An odd but sometimes-moving imagining of the nocturnal thoughts of the presidents of the United States.

A fanciful look at the dreams of U.S. presidents throughout history.

Phillips, a painter and multimedia artist, offers readers a mix of fact and fiction in a book that’s not so much about the inner lives as it is about the sleeping lives of America’s leaders. Working backward from Donald Trump to George Washington (including separate essays for each Grover Cleveland administration), Phillips’ essays imagine each man’s dreams about various subjects, include his childhood, his parents, and sex. Each essay attempts to capture the personality of the president at hand, and some bring in the viewpoints of other people, as in a dialogue between John and Abigail Adams or the musings of Zachary Taylor’s horse, Whitey. The chapter on Gerald Ford has a blank space in lieu of an essay, while Millard Fillmore, who was also not elected to the office of president, gets a full examination. The essays’ focuses aren’t always what one might expect; for example, John F. Kennedy’s essay is about living under the shadow of his father’s ambitions, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s is about the women in his life. This multimedia coffee-table book is full of the author’s own full-color paintings and illustrations, painted in styles ranging from surreal to abstract, and their effectiveness varies. Mainly, though, this book highlights the challenges of blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. In his quest to enter the presidents’ dreams, Phillips generally gets the history right and does a good job of capturing the essence of many presidential personalities and relationships. However, some of the sexual references can be overly graphic, as can some bodily descriptions, such as one about Cleveland’s testicles. As a result, this book can be unsettling at times. Still, its imaginativeness makes one wonder what the author would have made of the dreams of the current president, who defeated the man who called him “Sleepy Joe.”

An odd but sometimes-moving imagining of the nocturnal thoughts of the presidents of the United States.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-57-861384-0

Page Count: 215

Publisher: Black Book

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2021


Breathtakingly magical.

A powerful homage to the natural world, from England by way of Canada.

Combining poetic words (somewhat reminiscent of Mary Oliver’s poetry in their passion for the natural world) with truly stunning illustrations, this unusually beautiful book brings to readers the magic and wonder of nature. This is not a book about ecology or habitat; this is a book that encourages readers to revel in, and connect with, the natural world. Focusing on a particular subject, whether it be animal, insect, or plant, each poem (rendered in a variety of forms) delivers a “spell” that can be playful, poignant, or entreating. They are most effective when read aloud (as readers are encouraged to do in the introduction). Gorgeous illustrations accompany the words, both as stand-alone double-page spreads and as spot and full-page illustrations. Each remarkable image exhibits a perfect mastery of design, lively line, and watercolor technique while the sophisticated palette of warms and cools both soothes and surprises. This intense interweaving of words and pictures creates a sense of immersion and interaction—and a sense that the natural world is part of us. A glossary encourages readers to find each named species in the illustrations throughout the book­––and to go one step further and bring the book outside, to find the actual subjects in nature. Very much in the spirit of the duo’s magisterial The Lost Words (2018), this companion is significantly smaller than its sprawling companion; at just 6.5 by 4.5 inches when closed, it will easily fit into a backpack or generously sized pocket. “Wonder is needed now more than ever,” Macfarlane writes in the introduction, and this book delivers it.

 Breathtakingly magical. (Poetry. 6-adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4870-0779-9

Page Count: 120

Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2020

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A tantalizingly kaleidoscopic look at an event that altered its witnesses’ lives forever.

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Six witnesses relate their divergent interpretations of a violent incident that took place during the Civil War in this novel based on true stories.

Caroline Anderson lives in Greenbrier County, Virginia, at the Elmhurst house, a “magnificent place” before the Civil War erupted. President Martin Van Buren once picnicked there, but it has since decayed into ruins from neglect. Caroline’s husband, John, suddenly joins the Confederate Army, never to be seen or heard from again, leaving her to fend for herself and her two stepchildren, 8-year-old Sally and glum teenager Samuel. When bedraggled Union soldiers come marching through town, a group of them forcibly enters Caroline’s home, first looking for medical supplies and then for a reprieve from their nomadic discomfort. On May 22, 1863, while Elmhurst is occupied by “horrid Yankees,” a “dreadful incident” occurs, one that leaves two men, one of them a Union soldier, dead. Years later, the incident is investigated by Gen. George L. Scarborough, under the authority of the Department of State. This ingeniously inventive novel by Smith is largely composed of the records of the testimony culled by Scarborough, collected from interviews with six witnesses, including Caroline and two of the soldiers who were in her home that day. The plot is bewitching—the author slowly, with aching suspense, inches toward the incident in question. Meanwhile, a romantic tension and rivalry brews between Caroline and Capt. James Tobin, a “sweet talking” and “handsome” soldier who will be among those who witness the event. Smith cleverly juxtaposes the different accounts, illuminating the paradoxical nature of storytelling, which reveals and conceals simultaneously. As Caroline explains, “What I mean to say is: the information you are after cannot be told in one simple story since it is actually many tales stitched up with each other.”

A tantalizingly kaleidoscopic look at an event that altered its witnesses’ lives forever.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-942294-09-2

Page Count: 265

Publisher: Quarrier Press

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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