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review 2017-02-24 17:48
Review: Ghostland: No Man's Land
Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places - Colin Dickey
Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead - Christine Wicker

  I was quite excited to spend my monthly Audible credit on this book; what a fascinating idea--reframing American history by examining our relationship with our landmark haunted locales.

 

I, unfortunately, have returned it to Audible.

 

Each house is well-chosen: the Lemp mansion, for example, as a haunted touchstone in American history and culture...

and then debunked as an actual, or at least a full as-known haunting by the author. Chapter after chapter.

 

I hung on through the underlayer of smugness until the author stated repeatedly that Spiritualism didn't last, it was dead, it was no longer a thriving practice in the United States. Then I stopped reading. Why? I had reached the intolerable level of poor scholarship and research. There is an entire town of Spiritualists who live and work as such, in plain sight, and have done so for years: Lily Dale. Both a documentary and a book are available about Lily Dale, New York, and both are easy to find:

 

Lily Dale: The Town That Talks to the Dead * Christine Wicker

 

HBO Documentaries: No One Dies in Lily Dale

 

Side note: The author was also treated well by the Lemp Mansion's hosts, taken on their Haunted Tour, and given the choice room--one that is on the tour because it is reported to exhibit so much phenomena. His entire account of his Lemp tour and stay was mocking, in my opinion, disdainful of staff, location's history, and even his fellow tour group members! I feel as if I have been subjected to a history book written by a hipster: "Look, we're supposed to be enjoying this. OMG, all these people are really enjoying this! I cannot wait 'til I return to my cocktail and typewriter." Combined with the shoddy research, and some debunking claims without citations, this book is disappointedly unprofessional.

 

Also posted at The Dollop: American History Podcast

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review 2015-09-23 16:20
Rapping, and ectoplasm, and ghosts, oh my!
The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World - David Jaher

While the 1920’s are well known for flappers, jazz, and speakeasies, I wasn’t as aware that séances  were so popular in both America and Europe, but it makes sense. Lots of people had lost loved ones to the double tragedies of WWI and the worldwide flu epidemic that followed, and modern spoken-word transmission wonders like the telephone and wireless radio made communication across distant planes of existence seem possible, even likely. So likely, the venerable Scientific American magazine held a contest offering a lot of money to any medium who could convince an investigative committee that their powers of summoning the dead were real. But though scientists were open-minded about the possibilities of contact with those now residing in the great beyond, the subject remained highly controversial because many religious people were horrified by the spiritualism craze.

 

Author David Jaher tells this intriguing history with such immersive detail that I actually started to feel a little creeped-out while reading about the dead rising in my dimly lit bedroom, an effect that was enhanced when the book’s cover literally glowed in the dark after I finally turned off the light (an unsettling but potent design choice). But along with its interesting historical insights, my favorite parts of the book involved its compelling portraits of the living, not the conversations of the dearly departed--though I did love picturing Summerland, reputed home of those who have passed on, where one no-longer-living young man claimed he could enjoy a celestial strain of whiskey and astral cigars.

 

I knew Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, had some mystical interests, but I had no idea how consumed he became. He made several extensive tours of America promoting the “new religion” of spiritualism, the only religion, he believed, that could be proved true by science. Henry Houdini also plays a large role in the spiritualism controversies reported in this book. He hoped communication with the dead was possible because he longed to have contact with his beloved mother, but unfortunately the master magician could see through all the mediums’ very amazing tricks and slights of hand. Houdini became one of the judges of the Scientific American contest, and he made it his mission to debunk all spiritualist frauds, a relentless activity that put him at odds with his equally but oppositely obsessed friend Doyle.

 

The medium the book spends the most time with is the “witch” of the title, charming Mina Crandon who was known as “Margery”. She was the best hope of those running the Scientific American contest, because she was educated and never took money for exhibiting her powers, factors which made her seem more credible than the other mediums they tested, but there ended up being  a lot of twists and turns to her story.

 

Jaher’s book is a fascinating and well told slice of history. Based on how vivid and readable the book is I was unsurprised to learn he’s a screenwriter. The fact that he’s also a professional astrologer did make my eyebrows raise just a bit.

 

I read an advanced review copy of this book supplied to me at no cost by the publisher through LibraryThing. Review opinions are mine.

Source: jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/09/23/rapping-and-ectoplasm-and-ghosts-oh-my
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review 2014-11-21 03:56
Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead - Christine Wicker

Lily Dale: The Town that Talks to the Dead wasn't quite what I expected (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). As the author is a former journalist, I expected heaping loads of skepticism.There was a fair amount but there were also fleeting moments of unchecked belief. More questions were raised than actually answered which I believe is the point. Spiritualism (the main topic of this book besides the town itself) can not be definitively proven (what religion can beyond a shadow of a doubt? that's why faith exists...) and yet the people in this town have an unshakable belief. While immersing herself in their customs, Wicker observed and participated in events that she could not explain through rational means. Was this spirits communicating beyond the grave? Were these people really capable of reading a person's future? Is it all a big crock of bull? Or is there something else going on here? If you're intrigued by the supernatural and/or want to learn more about a religion that has been popular since the 1800s then this is probably the book for you.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2013-05-23 04:29
In the Shadow of Blackbirds
In the Shadow of Blackbirds - Cat Winters

Overall Recommendation: Optional. This book’s strengths lie in its fictionalization of historical detail, rather than its plot.

 

I also recommend reading this with the awareness that it is a ghost story. I did not; I kept expecting it to turn out to be simply a psychic-connection story, and therefore I suspect I missed out on some of the potential enjoyment of spookiness.

 

What is there to like?

▪   The historical subject matter—the confluence of World War I, the flu pandemic of 1918, and the revival of Spiritualism and spirit photography—should spark readers’ interest and prompt a desire to learn more about what really happened, which is one of the strengths of reading historical fiction. Cat Winters has incorporated some interesting components from real-life events, like folk remedies and preventive measures that were common during the epidemic, and a character whose methods suggest that he is based on Harry Price, a psychic researcher who made a business of exposing spiritualist frauds. Credit to the author here: I began looking these things up as a result of reading this.

▪   A female protagonist, Mary Shelley Black, interested in science and technology, independent, and determined to find out the truth.

▪   The book’s design, including chapter headings and decorational art. The inclusion of historical photos and visual materials to lend weight and a sense of realism and immediacy to the historical context, is an especially good choice. Here’s one that is used, for example, of the Red Cross response during the flu epidemic. 

▪   A major theme is the destruction of war, and the price paid for it in the lives of a nation’s youth. The narrator has a number of occasions to reflect on this—her father is arrested for his pacifist beliefs, she loses the boy she loves when he joins the army, and she encounters wounded soldiers when she volunteers at a Red Cross station.

 

What’s not to like?

▪   The love interest, Stephen Embers, is more of a symbol of the young man destroyed by the circumstances of the war than a fully dimensional character—he is already gone at the point the novel begins. As such, it is difficult to become invested in Mary Shelley’s feelings for him, and the sense of urgency she has in discovering what happens to him (plot problem #1).

▪   The thing about mysteries is, you already know the crime that has been committed, so the driving force is finding out who did it. In this case, we always already know who did it, and we always already know the end result. So, Mary Shelley’s investigations are only into the circumstances surrounding what we already know to have happened. This is the other reason why the plot is less than compelling.

 

There were also a few points about the book that I found off-putting:

▪   There is a weird ghost dry-humping scene. Not sex, because he’s a ghost and that means he can’t take off his ghosty clothes because that’s how ghosts work? But then how he is corporeal enough to make out and have an erection? I don’t know, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

▪   The aunt is under 30 and has a fascination with a character who is a few years her junior, but she’s drawn as if she’s some out-of-touch middle-aged woman chasing after a much-younger man.

▪   The protagonist repeatedly excuses unsolicited attention and flirting from soldiers as, basically, the least she can do for our brave men in uniform.

 

What made me pick it up?

Picked it from my to-read list, thinking spooky and historical sounded good.

 

Similar To:

All Men of Genius, Lev A. C. Rosen—for another forward-thinking, technically-minded heroine with a mystery to solve

The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World, Mary Losure—this is one that I’m actually looking forward to reading myself, and the two girls and their photographs are specifically mentioned in this book. Pretty cool!

Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery—for a WWI novel written by a contemporary (pretty sad stuff, and romantic too, of course)

The Diviners, Libba Bray—for some supernatural teenagers stuff, post-WWI 

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