Category: Civil War

Mar 14

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

Civil War, Non Fiction 12

Greetings Bookworms!

I don’t typically read a lot of non fiction, which is a crying shame, really, considering there are some fabulous titles out there. Few things get my dander up more than the way women are written out of history and/or their contributions are glossed over. Blame it on the dual History and Women’s Studies minors. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott was an audio book offering I simply couldn’t pass up. When I try to read nonfiction with my eyeballs, my brain tends to get overloaded with facts and give up… Meaning I fall asleep. I don’t have a good reason for this, but audio works better for me.


Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War tells the stories of four different women participating in some seriously scandalous (for the time) activities. Elizabeth Van Lew was a staunch Unionist who found herself behind enemy lines when the Confederacy decided to make her hometown of Richmond into their capitol. Emma Edmonds felt the need to serve the Union so strongly that she cut off her hair and went undercover as a man to serve in the army. Of course, the Union didn’t have a monopoly on undercover ladies. Belle Boyd started the war off with a bang by shooting a Union soldier and then became a courier and spy for the Confederacy. And let’s not forget Rose O’Neale Greenhow, widowed socialite whose dalliances with high powered politicians put her in the perfect position to become the Queenpin of a spy ring for the Confederacy.

Guys, I learned SO MUCH from this book! The only one of these ladies I knew much about was Elizabeth Van Lew, thanks to good old historical fiction in The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini (review). Now, I’m no Civil War scholar. So much of this book was new information for me and I just gobbled it up. There was one thing though that really stuck with me. While reading this I kept being like “OMG General McClellan, you are really bad at war.” The North seems to have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to military leadership. On paper, this war should not have been this hard to win or lasted this long or cost so many lives. I’m sure there are many varied and complex reasons for the war stretching on the way it did, but this was my takeaway. General warring ineptitude. This is why I should never, ever be used as a source in a research paper!

Talk to me Bookworms! What’s your favorite non fiction title? I might need to make a little reading list. For my ears.

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


May 15

The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini: A TLC Book Tour

Civil War, Historical Fiction 29

Greetings Bookworms!

I don’t know what is is about the American Civil War, but I cannot get enough historical fiction based on the time period. From Gone with the Wind to North and South, I am compelled to read about this fascinating era. When the lovely crew at TLC Book Tours sent me a synopsis of  The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini, I couldn’t resist. *I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I’m from Illinois and this is Honest Abe’s regime we’re talking about: it would be extremely bad form for me to lie. *

TLC SpymistressElizabeth Van Lew was born into a prominent slave-holding family in Richmond, Virginia. Having been raised by a socially progressive mother and educated in the North, Lizzie held some unusual sentiments for a woman of her stature in Richmond at the time. Specifically, Elizabeth Van Lew was of the opinion that slavery was a big steaming pile o’ horse manure. After her father’s death, Lizzie and her mother freed as many of their slaves as they could, and when prevented from doing so by her father’s will, they unofficially freed their slaves by allowing them to live wherever they liked in the city and paid them for their labor.

When the Civil War broke out, the Van Lew family’s stance on slavery was not popular. Even less popular was their suspected sympathy for the Union. Desperate to help the Union cause, Lizzie begins her quest by attempting to offer aid and comfort to the Union prisoners living in deplorable conditions. Her dogged determination serves her well as she moves from bringing food to injured soldiers to smuggling information to the Union from behind enemy lines. Though she takes the utmost care to keep her activities a secret, Lizzie’s activities place her in an extremely dangerous position.

Y’all, this book was great! Elizabeth Van Lew was a REAL woman in Richmond (only the capitol of the Confederacy where she might accidentally run into Jefferson Davis) who led a frigging spy ring for the Union. She was rumored to have Unionist leanings, but without any proof, she was written off as just another eccentric, wealthy spinster. THAT is what you get for underestimating a lady with chutzpah, Confederacy! (Yes, I just smack talked a government that ceased to exist 150 years ago. I’m nothing if not timely.)

I’ve read a bit about the Civil War, and being a lady of the North, I’ve always found the Southern perspective interesting. I think the entire modern-day universe would agree that slavery is/was THE WORST THING EVER, so it fascinates me the way Southern society was able to rationalize it. Judging people outside the context of their time is an easy trap to fall into while reading historical fiction, particularly when it comes to such a horrifying institution. That said, when your way of life is being threatened, it’s natural to get defensive. Before tackling The Spymistress I felt like a had a pretty good grasp the Southern female response to the war. I simply hadn’t considered that there would be an element of Southern society loyal to the Union, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever since I can name half a dozen other major wars and their resistance movements. I think I might be guilty of some Northern snobbery and sore winner’s syndrome…

In any case, I found The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini to be an enlightening and entertaining read. I would recommend it to any historical fiction buff, but especially to those with a fondness for Civil War novels.

Talk to me, Bookworms. Have you ever found yourself judging a historical figure or character’s actions by modern standards? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*


Jan 13

North and South by John Jakes

Civil War, Coming of Age, Historical Fiction 31

Holy Moly, Bookworms!

My friend Lauren from Filing Jointly demanded that I read North and South by John Jakes. She was all, “Katie, it’s like if The Pillars of the Earth was set during the Civil War.” And I was all, “Ooooooh, that sounds wonderful.” Technically, I finished this after midnight on New Year’s Eve, so I’m going to say it counts as my first official read of 2014.

north and southThis bad boy was chunkster-iffic. Weighing in at 812 pages, I was shocked to get through it in less than a week. Family scandal and treachery will do that to you… As well as vacation days. (I love you, vacation days!) North and South begins a trilogy of books that tell the epic tale of the Mains and the Hazards.

Orry Main and George Hazard meet as cadets at West Point in the 1840s. Though Orry hails from a slave-owning plantation in South Carolina and George’s family owns an iron company in Pennsylvania, the two strike a fast friendship. Their friendship isn’t without struggle though. Even prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, tensions ran high between the North and the South. There was fiery rhetoric on both sides of the Mason/Dixon, and it was kind of scandalous for a Yankee and a Southron to be hanging out.

Orry and George graduate from West Point and go on fight in the Mexican-American war together. After their service they each return home to their respective families and continue their lives. As the years progress, the friendship endures, but political tensions rise. Plus, they’ve got these big crazy families and businesses to run. It’s all so intense and passionate!

I have a tiny complaint though. Elkanah Bent is our resident villain. He is super evil and has been deviling the Main and Hazard clans since Orry and George’s days at West Point. I don’t object to a villain, I mean, villains are necessary and interesting and wicked. What I found unnecessary was that Bent was the only overweight character in the entire book. If you’re read this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m super sensitive to authors writing unsympathetic descriptions of obese people, and Bent’s obesity was used as another aspect of his evilness. That I could have lived without.

What I can’t live without? The rest of the doggone trilogy. Holy cats, you guys, I’m enthralled. Heck, I’ve had spirited conversations about Ashton Main (Orry’s sister) and the pantalettes she refuses to keep in place (if I were ever going to slut-shame a fictional character, it’d be Ashton Main)! Epic historical family sagas are where it’s at!

Is anybody else out there a sucker for a saga? Tell me your favorites! 

*If you decide to purchase North and South through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*