When Virginia seceded from the Union and Richmond became the capitol of the Confederate States of America, not everyone in Richmond celebrated. The Van Lew family were staunch Unionists. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy spinster in her 40s, decided to show Christian charity to the Union soldiers being held in Libby Prison. This led to her building and running a large Union spy network in Virginia.
Her spying started when she smuggled out a list of all the Union prisoners in a book that she had lent to an officer. From then on she brought food, blankets, and paper for letters home to the prisoners and took out everything they knew. She was even able to place a Unionist clerk in the prison to gain intelligence when she wasn’t able to get in. She bribed Confederate officials with gifts of food and money to let her gain access to prisons. Her neighbors knew of her Unionist sympathies but not of her treasonous activities. A woman was not suspected of such things.
In this book Jennifer Chiaverini tells the fictionalized story of Elizabeth Van Lew. It is a nice counterpoint to her other Civil War stories – Mrs Lincoln’s Dressmaker (review) and Mrs Lincoln’s Rival (review). Her historical fiction introduces us to women who have been mostly forgotten by history but who made huge contributions at the time.
In the 17th century Jamaica was a lonely English outpost in the Caribbean surrounded by Spanish territory. To help defend the territory the governor invited privateers to use Port Royal as a base. It was conveniently located to the safest passage for ship traveling from Spanish territories back to Spain. English privateers were encouraged to raid any Spanish ship that they could find.
The Pirate Latitudes takes place in 1665. A Spanish treasure ship was rumored to have been damaged in a storm. When an unknown ship is spotted in the harbor of a fortified Spanish island speculation runs rampant that this is the missing ship awaiting repairs and another escort ship to Spain. Captain Charles Hunter is sent by the governor to get the ship. An attack from the harbor is impossible because of the fort. They decide to land on the back of the island and make a hazardous journey across the mountains to attack the fort from behind. But, if they get the ship will they be able to get back to Jamaica?
In the meantime the Governor has a new Lieutenant Governor straight from England who is horrified that the representatives of the Crown work directly with criminals. He’s intent on ridding Port Royal of these bad influences.
This book was found on Michael Crichton’s computer after his death. It is well researched but never felt as exciting to me as his novels that dealt more with medical issues. Maybe that’s more telling about my interests than a critique of the writing. The story never really felt like a page turner to me but it was an interesting look at a very distinctive place and time.
“In Korea in those days, newborn girls were not deemed important enough to be graced with formal names, but were instead given nicknames, which often reflected the parents’ feelings on the birth of a daughter: I knew a girl named Anger, and another called Pity. As for me, my parents named me Regret.”
Honolulu is the story of Regret who learns to read and wants to go to school. Punished for this by her father, she decides to make a new life in Hawaii as a picture bride. These are women who are chosen to marry Korean bachelors in Hawaii on the basis of their photos.
These marriage provide a means of escape from Korea but not happiness for the women involved. A group of them bind together in an economic collective to try to improve the life of all of them.
In this book you learn about the evolution of Honolulu from a company town for the pineapple growers to a tourist mecca. The growing tension between the white community and the native Hawaiian and Asian communities is highlighted. The ability of women to overcome discrimination and make their own lives is a major theme.
In 16th century Venice, gondola making is a proud profession. Each boatyard is run by a family who passes down their style of craftsmanship to their sons. Luca is learning the trade from his father but chafes under his domineering manner. When the tension flares into violence, Luca is forced to flee and try to make a life away from the only business that he knows.
I loved this book from the first page. The author set the scene and the mood so well that I was immediately caught up in the story and the time. This is very well researched historical fiction where the plot isn’t the most important thing that you’ll take away from reading the book. The history of Venice, the role of the gondoliers in society, and the prestige of the artists and costumers all come alive.
I was given a copy of this book to review as part of a book tour. I also am able to give away a copy so another reader can discover this wonderful world.
In the 1850s Kate Chase was a political powerhouse. Her goal was the election of her widowed father, Salmon Chase, to the Presidency of the United States. She would serve as his First Lady. After he loses the Republican nomination to a relatively unknown man named Abraham Lincoln, Kate spends the war years advising her father in the Senate.
Kate Chase was a political strategist at a time when women weren’t considered to have any aptitude for such things. She was also a glamorous socialite and hostess in Washington D.C. This earned her the contempt of Mary Lincoln, who felt that Kate snubbed her when she was did not appear at the Lincoln stop in Ohio. No amount of explaining that the Chases were in Washington at the time would appease Mrs. Lincoln. This started a social rivalry for the duration of the Lincoln presidency. Kate’s marriage was the social event to attend in Washington for everyone but Mrs. Lincoln who refused to appear.
Jennifer Chiaverini wrote about Mary Lincoln in her previous book, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. Like that book, this one looks at an unknown story during a famous time in history. The story was interesting but I give the book 3 stars instead of 4 because the writing is not the greatest. She gets the story told which is important to me but it is clunky in places.
I enjoyed learning about a woman who was politically hungry and who pushed her father possibly harder than he would have done himself.
Aspiring American artist Mary Cassatt is living in France in the 1870s trying to make a name for herself as an artist. After some initial success she finds her latest work rejected from the all-powerful Salon, which controls which art is considered good and worthy and which is not. Fortunately for her, Mlle. Cassatt’s work has been noticed by other painters who want to reject the stranglehold of the Salon and paint in a new style. She is invited to exhibit with them next year by their mercurial member, Edgar Degas.
Mary Cassatt aspired to be a traditional painter in the style admired at the time. She had been admitted to the Salon previously but as her style began to change she was rejected.
An example of her early work:
One of her first Impressionist paintings.
By the mid 1870s she was the only American and one of 3 women who was exhibiting with the Impressionists. Her specialty became painting women and children.
Her parents and chronically ill sister Lydia lived with her in Paris and their care took a lot of her time. She had an on-again/off-again relationship with Edgar Degas but never married. He painted this portrait of her.
I like historical fiction that looks at the stories behind works of art. This book is ultimately frustrating because it is a real story and doesn’t follow a fictional, happy ever after plot line.
Mary Sutter is a midwife in Albany New York who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Her applications to medical colleges are ridiculed and her attempts to apprentice herself to local doctors are met with scorn. When nurses are called for at the beginning of the Civil War, she volunteers in order to learn more about medicine.
At this time Florence Nightingale had just published her account of nursing during the Crimean War. It was considered extraordinary to have trained females in the hospitals. Of course, many surgeons considered women who wanted to do this to be prostitutes as women who have wanted to do anything outside the home where so often considered. Hospitals were unsanitary at best and deadly at worst but no one understood the link between cleanliness and disease.
This book was an interesting study in what passed for medicine in the 1860s. I spent most of the book yelling, “Wash your hands!”
When the U.S. Civil War started, Dorothea Dix wanted to set up a nursing corp based on Nightingale’s. In order to not be accused of being a cover for prostitutes she required that they be between 30 and 50 and plain looking. Women who didn’t meet her requirements were not allowed in. Of course, the needs of the war overcame the number of “suitable” volunteers much to Ms. Dix’s consternation.
In this book Mary Sutter is not suitable. She was too young. She went and volunteered directly in an overwhelmed make-shift hospital in Washington D.C. She also went to the front to distribute the meager supplies that the medical staff had. She learns to do amputations out of necessity because of the huge number of wounded soldiers. She learns how to judge healing of wounds. Pus is good because all wounds heal like that. (“WASH YOUR HANDS!”)
There are some emotional story elements in here too but to me they were very secondary to the medical aspects because I’m like that. Besides, her family was just hateful so I’m ignoring them.
I’m giving this book four stars because I learned about the history of nursing in the United States which was a topic I didn’t know much about in the course of this historical fiction book.