Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Speaking With the Spirits of the Old Southwest: Conversations With Miners, Outlaws and Pioneers Who Still Roam Ghost Towns


I received a free ARC via NetGalley from Llewellyn Publications in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 Stars

One of my favorite things about NetGalley is that I have been auto-approved by Llewellyn so I can immediately read any book they've posted. This tends to make for some spooky reads, because they of course publish a lot of material related to all things paranormal. I believe in ghosts, I have had experiences of my own, and I love reading about the experiences of others. When I saw this book available, it was doubly exciting because there is something so tragic and romantic and, well, haunting, about the Old West. Despite its historical inaccuracies, Tombstone is one of my fave movies and I was hoping that some investigations would be made into the lives of the real men and women the movie represented. I was NOT disappointed in that respect at all.

One author, Dan Baldwin, has several years of experience using a dowsing pendulum to communicate with spirits who have not yet crossed over. I am kind of glad that I did not know ahead of time about this tool that he uses, as it might have made me hesitate. Prior to reading this one, I had no idea what a dowsing pendulum even was. I have to admit much skepticism to start with and I am not entirely convinced of its work yet, but it certainly gives one much to think about.

He was joined with a husband-wife team, Rhonda and Dwight Hull, who are both psychic mediums and can communicate with the dead. Something I really liked from the start is the team's goal of helping these spirits cross over. I also liked the fact that they did not attempt to force a spirit to cross over - though of course forcing a spirit to do anything would be impossible. More than once the author mentioned that the team did not feel right attempting to suggest the spirit move on if the spirit seemed content and happy to stay where they were. They came across a few spirits like this, who knew there was something beyond our plane of existence, but were happy to be where they were and wished to remain so. There were others who were afraid to cross, such as a young girl they encountered who was afraid she would not find her family. Perhaps the story that stuck with me the longest is the one of the supposed encounter with Mattie Blaylock, Wyatt Earp's common-law wife who he abandoned in Tombstone when he met Josephine Marcus. Mattie's story is a sad one and she died of a laudanum overdose, though whether it was an accident or suicide is still debated. The team here falls on the side of believing she committed suicide and in their communication with what they believe is her spirit, they conclude she has remained behind because she is ashamed of the way she died and is afraid she can't leave the place where she is in self-imposed exile. The team encourages the spirit to move on, that she is forgiven and she is allowed to leave, then end the session.

Each chapter is set up the same way: background information of the place or subject the team is investigating, then the transcripts of the sessions. I feel like those are important, as well as the commentary within the transcripts to help the reader know what is going on. with books like this, I feel like one of the most crucial things an author can do is give as much background information as possible in order to place their subjects in the proper context. Perhaps this is even more true in regards to those who are famous or infamous. Everyone knows stories of the Old West but it is important to go beyond the legends and discover who these people actually were. It also shows me that investigators have done their homework so to speak, prior to beginning. This could also partially have to do with the fact that I love non-fiction and history in particular, but I think we can agree research is an important aspect in this line of work. Not only do they give the background information, but at the end of the chapter, when available, they list follow-up/further reading information

Despite my caution still in regards to the pendulum use (I have to learn more about it, possibly see one in action for myself in this kind of situation before rendering a verdict), another point where this team and I agree on is that we all believe spirits can return to a place where they were happy. I have been incredibly lucky in being able to spend a couple nights at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado and I can say 100% that there are spirits there. Between the audio and visual confirmations, you can just FEEL the energy. I never felt anything negative, it was happy and peaceful - though, I could have done without whoever was in the room above us stomping around all night on hardwood floors, dragging furniture about. Also, none of the floors have been hardwood for decades, it's all carpeted. And yet both nights I was woken up by very loud, heavy shoes on hard floors. But that aside, yes I believe the spirits of the little boy and girl are happy to be at the Stanley, a place they must have loved very much in life. On the reverse side, I also believe that it is possible for the doer of evil deeds to return to the scene of his or her crime. I've been to the Villisca Ax Murder House in Iowa and there is definitely some negative/bad mojo coming from that attic. I think it is possible that whoever murdered the Moore family and Stillinger girls is still in the house, along with at least a couple of the children.

All in all I definitely recommend this one to those who have an interest in the paranormal. The multiple locations they visit have made me want to set up a vacation in the southwest, ASAP. The transcripts of their sessions at various locations in these ghost towns are truly interesting. I admire their commitment to the field and will you leave you with this quote that I feel like really sums up their mission (at 27%):

"You will notice in reading the transcript of the session we were not collecting EVPs like someone would collect stamps, coins, or arrowheads. Rather, these efforts are aimed at building a relationship with those who have crossed over and in gaining a better understanding of their individual situation."

Monday, January 15, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday!

The Broke and the Bookish officially closed on January 11th. Top Ten Tuesday is now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.

This week's topic is 'Bookish Resolutions/Goals'. I pretty much already did this in my New Year's post, but I will share update and add another goal that I meant to but forgot.

1. 2017/2018 Presidential Reading Goal

I set the goal for myself last year to read one book about each president. Then in February I started writing my book about Eleanor of Aquitaine and I have been distracted ever since. I started 2018 off pretty solid and knocked a few out within the first couple days. Only 30-some more to go! You can check out my progress HERE.

2. Goodreads Challenge: 150 Books

Quality over quantity is a must this year. Last year I set my goal to 150 but reached it pretty quickly, so I continued upping it. Buuuut I also kept reading these short little books from a smaller publisher that were a little lacking at times. The books were not great or in-depth, but I mainly use them to either gauge my interest in a topic, or to see how a topic I know very well is being presented. I am not going to do that this year, and will read a better mix of longer and shorter texts.

3. Give NetGalley Attention

In 2017 I really let my digital galleys fall to the wayside and that was not fair to the authors and publishers waiting on feedback or reviews. This mainly had to do with my own book, again, but it will not happen this year. I have finished up a few galleys already and gotten myself back over the 80% mark, woohoo!

4. Write a Damn Book Already

I am. I'm working on it right after typing up this post even. It has been my dream since I was very young to be an author. In 6th grade I had an English teacher named Kevin Hanzlik who one day told me, "Sarah, you are a writer." I took those words to heart and never looked back. He still encourages me to this day and this book is as much for him as it is for my little Eleanor. I can't think of a better gift for a teacher (and I say this as a teacher myself) than to go out and do the thing he believed I could do all along.

5. Buy Less, Read More

I have a serious BookBub addiction, but have refrained from even looking at the deals for over a month now. The Kindle is seriously out of control. Plus all the physical books I own, due to Half Price Books and Amberley Publishing, make it necessary for me to stop buying and start reading. I had a slight stumble on Saturday and purchased some new books at my fave Christian bookstore, Divine Truth, but other than that I'm doing fine, this goal is fine, everything is fine.

6. Be a More Active Blogger

I am making a better effort this year to visit blogs that I follow on days besides Top Ten Tuesday, First Line Friday, and/or Saturdays for Stacking the Shelves. I am really trying to be more engaged in what others are reading and to be part of and start conversations about all kinds of bookish delights. I am also going to get back to reviewing a bit more too, when time allows.

Do we have any similar goals? Leave a link to your TTT, I'll be sure to stop by.

Happy Reading!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Stacking the Shelves 2

Stacking the Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, whether it be physical or virtual. You can include books you buy in-store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts, and of course ebooks! To find out more, visit the official launch page.

NetGalley ARCS

This week was super hectic with winter break ending on Sunday. Students came back Tuesday and it is safe to say no one is ready yet! So, my book accumulation was rather slow. I picked up two ARCs on NetGalley from publishers I am auto-approved by.


I'm always looking for fun ways to introduce kids to non-fiction (big surprise). I found this one, and was psyched to see there are others in the series. It was a fun, informative read that I would love to use in my classroom.


I am almost never going to turn down a book about paranormal experiences. This was one I was a bit skeptical of at first, because of the use of the pendulum and my unfamiliarity with the way it is supposed to work. Even without that aspect though, this is a really interesting look at a very specific time in our nation's history, and there is some great historical information included about the sites they visit, as well as additional readings available.

I also had two requests approved for books I am interested in.

I am endlessly fascinated by religion. I myself am a Christian, but my quest for knowledge of Judaism and Islam in particular knows no bounds. I think this is largely due to the fact that all three groups worship the same God in very different ways, and sometimes not-so-different ways.


I'm going to start by saying that I am not a Clinton supporter by any means. I was all-in for Bernie Sanders and I will never regret that for one moment.

However, I do recognize the fact that Clinton as president would be infinitely preferable to Trumplethinskin, yet here we are. I long for the days where, if I did not hear the president's name for a few days or even *gasp* a whole week on the news, it was okay. That meant there was an adult in the White House, being an adult and doing the adult job entrusted to him. One can not deny the impact of Comey on the election, but let's also remember this: there were some people who were never going to vote for Clinton no matter what, and a lot of those people were not going to vote for Trumplethinskin either. I am very interested to see what the author has to say and look forward to finishing this one.

Author Review Request


I also had a review request from an author this week and I've already finished the book. It was a shot, breezy read and I am still figuring out what I would like to say about it - seeing as how I did not stop to take any notes as I was reading.

What did you stack this week? Have you read any of these? Lave a comment and a link to your weekly haul; I'll be sure to check it out.

Happy Reading!

The Green Unknown: Travels in the Khasi Hills


I received a free copy from the author, Patrick Rogers, in exchange for an honest review

Rating: 4 Stars

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I know very little about India, and even less than that about the slice of Earth that the author was exploring. I did not even know that these living root bridges were a thing. I'm a prime example of what Jack Dawson would refer to as an "indoor girl".

I'm going to get the negative out of the way right now, since I genuinely enjoyed this book. The format on my Kindle was not the best for the photos included. It did not do them justice one bit. I want to see these bridges in color and recommend that option for anyone else who picks up this text. That's really my only complaint - though I will admit I did not read a single word of the sections devoted to bug-eating. I will vomit if I think about it any further. Feel free to read it for yourself.

So, here we have this giant white guy lumbering about in India, traveling around in search of these root bridges. The author's humor about the situations he found himself in was fantastic. Early on he writes, "When she saw my huffing and puffing up through the village she laughed, though I wasn't offended. It's no use taking yourself too seriously when you insist on being the one sweaty foreigner in the jungle." Here he is describing being passed on a trail by an elderly woman, who is much-amused when he arrives in the village later than she did, after having passed him on the trail in.

There is so much to touch on from the text, I hardly know where to go next. I thoroughly enjoyed discovering the randomness of the cultural exports from the US, and how the WWE manages to infiltrate every last corner of the earth. The author writes much of a man named John Cena who became a companion of sorts on his various treks. Names in general were highly interesting, as parents often named their children with words we in the US would never in a million years consider a name. Yet the parents chose those names because they liked the way they sounded.

There was one point in the story that just about gave me serious heart palpitations. I am someone who hates getting lost. I can not stand the thought of a wrong turn and I get panicky just thinking about it. Even in the city where I live, sometimes. So you can imagine my vicarious experience when the author literally got lost in the jungle on one of his treks when he was confronted with the fact that the map he had was incomplete. He had to decide then on his own, with no guidance, which path to take. I could hardly stand it. Luckily, things worked out of course, or we would not be discussing this book right now, would we?

I was not entirely sure what to expect from this text and was also keen to learn about these remote villages, people who live lives so different, yet very much the same as you and I. When one thinks of farming in the Midwest, it is easy to imagine row after perfect row of crops, stretching out to the horizon, carefully tended and cared for under the watchful eye of the farmer. This could not be further from the truth in many of the locations visited by Rogers. He describes their farming methods as very simplistic, and very successful. Some crops are deliberately planted in the forest and left on their own until it is time to harvest. Other foods necessary to the villagers' diets grow naturally in the surrounding forests and they harvest when it is time. Something else I found of interest is the fact that those naturally-growing crops are protected by the locals sometimes at the expense of other species' sharing the same space.

Besides interacting with the vegetation, we are also treated to several interactions with many villagers. Rogers points out very early on (16%) that a "Good way to determine if you're welcome or not, and how many other outside visitors have been there before you - the way the kids react to you." He also discussed how word spread so quickly of his presence (and purpose, when known). He talks of how word spread quickly, "...sometimes to villages I've not even heard of, that a big white man is lumbering about in the vicinity" (14%). But, much like here in the US, those villages were not always friendly to one another, and Rogers found himself getting quite a lot of information from one group of villagers about another. "Exactly like neighbors the world over, nearby villages in Riwar don't always get along. In traveling from settlement to settlement, one often gets an earful of inter-village resentments; lengthy descriptions of territorial disputes that have never been truly resolved, suspicions that neighboring villages may harbor insurgents or be conducting human sacrifices, accusations that the next settlement is corrupt, and that its headman is cheating the state government out of grant money, etc, etc" (19%).

To say that the author took the road less traveled is an understatement (recall the map scenario from above, as I try not to freak out about it all over again). He set out on this mission to see and photograph these amazing natural wonders, and found such additional treasure along the way, in the form of the people and the places, the ideas, languages, and traditions, of a world so wholly removed from our own. I can not imagine an adventure more terrifying or amazing.

I appreciated the fact that the author in no way considers himself an expert on these root bridges or the world he encountered on his many treks through the jungles. He mixed his own experiences with factual information about the places he saw, which is especially important for those who have never even heard of this part of the world. I would have been so much more lost, had I not had that information, guiding me as to what I needed to Google, and what I could figure out from the narrative. I feel both parts flowed together well and this was very much a travelogue of a breathtaking adventure. It was easy to picture those far-off places, with his descriptions (and Google) of the hills and valleys, mountainsides, waterfalls, swelling rivers, and of course the root bridges. They are, after all, the whole purpose of his adventures. Rogers refers to them as being "among the world's exceedingly few examples of architecture which is simultaneously functional and alive." he goes on to describe a bit about them, while also stating he is by no means an expert. He leaves the title of expert to his guides, who we find can not fathom why an outsider would do what the author is doing - trekking through thick jungles with a huge backpack, trying to find something that the locals do not particularly value. This part saddened me, as we learn over the course of the book that the practice of growing and cultivating these magnificent structures is dying out and thus that is the reason for so remarkably few photos, despite Rogers' best efforts to find as many as he can. I feel like there is a great need for attention to this, and preservation of these bridges needs to be a priority. But on the other hand, these remote villages have existed with little outside interference for centuries, do we really think as outsiders that we know better than the people who have grown up around these bridges? It is a a complex idea and one I am glad I am not in charge of solving - if indeed there is anything to solve.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read with a good blend of fact and personal experience, as well as plenty of humor and amazing photos along the way.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

First Line Friday: Ghost Ship Edition

grab button for First Line Fridays hosted by Hoarding Books

Time for another round of First Line Friday, brought to you by Hoarding Books.

This week my line is from a book that, for some reason, my four and a half year old is OBSESSED with, and has been for quite some time. I'm not even sure why, but whenever she looked through the stacks of books on my shelves, or my desk, or the floor, this is always the one she sought. Now I make it super easy for her and it pretty much sits on the shelf at her eye level so she can grab it whenever she wants. Which is often. Whenever I am sitting at my desk working on my own book, she will always ask to play 'book fair', where she for-pretend hands me money and I for-real hand her this book. It makes us both giggle because we know that over and over, this is the book she will "purchase" when she comes around asking, "Do you have any books for me, Book Fair?" I have no character name, I am simply Book Fair. Then she sits on the couch and "reads" it, asking me about the ship and why it got lost. I should clarify, this is because I told her the story of the Mary Celeste, not because she is already reading adult non-fiction history books.


"The ship drifted restlessly through the whitecaps, like a lost soul wandering among tombstones."

Leave me a comment or a first line of your own and check out some of the other lines over at Hoarding Books.

Happy Reading!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday!

This is the final Top Ten Tuesday to be hosted by The Broke and the Bookish (for now, hopefully not for good). Starting next week it will be hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl (Jana, a contributor to Broke and Bookish).

This week's topic is Ten Books We Meant to Read in 2017 but Didn't Get To (and totalllyyy plan to get to in 2018)

Oh, boy.

I kind of feel like I have been talking about that darn presidential reading goal for the last week, and er'body knows I am bound and determined to get those read, so lets look at something else instead. Here are my picks, in no particular order:

11742238 23248162 2465562 16248031239186 30259182 11137 21926753 31742371 12101738 28999810 6497458 

The worst part is, I have every single one of these books sitting on my shelf right now, staring at me - surrounded by heaps of others taunting me with their un-read-ness.

I'd love to hear from you, let me know what you think of these titles and leave a link so I can check out your list too.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Father Lincoln: The Untold Story of Abraham Lincoln and His Boys - Robert, Eddy, Willie, and Tad


I received this as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 Stars

One of the reasons I set this president goal for myself last year was because I have read extensively about Washington, Lincoln, and Kennedy, but few others. I thought I knew as much as there was to know about Lincoln. After all, he is arguably the most written-about president in US history. I was very happy then to see this book on NetGalley and requested it immediately (over a year ago of course, because in 2017 I got sidetracked by other projects and so many galleys lingered in limbo on my Kindle). I only knew vaguely of the supposed overindulgence that Lincoln engaged in with his young sons, but not much else. This book gives a completely new layer to the man known as the Great Emancipator. We see him in his most important role, that of a father to four boys. I feel like this book helps us to truly complete the picture of Lincoln as a whole man. He was 100% dedicated to providing for his family, which caused him to be away from Mary, Robert, and Eddy so often in those early years and he had to find a balance between his law practice and home life. This was a bit easier for him to do once in the White House, as his family was always with him - much to the irritation of some of his cabinet members.

There is a significant amount of research here. In my copy as an ARC, the text itself ended at 66% and the notes ran from 67%-90%. Following that, the primary and secondary sources ran 90%-96%. While I am still a bit skeptical on this idea that the author regularly asserts - that basically fathers in the 19th century were becoming more involved in the raising of their children, that does seem to be the case here for Lincoln in what we can interpret from letters, etc. This does not mean that fathers had nothing to do with raising their children ever until the 21st century, just that it almost came across at times as though the author was trying to assert that fathers wanted to also be in the caregiver role and I do not think that was the case. It is not a major flaw, as it is clear that Lincoln enjoyed spending time with his children, but I think it is a blanket statement that does not apply to all fathers of the period.

Before we are introduced the the relationships that Lincoln had with his own sons, we see the foundation of it being built in Lincoln's relationship with his own father. In previous books this has been a highly contentious relationship and Thomas has often been viewed as abusive and distant and overbearing. While those things may well be true, here Manning at least presents Thomas Lincoln in the context of his time period. Men in his generation did not think of saving for the future, they worked the land to survive. Thomas and Abraham could not have been more different and I do think that could be why later Lincoln was so indulgent with his own sons. They got away with everything because Lincoln had gotten away with nothing. Thomas physically disciplined young Abe, Lincoln could not have been more opposite. The entire tenure of the family's stay in DC is punctuated by the pranks and disruptions of the younger boys, Willie and Tad. And it seemed the boys knew their father would not discipline them, given memories recorded by observers to such activities. Nothing they did seemed to bother Lincoln, from their tendencies to ring all the bells in the White House to panic the clerks and messengers, to eating all the strawberries being grown for a state dinner. He did not ignore everything though, and even when he went about sorting out problems between the boys, he did so in a loving way. In one instance when the boys traded each other - a new knife for a few pieces of candy - and it was not fair, Lincoln put the questions to the boys whether it was fair and they fixed it themselves.

The majority of the book seemed to focus on Lincoln's relationship between the two younger boys, Willie and Tad. When Robert and Eddy were young, Lincoln was away in other towns, trying cases for those places that had no lawyers. He did so in order to build up his practice, and put in motion the wheels that would eventually carry him to the White House. As a result, Lincoln was not as close to Robert. The author spent a lot of time trying to explain this away as though Robert was trying to keep his family life private after his father's assassination. It very well could be a mix of the two, and to me this is not something that necessarily needs to be explained away. It makes sense that they would not be as close, given Lincoln's absences during Robert's formative years. However, there are references to correspondences throughout Robert's life, from his youth to his time at college. Perhaps the gap was not as wide as previous historians have assumed. Unfortunately Eddy passed away at a young age, before the other two were born. In the wake of Eddy's death we see Lincoln openly mourning his son and grieving the loss. Perhaps it was this loss that made Lincoln realize that he needed to be home more often, and the younger boys certainly benefited from that. We see that grief rear its head again when Willie - Lincoln's favorite son - dies at age 12.

One thing I appreciated greatly about this text was the fact that lived up to its name and focused on the side of Lincoln as a father. It does not become political and only discusses those major events in Lincoln's career from the viewpoint of him as a father and how/if anything impacted the boys. We are not given yet another history of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates, his presidential campaigns, or much involving the Civil War. For the most part, the war is only dealt with in how it impacted Robert, who was of age to become a soldier and wanted desperately to do so - and his parents terrified of him doing so. In that instance we do see Lincoln and Mary as President and First Lady, but a father and mother afraid of losing yet another son too soon. Perhaps somewhat ironically, Robert would be their only son to live to adulthood. Tad died at seventeen, thought this was after his father's assassination. Only Mary would see the loss of yet another son.

All in all, this was a very enlightening book about a side of Lincoln I did not really know. I knew him as the politician and this book does well to present him as a loving father who loved his sons deeply. Highly recommended.