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Review – Mrs Lincoln’s Dressmaker – Jennifer Chiaverini

mrs lincolnMrs Lincoln’s Dressmaker
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Release Date: January 15, 2013

Review Copy Provided by Dutton Adult via Edelweiss

Description:
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.

Review:
I have previously read/listened to Ms Chiaverini’s work (her Elm Creek Quilters series) and enjoyed it, so when I saw that she had written a new book that was primarily historical fiction, I jumped on the opportunity to read/review it. My favorite part of her other series is how she is able to seamlessly go back in time to describe a key element, so I was curious to see how she could pull off an entire HF book. There have been numerous books written about Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley, her modiste (although the title is dressmaker, that isn’t necessarily accurate). However, I haven’t read any of them, which I am kind of glad of, because it meant that going into reading this book that my mind was a clean slate.

I found the first part of the book the most interesting about how Elizabeth came to work for Mrs. Lincoln following the election. But not only that, the sense of realism that was portrayed in how Mrs. Lincoln was talked/gossiped about – I made me think about the similarities between her and celebrities today – nice to see that some things haven’t changed. I really enjoyed the book up until the point just after Lincoln was assassinated and what happened to Mrs. Lincoln and her family – but then it just felt like it started going down hill. There were parts that it seemed like the author had just gotten a hold of Elizabeth Keckley’s memoir (which I am planning on reading) and was just regurgitating some of the stuff mentioned in there. It felt much more memoir-ish, than historical fiction -which is a pity. The last 25% of the book or so just dragged – I wasn’t that interested in what was going on which was a disappointment because I had enjoyed the first part of it. The story behind the tell-all memoir was intriguing, and kind of reminds me of how pretty much every celebrity today has had a bio/memoir written about then and how newspapers like the National Enquire go to extreme lengths for these “tell-all” tales – so maybe some historical basis to how these items came to be?

I think that this stage, I probably would have gotten more out of reading the memoir, so I could see what was real and what the author had actually interpretated based on her research. The story behind the quilt was interesting (and I did like that in the authors note, she described how she had come up with the storyline for it that she had). While I enjoyed bits and pieces of the authors writing style, I think I am going to stick to her contemporary fiction with flashbacks – I found it much more enjoyable. I have requested a copy of Elizabeth Keckley’s memoir from the library and am curious to read it. Overall, I’d give Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker 3 stars, but it is on the lower side of the 3.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Book Review

 

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Audiobook Review – Circle of Quilters – Jennifer Chiaverini (@jchiaverini)

Circle of Quilters
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Series: #9 in the Elm Creek Quilts series

Narrator: Christina Moore
Run Time: 10hrs and 12 minutes
Publisher: Recorded Books

Book Description:
Elm Creek Quilts, the thriving artists’ retreat at Elm Creek Manor, is a place that stakes its sterling reputation on the palpable creative energy and collective goodwill of its teachers and students. But when two of its founding members decide to leave the fold, the Elm Creek Quilters face untold changes not only in their personal lives but also in their business. As the news spreads, a single question emerges: Who can possibly take their place?

An Elm Creek Quilter must not only possess mastery of quilting technique but teaching experience, a sense of humor, and that intangible quality that allows an individual to blend harmoniously into a group. With high hopes, Elm Creek Quilts posts an open call for applicants.

Review
I’ll be the first to admit that learning to quilt is on my bucket list. I can already cross-stitch, crochet (to an extent – meaning that I am really good at making scarves) and other stuff like that, and while I have tried quilting in the past, I haven’t had the time to dedicate to it (as much as I would have loved). But i remember when I first came across the Elm Creek Quilts series – one of my good friends from college took up quilting (and is still doing it to this day) and for Christmas that first year (or maybe it was her birthday), I bought her the first two books in the series. And while I was at it, I bought myself the first book – and there is has languished in the TBR pile since. Then at the library one day, I saw the audiobook for one of the later books in the series (maybe book 5 or 6) and I grabbed it, thinking what the heck…I was soon hooked.

This entry into the series was slightly different from the rest, as it was told in a series of short-stories/flashbacks. The general theme was that the four people who featured predominantly through-out were being considered as staff as the quilting school. Through these flashbacks you see how they started quilting, what was their inspiration, and methods to their creativity in their own designs. However, the other characters that I have come to enjoy in the other books (Sylvia and the other quilters) also made an appearance.

For me, I think the narration by Christina Moore makes a good book all the better. I enjoy all the voices that she uses for the characters and having listened to 3 or 4 books now, she has been able to keep them consistent over the different installments. My only comment would be, that aside from this one, there are very few males who appear in the series, so i don’t necessarily have a good judge of her range with masculine voices – but what I did hear in this one, I am impressed and hope to hear more. I’m looking forward to finishing this series up next year (hopefully) and looking for more in the future. Overall 3.5 stars.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Audiobook Review

 

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