The Lincoln Highway

by Amor Towles

Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Lincoln Highway is a book about a June 1954 road trip with four unlikely compadres. 

Emmett Watson has just gotten home from juvenile detention. He is released early because his father had passed away. His mother is long gone and the family farm is foreclosed upon. He plans on taking his only remaining relative, little brother Billy, out West to build houses and make his fortune.

His plans are sidetracked when two of his buddies from juvie show up. Duchess is a piece of work, always looking for a scheme to make money. He brings  Woolley, another escapee from juvie. Woolley is the estranged youngest son of an old-money East coast family.

Among Billy's important possessions are nine postcards their mother sent home after she left the family when Billy was just a baby. The postcards trace her route westward along The Lincoln Highway, the first coast-to-coast roadway in the US. Billy insists that they retrace her route west. Emmett acquiesces to his brother's wish. Along with Duchess and Woolley, they jump in Emmett's baby-blue Studebaker to make the trip.

Early on, Duchess and Woolley steal the Studebaker, leaving Emmett and Billy stranded with no car and no money. Duchess plans on going to upstate New York to Woolley's family summer home, where Woolley allegedly has a ton of money stashed in a safe. The intrepid brothers hop on a freight train to follow the other two and reclaim the car. 

Many shenanigans ensue, which I won't reveal so as not to spoil any surprises. 

The story is told from many different points of view. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a character. Although the story is mostly written in the third person, Duchess' chapters are written in the first person. This device makes it clear that this is really Duchess' story. 

Another interesting aspect of the writing is that quotation marks are not used. Rather, each person's speech was prefaced with an em dash. I found this device off-putting at first but gradually came to like this style. It allowed Towles to combine dialog with other elements, such as what the character was thinking or doing while speaking.

Gradually, we learn the backstory of the three older boys, about their lives and why they landed in juvie. Emmett punched a kid who was bad-mouthing Emmett's mother. Unfortunately, the kid Emmett punched fell down, hit his head, and died. Woolley took a joyride in the town firetruck, intending to entertain small kids. Unfortunately, a fire erupted in a barn while Woolley had the firetruck, resulting in the death of several horses. Ironically, the only one without blame is Duchess, who had been sold out by his own con-man father. 

Each of the four learns some tough lessons along the way. The Lincoln Highway may take place during a road trip, but it is about learning to depend on others. 

Free Books From Amazon

E-Book Freebies

If you do a little legwork, it's possible to never pay Amazon for an e-book. This is important because Kindle books on Amazon can be up to $14.99 (sometimes even more). The biggest bookseller in the world also offers free books! There are several ways to find them.

World Book Day

What It Is: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has marked 23 April as World Book and Copyright Day, also known as World Book Day. The day is celebrated in over a hundred countries around the world. 

The Offer: Each year, in honor of World Book Day, Amazon offers ten free books from non-US authors. The selection includes several different genres. 

The Fine Print: "This free Kindle book giveaway started at 12 a.m. (PDT) April 13, 2022 and ends at 11:59 p.m. (PDT) on April 27, 2022. Customers who are eligible to purchase Kindle books on can download one or more of the ten featured Kindle books subject to the terms and conditions of Services LLC. Offer does not apply to physical goods, digital magazines, audiobooks (including Audible companions for your Kindle book purchase), print books, or digital subscriptions such as Kindle Unlimited. Amazon reserves the right to modify or cancel the offer at any time. Offer is non-transferable and may not be resold."

To Get There: Starting the middle of April, go to the Amazon Kindle Books page. World Book Day will usually be a large splash at the top of the page. Click on that and you'll get to the selection of free books.

Prime Reading

The Offer
: For Amazon Prime members only, Prime Reading gives access to a rotating catalog of ebooks and audiobooks. There is also one free pre-release ebook every month from editors' picks. Magazines and audiobooks are also included.

The Fine Print: Prime Reading books are loans, not purchases. You can keep a borrowed book as long as you want, but the maximum you can borrow at one time is ten books. If you try to borrow your 11th book, the site will take you to the "Return a title to continue" page. There you can select one to return so you can borrow a new one.

To Get There: Go to the Amazon Kindle Books page. Select Prime Reading from the menu at the left.

Free Books

The Offer: Every day, hundreds of Kindle books are offered for free on Amazon to any Amazon user, and no Prime membership or Kindle Unlimited is required. These are usually the first book in a series, and the later books aren't free. 

The Fine Print: Be careful before you click to "buy"! Make sure that the listing says "Kindle Edition $0.00" as shown at left. If you're not a Kindle Unlimited member, carefully look at the price for books with the Kindle Unlimited sticker, as shown at right. Those have a big $0.00 but smaller print says "Free with Kindle Unlimited membership. Or $xx to buy."

To Get There: Don't use the Amazon search box to search for "Free Kindle Books." That will give you Kindle Unlimited books, which aren't necessarily free if you don't have Kindle Unlimited. Sneaky! Instead, go to this link free Kindle books.  

Kindle Unlimited

The Offer: "Unlimited Reading. Unlimited listening. Any device." Usually $9.99 per month, but occasionally there are special offers. Usually at least one month free is offered with the purchase of a new Kindle.

The Fine Print: Go to the Kindle Unlimited Terms of Use page to see all of the terms and conditions. 

The Catch: Not everything is available on KU! The selection is large - over two million titles - but your favorite authors and/or current sellers may or may not be included. I recommend going to the Kindle Unlimited eligible list and searching for your favorite authors.

  • Search for "Stephen King," and you'll get a bunch of books by some poseur named "Stephen R. King," not books by the best selling author from Maine.

  • Search for "Blake Crouch" (who is a very hot sci-fi author), you'll find a lot of his older books but none of his current best sellers.

  • Search for "Colleen Hoover"  and you'll find a ton of her books on Kindle Unlimited. If you like cheesy romance books, you're in business! (To be fair, millions of people LOVE Colleen Hoover, and that's great. She's just not for me.)

To Get There: If you're not already a member, go to the Kindle Unlimited sign-up page. If you just want to see what books are available, go to the Amazon Kindle Books page. Then click on the "Kindle Unlimited eligible" box in the left-hand menu. 

Children's Odyssey

This Tender Land

by William Kent Krueger

Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This Tender Land is the tale of Odie and his brother Albert, and their friends Mose and Emmy. The majority of the story is about their journey as they escape from the abuse they received at The Lincoln Indian Training School in 1932 Minnesota. 

Odie and Albert are orphans when they come to Lincoln. They are the only white kids at the boarding school. Their friend, Mose, is mute because someone cut out his tongue when he was just a baby. Although Mose can't speak, he eloquently communicates with ASL. Odie and Albert know signing since their late mother was deaf. 

The headmistress of the Lincoln Indian Training School is Mrs. Thelma Brickman, who is called The Black Witch behind her back. She regularly sends Odie (and sometimes Albert) to the "Quiet Room," which is actually a jail cell in an old stockade. A common punishment is withholding food.

"No kid was allowed to speak his Native tongue. It was a strict tenet of the Indian boarding school philosophy, which was 'Kill the Indian, save the man.' "

The four kids run away from their abusive captors by paddling down the nearby Gilead river in a canoe. They encounter both wonderful and terrible people on their journey. At one point, they are made to perform forced labor by an alcoholic farmer they call One-Eyed Jack. They temporarily join up with the Sword of Gideon Healing Crusade, a traveling tent revival. Each stop along the way has hard lessons for the children. They press onward to their goal: to find their Aunt Julia in St. Louis.

Eventually, Odie makes the last leg of the journey by himself, because the other three elect to stay with the Crusade. Sister Eve of the Healing Crusade tells Odie what she knows each of the children is looking for. 

“You’re the easiest of all, Odie. The only thing you’ve ever wanted is home.”

Odie, whose real given name is revealed when he reaches Saint Louis, finds his Aunt Julia and realizes that she is not at all what he expected. 

"With every turn of the river since I’d left Lincoln School, the world had become broader, its mysteries more complex, its possibilities infinite."

This Tender Land is a beautifully written story about hope, love, and forgiveness.

"Of all that we’re asked to give others in this life, the most difficult to offer may be forgiveness."

Ferry to the Afterlife

Under The Whispering Door

by TJ Klune

Rating ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

I approached this book reluctantly because I'm always wary of super-popular things. The book seemed like it would be too cutesy for my taste, just based on the whimsical illustration on the cover. 

This is the story of Wallace Price, a partner in the law firm he founded. Wallace is - almost comically - a jackass in the early chapters. His character is the MOST self-centered human being possible. He has no regard for other people and concerns himself only with how he looks (he loves his expensive suits) and with winning cases. He views a crying secretary as an inconvenience, not caring in the slightest what she's upset about.

Wallace drops dead of a heart attack and wakes up at his funeral. He is shocked that only a few people are in attendance, that no one appears to be sad about his passing, and no one can see or hear him. His law partners are there, gossiping about what an unpleasant guy he was. His ex-wife gives a "eulogy" consisting entirely of ranting about how much she hated him. 

He is surprised when one of the attendees, a young woman he doesn't recognize, is able to see him. She tells him that her name is Mei. She explains that she is his Reaper and she's there to take him where he belongs. 

“What is…?” He tried to swallow past the lump in his throat. “What’s happening?” 
She said, “What’s happening is that you lived your life. You did what you did, and now it’s over. At least that part of it is. And when you’re ready to leave here, I’ll take you to Hugo. He’ll explain the rest.” 
“Leave,” he muttered. “With Hugo.” 
She shook her head before stopping herself. “Well, in a way. He’s a ferryman.” 
“A what?” 
“Ferryman,” she repeated. “The one who will help you cross.”

Mei escorts him to Charon's Crossing Tea Room and Treats (the whimsical building pictured on the cover) and introduces Wallace to Hugo, the proprietor. Any references to Greek mythology end here, unfortunately. It's just the name Hugo gave to his tea shop.

The rest of the story is Wallace's redemption. He starts out as the worst person in the world and gradually becomes a better person. 

I rated this book three and a half stars because of the entertaining story. There's an unexpected and very sweet queer love story. The chapter concerning a self-proclaimed psychic named Desdemona had me laughing uncontrollably. I took away stars because it took too long to redeem Wallace, and the story dragged quite a bit as result. In addition, the Greek mythology aspect was hinted at but not explored.  

Time Loop

Sea of Tranquility

by Emily St. John Mandel

Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

When I was two or three chapters into reading Sea of Tranquility, I was shocked by how much it reminded me of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Both books jump from time period to time period with different points of view in each section. Both books have recurring elements that appear in the different periods, hundreds of years apart.

In Cloud Atlas, a comet-shaped birthmark appears somewhere on the body of each narrator and serves as the thread that ties them together. Gradually the reader comes to realize that each of these different characters carries something from their predecessor. Depending on your personal beliefs, you could describe it as the character's "essence" or their "soul." The book is not explicit about this and leaves it to the reader to discover.

In Sea of Tranquility, a common element is a person whose unlikely name is Gaspery-Jacques Roberts. He shows up in each of the time periods, which are 1912, 2020, and 2203. Does he represent something spiritual as in Cloud Atlas? Nope. He's a time traveler who's been sent from the year 2401 to examine an anomaly in time. 

As in every time travel book that was ever written, the time traveler must take extraordinary pains to not corrupt the timeline lest disastrous consequences ensue. Not following this rule is criminally punishable in 2401. To no one's surprise, Gaspery corrupts the hell out of the timeline, including warning a character of her impending death. He winds up marooned in his past and finds out what caused the time anomaly he was sent to investigate.

This is an interesting book, and the descriptions of life in each of the time periods (especially the ones in the future) are delightful. Ultimately, Sea of Tranquility is a much more practical book than Cloud Atlas, which is more spiritual and dreamy. I rated Sea of Tranquility four stars because I feel that Cloud Atlas is a superior book.

Too many genres at once

Where The Crawdads Sing

by Delia Owen

Rating ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

I have such mixed feelings about this book. It's a huge bestseller, and thousands of people say it's "the best book I ever read." I enjoyed reading it, and the ending was heartwarming. But it has some issues.

The main character, Kya, is born in 1945 into a family of "marsh trash," uneducated people who live in a shack in the North Carolina coastal marsh. Her father is abusive, and her mother leaves when Kya is small. Her older siblings all leave shortly thereafter. Kya, the youngest, is left with her alcoholic and neglectful father. Eventually, he leaves too, and Kya is all alone as a small child.

She is forced to dig and sell mussels in order to survive. She exchanges her mussels for grits and other food items at the tiny store owned by a black family. The owner, who is called Jumpin', and his wife Mabel are some of the only people who show any kindness to Kya. 

She hides when anyone comes near. She successfully avoids the truant officer for a long while, but finally goes to school. The other kids unmercifully bully her, and she never goes to school again after that first day.

Over the course of several lonely years, Kya gets to know some people who come to the marsh. A boy named Tate befriends her and eventually teaches her to read. Inevitably, she falls head over heels for Tate. 

This is where the book goes off the rails. With Tate's encouragement, Kya publishes several books with her drawings and observations of the shells, insects, and plants of the marsh. I found this hard to believe. Kya goes from illiterate to acclaimed author in very short order. She becomes incredibly accomplished as an artist, poet, writer, and naturalist. 

I couldn't figure out what genre this book was trying to be.

 - Nature text - Author Delia Owens is a naturalist. This is her first novel, but she has written many nonfiction books about nature and ecology. It feels like the author superimposed her own life onto Kya's.

 - Woman's fiction - The majority of the plot is about Kya coming into her own as a woman. She learns how to provide for herself, first at a subsistence level, and then with her writing. She learns how to stand up for herself and how to trust other people in her life. 

- Romance - The other major part of the plot is Kya's attempt to bond with young men she encounters, with some terrible results. Finally, Kya's romantic dreams are realized. The "happily ever after" ending was sweet but felt like it came out of a harlequin romance.

- Courtroom drama - There's even a murder subplot with the related jail and courtroom scenes. 

The weird thing is that any one of these could have been a great book. With all these things smashed into one book it just turned into a big jumble.

Even More Library Cards

Out-of-State Library Cards

In my post, Using Multiple Library Cards I showed you how to greatly expand the number of library books available to you. I gave references for a few libraries where you can get an out-of-state library card. I only scratched the surface!

Facebook user Angela Holsbeck compiled this big list of other libraries that issue e-cards. Most of these libraries charge a fee for out-of-state users. Depending on the offerings of your local (i.e. free) library, it may be worth it for you to pay for access to a faraway library.

Different libraries use different apps to connect with their e-book users. The most common apps are:

  • Libby –Available as a website so you can access it easily on your laptop or desktop
  • Overdrive
  • Hoopla

Harris County (Texas) Public Library


*Libby - Overdrive*

(This is for their iKnow digital access card. Fill out the application with your address and you will receive an email copy of your library card.)

Kenton County (Kentucky) Public Library


*Libby - Overdrive - Hoopla*

It says to call for out-of-state cards, but I talked to them and they said to fill out the application as normal and select "Other" under "card type." They will contact you in 1-3 business days about your card application, asking you to set up payment to complete your account.)

Orange County (Florida) Library System

$75/3 months or $125/year

*Libby - Hoopla*

Brooklyn (New York) Public Library


(As of May 2020, their digital library contained 114,069 ebooks and 30,974 audiobooks!)

*Libby - Overdrive*

Monroe County (New York) Library System



Queens (New York) Public Library


*Libby - Overdrive - Hoopla*

Charlotte (North Carolina) Mecklenburg Library

$45/year per household or $35/year for ages 62+

*Libby - Hoopla*

Chapel Hill (North Carolina) Public Library



Houston (Texas) Public Library

$20/6 months or $40/year

*Libby - Overdrive - Hoopla*


Fairfax (Virginia) County Library




Enoch Pratt (Maryland) Free Library


*Libby - Overdrive*


Westchester (New York) Library System

$75/year for under 64, $35/year for ages 65+

*Libby - Overdrive - Hoopla*


Omaha (Nebraska) Public Library

$6.25/month, or $25/4 months, or $75/year

(You must call for assistance if you are not able to pick up your out of state card in person)

*Libby - Overdrive*


Fauquier (Virginia) Public Library


*Libby - Overdrive*


Tacoma (Washington) Public Library

$33.50/6 months, or $67/year

*Libby - Overdrive - Hoopla*


Detroit (Michigan) Public Library


The application can be submitted online, but payment for the non-resident card must be sent through U.S. mail accompanied by a printout of the online form.

*Libby - Overdrive - Hoopla*