“Eliza Hamilton” by Tilar J. Mazzeo – Review

BY: ANGIE HADDOCK


Fans fell in love with Eliza Hamilton—Alexander Hamilton’s devoted wife—in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s phenomenal musical Hamilton. But they don’t know her full story. A strong pioneer woman, a loving sister, a caring mother, and in her later years, a generous philanthropist, Eliza had many sides—and this fascinating biography brings her multi-faceted personality to vivid life.

Goodreads

If you’re the type to find history hard to focus on, this read might not be for you. Even I found a few parts to be a bit dry, and I actually like history. But, for the most part, there are a lot of great stories in Eliza’s long life.

The Schuyler sisters grew up on the Hudson River, with family land in both Albany and Saratoga. Their father had long been involved in military and political machinations, and was even a liaison with the local tribal communities at times. (The book “Last of the Mohicans” was written by one of Eliza’s distant cousins.) Also of note was that most of the region was being settled by families connected to the Schuylers – they knew just about everybody in New York state during this era, it seemed. Eliza was described as “outdoorsy,” and loved to ride horses.

There is one story about Eliza’s mother, Kitty, that stands out from these early years. When Philip (Eliza’s father) learned that an opposing army was going to pass by one of their properties, Kitty drove there from the other with a team of horses and a few slaves. She loaded up all the good silver at that house, and then got word from her husband to burn all the crops in the field so that the army couldn’t eat their food. None of the slaves wanted to do it, so Kitty did it herself. Then she sent her horses to Philip, because she figured he’d need them on the front lines, and hitched her carriage to some oxen, instead, for the return trip. Apparently, the story of a lady in all her finery setting fire to her crops was a regional legend for years.

Eliza and her sisters also got an education, in New York City. They learned a little reading and writing, and how to manage a household. But they were mostly concerned with finding husbands.

While Eliza had a few crushes, we already know who she ends up marrying – a military man with no family or money, one Alexander Hamilton. Thankfully Hamilton had a good reputation in the military, and Philip Schuyler approved of this son-in-law. The newlyweds would have to rely on Eliza’s side of the family for support, as Alexander had no family.

There are a couple key points from their early years together. One is that Alexander was a prolific writer, and wrote an almost constant stream of letters home to Eliza during both their courtship and early married years. Eliza, on the other hand, did not have a lot of confidence in her spelling, and wrote back to Alexander less often than he would like. This was actually one of their ongoing disagreements.

Another idea that comes up in this part of the book is that of the “Roman wife,” who would sacrifice for the good of the Republic, and the idea of the “American wife,” who was more of a romantic, dedicated to her husband and also to being a socialite. Alexander, in the midst of trying to help establish the new country, wanted a “Roman wife,” and Eliza agreed to be one. The idea was that getting the nation founded was even more important than the two of them always being together.

A good portion of the middle of the book (around 20%) is dedicated to the Reynolds Affair. For those who don’t know the basics: Evidence of payments made from Alexander to a man name James Reynolds lead some to believe that Alexander was engaged in insider trading while he was heading up the national Treasury. Alexander claimed that the payments were made because he had slept with Reynolds’ wife, and Reynolds was blackmailing him.

The author here leans toward the belief that Alexander did not really sleep with Maria Reynolds. This was actually the belief most of his accusers still clung to at the time, to varying degrees. Many thought the love letters from Maria to Alexander were forged. Maria herself claimed this, and offered to give a writing sample for people to compare – yet, one never given. Later, some historians proposed that Eliza burned her own love letters to Alexander because the wording and spelling closely resembled that found in the Maria Reynolds letters – so perhaps Alexander modeled the letters after the real ones from his wife?

Whether or not Alexander was trading for his own benefit or that of others is also at question. He was still acting as the lawyer and executor of all his brother-in-law’s American holdings while (Eliza’s sister) Angelica and her husband were in Europe, and had business and familial ties throughout the widespread branches of the Schuyler clan. Would it make sense for Eliza to go along with a lie in order to be a good “Roman wife,” and protect her husband’s political appointment at the Treasury – even if it made their marriage seem crappy to those looking at it from the outside? Would it give her more incentive to also be protecting her father, sisters, and various other family members?

The Reynolds affair came and went, many times over. Alexander’s political enemies would continue to bring it up for years, even after his death. Alexander almost fought one duel over it in 1795, but that one was averted. The Hamiltons moved out of the inner city, and started building a farmstead north of town. They were mostly happy there, despite family health issues and their older teen children getting into trouble from time to time. Eliza didn’t know how far in debt they’d gone building this home until after Alexander’s death in 1804.

Eliza’s father, Philip, promised to help support her and her children financially after her husband’s death – but he died shortly after. All of her Schuyler siblings were in tight financial positions, and fought bitterly over their inheritances. Eliza was eventually able to keep her house, only because Alexander’s allies and admirers started a fund to help her.

Eliza had always had a soft spot for widows and orphans – this went back to the days of the Revolutionary War, when she had many friends who’d lost their husbands. But after being left to the charity of others in the wake of her own husband’s death, she took on a more formal role in helping others in these situations.

She joined a society of ladies who were trying to start an orphanage, and over the years took on more formal and public roles. (One such promotion took place because one of the founding ladies, Elizabeth Ann Seton, was ousted by the others for converting to Catholicism. Seton would later be canonized as a saint of the Catholic church, the first American to have this honor.) There were constantly more orphans than space, and Eliza used her fame and respect in the community to raise funds for more and more buildings. She served on the board of the society for several decades.

She had one last big adventure when, at the age of 80, she traveled “out West” to Illinois to see one of her sons. She had been in the city for most of her life, but still considered herself a daughter of the frontier. Much of the trip was by boat, and she didn’t love every port they visited – but she was happy to be out of the city for a few months.

Eliza did eventually give up her farm north of Manhattan to live with some of her children – at first in New York City, then in Washington, D.C. She was still mentally sharp, and presidents and other people of influence often sat with her to hear stories of the founding of the nation. One of her final projects was to help raise donations for a monument to be built to honor George Washington – she was in the audience as the first bricks were laid for the Washington Monument on July 4, 1848.

Eliza Hamilton lived to be 97 years old.


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“The First Time” by Cher, as told to Jeff Coplon

By: Angie Haddock


“Cher. There’s really no one else quite like her.
She’s been a pop star, a TV star, a movie star, and a wife and mother, yet as “The New York Times” has written, she’s still “a funny, gutsy woman” who is also “genuine” and “down to earth.”
And now, in “The First Time, ” Cher tells about the important first-time events in her life.”

Goodreads

Let’s start out by saying that I’m biased – Cher is my idol. I love Dolly Parton, too, and Bette Midler is great. But Cher will always be the prime diva in my mind.

This book is not a straightforward memoir, per se, but more a collection of vignettes that are sorted into a roughly chronological order. It’s super easy to read, as most of the stories are 1-3 pages long and include pictures!

Cher’s writing style is also of note. Often self-deprecating, she’ll slide little third-person observations into the parentheses, commenting on her own wayward decision-making or wardrobe choices. (Like, “What were you thinking, Cher?”.) This style made it feel like you were hearing the story from a friend, just dishing around some snacks and mimosas.

It was fun to learn more about her earlier life, growing up in California, and her early days with Sonny Bono. She got to hang with a lot of cool people, even before Sonny & Cher were a duo – The Rolling Stones, Phil Spector, Darlene Love, and many other known names make appearances. She even sang backup on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” by The Righteous Brothers!

She got into show business young, and was naive. It’s hard to think of her that way now, since she’s… ya know… CHER. But she comes across as pretty dumbfounded by a lot of the stuff she encountered getting started. She didn’t want much to do with drugs, which were a big part of the scene at the time. She really wanted to be famous for the cool clothes and cars, it seemed. (And let’s be honest, no one else could pull off some of clothes that she’s worn!)

Eventually, she wanted more, and had to really work to prove herself as an actress. I loved this part, too, as she was in some great movies. She learned a lot from various co-stars and directors she worked with early on, including the likes of Meryl Streep and Sam Elliot.

The book occasionally gets into serious topics, including some charity work she’s done – but the heaviest chapter is the last one, dealing with Sonny’s unexpected death.

Overall, this one was quick and enjoyable.


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“Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah – Review

BY: ANGIE HADDOCK

“The memoir of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.”

Goodreads


“Hustling is to work what surfing the Internet is to reading. If you add up how much you read in a year on the Internet—tweets, Facebook posts, lists—you’ve read the equivalent of a shit ton of books, but in fact you’ve read no books in a year.”

Trevor Noah

I wanted to start with that quote because, as avid readers, I thought you all would appreciate it.

Firstly, all the friends who recommended this book to me said I had to listen to the audiobook, because Trevor reads it himself.  So, that’s the format I chose. Not only is Trevor funny, and a good storyteller, but he’s also fluent in multiple South African languages… which helps greatly, as he uses several in this book.  (Let’s be honest, my brain wouldn’t have the first clue how to pronounce anything in Zulu, even if I was just reading it quietly to myself!)  This is a pretty quick listen, as the audiobook is just shy of nine hours long.

The book tells stories from Trevor’s youth, up until his early twenties.  While he is pursuing stand-up comedy by the end, it does not talk at all about his career as a comedian.  I would say the main topics are race and racism, growing up poor, and his relationship with his mom. Random anecdotes on religion, extended family, and schoolboy shenanigans are also fun rides.  Anyone who came of age in the nineties is sure to feel a kinship with him when he reminisces on the slow hell that was making mixed CDs in Windows ’95. 

While I don’t want to give away too many of the details, a few stories certainly stand out above the rest.  The story of him having a friend named Hitler really stuck with me.  He talked about how, in Africa, Hitler was just one of many “bad dudes” in history books.  He’s not seen the same way there as he is in Europe or America. Then again, various African nations had had dictators and genocides of their own, so those seemed more threatening. One of the things that this story highlighted for me was how we’re shaped by the stories of the culture we’re in, and how we have to understand the stories of other places and cultures to understand the people who come from these places. 

Eventually, Trevor and his friends are scheduled to perform for a high school of Jewish kids.  Obviously, things go awry.  When the administrators at the school get offended, and tell the boys to leave, Trevor interprets their actions as coming from a racist place – racist against them, as black kids.  He only figures out later that it’s the “Hitler” thing that made them mad.  This part brought to mind the George Bernard Shaw quote: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”

A few quotes from the book that highlight the topics of race, and related issues:

 “Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.”

“In any society built on institutionalized racism, race mixing doesn’t merely challenge the system as unjust, it reveals the system as unsustainable and incoherent. Race mixing proves that races can mix, and in a lot of cases want to mix. Because a mixed person embodies that rebuke to the logic of the system, race mixing becomes a crime worse than treason.”

“In society, we do horrible things to one another because we don’t see the person it affects. We don’t see their face. We don’t see them as people. Which was the whole reason the hood was built in the first place, to keep the victims of apartheid out of sight and out of mind. Because if white people ever saw black people as human, they would see that slavery is unconscionable. We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others, because we don’t live with them. It would be a whole lot harder for an investment banker to rip off people with subprime mortgages if he actually had to live with the people he was ripping off. If we could see one another’s pain and empathize with one another, it would never be worth it to us to commit the crimes in the first place.”

Another big aspect is Trevor’s relationship with his mom.  Obviously, I did not grow up as a mixed child under apartheid… but I did grow up with a single mom, so some of his musings really struck a chord with me.  His mom seems like a defiant, strong-willed woman who wanted a better life for herself than her family had had, and a better life for her kids than she had had.  The final story in the book is about his mom being shot. I got to the part where he finds out she’d been shot… right as I pulled into my drivewa, done with running errands. I was in shock, and thought to myself, “there’s no way I can stop and get out of the car right now.  Oh crap, I have ice cream in one of my grocery bags.”  Needless to say, I ran into my house and turned the story back on, so I could find out what happened! 

I should mention that the stories in this book are grouped more by theme than by chronology. So, there are some characters that you meet more than once, and you may not know their full story until later on in the book.  Stick around, though, and he’ll put all the pieces together for you.


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“All Heart: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World” by Carli Lloyd and Wayne Coffey – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


In the summer of 2015, the U.S. women’s national soccer team won the World Cup behind an epic performance by Carli Lloyd. Carli, a midfielder, scored three goals in the first sixteen minutes–the greatest goal-scoring effort in the history of World Cup finals.

Goodreads

While I am not much of a sports fan in general, the singular sport I do follow is soccer. My favorite soccer to watch, specifically, is the World Cup.

All Heart, by Carli Lloyd

Last year, I was with a few friends at one of those wonderful library book sales. There were racks and racks of books – too many to even look at. But among the hardcovers, I found an autobiography from Carli Lloyd. For those who don’t follow the game, Lloyd was a top scorer on the US Women’s National Team during the 2015 Women’s World Cup. I had not known that she had written an autobiography, but I was excited by this find! It was only a few bucks, and I was supporting the library! Win!

I decided to start my current biography challenge with this one because, despite the absence of most sports for the past few months, soccer is sort of back for the summer. (The current MLS tournament follows the standard World Cup format – more info here.) Only after diving into this one did I find out that Lloyd actually published her story in 2016 – and then released this one, the young reader’s version of the original.

So, needless to say, it was a pretty easy read.

Lloyd details her rise as a soccer player – from playing as a kid in New Jersey, through college teams, the U-21 National Team, and the full Women’s National Team. While the text was pretty straight-forward, I will say that she does not spend any time explaining soccer terms to the reader. If you don’t know the basics of the game, be ready to Google.

The story itself is one of constantly striving for more. Lloyd is a perfectionist, and sometimes that works against her by leading her to overanalyze things and be self-critical. But mostly, she uses it to constantly push forward.

I love quotes, so here are some that I highlighted:

“It is not how you start that matters, it’s how you finish.”

“I know that I am the most free, having the most fun, and playing my best when I am focused completely on my own game, not worrying about what everyone else is doing.”

“You don’t start fixating on the finish line of a marathon when you’re steps into the first mile.”

“Negativity is like quicksand: you hang around it long enough and it will take you all the way down.”

“I don’t want to be satisfied, ever. That may sound grim, but it isn’t at all. It is joyful, because the pursuit of progress is joyful. Playing the game I love is joyful.”

So, that should give you some idea of the vibe of this book – motivational, especially to young people or athletes who like to train hard.

I had only a minor gripe about this one, and it is in two items that seem to be missing from the story. On both the dedication page, and in picture captions, she refers to her husband. We meet him in the book, obviously, but she only tells up to them getting engaged. Maybe it’s the “girl” side of me coming out, but I wanted to know the rest of that story! Did they elope? Girl, details! The other omission is similar, in that the book includes a picture (and caption) about the USWNT’s fight with US Soccer about earning equal wages with the Men’s Team… but it isn’t talked about at all in the text of the book.

Overall, an uplifting and breezy read for a hot, quick soccer season!


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Challenge Accepted: Angie’s first mission


BY: ANGIE HADDOCK


If you’re an avid reader, you’ve probably seen memes poking fun at buying “too many books.” It’s a habit some of us have, even if we have a bunch piled up that we haven’t read yet.

When I think about the idea of “Reading Our Shelves,” that’s what it makes me think of: the idea that I need to tackle some of the books already on my shelf (or my TBR list) before I dig into more new ones! 

To that end, I went through my collection this weekend. My mission was to find at least 6 books of the same genre that I hadn’t read yet. I would give myself the challenge, for the purpose of this blog, to read 6 books in 6 months that were already on my shelves. I found that I had a plethora of biographies (some autobiographies, some not) on hand, so I am going to pull from this pile for this challenge.

So many biographies to choose from…

I’ve also created a shelf on Goodreads of the biographies (and memoirs) I’ve read already, if anyone is interested.

I’d love for you to join me!  Ok, you don’t have to read the same books I’ll be reading.  But give yourself the challenge of going through your shelves and digging out the things you meant to read and haven’t made time for yet.  Let me know if you uncover anything exciting!