Book Review – America’s First Daughter

Front CoverI recently read the book, America’s First Daughter written by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie.

The book begins during the American Revolution and details the life of Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter Martha otherwise known as Patsy and her respective family, friends, political associates, household slaves, and the climate of the tumultuous time period. We get to meet Patsy’s mother and sisters however brief their lives were, and her friends from the time she spent at the convent in France. Patsy associated with many interesting historical figures from William Short who was her father’s protege to other revolutionaries such as Lafayette and John Adams. Patsy also had a close friendship with two American presidents, their wives, and families. Patsy’s life seemed to stay in politics even in her marriage as her husband was a statesman with whom she had many intelligent children and with her in-laws in politics as well.

Beginning with the Jefferson family’s flight from their home, when “Patsy” was about 9, to France in her teens and to her Virginia farmland home in her adult life. We learn about how heavily influenced Thomas Jefferson was by the women in his life, but yet how little influence they were allowed to publicly offer in society. The book shows how health issues that are run of the mill today were then terribly life-threatening and how mood disorders ruined many lives in a time when there was little to no information to address those issues.

In the book, we get to see how it was to grow up the daughter of an important man, a revolutionary, ambassador, the third president of the United States of America, and plantation owner. How it must have been to see the young cities and government of America change and grow. How exciting it must have been to come of age in France, attending balls with dignitaries and seeing the revolution there come to a head. How interesting and exhausting life was for landowners in Virginia and demoralizing. How exciting and interesting it would have been to be close friends with Dolley Madison.

Patsy learns at a young age to survive, she must not only be strong physically but strong in spirit. Patsy lived through the American Revolution and the French, she lost many who she loved and suffered through political scandals of her father and husband. Her life was one of the ethical contradictions which plagued many of the old plantation-owning families of Virginia. The closeness of her family’s household slaves was a comfort and a burden to her all her life and we learn about how the pride of the slave institution did to bring ruin to some of the men of that time. 

Patsy was a faithful, loving, clever daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend. I really enjoyed reading her story and I think that I would have liked to have known her. 

In my opinion, it is evident that a book of historical fiction has been well written if you feel excited to learn more about the people and/or era. I want to know how it was for the other early president’s families, I want to learn more about how intertwined the plantation owners and slaves lives were and what we can learn to repair the damage that the old practice caused and seems to still be causing hundreds of years later.

What books have you read or recommend on these subjects? Drop me a line in the comments with your thoughts or recommendations. I would love to hear from you!






Memoirs – A Book Review

I enjoy a well written memoir from time to time especially one so entertaining that I forget I’m reading a memoir. Two books that fit this bill are as follows, A Girl Named Zippy Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana and She Got Up Off the Couch And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana both by Haven Kimmel. In her first memoir A Girl Named Zippy, Haven describes her life growing up in a small town in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. She tells stories of everyday life in such a way that even if you didn’t grow up in that particular time; such as myself growing up in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, you will still relate to the evolution of a child’s naive understanding of her small world to a broader idea of life outside herself. She tells the stories about the people in town, her siblings, and close friends. She shares how she saw her father her hero, and her mother as a constant in her place on the couch. You get the feeling from these books that ignorance can be bliss in childhood and a beautiful protection at times.

In the second memoir She Got Up Off the Couch, it is much the same in the way of delightful stories about the town of Mooreland and the people within it, but in the 1970’s Haven(Zippy) is growing up and branching out of the town limits alongside her mom, who got up off the couch and went back to school. This second book is more of a coming of age where Zippy starts to see life outside her own little world, she sees her mom’s situation on the couch and off it, as well as her dad in a new light. We hear more of her friend’s parent’s and their ‘Heroic Acts’ showing that raising a person really does take a village. She learns life lessons on how to push herself beyond what she thought she could do, her religious point of view, boys, babies, parental roles, etc. She learns these lessons from all the characters in her life: the people in town, her friends and their parents, her brother and sister, her father, and some of the most unlikely sources. I think of all the lessons though she seemed surprised to learn from (as many of us gals are surprised from, but that’s another post entirely) is of course her mother. “I went back to staring at the ceiling. With every year that passed, more and more of what that woman said made sense to me, which was flat terrifying.”

What I love most about Haven’s collections of memories is that they are honest retellings of a life genuinely lived. Haven doesn’t gloss over or romanticize harsh realities, but honestly tells them without making it seem like an expose; without anger, blame, or regret. She writes with love and respect for her family’s lives and their choices.         Haven Kimmel’s memoirs are two beautifully written, funny books I highly recommend.

Have you read either or both of these books? What did you think? What feelings did you come away with? Tell me in the comments, I would love to discuss.



Haunted-a review of the book Sarah’s Key

“After all these years,” she said finally, her voice subdued, almost a whisper, “after all these years, I still see the children, you know . I see them climbing onto the buses and being driven away…”

The above passage, taken from Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay, perfectly portrays the feeling of the entire book. It is a story within a story that leaves you haunted with images in your mind and heart particularly of the children victimized during the nazi occupation of France.

The book is two stories spanning two eras told simultaneously from two different points of view. It starts out and unfolds as a memoir from the WWII era characters and then switches to a mystery novel with the modern characters going back and forth. What I found so haunting about it, is the WWII era story is told through the eyes of a child during and about a time of unthinkable violence. It’s the innocent childlike hope that keeps you reading and then in the modern era it’s the intense hope of a parent for a child that is so big it hurts. The images I conjured up in my mind while reading were painful and hard, but somewhat nostalgic because it sent me back to child like feelings and optimism and then again nostalgic of feelings I had and are continuing to have as a mother now. It’s a relatable book even though the context of the story and my life are very different.

This book makes you think about how complicated life is and the importance of connection and attachment with our fellow humans whether within our individual and extended families, in our communities and even as big as our country.

I am haunted by this book, I’ll admit it took some recovery time for me and I definitely need to read something light next. I feel I am better off for reading it though, because I am able to be more introspective about my life and realize the blessings of the era and country I live in now and the blessing my relationships are to me and how I can be more nurturing and honest about myself and what I want and need.