Lilac Girls introduced readers to Caroline Ferriday, an American philanthropist who helped young girls released from Ravensbruck concentration camp. Now, in Sunflower Sisters, Kelly tells the story of her ancestor Georgeanna Woolsey, a Union nurse who joins the war effort during the Civil War, and how her calling leads her to cross paths with Jemma, a young enslaved girl who is sold off and conscripted into the army, and Ann-May Wilson, a southern plantation mistress whose husband enlists.
Georgeanne "Georgey" Woolsey isn't meant for the world of lavish parties and demure attitudes of women of her stature. So when the war ignites the nation, Georgey follows her passion for nursing during a time when doctors considered women a bother on the battlefront. In proving them wrong, she and her sister Eliza venture from New York to Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg and witness the unparalleled horrors of slavery as they become involved in the war effort.
In the South, Jemma is enslaved on the Peeler Plantation in Maryland, where she lives with her mother and father. Her sister, Patience, is enslaved on the plantation next door and both live in fear of LeBaron, an abusive overseer who tracks their every move. When Jemma is sold by the cruel plantation mistress Anne-May at the same time the Union army comes through, she sees a chance to finally escape--but only by abandoning the family she loves.
Anne-May is left behind to run Peeler Planation when her husband joins the Union Army and her cherished brother enlists with the Confederates. In charge of the household, she uses the opportunity to follow her own ambitions and is drawn into a secret Southern network of spies, finally exposing herself to the fate she deserves.
Inspired by true accounts, Sunflower Sisters provides a vivid, detailed look at the Civil War experience, from the barbaric and inhumane plantations, to a war-torn New York City to the horrors of the battlefield. It's a sweeping story of women caught in a country on the brink of collapse, in a society grappling with nationalism and unthinkable racial cruelty, a story still so relevant today.
Martha is still pinching herself after her debut novel LILAC GIRLS, about socialite Caroline Ferriday and her fight to help a group of concentration camp survivors, became an Instant NY Times bestseller in 2016 and went on to sell over two million copies. Once the paperback stayed on the NYT list for 54 weeks, and became published in fifty countries she wrote two more novels: LOST ROSES about Caroline's mother, and SUNFLOWER SISTERS about her great grandmother, which also became Instant NY Times bestsellers. Her latest novel, THE GOLDEN DOVES, which returns to WWII, arrives in bookstores April 18th, 2023. Martha grew up in Massachusetts and now splits her time between Connecticut and New York City. You'll find more info about the incredible, true stories behind all of her books at her website: http://www.marthahallkelly.com, on Instagram: @marthahakkkelly, Facebook.com/marthahallkelly, Twitter: @marthahallkelly and on her ever-changing Pinterest page.
Sunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls #3) by Martha Hall Kelly
Despite this book being listed as number three in the Lilac Girls series, the books do not have to be read in order and you do not need to read the other books to get the full enjoyment of each book. Sunflower Sisters takes place during the Civil War and covers the lives of the real life Woolsey women, from the viewpoint of Georgeanne Woolsey, as they try to bring relief to all who suffer, no matter their color and no matter their army affiliation. We also follow sixteen year old Jemma, who is enslaved with her family, on the Peeler Plantation in Maryland.
Anne-May is now the owner of the Peeler plantation and the slaves that live on the plantation. Anne-May is a vain, uneducated, greedy, selfish woman and her slaves suffer for all her shortcomings. Jemma has fond memories of her the former late mistress of the plantation because it was due to her former mistress that Jemma can read, write, and speak in an educated manner despite the fact that her former mistress could also be cruel. Anne-May forbids Jemma to read and write except when Anne-May wants Jemma to record Union secrets into a book that Anne-May passes on to men spying for the Confederates.
Georgeanne is determined to learn nursing and help on the battlefield and in hospitals despite the fierce opposition from doctors and male nurses who think that a woman isn't smart enough to be able to do the job of nursing. She, her sisters, and her mother work tirelessly to give their time, money, and possessions to help those in need. The author notes of the book are as interesting as the story, as the author relates all that the family continued to do after the war, to further the health, education, and lives of others.
This is a long story and it seems slow in the first half of the book as we get to know the characters and the times. Eventually Georgeanne and Jemma come together as Jemma comes to know she can trust Georgeanne and her family and the story feels like it is moving forward. Jemma, by the time she meets Georgeanna, is a runaway slave, having been conscripted by the Union army as their drummer "boy", until she is injured in battle. She is desperate to get back to the plantation to save her mother and sister but being caught is at the risk of her freedom and life.
Georgeanna, her mother, and sisters are determined to help solders on both sides of the war, despite all the blockades that are put in their way. The fragility of humans is ever present, people left to die because so many others need to be treated and medical help (thanks to the prejudice against how woman can help treat the sick), food, beds, and supplies are in short supply. It's not only the war that takes lives but disease runs rampant through the masses of people living in unsanitary conditions due to poverty and/or war.
I am very interested in the historical aspects of the book although the flood of information seemed to slow down the story at times. The story is wrenching on so many levels, the unspeakable brutality of people kept as slaves, and the horror of families, neighbors, and countrymen fighting each other to gruesome deaths. The fight of some women to change our times, so that women could be allowed to train and work as nurses, shows the many obstacles in the way of women being allowed to do more than just cook, clean, wash, birth babies, and stand by while people die.
Pub: March 30, 2021
Thank you to Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine and NetGalley for this ARC.
Martha Hall Kelly writes about the strong and determined women in the Ferriday-Woolsey family in the trilogy consisting of Lilac Girls, Lost Roses and now in this third book taking place during the civil war. It’s historical fiction, but is based on this true life family and the contributions they made over the generations. It’s impeccably researched and the author makes it clear in her “Notes on Sources” what is real, what is fictional and that the bulk of the story is based on the letters of the Woolsey family and that makes it so meaningful.
The story is told from the point of view of three women in first person narrative. Georgy Woolsey, great aunt of Caroline Ferriday, whose story is told in the first book of this trilogy, is from an affluent, abolitionist family in New York. She trains as a nurse with the famed Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and with one of her sisters serves as a nurse attending the wounded . With a desire to stake a foothold for women in the nursing profession while up against the male dominated medical profession. Jemma is the young slave girl who could read and write, lives on a plantation in Maryland where the abuse is horrific, yet holds the hope of freedom. There are lashings, so much abuse, fear of rape, and for some young women slaves , the fear of having your child taken from you at birth so the baby could be sold. Anne-May, Jemma’s vile mistress at her plantation , is vile not just to the slaves , but even her own family and she gets more abhorrent with each chapter.
The novel is reflective of the time, the war, slavery, taking us from Maryland to Washington to New York City to Gettysburg, from plantation to society dinners to the shacks where the slaves lived, to the battlefields and hospitals. A depiction of the our country and what it might have been like to live during this time. My only reservation is that at times it felt a little slow and drawn out, especially in the earlier part of the novel. It’s a lengthy book and could have used some editing to move the story forward. Overall, I enjoyed it, but my favorite of the three is Lilac Girls.
I received an advanced copy of this book from Ballantine through NetGalley.
I really enjoyed “The Lilac Girls” by this author so I was anxious to read this new novel. First off I want to state that a 3* from me means it’s a good book, just not a great one for me.
The story is told from three points of view. First we have plantation owner Anne-May Watson. She is as cruel as could possibly be depicted. She whips her slaves, feeds them poorly and trades them without a second thought. She is probably a compilation of many such owners in the south at the time. She has an even worse overseer who is an evil man and seems to enjoy whipping and torturing the slaves.
This takes place in Maryland which remained neutral as a state during the civil war. There were many families who fought brother against brother, father against son, etc. That is what happens here, with Anne-May’s husband fighting for the union and her dear brother Harry fighting for the Confederates. Anne-May does have some secrets that will come out later in the book.
Second point of view is that of Jemma who is enslaved on the Peeler Plantation owned by Ms. Watson. She has her mother and father on this plantation and a sister, Patience close by at a neighboring plantation. She has suffered much abuse at Anne-May’s hands and when she has a chance to escape, she takes it. But she’s not totally free yet, Anne-May will stop at nothing to get her back. Jemma has something that she wants and will do anything to get it from her.
The third point of view is that of Georgy Woolsey who lives in the north and is from a wealthy family. She is not content to stay home and knit socks!! She becomes a nurse and joins the Union army. As most women nurses back then, the doctors treated them often with disdain and thought them more suited just for making beds and emptying bedpans. Georgy however likes to stay at the side of the surgeons, assisting and helping with the patients. She and her sister Eliza discover the many dark truths about slavery and the horrors of war. They travel with the army from New York, to Washington D.C. and also serve at Gettysburg, as you all know was a terribly bloody confrontation.
The problem I had with this book is that it didn’t show or tell me about anything new. I have read historical fiction for many years and have read a lot about slavery and the nurses heroic deeds during the war. I had hoped that with the mention of “spying for the Confederate army” that there might be a lot of mystery here. However there wasn’t enough of that to keep me interested.
At 528 pages this is a long read. More editing to shorten this novel and condense some of the overly wordy descriptions and parts of the story I think would help.
I would recommend this to someone who hasn’t read a lot of history about slavery or women’s roles in the Union army.
I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley. The novel is set to publish on March 30, 2021
I really wish Sunshine Sisters wasn’t labeled as “Lilac Girls #3” in some places. Or “Woolsey-Ferriday (chronological) Book 1” in others. Or “Woolsey-Ferriday (published order) Book 3” in still more. Just stop the madness! You don’t need to read all the books in any order or at all to pick them up independently.
But since I have actually picked each of them up, here’s my experience with Martha Hall Kelly’s three books in her flower motif “series.”
Lilac Girls - Wow, I’m enjoying this more than I thought I would given my WW2-story fatigue. She’s a gifted writer! I look forward to the next one.
Lost Roses - Okay, this is about WW1. Let’s give this library copy a go. After about 20 pages, I just don’t care enough to go on. I’m out.
Sunflower Sisters - Hmm, the U.S. Civil War you say? I haven’t read a book about that in awhile. Let’s do it. What?! It’s 528 pages?! Why?! Ain’t nobody got time for that, but now I have the darn thing so I feel obligated. I start begrudgingly. Wait… this is quite compelling. 528 pages later… that went fast!
Allllll that to say Sunflower Sisters really is an excellent read for historical fiction fans. Chapters are dedicated to the first-person perspectives of three main characters: Georgy - a very noble abolitionist nurse, Jemma - a slave with gumption and guts, and Anne-May - a plantation owner, Confederate spy, and true baddie.
The story takes readers from slave auctions to battlefields, from draft riots to audiences with Abraham Lincoln. While these aspects of history have been well-covered before, Martha Hall Kelly has written characters that are compelling enough to keep readers engaged… for all 500+ pages.
I received an advance print copy for review from Ballantine Books / Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley. Those who prefer the audiobook format are in for a treat though, as the multiple narrator cast includes some of the best: Cassandra Campbell, Jenna Lamia (my all-time favorite), Shayna Small, and Saskia Maarleveld.
With each book she writes, Kelly goes back further in time to a different war. She’s now reached the Civil War. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure how she’d manage to bring all the characters together. We have the Wolsey sisters, Northern abolitionists trained as nurses, Jemma, a slave on a southern Maryland plantation and Anne-May Wilson, the owner of that plantation. Once again, Kelly manages to effortlessly weave historical facts into her story. To me, the mark of a good historical fiction is the ability to teach me something new. This one does that in spades. It helps that she had the Ferriday family memorabilia to help her with the story. In fact, I was shocked to learn how much of the story is based on fact. The Woolsey family kept their letters from the Civil War and Hall had hundreds to use as the basis of the story. The story moves at a quick pace and despite its length, I tore through it in two days. I was fully invested in both the story and the characters (even Anne-May, who I wanted to see get her full comeuppance. Kelly paints the scenes and they rolled in front of my eyes like a movie. I’ve been a fan of Kelly, but I think this was my favorite of all her books. My thanks to netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book.
**Now Available!** Sunflower Sisters is Martha Hall Kelly’s third book about the real-life women of the Woolsey/Ferriday family who were philanthropists. According to the author, “when the members of the Woolsey family gave up toys, they took up politics.” Sunflower Sisters is about Caroline Ferriday’s great aunt, Georgeanna Woolsey, who worked as a nurse during the Civil War. It is my favorite of the three novels. The other two novels are Lilac Girls (Caroline Ferriday, World War II) and Lost Roses (Eliza Mitchell Ferriday, World War I).
The name Sunflower Sisters is based on the fact that sunflowers were used as a sign of danger on the underground railroad. They would be placed on fences or trees near unsafe places so the escaped slaves would know to avoid those areas.
The novel is told through the points of view of three women. First is Georgeanna “Georgey” Woolsey, second Anne-May Wilson-Watkins, a female tobacco plantation owner in Maryland, and third by Jemma, a slave on that plantation.
The storyline regarding Georgey is based upon the Woolsey family letters and memorabilia in the family museum. It was fascinating to read of the discrimination against female nurses, and the extra hardships they suffered during the Civil War.
The plantation owner, Anne-May Wilson-Watson, is fictional but seems to accurately portray the cruelty of slave owners and their overseers. Anne-May, whose husband is fighting for the Union Army, gets taken in by a local merchant and helps pass war secrets along to the Rebels. Anne-May is quite the character and makes even Pinkerton Detectives look like fools. Regardless of how bad she is, she seems to always get her way.
Jemma, a slave on Anne-May’s plantation is a strong young woman, who cares deeply for her family. Anne-May takes advantage of Jemma’s ability to read and write when it comes time to pass on the war secrets. Georgy and her mother, Eliza Jane Woolsey, meet Jemma in Gettysburg after Jemma had been conscripted into service of the Union Army and take her under their wings.
While the novel is 528 pages long, the plot moves right along. There is suspense, intrigue, and very interesting information about the Civil War. 5-Stars. Highly recommended.
Thank you to #Netgalley and Ballantine Books for my advanced reader copy. The expected publication date is March 30, 2021. If you love historical fiction, be sure to put this on your To Be Read List.
Within the setting of the American Civil War, we meet three women: abolitionist, Georgeanna (Georgy) Woolsey (ancestor to Caroline Ferriday of Lilac Girls fame), slave girl, Jemma, and plantation owner, Anne-May Watson, whose stories eventually weave together.
Positive points for me: 1. Details/Descriptions: medical techniques, hospital ships, fashions and social events were well-researched. Even facts about female convicts forced to be nurses at Bellevue, the high number of male nurses, the familial issues of "border" states fighting against each other, the Draft Riots in NYC (reminded me of the movie Gangs of New York), and some details about the treatment of slaves really stood out for me; 2. Characterization: using correspondence, news articles, etc., Georgy Woolsey and her family's story was fleshed out very realistically; and, 3. Author's Note: take the time to read this! Very informative!
Why this is only a 3-star read for me: 1. Characterization: I really didn't feel affinity for any of the women! There was a lack of intensity in Jemma's story (I've read worse scenarios about slavery in other books.) As for Anne-May, I didn't despise her because I found her to be quite pathetic (I was expecting a more vile character.) 2. Plot: for a 500+ page book, I was disappointed that some story-lines worked out too quickly and/or conveniently, which, in a sense, didn't help me relate to the characters. Some parts confused me, especially re: the bossiness of the Woolsey women towards Jemma (this just suddenly appeared as a problem, and then just as quickly, disappeared.) 3. Chapter Headings/Dates: some story-lines didn't match the dates, especially at the beginning of the book.
Overall, I liked this story well enough, but Lilac Girls is my favorite of Kelly's three "Flower" novels, which brought out various emotions in me.
The Woosley sisters Abby, Jane, Georgeanna, Mary, Eliza, Harriet and Caroline grew up in privileged and well to do household. Their mother Jane lead by example, she helped the less fortunate, an abolitionist and her daughters followed in her footsteps. Georgeanna trained to be a nurse, despite male disapproval and became one of the first Union army nurses serving in the Civil War. She tended wounded in hospitals, on the battle field and aboard hospital ships. She and her sister Eliza went to Gettysburg where for three weeks they witness firsthand violent battle, the terrible injuries and the horrors of slavery.
Peeler Plantation in Maryland, Jemma is a slave, her father and mother live in the slave quarters and her twin sister Patience works at a nearby Indigo plantation called Ambrosia. The two people she fears the most are her difficult and mean mistress Anne-May and the extremely nasty overseer LeBaron. Anne-May is the owner of Peeler Plantation, her husband Fergus Watson joins the Union army and her beloved brother Harry Wilson joins the Confederate army. Left in charge Anne-May sees it as the perfect opportunity to do as she pleases, she spends too much money, treats her slaves badly and flirts with shop keeper Jubal Smalls. Anne-May is rather naïve, her behavior gets her into serious trouble and she’s drawn into a network of Southern spies.
Sunflower Sisters is inspired by the real Woosley sisters, the letters they wrote and other memorabilia kept in a collection. Sunflowers were also used by the underground railway as a symbol of danger and sisters Jemma and Patience were both drawn to them.
While reading the story you’re given a comprehensive look at life in American during the time of the Civil War, from the streets of New York to tobacco fields of the South. The plot includes information about the battles of the Civil War and the destruction it caused, the shocking injuries and the massive loss of life. It also looks at the evils of slavery, its terrible cruelty and nothing is left out. It’s a story filled with strong female characters to admire, it has elements of suspense, tension, drama, sadness and a little romance. Martha Hall Kelly has written an amazing book to conclude her Lilac Girl Series, its absolutely brilliant and five stars from me. https://karrenreadsbooks.blogspot.com/
4 bright stars for the third and final book in the trilogy about Caroline Ferriday's family. I have read and enjoyed the 2 previous books in the series, Lilac Girls and Lost Roses This book, like the other 2 is based on real people and what they did in the US Civil War. These books can be read as stand alones. Lilac Girls takes place from WWII to the 50s. Lost Roses is set during WWI. This book is told from the point of view of 3 characters: Georgy, 1 of the Woolsey sisters Jemma, a slave on a Maryland plantation Anne-May Watson, owner of the Maryland plantation. She is a self centered cruel woman who delights in whipping her slaves, especially Jemma. Much of this book is based upon actual letters written by the Woolsey family or to the Woolsey family. They detail the volunteer work by several of the Woolsey sisters during the Civil War. This book is rather long, 528 pages, but it held my interest and I became invested in the characters. It took me 10 days to read it. Two quotes: Anne-May: "Unless it's your own, a wedding is a terrible bore. Especially a colored wedding, where they tie the bonds without even a minister present. Since they're not married in the eyes of God, they sin each time they lie together, putting their souls well on the way to hell." (Slaves were not allowed to have ministers/judges perform weddings in the South). Anne-May on her mother: "How flawless her skin was, even well past forty years old, from years of sleeping at night with thin cut slices of rare beef on her face." Thank You Random House/Ballantine Books for sending me this eARC through NetGalley. #SunflowerSisters #NetGalley Here is my review of Lilac Girls if you want to know more about the trilogy. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Sunflower Girls continues the story of the Woolsey family that began with Lilac Girls, set during World War II and sharing the story of the time and lives across continents. Following Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly stepped back further in time with her second book, Lost Roses which is set in 1914 in NYC to and follows Caroline Ferriday, a real-life heroine who is introduced in Lilac Girls. In Sunflower Girls, we step back further in time to learn the story of Caroline Ferriday’s ancestor, Georgeanna, Georgy, Woolsey, who during the 1860’s becomes a Union nurse as the Civil War begins to ravage lives across the country. A woman who had the audacity, temerity, and bravery to insert herself into a man’s world. Not just the fact that it was a war, and women weren’t allowed to serve in any real capacity in the U.S. military, only men. It was not only taboo, but women - other than convicts - who worked were typically either pitied or scorned. Georgy is joined by her sister Eliza, leaving New York to join the war in order to support the freedom of those enslaved, ultimately ending up in Gettysburg, where they are confronted with the horrors of both slavery and war.
In Maryland, Jemma lives with both her mother and father on the Peeler Plantation, with her sister Patience having been sold off to the neighboring plantation owners. While Maryland voted to stay with the Union, slavery is still alive, and those owning plantations weren’t partial to the idea of letting go of their “investments” so easily. The Peeler Plantation has been left in the hands of Anne-May after her husband and brother have left to fight for the Confederates. LeBaron, the overseer, watches over them all closely, and any chance he gets for teaching them a lesson, he’s only happy to oblige. Jemma eventually seizes an opportunity to escape, dressed in boys clothes, and ends up conscripted into the Union army. While happy to leave behind the life she’s lived, sorrow fills her thoughts, brokenhearted over the family she had to leave behind.
A fictionalized story based on the lives and stories of real people that lived during this horrendous time, this story shares yet another unique exposé of a time, the places and people of the time that now seems eerily timely, and all too relevant. Our current news coverage is filled with stories about racial brutality spurred on by a belief that the colour of a person’s skin determines their right to live in this country, America. This country that we pledge our allegiance to, in order that it may continue to have liberty and justice for all.
The following links from the author’s website may help keep track of characters and locations in this story:
I loved SUNFLOWER SISTERS, by one of my favorite authors, Martha Hall Kelly, who has topped herself after even the great LILAC GIRLS and LOST ROSES. I was completely immersed in this sweeping Civil War-era story of three women - Georgy, an abolitionist nurse from the storied Woolsey family, Jemma, an enslaved person, and Ann-May, the mistress of a Maryland plantation. Each woman is so well-characterized, whether she’s noble or deeply flawed, and Martha introduces readers to the real-life Woolsey women, who were extraordinary and ahead of their time. It’s so amazing to know about them, and I felt so inspired by them. Martha’s beautiful prose and wonderful turns-of-phrase bring to vivid life events like the Battle of Gettysburg and the Draft Riots of New York City, and her research reinforces the emotional truth on each page - down to the food, books of the time, and even details of medical treatment. The sweep of this book is so vast, and the events so dramatic, that you can’t stop turning the pages. Historical fiction at its best!
I have read author Martha Hall Kelly’s two previous books – “Lilac Girls” and “Lost Roses” so I jumped at the chance to read her newest book, set just before and through the Civil War. This one is based on the same Ferriday family that we meet in the other two books.
One set of characters features the unique Woolsey/Ferriday family, staunch abolitionists, many of them work as nurses. It was fascinating to read about women breaking into the nursing world as I didn’t realize that all nurses used to be male as well as doctors. Georgey is the main Woolsey daughter featured in this story.
The other storyline features a slave family and the owners of one particular plantation, Peeler Plantation in Maryland. Ann-May Wilson owns the plantation, and she is quite despicable along with her overseer LeBaron. Some of my favorite chapters feature Jemma, a slave who is brutally beaten by Ann-May. I really grew engrossed in Jemma’s family and I rooted for them to have freedom from slavery and this plantation.
The two storylines eventually intersect, and I found the second half of this book much more engrossing. There are battlefield scenes and quite a bit on Gettysburg and the aftermath. There are some espionage subplots, blackmail, Underground Railroad, and the people at the heart of a country torn apart.
This was a fun buddy read with Mary Beth, Susan, and Dorie.
Thank you to Random House Ballantine for the copy of the book to read and review.
This last and (for me) most captivating piece of the Lilac Girls trilogy transports the reader all the way back to the Civil War. Three women give us a comprehensive view of the times: Georgy Woolsey (Caroline Ferraday's great aunt), Jemma (a slave girl in Maryland), and Ann-May Watson (the Peeler Plantation mistress and Jemma's legal owner). Martha Hall Kelly used Woolsey family letters to give us Georgy's point of view while Jemma and Ann-May a combination of women she read about in her research. Through the eyes of these women we visit NYC, Washington, DC, Maryland, and Gettysburg. Reading about all three women and the events they experienced is not easy. Motives were complex and we are reminded of the difficulties in living out your convictions. In states like Maryland, family members would march off to opposite sides. There was even one battle where two Maryland divisions were fighting each other. What I especially loved about this book was the honest storytelling and the sisterhood that shines through. Georgy is one of seven sisters. Jemma has a twin sister who is one of her greatest concerns. Even Ann-May and her sister Euphemia unite at a most crucial moment. Georgy's story shows the immense struggle women had to become accepted in the nursing field. Time after time in this story, she and other women are displaced by a squad of male nurses and cast aside like worn out clothing. This was most definitely my favorite part of the trilogy. The narrative vividly presents the characters and places from this time period with cameo appearances by famous figures like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Olmstead. Bonus: a cute little Siamese kitten named Joan (after Joan of Arc). Enjoy!
Thank you to Ballantine Books and Edelweiss+ for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.
Three cleverly woven together stories told from a trio of unique women:
Georgy, a determined young woman of privilege who prevails in becoming a nurse effecting a breach in a male only profession. She shuns her entitlement to work with injured and dying soldiers near the battlefield.
Jemma, a resourceful and spirited slave owned by Ann Mae. She and her family reside on the same plantation and want to stay together but have to endure much hardship in addition to cruelty.
Ann Mae, a tobacco plantation slave owner who holds Jemma’s paper. She and a few others are horrific and you’ll love to hate them!
The stories are told separately but converge near the end giving a satisfying conclusion. For those like me who like mystery, there is spying, espionage, and a murdered bad guy.
I loved the writing style and the mixing of real and imagined characters. It wasn’t until I read the author’s After Notes describing her research that I realized Georgy's description was based on so much fact. Ms. Kelly accessed hundreds of archived letters written by Georgy and her family including time spent near the battlefield. What a great authenticity to the book to include excerpts from their correspondence! I recommend reading the Afterword if you have the time.
My only reason for not giving perfect scores is because of the length. I became distracted at times by all the asides. Other than that, I loved this book!
Thank you to the publisher, author, and NetGalley for my Advance Reader Copy.
I’m a big fan of the Woolsey-Ferriday trilogy that includes Lilac Girls, Lost Roses and this final installment Sunflower Sisters. If you haven’t read any of the previous books, you can read the books out of order and the way that Kelly writes, you will be able to easily follow along. Sunflower Sisters was released last year in hardcover and just released in paperback this week with such a beautiful cover!!
Sunflower Sisters is a beautiful historical fiction novel based on a true story and set during the Civil War. Kelly writes richly developed characters and the story will suck you in from the very beginning!
The story is told in rotating narratives between three women, Georgeanna, Jemma and Anne-May which really helps give you the full picture of the time period. Georgeanna “Georgey” followed her dream and became a union nurse joining the Civil War effort. Jemma, a slave sold to Anne-May for the Peeler Plantation in Maryland, finds a way to escape her shackles. Anne-May, left behind by her husband to run the plantation herself, decides to join the secret Southern network to become a spy. Her evil ways eventually catch up with her. Reading each story from the perspective of a northern family, a southern plantation owner and a slave really brings the history alive and it is riveting! I wish they taught History classes like this in school.....I might have understood it better. Thank you, Kelly, for your sublime research and your creative way of making a book of 752 pages seem too short!! I didn’t want it to end!
I can’t recommend this book highly enough, especially for historical fiction fans. You will get a real account of the horrors of war, but also present is the human courage of those trying to escape the south.
The author provides notes at the end explaining her factual research and where the fictional story is interwoven to bring you Sunflower Sisters.
4.5 stars Sunflower Sisters was the fabulous third instalment of Martha Hall Kelly's successful Lilac Girls series. This series elaborated on the lives of several generations of Woolsey women and was exhaustively researched. Sunflower Sisters was set in the Civil War era and one of the main characters was Geogeanna Woolsey (Great Aunt of Caroline Ferriday from book 1 Lilac Girls, and Aunt of Eliza Ferriday from book 2 Lost Roses).
One of the many things I love about historical fiction is getting a feel for the time and place, the way people of a particular time thought, spoke and behaved. What was delightful about this book was the way the author included details sourced from the family archives and in some cases included the actual letters shared between Woolsey family members. In fact, Martha Hall Kelly has included an Author Note at the end of each of her three titles and I simply love reading these to understand the way she researched her books. She is dedicated to basing her stories on fact and though she fictionalises some characters many are based on real people and actual events.
Just like the first two books of this series Sunflower Sisters had three strong female characters the story revolved around - Georgy, Jemma and Anne-May. Georgy was one of eight Woolsey siblings, a go-getter in every sense. She was forward thinking and keen to do good. She was an abolitionist and did her part in the Civil War effort by nursing and training other women to become skilled in nursing. She was not only willing but happily stood up to the male doctors and challenged their authority when necessary. Jemma was a slave girl owned by Anne-May. Her strength was evident in the way she tolerated the abhorrent mistreatment she and her family and other friends endured at the hands of their white owners/overseers. She showed great courage in the risks she took to get free of these people. I really liked the sense of community among the slaves. In most cases they were like family and didn't hesitate to put their own lives on the line to help each other. On the other hand Anne-May the Plantation owner was a character I despised. Although I tried, I was unable to find one redeeming quality about her. Even taking into consideration the time and place, and the accepted norms of the day, there was a lot to dislike about Anne-May. I found her to be unethical, dishonest and traitorous, although she did have a tender spot for her younger brother.
The three stories were woven together seamlessly and made for a compelling tale. Whilst I've read books based on the Civil War and others about slavery I'd never really thought about how it must have been for folks in the border towns where family members went off to fight on opposite sides of the war, or where there were staunch abolitionists living with family members who held fiercely traditional slave owning values.
I'm saddened that this is the end of the series but sincerely hope Martha Hall Kelly finds inspiration elsewhere and decides to write again. Like hundreds of thousands of others I have thoroughly enjoyed the series and wholeheartedly thank the author for her efforts. My thanks too to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for the opportunity of reading this digital ARC in exchange for an honest review which it was my pleasure to provide.
Sunflower Sisters is a beautifully written story about the civil war told from diverse perspectives. A wealthy woman decides to be a union nurse against her family’s wishes. She wants to make a difference and help those in need. A female plantation owner becomes in charge of the plantation after her husband joins the union army and her brother joins the confederate army. She follows her own wishes and gets herself in trouble. A slave at the plantation finds a way to escape by pretending to be someone else but has to leave the ones she cares about behind. I liked the different perspectives and how the stories wove together and apart. Sunflower Sisters is the third and final book of the Lilac Girls series but can be read as a standalone without missing anything. The series is based on ancestors of the main characters in the previous books. Sunflower Sisters is a great ending to a great series, but I am sad this is the last book.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Saskia Maarleveld, Shayna Small, Jenna Lamia, and Cassandra Campbell and they all did a great job. I loved all the different narrators and thought they did a great job voicing the characters and telling their stories. I was worried when I saw how long this audiobook was but it went by so fast, and I didn’t want to put it down.
Thank you Ballantine Books, Random House, and Penguin Random House Audio for Sunflower Sisters.
Sunflower Sisters is the third book in the Lilac Girls series however it easily can be read as a standalone novel. This historical fiction book takes place during the Civil War. It's one of those historical fiction reads in which some of it is fact based while some parts were created from the author's imagination. I highly recommend checking the Author's Note when you are finished reading the book as it provided great context into the writing process.
Georgeanne aka "Georgy" is part of the affluent Woolsey family and lives in New York. She has 6 sisters and a brother and has a desire to contribute to the war effort as a nurse.
Jemma is a slave on a Maryland plantation. Ann-May Wilson recently inherited that plantation from her deceased aunt. The story alternates between Georgy, Jemma, and Ann-May.
At over 500 pages, it's a lengthy novel and the pacing at times was slow. Jemma is the heart of the story and my interest level was the highest while reading her chapters in the book. I was initially drawn to read this book because Georgy trained to be a nurse under Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to receive a medical degree. Unfortunately Dr. Blackwell does not have a huge role in the story. I'll admit I did start to lose interest in Georgy's work as a Union nurse and the challenges she faced with not being taken seriously by men. For the most part, the character fell flat in my eyes although I'm not sure why that is the case.
I wouldn't say there's anything significantly wrong with the book but it does feel like I've seen this story play out time and time again. I'm not even a frequent reader of Civil War era historical fiction but I've watched many movies and tv shows tackling the war and the stories kinda blend into one another. It's the same problem I have run into with World War 2 historical fiction. You have to search high and low to find a story that is unique.
With that being said, it was a decent read and the fact the author was able to write three historical fiction books featuring different generations of a family is pretty neat.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance digital copy! All thoughts expressed are my honest opinion.
In Martha Hall Kelly's gorgeous epic multilayered story called, "Sunflower Sisters," its scope takes on the Civil War era in which we are introduced not only to the philanthropic Woolsey family in New York City, but also a slave girl named Jemma and her impoverished family living on Peeler Plantation in Maryland. Anne-May is the mistress and owner of Peeler Plantation and is very cruel to her slaves who work the tobacco fields. Jemma is the house slave who is separated from her family whom she loves. Anne-May has already sold off Jemma's sister Patience to a nearby plantation called Ambrosia next door. As Jemma is sent to Ambrosia by Anne-May for errands she sees sunflowers wrapped around posts and trees. She has no idea what they mean but they do carry a cryptic message. Jemma and her family get treated so poorly by LeBaron and his crew who are always lurking around punishing the slaves inhumanely. It made me so angry. The Civil war is being fought as a backdrop and Anne-May's husband and brother who has a kind heart go off to fight on separate sides leaving her to oversee the plantation where she runs it into the ground by overspending and carrying on with a married man who owns a shop where she buys her snuff which she becomes addicted to. Anne-May sells Jemma to a couple up North along with Sally Smith who was her cook and like a grandmother to Jemma. Jemma gets conscripted into the war as a drummer boy and gets shot in the shoulder by confederate snipers and that is how she comes to meet nurse Georgeanne Woolsey and her mother who are working tirelessly as nurses to care for the dying and wounded soldiers.
The Woolsey's are from a prestigious and well to do family who live in New York City. They are abolitionist's and when the war starts Georgeanne and Eliza work as nurses. There are a lot of male nurses, orderlies and doctor's who don't treat them with much respect and the two sister's are well trained and know what they are doing. After Eliza, who is married and Georgeanne who is not are sent home they receive a telegram from the army saying the only brother and son in the Woolsey family is wounded Georgeanne and her mother set off at once to the battlefield only to find out that he is okay and that it is just a superficial wound. It is there at Gettysburg where Mrs. Woolsey, a widow and her daughter Georgeanne care for the overflowing amounts of men and sometimes young boys who are gravely wounded. That's how they meet Jemma and take her under their wing and she is free for the first time in her life. Jemma enjoys the life of freedom but wants to get her mother and her sister Patience their freedom as well.
There is a menacing specter at work to try to rob Jemma of her freedom which I won't spoil here. The Woolsey's offer Jemma a room in their home and become her protector from the many evil people who would like nothing better than to capture Jemma for various reason's one of which she is in possession of a secret that can have dire consequences to Anne-May and her boyfriend Jubal. They both could be jailed for doing something that amounts to treason. I really thought that this was a compelling plot rich with well fleshed out characters whom were mostly good and decent people trying to serve our nation. There are also a few vile and evil character's out for themselves that do not treat the African American's well at all. I really enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading "The Lilac Girls," which I own but have not got around to reading it yet. I think that lovers of historical fiction will want to read this historical novel that was really well written and entertaining. It covers a vast cast of character's but they are very easy to keep straight. I will read anything this talented author writes and I highly recommend this historical novel. I felt completely drawn into the story as if I was inside it among these character's with their trials and tribulations. There are many Woolsey sister's and they are a close family who are good citizens and are in service to their country and try to work tirelessly not only in finding ways to help the war effort but all of humanity. I am sad to leave these character's behind and this novel is worthy of its five stars plus.
Publication Date: March 30, 2021
Thank you to Net Galley, Martha Hall Kelly and Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine for generously providing me with my ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
Martha Hall Kelly captured my heart with Lilac Girls and Lost Roses, so I was thrilled to have received this ARC. Sunflower Sisters takes place during the Civil War and is told from the viewpoints of a MD slave, Jemma, her owner, Anne-May, and a NY nurse, Georgy. The stories of how the slaves are treated are poignant and difficult to read, especially when they are being punished. Jemma’s plight, strength and tenacity captured my heart and I experienced a roller coaster of emotions with each of her accomplishments and struggles. All of Kelly’s characters come across as incredibly authentic with both good and bad qualities. Even the loathsome Anne-May showed moments of humanity at times. Both Jemma and Georgy must face an abundance of prejudices and both emerge as extremely strong women.
As with all of Kelly’s books, I was impressed by the amount of research that went into this. Though the characters are fictional, they are based on actual people and events told through letters. I have not read a fictional Civil War book quite like this ever. I love that it is told from 3 very different points of view, which convey the many quandaries of this time in history. It raises many difficult questions about why things were the way they were and how the terrible events of the past are affecting society currently. This is an absolute must-read for 2021.
Many thanks to Netgalley, Edelweiss, Ballantine Books and Martha Hall Kelly for my complimentary e-copy ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
This is the third book in Martha Hall Kelly's Lilac Girls series about the Woolsey/Ferriday family. I picked this one up because I really enjoyed Lilac Girls #1 (even though I haven't read Lost Roses which was #2 in the series. Missing the second one didn't make any difference to this novel, which could stand alone, but of course it's always nice to have read the full series just for more background. It's a good story and the characters well well done and believable. The plot will keep you turning the pages, even though it is a rather long book.
This is set during the Civil War and is told from points of view of three very different women: Jemma, a slave girl, who is owned by Anne-May; Anne-May Wilson Watkins, a tobacco plantation owner in Maryland; and Georgy Woolsey, who is a wealthy Northerner. Jemma's story broke my heart. I felt nothing but hatred for Anne-May. Georgy drew my admiration. I liked the inclusion of some real characters in the story, as well as a mix of history and fiction.
Thanks to Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine through Netgalley for an advance copy.
This book was nit an easy read, it was long which I don’t mind usually but, this one took a lot of concentration as there was so many characters and it went from one place to another very quickly. At times I found it not very interesting as there was a lot of chat and not much else. I know about the slavery in the south during the American Civil war but, at times it me uncomfortable reading. Not my thing. My thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review.
EXCEPTIONAL CIVIL WAR TALE, 3 Narrators, EVOCATIVE PROSE, DON'T MISS IT!
NO SPOILERS -
Ms. Kelly has done it again, this third installment is another 5 star for me, please note that there is no need to read this series in order. This standalone novel is so intricate and it magically transports the reader as three narrators educate us to the years preceding and during the civil war set in New England and Maryland and Washington D.C. Each woman is a strong character driven by convictions that lead them to take risks and face challenges that could easily bring them great harm and even death. Yet, their motivations remain despite the challenges they experience.
At the onset, we meet these very determined women in their circumstances just prior between the states (if you are from the South) or the war against aggression (if you are from the North). Georgeanna Woolsey is a woman of conviction. Her family riches came from the sugar industry, primarily attained in harvesting cane by slaves. While she can't turn back the clock, she will not hide from this brutality and wants it to end. She decides to become one of the first women trained to professionally nurse and is one of a very small group to be sent to the front. Despite the long hours, the terrible reception by male doctors and male nurses, she and a few others persevere to serve. Along the way, she meets Jemma, a young woman, who escapes from her master's home when she is conscripted by the Union Army as their drummer boy and is after she is wounded in battle, she is discovered to be female. As she recovers, she joins Georgeanna as a field nurse. Unfortunately, she is always looking over her shoulder when she becomes aware that a former mistress, Ann-May has traveled far and wide to recapture Jemma (who knew Ann-May was spying for the south), when a family member sold her without Ann-May's permission, driven by fear and hate, Ann-May is willing to lie, cheat and manipulate to capture her prey.
These characters seemed very real and their situations plausible. Of course, Ann-May is the devil in a hoop skirt and we grow to hate her more and more with each turn of a page. Her demeanor so cold and lacking in empathy for anyone, whether white or colored is utterly deplorable. She is cunning and clever which allows her to manipulate many but there are people, who see her and understand her far more than she realizes and ultimately, she reaps what she sows.
Georgeanna is the most believable character and Kelly has spent years researching the real Georgeanna Woolsey from letters to her large family and others. Her dedication to her career, her compassion for those oppressed as well as the wounded soldiers from both sides will endear her in a powerful way to readers. It is her story that propels the story forward in many places throughout.
Jemma is equally a sympathetic character, having seen so much atrocity that is the way of life on a plantation, she is separated from those she loves to pay bills for a plantation that is sliding into default. Though she is presented with options for a great life of safety and prosperity, her greatest desire is to be reunited leads to her facing many perils that confound her. Her friendship with Georgeanna and the entire Woolsey family keeps her moving forward in her goal but though they show her every kindness, even they are at times insensitive to her plight and even refer to her as "our Jemma" delineating to her that she is somewhat less than another person of light complexion. She courageously addresses this and finds that their response is positive and more sensitive to her past particularly when they one day witness the stripes upon her back from vicious attacks by Ann-May and the overseer.
For those who may not want to read a war story, there are dashes of love and romance throughout, though nothing that would cause one to be offended.
I love how Kelly manages to artfully tie the three women together, though they never met and are loosely based on history. Kelly's ability to focus on the intricacies and allegiances that separate families during war was truly amazing. The reader finds that the story is almost a vacuum that sucks you in to that era, when cannonballs and gunpowder travel for miles and days. The smell of death permeates the fields and area surgical tents and men share what lies upon their hearts in their last moments.
Don't skip the author's comments, they are rich and insightful as well.
Postscript - It is my understanding that James Woolsey, former head of the CIA is a descendent of this family.
Trigger Warnings: Descriptive abuse scenes including hanging; War and its brutal results; Horses killed during battle
This is the third and final book in this series. I enjoyed Lilac Girls and Lost Roses. We follow the the ancestors of Caroline Ferridy and their account of the Civil War. This novel is told by three distinct women. Georgy is an abolitionist, Jemma is a slave and Anne-May is a plantation owner. each are very strong willed women with a story to tell. This book is based on the actual letters written by the Woolsey family. It is beautifully written and well documented. It was a joy to read about real people. This was my favorite of the series.
The author of bestselling Lilac Girls returns with this incredible Civil War era tale of a Union nurse, an enslaved girl and a Southern plantation owner's wife turned spy. I will be in conversation with Martha on Thursday, April 1, so stay tuned for details. Out this week!
Martha Hall Kelly has masterfully wrapped up the saga of the Ferriday and Woolsey women in her astonishing third novel, Sunflower Sisters. As in her previous novels, the characters in Sunflower Sisters were strong, female and well developed boasting lots of independence and minds of their own. The plot centered around the cruelties and inhumane treatment the slaves endured on the affluent plantations and the horrors, death and destruction on the battlefields during the Civil War. Kelly also explored the roles of female nurses during this time. They were often regarded as inferior by some of the doctors practicing during that time. The male nurses were sought after in crucial situations and believed to be superior by some to their female counterparts. Female nurses were often looked upon as inferior to male nurses. The female nurses fought an upward battle to try and gain recognition for their accomplishments and efforts. Kelly was also able to portray the widespread feeling of racism that existed during that time as well as the budding feeling of nationalism that was taking hold slowly but surely and could be seen spreading across the country. Martha Hall Kelly had discovered letters and journals written by members of the Farriday and Woolsey family that she used to authenticate many of the battles, places of interest and events she wrote about in her book. Sunflower Sisters was actually inspired by these true accounts and because of that the story became even more compelling and heartfelt. Sunflower Sisters was a fast paced novel that had me turning the pages as fast as I could read them. The prose was vivid and the characters memorable. I would recommend Sunflower Sisters very highly.
Thank you to Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine for allowing me to read the arc of Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. Sunflower Sisters is expected to be published March 30, 2021.
Did you enjoy “Lilac Girls” and “Lost Roses,” if you said yes then you are going to love the final book in the Lilac Girls series. I have to say Kelly has a knack for writing historical in a such a way its like you are living it out. I might just go as far as to say she is the queen of historical fiction. Sunflower Sisters is not to be missed. You might as well read the whole series if you have not yet. 4 stars and highly recommended. The Mary Reader received this book from the publisher for review. A favorable review was not required and all views expressed are our own.
Sunflower Sisters is a stunning, captivating and a tour de force! Though it is the third and final book of the Lilac Girls series, each book is a stand-alone. Based on real life events, a fantastic author’s notes with photos from Kelly’s research form the basis of this historical fiction novel. In Sunflower Sisters, Kelly takes us back to the latter part of the 1800’s where the story is told in three parts and in three very distinct voices. Georgeanna “Georgy” Wolsey, a civil war nurse who trained under Dr Blackwell, the first female physician; Jemma the Peeler Plantation slave in Maryland; and Anne-May the cruel, loathsome and despicable mistress. The Civil War is told through these women’s stories and perspectives as Kelly takes us though first hand, these characters’ harrowing experiences from New York to Washington, and then to the battlegrounds of Gettysburg and a hospital ship as Georgy tends to the wounded. The writing was immersive, and the novel’s readability was fantastic. The progression of the story even with the alternative view points was easy to follow, and what made this book shy of 500 pages feel like a short read. I could not get enough of it. I highly recommend!
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an early e-book, although the length of it delayed my reading of it until able to borrow the audio version from OverDrive. It's a popular book so my wait was long.
But I'm so glad to finally have listened to it and to visit the wonderful, generous Woolsey family again. This time it is set during the Civil War and the action takes place in Maryland and NYC. Jemma is a sixteen year old slave girl on the Peeler Plantation owned by Anne May, a shallow, vain, selfish woman giving away Union secrets to the Confederates. Jemma finds herself in the army posing as a boy, and then becomes a runaway who is helped by those wonderful Woolsey's I mentioned above, Georgie in particular. Anne May of course is in pursuit of her "property" and eventually meets her fate.
The others are such smart, strong women. Georgie tries to help as a nurse but the male nurses and doctors finally decide no woman is capable and sends her off, despite her being the one with the progressive ideas and courage. Georgie also has a love interest, a minor part of the story, fortunately.
The story was long in the telling but held me in its grasp for the most part. If not for the great cast of narrators in the audiobook, I might not have enjoyed it as much. There is an author note finally, explaining that this will be the last in the series. I recommend all three books but Lilac Girls is my fav.
A beautifully depicted historically-based novel merging equally absorbing storylines. A good standalone book and great addition to the Lilac Girls series. The author’s vivid sense of period and place, well-written dialogue and colorful characters captivated me. I easily visualized this book as a film. *I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed are my own.