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review 2016-12-11 00:00
Twain's End
Twain's End - Lynn Cullen Basically: UGH NO, SAVE YOURSELF.

Trigger Warning: Manipulative Abusive Asshole

This one I picked up for a review tour. I had to drop out though because the experience was unsavory. I tried, I gave it my best shot but I couldn’t finish it either.

I was interested in Twain’s End because theory on a woman fucked over by Mark Twain sounded great.

Several other low-star/no-star reviews are from people who disagree or are upset with the Mark Twain portrayal. I’m not one of those. I’ve only read his work when I had to in school and his snappy quotes shared all over the internet. So, I honestly don’t care about any of that.
But I will say this portrayal is of a manipulative, abusive asshole, which makes for unpleasant reading.

It’s a jerkward mistreating a fawning sycophant that takes care of anything possible for him. It’s disgusting.

At first, I felt terrible for Isabel. It felt like screaming at a child to avoid the white van spray-painted with “Candy” on the side. She was very young when they first met and the roundabout way they came back together was a trail of “oh no, oh no, oh no no nonooooo”.

Then she’s middle-aged and he’s pushing 70. I don’t give a fig about the age difference, it’s the power structure in place and the reinforcing actions that are sickening. I was warring with myself over feeling pity for her and frustration for her continuation of the situation. I KNOW personally how hard it is to leave abusive men and understand her limited choices, but ughhhhhh.

And the treatment of his daughters? Ugh, just when I thought the sinking feeling in my stomach couldn’t go lower.

I’m surprised I made it to when they got to Italy. There’s no way to stick this out until she leaves and the retribution that follows.

First Update:: DNF.

Officially giving up on this one. Haven't read another page since Sept. 5th and do not want to.

I'll get round to reviewing it before the end of the year but basically: ugh.
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review 2016-09-29 17:12
Twain's End
Twain's End - Lynn Cullen

Another Halloween Bingo Square, I stayed up late and read this next to the bonfire!


Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain was not only an amazing author, but quite the character.  Throughout his life he amassed quite a number of admirers, none more than those who were close to him- including many of his female staff.  In his later years, Samuel Clemens employed Isabel Lyon as a secretary for his ailing wife.  Soon, Isabel became Samuel’s constant companion and his own personal secretary.  It does not take much to see that the relationship between the two has grown.  However, a year before Samuel’s death, he blesses the marriage of Isabel and Ralph Ashcroft, his business manager only to besmirch their reputations one month later in an elongated written rant. 

I love learning more about the lives of authors that I admire.  I really didn’t know much about the man behind Mark Twain other than the fact that he piloted a riverboat and that he came in and went out along with Hailey’s comet.  Lynn Cullen has taken much of her account for Twain’s End from the diary of Isabel Lyon.  The writing creates a tense back and forth, cat and mouse game between Samuel and Isabel.   The overall feeling that is created is tense and a little uncomfortable, especially if you would prefer to keep Mark Twain in a positive light.  Isabel was quite intriguing, especially as she tried to do her best to keep herself distant from the man she knew she should not get involved with.  As she became more and more entwined with the family, this became more and more difficult and eventually led Samuel to believe different about her.   One of the things I found most interesting was Samuel’s relationship with his wife and daughters; I really knew nothing about Olivia, Jean, Clara and Susie.  Olivia is still a little of a mystery to me, she was ailing through most of her time throughout the book, but no one seemed to know why.  However, the mutual love between Samuel and Olivia was still evident even through his indiscretions.  One of the most colorful characters for me was Isabel’s mother, always scheming, always putting her nose in other’s business and terribly worried about Isabel’s marriage prospects, a perfect busybody.  Overall, a suspenseful, surprising and insightful tale about a different view of one of America’s greatest authors.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

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review 2016-01-16 00:00
Twain's End
Twain's End - Lynn Cullen My review of Twain's End is now up on Fresh Fiction!

"Reading this book opened my eyes to the man behind the pseudonym Mark Twain"

Read the whole review here!
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review 2015-10-23 18:34
Far too negative
Twain's End - Lynn Cullen

I know I'm in the minority with this book and most reviewers are praising it highly. I can't find it in my heart to offer it any praise at all. In fact, I found it to be quite offensive. I certainly don't believe in putting famous people on a pedestal or imagine in any regard that they aren't human with all of mankind's failings. But this book, at least to me, reduced the last years of Samuel Clemens's life to a Harlequin romance


I thought the premise of the book sounded so interesting. Why would Clemens have turned on a secretary who had seemingly been only faithful and true to him? And to do it in such a brutal way has caused much speculation. The author states that she gleaned most of the facts of this book from Isabel Lyon's own diary. But was Isabel Lyon a reliable narrator? I've read that Lyon's diary was heavily edited by her with pages ripped out. She even hand wrote a second edited new edition of her 1906 daily reminder which must raise a question as to the validity of anything written by her. What she wrote is just one side of the story.  I've read in other books that Lyons stole from Clemens and took advantage of him. Who knows exactly what happened?  These people are long gone from our world and can't defend themselves. They can't say, oh, no, that's not what happened at all. The plot of this book needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The offense that I found in this book was that Clemens and his family were painted in such a completely negative way, as were others.


If there's one person that I truly admire in the history of the world, it's Helen Keller. The unkind things said about her in this book angered me no end. Her "honking voice". She sniffed the air like "a rabbit". Why hadn't anyone taught her to hide her feelings that were plainly shown all over her face? Those comments did not shed any light into her life but only angered me. She, too, was portrayed in a very negative one-sided way, as was Anne Sullivan. Again, the meetings with Clemens, Keller, Sullivan and John Macy (Sullivan's husband) and the "looks" between them were mostly taken from Lyon's diaries. At one point, Macy says something about Keller and "our" dogs and Lyon makes a point of derogatorily insinuating in a sexual context that these three people might be sharing everything in the house they lived in. If Keller lived in the house as part of their household and family, Macy may naturally have felt the dogs belonged to her, too. Or he may have just been referring to "our dogs" as his and Anne's and wasn't including Helen in that statement at all. Again, this was a comment taken out of context and slanted in a negative way.


Even if I read this book without the main characters being actual people, I wouldn't have liked it. There was so much bitterness and distrust and jealous behavior throughout that I found it very unpleasant to read. Reading about these women and their daily fighting for the attention of The King (Clemens) was just plain boring. I didn't find Isabel Lyon to be a sympathetic character at all. She was a mature educated woman who knew what she was doing and what she was getting into. 


I've read plenty of historical novels and understand that they're fictional accounts based on some facts but I've enjoyed them. This one I found to be far too negative and cannot recommend it. I'll continue to respect Samuel Clemens, Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan for the wonderful accomplishments that they achieved in their lives and leave their private moments to be just that - private. This book will be pushing me away from historical novels for some time to come. I wish I could think of something positive to say about this book but it really did hit me the wrong way. I usually tend to veer towards the positive side when writing reviews as I do respect the hard work undertaken by authors. My apologies to the publisher for not being able to do so in this instance.  I don't recall ever having given a 1-star rating before.  However, the reviews I give to others need to be honest and as I see it, not as others see it.


This book was given to me by the publisher through Edelweiss and NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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review 2015-10-16 11:21
Review | Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
Mrs. Poe - Lynn Cullen

1845: New York City is a sprawling warren of gaslit streets and crowded avenues, bustling with new immigrants and old money, optimism and opportunity, poverty and crime. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is all the rage—the success of which a struggling poet like Frances Osgood can only dream. As a mother trying to support two young children after her husband’s cruel betrayal, Frances jumps at the chance to meet the illustrious Mr. Poe at a small literary gathering, if only to help her fledgling career. Although not a great fan of Poe’s writing, she is nonetheless overwhelmed by his magnetic presence—and the surprising revelation that he admires her work. What follows is a flirtation, then a seduction, then an illicit affair…and with each clandestine encounter, Frances finds herself falling slowly and inexorably under the spell of her mysterious, complicated lover. But when Edgar’s frail wife, Virginia, insists on befriending Frances as well, the relationship becomes as dark and twisted as one of Poe’s tales. And like those gothic heroines whose fates are forever sealed, Frances begins to fear that deceiving Mrs. Poe may be as impossible as cheating death itself…





Although I've been a fan of Poe's writing since first studying it in junior high, I actually knew little to nothing about the relationship between him and poet Frances Osgood before this book came out. Of course I was intrigued. Poe's life from any angle seems to be filled with mystery and oddity. And what's this of a scandalous extra-marital romance to boot? Do tell, Lynn Cullen!


If you're not familiar with the name Frances Osgood --- and you're not alone, she's fallen pretty well into obscurity these days --  she was a writer of Poe's time mostly known for her collections of poetry (often having botanical themes) and children's stories. Osgood met Poe while they both lived in New York, both married to other people -- Poe famously to his cousin, Osgood to portrait painter Samuel Osgood. Edgar & Frances also came to find out that they both originally hailed from Boston. Both being writers, a friendship and possible mild flirtation grew, and (from what I've read of the true history anyway) it seems that Poe's wife encouraged the friendship. That wouldn't make for a very gripping read though, I suppose. So in comes Cullen with Mrs. Poe. Holy Christmas, was there some creative license in this sucker! 


In her author afterword, Cullen admits that while writing this novel, she wanted to vicariously explore what it might have been like to fall in love with Poe, through the character of Osgood. When you read up on the actual history of the two, you see just how deep Cullen got into her what-ifs! Yes, there were a series of poems published in the papers that many people of the time period saw as an open flirtation between Poe & Osgood. But while history leans toward the sickly Mrs. Poe most likely being okay with the friendship (perhaps because she felt herself nearing the end of her life and wanted the comfort of feeling that someone would be around to look after Edgar), Cullen puts a dark spin on wifey Poe, having her spillin' tea, throwin' shade and otherwise carrying out oops-did-I-do-that almost-murder plots against Osgood. 


I was excited to get into this book but having now experienced it...ooohhh, I had some problems with it. For one thing -- and this might make me sound old-fashioned to some -- but I was a little bothered that this story seemed to be romanticizing, even glorifying infidelity. I thought maybe this story would be about Poe's wife putting her foot down and making it clear that's her man. There are moments where Cullen has you believe that's where the story is headed, but then the potential intensity is quickly snuffed out. Instead, we get Cullen's Poe persistently whining about his wife being annoying and childish... well, she's all of 23 and dying of tuberculosis. Even his mother-in-law points out that all his wife wants is wifely attention once in awhile, a caress or a cuddle here and there but he gets one look at much older Frances Osgood, whose novelized self I personally found about as exciting as stale crackers, and goes 



Mostly everything about these two in this story, at least romantically, just didn't work for me. Timing-wise, what with Mrs. Poe's imminent death looming in the background, their behavior was pretty tacky. Poe comes over for Christmas with a tree, Frances' husband suggests maybe taking it and setting it up for.. oh, I dunno...  Mrs. Poe, maybe. Frances acts like her husband is being incredibly insensitive, but no, seriously, it's not a bad idea he's got there. The bad timing thing happens again with Frances and Edgar's final scene together. That one just had me silently screaming Seriously?! You're doing this now?!


I also felt like Cullen wanted to write something creepy, as a nod to Poe's style. Well, while there are moments of creepy, shady behavior from characters that you think / hope will turn into something darkly entertaining & intense, it ends up feeling like Cullen couldn't maintain that vibe. Instead you get a historical romance with just whispers of thriller that go nowhere (at least for me).


The points I give in Cullen's favor: 1) I like the inclusion of the story behind the development of Morse Code. It's just one little blip in the whole plot, but it was interesting. 2) I liked most of her environment / atmosphere building, though in some parts it did feel like she was running it into the ground a bit and 3) Sad to say, but my favorite part of the book was her afterword on the actual history that (VERY loosely, I've come to realize) inspired this novel.

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