Friday, May 9, 2014

The Spy Mistress by Jennifer Chiaverini (4 stars)

About The Spy Mistress

Paperback: 384 pages 
Publisher: Plume (March 25, 2014) 

Chiaverini, author of the bestseller MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER offers another enthralling historical novel set in the Civil War era, inspired by an overlooked hero, the remarkable Elizabeth Van Lew. Born to slave-holding aristocracy in Richmond, VA, when her native state seceded in April 1861, her convictions compelled her to defy the new confederate regime and pledge her loyalty to the Lincoln White House. Van Lew was hailed as “a true Union woman as true as steel” who risked everything by caring for Union prisoners of war—and stealing Confederate secrets.

In THE SPYMISTRESS, Chiaverini, bestselling author of the acclaimed Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, illuminates yet another long-forgotten but pivotal woman in American history, Elizabeth Van Lew. A spinster of independent means, “Lizzie” Van Lew lived in secessionist Virginia in the midst of the Civil War. A proud native of Richmond whose loyalty to the United States never wavered, Lizzie became a Union spy, risking her life to gather military intelligence for Mr. Lincoln’s army.  With her unique blend of historical accuracy and in-depth characterization, Chiaverini weaves a portrait of Van Lew, a woman who held the Union cause higher than the value of her own life. Van Lew cared for Union prisoners, orchestrated escapes from the Confederate Libby Prison, and helped construct the Richmond Underground. Although she was never recognized for these accomplishments while she was alive, Van Lew was posthumously honored with a place in the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.

A riveting story of devotion and bravery, THE SPYMISTRESS illustrates the astonishing risks taken by Van Lew, and gives this overlooked hero of the Civil War the credit she deserves.

“A deeply feminist project, recovering the stories and textures of women’s lives during the Civil War.”  —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, named a “Best Book of the Year”

“A compelling read.  Miss Van Lew deserves recognition as an intelligent and resourceful spy who may have shortened the length of the carnage of the Civil War.”  —Historical Novel Society

“Readers of historical fiction will admire Van Lew’s courage and commitment to her principles and the bravery of her ring of spies.”  —Booklist

Add to Goodreads badge

Purchase Links
Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble


Elizabeth "Lizzie" Lew was born into wealth and privilege during a time in the South's history when that included also owning slaves. But she's a woman with independent thoughts, and she's determined to influence the outcome of the Civil War--even as she's surrounded by Confederates.

Despite the danger of her actions, she fights to take care of Union soldiers imprisoned near her home. Then, she builds a network of communication and action to help those in need. Her ultimate goal is to see the war and slavery end. Can one person, let alone a woman, have such an effect?

I love few things more than a strong female character, and Lizzie more than fits the bill. Her faith in what she believes doesn't falter, no matter how much danger she faces. Even with two children and a mother to protect, she presses forward. She's far from reckless, another thing I admired about her. However, there were times I wanted to know more about her--what fears she had in her darkest moments. She almost seemed too perfect at times.

Although the story started off a bit slow for me, and several character names (Lizzie, Eliza, and two Marys) sounded so close it became confusing, it picked up both in intensity and emotional impact. By the end, I was on the edge of my seat wondering if Lizzie would get caught.

For readers who love historical fiction and strong female characters, this is a must-read!

Rating: 4 stars
Jennifer Chiaverini

About Jennifer Chiaverini

Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as five collections of quilt projects inspired by the novels. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and sons in Madison, Wisconsin.

Connect with Jennifer on her website,, and on Twitter @jchiaverini.

Thanks to TLC for my review copy.

Note: I received a complimentary copy for review purposes. A positive review was not requested or guaranteed; the opinions expressed are my own.

Please visit other stops on The Spy Mistress blog tour page.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for being a part of the tour!