We’re so excited to have Denise Roy, Senior Editor at Plume and Dutton Books, back to share her book recommendations. Denise is very kindly giving away two copies of MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER by Jennifer Chiaverini today. Simply leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered in the drawing.
Update: the winners of this giveaway are Bonnie and Dana. They have been notified by email. Thanks to everyone who entered! Check back soon for more giveaways!
Thank you to the many readers of SheReads who took time out of their busy days to write in about my November post on two contemporary novels. I feel so fortunate to have been invited back again so soon. This time, I’m wearing my historical fiction hat.
I’m especially pleased to introduce a brand-new novel by Jennifer Chiaverini, an author you may know from her New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series. Jennifer and I have been working together since the 1990s (yes, it’s true!), and we’ve enjoyed a wonderful collaboration. We share not only a passion for novels, but for American history as well.
As Jennifer told The New York Times in a recent interview, trails of her research into the Civil War era repeatedly converged around a little-known but, in retrospect, influential woman. Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. She earned her freedom by the skill of her needle and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln with her devotion. Her true story is the subject of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, which imparts a truly incredible story of a pair of women whose circumstances were vastly different—yet they shared twin losses; a son and a husband, respectively, as well as the devastating costs of war.
Novels that offer a palpable sense of what life was like in another time are among my absolute favorite, and Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker weaves fascinating detail into fact-inspired fiction. Ever wonder about the atmosphere in Washington City, District of Columbia, on Election Day 1860, when Abraham Lincoln won the White House? What exhibits were on display in Chicago’s Great Northwestern Sanitary Fair of 1863? How Mary Todd Lincoln became involved in the Old Clothes Scandal? Learn all of this and more in this remarkable journey into the pages of history.
Since I can’t get enough of historical fiction, I also recommend another captivating read, this one a novel that I didn’t publish.
The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan also explores the late nineteenth century, taking Paris as its setting. Readers may have been inspired by Edgar Degas’s dance-themed paintings and sculpture, but Buchanan’s take on the artist’s personal muses may come as a surprise.
The novel follows the van Goethem sisters, Antoinette and Marie, who find work in the city’s glittering artistic institutions. Yet as Antoinette is quickly swept-up in her work as an extra in Émile Zola’s Naturalist masterpiece L’Assomoir—and her romance with a charismatic yet dangerous man she meets on set–Marie finds life as a young dancer at the Paris Opéra punishing both physically and financially. Her encounter with Degas, a patron of the dance, that leads to a second job as his model, where she becomes the subject of drawings, paintings, and sculptures, most famously Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. As both sisters forge complex relationships with the men who changed their lives, their fates spiral in unexpected ways. As an exploration of the heights and depths of the Belle Époque, as well as a portrait of the complex bonds of sisterhood, The Painted Girls fascinates.