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Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers Paperback – December 26, 2007

3.4 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hambly (The Emancipator's Wife) showcases three wives and one concubine who kept the founding fathers happy at home and handled a gauntlet of crises with grace and fortitude. Martha Washington followed George to his Revolutionary War battlefield headquarters, used Southern hospitality to ease the political turf wars that dogged the nascent union and bolstered the charismatic general-turned-president as he united a squabbling nation. Formidable Abigail Adams could dissect the politics of the new republic and shoot the breeze about "Voltaire, Cicero, and Plutarch" with her husband, John, but had to endure long absences from her beloved and her son Charley's early death. When the invading British set fire to the capital in 1814, charming Dolley Madison rescued important cabinet papers. Slave Sally Hemings suffered the jealousies of Patsy, master and lover Thomas Jefferson's daughter. This is less a dramatically tense novel than a set of discrete fictionalized portraits designed to give history's women their due. Though it's likely too slow for fans of Revolutionary War fiction and not steamy enough for historical romance buffs, it'll find a niche among readers of women's fiction. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Moving back and forth in time from 1787 to 1814, Hambly presents the lives of four founding mothers: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Sally Hemings, and Dolley Madison. She turns the spotlight on the marriages, families, housekeeping, trials, and joys that played out backstage while men performed their public roles; and the fact that this is a novel allows Hambly to imagine much more intimate detail than would be possible in a work of history. She avoids pretty pictures; the women are not romanticized or sentimentalized. Slavery snakes through the book, mostly of course in the portions devoted to Sally Hemings, but it figures in the other women's lives as well. (Although First Lady, Martha invents errands that will send her servants back to Mount Vernon so they won't have been in Philadelphia long enough to be considered free.) This is superior historical fiction, firm in its grasp of history, not showy in its period details. It brings these women out of the shadows and endows them with flesh and blood. Mary Ellen Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (December 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 055338337X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553383379
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #153,870 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bonnie Jo Davis VINE VOICE on March 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Barbara Hambly is clearly a talented writer and writes well researched fiction. The stories in this book are compelling and interesting but the book is extremely hard to read. I normally finish a book in three days... this book took me three weeks to read and I almost gave up on it before finishing. Why? The viewpoint shifts from chapter to chapter to different women (many of whom share the same name). There is more than one Abigail, Nabby, Mary, etc. No warning is given when the viewpoint changes and the shift is often confusing and misleading. I had to read several chapters more than once and still couldn't figure out whose story I was reading! The subject matter is wonderful and the historical details are fascinating but the effort required to read the book may be too much for some people.
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Format: Hardcover
Barbara Hambly writes that PATRIOT HEARTS "is a book about the relationships of four women --- Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Sally Hemings and Dolley Madison --- with their families, with their men, with the societies they lived in, with the choices their men made...and with one another."

The setting changes from the cities of Philadelphia and Washington, to the pastoral farm and plantation lands these women called home. The action begins in Washington City on August 24, 1814. Dolley Madison gathers household goods, personal belongings and memorabilia from her past three predecessors into a rough cart. Forced to flee the city due to approaching British troops, she gives in to her staff's demands. Admiral Cockburn has pledged to parade James and Dolley Madison through the streets, shackled and fettered. Dolley's concern is for her "Jemmy," not herself. They plan to join one another safe in the countryside, far from the chaos of the Washington scene.

Hambly uses chronology to keep the reader focused on the happenings of the times about which she writes. In 1787, life at Mount Vernon Plantation in Fairfax, Virginia, centers on planning the next season's crops, tending to the gardens and sharing in the care of a family, complete with grandchildren. Martha's heartrate rises with the announcement of a visitor, James Madison. Since George retired from active military command after the revolt against England, Madison has been pressing him to become the new country's first President. George has refused, but now there is a new urgency in Madison's vocal thundering.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read Barbara Hambly books for a number of years and I'm delighted to see her turning her talents to historical fiction. Patriot Hearts is not, as the author notes in the introduction, a four in one biography but rather scenes of these four remarkable women during different times of their turbulent lives. That is both a strength and weakness of this book, in my opinion. Just when I was totally engrossed in one segment, the plot jumps around to another one of the four at another time of their lives. On the plus side, Hambly does a superb job of telling what these women sacrificed for their country, as well as their men. Families disrupted, long absences from home and from each other and more than a little danger of losing their lives or their husbands. Martha Washington's tangled family relations, Abigail Adams' isolated life in New England (when she wasn't in Europe with John) and of course, the great enigma, Sally Hemings. No one knows how Sally Hemings really felt about Thomas Jefferson but Ms. Hambly does a creditable job of sorting out this most complicated relationship. My favorite is Dolley Madison and you feel with her a nerve jangling tension as she waits at the doomed White House for her President husband to return. The uncertainty of true chaos as order shatters around her only increases one's admiration of her.

Even though some of the skipping around may frustrate you a bit, I still highly recommend this book.
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Format: Paperback
In Patriot Hearts, Barbara Hambly takes on the novelization of some very public women: the wives and mistress of the first four American presidents. Each chapter explains "what happened" from a different woman's viewpoint, and the events cover 20 or 30 years, which might be a distraction for some readers. It does, as another reviewer mentioned, slow the book down.

But overall, Hambly succeeds admirably.

That doesn't surprise me in the least. I've been reading Hambly's fiction for 20 years, and she is an absolute master (mistress??) of time, place, and setting. She does a great job of making you aware of what it feels like to _be there_, whether it's at the bedside of a sick child or an escape through revolutionary Paris.

This book also works because it's about a time period that most of us studied in American History in High School in a vague arm wave. "And after the American Revolution, there was some unrest, so Washington came back in 1789 to be our first president." Then it's a fast-forward to the war of 1812, without much attention to details. While, in a way, the process of living the "new dream" of liberty (not just creating it with a declaration of independence or fighting a war to gain it) is the more interesting tale. And we see it from these women's eyes.

But for me, what made the book enjoyable is that it's ultimately love stories. They aren't always happy love stories (and the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave/mistress Sally is presented as a tumultuous one), but these women actively stood by their men during difficult circumstances in a troubled time. I like to think of the devotion between the couples; it reminds me that they were just people doing what seemed right at the time.
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