Customer Reviews for

The Spymistress: A Novel

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

 The Spymistress by  Jennifer Chiaverini First:  I especially a

 The Spymistress
by 
Jennifer Chiaverini

First: 
I especially appreciated Jennifer Chiaverini's writing style, a style that fits the period in history when her characters lived. When you read old letters and journals and books from former times, you find a certain arti...
 The Spymistress
by 
Jennifer Chiaverini

First: 
I especially appreciated Jennifer Chiaverini's writing style, a style that fits the period in history when her characters lived. When you read old letters and journals and books from former times, you find a certain articulate reservation to their thoughts and speech, which is preserved here in the prose of this novel. When I find a historical fiction author whose writing fits the time she's writing about, I cheer.
It shows that they have immersed themselves in research, so that you can immerse yourself in story.

Reading The Spymistress lets you feel like you're living right in the turmoil of Richmond with Lizzie and her family. 
And what a family it is! There are enough different characters, each seeing the world through their own eyes, that the reader is allowed to experience the war through
 multiple nuanced perspectives. 

A few of those perspectives include: 
Mary Jane, the young woman whose incredible intelligence and near-photographic memory is ignored because her skin is a beautiful coffee color. 
Mary Jane is like a younger sister to Lizzie.

John, Lizzie's brother. 
Union loyal but wed to Mary, who supports the Confederacy. 
The tension is palpable as John tries to aid the sister he loves and at the same time live out his vows to the woman who stands for everything they're striving against. 

And Lizzie herself. 
Our protagonist is a woman who all girls should be introduced to. Lizzie fears...but she pushes herself on through the fear, living the true definition of courage. She knows that she does not act in her own strength, but in God's through Christ. She is a person like the rest of us, who finds pockets of love and happiness even in the middle of great struggle. She mourns the love she lost years before that left her a spinster, but her heart is open and giving, and her family means the world to her. She is indeed a heroine who we can admire and learn from. 

This is a novel of suspense, of espionage, of war. 
This is first of all a novel of humanity. 
Human love and loyalty, human choices and human emotion shine from these pages. 
Whoever professed that history is boring needs to meet Jennifer Chiaverini and The Spymistress. 
Now to read Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker! 

posted by Theophilusfamily on October 5, 2013

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Most Helpful Critical Review

2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

Moments of Interest, But Slow.

Moments of Interest, But Slow. I really wanted to like this more than I did; the subject matter--Lizzie Van Lew's ingenious methods of spying for the Union during the Civil War--is fasci...
Moments of Interest, But Slow. I really wanted to like this more than I did; the subject matter--Lizzie Van Lew's ingenious methods of spying for the Union during the Civil War--is fascinating. Her family issues are also engaging; however, this drags in many places. I often felt the plot bogged down with unnecessarily at times with extra details we did not need, background info on characters who, ultimately, did not play a big enough role to warrant all the "stuff." Be advised there are MANY characters to keep track of: Lizzie's spy ring grows larger as the novel progresses, along with the many Confederate military, politicians, etc she also deals with. Finally, I could not help feeling the depictions of the two sides were terribly generalized and simplistic--Rebels are almost uniformly brutal and unreasonable, while all Union soldiers and/or sympathizers appear almost saintly. While perhaps this was the author's way of showing us Lizzie's view, it did not work for me. Everyone knows that in the Civil War--in any war--atrocities are tragically committed on both sides; there are many 'shades of gray' to both sides. Those shades were just lost for me here. I may come from a long line of Yankees, but in depth Civil War history shows the complex, often cruel and brutal truth of what happened on both sides. I felt this was just a bit too glossed over.

posted by irishclaireKG on October 10, 2013

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  • Posted October 5, 2013

     The Spymistress by  Jennifer Chiaverini First:  I especially a

     The Spymistress
    by 
    Jennifer Chiaverini

    First: 
    I especially appreciated Jennifer Chiaverini's writing style, a style that fits the period in history when her characters lived. When you read old letters and journals and books from former times, you find a certain articulate reservation to their thoughts and speech, which is preserved here in the prose of this novel. When I find a historical fiction author whose writing fits the time she's writing about, I cheer.
    It shows that they have immersed themselves in research, so that you can immerse yourself in story.

    Reading The Spymistress lets you feel like you're living right in the turmoil of Richmond with Lizzie and her family. 
    And what a family it is! There are enough different characters, each seeing the world through their own eyes, that the reader is allowed to experience the war through
     multiple nuanced perspectives. 

    A few of those perspectives include: 
    Mary Jane, the young woman whose incredible intelligence and near-photographic memory is ignored because her skin is a beautiful coffee color. 
    Mary Jane is like a younger sister to Lizzie.

    John, Lizzie's brother. 
    Union loyal but wed to Mary, who supports the Confederacy. 
    The tension is palpable as John tries to aid the sister he loves and at the same time live out his vows to the woman who stands for everything they're striving against. 

    And Lizzie herself. 
    Our protagonist is a woman who all girls should be introduced to. Lizzie fears...but she pushes herself on through the fear, living the true definition of courage. She knows that she does not act in her own strength, but in God's through Christ. She is a person like the rest of us, who finds pockets of love and happiness even in the middle of great struggle. She mourns the love she lost years before that left her a spinster, but her heart is open and giving, and her family means the world to her. She is indeed a heroine who we can admire and learn from. 

    This is a novel of suspense, of espionage, of war. 
    This is first of all a novel of humanity. 
    Human love and loyalty, human choices and human emotion shine from these pages. 
    Whoever professed that history is boring needs to meet Jennifer Chiaverini and The Spymistress. 
    Now to read Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker! 

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 1, 2014

    Excellent!

    I enjoyed this book, along with the others written by Jennifer Chiaverini, that highlighted the contributions of women during the Civil War. By far, this novel highlighted the conviction and derring-do of a woman to act for the Union, while living in Richmond, Virginia. I think this would be a wonderful book to be read by young women while taking a Civil War history/American history class. Too many times, the narrative is about the war, battles, men, and the politics of the period, without regard for the women who lived through the same events and without the same rights and privileges the men enjoyed.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 10, 2013

    Moments of Interest, But Slow.

    Moments of Interest, But Slow. I really wanted to like this more than I did; the subject matter--Lizzie Van Lew's ingenious methods of spying for the Union during the Civil War--is fascinating. Her family issues are also engaging; however, this drags in many places. I often felt the plot bogged down with unnecessarily at times with extra details we did not need, background info on characters who, ultimately, did not play a big enough role to warrant all the "stuff." Be advised there are MANY characters to keep track of: Lizzie's spy ring grows larger as the novel progresses, along with the many Confederate military, politicians, etc she also deals with. Finally, I could not help feeling the depictions of the two sides were terribly generalized and simplistic--Rebels are almost uniformly brutal and unreasonable, while all Union soldiers and/or sympathizers appear almost saintly. While perhaps this was the author's way of showing us Lizzie's view, it did not work for me. Everyone knows that in the Civil War--in any war--atrocities are tragically committed on both sides; there are many 'shades of gray' to both sides. Those shades were just lost for me here. I may come from a long line of Yankees, but in depth Civil War history shows the complex, often cruel and brutal truth of what happened on both sides. I felt this was just a bit too glossed over.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 2, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Set in Virginia during the Civil War. When the state had seceded

    Set in Virginia during the Civil War. When the state had seceded in April 1861, Elizabeth Van Lew dedicates herself to do anything she can to defy the new Confederate regime.

    A fiction story based on a real woman that few people know about. Chiaverini takes us into the life of a woman inducted posthumously into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.

    Dollycas’s Thoughts
    We know Jennifer Chiaverini for her wonderful Elm Creek Quilt series. This is her second book away from the series the delves into a special woman in history. I absolutely loved Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker.

    Again she has intensely researched and brought us a story of another strong woman with courage and intelligence that put her life on the line to fight for this great country. She was a spinster, losing the man she loved way too soon. A woman who had no vote. A woman abolitionist, Unionist, loyal to President Lincoln living on the wrong side of the civil war. An independent woman who fought to give even a small amount of care and comfort to the Northern soldiers being held prisoner, many times with her mother by her side.

    There is a lot of content in this book. Each battle, each setback, each triumph. Elizabeth Van Lew was a smart, cunning woman who could think on her feet and was able to make Confederates believe what she was doing was good for the South while passing information and more to the North. The woman seemed to have no fear.

    The author’s story may not match to what others have written about Elizabeth Van Lew. I have seen her referred to as “Crazy Bet” in other books covering this time but Chiaverini explains that her “crazy” manner may have just been a way to avoid suspicion.

    I love the way this author writes but I have to say I enjoyed Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker more than the Spymistress. While both very worthwhile reads this one just had so much information I felt until overwhelmed at times. It is a very interesting and though fictionalized it is very educational. Jennifer Chiaverini has a way that makes her characters jump right out of the pages and you forget that these happenings they are enduring really took place. I am so proud this writer calls Wisconsin home.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 25, 2013

    Absolutely Loved It!

    Ms Chiaverini continues to amaze me with her research and story spun around history. The Spymistress follows suit and is a wonderful read. Look forward to the next one!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2013

    Great book - definitely recommended

    Have always enjoyed Jennifer Chiaverini's books. Delighted to find she is writing historical novels about women whose names aren't as familiar to us but who have played a definite part in our history. This book is well written. I definitely recommend it especially to those who enjoy history. Looking forward to her next one!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2014

    Please read!

    Starting in the south 1861, it expands, collects, contracts to show how courage stepping over thresholds of prison camps and linked within Union spies under the rooftops of homes humble and grand thumbprint to mold our country. With a strong female lead, never boring, it should be required reading in schools.

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  • Posted June 21, 2014

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings An interesting

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings

    An interesting new perspective on the Civil War through the eyes of a Unionist living deep within the Confederate lines and how she copes with living among friends, family and enemies.  I was surprised that this book encompassed the entire Civil War, but in the end I was glad to read from the beginning to the end of the war.  

    Lizzie Van Lew is VA born and bred and has no wish to leave the state, but thinks she may have to as the state secedes from the Union.  She has slaves in her home, but only due to the complications from her father's will and her and her mother treat them more like family.  The author did a great job of showing the many different ways that Lizzie Van Lew tried to help her side of the "cause."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2014

    I do not recommend

    I've read many books about this era and this really could not hold my interest. I did not like Lizzie. I really do not think that in that era Lizzie could have been so bold.

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  • Posted May 20, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Last year I read Jennifer Chiaverini's historical novel Mrs. Lin

    Last year I read Jennifer Chiaverini's historical novel Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker and found it quite enjoyable. I like to read novels based on historical people, and getting a different perspective on Mary Todd Lincoln was fascinating.
    Chiaverini's new novel The Spy Mistress is inspired by the true story of civil war espionage. Lizzie Van Lew was from a prominent Richmond Virginia family. She lived with her widowed mother Eliza and her brother John, a hardware store owner, his wife Mary and two young daughters. They were staunch patriots and disdained the institution of slavery.
    When Virginia seceeded from the Union, the Van Lews were stunned. Many of their neighbors supported the Confederacy, and the Van Lews were forced to keep their Unionist views to themselves to avoid being arrested.
    Richmond became the capitol of the Confederacy, and when Jefferson Davis was chosen as it's president, he moved his family (whom we met in Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker) to the city. Richmond also became home to prisons housing Union soldiers captured in battle.
    Lizzie decided to help the Union cause. Under the guise of providing charity in the form of food and books, Lizzie asked for permission to visit the Northern prisoners. She came under suspicion from her neighbors and the Confederate leadership for this, but it was allowed.
    During her visits, she met with Union soldiers who gave her information, including the names of all the men imprisoned, to smuggle out to the North. One of the Union prisoners created a clever code, by punching letters on the pages of a book, that Lizzie quickly figured out. That impressed me a great deal.
    Soon Lizzie had recruited other Union supporters, including freed blacks, to become part of the spy ring sending messages to the Union generals on the battlefield. They even placed a spy inside the Davis home who discovered troop movements and strategies that Lizzie was able to send North.
    This is an intriguing look at the Civil War from another perspective, that of the Southern Union patriot. There is tension in the novel as Lizzie waited for the Union troops to retake Richmond, which takes years before succeeding. Lizzie's neighbors, as well as her sister-in-law who strongly supported the Confederacy, became more suspicious of her, and she worried that her mother may suffer for it.
    Her mother Eliza is a terrific character; she supported Lizzie's efforts, but better understood the importance of appearing to be a true Confederate. Lizzie says Eliza "was the very ideal of a Southern lady- kind, gracious, polite, well spoken, pious and charitable." She was also intelligent and tough when she needed to be.
    Lizzie used her feminine wiles to her advantage, winning over Confederate prison officials, like Mary Todd Lincoln's brother, with her charm and bribes of food and drink. She was underestimated by the Confederate military leaders who didn't count on Lizzie's intelligence or gumption to get what she wanted.
    After reading The Spy Mistress, I want to learn more about Elizabeth Van Lew and her real adventures. This is a terrific book to give to a young woman in high school who wants to learn more about the role women Southern played in the Civil War. It's an unknown story that deserves a wider audience, and Chiaverini tells it in a way that keeps the reader turing the pages.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2014

    I am from Ohio and not from the South, but I found this book ver

    I am from Ohio and not from the South, but I found this book very poorly written in terms of historical "accuracy". Chiaverini wrote this book as though the North walked on water. Hello, anyone ever hear of Elmira prison?--A Northern prison camp for Confederate soldiers or Ohio's own Johnsons Island. A very powerful book written by Sue Monk Kidd, "Invention of Wings" details how racist many of the North treated Free Blacks as well as groups that weren't considered Christian such as the Quakers. I'm not defending the South, but both sides in a war commit horrible atrocities against one another!

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  • Posted October 31, 2013

    5 out of 5 for this reader folks! So if you have read my review

    5 out of 5 for this reader folks!

    So if you have read my reviews before, you will know I am a bit of history lover.  I am fascinated by the Civil War between the North and the South of America and this book just so happens to be the focal point of a non fictional character that braved the odds, fought for what she believed in and put her life on the line to make whatever difference she could in this war.

    The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini is a page turning, compelling historical fiction based on the efforts of real life Elizabeth Van Lew.  I enjoyed this read so much, that I actually researched more about this incredible woman. I was pleasantly surprised to find Jennifer write this piece of fiction around facts and true life historical events and kept Elizabeth as precise as she could.  I have much respect for an author who can make a piece of real history come to life and make it completely believable!  WELL DONE JENNIFER CHIAVERINI!

    Ok, let's get on with the review!

    This book opens just as Richmond, Virginia has voted on seceding with the South in 1861.  Elizabeth's family is aristocratic and slave owners but her mother and her have come to believe that is no longer the future.  Legally blocked by her father's will, the Van Lew family are not allowed to free their slaves, but they sure make life bearable by granting them papers to live as free as they can (the slaves have to check in for legal purposes).  Absolutely disgusted with the state of Virginia and the people who have flipped in agreement with secession (they realize that nothing but bloodshed and angst will come if war is declared ... and they were right), they decide to do what little they can to fight against their own confederate army.

    Throughout this novel, Elizabeth (Lizzie) and her band of ladies (my personal nickname for them ..lol) Mary Jane Bowser (her coloured friend who gives up her freedom to serve as a servant and spy in Confederate leader Davis's home), Eliza Van Lew (Lizzie's beautiful hearted mother) and Eliza Carrington (a family friend who is as brave as Lizzie) work together as Union sympathizer's.  Realizing they are being watched and potentially cast as traitor's, these woman take it upon themselves to outwardly show support for the Confederacy while internally they are spying for and supporting the union.  They visit underground and aid Northerner's in escaping, visit prisons and use the guise of being humanitarian to receive and pass on messages that aid the Northerner's to success and go as far as hiding people in their own home.  All of this is done right under the nose of the confederate army and at any time they can be caught and killed for espionage and treason.

    Of course there are many other supporting characters and major events on both sides, men and women, North and South, that contribute to all the emotions you will experience while reading this book.  So many in fact that I could easily write a four page review.  LOL!  I will not spoil anything, especially if you are not familiar with this part of history.  Know however, that Jennifer Chiaverini writes all her characters with so many complex layers that they become clearly believable.  Not many characters are written black and white, but very much shades of grey.  You read many internal struggles and I can only imagine how hard it had to be to pick a side you believe in when outside influence greatly affects your way quality of life or even if you will live that life.

    An absolutely fantastic book by a wonderful author.  I am anticipating reading more of her books that follow this genre.  If you are a history buff and/or this era is interesting to you, please have a read of The Spymistress.  It most certainly has it all, from mystery, suspense, page turning anticipation, heart, and character.

    HAPPY READING! :)

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2013

    Excellent research in this historical novel about a Virginia wom

    Excellent research in this historical novel about a Virginia woman who worked behind the scenes for emancipation and the Union victory from her location in the heart of the Confederacy, Richmond. I did not know the story, and didn't realize it was based on fact until I'd been "hooked." Rich in detail, and I think Ms. Chiaverini did a better job of relaxing into the storytelling qualities of the writing right off the bat, as opposed to "Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker" (which was also an excellent book, but slightly "dry" at first until the author was able to let the storytelling just flow rather than try too hard to impart too many facts). "Dressmaker" was an impressive non-fiction debut, and this one is even better. Can't wait to see where the next project leads!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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