Review ~ Memoirs of an Elusive Moth

Cover via Goodreads

Memoirs of an Elusive Moth: Disappearing Nightly with Harry Blackstone and his Show of 1001 Wonders by Adele Friel Rhindress

Harry Blackstone presented a full-evening production called the Show of 1001 Wonders. It lived up to that billing, as a stage-filling spectacle combining spectacular illusions, magnificent costumes, gorgeous girls, a corps of assistants, humor, dancing, and intimate conjuring, into a magnificent stage production. Blackstone toured North America ceaselessly and by 1947, after over four decades entertaining the public, was unquestionably one of America s greatest and best-known magicians. It was in that year, at the age of 17, that Adele Friel was swept into Blackstone’s world of magic. She joined the ranks of his show unexpectedly, making the transition from solo song-and-dance act to one of Mr. B’s gorgeous girls in the blink of an eye. It was a decision that would change her life. For the next three seasons, she trouped with Blackstone, playing an integral role in his show, both onstage and backstage. Memoirs of an Elusive Moth gives readers a rare and intimate first-person account of one of America’s greatest touring magic shows. Laid bare in its pages are many of the secrets behind Blackstone s magic, as well as details of life in the theater, behind the scenes, on the road, and more all told here for the first time. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Books about and by female magicians and magician’s assistants are fairly rare (at least in my experience). And, honestly, I’m almost more interested in assisants’ stories. In big illusions, it’s really the assistant who does a lot of the work. So, I was pretty happy to pick up this book fairly inexpensively earlier in the year.

What Worked
Memoirs of an Elusive Moth is an eloquent, though brief, accounting of Adele Friel Rhindress’s time working with Harry Blackstone’s Show of 1001 Wonders. I had originally slated this book for later in the month, but for NaNoWriMo, I’m writing a character who ends up as a magician’s assistant, so I decided to bump it up. Rhindress’s story and the one I’m writing are not the same, but hers definitely gives mine some context. One of the things that I was surprised about was how quickly Rhindress was included in the show. She was pretty much hired and in the show as soon as costume fittings were done. I would have thought that a little more training would be required to be a “box jumper” in a huge 1947 magic stage show.

Rhindress doesn’t rub shoulders with many other magic celebrities, as seems to happen in magician memoirs, but instead she gives a better view of what happens behind the scenes. The secrets behind a few illusions are mentioned; something to be aware of if you’re sensitive about those sorts of things. Rhindress also learned a little sleight of while traveling with the troupe.

One of weaknesses of Donald Brandon’s …Memoirs and Confessions of a Stage Magician was a lack of dates and chronology. Memoirs of an Elusive Moth avoids this problem. Rhindress was helped by a diary kept by her colleague Nick Ruggiero.

What Didn’t Work
Really, the only thing I wanted was more. The writing is better than competent. The books is a well-made hardback with plenty of photos. Alas, it’s only 116 pages!

Overall
I really enjoyed learning more about magic behind the scenes in the late 1940s-early 1950s. I’ll have more about women in magic in Monday’s #NonFicNov “Be the Expert/Become the Expert” post.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Squash Publishing, 2011
Acquired: Amazon, May 27, 2018
Genre: memoir

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#RIPXIII and #SomethingWickedFall Update 3

Here are a couple of perilous goodies of which I’ve partaken:

A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott

A Long Fatal Love Chase

“I’d gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom,” cries Rosamond Vivian to her callous grandfather. A brooding stranger seduces her from the remote island onto his yacht. Trapped in a web of intrigue, cruelty, and deceit, she flees to Italy, France, Germany, from Paris garret to mental asylum, from convent to chateau – stalked by obsessed Phillip Tempest. (via Goodreads)

This was a “lost” novel from Louisa May Alcott. After an eventful European tour, Alcott returned home and began writing a serial in order to help provide for her family. (This was before the publication of Little Women.) A Long Fatal Love Chase is sensational, melodramatic, and sometimes over-wrought. There is a bit of swooning, but also a heroine who escapes via balconies, disguises, intricate plans. I enjoyed this books quite a bit.

Haunters: The Art of the Scare (2017)

I have a confession: Aside from the very tame haunted “ride” at Peony Park, I’ve never been to a haunted house. Honestly, I have no desire to, but I am curious about how these attractions are created, who runs them, and who works at them. I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat when it comes to horror, but I’ve always loved make-up and practical special effects. This is a really interesting documentary about all of those things. Haunters also addresses extreme haunted/torture houses, a relatively new phenomenon which I really don’t understand.

Review ~ The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel

This book was provided to me by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley for review consideration.

Cover via Goodreads

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow by Alyssa Palombo

When Ichabod Crane arrives in the spooky little village of Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster, Katrina Van Tassel is instantly drawn to him. Through their shared love of books and music, they form a friendship that quickly develops into romance. Ichabod knows that as an itinerant schoolteacher of little social standing, he has nothing to offer the wealthy Katrina – unlike her childhood friend-turned-enemy, Brom Van Brunt, who is the suitor Katrina’s father favors.

But when romance gives way to passion, Ichabod and Katrina embark on a secret love affair, sneaking away into the woods after dark to be together – all while praying they do not catch sight of Sleepy Hollow’s legendary Headless Horseman. That is, until All Hallows’s Eve, when Ichabod suddenly disappears, leaving Katrina alone and in a perilous position.

Enlisting the help of her friend – and rumored witch – Charlotte Jansen, Katrina seeks the truth of Ichabod Crane’s disappearance, investigating the forest around Sleepy Hollow using unconventional – often magical – means. What they find forces Katrina to question everything she once knew, and to wonder if the Headless Horseman is perhaps more than just a story after all. In Alyssa Palombo’s The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel nothing is as it seems, and love is a thing even death won’t erase. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
As a kid, very few things frightened me more than the thought of the Headless Horseman galloping down the hill in my neighborhood (blocks from one of the busier intersections in Omaha) while I was on my way to my grandparent’s house. As an adult, I have read Washington Irving’s story and have heartily enjoyed various adaptations of the story beyond the Disney short. And since I’m not completely heartless, I thought the story with a romantic twist might be fun for the upcoming season of spookiness.

What Didn’t Work (for me)
Erin Bow has written one of my favorite posts ever about book reviews. She wrote it from the perspective of a writer reading reviews, but I like to keep her thoughts in mind when I’m a reader reviewing books too. And I thought a lot about the concepts of cilantro and werewolves while I was reading The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel.

In Bow’s parlance, a person’s reaction to cilantro is a matter of taste. Some people just don’t like cilantro. The same goes for book genres. Generally, I’m not a big fan of YA romance, supernatural or not, but there are exceptions. In fact, the biggest surprise of the year for me was how much I enjoyed Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints. It was a book I probably wouldn’t have read if I hadn’t won it in a contest. So I knew going in that The Spellbook of Katrina Van Vassel wasn’t in my ideal choice of genres and I was ready to make allowances for that.

But still… Ichabod and Katrina were just *so* perfect together. Everyone (other than Brom and Katrina’s father) loves them both together. Isn’t a protagonist allowed to have flaws? And for a being social outcasts (due to Brom’s insensitivity), Charlotte and her mother seem to do pretty well…aside from being shunned at parties. Also, everyone has a ton of free time and older adults are miraculously absent from goings-on. It was many of the things that I (perhaps unfairly) pin on the YA genre.

To return to Bow’s thoughts on reviews, the concept of werewolves is this: a reader brings their own agenda to a book. “This biography of Teddy Roosevelt was pretty good, but it didn’t have nearly enough werewolves in it for me.” Obviously, werewolves in a nonfiction biography of Roosevelt is an unfair expectation. I don’t think I am being unfair when I expect a book called The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, set in Sleepy Hollow, released in October to have some strong supernatural aspects. And this story really doesn’t. There are some dreams and visions and a bit of off-scene action that we are meant to take as supernatural. Mostly, this book is a star-crossed romance that is eventually complicated by a missing person mystery (that no one bothers to really investigate until two years later).

The actual spellbook of the title is the book of regional lore that Katrina begins to write as she is Ichabod-less and trying to find some joy in the second half of the book. It’s a very nice metaphor, but not what I was expecting.

I feel like there were many opportunities when Palombo might have taken the story in a direction that might have resulted in more tension in the plot, but those are werewolves that I shouldn’t bring into this book.

Overall
If you’re looking for a romance between two young people in sort-of 1790s New England with a little paranormal pumpkin spice seasoning, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel might be the book for you. If you’re looking for a story that veers closer to the more recent movie or television adaptations of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleep Hollow,” gallop past.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, St. Martin’s Press, Oct. 2, 2018
Acquired: NetGalley
Genre: historical romance

Deal Me In, Week 39 ~ “The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek, or, the Luminescence of Debauchery” by Catherynne M. Valente

Card picked: 4
Found at: Beneath Ceaseless Skies

And thus was I left, Perpetua alone and loudly complaining, in the quiet dark of my father’s glassworks, with no one willing to buy from my delicate and feminine hand, no matter how fine the goblet on the end of that long iron punty.

The solution seemed to me obvious. Henceforward, quite simply, I should never be a girl again.

I went into this story thinking that Perpetua hiding her gender would be the linchpin secret of this story. Not so. Perpetua, left with her father’s glassblowing tools after her two older brother’s snatch up the riches and land that their father left them, becomes a very successful businessman in London. But it isn’t until after her brother sends a young woman in need of glass eyes to her that Perpetua’s, or rather Cornelius Peek’s, true abilities flourish. Her glass eyes become world-known. When she keeps the match to an jeweled eye she creates for a Dogaressa, she finds that she can see what the Dogaressa sees. Thus, Master Peek becomes a libertine and spy, among other things.

I’ve never read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, but for some reason I can’t shake thinking of  Catherynne M. Valente as a YA writer. Therefore, I’m taken aback every time I read one of her stories which is very solidly “adult.” Actually, this story reminded me somewhat of E. E. Kellett’s anthology A Corner in Sleep (1900), which is very concerned with the business possibilities of fantasy situations.

Mini Reviews, Vol. 14

The Black Dove cover The Black Dove by Steve Hockensmith

Holmes On the Range Mystery #3 – I know, look at me reading all the series!

Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer end up “deducifying” in Gold Rush San Francisco, looking to solve the mystery of Dr. Chan’s death. Hockensmith does a good job of keeping these mysteries fresh; changing up the settings while staying true to the Old West. I listened to this on audio; the dialog shines with William Dufris.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea cover Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Think of every ocean/undersea adventure ever. Toothy whales? Check. Giant squids? Check. Antarctic sailing? Check. Atlantis? Check. Island of savages? Well, check. Generally, I really enjoyed this book. Published in 1870 (1872 in English), Verne revels in science. The submarine, the underwater breathing apparatuses, the natural classifications of so much aquatic life—all of it gets good press. Honestly, the only bits I glazed over during were discussions of where the Nautilus was and where it was going. Seaman, I ain’t.

alt text Lizzie: The Letters of Elizabeth Chester Fisk 1864-1893, edited by Rex C. Myers

I bought this last summer at The Old Sage Bookshop in Prescott.

I’ve read a few memoirs and collections of letters by 19th century pioneer women. Usually, they are from the prairie or southwest. In this case, Lizzie Fisk lived in Helena, Montana. Instead of a farmer or a rancher, her husband was a newspaper man. Many of her letters are about the Herald, her husband’s, newspaper and the politics of the city and the state. Fisk was an abolitionist and a suffragette, but she was also terribly judgemental and, as a woman of her time, selectively racist. In all, her letters filled out my notion of the American frontier, but honestly, Fisk isn’t someone I would have liked to spend time with. (And I doubt she would have thought much of me either…)

hosted by Nick @ One Catholic Life

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Deal Me In, Week 31 ~ “The Touch of Love”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Touch of Love” by Day Al-Mohamed

Card picked: K
Found at: Daily Science Fiction

The Story
There is a content warning at the top of this story and, yeah, it’s appropriate. Soft science fiction asks questions. If you can make companion robots, could you (or should you) make robots that are tolerant of abusive relationships? But what about machine learning, that “deep” knowledge gained by experience? What would a companion robot in an abusive relationship learn about love? All that in a flash fiction piece!

Review ~ Thieves, Rascals and Sore Losers

Cover via Goodreads

Thieves, Rascals and Sore Losers: The Unsettling History of the Dirty Deals that Helped Settle Nebraska by Marilyn Coffey

On they came, from Belgium and New Hampshire, from Ireland, Germany and Scandinavia, from the Chicago fire, from the territories: Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, the Dakotas.

All the way they brawled, about Indians, about border lines, about slavery, about who was the bigger imbecile.

And then they fought County Seat Wars in most of the 3,000 new counties.

A thousand of those remaining ended up in south central Nebraska, scrapping about Harlan County and which still-imagined town should hold the seat of government. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
After River City Empire and A Dirty, Wicked Town, both about Omaha, I thought I’d read more about history in the rest of Nebraska.

What Worked
Marilyn Coffey starts out at home. Herself a native of Harlan County, Nebraska, she has first-hand knowledge of the lasting hurt-feelings that have occurred over the location of  the county seat—events that happened over a hundred years ago. Getting the county seat of government could make or break a town. It was a hotly contested responsibility. In frontier Nebraska, that was only half the story. Maybe not even half. These “petty” political battles were fought against the backdrop of “Indian wars,” the Civil War, and the harsh environment. Coffey does a great job giving scope to Harlan County’s story.

What Didn’t Work
There are a lot of names and a lot of back and forth details. It gets a little muddled, no matter how many times Coffey points out a personage that will be important later. Also, occasionally, the light tone of the narrative is out of place. Something like the Sand Creek massacre is more than a “dirty deal.” And many of the absurdities of frontier politics don’t need any gilding.

Overall
There’s lots of great information in this book. Even in Omaha (Douglas County), there is some tension between us and our county brother to the south (Sarpy County to the south). Thieves, Rascals and Sore Losers is a look at this type of smaller intra-state conflicts against a national stage.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Omega Cottonwood Press, 2015
Acquired: Amazon, 12/1/2017
Genre: history

hosted by Doing Dewey

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books