Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Book Review: America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Title: America's First Daughter
Authors: Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Published: 03/01/2016
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre(s): Historical Fiction


The New York Times and USA Today Bestseller

In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson's eldest daughter, Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph--a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.

From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson's oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother's death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.

It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of the revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father's troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love--with her father's protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist, and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William's wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.


I rarely read nonfiction. I believe one reads it to learn about the subject of the book, especially to be able to recall that information at a later date. I have no ability to remember details and facts, so I let myself enjoy reading fiction and leave it at that. This book, though—reading a fictional account of the life of America's First Daughter, Martha "Patsy" (Jefferson) Randolph—was the ultimate compromise between the two genres. It took me three days to read. It's a substantial story; and yet, her life was necessarily condensed to 624 pages for the purposes of this novel. I put my Kindle down frequently and not because I didn't find the story compelling. I did that because I wanted to read the novel and reference sources concurrently.

My daughter is a Virginian, and I lived there for many years. I visited Monticello and Poplar Forest. Nothing I read (or saw) before this novel had me so interested in the lives of the residents of those two historical places. My main interest in the family previously (and mistakenly) lay with the facilities, rather than their inhabitants. I felt extremely fortunate to have walked the grounds where the Jeffersons made history, and I feel grateful to Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie for giving me a personal insight into who the Jeffersons were known to be and who they may have been beyond the letters.


"You see, girls, I wooed your mother by making music with her in the parlor—me with my violin and tenor, she with her harpsichord and soprano. And when two other waiting suitors heard the beauty of our song, they left, vanquished, without another word, knowing they had heard the sound of true love.”


“If there is, beyond the grave, any concern for this world, then there’s one angel who must pity the misery to which life confines me. I’m in a stupor of mind that has rendered me as dead to the world as she whose loss occasioned it.” 

He ought to have been downstairs with us, reacquainting himself with the little daughter who still didn’t remember him. He ought to have been sipping cider with the young man who fancied me, giving his permission to court. He ought to have been doing a hundred other things. Instead, he was preying upon my dead mother’s enslaved half-sister—and the wrongness of it filled my voice with a defiant rage.


I never would have a say, because in the world outside the convent, men did as they pleased and women were left to simply accept the consequences.  
After the House of Representatives voted thirty-five times in a deadlock, on the thirty-sixth ballot my father was elected, peacefully and democratically, to the presidency of the United States. 

My Signed Copy

This book and I have quite the history...I purchased a paperback copy from Amazon in February 2016 to be signed by Laura Kamoie at an event in Virginia that April. I wasn't able to attend, so it was not signed. In May I mailed it to California ahead of my move. In June I purchased the Kindle edition but did not read it until January 2017. After reading and reviewing it, I wrote to Laura Kamoie asking if she would sign my copy if I mailed it to her. Not only did she say yes, but she also said she would have Stephanie Dray sign it as well. So, in February I sent my copy with a self-addressed stamped envelope. When I hadn't received it after two months I wrote to Laura; she replied immediately apologizing about the delay. When she wasn't able to find my exact copy she and Stephanie signed another copy and mailed it right away. I feel extremely fortunate to have this signed copy and will treasure it always.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

My Proposed 2017 Reading Challenge

A friend posted this reading challenge on Facebook yesterday, and I definitely recognize it a challenge. I will be updating this as I finish the book from each category. The first challenge is going to be extremely difficult (read: impossible!), as I specifically remember only one book I read in school! And, since I have no interest in ever reading that book again...I chose a book that I should have read while in school.

Are you up to taking this challenge?  If you are, good luck, and happy reading!

*Last Revised: 07/25/2017* 

 1.) A book you (should have) read in school - 1984 by George Orwell  [Library Book - Read 04/08/2017]

 2.) A book from your childhood - Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry [Library Book - Read 01/13/2017]

 3.) A book published over 100 years ago - Mansfield Park by Jane Austen [Library Audiobook - Finished 04/20/2017]

 4.) A book published in the last year - The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena [Library Book - Read 01/04/2017]

 5.) A non-fiction book - Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman [Read 07/28/2017]

 6.) A book written by a male author - The Closers (Harry Bosch #11) by Michael Connelly [Library Book - Read 01/11/2017]

 7.) A book written by a female author - Raw Deal by Cherrie Lynn  [Read 01/24/2017]

 8.) A book by someone who isn't (known primarily as) a writer - Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham [Library Book - Did Not Finish 05/17/2017]

 9.) A book that became a film - Inferno (Robert Langdon #4) by Dan Brown [Read 02/03/2017]

10.) A book published in the 20th Century - The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway [Borrowed - Read 01/29/2017]

11.) A book set in your hometown/region - (San Diego) The Fallen by T. Jefferson Parker [Library Book - Read 01/19/2017]

12.) A book with someone's name in the title - Stinger by Mia Sheridan [Read 02/27/2017]

13.) A book with a number in the title - The 6th Target by James Patterson [Library Book - Read 02/26/2017]

14.) A book with a character with your first name - Virginia Clay by Meredith Rich [Did Not Finish 05/27/2017]

15.) A book someone else recommended to you - An Exaltation of Larks by Suanne Laqueur [Read 02/15/2017]

16.) A book with over 500 pages - American's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie [Read 01/09/2017]

17.) A book you finished in one day - A Lover's Lament (386 pages) by K.L. Grayson and B.T. Urruela [Amazon Prime Reading Book - Read 01/14/2017]

18.) A previously banned/challenged book - Looking for Alaska by John Green [Library Book - Did Not Finish 06/09/2017]

19.) A book with a one-word title - Jock by C.M. Foss [Read 02/11/2017]

20.) A book translated from another language - A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman [Library Book Read 03/15/2017]

21.) A book that will improve a specific area of your life - How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Gregor [Library Book Read 05/06/2017]

22.) A memoir or journal - Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen [Library Book Read 01/24/2017]

23.) A book written by someone younger than you - Egomaniac by Vi Keeland [Read 02/07/2017]

24.) A book set somewhere you may be visiting this year - Wrecked by J.B. Salsbury [Read 07/18/2017]

25.) An award-winning book - Commonwealth by Ann Patchett [Library Book - Did Not Finish 04/09/2017]

26.) A self-published book - Mists of The Serengeti by Leylah Attar (Pitch73 Publishing) [Read 01/31/2017]