Monday, May 23, 2016

AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER- Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

Stephanie Dray
& Laura Kamoie

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 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.

license to tie the ends together and to bridge the gaps, but the fluidity with which she melds the many pieces together into one masterful picture where you cannot even visualize the seams of the knitted pieces that have been laced together creates a sweeping vista of grandeur pure poetry.
From the opening lines of the first chapter of America’s First Daughter, Stephanie Dray and Laurie Kamoie pulled their readers into the roiling, blood-pumping fear and excitement of America’s fight for independence during the great war with England in the late 1700’s.  This time, instead of dried prose and cracked parchment filled with the mundane facts of history that tend to put most readers to sleep; this time, instead of being lulled into thinking that all the details of the first fifty or so years of our nation’s history as dry and stilted and confined to a few men in a room or two gathered around desks, we have the privilege of witnessing the life of Thomas Jefferson through the eyes of his devoted eldest daughter.
To write a work of fiction, based on history and historical fact, is one thing.  But Stephanie and Laurie took this much farther.  They breathed life into the written accounts that have been left behind.  She took the many puzzle pieces from the great variety of sources and with the magic of her pen, wove the details together in such a fashion that there leaves little doubt to this reader that the vast amount of the storyline is close to home.  Granted, there has to be a certain amount of literary
The telling of the story was well beyond just a lesson in history.  It was a time warp into the past.  The attention to detail painted the landscape for the mind so vividly, that the scenes rolled past like cinematography instead of the written word with the turning of pages.  The only pauses, were when this reader’s eyes forced her to put the book down for the night, with great regret.
From the first harrowing escape from the Red Coats as Jefferson and his family fled their home in the opening pages, to the opulent halls of Versailles in France, I could see, hear, and oft even smell the cost of independence as a young girl came of age and continued to devote her life through adulthood to the concept of liberty and its many dimensions.   We were also given unique and human glimpses of the giants of our youth and our history books.  Men that have always been larger than life walked through these pages and sat upon her chairs, living and breathing in the daily life of Patsy and her family.  Through the revealing tales that spilled out, I was constantly reminded that they were indeed only men with fallible issues in their daily lives, but who willingly gave of themselves in ways we cannot totally comprehend to cement the founding of this country.
The counterpoint to the great retelling of the story of Thomas Jefferson, was the telling of the story of a young girl coming of age in the Age of Independence.  These ladies did a fabulous job of addressing various women’s issues that were prevalent.  They told of a story of unrequited love that lasted most of a lifetime.  They also told the compelling story of a mother’s unconditional love for her children and her family.  The love of Martha “Patsy” Jefferson for her large family of eleven children, her husband, and her father was beautiful.  The brilliancy of her mind was amongst the best in the nation, male or female.  She could hold her own with most of the contemporaries who came to visit her father.  But because she was not male, she was barred from everything she could have mastered so well.  Instead, she mastered diplomacy from behind the giant of the man we know as Thomas Jefferson.

Finally, addressed and told, was the story of Sally Hemmings.  A parallel storyline was written of the alliance between Sally and Thomas that wove through the entire work.  It was done beautifully and with dignity and showed a familial love between Thomas’ daughters and the Hemmings.  After all, they were family.  It was through this story that Stephanie showed the Jeffersons’ personal struggles with the moralities with of slavery while they were in the forefront fighting for independence and freedom for the United States of America.  It was a tool used well to discuss the entire political turmoil and breakdown of the plantation society in Virginia during this time period that roiled around slavery.  Though there is no written record in Jefferson’s surviving papers of his alliance with Sally, DNA supports the Hemming family’s years of family history and claims. This sad story of this chapter in our history when we failed to stop slavery with the formation of our nation, along with the even sadder story of a decades long relationship that was hidden and denied for political and “moral” reasons broke this reader’s heart.
There were touch moments in the novel that brought this reader to tears.  There were moments that made me want to stand next to Patsy and be there with her to feel the pride and glory.  Then there were the moments that brought me to my knees as my heart felt the agony.  One of my most moving moments was when Patsy and General Lafayette saw each other again after many years, upon remembering their last prior glimpse of each other through a window, from a distance.  The poignancy of the scene and the depth of the emotion brought me to hiccupping sobs.  Memories of the final scenes of Les’ Miserable’ and the moving music drifted through as I read this scene and piles of Kleenex mounded beside my chair.  This is the price of patriotism.  This was the caliber of people who gave their lives to see to the founding of our land.

The word-craft and story-telling mastery that Stephanie and Laurie poured into America’s First Daughter was a combined labor of love.  They took the time to gather together and seek the counsel of those who know Jefferson and his family best.  Her research on the story is without question.  If there were ten stars available, I would award them.  As it is, this book deserves more than the FIVE STAR review that I give.  It has made it to my much coveted To Be Read Oft and Again Shelf.  Thank you for sharing such a story and making history LIVE for us, Stephanie and Laurie. At what cost our freedom?  At what cost our way of life?

STEPHANIE DRAY is an award-winning, bestselling and two-time RITA award nominated author of historical women’s fiction. Her critically acclaimed series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than eight different languages and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. She’s also fascinated by the founding of the American Republic and its roots in ancient Rome. It’s her mission to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today.
LAURA KAMOIE has always been fascinated by the people, stories, and physical presence of the past, which led her to a lifetime of historical and archaeological study and training. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction books on early America, and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction as the New York Times bestselling author, Laura Kaye. Her debut historical novel, America's First Daughter (March 1, 2016), co-authored with Stephanie Dray, allowed her the exciting opportunity to combine her love of history with her passion for storytelling. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and two daughters.
 Laura is currently working on My Dear Hamilton (William Morrow, early 2018) about Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, with co-author Stephanie Dray.

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