Review: Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini

mrs. lincoln's rival
Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival
Dutton (January 14, 2014)
Published by The Penguin Group
Historical Fiction
Hardcover: 432 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0525954286
E-Book File Size: 3346 KB


Kate Chase Sprague was born in 1840 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the second daughter to the second wife of a devout but ambitious lawyer. Her father, Salmon P. Chase, rose to prominence in the antebellum years and was appointed secretary of the treasury in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, while aspiring to even greater heights.

Beautiful, intelligent, regal, and entrancing, young Kate Chase stepped into the role of establishing her thrice-widowed father in Washington society and as a future presidential candidate. Her efforts were successful enough that The Washington Star declared her “the most brilliant woman of her day. None outshone her.”

None, that is, but Mary Todd Lincoln. Though Mrs. Lincoln and her young rival held much in common—political acumen, love of country, and a resolute determination to help the men they loved achieve greatness—they could never be friends, for the success of one could come only at the expense of the other. When Kate Chase married William Sprague, the wealthy young governor of Rhode Island, it was widely regarded as the pinnacle of Washington society weddings. President Lincoln was in attendance. The First Lady was not.

Jennifer Chiaverini excels at chronicling the lives of extraordinary yet littleknown women through historical fiction. What she did for Elizabeth Keckley in Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and for Elizabeth Van Lew in The Spymistress she does for Kate Chase Sprague in Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival.*

Dollycas’s Thoughts
Jennifer Chiaverini continues her quest to be known as more than the author of the Elm Creek Quilt novels, which was truly a wonderful series. I truly enjoyed her first book about historic women in history, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. The Spymistress missed the mark with me a bit as it read in places more like a history textbook instead of fiction. In Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival she pulls back on the history book feel and gives the story a more fictional feel. But it just didn’t hit the heights of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker.

These women of history are ones that are not as well known and it was very interesting getting to know Kate Chase Sprague but while there was a bit of tension between her and Mrs. Lincoln I wouldn’t call it a rivalry. Kate Chase was her father’s right hand during his pursuit to become President and while he was Secretary of the Treasury.  She was very savvy and smart and knew how to garner favor and make the right connections. Her own endeavor to become First Lady whether it be with her father as President or as the wife of the “Boy Governor” from Rhode Island was so strong she made some interesting decisions. I also found her to be very spoiled and demanding that rings just a little wrong for the time period, but I know the author researches these women intensively. She tries very hard to stick to the facts and not overly embellish but at times it comes across as just a bit dry and this reader wanting more. I get the feeling the marriage between Kate and William was quite volatile and more details on that could have really turned this story on its ear. 

The Civil War was a terrible time in history but in ways it correlates to the division in our country today, thankfully without the bloodshed on American soil. I found some of the actions taken by Congress and President Lincoln depicted in this book very telling in the ways history repeats itself.  Sometimes it is easier to see when the situations are fictionalized but based on facts.

If Chiaverini continues this road of writing about historic women I know she will hit the right balance between the fact and the fiction because she is an excellent writer.  I am anxious to see who she will choose for her next subject. All three of these books were educational. I encourage the author not to be afraid of being a little more creative in her storytelling. They are fiction and readers are comfortable with the facts being muddied a bit to give the story a more natural flow.

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About This Author
Jennifer Chiaverini lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to the sixteen volumes in the Elm Creek Quilts series and four books of quilt patterns inspired by the novels, she designs the Elm Creek Quilts fabric line from Red Rooster Fabrics. For more information about Jennifer, please visit her website at

Jennifer may be coming to a bookstore near you. Check out her event schedule here.

*Synopsis from Amazon

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

4 thoughts on “Review: Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini

  1. I just finished Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. A good overview of what was going on in the White House at the time.

  2. A very thoughtful review. You’ve really pointed out the challenge of historical fiction writing – finding that balance between the history and the story. I hope that you are right and that Ms. Chiaverini finds the perfect blend in future.

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