Thursday, April 29, 2021

Review: Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly (audio)


Title: Sunflower Sisters
Author: Martha Hall Kelly
Series: Lilac Girls, #3
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld, Shayna Small, Jenna Lamia, Cassandra Campbell, Martha Hall Kelly
Published: March 2021, Random House Audio / Ballantine Books
Length: 17 hours 50 minutes /  528 pages
Source: Audio via library / Print via Publisher


Martha Hall Kelly’s million-copy best seller Lilac Girls introduced listeners to Caroline Ferriday. Now, in Sunflower Sisters, Kelly tells the story of Ferriday’s ancestor Georgeanna Woolsey, a Union nurse during the Civil War whose calling leads her to cross paths with Jemma, a young enslaved girl who is sold off and conscripted into the army, and Anne-May Wilson, a Southern plantation mistress whose husband enlists.

“An exquisite tapestry of women determined to defy the molds the world has for them.” (Lisa Wingate, number-one New York Times best-selling author of Before We Were Yours)

Georgeanna “Georgey” Woolsey isn’t meant for the world of lavish parties and the demure attitudes of women of her stature. So when war ignites the nation, Georgey follows her passion for nursing during a time when doctors considered women on the battlefront a bother. In proving them wrong, she and her sister Eliza venture from New York to Washington, DC, to Gettysburg and witness the unparalleled horrors of slavery as they become involved in the war effort.

In the South, Jemma is enslaved on the Peeler Plantation in Maryland, where she lives with her mother and father. Her sister, Patience, is enslaved on the plantation next door, and both live in fear of LeBaron, an abusive overseer who tracks their every move. When Jemma is sold by the cruel plantation mistress Anne-May at the same time the Union army comes through, she sees a chance to finally escape - but only by abandoning the family she loves.

Anne-May is left behind to run Peeler Plantation when her husband joins the Union army and her cherished brother enlists with the Confederates. In charge of the household, she uses the opportunity to follow her own ambitions and is drawn into a secret Southern network of spies, finally exposing herself to the fate she deserves.

Inspired by true accounts, Sunflower Sisters provides a vivid, detailed look at the Civil War experience, from the barbaric and inhumane plantations, to a war-torn New York City, to the horrors of the battlefield. It’s a sweeping story of women caught in a country on the brink of collapse, in a society grappling with nationalism and unthinkable racial cruelty, a story still so relevant today.

My thoughts: Having read, and loved, Martha Hall Kelly's previous two books, I knew I had to read this latest book and I absolutely loved it. And what a clever way this series was set up!

Before I get into my review, let me just start by talking about the "order/series" of these books. This series is in essence written backwards, though each stands completely on its own so it really does not matter the order you read the books in. If you choose to read them in the order they are written, then Lilac Girls would come first and that is about Caroline Ferriday. Then next would be Lost Roses, which is about Eliza Ferriday, Caroline's mother. And then you have the third and final book, Sunflower Sisters, which is about Georgeanna Woolsey, who is Caroline's great-aunt. 

This particular book was set during the Civil War and I found myself completely entranced by the story. While this is a big book, it moves along fast. I was completely wrapped up in all the different points of view and while I might not have liked all the characters - I could not stand Anne-May - I did find that I needed to know what it was they were getting themselves involved in and if they would be ok. We follow three distinct points of view - Georgeanna, an abolitionist and army nurse; Jemma, the slave; and Anne-Mae, the plantation mistress, and their stories and experiences during this time completely captivated me.

I loved the way the characters' paths crossed and how the stories weave together to create a story that is full of all the details of slavery, the war and the challenges that women faced at the time. There are instances when it becomes a hard, uncomfortable read. The author does not shy away from the cruel events that took place during this time. But it was relevant to the story and I think she handled it in a manner that works for the book. 

I love the way the author blended fact and fiction into the this story. It is so evident she really did her research and I loved that she was able to use letters from the Woolsey family to help create this story. I also love that I learned so much from this book. I learned the significance of sunflowers in relation to the underground railroad...and you'll have to read the book to find out! It's little things like this that make for such interesting reading and of course the in-depth author's note. Do you read this when the author includes it? I always do and find it fascinating what the author did and why.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Do not be intimidated by the length. It's the type of book that you quickly become totally immersed in and don't want to put down. Even the audio - which is rather long - kept me engaged the entire time.

Audio thoughts: I was able to get this audio at the library and I am so glad I did. It was narrated by such an amazing cast and even though the audio was on the longer side, at just under 18 hours, I felt it flew by. I listened to this every chance I got and ended up finishing it in 2 days...I just didn't want to put it down. I was completely caught up in this story and the narrators all did such a fabulous job bringing the story to life. Each one really did a great job with the voices and the pacing, and I could not have enjoyed it more.


Books in this series:

  1. Lilac Girls
  2. Lost Roses
  3. Sunflower Sisters 

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