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The Spymistress

3.58  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,974 Ratings  ·  594 Reviews
Born to slave-holding aristocracy in Richmond, Virginia, and educated by Northern Quakers, Elizabeth Van Lew was a paradox of her time. When her native state seceded in April 1861, Van Lew’s convictions compelled her to defy the new Confederate regime. Pledging her loyalty to the Lincoln White House, her courage would never waver, even as her wartime actions threatened not ...more
Hardcover, 355 pages
Published October 1st 2013 by Dutton (first published January 1st 2013)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Oct 14, 2013 Cameran rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013-reads
2.5 out of 5 stars.

At times The Spymistress can be a very enjoyable book. It depicts the story of Miss Elizabeth Van Lew, who collected information to aid the Union during the Civil War. As a woman living in Confederate Virginia, Elizabeth’s loyalties to the Union and abolitionist ideals put her within grave danger, yet she never backs down from what she considers to be her duty. She provided comforts to Union prisoners of war and sometimes helped them escape; she depleted her fortune to put tow
Gail Strickland
Oct 20, 2013 Gail Strickland rated it it was ok
You know those books you can't put down and hurry through them because they're so wonderful? This isn't one of them.
Oct 20, 2013 Erin rated it liked it
Find this and other reviews at: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot....

Civil War era lit is not easy for me to read. I think it a wonderful period with a wealth of compelling material, but I find a lot of writers get caught up in the morality of the conflict and end up releasing very simplistic and one-sided accounts that glorify the virtuous north against the villainous, bigoted and degenerate south. I get the appeal of the good vs. evil allegory, but it's been done a million times and at the
Sandi *~The Pirate Wench~*
Setting: Confederate Virginia

Despite her fervent loyalty to the Union cause wealthy spinster Elizabeth Van Lew cannot bring herself to abandon her beloved Virginia even after it secedes from the United States. During her missions of mercy to the Union soldiers imprisoned in the Confederate capital of Richmond,she realizes she is perfectly situated to glean information that could hasten a Union victory. Risking her reputation, her fortune and her life, she gradually constructs an intricate patchw
Lyn (Readinghearts)
Sep 27, 2013 Lyn (Readinghearts) rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Civil War readers, Historical Fiction Readers
Recommended to Lyn (Readinghearts) by: Penguin USA through Netgalley
There are a lot of books out there about the American Civil War, both Historical Fiction novels and Non-fiction histories. Unlike many of the civil war books out there, which tell grand, sweeping stories of famous battles, The Spymistress, established author Jennifer Chiaverini's new Historical Fiction novel focuses on a much smaller, but just as important, story. The book tells the story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a staunch Unionist, who just happens to live behind the Confederate lines in Virginia. ...more
Megan Besing
Dec 01, 2013 Megan Besing rated it it was ok
Consistent. In one word I wrapped up The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini. The characters, time period, the story and details were very…consistent. Pushing on through the book, I kept thinking I’d reach the heightened climax or a chapter that was so intriguing, pushing me to turn the page and continue on to the next part. The last page arrived before either desired point.
The novel was well written, however the story could have been half its size and still accomplish the same outcome. It read
Jul 13, 2016 Christy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A riveting piece of history written in some-what fiction and non-fiction style. Elizabeth Van Lew (Lizzie) a Unionist spy for her country created a vast spy ring at civil war time starting in 1861. A memorable heroine of her time committed and determined. Lizzie also demonstrates warmth and love and a spice of witticism. I whole-heartedly enjoyed this novel; anyone who enjoys reading about strong women in history should give it a try.
Apr 23, 2016 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Once again I am enlightened about a practically unknown person and how their life story played an integral part in U.S. History. Elizabeth Van Lew is the person Jennifer Chiaverini writes about in "Spymistress." Lizzie, as she was called, and her mother and brother were secret Union sympathizers in Richmond, VA where they lived. The book centers on Lizzie's efforts to aid Union prisoners and helping many escape right user the eyes of Confederate officers. The recital of battles as Union forces s ...more
Nov 02, 2013 Heather rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, fiction
Grabbed this at the library on a whim based on the title and a quick peek at the jacket. Thought the book was well-researched, but it wasn't what I expected. With a title like The Spymistress, I expected thought there'd be some action and suspense. In my opinion, Chiaverini got bogged down by trying to include too many details. The pacing dragged as a result and the climax, if there really is one, appears to be the capture of Richmond which doesn't occur until the end of the book. Van Lew's stor ...more
I really tried to finish this book, but I just couldn't do it. The main character, Lizzy, was a spinster in her late 40s who seemed superficial and whiney. I had absolutely nothing in common with her, which never bodes well when you're trying to immerse yourself in a story. I may try some of Jennifer Chiaverini's other books, but I just couldn't stand to listen to any more of Lizzy's complaints.
Jean Coldwell
May 04, 2014 Jean Coldwell rated it liked it
I was pleasantly surprised with this, my first venture into historical fiction. I have read some reviews that complained that Lizzy was "whiney." I did not find her to be so. I felt that Ms. Chiaverini captured her Southern gentility fairly well. It did seem incredible to me that she was able to carry on her mission for so long without detection, but she seemed quite clever and convincing. Others have commented that the book was given a definite Union slant, with the Confederate sympathizers bei ...more
May 11, 2014 Marlene rated it liked it
Originally published at Reading Reality

This is a quiet kind of story. While the U.S. Civil War that is the reason for the book contains myriad stories of blood, gore, guts and warfare, the story of Elizabeth Van Lew is about a much quieter kind of courage, and makes for a quiet book.

What do I mean by that? Elizabeth Van Lew was a real person, a woman who was born and raised in Richmond Virginia, and continued to live there throughout the Civil War, in spite of being a strong Union sympathizer ca
Tara Chevrestt
This is just too boring for me. 20% into the story, I sat there and said, "Well, I've read this far and I know nothing about the heroine except she lives in Virginia, she lost her beau and is a spinster, she doesn't get along with her sister-in-law, and she supports the Union."

That's all.

The book reads more like an accounting of what happened in Virginia when it seceded. Perhaps it becomes more exciting..I couldn't help but catch her "maid's" name in the beginning. Mary Bowser. Pretty sure she w
Dec 11, 2013 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in Richmond Virginia during the civil war. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Van Lew and her family believe all people are created equal and support the Union cause. Able to use their wealth and influence, Lizzie is able to care for the Union soldiers in the confederate prisons. Along with fellow Unionist, valuable information is relayed to General Grant and other important men aiding them in battle. Despite danger to her and her family Lizzie puts her life at risk time and again. A good historical novel o ...more
Aug 24, 2013 Eyehavenofilter rated it liked it
Shelves: arc
I think others will really enjoy this. BUT.... Besides one of the funniest.quotes I've read in ages this was just a bit too "historical" for me. I got this as an ARC, it wasn't my cuppa tea so to speak.
The characters were a bit 2 dimensional, with very little depth, and just when they could have been interesting there seemed to be no motive for their odd behavior.
I guess the Civil War isn't my thing?

Rus Funk
Nov 20, 2014 Rus Funk rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Excellent! Based on a true story, describes in detail the life of a progressive white activist in the south during the civil war.
Oct 25, 2015 Erin rated it liked it
It was neat to read about a relatively unknown heroine of the Civil War. I also found it interesting to get a little glimpse of what life was like in the Confederate Capital during this era of history. I wish there had been a bit more about Miss Van Lew's work as a spy. The title seems to promise a lot of excitement during a dangerous period of time, but the spy work of Miss Van Lew sounds relatively tame. Granted, it wouldn't surprise me if more spy work is like this rather than like what we se ...more
Mar 05, 2015 Joan rated it really liked it
I like historical fiction and since I had never heard of Elizabeth Van Lew, I was very interested in reading even a fictionalized account of her life and her efforts during the Civil War. I see reviews complaining about the book's lack of build-up and suspense, but the whole endeavor of maintaining Union loyalties in the Capitol of the Confederacy, while trying to appear to appear to be a loyal Virginian in order to avoid harm, would naturally be a life full of suspense and intrigue. The book is ...more
Patty Mccormick
Apr 27, 2014 Patty Mccormick rated it really liked it
I found this book fascinating. We are led through the conflicts that developed when the Van Lew family of Virginia who were for the union, must carry on when Virginia secedes and joins the confederacy. This poses numerous problems for the family and essentially family members are pitted against each other due to their beliefs. We always tend to think of the women of this time as meek and mild, but many of them were strong fighters for their causes. Elizabeth Van Lew was able to function just thi ...more
Nov 29, 2013 Carol rated it really liked it
My actual rating of this book is 3 1/2 stars but there's no way to indicate that in the star chart. I became fascinated with Elizabeth Van Lew when I read another book for my book club, "The Secrets of Mary Bowser" by Lois Leveen, so I was intrigued to find this book on the shelf at my local library. Lizzie (or Bet) Van Lew is a middle-aged woman in Richmond, Virginia during the Civil War. She is wealthy, opinionated and a Union sympathizer, and she uses those characteristics to form a spy netwo ...more
My Book Addiction and More MBA
THE SPYMISTRESS by JENNIFER CHIAVERINI is an interesting American Historical Romance set in 1865 Richmond,Virginia. A complex tale of the beginning of the Civil War where tension is high, loyalty question and brother against sister, wife against husband,friend against neighbor. Elizabeth Van Lew, born to Confederate slave-holding aristocracy in Richmond, Virginia but educated by Northern Quakers, she was before her time. Her skill as a Union spy is unprecedented,her loyalty never wavered, with h ...more
Linda Bridges
Jan 10, 2014 Linda Bridges rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014-books
Lizzie Van Lew and her family find themselves in an interesting position in Richmond, VA as the Civil War breaks out--they are Unionists who do not believe in either slavery or secession. In fact, they work behind the scenes to help Union prisoners of war, escaped slaves, Confederate deserters, and other Unionists who have been found out by the Confederate government. Lizzie finds herself running a mini-spy network, and the family is in almost constant fear of being discovered and sent to priso ...more
Sharon Foust
Apr 06, 2016 Sharon Foust rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Chiaverini vividly describes the descent of the Confederacy after the War Between the States began. Being a Union sympathizer in the Confederate Capitol of Richmond was very dangerous. The bravery of Elizabeth Van Lew should never be underestimated. The woman had courage in spades.
Apr 09, 2016 Charlene rated it really liked it
Although I am not a Civil War buff, I thoroughly enjoyed this story, based on a true story. The bravery and patriotism of the main character, Lizzie, and her friends is extraordinary. Especially when you contrast it with the attitude in today's society of not getting involved.
Jan 06, 2016 Linda rated it it was amazing
What a thoroughly interesting, inspiring story. Elizabeth Van Lew was certainly not made of ordinarily stuff. The strain of living during war, and being involved in espionage, is hard to imagine. As many heroic, visionaries, she died poor and alone. Her remarkable work received posthumously, the recognition it reserved. I must say however, whether this was true or just the author's imagination, the use of the Biblical admonition to care for the stranger, as a cover for espionage within the confe ...more
Jan 29, 2016 Maura rated it liked it
I love historical fiction and I love Virginia Civil War history. In particular, I love learning more about women during the Civil War. I also thoroughly enjoyed Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by the same author, so I was poised to love this novel from the start. Unfortunately, it did not deliver on its potential in terms of character development. What I did enjoy about it was experiencing the privations and challenges of living in Richmond during the war from the perspective of a local, and putting t ...more
Aug 10, 2015 Becky rated it it was amazing
THE SPYMISTRESS by Jennifer Chiaverini
A Civil War story with very little about battles, soldiers or Generals.
Elizabeth Van Lew is a Southern lady who owns slaves, is a secret abolitionist, supports the Union (secretly), loves Virginia and is a Union spy. Van Lew, a real person, was inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame in 1993. Throughout the war she aided the cause of the Union at great risk to herself, her family and friends. Her cleverness in remaining without suspicion is the
Feb 28, 2015 Carol rated it liked it
At times The Spymistress can be a very enjoyable book. It tells the story of Miss Elizabeth Van Lew, who collected information to aid the Union during the Civil War. As a woman living in Confederate Virginia, Elizabeth’s loyalties to the Union and abolitionist ideals put her within grave danger, yet she never backs down from what she considers to be her duty. She provided comforts to Union prisoners of war and sometimes helped them escape; she depleted her fortune to put towards the war effort; ...more
Nov 17, 2014 Cheryl rated it really liked it
I really liked this book and it will stay with me as a vivid look into the life of Union sympathizers trapped behind the enemy lines, even in the capitol of the Confederacy Richmond, VA.

Elizabeth VanLew was born to slave-holding aristocracy in Richmond, VA. The book starts with a wedding of a slave in their household and an account of the recent secessionist convention — her view was that there were 2 to 1 unionists voting. Her sister-in-law was the only secessionist in the household. Her broth
Sep 25, 2014 Michelle rated it it was amazing
Another fabulous read by Jennifer Chiaverini! For all the Civil War era books that I've read, tales of espionage, especially at the peril of women (on either side) is one that I have haven't read much of. The long, anxious months (years really), and the terrible waiting... waiting for the end, for salvation, for Richmond to finally fall, and the suffering of the Union soldiers imprisoned there, dieing sometimes in the hundreds each day, plus the great risk to personal life to those whom sided wi ...more
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For Love of a Book: The Spymistress Buddy Read-August 1 4 Jul 28, 2016 08:59AM  
Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 2 Nov 19, 2014 03:15PM  
¿Por qué no una traducción al Español? 1 2 Oct 22, 2014 03:42PM  
Translation to Spanish, why not? 2 6 Aug 15, 2014 11:38AM  
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Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as six collections of quilt patterns inspired by her books. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. About her historical fiction, the Milwaukee Journal Se ...more
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