Civil War Fangirl

The thoughts of a (slighty eccentric & crazy) Canadian who happens to be obsessed with Abraham Lincoln, General William Tecumseh Sherman & the Civil War

Archive for the tag “Books”

My Absolute Favourite Book Of 2016 Is…

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…”A Friend Of Mr. Lincoln” by Stephen Harrigan (you can find him on Twitter @stephenharrigan) . I did write about this book in an earlier post, which you can find here. I give a brief synopsis of the book in that post.

As 2016 comes to a close, I can say not only is this my favourite book that I read this year but it has become one of my favourite books ever. The writing is brilliant. The characters, both real (Lincoln and Speed) and fictional (Cage Weatherby, through whom the story is told), are well-developed, and Harrigan weaves a world in which I was pulled right into. The writing is such that the book played out in my head like a movie. I could see Lincoln and his friends playing handball as they discussed poetry. I felt like I was there at the various social events that play out in the novel. I felt the emotions the characters felt – there were moments I laughed, moments I felt frustrated and yes, moments where I was moved to tears. There was characters I absolutely loved and characters I detested but that I still enjoyed having as part of the story. In reading this book, I got absolutely lost in the world that was mid-19th century Springfield, Illinois.

I absolutely loved Mr. Harrigan’s portrayal of Lincoln. He presents such a humanizing portrayal of Lincoln. If you’re like me, you will come away feeling that you’ve come to know him just a little bit better.

The other thing that made me love this book so much is the author’s portrayal of depression – it is raw, it is relatable and it is real. Lincoln is not the only character to suffer from depression – it is quite clear that some of the other characters do too. I remember one scene in particular making me cry because I knew how the character was feeling. The way in which he described how he was feeling was exactly how I feel when I’ve been in my most depressed states.

But the main reason I recommend this book? I absolutely loved Mr. Harrigan’s portrayal of Lincoln. It is a humanizing, at times raw, portrayal of him. I saw Lincoln’s good side but I saw his bad side too. It doesn’t get much more human than that. I came away feeling that, even though this is historical fiction, I somehow have come to know Lincoln better, especially how he was in his younger days. The author gives a voice to Lincoln as well as the other characters that is relatable. It has given me a deeper respect for a man that I have loved and respected nearly all of my life. It is a book that has stayed with me and that I know I will read again. That’s why it is my favourite book of 2016.

I also want to take this time to wish everyone of my readers a very Happy New Year and all the best in 2017! Y’all are awesome and I can’t thank you enough for reading.

Love,

Mary 🙂

Another of my favourite books from 2016 is…

…”Lincoln’s Melancholy” by Joshua Wolf Shenk.

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Y’all, I’ll be honest – I’m going to be lazy with this one and just point you over to here. That is my review I wrote of this book back in March.

But I do have some stuff to add (I’m a chatterbox just like my man Cump was…)

It still remains one of my favourite books about Lincoln. It is one I most certainly will read again. In the months since I’ve read it, I’ve recommended it to numerous people. These are not just people who love Lincoln. In fact, quite a few of them do not know much about him. The reason I recommended it though? Because we were discussing depression and I told them how much this book helped me to understand my own depression. It was the first book that really spoke to me, and as I say in my earlier review, made me feel like “hey, you’re not alone”. I tell them how inspirational the book is and that in knowing that Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression (and at a time when it was not well understood) and he managed to do all the incredible things he did. I think a few of them have ended up reading it.

In reading more about Lincoln since finishing “Lincoln’s Melancholy”, I have come to truly realize how much his depression did challenge him and fuel him as a person. When I read about him, I’m always keeping this in mind and it truly has made me see him in a different light. It’s made reading Donald’s bio of “Lincoln” that much more interesting because I read between the lines, as one would say, and will think “Hmm, that could be why he’s being that way”.

The one thing I see the most as stemming from his depression is his empathy. Lincoln had an incredible amount of empathy and I think this is one of the many things about his personality that made him so ahead of his time. The best example I can think of involves General Sherman (I know. Y’all are so not surprised by that…) and just how empathetic Lincoln was to him when Sherman had his breakdown in 1862. O’Connell states in “Fierce Patriot” (side note: if y’all haven’t read that one, you need to. I read it in 2015 hence why it’s not being mentioned as a fav of mine from 2016), his biography about General Sherman, that:

Lincoln had suffered from deep bouts of depression since early manhood (he called it the “hypo”) and it’s likely he [Lincoln] recognized a similar condition lurking behind Sherman’s excessive pessimism. He also must have known from his own experience that these bleak episodes eventually passed and so remained open to giving his fellow sufferer additional responsibility once he [Sherman] recovered.

He goes on to write that “mental illness of any sort carried a tremendous stigma in nineteenth century America, but not with Lincoln when it came to a general he instinctively liked and believed in”

Of course I have to include a photo of my two favourite men 🙂

I could go on with other examples of Lincoln’s empathy but this is one that always comes to mind. And hey, any chance to mention my two favourite men in a blog post is always awesome. #goals #historycrush #hotties

“Lincoln’s Melancholy” did make me feel like I came to know Lincoln better. It very much is a book worth reading, especially if you love Abraham Lincoln and want to know more about him. Depression was very much a part of who he was just as was his sense of humour and his empathy, both of which, I believe, stem from him having depression. I know for myself, my sense of humour has been a sort of defence mechanism against depression since I was very young.

I’ll wrap up my post there. What are y’all reading right now? Better yet, what was your favourite book of 2016? I’ll be posting tomorrow what my favourite book of 2016 was.

Until that time, have a happy Friday, y’all!!

Much love,

Mary 🙂

Favourite Books of 2016: “Soul Of A Crow” by Abbie Williams

I think I’ve mentioned on here that I am a slow reader. I also tend to have five or six books on the go at once (…because ADD. Oh, and I like variety). 2016 was not the year of reading MANY books for me. Honestly, it’s about quality and NOT quantity for me when it comes to books.

I was going to do one gigantic post about my top five books but I thought, why not do individual posts? It seems like a good way to count down to 2017. So, over the next few days, I’ll be posting about my favourite books of 2016.

So, shall we get started? Oh, and they’re all going to be Civil War related books. Would y’all expect anything less from the Civil War fangirl? I think not.

So, here go…

“Soul Of A Crow” by Abbie Williams

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This book cover is gorgeous. One of my favourites.

This is the review I wrote for this book on Good Reads. I’ve added in a few things here and there to the original review.
The story is absolutely beautiful – yes, there are heart breaking moments but at the core of it all is love. I was pulled all the way through by Abbie’s beautiful style of writing. The characters are absolutely unforgettable.

These are two of the main reasons why I love the Dove series by Abbie Williams so very much. Picking up where “Heart of a Dove” (Book 1 of the series) leaves off, “Soul Of A Crow” will draw you in immediately into the world of Lorie Blake and her travelling companions – brothers Boyd & Malcolm Carter, and Sawyer Davis. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention Sawyer’s beautiful horse, Whistler. They are making their way their to begin a new life in Minnesota after the Civil War. But along the way the past will come back to haunt them and they will face new challenges.

I’d all but given up on romance when I decided to give “Heart Of A Dove”a try – I wrote about it here and here . I was pulled in right from the start. Just like the first book, “Soul Of A Crow” the romance that is real – there is anguish, torment, heartbreaking decisions but of course, above all else, there is love. The bonds of love formed between the characters are incredible and this is another reason I love this series so much.

Abbie is a beautiful writer. She writes in such a way that I become immersed in the world she has created. I can hear the mosquitoes as the Lorie, Sawyer, Malcolm and Boyd sit by a fire, I can see the fireflies, feel the prairie grass beneath my feet. I can hear the horses and picture everything so clearly in my mind. I also feel what the characters feel – I laugh when they laugh, cry when they cry and feel the torment they go through when heart breaking decisions are made. I feel the happiness they feel of being with the ones they love.

The characters have become so familiar to me. I feel I have come to know them so well. When I wasn’t reading the book, I found myself thinking about them. I adore Lorie. She’s a beautiful, strong female character that has become one of my literary heroines. Malcolm is like a younger brother – so sweet and adorable yet mischievous and always knows how to make people laugh. Sawyer is such a beautiful soul. Oh, and then there is Boyd (with what I imagine is a sexy Tennessee accent and eyes that I could get lost in). I’ll admit I am crushing on him hard. There are also new characters introduced in this book and they are just as likeable as the characters I have mentioned.

Just like the “Heart Of A Dove”, the romance is real and not sappy. This is how romance should be. The deep love between the characters is incredible. And I love when romance starts to blossom between characters because Abbie knows how to write this so very well – the anticipation and buildup is so gripping and real. I also relate to the friendships that develop between the characters.

As a Civil War buff, I also enjoyed the story. Abbie captures the feelings of post-war America – the wounds that are still there and the conflict and prejudices the arise. There is also the personal struggle of the characters that fought in the war and it’s heart wrenching to hear some of their thoughts. But this is yet another thing that makes the story so very real and one of the best I have read in a long time.

I laughed, cried and have grown to love this series and the characters Abbie has created so very much. She writes with so much heart and soul it’s impossible not to get drawn into the world she has created. If you’ve read “Heart Of A Dove” and enjoyed it, “Soul Of A Crow” will not disappoint you. If you haven’t read the series yet, be sure to start with “Heart Of Dove”. If you love historical fiction, you will not be disappointed. Even after finishing the book, the characters are popping into my mind. I am left eagerly awaiting to read Book 3, which is titled “Grace Of  A Hawk”. It is due out in November 2017 (ahhh!! That seems so far away!!)

You can follow Abbie on Twitter or check her website. Besides being a talented writer, she’s a wonderful and sweet person.

Okay, y’all that’s all for now! Until next time (which will be tomorrow when I post about another book), hope y’all are doing awesome!

Mary

 

Cump’s Memoirs…

For those who don’t know, “Cump” is the nickname of General William Tecumseh Sherman. I make no secret of the fact, that next to Lincoln, I dearly love the man and find him an incredibly fascinating individual. He’s pretty damn handsome too. I mean, come on…

oh, hai, Cump…you handsome devil…

Okay, enough with the swooning and batting of eyelashes…

Awhile ago, I started reading Sherman’s Memoirs. Being as I have 5 books on the go AND I’m a slow reader, I’m not too far into it. Plus, the book is freaking gigantic. Cump had a lot to say and Robert L O’Connell is absolutely correct in his book”Fierce Patriot” (hands down, one of the best bios I’ve ever read) when he refers to Sherm as a chatterbox and states “if there was a contest for who spoke the most words in a lifetime, Sherman would have been a finalist…”. Slay that dragon, Cump…

oh, hey…look at that…two of my favourite men.

But the memoirs are full of good chatter. Yes, he has much to say but it’s interesting as hell. I’m enjoying it immensely. When I read it, I seem to get lost in a world where Cump is sitting with me, telling me the whole story. It’s fascinating to read. He also lets his sense of humour shine through and he’s got a certain way of saying things that I can see the meaning underneath the words. Let’s just say I’ve had a few laugh out loud moments and times where I’ve uttered “Oh, Cump…you’re cute”.There has also been many times I can picture him in a situation and imagine the mannerisms he must have employed, like eye rolling and uttering “Whatever the f$&/” under his breath when he was frustrated about something. Or maybe not under his breath. This is General Sherman after all…

Anyway, here’s some cool stuff I’ve found out so far…

He attended West Point and graduated in 1840 at the age of twenty. His best subjects were drawing, chemistry, mathematics and natural philosophy (science).He graduated sixth in a class of forty-three. His explanation as to why this happened is, to me, typical Sherman:

At the Academy I was not considered a good soldier, for at no time was I selected for any office, but remained a private throughout the whole four years. Then, as now, neatness in dress and form, with a strict conformity to the rules, were the qualifications required for office and I suppose I was found not to excel in any of these…

 

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I give you Exhibit A…messy haired Cump. Clearly not excelling in neatness yet still excelling in being handsome. Cump wins again!


He continues on about his demerit points.

My average demerits, per annum, were about one hundred and fifty, which reduced my final class standing from number four to six.

All I thought was “Damn, Cump, you knew how to have fun & you made sure you did at West Point”. Uncle Billy, as his soldiers later called him, knew how to have a good time. I’m also surprised geography wasn’t mentioned as one of his best subjects because, damn, you can tell the man was quite the geographer. The level of detail he gives in describing places in his memoirs , such as the terrain, buildings, etc. is incredible.

In the summer of 1840, he was appointed and commissioned second-lieutenant, Third Artillery. He was in Company A. He reported to Governor’s Island, New York and after that, it was off to the sunny south! Florida, specifically.

The entire Third Artillery were stationed along the Atlantic coast of Florida from St. Augustine south to Key Biscayne. His Company was stationed at Fort Pierce, Indian River.

Not the best map but you get an idea of where Cump was stationed

The fort was abandoned in 1842 (not long after Cump left) and burned down the following year. It’s now the home of Old Fort Pierce Park. Cump describes his first encounter with the fort:

We walked up the steep sand-bluff on which the fort was situated and across the parade-grounds to the officers’ quarters. These were six or seven log-houses, thatched with palmetto-leaves, built on high posts, with a porch in front facing the water. The men’s quarters were also of logs forming the two sides of rectangle, open toward the water; the intervals and flanks were closed with log stockades.

It doesn’t sound like it was a bad place to be. Plus it’s Florida (granted, Florida pre-Disney so maybe not as fun…).

Sherman was stationed there during the Second Seminole War, which lasted from 1835 to 1842. He arrived just before active operations so there was time for leisure and there was a particularly colorful character called Captain Ashlock (Sherman describes him as a “character of some note”), with whom he and other officers spent a good deal of time with:

The season was hardly yet come for active operations against the Indians, so that the officers were naturally attracted to Ashlock, who was the best fisherman I ever saw. He soon initiated us into the mysteries of shark-spearing, trolling for red-fish and taking the sheep’s-head and mullet.

They also caught green turtles so the cooks had an ample supply. They often ate turtle instead of what he describes as “poor Florida beef or the usual barreled mess-pork” (ummm…yuck).

Captain Ashlock unfortunately ended up drowning after his boat capsized while he was bringing people to shore. Sherman remarked that “strange to say, he [Ashlock] could not swim, although he had been employed on the water all his life”. Ashlock had just been married too and had brought his wife back with him. Sherman did see to it that she and her sister were taken care of, giving them his own quarters to use. The two women were eventually sent back to St. Augustine, Florida.

Sherman did not see much action while in Florida. He did seem to enjoy his time there though, remarking that while on excursions there was:

a peculiar charm, for the fragrance of the air, the abundance of game and fish, and just enough of adventure, gave to life a relish.

So, while he seemed to have enjoyed Florida, he felt it was of little value to it being a great state. If only he knew what the future held…

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Florida became something, Cump! It’s the happiest freaking place on earth!

Let’s face it. Sherman would have enjoyed the fireworks. He probably would have also enjoyed the “Pirates Of The Caribbean”. As for “It’s A Small World”, however…

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Cump not impressed after the kids make him binge ride “It’s A Small World”…

He’s internally burning “It’s A Small World”. Let’s face it…some of us secretly want that…

My question for y’all: have you read the memoirs of anyone from the Civil War? Do you have a favourite and why?

As always, thanks for reading!

Until next time,

Mary


Sources

“Memoirs”. General William Tecumseh Sherman

O’Connell, Robert L. “Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives Of William Tecumseh Sherman”. Random House: New York, 2014

This might be the cutest Lincoln book ever…

We went to the Henry Ford Museum yesterday. It was awesome. I plan on doing a post about it on here once I get my photos off my camera. For now, check out this post I did about the Lincoln chair over on another blog I’m part of called historygeekweb.

Anyway, before we went back home, I went to Barnes & Noble, the most amazing place ever (okay, not as amazing as Borders Books and Music was. Y’all remember Borders?). I managed to find what is perhaps the cutest Abraham Lincoln book ever.

Check this out:


The illustrations are cute. And the story is good. It’s a great introduction to Abraham Lincoln for a young child. As an Abraham Lincoln fanatic (and I can’t resist cute things like this), I had to get it.  I’m happy to have it as part of my book collection.

The author, Brad Meltzer, is a cool guy. He’s written other children’s books like this Lincoln one, all about various historical figures like George Washington, Jane Goodall, Rosa Parks and Amelia Earhart.

He also has a series of novels called the “Culper Ring”. I’ve read “The Fifth Assassin” and it was really good. I’m looking forward to reading the others in the series too.

This also is not my first children’s Lincoln book I’ve purchased as an adult. I’ve also got this one too:


It’s a cool story too.

Do you have any kids books that are part of your book collection? Any other kids books about Abraham Lincoln or the Civil War that you’ve come across? Please let me know in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading.

Mary

The Whirlwind Journey To Here…

I’ve been interested in Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War for as long as I can remember. Well, since at least six years of age. That’s a long time, considering I turn 34 in a couple of weeks. I’ve been asked a few times, especially since I’m a Canadian, how I came to be OBSESSED with American’s 16th President and the Civil War.

So, I decided to make a video about it. It’s about 18 minutes long. I totally get if you just skim through it or don’t watch it. I also made it for myself because I wanted to start posting videos on here and I’m trying to become more comfortable with doing that. I have social anxiety…this is a HUGE thing for me to be able to do this.

So, a couple things…

  1. The video is very amateur. I didn’t edit it or anything. It’s the raw footage as I shot it yesterday in my basement with my iPad.
  2. I swear a little bit. Okay, sometimes more than a little bit. Just a warning. I start talking and my filter doesn’t always kick in.
  3. I ramble.
  4. I don’t look at the camera.
  5. I’m learning as I go. And it’s been a good experience so far.

So, here’s the video…how I became a history geek…

Oh, there’s a few things I mention in the video and I’ve posted the photos below, just so y’all have reference to them…

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This is it. The book that started it all for me. I still have it, along with all the other books in the series, in the black hole that is my parent’s place.

The above photos are from my first visit to Gettysburg with my highschool when I was 16. It was an amazing experience.

Oh, and here’s the blog post I mention about when my husband and I went to DC. We got lost in Arlington National Cemetery. If you EVER go on a trip with me, DO NOT let me navigate UNLESS you want to get lost. If that’s the case, by all means, let me navigate. I was born with a broken GPS and I will get us lost.

Oh, and I give a shout out to a few people in my video. I’m taking it down to nerves (and really, I should have sat and made a list), but there are a few other people to mention that follow me on Twitter (and I follow them and immensely enjoy their tweets): Old News Co, Kimi, Roxi, Bob, Ethan, Mike, Abbie. And anyone else…I love y’all just as much! I hate leaving people out…

Oh, and I’d love to hear how y’all became interested into history, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, etc. I always love to hear how people become passionate about the things they love! Feel free to leave your story in the comments!

As always, thank you for reading (and if you watched the video, awesome!). I love and appreciate all of you.

Until next time…

Mary a.k.a Civil War Fangirl a.k.a Miss_Bellatrix

Starting the day…

This is how I’m starting the day: a wonderful book and a good cup of tea in my favourite mug.

  
It’s a grey day outside, damp and cold. I want nothing more than to stay inside, reading and drinking tea. But alas, I have to work. Such is life. I don’t start until 1 so I am going to try and use the time to get some much needed stuff done.

But I decided to take the some time for myself right off and get lost in this awesome book for even just 20 minutes. “Heart Of A Dove” written by Abbie Williams has become my “never want to put down” fiction book as of late. It’s historical fiction set just after the Civil War. It’s wonderfully written and the characters seemed to real to me from the start. I love the lead female character, Lorie. One chapter into this book and I knew it was going to be hard to put down.

I’ll be honest. This is romance and I don’t normally read romance. But I was drawn into the book because it was set post Civil War plus I love historical fiction. I LOVE THIS BOOK! It’s given me a new appreciation for romance novels because it’s so well written. It’s also the first in a series. Book 2 comes out in June and book 3 is due in 2017. I’ll say this too – I have not been eagerly awaiting the rest of the series since Harry Potter! And I’m not even done the first book! I’m also planning on reading Abbie’s other books. She’s a beautiful writer.

Once I’m done this book, I’ll be sure to give my full thoughts. For now, happy Friday. Do you have a book you’re reading today or a book for the weekend ahead?

Roundup of Civil War Books Part 1

I LOVE to read but I’m a slow reader. This is usually cause I have at least three books on the go. I’ll focus on one for awhile, go back to another, and repeat the cycle. As such, it takes me awhile to finish books. For the past year, much of my reading has focused on books to do with Abraham Lincoln or the Civil War. I’ve decided I’d like to post on occasion what books about Lincoln or the Civil War that I’ve read. Maybe occasionally I’ll post about non-Civil War stuff. You know, just to mix it up a bit.

So, I’m starting with five books that I read in 2015 (I did read more than this in 2015 but these were five of my favourites). This was when I really started pursuing my interest in Lincoln and the Civil War. Granted, the interest/obsession/love/major crush, especially with Lincoln, has been there since I was six, I kept it hidden for years because I was actually teased for it at a young age. Anyway, 2015 was the year it all took off, so to speak. Fitting, considering 2015, was the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination as well as the end of the Civil War.

So, here are the first five books…

1)”Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman” by Robert L. O’Connell

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I have developed a raging crush on General William Tecumseh Sherman and part of the reason was this amazing, well-written, made me laugh out loud, made me cry, book. A brilliantly human portrayal of this talented general, I couldn’t put this book down. It was well written in a way that was down to earth and quite humorous at times. It’s one of the best biographies I’ve ever read.

Sherman’s life is covered in three parts: Part 1 is Sherman as a Military Strategist. Part 2 is Sherman as a General and his Army. Part 3 is about Sherman and his personal life. All three parts were equally interesting. My favourite part of the book was O’Connell’s description of the March to the Sea. At first I thought I’d find the way it was divided up confusing but it was not that way at all. It made the book and Sherman’s life easy to follow.

This book also made me realize some needs to make a movie or mini-series about Sherman.

2) “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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The inspiration for the brilliant Steven Spielberg movie “Lincoln”. Not only is it a biography of Abraham Lincoln, it also looks at the lives of three of his “rivals”, later turned cabinet members William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edward Bates. It’s a very detailed book and a must-read for anyone who is interested in Lincoln. It’s also a book that deserves a second reading. While Lincoln is of course my favourite, it was so very interesting to learn about the lives of Seward, Bates & Chase.

3) “I Am Abraham” by Jerome Charyn

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This is a wonderfully written historical fiction book told from the perspective of Lincoln. It was such a stunning, at times very raw, human portrayal of Lincoln that it became one of my absolute favourite fiction books (next to “To Kill A Mockingbird”). I laughed, cried and felt like I somehow got to know Lincoln better through reading this book. His struggle with depression, his marriage to Mary, his relationship with his sons as well as various other historical figures (General McCLellan being one of them) are all part of this book. It is one I know I will go back and read numerous times because it’s a book you can absolutely get lost in.

4) “Lincoln’s Boys” by Joshua Zeitz

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I’ll confess. I think John Hay and John Nicolay were the hotties of their day. They’re super cute. Plus, during Lincoln’s Presidency, they probably spent more time with the President than anyone else did. As such, they came to know him quite well and of course, I wanted to know more about them. It was great to finally learn about these two men who Lincoln affectionately referred to as “his boys”. The book had some laugh-out-loud moments with some of the antics these two got up to, including their partying in Gettysburg the night before Lincoln’s great address. I also loved reading about how Nico and Hay managed to compile all their paperwork from their years with Lincoln and write what became a very detailed biography about him (which I plan to read someday). The two boys led very interesting lives before, during and after their time as Lincoln’s two secretaries. It’s a must read for any Lincoln geek.

5)”The Lincoln Letter” by William Martin

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A great, fast-paced historical fiction about the search for Lincoln’s diary. The book flips between 1860s Washington DC to the modern day. I felt like I got to know all the characters quite well and the author writes in such a way that I was able to visualize what 1860s Washington D.C. must have been like. While not a major character, Lincoln is still in the book and William Martin has done an amazing job in bringing him to life. Some of my favourite parts of the book were the ones that involved Lincoln. If you love historical fiction, this is a great one to check out.

So, those are five awesome books I read in 2015. I’ve got three books on the go right now and I’m sure I’ll discuss them in a post at some point:

  1. “Rebel Yell” by S.C. Gwynne
  2. “Heart Of A Dove” by Abbie Williams
  3. “Lincoln” by David Herbert Donald

If you want, please comment and let me know what you’re reading, even if it isn’t to do with Lincoln or the Civil War. I’m always looking for new books to add to my to-read list on Good Reads. Also, please feel free to add me on goodreads.com if you’re on there.

“Lincoln’s Melancholy”

The other day I finished what has become one of my favourite books about Abraham Lincoln. “Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged A President and Fueled His Greatness” by Joshua Wolf Shenk is an amazing book. It’s a stunning portrayal of the 16th President and his struggle with depression, how it shaped him as a person, what coping mechanisms he used and how having depressive insight helped him find the strength to help see America through its greatest crisis: the Civil War.
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I was intrigued to read this book for a number of reasons. Obviously, one reason is because it’s about Abraham Lincoln, and if there’s one thing I can’t get enough of, it’s learning more about him. The second reason is more personal. For my entire life, I have struggled with having anxiety disorder. I don’t recall a time in my life where I wasn’t anxious or worrying about something, usually the littlest things (but, for those of us the have anxiety disorder, those can actually seem like very big things). I’ve also tended to have a more melancholy personality. In my late teens, depression hit me. I’m now in my early 30s and yes, I still struggle with it, anxiety and mild ADD. When I found out this book existed, I knew I had to read it. I had a feeling in some way it might help. Plus: LINCOLN!

“Lincoln’s Melancholy” helped me to understand my own depression as well as depression as an illness. It’s helped me come up with a couple more coping mechanisms (like to keep laughing, which I do a lot of to begin with, but this book reaffirmed for me how important laughter is and how it’s often used by people who suffer from depression as a coping mechcanism).It also showed me what Lincoln went through, which just makes him even more amazing as a person to me. I’ve come away having an even greater love, appreciation and respect for him (I didn’t think that was possible). To know that he struggled too and managed to achieve all he did is just so inspiring and hopeful. Reading the book was also like hearing “Hey, you’re not alone” and “you can get through this”. It also reiterated to me yet again those of us who suffer from depression see the world differently than those that do not. And that’s okay.

Shenk did an incredible amount of research for this book. While the book is shorter when compared to some of the other books about Lincoln I’ve read, I feel like I  learned more about Lincoln as a person in these 243 pages than I have in reading other biographies about him. This was more the personal side of Lincoln that was presented but seeing this more personal side helps us in understanding why he was such amazing President and how he managed to accomplish the things he did in his life. Learning that he suffered from depression, that he recognized it and did not let it hold him back, is not only amazing, it’s also inspirational. And, most of all, it gives those of us that suffer from it too a hope that we can  persevere, that we don’t have to be held back. Yes, we have dark days and go through depressive episodes. Abraham Lincoln certainly did. But we can come through it, just as he did. We can become stronger than we were before, we can push through what holds us back and sure, we might see the world differently at the end of it, but that is okay. Seeing the world differently than others can make certain things become apparent to us that perhaps we didn’t see before. Most of all, it shows us again, what an amazing, timeless person Abraham Lincoln is and that in our society today, he is still relevant. The other important thing that “Lincoln’s Melancholy” shows us is this – it lets those of us that sufferer from depression know that we are not alone.

 

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