Thursday, April 19, 2018

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Having never loved or been loved in that previous place, they were frozen here in a youthful state of perpetual emotional vacuity; interested only in freedom, profligacy, and high-jinks, railing against any limitation or commitment whatsoever. 

~from. p. 118, description of three young male ghosts

Well, what of it. 
No one who has ever done anything worth doing has gone uncriticized. As regards the matter at hand (as regards him), I am, at least, above any--
Thus thought Mr. Lincoln.
But then his (our) eyes shut, in a slow remembering sorrow-wince. 

~p. 236

Lincoln in the Bardo is a tale of life and death, ghosts and letting go. Willie Lincoln has just died and his father has taken him out of what the ghosts in the bardo call his "sick box" (his coffin). In his grief, President Lincoln attempts to will his son back to life. Now, Willie's trapped between life and whatever comes next. I had to look up the word "bardo" and found that it's a Buddhist term for the place between death and the next life. I'm not sure that's how Saunders uses the term. It feels more like a place to avoid heaven or hell, one in which it requires some effort to stay or into which one is thrown when someone refuses to let go (as in Willie's case).

I've heard people describe Lincoln in the Bardo as "weird, really weird" and that's true. It's certainly offbeat and unusual. But, Saunders is pretty much the King of Weird, in my opinion. His imagination is boundless, his use of the English language masterful, his storytelling strong, his use of metaphor mind-boggling (I'm thinking mostly of his other work when referring to metaphor), and his characterization beyond reproach. So, while the story may be an odd one, I always got the sense that Saunders knew exactly where he was taking the reader and why -- and he did it with flair.

Those last few pages definitely make it clear what the author was trying to say in his unique way: Life is grand, enjoy it while you can.

Highly recommended - I gave Lincoln in the Bardo 4 out of 5 stars because it was not a book that grabbed me and held on, but I can't take off more than a point. The writing is so skillful that it's hard to criticize anything about Lincoln in the Bardo beyond saying that it's weird and jumpy. If only for the fact that Saunders set his story in a place that required the creation of dozens of different voices, you have to admire the craftsmanship involved.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

March 2018 Reads in Review

March reads (click on title to read full review, with one exception):

26. The Brontë Sisters by Catherine Reef - A biography of the Brontë family for younger readers (YA, I think) that is comprehensive enough for adults to enjoy and will make the reader eager to read or reread the Brontës. Includes some wonderful photographs to help fill out their story.

27. Black Fortunes by Shomari Wills - The intertwined biographies of the first six black millionaires in the United States. I've struggled with reviewing this book because it faded from memory quickly (also, I didn't get to it soon enough), but I do recall both enjoying it and wishing the stories had been told as separate bios rather than jumping around from one millionaire's story to another.

28. Nothing Left to Burn by Heather Ezell - A wildfire, a mystery (Who set the fire?), guilt, depression, and a relationship that seems outwardly strong but may be dysfunctional are at the heart of this gripping but immensely disturbing YA. I couldn't put it down.

29. The Broken Girls by Simone St. James - Two murderers have left bodies on the same property, near Idlewild Hall: one in 1994 and one in 2014. Are the murders connected? And, does a girl who went missing in 1950 have anything to do with the murders? A wonderful suspense.

30. Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen - A YA set in WWII about a Jewish girl with Aryan features but no papers who is on the run after her mother is killed. After finding a friend who is also in danger, she goes undercover in a Nazi girls' boarding school, charged with befriending a scientist's daughter to find important information about a terrifying new bomb. Another fantastic book.

31. The Saboteur by Paul Nix - The true story of a French aristocrat who joined the Resistance and heroically risked his life on a number of important missions. He also was captured several times. The action scenes are movie-worthy.

32. The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso - The story of two elderly women who hate each other. One is black, one white. Both experienced painful rejection but neither can see what they have in common. When disaster strikes, the women are thrown together. Will they ever learn to get along? A reread and even more wonderful the second time. F2F discussion of this book was amazing.

33. Supergifted by Gordon Korman - A gifted boy, challenging himself by joining a cheerleading squad in the normal school he attends (after being kicked out of the academy for gifted children) pretends to be the hero who stopped a disaster from potentially killing a family when he realizes his friend needs to keep his heroics a secret. But, when his fame gets out of hand and his friendship with the real hero is threatened, what will happen? A smart, funny book for middle readers.

34. Good Behavior by Blake Crouch - Three novellas about Letty Dobesh, a meth addict and thief who wants to break free from her addictions but is constantly tempted and ends up in several very dangerous situations. Loved the tense pacing in these stories.

35. Bus! Stop! by James Yang - A children's picture book about an unnamed boy who misses his bus and then finds that all of the buses that show up at his stop are very, very odd. Low on words, high on fun, each bus that passes is crazier than the last. Absolutely delightful.

36. Up in the Leaves by Shira Boss and Jamey Christoph - The true story (picture book) of a boy who lived in New York City and hated the crowds, so he escaped to Central Park and built tree houses to hide out in. Each year, they were taken down in the fall and each spring he built a newer, more elaborate treehouse, till he was offered a job working in the park, trimming trees. A wonderful story!

37. Gloria's Voice by Aura Lewis - The true story of Gloria Steinem's life for very young feminists, this picture book uses age-appropriate wording for the very young but also includes a more detailed bio and page-by-page descriptions of what's happening in each spread, so that it also offers further information for older children, a really great way to make a book grow with a child.

March was such a fantastic month it's hard to believe. I can't even pick favorites. I pretty much loved everything. Even Black Fortunes, which I found difficult to read because of the way the various bios were intertwined rather than separated, was fascinating and well worth reading. The Saboteur was the other book I found rather slow, because the exciting action scenes were buffered by a great deal of background. But, I'm glad I read them. Everything else was so fantastic there's hardly any purpose to saying much more about them.

At any rate, it was a terrific month for quality. In case you're wondering, the stamp at the top of the book pile is there because Bus! Stop! is a long book but the shortest in height. So, I put Bus! Stop! at the top because of its size but then needed something to weigh it down so it wouldn't topple off the pile.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

February 2018 Reads in Review


18. Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi - A very unique YA about an Iranian American, Saaket (also called Scott), who has not found his passion and goes on a road trip to find the professor he thinks can help him find the "grit" he needs to stick with something long enough to determine what exactly it is he wants to do with his life. I liked the uniqueness and how the author pulled the strands of the storyline together, although I found the storytelling sometimes a bit uneven.

19. Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken - More than a funny book by a satirist, Al Franken tells the story of how he became a Democrat and then a senator and all about learning how to work for the people without embarrassing himself or his family. An amazing book, both entertaining and educational.

20. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (e-book) - The story of a black girl who witnesses the senseless shooting of a friend by a police officer and must make the decision whether to stay quiet about the injustice or become an activist in memory of her friend. Deeply moving and especially great for discussion. I had trouble with the vernacular and that made the book slightly lesser for me, but discussing it helped me to understand it in ways that I couldn't through the fog of language frustration and expanded its meaning for me.

21. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande - One of the best nonfiction works I've ever read, the story of the author's slowly growing understanding of how we need to change our way of looking at end-of-life decision-making. His own father's decline and his life as a doctor both informed the author's perception of how we should treat the elderly and the dying -- with focus on quality of life and making sure family understands and supports the individual's wishes for fulfilling what's most important during their final years. Everyone should read this -- truly, everyone.

22. Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth - A brutal fictional tale about two boys who experience tragedy and make the mistake, in their grief, of joining up with a group of men who claim to be in search of revenge for the sake of the teenagers but really have their own cruel ends in mind. Set in Australia, I found the setting vivid in both good and bad ways (some scenes were almost unbearable). I particularly enjoyed the ending, which is immensely satisfying after many pages of hideous violence.

23. I Am the Boss of this Chair by Carolyn Crimi and Marisa Morea - An adorable picture book about a cat whose territory is invaded by the newly adopted kitten in his home. When he can no longer stand watching the kitten take over his toys, his door, and his chair, he chases the kitten around the house, unexpectedly discovering that it's fun having a companion around to play with and cuddle.

24. The Statue and the Fury by Jim Dees - The host of Oxford, Mississippi's Thacker Mountain Radio Show and a local journalist, Dees describes a single year in Oxford, when the residents were fighting over the downing of trees, whether or not to put up a statue in honor of its most famous resident, William Faulkner, and where to put it. Especially fun for locals and fans of Faulkner.

25. Our Native Bees by Paige Embry - An excellent nonfiction book about one woman's quest to learn all about the bees that are native to North America. Packed with gorgeous photos of bees and written with humor, the author talks about what she's learned from interviewing and hanging out with various experts, including how to identify the many different species of bees, the challenges to their existence, which bees are the best pollinators, how they're studied, how farms in need of pollinators purchase their services, and what ordinary people can do to encourage bee populations.

February is invariably my slumpiest month because I start the year with kind of a bwwwoooom noise behind my reading glasses and then at the end of the month I'm a little bit fizzled out. And, yet, it was not a bad month, quantity aside.

I particularly loved Our Native Bees, I Am the Boss of this Chair, Being Mortal, and Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. I Am the Boss of this Chair was just pure fun -- a cat book! A story that mimics my own experience with the cats in my home! I loved it. The rest of the books were learning experiences and I hope to reread Being Mortal and the Al Franken book, some time. The bee book would go on a coffee table if I had one (but I don't, so onto the good shelves it goes).

I had some issues with Down and Across. Toward the beginning of the book I was uncertain I'd finish it, but the farther I got into it the more I enjoyed it and I ended up really appreciating it for its uniqueness. It also ended well. The Statue and the Fury is fun but, again, it's not a very cohesive piece of writing. So, it wasn't a favorite but I enjoyed it very much and I know my kids will love it because they both have lived in Oxford and can appreciate the unique personalities of the local crowd.

Only Killers and Thieves and The Hate U Give were both rough reads. Violence and grief permeate both, but Only Killers is just relentlessly vicious, whereas The Hate U Give is more emotional. Only Killers is, however, a fictionalization of real-life historical events. So it's not violent for no reason; its purpose is to show a horror of the past, just as The Hate U Give is a fictionalization of the reality of "death by cop" similar to the many that have taken place in recent years. Both will gut you a bit, but both end on triumphant notes so I felt like they were well worth the horrifying scenes, although I confess there was one point in Only Killers that I just had to skim, it got so brutal.

All in all, a slow reading month but a good one, in my humble opinion. You can click through to my full reviews via the link in the title of each.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals are very, very pretty:

Top to bottom:

  • Tin Man by Sarah Winman - from Penguin for review
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng - purchased for F2F discussion
  • The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses) by Terri-Lynne DeFino and
  • Under a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day - both from William Morrow for review
  • Vintage Hughes by Langston Hughes - purchased for National Poetry Month
  • Era Emilia by I. I. Mendor - from Glagoslav Publications for review
  • Mad Boy by Nick Arvin - from Europa for review
  • Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge - from Viking Books for Young Readers for review

Clockwise from top left:

  • But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer and Dan Taylor and
  • Albie Newton by Josh Funk and Ester Garay - both from Sterling Children's Books for review
  • Sleep Train by Jonathan London and Lauren Eldridge - from Viking for review
  • Isosceles' Day by Kevin Meehan - from The Cadence Group for review

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Rocket Men by Robert Kurson
  • If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Sleep Train by Jonathan London and Lauren Eldridge
  • But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer and Dan Taylor
  • Albie Newton by Josh Funk and Ester Garay
  • How to Forget a Duke by Vivienne Lorret

This was absolutely not what I expected my week to end up like! I was already reading Rocket Men and anticipated finishing that and then reading If You Come Softly, yes. But, then I planned to finish Lincoln in the Bardo and read 200 pages of Don Quixote. I never did feel like reading either of the latter two, although I managed 50 pages of Lincoln in the Bardo and I like what I've read. It's just not grabbing me the way I'd hoped. Then, 3 children's books arrived and I gobbled them down immediately, as always. Still couldn't talk myself into reading either of the two books I planned on making my focus books, so I decided maybe I was in need of something radically different. Fortunately, I had a romance ARC just waiting for me. How to Forget a Duke (amnesia, strapping duke, Emma fan) sucked me in. And, that capped off my week nicely. It was a really good reading week.

Currently reading (or trying to):

  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  • Don Quixote by Cervantes
  • Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods by Tania Del Rio and Will Staehle

Honestly, none of these books got touched often, even though they sat in my "Current reads" section at Goodreads, all week. But, hopefully, they'll get the attention they deserve, now.

Last week's posts:

In other news:

Here is a cat with a sexy romance novel cover.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day - Peaceful

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Gloria's Voice by Aura Lewis

Gloria's Voice by Aura Lewis is the story of Gloria Steinem: "Feminist, Activist, Leader," as the subtitle says. I read one of Gloria Steinem's many books, last year, for my feminist reading project and never got around to writing a post about it, but I was fascinated by Gloria and thrilled to see that someone has written a children's book about her.

Here, little ones can get an introduction to her life. Beginning with childhood, the book talks about her wishes and dreams, how she wanted to be famous and help others, and how she was sidelined by her need to take care of her mother when her parents separated and her mother's mental illness meant Gloria had to act as the adult. It then moves on to her trip to India, followed by her decision to become a journalist and the frustration about having to write about things she didn't consider serious, how she came to realize that women everywhere just wanted to be heard, and the creation of Ms. magazine.

Gloria's Voice is for ages 4 and up, so it's told in very simple terms with gorgeous illustrations that have "flower power" coloring similar to the stage prop in the Sixties show Laugh-In (we've recently started occasionally watching an old Laugh-In episode, now and then, or I might not have recogized the similar coloring). But, there's a  more in-depth one-page bio at the end of the book, followed by a page of references for further reading and page-by-page notes on the details of each spread. So, even after one has grown past the picture book phase, there's a lot more learning material and ideas to read further for young feminists.

Highly recommended - One of the things I love about Gloria's Voice is that there are almost no men illustrated in the pages of this book. It's about a woman trying to bring attention to women's voices and that's reflected in the illustrations, which are gorgeous, by the way. The exception is a single man standing in a line to get a copy of Ms. magazine. The page-by-page notes at the end of the book explain that the image is of Gloria's husband, to whom she was married for three years (till his death). Those details and their explanations take the book from a picture book about a feminist leader to an educational book that can long be used as a reference or a starting point to learning more. I love that.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

*GIVEAWAY* - I Am the Boss of This Chair by Crimi and Morea - ENDS FRIDAY!!!


The winner of this drawing is Petite. I will notify you by email. Thanks to all who entered!

THIS IS A QUICK GIVEAWAY: Please note dates and times.

Click on the following title to read my review of I Am the Boss of This Chair

I'm giving away one copy of I Am the Boss of this Chair by Carolyn Crimi and Marisa Morea because I loved it so much that I want to spread the joy. Please read the rules carefully.


1. This is a quick drawing with only 3 days to sign up. Sign-up ends Friday at noon, Central Standard Time in the US.

2. Drawing is only open to residents of US or Canada.

3. Comment and leave me an email address for contact purposes. You may put spaces between the name portion and the @ in your email address to prevent passing bots from adding you to mailing lists, but you absolutely must leave an email to qualify.

You do not have to follow my blog or Twitter to enter, but if you're interested in following me on Twitter, I'm @Bookfoolery. Unfortunately, I must warn you that while I attempt to keep this blog free of political posts (apart from book reviews), I'm politically inclined on Twitter. I also post about books, art, photography, history, and travel, retweet anything that makes me laugh or smile (lots of cat and scenery photos) and post links to all reviews.

Good luck!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Up in the Leaves by Shira Boss and Jamey Christoph

Up in the Leaves by Shira Boss and Jamey Christoph is the true story of Bob Redman, a New Yorker who disliked the city crowds as a boy. He liked to climb and loved to escape to Central Park for the quiet. Bob began to climb the trees and hide out in them.

Up and down and up, he explored the trees: the fluffy
pink cherry tree . . . the sticky, pokey pine . . . . 
He slipped through the door of a wide beech.
He stepped up the staircase of a tall oak. 
Each tree was its own world, every limb an adventure. 

Bob liked being up in the trees so much that he started to gather salvaged parts and built himself a treehouse. He'd read in his treehouse, feed the squirrels, sometimes even stay at night to map the stars. Each year, when the leaves fell, his treehouses would be exposed and they'd disappear, taken down by park employees but when the leaves returned he'd build a new one. Over time, the treehouses became more elaborate (the final one was 5 levels) and his friends helped him find salvaged materials and joined him up in the trees.

Eventually, Bob was caught by park employees but the book has a happy ending. He was offered a job as an arborist in the park, climbing trees and trimming them.

Highly recommended - What a terrific story! Lovely prose and cheerful illustrations bring this inspiring true tale to life. While the book is geared to young children, there's an epilogue with a bit more detail and a photo of Bob on the final page so children can see Bob in real life (sitting in a tree, of course!) and tie illustration to reality. On the book flap, you'll also discover that the author is married to Bob. How cool is that? I absolutely love everything about this book. I smiled all the way through it.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.