October 31, 2016

Fresh from the Bookshelf: Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray by Dorothy Love {Book Review}

History. I simply love historical fiction. I especially love historical fiction based on true events. When I had the chance to review Mrs. Lee & Mrs. Gray by Dorothy Love, a book based on a real life friendship between the famous general's wife and her housekeeper, I was eager to dive in as it seemed to be just the sort of book I would enjoy!

Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray by Dorothy Love, a review
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About Mrs. Lee & Mrs. Gray

Mrs. Lee & Mrs. Gray by Dorothy Love explores the true-life account of an extraordinary alliance between Mrs. Robert E. Lee and her slave girl-turned housekeeper Mrs. Selina Norris Gray during the period of time leading up to and through the Civil War. Written in third person, the story alternates between Mary Anna Custis Lee (great-grandaughter of Martha Washington, wife of Confederate General General Robert E. Lee, and heiress to Virginia’s storied Arlington house and General Washington’s personal belongings) and Selina Norris Gray (a girl born in bondage at Arlington who learns to read and write in the schoolroom Mary and her mother keep for the slave children). We see the courtship and marriage of Mary (aka Molly) and Robert, the growing up of Selina through the household of the Custis family into the role of housekeeper, the turbulent period of slave uprisings before the war begins—from both women’s point of view, the beginning of the war, the changing of relationship between Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray to close friends, and more. The story explores the 50 year friendship forged at the turning point of America’s journey from enslavement to emancipation.

My Thoughts on the Story

Honestly, I had high hopes for this story. It was set in a period of time I love. It was based on a true-life account. It had a double narrative. All things that should have worked for it. But for some reason, I can’t quite figure out why it didn’t work for me. It’s wasn’t bad, or even kinda bad. It was just…okay. This surprises me actually, since I have loved this author’s books in the past. Maybe it was the way the book moved quickly through time. And taking that with the alternating narratives, it might have just been too much bouncing.

That being said, I did like the way the book explored the events from both sides—slave owner and slave. The idea that Mrs. Lee wanting things to “stay the same” in relation to the pre-war good old days of growing up in Arlington, meant that Mrs. Gray’s dreams of freedom for her family could never come true. I also thought Arlington had been through Robert E. Lee’s family, I didn’t know it was actually through his wife—although I did know about the connection with George Washington somewhere in there. So I guess I liked the history pieces more than the actual story itself. It made me eager to explore the true-life account myself. 

The book was well-written, but it wasn’t spellbinding like other books by Dorothy Love I have read. It did touch on some of the less than nice aspects of the relationships between slave and slaveholder—including the mulatto issues. But it was done in a tasteful way and fit the story flow.
I just give it an "okay" rating at three stars. It wasn't spellbinding, nor did it hold my attention for more than a few chapters at a time. I think it tried to pour too much of the 50 year relationship in the pages, and it just moved too quickly--especially bouncing back and forth between the two characters. 
by Dorothy Love
Available for Kindle and Paperback

Here are some other books by Dorothy Love:

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