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Nancy's Notes - January 23, 2014

“Valley of Amazement” by Amy Tan, “The Housemaid’s Daughter” by Barbara Mutch, “Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival” by Jennifer Chiaverini.

 The Chinese culture intrigues me with traditions that, until the last few decades, have survived unchanged for centuries. Several authors have books written about the Geisha traditions. All have made interesting reading. The latest addition to our collection is Amy Tan’s, “Valley of Amazement”. The first portion of the book tells of the Courtesan’s training. We were discussing its content at work and decided this portion of the book could be a contender for “Fifty Shades of Grey”. In Tan’s latest, we meet the Eurasian girl, Violet, whose mother ran a high class home of courtesans who entertained both Europeans and Asians. Due to the trickery of her mother’s friend, Violet finds herself sold to another house when her mother leaves to return to the States. Befriended by a former courtesan from her mother’s business, the story shows how their two lives intertwine for more than forty years. Violet will find rejection, love, abandonment, and deception during the decades that are involved in political and social upheaval.
    “The Housemaid’s Daughter” begins when Cathleen Harrington leaves her home in Ireland in 1919 to travel to South Africa. She knows that she does not love the man she is to marry there,her fiance Edward, whom she has not seen for five years. Isolated and estranged in a small town in the Karoo desert, her only real companions are her diary and her housemaid, and later the housemaid's daughter, Ada. When Ada is born, Cathleen recognizes in her someone she can love and respond to in a way that she cannot with her own family. Under Cathleen’s guidance, Ada grows into an accomplished pianist and a reader who cannot resist turning the pages of the diary, discovering the secrets Cathleen sought to hide.
    Last year Jennifer Chiaverini wrote a novel about Mrs. Lincoln and her dressmaker. This year she has written “Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival”.  Kate Chase Sprague was born in 1840 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the second daughter to the second wife of an ambitious lawyer. Her father, Salmon P. Chase, rose to prominence in the antebellum years and was appointed secretary of the treasury in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet. If you read the former book or saw the movie about Lincoln produced last year, you will note there was a tug-of-war between the two women. Kate Chase stepped into the role of establishing her thrice-widowed father in Washington society and as a future presidential candidate. Her efforts were successful enough that The Washington Star declared her “the most brilliant woman of her day. None outshone her.” None, that is, but Mary Todd Lincoln. Though Mrs. Lincoln and her young rival held much in common, political acumen, love of country, and a resolute determination to help the men they loved achieve greatness—they could never be friends, for the success of one could come only at the expense of the other. When Kate Chase married William Sprague, the wealthy young governor of Rhode Island, it was widely regarded as the pinnacle of Washington society weddings. President Lincoln was in attendance. The First Lady was not. Although it is historical fiction I always pick up some interesting facts while reading the stories. 
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