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review 2017-02-16 16:34
Book review – Sight Unseen, by Susan Mac Nicol
Sight Unseen - Susan Mac Nicol

Loved, just loved this.

Loved the language, loved the story, and loved the way life goes on, only differently.


So happy to see that there were no quick fixes, and no miraculous come backs, only a hard-earned struggle to make life work again.


Kudos, author, you did a great job.

We need more books like this one.

Simply loved it.


*** Bought this book with my own monies ***

Source: annalund2011.booklikes.com/post/1530752/book-review-sight-unseen-by-susan-mac-nicol
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review 2017-01-21 00:31
ARC Review: Flag On The Play by Sherrie Henry
Flag on the Play - Sherrie Henry
While the author accurately captured the voices of the teenagers in this book, with their struggles and figuring out who they are, I thought that the amount of issues piled within were a bit much.

Liam, our protagonist, is a junior in a small town high school, the punter on the school's football team, and gay. He knows he's gay, and he's okay with that, but there's no way he can let on about that, because his parents drag him to church on Sundays, and all he's ever heard from the pulpit of the local Baptist church is that homosexuality is sin.

I felt sorry for him after just a few pages, empathizing with him about the impossibly situation he's in.

Enter Cody, new student, in town temporarily due to his father's job, who becomes the new star player on the football team. Also, he's gay too.

I liked the story well so far, and looked forward to how Liam and Cody would navigate the rough waters ahead.

I thought that the depiction of the relationship, first love, the inability to keep their hands off each other even in risky places, the jealousy Liam feels at Cody's pretend-GF (who doesn't know she's a beard) were all well done, but I didn't think that the self-harm issue was handled with sufficient depth.

While Liam's parents, especially his mother, were supportive at the eventual reveal that their son is gay, I also felt that the climax and subsequent ending weren't handled with enough depth either. I would have liked to see some closure to what happened, and I would have liked to see an epilogue of sorts that showed how Liam and Cody fare after the main part of the story ended.

I did like the inclusion of the Wiccan beliefs and how it was juxtaposed to the Christian conservative beliefs to which Liam's parents subscribed. The jarring differences between Cody's parents and Liam's parents were also well done, if somewhat one-dimensional.

I would recommend that this book carry trigger warnings, especially since it's geared toward young adults, considering the self-harm issue it discusses within. Yes, the cutting is mentioned in the blurb, but I felt that the dangers of cutting were not sufficiently explained, nor did I believe that Liam, once repeatedly flooded with those endorphins, would so easily be able to stop cutting.

While the issues raised within were realistic, they weren't fully resolved to my satisfaction. YMMV. Overall, a good effort. This was my first book by this author.

 I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. 


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review 2016-11-02 13:04
ARC Review: Walking By Faith by A.M. Leibowitz
Walking By Faith - A. M. Leibowitz

This is a difficult book to read, and even more difficult to review. It's not a romance, but a prequel to Passing On Faith, that explains Cat's backstory. It can be read as a standalone, as I haven't read Passing On Faith.

With great spiritual depth, A.M. Leibowitz tells the story of a young, happy, carefree Cat, whose exuberant self withers and dies after a horrific homophobic attack that sends him to the hospital, with injuries made worse by his medical condition. It tells us of friends who leave after Cat's spirit plummets and he takes vows of not speaking, of no sex, and no more colorful, trendy clothing. Simplicity, chastity, and silence are his life now, and he memorizes parts of the Bible which are the only words he will speak. It tells us of supportive parents, who don't know how to deal with their "new" son, but who are steadfast in giving him the space and time he needs.

Ms. Leibowitz's books are generally not firmly planted in the M/M Romance genre, which is something I fully appreciate. Their characters tend to span the spectrum of LGBTQUIA, and their books aren't usually traditional romances, and therefore not tropey. This book here is no different. While Cat at the beginning of the book has a boyfriend (in secret, bc the BF isn't out), he spends most of the book trying to find himself again after the attack. His spirit is so broken that he believes he brought the almost rape on himself, and therefore needs to change everything that makes him Cat, so it can never happen again. He doesn't realize that he's not to blame for someone wanting to take what's not theirs to take, and that rape isn't about sex, but power.

There were times when I wanted to hug him fiercely, and there were times when I wanted to slap the stupid right out of him. I formed an emotional connection to the character, and wanted him to get the help he needed.

The author explores the family dynamics very well too - Cat's illness (hemophilia) is used as somewhat of an excuse by his parents to limit him as an adult making his own choices, and while they are supportive of his id as gender-queer, they do not want him to be sexually active, because of the issues sex can cause, due to the hemophilia.

After the trauma, Cat experiences many facets of being a victim - self-blame, anger, fear, guilt, and shame - which all confirm for him that his vows are the right way to move forward. The author also explores the conflict between Christianity and being LGBTQUIA, a theme that is likely familiar to most people on this spectrum. How many times have we been told that God hates us, because we're queer? How often do we see on the news that Christians deny us the right to even exist? How long did it take us to have the right to marry, in a country where Church and State are supposed to be separate entities, and freedom of religion doesn't give one the freedom to impose their particular brand of religion on someone else? Here, Cat's beliefs serve as a coping mechanism that at once helps and hinders him, a theme which progresses through the book, until Cat no longer needs it to cope.

In this case, the vows that Cat takes allow him to reclaim the part of himself that he lost during the attack - his autonomy to make decisions for himself - and they actually help him on his road to recovery. He has internalized some of the hate brought down on him but works through it. At the end of the book, which ends on a hopeful note, and seems to lead into Passing On Faith, Cat has, for the most part, recovered what he lost that night, and he's well on his way to forging his own path.

He has help, of course, primarily in the form of David, a nurse at the hospital. David's approach to Cat's silence, by not pushing him like the rest of the people in his life, by not forsaking him like his friends, goes a long way in building trust between the two, and eventually falling in love. Their romance is, while sweet and happy, still somewhat secondary to the rest of their relationship, but it allows Cat to safely explore his sexuality again, and he comes to rely on David heavily.

David promises Cat to never leave him, but cannot keep that promise due to circumstances beyond his control. However, his faithfulness up to that point has given Cat the strength to cope and keep moving forward without him.

The book isn't unicorns and flowers and glitter, but it's a book worth reading, showing a young man's road to recovery after a hateful attack that leaves him reeling and coping as best as he can. I cried a lot. I used a lot of tissues to dry my tears. You probably will too. Still, this book is definitely worth your time.

** I received a free copy of this book from its author. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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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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