Two Books Called Feed

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In M.T. Anderson’s Feed, the future is a place where 73% of Americans have “feeds” embedded into their brains, which allow personalized advertisements and entertainment to reach directly into the brain. School™ is run by corporations and primarily teaches kids how to use their feeds. Titus, our narrator and main character, doesn’t read or do a lot of thinking for himself.

They had built a pretty nice stucco mall there, so Loga and Quendy said we should go in and buy some cool stuff to go out in. That seemed good to us. I wanted to buy some things but I didn’t know what they were.

In Mira Grant’s Feed, the world is twenty-some years past the start of the Rising – in which a medical advance gone wrong means that everyone on earth has the potential to become a zombie, either through contact with a zombie or via the virus that lies dormant in everyone. On the plus side, cancer has been cured, so the cigarette companies are back on top. Georgia, our narrator and main character, is a blogger following the 2040 presidential campaign.

I’ve encountered his type before, usually at political protests. They’re the sort who would rather we paved the world and shot the sick, instead of risking life being unpredictable and potentially risky. In another time, they were anti-Semitic, antiblack, antiwomen’s liberation, anti-gay, or all of the above. Now, they’re antizombie in the most extreme way possible, and they use their extremity to claim that the rest of us are somehow supporting the “undead agenda.”

In Anderson’s Feed, the world – as experienced by Titus – is reduced to unchecked, all-encompassing consumerism.

It smelled like the country. It was a filet mignon farm, all of it, and the tissue spread for miles around the paths where we were walking. It was like these huge hedges of red all around us, with these beautiful marble patterns running through them. They had these tubes, they were bring the tissue blood, and we could see the blood running around, up and down. It was really interesting. I like to see how things are made, and to understand where they come from.

In Grant’s Feed, the world – as described by Georgia – is reduced to living in constant fear. While (non-implanted) internet feeds are still full of “porn, music download, and movie tie-in sites,” Georgia and her readers rely on her words.

My material rarely depends on graphics. I don’t need to concern myself with camera angles, lighting, or whether the footage I use gets my point across. At the same time, they say a pictures is worth a thousand words, and in today’s era of instant gratification and high-speed answers, sometimes people aren’t willing to deal with all those hard words when a few pictures supposedly do the job just as well. It’s harder to sell people on a report that’s just news without pictures or movies to soften the blow. I have to find the heart of every subject as fast as I can, pin it down on the page, and then cut it wide open for the audience to see.

These two futures are both terrifying – and Anderson and Grant both include just enough details that you could almost see either of them playing out. I don’t want to live in either of these futures, but if I had to choose, I’d probably opt for the zombies and maintaining control of my brain.

Grant’s Feed is book one of a triology, and you better believe that I’ll be reading two and three soon. Unless the zombies get me first.

Anderson’s Feed is all the more remarkable when you realize it was published in 2002. So basically, M.T. Anderson invented Facebook, eh? Also, perhaps my favorite moment in this book is when the kids start showing up in Riot Gear, as a fashion statement: “it’s retro. It’s beat up to look like one of the big twentieth-century riots. It’s been big since earlier this week.” This includes, I kid you not, one of the girls asking another, “Kent State collection, right?” It’s like Anderson predicted this infamous clothing item from 2014.

Resist the feed.

 

 

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Banned Book Week

Did you know that September 21-27 is Banned Book Week?

Don’t worry, I didn’t know either, until Amanda told me about it, via Book Journey. Then, I read though some of the lists of books that have been banned over the years, getting angry and also wondering if I had anything to contribute to this conversation that hasn’t already been said a  millions times.

Clearly, I write a blog about books, and you are reading this blog about books, so let’s just assume that you and I both are opposed to the idea of banned books, right?

Scrolling through the list, I saw titles of classic works that I know have long histories of controversies, fantasy books that lead to accusations of black magic or something ridiculous, and, god forbid, kid’s books that normalize same-sex relationships. Oh, the humanity!

But you already know that, right?

What did jump out at me though, were a couple books banned because teenagers use drugs, namely Looking For Alaska and Go Ask Alice. I read both of these books as an adult, not a teen, but I don’t remember reading them and thinking that those books really glamorized drinking and drug use. After all, there are dire consequences in both.

And then I thought about a book I did read as an actual impressionable youth – Sweet Valley High, On the Edge – AKA, the book where Regina dies from cocaine. I remember nothing about that book or the circumstances (though I did remember the name Regina just now to Google), but the message came through loud and clear: all it takes is one time to kill you, kids! To this day, I remain terrified of the mere idea of cocaine. Clearly, I am not the only one, as evidenced by this post from Forever YA: Regina Morrow is the reason I never tried cocaine.

I’m pretty sure that reading Go Ask Alice would have a similar effect on teens – “Alice” is a middle-class, regular old teenager who gets caught up in drugs – and she does not have a happy ending. The kids in Looking for Alaska get into trouble at boarding school, and the book ends with a pretty clear warning.

I suppose I understand why someone who thinks banning books is an appropriate thing to do might look at the descriptions and shout “BAN BAN BAN,” but seriously – this is the opposite of logical.

For one thing, is banning books that include kids doing dumb/illegal/dangerous things based on the assumption that anyone who reads about something is going to go out and try it? I mean, how many people read Life of Pi – and how many of those readers then got onto a boat with a tiger, just for kicks?

Second, that’s completely discounting the lesson, or conclusion, found at the end of the book(s). Spoiler alert: sometimes people die from drugs/drinking/stupidity. Isn’t that exactly the lesson you’d want to impart to a young readers, as opposed to teaching them that some ideas are off limits?

And, my final point – don’t use cocaine, guys. Not even once. #terrifiedsince1992

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5 Ways to Write about Your Feelings, with help from Cheryl Strayed and Tiny Beautiful Things

I’ve noticed it’s become common internet parlance to talk about the “feels.” In book blogs, usage is something like this: “this book gave me all of the feels,” or “XYZ_author got me right in the feels.”

Sigh. I get it. It’s easier to say “the feels” than to try to put into words how a book makes you feel.

Well, who doesn't? (via memegenerator.net)

Well, who doesn’t? (via memegenerator.net)

However, it’s also lazy and not all the descriptive. Harsh, I know. Don’t worry though, I’m here to help. You’re welcome.

Because bloggers love lists, I present you with – 5 Ways to Write about Your Feelings, with help from Cheryl Strayed and Tiny Beautiful Things.

1. On the feeling of someone (close to you) calling your bluff and making you realize something about yourself:

I remember that moment precisely – where he was sitting in relation to where I was sitting, the expression on his face when he spoke, the coat I was wearing – because when he said what he said it felt like he’d scooped a hunk of my insides out and showing it to me in the palm of his hand. It wasn’t a good feeling.

A scoop out of your insides, eh? How’s that for your feels?!

2. On unrequited love, and what it does to you:

Then you’d sob and sob and sob so hard you couldn’t stand up until finally you’d go quiet and your head would weigh seven hundred pounds and you’d lift it from your hands and rise to walk into the bathroom to look at yourself solemnly in the mirror and you’d know for sure that you were dead. Living but dead. And all because this person didn’t love you anymore, or even if he/she loved you he/she didn’t want you and what kind of life was that? It was no life. There would be no life anymore. There would only be one unbearable minute after another and during each of those minutes this person you wanted would not want you and so you would being to cry again and you’d watch yourself cry pathetically in the mirror until you couldn’t cry anymore, so you’d stop.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever played out this scenario once or hundred times. Anyone? Anyone?

3. On love in all it’s forms, and possibly the greatest advice ever given:

Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor, and loaded with promises and commitments that we may or may not want to keep. The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love.

Tackle the motherfucking shit out of love? I know that would be a totally inappropriate line to work into wedding vows, but…

4. On experiencing something incredibly painful and debilitating:

Nobody can intervene and make that right and nobody will. Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.

Build your own bridge, because no one is going to do it for you. Sugar tells it like it is…and like you feel.

5. On feeling accomplished after completing something extremely difficult.

Do you know what that is, sweet pea? To be humble? The word comes from the Latin words humilis and humus. To be down low. To be of the earth. To be on the ground. That’s where I went when I wrote the last word of my first book. Straight onto the cool tile floor to weep. I sobbed and I wailed and I laughed through my tears. I didn’t get up half an hour. I was too happy and grateful to stand. I had turned thirty-five a few weeks before. I was two months pregnant with my first child. I didn’t know if people would think my book was good or bad or horrible or beautiful and I didn’t care. I only knew I no longer had to hearts beating in my chest. I’d pulled one out with my own bare hands. I’d suffered. I’d given it everything I had.

Pulled a beating heart out of her own chest? Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

How do you feel now, yo?

Reading Outside the Box

Holly here – you may have noticed that Amanda has been pumping out the books reviews lately! I must again point out,  in case anyone out there is feeling inadequate, that my sister reads at a super-human speed. In the meantime, I  was slogging my way through a few long books, and happy to let Amanda drive the blog, but she said something to me yesterday along the lines of:  “hey slappy – you better post something soon or else I won’t take you to this place I just heard about that serves Korean BBQ tacos on naan when you visit next month.” Clearly she knows how to motivate me – here I am.

Since Amanda and I started this blog, I’ve been reading more, but I’ve also been reading more deliberately – that is, paying attention to what sort of books I am most drawn to. And, while I am sure that I read across different genres, and a mix of fiction and non-fiction, I’ve noticed a few articles lately about diversity, or the lack thereof, in popular fiction (particularly YA).

At the same time, I was listening to the NPR TED Radio hour podcast recently, and in the episode “Identities,” novelist Elif Shafak was talking about her writing process – writing in Turkish and English, writing as a woman from the Muslim world, and navigating different cultures – and one line about the power of literary characters really struck me:

In my mid-20s, I moved to Istanbul – the city I adore. I lived in a very vibrant, diverse neighborhood where I wrote several of my novels. I was in Istanbul when the earthquake hit in 1999. When I ran out of the building at three in the morning, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. There was the local grocer there, a grumpy old man who didn’t sell alcohol and didn’t speak to marginals. He was sitting next to a transvestite with black – long black wig and mascara running down her cheeks. I watched the man open a pack of cigarettes with trembling hands and offer one to her. And that is the image of the night of earthquake in my mind today.

A conservative grocery and a crying transvestite smoking together on the sidewalk. On the face of death and destruction, our mundane differences evaporated and we all became one, even if for a few hours. But I’ve always believed that stories do have a similar effect on us. I’m not saying that fiction has the magnitude of an earthquake, but when we are reading a good novel, we leave our small, cozy apartments behind, go out into the night alone and start getting to know people we had never met before and perhaps had even been biased against.

Yes yes yes. I think reading a book about a character who you can identify with is extremely powerful, but so it is reading a book about someone who is not like you.

So, as I keep adding to my ever-growing to-be-read pile, I want to make sure I’m seeking out reads that reflect the variety of cultural and ethnic and racial differences in the world. I grew up reading about Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, and their Pacific coast adventures seemed a world away. I’d like to think that I can do better than that now. And I’d also like to think that young readers from every country, creed, or color can find an accessible, published book with characters they can relate to as easily as I was able to.

If you too, are looking to diversify your reading, here’s a few lists to start from:

  • This post from American Indians in Children’s Literature covers a number of Young Adult books with American Indians. I’ve added If I Ever Get Out of Here to my TBR list.
  • Diversity in YA is a website that celebrates “young adult books about all kinds of diversity, from race to sexual orientation to gender identity and disability.” They’ve got a number of book lists archived here. Noughts & Crosses is one book that jumped out at me, especially because I remembered reading a review of it here.

And, just this week thanks to Cuddlebuggery’s list of Hot New Titles (of all YA releases), I added Gilded, about a Korean-American girl who suddenly moves to Seoul with her Dad. (“Then she discovers that a Korean demi-god, Haemosu, has been stealing the soul of the oldest daughter of each generation in her family for centuries. And she’s next.“) Who’s intrigued?!

Any other recommendations?

Review: Froi of the Exiles

Title: Froi of the ExilesFroi

Author: Melina Marchette

Series: The Lumatere Chronicles #2

Published: 2011 by Viking Australia, 593 pages

Reviewed by Holly

Well, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to say – I was not sure about reading this book, Amanda made me do it, and OMG she was right. AGain. And, I will try not to post any spoilers, BUT, this is the second book in the Lumatere Chronicles, the first being Finnikin of the Rock, so the synopsis of this one may ruin some of the magic of that book. Consider yourself warned – but I’ll save the synopsis for the end of this post, and first tell you exactly what was so amazing about it.

I dilly-dallyed on this book for two reasons:

  1. Amanda made me read Divergent, which I loved, and then that series devolved into a hot-mess which I hated. I loved Finnikin, which I read not realizing at first that it was part of a series. I did NOT want this world to turn into something completely silly too.
  2. The title character in this book is Froi, who was introduced to us in Finnikin. You guys, Froi is not a likeable guy. In fact, Froi does something really awful in Finnikin – as in, attempted sexual assault. Ugh. I really could not abide the thought of reading a book with that guy as the main character – I mean, was he supposed to be some kind of hero?

Fast forward to my finishing Froi – I sent Amanda a short text: “Froi. Done. Heart hurts.”

The fact that this book tugged at my heartstrings so much – for Froi, and the people he has come to love, and the people who have come to love him – is a testament to Melina Marchetta’s amazing writing. I am not even sure how to describe what she did – Froi’s actions in Finnkin were not swept under the rug, and they were not merely forgiven and forgotten. From his experiences, he grows and changes and becomes better, but it certainly doesn’t come across as an after-school-special type lesson of finding the silver lining in a terrible situation. Rape is a prevalent theme in this book, but it’s not rape as a plot device (I’m looking at you, George R.R. Martin).

In fact, even if you don’t pick up on the subtleties, Marchetta delivers her point with a heavy-hand:

Men don’t rape women because their women are ugly,” cousin Jostien said, but there was a protest at his words. “That’s what my fa said! He says that inside their hearts and spirits they are nothing but little men who need to feel powerful.

Froi is not let off easy for his transgressions, by those around him and by himself. Froi is afraid of the darkness within himself, and he actually reminds me Dexterat several points of Dexter – you know, America’s favorite serial killer. Dexter (I’ve only watched the show, not the read the books) goes on and on about his ‘dark passenger,’ and Froi carries a dark passenger of his own. Dexter lives by the code of Harry, and Froi lives by the bond he has sworn to his adoptive homeland and family. I have been siding with Dexter for seven seasons now (have not watched #8 yet!), and, at some point in this book, I began to side with Froi, and hope that he could find light amidst his darkness.

Go read Finnikin, and then read Froi! There’s a third too- Quintana of Charyn, and you better believe that one is near the top of my to-read pile.

Parting Words:

“I fear that I will do something to bring harm to those I love,” Froi said. “So I will follow their rules to ensure that I won’t.”

“But what if you bring harm or fail to protect those you don’t know? Or don’t love? Will you care as much?”

“Probably not.”

“Then choose another bond. One written by yourself. Because it is what you do for strangers that counts in the end.”

Five Stars

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home… Or so he believes…

Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been trained roughly and lovingly by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds. Here he encounters a damaged people who are not who they seem, and must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad Princess.

And in this barren and mysterious place, he will discover that there is a song sleeping in his blood, and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen.

Review: Bring Up the Bodies

Title: Bring Up the Bodies

bring up the bodiesAuthor: Hilary Mantel

Series: Thomas Cromwell Trilogy #2

Reviewed by Holly

I have made some confessions already on this blog – that I don’t really know anything about the book blogging scene, that I once cry cry cried over Christian Slater, and that for a long time I didn’t ever think about reading non-fiction books for fun – but this time, I’ve got a real doozy for you: I am sort of obsessed with Henry VIII.

I know, I know – that might be sort of a trendy obsession, what with the Jonathan Rhys Meyers version on The Tudors, but that’s not where this started.

Tudors-Jonathan-Rhys-Meyers-1681

As kids, Amanda and I got to take a few family vacations to London, and somewhere in there, at age oh, 7, I learned of the British king who beheaded a few wives. What a great story! I was totally into it. So much that, when we visited Westminster Abbey and got to do the tourist thing of making brass rubbings, Amanda chose a nice knight, but I picked good ol’ Hank. He looked a lot like this, and hung in our house for years.

henryviii

In more recent years, I watched – and loved – the Showtime series, and I was only convinced to start a twitter when Amanda told me that I could follow one Henry Tudor on there. (Note: totally worth it – he says all sorts of funny things.)

Anyway, rest assured that I generally don’t condone the beheadings of one’s wives. Or, breaking off and starting your own church so that you can divorce a wife. Or telling another wife – and the world –  that she looks like a horse. Yet somehow, I find all of these gestures wildly entertaining when they come from Henry.

Now that I have written the longest introduction to a review ever, I shall get on with it. I read Bring Up the Bodies after seeing it mentioned a few places (I am pretty sure I actually first saw it in People magazine – for shame!), because it is a fictional account of the period when the tide turns against Anne Boleyn, ushering in Jane Seymour to be the next in line. It’s actually the second in a trilogy from Hilary Mantel – the first is Wolf Hall, which, according to the synopsis, introduces the power struggle between Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. I haven’t read the first, but – spoiler alert – Cromwell comes out ahead, and he is the central figure in Bring Up the Bodies. Through his perspective, the book covers the period from September 1535 to May 1536, culminating in a less-than-stellar week to be a Boleyn.

I was not in love with the writing style at the beginning – actually, from the very first line of “his children are falling from the sky,” when it did not become apparent for a few more pages that “he” is Thomas Cromwell, and “his children” are hawks named after his dead children. Clearly.

Eventually, I did get (mostly) used to the narrative style, and, thanks to a handy cast of characters provided at the front of the book, managed to keep up with the story. At some point, I got hooked. I wanted to know exactly how they were going to damn poor Anne. (Er, I hope that’s not a spoiler for anyone.)

I wasn’t sure what to make of this book while I was reading it – it took me two weeks to finish, I never did quite manage to keep straight all of the courtiers, and I felt like having watching The Tudors helped quite a lot in understanding Cromwell, Wolsey, and Thomas More. (The fact that I am relying on my education from a Showtime series is probably problematic, yes?) However, now that I’m done, I am thinking that this book will be one that I’ll remember, and I added Wolf Hall to my to-be-read list.

Parting Words: This paragraph made me laugh a little, because it made Thomas Cromwell sound like a guy just trying to do his job, like the rest of us:

During December a landslide, an avalanche of papers has crossed his desk. Often he ends the day smarting and thwarted, because he has sent Henry vital and urgent messages and the gentlemen of the privy chamber have decided it’s easier for them if they keep the business back till Henry’s in the mood. Despite the good news he has had from the queen, Henry is testy, capricious. Any any moment he may demand the oddest item of information, or pose questions with no answer. What’s the market price of Berkshire wool? Do you speak Turkish? Why not? Who does speak Turkish? Who was the founder of the monastery at Hexham?

4 stars

Also, I totally welcome any suggestions for more reading on Henry VIII!

Update: I called Showtime HBO in the first version of this post. Oops. (I watched it on Netflix anyway.)

Review: Assassination Vacation

assassination vacation

Title: Assassination Vacation

Author: Sarah Vowell

Reviewed by Holly

Assassination Vacation – or Sarah Vowell’s books in general – were recommended by a friend when I was talking about my growing preference for nonfiction books, particularly nonfiction that tells a good story. I googled, and realized the Sarah Vowell has been a regular contributor to This American Life. This boded well, as did the description of Assassination Vacation on Goodreads:

“Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other — a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.

From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue — it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and — the author’s favorite — historical tourism. Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.”

Excellent, I thought – historical tourism with a quirky, Ira Glass-approved narrator. I was in.

When I started reading though, I didn’t take me long to realize that I was not enjoying this book. And, I had just read this post about the dilemma of reading something that you’re not digging – finish, or not? For the most part, I’m in Camp Finish. I wanted to give the book a fair shake, and I was holding out hope that it would get a little bit better.

The book is divided into 3 sections – Vowell visits sites related to the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. I was well into the Lincoln section, waiting for a chapter-break so I could put the book down for a while, when I realized that each section was a chapter, and the Lincoln “chapter” went from page 18 to 121. In and of itself, I suppose there is nothing wrong with exceedingly long chapters, but I think the reason for not breaking up the presidential sections into chunks, is that there really was no theme or ribbon or story arc to connect one incident to the next. And I don’t mean connect the Lincoln incident to Garfield, etc, but rather, to connect Vowell’s trips together. She starts Lincoln’s story while she sits in the audience of a play in Ford’s Theater, then walks over to the Library of Congress. Then next we get a history of the Surratt boardinghouse and the conspirators, followed by 3 paragraphs on the William Seward House, complete with remarks from the museum director. And suddenly next we are going to the Lincoln’s Birthday wreath ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial.

All this, and we’re about 11 pages into Lincoln’s section. Vowell jumps from one place to another and  from history to present day, and I just could not ever figure out where she was going and why. She doesn’t tell her pilgrimages in linear order, or in chronological order of the events, and she brings different friends and family members along on her trips who weave in and out of her narratives.

After reading the book, I have no idea if all of the escapades took place over 6 months or 4 years, and I would say that matters because I never really got a sense for why she was visiting all the sites she could related to the assassinations. She did hint at some interesting thoughts and perspectives, as well as throwing in some commentary on the then-presidential administration (W), but I was too distracted trying to keep up with what place she was visiting now, to really get a sense for her motivation – I mean, besides to write a book with a catchy title.

I did enjoy the Garfield (60 pages) and McKinley (50 pages) sections more than the Lincoln one, probably because I did not know very much about those presidents or those assassinations. Also, perhaps because there aren’t quite as many places to visit, Vowell had to slow down and give a bit more detail about each place she was visiting, which made these chapters much less jarring.

Parting Words – there were a few places where this book had great potential to be what I wanted it to be, instead of being a hotmess of just barely related visits to off-the-beaten-path historical sites. This is one of those places:

“And while I gave up God a long time ago, I never shook the habit of wanting to believe in something bigger and better than myself. So I replaced my creed of everlasting life with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. ‘I believe in America,’ chants the first verse of one of my sacred texts, The Godfather. Not that I’m blind to the Psych 101 implications of trading in the martyred Jesus Christ (crucified on Good Friday) for the martyred Abraham Lincoln (shot on Good Friday).”

TWO Stars