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The Spymistress Hardcover – October 1, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Chiaverini follows Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker (2013) with the story of the intrepid leader of a Union spy ring, Elizabeth Van Lew. When her beloved Richmond becomes the capitol of the Confederacy, Van Lew uses her social standing, her family fortune, and an appeal to Christian charity to minister to the needs of Union prisoners. Soon she is passing messages to the North and recruiting an ever-growing network of Unionists to help her. She maintains a facade of loyalty—and she is loyal to Virginia, if not the Confederacy—by temporarily housing high-ranking Confederates or hosting a party for her nephew’s brigade. Meanwhile, she feasts on fast days, frees her slaves as far as she legally can, and hollows out eggs to transport messages. There is danger, although Chiaverini does such a good job convincing the reader that Van Lew is just a well-bred Virginia woman that the extent to which she aided Union victory is not entirely clear. Readers of historical and inspirational fiction will admire Van Lew’s courage and commitment to her principles and the bravery of her ring of spies. --Susan Maguire

Review

Praise for THE SPYMISTRESS

“Readers of historical and inspirational fiction will admire Van Lew’s courage and commitment to her principles and the bravery of her ring of spies.” - Booklist

"'The Spymistress' also does what good historical fiction does - it places you there in history, but also makes you want to find out more about the real person and continue your education." - Durham Herald-Sun 

Praise for Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker:

“History—and its colorful characters—come alive.” – USA Today on Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

“Required Reading . . . The story of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and Lizzie Keckley, a former slave who became Mrs. Lincoln’s seamstress and confidante. After the president’s assassination, Keckley created the Mary Todd Lincoln quilt and also a scandalous memoir. A new spin on the story.” – New York Post on Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

“Jennifer Chiaverini imagines the first lady’s most private affairs through the eyes of an unlikely confidante.” – Harper’s Bazaar on Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker 

“Chiaverini has drawn a loving portrait of a complex and gifted woman . . . Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker helps to illuminate the path on which her long and remarkable life led her.” – St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

“An example of what Jennifer Chiaverini does so well in her enlightening new historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, occurs late in the book, when a newly widowed Mary Todd Lincoln shares a letter of condolence from Queen Victoria with her dressmaker, a former slave named Elizabeth Keckley. . . . Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker vividly imagines how the Civil War touched daily life in Washington.” – Washingtonian on Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker is a wonderful novel that covers many topics surrounding the events of the 1860s in Washington and the following decades… Any reader interested in President Lincoln, Civil War history, or historical fiction should love this book.” –Bookreporter.com on Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

“All the characters are brilliantly written, and readers will enjoy getting to know them. [Chiaverini] brings to life long-forgotten snapshots of America’s past with style, grace and respect.” – RT Book Reviews on Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker

“Taking readers through times of war and peace as seen through the eyes of an extraordinary woman, the author brings Civil War Washington to vivid life through her meticulously researched authentic detail. Chiaverini's characters are compelling and accurate; the reader truly feels drawn into the intimate scenes at the White House.” – Library Journal on Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

“Her thorough research into the time period is reflected abundantly throughout the novel.” – Jackie’s Art Quilts on Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker

“Chiaverini's characters are compelling and accurate.” – Library Journal on Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker

Praise for Jennifer Chiaverini and the Elm Creek Quilts series: “Chiaverini’s themes of love, loss, and healing will resonate with many, and her characters’ stories are inspiring.” —Publishers Weekly

“Chiaverini has an impressive ability to bring a time and place alive.” —Romantic Times Book Reviews

“Emotionally compelling.” —Chicago Tribune on Sonoma Rose

“Jennifer Chiaverini has made quite a name for herself with her bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series. From the Civil War to the Roaring Twenties to contemporary settings, these novels have offered suspense, romance, and, at times, in-depth looks into the social, political, and cultural differences that helped shape a nation.” —BookPage

“Chiaverini excels at weaving stories and at character development. We can relate to the residents of Elm Creek Valley because they remind us of folks we know—a cousin, an aunt, or a grandmother.” —Standard-Examiner (Utah)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton; First Edition edition (October 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525953620
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525953623
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (211 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of MRS. LINCOLN'S DRESSMAKER, MRS. LINCOLN'S RIVAL, THE SPYMISTRESS, MRS. GRANT AND MADAME JULE, and other acclaimed historical novels. She also wrote the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as six collections of quilt patterns inspired by her books. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. About her historical fiction, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, "In addition to simply being fascinating stories, these novels go a long way in capturing the texture of life for women, rich and poor, black and white, in those perilous years."

Customer Reviews

I enjoy reading historical fiction and his book was very well written.
Ginny
This was a very interesting book and Jennifer Chiaverini really did research for this much detail as well as how much was her creation story line.
J Whitmer
I found it a little dry at times and the plot moved really slow at times.
Kathy Jones

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer on October 1, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This tale reads well and seems accurate for the time period it's set in. Lizzie feels nicely fleshed out and easy to connect with. The plot could very well be set in fact and flows at appropriate paces for each situation. I like how the varying mindsets for the period are presented and how the overall story leaves the reader feeling and perhaps even learning a life lesson or two. Great addition to any library.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Erin Davies on October 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Civil War era lit is not easy for me to read. I think it a wonderful period with a wealth of compelling material, but I find a lot of writers get caught up in the morality of the conflict and end up releasing very simplistic and one-sided accounts that glorify the virtuous north against the villainous, bigoted and degenerate south. I get the appeal of the good vs. evil allegory, but it's been done a million times and at the end of the day, I find it banal and cliché.

Take the concept of self-emancipation expressed in Daniel Woodrell's Woe to Live On, the loss of innocence explored in Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain or the transformation of southern culture illustrated in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. These are sort of deeper themes I find appealing and I don't think Jennifer Chiaverini pushed that envelope with The Spymistress.

Lizzie is so blinded with her own self-righteousness that she never recognizes she wears death's blackened shroud, never bears the weight of the scythe she wields against her southern brethren and never shoulders an ounce of responsibility for the tragic fate of those who died by the information she spirited north. Perhaps I am alone in this, but it is hard to consider her compassionate when she seems so devoid of empathy for those who suffered the repercussions of her actions.

Maybe deep characterization isn't Chiaverini's thing. I haven't read her before so I'm not in a position to say one way or the other, but when I realized I wasn't going to find what I was looking for in Lizzie, I started looking at the bigger picture and the obstacles faced by those involved in the espionage ring, but unfortunately, I didn't find what I was looking for there either.

The distinct lack of tension bothered me.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By TheophilusFarrell4 on October 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Spymistress
by
Jennifer Chiaverini

First:
I especially appreciated Jennifer Chiaverini's writing style, a style that fits the period in history when her characters lived. When you read old letters and journals and books from former times, you find a certain articulate reservation to their thoughts and speech, which is preserved here in the prose of this novel. When I find a historical fiction author whose writing fits the time she's writing about, I cheer.
It shows that they have immersed themselves in research, so that you can immerse yourself in story.

Reading The Spymistress lets you feel like you're living right in the turmoil of Richmond with Lizzie and her family.

And what a family it is! There are enough different characters, each seeing the world through their own eyes, that the reader is allowed to experience the war through
multiple nuanced perspectives.

A few of those perspectives include:

Mary Jane, the young woman whose incredible intelligence and near-photographic memory is ignored because her skin is a beautiful coffee color.
Mary Jane is like a younger sister to Lizzie.

John, Lizzie's brother.
Union loyal but wed to Mary, who supports the Confederacy.
The tension is palpable as John tries to aid the sister he loves and at the same time live out his vows to the woman who stands for everything they're striving against.

And Lizzie herself.
Our protagonist is a woman who all girls should be introduced to. Lizzie fears...but she pushes herself on through the fear, living the true definition of courage. She knows that she does not act in her own strength, but in God's through Christ.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Lori Caswell VINE VOICE on October 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Set in Virginia during the Civil War. When the state had seceded in April 1861, Elizabeth Van Lew dedicates herself to do anything she can to defy the new Confederate regime.

A fiction story based on a real woman that few people know about. Chiaverini takes us into the life of a woman inducted posthumously into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.

Dollycas's Thoughts
We know Jennifer Chiaverini for her wonderful Elm Creek Quilt series. This is her second book away from the series the delves into a special woman in history. I absolutely loved Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker.

Again she has intensely researched and brought us a story of another strong woman with courage and intelligence that put her life on the line to fight for this great country. She was a spinster, losing the man she loved way too soon. A woman who had no vote. A woman abolitionist, Unionist, loyal to President Lincoln living on the wrong side of the civil war. An independent woman who fought to give even a small amount of care and comfort to the Northern soldiers being held prisoner, many times with her mother by her side.

There is a lot of content in this book. Each battle, each setback, each triumph. Elizabeth Van Lew was a smart, cunning woman who could think on her feet and was able to make Confederates believe what she was doing was good for the South while passing information and more to the North. The woman seemed to have no fear.

The author's story may not match to what others have written about Elizabeth Van Lew. I have seen her referred to as "Crazy Bet" in other books covering this time but Chiaverini explains that her "crazy" manner may have just been a way to avoid suspicion.

I love the way this author writes but I have to say I enjoyed Mrs.
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