First to Read: Mrs. Lincoln's Rival | Jennifer Chiaverini
Mrs. Lincoln's Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini

Mrs. Lincoln's Rival

Jennifer Chiaverini

Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival tells the story of the social and political contest between Mary Todd Lincoln and Kate Chase, whose father, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, campaigned against Abraham Lincoln for the presidency.

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The New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, Jennifer Chiaverini, reveals the famous First Lady’s very public social and political contest with Kate Chase Sprague, memorialized as “one of the most remarkable women ever known to Washington society.” (Providence Journal)

Kate Chase Sprague was born in 1840 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the second daughter to the second wife of a devout but ambitious lawyer. Her father, Salmon P. Chase, rose to prominence in the antebellum years and was appointed secretary of the treasury in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, while aspiring to even greater heights.

Beautiful, intelligent, regal, and entrancing, young Kate Chase stepped into the role of establishing her thrice-widowed father in Washington society and as a future presidential candidate. Her efforts were successful enough that The Washington Star declared her “the most brilliant woman of her day. None outshone her.”

None, that is, but Mary Todd Lincoln. Though Mrs. Lincoln and her young rival held much in common—political acumen, love of country, and a resolute determination to help the men they loved achieve greatness—they could never be friends, for the success of one could come only at the expense of the other. When Kate Chase married William Sprague, the wealthy young governor of Rhode Island, it was widely regarded as the pinnacle of Washington society weddings. President Lincoln was in attendance. The First Lady was not.

Jennifer Chiaverini excels at chronicling the lives of extraordinary yet littleknown women through historical fiction. What she did for Elizabeth Keckley in Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and for Elizabeth Van Lew in The Spymistress she does for Kate Chase Sprague in Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival.


Advance Galley Reviews

I was unable to read this entire book because of a problem with the file. This is not the first time this has happened with books I've requested through this site. Not only do I NOT get to read a book in which I was very interested, I wasted my points to guarantee I'd get a copy of it. And of course, the deadline date for downloading the book had passed. However, I did get far enough in this book to know that it was terribly tedious and boring. None of the characters was brought to life by this author. Instead it read more like a humdrum diary of uninteresting events. What's quite disappointing about this is that the people in the book were interesting and should have been good material for an author to bring more awareness to the time in which they lived and made history. Instead, they all are very forgettable. I just put in my guaranteed requests for the next round of books to be read and reviewed. Hopefully this time I'll actually get to read them and can give a full review; however, given Penguin's past performance, I'm not holding my breath.

This novel was interesting, however I did not like it because of the main character. I felt she was a bit flat. I suppose the author was trying to make her seem more real but the only defining characteristic seemed to be some past indiscretion. The novel started off rather slowly and I'm not sure where it was really headed. Honestly, I lost interest in the novel and could not finish it and I enjoy a good historical fiction.

I made it through about half the book before I gave up. There was just too much repetitive minutiae of Kate Chase's rather uninteresting day to day life, and after a while I got bored. The social rivalry the title suggests was really only superficially present, and after a certain point seems to be dropped completely. I don't like to put books aside unfinished, but this one lacked a lively enough style to keep me interested in what was going on.

I have long been a fan of Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilts books and have enjoyed watching her grow as an author and branch out a bit. This book is much more political than Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker and maybe a bit less exciting or suspenseful than The Spymistress. Obviously the author has a pretty good handle on the politics of the Civil War era. Unfortunately, I did not like Kate at all as a person. This made the book a bit difficult for me to really get into. I'm pretty sure I would not have liked her much as a person if I'd ever met her, so reading about her and trying to gain some sympathy for her was pretty difficult. I regret to have to say this, because I have really enjoyed many of this author's books.

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.

I liked this book but not near as much as her Spymistress or Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker. This was a bit wordy and I really had a hard time liking Kate or her father. I almost had more sympathy for her husband who really wasn't a nice guy.

As excellent as everything else I've read by this author. Jennifer Chiaverini meticulously researches her subject, and brings what could be dry, dull, history to vivid life. One thing I have been especially impressed with with all three of the historical fiction titles by Jennifer Chiaverini is that she brings the women's point of view of the Civil War to the forefront. All three heroines may have had different stations in life, but they are remarkably similar in viewpoint.

Kate Chase was the daughter of one of Lincoln's rivals and as a result she herself became a rival of Mrs. Lincoln. The two had a hostile relationship as was seen somewhat in this novel. This was an interesting account of the Lincoln White House as told from the point of view of a young woman who had hoped to be the First Lady of her widowed father. While this was not to be she was still involved and informed of the political and social scene in Washington and would marry a Senator. While it seemed a bit long an repetitive at times with the descriptions of holidays and events this was an interesting and enjoyable novel about this very turbulent time and I'm interested to go back and read The Spymistress and Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker.