Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Mrs. Lincoln's Rival

Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival
by Jennifer Chiaverini

Why did you choose this book? I won an ARC and have enjoyed the author’s previous work
When did you read this book? March 2014
Who should read this book? readers of historical fiction, particularly Civil War era
Here is a synopsis of Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival from Goodreads

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.

My Review

I was really excited when I won a copy of this book. I have previously read and enjoyed both Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and The Spymistress by the same author. And of course, the cover is beautiful! I’m sorry to say, this one was a bit of a let down. It wasn’t terrible, but it did not live up to my expectations.

To start, I feel the title is somewhat misleading. Though the title refers to a ‘rivalry’ between Mary Todd Lincoln and the central character in this book, Kate Chase Sprague, there is actually very, very little interaction between the two women, and most of the rivalry appears to be in Kate’s head. What’s more, Kate comes off as a spoiled brat. She is not a very likeable character at all. When she attends a White House function, her primary thought is about how the ball compares to one she would throw, and she apparently believes she is in competition with the First Lady to have the best social functions. She is offended that she is only second in social standing, as if there would be any question of her usurping the position from the First Lady. She works hard to become her father’s ‘right hand man’ as she does NOT want him to remarry, probably because his new wife would inherit her social duties. She actually fancies herself as ‘ruling’ as First Lady twice, once as the ‘first daughter’ when justice prevails and her father is elected President, and the second time when her husband becomes President. This is an important enough consideration to her that she actually takes political prospects into consideration when choosing her mate!

The story takes place during the years leading up to the CIvil War and through the War. I’m not sure if this book is completely accurate historically; whether the thoughts of Kate’s father, Samuel Chase, were historically accurate, or whether some of the conversations between Kate and her husband took place. But it does follow the events and timeline of the war. Though the book moved a little slowly for me, and sometimes Kate got on my nerves, (I’m from Illinois, so I tend to give Mary Lincoln the benefit of the doubt here) I did enjoy the book. I’ve read many novels and books about the Civil War, and each one adds to my understanding of the people and events. And this one did lead me to do what all good historical fiction leads me to; I googled Kate Chase when I was done to learn more about her!

Readers who enjoy Civil War era historical fiction will enjoy this one! The book will make a good book club selection, with discussions about the role of women in the 1860’s and of course, the politics of the Civil War.

I won an Advanced Reader’s Edition from This did not affect my review.

My Rating:  ★★★   3 Stars
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