Blogging for Books: The Witch of Lime Street

The Witch of Lime Street is a non-fiction book for those of us with a pretty specific niche interest: turn on the century Spiritualism.

This is the first book I’ve come across that discusses the complicated “frenemy” relationship of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.

Just in time for their new show on Fox!

That Houdini casting is on point. I am so ready to nitpick historical inaccuracies in this. So. Ready.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Witch of Lime Street focuses on Houdini, a medium known as Margery (Mina Crandon), and Scientific American’s quest to find a true medium at the height of the 20th century’s spiritualist movement. Two key historical characters in the narrative are noted believer, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and noted skeptic, magician Harry Houdini. The two came together as friends who believed legitimate communication with the dead was possible and came apart as historical frenemies.

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Let’s first discuss that the book cover glows in the dark. It is perfection.

The Goodreads consensus seems to be “good topic, boring book” to which I heartily disagree. I haven’t technically finished the book yet, I’m too busy having panic attacks about grad school to read for pleasure, but less than 100 pages from the end and I can say that I’ve been thoroughly engaged the whole time.

That’s what makes me think this book is not for those with a casual interest in Spiritualism/the Occult. This isn’t a high-academia text, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m so engaged because I’m reading about a topic that I love and have actually lectured on. This is my jam, yo. I think it’s a well-written book, broken up into perfect little nuggets that really capture the cultural attitude towards mediums and the cult of celebrity that followed them (and also Houdini!).

One thing I really appreciated about this book was the treatment it gave Houdini. The man was a skeptic and is often portrayed as someone who simply wanted to bust some medium balls. Houdini’s relationship with the spirit world was far more complex than that, and he wanted to believe in a way Jaher makes  palpable. It was Houdini’s desire to be proven wrong himself that fueled his anti-medium campaign.

David Jaher’s biography doesn’t tell you much about his background with the subject, but I came across a Reddit AMA he did about the book and reading through that I can tell that this man has really, really done his research- above and beyond what appeared in the book.

For me, this book was the perfect intersection of academic research and relatable writing. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Spiritualist movement.

 

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Blogging for Books: Owls

Owls: Our Most Charming Bird by Matt Sewell

This review is basically one big gift recommendation, so sucks to me for not having it done before Christmas so y’all could absorb my wisdom.

In my defense this book arrived after we had left on our trek to visit Manbeast’s family and even though I used it as a gift for him he didn’t get it until tonight.

So this is a first: first book I’ve ever given as a gift, first book I’ve ever reviewed the night I received it!

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Manbeast loves owls. He would agree with the subtitle of this book, they are Our Most Charming Bird. I generally think they are terrifying. But author/illustrator Matt Sewell has charmed even my hardened heart. Each owl is given a short blurb and a beautiful illustration. I usually cannot stand to look at a barn owl because I find them so upsetting, but Sewell makes them look majestic and -dare I say- cuddly.

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The illustrations are seriously gorgeous, and the owl descriptions are factual with a dash of irreverence.

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Manbeast has already ooohed and aaahed over ever impeccable illustration in the book and loved the few descriptions he actually read. This book is a must have for any owl lover.

Owls by Matt Sewell: Our Most Charming Bird Book.

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Blogging for Books: The Library at Mount Char

House of Leaves is an experimental novel that plays with the reader psychologically creating a masterpiece of slow-burn horror. It is one of my favorite books. It is perhaps unfair to compare The Library at Mount Chato House of Leaves but I think if you’ve read both books you’ll have some idea of why I’m drawing a comparison between the two. But while House of Leaves kept me up all night pondering the great ‘what-ifs’ of having a closet Minotaur Mount Char was a page-turner that just left me asking “the fuck did I just read?”

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The fuck indeed.

Let’s talk about the author, Scott Hawkins. Hawkins is a prolific writer who has published 7 books. And with the exception of The Library at Mount Char they are all computer manuals. Isn’t there some stereotype that the super technical among us can’t write decent fiction? Not Hawkins. No matter what I end up saying about this book the technical (haaa) aspect of the writing is impeccable. It’s tight, it’s well-plotted. In some ways it feels like it’s trying to be “experimental” the way House of Leaves was, but it still follows a much more linear, standardized format (not a negative, just a comment). The plot is certainly imaginative and unique, something really unexpected even though it draws for a lot of established tropes and themes. It’s a book about a library- it would be wrong if it weren’t alluding to a lot of things!

So what’s my problem?

Well one thing I feel confident in saying is that this book has an audience out there that will appreciate it for the whole picture it presents. I am not sure that I am that audience. This is a fantastical horror novel with a lot of blood and a lot of death. Things that are shocking are incorporated well into the mythos of Mount Char (so it doesn’t feel as though they are happening just for shock value), but if you are squeamish stay away. Honestly I can think of more people for whom this book is “not” for than “is” for. I guess I would say it has a niche audience.

Let me try explaining the plot: In 1977 Carolyn and her “siblings” are adopted by “Father,” a god-like figure with immense powers over time and space who acts as teacher as he molds the children into “librarians.” Each librarian is given a specific “catalogue.” Carolyn studies all the languages, Margaret studies the dead, David learns war, and Michael animal husbandry. Then Father disappears and the now-grown children are forced out of their library and into main stream America, which they are incapable of living in anymore, while they try to figure out what happened. As they quest for answer they bring in reluctant accomplice Steven, war vet Erwin, and a couple of lions. Chaos ensues and no one is exactly who you think they are (except maybe the lions). Hawkins has created a very complex version of modern earth and does a skillful job of tying everything together.

Mostly.

At one point the whole book takes a sharp turn towards “Cthulhu fanfiction” and then drops it. There are other little things that feel kind of like plot holes. Perhaps it’s because Hawkins is toying with (but not committed to) the idea of writing more books set in the Mount Char world. At a certain point I felt more confused with the text then just baffled by my feelings (and the quick pace!).

I have to assign this book a certain number of stars when I upload it to Blogging for Books and I am honestly not sure how many stars I want to give it. On technical merit alone it deserves more than one star- and I certainly didn’t hate the book the way I did Ballad of a Small Player. But I also didn’t 5-star love it. 3.5? 4?

I will sum it up as this: I cannot think of a single other book like The Library at Mount Char and so if you’re interested in the weird and wholly different, this is where you want to turn.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.