Monday, October 12, 2015

Book Review: 'The Witch of Lime Street' by David Jaher

✰✰✰½ The 1920s were a decade of glamour and technology. During this time the Spiritualist movement rapidly caught on after millions died during the horrors of World War I and the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak. Although it might seem obvious that these paranormal phenomena were hoaxes, many people took séances quite seriously. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a believer. To settle the conflict, the Scientific American magazine decided to sponsor a contest and offer a prize to the medium who could prove her gifts were authentic. Several stepped forward. All were easily discredited. All, that is, until one known as Margery entered.

Like other mediums, Margery claimed to communicate with the dead. Unlike the others, Margery never charged for her séances. As a prominent doctor's wife, the beautiful, charming young woman had many believers. She seemed destined to win the prize, if not for one obstacle. The only one able to resist her charms was the famed illusionist Harry Houdini. In fact, Houdini made it his personal crusade to expose fraudulent mediums. While Margery was a tough nut to crack, Houdini publicly disproved her. Nevertheless, Margery's true believers stood by her. With Houdini's untimely death, Margery's secrets will live on.

The Bottom Line: Jaher's fascination with the topic is evident in the extensive research he undertook in order to write this debut book. In doing so, the author has brought to light an interesting lost piece of American history. Presented in short chapters, some were page-turners while others were bogged down with too many details. Overall, this is an impressive and fascinating tome. Recommended for history buffs and fans of paranormal phenomena and magic. The glow in the dark cover is a nice bonus.

Details: The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher. Advance Readers Edition published by Crown Publishers in 2015. 436 p. ISBN: 978-0-307-45106-4 NOTE: I received a free advance reading copy from Crown Publishers in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Book Review: 'The Ghost Prison' by Joseph Delaney

✰✰✰ Billy Calder is the new prison guard at the castle. Everyone knows the castle is haunted, but there aren't many jobs available for orphans. In fact, Billy is lucky to have found this one. After preliminary training, Billy is dismayed to be transferred to the night shift. Scary things have happened at the castle; people have died there. However, Billy doesn't have a choice. Billy has heard all the stories about the haunted cells in the castle. He also knows how to take precautions, until one night when he is the only guard on duty to make the rounds. Even though he has been warned to stay away from the Witch Well, it's up to Billy to feed the evil creature within. Whether it's nerves or something else, Billy makes a mistake that will change his life forever.

The Bottom Line: Supplemented with spooky black and white illustrations by Scott M. Fischer, this ghost story is fun for late night telling. This quick read will appeal to kids in middle school. 

Details: The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney. Hardcover published by Sourcebooks Fire in 2013. 112 p. ISBN: 978-1-4022-9318-4

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Book Review: 'Four Little Witches' by T. J. Perkins

✰✰✰✰✰ In the land of Lilly Hollow, four tiny little witches representing the elements play and laugh. With their own special gifts, the best friends help things grow and flourish. When an accident occurs and the planet is threatened, the little witches band together to heal the land. With their nurturing teamwork, the four friends ensure that our beloved Earth will be here for years to come.

The Bottom Line: This magical little book will delight tiny readers ages 2 - 7. Dreamy illustrations in soft hues will appeal to kids of all ages. This is a timeless tale you will read over and over again with your own little ones. Enthusiastically recommended for any time of the year.

Details: Four Little Witches written by T. J. Perkins & illustrated by Eimi Pinero. Hardcover picture book published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd. in 2015. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-7643-4943-0

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Book Review: 'The Hallo-wiener' by Dav Pilkey

✰✰✰✰ All the other dogs make fun of Oscar because he is short and long. They taunt and tease him with names like Wiener Dog and then leave him behind. On Halloween night Oscar dreams of wearing a scary costume. To his dismay his mom surprises him with a silly one. Being a good little dog, he wears it anyway and is soon left behind again. When Oscar finally catches up with his friends, he discovers a monster has frightened them. Can little Oscar save them before it's too late?

The Bottom Line: This is a sweet little tale about friendship and bravery told for the Halloween season. Colorful illustrations, plentiful puns, and a happy ending will appeal to kids in grades K - 2. Recommended for storytime reading.

Details: The Hallo-wiener written & illustrated by Dav Pilkey. Hardcover picture book published by The Blue Sky Press in 1995. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-590-41703-7

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Book Review: 'The Amityville Horror' by Jay Anson

✰✰✰ The Lutz family moved into their dream house nearly forty years ago. At the time, George and Kathleen knew that just one year earlier the entire DeFeo family had been murdered in the house by the eldest son. Nevertheless, the price was right. George and Kathy were far from superstitious, so they went ahead with the purchase. They were optimistic that this would be the perfect home for their new family. 

Almost immediately after moving in, strange and terrifying phenomena began to happen to the family. Less than one month later they fled the house in fear for their lives. Believe it or not; this is their story.

The Bottom Line: While I have seen the movie countless times, the book has a more frightening quality about it. Written in a journalistic style, the book is a quick read. Anson's descriptions of the psychic phenomena are quite spooky, and the information about what Father Frank Mancuso experienced was interesting. Also, the book includes plans of the house. Recommended for fans of true crime, paranormal, and horror.

Details: The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. Paperback published by Pocket Star Books in 2005. 256 p. ISBN: 978-1-4165-0769-7

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Review: 'The Man in the Rockefeller Suit' by Mark Seal

✰✰✰✰½ Clark Rockefeller made international headlines when he kidnapped his daughter and disappeared. During the manhunt that followed, police were stunned to discover that the man known as Clark Rockefeller was an imposter. Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter went from foreign exchange student to wealthy scion, by bluffing his way into exclusive clubs, communities, and financial institutions. Over a period of three decades, this self-made con man managed to fool nearly everyone including his Harvard-educated wife. This true-crime book reads like a fictional thriller. Once you pick it up, you won't be able to put it down. You simply won't believe it's true.

The Bottom Line: This book has it all: mystery, intrigue, and murder. It is a quick read that will leave you wondering just how one man could fool everyone with his outrageous lies. Highly recommended for fans of true crime stories, mysteries, and deception. Several pages of fascinating black and white photos are included as well.

Book Club Notes: The discussion for this pick was well attended and lively. The average rating for the book was 4+, with a range from a low of 3 to a high of 5. There was a lot of excitement about this book, and many participants commented that is was hard to put down.

It has been a few years since the book was published, so there were a few loose ends. I gathered articles and photos to supplement the discussion and bring the group up to date. We were very interested in finding additional photos of John and Linda Sohus as well as Reigh Rockefeller.

Questions for the discussion were available at BookBrowse. However, I also supplemented the discussion with a few of my own questions:

Q: Is truth sometimes stranger than fiction?

Q: Would you have confronted him?

Discuss the importance of churches and libraries in his life.

Q: Which was his greatest character?

The author writes: Nothing sparks a conversation between strangers faster than a walked dog. Dog people just talk to each other. P. 144 True or false?

Q: Sandra Boss: Innocent victim or enabler? Do you think the Rockefeller name was a big reason why Sandra stayed?

Q: Why didn’t anyone question the authenticity of the art?

Discuss Clark’s relationship with his daughter Reigh. Self-love vs. parental love.

Q: Was he crazy to the point of not knowing right from wrong? P. 316

Q: Are we all posers?

Additionally, I created a timeline to facilitate the discussion. Name changes are indicated in red.

Feb 21, 1961 – Born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter in Bergen, Germany.
1978-79 – He came to America as a high school foreign exchange student. He lived in Berlin, CT. He became Chris Kenneth Gerhart.
1980 - UW – Milwaukee
1981 – Married Amy Jersild on Feb. 20. In April applied for status as a permanent resident. In June drove west. In Las Vegas he was known as Dr. Christopher Rider, a cardiologist. In California he became Christopher Mountbatten Chichester.
1983 – Got a California driver’s license
1984 – Produced Inside San Marino as Chichester.
1985 – Moved into the Didi Sohus’ guesthouse at 1920 Lorain Rd., San Marino. John & Linda Sohus disappear. Chichester vanished too. By June, he lands in Greenwich, CT as Christopher Crowe, film producer.
1987 – Worked for Nikko Securities.
1988 – Detective Allen looks into the missing persons case of John & Linda Sohus.
1988-1992 – Crowe disappeared for a time.
1992 – Emerged as Clark Rockefeller at St. Thomas Church in NYC. First wife Amy Jersild files for divorce.
1994 – John Sohus’ remains are found in San Marino.
1995 – Boss-Rockefeller wedding on October 14.
2000 – They move to Cornish. Also, Sandra gets pregnant.
2001 – Reigh “Snooks” Storrow Mills Rockefeller is born on May 24.
2006 – The family moves to Beacon Hill
2007 – Sandra filed for divorce on January 17. Sandra & Reigh moved to London on December 23.
2008 – He assumed the name of Chip Smith. Kidnapped Reigh on July 27. He was captured on August 3.
2009 – Gerhartsreiter was found guilty of kidnapping of a minor and assault & battery by means of a dangerous weapon on June 12.
2011 – Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter was charged with the murder of John Sohus on March 15.
2013 – Convicted of the first degree murder of John Sohus on April 10. On August 15, he was sentenced to the maximum of 27 years to life for the murder of John Sohus. He still maintains his innocence. He will be eligible for parole in 2039 at the age of 78.
2015 – Linda Sohus has never been found.

Overall, this was a fantastic pick for book club. Enthusiastically recommended for any group interested in taking a look at crime, deception, and human nature.

Details: The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor by Mark Seal. Paperback published by Plume in 2012. 368 p. ISBN: 9780452298033

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book Review: 'The Cruelest Month' by Louise Penny

✰✰✰½ Welcome back to the quirky, quaint little village of Three Pines in Canada. It's Eastertime in the village, and the trees are just beginning to bud. To celebrate the holiday the villagers have arranged to hold a séance in the creepy old Hadley residence. Before the night is over, one member of the party will be dead. What appears to be a simple natural death may have been caused by something more sinister. Once again Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team including the inept Yvette Nichol, find themselves investigating crime in the isolated village.

The Bottom Line: The character of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is interesting and complex. With two story arcs, there are plenty of surprising twists and turns to keep the reader guessing until the very end. This charming cozy series is suitable for weekend reading, and this installment is the perfect entertainment for a rainy, lazy day. This literary treat will appeal to mystery buffs who enjoy eccentric characters.

Details: The Cruelest Month: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny. Paperback published by Minotaur Books in 2007. 320 p. ISBN: 978-0-312-57350-8