at these bookstores or online at

In Canada; Leeds County Books and Coles in Brockville, Rockport's Lighthouse and in Gananoque; All About Books, Arthur Child Museum, and Gananoque Boat Lines.
In the US: in Alex Bay, Magical Swan; in Clayton; Corbins, Capt. Spicer's Gallery & the Antique Boat Museum.

Donna Inglehart will be on site to sign her books at the following locations:

Friday, August 6th, Corbin's River Heritage - Clayton, NY--2-4 p.m.
Saturday, August 7th- Leeds County Books-- Brockville, ON - 11-1
Saturday, August 7th - All About Books - Gananoque, ON- 2-4

By Lynn McElfresh

Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life.  She is an author herself as well as a ghost writer for several children’s books.  Lynn and her family live on Grennel island and she has captured the spirit of the island in several stories over the past year.  These include:

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clift  stevens
Comment by: clift stevens ( )
Left at: 1:35 PM Thursday, July 15, 2010
hi: i was just reading about the book called GRINDSTONE,as i was born on
GRINDSTONE ISLAND back in December 1931,and i'm always interested in things that have to do with the thousand islands area.i was back there visiting my brother in July 2002,and in august 2007,and i enjoyed every minute i was there it's such a nice place to be except in the winter.if it wasn't for the winters i would have moved back there years ago.i now live in Washington state since 1963,but i keep thinking about being back there.maybe next year i'll be able to get back there again.i have a nephew who still lives in Watertown, so maybe i'll go visit him next year.i enjoy each issue of thousand islands life. thank you.
clift stevens
Herb Swingle
Comment by: Herb Swingle ( )
Left at: 3:34 PM Saturday, July 17, 2010
Grindstone is a fantastic book about the Confederate Opperatives in NYCity and escaping to Grindestone Island.As a Civil War Researcher,I too was amazed by the numbers of these spies who were all over NYState and Canada.The Finger Lakes Region was part of John Surratt's escape route and onto Canada and Europe.NYCity was a hot bed for spies and Assassins.
J. Mayell
Comment by: J. Mayell ( )
Left at: 4:44 PM Sunday, July 25, 2010
Grindstone is nothing less than an astonishing piece of historical fiction. I tend to read only award-winning books, so I am spoiled. To hold my attention, the book has to be beautifully written, its characters believable and compelling, and it has to teach me something I didn't know before. Grindstone accomplished all three. I am in love with Anya, the Irish girl whose story is being told, and after finishing the book, I found myself thinking about her, Jonathan, Michael, and even Brady, the spirited Irish shopkeeper, who helps Anya. But it's not just the characters the author brings to life, Inglehart paints a living breathing landscape of the Thousand Islands so that you can smell and feel the wildness around you. And I learned what it must have felt to be an Irish immigrant during that period, the extreme change in climate (for the worse) they experienced when coming to New England, not to mention the discrimination. The Civil War backdrop is also vividly and realistically told, rivaling Cold Mountain and Sherman's March, although the war is more backdrop in Grindstone than the former. The suspense is strong and the pace fast, so that I couldn't put the book down and ended up reading it in one long sitting. Can't recommend this book enough, not just to New Englanders, but to everyone.
Liz Huff
Comment by: Liz Huff ( )
Left at: 9:17 AM Wednesday, December 15, 2010
I picked up a copy of Grindstone at All About Books in Gananoque recently and read it almost in one sitting. It was a GREAT read. What a wonderful way to bring area history to life and to remind us of the fascinating evolution of development along our border.
Brian Johnson
Comment by: Brian Johnson ( )
Left at: 8:38 AM Tuesday, September 11, 2012
I had forgotten that I picked it up a while back. Finally
pulling 'Grindstone' from my bookshelf I was hooked immediately! Donna knows how to grab a reader right at the beginning and hold them!
She had me, of course, on the 'ferry ride' at the beginning of Chapter 1!
Historically accurate, action filled with memorable characters, this is the best description of early island life I have ever read!
Brian Johnson
Wolfe Island ferry captain
founding president, Wolfe Island Historical Society
Donna Walsh Inglehart
Comment by: Donna Walsh Inglehart ( )
Left at: 5:19 PM Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Brian, I am thrilled with your response: an island historian and FERRY CAPTAIN--you are an apt critic of my novel. You praise means a great deal to me. Thanks for this gracious response.
Kathy Keegan Cummings
Comment by: Kathy Keegan Cummings ( )
Left at: 10:50 PM Thursday, February 7, 2013
As the descendant of two Irish families (McKinley & Gillick) who moved to the Clayton area in the 1840's, as well as another from Wolfe Island (Keegan), I found myself drawn into Ms. Inglehart's story. I recently learned that we had family members who lost their lives on a ferry crossing from Wolfe Island to Kingston during a storm in 1839 in just such a storm as described in the book. Although I was a history teacher for nearly 35 years and was well aware of the descrimination faced by the Irish immigrants, I never thought about my own family members in Clayton or the Islands going through any of those things. Thank you for giving me a glimpse of what life in Clayton might have been like for the McKinley and Gillick families as they established their lives in their new world.
Donna Walsh Inglehart
Comment by: Donna Walsh Inglehart ( )
Left at: 11:05 AM Friday, February 8, 2013
What an interesting comment. Thank you, Kathy, for your post. I am glad that my novel resonated with you, touching something true about your own family history. I'd been thinking about a sequel to GRINDSTONE, but I am especially interested in the River and the Clayton area in the 1830s-40s and may first write a prequel. I truly appreciate your generous remarks. Donna