Sunflower Sisters [Book Review]

March 26, 2021

Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly

Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly (cover) Image: a woman in an 1890s dress and bonnet and carrying a bunch of sumflowers walks down a dirt path away from the camera

Genre/Categories/Setting: Historical Fiction, Civil War, Slavery, Nursing, Friendship, Sisters

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

My Summary:

Thanks, #NetGalley @RandomHouse for my complimentary e ARC of #SunflowerSisters upon my request. All opinions are my own.

Third in the “Flowers Trilogy” (as I affectionately think of them), Sunflower Sisters precedes Lilac Girls and Lost Roses in a historical timeline and altogether the three books involve three wars. First, Lilac Girls is set during WW11 and features heroine Caroline Ferriday; next, Lost Roses, a prequel to Lilac Girls, features Caroline’s mother, Eliza Ferriday, and is set in the pre-WW1 era; finally, Sunflower Sisters is the prequel to Lost Roses and is set during the Civil War. All the stories in the trilogy can be read as stand alones. I think Sunflower Sisters is my favorite of the three.

In Sunflower Sisters, Georgeanna Woolsey, a great aunt of Caroline Ferriday, is a Union nurse at a time when the medical field was dominated by men. She crosses paths with Jemma, a young girl who was enslaved, sold off, ran away, and was conscripted into the army. Jemma has a sister, Patience, who remains enslaved on the plantation next door. Sunflower Sisters describes Civil War experiences and plantation life, and it includes family drama.


In this story, sunflowers are a symbol that slaves used to warn each other of danger.

My Thoughts:

Do you like stories about nurses?
Are you curious about the first female nurses in the U.S.?

Nursing during the Civil War: One of the most interesting aspects of Sunflower Sisters is the description of nursing experiences during the Civil War and Georgey’s training under Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in America to obtain a medical degree. At this time, the medical field was a man’s profession, so determined and ambitious women had to break this barrier to become real nurses. Georgey is a pioneer in nursing and works hard to gain the trust of doctors and encourages and teaches other women who also want to be nurses. As part of her nursing duties, she cares for and compassionately befriends Jemma and becomes involved with the rescue of Jemma’s sister, Patience.

Well-researched: Readers can always depend on Martha Hall Kelly for well-researched and ambitious historical fiction. Her characters are well-drawn and the historical details are vivid and descriptive.

POVs: Sunflower Sisters is a compelling and complex story of the Civil War and it’s told from multiple perspectives: Georgey is a determined nurse from a privileged, abolitionist family; courageous Jemma (and her sister) are enslaved (before Jemma joins the army); and Ann-May is a mean and possessive plantation owner who fancies herself as a spy in her free time. These multiple points of view can also present a challenging reading experience (which I enjoy!) as we rotate points of view and locations. Throughout the reading, I felt more and more connected to the characters and enjoyed a satisfactory conclusion.

Highly recommended: Readers who appreciate ambitious and well-written historical fiction will find Sunflower Sisters filled with historical details and references. Don’t miss the author’s notes which mention that this story was inspired by the real life Woosley sisters and their personal correspondence. Recommended for Civil War enthusiasts, for readers who love stories of inspirational women, and for book clubs (although it is a hefty 528 pages).

Book Club Question: If I were reading this in book club I’d want to discuss the legacy of the women in this trilogy. In each of the three generations represented in these stories, the women are inspirational in their courage, independence, charity, and service. How is this value passed down to the women in the next generation? Is it through oral history? Do you feel you have internalized values that have been passed down generation to generation in your family?

My Rating:  4.5 (rounded to 5) Stars


Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly (cover) Image: a young woman in a long blue dress and bonnet walks down a country road with a handful of large sunflowers

Sunflower Sisters Information Here

Meet the Author, Martha Hall Kelly

Author Martha Hall Kelly

Martha is a native New Englander who lives in Litchfield County Connecticut. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years, and raised three wonderful children who are now mostly out of the nest. Her debut novel Lilac Girls, about Connecticut socialite Caroline Ferriday who championed a group of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp survivors known as The Rabbits who survived WWII Nazi experiments, was her first novel and an instant New York Times bestseller. The prequel to Lilac Girls, Lost Roses, was also an instant NY Times bestseller. It features Caroline’s mother Eliza Ferriday and her fight to save a group of Russian women, former aristocrats who lost everything in the Russian Revolution. The Lost Roses paperback published March 3rd, 2020 and the third book in the series, a Civil War novel about Caroline’s great grandmother’s family, arrives spring 2021. You’ll find more info about both books on Martha’s website: and on Pinterest.


Is Sunflower Sisters on your TBR?
Have you read other titles by Martha Hall Kelly?

Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection! Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text

Let’s Get Social!

Thank you for visiting and reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along (see subscribe or follow option), promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Find me at:

***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price.

Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photos are credited to Amazon or an author’s (or publisher’s) website.



    • In my limited knowledge, Kelly is a fairly fastidious researcherI think. It would be interesting to see what you think!

  1. I’m glad you liked it, but she lost me as a reader with her Lilac Girls. It was disrespectful to Jews who suffered during WWII and the Holocaust, by practically ignoring that they were the main target of the Nazis. I’m afraid I will never read her books.

  2. I’m always really hesitant about books that discuss medicine or healthcare because it annoys me with things are inaccurate. However, this one sounds well researched!

  3. I think these three would be interesting to read – it’s an interesting way of crossing time & remaining in the same family

    • The first two are more closely tied together because it’s mother and daughter but the third is a distant relative.

  4. This trilogy sounds wonderful! I don’t know how I’ve missed knowing about it. Thanks for bring it to my attention and to my ever-growing TBR.

Leave a Reply