Category Archives: Review

Review: The Witch of Lime Street

#ReadingIsResistance

The Witch of Lime Street
by David Jaher

Title: The Witch of Lime Street
Author: David Jaher
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9780307451064
Publisher:  Crown Publishing
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

Thank you to the publisher for sending a review copy

Crown Publishing blurb:

The 1920s are famous as the golden age of jazz and glamour, but it was also an era of fevered yearning for communion with the spirit world, after the loss of tens of millions in the First World War and the Spanish-flu epidemic. A desperate search for reunion with dead loved ones precipitated a tidal wave of self-proclaimed psychics—and, as reputable media sought stories on occult phenomena, mediums became celebrities.

Against this backdrop, in 1924, the pretty wife of a distinguished Boston surgeon came to embody the raging national debate over Spiritualism, a movement devoted to communication with the dead. Reporters dubbed her the blonde Witch of Lime Street, but she was known to her followers simply as Margery. Her most vocal advocate was none other than Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed so thoroughly in Margery’s powers that he urged her to enter a controversial contest, sponsored by Scientific American and offering a large cash prize to the first medium declared authentic by its impressive five-man investigative committee.  Admired for both her exceptional charm and her dazzling effects, Margery was the best hope for the psychic practice to be empirically verified.  Her supernatural gifts beguiled four of the judges. There was only one left to convince…the acclaimed escape artist, Harry Houdini.

#ReadingIsResistance to the rigid rules of defining the inexplicable.

We all want answers to what our lives mean.  We want to know where the dead go when they leave us.  We have trouble letting go, and most of all, we just want things to make sense.

In The Witch of Lime Street, David Jaher writes about the rivalry between science, seances, Harry Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a woman named Mina.

Spiritualism after World War I is a fascinating pocket of history.  It’s about the search for meaning after a meaningless war in a time of great chaos.  How do people make sense of the enormous changes happening around them?

Jaher’s overly-detailed, too long book does an adequate job of telling the story of the search for meaning and Truth.   It’s a great discussion about the need for contact with loved ones who are gone from the lives of many, including Houdini and Doyle, far too early.

It becomes political as Houdini sets out to prove once and for all that all those who hold seances are frauds.  In this book, he isn’t really a nice man.  His belligerence about proving Mina Crandon wrong, while at the same time longing to talk to his dearly departed mother, is off-putting in Jaher’s hands.

More sympathetic, to a point, is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who lost his teenaged son to the trenches of war and grieves deeply.  Doyle becomes convinced there should be a way for all those grieving for those the war took to communicate with them in Summerland.

Enter Scientific America and it’s prize money offered to the person who could prove to a committee of judges they were genuine in their abilities.  For over a year, the search covered the US and Britain.  Each time, the psychic was uncovered as fraudulent.

Then Mina (aka Margery) Crandon, with the right social credentials, comes to the attention of all parties involved.  Of course, nothing could be proven and the prize money was never awarded.

The story of Mina’s seances is one of strong personalities determined to prove themselves RIGHT at all costs.  Houdini insists she’s a fraud but only talks about how Mina could do her “tricks,” including manifesting her frolicking dead brother Walter and ectoplasm.  Doyle is intent on proving that communication with dead is not only possible but can become commonplace.

The other judges on the panel get caught between these two strong personalities and Mina Crandon’s gentle, witty personality.  They also get swept up in the grandeur of the Crandon’s upper crust credentials.  It must have been an emotional whipsaw for these poor judges who are portrayed as hardly up to the task.

There is so much detail it’s easy to get lost.  Yet, the more salacious stuff is hidden behind innuendo.  There are many portrayals of the searches Mina had to go through before every seance, including examining her vagina to make sure she wasn’t hiding any number of icky things in there.  I was creeped out by this.  The poor woman.  I kept thinking, “You wanna put your hands where?”  Alarming.

There were slight hints of sexual impropriety between Mina and some of the judges, including Houdini.  But only hints.  I suppose, given the times, slight hints were all the original sources would provide.

I’m skittish of the paranormal, so am at a disadvantage in understanding the fascination with heavy tables rising under their own power, ectoplasmic projections, and all the other attendant activities which seem to attend seances.  I’m not at all convinced we should be messing with paranormal things we can’t possibly understand.  Things just seem to go wrong all the time.

After all the buildup, the logical conclusion of no conclusion was an anti-climax.  Of course there was no way to ever prove Mina Crandon’s veracity.  Houdini died from the infamous punches to his stomach shortly after the Scientific American was called to a draw and officially disbanded.  Mina Crandon lived on, complimenting him gently.

It is a fascinating story but sadly, Jaher’s skills were not up to the task of making it a fascinating read.  To give him credit, it’s a complicated story, one I’m sure he grappled with in trying to bring it into shape.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

Review: A Kiss for a Dead Film Star

#ReadingIsResistance

A Kiss for a Dead Film Star
by Karen Vaughn

Title: A Kiss for a Dead Film Star
Author: Karen Vaughn
Published: 2016
ISBN-13: 9780143111689
Publisher:  Brain Mill Press
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Brain Mill Press blurb:

Isaac Rubenstein has no choice but to kill himself.
He’s in love with Rudolf Valentino, and now Valentino is dead. His acolytes are committing suicide all over the city. The window to definitively display his devotion is closing, and for once the New York tenement apartment he shares with his mother, his grandmother, and his siblings is quiet. It has to be now.
Unless he doesn’t, because his grandmother calls out for him right before the blade touches his skin. Unless he does, and the cuts bleed away his heart’s blood.
In Karen M. Vaughn’s romantic and darkly funny melodrama, Isaac Rubinstein does both. Dies, and is united with his beautiful Valentino. Lives, and finds a reason to live.
A Kiss for a Dead Film Star is a astonishing debut collection of stories that inspire weird love and uncover surprising caches of eroticism. Psycho-medical-magical realism intertwine with old and new New York City, epic love stories, and tales best told in the smoky alleys behind bars or beneath the covers. Karen Vaughn’s capacious imagination and remarkable voice glitter—this collection is a comet that comes around rarely.

#ReadingIsResistance to lack of imagination.  Karen Vaughan’s short story collection, A Kiss for a Dead Film Star, is filled with characters who are, well … characters.

Take, for instance, the histrionic Isaac Rubinstein in the title story, who grieves the way only a star struck teenager can.  Rudolph Valentino has died, and Isaac must make the perfect symbolic gesture to show both Valentino, and the world, just how much Isaac adored his movie star.  The breathlessness of Isaac’s panic and need to make this gesture, is there.  Vaughn’s writing makes the reader feel great anxiety for the fate of this wistful teenager.

In “Still Life With Fossils,” dinosaurs talk to each other from the afterlife, welcoming them to a tribe only they can experience.  This story takes the question, “Is there life after death,” in a very unexpected direction.  It’s my favorite in the collection.

The spooky story “Limbs,” takes being different from everyone else to a new level.  Take a family of migrant Mexican farm workers and then give them a secret they have to hide at all costs.  Frightening.

I’m glad to have read this little collection of stories.  Each has a different voice with intriguing themes.  Months after reading, they still haunt me.  Especially the dinosaurs.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Review: Kitchen

#ReadingIsResistance

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Title: Kitchen
Author:  Banana Yoshimoto
Published: 1993 (US Translation)
ISBN-13: 9780671880187
Publisher:  Grove Atlantic
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Grove Atlantic‘s blurb:

Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen is an enchantingly original and deeply affecting book that juxtaposes two tales about mothers, love, tragedy, and the power of the kitchen and home in the lives of a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan. Mikage, the heroine of “Kitchen,” is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Grieving, Mikaga is taken in by her friend Yoichi and his mother (who is really his cross-dressing father) Eriko. As the three of them form an improvised family that soon weathers its own tragic losses, Yoshimoto spins a lovely, evocative tale with the kitchen and the comforts of home at its heart. In a whimsical style that recalls the early Marguerite Duras, “Kitchen” and its companion story, “Moonlight Shadow,” are elegant tales whose seeming simplicity is the ruse of a very special writer whose voice echoes in the mind and the soul.

#ReadingIsResistance to the mundane and mainstream.  To the idea that love, death, and everything inbetween follows rules.  And to the idea family is constrained by blood lines.

I’m finding the more broadly I read authors who are less like me, the more entertaining my world becomes.  And I’m finding Japanese authors have wriggled into my readers’ heart.

Enter new (to me) author Banana Yoshimoto, who says on her website she chose the nom de plume because she liked banana flowers.  Which is so completely different from the racist term I had most often heard regarding Asian Americans.  And while Banana Yoshimoto is not Asian American, but Japanese, that racist epithet is what I immediately thought of.  I worry about what that might say about me.

Kitchen is a tenderly written book about death, love in many forms, and what family comes to mean.  The title symbolizes the place Yoshimoto’s narrator, Mikaga, becomes most comfortable.  The kitchen is what becomes home, regardless of circumstance.  A well kept, well stocked kitchen is balm to jangled nerves and the problems which plague every human being.

I came to Japanese writing through Haruki Murakami, the voice of Japanese magical realism.  Yoshimoto’s book has hints of magical realism, but it’s grounded in the realities of lives filled with grief from mutual loss, and happiness from mutual kinship.  And just under the surface are the oblique references to what can only be referred to as … otherworldly.  I’m not sure that’s the right word, but it will have to do because those are the themes touching on the indescribable.  It’s the evanescence we all chase after as we seek answers which are bigger than we are.

Mikaga finds comfort in her kitchens, which ground her and give her space to deal with the just on the tip of the brain/heart/lips thoughts of heavier concerns.  Kitchen may be about love, and death, and family; it’s also about finding a resting place among the chaos.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance.

Review: The BFG

#ReadingIsResistance

The BFG
by Roald Dahl

Title: The BFG
Author:  Roald Dahl
Published: 1982
ISBN-13: 9780142410387
Publisher:  Puffin
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Puffin blurb:

The BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly. It’s lucky for Sophie that he is. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, or any of the other giants—rather than the BFG—she would have soon become breakfast. When Sophie hears that the giants are flush-bunking off to England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!

Such delightful word play.  And a story about unlikely friends who join forces to save the children of the word from those nasty bone-crunching children of the world.  There’s nothing more to say other than don’t deprive yourself of this wonderful little story.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance.

Review: Who I Am

#ReadingIsResistance

Pete Townshend
Who I Am by Pete Townshend

Title: Who I Am
Author: Pete Townshend
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 9780062127242
Publisher:  Harper Collins
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Harper Collins blurb:

From the voice of a generation:

…smashed his first guitar onstage, in 1964, by accident.
…heard the voice of God on a vibrating bed in rural Illinois.
…invented the Marshall stack, feedback, and the concept album.
…stole his windmill guitar-playing from Keith Richards.
…detached from his body in an airplane, on LSD, and nearly died.
…has some explaining to do.
…is the most literary and literate musician of the last fifty years.
…planned to write his memoir when he was 21.
…published this book at 67.

One of rock music’s most intelligent and literary performers, Pete Townshend—guitarist, songwriter, editor—tells his closest-held stories about the origins of the preeminent twentieth-century band The Who, his own career as an artist and performer, and his restless life in and out of the public eye in this candid autobiography, Who I Am.

With eloquence, fierce intelligence, and brutal honesty, Pete Townshend has written a deeply personal book that also stands as a primary source for popular music’s greatest epoch. Readers will be confronted by a man laying bare who he is, an artist who has asked for nearly sixty years: Who are you?

I entered Who I Am with trepidation.  Autobiographies can be dangerously self-centered, filled with rationale for bad behavior.  Often, they can be poorly written.  Neither is true with Townshend’s book.

At times it reads as a recitation of events from a calendar.  But what struck me most about Townshend was his honesty about the triumvirate of a rock god’s life, and his struggles with hidden memories of child abuse, his spiritual practice, and his love and devotion to making and writing music.

Process is one of those nebulous words which gets thrown around.  Reading about others’ processes helps me understand mine.  Townshend proudly discusses how much work went into his process, and how much joy it brought him.

He is also deeply honest about what an absolute horror he was.  And his struggles to come to grips with any of it while living the privileged life his music afforded him.  It’s also clear that without his music, Townshend’s life would have been one of complete and utter misery, with little hope for even a moment of joy.

Where would our world of music be without the influence of Pete Townshend and The Who?  I’m glad we’ll never have to know.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Review: Edvard Munch @ SFMOMA

SFMOMA
SFMOMA

SFMOMA is simply gorgeous with large open spaces and lots of natural light.  Having now worked at a museum for over two years, I understand the fascination with becoming like SFMOMA.  If only …

The Munch exhibit Between the Bed and the Clock featured over 40 paintings.  All of them emotional and intense.  Weeks later, I’m still grappling with some of the more uncomfortable works dealing with death and great sadness.  Of course, about all I knew about him before this exhibit was The Scream which has a weakened impact since becoming an icon of pop culture, even having its own emoji.

Reading the catalogue helped me some.

An Icon of Emotion – article from SFMOMA

He was constantly drawn to the theatrical, the imaginary, the fantastic. Birth, death, love, and conflict, for instance, and tensions between male and female. This artist was not one to separate art from life.

A couple of my favorites:

https://i1.wp.com/www.nasjonalmuseet.no/filestore/Samlinger_og_forskning/Edvard_Munch_i_Nasjonalgalleriet/Natt_i_St_Cloud_1890/NG.M.01111.jpg?resize=281%2C339     Night in St. Cloud (1893)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://i1.wp.com/munchmuseet.no/assets/ekely/_952x535_fit_center-center_75/M0032_20160226.jpg?resize=285%2C343Starry Night (1922-24)

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Van Gogh’s Starry Night is one of my favorite paintings.  Van Gogh and Munch were contemporaries.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Review: Ghachar Ghochar

#ReadingIsResistance

Ghachar Ghochar
by Vivek Shanbhag

Title: Ghachar Ghochar
Author: Vivek Shanbhag
Published: 2013
ISBN-13: 9780143111689
Publisher:Penguin Random House
Twitter: @VivekShanbhag0

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

Penguin Random House’s blurb:

A young man’s close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes almost overnight. As the narrator—a sensitive, passive man who is never named—his mother, father, sister, and uncle move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a large new house on the other side of Bangalore, the family dynamic starts to shift. Allegiances realign, marriages are arranged and begin to falter, and conflict brews ominously in the background. Before he knows it, things are “ghachar ghochar”—a nonsense phrase meaning something tangled beyond repair, a knot that can’t be untied.

Driving home after work one evening, I caught Maureen Corrigan’s review on NPR.  So taken with it, I ordered it the next day.  And I was not disappointed.  My summation comes to this, “Money changes everything.”  And when you don’t have it, and all of a sudden get it, life changes in unexpected ways.

In 118 pages, Vivek Shanbhag spins the story of how money changes everything for one family in Bangalore.  Of most interest to me were the emotional changes sudden riches wrought.  From the overspending, possessively jealous women to the carefree narrator who simply doesn’t understand why his bride finds pride in earning her own money, when he doesn’t need to work at all.

The ghost of no money hovers over this family like a foul-smelling cloud.  Money does not bring peace, the way many of us think it would/should.  In Ghachar Ghochar, all it does is bring chaos.

I love this little book so much that when our CEO announced his departure, I knew he needed a copy.  From someone who loves great stories to someone who also loves them.  This is a book I wish I could buy for all my readerly friends.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Review: Metatropolis

#ReadingIsResistance

Metatropolis
edited by John Scalzi

Title: Metatropolis
Author: edited by John Scalzi
Published: 2009
ISBN-13: 978076532710-9
Publisher:Tor
Twitter: @Scalzi

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

Tor.com’s blurb:

Five original tales set in a shared urban future—from some of the hottest young writers in modern SF

More than an anthology, Metatropolis is the brainchild of five of science fiction’s hottest writers—Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, Karl Schroeder, and project editor John Scalzi—-who combined their talents to build a new urban future, and then wrote their own stories in this collectively-constructed world. The results are individual glimpses of a shared vision, and a reading experience unlike any you’ve had before.

A strange man comes to an even stranger encampment…a bouncer becomes the linchpin of an unexpected urban movement…a courier on the run has to decide who to trust in a dangerous city…a slacker in a “zero-footprint” town gets a most unusual new job…and a weapons investigator uses his skills to discover a metropolis hidden right in front of his eyes.

Welcome to the future of cities. Welcome to Metatropolis.

The reason I don’t read book reviews, or listen to book podcasts, etc. is simple.  They lead to adding to my already never ending want to read list.  And, as I get older I realize, I have enough books to last the rest of my life on hand.  I have this same squeamishness with anthologies.

And yup, as often happens, two more authors go on to the list.  It should go without saying, by now, that John Scalzi is one of my favorite authors.  His name is the reason I read the book.  And his story is my favorite, having to do with pigs and pig shit and politics, and a slightly lighter take on the dystopian themes that run through the book.

Elizabeth Bear‘s story “The Red in the Sky is Our Blood” about a counterculture which offers its protagonist, Cadie, a safer life caught my attention almost immediately.  Then the words Ukrainian mob got me.  I need more please.

I also need more Tobias Buckell.  “Stochasti-city” features a bouncer who becomes a military strategist for a group of people aiming to build a better community right under the existing power structure’s nose.

My fondness for subversive protagonists and complex emotional situations was satisfied by the stories in this anthology.  And, in my mind, it’s never wrong to want more.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Review: The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The Blind Assassin
by Mararet Atwood

#ReadingIsResistance

Title: The Blind Assassin
Author: Margaret Atwood
Published: 2000
ISBN-13: 9780385720847
Publisher: Anchor Books

[My bones] ache like history:  things long done with.

An elderly lady writes her memoirs, revealing dark family secrets.  Within those secrets is the book The Blind Assassin, a science fiction novel.  Surrounding this novel within a novel is that tale of two lovers who meet surreptitiously and spin yarns.

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors.  I often feel like there’s something just skimming below the surface in her stories, but if I look too hard it will skitter away.  And the sheer perversity of this outlandish science fiction tale in the middle of a story of two mystery lovers wrapped in the memoirs of an elderly lady looking back can be fascinating at times.

This was my second read, and found it didn’t hold as well as the first.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

Save

Save

Save

Review: Blackbirds / Mockingbird

#ReadingIsResistance

Blackbird
Chuck Wendig

Mockingbird
Chuck Wendig
Title: Blackbird
Author: Chuck Wendig
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-85766-230-9 (This ISBN is for a paperback no longer available from the original publisher)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Title: Mockingbird
Author: Chuck Wendig
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1-4814-4867-3
Publisher: Saga Press

I like my protagonists dark and flawed, and Miriam Black is as flawed as they come.  I wouldn’t want to be me if my super power was being able to know how the person whose skin I’m touching is going to die and when.  That’s agony.

In Blackbird Miriam earns her living by hitching rides and ripping off the drivers.  Until she gets saved by Louis, a truck driver who rescues her from four college boys bent on having the good time they think Miriam is offering.

She’s convinced there’s no way to change what she sees, and that makes her even more bitter.  What’s the point of knowing if you can’t do anything about it?  She’s tried before.  But now that she’s met Louis and knows he’s going to die in 30 days saying her name, she has to try again.

And wow, get ready for a tough ride.  Blackbirds is rough, coarse and thrilling.  Wendig pulls no punches in setting this world up.  Miriam isn’t likeable, but she is understandable.  And the questions brought up by having a power like hers is fascinating..  Then there’s the question of who is worth trying to save, and who gets to make that decision.  There’s some true existential stuff going on in this book.

If Blackbird is about changing the destiny of one man, Mockingbird is about changing the destiny of many.  It’s about catching the serial killer preying on the girls who go to school in what is essentially a private, upscale juvenile detention center.  And the truly dark secret of this school is shocking, yet unsurprising.

Just as dark as Blackbirds, and possibly even more terrifying, Mockingbird has Miriam confronting her power, her past and the lives of others more deeply than before.  How does one come to grips with all the destruction she’s had wreaked upon her and has caused?

Chuck Wendig has joined Richard Kadry in my list of favorite urban fantasy writers.  They’re as terrific as their characters are bleak.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save