Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lincoln in the Bardo is a good book — but you have to be ready for it. George Saunders has taken a novel and made it just that, novel. It’s part poem, part history text and entirely complicated and moving at the same time. Readers need to prepared for the odd writing style, the numerous characters, and the constantly changing voices. However, if given the chance, the book is phenomenal.

Let’s talk premise first: Lincoln in the Bardo takes place over the course of one heart-wrenching night following the burial of William Wallace Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln’s third, and favorite, son. Willie died suddenly of typhoid fever just as the Civil War is ramping up in the United States. The story takes place “in the Bardo” which is a Buddhist term for the space between life and death, essentially the purgatory of the Christian world. Over the course of the night, many spirits appear to help young Willie on his new venture into the afterlife and we hear how each ghost ended up in their current state, some are luckier than others. In between conversations in the cemetery, Saunders intersperses actual bits of history from contemporary sources who recount the events leading up to Willie’s death. The overall narrative is alternatively emotional and humorous.

Here’s where things get tricky. The form. This isn’t your typical novel written with sentences that build paragraphs that turn into a book. Rather, it reads more like a screenplay with the character announced in italics followed by their lines in the next below. Historical sources are cited appropriately often reading as follows:

“The rich notes of the Marine Band in the apartments below came to the sick-room in soft, subdued murmurs, like the wild, faint sobbing of far off spirits.” Keckley, op. cit.

It’s a very avant-garde style of writing that makes the book difficult to follow. I found myself wondering “who’s that guy again?” or “wait — how did he die?” Towards the end of the book things start to get a little bit muddled as the narrative veers into the reflective and meditative and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about that.

Overall, the book was worth the confusion because it made me think and it threw me out of my comfort zone. I can’t recommend this book enough (with the disclaimer that it’s really not going to be everyone’s cup of tea).


Book Review: What Lies Below

What Lies BelowWhat Lies Below by Barbara Taylor Sissel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What Lies Below by Barbara Taylor Sissel is a mystery novel, a suspense novel, and a romance novel all rolled into one. Gilly O’Connell is a broken woman. She sees things other people can’t and it’s caused her unending heartbreak her entire life. She’s lost friends, family, and even her husband and child. Yet she can’t stop her dreams and must deal with the consequences that come with visions of events she is powerless to stop.

I read mysteries (a lot) and so very little in this book came as a shock to me. There was maybe one “WHOA!” moment in the entire book. However, that didn’t ruin it for me. The characters could have been fleshed out a bit more, and there were times that I thought characters could have asked more questions or probed deeper in a particular situation. Some of the chapters didn’t flow as smoothly into one another but it didn’t detract from the story. Finally, we all know that I hate the tidy bow at the end of a story and this one wrapped up just a little too cleanly for my tastes.

Overall, the book was a good read. It was quick and intriguing and I’d highly recommend it to any fan of mystery/suspense with a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure.

*I received an advanced electronic copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley.*

Book Review: Baby Teeth

Baby TeethBaby Teeth by Zoje Stage

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book is like if Stephen King and Lisa Genova had a baby. It’s creepy, it’s cerebral, it focuses on how a tiny brain misfiring can wreak havoc on everything in a person’s life. In short: it was great.

I’m a huge fan of the horror/thriller genre but I love a good science nonfiction book as well so this one was right up my alley. Zoje Stage’s debut novel focuses on a family that has it all — or at least they appear that way to the outside. However, inside their pristine home, life is a nightmare. Hanna is 7-year-old and has yet to speak. Suzette struggles with the pain of raising a disabled child while she herself is also quite ill. Alex rounds out the family as the handsome bread-winner, the prize possession of both his wife and daughter. Then one day, it all falls apart. Hanna speaks but what comes out of her mouth is devastating and terrifying. From there, things only get worse as Hanna invents dangerous ways to get back at her mother and Alex refuses to see the trouble his daughter creates. Everything comes to a head one fateful evening and nothing is ever the same after that.

The entire book had me on the edge of my seat as I waited for Hanna to concoct her next plan of attack. I felt Suzette’s fear, Alex’s anguish, and Hanna’s confusion. As the parent of an occasionally violent, mostly mute child, I know what it’s like to wonder what the day will bring. Luckily, I’ve never been in fear for my life but I could totally sympathize with Suzette the whole way through. Great read!