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review 2019-01-17 16:02
A revisionist account of a pivotal election
The Election of 1860: "A Campaign Fraught with Consequences" - Michael F. Holt

The presidential election of 1860 was unlike any other in American history. The product of the contentious and often violent politics of the 1850s, it saw no less than four candidates contesting for the White House. With the fracturing of the Democratic Party over the issue of slavery, the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln was able to win with a only a plurality of the vote, thanks to the majority he won in the electoral college through his near sweep of the populous states of the northern United States. In response to his victory, seven southern states sought to break away from the Union, an action that led to the bloodiest war in the nation's history and the eventual abolition of slavery in the country.


Given its dramatic nature and the momentous events that followed, the 1860 campaign has never wanted for attention from historians. Yet Michael F. Holt argues that a number of misconceptions have accumulated around the election which have skewed our perception of it. His book offers a revisionist account of the campaign that highlights these obscured or distorted elements in an effort to gain a better understanding of the issues that defined it for the voters who participated. Foremost among them, he argues, is the idea that the election was primarily about slavery, which he sees as the view of the southerners who would subsequently seek to break away from the union. For most voters, though, the main issue was the corruption of the Buchanan administration. Holt shows how Republicans highlighted this in the months leading up to the election, making the case that what was needed was a clean sweep of the executive branch. As he explains this also played a key role in the selection of "Honest Abe" as the nominee, as Lincoln's profile was one better suited to make the case for the Republicans than that of his main competitors, William Seward and the corrupt Simon Cameron.


While the Republicans sharpened their arguments about Democratic corruption in advance of the election, the Democratic Party was plagued with infighting between the president, James Buchanan, and Stephen Douglas. Holt traces the origins of this to Douglas's refusal to admit Kansas as a state under the proslavery Lecompton constitution. As Holt points out, this coupled with Douglas's qualified acceptance of the Dred Scott decision also alienated him from the southern Democrats who increasingly dominated the party, setting the stage for the party convention in Charleston in 1860 at which the Democrats fractured into pro- and anti-Douglas factions. With a victory by the (at that point undecided) Republican candidate increasingly likely, a group of politicians organized a conservative alternative to Republicans in the form of the Constitutional Union Party, who selected the elder statesman John Bell as their presidential contender. With the nomination of Douglas and Vice President John Breckinridge by the separate Democratic factions, the stage was set for a chaotic contest.


In covering the campaign that followed, Holt pushes back against the traditionally narrow view of it as separate contests between Lincoln and Douglas in the north and Breckinridge versus Bell in the south. Though Breckinridge, and Bell both refrained from electioneering, their campaigns sent speakers and mounted rallies in the northern states as well as the southern ones, while Republicans distributed ballots in the border slave states as well. Most dramatically Douglas undertook the then-unusual step of personally campaigning by making speeches in both the northern and southern states. Holt's chapter on the campaign itself is the best in the book, as he describes the myriad activities the parties adopted to turn out the vote. In this respect the Republican effort proved the most successful, as the dramatic appeals to young voters with the "Wide Awake" clubs and criticisms of Democratic corruption delivering them the victories they needed in the key swing states. As Holt points out, slavery was a salient issue only in the south, where arguments that Republicans were seeking outright abolition were so disconnected from Republican campaign goals that Republicans failed to take seriously the threats of secession by many southerners —a delusion that would quickly be dispelled in the weeks following Lincoln's victory.


As a longtime scholar of antebellum politics, Holt brings a lifetime's worth of learning to his subject. Yet he wears this lightly, providing an accessible description of the election while making arguments that go far towards shaking up the traditional interpretation of the 1860 election. Yet Holt oversells the revisionist nature of his account. Though he performs a valuable service in highlighting aspects of the campaign that were obscured by subsequent events, as Holt himself acknowledges at the end, perceptions of Democratic corruption and "misrule" in the north were as much tied to the perception of the party's excessive deference to southerners' anxieties about slavery as it was the buying of votes or the favoring of Democrats in awarding contracts. Moreover, his account of the election itself only qualifies somewhat the view of it as separate contests, suggesting the misconception is more one of emphasis than detail. Yet in the end these are criticisms of degree rather than of substance. Overall, Holt's reexamination of the 1860 election offers a refreshing reexamination of one of the truly pivotal moments in American history, and is necessary reading for anyone seeking to understand the election and how it led to the devastating conflict that followed.

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review 2018-12-21 20:49
Love Can't Conquer (Love Can't #1)
Love Can't Conquer - Kim Fielding

Older MCs (in their mid-to-late 40s), each with baggage and hard pasts, each from the same small podunk town, meet again after a lifetime of disappointments and hardships. This is unlike anything I've read before by Kim Fielding. The tone is more grounded, the characters are mature and facing their lives and mistakes. It's still a fast moving romance if you look at the timeline, but there's so much weight to these characters and their scenes together that it feels more than a sufficient time for it to feel more like a slow burn than insta-love.


Jeremy is a park ranger in Portland, OR, and has an alcoholic ex whose bad decisions are about to crash into Jeremy's life. Qay is a recovering addict who spent years homeless and in mental hospitals, and is now working in a factory and going to college part-time. Qay recognizes Jeremy immediately from their long-ago childhood, though they were never friends. Now, the two men forge a friendship together. But love doesn't fix their problems. Jeremy's life is still in upheaval because of his ex, and Qay still has to fight his urges to give into his addiction and still has panic attacks.


Jeremy tries to see the good in everyone and to do good to all he meets, and Qay has been alone for the majority of his life, seeing the worst sides of life. There are several reasons for them to stay away from each other, but just as many to give each other a chance. As with most of Fielding's stories, this is a quiet story filled with compassionate and flawed characters. The supporting cast is great, and the setting is used to full effect. There are no easy answers for the MCs, and they stumble more than once. 

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review 2018-12-12 13:00
BECOMING written and narrated by Michelle Obama
Becoming - Michelle Obama


I don't know what to say about this book other than the following:


I found Michelle Obama to be an impressive and an interesting person.


She's classy, (she could have said a lot more unflattering things about many people. She didn't.)


She's a great narrator.


She loves her husband and kids with all of heart and shows it with her actions.


Political campaigns cost even more than I thought. (And I still can't help but think that money could be put to better uses across this country.)


I found it to be such an inspiring read I'm not ashamed to say it brought tears to my eyes more than once. At the same time, this book unintentionally made me nostalgic and sad. It is my opinion that a lot of the good accomplished by the Obama administration has now been undone. (The Paris Climate Change Agreement, among many other things.)


I highly recommend this book to those who want to know more about Michelle Obama, (whether or not your admire her), from her own mouth.


*Comments and/or questions regarding this BOOK or this somewhat of a REVIEW are more than welcome, positive or negative.*


**Comments regarding political views not associated with this book or review will be deleted.**

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review 2018-10-25 15:52
Sound of Distant Thunder (Amish of Weaver's Creek #1) by Jan Drexler
The Sound of Distant Thunder - Jan Drexler

Katie Stuckey and Jonas Weaver are both romantics. Seventeen-year-old Katie is starry-eyed, in love with the idea of being in love, and does not want to wait to marry Jonas until she is eighteen, despite her parents' insistence. So much can happen in a year. Twenty-year-old Jonas is taken in by the romance of soldiering, especially in defense of anti-slavery, even though he knows war is at odds with the teachings of the church. When his married brother's name comes up in the draft list, he volunteers to take his brother's place. But can the commitment Katie and Jonas have made to each other survive the separation?





Seventeen year old Katie Stuckey cannot wait to marry her twenty year old boyfriend Jonas Weaver. The feeling is mutual for Jonas, but while he looks forward to a future with Katie and enthusiastically jumps into building their home from scratch, his mind is also quite consumed with thoughts of the approaching Civil War, conscription and the abolitionist fight. Jonas battles conflicting feelings: technically, the concept of war goes against his Amish faith, yet he's not comfortable sitting idly by while others put their lives on the line to end slavery. He does have a little wiggle room in his favor in that he has yet to be officially baptized within the Amish faith, so if he chose to serve in the war, there would likely be less harsh consequence with the church elders. 


Fate seems to make the choice for Jonas. When his married brother is drafted but unwilling to leave the family, Jonas volunteers to take his place. There is a historical mention within this story that explains that at the time of conscription, those with religious conflict (something similar to the more modern idea of "conscientious objector", I imagine) could opt to have another man go in his place or pay a $200 fine. Jonas asks his good friend Levi to look after Katie while he's away, not knowing that Levi secretly carries a strong flame for Katie himself.


Jonas goes off to the battlefield, doing his best to balance his duty as a soldier with continuing to honor his Amish beliefs (mainly, to do as little harm as possible). While Jonas is away, Levi finds the temptation to woo his buddy's girl almost unbearable. 


I think this might be the first Amish themed novel I've come across that is set in Civil War years. The idea definitely pulled at my curiosity, but the execution did not quite hit the mark for me. Technically, the writing is fine, just DULL. The romance portions don't tug at the heartstrings and the plot lacks any sort of real tension to keep things lively. Everything is moving along just sort of there... baseline existing, but never quite giving me something to truly root for. 


Also, there was a pretty underdeveloped element to Katie's background story that suggested she might be struggling with some PTSD-like behaviors following a sexual assault or attempted assault. It's hard to say though because it felt only vaguely woven into the story (as far as the details of WHAT actually happened), yet Drexler also tried to make it seem like it was a pivotal part Katie's emotional make up, hinting at how it might affect her future marriage. The whole thing just felt sort of sloppily interjected into the rest of the book. It would've been nice to see this fleshed out more. 


The back cover features a blurb from Suzanne Woods Fisher hailing this book as "compelling and memorable". While I do enjoy Fisher's writing and would like to trust her vote of praise, on this one I will have to respectfully disagree. It's doubtful that I will have much interest in carrying on with this series. 



FTC Disclaimer: Revell Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2018-09-27 17:44
"Civil Blood" by Chris Hepler
Civil Blood - Chris Hepler

"Civil Blood" is a self-published genre-crossing novel: part vampire, part courtroom drama, part science fiction.


"Civil Blood" starts in familiar territory for videogamers: The Umbrella Corporation A big Pharma company accidentally releases a vampire virus on America and tries to cover it up by using squads of Forced Protection subcontractors to round up and imprison quarantine the infected.


We leave the familiar behind partly by having a virus that is powered by a new technology that harnesses Qi, the lifeforce in biological entities and partly by having an infected lawyer turn whistle-blower and demand his day in court to get redress from whoever created the virus.


The book is told from the point of view of two strong characters. There's a first-person account from a screwed-up but kickass former enforcer for the evil corporation who has gone rogue after she was infected while rounding up targets, and a third-person account, focused on a senior enforcer inside the corporation who has a complex corporate history and some extraordinary talents. 


The story read more like science fiction than a traditional vampire or zombie apocalypse tale. There was a strong focus on the science, the politicals and the legal niceties.


I felt the legal parts were the weakest. The idea was intriguing: can the infected be declared non-human and have their rights taken away because they are dead and in the grip of a virus that compels them to fatal violence. Unfortunately, the lawyer character wasn't charismatic enough and the courtroom scenes felt flat and went on too long.


There were some great action scenes and some novel ideas but character development beyond the two primary characters was a little lacking.


It was a fun read but I felt the pace was uneven and there were too many changes in points of view to maintain high levels of engagement and tension.
I'll be looking out for Chris Hepler's next book. I think he's a writer who hasn't quite hit his stride yet but will be compelling when he does.
I read "Civil Blood" for the Deadlands square in Halloween Bingo.



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