Customer Reviews for

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker: A Novel

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

40 out of 48 people found this review helpful.

Elizabeth Keckley is no stranger to suffering. Born into slaver

Elizabeth Keckley is no stranger to suffering. Born into slavery, forced to submit to her white master and giving birth to her son George, bearing years of the indignities of slavery and finally painstakingly saving enough to buy her own freedom, she has gradually deve...
Elizabeth Keckley is no stranger to suffering. Born into slavery, forced to submit to her white master and giving birth to her son George, bearing years of the indignities of slavery and finally painstakingly saving enough to buy her own freedom, she has gradually developed into a skillful dressmaker. Initially, she develops a reputation by sewing the dresses of Mrs. Davis, whose husband will later leave Washington, D.C. to become the Confederate President during the Civil War. Her obvious skill earns her enough clientele of the well-to-do that she immediately comes to the attention of Mrs. Lincoln, an enigmatic personality who nonetheless comes to cherish Elizabeth as a dear friend!

This then is the story of Abraham Lincoln’s presidential years observed by Ms. Keckley who spends most of her time at first sewing and dressing the extravagant Mrs. Lincoln and then soothing and encouraging her during her nervous and anxious moments. Elizabeth’s goodness and kindness in this story is credible but also highlights a bit of naivety as Elizabeth fails to see that Mrs. Lincoln’s caustic tongue has repeatedly offended so many political families so that attention of her peers and the press are constantly focused on reporting innuendos and rumors of scandal. Elizabeth, however, fails to understand how others can be so cruel to this woman who lost a son years ago, loses another child during the Presidential years, and would be a lonely soul with Elizabeth’s constant encouragement and comfort. The President, meanwhile, is portrayed as terribly burdened by the disappointing progress for the Union in the interminable defeats of the War, which are carefully and minutely described in detail herein and well worth the read. However, there are wonderful pages describing Elizabeth’s more than noble efforts to help former slaves adapt to their new freedom after the President gradually frees them, first in certain states, and then later after the Emancipation Proclamation.

The President and his wife, it seems, had premonitions of his death in the year before his assassination, and poignant are the scenes following his untimely death. Mrs. Lincoln up to that point has been shopping for herself and the White House to the point where her debt is absolutely outrageous whether one considers the value of our current money or the value of money in the 1860s. Elizabeth spends the rest of her life trying to help save Mrs. Lincoln from the embarrassment that would be sure to fall if the public were to learn about her impecunious situation. Not to provide a spoiler, suffice to say that all fails, and the closing chapters surround Elizabeth’s coming to terms with the reality of what she can realistically do and the harm she has inadvertently done in her well-intentioned efforts.

Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker is well-researched and crafted carefully, never failing to intrigue, fascinate and inform the reader about these tumultuous years when history forced dramatic changes on the nation and on individuals living during those precarious years! Characters are depicted with all of their strengths and weaknesses, adding to the emotional ups and downs that touch the reader on every page. Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker is superb historical fiction that should become a best seller very, very soon! Congratulations, Jennifer Chiaverini!

posted by literarymuseVC on January 15, 2013

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Most Helpful Critical Review

11 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

Uuggg! This is written in a style suitable for a middle school r

Uuggg! This is written in a style suitable for a middle school reader. Very rarely do I find a book so poorly written that I can't finish it-especially one I paid $12 for.. I was expecting a historical fiction with a lot of interesting historical information-this book ...
Uuggg! This is written in a style suitable for a middle school reader. Very rarely do I find a book so poorly written that I can't finish it-especially one I paid $12 for.. I was expecting a historical fiction with a lot of interesting historical information-this book is heavy on the fiction and light on the history. The style of writing is sophomoric and unsophisticated. Save your time and money-

posted by milton29 on January 26, 2013

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  • Posted January 12, 2014

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings An educated fre

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings

    An educated free slave becomes Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker, confidant and friend.  Told through Elizabeth’s eyes, there is a new perspective on the Lincoln presidency and the impact that his decisions and the timing of those on the slaves in the United States. 

    I know there are many books on the Lincoln presidency and now a Speilberg movie, so I was worried this book was going to be redundant and not feel fresh, but I was wrong – using an outside character to tell the story and where the story really impacts her life was a perfect way to see the Lincoln presidency and the Civil War.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2014

    Recommended

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I sew most of my clothing and this was the major reason for purchasing the book, but it is much more than that. It is history through her eyes a very unique perspective and well written, if you are interested that time period and want a fresh look with a draw you in appeal this is one for you. She was an amazing woman we could use more of her today.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Historical fiction novels are in vogue lately, with books recrea

    Historical fiction novels are in vogue lately, with books recreating the lives of such relatively unknown people as Edgar Allen Poe's wife in Mrs. Poe, Anne Franks' sister in Margot, and Elizabeth Keckley, better known as Mary Todd Lincoln's modiste and confidante in  Jennifer Chiaverini's Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker.
    Anyone who saw Steven Spielberg's movie Lincoln last year may remember the character of Mrs. Keckley in a few scenes in the movie, played by actress Gloria Reuben. I had known of Mrs. Keckley, but not of her story, which is fascinatingly brought to life in this new novel.
    Keckley was born a slave, and purchased her and her young son's freedom through her earnings as a seamstress. Her son was born of a rape by a white man, an acquaintance of her owner who failed to protect her from the man.
    Elizabeth loved her son George, and was thrilled when he went to college. She became a modiste to many famous women in Washington DC, most notably Mrs. Jefferson Davis, of whom she was very fond.
    As the succession of the Southern states portended the Civil War, Mrs. Davis wanted Elizabeth to come with her to Alabama, but Elizabeth was wary of going further South. Her reputation led her to be summoned to the White House to meet with Mrs. Lincoln and she became the modiste (dressmaker) for the First Lady.
    Through Mrs. Keckley, the reader is privy to private and public moments in the White House. Mr. Lincoln is portrayed as a humble, honorable man, one who dearly loved his wife and children. Mary Lincoln is lonely, shunned by many of the society people in Washington as an unsophisticated outsider.
    Elizabeth became Mrs. Lincoln's confidante, the one to whom she turned to when she was troubled. Mrs. Lincoln was wary of the men in Mr. Lincoln's cabinet and she freely shared her opinions with her husband, who may have agreed with her, but was more reticent to do anything about it.
    When her son Willie died, Mrs. Lincoln was inconsolable, and Elizabeth stayed by her side. When Mr. Lincoln was assassinated, again it was Elizabeth who stayed with her, even leaving her own successful seamstress business behind to accompany Mrs. Lincoln on her move to Chicago.
    I didn't know much of Mary Lincoln's life after she left Washington, and so this part of the novel truly captured me. Elizabeth assisted Mrs. Lincoln in trying to sell her dresses off to cover her over $70,000  debt, mostly from her shopping trips to New York City.
    They journeyed to New York and became involved with brokers who took advantage of them. Congress had yet to fund any pension for Mrs. Lincoln, so she had no income. Elizabeth came upon the idea of writing a memoir about her life as a way to earn money she could share with Mrs. Lincoln, but that became a disaster which haunted her the rest of her life.
    Chiaverini, who has written many novels about quilting, came to this story after hearing about a quilt that Elizabeth made for Mrs. Lincoln from pieces of material she used in various dresses made for Mrs. Lincoln. That led her to the book that Mrs. Keckley wrote, Behind the Scenes.
    I enjoyed getting to know these two disparate women who became unlikely friends. Chiaverini cleverly uses Elizabeth's story to bring us right into the inner sanctum of the White House during the most turbulent time in our history. She brings the Lincoln family to vivid life and yet in the end, it is Elizabeth Keckley's story that is truly amazing. I will be looking for more information about her.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2013

    Definitely a keeper!

    I really enjoyed the daily details, including the pre war and war time context. I enjoyed the personal details of Elizabeth's method for fitting and styling!This is a departure for Jennifer, but I suspect this is a project she loved from the start. Thank you, Jennifer!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2013

    Wonderful, captivating

    Well written, interesting and enjoyed reading about daily activity during war years and the survival of people in its day. The cost of textiles to make Mrs. Lincoln's dresses. GIves us a glimps into the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and their children, how her clothing was made and by whom.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2013

    Not A Regular Quilters Books

    I have read every one of Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilters books and thought this would be a similar experience. I was used to the engaging characters, the quilting hints and easy read which I had enjoyed. This book is a great historical book....more like a non-fiction book rather than a novel. For me it was not an easy read (the first book with my new Nook). The underling story of a black woman moving from slave to freed woman was interesting and then adding her being Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker added another dimension which captured my attention. But each time the story started to really engage me it was cut short and historical battles, governmental inward squabblings, etc. were interjected which for me broke the rhythm of the story and in some cases jumped to a new topic and what I was reading was left hanging and never returned to. The reader needs to have a firm hand on the time period and the social issues related to the Civil War to really rate the book as a 4-5 star read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2013

    I would recomend this book if you are interested in this point of history

    Having read other books by this auther, I did not hesitate to choose this new book. I'm interested in this time in history and also the the development of womans's rights. I am also a quilter.
    Although the book is fiction, I thought, Ms. Chiaverini gave a much softer potrail of Mrs. Lincoln than some previous authors. There was also a positive spin on free black women and thier contributions to the time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2013

    I did not enjoy this book as much as others written by Jennifer

    I did not enjoy this book as much as others written by Jennifer Chiaverini. I thought the subject was interesting, the relationship between Mrs. Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley, but the style of writing was stilted and parts of the book were slow. Overall, I was disappointed by this novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 22, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    This book was so good. I loved it. The way the author wrote you

    This book was so good. I loved it. The way the author wrote you could picture yourself right in the scene. Very few writers have that ability to take you there. This was every bit as good as the Light between Two Oceans. Another book that I loved. Recommended for everyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2013

    Very revealing and interesting look at women, society,fashions a

    Very revealing and interesting look at women, society,fashions and politics in an era where women were not written about too frequently. The middle dragged a bit for me(with details of Civil War battles and political squabbles) but overall a most engaging look at life inside the White House during and after Lincoln's presidency.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2013

    Great Historical Fiction

    I really enjoyed this book. It gave great insight into Mrs. Lincoln's mental issues and Mr. Lincoln's personality. Very well written.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2013

    Fantastic. A really great read.

    I enjoyed the story but mostly the history of that time. I highly recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2013

    Great reading

    Jennifer Chiaverini does not dissapoint .
    Great reading and a good story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 3, 2013

    Highly recommended,check it out!

    Very interesting read, highly recommend!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 29, 2013

    Good book

    Good easy read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2013

    Great Read

    I really enjoyed reading this book! It was timely with the recent movie release and fun to compare! While this is fiction, the author wove plenty of history into the story and made it come alive!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 1, 2013

    Loved this book.

    I like Jennifer Chiaverini's writing anyway but really enjoyed this book. Just another twist in the life Of Lincoln and those around him.
    I think this would be a great book for young people to read and learn about the struggles of the life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2013

    Great read!

    This is a must read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 22, 2013

    Highly Recommend

    I thought it was a wonderful insight of Mrs. Lincoln. She went through a lot in her lift time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 22, 2013

    Disappointing

    I'm a huge fan of Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilts series, so I was looking forward to more of the same great storytelling with this book. I was disappointed. It almost seems like Ms.Chiaverini jumped on the current popularity of the Lincoln theme and dashed out a book in kind.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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