The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Monday, November 25, 2013

MRS LINCOLN'S DRESSMAKER by Jennifer Chiaverini

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer ChiaveriniPublisher:  Plume
Release Date:  January 15, 2013
Pages:  352

About the Book:  In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.

In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world. 

Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt. She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Upon its publication, Keckley’s memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckley’s story has languished in the archives. In this impeccably researched, engrossing novel, Chiaverini brings history to life in rich, moving style.

Wanda's Review:  Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker is a very informative and wonderful read for historical fiction fans with much detail about the Civil War. I read this book awhile back, but still think about it on occasion - the sign of a good book.

This is the story of Elizabeth Keckley, a Negro slave who purchases her freedom and her son's for twelve hundred dollars. Mrs. Keckley was a strong and modest woman who displayed much compassion throughout the story. She was fortunate to be literate because it was illegal for slaves to read and write, but her former slave owners did not forbid their slaves to learn. 

The story begins in 1860 and Abraham Lincoln has just been elected the sixteenth President of the United States. The new First Lady has a fine taste for fashion and hires Elizabeth Keckley as her dressmaker and the story unfolds. 

The Washington elite begin to snub Mrs. Lincoln and she becomes increasingly lonely. Elizabeth is very sympathetic and soon she is Mrs. Lincoln's confidante and her only true friend. Mary Todd Lincoln begins spending money with unrestrained delight by refurbishing the White House. As necessary as the purchases seem, there is a war going on and many soldiers are going without tents or blankets and it just doesn't look well for the First Lady to be spending money on furnishings for the White House. Mrs. Lincoln was determined to transform the White House into a showplace even though the congressional allowance would not stretch far enough to cover it all. 

Meanwhile ---- Mrs. Keckley is becoming the best-known and most coveted dressmaker in Washington, becoming popular with all the Union women. Elizabeth Keckley has the utmost respect for the President. She has never known another man with such nobility of soul and greatness of heart, but she wonders why Mrs. Lincoln can not see these qualities in the President. He does not always receive the much needed affection from the First Lady. Mrs. Keckley doesn't approve of Mrs. Lincoln's excessive spending and contracting such debts, but she would never allow anyone to disparage Mrs. Lincoln in her presence - she remained her best and kindest friend.

I recommend that you take the time to read this book with many revealing insights about this period of history. You will not be disappointed.

Only one negative comment - the last few chapters seemed to drag on and my interest waned a bit. Because of this I gave the book  4  stars.

Jennifer Chiaverini
About the Author - Jennifer Chiaverini

Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of ten Elm Creek Quilts novels and An Elm Creek Quilts Sampler and An Elm Creek Quilts Album, as well as Elm Creek Quilts and Return to Elm Creek, two collections of quilt projects inspired by the series, and is the designer of the Elm Creek Quilts fabric lines from Red Rooster fabrics. She lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin.

* The Quilter's Apprentice (1999)
* Round Robin (2000)
* The Cross-Country Quilters (2001)
* The Runaway Quilt (2002)
* The Quilter's Legacy (2003)
* The Master Quilter (2004)
* The Sugar Camp Quilt (2005)
* The Christmas Quilt (2005)
* Circle of Quilters (2006)
* The Quilter's Homecoming (2007)
* The New Year's Quilt (2007)
* The Winding Ways Quilt (2008)
* The Quilter's Kitchen (2008)