Blog Book Tour | “The First Lady and the Rebel” by Susan Higginbotham (aka. #JorieReads more about the Civil War)

Posted Tuesday, 15 October, 2019 by jorielov , , , , , 0 Comments

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I am a regular tour hostess for blog tours via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours whereupon I am thankful to have been able to host such a diverse breadth of stories, authors and wonderful guest features since I became a hostess! HFVBTs is one of the very first touring companies I started working with as a 1st Year Book Blogger – uniting my love and passion with Historical Fiction and the lovely sub-genres inside which I love devouring.

It has been a wicked fantastical journey into the heart of the historic past, wherein I’ve been blessed truly by discovering new timescapes, new living realities of the persons who once lived (ie. Biographical Historical Fiction) inasmuch as itched my healthy appetite for Cosy Historical Mysteries! If there is a #HistRom out there it is generally a beloved favourite and I love soaking into a wicked wonderful work of Historical Fiction where you feel the beauty of the historic world, the depth of the characters and the joyfulness in which the historical novelists brought everything to light in such a lovingly diverse palette of portraiture of the eras we become time travellers through their stories.

I received a complimentary of “The First Lady and the Rebel” direct from the publisher Sourcebooks exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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Why I wanted to read “The First Lady & the Rebel”:

I will say – when it comes to studying the Civil War, I am not the reader most would suspect would be interested. This stems from a bad experience of studying this era in high school – where the focus was askewed towards the Confederacy and excluded most of the context of the North’s position whilst it completely took out of proportion a lot of the crucial aspects of the war itself as  it related to Lincoln and his desire to end slavery.

There was a lot of frustrating moments for me realising that I had a full year of the Civil War ahead of me but without a lot of enjoyment to look forward to because it was all a regeneration of dates & facts; no biographical information on the persons involved, no stories in context or subtext and if it was outside the scope of the textbook, it simply did not exist. In other words, like a lot of structured education – my study of the Civil War was flawed. I was so discouraged by those semesters, I tabled any further research into Civil War History.

Although, being a reader of Historical Fiction – I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for stories which might tuck me back into the folds of this war in a way where my studies failed to take me originally. When I read the premise of “The First Lady & the Rebel” – I thought, perhaps for once, I’ve found the story I wished I could have read in high school. Where there is a balance of focus between the North & South with both perspectives presented in equal measure & worth to each other and where the reader gains a keen insight into what fuelled the war itself and how important it is to remember what caused the division of the States due to how far reaching the end result has become to modern history.

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Blog Book Tour | “The First Lady and the Rebel” by Susan Higginbotham (aka. #JorieReads more about the Civil War)The First Lady and the Rebel
Subtitle: One North. One South. Two Todd Sisters Fighting to Shape Lincon's War.
by Susan Higginbotham
Source: Publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

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?

Genres: Biographical Fiction, Feminist Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical Women's Fiction, Presidential Life & History, Southern Lit, War Drama

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 9781492647089

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark

on 1st October, 2019

Format: Paperback ARC

Pages: 386

Published by: Sourcebooks Landmark (@sbkslandmark)
an imprint of Sourcebooks (@Sourcebooks)

Converse via: #HistoricalFiction, #HistFic or #HistNov
and #MaryToddLincoln, #Lincoln, #CivilWarHistory or  #HFVBTBlogTours

Available Formats: Trade paperback and Ebook

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A note ahead of reading this novel:

Despite the fact I revealled how I was unimpressed by the Confederate and Southern focus of my studies of Civil War History in the past, what has grown in curiosity since then is to uncover a duality of focus wherein you can receive a balanced view of how the North & the South understood their positions during the war. The strife this placed on their families is something I have been keenly empathetic about since I first learnt of how brothers, fathers, uncles and grandfathers could end up on different sides of the fight; the wedge that had to place on their family’s sense of self must have been intolerable. Not to mention, the effect it would have on the women and girls left back home.

This is why when I first started reading The First Lady and the Rebel, I entered the context of the novel without bias – I wasn’t leaning towards Mary moreso than Emily as I wanted to have each of them present themselves to me as if I had just made their acquaintance and simply wanted to know where they set their mind. Secondly, there is a family series called: Legacy which is post-Civil War in scope and the depth of what they explore during that difficult transition of American history is quite impressive. I was only saddened by the fact the latter half of the final year of its run the story-lines went from peculiar to ridiculous. They didn’t get a full series of quality but if you watch the episodes up until when the father starts to court a potential ‘new’ wife – you’ll see the beauty of the series like I had.

Fictional stories and series (or even films!) which re-direct our focus back into critical areas of our living history are a positive way to re-visit the past, dissect the different perspectives and thought processes and learn from what was lived in order to walk more humbly towards our future in full respect of where we travelled. Therefore, when it came to choosing whom to latch onto as I read The First Lady and the Rebel – I wanted to wait to see the characters presenting themselves and their views before I made a final call on which of the characters herein left the strongest impression and which character was the most challenging to understand.

It was also my hope this was a further step closer to finding more Presidential Biographical Historical Fiction to ruminate over and appreciate. As I have thus far carried this tradition a few different ways to Sunday regarding George Washington. (especially if you consider my readings of Becoming George Washington and Mount Vernon Love Story in particular)

my review of the first lady and the rebel:

You learn of the height of Abraham Lincoln long before you learn much else about one of our first statesman and Presidents; as his height apparently was enough to cast a long shadow into his foreboding reputation with his peers and the general public alike. It did not surprise me then, when I found Ms Higginbotham had begun her novel by disclosing Mary’s (Todd) first reaction to meeting Lincoln at her sister Elizabeth’s house in Lexington. It would have left a marked impression on anyone but for her, I think it was a signal to step up and take stock of Lincoln in a way she perhaps might not have otherwise. She was smitten not just by his countenance but by his ambitions – the way he was striving towards a future she felt was readily important; a future she, herself, saw walking hand in hand with Lincoln. As according to this account – it was Mary who was struck by the fact they would make a winsome couple and it was she who felt the husband she would wed would be Lincoln. If love at first sight can attach itself to Mary, it surely can exist for other women as well!

I had a good chuckle over how her sister Elizabeth tried to downplay the connection Mary was feeling towards Lincoln. Seemed to me she had already made up her own impressions on the fellow and he had surprisingly fallen short of her ideals. Thankfully, Mary showed the better state of judgement by not judging him on superficiality but rather on his words, his actions and what he was making of himself.

I knew of some of the importance of having Lincoln in Springfield (having family from the Mid-West) however, I effectively did not know enough as I hadn’t realised how influential his suggestions were becoming and how well trusted he was in the state. As I was reading about Mary’s outing during a disastrously horrid rainy day – I had an inch of curiosity about ‘drays’ – as this became a bit important by the time she wanted to re-visit with Lincoln! I am unsure what I suspected a ‘dray’ might have been but I must say, it looks like our modern open flatbed tractor-trailer! Just a bit less refined and much more ready for heavy work and tasks for hauling. I can see why this option to take a ‘ride’ home on Mary’s part was met with such a fierce reaction in her friend! She was quite the rebel for her era and she elected to choose her own mind on how to do things which I am sure is partially what made her stand out to Lincoln as it was already disclosed how much she loved discussing politics to the point of dissection!

One observation I made is that the voice of Mary Todd is so distinctively strong she does overshadow Lincoln in the opening bridge. His character isn’t as fleshed out for me as he has the tendency of disappearing when Mary is in the same scene. Her voice is refreshingly vibrant, she has such a commanding presence you can’t wait to hear what she will share next and I felt, her presence was the strongest representations of the two. I almost thought we could have glossed over their early meetings with each other and simply gone straight into the heart of where we would find Mary and Emily betwixt and betide to each other during the height of the war itself. I wasn’t sure if this was due to Lincoln’s own mannerisms and personality being a bit more subdued than Mary or if when he was around her – he found it was better to yield to her as she had such a sharp and observant mind. Uniquely enough, I did not warm to her sister Elizabeth either as to me she was a smite too conservative and did not encourage Mary to simply be herself as I found Elizabeth always critical of Mary’s actions and commentaries.

The way the author had spoken about Emily ahead of my reading of this novel, I was half expecting her to be the complete opposite of Mary; though in the context of how she was presented, I found her rather humbled. She didn’t choose sides in relation to slavery initially – she was the outside daughter looking in on a debate which was fully alive by the time she had turnt eighteen. So much so, you see how she attempted to understand her own family’s viewpoints by questioning her father whilst listening to her sister and Lincoln discuss the finer points of it. I am not as certain that the issue was as clear to her then as it appears to us peering back on her life now. I think if anything, she was caught in a generation with a foothold in the past and a grip on the future. Meaning – there was incredible change radically shaping itself into her world and I think due to her age and the generation she was bourne inside – she was seeing the world differently than we do now this far afield into the future. It is right to respect her as she had lived and to re-see what she saw in order to have empathy for how she lived.

Emily’s life started to take off just as quickly as her sister Mary’s – both sisters had their children and were secondary to their husband’s careers. One was moving closer to the White House whilst the other was determined to stand up for the South and the Southern way of living. Emily to me, was still caught between her past ideals (as observed or rather learnt through family) and the future she could sense but perhaps could not envision as she did feel a certain loyalty to her husband. Again, I felt for Emily as irregardless of the fact she was being driven to align with the Confederacy, she still had her own mind and the impressions she had grown to embrace. I don’t believe she outwardly felt dispassionate about the causes affecting everyone but I also felt she was caught in the middle of the greatest debate the country had seen. Unlike Mary, who was not afeared to ruffle feathers by speaking her mind – I sensed Emily took the higher road, not sharing her own feelings in deference to others who were stronger in their voice to preach their own. I questioned if this also could be attributed to their birth order and the fact, Emily was truly Mary’s kid sister.

I have a feeling I might be in the minority in having this reaction but the most compelling character in the story is actually Emily, not Mary. Not because she was politically incorrect in how she had to live on the wrong side of History as declared by Higginbotham and of which History itself reflects but because of how she attempted to make her life work despite the fact her sister was married to the President who was effectively changing life as everyone knew it. It was an incredible period of change and the country needed time to heal and amend itself towards a future which was able to observe equality for all men and not just a limited few. This was part of the story of America and Emily represents the growth which was both hard-won and not as easily realised in those who felt the South would never fall.

I found myself chasing after Emily – eagerly moving into her blocks of chapters and curiously curious about what would be said about her at each of the different intervals we’d meet-up with her again. You can observe quite a heap of History in her sequences – the internal resolve she had for defending the Lincoln’s in the face of her Southern society men and ladies whilst at the same time, worrying over the safety of her own children and husband. She had divided loyalties – she didn’t want to forsake either Mary nor her life with her husband and children; but the war was testing her to the point of a breaking point. Her heart was decided but that didn’t mean others wouldn’t voice their opinions round her or be snarky in her presence whenever they could.

Emily had the hardest path to walk – as compared to her sister Mary. Emily was caught between war, marriage and family; like so many others who were facing what she faced. She tried to handle it with dignity and integrity but as Higginbotham showed – not all good intentions and good deeds are understood by those who observe them. I felt Emily had a raw deal in historical records – she might have lived and died a Southerner but as Higginbotham tried to showcase in this novel – she put her family (both sides of it) ahead of her own needs and when pushed came to shove, she held her ground even in defiance to attempt to survive the war which grew between not just the states but both sides of her family.

on the historical writing styling of susan higginbotham:

When I went to sort out the questions for the interview I wanted to feature alongside this review for The First Lady and the Rebel, I decided to cross-check previously shared interviews on behalf of this blog tour as I didn’t want the conversations to feel like they were overlapping; at least, not intentionally. However, when I finally could sit with the novel and truly absorb myself into it – I learnt about the beautiful Appendix at the end of it! This is where I found a lovely and absorbing conversation by Ms Higginbotham about how she went about researching and developing the novel which became the one we’re reading for the blog tour.

Towards that end – I thought it was rather interesting her perspective on Mary and Emily; which of the women she instinctively felt drawn to more and what we can all takeaway from having read more about these incredible women who lived during a time which tested our nation. It is another layer of insight past where her narrative takes us to journey and I was quite thankful it was included in the ARC! I felt it bolstered my beginning of the story itself and enabled me to understand how she approached writing it as a writer who was wicked fascinated by the ‘history’ of these two women who lived in the shadow of a President during one of the most infamous wars.

A small fly in the ointment:

It did take me a bit to get into the rhythm and flow of this novel – Higginbotham has a particular style of writing a Historical narrative which I was not entirely used to seeing as it was nearly a cross between a traditional Biographical Historical story and a Historical Romance if you take into consideration we spent a lovely time getting fully acquainted with how Mary met Lincoln and how the two could have developed a relationship. However, having recently read Connolly’s Regency Romances there is a bit of a miss here in regards to knitting us close to the scenes and having us feel there is a bit of a crowded reading of the events themselves. Being that I have an ARC copy of the novel – this isn’t to say the finished copy isn’t a bit more polished in certain places but for the ARC itself, I found some of the opening chapters were dragging a bit from an overcrowding of descriptive passages which muddled the flow of the story.

I did contemplate one aspect of the focus of the story – since this felt on the offset to be a sisterly narrative of focus, I oft felt that perhaps it might have been better if Lincoln himself had taken a more passive presence in the story. This also was eclipsed through how Mary herself came across stronger than Lincoln; where she had such a clarity of presence over his own to where I felt perhaps his continued to presence might not be as warranted as making a segue into focusing more on Mary and Emily’s relationship with each other. Letting them take central control of directing the narrative and keeping Lincoln predominately out of scene as we all knew he was running the country and navigating the war.

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This blog tour is courtesy of:

Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours - HFVBTFollow the Virtual Road Map

as you visit others participating:

As this particular one has a bookaway along the route:

The First Lady and the Rebel blog tour via HFVBTs

I truly appreciate the author’s & publisher’s patience whilst I had to re-schedule when my review and interview attached to this blog tour would be featured on Jorie Loves A Story. A special note of gratitude goes to Amy Bruno who gave me the extensions I needed to bring this to my blog when I could finally finish reading the story but also clarifying my ruminations.

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 I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary!
Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst readers who gravitate towards the same stories to read. Bookish conversations are always welcome!

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Reading this story contributed to a few of my 2019 reading challenges:

2019 HistFic Reading Challenge banner created by Jorie in Canva.

2019 New Release Challenge created by for and is used with permission.

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{SOURCES: Book cover for “The First Lady and the Rebel”, book synopsis, author biography, author photograph of Susan Higginbotham, the tour host badge and HFVBTs badge were all provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and used with permission. Post dividers badge by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. 2019 New Release Challenge badge provided by and is used with permission. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: Book Review Banner using (Creative Commons Zero) Photography by Frank McKenna, 2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge banner and the Comment Box Banner.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2019.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Tuesday, 15 October, 2019 by jorielov in 19th Century, Abraham Lincoln, Biographical Fiction & Non-Fiction, Blog Tour Host, Civil War era, Civil War History | era, Content Note, Fly in the Ointment, Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, Historical Romance, History, Literary Fiction, Mary Todd Lincoln, Mid-West America, Military Fiction, Presidential Life & History, Women's Fiction

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