Tag Archives: Jennifer Chiaverini

Mini Audiobook Review: Enchantress of Numbers

14 Oct

One of my book clubs chose Enchantress of Numbers to further our goals of reading biographical fiction. We chose the book featuring Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace because we had read and enjoyed author Jennifer Chiaverini’s books and because it was not set in WWII. 😉 The story revolves around Lord Byron’s only child, Ada, and her fascination with all things mathematical and mechanical. Ada was quite the prodigy and is credited as the first computer programmer. There’s even a STEM holiday commemorating her. It was a long book, emphasis on long. While it did shed light on the era — Regency and early Victorian England — it was a bit of a slog. I listened to the audiobook borrowed from my library and had to renew twice. Another of our members stated that she felt like it was a school assignment to dread. No glowing recs from my group. It did emphasize the differences between educational and societal norms for women of the time and in our modern world. Ada was shaped by the legacy of her absent father and her domineering mother. I felt for Ada, but wish that the author had written more concisely. One of my group said she kept going with the novel in anticipation of something happening.

While we really can’t recommend the book, we were impressed by all that Ada Byron King accomplished. As always, reviews are subjective, but none of my group liked this book. Perhaps we were just not the target audience.

(I borrowed the audiobook from my library via Libby. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

The only legitimate child of Lord Byron, the most brilliant, revered, and scandalous of the Romantic poets, Ada was destined for fame long before her birth. But her mathematician mother, estranged from Ada’s infamous and destructively passionate father, is determined to save her only child from her perilous Byron heritage. Banishing fairy tales and make-believe from the nursery, Ada’s mother provides her daughter with a rigorous education grounded in mathematics and science. Any troubling spark of imagination—or worse yet, passion or poetry—is promptly extinguished. Or so her mother believes.

When Ada is introduced into London society as a highly eligible young heiress, she at last discovers the intellectual and social circles she has craved all her life. Little does she realize how her exciting new friendship with Charles Babbage—the brilliant, charming, and occasionally curmudgeonly inventor of an extraordinary machine, the Difference Engine—will define her destiny.

Enchantress of Numbers unveils the passions, dreams, and insatiable thirst for knowledge of a largely unheralded pioneer in computing—a young woman who stepped out of her father’s shadow to achieve her own laurels and champion the new technology that would shape the future.

Top 10 Tuesday — Science Lectures, Laboratories, and Math Classes, Oh My!

12 Oct

Happy Ada Lovelace Day! If you have no idea who this holiday commemorates, you are not alone. One of my book clubs is reading biographical fiction this year, and we chose Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini as our October selection. Our discussion is tomorrow, so we will be celebrating a day late. 😉 For those of you who don’t know, Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace, the only child of Lord Byron, was a math prodigy and heralded as the first computer programmer. So to honor her memory, my TTT list includes characters who know their way around a laboratory, a science lecture, or math class. The characters all have some connection to STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) — geologists, computer scientists, lab techs, math teachers, physicists, just to name a few. While some of these books reinforced my choice of English as a college major 😉 , I am very glad that more and more women are entering occupations once filled only with men.

For more favorite book settings, check out That Artsy Reader Girl.

Books Featuring STEM Characters

An Air That Kills by Christine Poulson (medical researcher)

Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini (mathematician)

The Engineer’s Wife by Tracy Enerson Wood (engineer)

In Too Deep by Lynn H. Blackburn (professor/computer forensics)

Let It Be Me by Becky Wade (high school math teacher)

A Mosaic of Wings by Kimberly Duffy (entomologist)

State of Lies by Siri Mitchell (physicist)

The Stones Cry Out by Sibella Giorello (geologist)

Strands of Truth by Colleen Coble (marine biologist)

With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden (lab assistant)

Book Review: Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker

17 Apr

953616_w185In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Elizabeth Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world.

Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt. She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Upon its publication, Keckley’s memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckley’s story has languished in the archives. In this impeccably researched, engrossing novel, Chiaverini brings history to life in rich, moving style.

jenniferJennifer Chiaverini is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as five collections of quilt patterns inspired by her novels. Her original quilt designs have been featured in Country Woman, Quiltmaker, Quiltmaker’s 100 Blocks Volumes 3-5, and Quilt, and her short stories have appeared in Quiltmaker and Quilters Newsletter. She has taught writing at Penn State and Edgewood College and designs the Elm Creek Quilts fabric lines from Red Rooster Fabrics. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin.

My Impressions:

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker is this month’s selection for my book club, Page Turners. So far word on the street has been mixed: some find it fascinating, others boring. I am in the first category. I knew absolutely nothing about Elizabeth Keckley and very little about Mary Todd Lincoln. What I did know about Mrs. Lincoln was rumor and innuendo — she seems to have been a very divisive force in the Lincoln presidency.

The book opens in Washington City a few months before the election of Abraham Lincoln. Rumors of secession are flying and Elizabeth Keckley, as seamstress to some of Washington’s elite ladies, hears bits and pieces of the political wrangling. Keckley is a freed slave, who bought both her and her son’s freedom. Her excellence as a seamstress provides entree into the homes and lives of the powerful, including the White House. Her unique role as modiste to Mrs. Lincoln, allows for her to become much more than a tradeswoman, she becomes part of the family. Keckley becomes a confidante and supporter that  bespoke the unlikely relationship that developed between the two women. The book treats Keckley in a most favorable light. Mrs. Lincoln is treated fairly — her foibles offset by the tragic circumstances of her life. I cannot help but think that Mary Todd Lincoln’s life could have been different with modern therapy and anti-depressants.

The book follows the historical record accurately and the fictionalized parts seem natural. If you are a fan of historical fiction or have an interest in the larger than life figures of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, I recommend you read Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker.

Recommended.

(I purchased this book for my Kindle. The opinions expressed are mine alone.)

To purchase Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, click on the image below.