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AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

UPDATE! Lisa Shearin SPI FILES SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Lisa Shearin's SPI FILES SERIES by adding a review of The Ghoul Vendetta, the fourth novel.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Jeaniene Frost: BROKEN DESTINY TRILOGY

Author:  Jeaniene Frost
Series:  BROKEN DESTINY TRILOGY 
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3-4; Humor—1   
Publisher and Titles:  Harlequin
          The Beautiful Ashes (8/2014)
          The Sweetest Burn (6/2017)
          The Brightest Embers (11/2017) (FINAL)

This ongoing review post was revised and updated on 8/24/2017 to include a review of the second novel, The Sweetest Burn. The post begins with an overview of the world-building followed by my reviews of the first and second novels. Following those reviews is the publisher's blurb for the final novel. I will not be reviewing that novel for reasons that are explained later in this post.

                         WORLD-BUILDING                         
     This world has no vampires or werewolves (at least not in the first novel), but it does have demons—lots of demons—who reside in a realm that parallels and mirrors the human realm on Earth. "Realms start out as duplicate reflections of our world, with everything we build here getting mirrored there...As reflections...They're not tangible yet. That only happens when demons get powerful enough to absorb an area. When they do, the place, along with everyone in it, gets sucked into a new realm in the demon world. So in effect, they swallow it. Then what's left in our world is an empty shell."

     Within the demon realm, there is a hierarchy of power and influence. At the top are the most powerful demons, each of whom has his or her own realm. Because demons can't tolerate being in the human realm for very long, they use willing humans, called minions, to do their dirty work on Earth, marking each one with their unique signatures. Although marked minions, unlike demons, can be killed, they are much stronger than humans. Demons use their minions to import humans into their realms for forced labor and sex.


     Ivy Jenkins, the series heroine is a rare human who can see the demon realm as "a dark, hazy double image" that appears over actual locations in the human realm. She can also see through all magical glamours. As Ivy puts it: "I saw things no one else did." Both of these abilities, along with several others, come from her supernatural genetic heritage. Unfortunately, Ivy has been told all her life that those abilities are symptoms of mental illness, and she has been medicated ever since she was a child.


     Adrian, Ivy's soul mate, is an Eric Northman clone (but superhuman, not vampire): tall, blond, handsome, muscular ("shoulders that could fill a door frame"), arrogant, and stubborn. Both Adrian and Ivy have magically super speed, and strength, along with a few handy magical fighting skills—all of which they have inherited from their separate ancestors.


     To balance out the bad demons, this world has the Archons (aka angels), who are supposed to be the good guys, but who seem to have their own agenda. Zacchaeus (aka Zach) is the Archon who serves as Adrian and Ivy's contact. His job is to give them orders, provide various types of assistance (if and when he decides it's appropriate), and rescue them when they are in grave demon danger.


                         NOVEL 1:  The Beautiful Ashes                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     Sometimes, falling in love really is the end of the world. Ivy has always seen things that she cannot explain. Strange things. Otherworldly things. But when her sister goes missing, Ivy discovers the truth is far worse. Her hallucinations are real, and her sister is imprisoned in a realm beyond Ivy's reach. The one person who can help her is the dangerously attractive rebel who's bound by an ancient legacy to betray her.

     The fate Adrian has fought to escape is herebut he never expected the burning need he feels for Ivy. With destiny on one side and desire on the other, Adrian must help Ivy search for the powerful relic that can save her sister. Yet he knows what Ivy doesn't: the truth about her own destiny, and a war that could destroy the world. Sooner or later, it will be Ivy on one side, Adrian on the other, and nothing but ashes in between.
   
MY REVIEW: 
    As the story begins, Ivy's sister, Jasmine, has disappeared and Ivy is searching for her. Just as she tracks Jasmine to her last known location, two men try to abduct her. As it turns out, one is a demon minion and one is Adrian. Adrian (of course) wins the contest and takes Ivy to meet Zach. Adrian and Zach explain that Ivy's "mental illness" is really a magical ability to see into the demon realm. They also inform Ivy that Jasmine is being held in the demon realm and that the only way to kill the demon kidnappers and rescue Jasmine is with an ancient weapon that only Ivy can find and wield. As Adrian explains, "To take down demons you need one of three weapons, and the second and third ones will probably kill you...Problem is, the first weapon is lost somewhere in one of the demon realms." Since Adrian can find and enter the portals to the demon realms (and Ivy can't), he must accompany her so that he can physically wrap himself around her and carry her through one portal after another until she can locate and retrieve the weapon. Once they find it, Ivy will have to use it to kill the demons and rescue Jasmine. 

     As the rest of the story plays out, Adrian and Ivy have a few lust-filled physical encounters, but mostly just long passionate kisses, always immediately followed by Adrian stalking wordlessly away with a huge scowl on his face—never explaining his behavior to Ivy. As it turns out, Ivy and Adrian's fates are spelled out in a dreadful prophecy that forces Adrian to try (unsuccessfully) to stay away from Ivy. But that prophecy doesn't keep them from falling head over heels for one another at first sight. (Big sigh...Yes, we have yet another insta-lust couple.) Also predictable (but, utterly unbelievable) is this: Ivy, who is 20 years old, constantly mentions that she has had a number of previous boyfriends, but just as she and Adrian are about to consummate their sexual relationship, she reveals that she is (WAIT FOR IT!)...a virgin! Jeaniene Frost, You've got to be kidding!


     Neither Adrian nor Zach bother to tell Ivy why Adrian keeps trying to stay away from Ivy, so she wallows through a number of angst-filled interior monologues during which she replays her unhappy childhood and wonders why Adrian seems to love and hate her—at the same time: "Why did he keep pulling away at the last minute? Was it the secret he thought was too terrible to reveal? He wasn't a demon or a minion, and he worked with an angel, so how bad could it be?" Adrian doesn't give Ivy the facts about the prophecy and their ancestry until about halfway through the book. He finishes his explanation with these words: "You're the light I can never have...and I'm the darkness you'll never succumb to." Yet, even after Ivy thinks she has all the facts, she really doesn't. In a subsequent scene, Zach and Adrian have a strange reaction to something that Ivy says, and Ivy muses, "Something significant had just happened, and as usual, I was the only one who didn't know what it was. Also per usual, none of them were going to tell me about it."

     I'm sorry to report that Ivy and Adrian are pale imitations of Cat and Bones, Frost's terrific lead characters from her NIGHT HUNTRESS SERIES. In that series, Cat is a fully developed, strong, independent woman, and Bones is her equal-status partner. But poor Ivy gets treated like a child. Both Adrian and Zach continually keep vital information from her. They tell her only what they think she needs to know to carry out her next mission, and they never explain the whole situation to her until nearly the end of the book. At one point, Ivy accidentally discovers that demons can't enter the human realm during daylight hours. In response, Adrian says, "Didn't I tell you that?" and Ivy responds, "No, you didn't...along with a lot of other things..." Ivy sums up the situation with Adrian like this: "He was danger wrapped in secrets tied with a bow of bad intentions, and it was totally unfair that no one had made me feel this way before."


    Frost's treatment of Ivy is probably the most disappointing part of the series for me. She did such a great job creating Cat so when she fails to give us an equally strong, independent heroine, the reader can't help but feel let down. 


     Although the Jasmine/demon conflict is resolved, the book ends in a cliff hanger. Remember, there are three ancient weapons, so I assume that the next two novels will deal with situations in which Ivy must find and wield each one in order to save the world as we know it. She also has to figure out what to do about her convoluted relationship with Adrian.


     I was prepared to love this series based on the NIGHT HUNTRESS and NIGHT PRINCE novels, but (as I said previously), I was very disappointed by the manner in which Frost portrays Ivy. In addition to Ivy's poor treatment by her hero, the plot was predictable, and the primary villain, Demetrius, was a one-note bad guy with absolutely no depth whatsoever. I'll read the next novel in the hope that Frost will do a better job with her heroine and her plot, but if that doesn't pan out, I'll probably stop reading the series. 


     Click HERE to go to this novel's Amazon.com page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.


                    NOVEL 2: The Sweetest Burn                   
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     The second novel in Jeaniene Frost's BROKEN DESTINY SERIES finds Ivy and Adrian rekindling their alliance—and passion—as the struggle for the fate of the world begins.

     Conquering a supernatural realm turned out to be easier than getting over a broken heart. But her initial victory has made Ivy a target for revenge, forcing her to reunite with the dangerous—and dangerously sexy—Adrian. Ivy isn't sure which will be harder: finding the hallowed weapon that will repair the crumbling walls between the demon and human realms, or resisting Adrian, who's decided that come hell or high water, he will make Ivy his.


     At first, Adrian tried to resist his feelings for Ivy. Now, determined to break the curse that dooms their love, he's vowed to save her and to have her. If only he can persuade her to forgive his past sins. But defying destiny—and surrendering to the smoldering desire between them—will bring consequences and sacrifices they never imagined.

MY REVIEW:
     As I predicted, this novel continues the overall pattern of the first one. In The Beautiful Ashes, as soon as Ivy learned that there were three ancient religious artifacts that can control and/or kill demons and save the world, I knew that Frost had set up the simple structure for this trilogy: Ivy and Adrian—soul mates representing two ancient warring factions—would search for one of the weapons in each novel while they dealt with their plethora of personal relationship problems along the way.

Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments,
wielding his staff to part the waters of the Red Sea.
     The plot of The Sweetest Burn is simple: Ivy has to locate the second weapon: the staff of Moses. But here's the problem (same as in book one): No one has any idea where the staff is. Zach and Adrian decide that Adrian and Ivy (along with Costa, Jasmine, and Brutus the gargoyle) will take a cross-country road trip so that Ivy can use her hallowed-artifact radar to find the staff. Unfortunately, cracks are forming between the Earthly realm and the demon realms, so time is of the essence.

     You can predict what happens next. As the group travels West, demons appear and attack them (including one they never expected). Each time, Ivy and Adrian beat them off, with Ivy gaining new powers from the slingshot that is tattooed on her arm. In the romance department, there are many, many angst-filled interior monologues as Ivy ponders Adrian's trustworthiness and continues to refuse to give him her virginity. Adrian has definitely earned Ivy's distrust, and if she's smart (which she isn't), she will continue to question his every word and action. Costa and Jasmine don't trust him either because they know more about Adrian's past life in the demon realm than Ivy does. 

     Meanwhile, Zach (the angel) gets more and more opaque and ambiguous as he holds back on both assistance and information while constantly pushing Ivy to find the staff and wield it against the demons, no matter what horrific effects that will certainly have on her mind and body


     By the end, Ivy and Adrian's relationship is on the verge of more betrayal, so I'm sure that the final book will be just like the first two, particularly since Ivy has one more hallowed weapon to find and Adrian just keeps on being Adrian. 


     Ivy is such a disappointment as a heroine, mostly because Frost allows the men in her life to have all of the information and to make most of the decisions. Ivy just gets dragged along because they need her. Zach needs her Davidian powers, and Adrian wants her body (although he says that he loves herwhatever that means to a former demon prince). At this point, I don't care enough about Adrian's daddy issues and the status of Ivy's virginity to explore any more of their adventures, so I do not plan to read or review the final book.


     Click HERE to go to this novel's Amazon.com page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.


                    NOVEL 3: The Brightest Embers                    

MY COMMENTS:
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH CONTAINS A SPOILER FOR THIS NOVEL. The final artifact is the spearhead of Longinus (aka the Holy Lance). Zach explains that, "Longinus was the Roman soldier who thrust his spear through the side of Jesus of Nazareth as he hung on the cross." The shaft is long gone, but the spearhead is somewhere in the world. 

     Ivy's final task is to find it and then create a set of portals that will allow all human slaves in the demon realms to escape back to Earth. But at the end of book two, Adrian is already planning to betray her—for her own good, of course, because he always knows what's best for her—and that's exactly why I really hate the way Frost has characterized Ivy, the clueless world saver, and Adrian, her over-the-top über-alpha hero who ALWAYS takes charge of every situation (and Ivy lets him, every time). I will not be reading or reviewing The Brightest Embers, but I have included its back-cover blurb below.


PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 

     You can run from your destiny, but you can't hide. Ivy thought that she and Adrian had conquered their fates. Yet with thousands of innocents still trapped in the demon realms, she's determined to locate the final hallowed weapon and harness its unparalleled power to free them. But the last relic nearly put Ivy in the grave—there's probably no coming back from this one.

     Adrian's dark lineage has made him the most powerful of his kind, yet even his incredible abilities might not be enough now. Instead, the treacherous fate he has fought so hard to escape might be the only way he can save Ivy. Their scintillating bond has been tested before, but never with so much on the line. Now fate will come head-to-head against true love, and nothing they've endured can prepare Ivy and Adrian for the unthinkable choices they'll face.


     Click HERE to go to this novel's Amazon.com page where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art after its publication date (11/28/2017).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Charlaine Harris's "Midnight, Texas" makes it to prime-time TV.


Click HERE to view the official trailer for Charlaine Harris's Midnight, Texas premier on NBC. Mark your calendar for Tuesday, July 25th at 10:00 P.M. (9:00 on the west coast).


Click HERE to read my reviews of the three novels in the MIDNIGHT TEXAS TRILOGY.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

NOVEL: George Saunders: "Lincoln in the Bardo"

Author: George Saunders
Series: Lincoln in the Bardo
Plot Type:  Historical Fantasy
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality3; Humor—3   
Publisher and Titles:  Random House (2/14/2017)

                    PUBLISHER'S BLURB                     
     In his long-awaited first novel, American literary 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 voice, Lincoln in the Bardo is an experience unlike an otherfor 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 returns, alone, to the crypt several times 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 supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. 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.


     Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation.. formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction's ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voicesliving and dead, historical and inventedto ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end? 


                    AN IMMERSIVE VIDEO EXPERIENCE                    
This illustration (by Renaud Vigourt) from
The Atlantic's review of the novel (March 2017)
will give you a sense of the surrealism of the story.
That's Willie in the lower right corner facing off
against the graveyard spirits who view him
as 
an object of great fascination and as
a new listener to their sad, personal stories
.
    Click HERE to view a fascinating immersive narrative video by Graham Sack that will give you a feel for the cacophonous chorus of voices of both the living (President Lincoln and selected citizens) and the dead (the spirits who reside in the graveyard). This video will be particularly valuable if you have trouble at first with Saunders's montage or collage form of story-telling because Sack gets the voices exactly right. Be sure to drag your mouse completely around the screen. (The circular dial at lower right serves as a guide that indicates your current perspective.) As you move your mouse, you will be able to get a 360-degree view of the scene. It's very dark (because, of course, there was no electricity back then), but the spirits stand out clearly.

                    AN EXCERPT                    
     Click HERE to go to this novel's Amazon.com page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio. The print excerpt begins with chapter 1 and is more substantial than the audio excerpt, which includes only chapter 2. 

                    MY REVIEW                      

VOICES AND FORM: 
     I'll begin with a quotation is from Jason Sheehan's NPR review of the novel"Lincoln in The Bardo is not an easy book, but it gets easier with the reading. At the start, it jags, loops, interrupts itself a thousand times. Somehow, the whole thing together feels staged like a terrible student play that just happened to be written by an absolute genius working at the ragged edge of his talent. But there are moments that are almost transcendentally beautiful, that will come back to you on the edge of sleep. And it is told in beautifully realized voices, rolling out with precision or with stream-of-consciousness drawl, in the form of dialog attributed in a playwright's style or historical abstracts cited with academic formality, pulled from sources invented or real, to speak about the party, about Lincoln, about grief or the war." 

     The novel, which Saunders calls a play, is written as a series of monologues (some quite brief, others longer) with attributions afterword. Saunders employs several types of voices. For commentaries from real people on real events, he quotes from real and invented primary sources, turning the quotations into a running commentary. Interestingly, these eyewitness descriptions of people and events frequently contradict each other. For example, Lincoln's eyes are described as being "dark grey," "luminous gray," "gray-brown," "bluish-brown," "blueish-gray," "blue," and "greyish-blue." This is a perfect example of why law enforcement agencies are generally skeptical about the validity of eye-witness testimony.


     Most of the primary-sourced quotations are real, but some are invented. They describe Lincoln and his family as if the speakers were standing together in a group, each giving his or her opinion. Depending on the chapter, these sources describe the fancy dinner, the family's grief at Willie's death, public opinion about the war, and other general topics. Here  are some of their descriptions of Lincoln himself: 

"The first time I saw Mr. Lincoln I thought him the homeliest man I had ever seen." (In "My Day and Generation" by Clark E. Carr.)
"He was never handsome, indeed, but he grew more and more cadaverous and ungainly month by month." (In "Lincoln's Washington: Recollections of a Journalist Who Knew Everybody," by W. A. Croffut.)
"After you have been five minutes in his company you cease to think that he is either homely or awkward." (In the Utica "Herald.")
"The good humor, generosity and intellect beaming from it, makes the eye love to linger there until you almost fancy him good-looking." (In "Way-Side Glimpses, North and South," by Lillian Foster)
     And then there are the invented voiceswhose names are written all in lower case. These are the voices of the inhabitants of the Oak Hills Cemetery. These ghosts tell their stories and are so familiar with one another that they complete each other's sentences. They provide a worm's eye view of death and the beyond.
"Now, together, we became aware of something." (hans vollman)
"In his left trouser pocket." (roger bevins iii)
"A lock." (hans vollman)
"The lock. From the white stone home." (roger bevins iii)
"Heavy and cold. Key still in it." (hans vollman)
"He had forgotten to rehang it." (roger bevins iii)
Here is an excerpt from an interview with Time magazine in which Saunders explains his methodology:
Time's Question: You've been called a "slipstream" writer, incorporating sci-fi or fantastic elements into otherwise realist fiction. Has reality caught up with this kind of wacky realism?
Saunders's Answer: I use those elements as a way of honing in on the emotional truth of a situation. When I look at what my life has actually been, to just represent what literally happened is to shortchange the emotional range that I've experienced. In other words, just a straightforward "realist" representation of life seems to leave a lot of stuff on the table in terms of the real confusions and emotional complexities and beauties and terrors that are experienced even in a relatively bourgeois life like mine. I...[try] to get at what life feels like, but knowing that, to do that, we might have to swing a little wildly. Because life itself is so beautiful and insane.
     Here's my advice: Just keep reading. If you relax and let the voices speak to you, their words will begin to coalesce into a humorous, heartbreaking, fantastical experience that you will remember long after you have turned the final page. 

THE CONTEXT: 

     In February 1862, the country is beginning to realize what this war will cost them, and they are flooding the President with letters of hate, disgust, and heartbreak as they lose their family members―husbands, fathers, sons, brothers―on the battlefield. Lincoln despairs as he contemplates his next move. Then, his beloved son Willie contracts typhoid fever, a killer disease that causes tremendous suffering in its victims. Lincoln accepts the doctor's promise Willie is doing better and will recover, so he and his wife go ahead with the extravagant state dinner already planned for the evening. But as dawn nears, Willie breathes his last breath, and his parents are overcome with grief. 

THE BARDO: 

     As his family mourns, Willie finds himself in a "stone home" (a crypt) in Oak Hills Cemetery in Georgetown surrounded by the ghosts/spirits/shades of those buried in that cemetery over the past decades. This ghostly gathering is based loosely on the Tibetan Buddhist concept of the bardo: a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person's conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death. Here, Saunders uses bardo to mean a transitional period during which the spirit of a dead person continues to hold onto life in the "previous place," while resisting the regular prodding of mysterious spirits to move on to the acceptance of death.

     Each ghost has his or her own "sick-box" (coffin) and "stone home" (interment site), but at night, most of them roam the graveyard telling each other their life–death stories from rote memory. All are unable to move on, mostly because they are tied to their previous lives for various reasons and do not accept the fact that they are deceased. Many of their stories contain details about what they will do when they recover and return to the "previous place." None of them ever use the word "death." 


     Some of the humor comes when one ghost tries to hurry another along by reciting that person's story at a faster pace or by making eye-rolling comments to other bystanders about the content or the story teller. At one point, a spirit starts her story with the words, "I will be brief" only to hear another spirit scoff, "I doubt it." The sad stories of guilt, infidelity, disappointment, and loss are recited in a manner reminiscent of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology. (Click HERE for a list of links to free on-line copies of Spoon River in a variety of formats.) While Masters' Spoon River is poetry and Saunders's Bardo is a novel, both are truly plays (and Saunders calls this work just that). 


     Periodically, an event called a "matterlightblooming" occurs, an explosive phenomenon in which some spirits succumb to the temptation to leave the graveyard and enter the afterlife, disappearing with an indescribably loud flash and crack. 


     The cemetery has graves on both sides of an iron fence. Inside are the upright, white citizens, while outside are the bodies of slaves and unacceptable white people. In several raw scenes, several of the graveyard inhabitants from both sides of the fence savagely vent their feelings about racism, slavery, and various and sundry ways of sinning.


THE STORY: 

     When Willie awakens in the vault, he immediately finds three friendly spirits who appoint themselves as his mentors and guides: 
The Reverend Everly Thomas, a kindly but verbose man who knows much more about what happens in the afterlife than anyone realizes.
Hans Vollman, a printer, whose spirit manifests as naked in reference to the fact that on the very night he died, he was planning to fulfill his long-awaited consummation of his marriage to a much-younger woman.
Roger Bevins III, a young man whose spirit manifests with many eyes, noses, and hands, probably in reference to the multitude of sensory experiences he missed because he mostly denied his predilection for men, and, thus, denied himself all sexual relationships (except for one, which ultimately led to his suicide).
Illustration of Lincoln in the
Oak Hills Cemetery by Adi Embers
from Slate's review of the novel.
 
    They all encourage Willie to move along to the afterlife because life in the bardo is very dangerous for children. (This demonic aspect of Saunders's story is, for me, its single weak point.) 

"Strange here, he said.
Not strange, said Mr. Bevins. Not really.
One gets used to it, said the Reverend.
If one belongs here, said Mr. Bevins.
Which you don't, said the Reverend."

     But then, they witness something marvelous when Willie's father comes to the graveyard, unlocks the door of Willie's tomb, pulls out his "sick-box," and gathers Willie into his arms. Every spirit in the graveyard is mesmerized, crowding around the open door in amazement. They are used to people occasionally making brief, perfunctory visits to graves, but this living loved one actually cradles the corpse of his deceased son in his arms and talks to him with great love as if he were still alive. Hans Vollman says, “It would be difficult to overstate the vivifying effect this visitation had on our community….People were happy, that was what it was; they had recovered that notion.” “It was cheering. It gave us hope,” says Reverend Thomas. And Roger Bevins adds, “We were perhaps not so unlovable as we had come to believe.”

     After a lengthy visit, Lincoln leaves but promises to return, and this causes Willie to linger past the danger point, thus causing the other spirits to unite―for the first time ever―to save Willie from a terrible demonic fate. They follow Lincoln and enter his body, concentrating on trying to coerce him into returning immediately so that Willie will accept his fate and move on to the afterlife.

     As the spirits inhabit Lincoln's body, they pick up on his thoughts, most of which are consumed with grief and death―over his son and over the thousands of dead soldiers, with many more deaths to come. The two events
the child's death and the soldiers' deaths become, for Lincoln, inexorably linked. In the end, Willie's death foreshadows all of the war deaths on both sides
 and the grief that will decimate so many families. The graveyard ghosts represent a cross section of societythe pious and the perverted, the drunkards and the teetotalers, the virgins and the prostitutes, the slaves and the slavers, the mindful and the ignoranta microcosm of the living world, both in 1862 and in the present day.

     Saunders's text emphasizes Lincoln's abundance of empathy for both his supporters and his enemies―the southerners who wished for his failure and the northerners who, in their grief, wanted him banished from office (or even dead). 

     A major point of the novel is the letting go. Willie and the graveyard ghosts need to release their grip on the "previous place" and go on to whatever comes next. The President needs to let go of his grief over Willie's death and his fruitless agonizing over the war deaths, both of which have stalled his ability to plan future strategies. He has to stop being the grieving father of a dead boy and take back his role as father to a divided nation on the verge of collapse.


     Please don't let the inventive form of this novel/play discourage you from reading it from beginning to end. Enjoy the commentary, both the real and the invented. Watch the contradictions emerge. Chuckle at the dark humor. Cringe at the malice and brutality. Join Lincoln in grieving for young Willie. Admire his great humanity under such extreme personal and national pressures. And finally, appreciate Saunders's magnificent creation.


                    THE AUTHOR                    
     George Saunders is the author of eight books, including the story collections Pastoralia and Tenth of December, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He has received fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2006 he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. In 2013 he was awarded the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and was included in Time's list of the one hundred most influential people in the world. He teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University.

     Click HERE to view a video entitled "George Saunders Explains How to Tell a Good Story." Click HERE and then click on the white arrow in the blue box (top left) to listen to an NPR interview with Saunders and read a print summary of that interview.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

UPDATE! Jeaniene Frost: NIGHT PRINCE SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Jeaniene Frost's NIGHT PRINCE SERIES by adding a review of Into the Fire, the fourth (and FINAL) novel.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.