Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review: Mrs. Lincoln's Rival

Mrs. Lincoln's Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini

Publication Date: 01/14/2014
Publisher: Penguin Group
Imprint: Dutton
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 432
ISBN-10: 0525954287
ISBN-13: 978-0525954286

(Received for an honest review from Dutton)

Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Indiebound

Jennifer Chiaverini on the WEB: website, blog, twitter, facebook, goodreads

Excerpt from, Mrs. Lincoln's Rival, courtesy of the author's website.


The New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, Jennifer Chiaverini, reveals the famous First Lady’s very public social and political contest with Kate Chase Sprague, memorialized as “one of the most remarkable women ever known to Washington society.” (Providence Journal)

Kate Chase Sprague was born in 1840 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the second daughter to the second wife of a devout but ambitious lawyer. Her father, Salmon P. Chase, rose to prominence in the antebellum years and was appointed secretary of the treasury in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, while aspiring to even greater heights.

Beautiful, intelligent, regal, and entrancing, young Kate Chase stepped into the role of establishing her thrice-widowed father in Washington society and as a future presidential candidate. Her efforts were successful enough that The Washington Star declared her “the most brilliant woman of her day. None outshone her.”

None, that is, but Mary Todd Lincoln. Though Mrs. Lincoln and her young rival held much in common—political acumen, love of country, and a resolute determination to help the men they loved achieve greatness—they could never be friends, for the success of one could come only at the expense of the other. When Kate Chase married William Sprague, the wealthy young governor of Rhode Island, it was widely regarded as the pinnacle of Washington society weddings. President Lincoln was in attendance. The First Lady was not.

Jennifer Chiaverini excels at chronicling the lives of extraordinary yet littleknown women through historical fiction. What she did for Elizabeth Keckley in Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and for Elizabeth Van Lew in The Spymistress she does for Kate Chase Sprague in Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival.


Author Jennifer Chiaverini continues her stint of Civil War drama's with Mrs. Lincoln's Rival. This book chronicles the political and social rivalry between Mary Tod Lincoln and Kate Chase Sprague. Both were strong women who had much to gain from the success of the men they loved, but that often put them at odds with each other. Chiaverini does an amazing job of taking a little known historical character and bringing her to life. Kate leaps of the pages and into the hearts of reading who love historical fiction.  

What I liked:

The main thing that I have liked about Jennifer Chiaverini's historical fiction novels is the fact that she is taking her characters directly from history. Oftentimes they are characters who impacted the Civil War and their world at large, but about who very little is recorded or known. She has taken women who are generally given a few paragraphs in a text book and brought them to vivid life and that is no different in this book. 

Kate is an exceptional character to write about. She was basically the teenage daughter of a widow who became all the rage in Washington. Salmon P. Chase's daughter was gutsy, she knew how to go about getting what she wanted and she wanted her father in the White House as more than just an adviser. Chiaverini obviously researched Kate's character extensively because every thing I have ever read about her is recorded here. Chiaverini writes Kate as very calculated and somewhat manipulative. It was kind of hard for me to like her as a person, but she definitely had chutzpah! 

Mary Tod Lincoln has been written about so many times by so many people. She has been described in about every way and manner imaginable, from a grieving woman, to a insane and back again. I found Chiaverini's descriptions of Mary, very clinical, as were her descriptions of Kate. The historical prominence of these two characters alone drove the book, but the their reactions to each other in this novel seemed a bit stilted. They could not have liked each other, because they wanted very different things socially and politically. Two great women to work with for sure. 

What I didn't like:

I tried hard to like this one, because I really enjoyed Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker and the Spy Mistress, but I had some issues with this one. As I said before Chiaverini's style in this book was somewhat more informative than fiction. She tells the story in an almost dispassionate way. We read about Mary and Kate but we really don't get to know them, to understand what they were feeling. In historical fiction one of the things that I generally like is that the author gets into the head of the character and shows readers... what might have been. There was a little too much of what really was in this one. More biographical than fictional.

The other disappointment to me was that there seems to be a lot of facts and tidbits that related to the time, but not necessarily to the story. Yes, I was interested in the role of women in that time period. Yes, I did want to know the customs, what they wore, what they ate, but I didn't need to know battle facts and figures or things about Washington itself at that time. I wanted more storytelling and I felt it was lacking here in favor of more factual knowledge of Kate Chase Sprague. 

Bottom Line:

This one was not up to par with Chiaverini's earlier works in this genre. I loved the Elm Creek Quilts books and I think she is an excellent author, but I think this one got away from her a bit. It was heavy on fact and light on fiction. For some that might be a good thing, but not what I was looking for her. But as I always say, take it with a grain of salt and read it for yourself.

Mrs. Lincoln's Rival is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 3 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

About the Author:

JENNIFER CHIAVERINI is the New York Times bestselling author of the Elm Creek Quilts series, The Spymistress, and Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. She lives with her family in Madison, Wisconsin.

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