6 Degrees of Separation: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders



Right off the bat let me say that I did not like Lincoln in the Bardo, in spite of hte hype, the awards, and the amazing creativity of it. I listened to the equally amazing and creative audio version but had to force myself to finish it. You can read my review here. There. That’s all been said out loud. Let’s move on to this month’s chain of books.

I’ve chosen a selection of fiction and non-fiction, as well as a classic children’s book, to that come to mind instantly when I hear the name “Lincoln.” As hard as it was to make sense of Lincoln in the Bardo, doing so without having a good grounding in Lincoln and his times would be even worse.

The Three Novels I Choose




Each of these builds the portrait of the chaos in which Lincoln was forced to govern–both as President and as Husband and Father of the Lincoln family. His own depression butted heads with the mania of his wife, Mary Todd. His children all but ran wild, he was besieged by hangers-on and consumed by the Civil War. It is a life I’d not wish on an enemy.

The Non-fiction I Choose




I read Lincoln’s Sons in high school and it had a lasting impact on me. It is well know that the Lincoln’s lost a son, Willie, in the White House. Many know that they paid a substitute to fight for their Harvard student eldest son, Robert. This was mostly due to Mrs. Lincoln’s family having divided loyalties–some of her many brothers or half-brothers faught for the Confederacy. But there is a second reason. The Lincoln’s also lost a son named Eddie–hence the large age gap between Robert and his little brothers. Such a sad thing to have happened even in a day and age when children often died in childhood.

Abraham Lincon’s World takes a younger reader thru the events of the world at the time Lincoln lived. This book, and it’s counterparts–George Washington’s World being one, are such marvelous histroy! I have not read the entire book, but read significant portions of it with my children when they were younger. Superb.


The Picture Book I Choose



I love the D’Aulaire’s book on Lincoln. It is simply the best children’s book on Lincoln ever.





Note: If you’d like your children to know more classic literature, check out Ambleside Online. While it is a superb homeschool curriculm, the book lists are so amazing and any can enjoy them. I have a blog where I track my progress in reading thru the book lists: A Lifelong Learner in Ambleside.


The Documentary I Choose–Bonus!


This documentary, and Ken Burn’s Civil War series, are an excellent education in Abraham Lincoln. Both show up on Youtube and can be borrowed on dvd from many public libraries. A House Divided sums up the Lincoln’s tempestuous marriage.


The Poem I Chose To Complete the Picture of Lincoln



Nancy Hanks

If Nancy Hanks
Came back as a ghost,
Seeking news
Of what she loved most,
She’d ask first
“Where’s my son?
What’s happened to Abe?
What’s he done?”

“Poor little Abe,
Left all alone.
Except for Tom,
Who’s a rolling stone;
He was only nine,
The year I died.
I remember still
How hard he cried.”

“Scraping along
In a little shack,
With hardly a shirt
To cover his back,
And a prairie wind
To blow him down,
Or pinching times
If he went to town.”

“You wouldn’t know
About my son?
Did he grow tall?
Did he have fun?
Did he learn to read?
Did he get to town?
Do you know his name?
Did he get on?”

– Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet

This was in my 3rd or 4th grade reader and I’ve never forgotten it. Nancy Hanks Lincoln was Abraham’s mother. She died leaving Abe and his sister Sarah to be raised, in part, by a step-mother who treated him kindly.


Want to Join in 6 Degrees of Separation?

On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book. It is hosted by the blogger Bookksaremyfavoriteandbest. You can see all of January’s chains here.


A few memories for World Read Aloud Day

WRAD 2018

#WordlReadAloudDay caught my eye on Twitter yesterday. It made me think of a few of our favorite read-alouds. I’m a bit nostalgic for reading aloud. My kids are in their twenties and, happily, there are no signs yet of grandchildren. I say “happily” because I don’t want them to rush into parenthood! Anyway, here is our a few of our favorites. It always amazes me what kids love!




This was a nightly read! The Rhyme Bible is so fun. Even if you only want your kids to have a nodding acquaintence with the greatest book of the Western Cannon, it’s fun. We especially loved Jonah’s story which I read as a rap. My son loved anything that rhymed and went on to write rap lyrics!  We had a few other Christian books that were beloved—Mary and Martha’s House, Little Pilgrim’s Progress and, naturally, a rhyming David and Goliath book with the added thrill of pop-ups!





This book still makes my kids and I laugh. “You no touch!” is a catch phrase in our family–said, of course, in a phony Italian accent as Grandmother would have. Love, love, love this book. I think of it every time I make pizza. How Pizza Came to Queens.







This book is such a hoot!! We loved it! We’d all make motorcycle noises and immitate the poor animals foo bops on the head. Such fun memories! Even today, the phrase, “I”ll give you three chances…” gets a laugh.  Little Rabbit Foo-Foo.







Seriously folks, this is a fun, fun book! Just buy it and read it to your kids! Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.



We read hundreds and hundreds of books out loud. This week, I’ve been thrilled to see my reader (one IS a reader, the other is not) devouring books again.  What fun read-alouds did your family enjoy?

Review: By the Grand Canal by William Riviere


This book was a perfect fit for me. An Edwardian English diplomat, Hugh Thurne, struggles to find himself in a dead-end marriage and a not-so-great career as a diplomat just after World War I. While, technically, the Edwardian Era “ended” with the death of it’s namesake, Edward VII, in 1910, that generation carried on administering the war and its aftermath.

The story moves with the speed of its era–slowly, gracefully, with measured steps. Hugh’s thoughts, his musings, his “re-thinkings,” are centered on the three women of his life–his young Venetian mistress, his bored wife, and his recently deceased best friend’s widow. An Edwardian midlife crisis couched in the beauty and grace of its era.

I think this is the first book I’ve ever found and enjoyed that had almost no reviews on Amazon, yet was commercially published. (There were a few more on the British Amazon page). If you enjoy period pieces like Merchant Ivory films, you will enjoy this book.

By the Grand Canal by William Riviere

My rating

4 Stars






Top 5 Wednesday: Hidden Gems in Your Favorite Genre


I’m not really sure that I have a favorite genre. Here then are 5 hidden gems–5 quirky/fun little novels that I highly recommend.


1. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen



It’s hard to pick just one favorite of Sarah Addison Allen’s books–each has that distinctive touch of whimsey. Not quite magic, not quite real–whatever you call it, I call if “fun.” Who wouldn’t want someone living in their closet–the clost you love to eat your secret stash of candy in? There’s so much more in this book than just the “sugar” tie-in though. Just read it, ok? The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen.


2. My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith



I’m a big Alex McC-S fan. His 44 Scotland Street and No. 1 Ladies Detective Agencie series are annual fixturs in my commuting audio book year! This little gem is just marvelous fun! Plus, as I said in my review located here, it would be a perfect movie for Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern!  My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith.


3. Mrs. Engles by Gavin McCrae



History has another side: HERstory. Mrs. Engels, the common law wife of Karl Marx writing partner Frederich Engels, is a hoot! She’s lived the life and lived to tell. This book was the perfect College Reunion for me–I was a Russian Studies Major and this just refused to take it all seriously. Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrae.


4. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simmonson



This gem of a romantic novel may well have started the quirky old man novel genre. Ironically, I didn’t love it at first–in fact I threw it back. But when I got it on audio I went wild for it. It’s now on my all-time favorites list–a very high honor reserved for only the very best of the best–in mho of course! Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali are hope for every romatic’s soul. Who cares if the families don’t understand? Life is too short for caring. Get on with life and love. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simmonson.


5. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday


The late Paul Torday was a genuis at writing send-ups of pompous, gas-bag politicians! This wonderful little novel has a boondoggle of a foreign aid project coupled with all the CYA-Westminster can manage. I loved every word. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday.


Top 5 Wednesday has a group on Goodreads you can join. Then post your blog or YouTube video about the week’s topic. It’s great fun and you find amazing books thru others poster’s recommendations.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Can’t Believe I Read



Top Ten Tuesday has a new home! Thank you to blogger, That Artsy Reader Girl for hosting this great, long running, meme!

This list will involve use of my personal Way-Back machine for the first entry!




I was a sophmore or junior in high school when this gem came out! It was a little shocking back in the day. It mentioned things that weren’t mentioned–even things as tame today as tampons. Still, it was not great literature! Wifey by Judy Blume.







One of my nearly life-long best friends kept telling me I’d LOVE this series. Sometimes you really don’t know your nearly life-long best friends!! After nearly careening into a semi after one passage of forced sex was my morning commute accompanyment, I had a really difficult time finishing this one, but I did. No, I  do not have plans to read any of the other books in the series! Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.




UGH! I get it. This book is very creative. But ugh all the same. I listened to it on audio. I’d never have finished it in print. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Sanders. You can read my full review here if interested.

4, 5 and 6

All sci-fi. Enough said. You can read more about them here.







This book was truly painful. Finishing it was total desparation–it was listen to it or listen to NPR pledge drive week. Ugh Ugh Ugh. Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro









Possibly the worst novel ever commercially published, this rag has every cliche and then some. Ugh Ugh Ugh Ug. I can’t even glorify it with a link to Amazon–that’s how awful it is!






Finally, two books that were so incredibly good that I can’t believe I was so afriad to read them.





This book would never have stayed in my hands in elementary or middle school. No way. Sci-fi? Nope. As an adult, though, I devoured it! It deserves all the praise has ever earned. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. You can read my full review here.








This one came out when I was a little too old. I was an adult with a successful career as a law librarian. I worked out daily and took work home. I didn’t read much at that time due to my job requireing at least 8 hours per day of reading. When I did read it–for Banned Books Week, I was over 50, but it was cathartic. Read why here.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.



Would You Like to Participate?

Do you enjoy themed or curated book lists? Then join in the fun by posting your own Top Ten Tuesday list! Here are the rules. And, you can go here to read all of this week’s great lists!

Review: Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian


When I look up and I’m over 100 pages into a story, I can tell you it is well worth reading! Ironically, I had just received this book in audio format, but decided the story line might be too intense for driving and listening. I found a copy in my library’s e-books and barely put it down until I’d finished it!

“He thought there had once been a time in his life when his days had been fun” (p. 126).


The Story

World War II is coming to an end in that part of Germany that had recently been Poland. An aristocratic family on a grand estate is ready to begin their journey Westward, away from the brutal Soviet Army. In addition to the family is a Scottish POW who has been assigned to help with the farming–he too wants to flee his “allies” the Soviets. He has also fallen in love with the family’s daughter, Anna.

A young Jewish man, Uri, escaped a transport by throwing himself over the side of the train car with the sewage bucket. He’s now had several identities–most as a Nazi soldier.

In a women’s camp, Ceclie, receives yet another notice that she and the others will be marching west–either to work in another facotry or die along the way.

“She reminded herself that all she had left was her attitude. Her mind. They could take everything else from her: In the end, they might even take her life. But the couldn’t take away what she thought. They could’t take away hope” (p.209).

My Thoughts

Chris Bohjalian is a master storyteller. This book could have gone too overly sentimental or it could have gone over the edge into dispair and horror. Instead it neatly walks the tightroped between. The emotions are real, the horror and danger are there. But the story of each character’s journey is so real–the storlinges so tightly woven that I could not put it down.  There is one part I could slightly criticize, but it is too minor to include. At any rate, that one little part made me smile.


My Rating

4 Stars




Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green



I LOVE John Green’s books. His teens are smart, connected to the world beyond high school and its associated cycles of drama, have deep emotions and, best of all, are completely believable. Plus he lives in Indianapolis. Enough said, right?

One of the down sides to listening to books in the car is not always being able to get a quote written down that I want to remember. This book was full of them!


The Story

Aza and Daisy are best friends who love to hang at the Nora Appleby’s. Both worry about paying for college, but Aza worries about certain germs even more. Worries to the point of needing appropriate psychiatric help. Several years ago she lost her Dad and met a boy named Davis Pickett at “SAD Camp”–the name they gave the Brown County camp both attended that specialized in helping kids who were grieving.

“Your now is not your forever.”

Fast forward to now late teen age years when Aza and Daisy re-encounter Davis whose billionaire father has disappeared. “To be alive is to be missing.”  The changes this event and the re-birth of Aza’s relationship with Davis bring to both BFFs makes for a compelling story. From writing fan fiction, creating underground art, dealing with out-of-control anxiety and lingering loss, to falling in love and learning about the truth and consequences of money, this book packs a punch. “Wealth is careless.”

Love is not a tragedy or a failure, but a gift..

….nothing in this world is deserved except for love…

….love is both how you become a persona and why..

….no one ever says ‘good bye’ unless they want to see you again.

I am happy to know that a movie of this book is in the works.

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

My Rating

4 Solid Turtles

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books We Meant To Read In 2017 But Didn’t Get To


Usually, when I get to year’s end without reading something it comes down to two things:

  1. Time to do print reading (actual books or e-books)
  2. The title isn’t available thru my vast library system on some version of audio

With that said, here then are the ten books I was looking forward to but never managed to read or listen to in 2017.



What books do you regret not getting to in 2017? You can see what others have listed by checking out all of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday lists at the Broke and the Bookish.



Review: Gilded Suffragists by Joanna Neuman


How perfect that today, when yet another famous women, this time Oprah Winfrey, is being mooted as a presidential possibility, today I am reviewing a book about the birth of suffrage for American women.

Back in the Gilded Age and the Edwardian Era, women became aware of a failing on the part of most democracies: They denied woman the right to vote. The Votes for Women movements that sprang up on both sides of the Atlantic had two sorts of champions: Ordinary Women and the Grande Dames of Society. In the United States, the suffragist movement, achieved instant press coverage thanks to women with married or maiden names like Vanderbilt, Harriman and Whitney. The press was well used to covering their storied parties and balls, but this was something new. The women had found a purpose in life that wasn’t about conspicuous consumption.

When women get bored, watch out! Things change.

This is also the era in which society women founded New York’s first “gentleman’s club” exclusively for women–the fabled Colony Club. It is also when society women like President Theodore Roosevelt’s serious-minded niece, Eleanor, (soon to become Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt) founded and populated the Junior League. Denied careers, often forced to make a career out of an arrange marriage, these women knew how to work a room, organize a committee, influence and flatter men and make change happen–whether it was slum clearance, immigrant assimilation, public health, the formation of public libraries or any number of other causes these ladies were the backbone of such campaigns. Suffrage was their shining moment.

Not that things went smoothly or that the women all got along! Nope. Just like your average PTA or college sorority, there were factions, fissures and almost fist-fights along the way. But the women got it done. Period.

Joanna Neuman’s well-researched, brilliantly told tale of the true story of women’s suffrage coming to America is a great, short read at only 160 pages of actual text. You will come away seeing the legacy of Founding Mother Abigail Adams’ spirit continuing to imbue American women with a sense of what is right and of how to achieve it. You will come away thinking differently of the supposedly vapid-party-hearty types with big money, too.

Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites Who Fought For Women’s Right to Vote by Joanna Neuman


4.5 Stars







Shoebox Shopping: Getting started on 2018



With a family member in the hospital and both of my kids now adults, we voted to “sort of” skip Christmas. We’re having the usual meals for Christmas and a few small gifts only. That’s plenty. So the little I had already put-back for Christmas more than covered it, leaving some left over. So, adding that little stash, to unspent “spending” money for my trip to the OCC Processing Center in Boone and then having a surprise of forgotten Swag Bucks that were credited too late for 2017, I’ve been shoebox shopping!


Here are a few photos:


My goal of 400 pencil pouches is under way! I’ll be making some, and it seems my Mom will be too–yeah! But others will be bought along the way. (If you want to contribute all of these will go to the church I traveled with or to the Processing Center for “filler” and all will have pens, pencils, etc).  I found a forgot Clearance nook and got the bright orange and green ones for 50 cents each. Not a bad price. The other three are brand new thrift-store finds that I got free! (More later)



To help fill all of those pencil bags I hit the jackpot at Office Depot–a deal I’d read about on a shoebox blog–and got 51 bags of blue pens and 3 red for $0.14 each. They gave me the rulers for a penny each since they did not ring up right. The large box of 72 colored pencils were $3 each and will go in big kid boxes. The double-ended markers were $1 and will also be for big kid boxes. Other clearance items were cute stickers–$1 for 3 packs, girls sandals, buy one at $2.50, get on 1/2 off and Michaels marked their plaid metal water bottles down 60%. For that price I can live with not being able to pack anything in them. They are well made and will last.

I also ordered 20 of these for $0.79 each from For Teachers Only .com. The shipping was fast, the order was filed correctly and they are more than adequate–especially for the price. I might end up ordering more. I also got boxes of misprinted pencils and mismatched pens–all a great value.



I have a local Thrift Shop I love, but it is closing. They have almost given me big bags of stuffed animals ($2 a bag). I “re-inspect” them in daylight to be sure they are “new.” Any that aren’t get re-donated. I’ve picked up brand new water bottles there and for a dime or a quarter have gotten new/like new clothing to re-use the fabric for pencil bags, girls’ skirts and other needs.



I’m not a fan of cheap flip-flops having walked 3 miles in the rain in them in Malawi once and been forced to have very cold feet, blisters between my toes and cuts on my feet that took a while to heal! I get it that there are places where they are a good thing–like orphanages with communal shower rooms. This type I have fewer problems with so when I stumbled upon Clearance at the local Family dollar I grabbed all only to smile more when all seven pairs rang up for less than $10! Several will go to the church I traveled with to be help less-filled boxes from their packing party. A few days later I picked up some girls sandals there, too, for the same sort of price.


Sorry the Photo Was Awful


My clothing stash is about done–I had several t-shirts left from 2017. My goal is that each box have a simple outfit–dress or shirt and skirt for girls and shorts and shirt for boys. As always, I ask myself, “Would I want my kid to wear this?” If the answer is no, I don’t buy it or pack it. Gabe’s (Gabriel Brothers) is a favorite clothing place. Spend a certain amount (I don’t always) and get a coupon for next month. I also get easy-to-pack thin fleece blankets there for $2 as well as inexpensive jewelry for big girls and some filler items. My other clothes haunts are Marshalls/TJ Maxx and Walmart. I don’t like this season’s Target collections for kids much so won’t bother there this time. Kohl’s is another good Clearance source. I don’t do Kohl’s Cash but if you do–don’t let those expire! Use them for nice kids stuff from Clearance.


Art supplies and toys are improving in this year’s box–the WOW thing I wrote about last week. I found these HUGE boxes of 96 crayons at Target for $3.48 each–one for a boy, one for a girl. The other items are from Target’s dollar bins. Finally! Some cool boy pencils! Some of my toys, ordered with SwagBucks that credited to my account too late for 2017, have started arriving (more later). I’ve also received the 3 clearance soccer balls I ordered. I like to send different ones. I did the bulk thing one year and thought “What if these went to the same village? They’d fight over whose is whose!” [Yes, it is very possible they’d go to the same village. Here’s how: My boxes arrive at the collection point church, are immediately boxed in cartons. Those cartons are opened at the processing center and they are inspected and put into a new carton and shipped. They really could all go to the same place!]



Oh, and I ordered my actual shoeboxes! I got 40 plastic shoeboxes in a good Walmart deal for $32 (that also earned me Swagbucks for shoebox shopping later), but doubt I can send that many this year, so I have a head start on 2019.

What’s left?

These will be paid for mostly with my small summer check for indexing. It’s a token amount but it does a lot in shoebox terms.

A lot, actually! But happily, there’s almost a year in which to accomplish or find it all!

Dollar Tree:

Soccer Ball Pumps (extra needles from Wal-mart)

Girls Sewing Kits (love these–in a nice vinyl bag)

Pencil Bags

Pretty Pencils for girls

Coloring Books

Bible Story Books

Board Books

Fun little filler items-hair bands, little toys, notepads, whatever

Toothbrushes, hair brushes, combs

Flexible cover composition books



Water bottles or nice cups with lids (I tend to find these at Marshalls/TJ Maxx clearance)

A few nice big girls’ purses

Pencil bags

Cotton sanitary napkins (Etsy–if I don’t make some)

Scientific calculators–for big kid boxes

Geometry sets–for big kid boxes

Soap/Soap Containers (Kroger with my $2 pharmacy coupon each month)



Back-to-school sales on school supplies

Clearance on t-shirts, shorts, summer dresses

Bandanas for girl boxes

Other filler items


To Make:

Girls skirts as necessary

Pencil bags

Sanitary napkins

Drawstring bags for little stuff