Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders

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I confess before this book came along, I had never heard of Saunders. I don’t particularly like to read short stories, so our paths had never crosses. All of a sudden his name is all over the book podcasts I listen to, so I decided to give it a try. At first I looked at the Kindle version, but the publishers put such an obscenely high price on it, I put my name on theĀ  reserve list at the library.

The book was well worth the wait. It is so original I had trouble at first getting into it. It is unlike any other (but one) book I have ever read. Inspired by a story of a visit by Lincoln to his son Willies grave site, Saunders has woven a tale of grief, self-doubt, and redemption using the voices of the ghosts who inhabit the cemetery.

Prevented by their own fears, desires, and reluctance to let go, they remain in the cemetary, observing the people, living and dead who come to the cemetery. The title comes from an Egyptian term for the undecided state of the dead, between life that was and life to come. It’s meant as a temporary holding place for the spirits of the recently deceased, but some of the entities there, against nature, have been there for years.

The one book this reminds me of is C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. He uses the same device, although not to the same extent, to tell the story of people who are reluctant to face their own death and who are so wrapped up in themselves they are unwilling or unable to help anyone else.

This book lives up to all its hype. It’s hard to read at first, and the reader has to pay attention. The story is not all neatly and nicely laid out, but instead, the reader has to do some work of filling in the blanks. It is worth the work and very rewarding. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Because of Miss Bridgerton

Julia Quinn

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Fluff. Piffle. Light reading. Entertaining, but no substance. These words are frequently applied to romance novels. They completely disregard the craft necessary to write a satisfying romance novel. Nobody mocks a souffle because it isn’t roast beef, and much more art and craft are required to create a souffle. A light hand and a sense of timing are of the essence if you are to have a tasty dish instead of a wreck on your plate.

Julia Quinn demonstrates a light hand and a knowledge of how to keep it light. Her dialogue sparkles. Her characters are likeable and believable even if the situation is not. I particularly like her clear-headed, sensible hero. His straight thinking comes to his aid at the end, but all along it is his friend. In contrast, Miss Bridgerton shows an impetuous nature and an ability to get into trouble. They make a good pair.

Roast beef can be had anywhere, but a perfect souffle is harder to come by.

 

 

 

The Game of Silence

Louise Erdrich

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I didn’t realize that this is a children’s book. I enjoyed it as an adult and was sorry when it ended. The illustrations did not display well on my Kindle, but aside from this, the story was highly enjoyable. A young girl’s memories of hard times for her tribe form the heart of her story. Happy in her island home, she and her family are forced to leave it behind due to pressure from the white people. Aside from this major trouble, her life is full of happy events and minor annoyance. She enjoys making friends, growing up, learning her own gifts, and how she fits in with the tribe.

I grew up in the Southwest, and my knowledge of Native Americans has been limited to the tribes of California, Arizona, and New Mexico. It was a real treat to learn about another tribe, this time the Ojibway.

A Shameful Murder

Cora Harrison

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With this book, Cora Harrison starts a new series of cozy mysteries. Set in Cork, Ireland, during the troublesome 1920s, it features the attractive nun, Mother Aquinas. Head of a school for poor children, the reverend mother uses her family background and contacts among Cork’s wealthiest families to further her investigation. It helps also that at age 70, she has years of teaching to extend her contacts to reach into all levels of society.

The story begins with her finding a body at the convent gates. Washed down the river by recent rains, the body is clothed in evening dress. A lovely young girl, cut down in the prime of her life, it is truly a shameful murder. Spared the day to day grind of an investigation, she is able to use a police sergeant to do her footwork. Aided by the skills of a doctor friend, a very wealthy cousin, and a journalist former student, she is able to unravel the mystery of this girls death.

I liked the setting and the character of the elderly reverend mother for this satisfying read.

In Praise of the Bees

Kristin Gleeson

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This would have been a better story if the author had tied up the loose ends and had skipped a few plot twists. I found the use of Irish words intrusive without any translation or explanation. I did have a glossary in the back, but it’s not complete. The ending was abrupt and unbelievable, with little foundation laid for the character’s decisions.

All in all I found it unsatisfying.