Sunday, October 31, 2010

We Hear The Dead by Dianne K. Salerni

This rich and riveting novel travels back in time to Hydesville, New York in the year 1848 to reveal how Spiritualism, the belief in communicating with the dead, began and launched a craze for spirit rappings, seances, automatic writing, Ouija boards, and mediums who in gaslit parlors reached out to the world beyond the veil to commune with the spirits of the departed to bring comfort to the bereaved or gull them out of their hard-earned dollars.

It all started with Maggie and Kate Fox and a prank to oust their annoying Cousin Lizzie from their bed. Apples dangled from strings to produce a thud on wooden floors and an ability to crack their toe and knee joints helped the girls convince their parents and neighbors that they were in communication with the spirit of a murdered peddler buried in their cellar. When the newspapers got hold of the story and their ambitious elder sister, Leah, with a shrewd eye for the profit potential, took charge it was too late to turn back, and Maggie and Kate became the darlings of the intellectual and artistic sets, eagerly sought after by the bereaved grieving for their departed loved ones, and the object of intense investigation to prove the phenomena they produced either fraudulent or authentic.

Maggie was never comfortable living a lie, she tried to convince herself that she was providing a good, beneficial service to help others move past their grief to find peace and go on with their lives, but Kate persuaded herself that she had a genuine gift, the second sight that was believed to run in their mother's family. Their mother was completely convinced her daughters were in communication with the dead, while practical Leah merely saw the spirit rappings as an escape from poverty.

We Hear the Dead takes us inside the minds of the two sisters and divulges the secrets of the darkened seance rooms with their apparatuses of trickery, like lead balls sewn in hems, and trick candles that suddenly went out, and pianos that seemed to be played by invisible hands, and tables that moved, wobbling and tilting under the sitters' hands. It is also the story of Maggie's ill-fated romance with Arctic explorer Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, a man who claimed to love Maggie but despised her dishonest profession, and insisted that she give it up and better herself if she wanted to become his wife, but the famous and beloved hero was never strong enough to withstand his family's disapproval of their relationship and sought to keep it a secret lest he be disinherited.

I have always been fascinated by tales of the spiritualist mediums, their lives, schemes, and duplicity, and I think this is a wonderful book for someone either new to the subject or who is already intrigued and wants to delve a little deeper into the lives of the sisters who started it all.

Two strong spirit raps of approval for Ms. Salerni's first novel.

Note: This novel was originally published as a print on demand book by iuniverse under the title of High Spirits, the current edition was renamed We Hear The Dead by its current publisher Sourcebooks.

Here is Tabby enjoying Dianne's book:

To learn more about Dianne K. Salerni and her work please visit her website and blog at and

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween!


The Witch's Trinity by Erika Mailman

The year is 1507 and the little German village of Tierkinddorf is beset by famine and fear, it is the second year that there has been no harvest. Thus the stage is set for tragedy when a friar arrives brandishing a book he vows will solve all their problems and restore prosperity. The book is that infamous blood-drenched tome the Malleus Maleficarum "The Witch's Hammer," an instruction manual for hunting down, torturing, and eventually killing women suspected of witchcraft.

Gude Muller is the oldest woman in the village, she has outlived all her contemporaries except her best friend Kunne Himmelman, a wisewoman steeped in herb lore and skilled in healing. Gude, has grown old, frail, and forgetful, and the author does a magnificent job of capturing the confusion and frustration of an elderly person's descent into what we would today call Alzheimer's, powerless to stop their own mind from slipping away from them.

Gude's daughter-in-law, Irmeltrud, sees her as a useless old woman, a burden, one more mouth to feed when food is so scarce, and resents her for it; the meager scraps that are given to Gude could have fed Irmeltrud's children. In a fit of anger, she sends the old woman out to beg on a freezing, snowy night, though she later denies this to make herself look better in her husband's eyes.

While wandering in the woods, Gude sees a vision of witches and the Devil himself with his cloven hooves, coarse, hairy body, and "ice cold prick," and is tempted by a pig roasting on a spit, and cajoled to sign her name in His book. But is this real or just her imagination, hunger and fear and the witchfinder acting on a vulnerable mind?

After Kunne, the wisewoman, is tried and burned as a witch, blamed for stopping a hen from laying eggs, Irmeltrud decides to denounce Gude. Gude undergoes the humiliating ordeal of being stripped stark naked and having her head shaved bald being and searched for marks of witchery, she is interrogated and threatened with a fiendish device called the pear, a metal pear-shaped implement made to be inserted inside a woman's vagina where it splays out at the twist of a pin into a series of blades that shred and pierce her.

But bearing false witness does Irmeltrud no good, and she soon gets what she deserves when a barren woman who covets Irmeltrud's two beautiful children accuses Irmeltrud herself and she ends up sharing Gude's cell.

This is one of the best novels I have read about the persecution of women accused of witchcraft. In an era charged with a potent combination of superstition, fear, and malice these tragedies were all too common. Among the numerous novels about the more famous cases, like the Salem Witch Trials, this book, set in an obscure and tiny village in Germany, about ordinary people and their problems really stands out. The author did a wonderful job and created characters I could really sympathize with and feel for, even the ones I did not like I could still understand. For anyone interested in a tale of witchcraft persecution realistically portrayed I highly recommend Ms. Mailman's novel.

Daughters of The Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

"Daughters of The Witching Hill" is a spellbinding tale of history and witchery. With this fact-based novel of the Pendle Witches, set in 17th century Lancashire, Mary Sharratt acts as a literary necromancer to give the dead a voice. She truly breathes life into her characters. The women who people this true tale of witchcraft, superstition, suspicion, and hysteria, are so vivid and vibrant, I could see them in my mind’s eye, hear their voices, and feel their wants, needs, fears, dreams, hopes, and pains.

The story begins with an elderly cunning or wise woman, Bess Southerns, known locally as “Old Demdike” who lives hand to mouth on the edge of poverty with her squint-eyed daughter, Liza, until she discovers her powers as a healer, and becomes eagerly sought after to bless and cure the sick, both human and animal. But a blessing can sometimes also be a curse, and with Bess’ gift to heal comes the suspicion that she puts her powers to use for darker purposes—revenge and curses.

But Bess is determined never to dabble in the dark arts--in fact many of her blessings derive from old Catholic prayers now outlawed by the fervent Protestants and Puritans and have nothing to do with Satan or pagan goddess worship at all--but when her best friend’s daughter is imperiled by the unwanted advances of one of the local gentry, Bess breaks her resolution, for love of her friend. But Anne will go beyond protecting her daughter and take everything Bess teaches her about blessings and spellcraft and set herself up as a rival cunning woman, one who is not above dabbling in the dark arts if it brings the coins in. And as Anne, already known as a local eccentric and object of disdain, becomes feared as a witch, and Bess’ own son-in-law believes she has cursed him, the final nail is driven into the coffin of their friendship.

Years later, when the community is suffering hard times, Bess, old, blind, and her powers failing, and her family find that the tide has turned against them, and those who once looked upon them with favor and sought their help, now regard them with suspicion and hostility. After a peddler suffers a debilitating stroke after exchanging harsh words with Bess’ beautiful granddaughter, Alizon, a zealous magistrate, eager to curry favor with King James by becoming the area’s premiere witchfinder, begins making arrests, and the stage is set for tragedy, a mockery of justice, and a trial every bit as tragic as America’s own Salem Witch Trials in which innocent lives will be lost.

Historical fiction fans, as well as those interested in the history and practice of witchcraft, and the witch-hunts that have stained our history with blood, are sure to find "Daughters of The Witching Hill" a fascinating and enthralling read. Though almost everyone has heard of the Salem Witch Trials, American readers may not be familiar with England’s Pendle Witch Hunt of 1612, so I urge those with an interest in such things, or just a love of well-written historical fiction, to give this book a try. It is a story I believe that needs to be told; when the dead are remembered a part of them lives again, and this is a story that should never be forgotten.

The Afflicted Girls by Suzy Witten

This novel of the Salem witchcraft hysteria and subsequent trials centers around two orphans. If everything were black and white instead of shades of grey, Abigail Williams would be the darkness and her traveling companion Mercy Lewis would be the light. But things are never that simple, and there are many shades of grey between black and white, and both characters are complex and well-developed. First there is mercurial, brazen and lusty, self-interested, attention-seeking, grudge-accumulating Abigail. Then there is good and kind, quiet, pretty, self-educated Mercy, harboring shameful secrets she hopes to keep buried, and longing for love and a better life filled with books and learning.

On their journey to Salem Village to serve in the household of Abigail's uncle, the Reverend Parris, a coach accident brings two young men to their rescue--Ben Nurse a humble farmer, a grandson of the venerable and well-loved and respected midwife Rebecca Nurse, and his profligate and rich friend Joseph Putnam. In mere minutes desires spring to life and are either returned or scorned that will play a crucial part in things to come.

Though a Puritan community, Salem Village could be the prototype for Peyton Place. Litigation and lawsuits, greed, lust for flesh and revenge, gold and property all simmer just below the prim Puritan exterior of Salem. From the pulpit greedy Reverend Parris, who cares more about his tithes than the well-being of his parishioners, thunders about the wrath of God rather than His love and mercy. The local doctor uses his position to molest young women right under their parents' noses. And Goody Osborne, a lonely, crippled, home-bound invalid pays her Irish manservant to share her bed, just to feel the warmth of another body and the touch of a man's hands again. And there is Bridget Bishop the buxom tavern proprietress who in her scarlet bodice stands out like a neon sign among the muted grays, blacks, and browns of the rest and inspires many a wet dream in the boys and men, she is a wise woman, who knowledge of herbs and spells, healing and white magic, a woman who believes in doing no harm lest it come back to you. And Tituba and John Indian, Reverend Parris' slaves from Barbados, who keep silent but know all.

But it is the desires of the two newly arrived orphans, not the town's residents, that will cause quiet little Salem to boil over like a witch's cauldron. Abby lusts for her Uncle the Reverend Parris and Mercy pines for Joseph Putnam, a man who, though his eyes say he desires her, is above her station and already promised to the daughter of local gentry. Befriended by Bridget Bishop, Mercy resorts to a love charm to try to win him.

Abby's eyes are also opened to the supernatural when she spies Tituba dancing in wild, erotic abandon in the woods late one night after ingesting Jimson Weed, also known as Datura, and The Devil's Trumpet. Another night, thinking to catch Tituba again, she sees Mercy bury a mandrake root carved in her beloved's likeness in the graveyard and blackmails her into teaching her what she knows of charms and spells. Abigail steals some little red cakes Tituba baked, auguring cakes, she calls them, and brings them to a picnic with Mercy, to which she also invites a simple-witted farmboy and some other girls of the village. The cakes contain Jimson Weed and all who eat them suffer illness and spells of a kind that will be mistaken for demonic. And a name mumbled by an innocent child being questioned while in this state leads to the first of many arrests. And more follow as the girls and villagers find it is a marvelous way to get out of daily chores and exact revenge on one's enemies.

As the quiet voice of reason, Mercy Lewis is ignored, as is Bridget Bishop, when she tries to help. Both are denounced as witches and imprisoned. And the hysteria and fear continues to mount, whipped along by the attention-seeking antics of Abby. Basking in self-importance and the attention of her uncle, for whom she lusts, she becomes the witch-finder and healer extraordinaire and is seen as a martyr because of her suffering.

The scenes where the accused witches are driven to the gallows on Danver's Hill, and their final moments of life, are truly heartrending and moved me to tears.

This is a book meant to be contemplated and savored. although some readers may find it slow to reach the reach the action I urge anyone who might feel this way to stick with it, I have been reading book about the Salem Witchcraft Trials since I first heard of them as a little girl, and this novel stands out as one of the best on the subject I have ever read.

A Trio of Witchly Treats -- Happy Halloween!

To celebrate Halloween here are three of the best historical novels about witchcraft, and the persecution of women accused of it that I have ever read.

Travel back to the 17th century and revisit the most famous witchcraft trials in American history in Salem in the pages of Suzy Witten's novel The Afflicted Girls. And meet the Pendle Witches and witness England's infamous Lancashire Witch Trials of 1612 in Mary Sharratt's Daughters of The Witching Hill. And, lastly, read the poignant tale of an elderly woman accused of witchcraft by her own daughter-in-law, in a famine-stricken village in early 16th century Germany in Erika Mailman's The Witch's Trinity.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Back Cover Copy for The Tudor Throne by Brandy Purdy

The Tudor Throne by Brandy Purdy

Bound by blood, torn by devotion...

In the wake of King Henry VIII's death, England's throne is left in a precarious state-as is the peculiar relationship between his two daughters. Mary, the elder, once treasured, had been declared a bastard in favor of her flame-haired half-sister, Elizabeth, born of the doomed Anne Boleyn. Yet the bond between the sisters was palpable from the start. Now reinstated, Mary eventually assumes her place as queen. But as Mary's religious zeal evolves into a reign of terror, young Elizabeth gains the people's favor. Gripped by a tormenting paranoia, Mary is soon convinced that her beloved Elizabeth is in fact her worst enemy. And the virginal Elizabeth, whose true love is her country, must defy her tyrannical sister to make way for a new era...

A brilliant portrait of the rule of "Bloody Mary" and her intricate relationship with Elizabeth I, the adored "Virgin Queen," here is a riveting tale of one family's sordid and extraordinary chapter in the pages of history.

Praise for Brandy Purdy and The Boleyn Wife

"Recommended for readers who can't get enough of the Tudors and have devoured all of Philippa Gregory's books."--Library Journal

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Title Change: The Tudor Throne by Brandy Purdy

The title of my upcoming novel about the daughters of Henry VIII, Mary and Elizabeth, has just been changed from Rivals For The Tudor Throne to The Tudor Throne by Brandy Purdy for the US edition, the British edition is still, as far as I know, going to be called Mary & Elizabeth by Emily Purdy. If you have already pre-ordered a copy from Amazon or another bookseller this change should not in any way affect your order as the ISBN remains the same.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

First Advance Review of The Tudor Throne by Brandy Purdy

Nan Hawthorne, author of An Involuntary King, has just posted an early review of my upcoming novel The Tudor Throne by Brandy Purdy, about the daughters of Henry VIII, Mary and Elizabeth, (to be published in the UK as Mary & Elizabeth by Emily Purdy). To read the review click here.

Advance Reader Copies are not available yet, but I will post when they are. You can pre-order the American or British editions at and
Please note the US edition of this book was, at the time this review was written, scheduled to be called Rivals For The Tudor Throne, but it has since been changed by the publisher to The Tudor Throne. If you have already pre-ordered the book from Amazon or any other bookseller your order should not be affected by the title change as the ISBN remains the same.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ghost Hunters True Stories From The World's Most Famous Demonologists by Ed and Lorraine Warren with Robert David Chase

This book was, I have to admit, a bit of a let down after reading Graveyard by the same authors. This is one of those books where the description on the front dustjacket flap makes the stories inside sound far more exciting than most of them actually are. One of them even seemed to be included solely for the sack of mentioning a meeting with actress Jane Seymour.

But there are still some interesting and spooky stories here. To highlight a few: There are tales of ghosts and demonic possession and even a psychic encounter with Bigfoot. One chapter tells how Lorraine used her psychic powers to bring to justice the killers of a beautiful young wife and mother who was abducted from her husband's store, where was she working the counter one night, and brutally raped and murdered. And there are meddlesome and unhappy spirits who stalk West Point Military Academy, the cautionary tale of a teen whose dalliances with a Ouija Board and occult paperback books invites demonic possession and sexual attacks from the spirit world into her life, and the story of a man who was raped by a hag-like incubus, and a lonely misfit mortician whose forays into necrophilia lead to him being haunted by the spirits of the dead women he has sexually molested. There is also a chapter about the Amityville Horror and another about the cursed village of Dudleyville.

For those looking for a fast-paced, occult-themed read this might be an interesting book to pass the time with. Although I enjoyed some of the stories, I just found it somewhat lacking. It suffers from some of the same faults as the previous book I read by these authors, Graveyard,which detailed a series of cemetery related hauntings, there is a lack of substantive facts and details, but I just enjoyed the stories in that book more than I did most of the ones featured in this book.

Codex 632 The Secret Identity of Christopher Columbus by Jose Rodrigues Dos Santos

This is one of those novels that would likely be considered a Da Vinci Code copycat, albeit the action takes place at a much slower pace and without the urgency of a police chase and a murderous monk. If you can overlook that similarity, this is actually a very good and intriguing book centered around the mystery enshrouding the background of Christopher Columbus. It is filled with all sorts of historical tidbits, coded messages, secrets, and forged or altered documents.

Thomas Noronha is a history professor and expert cryptographer based in Lisbon, where he teaches at the university. Struggling to care for a chronically ill child, a daughter with Down's Syndrome and heart problems has taken a toll on his marriage, his wife is tired all the time and they have grown apart, and he finds himself susceptible to the charms of a beautiful blonde Swedish exchange student when he is contacted by a prestigious American historical society dedicated to studying the Age of Discovery and asked to complete the work of an elderly historian who died suddenly before he could reveal the fruits of his research, which he claimed would change everything we thought we knew about that era.

Professor Noronha accepts the challenge, which comes with a generous salary, and embarks on a quest that takes him all over the world to unravel the secret identify of Christopher Columbus, who was, he discovers a man of many names, who even in his own lifetime sought to obscure and hide his real name and origins. Was he an uneducated Genoa silkweaver, a Portuguese Jew schooled in esoteric knowledge, steeped in the Kabbalah, or the scion of nobility forced to flee his home and lose himself because of his role in a royal conspiracy?

Travel along with Professor Noronha and see what the series of authentic historical clues lead you to believe.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Lost Rocks The Dare Stones And The Unsolved Mystery Of Sir Walter Raleigh's Lost Colony by David La Vere

Many years ago when I was a little girl I used to watch repeats of an old television show about unsolved mysteries called In Search Of... hosted by Star Trek's Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy. There was one episode I particularly remembered, it concerned the Lost Colony of Roanoke, and mentioned the discovery of inscribed stones that might hold the key to solving the mystery. From that moment on, in those days before the Internet, anytime I found a book or tv program about the Lost Colony I hoped to learn more about the stones, but I never did. Thus I was very happily surprised to discover a book all about these elusive stones, known as The Dare Stones.

It all began in 1937, the 350th anniversary of The Lost Colony, when a Mr. Hammond and his wife, a retired couple from California touring the rural south, pulled their car onto the shoulder of a North Carolina highway to stretch their legs and look for hickory nuts. While it isn't recorded whether the Hammonds found any nuts or not, they found something most intriguing--a 21 pound rock, most likely a ship's ballast stone, of veined quartzite, inscribed with several cramped almost indecipherable lines of Elizabethan English. Mr Hammond put his curious find in the car and later took it to Atlanta's Emory University for examination.

Among the many professors and scientists to examine the curious artifact was one Haywood Pearce Jr. who would go on to make authenticating the stone and the story it told his life's quest, for in these chiseled words lay the solution to one of America's oldest unsolved mysteries--the fate of the Lost Colonists of Roanoke and Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America.

The stone claimed to be a message from Eleanor Dare, to her father, the Governor of Virginia, John White, relating a tragic tale of sickness and slaughter. Among the seventeen dead, said to be buried on a nearby hill with another stone inscribed with all their names to mark their grave, were Eleanor's husband and child, Ananias and Virginia Dare, murdered by savage Indians in 1591.

Professor Pearce, who was also affiliated with Brenau College, which would eventually purchase the stone, and where his father, Haywood Pearce Sr., was president, became obsessed with finding the second stone, the grave marker inscribed with the seventeen dead colonists' names, and their hilltop resting place and remains. This was widely publicized and, perhaps unwisely, Pearce offered a reward.

Enter Bill Eberhardt, a ne'er do well country bumpkin and sometime stonecutter with only three years of education to his name. He claimed not only to have found the much sought after second stone but thirteen more. After making a lucrative deal with the Pearces, Mr. Eberhardt's run of good look continued until Brenau College was the proud possessor of no less than 48 Dare Stones.

So intent were the Pearces on solving the mystery that they ignored several rather obvious red flags. Many of the names mentioned on the stones did not appear on the roster of colonists, and the language and writing were not as obviously Elizabethan as the first stone. Mr. Eberhardt ignored the Pearces' injunction that he let them examine any further finds in situ and brought the stones directly to them instead. And they were all found in chronological order, like a novel written in stone which told the tale of more deaths, and Eleanor and the ever dwindling number of survivors' travels through South Carolina before finally settling with a tribe of what were probably Cherokee Indians in Georgia. Eleanor married an Indian Chief referred to on the stones as a King, gave birth to a daughter she named Agnes, whom she begged her father in another stone missive, to bring to England, before she finally died in a cave in 1599.

Eventually proof came to light that Eberhardt had more than likely forged all the stones he had found. He retaliated by trying to blackmail the Pearces--if they did not pay him $200 he threatened to tell the world that they were behind the fraud. But Haywood Pearce Jr. though devastated and embarrassed at having been made a fool of, having squandered thousands of dollars and hours on this fool's quest, and of wanting to believe so much that he had lost his scholarly and scientific skepticism and integrity, and despite his PhD and college degrees had been duped by a country bumpkin charlatan, was an honorable man, and rather than try to sweep the whole humiliating episode under the carpet, he revealed the truth to the world.

Though the tantalizing possibility remained that the first stone, which Eberhardt had no involvement with, might be genuine, the science of the day was neither able to prove or disprove its authenticity, the Dare Stones were immediately discredited and quickly sank as swiftly as if they had been thrown into the sea. They became an embarrassment and most involved were eager to distance themselves from them, put the story behind them, and drift into quiet obscurity.

Mr. La Vere has written a thoroughly engaging account of this modern-day mystery and hoax interwoven with the tale of The Lost Colonists. He presents the known facts about The Dare Stones without making any attempt to persuade or dissuade the readers, setting down the evidence and letting the reader decide what to believe. I really enjoyed reading this book and hated to put it down even when my eyes gave out at 2:00 a.m. and finished it as soon as I got up and had my wake-me-up cup of Swiss Miss caffeine-laced hot chocolate.

I hope someday some team of scientists or investigators will, with open minds, sweep the obviously fraudulent stones created by Bill Eberhardt aside, like the unnecessary clutter they are, and take a fresh look at that first tantalizing find and perhaps discover if it does indeed hold the key to solving this centuries old mystery.

Graveyard True Hauntings From An Old New England Cemetery by Ed and Lorraine Warren with Robert David Chase

This book showcases some of the hauntings the Warrens and the New England Society for Psychical Research have investigated that are connected to cemeteries in some way.

The first half of the book focuses on Union Cemetery, a picturesque old Connecticut graveyard. There are tales of lust and obsession, demonic possession, a White Lady in an 19th century wedding gown who appears floating amongst the tombstones, the anguished apparition of a man driven to suicide by adultery, a phantom hobo who suddenly appears in the passenger seat of cars passing the cemetery late at night, and more.

Other tales, connected to other New England graveyards, include the story of an obnoxious radio host who became a believer after a phone call from the dead led him to meet the son he never knew, a satanic nanny who preys on young boys entrusted to her care, and a spirit, herself a rape and murder victim in life, who intervenes to save a young woman from suffering the same fate, and a Hollywood-handsome young man whose good looks conceal a cruel and twisted nature, and whose late night pranks on female hitchhikers backfire when he is lured into the graveyard by a sexy siren who all too soon turns into a ghoulish crone.

This is a brisk and easy read, and, refreshingly, the cases profiled here are not the famous ones almost everyone with an interest in such things is already familiar with. But those who just enjoy ghost stories, for the fun or the fright, will probably like this book better than those with a more serious investigative-focused interest will. Readers who hunger for facts and verifiable details will be disappointed as the Warrens relate their stories but in most cases offer few substantiating facts such as background histories to try to determine the identities of ghosts or whether events associated with the hauntings actually occurred. The book also, at times, has a rather alarmist tone, that may, or may not, amuse or annoy the reader, depending on what their personal beliefs are about such things, as the Warrens assert that Ouija Boards are "as dangerous as drugs" and urge parents to take care to "keep the tools of the Devil away from their children," and "satanic cults are on the rise."

Personally, I enjoyed the book, I read it with my cat, Tabby, on a dark stormy night. Tabby is terrified of thunder, which was quite loud that night, and seemed to enjoy the stories I read aloud to her. I have been interested in the paranormal since I was a little girl and would love to have the opportunity to travel and visit allegedly haunted sites, but since I cannot, I have always explored them and their histories in the pages of books and television documentaries. And though I would have liked to have seen a little more research and documentation about the cases profiled in this book, I nonetheless enjoyed these ghostly and demonic tales of the graveyards of New England.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Yellow Moon by Jewell Parker Rhodes

This is the second volume in Ms. Rhodes trilogy about the great-great-granddaughter of New Orleans Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.

It is three years after the events described in the first book (Voodoo Season) and Dr. Marie Levant has taken her ancestor's name, Marie Laveau, and embraced her voodoo heritage with strength and pride. This time she must conjure up all her power and might to face down an African vampire, a wazimamoto, that is draining New Orleans' citizens of their life's blood and is out to destroy everyone Marie holds dear.

Though I will continue to see the trilogy through to the end, I must admit that I didn't enjoy this book quite as much as I did the first. I sometimes find it difficult to review mysteries, it's a delicate balance, as I do not want to ruin the story for other readers by giving too much away. But I don't want to give a wrong impression about this book either. The central mystery, the African vampire, was a fascinating adversary for Marie Laveau, blending folklore and history into a modern-day tale and giving new blood to the eternally popular vampire, but...STOP HERE AND DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON'T LIKE SPOILERS! I as a reader was disappointed that almost all the characters I met and liked in the first book were killed off in this one, including the dog. Perhaps the author felt they had served the purpose she created them for, or, losing people is part of life, we shall have to wait for the third book and see what is in store for this modern day voodooienne.

Voodoo Season A Marie Laveau Mystery by Jewell Parker Rhodes

This is the first book in a New Orleans' mystery trilogy about Dr. Marie Levant, the great-great -granddaughter of the famous (or infamous) 19th century Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.

A doctor practicing in modern day New Orleans at Charity Hospital, where the poor, needy, and uninsured come for care, Marie Levant denies and resists the gifts of power and "the sight" that are her blood heritage until a series of murders that strangely echo the Quadroon Balls of yesteryear force her to accept and embrace who and what she is and make a stand against evil.

As usual when reviewing mysteries, I would rather say less than too much as I don't want to give too much away and spoil the book for anyone. Although I must admit there was one aspect of the mystery that forms the centerpiece of this novel that I still find difficult to understand, which nags at my mind whenever I think about it, I still enjoyed the book and plan to continue with the series. The characters Ms. Rhodes has created are all interesting people, with their real life struggles and imperfections, good points and bad, and I look forward to getting to know them better in the next two books.

Though not essential for enjoying or understanding this book, I would highly recommend reading the author's earlier novel Voodoo Dreams, a historical novel inspired by the life of the legendary New Orleans Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau as events in that book are referred to several times in this one. It was a novel I read years ago and enjoyed and hope to eventually read again.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lon Chaney's Shadow John Jeske and The Chaney Mystique by Suzanne Gargiulo

Lon Chaney, Hollywood’s famous “Man of a Thousand Faces,” was a very private individual who prized loyalty highly. He despised the hordes of “yes” men and phonies that proliferated Hollywood, and chose his friends with care, usually from outside his profession. His closest friend was a man of mystery himself, his name was John Jeske.

From their meeting in 1923, when Jeske was a hardworking German immigrant struggling to make ends meet as an auto mechanic, until Chaney’s death in 1930, Jeske was at his side as his personal assistant, chauffeur, best friend, and confidante. He was he man who knew all Lon Chaney’s secrets but never betrayed them. Even when he was in desperate need, living on the fringes of poverty and suffering extreme mental anguish after some of Chaney’s relatives, who resented his inheritance from Lon and his widow Hazel, tried to steal it from him, aided by a gang of toughs, who kidnapped the newlywed Jeske and his bride. And when he was despondent over, and further impoverished by, the failure of his marriage, John Jeske still maintained his silence and remained true to Chaney’s memory. He never wrote a tell-all book, talked to the press, or utilized the knowledge about makeup he had learned from Chaney to find employment at the Hollywood studios.

Ms. Gargiulo faced a daunting task in writing this book. Jeske is one of the forgotten men of history. Almost everyone who knew him is dead, he had no children, and was not close to his family, and left no diaries or memoirs behind when he died in 1944 and was consigned to an unmarked pauper’s grave.

Although some Chaney biographers paint Jeske as a somewhat shady character because he tried to marry Chaney’s widow on her deathbed, Ms. Gargiulo does a fine job of clearing his name and proving that though this has been painted as a lurid and sordid episode it was indeed nothing of the kind.

This slim volume is a fine memorial for a forgotten man, a man who knew how to be true.

Lon Chaney The Man Behind The Thousand Faces by Michael F. Blake

This is the first full-length biography to be published about the most brilliant character actor of the silent film era, Lon Chaney, best remembered today for his amazing makeup and his starring roles in the "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

Writing a biography of Chaney is an impressive feat in itself. He was a private man, promoted by the Hollywood studios as a "man of mystery" to explain his persistent refusal to play the Hollywood game and provide fodder for the fan magazines and gossip columns. Chaney gave few interviews and was determined to keep his private life private. He was dedicated to his art and fully immersed himself in his roles, but the movies were primarily a job to earn a living for him. He was a man who came from humble beginnings, the son of deaf mute parents, who worked as a wallpaper hanger and carpet layer before succumbing to the allure of the stage and his fascination with how actors used greasepaint, nose putty, and false hair to transform themselves. His first marriage, to Cleva Creighton, ended unhappily after his wife's career as a cabaret singer, her drinking, socializing, and presumed infidelity with her customers, and a botched suicide attempt in which while standing in the wings of the theatre her husband was then managing she downed a vial of mercury bichloride, thus permanently damaging her vocal cords and putting an end to her singing career. Chaney was granted full custody of their son, Creighton, the future actor Lon Chaney Jr., and eventually remarried, and remained so, quite happily, until his death in 1930 from throat cancer.

Mr. Blake, whose childhood interest in Chaney was sparked by the biographical film "Man of a Thousand Faces" starring James Cagney as Lon Chaney, became an ardent fan and collector of Chaney memorabilia, and himself grew up to be a makeup artist. He spent years researching this book and does a wonderful job of dispelling the many myths that have grown up around Lon Chaney over the decades. The book is also full of fascinating information about the history of makeup in the movies and how Chaney created his extraordinary creations to help bring his characters to life.

See the real Lon Chaney in action on dvd and the bio pic that has inspired so many to pursue careers as movie makeup artists.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Haunting of America: Ghost Stories From Our Past by Jean Anderson

This was one of my favorite books as a little girl, I checked it out several times from the library before the Internet came along years later and I was able to buy a copy of this long out-of-print book. I always planned if I ever had a child to give her or him this book to introduce them to history and ghost stories at the same time, much in the same way as it happened for me--I became fascinated by the Tudors after reading a book of ghost stories when I was nine or ten years old that had a chapter on Anne Boleyn's ghost haunting the Tower of London, and that was the start of two enduring interests for me--history and ghosts. But that never happened for me, so now I read this book to my fur-baby, my cat,Tabby.

This book is all about historic American ghosts and hauntings. It is not a book that attempts to investigate the various cases, merely to set down the stories and legends associated with them. Tabby's favorite chapters are the ones about Ocean-Born Mary and the Silver Doe. Mary was a beautiful red-haired infant born on a ship bound for America in the 18th century. When pirates attacked the ship, the pirate captain decided to spare the lives of all on board if he could have the honor of naming the newborn after his own beloved mother--Mary. He also bequeathed little Mary a bolt of beautiful green silk to make her wedding gown when she she grew up. The Pirate Captain and Mary crossed paths again many years later when she was a widow with four grown sons, Mary became his housekeeper, and her presence is reputed to linger on in his grand house in New Hampshire. The Silver Doe is a spectral deer that roams the forests of Roanoke and is reputed to be the bewitched spirit of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America, trapped eternally in animal form by the spell of a vengeful Indian medicine man whose romantic overtures she rejected. There are also chapters on the Bell Witch, a spirit that bedevilled a Tennessee family in the early 19th century, driving patriarch John Bell to his grave and tormenting his beautiful daughter Betsy and driving a wedge between her and the boy she loved and planned to marry. And, for those who love bittersweet romance and pirates, there is the Golden Girl of Appledore Island, a white-gowned spectre beauty who is reputed to guard a buried treasure while she waits for her pirate lover's return. And Evelyn Bird, the ghostly Colonial Virginia aristocrat who died of a broken heart, wasting away as she longed in vain for the Englishman her proud American father refused to let her marry. There are also chapters on New Orleans' voodoo queen Marie Laveau, and the ghostly lore associated with President Abraham Lincoln, including his phantom funeral train that hurtles through the darkness every April manned by a grinning crew of skeletons, and the ghost ships that still sail the Great Lakes, including La Salle's Griffin. And there are spirits who warn of impending disasters like the Gray Man of Pawley's Island who appears before a hurricane strikes, and Hawaii's Madame Pele, who appears either as a beautiful woman or a wizened old crone, but always wearing a flame red muumuu, with a little white dog at her heels, before a volcanic eruption. And for those who like their ghostly tales a little more gruesome, there is a headless Mexican vaquero who gallops across the Texas plains on a wild black mustang, his bullet-riddled body upright in the saddle and his severed head replete with a sombrero swinging from the saddle horn. Also on horseback, there is the beautiful spirit of a lady in a green velvet riding habit and feathered hat who gallops along the Oregon Trail near Fort Laramie once every seven years. And no book on ghosts would be complete without a Spook Light--The Devil's Jack-o'-Lantern, an eerily glowing fireball that is seen on a desolate stretch of road known as The Devil's Promenade near Joplin, Missouri, it has been seen since 1866, some believe it is proof of an old legend about a pair of star-crossed Indian lovers who committed suicide rather than be parted, while others believe it is the spirit of a lonely miner out looking for his lost family. There is also one of my personal favorites--the tale of the Winchester Mystery House, the mansion built by a grieving widow to house the spirits of all those killed by the Winchester rifle, the source of her great fortune. And these are just a few of the 25 tales featured in this book.

I had a good time revisiting this childhood favorite with Tabby and thought this would be a good book to kick off this blog's month-long Halloween theme.