Review of “The Secret of Aaron Burr” by Susan Holloway Scott

Scott, Susan Holloway. The Secret Wife of Aaron Burr. New York: Kensington, 2019.

Paperback | $16.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1496719188 | 500 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

The Secret Wife of Aaron Burr seems to have drawn some minor controversy (defined purely by the book’s status as more mid-list than runaway bestseller, and the fact that, unlike other books with greater notoriety, it did not draw headlines in major news outlets), for good reason.

One is the issue of the apparent romanticizing of a relationship between Mary and Burr, which grows more apparent in the latter half of the book. Huge content warning here: the book not only deals with the realities of slavery, but it includes a pretty intense depiction of sexual asault that turns into a semi-consensual relationship.

But this is where I feel like the context of the power dynamic is well done, and even when there is a inkling of some romantic feelings, there is always also a semse that, even when she is freed, serving as a paid employee to Burr, Mary is still in Burr’s power, due both to their past, the resulting children and her desire to care for them, and the years of trained subservience. I even did some research into the modern stories of women who chose to continue “consensual” relationships with their rapists, and, of course, then, as now, what began as an act of power between a superior and subordinate, remains so, even if the subordinate “chooses” to continue the relationship.

Which brings me to the second issue that some readers have: is it really historical fiction if not much is know about Mary? Her children’s lives and family connection to Burr are known, but she is a mystery, so anything directly involving her is fabricated. But as Scott says in her author’s note, her experience as depicted in the nove reflects the experience of many slaves as at the time, including Sally Hemings, whose “relationship” with Jefferson is also getting a lot of new analysis, While it’s likely not a fully accurate depiction of Mary’s life, it does faithfully depict the struggles of the enslaved at the time and the complexity of the choices they had to make in a world that was against them.

And if anything, it makes me admire this iteration of Mary, fictional it may be. She went through a lot, and I could empathize with her almsot every step of the way.

But Aaron Burr…I feel nothing but more loathing for the man. His support for (white) women’s rights is great, compared to some of his contemporaries who did not, but reading this, on top of the evidence of his connection to Mary’s children and the regrettable actions he took in regards to the other slaves he owned when he apparently feared his own life would be taken in the infamous duel with Hamilton, further make me hate him. I do believe it was Scott’s intent to at least depict some ambiguity in his character, given that he is already reviled anyway, so I do think she succeeded.

However, despite being faithful to Mary’s obviously limited role in social and political life, I did enjoy that it offered some balance to the party disputes depicted in I, Eliza Hamilton, with some discussion of Burr and the Democratic-Republicans’ side of things. If nothing else, it is fascinating to get further insights into early American party politics and the in-fighting between the notable politicians of the time.

This is an incredibly moving and educational novel, and while I would urge anyone who is triggered by the aforementioned difficult topics to avoid this book, I would also recommend even the most ardent “history purist” to broaden their horizons to give this book a try. The narrative of the enslaved is one that is not still not told often, although that is improving through the efforts of the curation of plantation tours (like Monticello) to include the discussion of slavery, and I respect Scott’s care in handling the topic with compassion.

Review of “The Lacemaker” by Laura Frantz

Frantz, Laura. The Lacemaker. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0800726638 | 413 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Romance–Revolutionary War

5 stars

I had never read Laura Frantz before, but I purchased The Lacemaker a while ago due to my interest in more historicals set during the American Revolution, and now finding myself in the mood for the period again after having one of those “I don’t know what to read” moments, I finally picked it up.

And I’m impressed by Frantz’s style. She perfectly captures what I already knew was a tense period and brings it to life, giving me a deeper look at the tense, day-by-day conflicts between the Tories and Patriots, as it built up from a rebellion into all-out war.

This is seen through the eyes of the heroine, Liberty, the daughter of a Tory politician who ends up in the middle of it all. While she is never fully disdainful of the Patriot cause, I loved seeing her grow from being more trusting that the life her father has carved out for her is the best to becoming more disillusioned, leading her to the Patriots.

While the names (given at birth or adopted over the course of the story) for both hero and heroine are a little on the nose, with Noble, it is very appropriate. He is not only dedicated to the cause, providing a fresh lens to explore the side of the Patriots through, but I love his “noble” behavior toward Liberty throughout the book, leading me to fall in love with him just as Liberty did, swooning every time he referred to her as “anwylyd,” the Welsh term for “beloved.”

This book is so richly detailed, but it never feels overwhelming, with it being more about the characters’ growth and the growth of their love for each other first and foremost. It is a must-read for anyone who loves a great historical that sweeps you away, leaving you satisfied at completing a wonderful story, yet still yearning for more.

Review of “I, Eliza Hamilton”

Scott, Susan Holloway. I, Eliza Hamilton. New York: Kensington, 2017. 

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1496712523 | 444 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

I enjoyed I, Eliza Hamilton, as it gave me a more in-depth portrayal of the Revolutionary War period and the tensions in the years afterward, the latter of which I had not known before, due to my primary exposure to the period aside from the odd historical novel set in the era being the little I was taught in school that did not make note of Hamilton’s relevance or Eliza’s devotion to him and his legacy.

I loved being introduced to Eliza as a real-life historical heroine to root for, and while she may have had a more traditional role as a wife and mother, I love the devotion she had to her husband even through all the difficulties they faced. And Hamilton himself is a great example of a flawed hero who definitely did not get his due during his lifetime.

My one complaint is that I would have loved the novel to have focused a bit more on Eliza’s activism in championing her husband and all the other awesome things she did to fight to keep her husband’s name remembered. This is mentioned somewhat in both the prologue and epilogue, and in some detail in the “Afterwards” section, but I wanted more of a sense of things she did, not just how she observed Hamilton.

That said, I feel like this is an otherwise solid historical novel, and it would be great for others like myself who are just dipping their toes into this era in historical fiction for the first time.

Review of “Hamilton’s Battalion” by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, and Alyssa Cole

Lerner, Rose, et. al. Hamilton’s Battalion. [United States]: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017. Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1977530691 | 346 pages | Historical Romance

5 stars

While I rarely rate novellas in anthologies individually, this is one of those rare collections where each story was so uniquely layered, that it deserves a collective 5-star rating. I also give the authors props for taking a story motivated by some of the less-than-wonderful events going on in our country at the time the stories were written and expanding the fervor generated by the entertaining and politically conscious musical, Hamilton, writing the long-forgotten stories inspired by people during the Revolution that don’t fit the traditionally white, heterosexual male narrative.

Rose Lerner’s “Promised Land” is lovely in terms of how it tackles the issue of a Jewish person’s identity in the context of their country, given the way Britain has not allowed them citizenship. It was beautiful to see Nathaniel and Rachel, an estranged married couple whose issues are rooted in religious difference to an extent, navigate not only what led to their separation, but finding their place in the new country of the United States.

“The Pursuit Of…” by Courtney Milan strikes the perfect balance between being funny and conveying an impactful message. I loved the cheese, both the literal variety and some of the more romantic sort, while it also touched on John’s family’s experience as slaves, ending with an optimistic ending not only for him and Henry, but for the others as well, that feels completely believable.

I was most excited for “That Could Be Enough” by Alyssa Cole, as I was dying to read an f/f historical, and like the others in this collection, it did not disappoint. I love how this tied the other stories together, following Mercy, who played a peripheral role in the other two stories. And it was nice to read a story where the community surrounding her and Andromeda was more or less accepting of their relationship, with Mrs. Hamilton being a wonderful supporting character in this one.

I would recommend this one to fans of Hamilton and the American Revolution setting.

Review of “The Love Letter” by Rachel Hauck

Hauck, Rachel. The Love Letter. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018. 

Paperback | $15,99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0310351009 | 342 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Fiction/Contemporary Romance

4.5 stars

The Love Letter is another great book by Rachel Hauck, about a time period I had long wanted to read about, and from a perspective that isn’t often talked about when the Revolutionary War is taught in schools. While I did note a few errors, chiefly when it came to editorial issues concerning persons from “across the pond” in England, it was the only flaw in what was otherwise a fun and entertaining book.

What I enjoyed most about the present day storyline was seeing how Chloe and Jesse navigated not only their personal woes, but issues with the film industry as well. As an outsider looking in, being a movie star or director looks so glamorous, but having to deal with all of those production issues along with all of that personal baggage sounds terrible. But I enjoyed living it through Chloe and Jesse’s eyes, and exploring how they let go of some of their difficulties in the past to finally pursue of a relationship with each other.

Inevitably, I did enjoy the past storyline involving Hamilton and Esther more, and the new perspective it brings by focusing on the doomed love between a Patriot and a Loyalist in the South. And while fate does conspire against them having their own happy ending, I love the way their story connects to the present storyline, so Chloe and Jesse can, in some way, be a fulfillment of the happy ending that Hamilton and Esther were meant to have.

This is a great read for those who love stories with dual timelines. It would also be worth reading for someone who wants to read about an aspect of the Revolutionary War that isn’t often discussed outside of more serious academic research.