Review ~ Poe: A Life Cut Short

Cover via Goodreads

Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd

Edgar Allan Poe served as a soldier and began his literary career composing verses modeled on Byron; soon he was trying out his ‘prose-tales’—often horror melodramas such as The Fall of the House of Usher. As editor of the Literary Messenger he was influential among critics and writers of the American South. His versatile writings—including, for example, The Murders in the Rue Morgue and “The Raven”—continue to resonate down the centuries.

Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Poe opens with his end, his final days—no one knows what happened between the time when friends saw him off on the steam-boat to Baltimore and his discovery six days later dying in a tavern. This mystery sets the scene for a short life packed with drama and tragedy (drink and poverty) combined with extraordinary brilliance.(via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I believe Jay from Bibliophilopolis recommended this book to me when I was bemoaning a lack of good Edgar Allan Poe biographies. Poe’s work has been some of the most influential on me as a writer and a reader. By even the most inaccurate account, Poe lived a very interesting, if short, life.

What Worked
Poe: A Life Cut Short is part of Ackroyd’s “Brief Lives” series and I surprised at just how small this book is when I found it at the library. It’s only 205 pages, but it also has a small form factor—it’s the height and width are smaller than the usual trade paperback. Which considering the ginormity of my other current reads, The Count of Monte Cristo and Poe’s unabridged works, was kind of nice.

I liked the straight-forwardness of this biography. With Poe, there often is a want to explain him, whether via substance abuse or Freudian analysis or psychological diagnosis. Ackroyd resists that and  sticks to the facts as best as he can find them. He uses letters to and from Poe as well a public record. Poe himself even engaged in myth-making. He would write to people about events that clearly never happened, such as occasional arrests of which there is no record. Very often, contradicting impressions of Poe exist and the biography presents both, showing that Edgar Allan Poe was probably very charming and polite in some company and very much not when around other people.

What Didn’t Work
Lately I’ve been saying this about every nonfiction book I read: more dates, please. Also a rough-sketch timeline would have been great. These are minor quibbles.

I’d also like to read more of the actual letters used as sources, but that isn’t the purview of this book.

Good biography. It gives me a little firmer footing on Poe-the-man as I continue through his works this year. If I find a copy of this books cheap, I might add it to my collection.

Publishing info: Doubleday, 2008
My Copy: hardback, Tempe Public Library
Genre: biography

Mini Reviews, Vol. 16 ~ Audio Edition

Trust Me, I'm Lying cover Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday

DNF. I listened to maybe an hour and a half of Trust Me, I’m Lying. The first 60 minutes were interesting and a little sickening as Holiday describes how he (and others) create buzz, hype, and news stories out of virtually nothing. But then, the stories/explanations of how and why got repetitive. The audio book was recorded by Holiday. While the quality wasn’t bad, there was a lack of pauses at what would be section/chapter headings in a book; it all ran together.

Accidental Thief cover Accidental Thief by C.J. Davis & Jamie Davis

DNF too. I wanted to check out the phenomenon of LitRPG, which if you are like me old and out of touch aren’t familiar is a narrative with heavy RPG conventions including things like character stats. First, maybe this works better in non-audio format. Listening to the main character check his stats over and over again (“Name: Hal Dix. Class: Rogue. Level: 2. Attributes. Brawn: 8. Wisdom: 8. Luck: 18+5. Speed: 10+1. Looks: 18. Health 16/16. Skills… “) was not scintillating. Second, the tropes that are used are especially and purposefully (?) not unique. The protagonist is a boring guy stuck in a office job (with nice wife and young child) who is sucked into a mysterious game where he framed for a murder and ends up fighting spiders in the sewer with a mysterious stranger who is obviously a girl. Apparently, the challenges will become increasingly more difficult. But I’d rather spend my time playing an RPG rather than reading/listening to one.

Tesla cover Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney

Not a DNF! I read about half of this book and listened to about half of it. I had previously read W. Bernard Carlson’s Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age which emphasized where Tesla’s innovations fit within the technologies of the time. Cheney’s  book takes a much more personal look at Tesla, without being overly sensational or speculative. There is still science, but also things like letter excerpts from friends and colleagues that give a more human aspect to Tesla.

All the Details: 2019 Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Review ~ The Lady from the Black Lagoon

This book was provided to me by Hanover Square Press via NetGalley for review consideration.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon Cover via Goodreads

The Lady from the Black Lagoon
Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara

As a teenager, Mallory O’Meara was thrilled to discover that one of her favorite movies, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, featured a monster designed by a woman, Milicent Patrick. But for someone who should have been hailed as a pioneer in the genre there was little information available. For, as O’Meara soon discovered, Patrick’s contribution had been claimed by a jealous male colleague, her career had been cut short and she soon after had disappeared from film history. No one even knew if she was still alive.

As a young woman working in the horror film industry, O’Meara set out to right the wrong, and in the process discovered the full, fascinating story of an ambitious, artistic woman ahead of her time. Patrick’s contribution to special effects proved to be just the latest chapter in a remarkable, unconventional life, from her youth growing up in the shadow of Hearst Castle, to her career as one of Disney’s first female animators. And at last, O’Meara discovered what really had happened to Patrick after The Creature’s success, and where she went.
(via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I’m a horror movie and special effects buff. The story of a woman working in early Hollywood as a Disney animator and creature-feature designer sounded good to me.

What Didn’t Work… For Me
Full disclosure: I did not finish reading this book. Usually, I don’t post reviews of books I haven’t finished, but I want to make an exception in this case. I read over a third of The Lady from the Black Lagoon while slowly realizing that this book is not to my taste. That doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a bad book.

There is an adage that biographies and memoirs should have a compelling story at their heart. The problem with this quip is that “compelling” is subjective. There are plenty of perfectly good memoirs in existence that don’t interest me at all; I do not find them compelling for whatever reason. There are two narratives at play in The Lady… . One is life of Milicent Patrick, animator and creature designer. The other narrative is about the author Mallory O’Meara’s career as a woman in the modern horror movie industry and, especially, how she researched this book. Maybe it’s because I’ve done my own research work, but O’Meara’s portion of the book, bogged down Patrick’s story for me.

O’Meara is also very close to her subject and her attitudes continually bleed into history. That is something that is very attractive to some nonfiction readers. For me, I guess I’m a more stodgy in my attitudes. I feel like if you present history well enough, I can make my own comparisons to current events. I’ve also read a few biographies this year that weren’t afraid of being slim. The Lady… ended up feeling padded out instead of being a quick 200 page biography. Again, this might be more due to my particular taste in books lately.

I think Milicent Patrick is an interesting subject, a woman who lived an extraordinary life. I think Mallory O’Meara’s telling can add scope and context for some readers, just not me.

Publishing info: Hanover Square Press, published 3/5/19
My Copy: ePub, NetGalley
memoir, biography

Review ~ Laurant

Laurant: Man of Many Mysteries

Laurant: The Man of Many Mysteries by Gabe Fajuri

In 1896, Eugene Laurant became a professional magician. 21 years earlier, as Eugene Greenleaf, he was born on the frontier, in the horse and buggy town that was Denver, Colorado.

Billed as the “Man of Many Mysteries,” Laurant spent almost 50 seasons on tour. His stage-filling magic show brought wonder and delight to millions of spectators across North America.

The bulk of Laurant’s career was spent not in major metropolitan centers, or hustling, bustling cities like New York. Unlike his contemporaries—Houdini among them—Laurant, for the most part, confined his routes to rural America. It was there that he made his mark. Eugene Laurant was, arguably, king of the small town showmen.

Laurant carried a full compliment of assistants, livestock, baggage and thousands of pounds of equipment-the tools of mystery making-over the rough-and-tumble back roads of America. He logged millions of miles on the road.

His greatest successes were made on the Lyceum and Chautauqua circuits, which enjoyed immense popularity between 1900 and 1920. During those years, Laurant headlined for the most prominent organization in the business, the Redpath Bureau.

Drawing on Laurant’s own unpublished writings, scrapbooks, and new research, this book paints a revealing and complete portrait of this early American magician. From his earliest dime-museum days, to Wild West adventure, vaudeville shows and much more, Laurant: Man of Many Mysteries tells the tale.

via Squash Publishing

Quick Review

When I ordered Laurant as a late Christmas present / “let me get this guacamole seasoning shipped for free” add-on item, I didn’t entirely realize how relevant it would be to the book I’m currently writing. I was somewhat aware of Eugene Laurant as one of the many magicians of the early 20th century, but I didn’t know that his career was mainly as a performer in the Lyceum and Chautauqua circuits. Not only is this book a well-detailed biography of Laurant, but it has lots of crunchy details about the workings of the Chautauqua.

My one beef is that the book is rather slim for the price, but it is a very nice hardback, glossy and full of pictures. Perfect for my second read of the year.

Other Info

Genre: biography, history
Published: Squash Publishing
Release Date: May 31, 2005
My copy: hardback purchased via Amazon

Magic Monday ~ Review: The Amazing Harry Kellar


I like Mondays. I also like magic. I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

The Amazing Harry Kellar: Great American Magician by Gail Jarrow

Cover via Goodreads

Presenting the amazing Harry Kellar! The first magician to receive international fame! The most well-known illusionist at the turn of the twentieth century! The model for the Wizard of Oz! Author Gail Jarrow follows Kellar from a magician’s assistant traveling and performing across the United States during the Civil War to an international superstar with a show of his own, entertaining emperors, kings, and presidents. Jarrow uses Kellar’s own words and images—his amazing four-color promotional posters—to tell his riveting story in this first Kellar biography for young readers. And she reveals the science behind Kellar’s illusions and explores nineteenth-century entertainment and transportation as well as the history of magic, spiritualism, and séances. (via Goodreads)

For a while now I’ve wished that there existed a good, in-depth biography of Harry Kellar. Jim Steinmeyer touches on Kellar in his book on Howard Thurston, but Kellar seems to me to be interesting enough guy to deserve his own biography. Gail Jarrow’s The Amazing Harry Kellar isn’t that biography. It is an over-sized hardback aimed at 8-10 year-olds (according to Amazon). It is a really nicely made book, full-color with a fair amount text and lots of posters. Kellar had great posters. Which I’m assuming might be part of the reason why Jarrow decided to make a kid’s book about a magician that is generally less well known that some of his peers. *cough*Houdini*cough* The information and the writing are good though. Really, it was a joy to read because there was obviously care involved in this books existence.


Publishing info: hardback, Published June 2012 by Calkins Creek
Read: 7/26/16, at Tempe Public Library
Genre: nonfiction

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

The Sisters Brothers Northanger Abbey Summerlong

Still reading The Sisters Brothers, which I think I’ve been calling The Sister Brothers. The S on Sisters is killing me. It’s such an odd book. It sort of meanders, but the chapters are bite-sized so you don’t notice.

Next up: Either Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (which I keep wanting to call Northgranger Abbey) or Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle. Summerlong is an ARC with a pub date a ways in the future, but I’m not sure I can resist much longer.

It's Monday! What Are You ReadingIt’s Monday! What Are You Reading, hosted by Book Date!

Review ~ The Nazi Seance

Cover via Goodreads

The Nazi Seance by Arthur J. Magida

World War I left Berlin, and all of Germany, devastated. Charlatans and demagogues eagerly exploited the desperate crowds. Fascination with the occult was everywhere – in private séances, personalized psychic readings, communions with the dead – as people struggled to escape the grim reality of their lives. In the early 1930s, the most famous mentalist in the German capital was Erik Jan Hanussen, a Jewish mind reader originally from Vienna who became so popular in Berlin that he rubbed elbows with high ranking Nazis, became close with top Storm Troopers, and even advised Hitler.

Called “Europe’s Greatest Oracle Since Nostradamus,” Hanussen assumed he could manipulate some of the more incendiary personalities of his time just as he had manipulated his fans. He turned his occult newspaper in Berlin into a Nazi propaganda paper, personally assured Hitler that the stars were aligned in his favor, and predicted the infamous Reichstag Fire that would solidify the Nazis’ grip on Germany. (via Goodreads)

Before the era of television and movies, magicians had to engage in a certain amount of myth-making. The magician was selling the story of himself before an audience ever saw him pull a rabbit out of his hat. When Arthur J. Magida examined some of the stories Erik Jan Hanussen wrote in Meine Lebenslinie, an account of Hanussen’s early years, Magida wasn’t surprised that there were few corroborating details. The tale of how Hermann Steinschneider became Erik Jan Hanussen is full of exaggeration with Hermann always cast as the hero. This is the backdrop that must be kept in mind with Hanussen. If the rumor was that Hanussen was the personal advisor to Hilter, why would he refute that?

Magida does a good job sifting through the rumors and the exaggerations. Hanussen played a very dangerous game, being a Jew with ties to the Nazi party. He was obviously a very talented psychic, using a combination of cold reading, muscle reading, and his own intuitions. Unfortunately, he let fame and ego blind him to the danger he was in after Hitler became chancellor.

This books is also an interesting look at the rise of the Third Reich. What I know about WWII is based around the Holocaust. That’s an important narrative, but I think remembrance needs to stretch back to how it came about. Hanussen wasn’t a pure, naive victim of the Nazis, but he was an entertainer who loved Berlin. It was his home; it was were he wanted to stay and he was willing to jockey for good position no matter what the cost.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: nonfiction

And I really can’t mention Hanussen without a shout-out to  Neil Tobin’s “interactive biographical comedy-drama” Palace of the Occult. Check out the trailer!

Magic Monday Reviews ~ Houdini: A Life Worth Reading & Vera Van Slyke stories


I like Mondays. On Monday, I am refreshed from the weekend and exhilarated by the possibilities of the week ahead. I also like magic. I like its history, its intersection with technology, and its crafty use of human nature.  I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

Houdini: A Life Worth Reading by Higher Read

Cover via Goodreads

Houdini was a man of magic and mystery. He was also a pilot, an author, an actor, and a rabid opponent of the Spiritualist movement. He was impatient of charlatans and imitators and loving to his family. He had an impressive ego. If any of these facts are new to you, then Houdini: A Life Worth Reading is the perfect primer on the man who was, by the end of his life, known only as Houdini. (via Goodreads)

I picked this up as a freebie from Amazon back in March. I don’t know what’s up with Higher Read as an “author,” but this short biography was well written and included chapter overviews and study questions. If, you know, you find Houdini to be an important enough guy to study. (Higher Read also has books on Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, and Thomas Jefferson.) In fact, I was pretty impressed with how neutral the biography is. It makes no bones about Houdini’s greatness as a showman and publicist or his massive ego. If I learned anything from this Houdini bio, it was that Houdini was sued more often than I had thought!

Publisher: Higher Read, LLC
Publication date: January 30th 2014
Genre: Biography

“The Minister’s Unveiling” & “The Ghost of Banquo’s Ghost” by Tim Prasil

vera-lida-oval-on-white1Tim Prasil’s Help for the Haunted stories are based on the manuscripts left to him by his great-grandaunt. The stories involve his great-grandaunt, Lucille, and her friendship with Vera Van Slyke, a journalist and occult detective in the early 1900s. Vera investigates hauntings and tries to put ghosts to rest. She’s smart, if occasionally absent-minded about frivolous details like personal names, and makes no apologies for it. Lucille, a debunked spirit medium, likes adventure a little more than a proper lady should and is game to help Vera in her investigations. They’re a great Holmesian/Watsonian(?) duo. The stories are fun with an appealing mixture of skepticism and the supernatural. Also it’s nice to see two women *doing things* in fiction. Both of these stories are currently free on Tim Prasil’s website, but only for a little while longer as he offers new stories. The third story “Skittering Holes” was released over the weekend!

Publisher: To be published later in the year in novel form from Emby Press
Genre: Ghost mysteries.

Because reading is better than real life b00k r3vi3ws