“The Secret Wife of Aaron Burr” by Susan Holloway Scott

Genre:  Historical FictionThe Secret Wife
Publisher:  Kensington Books
Pub. Date:  September 24, 2019

Susan Holloway Scott has written a well researched, epic tear-jerker novel that was inspired by a real-life enslaved woman, Mary Emmons. You will not find her in the many biographies of Aaron Burr. She has been forgotten by history. The author weaves together truth and fiction to tell her story and that of the American Revolution. The novel is told through Emmons’ voice to highlight the cruelty and hypocrisy of the founding fathers. They fought for liberty and freedom while they owned slaves and continued to own slaves even after they won their freedom from the English.

This is not your typical slave story of life on a big plantation. We meet Mary when she is a child in India. At the age of eight, her uncle sells her to a French woman. Her owner is unbearably cruel. Holloway Scott’s writing will make you cringe for the child. She is whipped many times and wore a collar around her neck worthy of any instrument of torture. She is then bought by the husband of Theodosia Provost of New Jersey. This is how she came to live in the American colonies. Theodosia is a kinder, but not a kind owner. When Theodosia husband dies she later marries Aaron Burr.

Mary is very bright and since she is brought to the colonies on the eve of revolution she becomes politically astute by reading the newspapers. She is taught to read by a black freeman friend who will later become more to her than a friend. The love scenes between them are tender, sweet and sad as she is not a free woman. This is when she sides with the rebels over the loyalists  because she longs for her own freedom believing their promise that if they win then all blacks will be freed.

The reader will learn so much more about Burr then what most remember of him: the duel that killed his rival Alexander Hamilton and ended Burr’s political career. The author shows as many sides of Burr as she could find. This reviewer appreciated the length of pages in the endnotes. Burr was a very interesting man—loving, determined, unbending and most of all commanding. Holloway Scott also gives us much detail regarding the two children that he and Mary had together. The reason for this is that the author found more facts on them than she could find on their mother.

Of course, the author takes liberties in Mary and Burr’s highly complicated relationship. He was her master and she was his slave. They loved one another in a way that is hard to understand. One immediately thinks of Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with Sally Hemings, his slave mistress of forty years. The author does a good job of showing how Mary and Aaron loved one another without minimizing the imbalance of power.

If you enjoy romance in your history—maybe a tad too much for those who do not (such as myself)—you will enjoy “Secret Wife.” But make no mistake, you will experience the undeniable pain that comes with war. You will also feel as if you were part of the American Revolution, getting more than a glimpse into the personalities of the famous men behind the Boston Tea Party. You may also chuckle at these constantly bickering men who drafted the Constitution. They can remind you of current times in the White House.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Conversations with Oscar Wilde: A Fictional Dialogue Based on Biographical Facts” by Merline Holland

Genre:       Fictional Biographies & Memoirs/Historical Fiction Conversatons Oscar Wilde
Publisher: Watkins Publishing
Pub. Date: June 11, 2019

This story is one in a series regarding other imagined conversations with legendary people.  The infamous Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900) is easily one of the most paramount playwrights of the Victorian age.   This novel was originally published under the title “Coffee with Oscar Wilde.”  No matter the name, what a treat to review this clever novel about a fictional conversation with Oscar Wilde over coffee and a cigarette.  The premise of the tale is that Wilde is being interviewed by an unnamed interviewer.  What makes this book so clever is that he is being interviewed in the present.  The author never explains how this phenomenon happens.  Still, much fun to read Wilde’s possible views on histories’ take on him.  Or how appalled Wilde might be to learn that smoking is now frowned upon.  “A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure.”― Oscar Wilde, “The Picture of Dorian Gray

The novel is set in Paris, where he fled once released from prison after the scandalous trial that revealed his homosexuality.   During the trial, he was actually accused of literally being his character Dorian, who never ages, from his novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”  The story comes so close to spelling out homosexual desire.  In Holland’s book, the author is at his wittiest, channeling Wilde’s feelings about the trial.   He does a wonderful job of showing Wilde’s misjudgment on what would be the trial’s outcome.  After all, at that time in his life, Oscar was the darling of upper-class society.

In the book’s prologue, the author explains that he did not cut out Wilde’s quotes and sew them back together.  He feared that would become a book of one-liners.  Instead, he wrote Wilde-like flavored interview answers.  Holland did this by heavily researching Wilde’s works and letters.   The result feels fresh.  This book is a fast (under 200 pages) and delightful read. However, it is easy to imagine that if you are familiar with all the aspects of Wilde’s life then the novel may not be as impressive.   Personally,  this reviewer was surprised to learn that Oscar was married and had two children.   Reading about the close relationship he had with his mother, and the lover who caused his downfall was new to me.  I was so impressed with this concept of a fictional memoir that I hope to read “Conversations with Mozart” by Simon Parke.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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