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4.1 41
by Janis Cooke Newman, Amy Rennert

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A fascinating and intimate novel of the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, narrated by the First Lady herself

Mary Todd Lincoln is one of history’s most misunderstood and enigmatic women. She was a political strategist, a supporter of emancipation, and a mother who survived the loss of three children and the assassination of her beloved husband. She also


A fascinating and intimate novel of the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, narrated by the First Lady herself

Mary Todd Lincoln is one of history’s most misunderstood and enigmatic women. She was a political strategist, a supporter of emancipation, and a mother who survived the loss of three children and the assassination of her beloved husband. She also ran her family into debt, held seances in the White House, and was committed to an insane asylum—which is where Janis Cooke Newman’s debut novel begins. From her room in Bellevue Place, Mary chronicles her tempestuous childhood in a slaveholding Southern family and takes readers through the years after her husband’s death, revealing the ebbs and flows of her passion and depression, her poverty and ridicule, and her ultimate redemption.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher


"One of those rare books that turns the reader into an admiring fan of both the author and her subject. You feel a compulsion to urge others to read it."--USA Today


"Like its protagonist, Mary is bold, happy to trample upon convention. It is also an old-fashioned pleasure to read . . . Newman daubs period detail like an Impressionist, splashing in lines that intensify her color."--The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

Publishers Weekly
Abraham Lincoln's widow was committed by her son in 1875; kept awake by the bedlam of her fellow inmates, she takes up a pen. Newman, author of the memoir The Russian Word for Snow, portrays Mary Todd Lincoln (1818- 1882) as a proto-feminist: she seduces poor Illinois lawyer Lincoln; kick-starts his career; draws his attention to the slavery issue; corrects his elocution before the Lincoln-Douglas debates; and lobbies behind the scenes (she also has an affair). After the 1860 election, the narrative returns to accepted history, dominated by Mary's crushing misery after a son's death in 1862, her husband's assassination and another son's death in 1872, punctuated by lavish shopping expeditions and an occasional psychotic break. Not introspective and demonstrative, Mary presents a challenge for any historical novelist. Newman makes a good choice in telling the story through Mary's eyes and drawing readers into her perspective. Lincoln buffs can give this a pass because he comes across as a shadowy figure, but readers looking for a vivid, mostly flattering (and rather massive) account of his once-notorious spouse, whose letters are becoming more read, will not be disappointed and those who simply come upon it will be happily surprised. (Sept. 8) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Newman's first novel presents a riveting portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln. Writing in her journal while confined to Bellvue asylum, Mary alternates between recalling her past life as First Lady and detailing her current experiences in that institution. The first-person narrative and liberal use of descriptive details, perfected perhaps by Newman's extensive experience writing nonfiction, enlist the reader's sympathy for the mentally unstable Mrs. Lincoln. At the same time, we can become dismayed at her seeming lack of common sense. Her obsessions are chronicled, from compulsive shopping and fears for the safety of her loved ones, to her sexual needs. Mary's hopes, dreams, feelings, and thoughts are conveyed with depth and subtlety, but the supporting characters seem superficial. Barbara Hambly's The Emancipator's Wife is similar in subject and style, yet the two novels complement rather than duplicate each other. Newman does not emphasize Mary's addiction to opium and patent medicines, while Hambly suggests this is at the root of much of Mary's irrational behavior. The authors present differing views on the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, and Newman offers fewer details of Mary's life, which helps her better maintain the pace and tension of the story. Newman's nuanced portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln's personal struggles belongs in all public libraries, even if they already own the Hambly book.-Ann Fleury, Tampa-Hills-borough Cty. P.L. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.08(d)

Meet the Author

Janis Cooke Newman is the author of the memoir The Russian Word for Snow and most recently A Master Plan for Rescue. She lives in northern California.

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Mary 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This came highly recommended to me by a bookstore employee and when I looked suprised and said it wasn't my thing, she promised me it would be great. It is!! This is my first historical novel and not only has it been a terrific read as a story, but it's an informative and fascinating historical perspective. The view the author has taken of Mary Todd Lincoln really makes her HUMAN instead of Lincoln's crazy wife. She is written with passion, human frailty, and perseverance. It's enjoyable all the way through.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up on a whim, and I am so glad I did! Having never read anything about Mary Lincoln, I was fascinated by this book!. The two perspectives in the book, retrospective of her early years and life with Abraham Lincoln, and her experience in the asylum were a fascinating contrast, and a great way to tell the story. There is much controversy surrounding Mary Todd Lincoln, and by reading the many reviews, there is much controversey over this book. It is fiction, but perhaps gives a glimps of what may have gone on in her mind. I couldn't put it down!
DarkHorseMPC More than 1 year ago
I've read a bio of Mary Todd before, and thought she was interesting, unusual and tragic. This book of historical fiction encompases all these attributes she possessed. A good deal of her unusualness (lunacy) is based on the fact that she did not behave with a conduct befitting of a woman at that time in history. Mary was a well educated, opinionated, hands on woman, who possessed a strong passion for life. This passion, according to this book, was the cause of most of her downfall. I absolutely enjoy this book. I am 3/4 through it, and can't wait to finish it. It is well written, and a very fast and enjoyable read.
JulyFly More than 1 year ago
I was surprised by Mary Lincoln's passionate nature as well as her idiosyncracies and indulgences. It's as if the author was present during President and Mrs. Lincoln's lifetime and witnessed their relationship, marriage and presidency personally. Mary and President Lincoln endured a great deal of misfortune and personal loss in a time of great upheaval in this country. President Lincoln suffered from severe depression throughout his life and the weight of the war ate at him causing him to lose his health. After reading this book, it gave me a three imensional view of what the North and South suffered during the Civil War. This is a book I highly recommend. I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end. Very well written!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely adored this book! Could not put it down! I lent it out to everyone I know. I never really knew too much about Mary Todd Lincoln and although this is fiction a lot of the info about her is pretty accurate.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Could not put down. The author has fantastic writing abilities to hold the readers attention. If you like the Lincoln stories this is a must read! Enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I've read on Mary Lincoln. Although I don't know how much of the information is factual, yet... I had a hard time putting this book down. I wasn't aware that in addition to losing her husband she also lost three sons. Who wouldn't be a little crazy. I think she did amazingly well considering her grief. The book really humanized a woman who shared her life with one of America's greatest hero's.
J-bookclubber More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this novel, but I had to make myself finish it. The sadness, loneliness and pain in Mary Todd Lincoln's life--when I already knew what would happen at Ford's Theater later in the book---made it hard to persevere. In many ways it seemed that modern theories of the "withholding mother," sexual repression, even retail therapy were being applied to explain her actions.
This novel reminded me of Megan Chance's novel, An Inconvenient Wife in which a woman is threatened with committal to an insane asylum if she won't behave properly. It can also be compared to O'Farrell's British novel, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. These upper class women did not fit the mold and suffered for it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I Loved the was the Author wrote. captivating! I don't remember ever reading a book that kept me interested all the way through. The subject was good but what a woman went through in that time period was unreal! They had know voice. I loved this book and very sad Ms.Newman has know other fiction out.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was a great read. I knew little of Mary or Abe. The book made me a huge fan of Honest Abe, what a great guy. I also went in knowing that it was a novel...not always a true story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really loved this great book. I couldn't put it down! A must read if you are interested in the Lincoln family, death and mourning in the Victorian era, spiritualism, and the woman in Victorian society.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although I read little historical fiction, this intrigued me as I have always found Mary Todd Lincoln to be a fascinating person. I enjoyed the book very much, and am now reading The Lincoln's by Epstein. Newman's events and characters were accurate. A good read.
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Arizona1 More than 1 year ago
Excellent book. Hard to put down.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unique perpective of the life of the Lincolns through the eyes of Mary Todd Lincoln...some historic facts.
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