21 Aug 2020

Review - Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Title: Lincoln in the Bardo

Author: George Saunders


In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other—for no one but Saunders could conceive it.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and ter/rifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

My Thoughts:

When a book makes me want to visit a place I know I won't soon forget it. When the place in question is as quaint as a cemetery, a particular resting place, it gets wedged in my memory even more.

When Willie Lincoln, President Lincoln's son died at age 11 he was placed in the Carroll crypt in Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown. That's where we are guided by George Saunders to take part in an unforgettable journey.

Lincoln in the Bardo is a complex project that can be studied from many angles. It's a thoughtful and gentle piece of grief literature on the one hand, while on the other it draws from historical records to cement its supernatural plot in reality. 

According to some such records President Lincoln visited the cemetery to hold his son's body for weeks after the boy was entombed. The book tells the story of one night, the night after the funeral when Willie Lincoln finds himself sitting on the roof of his crypt in the company of ghosts. He's utterly confused and wants to go home. He doesn't know what happened to him.

The interesting thing is that the ghosts don't seem to know either that they are dead. They refer to their coffins as 'sick boxes', to their corpses as 'sick forms'. Later we learn the reason of this, we only have to read between the lines to understand.

Willie's unwillingness to pass on puts his soul in danger and when his living father appears on the scene Mr. Bevins, Mr. Vollman and the Reverend Everly Thomas ghostly residents of the cemetery snatch this opportunity to help the little boy move on.

President Lincoln's grief gets the center stage, but he never talks; he thinks, he feels and we always experience his thoughts and feelings through a mediator. We see a broken man, one who struggles under the weight life has placed on his shoulders.

While we get to meet the father in the cemetery, snippets of memoirs that are collected and arranged expertly throughout the book show us the president through the eyes of the people

Lincoln gets hot and cold as it is to be expected but the most fascinating for me was how this novel indicates how uncreditable human recollections can be. There is a bit where paragraph after paragraph appear from different memoirs in which people recall how the moon looked the night before Willie died. Some say there was a clear full moon, some insist a storm was rolling in, the sky was so cloudy you couldn't see the moon. Then in another part people recall the colour of Lincoln's eyes and again the descriptions don't match. It reminded me that so many pieces of information we take for granted yet some facts get irrevocably lost in the past.

Another topic George Saunders touches on is sin and how everyone perceives their own or other people's sins. This has so much to do with everything that occurs in Oak Hill Cemetery in the book.

The structure in which all these supernatural happenings and historical reminiscences are presented is unique for a novel. It reads more like a play, the name of the speaker is always written under each utterance but very often the speaker relays what others in his presence say or do. For some the format can be challenging but if one likes reading dramas I don't think it will be an issue.

There's a reason why Lincoln in the Bardo won the Man Booker Prize in 2017 and I'm glad I decided to read it. It's a great literary achievement for sure.

Goodreads | Amazon

16 Aug 2020

Down the TBR Hole #2

 The Royal Bookshelf showed me this wonderful idea that will help me shorten my TBR pile.


   1. Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
   2. Order on ascending date added.
   3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books
   4. Read the synopses of the books
   5. Decide: keep it or should it go?

I'll try to go through 5 books every week from my Goodreads TBR and decide whether I still see any hope I'd get to those books sooner or later.

 Let's see this week's five books!

A Northern Light

by Jennifer Donnelly

I've reread the synopsis and I have to say this historical murder mystery still appeals to me.


Clockwork Angel

(The Infernal Devices #1)

 by Cassandra Clare

I've read the first two books in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series. I liked them, however they didn't charm me enough to go on reading the series. Despite this, I'd be happy to give The Infernal Devices a chance since it's set in Victorian London and so promises a historical aspect too.


Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel

by Jonathan Morris

The 11th doctor was one of my favourites and the weeping angels are the scariest DW villains ever, so yes... I'll read it one day.


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

by Ransom Riggs

Sometimes I crave creepy reads, the day when I pick this one up might not be far.


 The Diviners

by Libba Bray

This is another book I've been meaning to read for sooo long. I know many people enjoyed it.


Oh well, I'm keeping 5 out of 5. Looks like this isn't the week when my TBR list will get shorter, but never mind, there's always next week :)

14 Aug 2020

Book Beginnings and the Friday 56 #40

 Book Beginnings on Friday and The Friday 56 are weekly memes hosted by Rose City Reader and Freda's Voice.


Book Beginnings: Share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. 

The Friday 56: Grab a book, turn to page 56 or 56% in you eReader. Find any sentence (not spoilery) and reflect on it if you want. 
Here's what I'm reading this week:
(A Fairy Garden Mystery #1) 
by Daryl Wood Gerber


Fairy garden store owner Courtney Kelly believes in inviting magic into your life. But when uninvited trouble enters her shop, she'll need more than a sprinkling of her imagination to solve a murder . . .

Since childhood, Courtney has loved fairies. After her mother died when she was ten, she lost touch with that feeling of magic. A year ago, at age twenty-nine, she rediscovered it when she left her father's landscaping business to spread her wings and start a fairy garden business and teashop in beautiful Carmel, California. At Open Your Imagination, she teaches garden design and sells everything from fairy figurines to tinkling wind chimes and trickling fountains. Now she's starting a book club tea.

But the light of the magical world she's created inside her shop is darkened one night when she discovers neighboring dog-grooming business owner Mick Watkins dead beside a fountain. To make matters worse, the police suspect Courtney of the crime. To clear her name and find the real killer, Courtney will have to wing it. But she's about to get a little help from an unexpected new friend . . .

Book Beginning:

"Do you see her? Is she down there?" I tried not to let my five-year-old customer hear the panic in my voice.

The book opens with a rather lovely scene in which a little girl sees her first fairy. How cute!

The Friday 56:

Summers studied me as if he knew I was keeping something from him. My insides grumbled. Obfuscating the truth wasn't good for my digestion.
This cozy mystery, although I'm not even half way through it, has already made me obsessed with fairy gardens and right now I'm planning to create my first one...

What are you reading this week? Don't forget to leave your Friday links below so I can visit your blog and find out!

13 Aug 2020

Review - The Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr

    Title: The Angel of Darkness

    Author: Caleb Carr


    WARNING: The synopsis contains possible spoilers for The Alienist by    Caleb Carr

It is June 1897. A year has passed since Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a pioneer in forensic psychiatry, tracked down the brutal serial killer John Beecham with the help of a team of trusted companions and a revolutionary application of the principles of his discipline. Kreizler and his friends--high-living crime reporter John Schuyler Moore; indomitable, derringer-toting Sara Howard; the brilliant (and bickering) detective brothers Marcus and Lucius Isaacson; powerful and compassionate Cyrus Montrose; and Stevie Taggert, the boy Kreizler saved from a life of street crime--have returned to their former pursuits and tried to forget the horror of the Beecham case. But when the distraught wife of a Spanish diplomat begs Sara's aid, the team reunites to help find her kidnapped infant daughter. It is a case fraught with danger, since Spain and the United States are on the verge of war. 

My Thoughts:

Given that the second season of The Alienist series has already come out on TNT and I'm eagerly anticipating it on Netflix because that's the place I'll be able to see it myself, I thought I'd read the book first to be up to date for the show.

For those of you who are not familiar with the duology soon to be trilogy – Caleb Carr's crime novels are set in New York at the end of the 19th century and follow an alienist (the term roughly referred to psychologists at the time) and his group of friends as they track down serial killers. In the first book they are after a ruthless man who murders child prostitutes with extreme brutality while in The Angel of Darkness they set out to catch a woman whose victims are mostly babies.

The main difference between the first and the second Alienist book is that The Angel of Darkness is narrated by young Stevie Taggert, Dr. Kreizler's ward instead of John Moore, Kreizler's journalist friend. I enjoyed John's storytelling, but Stevie's recollections are positively hilarious at times and, taking into consideration how dark the story is on the whole, I appreciated the fresh, youthful humour that somehow eased the digestion of the tougher parts of the novel for me.

I found it refreshing that this time the killer was a woman and so Sara's insight into the female mind became invaluable in the case. By now she's opened her own detective agency and it is so nice she gets recognition and a chance to act on her ambitions. I absolutely adored how Laszlo and Sara's relationship was raised to another level (not romantic, or was it? I like that I can't tell), how he treated her like an absolute equal intellectually and otherwise (not that he didn't in the Alienist, but here their mutual trust and respect deepened even more).

As for the plot, the murderess's identity is revealed pretty fast but the team finds it hard to get a grip on her and so they have to work hard to build up a case from scraps of evidences. They find a couple of allies during their investigation, like the talkative Mr. Picton, John's old prosecutor friend and Kat, Stevie's sweetheart who, although a bit troublesome, proves to be helpful in the end.

I confess I liked AOD more than The Alienist for many reasons, one of them being that it deals less with New York's political mechanisms of the time and more with the killer and the female psyche. Since I'm not extremely interested in politics in general the parts in The Alienist where it was detailed who held what kind of power over whom bored me quite a bit even if on the whole the political intricacies had a great influence on the plot. I felt AOD was more character and case-centered and had less 'background noise' in it, which was more to my liking.

Judging by the promos I've seen the tv show won't be very faithful to the book in its second season, but I won't mind that if they've come up with an original plot that doesn't mess much with my favourite team. 

The books I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone, they are pure fun for crime and historical fiction lovers.

Goodreads | Amazon