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Spin and a Sixteen-Year Whisky #Sponsored

  This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of author Peter Zheutlin and publisher Pegasus books.
I received a complimentary copy for the purpose of review, through The Book Club Cookbook's Galley Match program, 
but all opinions are honest and they are my own. No additional compensation for this post was provided;
this page may contain affiliate links.

Late last year, I received an email from a contact in the book world, asking me to give an opinion on the cover art for her husband's upcoming historical fiction. There were two mock-ups and I only knew this about the book: "A reimagination of the author’s great grandaunt’s ‘round the world bicycle trip in 1894-5. She was a married Jewish mother of three small children who set out to settle a wager about whether a woman could accomplish such a feat, beginning penniless, and returning home having earned $5,000 en route." 

She asked, "Which cover would you choose and why?" I offered that I would chose the one that looked more historical and added that the other reminded me of a wine label...and one that didn't stick with me as one that I particularly liked! She joked that I knew my wine labels and passed along my opinion.

The novel  - Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story by Peter Zheutlin* - is set for release on June 1st and I received a copy of the finished book from the publisher Pegasus Books in time to do an advance read. This is available for purchase on June 1st. What a book! But I am getting ahead of myself. 

On the Page

"A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story." That subtitle perplexed me until I began reading. Spin is the story of Annie Londonderry's global adventure in the late 1890s. She's a real person - albeit her actual name is Annie Cohen Kopchovsky - who accepts the challenge of riding a bicycle around the world in fifteen month and earning $5000 on top of her expenses. So 'spin' refers to the wheels of the bicycle as well as the stories she tells to accomplish her goals. Annie is the master of spin; her methods are ingenious or devious...depends on your take.

And, amazingly, before she accepted the challenge she didn't know how to ride a bike. Her sponsors arranged for lessons at the cycling academy. When her instructor told her that it usually takes eight to ten lessons for someone to get the hang of it, she asserted, "'I shall conquer it in two'." And two lessons later, her instructor admitted, "'You're a fast learner. Only a handful of students have shown the knack you have for the wheel. I think you are ready for the park'."

The park cannot contain me...I'm  ready for the world! (pg. 44).

About the actual bike..."The bicycle Alonzo had selected weighed forty-two pounds and had a simple spoon brake, a terribly inefficient device that consisted of a piece of metal shaped like a spoon and attached to a plunger, which was attached, in turn, for the front stem. To slow the machine the rider pushed down on the plunger, and the spoon, slightly curved to match, more or less, the width of the front wheel, would create friction. As a practical matter this brake was a farce" (pg. 45). Well, this was  her first bike anyway, made by Columbia. Partway through the trip, she swapped for a Sterling. "...the most important difference, other than the fact that it was a bicycle built for a man, was its weight. As I rode through the streets and parks of Chicago I felt as thought I were gliding on a slipstream. Moving half the weight I was used to, not to mention the pounds I had dropped along the journey thus  far, I felt as though I could ride forever" (pp. 83-84).

About her tall-tales...She slipped and fell during her departure from Lyon. "The ground was icy. ...A little blood started oozing from the wound. It was minor, really, but much fuss was made and the hotel doctor was summoned. ...Never one to settle for a molehill when a mountain could be had, I told the doctor to liberally wrap the wound and  to extend the bandage from my ankle to my knee" (pg. 126), Then she made the announcement to the public, "'The good doctor has informed me that the wound is quite deep and serious. ...I nearly severed an artery. The doctor has advised me not to continue until the wound is completely healed lest I  reopen it. It required more than twenty stiches to close.' The doctor, standing with his head bowed ever so slightly, rolled his eyes, but he dared not contradict me" (pg. 126).

In addition to her entertaining antics, I loved all of history and, especially, learning what her journey and the bicycle represented for women's rights and freedoms. At a hotel in San Francisco, Annie met with Susan B. Anthony who told her, "The bicycle has done a great deal to emancipate women. ...I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel, though I am too old to give it a go now. It gives a feeling of freedom, self-reliance, and independence. The moment she takes her seat, she knows she can't get into harm while she is on her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood. It helps to make women equal with men in work and pleasure and preaches the necessity of women's suffrage" (pg. 171).

And I finally understood why a woman's bike has the metal frame that dips down instead of going straight across as it does in a men's bike. Honestly, that always seemed backwards to me! But it was to accommodate a woman's dress while she rode. We have certainly come a long way in biking conventions. Thank goodness!

This was such a fun book. I do marvel at the fact that she has all but disappeared from the history books. I'm glad that Zheutlin decided to tell her story. I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the narrative.

On My Own Wheels
In other news, I myself have just gotten back in the bike saddle. I started riding the mountain biking trails with Jake in April, after years of not riding a bike. In fact, when I said that I wanted to join him, he reminded me that I didn't have a bike anymore. So, I've been riding a hefty steel frame bike that one of my sons has outgrown. I call it 'Chunky the Death Bike.' It's a beast. I'm half-tempted to weigh it and see if it clocks in anywhere near Annie's forty-two pound bike.

Over the course of two to three rides per week over the past several weeks, I am getting more confident. I still feel like I'm just chasing after him, holding on to my handlebars for dear life, and trying not to crash, but it's freeing and exhilarating. And I know he won't leave me in the dust completely because he needs to eat. Yes, Jake and I do have some fairly traditional gender roles going on in our kitchen. But that's how I like it; the kitchen is a zone for me cook and unwind. Besides, after he fed me Hamburger Helper and canned green beans early in our relationship, he's banned from the kitchen.

Despite almost everything I read and watch inspiring me into the kitchen, there wasn't actually a whole lot of food mentioned. Even though Annie travels the globe, she doesn't mention much food beyond the pierogis and pasta in her tenement building at home. So, I decided to pour some whisky in her honor.

A Sixteen-Year Whisky

You might be asking yourself: what's the whisky tie-in? There is one, I promise. When Annie is negotiating the terms of the arrangement, she meets with Colonel Pope who asks if she'd like a glass of water. "'I suppose it's too early for whiskey, so yes, thank you'. Colonel Pope seemed startled momentarily; then a small grudging smile gradually worked its way across his face. 'You are a woman of some humor, I see'" (pg. 24).

And after all the discussion regarding her background, she ends with, "'May I have that glass of whiskey now?' ...My grin and my eyes conveyed that I was joking. At least I think they did, for the colonel made no move to pour me a glass of whiskey and he didn't smile" (pg. 27).

So, I thought I'd share this that friends gave us: a sixteen-year Lagavulin which is aged in oak casks for at least 16 years and has an intense smoke flavor that Jake and I both adore. It's peaty and powerful. Just our kind of sip. 

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*Disclosure: I received compensation in the form of a book to generate social media traction. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the organizer and sponsors of this event.


  1. This sounds like a very fun read and I have been enjoying your biking adventures.


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