Double!! Book Review: Whispers Beyond the Veil and Whispers of Warning by Jessica Estevao

Whispers Beyond the Veil and Whispers of Warning by Jessica Estevao

So it’s time for a big ol’ review of the first two books in Jessica Estevao’s Change of Fortune mystery series. Since I’m reviewing both books together, there’s probably going to be minor spoilers for the second book in the series (duh).

Blurb the first:

Canada, 1898. The only life Ruby Proulx has ever known is that of a nomad, traveling across the country with her snake-oil salesman father. She dreams of taking root somewhere, someday, but, until she can, she makes her way by reading tarot cards. Yet she never imagined her own life would take such a turn…

After one of her father’s medical “miracles” goes deadly wrong, Ruby evades authorities by hiding in the seaside resort town of Old Orchard, Maine, where her estranged Aunt Honoria owns the Hotel Belden, a unique residence that caters to Spiritualists—a place where Ruby should be safe as long as she can keep her dark secret hidden.

But Ruby’s plan begins to crumble after a psychic investigator checks into the hotel and senses Ruby is hiding more than she’s letting on. Now Ruby must do what she can to escape both his attention and Aunt Honoria’s insistence that she has a true gift, before she loses her precious new home and family forever…

Blurb the second (spoilers, duh):

Partially reformed con artist Ruby Proulx is starting to feel at home in her aunt’s seaside hotel. She loves the feeling of being rooted in one place and also feels a sense of purpose as she helps her aunt keep her business afloat by acting as a psychic medium for the hotel’s metaphysically inclined guests.

When one of the guests, renowned Spiritualist and outspoken suffragist Sophronia Foster Eldridge, checks into the hotel for a month-long stay, Ruby finds her sense of purpose expand outside the confines of home and family. Sophronia takes Ruby under her wing and mentors her in the mediumistic abilities, encouraging her to work for a woman’s right to vote. But not everyone is as happy with Sophronia’s appearance in Old Orchard. When her body is found floating in the saltwater plunge pool of a local bathhouse, Ruby takes it upon herself to solve the murder, and in the process learns that Sophronia was hiding some secrets of her own.

Estevao has done a great job recreating a seaside town in Maine at the turn of the 20th century. She has clearly done a great deal of research, and the town of Old Orchard comes alive off the page. Ruby herself is a great character, an intelligent, independent woman who still manages to make mistakes, and occasionally do the wrong thing. In other words, Ruby has welcome nuance to her character. She isn’t a victim, a villain, or a superhero, but rather is someone relatable and sympathetic.

The mystery plots are well crafted, with red herrings and rich supporting characters. There is (isn’t there always?) a romance subplot, but it remains largely in the background, and doesn’t consume the characters.

In all, this is a great historical mystery series, with plenty of room to grow and evolve. Fans of the genre will have no trouble diving into this engaging book. Fans of Victoria Thompson and Deanna Rayborn should definitely take note.

Book Review: The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher

The Witch of Lime Street.jpg

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

The bloody, horrific battles of World War I ended in 1918, leaving battered nations and shattered families to pick up the pieces of their lives and find a way to continue on. As the 1920s began to roar, the Spiritualist movement, a pseudo-religion based upon making contact with the departed, came into prominence. The mediums who were the face of the movement offered reconnection with family and friends lost beyond the veil.

Into this tumultuous time period stepped two men, both rationalists at heart, yet destined to take very different paths through Spiritualism. The first was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Doyle had lost his brother and cousin in the Great War, and his son to influenza shortly thereafter. Through several mediums, Doyle had managed to make convincing contact with his dead son and his brother, and hereafter became one of the most vocal proponents of the Spiritualist movement. The second man was Harry Houdini, world famous magician and escape artist. Houdini had never really recovered from the death of his mother years before, and had set out on a quest to speak with her again across the veil. Houdini’s trained eye and his experience with legerdemain exposed every medium he visited as nothing more than a fraud. Houdini would make it one of his life’s missions to expose fraudulent psychics.

The book focuses on the eponymous “Witch of Lime Street,” a woman named Mina Crandon. Unlike most psychics of the day, Mina was a member of the Boston Brahmin social elite, and pretty, vivacious, and charming. Multiple scientific researchers would declare her work genuine. Houdini’s quest to unmask her as a fraud would become an obsession.

This book is a well-written, immersive history of a fascinating period in American history. For the first time, modern scientific principles were being applied to old-school supernatural phenomena. Scientists and laymen were seeking the answer to the “ultimate quest”: could life after death be conclusively proven? Jaher handles the subject well, maintaining mystery while providing a scientific expose, no mean feat. Jaher used primary source material for most of the content of the book, and this shows in the vivid (and occasionally contradictory) portrayals of the major players.

I would highly recommend this book for any history buffs out there. But even for those who don’t usually take to nonfiction, Jaher’s writing is accessible and entertaining, making this a good pick for any interested in the subject matter.

A copy of this book was provided by Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. The Witch of Lime Street is currently available for purchase.

For more information about the book, click here

For more information on the author, David Jaher, click here

Ink and Bone

Ink and Bone

Ink and Bone By Lisa Unger

4.5 Stars out of 5

I received an advanced ebook via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Ink and Bone hits the ground running. We find ourselves in the first chapter following a father and his two kids as they hike in the upstate New York woods. The idyllic scene of a young boy and girl tramping through the woods while dad yaks on his cell phone is swiftly shattered as shots ring out. Father and son are shot and left for dead, and the little girl is dragged away by a mysterious man wearing a baseball hat and carrying a very large gun.

We swerve–a bit jarringly–to the idyllic New York village of The Hollows, where we meet Finley Montgomery in her pink-haired, tattooed glory. Finley sees dead people. Well, what I mean is, Finley seems to have some sort of psychic ability, and she is in The Hollows to learn from her grandmother, Eloise, who is a psychic herself and a former police consultant. When the mother of the missing girl seeks out a local private detective in a last ditch effort to find her daughter, Abbey, Finley naturally gets drawn into the case.

Psychic stuff aside, Ink and Bone is really more of a clock-ticking thriller than anything else. The sense of time ticking away is strong throughout the book. The story is advanced through the viewpoints of multiple characters, including Finley (naturally), the girl’s parents, and the girl herself. The storyline weaves the past and present together to give us a slowly emerging picture of what happened the day little Abbey Gleason went missing, and the more we see of that picture, the more understanding we have of the direness of the situation.

The mystery surrounding Abbey’s abduction is done well. The non-chronological aspect of Unger’s storytelling sometimes gets a little confusing. She introduces things into the narrative without a lot of explanation. However, patience is rewarded as she will often go over things from multiple angles, so pages down the road, you will find yourself going “ohhhh,” about something you stumbled over earlier. The psychic aspect is done well, more icing on the cake of a good thriller than leading the book into the fantasy realm. Unger is careful to keep the story feeling grounded and gritty, even as Finley is seeing dead people. Unger’s characters also deserve a mention. You will not like everyone in this book, but by and large you will sympathize with most of them. Unger is careful to keep her characters from becoming cardboard cutouts. Everyone is flawed, some deeply so, but for most, Unger allows them their humanity; we can still empathize with them, even if we don’tn like them very much.

The climax comes with about a hundred pages left in the book, and it is incredibly well written. I had to stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning to finish the book, because I wasn’t going to be able to sleep until I knew what happened. I hate to use overplayed cliches like “gripping”, but holy hell, I’m not sure I could have stopped reading if I’d tried.

So: if you like thrillers, or mysteries, or paranormal stories, or are looking for a combo of the three, I can’t recommend this book enough. Unger is a talented writer with a great sense of suspense and pacing. This book seems to leave the door open for a sequel, and I very much look forward to that possibility.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #1)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children By Ransom Riggs

4.5 out of 5 stars

 

I confess I got this book solely on account of its cover. The creepy, black and white photograph of a (very children-of-the-corn looking) girl, standing stock still, staring directly at the camera, as if contemplating how best to eat your soul stood out like a corpse at a holiday party. And the title? How could I resist? I plucked the book from the shelves and brought it home. Then (as you already know, if you read my post from a few days ago), I got distracted (things were shiny), and the book languished on my shelf. Then low and behold, the book will soon be a movie–directed by Tim Burton no less–and I didn’t even want to look at the previews without reading the book first.

Miss Peregrine’s is a young adult novel, but one that transcends the genre and is enjoyable even for those of us who have left high school far in the past. The best books in the genre (think Harry Potter) feature young adult leading characters and high school age problems, but also rise above the mundane to speak to the problems of a bigger adult world. The less enjoyable books in the genre (sparkly vampires *cough*) leave you wondering if you might have enjoyed the book when you were thirteen, but fairly confident you were never that insipid (though, obviously, all teenagers are insipid by nature).

Miss Peregrine’s is one of the better books in the genre. Following the death of his grandfather, sixteen year old Jacob finds out that the fairy stories his grandfather told him as a child–about a magical island inhabited by children with paranormal abilities–may not have been just stories after all. Jacob sets off to learn the truth about the island with its mysterious house of peculiar children, all watched over by a bird who smokes a pipe.

The story is accompanied by photographs throughout the book, all black and white, with that particular creepy vintage vibe you get if you google search “scary Easter bunny”. The pictures are all quite striking, and serve to add to the atmosphere of the book. When you learn that all these photos are actual vintage photographs (most unaltered), collected by the author, it adds to the creepy vibe (what were those people doing?) rather than detracts from it. The book is largely an adventure story suffused with all the creepy atmosphere an ancient, fog-shrouded island off the coast of Wales can deliver. There are a few scary/creepy/violent moments, but these are generally around the level of the dementors in the Harry Potter novels (as, after all, this is still a YA novel, creepy atmosphere not withstanding).

In all, this is a great read, and a fine example of a YA novel not only accessible for adults, but enjoyable as well. The characters are interesting and generally well done, and the backdrops, first of Florida, and then the Island are fully realized and contribute well to the tone of the book. I enjoyed my time with Miss Peregrine’s and can’t wait to read the second book in the series.

I do, however, reserve judgement on the movie version.