Cover Image: Island Queen

Island Queen

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Member Reviews

I could immediately tell I was in for a wild ride with this one. The best historical fiction is based on a lot of in-depth research, but also author passion for their subject matter to keep it being dry as dishwater. Dorothy Kirwan Thomas was a real person you can Wiki, and her life does seem to be unbelievably filled with adventure, danger, and courage. Born a slave to Betty and a slave owner on the island of Demerara, a Dutch colony of Guyana, Dorothy is determined to make something of her life by making herself an entrepreneur in the mid 18th century. This seemed unheard of for ANY woman in that era, but especially for a Black woman born into slavery. You can't but admire how Dorothy lived her life--the wealth she acquired, the 10 children and multiple lovers she obtained; but Riley's telling doesn't make her into a saint or a sinner--no mythological creature here. It did strain belief a few times, but we know that truth is often stranger than fiction. This was a very hard one to put down. I found myself thinking about Dorothy's life and her struggles with her adult children often, wanting to go back to the novel. I appreciate this author bringing this Black heroine to life--it was a beautiful novel. Highly recommended.
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This was such an interesting story! Following a woman who was born a slave as she navigates and changes her life, this is an amazing book! I loved learning all about Dorothy Kerman Thomas. She was an amazing woman, and her strength is something to be modeled by others. A beautiful and necessary read!

I was provided a gifted copy of this book for free. I am leaving my review voluntarily.
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As a history teacher, I love reading stories about less well known events and people in history and Island Queen did not disappoint. Before reading this, I knew nothing about Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, but what a fascinating women she was! Born into slavery, and then becoming free and making her own way is truly a remarkable story that shows how strong and resilient Dorothy had to have been! Island Queen was beautifully written and I cannot recommend it enough!
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I'm always interested in reading about black people in history outside of the chattel slave narrative, whenever possible. Because although many people of the African diaspora were enslaved, there's a lot of subject matter outside of that to explore. That's what made me want to read Island Queen, as it's based on a real woman, Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. I found the historical details in this book well-researched, and they really put me in the time and place. I enjoyed reading about Dorothy's rise in society and becoming a wealthy woman. The pace of the book was easy until about midway, when things slowed down a bit. I think cutting about 80-100 pages would have helped maintain the easy-to-read pace, and that's the main reason I'm rating this 3 stars instead of 4. However, I still recommend this book to anyone wanting to read about black women in history, with outside the norm backgrounds.
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I was prepared to love this book.  It is based on a true story about an incredible black woman who was enslaved, bought her freedom and became a successful businesswoman. Unfortunately,  I can't remember the last time I disliked a book this much.  It was too long and only focused on her relationships with three men.  I wanted to know more about her and about how she managed her trade as a black woman during this time.  A wonderful story is in here somewhere but this author did not tell it.
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3.7/4. I received a digital copy of Vanessa Riley's Island Queen earlier this month via Netgalley (thank you!), and eager to read a historical fiction account of the incredible Dorothy Kirwan, I jumped right in. Riley's background as a romance writer shone through the pages, giving the chronicle a dramatic, engaging, and thoughtful lens. It's easy to fall into step with the novel's tempo . . . at least, at first it is. Unfortunately for me, at the halfway mark the book lost its momentum, changing from a story to a list of events. Though I had enjoyed reading about Dorothy's romances, challenges, and suffering in the beginning, as the novel moved on, it couldn't seem to find its footing in keeping Dorothy constantly growing as a character in addition to introducing her to new trials and tribulations. As a result, the pacing and structure could benefit from some refining, cutting, and refocusing. Still, despite these issues, I'm still glad to have read Riley's novel and appreciate the weight of historical research that went into this story. For this reason, I'd selectively recommend this book to others and will look forward to Riley's future works.
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Very interesting book about Dorothy Kirwan Thomas' life from 1761 to 1824.  She has her first baby at 15 and goes on to have 10 kids.  She does everything in her power to ensure her kids future and freedoms.  As a young woman she earns enough money to end the enslavement of her mother, sister and herself from her father.  The book is over 500 pages and in my opinion is to long.  Every single year of her life is chronicled and can become long winded.  She endured harsh conditions and decided that she was going to make something of her life and be successful.  

I enjoyed reading about all her business success and amassing wealth to being able to send her granddaughters to a private school in England for free colored girls.  She has made investments to the school because of their hard work with the girls.  The most fascinating part of her story with meeting Prince William of England and having a son with him.  He never knew about his son nor did Dorothy feel the need to tell him when she saw him again.  She married John Thomas and he told her that any children born after they were married were legally his and he knew that she was pregnant with Prince William's baby.  He was a very good husband to her and loved all of their children to pieces.  All of their children with the exception of two daughters were successful and lived happy lives.  One of her daughters was very selfish and felt that she was entitled to anything she wanted and found out the hard way that world did not revolve around her.  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Dorothy's life and history.
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This book is an epic tale of one woman, based on historical records, that shows that Black and brown people did indeed have an important place in the history of Europe and their colonies that is often overlooked. The voice the author uses feels authentic for the character, and as a reader you really get to know and feel for Dolly. The downsides to this book are that it is quite long (almost 600 pages) and there is such a span of time and characters that I sometimes had a hard time remembering who was who and where they were living and who they were married to.
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ISLAND QUEEN follows the extraordinary life of Dorothy Kirwan, a freed woman of color in the Caribbean during the late 1700s and early 1800s. 

ISLAND QUEEN was on my list of my most anticipated historical fictions of 2021. I read the unique synopsis and was immediately intrigued as I had never heard of Dorothy Kirwan and I find myself drawn to stories about history’s forgotten women. I appreciate the uniqueness of the subject and it went by quickly with the short chapters. Overall, I enjoyed this book; however, I do feel like it was about 100 pages too long. 

That being said, I look forward to recommending this title to our audience and will keep it under consideration for a future book pick for our monthly book club. 

Thank you to NetGalley and William Morrow for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you , NetGalley and William Morrow for the e-ARC.

Island Queen is a sprawling novel capturing the life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas , a Caribbean entrepreneur and former slave who became one of the richest women of her time.  

I had no expectations when I started this book.  I was not familiar with Riley's work nor did I know anything about the formidable Island Queen.  Riley took great care to research the life and times of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas and it truly shows.  I appreciated how she was able to condense Dorothy's life into this immensely readable book, highlighting her struggles and her achievements.  Riley's resources at the end of the book were truly impressive and I will definitely be looking it up for further reading.  

The book is divided into short chapters with each chapter being a year in Dorothy's life.  We follow her life from when she was a child, a daughter of a slave and white land owner, to her youth and entrepreneurship, to success to a wealthy woman of her time who was able to hold her own amidst white oppression. Dorothy was so successful: she sent most of her children to Europe to be educated; owned property such as hotels in various islands; and left her children a legacy.

Dorothy was a woman who was definitely ahead of her time, and Riley took care to convey that.  Dorothy's drive and personality shines throughout the novel, so much so that, that we don't really get to know some of the more important people in Dorothy's life.  

While the book was engrossing and entertaining, the chapters skip years sometimes  and the reader is left to infer what happened in between while piecing together clues.  Also, I felt the language and dialogue at times sounded stilted.  

Overall, the book had a wonderful, "classic" feel to it that gives it a timeless quality.  Island Queen is an amazing tribute novel to a phenomenal woman, and I hope everyone reads it because everyone needs to know about Dorothy's life and accomplishments.
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Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, the real-life inspiration for this novel, is a woman of color who escaped from slavery and became one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in the Caribbean during the colonial era. Riley brings Dorothy’s story to life, covering childhood to long after she’s established herself as a powerful landowner, in a way that doesn’t feel rushed or bogged by details.

Vanessa Riley normally writes romance novels and she’s brought that same level of readability to this book. The chapters were short and quick to get through which set a quick pace through a very long novel. I did start to lose steam towards the end so I could have done with 100 less pages, but Dorothy's life is full of events. I would have liked to see a little more of the day-to-day running of her business and how she trained the girls she employed, but (as I mentioned) it's already a long book and Riley chose to focus on Dorothy's family and relationships.

I had two small critiques that have to do with the historical setting. The first I noticed because a review of another historical novel mentioned it. The phrase “my truth” is a term that’s been popping up during the last few years and it does not have a place earlier than the 21st century. Every time that phrase comes up it pulls me out of the setting. There’s a lot of modern feminist ideas being explored, but given that Dorothy’s character is ahead of her time it never feels out of place, but I could do without the specifically modern feminist language. The second thing is nitpicky, but the term corset is used often and they didn't have corsets in the 18th century, they had stays. Some points I think the author means stays and others I think she means bodice since the character plays with her “corset strings” when she’s fully dressed. Yes, I have been watching historical costumers on youtube, how did you know?

Aside from those things I was delighted to finally get a historical novel set someplace other than Western Europe during the World Wars. There are so many places in history that would be interesting to explore and I’m glad Riley is introducing the world to Dorothy, whose story is so radical that if it was only a story one would call in unbelievable. But life is stranger than fiction and Dorothy’s life shows how true that is.

*Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
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"Island Queen: A Novel" by Vanessa Riley is an empowering story based on the real-life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, a woman born into slavery who is able to buy her freedom and that of her family. It is a story that centers on injustice and suffering yet also the strength to go for one's dreams, freedom, and hope. I really hope that people get a chance to read this especially a story that centers on the Caribbean (she builds several businesses and becomes one of the most wealthy women in the Caribbean). 

Thank you, NetGalley and William Morrow for the ARC for my honest review. 

I just reviewed Island Queen by Vanessa Riley. #IslandQueen #NetGalley
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Book Review for Island Queen by Vanessa Riley
Full review for this title can be found at: @fyebooks on Instagram!
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Wow, I cannot wait for everyone to have access to this book. It is an epic story based on the real life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. A woman born into slavery who is able to buy her freedom and that of her family. She then builds several businesses and becomes one of the most wealthy women in the Caribbean. It is a story of injustice but also of strength and dreams. It is also about family and the lengths a mother and grandmother will go to so her children and grandchildren will have what she did not. The men in this story are well meaning but oh so good for nothing. Well not nothing but really Dorothy was the driving force in her success and Riley makes sure we know it. Riley's research is always superb but here she has really outdone herself and has written one of the most wonderful works of historical fiction that I have ever read.
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What a beautiful story! I had no idea about Dorothy Kirwan Thomas prior to reading this book. I loved reading about her life and rise through the ranks of society. The book is a tad long but I enjoyed it! The writing was beautiful and well done. I cannot wait to talk about this story with fellow readers! 

Thank you NetGalley and William Morrow and Custom House for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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