Book Review: Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin & Lisa Brown

Historical fiction & I have a sketchy past. There have been a couple that I’ve liked (until now, the most notable being The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory). But for the most part, I haven’t been a huge fan. I remember reading Cold Mountain and wondering what the heck everyone thought was so great about it. (And I’m cringing now in anticipation of the hate mail for that last statement.)

So it was with some trepidation that I began reading Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and illustrated by Lisa Brown, a story about Jennie Lovell, a young woman coping with the deaths of her twin brother and her fiancee during the Civil War, amidst the rise of the Spiritualist movement.

It turns out, my worries were unfounded.

Picture the Dead is an incredible book, one that sweeps you up into the story, the history and the characters, without overwhelming. The history never becomes cumbersome, as it can in some historical fiction. Instead, the history sets the stage for a story about love, loss, and strength.

The story alone is strong enough to capture your interest. But then Griffin comes out with phrases like this:

… the question has been so long on the tip of my tongue, it almost has a taste.

And this:

… a resonant silence, the kind that holds the air after the final note of a concerto has been played.

Equally impressive is the main character’s resolve. Jennie is not just some weeping war widow. She is determined to learn what really happened out on the battlefield, and will go to any lengths to find out — including teaming up with a spiritualist photographer of questionable reputation. Her strength & resiliency is admirable, and they are qualities that young female readers can aspire to.

As Picture the Dead unfolds, Jennie’s story is enhanced by extensive illustrations from Lisa Brown. But rather than simply illustrating scenes from the book, the imagery gives the book the feeling of being a personal scrapbook. Brown lovingly recreates letters, photographs, daguerreotypes and other scraps of paper that are described in the novel.

Her illustrations transform the story, bringing it to life and giving it the quality of authenticity. Brown’s illustrations are a scrapbook of the narrative itself.

Adding to the whole package is the Afterward from Griffin & Brown, explaining the historical context & background for Picture the Dead, and the thought process behind the decisions they made while crafting the story. You can delve even deeper on the official Picture the Dead website.

Picture the Dead is now available in stores everywhere.We’ll have an exclusive interview with Griffin & Brown tomorrow!

Here is the official synopsis & a video featuring Griffin & Brown:

Jennie’s connection with her twin brother, Toby, grew stronger after he died in 1864. Now Jennie must rely on her ability to communicate with the dead to find out what has happened to her beloved fiance, Will, while he was off at war. The army says he died honorably in battle. His brother confides that he became a violent criminal and died in a prison camp. Jennie begins to doubt that anyone is telling her the truth.

This intriguing combination of historical romance, paranormal thriller, and clever mystery is illustrated by bestselling artist Lisa Brown. The unique visuals originated from real Civil War daguerreotypes that were transformed into eerie mementos for Jennie’s scrapbook.

With the help of a spiritualist photographer, the spirit of her dead fiance, and the clues she discovers and keeps in her scrapbook, Jennie must put together the pieces of this mystery before she loses her home, her fortune, and possibly her life.


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