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review 2018-03-06 11:26
Circus Galacticus by Deva Fagan
Circus Galacticus - Deva Fagan

Trix can deal with being an orphan charity case at a snotty boarding school. She can hold her own when everyone else tells her not to dream big dreams. She can even fight back against the mysterious stranger in a silver mask who tries to steal the meteorite her parents trusted her to protect. But her life is about to change forever. The Circus Galacticus has come to town, bringing acts to amaze, delight, and terrify. And now the dazzling but enigmatic young Ringmaster has offered Trix the chance to be a part of it. Soon Trix discovers an entire universe full of deadly enemies and potential friends, not to mention space leeches, ancient alien artifacts, and exploding chocolate desserts. And she just might unravel the secrets of her own past if she can survive long enough.





Taiwanese-American teen Beatrix "Trix" Ling is an orphan who is sent to Bleeker Academy, a boarding school, as a charity case. Trix is struggling to find her place not only at Bleeker but just in the world at large. Conflicts with school bullies (as in, her trying to defend herself) lead her into a heap of disciplinary action scenarios with the school admin. 


When the Circus Galacticus comes to town and the ringmaster (conveniently known just as Ringmaster) offers her the chance to join the crew, it seems like a nice little escape from her social hell. That is, until she comes to find out that she's just signed onto an intergalactic circus. That's right, this roadshow hits up the whole galaxy and then some! 


"Please, let me go. I won't cause any trouble."


"I find that hard to believe," says the Ringmaster, casting aside his lighthearted humor with such absolute saddness it catches the breath in my chest. "You've been causing trouble all your life, haven't you? Asking questions that weren't in the textbooks. Saying things other people were afraid to say. There was always something off about you, something different, something that made other people stare and whisper and maybe even laugh.. Isn't that right?" His eyes pull on mine, demanding an answer.


Trix comes to find that her new gig surprisingly holds answers to the mysteries of her own origin story. What's the deal with the meteorite her parents left her, this hunk of rock that came with enigmatic instructions to guard it with her life?


I was six years old the first time I really saw the stars. They hung sharp as broken glass in the desert sky. I jumped, trying to reach them -- they looked so close. I begged my dad to hoist me up on his shoulders, but even he wasn't tall enough. God, I can still feel that ache. I'd never wanted anything that bad. 


Dad smiled and tried to make me laugh away my tears. But Mom understood. She held me so tight I can almost feel her arms, even now, nine years later. I think she was crying too. You'll reach them someday, Beatrix, she said. I promise. Then she spun me around until my head swam with stars. That's all I have left of my folks now. 


The stars... and the rock. 




Trix also gets caught up in intergalactic politics --  the battle between the MANDATE and the TINKERS, the Mandate being those in power who determines rules and regulations for the whole universe. They want to keep status quo through strict order and conformity. Meanwhile, Tinkers are those on the outskirts, the social outcasts who advocate for diversity, culture full of color and variety of all kinds, artistic expression, all that is beautiful and wild in life. Nyl, one of the main characters from Team Mandate, likes to argue his stance that there are dire consequences that come with allowing people to have differences within society: wars, religious persecution, crime, etc. 


The battle between these two groups began generations ago. In what is now a post-war era, though the intensity of the battle has lessened some, the descendants from both sides of the original war still quietly fume. The reign of the Mandate has been replaced with the Core Governance. Different name, same desire for conformity. But Core Governance maintains that they don't support either faction (Mandate or Tinkers), their main goal is just to establish and maintain laws for the betterment of society in general. Very PC of them! 


A note for teachers or homeschooling parents: the whole plot conflict regarding the divisive beliefs of the Mandate vs. the Tinkers serves as nice social commentary for today's world problems. The way author Deva Fagan handles these hot button ideas is admirable, not overly in the reader's face or preachy, just simply entertaining examples to get discussions going among middle-grade readers. Something else for educators to note, there are a few instances of very mild cursing within this story. 

"Another fabulous word: BRUNCH. Not quite one thing or the other, but sometimes it's exactly what you need..."


I watch in alarm and fascination as he piles a mountain of avocado and beans onto a chip, all while balancing the book atop his baton, defying both gravity and common sense. Maybe that's his superpower. That and the ability to wear a bazillion sequins without looking like an ass.


Attentive readers may also notice the subtle ways Fagan recreates Trix's Earth problems throughout various points of her space travels. Just one example: the school bully Della and the prickly Headmistress Primwell vs the ship bully Sirra and the prickly ship instructor Miss 3. This gives readers some food for thought -- not only can you not escape your problems by running away, but also, think on the importance of learning to adapt to life's obstacles. You have to work on your own personal growth, not wait for others to change.


This is a perfect read for lovers of middle grade fiction, Star Trek adventures, Dr. Who humor, and Firefly, as there are elements of all of that in here! In fact, Nola, the mechanic on the Big Top ship very much reminded me of Kaylee, the mechanic from Firefly.

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review 2017-07-04 14:03
The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron
The Illusionist's Apprentice - Kristy Cambron

Wren Lockhart, apprentice to master illusionist Harry Houdini, uses life on a vaudeville stage to escape the pain of her past. She continues her career of illusion after her mentor’s death, intent on burying her true identity. But when a rival performer’s act goes tragically wrong, the newly formed FBI calls on Wren to speak the truth—and reveal her real name to the world. She transfers her skills for misdirection from the stage to the back halls of vaudeville, as she finds herself the unlikely partner in the FBI’s investigation. All the while Houdini’s words echo in her mind: Whatever occurs, the crowd must believe it’s what you meant to happen. She knows that if anyone digs too deep, secrets long kept hidden may find their way to the surface—and shatter her carefully controlled world. Set during one of the richest, most vibrant eras in American history, this Jazz Age novel of illusion, suspense, and forgotten pasts is perfect for fans of The Magician’s Lie, challenging all to find the underpinnings of faith on their own life’s stage.





Wren Lockhart rises from street swindler to apprentice to famed escape artist Harry Houdini. This novel opens in the months following Houdini's death in the 1920s. While focusing on the 20s, there are also chapters that periodically flash back to either Wren's childhood or her time working with Houdini (one such chapter involving their attending a seance performed by Margery Crandon, the Witch of Lime Street). 


Wren attends a demonstration being performed by a fellow illusionist. It is at this performance that a man dies. The death is investigated and once it's suspected that the deceased might have been murdered, the FBI gets involved. In walks in Agent Elliot Matthews, who approaches Wren in hopes that she might be able to provide valuable information, given her close proximity to the deceased at the time of their death. But Wren fears that the FBI's involvement, Matthews' questioning and prying specifically, could possibly uncover secrets within her own family she very much needs kept buried. Lives of family members are at stake. 


"Wren, you once told me you lost someone very dear to you."

She drew in a sharp breath, absorbing his swift change in subject. 

"Yes, I did lose someone once." She avoided revealing emotion with her quiet tone.

"The person you lost, what would you give to speak with them again? If only for a moment?"

"I'd give everything I own without a second thought."

"As would I, Wren."


After crafting quite the historical love story within The Ringmaster's Wife, author Kristy Cambron returns to the performance tent with The Illusionist's Apprenticea tale inspired by the true-life story of Dorothy Young, who was, in fact, brought on as an apprentice to Houdini in her teens! . Wren's impressive crowdwork is a delight to read, particularly during one scene when she and Agent Matthews team up on stage. Their banter is adorable and slyly cheeky! 


For those picking this up not realizing it falls under Christian fiction, have no fears of uncomfortable reading. The religious elements are actually quite light, not going much beyond light, passing mentions of "God's Light" or "King of Kings", that kind of thing. That and possibly Wren's repeated distinction between magic and illusion. She does not like being labeled a magician because she feels magic touches upon darkness. Illusion meanwhile (she reasons) is merely slight-of-hand work.  


Staring through the doorway to the glass house, Wren watched the melody of the birds' flight. Why hadn't they tried to escape? They never did. Not even in her stage show. They flew over balconies. Under theater ceilings. Turning endless circles in cages of glass... But the birds never found freedom. They floated from branch to branch, content in their caged world, when if they'd been brave but once, they could have flown out the next time they door had been opened....Why, when freedom was so close, did they cling to their chains?


Wren tore her gaze from the winged creatures, the fight to suppress emotion a losing battle. She let go for a rare moment, allowing herself to weep into her hands.


I came to find that I had guessed one of Wren's major secrets in the early chapters of the story, as well as pinning who the main "bad guy" would be at around the halfway point, though it is not actually revealed until pretty close to the end of the novel. So, somewhat of a predictablity factor there for me but still quite a fun read! I got a chuckle near the end, as characters are escaping a major fire, because the way Cambron describes the moment reminded me of the close of the first Die Hard film! 


*Bonus: If you're a fan of the Gwen Marcey series by Carrie Stuart Parks, Cambron gives a shout-out to her in the acknowledgements in this book, giving thanks for helping out with the toxicology elements of the plot here.


FTC Disclaimer: Thomas Nelson Publishers,via both BookLookBloggers.com and TNZ Fiction Guild, kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2017-05-02 20:40
A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin | #AutismAwareness
A Corner of the Universe - Ann M. Martin

Hattie Owen enjoys peaceful Millerton summertimes with "houses nodding in the heavy air," being in charge of Miss Hagerty's breakfast tray at her parents' boardinghouse, and drinking lemonade on the porch after supper. Yet this year, it's different -- Hattie's uncle Adam is coming home. Returning from a Chicago school that's just closed and whose existence is kept quiet by adult family members, Adam is a 21-year-old man with a child's mind, having a knack for talking quickly, a savant-like ability for remembering weekdays, and a passion for I Love Lucy. Hattie and Adam wind up spending precious time together -- including a visit to the recently arrived carnival with Hattie's new friend, Leila -- which makes her feel soulfully connected to her uncle, especially when he declares that she's "one of the people who can lift the corners of our universe." But when Hattie takes Adam on the ferris wheel one night, it sets off dramatic events that lead Hattie's family to strengthen its bonds and changes her life's outlook forever.





Young Hattie Owen has enjoyed the peaceful pace of life in her small Midwestern town of Millerton these past 11 years, helping her parents run the local boardinghouse. That pivotal summer in the 1960s, on the cusp of her 12th birthday, brings a new reality, one that will shake Hattie to her very core. That is the summer she is introduced to Adam.


Hattie grew up knowing her mother, Dorothy, to only have one brother, Hattie's Uncle Hayden. But quite suddenly one day, it is revealed that in fact she has another uncle, Adam, whose existence has been kept secret from her all these years. Adam, Dorothy's youngest sibling, has been away in Chicago, living at a special school for those with mental illnesses or disabilities. Though he was never given a certain diagnosis, it is believed Adam suffers from either schizophrenia or autism. Now that school is permanently closing, so Adam is sent home to stay with his parents until new living arrangements can be made.


Though initially startled by the news of Adam's existence, Hattie is undeniably curious about him. Before long, she finds they are actually something of kindred spirits, both knowing deep loneliness and a sense of not quite belonging in this world. It is also during this most important summer that a circus comes to Millerton, the biggest event to happen to the place in years! This circus brings Hattie a new friend, Leila, the niece of the circus owner and daughter of Pretzel Woman (a contortionist, I'm guessing). Leila's introduction into the story also fits in with the theme of not fitting into societal norms. In one conversation, Hattie asks Leila if it bothers her that people pay to stare at her mother who performs in a sideshow. Hattie's telling response, "It's better than them staring and not paying."


While Adam displays many traits commonly attributed to autism -- repetitive behaviors, fascination with / memorization of entire TV show episodes, emotional meltdowns over seemingly minor instances -- Hattie does lay out her confusion regarding his diagnosis (or lack of) and what it means in regards to the rest of her family:


I don't know exactly what is wrong with Adam, but maybe it is one of those diseases that runs in families. Maybe that is why Nana and Papa seemed ashamed of him. And maybe... is that why Mom and Dad never told me about Adam? To keep the knowledge of his illness from me? Do they maybe even think that I'm a little like Adam? Is that why Mom wants me to be like other kids -- so she can prove to herself that I won't turn out like Adam one day? I twist around and look at my family. I can't stop the questions from coming, And I can't ask a single one of them.


Though not overly complex in plot (but stayed tuned for the Ferris Wheel incident and all that follows up to the end!), A Corner of the Universe will definitely give young readers a small taste of the stigma that surrounded mental disorders during this era. Author Ann Martin does offer some impressive character studies within this story that will surely stir up healthy discussion. Most notably, there's Hattie's grandmother, one of the wealthiest women in Millerton. "Nana" had grand dreams of having that enviable family with the perfect husband and gorgeous & talented children. As life would have it, her youngest son required being placed in a group home and her daughter Nana pinned such hopes on, well... she "married beneath her", deciding to shack up with a "lowly" artist! Additionally, now her granddaughter has proven to be a bit of a social pariah, preferring to keep to her library books and inside her own mind. 


But it's not just Hattie's grandmother who causes her to wonder. When Hattie asks about why she is an only child, her mother responds with a pat answer of, "Well, you were just so perfect we didn't want to push our luck." After meeting Adam and observing how Dorothy acts around him, Hattie suspects she was kept an only child because her parents might have feared possibly having a child like Adam. 


Hattie doesn't see what the big deal is with Adam's condition. Though Adam is in his early 20s, his parents treat him almost like a toddler. Hattie witnesses his heartbreak when people stare, taunt him and call him things like "Freak Show". But she actually envies the way he views life. He is unabashedly happy in the small moments, endlessly entertained by the minutiae of one's day. Adam's love of soft & pretty things, not to mention is fascination with the lovely bank teller, Angel, boarding at the Owen home, brought to mind Lenny from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, who similarly had a childlike innocent love of the small things in life. But there is also a serious side to Adam that comes out when moments become especially trying for him, a side that shows he is all too aware of what is going on around him and how people see him. 


"No one knows," says Adam, "what it is like."

"No, I {Hattie} reply, although I think I might know more than most people.

"You are not an alien, Hattie. I am the only true alien."

But Adam is wrong. I am an alien too. 


This novel might strike some as a departure for Ann M. Martin, who is perhaps most well known for her Babysitter's Club series, but Martin also penned Rain Reign, which featured a young girl with Asperger's Syndrome who has a love of homonyms. Those curious about Martin's inspiration for A Corner of the Universe will find the Scholastic's After Words™️ section most helpful. It features an interview with Martin in which she explains that the idea for this particular novel was loosely inspired by events from her own life, namely an uncle she never met but was later told about who was deemed mentally ill. This section of supplemental material also includes historical overview blurbs of cultural topics Hattie references within her story. Also included is a neat reprint of a few pages from a 1960s era Junior Scholastic magazine!


above: "Baseball is a man's world! But girls are an important part of it. Why? Because almost every baseball is sewed by the nimble fingers of a girl. It has been that way since Civil War days, when baseball first became popular..."




For those curious about Adam's trick of being able to recall the day of week of any date in history, there is a page -- "The Amazing Day Finder" -- that teaches readers the math behind this trick so that they too can impress their friends! 


While there is some grit and sadness to the storyline, A Corner of the Universe does also show a love for small town life -- the way everyone knows you, the coziness of community coming together, small business owner pride, etc. While living in a small community can have its downside, readers who have experienced the good and have been distanced from it for a time will likely feel a little nostalgia for Hattie's particular little corner of the universe. 


A note to parents: this novel does describe a suicide near the end of the story. If you're particular about what images or information your child is exposed to during the younger years, maybe give this one a pre-read through. Though this book does include some sensitive material in that sense, A Corner of the Universe plays an important role in taking the first step towards educating youth on the importance of advocating acceptance and kindness to those who may be struggling with mental disorders / challenges. 

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review 2016-10-11 02:02
The Ringmaster's Wife by Kristy Cambron
The Ringmaster's Wife - Kristy Cambron

In turn-of-the-century America, a young girl dreams of a world that stretches beyond the confines of a quiet life on the family farm. With little more than her wit and a cigar box of treasures, Mable steps away from all she knows, seeking the limitless marvels of the Chicago World’s Fair. There, a chance encounter triggers her destiny—a life with a famed showman by the name of John Ringling. A quarter of a century later, Lady Rosamund Easling boards a ship to America as a last adventure before her arranged marriage. There, the twenties are roaring, and the rich and famous gather at opulent, Gatsby-esque parties. The Jazz Age has arrived, and with it, the golden era of the American circus, whose queen is none other than the enigmatic Mable Ringling. When Rosamund’s path crosses with Mable’s and the Ringlings’ glittering world, she makes the life-altering decision to leave behind a comfortable future of estates and propriety, choosing instead the nomadic life of a trick rider in the Ringling Brothers’ circus.





After meeting a professional pianist while attending a tea party with her mother in Cincinnati, 19th century Ohio farmgirl Armilda Burton has stars in her eyes about the big wide world out there. She finds herself unable to be content with the same quiet life of a farmer's wife her mother chose. Instead, Armilda decides to change her name to Mable and head for the big city of Chicago to try to make her own way. While working as a restaurant hostess on the grounds of the 1893 World's Fair, Mable meets famed circus organizer John Ringling. Though their meeting is brief, there is a definite connection between them. Unfortunately, John has an internal panic over his growing bond with Mable leading him to break off their acquaintance. She doesn't see him again until 1905 (coincidentally at the World's Fair being held in Atlantic City, New Jersey) but the moment they reconnect it's like no time has passed at all. In record time, Mable finds herself with the new title of Mrs. Ringling, though she quickly makes it known that she has no intention of interfering with her husband's business, instead choosing to focus on maintaining their palatial home. 


This novel then alternates between the progression of Mable's life in the late 1800s-early 1900s and that of Lady Rosamund Easling in the 1920s. Rosamund is the daughter of an earl but feels too restricted within the social rules and expectations that come with her titled life of privilege. An accomplished equestrian and stunt rider, Rosamund is spotted performing (in secret from her family) at a show by Colin Keary, manager of John Ringling's traveling circus. Colin, through much persuading, convinces Rosamund to travel to America to help acclimate and train her horse which has just been sold to the circus. What he doesn't tell her is that he intends to make her the circus' next stunt performer, if he can convince her to take the position. 


Not long after her arrival in America, Colin snags Rosamund an invitation to Ca d'Zan (aka House of John), that dreamy residence of John and Mabel.


Fun fact: Some interior shots of Ca d'Zan were actually used

as scenes for Mrs. Havisham's house in the 1990s movie adaptation

of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations


Mable is instantly taken with Rosamund, and over time and many meaningful conversations proves to be quite the calming force for Rosamund whenever she starts to doubt what she really wants for her own life. Within this novel, the two develop a touching bond which lasts until Mable's dying day. 


"I had dreams. And my rose garden makes me think on them. Often."


Rosamund pictured a young Mable Ringling with stars glimmering in her eyes and smiled. The vision suited her.


"What were your dreams?"

"Oh, same as yours. Love. Freedom. Something up in lights -- didn't have to be my name. Just something to make the journey sparkle a little." She leaned in, winking on the words. "And if you can look past the exterior of a dream, what's buried deepest is always the most rewarding. My Ca d'Zan has a grand exterior. It's playful -- the way I wanted it. But if you look past the house, you'll find that the rose garden has been tended with far more care. By my own hands, for a much longer time. So you see, it's the journey we're all after -- not the reward."


"I don't know what my dreams are anymore," Rosamund said. "I thought I did, but then I came here and ... everything changed."


"Bravo then," Mable countered. "This building up of what we want doesn't have to be a tearing down of who we are. It's the worst kind of extravagance to think we're above adversity. Isn't that what God calls of us, to acknowledge that we are moving with this undercurrent of something that is always at work around us? Something bigger than we could ever be just as one person? Rosamund, we only see what we want to see -- in people, in love, and in life. It's a choice, my dear. That's the point of all this. You choose the face you offer the world. And it's only behind the costumes and the masks that we can be who we truly are."


It doesn't take much for me to get invested in a circus story, as long as it has plenty of backstage scenes, because that's where my interest tends to focus. I always want to know more about the backstories and relationships around performers and this novel is no disappointment in that aspect. Not only are we taken backstage as the performers set up their routines but we are also brought in to witness gossipy gabfests and rivalries brewing. We get to know and love the animals that work with their human counterparts and Cambron works magic bringing the scents and ambiance of a good crowd to life. There's also a good bit of fun general history worked into the plot, from Prohibition era struggles to even a blink-and-you'd-miss-it reference to animator Walt Disney! 


The relationships are all so well done here. The romantic connections are written with great warmth and respect and I love that all the key male parts were men of strong character who loved and acknowledged the inner strength of the women they loved. I also liked that the storyline wasn't all sap. Cambron mixes in enough grim and tragic elements -- from alcoholism to characters battling TB or diabetes; Sally's story especially broke my heart!  --  to keep the reading emotionally interesting. Highly recommend any lovers of circus stories give this one a go, just to experience the way Mable is written here, if nothing else. Man, by the end I wanted pep talks from Mable!! 



Note To Readers: Just a heads up, there is a spoiler in this story for Shakespeare's Othello... in case you haven't read it yet. 



FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2016-09-19 00:20
A Magician Among The Spirits by Harry Houdini
A Magician among the Spirits (Cambridge Library Collection - Spiritualism and Esoteric Knowledge) Reissue edition by Houdini, Harry (2011) Paperback - Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini and his exposure of the fraud spiritualist, spirit photography, spirit slate writing, ectoplasm, clairvoyance, and other quakery and cons perpetrated on the gullible, by the likes of the Boston Medium Margery, the Davenport Brothers, Annie Eva Fay, the Fox Sisters, Daniel Dunglas Home, Eusapia Pallandino, and other con artists of their ilk.The whole country got excited by Houdini's campaign against faking spiritualists. He careened through the country, offering money for spirit contacts he couldn't duplicate by admitted magical chicanery. It was a heyday not only for Houdini but for the spirit-callers and there was an equally famous protagonist who thought the spirits could indeed be contacted, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A photo at the front records a meeting between Houdini and Doyle and Houdini gives Doyle his own chapter. There's an earlier chapter on Daniel Dunglas Home, the English engineer of spectacular paranormal effects. Houdini raises hell with spiritualists who were giving their (usually paying) clients a vision of heavens to come, and shares the methods used to practice "fake" and sensational spiritualism. Houdini was nothing if not unrelenting. As a taste of things to come, he ends his introduction with the words: "Up to the present time everything that I have investigated has been the result of deluded brains."






After reading the nonfiction work The Witch of Lime Street by David Jafer, I was curious to know more about that story, particularly the details behind the strain in the friendship between magician Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I was surprised to discover that they were even friends, let alone had a bit of a falling out over the topic of Spiritualism! Recently I came across a copy of A Magician Among The Spirits, written by Houdini himself in which he not only gives his own version of what went down between him and Doyle but also how Houdini came to be such a force in bringing down the Spiritualism movement as a whole. 


As I advanced to riper years of experience I was brought to a realization of the seriousness of trifling with the hallowed reverence which the average human being bestows on the departed, and when I personally became afflicted with similar grief I was chagrined that I should have ever been guilty of such frivolity and for the first time realized that it bordered on crime. 


Houdini is quick to affirm that he most definitely believed in a higher power and an afterlife. His issue was with the lengths supposed mediums went to dupe grieving people into believing that their loved ones were trying to reach them. Houdini admits that if he could have found anything, anything at all, that would've struck him as irrefutably paranormal then he would've enthusiastically become the movement's greatest supporter / advocate. In this book, originally published in 1924, Houdini discusses the project he carried out, spending the year of 1919 sitting in on over 100 seances, hoping for anything definitely otherworldly. Instead, he says, he realized he was able to explain virtually everything he saw in terms of distraction and slight of hand tricks magicians employ all the time. It infuriated him that these so-called spiritual mediums were making quite comfortable livings off the grief of people desperate for any connection with their lost loved ones. 


Houdini points out that the popularity of Spiritualism cannot be dismissed as just something uneducated suckers fell into. In fact, quite a few of the era's great scientific and literary minds fell prey to the hope that these mediums could put them in contact with friends and family who had passed over. Houidini says he himself had arrangements with 14 different people, including his wife and his personal secretary, to give the agreed upon sign (handshake or code word) if any of them should pass. Fourteen people and not one of them (of the ones that had passed away by then, that is,) came through any of the 100+ seances Houdini attended. Houdini also points to his friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, clearly a man of great intellect but swayed by the deaths of a son, brother and brother-in-law during WW1, making him desperate for contact.  There's also the story of poet couple Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning -- Elizabeth initially became quite taken with the movement, but after one particularly off reading came away feeling very much duped and dismayed.


" I heard of your remarkable feat in Bristol. My dear chap, why do you go around the world seeking a demonstration of the occult when you are giving one all the time? "


~ from a letter Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote to Harry Houdini


Houdini also notes that it was also highly suspect how these mediums often lived the lives of celebrities, winning themselves the patronage of members of society's elite. They would be draped in the finest clothes and jewels, put up in lavish residences, enjoying the benefits of a nicely padded bank account. If the day came that their popularity was showing signs of waning, these mediums would often quietly announce their retirement before the truth behind their act was sniffed out. In the instances where mediums were taken to court on charges of fraud, oftentimes there would be only light penalties put upon them even when it was PROVEN they had duped clients out of money. 


In the end, Houdini chalks the whole thing up to largely being a case of what he calls mal-observation. In essence, it's not that people are kidding themselves necessarily, or willfully in denial. Houdini is saying "I believe you believe what you saw, but what you saw is not what you think." Clients of these mediums were just not versed enough in carnival-like showmanship to recognize telltale signs of trickery. They can't explain it, so they see no other explanation other than paranormal. One pretty funny example he gives is a reprint of an article someone wrote about one of his performances, claiming that Houdini couldn't possibly be human to pull off the feats he did. After the article, Houdini responds with a verbal "this is what was really going on" peek behind the curtain of his shows. 


While I didn't always fully agree with Houdini's personal thoughts on the topic, this was one highly fascinating read. I think it is important to keep in mind the time in which he was writing this, take into account that he's saying that in his time he had yet to see anything he could not explain. These are the days before EVP, spirit voice box technology, all that stuff that we commonly see paranormal investigators use now. I honestly do believe there are things we (or at least I, I guess I should say lol) have experienced that don't easily have scientific explanation. Then again, I (like Houdini) remain skeptical of 99% of the professed psychic mediums out there today. 


One thing I did particularly like about this book were all the photographs of Houdini with the mediums and other Spiritualists he got to know during this project. He also includes interesting diagrams where he lays out the "okay, this is how the medium did that" behind such things as spirit knockings, rappings, slate writings, etc that were commonplace in seances of the time. Some sections, such as some of the stuff on slate writing, rappings, and spiritual photography, did run a bit long for me but there are so many other worthwhile historical tidbits Houdini offers up that I would definitely recommend this to any fans of paranormal or even sideshow history. 




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