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Miss Lizzie's War: The Double Life Of Southern Belle Spy Elizabeth Van Lew Paperback – June 5, 2012
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This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
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"Miss Lizzie's War is a strong pick for historical fiction." Midwest Book Review
While Richmond, Virginia suffers through the American Civil War, the wealthy Elizabeth Van Lew supports the war effort - for the Union. I enjoyed this novel about one of the Civil War's most famous female spies . . . Although most of the story is told from Lizzie's point of view, we occasionally see the action through the eyes of soldiers, the Confederate first family, and assorted Richmonders as well, which adds to the depth of the story. An inspiring novel about a courageous woman. Historical Fiction Society, Aug. 2012.
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While the plot of "Miss Lizzie's War" is totally engrossing and commands the reader's attention to the conflict and events of something as fierce as the dead and dying on the battlefields of a civil war, it is author Agonito's development of characters that is the soul of this book, including the backstory of the love affair of Miss Lizzie and her northern officer-lover. A half dozen primary characters, both black and white, keep us involved as they face the dangers, failures and sometimes victories of the war. In Ms Agonito's skillful hands, the characters are never simply cardboard black and white templates, but well-developed and growing individuals facing incredible events. Not all of them survive to a happy ending.
While the events hold our attention, author Agonito's awesome command of historical detail in the "big picture" of the story down to the smallest grain of sand lets us relive the period and its people. The reader is not told this story, but taken by the hand to visit each scene.
As but one such moment, the following passage speaks for hundreds more throughout the book:
"At the head of the march, a tall slender young officer, twenty-one-years old, rode a splendid black stallion. His handsome face sported a goatee and his golden blond hair, almost reddish in cast, added to his patrician look. As he rode, a crutch fastened to his saddle bounced with the animal's gallop. Only seven months before, death had narrowly failed to swallow the young man at Gettysburg. But it had taken one of his limbs so that now, surprisingly vigorous, he moved about on a wooden leg."
More than historical fiction, "Miss Lizzie's War" by Rosemary Agonito may well be the best book of the decade. Move it up to the top of your "Must Read" list.
What sets this book apart from the others is the invention of a fictitious love interest for Van Lew which adds a new dimension to the story and enables the author to include information that happened in places other than Richmond. I knew from the beginning there was no such person as Major Allen Rockwell, but the romance helped me through the pages of battle maneuvers which told me much more about the war than I needed to know.
The author of this story is skilled in creating you-are-there scenes peopled with characters you would recognize if you met them. As you read you understand their feelings and their motivations…and you know trouble lies ahead since they are at opposite poles. You also get a close-up of daily living of slaves and freeman, the views of the North and the South, and of the rich and poor and that adds to the story’s appeal.
-Hope Irvin Marston, author of ISAAC JOHNSON: FROM SLAVE TO STONECUTTER