Title: “Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers”
Author: Barbara Hambly
Genre(s): historical romance
Part of a Series: No
Why I read it: Because I’m a history nerd. And because I was out of a college and had all the time in the world now to read for leisure.
Summary: As the British advance on Washington, DC in 1814, Dolley Madison waits in the Presidential Mansion (not yet called the White House). Through this is woven the stories of the women who have been involved with the men called President so far, including herself. Martha Washington and Abigail Adams try to keep their families together while sharing their husbands with the emerging country. Sally Hemings grows from an awkward young girl to a young woman who begins an affair with Thomas Jefferson. Dolley Madison goes from a Quaker widow to a First Lady. What does it take to love a Founding Father?
Review: This is one of my favorite books. Why?
I like how Ms. Hambly weaves her story. She could have four small novellas but she’s masterfully put them together as one cohesive novel. Four romances pull the readers in and are unique to each couple, but still timeless. Its probably something people don’t realize—American history is filled with some great romances. The letters written by John and Abigail Adams prove that. And if Martha Washington hadn’t burnt hers and George’s letters, they’d probably prove it as well. Dolley Madison risked alienating her family by marrying James Madison as he was not a Quaker.
The place where Ms. Hambly took the most artistic license was with Sally Hemings. As Ms. Hambly notes, we don’t know much about her relationship with Thomas Jefferson. So she had to imagine it. And I think she did a good job. We see Sally go from young romantic girl to a woman making the best of her situation, which is loving a man who society won’t let love her back. And who doesn’t realize how unfair it is for her.
I really enjoyed Dolley’s love story. In fact, I think Dolley was my favorite character. She was smart and charismatic. And very loving, especially to her surviving son and to both her husbands. However, she overindulges her son and he ends up a moocher as an adult. It adds conflict in her later chapters.
Abigail also has family issues. One son is a drunk who abandons his family. Her daughter has health issues. And her husband has many conflicts in his administration. Washington deals with friction between two political sides: those who want to ally with England and those who want to ally with France. Jefferson has to worry about the possible scandal of his affair with Sally being revealed. Well, more like Sally is worrying about it. Jefferson doesn’t think it can hurt him because he doesn’t see his relationship with her as something so important.
Names from our history books, like Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, appear as minor characters in the book—especially in Martha’s and Dolley’s sections. In fact, most of the characters interact with each other to some extent, thought not much on Abigail’s part. Not through her own doing—she’s just the only one who doesn’t live in Virginia. Or Philadelphia for an extended period. But it’s nice to see them all interact at various points—mostly Martha and Dolley, Dolley and Sally. A wonderful touch, in my opinion.
Hambly has a rich style of writing that entrenches her readers in the worlds of each of the “founding mothers.” Revolution-era France. Post-revolution Philadelphia. London. Mount Vernon. Monticello. Montpelier. New England. All of these places come to life with Hambly’s words.
Bottom line: A great historical romance for anyone who loves American history.
Who is your favorite real life historical romance?