This is a paid book review for the BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are mine alone.
Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker
After seeing the movie Lincoln, now nominated for a gazillion Oscars, I've gotten curious about all things Lincoln. (The movie is that compelling–if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.) So I jumped at the chance to review this book.
Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker is historical fiction, based on the real historical character of Elizabeth Keckley, who was, as the novel relates, the dressmaker and confidant of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Keckley was a slave who bought her own freedom and consequently started her own dressmaking business in Washington City (now Washington D.C., of course).
There was a lot that I liked about this novel. I soaked up all the historical details and loved learning about Elizabeth Keckley, who, in her later years wrote what turned out to be a scandalous memoir. (It was scandalous because she revealed many intimate details of her friendship with Mrs. Lincoln.) To me, there's nothing like an historical novel to bring history to life. I'll fall asleep reading a non-fiction history book, but hand me an historical novel and my bedside light stays on late.
While much of the book was well-written (and Chiaverini clearly is an adept writer, as she's had several New York Times bestsellers) and brought history to life for me, I did feel that an over-abundance of narrative summary slowed certain passages down. During the years of the Civil War, for instance, there was much relating of the progress of various battles that were perhaps necessary to the book but not written in an engaging manner.
After we slogged through those years, the book picked up and I ended up liking it a lot. So, I recommend it if you're interested in the Lincoln years.
Have you seen the movie Lincoln? Are you interested in that era? Leave me a comment!