Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: Monticello by Sally Cabot Gunning

by Sally Cabot Gunning

Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Buy the Book: HarperCollins

Goodreads:  After the early death of her mother, young Martha Jefferson accompanied her father, Thomas Jefferson, on his first diplomatic mission to Paris. Five years later, father and daughter have come home to Monticello, the family’s beloved plantation set high in the lush hills of the Virginia countryside. 

Though Monticello has suffered from her father’s absence, Martha finds it essentially unchanged, even as she has been transformed. The sheltered girl that sailed to Europe is now a handsome seventeen-year-old woman with a battle-scarred heart, who sees a world far more complicated than it once seemed. 

Blessed with her father’s sharp mind and independent spirit, Martha has long abhorred slavery and yearned for its swift end. Yet she now discovers that the home she adores is burdened by growing debt and cannot survive long without the labor of its slaves. Her bonds with those around her are shifting, too. As the doting father she has idolized since childhood returns to government, he becomes increasingly distracted by tumultuous fights for power and troubling attachments that pull him further away. And as Martha begins to pay closer attention to Sally Hemings—the beautiful light-skinned slave long acknowledged to be her mother’s half-sister—she realizes that the slave’s position in the household has subtly changed. Eager for distraction, Martha welcomes the attentions of Thomas Randolph, her exotic distant cousin, but soon Martha uncovers burdens and desires in him that threaten to compromise her own.

As her life becomes constrained by the demands of marriage, motherhood, politics, scandal, and her family’s increasing impoverishment, Martha yearns to find her way back to her childhood home; to the gentle beauty and quiet happiness of the world she once knew at the top of her father’s “little mountain.”

Kritters Thoughts:  Monticello is a famous home that housed Thomas Jefferson and his family, it is still open to the public today and I am excited to visit it soon with my niece.  When this book came up for review, I jumped at the chance!

Martha Jefferson is her own being in history and as her place next to her father was important, I loved reading a book that focused on her and her family and the ups and downs of her life.  I have read a few books about her, but they are told mostly of her time at the White House and always through the lens of being a daughter of a President, not her life as a wife, mother, slave and land owner and so on. 

I liked but didn't love this book.  It was interesting and had all the information I wanted to read, but at times I felt like the pace slowed way down.  I know having to keep a somewhat historically accurate story definitely puts an author in a box, but there were moments where I wanted the book to move along.  

I was actually glad to read a lot of the story taking place at Monticello because I knew so much of the White House days.  I learned a lot more of behind the scenes of her life and how hard it must have been to juggle her duties as a wife and eldest daughter and the the battle she had internally opposing slavery, but living on land that necessitated slaves to keep the harvest going.  I loved hearing her internal debate and her thoughts to where the country was and where it was going.

If you are a Thomas Jefferson fan and this book was up your alley, I would suggest following up with America's First Daughters by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, I completely adored that book that focuses on Jefferson's time in the White House and Martha's time as she helped her father host all of the guests and those who walk through that door.

Rating: definitely a good read, but can't read two in a row

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received one copy of this book free of charge from TLC Book Tours.  I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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