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Mrs. Lincoln's Rival

Mrs. Lincoln's Rival - Jennifer Chiaverini Kate Chase, known as the Belle of Washington in the civil war era, was as beautiful and charming as she was politically savvy. Her good humor and social graces earned her the friendship of many but Mrs. Lincoln perceived her social success as a threat. This rivalry was only one of the challenges she faced while managing her father's political career and her many suitors.

I went into this book with high expectations, having read several great reviews of the author's earlier books. I was immediately disappointed by the sparse prose and stiff dialogue. Although I could see someone living in the Civil War era speaking as formally as this book was written, combined with the third-person perspective, it left me feeling disconnected. Sometimes it seems as though the author is just trying to include all the details she could find out. She often mentions battles or people that she describes minimally and that don't add to the story.

The details she included could also be very interesting. The way people lived, the progress of the war, and the political process at the time all fascinated me. One detail of the times actually led to my biggest problem with this book. Kate feels guilty over letting a suitor kiss her. She acts completely subservient to the men in her life and is happy to devote her life to first her father's and then her husband's career. And when she ends up in an abusive relationship, she blames herself! All of this is in keeping with the times, but some indication from the author that this is unacceptable now would be necessary for me to recommend this book, especially to younger readers.

While the author mentions in the author note at the end that Kate eventually got a divorce, the book leaves her relationship story completely unresolved. The political plot is also fairly anticlimactic since we know that neither Kate's father nor her husband ever become president. At the end of the book, this left me unsure what the focus of the plot was supposed to be. Despite these negative comments, if you can accept the probably accurate but unfortunate representation of women's rights, this was a nice light read which gave an interesting glimpses of life during the Civil War. It's not the finest historical fiction I've read, but still might be worth picking up if you have an interest in the time period.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.