Cover Image: Island Queen

Island Queen

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Member Reviews

I absolutely love this book it was such an interesting book how this person who preferred Were everything what happened to her and she was really a Queen how do you been born into slavery being raped and how you assume this mass of fortune and how she was so free for a woman in the 1780s and how she could have children and how she really loved her children and she gave all to the children and she went through all these crazy things and men and but was truly amazing how a strong woman could do this Empire way out of slavery And also by people her children are not as slavery as well and then she need ed slavery to do whatever but she gave them the opportunity and told them how to buy themselves out a slavery she didn't really want to do this And she looked at her children as well and how she told them this is what it is when she gave them opportunities as well education homes her ground children and it's really interesting to see powerful women at that time or a mixed race and how she stood up to all the men and how she dictated her life this is a really good book and I think it should be read in high school I think women nowadays have to really read books and how these women survived in those days I mean the billion being free with their sacks and really great book
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Vanessa Riley has written an exquisite book with Island Queen. The amount of research she clearly did is incredible—I didn’t know anything about the true story on which the novel is based and I came away immediately wanting to find out more. The pacing was a bit awkward at times, mostly in the later part of the novel, but it didn’t really affect the story too much. Fans of historical fiction will love Island Queen, and I’m grateful that this story has been told in a way that will reach many more readers. 

My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for an advance reader’s copy.
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I found the life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas to be totally fascinating. I was engaged in the story from the first page, but unfortunately, I lost interest about half way through.  To me, there was just too much about all of her lovers and things happening with them.  I wanted to learn more about Dorothy and her businesses and how she managed to start them and keep them going.  I would have also enjoyed having more about her children.  For the most part, we really didn't get a chance to know them as people.  Learning more about them and their involvement in their mother's businesses would have been much more interesting than learning about Dorothy's lovers.  Since the first half of the book was so interesting, I still gave it 3 stars.  However, I really struggled to finish this one.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced copy of this book.
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I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Island Queen by Vanessa Riley from Netgalley and William Morrow and Custom House. 

Island Queen is a historical fiction novel based on the real life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. Dorothy starts her life enslaved to her father on a Caribbean island, but by the end of her life, is a free woman of color and one of the wealthiest landowners in the area. The book follows her through her journey, including her relationships with three men. Her first love is John Cells, who passes for white and owns a plantation. Her second love is Captain Thomas, who owns a small shipping business. She also has a dalliance with an English prince!

The book does not shy away from the difficult truths of a story like this. There is violence and sexual assault. One thing I really appreciated is how Riley depicted Dorothy's perspective as a child, and how it was sometimes reflected in her own children. At the start of the book, Dorothy does not see how slavery impacts the relationship between her father, a white slave owner, and her mother, an enslaved black woman. Later on, some of her children also do not see the complexities in Dorothy's relationships with their biological or adoptive fathers. In addition, Riley does her best to help the audience understand how people of color occupied different social statues, even owning plantations and enslaving people themselves. It's not something that, in my experience with teaching, is well understood by people in the United States.

Riley creates complex characters. Take John Cells, the white slave-owner who helps Dorothy escape from her half-brother. It is revealed later that he is not fully white, but passing as such. In a simplerer narrative, this would mean that he never makes a decision that is harmful to another person of color, and always is sympathetic to people whose circumstances could have easily been his own. Instead, he operates as a character who is not wholly "good" or "bad," but rather as self-interested. 

If you are looking for historical fiction about women of color, Island Queen will be a good choice, once it's published July 6th.
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Well written, easy to follow, thought provoking.

I stopped reading at 25%. If it continues as it has, it’s an easy four stars, and five for the right reader.
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A beautiful book recounting the life of Mrs. Dorothy Kirwin Thomas. Born into slavery, Dorothy secured not only her own freedom, but that of her family and built herself an empire in the islands of Montserrat, Dominica and Barbados.  Ambitious and driven, Dolly never let the men in her life take her focus off her children and  helping her family succeed. A lovely retelling of the life of a fascinating woman.
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The life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, a woman of color who escaped from slavery and became one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in the Caribbean during the colonial era, is the basis for this book. 

I didn't know anything about the book when I started it, and feel like I really had the opportunity to get to know Dorothy, her struggles and her achievements.  The short chapters made the incredible amount of information easy to process, as we move through Dorothy's life from her childhood as the daughter of a slave, to the success that made her a wealthy woman amidst white oppression in the Caribbean. 

While Dorothy's life was fascination, the book felt a little choppy at times as it skipped across the years, and across the men Dorothy loved and who fathered her children. Yet despite those missing pieces, the book still felt a little long, and I found myself racing through to get to the end.

Thanks to NetGalley and William Morrow for the advanced reader copy.
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I was in awe of this woman, her story and the writing of Island Queen, based on the incredible real-life story of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, who was born into slavery and went on to become wealthy and powerful--on her own terms.

I will be honest and admit I was initially intimidated by the size of this book, it is an investment, but thankfully a worthwhile one. Author Vanessa Riley is a captivating writer. The personality of Dolly, the men and children in her life and the places she calls home are all so incredibly well done, you will be transformed by this epic read.

I was able to read and listen to this. The audio, narrated by Adjoa Andoh is masterful, giving power, depth and emotion to this incredible cast. I would happily listen to her for another 20 hours!

What struck me most is for all the heartbreak and injustice Dorothy faces, there's a powerful strength, determination and independence that is so inspiring to read. There are tons of quotable gems throughout this story. I appreciated the history and labor of love involved to make this as accurate as possible, while still crafting a captivating story.

Thank you to NetGalley, Harper Audio and William Morrow & Custom House for an advanced copy of this and the opportunity to share my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Wow this was such an amazing book definitely one of the best I have read this year! Reading about the life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas was so interesting! I started reading this not knowing what it was about and eventually looked it up, and to see that it was based on her life was amazing to me. Definitely will read this one again in the future.
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I loved that the book centers in the Caribbean. There’s very few life it. I love the cyclical writing aspect to it as well, but I’m not a fan of the historic retelling. I found myself skipping sections until the plot thickened. 
I would recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction.
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Dorothy (Dolly) Kirwan Thomas was a real person born in Monserrat in 1756, the daughter of a white plantation owner and an enslaved black mother. The story of her life and how she came to be one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in the Caribbean makes for a fascinating tale. Vanessa Riley uses the limited historical record to bring to life an amazing woman who freed herself from slavery, and raised ten children as well as creating a thriving business despite the many challenges thrown at her as a woman of color in the 18th and early 19th century. It was not an easy life, but the struggles and triumphs she grew through make this story well worth reading, even if there are so many children, spouses, and grandchildren involved that it is sometimes difficult to keep track of all the individuals.
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This is an inspiring story of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas who was born in Montserrat 1756 and died in Demerara in 1846.  She was born into slavery and spent her entire life fighting for her own freedom as well as the freedom of her children and family.  Dorothy was a strong woman who fought against injustices throughout her life. She was tireless in working to achieve her dreams as a woman and a person of color.  
I would recommend Island Queen for fans of historical fiction.  The Author's Note following the novel is full of background information. Very interesting!
I received a digital copy of this book thanks to Netgalley.
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This is an incredible, inspiring story based on the real life Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, a woman born into slavery who not only bought her freedom, but the freedom of her children and family and went on to become one of the wealthiest people in the Caribbean. Even though this is almost 600 pages long, it moves quickly and I learn so, so much. Well researched, fascinating history and so inspiring. 

Thank you William Morrow and Custom House for the advanced copy, in exchange for my honest review.
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Vanessa Riley just can't go wrong - she always gives me the untold history that I crave. Vanessa writes so fluidly and accessibly, I feel like I have the island breezes running through my hair as I learn and enjoy. Vanessa Riley is an auto-buy for me. I don't even look at the title, cover, or description.
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Fantastic story. The timeline jumped around a bit which made it a little difficult to follow, that's the only reason it's 4 stars instead of 5. Loved the strength and vulnerability of the MC where she made the best out of what life handed her. I doubt I could have done the same. A+
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Island Queen by Vanessa Riley is the incredible story of Dorothy Kirwain Thomas. Her life from slavery to a wealth business woman. I love historical fiction and can tell a lot of research went into this book. It was a great story but a very long read. I didn't enjoy the beginning of the story. It doesn't flow. I wasn't there on the island and almost did not finish it. Some sentences seemed to be missing words ie. a or the. The middle of the story seemed to flow and transported me to the islands. The end dragged. I liked the book but was ready to be done with it. Thank you for allowing me to read and comment on this book.
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Island Queen is a very good novel about a very extraordinary woman that feels like a return to epic sagas about strong women persevering against the impossible popular in the 1970s – think A Woman of Independent Means or The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. But Island Queen is based on the real life of a very real woman, and Vanessa Riley largely succeeds in bringing her to life.

Dorothy – Doll - Kirwan Thomas was born into slavery in Montserrat.  Her mother is her father’s property, and her fury at and love for the man is equal in measure. She yearns for him to legitimize both their children, and he has promised to grant them their freedom after his death via a clause in his will.

Dorothy and her sister Kitty are favored and cosseted by their rarely-home father, and Dorothy is nicknamed “Doll” by him and taught how to work with figures.  But, always aware that she is her father’s property as well as his daughter, Doll understands that freedom is not truly hers.  On that point, more often than not, she must deal with her half-brother, Nicholas, whose petty acts of cruelty escalate until they culminate in multiple acts of incestuous rape resulting in the birth of her first child, Lizzy (nine more will follow in time).  Doll is only fourteen at the time.  Soon thereafter she watches her sister be auctioned off as a punishment for her retaliation against Nicholas.

Realizing that Nicholas will never rest until she’s broken and dead beneath his heel, Doll flees to South America with Kitty, who had been purchased by Doll’s only friend,  a planter named John Coseveldt Cells.  Doll hopes to send for Lizzy and her mother when she can afford to pay for the freedom of all five of them; she gives birth to another child, Charlotte, conceived in a rape that occurs just before she leaves.

And so she sets about earning the necessary funds, first by becoming a merchant, then by starting a maid service, then by buying a store, then by investing in hotel properties, and finally by becoming a planter herself.  From loving Cells to falling for Joseph Thomas, the merchant she marries and who becomes one of two of her true loves, to entering into an affaire of the heart with the future William IV, Doll keeps her dignity paramount – and ensures that her  daughters and sons are well cared-for and safe from tyranny.  Eventually, she is called upon to apply diplomacy to the situation when British rule threatens the freedom of those she holds dear.

Island Queen is soapy, but it’s filled with a rich, full-blooded sense of purpose and life.  There’s only really one misstep in the entire book, but it’s not enough of one to prevent me from giving it a hearty recommendation.

Doll is self-made in every single respect but she can never forget the past. There are beautifully harrowing passages that tackle how she feels about the slaves working on her own sugar plantations that will fill the reader’s heart with sympathy for her, for instance.  Riley explains in her author’s notes that she sought to write Dorothy’s story with all of its complexities and to portray her with all of her imperfections.  The book pulls this off well, and Dorothy is no plaster saint, but a full-blooded human being.  Cells and Joseph, too, come off as complex people – human, neither all good or all bad.

The book fearlessly speaks to the racism Doll, her family and her children experienced, and discusses the legal strictures that hemmed in women like her the world over.  It also takes a deep peek into the society she would’ve had to live in, and the way she raised her very different children.

My only real problem with the book is that I would’ve liked a deeper look into the business world in which Doll thrived.  A lot of ink is spilled on her personal life and private affairs, but I’d love to know more about how she built her brand, and convinced white settlers of British and Irish stripe alike to employ the services offered by a Black woman.

Island Queen is just the right mix of personal intrigue, historical scope and true tale.  It’s an absolute delight.

Note:  Rape, sexual abuse and incest play heavily into Doll’s backstory.

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I’ll be honest, historical fiction is not a genre I typically read. Yet, there was something about this book’s cover and blurb that pulled me in and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. 

Mrs. Dorothy Kirwan Thomas is a fierce, loving, intuitive, courageous, and stubborn black woman. Overcoming many challenges from growing up in slavery, to buying her own and her family’s freedom, to building an empire, she never wavered in working towards providing a better life for her loved ones. Author Vanessa Riley shows her due diligence of her research to show these aspects of Dorothy’s life. 

However, I was a little upset that there was more focus on Dorothy’s love interests rather than her business and family relationships. Now, this may be because there was not much documentation from Dorothy’s point of view given her lack of literacy. None the less, I was wanting to “feel” her struggles, her losses, and her gains and in my opinion I think this was lacking. Hence the four stars. 

Given the triggers this book encompasses from rape, incest, abuse, racism, plus others associated with the time frame of 1746-1846 this was a compelling story to read. It shows how love, strength, courage, and family can overcome even the dire of circumstances. Mrs. Dorothy Kirwan Thomas is an inspiration to not only woman of color, but to all woman and I’m privileged that I had an opportunity to read about her.
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After the initial pages, I found myself not connecting with the story or characters, so I decided to pass on this book. Did not finish
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There are many stories that haven't been told because they'd been lost to the shifting sands of time.  The story of Dorothy (Dolly) Kirwan could have been one of those.  Born a slave, a girl in Montserrat to a slave mother and white father she had nothing but her wits, willingness to work, desire for freedom and love of her family to motivate her, and motivate her it did.  Through the trials of slavery, rape, incest, Dorothy kept seeking to find a way to lift herself out of her circumstances.  Eventually purchasing her freedom along with that of her children and mother Dolly through much hard work.  Driven, confident, and hard working Dolly became the mother of ten children, she was a property owner, and became a very wealthy woman herself.  The fictionalized version of her life brought to the fore many of the issues that women of mixed race faced and Dolly found a way to better the lives of those she loved.  Amazing, brilliant, wonderful a fantastic read.
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