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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

MRS. LINCOLN'S RIVAL By Jennifer Chiaverini (2 Reviews by Wanda and WC)

ThMrs. Lincoln's Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Publisher:  Dutton
Release Date:  January 14, 2014
Pages:  432

About the Book:  The New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, Jennifer Chiaverini, reveals the famous First Lady’s very public social and political contest with Kate Chase Sprague, memorialized as �one of the most remarkable women ever known to Washington society.” (Providence Journal)

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.

Wanda's Review:  Mrs. Lincoln's Rival is a work of fiction that is inspired by historical facts. The author did a tremendous job with the details of the Civil War, as President Lincoln struggles with the difficult realities of that time. At times I felt bogged down with political details and almost abandoned the book, but kept reading and I'm so glad I did.

The author paints a stunning picture of Kate Chase who is elegant, outgoing, and filled with charm and I soon became engaged with her willful character. Kate was a true and loyal daughter to Salmon P Chase and they both had an ardent desire for him to become the President of the United States. Kate was very involved with her father's political career, and as his eldest daughter, Kate would have become First Lady since he was a widower. 

But their ambitions are thwarted when the Republican Party selects Mr Lincoln as their candidate and Mr Chase is sworn in as Secretary of the Treasury. It was rather ironic that Mr Chase ran the Treasury with skill, but his own finances not so well.

And the story unfolds through the Civil War, President Lincoln's days in office, the rivalry between Mrs Lincoln and Kate Chase, and finally the assassination of President Lincoln.

I became most engaged in the storyline during the rather turbulent relationship between Kate and William Sprague, the "Boy Governor" from Rhode Island. 30 year old Sprague was a cavalry officer and fueled with charm. He was very wealthy, worth millions, and owned cotton mills in Rhode Island. His accomplishments were quite extraordinary, but Kate was warned that he was less than he seemed. 

The writing is simple and flowing and easy to read. I found the rivalry between Mrs Lincoln and Kate Chase to be secondary to the storyline and is certainly not what grabbed my attention. If you have any interest in the Civil War, there is a wealth of information, and much to be learned from this book. My rating is 4 stars.

WC's Review:  If indeed, as author Ms Chiaverini says, Kate Chase is truly one of the most fascinating women ever to grace the swamps of Washington, there must exist a dearth of available candidates. It is true, however, that Kate wields significant influence over her inestimable father, Salmon Chase, but she is not likable. Mrs Lincoln is not likely to win friends and influence people to a greater degree than Kate.

This fictionalized historic biography is more a recollection of Secretary of the Treasury Chase and his intimacy, both favorable and otherwise, with the president, than it is a telling of Kate's conflict with the "hellcat", Mrs Lincoln. Salmon Chase, after all, who considered himself a favorite, was defeated by Lincoln in the election of 1860, but accepted his cabinet position with the expectation that his desire for the office of chief executive would be realized in four years.

Kate's eventual marriage to William Sprague, boy governor of Rhode Island, is fraught with dysfunctional behavior. John Hays, Lincoln's secretary, is a delight, as is Kate's younger sister, Nettie, who many times surpasses Kate's perception of significance.

A strong point of the book is the accuracy of events relating to the development of the impending conflict and resulting battles of the civil war, Lincoln's handling of and Chase's view of the war, the Emancipation Proclamation, and what to do about the issue of slavery. Characters, both significant and lesser, fit in precisely where they are supposed to.

Kate's courting and marriage to Sprague is a major distraction, as is the elaborate detail and description of balls, levees, and other expensive soirees entertained by the elite of Washington.
The Author:  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.
Jennifer Chiaverini