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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book Review: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

liar temptress soldier spy

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott
Paperback, 544 pages
Harper Perennial
September 8, 2015

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Genre: Non-Fiction, History

Source: Received from publisher for review

Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.

The role of women in the Civil War seems to have become a niche area in the market over the last couple years, especially in fiction (where I could easily name five right now), but this is the first major non-fiction work that I have seen recently on the subject. And while it is non-fiction, there is so much action and adventure packed into its pages, that it could almost be a novel!

Karen Abbott utilizes four women to represent the varying types of roles that women took up during the war. These perspectives shatter the perception that women were left at home defenseless when their men went off to fight. And while that was likely the case in some situations, many times women found ways to be active in a traditionally male world. Especially with the fact that the fighting was happening right in their own backyards they could very easily become involved. All of these women served as spies, but each in a different way. Rose carried on in her life like the socialite that she was in Washington and passed the information she gleaned along to her Confederate cohort. Belle actively ran information through the lines to the Confederate generals. Emma disguised as a man fought out on the battlefield and was brought in for reconnaissance missions from time to time. Elizabeth, a Union sympathizer living in the South, used her home as a secret base for escapees from Confederate confinement and as a hub of intelligence communication. These were not women to just sit by and wait for the war to end – and as Elizabeth’s network shows, there were many, many other women involved.

Don’t let the 500+ page count deter you from this book. I’m not one who typically likes to read longer books, because I like to change up what I read more frequently. However, I found that the pages just flew by and before I knew it I was done with the book. The author bounces back and forth between the women’s stories, and in different hands, it could have felt like a ping-pong match. Abbott deftly weaves these stories together in a way where each ties into the next seamlessly and the shift in time and place is not in any way jarring. You get battle stories, home-front stories, and real life stories – it is a very well rounded book that has a little something for everyone. And the details! Sometimes the volume of detail can feel like an info-dump, but Abbott weaves SO much detail into this book, but it never feels overwhelming or too much.

This book will introduce you to some women to be admired and another side of Civil War history. It is not just for Civil War buffs, but for women’s history fans and history aficionados in general. Highly recommended it!

If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?

You can also watch this book trailer to get a feel for the book:

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia | IndieBound | Harper Collins

Also by Karen Abbott:

american rose
American Rose

sin in second city

Sin in the Second City

Find Karen Abbott: Website | Facebook | Twitter

Follow the Tour!

tlc book tours

Below you can find the individual tour stops, but you can also find more about the tour at the TLC Book Tours page or on Twitter with the following hashtags: #TLCBookTours and #LiarTemptressSoldierSpy

Tuesday, September 8th: A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, September 9th: Let Them Read Books – guest post

Thursday, September 10th: The Maiden’s Court

Friday, September 11th: Cold Read

Monday, September 14th: Raven Haired Girl

Monday, September 14th: 100 Pages a Day … Stephanie’s Book Reviews

Tuesday, September 15th: Sveltana’s Reads and Views

Wednesday, September 16th: Man of La Book

Thursday, September 17th: Bookworm Meets Bookworm

Monday, September 21st: A Book Geek

Tuesday, September 22nd: Time 2 Read

Wednesday, September 23rd: As I turn the pages

Thursday, September 24th: FictionZeal

Tuesday, September 29th: Raven Haired Girl – guest post

Thursday, October 1st: Unabridged Chick



Copyright © 2015 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I love non-fiction that pulls him and and immerses me in history. This book is my kind of read for sure!

    Thanks for being apart of the tour.

  2. Hi Heather, thanks so much for the very kind review! I'm glad you found the ladies as fascinating as I did...

    Karen Abbott


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