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Review: THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN by Stephanie Barron

About the book:

The Paris Wife meets PBS’s Victoria in this enthralling novel of the life and loves of one of history’s most remarkable women: Winston Churchill’s scandalous American mother, Jennie Jerome.

Wealthy, privileged, and fiercely independent New Yorker Jennie Jerome took Victorian England by storm when she landed on its shores. As Lady Randolph Churchill, she gave birth to a man who defined the twentieth century: her son Winston. But Jennie—reared in the luxury of Gilded Age Newport and the Paris of the Second Empire—lived an outrageously modern life all her own, filled with controversy, passion, tragedy, and triumph.

When the nineteen-year-old beauty agrees to marry the son of a duke she has known only three days, she’s instantly swept up in a whirlwind of British politics and the breathless social climbing of the Marlborough House Set, the reckless men who surround Bertie, Prince of Wales. Raised to think for herself and careless of English society rules, the new Lady Randolph Churchill quickly becomes a London sensation: adored by some, despised by others.

Artistically gifted and politically shrewd, she shapes her husband’s rise in Parliament and her young son’s difficult passage through boyhood. But as the family’s influence soars, scandals explode and tragedy befalls the Churchills. Jennie is inescapably drawn to the brilliant and seductive Count Charles Kinsky—diplomat, skilled horse-racer, deeply passionate lover. Their affair only intensifies as Randolph Churchill’s sanity frays, and Jennie—a woman whose every move on the public stage is judged—must walk a tightrope between duty and desire. Forced to decide where her heart truly belongs, Jennie risks everything—even her son—and disrupts lives, including her own, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Breathing new life into Jennie’s legacy and the glittering world over which she reigned, That Churchill Woman paints a portrait of the difficult—and sometimes impossible—balance among love, freedom, and obligation, while capturing the spirit of an unforgettable woman, one who altered the course of history.

Review by Christina Boyd: Based on the real life of Jennie Spencer-Churchill, American heiress and mother of Winston Churchill, THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN is a scintillating historical fiction. Wow—to have lived such a life! As with her same deft pen used in the Jane Austen Mystery series, Stephanie Barron’s incomparable research is ever apparent and adds to the richness of her story.

After losing her sister Camille at a young age, having cheated death herself, Jennie Jerome grew into a forward thinking woman who lived a large life, “lived her best life” as we would say now, regretting little. Her father, Leonard Jerome, told her then, “The only way to fight death, Jennie, is to live. You’ve got to do it for two people now—yourself and Camille. Take every chance you get. Do everything she didn’t get to do. Live two lives in the space of one. I’ll back you to the hilt.”

As an American heiress, she dazzled the British aristocracy and other European elite—“I cannot be one of them, after all. Much better to be the best possible version of myself”—and for a time they loved her verve. Living by certain axioms of London Society such as “Sleep where you like, but be in your own bed by morning” served her well...until it didn’t. She was a keeper of secrets and knew how to manage the men in her life, especially her husband Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill. Her longtime love affair with Austria’s Prince Karl (Charles) Kinsky reads like tantalizing fiction...that left me rather melancholy for the both of them.

Even the most astute historical fiction readers will be caught off guard by the provocative and engaging prose and insights of this surprisingly powerful, complex, and intriguing woman during a colorful era. That Churchill Woman is not to be missed!

About the author: Stephanie Barron is a graduate of Princeton and Stanford, where she received her Masters in History as an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow in the Humanities. That Churchill Woman (Ballantine, January 22, 2019) traces the turbulent career of Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill's captivating American mother. Barron is perhaps best known for the critically-acclaimed Jane Austen Mystery Series, in which the intrepid and witty author of Pride and Prejudice details her secret detective career in Regency England. A former intelligence analyst for the CIA, Stephanie--who also writes under the name Francine Mathews--drew on her experience in the field of espionage for such novels as JACK 1939, which The New Yorker described as "the most deliciously high-concept thriller imaginable." She lives and works in Denver, CO.

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