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Book Review: "Mrs. Lincoln's Rival" by Jennifer Chiaverini

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Mary Todd Lincoln may have been the First Lady, but she was not the toast of the town. That honor went to Kate Chase Sprague, the daughter of the ambitious and proud Salmon P. Chase, President Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury. Kate was known as "The Belle of Washington" and Washington D.C. society looked to her as their reigning queen. This caused a rift between the First Lady and the Belle of Washington. In "Mrs. Lincoln's Rival" by Jennifer Chiaverini, readers meet the woman that was a thorn in the side of Mary Todd Lincoln and was Washington D.C'.s darling.

"Mrs. Lincoln's Rival" is a novel about the life of Kate Chase Sprague. The novel follows her blossoming years in Ohio as the devoted daughter to her three-times widowed father and wonderful older sister to her beloved sister Nettie. Kate served as her father's companion, the one who planned the events and get-togethers, and the one always there for him. Kate had high hopes for her father to become President of the United, but a charming, intelligent, and kind "nobody" from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln stole that dream from Kate. President Lincoln appoints Kate's intelligent and hard-working father as Secretary of the Treasury and the family moves to Washington D.C. where Kate meets two people that will play major roles in her life. Kate meets the aloof, odd, but larger-than-life Mary Todd Lincoln, the new First Lady and there is automatic dislike. Mary Todd Lincoln is not readily accepted by Washington society, but Kate is loved by them. This causes friction between the two women. The other person Kate meets is the handsome and wealthy young governor of Rhode Island, William Sprague. Kate eventually marries William and their marriage is passionate, but ends up breaking Kate's heart and almost, her spirit. The novel follows the years of Kate Chase Sprague during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln and what her role was during this time period. The novel is a tribute to a woman who never was the First Lady, but beloved by Washington D.C.

"Mrs. Lincoln's Rival" is a disappointment. The novel hardly focuses on the rivalry or dislike between Kate Chase Sprage and Mary Todd Lincoln. There are a few instances here and there throughout the novel, but it hardly shows the difficult relationship the two different yet similar women had. The novel instead is more of a portrayal of Kate's life.

The novel also suffers from a lack of energy or flow. It reads almost more like a history book or recap of the events of the time period. There is no passion, personality, or voice to this novel. Kate hardly has a voice and the secondary characters serve as nothing more than people who somehow played a role in Kate's life rather than being defining characters on their own.

Chiaverini does give a factual account of Kate's life and the time period. She expertly describes the events of the presidency of President Lincoln and the Civil War. It's more a historical account than a historical fiction novel.

Still, if you are a fan of this time period and want to know more about the people surrounding Abraham Lincoln's presidency, this is a solid novel. You will get history, facts, and learn some new things while reading this novel.

To purchase "Mrs. Lincoln's Rival":

For more information on Jennifer Chiaverini:


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