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Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters Summary and Reviews

Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters

by Jennifer Chiaverini

Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters by Jennifer Chiaverini X
Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters by Jennifer Chiaverini
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  • Published in USA  Jun 2020
    352 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Book Summary

The New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker returns to her most famous heroine, Mary Todd Lincoln, in this compelling story of love, loss, and sisterhood rich with history and suspense.

In May 1875, Elizabeth Todd Edwards reels from news that her younger sister Mary, former First Lady and widow of President Abraham Lincoln, has attempted suicide.

Mary's shocking act followed legal proceedings arranged by her eldest and only surviving son that declared her legally insane. Although they have long been estranged, Elizabeth knows Mary's tenuous mental health has deteriorated through decades of trauma and loss. Yet is her suicide attempt truly the impulse of a deranged mind, or the desperate act of a sane woman terrified to be committed to an asylum? And―if her sisters can put past grievances aside―is their love powerful enough to save her?

Maternal Elizabeth, peacemaker Frances, envious Ann, and much adored Emilie had always turned to one another in times of joy and heartache, first as children, and later as young wives and mothers. But when Civil War erupted, the conflict that divided a nation shattered their family. The Todd sisters' fates were bound to their husbands' choices as some joined the Lincoln administration, others the Confederate Army.

Now, though discord and tragedy have strained their bonds, Elizabeth knows they must come together as sisters to help Mary in her most desperate hour.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Chiaverini builds a believable domestic sphere...An engaging glimpse of women's privilege and anguish during the Civil War era." - Kirkus Reviews

"Through meticulously researched historical detail and sympathetic portrayal of each character, including Mary herself, Chiaverini provides a fascinating glimpse into the women of an influential family on the front lines of some of the most important moments of that indelible time." - Booklist

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RebeccaR

A Realistic Portrayal of Mary Lincoln's Mental Instability
The book began a little slow for me, but I was interested to learn more about Mary Todd Lincoln and am glad that I kept going. Author Chiaverini did exhaustive research for this 331 page book; there is a lot to learn about the influential Todd family as well as life in general for women during the 1800's, including Mary Lincoln's status as the widow of a slain President. Most of all, it is clear that from a very young age Mary Todd Lincoln thought she was better than the vast majority of people, including her own sisters. Mary's excessive hubris, focus on materialistic possessions, and lack of empathy for others makes her a mostly unlikable character. I appreciate the fact that books such as this give realistic portrayals of famous people rather than some fantasy version that all of the political leaders in American history were wonderful, intelligent people with equally wonderful spouses. Previous accounts of Mary Lincoln usually attributed her sadness and depression to the death of her sons, but this book reveals a pattern of surprisingly self-centered and selfish behavior before she became a wife or mother. As the First Lady, she shocked some citizens with the amount of money she spent, particularly in light of the brewing political unrest and subsequent Civil War. Sadly, too, the child mortality rate in the 1800's meant that many women of all races suffered the same tragedy as Mrs. Lincoln, though few had the economic resources to have others care for them and only the elite could live in a spa-like asylum such as Belleview. It is easy to see why Robert, Mary's adult son and only surviving child, has her committed. Certainly, Mary's sisters are not fighting to free her or have Mary live with them.

Some segments of society questioned Mary Lincoln's sincerity in backing her husband's political platform of anti-slavery. After all, Mary Todd had grown up in a household with slaves. This included the Todd home before her Mary's mother died as well as after with her step-mother. The pace of historical fiction tends to be a little slower than other commercial fiction, and for me this was not a five star read. The chapters shifted back and forth between Mary's adult and earlier life, and this format - rather than a linear timeline - was probably necessary to hold the reader's interest. However, I appreciated receiving an ARC from Morrow/Harper Collins.

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Author Information

Jennifer Chiaverini Author Biography

Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as six collections of quilt patterns inspired by her books.

Her original quilt designs have been featured in Country Woman, Quiltmaker, Quiltmaker's 100 Blocks Volumes 3-5, and Quilt, and her short stories have appeared in Quiltmaker and Quilters Newsletter.

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin.

About her historical fiction, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, "In addition to simply being fascinating stories, these novels go a long way in capturing the texture of life for women, rich and poor, black and white, in those perilous years....

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