Nonfiction Book Review – The Apparitionists

Put down that smartphone with snapchat – ghosts are posing for the old-timey camera in The Apparitionists by Peter Manseau!


The date is 1850, and photography is a brand new art. Boston has many studios where you can sit (and sit, and sit) for a daguerreotype, but only one photographer who can capture not only your face, but the face of a deceased loved one as well! William Mumler alone practices the art of spirit photography; each of his photos features the misty image of a spirit, usually a loved one, hovering behind the main subject. The photos are real, but do they really portray ghosts, or are they a clever hoax? Manseau delves into the history of these photos and the controversy surrounding them, backed up with lots of transcripts and quotes from figures of the day.


I picked up this book because I’m interested in ghosts and ghost hunting. Though the main subject is the man who photographed ghosts, the book is also a really cool and in-depth look at the history of photography itself. We learn about the beginnings of this now ubiquitous art, the process of how old photographs are made, how they affected society in the mid 1800s, and how they even tied into debates about religion. The book also touches on Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, as well as PT Barnum and his museum of oddities.

A big part of the book was the way Civil War battlefield photography – which was the first time in history that human death could be visually recorded and reproduced – influenced public opinion about war. As the author put it, “To deliver bodies to the doorways of every willfully ignorant household in America – that was the potential of taking a camera into battle.” 


If this book has a flaw, it’s that the supposed subject, William Mumler, is actually a very small part of the book. But there’s so much cool information here that I don’t really consider it a problem; the other subjects were fascinating as well! The book also reads easily, which is definitely a plus in a nonfiction piece. (My favorite line: “Having cut his teeth on criminals and lunatics, Brady took to politicians right away.” XD)

I really liked this book! I was fascinated the whole way through, and I even spent some time googling examples of old daguerreotypes and ambrotypes from that era. This is a must read if you’re interested in photography; you’ll come away with a greater appreciation of how easy we have it today!

Cover Report: The cover features an old photo of a man surrounded by spirits, with the book’s title slashed in yellow across the middle. I like the way the font looks very 19th century-ish. I give this cover a B+.

Typo Police: No typos found.



I am a bit disappointed that we never get to learn about how exactly Mumler created the spirit photographs. No one has ever figured out the method he used to create his unique photos; similar spirit photographs could be easily reproduced, but many witnesses watched Mumler take the photos and never witnessed any tampering during the process. Some ghost hunter needs to contact him and find out how he did it! 😉


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Book Review – The Sun is Also a Star

I finally got a chance to check out The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon! 


Natasha’s family is getting deported, and she has only one day to figure out a way to stop it. Daniel has the most important meeting of his young life today, where his acceptance to Yale will be decided. A chance meeting puts the two teens together, where their problems get mixed up with a powerful whirlwind romance.

Wow, what a unique book! I’ve never read anything quite like it. :O I’ve read books that switch POV, but this one is arranged in zillions of micro-chapters that flip back and forth between the two main characters constantly, as well as occasionally getting in the heads of random strangers they encounter. It took me a few chapters to get used to the super fast flow and constant switching. The story is also very funny, and I laughed out loud quite a few times.

I can’t comment on the quality of the romance, because love at first sight is something I’ve never experienced…it takes weeks or months for me to develop romantic feelings for someone! I do like that the two characters are from different backgrounds — he’s an undocumented Jamaican immigrant, while he is a second-generation Korean immigrant — but at the same time, their situations have some similarities. The relationships of each character to their family is as important to the story as the romance is, and honestly I found that part more interesting than the love story.

This book does a great job of showing the unique experience of being the child of immigrants. Natasha has lived most of her life in America, and being sent back to Jamaica is like being sent to an alien place that’s nothing like home. Daniel’s parents are super demanding, and have decided the course of his life without his input. Each one is in a similar family situation, but each with its own specific difficulties.

One small thing I really liked about the book was that it would occasionally step away from the characters to have a “fun fact” type chapter that gives information on one subject or another. The most interesting one was about black hair, where I learned why most black hair care shops are Korean-owned. Weird but interesting!

My only complaint about the book is that all of the side character vignettes are sad. Every time we see the story of a stranger, such as a USCIS agent, a car driver or waitress, their story is depressing. It makes it seem like every single person in New York is in a constant state of misery. ;_;

One other little thing – what the heck does it mean when Natasha says her mother “kisses her teeth”? I’ve never heard that expression before…is it describing a “tsk” sound?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The middle section, which is the part most dedicated to the love story, is a teensy bit boring (for me). But I think this writer has amazing talent, and I’m curious to see what she comes out with next!

Also, I loved this quote: “Something about being with her makes me my best self.” That’s exactly what I feel like a perfect relationship would be like…two people who lift each other up and bring out the best in each other. ❤ #relationshipgoals

Cover Report: I absolutely love this cover! It’s a photgraph of a piece of string art that uses red, purple and yellow threads to spell out the title of the book. Very unique and eye-catching! I give this cover an A.

Typo Police: No typos found.


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Book Review – The Widow’s House

Crumbling old manor house? Check! Vengeful spirit? Check! Writers prone to craziness? Check! Lots of classic horror themes abound in The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman!


Clare Martin and her husband Jess take a job as caretakers for an old mansion on the river, owned by their former writing professor. Both partners are writers, though Clare abandoned her career years ago to be the breadwinner while Jess struggles to write a second novel. The mansion, jokingly known around town as “Riven House”, is rumored to be haunted, and Clare soon begins to have visions of a young woman and a baby whose cries can be heard in the night. The sad history of the house holds clues to the identity of the ghostly mother and her connections to the house and the people who live there.

First things first and I’m gonna be blunt: holy crap Jess is a grade-A douchebag! I absolutely loathed this character. He’s a selfish, pretentious hipster jerk right from the beginning, and never gets any better. UGH. I can’t stand people like him, in fiction or real life. I spent the entire book grinding my teeth and hoping Clare would dump his ass soooo hard.

The house itself is a character in the story, and the author does a good job describing its creepy features. It’s built in the shape of an octagon, which reminds me of the Colonel John Tayloe III house in Washington DC, which is supposedly one of the most haunted buildings in the city.


I won’t spoil the details, but there’s a scene later in the book involving nursery room wallpaper that’s pretty darn creeptastic! :O

Overall, I thought the book was OK. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn’t been constantly distracted by Jess’s horribleness! I will be checking out more by this author, though I hope there aren’t any more hipster husbands from hell (that would make a good band name).

Cover Report: The cover features a grey and black sky at the top, with the roof of a Victorian era building at the bottom. The overall design is a bit bland, and it’s disappointing that the house on the cover bears no resemblance to the massive octagonal mansion described in the story. I’m also not sure why several of the letters in “widow” have flourishes; it doesn’t really add anything. I give this cover a C-. Meh.

Typo police: At one point, the narrator refers to “big burley men”, which should be “big BURLY men”.

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Book Review – Sword of Fire and Sea

Fire and water clash in an epic elemental battle in Sword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman.


Vidarian Rulorat, captain of the ship Empress Quest, is called upon to fulfill a centuries-old contract and escort a fire priestess through dangerous territories to safety on the other side of the world. After a violent encounter with pirates, the party is stranded on land, where priestess Ariadel is captured by evil magic users. With the help of a team of gryphons — who have long believed to be extinct — Vidarian must travel through dangerous lands filled with clashing magic to rescue her.

I’ll admit it, the cover is what sold me on this book! Holy crap it’s gorgeous. *_*

This is the first book in a trilogy called The Chaos Knight, a title that doesn’t make a lot of sense until very late in the novel. The writer, Erin Hoffman, is a video game designer, which shows in the world-building and magic-building (is that a word? It is now!) of the story.

The story itself is pretty standard fantasy fare, though there are a few unique qualities to the world. By far my favorite part of the book was the gryphons, which are very well thought out, with different species and their own culture.

My main complaint about the book is that the character development is a bit sparse. We get a good feel for Vidarian, but Ariadel never really seemed real to me…she’s more or less a cardboard cutout of “generic fantasy magic-user chick”. Which made the inevitable romance between her and Vidarian feel a little empty.

While researching the background of the book, I found some interesting info about the author. Back in the mid-2000s, her husband was forced to work ridiculous amounts of unpaid overtime at game developer EA, and she wrote a letter that went viral on the internet. It resulted in a class action lawsuit on behalf of game developers, and some changes were made in the game development industry to control abusive practices. Pretty cool!

Overall, I thought this book was OK. I’m putting it on my “finish the rest of the series if I have nothing better to do” list.

Cover Report: This cover is freakin amazing. Seriously, look at it! I love it. The awesome gryphon, the handsome swashbuckling dude, the girl who looks nothing like my own mental image of Ariadel but is still cool looking, and the gorgeous pastel background. Fantastic cover! My score: A++ The artist of this piece of Dehong He, and you can see more of his fantastic art on his DeviantArt page.

Typo Police: No typos found.

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Writing Prompt: “Funnel”

I thought I’d try something new, and do one of the writing prompts from the Daily Post! The prompt today was “funnel”. Here’s my little story:



Beth reached out, taking the paper tray from the smiling vendor. The funnel cake was piping hot, and the sugar on top glittered as it melted and crystallized.

“Thank you!” she said, but the vendor was already taking another order from the next person in line and didn’t respond. The summer festival was extra busy this year, and the line for the food truck was ten people deep.

Beth took a bite out of the sweet cake as she walked over to a less crowded spot at the edge of the walkway. She scanned the crowd for Jacob, but didn’t see him among the throng of festival goers. She had promised to wait for him at the food truck, and she knew he would be back any minute.

She tore off a strip of cake and was about to stuff it in her mouth when she heard Jacob’s shout.

“Beth! Here. Sorry it took so long. The crowd is crazy!” He jogged up to her and handed her a soda in a large paper cup.

Beth smiled. “You’re just in time.” She poked the piece of funnel cake toward Jacob’s mouth, and he chomped it with an exaggerated OM NOM sound. He grinned, and Beth couldn’t hold back a giggle.

Together they ate the cake and sipped their sodas, planning which rides to try next.

So that was pretty fun! 🙂 I hope those kids don’t get sugar shock from all those sweets, lol. 

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Book Review – Trial by Fire

How can she be the savior of this world when she is literally her own worst enemy?” It’s a fiery clash of witches in Trial by Fire, the first installment in the WorldWalker trilogy by Josephine Angelini!


High-schooler Lily is a medical nightmare, with severe allergies and seizures that barely allow her a normal existence. After a terrible experience at a party, she wants to disappear…and she gets exactly that when a mysterious voice offers her a chance at a new life in a new world. As it turns out, the voice belongs to Lillian, an alternate version of Lily herself! Lillian is a witch, the official Salem Witch no less, and she wants to groom Lily to replace her as the leader of this world. Suddenly, fragile Lily is now a powerful magic user, and she quickly gets caught up in a deadly fight between magic, science, and a race of magical beasts that threaten to destroy the world.

I was hesitant about reading this at first, because I generally find standard fantasy staples like witches and vampires to be boring. But I love alternate universes, and I was intrigued by the concept of meeting another version of yourself, especially when it involves magic!

This book has a lot of stereotypical aspects, like a love triangle and a heroine who everyone adores, but there’s a lot of creativity too. The way magic works is cool, combining alchemy, channeling, and mind control in an original mix. The geography of the world is also interesting (for example, the United States still exists as thirteen colonies, because a mistake made centuries ago rendered the rest of the country too dangerous to live in).

Lily is definitely a bit of a Mary Sue, but I don’t mind Sues as much as some people…most male protagonists are way overpowered, so why fault female protags for being the same? I like seeing girls wielding power and kicking ass! 🙂


This was an interesting novel, and I plan to read the other two books at some point. I’m especially interested in Lillian, because despite being the main villain, we didn’t get many scenes with her and her motivations were only briefly touched upon.

Cover Report: The cover features a teenage girl in the foreground, looking out over the silhouette of a huge stone citadel surrounded by fire. The art is mostly greys and blacks, with a splash of color in the flames. Nice! I give this cover a B+.

Typo Police: No typos found. I’m impressed that there were no mix-ups of the names Lily and Lillian being applied to the wrong characters (at least not that I noticed).

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Netflix TV and Movie reviews – Dec 2017


“What if, in our mind’s eye, we could experience a year in a minute?”


Young scientist Ren is the co-founder of OtherLife, a new biotechnology that uses nanites to reprogram parts of the brain into experiencing bite size 24-hour virtual realities. As the launch date nears, an accident forces her to be the guinea pig for a never before attempted use of the technology: spending one minute of her real life to experience an entire year in the virtual world. Needless to say, the plot quickly spirals and gets intense!

I’d never heard of this film, so I thought it would be a typical low-budget sci-fi flick; watchable, but nothing special. I was wrong! I enjoyed this movie a lot.

Just about everything about the plot and characters is a spoiler, so I’ll just say that I highly recommend OtherLife to sci-fi fans, or even fans of thrillers of any kind. I’ll be watching to see what the makers of this film come up with next!



A web of mysteries begins when a young boy disappears during a lightning storm, exactly 33 years after the similar unsolved disappearance of another boy in the 80s. The next day, the body of boy is discovered in the woods, wearing 1980s era clothing and carrying a Walkman cassette player. Even stranger, his eyes and ears have been burned away in an unexplainable injury, an injury that is replicated in dead animals found all over the countryside. A cave near the nuclear power plant connects three timelines, and plunges several families into a bizarre mystery spread over three generations.

Dark is an original Netflix series, and is their first German production (though you can also watch dubbed into English if you choose). I wasn’t sure what the series was going to be about, since the description simply mentions the disappearance of a boy, making it sound like a horror type story. I was super-pleasantly surprised by the main plot: TIME TRAVEL, baby! Have I mentioned that I looooooove time travel stories? 😀

Though it’s not technically horror, the show has the slow, dark mood and tone of a good horror film. The setting feels ominous, and the interactions of the characters can get pretty creepy when the time travel starts kicking in. I was glued to the screen the whole time, and binged the series in two sittings. It ends on a cliffhanger, so I’m glad to hear that season 2 has been greenlit and will start filming in 2018. Great show!

By the way, there are several language options available. You can watch in the original German with English subtitles, but the English dubbed version is actually very good, IMHO. If you’re not bothered by the lip movements not matching the words, the English version is definitely watchable. I’m glad Netflix gives viewers the choice. 🙂

Alias Grace


Toronto high society is horrified when, in 1843, a gentleman and his housekeeper are murdered by a stable boy and maid. The maid in question, Grace Marks, is convicted of the crime and sentenced to an insane asylum. Years later, a young doctor in the newly-formed practice of psychology begins to study Grace, and she tells him the story of her life and what led up to the murders.

Alias Grace is a miniseries adaptation of a novel by Margaret Atwood, best known as the author of The Handmaid’s Tale. Alias Grace is a gripping and binge-worthy show, but the subject matter made it difficult for me to watch all at once. The world of the mid 1800s is portrayed realistically, with all the filth, disease, physical and sexual abuse, sexism, and classism that existed then. Some of the scenes are kind of depressing!

However, I did enjoy this show. The acting is amazing, especially Sarah Gadon as Grace. Though Grace claims she is telling the truth, the audience never knows for sure, and Gadon does a fantastic job making her character believable as both an innocent victim and a murderous liar. The costumes and sets are also amazingly well done. Kudos to the design team!

This is the kind of show that sticks with you for days after you finish watching it! It’s a tough watch (at least for me), but I’m glad I did.

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Nonfiction Book Review – Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

For all those who are too busy to read fat books, yet nonetheless seek a conduit to the cosmos” reads the tagline of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.


Astrophysics is a huge, complicated branch of science, but this pocket-sized book breaks it down so that even regular non-genius people (like me!) can understand it. Tyson begins with the beginning – that is, the Big Bang – describing what we believe happened step-by-step in the formation of our universe. The first two thirds or so of the book is dedicated to explaining concepts like sub-atomic particles, light, gravity, dark matter, and other important features of astrophysics. The final third discusses Earth’s place in the universe, the likelihood of other life-bearing planets, and philosophical ideas about what the future holds.

This book promises to make astrophysics accessible to the layperson, and I think it succeeds! I have a background in science, so I already know a little about the concepts discussed here, but I feel that even a reader with no background would be able to understand. Tyson has a comfortable, casual writing style, very different from the complicated “science-ese” that scares most people off from scientific reading. He makes these concepts easy to understand, without being condescending at all. The writing feels like the teaching of a fun, likable professor. 🙂

Another good thing about the book is the writer’s sense of humor. I laughed quite a few times, especially in the last few chapters. (Did you know that planet Uranus was almost named George? I’m 100% serious, read it!)


Overall, I think this is a great book! It’s interesting and easy to read, and is a great introduction to some fascinating concepts that are usually a little inaccessible to the average person. I highly recommend giving it a try! 🙂

Cover Report: The cover features a photo of the night sky, with a colorful nebula peeking over the horizon. The silhouette of a person is walking by, holding a book and looking up into the sky. It gets the point across in a simple, elegant way. I give this cover an A.

Typo Police: No typos found.

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Book Review – The Lying Game

The rules are simple: 1) Tell a lie. 2) Stick to your story. 3) Never, ever get caught…” Fibs and half-truths and secrets abound in The Lying Game, by Ruth Ware.


Years ago, Isa and her three boarding-school friends had fun with a twisted game of lies, until a scandal got them kicked out of school. Now, one of the girls, Isa, is living a normal life with her boyfriend and new baby, when out of the blue she gets a chilling text message. “I need you.” The four women meet up near their old school, where they get a terrible bit of news: a body has been found on the beach. A body they may have had a hand in burying… Now the women must try to hide their involvement in a mysterious crime, while wrestling with a blackmailer and fighting their way out of a web of lies. What REALLY happened that night?

The structure of the mystery in this book was a bit odd, mainly for the same reason in Sophie Hannah’s Little Face – the novel is written in first person. Isa knows about all of the mysterious past events, but she doles facts out to the reader in tiny portions a bit at a time. It’s a little frustrating to know that your narrator knows everything but chooses not to tell you until it’s dragged out of her by the story beats. I think maybe first person isn’t the best POV for mysteries? I dunno, maybe someone can pull it off well!

The story takes place in two timelines; the main story is in the present, but there are flashback chapters showing what happened when the four friends were girls. Because Isa doesn’t inform the reader of past events, the climax of the past storyline also serves as the climax to the present one (does that make sense?). Like I said, it’s a strange setup.

However, the mystery kept my interest enough for me to finish the book. This novel wasn’t my favorite, but I did like the author’s writing style, and her previous two books seem to be very well received. I may check out “In a Dark Dark Wood” sometime.

I have two small linguistic notes for this book. First of all, I learned a new word: “mardy”. According to the Oxford dictionary, it means sulky or moody, like a spoiled child. Never heard that one before! The second thing is an alternate definition for “chandler”. I’d always thought a chandler was a candlemaker, but it was used in this book in reference to making fishing nets. As it turns out, both of those professions go by that name. I’m not sure how such completely different creations as candles and fishing gear came to have the same job title, but there you go!

Cover Report: The cover features a sandy beach covered in a twisted, tangled fishing net, with seaweed and flotsam caught in the corners. The title of the book is in large letters which are also tangled up in the net. This cover fits the book both literally – part of the story takes place in a beach town with houses draped in fishing nets – and figuratively, with the net symbolizing a web of lies. Very well done! I give this cover an A.

Typo Police: No typos found.

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Book Review – Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

In the seven years since Shaffer’s celebrated hike, only five others had achieved the same. All were men. Emma intended to change that.” Feet hit the trail in Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, a biography by Ben Montgomery.


The Appalachian Trail is a continuous hiking trail that extends from Georgia to Maine, following the Appalachian mountains that lie parallel to the Atlantic coast. In 1955, only a few people had hiked the entire trail alone. Inspired by an article in National Geographic, Emma Gatewood, then 67 years old, decided to tackle the challenge and be the first woman to complete a solo trek. Along the way, she was noticed by the press, stole the hearts of the public, and finished the trail as a legend.

This was my first biography, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The story is written as a narrative, which I’m assuming was created from journals kept during the walk, or interviews afterwards. Montgomery follows Emma’s trip all the way up the trail, describing the places and people she encountered as she traversed a good portion of North America. Between chapters of the hike, we get flashbacks to Emma’s past and the experiences in her life that made her so tough and motivated. There are occasional short excerpts of newspaper articles and quotes from people who followed her trek.

The story is surprisingly entertaining! I was wondering how it was possible to get a whole book out of a hike, but there’s lots of detail about the different experiences Emma had on the way. We hear about her encounters with wild animals, worn out gear, dangerous weather, suspicious backwoods residents, reporters and photographers, and even a night spent in a cabin with a group of teenage gang members! The book kept my interest all the way through.


As someone who loves to hike, I gotta say that Grandma Gatewood is a hardcore badass. I won’t touch a trail without proper boots, a comfortable backpack, and an array of food and snacks. Emma did it in Converse with a denim bag slung over her shoulder, sleeping wherever she could find a dry spot by the trail, while she was sixty seven years old! My feet hurt just thinking about it, lol.

Grandma Gatewood (640x325)

The story is definitely inspiring, but personally I doubt I will ever attempt to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. I would die of loneliness trying to do it alone, and even with a partner or group I’d be sick of walking after about a week. But thousands of other people have been motivated to finish the trail because of Grandma Gatewood’s story. She’s a unique and interesting legend!

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I’d love to see Emma’s story made into a movie. 🙂

Cover Report: The cover features a (colorized) photo of Emma Gatewood, standing in front of some mountains and looking up, as if she’s peering at a tall peak. The fact that she doesn’t look how you would expect a record-breaking hiker to look really catches your interest. I give this cover a B+.

Typo police: One typo found; there was a description of a “satin-lined wood jacket”, which I’m pretty sure should be “WOOL jacket”.

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