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71 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Terrific Historical Novel
Janis Cooke Newman's novel is should please lovers of historical fiction as well as Lincoln aficionados, women's history readers, and civil war buffs. It is a cracking good read; rich in detail, engrossing, and an interesting take on an historical figure who continues to be controversial. Like Margaret George's "Autobiography of Henry VIII"--another great example of...
Published on September 22, 2006 by Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader

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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Looks more promising than it is
As a few other reviewers have noted, Newman takes some liberties with documented historical fact. This is the purvue of historical novelists. However, for anyone even remotely familiar with the Lincolns, a few things seem jarringly out of place: for instance, the Springfield residence that Newman's Mary describes as "a small cottage" and a "little ramshackle house" is in...
Published on February 14, 2007 by Jerika


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71 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Terrific Historical Novel, September 22, 2006
This review is from: Mary: A Novel (Hardcover)
Janis Cooke Newman's novel is should please lovers of historical fiction as well as Lincoln aficionados, women's history readers, and civil war buffs. It is a cracking good read; rich in detail, engrossing, and an interesting take on an historical figure who continues to be controversial. Like Margaret George's "Autobiography of Henry VIII"--another great example of looking at familiar events through the eyes of its often-maligned main character--Newman allows Mary Todd Lincoln writes her own story, this time from the asylum where her son Robert has committed her.

Like so many 19th century women, Mary had more physical desire than she was supposed to, and was starved for affection on top of it. Her losses were staggering--three sons dead, a husband shot to death while sitting next to her at Ford's Theater, and betrayal by a beloved friend---but while we might say that this would be enough to unbalance anyone, the 19th century was not so forgiving. Many women experienced this depth of loss and were expected to just get on with it. Mary could not.

Her "appetites" for love and shopping (her desire to improve the look for the dirty, seedy White House and the resulting shopping sprees in New York) lead to debts and scandal. She believed that things would keep her and her family safe. She was not loved by the nation, nor by her only surviving son, Robert, a man born with little affection to give. But was she insane? She did lack the moderation and balance expected of women of her period. Newman's novel presents up a complex personality, someone of her time but not well suited to it. This rich and absorbing novel is highly recommended.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Unsettled by the ten year anniversary of my husband's killing. But not deranged.", September 30, 2006
This review is from: Mary: A Novel (Hardcover)
A few scant years after Abraham Lincoln's assassination, his widow, Mary, passes the lonely days incarcerated at Bellevue Place Sanitarium, under the care of an arrogant physician with the usual chauvinistic prejudices of the era. The doctor announces that Mary's "bladder is hysterical" and that she is "possessed of an irritated spine." Later he will blame her state on the "unfavorable humors of an older woman's womb". Subject to the determination of the doctor and her eldest son that she is restored to reason, Mary, at fifty-six, knows only that she must please them to hope of ever gaining her freedom. An easy target of the tabloid since her time as First Lady, Mrs. Lincoln has been driven, in her incarceration, to put pen to paper, filling the sleepless hours of the night with her memories, to "make me forget that I am locked in a madhouse... and keep me sane."

Beginning with her mother's death in Lexington, Kentucky, when Mary is six, she writes of a life cursed with excess and loss: her first meeting with the man who would be president; their tumultuous courtship and marriage; Lincoln's congressional career; the Civil War, the loss of three of her four sons; a long flirtation with Spiritualism; a short foray into infidelity and its consequences; the fated night at Ford's theater, the Chicago fire, years of prescribed drug therapy (chloral hydrate and laudanum) and her distressing stay at Bellevue. Notably emotional, Mary assuages her fearful insecurity during the war years with overzealous spending, a habit that brings her much grief. But aside from the events that mark the passing decades, Mary's life is suffused with an overabundance of passion, unacceptable in her position, coupled with the raging grief of her unbearable losses. Even her husband is intimidated by the strength of Mary's passion.

Her days take on nightmarish proportions after Lincoln's death, until her release from Bellevue through the offices of a Suffragette lawyer, the tale resonating with the history of a democracy still in its infancy. Most striking is the revelation of one woman's fate when she veers from what is acceptable with no man to protect her, her every move monitored by those who determine her sanity. That she survives at all is amazing. A victim of her own insecurities and the prevailing male predilection for denying female participation of any significance beyond the home, Mary is most assuredly a woman of her times, albeit a famous one. This is a telling portrait, Mary's male contemporaries suffering her excesses, importuned by a "weaker sex" desirous of equality in an unending battle of the sexes. Luan Gaines/2006.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real page turner, October 11, 2006
By 
F. Jasmine (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Mary: A Novel (Hardcover)
I grew up in Illinois and all I ever learned was the standard party line about Mary Todd Lincoln: that she'd been committed to an insane asylum after her husband was assassinated. And that was where my knowledge stood until Janis's book came along to give a more compassionate take on why Mary might have done what she did (compulsive shopping, erratic behavior, seances, etc.)

Many of us know that Mary Todd Lincoln lost three sons as well as her husband--but history gave her a bum rap because when she didn't behave in a manner that was considered seemly for a former First Lady. With the understanding of psychology and pharmacology we have now, Mary's actions make a lot more sense to us than they did 130 years ago.

And it is the process of seeing how her actions unfolded that makes this such a page turner--though this book may seem long, it doesn't read that way at all. There is no bogging down in exposition; dialogue flows, and things happen on practically every page. I can't imagine a more compelling way to learn a little-told historical tale!
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Looks more promising than it is, February 14, 2007
By 
Jerika (9th circle) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Mary: A Novel (Hardcover)
As a few other reviewers have noted, Newman takes some liberties with documented historical fact. This is the purvue of historical novelists. However, for anyone even remotely familiar with the Lincolns, a few things seem jarringly out of place: for instance, the Springfield residence that Newman's Mary describes as "a small cottage" and a "little ramshackle house" is in fact QUITE a nice home, even by 21st century standards; it is preserved with the original furnishings (or period reproductions) which take away credibility from Newman's portrayal of Abe and Mary as a poor, struggling couple. Sure, a historical novelist can change this (or anything else she wants), but...why?? It leads the reader to a false view of the subject's life. Robert Todd Lincoln is portrayed here as a one-dimensional villain, a cruel Snidely Whiplash-type who you picture twirling the ends of his moustache. We are asked to believe that he was coldhearted and rejected his mother's affections literally from infancy, oppressed her into female submissiveness as a child with cold commands like "you should be fixing supper." There's no development of his--or anyone's--character from the beginning to the end of this very long book.

I also realize this is not a book about Abraham Lincoln, but I was disappointed with Newman's very shadowy, sketchy depiction of the man we all (reasonably) want to take center stage at least for a little while. You barely notice him. My biggest laugh-out-loud moment comes when Mary urges Abe to sign the Emancipation Proclamation with words, "You cannot always consider politics." Unless you are the President of the United States during a civil war, that is. (The EP was the most politic thing he could have done at the time--it gave every black man in America a reason to enlist and fight for the Union at a time when they were short of troops.)

I was hoping to see glittering descriptions of teas and banquets and dinners, meetings with famous people and so forth. There's very little of that; the descriptions of the War Between the States read like they were copied straight out of textbooks. The scenes set at Bellevue Sanitarium are very well-written, and the lengthy descriptions of Mary's grief are believable and vivid...Newman makes you feel for her. But for no one else. Oerall, this fictional autobiography is as one-sided as anything written by MTL's detractors.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reviled Mary Lincoln pleads her case..., August 28, 2007
This review is from: Mary: A Novel (Hardcover)
Mary Lincoln has always been portrayed in movies (once by a frantically emoting Mary Tyler Moore) and historical novels (ie, Gore Vidal's Lincoln)as a migraine-plagued hysteric. In Cooke Newman's hands she is all of that, yes, but, more than that, Mary Lincoln becomes human. Granted, Mary here is presented as a shopaholic rivaling Andy Warhol, but, having to deal with Abe's own fits of catatonic melancholia as well as the death of 3 of her 4 children, she has to have some outlet for her frustration, doesn't she? And Robert, her only son to survive to adulthood, is anything but doting on his widowed mother. In fact he has Mary committed to Belleview Sanitarium outside Chicago largely due to her free thinking/shopaholic ways; Robert is almost a villain out of Dickens here, so cold and withdrawn is he toward his mother's plight. Only near the end of Mary's personal account of the events of her life up to and during her incarceration at Belleview, does the reader begin to see that maybe he was justified; as free thinking and liberated as Mary may be, years of massive doses of chloral hydrate and laudanum begin to take their toll. Added to her drug addiction is a rabid loneliness which draws her into the cloudy world of the seance in order to communicate in whatever way possible with her dearly departed: Eddie, Willy, Abe, and, finally, Tad. What emerges is a woman chased by demons no one around her is able to comprehend. Apparently laudanum (an opiate) was prescribed like aspirin in the second half of the 19th Century to cure everything from migraines to grief. Today Mary would be offered some counseling or a support group as a way of dealing with loss and disappointment, not drugged and left to her own devices as she is here. At over 700 pages, the novel is massive, but I could have read on and on, so engaging was Cooke Newman's work. She has done a beautiful job breathing new life into the saga of Mary Lincoln.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down; didn't want it to end., October 13, 2006
This review is from: Mary: A Novel (Hardcover)
I propped my eyelids open until midnight last night to finish devouring Janis Cooke Newman's magnificent first novel. Those familiar with her work will recognize her inspired choice of detail, striking imagery & flowing style, but they are only the beginning of the delights you'll find here. From the first, I was drawn in by this character & her story, and when I reached page 600 & realized how close I was to finishing, I was torn by the drive to keep reading & the desire for the book not to end.

The nature of Cooke Newman's previous work - memoirs & travel writing - provided a showcase for her own distinctive, decidedly contemporary, voice. Whenever I stopped to think about this being her book I'd listen for that voice, but all I heard was this 19th century woman who shares the author's ability to bring to life the written word. The voice & tone of this book are flawless - I read that Cooke Newman limited herself to reading works from the time period while writing, and it shows. Nonetheless, Mary is not a curiosity from another era - she is a breathing person whose longings I felt, whose betrayals & losses I dreaded & grieved.

Others have written enough here to give you a sense of the story, and it is gripping. Let me just add that if you relish a complex, fascinating character who makes you care about her & want to know what happens to her, you will not want to miss Mary. She's a GREAT read!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An alternative fictionalized view of Mrs. Lincoln, January 21, 2007
This review is from: Mary: A Novel (Hardcover)
The author takes great liberties with her view of Mary Todd Lincoln's motives. Written in the first person, the author imagines Mary Lincoln as a woman who struggles with suppressing her libido while Abraham Lincoln is undersexed. The author also has Mary Todd justifying all the idiosyncrasies and indulgences that she was berated for during the war. This Mary Lincoln is constantly surprised to find herself misunderstood, playing a martyr and the victim of misunderstandings from everyone from her husband, her children, her siblings, her husband's cabinet, the media and the country. She is the misunderstood heroine while Abraham is portrayed as an undersexed, self-conscious bumpkin who succeeds only with Mary's wise tutelage. Her oldest son, Robert, is depicted as a cold, unfeeling son with no redeeming qualities.

The novel switches between the present day of her santiarium commitment to a recollection of her past from childhood. The author makes loose with the hospital's entries about Mrs. Linoln as well as recorded history. I agree with the review that it might be a good novel of a fictionalized 19th century woman but as Mary Todd Lincoln, it requires the reader to suspend his knowledge of history and documented truth about the Lincolns.

Don't read this if you're a stickler for historical accuracy.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Book of One Dimensional Characters, August 23, 2010
This review is from: Mary (Kindle Edition)
Mary Todd is misunderstood, unable to obtain the affection she craves from the three most important and emotionally distant men in her life: her father, husband and eldest son. She does not display mood swings, violent temper or spousal abuse. She may be depressed but nothing more than that. Well, perhaps she over medicates, but don't the men around her encourage her to do so? Robert Todd, family patriarch is rich, aloof, critical. Abraham is at best indifferent and terrified of Mary's sexuality (described in a ridiculous scene in which the young Mary slips from her sister's house in the dead of night to surprise a sleeping Lincoln in his bed as an intentional means to force the marriage) In fact, he is so scared that he refuses to marry her for fear that her sexual intensity may unseat his reason. Mary must - eventually - seduce him yet again to convince him that she can moderate her desires; only then does the reluctant Abraham agree to the marriage. Lincoln is consistently portrayed as distant and disengaged. Robert Lincoln rejects his Mother as a toddler and becomes a cold, heartless, selfish villain, not unlike the classic Victorian melodrama. These characters,written so superficially and with such exaggerated traits, reinforce the portrayal of Mary as martyr or victim. I was not only disappointed in this book, I actually laughed in places where I'm sure no humor was intended. I purchased my copy at a closeout store and thought $ 4.00 was more than enough for what I think is a pitiful, cartoonish description of an otherwise fascinating woman. Serious Lincoln readers should skip this novel.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Would the real Mary stand up please, April 29, 2007
By 
Gerald R. Hibbs "gerbear" (Edmond, Oklahoma United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Mary: A Novel (Hardcover)
This work of historical fiction by Janis Cooke Newman is both long and intense Written as if Mary were writing it herself, it is a two-fold disucssion of Mary Lincoln's life. Newman's fictional character tells of her time in an asylum (put there by her son, robert) while revewing her life with Abrahma Lincoln and their sons. This presensts a sensual side of Mary not found in the history books and explores her sorrows over the death of three of her four children. It is a fascinating read and the reader is tempted to forget that it is fiction, but it is--and good fiction at that.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorite first ladies, January 7, 2007
This review is from: Mary: A Novel (Hardcover)
First, let me say this is one great read. However, I cannot help but think Mary Todd Lincoln is turning in her grave at some of the crative liberties the author takes with the events of her life. The fact that the author is a good writer, the characters of Lincoln and Mary are likable, makes it worth the read. I have serious doubts that the proper Mary Todd of Lexington Kentucky would behave in the manner descibed by the author. Another good novel on Mary Lincoln is My Name Was Mary by Gayle Rogers. Written in the first person, it is a perhaps a more accurate picture of Mary.
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Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln
Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln by Janis Cooke Newman (Paperback - October 1, 2007)
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