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ARC Book Review: ‘The First Lady and the Rebel’ by Susan Higginbotham

Title: The First Lady and the Rebel

Author: Susan Higginbotham

Length: 400 pages

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark


I was over the moon when I was approved for this book on Netgalley, I couldn’t wait to get started.

The story of Mary Todd Lincoln and Emily Todd Helm, two sisters on separate sides of history, fighting for the country the believe in against the people the love the most. When the civil war cracks the country in two, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln watches from the White House as the blows of a divided nation shake her people and her husband, President Lincoln, to their very core. As the news of wartime enters the Oval Office, Mart waits with baited breath, both for the hope of a Northern victory as well as in distress of a bloody Southern defeat. Mary, like many people during this time, have a family that is torn between North and South, her beloved sister Emily is across party lines, fighting for the Confederates, and Mary is at risk of losing the country she love and the family she has had to abandon In the tides of this brutal war.

I find this period of American history absolutely fascinating and I’ve read some great fiction books about it. Some even this year. But this unfortunately wasn’t one of them. Not even close.

This book was 400 pages long and it felt like it. Actually it probably felt longer. It felt as though I’d been reading the book for months. It was so slow. I truly believe this book could’ve been a lot shorter. Or maybe less about how the sisters met their future husbands and more about the time after the Civil War finished, as that was only lightly mentioned but seemed much more interesting.

This book was dense. Extremely dense. And at times, dull. Whatever you say about this book, there’s no denying it has been meticulously researched. Usually I love Historical Fiction novels with a lot of details, in fact most don’t have enough for me. But there’s was something about this book that I couldn’t put my finger on, why it wasn’t connecting, then I realised, it had no heart.

Now, what I mean when I say the book has no heart is it felt like the book had no story. It felt like I was reading a list of dates, or a list of battles, a list of states the characters visited. It felt more like a textbook trying to teach me something than a work of fiction. It didn’t feel like there was much of story woven in between, and what story was woven in between, well it certainly wasn’t a good one.

The characters of Mary and Emily weren’t very likeable. Neither one really had any personality. And the book needed it. When it’s going to be that historical, it needed characters that you can emotionally connect to and these two weren’t it. Their characters felt vapid and shallow. Emily’s love story was sweet but I wanted it to go further. And when her husband was killed in battle, she barely shed a tear. That was this books change to connect and it missed it.

I have to say, unfortunately I wouldn’t recommend this book. I found myself feeling annoyed at its lack of fluidity, it’s dullness and it’s repetition. There’s better books out there about this period in history.

Thank you to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for gifting me with a copy of this book in return for an honest, unbiased review.

Until the next review


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