Tuesday, January 26, 2021

A View From Abroad: The Story of John and Abigail Adams in Europe by Jeanne E. Abrams

A scholarly presentation, well presented, with the main ideas and insights easily grasped, The View from Abroad is a vivid study of the Adams, their time, and the formation of the American system of government.

John Adams lived in Europe over ten years, his wife Abigail joining him his last four years. The experience gave Adams insight into the social and economic implications of monarchical governments, helping to form his ideal American political system with a balance of power to contain both oligarchy and mobs. 

John and Abigail remained staunchly attached to their homeland, rejecting the 'fripperies' and attachment to entertainment of the wealthy court and aristocratic life styles. 

America would thrive, they believed, if the good New England values of virtue, cooperation, faith, and thrift remained foundational. Virtue was necessary for good government.

John had no idealistic view of human nature. He knew that people could be rallied by self-promoting, charismatic leaders, and that the lure of luxury would seduce many.

Revolutionary friends parted ways over the Constitution. Mercy Warren and Thomas Jefferson was critical of John Adams' views.

As a Federalist, Adams believed that a strong federal government was required to make trade agreements that would ensure America's economic growth and levy taxes to support an army. Anti-Federalist Jefferson was influenced by the radial enlightenment view of humanity progressing toward perfection, and he feared the loss of individual and states rights.

Abrams highlights Adams concerns about America. He worried that short terms of office that might create instability, especially interference by foreign nations.

I especially enjoyed the excerpts from letters written by John and Abigail, hearing their opinions in their own voices.

I received a free galley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

A View from Abroad: The Story of John and Abigail Adams in Europe
by Jeanne E. Abrams
NYU Press
Pub Date: January 26, 2021
ISBN: 9781479802876
hardcover $27.95 (USD)

from the publisher:

From 1778 to 1788, the Founding Father and later President John Adams lived in Europe as a diplomat. Joined by his wife, Abigail, in 1784, the two shared rich encounters with famous heads of the European royal courts, including the ill-fated King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette, and the staid British Monarchs King George III and Queen Charlotte.

In this engaging narrative, A View from Abroad takes us on the first full exploration of the Adams’s lives abroad. Jeanne E. Abrams reveals how the journeys of John and Abigail Adams not only changed the course of their intellectual, political, and cultural development—transforming the couple from provincials to sophisticated world travelers—but most importantly served to strengthen their loyalty to America.

Abrams shines a new light on how the Adamses and their American contemporaries set about supplanting their British origins with a new American identity. They and their fellow Americans grappled with how to reorder their society as the new nation took its place in the international transatlantic world. After just a short time abroad, Abigail maintained that, “My Heart and Soul is more American than ever. We are a family by ourselves.” The Adamses’ quest to define what it means to be an American, and the answers they discovered in their time abroad, still resonate with us to this day.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett

I did not try to get a galley, I did not try to win this memoir, I did not think it would interest me. At publication, it garnered much praise. Finally, I listened to a clip of the audiobook and immediately purchased it.

Wow. What a fool I was. No, wait--I am SO GLAD that I first encountered Hollywood Park as an audiobook, read by the author Mikel Jollett. I could not stop listening to it. It was mesmerizing.

Jollett so beautifully reconstructs his childhood experience of a baffling world, the angst of growing up with a mentally ill mother, the joy of a loving father, the twisting and evolving relationship with a brother also struggling with a dysfunctional childhood.

There is the beauty of the writing, the depth of understanding, the struggle with one's brokenness, the heartbreaking story turning into an anthem of personal growth.

Artists turn their pain into that which others can experience and know they are not alone.

Hollywood Park
by Mikel Jollett
Macmillian Audio
ISBN1250754593 (ISBN13: 9781250754592)

from the publisher

HOLLYWOOD PARK is a remarkable memoir of a tumultuous life. Mikel Jollett was born into one of the country’s most infamous cults, and subjected to a childhood filled with poverty, addiction, and emotional abuse. Yet, ultimately, his is a story of fierce love and family loyalty told in a raw, poetic voice that signals the emergence of a uniquely gifted writer.

We were never young. We were just too afraid of ourselves. No one told us who we were or what we were or where all our parents went. They would arrive like ghosts, visiting us for a morning, an afternoon. They would sit with us or walk around the grounds, to laugh or cry or toss us in the air while we screamed. Then they’d disappear again, for weeks, for months, for years, leaving us alone with our memories and dreams, our questions and confusion. …

So begins Hollywood Park, Mikel Jollett’s remarkable memoir. His story opens in an experimental commune in California, which later morphed into the Church of Synanon, one of the country’s most infamous and dangerous cults. Per the leader’s mandate, all children, including Jollett and his older brother, were separated from their parents when they were six months old, and handed over to the cult’s “School.” After spending years in what was essentially an orphanage, Mikel escaped the cult one morning with his mother and older brother. But in many ways, life outside Synanon was even harder and more erratic.

In his raw, poetic and powerful voice, Jollett portrays a childhood filled with abject poverty, trauma, emotional abuse, delinquency and the lure of drugs and alcohol. Raised by a clinically depressed mother, tormented by his angry older brother, subjected to the unpredictability of troubled step-fathers and longing for contact with his father, a former heroin addict and ex-con, Jollett slowly, often painfully, builds a life that leads him to Stanford University and, eventually, to finding his voice as a writer and musician.

Hollywood Park is told at first through the limited perspective of a child, and then broadens as Jollett begins to understand the world around him. Although Mikel Jollett’s story is filled with heartbreak, it is ultimately an unforgettable portrayal of love at its fiercest and most loyal.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Covid-19 Life: Books, Quilts, Gratitude

I finally have the Gingiber Thicket animal quilt finished! I bound it off today and it is in the washer. I machine quilted it, the largest quilt I have tackled so far.
I finished the fusible applique for all fourteen Michigan lighthouse blocks. Instead of finishing the edges with a satin stitch I am outlining everything in black thread. Because I hate machine work and am lazy and thought I would try something different. It gives a different effect.

Rebel Girl is going to be my new project! It’s so much fun!

And I am finishing hand quilting Hospital Sketches.

We are approaching February 2, which will mark one year since my family last gathered together as a whole. We celebrated my husband's birthday at a local Japanese restaurant. Restrictions have once again leveled off Covid cases in Michigan. I know a few people who have been vaccinated, but like many thousands, the schedule is full into February and we wait for opening to be vaccinated.

So, it is more of the same life we have lived since March 11, 2020. Zoom and Facebook and instant messaging and the rare meetings, mostly outdoors, with a family member.
Gus the cat has been enjoying the days when Sunny and Ellie are at doggie day care. Gus has her people all to himself. Of course, they are working from home and I understand there is much walking across keyboards going on.

Our heated water dish is visited by Blue Jay and Cardinals and scads of squirrels of all colors. We have had little snow here, but it stays cold.

A number of books have arrived in the mail!

The Genome Odyssey by Euan Angus Ashley is from Bookish First.

Publisher's Weekly had a Grab-a-Galley giveaway, and the publisher sent me Blind Spots: Why Students Fail and the Science that Can Save Them by Kimberly Nix Berens.

The Book Club Cook Book sent me Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten.

St. Martin's Press sent me The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town by Brian Alexander through NetGalley.  It is about a Bryan, OH town, where I used to take my sewing machine to be serviced when we lived near the Michigan-Ohio border.

I obtained Empowered Embroider through NetGalley.

I am still working on the same quilt projects. I had to stop hand quilting after I smashed my quilting finger. I have fourteen lighthouse blocks fused down and am adding machine work.

I feel great relief and gratitude for so many things.

First, for the peaceful transfer of power to a new president.

Second, knowing that in the next few months the Covid vaccine will become more available and we will be vaccinated.

Third, that our loved ones have remained safe over this long year.

Fourth, for the work I have in book reviewing which gives me meaning in isolation.

Fifth, for connections through social media and Zoom that keep me in communication with the world.

Sixth, for the creative outlet I have in quilting.

And last of all, for all those who read my blog and reviews and comment and share.

Stay safe. Find your bliss. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Dear Miss Kopp by Amy Stewart


Amy Stewart is back with a SIXTH installment of the Miss Kopp series! Girl Waits With Gun was published in 2015 and Stewart has given us a sequel every year since. 

If you have not read any of the series you won't know that the main characters are based on real people. 

Constance Kopp was one of the first lady cops. She had a sister Norma, and 'sister' Fleurette who is really Constance's child, the result of being seduced by a door-to-door Singer salesman when she was a teenager. Stewart has delved into the newspaper files to resurrect the Kopp girls, fictionalizing freely to fill in the blanks left in their histories.

The series begins in 1914, and this installment brings us to WWI.

Constance has been recruited by Washington, DC to spy on American Germans aiding the enemy. Fleurette is entertaining the stateside troops as part of a song and dance troupe. And Norma has enlisted to help the Army develop a pigeon messenger program in France where she rooms with a nurse.

Between the three Kopps, readers see the war from many fronts.

The novel is totally epistolary, comprised of the letters between the sisters, their bosses, and family and friends.

As in all the book in the series, a major focus in on the role of women in society, their contributions and the limitations society places on them. Norma fights for her work to be taken seriously and solves the problem of missing medical supplies. Fleurette is arrest under The American Plan which locked up women suspected of sexual promiscuity and corrupting the troops. Constance goes undercover as a spy.

The crimes that the Kopps solve are based on actual crimes. One act of sabotage mentioned took place at the Curtiss North Elmwood plant in Buffalo, NY. It was the world's largest airplane factory when it was built, located just down the road from where I grew up. (My grandfather was an engineer at a later Curtiss plant operating during WWII.) 

Fans will enjoy the book. Newbies may want to start with the first in the series. Once you fall for the Kopps there is no turning back. We will read to the very end of the series!

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Read about the other books in the series:



Dear Miss Kopp
by Amy Stewart
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/ Mariner Books
Historical Fiction
Pub Date:  January 21, 2021   
ISBN: 9780358093121
paperback $15.99 (USD)

from the publisher

The indomitable Kopp sisters are tested at home and abroad in this warm and witty tale of wartime courage and camaraderie.

The U.S. has finally entered World War I is and Constance is chasing down suspected German saboteurs and spies for the Bureau of Investigation while Fleurette is traveling across the country entertaining troops with song and dance. Meanwhile, at an undisclosed location in France, Norma is overseeing her thwarted pigeon project for the Army Signal Corps. When Aggie, a nurse at the American field hospital, is accused of stealing essential medical supplies, the intrepid Norma is on the case to find the true culprit.

The far-flung sisters—separated for the first time in their lives—correspond with news of their days. The world has irrevocably changed—will the sisters be content to return to the New Jersey farm when the war is over?

Told through letters, Dear Miss Kopp weaves the stories of real life women into a rich fiction brimming with the historical detail and humor that are hallmarks of the series, proving once again that “any novel that features the Kopp Sisters is going to be a riotous, unforgettable adventure” (Bustle).

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Crown in Crisis: Countdown to the Abdication by Alexander Larman

You see, the man is mad. MAD. He could see nothing but that woman.~Prime Minister Baldwin quoted in The Crown in Crisis

Drawing from newly released archival sources, interviews, letters, and diaries, here is the full story of Edward VIII whose love for American divorcee' Wallis Simpson caused him to give up the throne, threatening the stability of the British government and the monarchy.

Edward was charming and beloved by the common people, but he preferred pleasure to work and freedom to upholding the narrow conventions expected from a monarch. He had no intellectual interests, no Christian faith (although head of the state church), and hated the drudgery of being a monarch.

Readers learn about Edward's personality and weaknesses, his gay life and affairs, and how Wallis came to be his obsession.

The British newspapers would not publish stories about Edward's affair with the married Wallis. The couple took a pleasure cruise across the world with friends, the foreign press filled with photographs and stories about them.

Wallis found herself trapped by Edward's compulsive addiction, trying valiantly to talk him out of his determination to marry her if her divorce was granted. He was too powerful; he would not listen to her pleas; and the divorce and the abdication went through.

The once-king lost his homeland, his property, his power, and his family to gain the woman he loved. Wallis was imprisoned in a marriage she had hoped to avoid.

In that moment, I realised how heavy was the price I had paid... ~Edward VIII quoted in The Crown in Crisis

This is more than a love story, more than a history of a deeply flawed man. It tells the story of a government in crisis, struggling to deal with the most unexpected challenge. It is riveting as history, and disturbing as a portrait of a self-centered leader who put the personal above their duty to nation.  

I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

The Crown in Crisis: Countdown to the Abdication
by Alexander Larman
St. Martin's Press
Pub Date  January 19, 2021   
ISBN: 9781250274847
hardcover $27.99 (USD)

From the publisher

The thrilling and definitive account of the Abdication Crisis of 1936

On December 10, 1936, King Edward VIII brought a great international drama to a close when he abdicated, renouncing the throne of the United Kingdom for himself and his heirs. The reason he gave when addressing his subjects was that he could not fulfill his duties without the woman he loved—the notorious American divorcee Wallis Simpson—by his side. His actions scandalized the establishment, who were desperate to avoid an international embarrassment at a time when war seemed imminent. That the King was rumored to have Nazi sympathies only strengthened their determination that he should be forced off the throne, by any means necessary.

Alexander Larman’s The Crown in Crisis will treat readers to a new, thrilling view of this legendary story. Informed by revelatory archival material never-before-seen, as well as by interviews with many of Edward’s and Wallis’s close friends, Larman creates an hour-by-hour, day-by-day suspenseful narrative that brings readers up to the point where the microphone is turned on and the king speaks to his subjects. As well as focusing on King Edward and Mrs. Simpson, Larman looks closely at the roles played by those that stood against him: Prime minister Stanley Baldwin, his private secretary Alec Hardinge, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang. Larman also takes the full measure of those who supported him: the great politician Winston Churchill, Machiavellian newspaper owner Lord Beaverbrook, and the brilliant lawyer Walter Monckton.

For the first time in a book about the abdication, readers will read an in-depth account of the assassination attempt on Edward’s life and its consequences, a first-person chronicle of Wallis Simpson’s scandalous divorce proceedings, information from the Royal Archives about the government’s worries about Edward’s relationship with Nazi high-command Ribbentrop and a boots-on-the-ground view of how the British people saw Edward as they watched the drama unfold. You won’t be able to put down The Crown in Crisis, a full panorama of the people and the times surrounding Edward and the woman he loved.


Thursday, January 14, 2021

At the Edge of the Haight by Katherine Seligman


I felt that way all the time. Something was coming for me and would never stop.~ from At the Edge of the Haight by Katherine Seligman 

Katherine Seligman's New Adult novel At the Edge of the Haight will shake up what you believed about young adults living on the street. By creating very real characters and following their daily lives, the author creates empathy and compassion. 

Maddy lives with a makeshift family on the streets and parks of San Francisco. With an absent father and a mentally ill mother, she left her foster parents home when she turned eighteen. 

Maddy has adopted a stray dog, her companion and protector. One day he leads her to the body of another street person, a young man. Nearby she notices a man, and assumes he murdered the boy.

Why was I acting like I was going to save everyone?~from At the Edge of the Haight by Katherine Seligman 

Maddy does what she can to help find the truth of the boy's death. His parents hope Maddy can help them understand their son and his life, and hope to help Maddy. But they are too isolated in their privileged life to understand Maddy's needs. She remains closed down, unable to trust.  

This is a character-driven read; the story has complications but the emotional tension of the crisis Maddy faces is internal, discovering a voice through photography, and reacting to an event that motivates her to risk change. 

There is threat and violence and sex, but appropriate for young adult readers.

The novel has the feel of a journalistic representation of the hard, lonely, alienated life on the street, the endless rounds of finding shelter and your next meal.  

I received a free ebook from the publisher. My review is fair and unbiased.

At the Edge of the Haight
by Katherine Seligman
Algonquin Books
Pub Date: January 19, 2021 
ISBN: 9781643750231
hardcover $26.95 (USD)

from the publisher

The 10th Winner of the 2019 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, Awarded by Barbara Kingsolver

“What a read this is, right from its startling opening scene. But even more than plot, it’s the richly layered details that drive home a lightning bolt of empathy. To read At the Edge of the Haight is to live inside the everyday terror and longings of a world that most of us manage not to see, even if we walk past it on sidewalks every day. At a time when more Americans than ever find themselves at the edge of homelessness, this book couldn’t be more timely.”
—Barbara Kingsolver, author of Unsheltered and The Poisonwood Bible 

Maddy Donaldo, homeless at twenty, has made a family of sorts in the dangerous spaces of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. She knows whom to trust, where to eat, when to move locations, and how to take care of her dog. It’s the only home she has. When she unwittingly witnesses the murder of a young homeless boy and is seen by the perpetrator, her relatively stable life is upended. Suddenly, everyone from the police to the dead boys’ parents want to talk to Maddy about what she saw. As adults pressure her to give up her secrets and reunite with her own family before she meets a similar fate, Maddy must decide whether she wants to stay lost or be found. Against the backdrop of a radically changing San Francisco, a city which embraces a booming tech economy while struggling to maintain its culture of tolerance, At the Edge of the Haight follows the lives of those who depend on makeshift homes and communities.

As judge Hillary Jordan says, “This book pulled me deep into a world I knew little about, bringing the struggles of its young, homeless inhabitants—the kind of people we avoid eye contact with on the street—to vivid, poignant life. The novel demands that you take a close look. If you knew, could you still ignore, fear, or condemn them? And knowing, how can you ever forget?”

The Children's Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin

I had not yet read Melanie Benjamin when I heard her talk about her new historical fiction novel The Children's Blizzard on Karen Dionne's Back Room author series. 

I had read David Laskin's nonfiction book The Children's Blizzard in 2005 and knew the story of the 1888 weather event that hit the upper Midwest prairie, devastating immigrant settlements and killing children coming home from school.

Benjamin talked about her writing on the Back Room, how she was an early reader, the pressure to be commercial, and her desire to write about something different, not about a specific historical figure. 

Knowing the tragic stories that arose from the 1888 blizzard, I was curious about how Benjamin could spin a story that avoided being a complete downer while staying true to history.

Benjamin sets the story in several homestead communities with families that represent the different situations people were in when the weather turned abruptly from balmy to a monstrous snowstorm.

She centers on two sisters who become teenage teachers, hoping to raise money for college and a teaching certificate. When the blizzard strikes, one sister's leadership brings notoriety and the other sister becomes a media darling. Neither could prevent the deaths of students, and both faced anger from family members who held her responsible for the loss of a child. How their stories were spinned by the news media made all the difference. One sister thrived, and the other escapes into obscurity.

The girl teachers illustrate the limited options available for women and their students. Boys also had limited choices; the inquisitive and intelligent farm boy Tor is tied to the land to support his family.

Underlying the tale is how boosters falsely portrayed life in the plains to lure homesteaders to settle there, appealing especially to Norwegian and Swedish immigrants, those whose homeland could not offer the farmland they longed to own. 60% of these homesteaders gave up and left; most of those who remained lived in poverty or on the edge.

And of course, settlers were wanted to spur economic growth and to hold the land from the Native Americans who had been dispossessed, removed, and killed. 

Words and promises lure those who long for a better life, spurring people to leave their homeland and families, and in one case almost luring a young teacher to run away with a married man.

I became emotionally invested in these characters, propelled to read on. After the storm, the intensity did not abate as alliances and friendships shifted and, finally, new opportunities arose. These families lost so much, and yet they forge on.

What a read for a pandemic! Determination, strength, fortitude, community, charity, pull these characters through tragedy. 

I especially appreciated the portrayal of the communities, offering me a better insight into the character of the Midwest plains. In the Author's Note, Benjamin wrote, "Considering the era in which we live, I was intrigued and moved by this tragedy involving immigrants, who were welcomed to this country, without whom American would not be what it is today--and who were lured here, in many cases, by outright falsehoods masquerading as news and fact."

She points out that the plains was a dry and unsuitable environment for farming the crops these immigrants knew. When the Ogallala Aquifer was taped as a water source, it became the 'breadbasket' we grew up with, but over-farming is depleting the resource. Some day, it will be a desert again, especially with climate change complications.

And once again, people will be on the move, seeking out new settlements to support them.

Now, I wonder why I waited so long to read this author!

I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

The Children's Blizzard: A Novel
by Melanie Benjamin
Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine
Delacorte Press
Pub Date: January 12, 2021  
ISBN: 9780399182280
hardcover $28.00 (USD)
ebook ISBN 9780399182297 $13.99
audiobook download ISBN 9780525492771

from the publisher

The morning of January 12, 1888, was unusually mild, following a punishing cold spell. It was warm enough for the homesteaders of the Dakota Territory to venture out again, and for their children to return to school without their heavy coats—leaving them unprepared when disaster struck. At the hour when most prairie schools were letting out for the day, a terrifying, fast-moving blizzard blew in without warning. Schoolteachers as young as sixteen were suddenly faced with life and death decisions: Keep the children inside, to risk freezing to death when fuel ran out, or send them home, praying they wouldn’t get lost in the storm?

Based on actual oral histories of survivors, this gripping novel follows the stories of Raina and Gerda Olsen, two sisters, both schoolteachers—one becomes a hero of the storm and the other finds herself ostracized in the aftermath. It’s also the story of Anette Pedersen, a servant girl whose miraculous survival serves as a turning point in her life and touches the heart of Gavin Woodson, a newspaperman seeking redemption. It was Woodson and others like him who wrote the embellished news stories that lured northern European immigrants across the sea to settle a pitiless land. Boosters needed them to settle territories into states, and they didn’t care what lies they told these families to get them there—or whose land it originally was.

At its heart, this is a story of courage, of children forced to grow up too soon, tied to the land because of their parents’ choices. It is a story of love taking root in the hard prairie ground, and of families being torn asunder by a ferocious storm that is little remembered today—because so many of its victims were immigrants to this country.