Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Spymistress” as Want to Read:
The Spymistress
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Spymistress

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  4,082 ratings  ·  732 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Spymistress, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Spymistress

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.60  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,082 ratings  ·  732 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kobo
Despite the fact that the book's subject and main protagonist, Elizabeth Van Lew, grated on my nerves from time to time, this was by far my favorite Civil war era book by Jennifer Chiaverini. Elizabeth, her brother, John, and her mother are loyal to their government in Washington and find their core values shaken when Virginia votes to leave the union. Now they find themselves among neighbors who support the cause of the South. So in secret Elizabeth decides to get involved in an elaborate spy n ...more
Oct 08, 2013 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 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.
Apr 02, 2013 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
Megan Besing
Dec 01, 2013 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
Lyn (Readinghearts)
Aug 11, 2013 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
Kris - My Novelesque Life
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: historical fiction lovers

In Spymistress Chiaverini tells the story of a wealthy Southern spinster who aligned herself with the Union side. Elizabeth Van Lew's finacee died before they could marry and has remained true to his memory. She lived with her widowed mother, married brother (with his wife and two daughters) and houseful of "freed" slaves. Her slave-holding father made a stipulation in the will that the slaves could never be freed but the Van Lew women have told the slaves in their eyes they are.
Jun 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
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.
Christina DeVane
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you enjoy history and the civil war this is a must read! I love both and this is based on the real life of Elizabeth Van Lew, a spy for the Union. Excellent writing style and I also learned so much history in the process!
Oct 29, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, history
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
Aug 24, 2013 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?

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.
Brenda A
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Spymistress has been on my shelf for a while, and I finally got tired of looking at it there and decided to knock it out. I really enjoy anything pertaining to the United States civil war because it’s such a deeply complicated issue. Yes, on the surface it was pro-slavery or anti-slavery, but there were numerous factors that dictated the way people responded.

Ultimately this is a slightly glossed over historical fiction. I love that the author chose to write about a person who actually existe
Christine (KizzieReads)
I really enjoyed this. The writing was much better than Mrs. Lincoln's Rival. It didn't seem to be as much of a historical text, as it was the story happening around the historical events. It was much faster paced, and I enjoyed knowing how Lizzie got her information and how she was able to get the info into the hands of the Union without getting caught.

Being Canadian, I just know the bare facts of American history, and it's nice to see these books telling the stories, not of the well known peo
Feb 18, 2017 rated it liked it
There is a power behind the throne mightier than the throne, and that power is the people.

Standing upon that narrow isthmus of time which connects the two segments of the calendar, the Old and the New Year it is natural that we should pause to reflect; should cast a keen retrospective glance upon the troubled tide over which we have passed, and peer intently into the Cimmerians darkness which envelops our future path....What does the impenetrable face of 1864 conceal of good or of evil for us?

Jul 08, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up-on
I hate giving low ratings to books that I want to love! But the truth is at almost 20% I'm not interested in the book. I also feel there are large amounts of info dumps that happen giving detailed historical data that makes me feel I'm reading a history text book. I honestly lose track of what's happening and who's who. So, I don't mean any harm or bad feelings to this author, but I'm going to set it aside now.... I hope this is a case of it's just me and not the book.
Joanna Jennings
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2019
Fascinating account of a female Union spy in Richmond. I savored this book every time I had a chance... if I had had the audio, I know I would have inhaled it! :) Lol. I know it would be harder for my Southern friends to enjoy... but it was everything I like in a book-- historical, clean, and suspenseful. 5 stars!
May 11, 2014 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
Apr 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
J.S. Dunn
Dec 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
3.5 to 4
Fascinating topic and an intelligent treatment. Rather than sensationalize her subject, Chiaverini devotes the first third to setting a solid foundation for the eventual spying by Elizabeth van Lew and how she avoided detection while penetrating even the household of Jefferson Davis in Richmond.

This is the kind of intelligent historical fiction that is not afraid to deftly include paragraphs of information. Details of daily life and increasing wartime privations are woven deftly as well,
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 04, 2013 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
Rus Funk
Oct 25, 2014 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.
Jun 10, 2017 rated it liked it
For a work of fiction, this is pretty dry, but I still liked it. I appreciated the wealth of detail Chiaverini provided about the war and the conditions in Richmond. This works well as a snapshot in time book. It doesn't create the sense of tension or suspense you would expect from a novel about a spy though, and Chiaverini writes in a very distant way. The reader feels separated from the characters, whose thoughts and feelings are not really discussed. We know our protagonist through her words ...more
Jo Ann
Mar 24, 2017 rated it liked it
This is really a 3.5 for me. The Spymistress, a historical fiction look about Civil War Richmond, Virginia, afforded me an unusual picture of one particular city during this horrific time period. While the story is really about Lizzie Van Lew, a true heroine of Unionist sentiments, I think Richmond is almost a character in herself. Richmond was a torn city of obviously predominantly rebel causes, but Lizzie Van Lew was not a torn women...she knew she was vehemently against slavery and pro-Union, ...more
Jan 16, 2018 rated it liked it
I was excited about this book because the topic is one that I have read quite a lot about, unfortunately it was hard to finish because of the writing style. While the characters were interesting and the topic was eventful I felt that I was viewing them from a distance. There was a lack of depth in the characters that made them relatable and the story while relating the fact well, lacked an expected level of suspense of the topic. Some of the side characters had enough personality to be remembere ...more
Lisa James
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Her Civil War fiction, based on the strong, unsung females who lived it, who were all real people, is riveting. She writes with heart, & the characters are believable. Well written, painstakingly researched, & she even tells you at the end where the real Lizzie is laid to rest so the reader can go pay their respects if they are in Richmond! I as a history & cemetery buff, thought that was a really amazing & unusual touch.
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Most everyone in my book club thought this book was slow, but I really enjoyed it! Living in Richmond certainly made it more interesting to me, and it is very detailed — which I found to be a positive experience, but others may get bogged down in the walk through Lizzie’s day to day life. I liked it because I learned much about the civil war without having to read a textbook.
Author Annabelle Leigha
This book was so good! It has even prompted me to want to read more about Grant. One issue I had was with the reader (I listened on CD) and not the book. The author indicated that Lizzie was in her early 40's, yet the reader made her sound like she was in her 60's. I had to actively remind myself of Lizzie's age.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
For Love of a Book: The Spymistress Buddy Read-August 8 12 Aug 27, 2016 04:49PM  
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 8 Aug 15, 2014 11:38AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Mercer Street (American Journey, #2)
  • True Spies (Lord and Lady Spy, #2)
  • Once a SEAL (West Coast Navy SEALs, #2)
  • The Bite of Winter (Love Bites, #1)
  • Border Bride (Border Trilogy I, #1)
  • Feather Light
  • Once Upon a Highland Christmas (Scandalous Scots, #0.5)
  • The Abolitionist's Secret (Cotillion Ball #2)
  • Yankee in Atlanta (Heroines Behind the Lines, #3)
  • One Glorious Ambition: The Compassionate Crusade of Dorothea Dix
  • Iron Branch: A Civil War Tale of a Woman In-Between
  • Tainted Angel (Regency, #1)
  • The Arrangement
  • Lady Mercy Danforthe Flirts with Scandal (Sydney Dovedale, #3)
  • The French Executioner (French Executioner, #1)
  • One Lucky Night
  • Gideon's Call
  • Gilded Lily (Gilded Flower, #1)
See similar books…
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
“Hope is never false. One's hopes may not be fulfilled, but that doesn't not mean it was wrong to hope” 2 likes
“He nodded, rueful. “I immediately caught myself” 0 likes
More quotes…