Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher

Review based on ARC (Advanced Reader Copy received for free in exchange for an honest review).

This is a book with a fascinating subject: The existence and experience of spirits and seances and whether or not they are real (or were proven to be real and/or false). Houdini, named in the title, himself experimented with so-called psychic experiences, but as he never really did them but happened to be particularly talented at convincing people he was "the real deal," he was particularly skeptical about all others who claimed to in fact be in contact with spirits and/or the dead.

In addition to Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was heavily involved in the whole spirit world - he was an ardent believer of contact with the dead, largely driven by various deaths in his own life and others and the loss of so many people in the recent war and epidemic.

And then there is the famed Witch of Lime Street, the wife of a Boston surgeon. She is young and smart and appears to be genuine.

In addition, Scientific American created a contest to determine whether any psychic could prove his or her merits. And of course Conan wants Margery (the Witch of Lime Street) to enter the contest, and Houdini is on the committee to determine whether she (among others) are legitimate.

So, fascinating, right?! Right up my alley. Interesting historical topic about very interesting people.... and Jaher doesn't do a bad job. He just doesn't do a particularly good job either. I found the book often dragged and spent too much time re-explaining the same inclinations of the various peoples, rather than moving more quickly through the events and analyses. Nonetheless, I enjoyed learning more about the topic and found myself repeating the information I'd learned to others in (somehow) every day topic.

Overall, a good historical account of a fascinating group of people and series of events. I would recommend to people interested in the subject, with the obvious caveat to simply "bear with" the parts that seem to drag.

Overall, THREE of five stars.

Slade House by David Mitchell

Review based on ARC (Advanced Reader Copy received for free in exchange for an honest review).

I have talked about and written about this book so many times since reading it, I didn't realize I hadn't yet officially reviewed it!

In short, I loved this book. It's a mini little ghost story with a lovely repeating but not really repetitious pattern.

It is almost a series of short stories, taking place every 9 years. It starts with a small black iron door. It starts with the Slade House. You may not find it, but if you do, you will be invited, expected, needed.

You're not quite sure who lives there, but you are sure that the brother and sister who crop up every 9 years play a significant role.

No more explanation. It's all spoiler other than that. But it's a quick read, an interesting read, and a thought-provoking read. It's creepy and atmospheric.. the perfect read for a dark and stormy night...

I love how it starts. I love how it middles. And I love how it ends. An easy 5 stars from me.

Note: I've only read 1 other David Mitchell book, so far. Cloud Atlas was a very good book, but a completely different type of book. I am impressed with Mitchell's ability to write different types, different characters, different perspectives. I look forward to more!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Death Before Decaf: A Java Jive Mystery by Caroline Fardig

Free copy received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Overall, I felt that this was an "okay" cozy mystery. While I did not particularly enjoy the romantic aspect because I felt that it was a little cliched and clunky, the mystery itself was interesting and novel.

In the book, Juliet Langley has returned to her college town to work for her old crush and former co-worker, the now-owner of local coffee shop Java Jive. Juliet has returned because her life and career have crashed and spectacularly burned after a horrible relationship with an apparently horrible person has ended.

Given Juliet's experience both at Java Jive and in the food industry, her old crush and one of her best friends Pete makes her manager. Juliet, however, does not appear to remotely be a people-person and immediately pisses off pretty much everyone in her employ. This is only made worse when the chef turns up dead.

Juliet is, of course, a prime suspect. In order to try to clear her name, she delves into amateur sleuthing. With the help of a local college professor who seems perhaps much more sinister than at first glance and, of course, Pete, Juliet slowly works through a list of culprits as more people end up dead and Juliet begins to get death threats herself.

So that's the set up and it's a good one. I generally liked the characters and I especially liked Seth (the professor). I did not particularly like that, rather than tale responsibility for her anger issues, Juliet simply called her temper the Red Headed She Devil (Juliet is a red-head)... it was too cutesy and lame as an excuse for her poor people skills. And I did not particularly like the cliched and, somehow, also clunky romantic triangle between Juliet, Pete, and Seth that is rather unsatisfying in the end (though this is a series, so surely there is more to come).

But as I say, the mystery itself was fun and it was a good, quick read for a cold night. I would recommend to "cozy mystery" fans, especially if someone were looking for a softly-steamy romantic one with a fiery protagonist. Overall, THREE of five stars.