Thursday, January 1, 2015

Book Club / Book Bingo: The Spymistress

The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini is a fictional interpretation of a real Union spy, Elizabeth Van Lew, living in the Confederate capital (Richmond, Virginia) during the United States Civil War.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

First Impression: I'm kind of bored. I guess I expected Chiaverini to jump into the interesting part of the story and do flashbacks if she needed to explain things, but she's starting when Virginia first secedes from the Union. I've only read three chapters; I just feel like the author is lingering in descriptions of Lizzie when the story should be active, exciting, and historical. I hope there's an Endnote or something to explain which parts are based in fact and what Chiaverini created. If it wasn't for book group, I probably wouldn't keep reading this. Too much emotion, not very profound language or storyline.

Conclusion:  I'm glad I kept reading this book. There were times when it felt a little like a beach read, but it was pretty good overall. I enjoyed the setting and learned quite a bit about historical events in the Confederate South. There was an Afterword where the author tells a little about her research and what happened to Elizabeth. I'm still curious how many of the side characters were made-up and how many real people were combined to make specific characters. I was also curious to know what really happened with Elizabeth's sister-in-law, Mary. I might do more research on it, although I imagine there isn't much to be found about her specifically. I might not seek out and read everything by Chiaverini, but if her next topic is of historical interest to me, I will probably read it. I trust her research, and her writing style is solid if not my favorite.

Recommendation: If you're interested in the Civil War and would prefer to read about it in an easily readable, historical fiction format, this is the book for you! This is also a good option if you're curious about past U.S. spy networks or strong female role models.

The Spymistress is my Historical Fiction choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge.


  1. Intriguing! I might see if the library has this. My son is studying the Civil War right now for history, so I'm kind of jazzed about the era currently.

    1. Yes, do! Apparently Chiaverini has written other books set during the Civil War as well, but this one sounded more interesting to me. I didn't mention this in my review, but I think I'll try and hunt down some non-fiction about Van Lew and other spies/underground characters from the Civil War. She's an inspiration.