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The Spymistress

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3.56 of 5 stars 3.56  ·  rating details  ·  2,343 ratings  ·  493 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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Cameran
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
...more
Gail Strickland
You know those books you can't put down and hurry through them because they're so wonderful? This isn't one of them.
Erin
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
...more
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
...more
Lyn (Readinghearts)
Sep 27, 2013 Lyn (Readinghearts) rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
...more
Chelsea
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
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
Marlene
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
...more
Heather
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
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
...more
Anna
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
Eyehavenofilter
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
Excellent! Based on a true story, describes in detail the life of a progressive white activist in the south during the civil war.
Patty Mccormick
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
Melissa
Am I allowed to rate it and leave a review when I couldn't even finish it?

And this review is for her two other novels as well: Mrs Lincoln's Dressmaker (which I read a bit more of yet still could not finish) and Mrs. Lincoln's Rival (which I read even less of than the other two).

I'm a bit confused. This IS the same author who wrote the Elm Creek Quilt novels, right? Because I LOVE those. I LOVE them. I have almost ALL of them. I could not read those books fast enough to suit me.

That is why I
...more
Carol
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
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
Carol
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
Cheryl
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
...more
Michelle
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
Chris
I was intrigued by this book of a union woman born and raised in Richmond Virginia during the Civil War times. I'm not that interested in Civil War history, so this was a strange book for me to be drawn to - and yet I love a story about a strong woman who fights convention and this very much fit that. And the Richmond history was quite appealing as well. I did learn quite a bit about the city and the history of Lincoln's presidency and the Confederacy... There were parts of this that I really go ...more
Cheshire Public Library
Female espionage in the Civil War is a new area of study, and one I am quite familiar with. My husband, Matthew, lectures frequently on four women who risked all for the sake of their country. It has been an immensely popular program, drawing crowds of more than 80 people on occasion.

The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini was my pick for March for the girlfriend’s book club I run outside of the library. I had one sole purpose in selecting this book: to help me research and get ready for my own i
...more
Diane
Last year I read Jennifer Chiaverini's historical novel Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker and found it quite enjoyable. I like to read novels based on historical people, and getting a different perspective on Mary Todd Lincoln was fascinating.

Chiaverini's new novel The Spy Mistress is inspired by the true story of civil war espionage. Lizzie Van Lew was from a prominent Richmond Virginia family. She lived with her widowed mother Eliza and her brother John, a hardware store owner, his wife Mary and two y
...more
Tia Bach
Elizabeth "Lizzie" Lew was born into wealth and privilege during a time in the South's history when that included also owning slaves. But she's a woman with independent thoughts, and she's determined to influence the outcome of the Civil War--even as she's surrounded by Confederates.

Despite the danger of her actions, she fights to take care of Union soldiers imprisoned near her home. Then, she builds a network of communication and action to help those in need. Her ultimate goal is to see the war
...more
Shonna Froebel
This historical novel is based on the U.S. Civil War experiences of the real-life Elizabeth Van Lew. In her forties, a spinster, with her fiance dying of a fever two decades earlier, Lizzie is dedicated to her family and good works. She and her mother would have freed their slaves following her father's death, but his will expressly denied them the ability to do so. Instead, they pay them like they were free men and treat them well. As Virginia votes to secede from the Union, Lizzie is appalled ...more
Linda
Elizabeth Van Lew was born to a prominent family in Richmond, Virginia. Unusual for the time and place, they manumitted their slaves a decade before the Civil War, and regarded all African-Americans as equals. The Van Lews, though devoted to their state, are appalled and dismayed when it secedes, and they decide not to support the Confederacy in any way. It isn't long before their neighbors notice, especially when Lizzie, by this time a spinster, demands permission to nurse Union POWs held in Ri ...more
LapeerDistLib
Historical Fiction
This is the story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a resident of Richmond, VA during the Civil War, who risked everything by caring for Union prisoners of war. Born in Richmond but educated in the North, Elizabeth pledged her loyalty to the Lincoln White House when the war began and showed courage in "clandestine combat" as she gathered military intelligence and spirited it to the Union forces in the North. She hit secrets in the most ingenious places including the inside of hollowed out
...more
Eric Wright
Being Canadian, I'd never dived much into the plethora of books set during the time of the civil war. Coming from a country where negotiation trumps warfare, it's beyond my understanding how a newly constituted country built on the premise that all men are created equal could descend into such a horrific conflict pitting fellow countrymen and patriots against each other. I have read a number of books about slavery; The Invention of Wings, The Book of Negroes, etc. and married a southerner from S ...more
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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
More about Jennifer Chiaverini...
Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker 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)

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