I was very happy to be offered The First Lady and the Rebel by Susan Higginbotham to review. It has been a while since I read her book, The Queen of Last Hopes, but I really enjoyed it. I thank Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for sending me a copy at no charge for my honest review.
About The First Lady and the Rebel:
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
eBook & Paperback; 400 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
From the celebrated author Susan Higginbotham comes the incredible story of Lincoln’s First Lady
A Union’s First Lady
As the Civil War cracks the country in two, Mary Lincoln stands beside her husband praying for a swift Northern victory. But as the body count rises, Mary can’t help but fear each bloody gain. Because her beloved sister Emily is across party lines, fighting for the South, and Mary is at risk of losing both her country and her family in the tides of a brutal war.
A Confederate Rebel’s Wife
Emily Todd Helm has married the love of her life. But when her husband’s southern ties pull them into a war neither want to join, she must make a choice. Abandon the family she has built in the South or fight against the sister she has always loved best.
With a country’s legacy at stake, how will two sisters shape history?
About the Author:
Susan Higginbotham is the author of seven historical novels, including Hanging Mary, The Stolen Crown, and The Queen of Last Hopes. The Traitor’s Wife, her first novel, was the winner of ForeWord Magazine’s 2005 Silver Award for historical fiction and was a Gold Medalist, Historical/Military Fiction, 2008 Independent Publisher Book wards. She writes her own historical fiction blog, History Refreshed. Higginbotham has worked as an editor and an attorney, and lives in Maryland with her family.
Mary Todd leaves home to spend time with her married sister Elizabeth in Illinois. There it is hoped she will find a husband. She goes to a number of parties and balls but it’s only one man who appeals to her – Abraham Lincoln. A lot of other men are put off by her interest in politics and the news of the day. But Mr. Lincoln finds her fascinating. Their relationship goes through some bumps as does his political career but ultimately they get married and as we all know he gets elected president.
Mary’s sister Emily also comes to Illinois but does not find a husband so she looks elsewhere and finds the love of her life in Hardin Helm, a lawyer and politician from Kentucky. The two sisters are close but when the war breaks out they find themselves on opposite sides as Emily’s husband refuses a post from President Lincoln as he feels he must stay loyal to Kentucky.
What follows is the compelling, heartbreaking tale of sisters separated by War, finding themselves on opposite sides due to their loyalty to their husbands. The Civil War tore so many families apart in this way. The First Lady and the Rebel shares how the divide impacted even the family of the man trying to hold the union together.
Ms. Higginbotham builds this story at a nice pace with lots of historical detail about these very human people, some of whom have attained an almost mythical allure. Most of us know the stories about Abraham Lincoln and some about Mary Todd Lincoln. I knew nothing about her sister or about this break in the family due to the Civil War.
The book is told in not quite alternating chapters from either Emily’s or Mary’s point of view. It starts before the war, carries the reader through the horror and suffering of those living through it and those trying to manage it and breaks the readers’ hearts with the deaths of both men; one in battle and one through assassination. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here as history is history. It continues the sisters’ lives post War as widows – both fighting for relevance in different ways.
I will admit it took me a little time to engage with this book but once I did, I was hooked and couldn’t stop reading. It’s a compelling and ultimately sad story of finding love and losing it.
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