Tag Archives: good fun books

Dead President Fact Sheet

After reading the excellent “Dead Presidents,” I realized, because it was written thematically rather than sequentially, that I was a bit muddled on my presidential trivia facts. So I went back through the book, like a crazy person, gave myself homework, and made a list.

Here’s a bunch of trivia about the presidents you probably didn’t know. You’re welcome.


  • George Washington- a tomb was built for him in the Capitol rotunda, but he isn’t buried in it
  • John Adams- died on July 4 and was kinda terrible father
  • Thomas Jefferson- “the Sage of Monticello”; didn’t include his presidency on his obelisk’s list of personal achievements
  • James Madison- his grave went unmarked for two decades after he had to sell his land to pay off his stepson’s gambling debt
  • James Monroe- ran unopposed for reelection, the only president (besides Washington) to do so
  • John Quincy Adams- died in the House of Representatives of a heart attack/very vocal “NO” vote
  • Andrew Jackson- “Old Hickory”; his pet parrot cursed loud and long at his funeral and had to be removed
  • Martin Van Buren- known as “The Little Magician”
  • William Henry Harrison- died after 1 month in office, so soon his family hadn’t even made it up to Washington yet
  • John Tyler- known as “His Accidency.” He had to hire the first presidential bodyguards.
  • James K. Polk- micromanaged his Cabinet and the whole presidency
  • Zachary Taylor- was thought to have been poisoned, was disinterred in the 1990s…nope, not poisoned.
  • Millard Fillmore- official White House biography calls him an “uninspiring man”
  • Franklin Pierce- Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote his campaign biography; his son died in the days before he took office, leading his wife to believe Franklin had somehow caused God’s wrath to be directed at them
  • James Buchanan- he adopted his niece, Harried Lane, after her parents died; as he was unmarried, she served as first lady
  • Abraham Lincoln- “the Great Emancipator”; was taken on the “Great American Death Tour” after he died; the impromptu stage built for his funeral has been used in every state funeral since
  • Andrew Johnson- first impeached president, but he wasn’t removed! He hired the first presidential doctor.
  • Ulysses S. Grant- Mark Twain bought the publishing rights to his memoir
  • Rutherford B. Hayes- “Rud”; created the first presidential center to protect/display his papers and artifacts; his election was known as the “ugliest, most contentious election ever”
  • James A. Garfield- killed by an assassin–with an assist from his terrible doctors
  • Chester Arthur-“Dude President”; first act as president was to cry in a bedroom
  • Grover Cleveland- big supporter of Hawaiian independence
  • Benjamin Harrison- grandson of William H. Harrison but didn’t like talking about it; gave us the tradition of the White House Christmas tree; also he married his niece, which is pretty icky
  • William McKinley- Mt. McKinley (in Alaska) was named after the president by an opportunistic prospector who was trying to lobby for the gold standard; the name was reverted to the original Diwali this year
  • Theodore Roosevelt- his daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth was considered one of America’s greatest political wits and she was a pretty rowdy teenager, too
  • William Howard Taft- that bathtub story? It’s not true! ….But he did stress-eat and develop sleep apnea while in the White House
  • Woodrow Wilson- buried at the Washington National Cathedral with Helen Keller and a few other notables
  • Warren G. Harding- had the first presidential celebrity pet, his dog “Laddie Boy”
  • Calvin Coolidge- “Silent Cal”; a fan of artisinal cheese; his dad swore him into office at 2 in the morning, upon which they went back to bed
  • Herbert Hoover- invented a sport called “Hoover-Ball”
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt- first to plan his presidential library while in office, including a paper mache sphinx head of himself (you’d have to read it, it’s too hard to explain)
  • Harry S Truman- gave personal tours of his presidential library
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower- “Ike”; a toymaker friend created a set of presidential toys/collectibles to celebrate Ike’s presidency
  • John F. Kennedy- his eternal flame was jerry-rigged together the day before; Jackie is personally responsible for the “Camelot” mythos
  • Lyndon B. Johnson- robot LBJ tells jokes in the presidential library, which was intentionally built as a “vigorous, male building”
  • Richard Nixon- titled his comeback plan post-Watergate “Wizard” and was eventually seen as an expert in foreign policy
  • Gerald Ford- said “I am a Ford, not a Lincoln”
  • Jimmy Carter- n/a
  • Ronald Reagan- “The Great Communicator”; shot by an assassin but lived because he had good doctors; the “Legacy Project” is a concerted effort to get something named after Reagan in every county of the U.S.
  • George H.W. Bush- n/a
  • Bill Clinton- still very much alive, but the book noted that his cat, Socks, has his ashes at Clinton’s library
  • George W. Bush – n/a
  • Barack Obama- n/a

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading

Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If Ready Player One were a lasagna, it would be a little bit of meat, a thin layer of noodles, and a lot of cheese. Of course, some people really like cheesy lasagna, and some people haven’t eaten lasagna in a really long time and don’t remember what it’s supposed to be like so they like the first one they try. And that’s okay.
But that doesn’t mean this sci-fi lasagna is “world’s best.”
Anyway, Ready Player One has a clever concept: people in a future in which all the world is enthralled by an immersive alternate reality experience are challenged to complete a virtual-reality 1980’s-themed quest to get a lot of money. One kid with not much going for him discovers the first major clue–and learns about friendship and the meaning of life while tackling the quest.
It sounds kinda like a Lifetime movie. And really, that’s not that far off. Ready Player One’s biggest problem is being in love with references, references to the 1980s (in the U.S.), pop culture, D&D, and most of all, video games. So many references that it sometimes seems like the plot has been redirected just to fit in one more. It’s kinda like that guy from the office who just can’t let the joke alone already–everyone just finds a reason to get lunch somewhere else when he’s around.
I was really excited about this book. It was a sci-fi dystopia! There were video games! It was a best seller! But it turns out it’s mostly a fan-fiction combo of Tron and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There are lots of good ideas, but they’re underdeveloped (in favor of more references–gag), and it seems like we spend most of our time in the virtual reality of Oasis not because that’s where the story leads us but because author Ernest Cline didn’t think through all of what his futuristic world looks like. It’s also frustrating that the audience is left out of solving most of the puzzles because of information that is just never revealed to the reader (I mean, how do we know that there is a museum on a planet called Archaid?) and yet the major plot points might as well be written in neon for how obvious they are and how much they telegraph. Especially frustrating is the quite literal deux ex machina just when the protagonist gets in a tight spot. I mean, come on.
As a fan of science fiction dystopias, I was also frustrated that Cline didn’t quite think through the ramifications of his future. I mean, seriously, when the whole world is spending most of their time, in some form or another, in a virtual reality, why on earth would a guy who does that very thing be derided as a basement-dweller who never left his mom’s house? (Answer: he wouldn’t! That’s projecting current stereotypes into an imaginary 50-years in the future. The culture would have changed!) And why would anything in a virtual reality require as de rigour real-time travel? Spawn points are already a thing in our video games. Ain’t got time for that!
If you know what you’re getting—a whole lot of clever/cutesy references to the 1980s wrapped in a light dusting of futurism—Ready Player One is a fun read. Just make sure you know what kind of cheese you like on your pasta.

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading, Reviews

Review: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book a long, long while ago, and it was time to read it again. But this time, I’ve seen and loved the films, and that has undoubtedly affected my reading.

If anything, it enhanced it. I swear I could hear the theme music playing as I read, could hear that tremble in Gandalf’s voice when he talks about Moria. The movies aren’t an exact copy of the book, so both seem fresh, but the movie is so respectfully done that I found it enhanced my reading of the book.

And this book. This book. Wow. I found myself kind of indifferent to The Hobbit upon a reread, but this one is an international treasure for a reason. The descriptions are powerful and vivid, and I frequently felt I was on the journey with Frodo and the Fellowship as I stepped out each morning for a daily walk. Where The Hobbit fumbles a bit, The Fellowship of the Ring soars. It touches upon something truly magical and makes you want nothing more than to dive down further into it, to meet Tom Bombadil and Goldberry and Legolas and precious Samwise.

Few books can transport you like The Fellowship can. I’m grateful I found it just as enchanting on a reread as it has always been.

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: Ink and Bone

Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1)Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is shocking that an author has not previously written about the critical importance and value of books and libraries and made it the turning point of a novel. Thank goodness Rachel Caine did–this book is a joy!
It occupies an alternate history where the Library of Alexandria never burned but instead became the most powerful organization in the world, a storehouse of all knowledge. Even the printing press is not invented, replaced instead by the steampunkish magic of the Oculists, which allows the library total control of ALL reading material. Knowledge is power, literally, and those who hold the power of the library will go to great lengths to keep it.
I literally couldn’t put this book down. It reminds me, for a bit, of the spellbinding adrenaline I got from the Harry Potter series. But it’s also a completely different book, more brutal with readers’ feelings from the get-go. There are so many twists here and you’ll never see them coming.
Caine should be particularly proud of herself for writing a fiction novel that embraces diversity. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Muslim character in a novel before; it was refreshing and interesting. Because of the conceit that the Library is everywhere, the characters could also be from everywhere, and Caine gave them a richness comparable to attending a world market.
This book was so much fun that I’m sad I’m done with it. I put off this review because I wanted to stay in that world longer, even just in my head! But now it’s time to buy the sequel…

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading, Reviews

Review: Nemesis Games

Nemesis Games (Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I need you to read this book, because I need more people to talk to about this book.
While the last one in The Expanse series, Cibola Burn, just didn’t quite work for me, I’m 100% on board with Nemesis Games, because hot damn.
It’s a book that wouldn’t have worked early in the series, because it’s largely about adopted family and what it’s like when they’re separated, how the relationship between people who are bonded brothers (crew of a ship) affect each other, think of each other, and change, both with and without their crewmates. So it’s a book that had to come after the reader was already deeply familiar with the characters, their relationships, and what makes them tick.
Oh, and it’s also about an intra-galactic war. And terrorism. And mysteries.
Once again, the duo making up James S.A. Corey did a masterful job weaving disparate stories together to create one beautiful, incredible, unpredictable story arc. This book had me staying up late (thank goodness for holidays!) to read just one more chapter, which became just four more chapters. I kept needing to find out what happened, only to find out maybe they made it out of that scrape but holy hell have things gotten worse!
I also really loved the way this book reveals the backstories of each character without more than a smattering of flashbacks. It’s them, dealing with the present created by their pasts. Plus it is just loaded with such on-point and hilarious one-liners from just about everyone on the crew.
I can’t say enough nice things about this book. Please read it so I can talk about it without spoiling it for you too much!

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading, Reviews

Review: The Shepherd’s Crown

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld, #41; Tiffany Aching, #5)The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Shepherd’s Crown is Terry Pratchett’s last book, and it’s a fitting one for that, though I doubt he realized at the time that this was the final chapter. It is part of the Discworld series, though at first it was so, well, normal-ish that I wasn’t sure. It’s also part of the Tiffany Aching storyline, but as I hadn’t actually read any of those, I can’t speak to the quality on that level.
The Shepherd’s Crown follows young witch Tiffany after Discworld foundational character Granny Weatherwax dies, leaving Tiffany to inherit all of the resources and responsibilities (mostly responsibilities) of the leader of the witches. And there is quite a lot to do, because Granny’s passing also weakened the barriers between the elven world and our own, and the elves take it as an opportunity to attack.
It’s a nice story, funny but insightful in the typical Discworld way, but it also feels like a tying together, a wrapping up. Much as Tiffany must learn to grown and find her own place after the loss of Granny Weatherwax, we readers must learn to live in a world where there will be no more Discworld novels. Though I’m confident that the editiorial team behind Pratchett did their best to produce a polished work, I could sense in the story where things started going missing. It’s true that there is a complete narrative arc, a beginning, middle, and end, but it feels a bit sketched out toward the end (though the conclusion seems right on the nose).
That’s the sad part of this book, to me. In addition to knowing the author was racing against time to get it done, we can sense the holes in this book. Holes that will never be filled.

Go back and read the rest of the books, and think fondly.

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass

The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires, #1)The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve found your next read, that is, if you like captivating, unique, funny, and intense stories, and also talking cats. And if you don’t like those things, I recommend “Hop on Pop” as an alternative, because seriously, who doesn’t like talking cats?

Seriously, this book might be the best fantasy/steampunk/pirate story since Firefly went off the air. And it’s definitely better than sliced bread.

Let me back up: what’s it about? The Aeronaut’s Windlass takes place in a world in which all of humanity lives in giant, heaven-scraping Spires, and where the earth below is dangerous and possibly toxic (sort of an inverse of the Wool Omnibus). As such, commerce takes place in the sky, via huge airships. Our story follows Captain Grimm, of the slightly piratanical Predator, as well as the aristocratic Gwen, the “warriorborn” Benedict, the addled and mystical Folly and Master Ferus, and the hardy Bridget and her prince-of-cats companion Rowl. Basically, this odd collection of characters is pressed into service to protect the Spire from an unknown Enemy and try to prevent all-out war.

Because Captain Grimm is the one on the cover, most people may want to see this as his story–and believe me, he is wonderful, even if nearly a straight-up transference of Firefly‘s Captain Mal–but each character truly has an arc of their own, and no one is much of a supporting character. Yes, even the cat, who is both different from every literary depiction of a cat I’ve ever read and exactly like my own beasties.

Author Jim Butcher is already known for his writing skill and his vibrant characters, but I don’t know that he’s ever had so much fun. You can feel his grin through the book, and I occasionally wanted to nudge him in the ribs–“I see what you did there!” He’s just having a blast, and it’s infectious.

But that’s not to say the book is all happiness. Though I often had to stop to read a line aloud to my husband to share the laugh, I also told him that if a certain character died–or if all of them died–I wasn’t going to forgive him. It’s that intense and the stakes are that impossibly high.

What I really liked, though, was that no one was unnecessary. Even characters lacking in obviously beneficial skills discovered in themselves the ability to do something that proved critical to the mission as a whole. And I just wanted to give each of them a hug afterward.

I can’t wait for more of this series, and odds are pretty solid that I’ll reread it again soon just to get back into this fantastic fantastical world.

View all my reviews

3 Comments

Filed under Reviews