Book Review Saturday: Lincoln in the Bardo

“That stillness seemed the most terrifying thing of all. He was on his own now. None could help or hinder him on the profound journey which, it seemed, had now begun.”

I did not know what to expect with this book. I checked it out from the library previously but did not get around to reading it until the Man Booker finalists were announced. I love historical fiction, but this falls into a category all its own. I have never read a book like this. Saunders wins the award for most creativity, but the book did fall flat in some regards for me. The research is impeccable and presented in a new way that grabbed my attention. The history is entwined in the story with direct accounts from people who witnessed the events. It shows the discrepancies in what is remembered and how history can be misconstrued.

With a cast of 166 narrators, the book can be overwhelming at first. Saunders grabs your attention right away with stories from characters in the mysterious Bardo. It reads as a ghost story with historical elements. You will laugh, blush and feel sadness for the President in what must have been a heart wrenching experience. I do not have children. I can’t imagine having to bury one while still maintaining leadership of an entire nation. The weight of the world on his shoulders and watching his every move.

Unfortunately, the afterlife consumes most of the novel. I was more interested in the historical elements which left me a bit disappointed. I was ready for the ending about 50 pages before it came. The people trapped in the afterlife provide insight into the struggles of self and humanity, but I wanted more of the historical side of Willie’s passing. I am curious where the inspiration for the ghosts originated because they are so diverse. Their stories are well developed, and every detail was captured. It begs the question; do we really know we are dead once we pass? If there is an in between, why must we wait? Saunders tackles these issues and more with a book that is worth the read. I believe it will stand the test of time and be read for many generations to come.


Write About it Wednesday: Start Writing Your Book Today

“Most successful authors began their writing career in the margins of their normal life.”

I thought I would cover a few books about writing in honor of #nanowrimo. Although I am not participating this year because of graduate school, I still have been writing here and there and planning out my ideas. This book helped me get over the fear of sharing that I want to write a novel one day. Why is it so hard to say that out loud to people? Are we afraid of their judgement, afraid that we will never accomplish it or just lacking confidence in ourselves? I’m over it. I know this is something that I want to do and I don’t want to wait until I “have more time,” “all my research is complete,” or “when I become a better writer.” This book is 103 pages of pure motivation with excellent advice and easy to follow steps.’

The most important first step is writing your WHY. Why is this book important to you and why are you writing? This should be written down somewhere for you to return to when you lack motivation or feel like giving up. It is an excellent reminder. Setting weekly writing goals and tracking word count progress is vital to completing the project. If the book truly matters then you will make time in between your daily life to meet the goals. The author suggests using Pomodoro sessions working in small chunks of time with short breaks in between. Intention for the writing should be set along with a timer so the writing is meaningful and not wasted. She outlines a seven-week process for completing your first draft. At first, I thought this seemed way out of reach but I believe if her system is followed it would be possible. She even allows time for free writing which will eventually become the basis for the rough draft. After the rough draft, she describes ways to deal with criticism, revisions and helps you develop good writing habits.

I like the direct approach of this book. She is straight to the point and provides easy to follow steps to becoming the writer you want to be. She includes several resources in the back that assist with tracking your progress to stay accountable, advice on the creation of a reverse outline, and guides to developing the habits that will get you closer to your dream. This book was worth the money and just what I needed to get in gear. There are so many books out there for writers and it can be overwhelming trying to decide which ones will help you. I wasn’t disappointed, in fact I was quickly developing my why and creating outlines for future work.

Good luck to everyone who is typing away at their word counts. I’m proud of you! I hope to join you soon. If you have any books that have helped your writing career, please share! I would love to hear from you.

Book Birthday: Skavenger’s Hunt

“And the one thing that each of those three hunts had in common? Every riddle, every clue…was put together by one mysterious, very secretive man who put his very own name on it.”

Happy Book Birthday to Mike Rich!

I found this one on Net Galley while searching for a book to read with my class. I flew through it but didn’t LOVE it. It is a cute story. I am very hesitant of books that bring in historical characters to this age group. They see the history as fact even if labeled fiction. I wish that wasn’t the case but it affects my review of books in this genre.

Henry is cooped in the house and lacks any sense of adventure since his father’s death. His mother tries to keep him safe at all costs, even going so far as to suggest he wear a coat in the house to prevent a cold. What Henry doesn’t know is that his grandfather is about to bring him an adventure beyond his wildest imagination. His grandfather shares an ancient scroll with him and eager to find out the meaning, he sneaks into his grandfather’s study and is transported to the past. The Skavenger hunt is on! He must solve the clues to find his way back to his mother while keeping an eye on the scroll. If the scroll runs out, he will be locked into the past forever.

It sounds kind of cheesy. I will admit. I did like the story but some of the journey is a bit farfetched. I know times were different back then but I can’t see several children traveling by boat to Paris without a bit more difficulty than they encountered. It plays out like most treasure hunting stories by traveling on a journey to find the prize and ending up finding yourself along the way.  There is some added intrigue with Hiram Doubt and his Four Men of Darkness chasing the kids while they hunt for the clues but not enough to give the element of mystery and suspense. I knew what was going to happen early on but I finished to see what characters from history would appear next.

The entire time I was reading this novel I kept thinking Hunter S. Skavenger is based on Hunter S. Thompson. I need to email the author and ask. I wound up reading Thompson when it clearly stated Skavenger throughout the entire book. I’m always curious where inspiration strikes. On to the next review!

Book Review Saturday: Memoirs of a Public Servant

“They never had an opportunity to fight back, to look their enemy in the eyes while engaging them in combat. Their wives are without husbands, and their children are without fathers. The community lost protectors, servants and heroes.”

This book was brought to my attention by a family member who shares my love for reading. In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, she was looking for a way to contribute or give back. Purchasing this book and sharing it with others was her small way of contributing. Memoirs of a Public Servant was written by Charleston Hartfield, the off-duty police officer killed on the strip slightly over a month ago. This book was published in July 2017 only a few months before his tragic death. I was hesitant at first to pick it up because in full disclosure, my boyfriend is a police officer. I hear the stories, I know what he sees and how people treat and view him. We live in different time now. Public servants are viewed with hostility and the level of respect for the profession is low. Hartfield touched on this topic and even presented his ideas for changing the narrative.

His memoirs were his outlet from his day to day life. If you have met anyone in the public service field then you know the stuff they see stays with them. An outlet is necessary for coping and stress relief. The stories bounce from various years but tell a story all their own. He focused on details of specific calls, his family life and even his off-duty gigs. He wrote about the tragic loss of two officers, shot while they were eating dinner on shift. He mentioned several times how important it is to live life to the fullest because you never know how short your time is. It seems like he knew something was going to happen, like the possibility was higher somehow. He discussed his military career and hoped that he might publish his memories to bring perspective and peace of mind to others. We learn about some of his partners, the comradery of the blue family and how important being a husband and father were to him.

This book boasts several grammar errors but they add to the authenticity of his writing. I can picture him walking in after shift, dwelling on the day and needing to type away the worry. I think people forget that officers are regular people. He worked hard, went home, and tried to do the best he could for his family like everyone else in America. He and his fellow officers are taken for granted for the small things they do, the things that make the biggest difference. He took the time to talk to people, to listen before he judged and tried to help all those he met. He called it “concrete preaching” and talked to people about their future and their decisions and tried to guide them in the right direction. He didn’t lose patience, or consider them a lost cause. He believed in his ability to make a difference and this memoir will be his stamp on the world.

I didn’t have a hard time getting through the book. Once I finished reading and began my research on the author is when it became all too real. There are so many news articles and videos about Hartfield that are just heartbreaking. I had to close my laptop and walk away before writing this review. I know that my purchase of this book does not make a huge difference. My only hope is that someone else will read this and then tell their friend about it. We need to bring awareness and perspective to those that are reliant on the media instead of their own research. There are always going to be bad people in the world, but do not throw everyone into that box. Give them a chance to prove themselves to you. Do not pass judgement. And as the book ended, so shall I: “To the WORLD you may be but ONE person, but to ONE person you may be the WORLD.”

Write About it Wednesday: National Author’s Day

“Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.” – Hunter S. Thompson
Today is National Author’s Day! I want to take the time to share with you some of my favorite authors and wish all the future authors good luck on the first day of NaNoWriMo 2017.

A few of my favorite authors include Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, Hunter S. Thompson and Patricia Cornwell.

Hemingway wrote what he knew and drank a fair amount of whiskey while he did it. What is not to love? I keep a picture of him at his typewriter by my desk for inspiration. I read A Farwell to Arms in high school and was the only one in my class reading from the required list. I had never read anything like it. It was like a light bulb went off in my head that all books weren’t the same and opened a whole new genre for me.

Jane Austen is a classic. Persuasion is my favorite of her novels. I remember the first time I read Captain Wentworth’s letter and then reading it approximately 100 more times because I was completely obsessed. Unfortunately, I’m serious as several of my friends and family can attest that even they were forced to listen to the letter. Although her novels have led to an unrealistic expectation for romance, I still find myself reading them again and falling more in love each time.

John Steinbeck makes my list for one specific novel, East of Eden. My grandmother recommended it right before passing away and I felt a connection to it. I don’t know if that led to my absolute love for this novel, but it always makes my top 5. I am fascinated at the portrayal of good vs evil and I’ve even considered getting a Hebrew tattoo of the word “timshel” which shows that God provided us with choice. No one can understand the depth of East of Eden until they have read it multiple times. Each time I find something I missed before and fall even further in. Don’t give up on this one in the first few chapters, try to see it through. It’s worth your time.

Hunter S. Thompson is the man we all long to be. Carefree, tell it like it is, master storyteller who changed journalism forever. I started with The Rum Diary and moved on to his collections such as Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 and Kingdom of Fear. They are pieced together with articles and essays that were published in various magazines and newspapers. If you ever want to write, go pick up a Thomspon book. It will make you a better writer just by reading his words. Journalists have tried to imitate his style, but there will never be anything that can compare.

Last but not least, Patricia Cornwell makes the list for her Scarpetta series. I have a short attention span. If a series lasts longer than three books, I’m usually throwing in the towel. The Scarpetta series is the exception. I am ready for the next book as soon as I turn the final page. I call them my “escape” books because I read them strictly for pleasure. As a book blogger, reading can begin to take on a new meaning and feel like work. I keep these books to myself and just enjoy them. My bookshelf now features almost the entire series with bones as the bookends. My recent picture of this was liked by Cornwell on Twitter. I thought I was going to faint. I love when authors interact with their readers!

This is just a short list but hopefully it will encourage you to share your own favorites! I’d love to hear from you and feel free to share your writing goals for the month. Happy NaNoWriMo!

Book Review Saturday: Misery

“Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.”

October is a good month to test your reading limits when it comes to horror and mystery. I try to pick a few books that I normally wouldn’t read and see what the hype is all about. I have read Stephen King before, but I rarely seem to finish what I start with him. Misery is the exception. I read this book in five days, and I would have been faster if I didn’t have that pesky thing called a job. My copy of Misery is banged and beaten, and even featured torn pages with that lovely “old book smell,” and a few thunderstorms even managed to come by to add to the ambiance. Do you believe in books finding the right timing in your life? I do, and this one was perfect.

Paul Sheldon is a bestselling author of the Misery Chastain novels, a historical romance series. He wakes up in a strange place, in unimaginable pain to a woman who claims to be “his number one fan.” Having wrecked his car (dislocating his pelvis, shattering his legs and crushing one of his knees), Annie finds him on the side of the road and brings him to her house to care for him. That sounds all well and good until you find out that her caring is torture. Torture that makes the reader keep asking themselves, WAIT? WHAT? When will it stop? This can’t be happening? Or maybe that was just me… Annie is unhappy with the ending of the latest Misery novel. She brings home a typewriter and requests that Paul begin a new novel. Her requests must be answered in the manner she desires or she inflicts physical and mental pain. Spoiler alert: It even goes so far as amputations. I can’t imagine this occurring in real life because it was so extreme.

My question is: How does King come up with this stuff? I do not usually discuss what I am reading with my friends and family. They know that my head is constantly in a book but rarely ask for details. I can’t count the number of people that I have asked/discussed/shared this book with over the past week. His writing is pure genius. Not only do we follow the story of Paul and Annie, but the novel that Paul is writing. I have never read anything like it. The insight into the life of a writer is without measure. I felt like I was digging around in King’s brain through Paul, and through the eyes of a serial killer. Annie is a character that haunts you. I know there are people out in the world that would be capable of this, but I live in a happy bubble of sunshine and rainbows. King pours gasoline on the rainbow and slices through the sun. I would recommend this book to everyone who dreams of becoming a writer, or dares to dive into the mind of King. Misery stands out from his other novels. The book is worth your time, but know that the content is not suitable for everyone.

Stay tuned for a special Halloween review! Happy (spooky) reading my friends!

Write About it Wednesday: Andrew Jackson and Reading Goals

“His capacity to build upon his anti-aristocratic instincts, to learn from his mistakes, and still command the loyalty of others, is what finally defined his presidency.”

I made a goal last year to read a biography of each President. Five biographies a year seemed reasonable given the amount of time I spend reading for myself and the blog. October came around and I realized that I have yet to finish one this year. I set about to remedy the situation at my local library only to realize that the library consortium does not carry a biography on every President. Are you as outraged as I was? This seems like something people would want to learn about. Unfortunately, we have hit a digital age where students no longer “read the book” when Google holds all the answers. I for one need to hold a book in my hand, turn the pages and watch history unfold before me. Luckily, I have friends who share similar interests and allow me to book swap or my book budget for the year would be tanked (I mean, I do TRY to stick to it but let’s be honest…I need ALL the books).

Next up on my list was Andrew Jackson, the President that everyone loves to hate. Most known for his part in Indian removal, his courage and willingness to fight the aristocracy is often overlooked. He looked up to Thomas Jefferson and believed that American government was designed to undo artificial inequality. He served as a courier during the Revolution, worked as a public prosecutor in Tennessee, fought his first duel against a fellow lawyer and then became protégé to a territorial governor. He held several elected positions but his military ambition took precedence when he was awarded the post of Major General of the militia leading to his involvement with an expedition to Florida, aborted missions and retaliation against the Indians that are covered in most history classes. He loses his first election to John Quincy Adams and blames Henry Clay. This is a reoccurring theme throughout Jackson’s life, so I will be adding him to my reading list!

Jackson aimed to make merit and performance the basis for preferment in government. He suffered several scandals during his Presidency, and proved to lack judgment when it came to many men’s character. When he set out to accomplish something, he did it. He completely extinguished national debt, but the success was overshadowed by banking issues. He survived an assassination attempt and beat his assailant with his walking stick (I mean that is bad a, I don’t care who you are…). Jackson is responsible for making the presidency the center of action and opening positions in government to citizens outside of the elitist realm. He was a “President of the People” and while reading I noted several similarities to our current President. No one thought he would win, he surrounded himself with smart people, stood by what he said even if it contradicted his original statements, and led with a forceful style.  

How did it take the country so long to go to war over slavery? I had no idea that tensions were already so high during Jackson’s presidency. Jackson regarded the anti-slavery movement as a political threat to the nation and democracy. He respected the Missouri Compromise and managed to shift the focus allowing Van Buren to be elected. I have done my fair share of research on abolitionists but the battle over mail was a new one for me. Jackson proposed legislature to combat the messages sent to the South calling an end to slavery. It brought the slavery issue to the national front but the campaign fizzled quickly. Also, what other President can say he wiped out national debt? Does anyone remember those debt calculators that used to be all over Fox News and CNN? What happened to those? Did we just realize we will never pay it off or is it a distraction from the real news?

I must know more, therefore I read. I need to know what happened and not just what I’ve been told. There is history happening all around us. The more you know, the more you can contribute to society. Bring on Van Buren!