Saturday, November 28, 2015

My Review of "The Witch of Lime Street"

David Jaher's The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World explores the little-discussed rivalry between master illusionist Harry Houdini and a much-publicized Boston spirit medium named Margery Crandon.

This book is a fascinating story that rapt me as a page-turning thriller.  I can't recommend it too highly!

Houdini was considered the greatest escape artist of the early 20th century, but by the 1920s, he turned his energies to unmasking spiritist frauds who claimed to have contact with the dead.  Set against a backdrop of Jazz Age excess and anxiety, Jaher, in his first book, tells the story of Houdini's epic confrontation with a spiritist whose popularity rivaled his own. 

World War I and the Spanish influenza laid waste to a generation of young men in Europe and left the world "teetering on the brink of a new dark age."  

Observers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who eventually became an ardent advocate of spiritualism (and friendly nemesis to Houdini), believed that the loss of so many loved ones would turn bereaved families seeking comfort "toward spirit communion."  While seances became all the rage on both sides of the Atlantic and Conan Doyle lectured on the "New Revelation," reputable scientists began to explore the paranormal to determine the true nature of psychic phenomena.  One particular group associated with Scientific American magazine put together a contest that would award $5,000 to anyone able to successfully prove his or her abilities.  Among the judges was Houdini, whose career as a magician made him a formidable spiritist debunker.

 All but one medium tested by this group -- the genteel Crandon -- were conclusively demonstrated to be frauds.  Through a combination of feminine seduction and illusionist skill that even Houdini admired, Crandon became the one psychic to almost win the respect of the scientific community and outshine Houdini as an entertainer.  Jaher's narrative style is as engaging as his character portraits are colorful.  Together, they bring a bygone age and its defining spiritual obsessions roaring to life.

Don't let 2015 pass without reading this book!

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Review of "Accidental Saints"

Nadia Bolz-Weber's Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People makes me want to be a Lutheran.

"This is why we have Christian community.  So that we can stand together under the cross and point to the gospel.  A gospel that Bonhoeffer said is 'frankly hard for the pious to understand'."

And by that, I mean a  grace-alone, non-pietistic, beer drinking, Luther-tongued, damn the religious authorities, desperate for Word and sacraments kind of Lutheran, as down and dirty in my faith as the streets of 16th century Wittenberg.

Accidental Saints knows a good deal about each of those, but what struck me about the book was Nadia's bold language about grace -- raw, honest grace, and grace in the rawest of places.  Which means in my heart and yours, as well as in the lives of those who, to some, may look like spiritual misfits and losers.  She also curses, which bothers not a few people.  But as a kid who grew up in the South, that doesn't bother me -- at all.

Her style may not be mine -- I hardly curse at all.  And I despise tattoos.  I'm not thrilled with progressivism, either.  But Nadia makes me think there's more to each of those than I might so quickly dismiss.

Which is another way of saying:  Nadia's central theme -- that we can find God in all the wrong people -- rings true here.  This is a book that did more than convince me, though.  It moved me.  In all the way that Gospel stories are supposed to move us.

All of that to say:  This is the 2015 book about Christian living you can't miss.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Things I've Said to My Children

Nathan Ripperger's Things I've Said to My Children is an adorable book and totally met my expectations.  I could relate to a lot of the pages after watching my nieces and nephews running around doing crazy things all day that cause me to say some outrageous things.  The best part of this book is that it's a great gift for parents everywhere as it will definitely cause a few smiles and stir up endless lost memories.

There's not too much I can say about it except I liked it and it's a keeper for me.  It's cute, it's simple.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

My Review of "Bull*Shit"

Mark Peters' Bull*Shit:  A Lexicon is full of all kinds of BS.  Literally.

In this literary load of doo-doo, Peters not only cataloges over two hundred words for balderdash, bloviation, and the purveyors of hot air, but he also gives us etymological background for each as well as historical examples of the words and phrases being used. 

And the examples, like the words themselves, come from all over.  BS is everywhere, and the names given to it come from everywhere, too.  In Bull*Shit: A Lexicon, you'll find names for hooey from the United States (Bull Durham), Great Britain (Bovril), and Australia (Flemington confetti); from land (stump water), sea (gurry), and air (bird turd); and from our long-gone past (jargon has been around since the 1300s) to centuries into our science-fiction future (felgercarb from Battlestar Galactica, crapspackle from Futurama).

Part trivia, part history, but fully humor, Bull*Shit is a book that gives you the perfect word for that less-than-perfect moment.  So this book is not to be missed.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review here.