Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker
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Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

3.35 of 5 stars 3.35  ·  rating details  ·  9,503 ratings  ·  1,764 reviews
In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 15th 2013 by Dutton Adult
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What an excellent subject for a book, but the execution was too dry, too much telling, not enough dialogue and direct character interaction, and too much listing off of Civil War events and leaders. I wanted to get more into the internal thoughts and motivations of Elizabeth and Mrs. Lincoln, but it felt more like reading a textbook than a novel. I felt kept at a distance from the primary focus of the book. Not bad, but not my favorite.
Disclaimer: This review is based on an ARC edition of the novel I received from NetGalley.

Having never read Chiaverini before, I was free of most expectations but one. I thought the story was going to be about Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley. And, while ostensibly she narrates the novel, her personality and experience are almost non-existent.

The novel could rightly have been named "Mrs. Lincoln's Story, as Told by Her Dressmaker". The focus is so much on Mary Lincoln that Elizabeth'...more
Redundant and unnecessary book; most of the content consists of verbatim quoting of Mrs Keckley's memoirs, with no new original research to expand her character. Only the last 10% contains anything different from the memoirs, and it feels rushed and incomplete since the last thirty years of her life are condensed in the retelling. Very disappointing. As I read this book I kept thinking how much stronger the novel would be if it was written from the perspective of one of her apprentices. As it is...more
I found it interesting to read the reviews of this book on Goodreads -- many say this book was too dry, and too unlike Jennifer Chiaverini's other books. This is exactly why I liked it. The book was more about history than dress making. And I love reading history books, the more true to history, the better. The first half was almost like watching the movie "Lincoln". This is how I visualized Mrs. Lincoln -- as Sally Fields played her in the movie. I've not read other biographies of Mrs Lincoln,...more
The Book Maven
To me, historical fiction is like a Chinese buffet--for the most part, I will devour it. And sometimes it will be really, really enjoyable; usually it will be satisfying. And every once in a great while, it will leave--not food poisoning, but at the very least a bad taste in my mouth, and a feeling of bloat, and a frustration of "I wasted my calories (time) on this?"

With grody Chinese food, it's usually lo mein noodles. And with historical fiction, it's this book. It has been a very long time si...more
Sidney Hartley
I loved the idea of the book. But I just didn't feel the characters. I found it quite dull to read. It would have been much better had it focused on Elzabeth's past and then took us to her successful days as a dressmaker.
I was extremely disappointed in this book and, quite frankly, sorry I spent the money on it. The author broke that most cardinal rule of writing in that she "told" us absolutely everything, rather than "showing". By the end of the book I felt thai I didn't know Elizabeth Keckley, the main character, at all. Additionally, characters would pop up halfway or further through the book, mentioned as some kind of dear friend of Mrs. Keckley's, and then would never be mentioned again. It was difficult t...more
Nathalie S
I've read nearly all of Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek books so I was really looking forward to reading this new one, about Elizabeth Keckley, who was Mary Todd Lincoln's modiste or in other words, her dressmaker. This book did not disappoint. Jennifer has a real talent of bringing history alive. Elizabeth was born into slavery but through sheer hard work and determination, she was able to buy, not only her own freedom, but also the freedom of her son. I was very impressed by her and by her ama...more
Karen Wyle
This book is called a novel, but it doesn't read like one. I was quite surprised to find, at the end, that the author has written many novels. This is "her first stand-alone work of historical fiction," and it is far more historical than fictional. It's essentially a historical account, sprinkled with occasional dialogue and superficial third person POV. It's almost all "tell," with only the occasional "show." Whatever structural characteristics a novel usually has, this book doesn't. (There are...more
Mar 31, 2013 Mj rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: fiction
The long and the short of it

The short of it

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker was well written, kept my interest and introduced me to a period of history I knew very little about. For that reason, I am not in a position to comment on its historical authenticity. I found the book well researched and the author, Jennifer Chiaverini, provided an interesting and pretty extensive list of reference materials and books – some of which I hope to read at a later date.

Where I thought the book really shone was in...more
Three and a half stars: An interesting peek into the lives of two very different historical women.

Life hasn't always been easy for Elizabeth Keckley. She is a former slave who managed to buy her freedom and her son's as well. She is middle aged, estranged from her husband and building a dressmaking business in Washington D.C. Despite her difficulties, she endeavors to work hard and make the most of her opportunities. Her skills with the needle have landed her some prestigious clients, including...more
I found the book to be disappointing. I was expecting to hear the details of the former slave who was closest to the Lincoln family during their turbulent years in the white house. What I got was a mostly about Mrs Lincoln and the Civil War than about the life of Elizabeth Keckley. I would assume that a woman with the talent and ability to purchase freedom for herself and her son, would not have allowed her life to be wind up in shambles supporting Mrs Lincoln's whims instead of attending to her...more
This story tells of the friendship between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley. Lizzie, a slave who bought the way out of slavery for both herself and her son did so using her sewing talents. She went on to sew for some of the elite woman in Washington D.C. When Mrs. Lincoln moved to The White House she chose Lizzie over many applicants to be her her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in th...more
I have quite a fascination with Mary Todd Lincoln (I even have a shelf dedicated to her) and by default, have read about Elizabeth Keckley. One can imagine my excitement when Jennifer Chiaverini announced her stand-alone historical fiction novel, “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker” depicting the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth from “Lizzie’s” point of view.

“Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker” immediately dives into the storytelling of Elizabeth Keckley and the Civil Warm era in the US. One doesn’t have t...more
While this book was a perfectly pleasant read, it lacked a certain amount of power that kept me up and reading until the wee hours of the morning. Instead of a historical fiction revealing the intimacy between Mrs. Lincoln and her dressmaker, Mrs. Keckley, the reader simply gets another side of Mrs. Lincoln and her extraordinarily difficult life.

It took some patience to work my way through this book. While Chiaverini paints a charming portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, the "main" character Mrs....more
A few years back I read Ann Rinaldi's "An Unlikely Friendship." It was an engaging young adult book that flipped back and forth between Mary Todd Lincoln's life and that of her dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley. Both women led uniquely tragic lives so it was a good read. When I saw that Chiavernini wrote a book on the same topic, I was intrigued. I have read many of her Elm Creek Quilt books and find her to be a hit or miss author. This book was a definite miss. I only made it seventy six pages. It...more
Maureen Timerman
This is not the first, nor will it be the last book, that I have read by Jennifer Chiaverini. This story is a about the relationship between Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley.
Lizzie was very skilled with a needle and became very much in demand in Washington DC. She offered to be almost exclusive to Mrs Lincoln, and they formed a very personal relationship. We travel with them through the beginning of the Civil War and beyond the assassination.
I felt like I was living right there, as...more
What an interesting book! Elizabeth Keckley was born a slave in 1818. She was impregnated by her owner and bore a son. After being a slave for almost 38 years, she was able to save enough money to purchase freedom for herself and her son. She moved to Washington City (D.C.) and set up a business as a modiste (dressmaker). She was a very fine seamstress and was soon in demand to make dresses for the cream of Washington society. One of her favorite clients was the wife of Colonel Robert E. Lee. Mr...more
Becky Loader
I came to this book with an acknowledged bias: I am an admirer of Mrs. Lincoln. I am also a Civil War re-enactor, so keep those two items in mind when you read my review.

I have read two of Chiaverini's Elm Creek quilt series. This is a stand-alone book.

The book has a slow start, then it picks up when the author brings in the larger picture of the War and how it is impacting the characters' lives. The author has done her research, and the incidents she uses are factual and verifiable in reliable...more
Jane Buchbauer
I enjoyed Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker. It was a gentle glimpse into the world of an unlikely friendship. In the midst of a world where race made interpersonal relationships so complicated, it was interesting to see Elizabeth Keckley's roll as dressmaker and confidante to an increasingly unstable Mary Lincoln, first, develop, then, fall to pieces over, sadly, poor decisions. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in historical fiction based in this time period but not an especially enterta...more
Mar 08, 2013 Christine rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Historical fiction fans
I enjoyed every minute of Chiaverini's first foray into non-serial historical fiction. It is an intimate, well-researched look into the Lincoln White House and the life of Mrs. Lincoln's close friend and confidante Elizabeth Keckly, a former slave. Particularly fascinating was Mary Todd Lincoln's life after her husband's tragic assassination. Now I need to read Keckly's real life memoir, which caused such an uproar when it was published--Behind The Scenes. Nobody believed at the time that a form...more
Elizabeth Keckley was a freed slave and talented dressmaker living in Washington before and during the Civil War. As Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker, she had an inside view of the Lincoln's and life in the
White House. I liked the details and the way people viewed themselves. For example, the hope was that free successful black men could receive the vote before others. It was an interesting read but a little slow in parts.
This is a novel based on the book, "Behind the Scenes" written by Elizabeth Keckley. The historical facts of Keckley's life are skillfully woven into a story about one of the most fascinating periods of American history. Elizabeth Keckley was born into slavery, but through her excellent skill as a needle woman and dress maker, was able to purchase her own freedom and that of her son. Eventually, Elizabeth moved to Washington D.C. and became a dressmaker for some of the most notable female figure...more
OCLS Staff Picks
This historical fiction novel tells the story of the Civil War and the Lincoln family from the perspective of Mary Todd Lincoln’s modiste and close confidante, Elizabeth Keckley. She was born a slave, bought her way to freedom, and became Washington DC’s most respected dressmaker. This novel shows her as a prominent member of the free African American community and a shrewd business woman.

Jennifer Chiaverini does a wonderful job of bringing her characters to life while imparting knowledge about...more
Mar 06, 2013 Denise rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in historical fiction, the Civil War, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln.
When I ordered this book I thought it was the next Elm Creek Quilt book. When I received it I found out that it isn't an Elm Creek book but is Jennifer's first stand-alone historical novel. I have never really been much of a Civil War reader, neither fiction nor non-fiction, so I was a little sceptical about how I would feel about this book. I will say to author Jennifer Chiaverini: WELL DONE!

Although this was a book set during the Civil War, it was written from the perspective of a former slave...more
Joy H.
Jan 29, 2014 Joy H. rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Joy H. by: Recommended by Mary Ann E.
Added 11/4/13.
Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker (2013) by Jennifer Chiaverini

Our local book group in the Adirondacks selected this book for one of its monthly discussions.

11/11/13 - I just started reading this book. It's an interesting approach to historical fiction about the civil war era.

1/29/14 - I finished reading this book today. It took a long time to finish because I didn't find it compelling. However, it was interesting enough to keep me reading a bit at a time, in between other books.

Below is a...more
Lori Cox
Elizabeth Keckley was a slave who purchased her freedom for herself and her son through her dressmaker skills. She went to Washington and eventually became Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker. This job also required Elizabeth to dress Mrs. Lincoln for her evening outings, thus allowing Elizabeth a lot of time in the White House. She developed a close friendship with the president’s wife that lasted many years.

I love historical fiction but gave this book only three stars. Keckley’s character seemed fl...more
I have read and enjoyed most of Jennifer Chiaverini's books. This was a bit slow in the beginning but by the end I couldn't put it down. The history is well researched and without Ms. Chiaverini I would never have heard of Elizabeth Keckley.

The story was slow in the beginning but by the end I couldn't put it down. The history was well researched and the story well told. Ms. Chiaverini introduces a modern audience to less well known aspects to the Civil War and the people from those times. We al...more
Diane S.
3.5 Just recently saw the movie, "Lincoln" which I felt was superb and Mrs. Keckley was actually part of the movie. This is one of my favorite periods in US history, as I am sure it is many others and I enjoyed much of this book. Loved the fact that she was accepted in many of the great houses of the time and overheard so much gossip, including that of the Davis's right after the succession of South Carolina. This part of the book was very interesting, made the seamstress and her character, come...more
While this was indeed an interesting subject, and the title character, Elizabeth Keckley, led a fascinating life, the writing was ponderous, and it became an effort to read. Assuming, as other reviewers have done, that many of the stories and words have come directly from Keckley's own published memoir (Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House), perhaps reading that book instead would have felt more genuine and heartfelt to me.
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Translation to Spanish 1 4 Jul 07, 2014 06:04PM  
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Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of ten Elm Creek Quilts novels and An Elm Creek Quilts Sampler and An Elm Creek Quilts Album, as well as Elm Creek Quilts and Return to Elm Creek, two collections of quilt projects inspired by the series, and is the designer of the Elm Creek Quilts fabric lines from Red Rooster fabrics. She lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin.
More about Jennifer Chiaverini...
The Quilter's Apprentice (Elm Creek Quilts, #1) The Runaway Quilt (Elm Creek Quilts, #4) The Quilter's Legacy (Elm Creek Quilts, #5) Round Robin (Elm Creek Quilts, #2) The Cross-Country Quilters (Elm Creek Quilts, #3)

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“She would almost prefer to fold her arms and sink into an eternal slumber, so that the great longing of her soul for peaceful rest would at last be gratified.” 1 likes
“Mr Lincoln suggested that the Lord sent us this terrible war as punishment for the offense of slavery and that the war may be a mighty scourge to rid US of it” 1 likes
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