Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I Met a Ghost at Gettysburg

In the spring of 2015, journalist Don Allison and his grandson went to Gettysburg to explore the areas Civil War history.  As part of their vacation, Allison went on a private ghost tour of Sachs Bridge.  Near the end of the investigation, Allison had an experience that confirmed for him that ghosts are a reality.  Don Allison's ghost adventures are charted in his memoir I Met a Ghost at Gettysburg: A Journey Into the Paranormal.  Allison is a respected journalist who has received numerous awards for his reporting for The Bryan Times in Bryan, Ohio.  A self-proclaimed skeptic, Allison never believed in the paranormal.  That all began to change after Allison and his wife, Diane, purchased an historic house in on Highway 127 in Bryan, Ohio.  The house dated to 1835 and had been allowed to deteriorate.  Allison and Diane brought the house back to its former glory.  But during the restoration process, it quickly became apparent that they were not the only resident in the house.  Allison became aware of the history's haunted reputation when a former tenant stopped by and told them of his experiences from ghostly footsteps to the sighting of alien beings.  Naturally, Allison scoffed at the reports, joking with his wife that the stories explained why there were so many empty beer bottles found on the property.  But soon Allison began to experience things that he could not explain.

Convinced that the house was haunted, Allison gradual came to terms with his houses non-paying tenants.  Seeking clarity into the paranormal, Allison contacted famed Gettysburg ghost research Mark Nesbitt.  The information that Nesbitt provided gave Allison peace of mind that he was not alone or going crazy.  While in Gettysburg in a trip in 2009, Allison began experiencing paranormal activity.  Fascinated with the Civil War, Allison decided to take his grandson, Connor, on a Gettysburg vacation in March 2015.  The intention of the trip was to explore the Civil War history of Gettysburg, but in the process they got more than they expected.  From ghostly footsteps in the hotel room to the sounds of a Civil War era cannon blast, Allison realized that this was going to be a memorable vacation.  The paranormal investigation on Sachs Bridge connected Allison to the paranormal in unimaginable ways for Allison.  Speaking through a spirit box, Allison became convinced that he was speaking with the spirit of an Ohioan captain that died at Gettysburg.  The events at Gettysburg convinced Allison that he needed to share his paranormal journey with the public, the result is this book.

An entertaining memoir of one man's paranormal adventures.  Allison writes as the average man, someone who never actively pursued the paranormal until he unexpectedly encountered it.  A refreshing paranormal memoir, as the haunting that Allison experienced was benign and friendly in nature.  A recommended read for those fascinated by the paranormal and the ghosts of Gettysburg.

Available on Amazon
Visit Don Allison at Faded Banner Publications

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Amanda's Secret

On Thursday, I had the pleasure of reading Jami Borek's charming Amanda's Secret: A Colonel Girl's Story.  The story follows the adventures of twelve-year-old Amanda Lambertson who lives with her parents on a plantation outside of Williamsburg, Virginia in the early 1770s.  Amanda is excited that she is attending her first ball, as she rarely gets a chance to socialize outside of her close-knit plantation.  But her excitement is dampened by the odd remarks of her new servant Jane who starts to hint that Amanda is not a "lady" after all.  These remarks sets off a series of events that causes Amanda to learn the truth about her past and her family.

A delightful story for the young and the young at heart.  Amanda is a winning heroine and Jami Borek should be applauded for creating a hiss worthy villain in the character of Jane.  Jami Borek tale is illustrated with charming photographs textured to look like illustrations in a vain similar to the classic American Girl books.  I was pleased that the clothing of the characters was authentic.  I was enchanted by the story.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

Amanda's Secret is available on Amazon

Visit Jami Borek at Shrewsbury Press

The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart

My re-read of the works of Leanna Renee Hieber continues with The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart: A Novel of Magic Most Foul.  The novel picks up where Darker Still left off.  Miss Natalie Stewart is on the run with Jonathan Whitby, Lord Denbury after tangling with a demon in New York City.  Afraid of the dark magic that the pair encountered in New York, Natalie and Jonathan flee to St. Paul, Minnesota.  They hope that they will find a welcome sanctuary away from the dark forces.  Instead, Natalie and Jonathan uncover a nefarious plot hatched by the Society to reanimate the dead.  Rushing back to New York, Natalie and Jonathan are forced to wage a war over the soul of all they hold dear.  The stakes are high in this novel.  Realizing that the Society is unaware of Jonathan's escape from the painting, Jonathan decides to go undercover as his "demon" self to defeat the Society from within.

I loved this novel.  Dark and atmospheric, the novel features some of the most terrifying scenes I have ever encountered.  The terror is balanced by the love story between Natalie and Jonathan.  The pair begin to explore their feelings for each and their romance is deeply satisfying and well developed.  Heiber excels in developing well formed secondary characters.  Mrs. Northe returns in this novel to guide Natalie and Jonathan on their quest.  New characters are also introduced who play a key role in this installment.  Rachel Horowitz a deaf medium with links to Natalie's past and Revered Blessing an Episcopalian exorcist join forces with our heroes to defeat the nefarious Society. A satisfying sequel to Darker Still.

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars.

The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart is available on Amazon     

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe!

Last Saturday, I visited the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia to celebrate the master of macabre 207th birthday.  This was my first trip to the Poe Museum and it is a hidden gem in the midst of Richmond's Civil War history.

One of America's finest writers, Poe spent thirteen years in Richmond.  Born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809 to the English born actress Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe and actor David Poe, Jr, Edgar Poe was his parents second child.  Young Edgar spent his early years traveling his parents from one theater to another, even appearing on stage as a toddler playing Cupid in a production of Cinderella.  Edgar's early year's where difficult, his father abandoned his family and his mother died destitute in a Richmond boarding house of tuberculosis in 1811 when Edgar was just three year's old.  Eliza Poe was a popular actress who enthralled Richmond society with her beauty.  When it became apparent that Eliza was dying, society matrons rushed to her bedside to care for her and her young children.  After Eliza's death, Frances Allan decided to foster three-year-old Edgar.  A day after Eliza's death, Edgar was christened Edgar Allan Poe.  Frances Allan and her wealthy merchant husband John Allan became Poe's foster parents.  The Allan's gave Edgar the wealth and education that he would never have received as the son of traveling actors.  For five years, Edgar lived in England with his foster parents.

While Frances showered Edgar with love and affection, Edgar's relationship with John Allan proved to be difficult and strained.  John Allan wanted Edgar to follow in his footsteps as a respectable merchant.  When it became clear that Edgar had the spirit of an romantic poet, the division between the two deepened.  Their relationship was furthered strained by Edgar's abandonment of his studies at the University of Virginia due to Allan's failure to send the scholar the needed funds.  When Edgar Allan Poe returned to Richmond, he discovered that his fiancee Elmira Royster had become engaged to another man.  Elmira's father disapproved of the relationship and intercepted Poe's letters.  Feeling that he had nothing left for him in Richmond, Poe ran away and joined the Army under a fake name.  Dissatisfied with Army life, Poe got an appointment to West Point due to John Allan's political connections.  Once again, John Allan refused to pay for Poe's tuition.  Unable to pay, Poe misbehaved and was kicked out of West Point.  By this time, Frances Allan had died and Poe cut off ties with his foster father.

Away from his foster father, Poe began his literary career moving around to Baltimore and Philadelphia.  Poe returned to Richmond in 1835 where he served as editor to the Southern Literary Messenger.  While living in Richmond, Poe married his thirteen-year-old cousin Virginia Clem.  The couple moved to New York in 1837.  Poe would not return to Richmond until 1848 following the death of Virginia from tuberculosis.  For the final two years of his life, Poe was a frequent visitor to Richmond reestablishing ties with childhood friends.  After years of struggling with alcohol, Poe was determined to turn his life around and even became engaged again to Elmira Royster Shelton.  But much like the stories Poe penned, tragedy was lurking behind the corner.  Edgar Allan Poe departed from Richmond for the last time on September 27, 1849 for a short business trip to Philadelphia.  Five days later, Poe was found incoherent in a Baltimore tavern wearing clothes that did not belong to him.  Rushed to Washington College Hospital, Poe lingered for four days, dying on October 7, 1849--ten days before he was to be married.

For decades, Richmond struggled on how to honor Poe's legacy.  Finally in the twentieth-century, the Poe Shrine was established in the Ege House in Richmond's Shockoe Bottom.  The Ege House was built in the 1750's and is the oldest surviving structure in Richmond.  Sadly, the majority of buildings associated with Poe have been demolished.  But the Ege House did have a connection to Poe.  In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette visited Richmond during his American tour.  While in Richmond, the Marquis visited the Ege House to pay his respect's to the family.  In 1781, Mrs. Ege had witnessed the British invasion of Richmond from her house.  Edgar Allan Poe was part of the ceremony paying respect to the Marquis and stood outside the Ege House as part of the Junior Morgan Rifles.

The Edgar Allan Poe Museum is worth a visit.  In five buildings, including the 1750's Ege House, is a repository of Poe items.  Books, manuscripts, paintings, and artifacts are tastefully assembled to tell the story of Poe's life and legacy.  One of the museums prized treasures is the Cornwall daguerreotype of Poe--the most iconic image of Edgar Allan Poe ever taken.

Visit The Edgar Allan Poe Museum

Two excellent books about Edgar Allan Poe in Virginia:

Edgar Allan Poe's Richmond: The Raven in the River City by Christopher P. Semtner

Available on Amazon

Verdict: 4 out 5 stars

Edgar Allan Poe's Petersburg: The Untold Story of the Raven in the Cockade City by Jeffery Abugel

 Available on Amazon

Verdict: 4 out  5 stars


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Darker Still

While waiting for the Leanna Renee Hieber's upcoming releases this year, I decided to have a re-read of her earlier work.  I decided to start with Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul.  Set in New York City in 1880, the novel follows the paranormal adventures of Natalie Stewart.  One of the traits of Leanna's work that I adore is her unconventional heroines, and this novel is no exception.  The heroine of Darker Still, Natalie Stewart is a mute.  Deprived of the ability to speak while a toddler, Natalie records her adventures in her diary.  Sheltered by her father, Natalie is searching for purpose and meaning is her life after leaving boarding school.  Natalie discovers her purpose in life unexpectedly with the arrival of a hauntingly beautiful portrait of Jonathan Whitby, Lord Denbury, a British aristocrat who has "died" under mysterious circumstances.  Fortunately for Natalie, her father is employed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is tasked with helping the museum acquire the piece.  It soon becomes apparent that all is not right with the painting, and that Lord Denbury is not dead after all--but trapped within the confines of his painting and Natalie is the only person that can free him.

I simply adore this book.  At turns romantic and terrifying, Leanna is gifted in her prose.  What I love about Leanna's books is that the reader feels that they have been transported back in time.  You feel as if you are walking the gas-lit cobblestone streets with the characters.  The characters are smart, Natalie, despite her "disability" is a genuinely smart and feisty young woman--a trait that is sadly lacking in Young Adult novels.  This book is also genuinely smart, the characters discuss and reflect on Spiritualism and morality on a level that is rarely seen.  Having spent years studying 19th-century Spiritualism, I have never seen a better depiction of the beliefs of Spiritualist presented in a novel. When Spiritualism is used in modern historical novels, it is presented negatively as the belief of the easily duped or as the mode of the villain for some nefarious purpose.  In reality, Spiritualism was more complex.  Yes, the religion was used by charlatans to separate the gullible from their money. But, for countless grieving Americans, Spiritualism offered spiritual comfort on a level that was lacking for most traditional Protestant denominations.  In Darker Still, Mrs. Northe, the guiding light for Natalie, is a Spiritualist and it is this character who champions Natalie in her quest to save Lord Denbury.         

Verdict: Darker Still is one of the best offerings in the Victorian Gothic genre.

    Available from Amazon.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Conversation with Clara Templeton (and Leanna Renee Hieber)

Long time readers of this blog know that I love the work of my friend Leanna Renee Hieber. In celebration of the release of her novel THE ETERNA FILES in mass market paperback from Tor Books on February 2, 2016, Leanna is answering some of my most pressing questions that I had for my favorite character Clara Templeton. And best of all, below is a link to enter a drawing for a signed copy of THE ETERNA FILES.

 About Clara Templeton: Clara is a very strong-willed, emotionally complex young woman who is orphaned in her pre-teen years and taken on, per the family’s wishes, by their friend, Congressman Rupert Bishop, who tends Clara dutifully and honorably and helps bring out her Spiritualist and Sensitive talents. The Eterna commission’s mission to search for a “cure for death” for elected officials during their time in office is Clara’s idea, borne of a twelve year old mind and a conversation with the grieving Mrs. Lincoln after the assassination of her husband. At the time of the story, Clara is now twenty-nine years old, just as strong-willed as ever and far more emotionally complex and it is a great worry to her that The Eterna commission has borne no results despite many forays into psychic and paranormal research, though the commission has taken a grave toll on those she loves and cares for. “My dear Miss Hamilton, I thank you for your inquiries about me and my association with Mrs. Lincoln. Let me address them herein: It is one of my greatest regrets that I did not see Mrs. Lincoln again after that fateful night when called to her side after the death of her husband, ostensibly to channel the spirit of the great Mister Lincoln, a demand Rupert and I declined to fulfill. Because I had left her with nothing but the first burgeoning hopes of what the Eterna Commission might reveal, I didn’t feel I could go back to her until I had either answers for her regarding the commission, or a direct message from any of her deceased loved ones that they demand she hear. I confess, Mister Lincoln did murmur to me, as I left the White House that day in my youth in 1865, said softly in that unmistakable reedy voice of his, that he would be there with Mary as best he could be, to soothe her, but that he didn’t know if alerting her to his presence was a help or a hurt, so I’d best continue on but go with his blessings and assurances. I told Rupert of course, asked if we should go back, to say what had been said, he shook his head and to simply do what the president bid; go in his good grace. Rupert told me it was Mary’s lot in this life to be troubled; that there was so much he couldn’t save her from, due to her own mind’s minefields, and considering the presences of Spiritualists often made her extremely excitable, he too regretted that we did not keep up with her as perhaps we should have. It is hard to know, as a Sensitive, where you are best suited, served, wanted, or needed. What Rupert did do, however, was to corroborate with Mrs. --- to get her out of the mental ward her son had confined her to. She was troubled- who wouldn’t be considering all that had befallen her, the sheer trauma of it all- and she deserved freedom, in this, I am proud Rupert helped intervene. If there is something further Mary wishes to say to us, I hope she will come forward and do so in any séance held or at any time, bidden or uninvited. Until that time, it is my profound and sincere hope that she is resting in much deserved peace.” (End of Clara’s narrative) My dear Michelle and esteemed readers, thanks so much for this chance to connect with you and to discuss my beloved heroine Clara and her world! Please take a moment to enter this giveaway, raffling off 3 signed mass market copies of THE ETERNA FILES and all including a signed book plate for the sequel, ETERNA & OMEGA, releasing this August from Tor Books! Cheers, thanks again and happy haunting! a Rafflecopter giveaway Leanna Renee Hieber http://leannareneehieber.com http://twitter.com/leannarenee http://facebook.com/lrhieber

Sunday, January 10, 2016

James Meyers in Hospital and Camp

The premiere of PBS' new costume drama Mercy Street next Sunday, has created a lot of buzz on social media.  The show centers on life in a Union hospital in Alexandria, VA.  To whet your appetite on what it was really like for medical personnel in the Union Army during the Civil War, I present a few extracts from the diary of Pvt. James A. Meyers.   From 1862-1865, Meyers served as a hospital steward for the 45th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

Friday, January 2, 1863 [In camp in Stafford County, Virginia]

This morning on arising I found that some one had during the past night entered my tent carrying off a demijohn containing some whiskey, which had been placed in my charge, also, had stolen half of our mess of baked beans intended for this mornings breakfast, no clue to the perpetuator.  But some of those who last night were drunken are now paying the penalty of their folly.  Two Segts have been reversed to the ranks.  Our Colonel is very severe on intemperance.

Recd by mail three letters & one paper, also this diary from Bro W-- one letter from SW Knipe, W. tells me of good things from home on the way, how gladly we soldiers look for our mail with news from home & friends.

Wednesday, July 1, 1863 [In hospital outside of Vicksburg, Mississippi]

As usual dry and hot.

The firing on the front is quite brisk this morning.

No surgeon in attendance today for cause or other.  So have to shift best way I can.  Recd a few supplies from Sanitary Commission.  In the evening Dr Youndt brought two more hospl patients.  R. Roberts drummer Co 'K.' right fore arm broken, and James Malligan, Co 'A' helpless with Rheumatism.  So we are full up, as I had admitted Wm Utter of Co H. earlier in the evening.  The mail to-day brought me letters from S.A.M., S.R.G., E.G.T., and M.E.H. the first mail I have received since 6th ult.  Wrote to Bro ETM.

Made inventory of med supplies on hand.

Thursday, December 3, 1863 [During the siege of Knoxville, Tennessee]

Opens bright clear and pleasant.  Our dead house has eight occupants this morning.  One killed on the field, the others died in Hospital.  During the night we have had considerable cannonading, sounding more like signaling than anything else.

My line of duty has been changed again today, from the operating room I go into the Dispensary and take charge there.  Keeping the register &c promises to be a bust position and I think to my liking.  Have a pleasant room for and office, Dr Fox of 8th Michigan is now in charge of Hospital, things are gradually coming in shape.

There has been nothing unusual about the front today, the impression that the enemy is leaving seems to be gaining ground.

To learn more about James A. Meyers experiences as a hospital steward read "My Heart is in the Cause": The Civil War Diary of James Meyers, 45th PA Volunteers available now on Amazon   

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Dressing Downton

Today, I had the pleasure of visiting the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond to view the fantastic "Dressing Downton: Changing Fashions for Changing Times."  Featuring costumes from PBS's smash-hit "Downton Abbey" the exhibit chronicles the changing fashions from 1912-1924 and how the effects of the end of the Edwardian era, World War I, and the Jazz Age effected the fictional Crawley family of Downton Abbey.  The costumes are simply gorgeous, many of the elements featured on the costumes came from original period garments.  Below are some of my favorite costumes displayed.

One of the show's iconic costumes worn by Violet, Dowager Duchess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith).  The costume helped set the stage for the imperious Dowager and is stunning in person.

The end of the long Edwardian summer as symbolized by the costumes worn by Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and his wife Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern).

Lady Mary Crawley's (Michelle Dockery) riding outfit.

Lady Mary's evening dress from Season 1 (1913-1914) is absolutely gorgeous and was my personal favorite.

More views of this stunning gown.

One of my favorites, this costume was worn by housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan).  This gown appears better in person, on camera the black on black brocade flowers is washed out, but in person it is very stunning.

Another stunning costume worn by Lady Mary, this piece reflected the emerging fashion for orientalism around 1913-1914.

More views of this lovely gown.

This lovely coat was worn by Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) during Season 2 set near the end of World War 1.

Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Frindlay) was the most fashion forward of the three Crawley sisters.

   Another great costume worn by Lady Mary.  I would love to have that handbag.

I would love to have that handbag.

Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James) embraced the Flapper ethos of the Jazz Age in her dress and her personality in Season 3.

 Violet, Dowager Duchess of Grantham will never give up the Edwardian style of dress that she is comfortable with, she has embraced the new fashions with a softer look.

Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) brought a exotic flair with her when she arrived at Downton Abbey in 1920 during Season 3.

 Cora, Countess of Grantham's evening dress features the reemergence of panniers in fashionable dress.

Another one of my favorites, this costume worn by Cora, Countess of Grantham during Season 3.  This piece highlighted the skill of the costume designers.  The piece was original a tablecloth from the 1920's and was turned into this stunning piece.

Despite a changing era, some traditions remained firm as seen in this court dress worn by Cora, Countess of Grantham.

Maternity dress worn by Lady Sybil worn was Season 3.

The exhibit was simply stunning in its breath and selection of costumes.  I was a little disappointed that there were no costumes from seasons 4 and 5.  But this is a very small complaint and I enjoyed my time in the world of "Downton Abbey" immensely.  The exhibition is in Richmond until January 10, 2016, but is traveling the country and if you are a fan of Downton Abbey I highly recommend a visit.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Ring in the New Year with a New Book

Happy New Year, I have been a very bad blogger in 2015.  Since the summer I have been consumed with my new position at work--more about that in a future post and in the process trying to get my second book published I have sadly neglected this blog.  Well, in the spirit of the new year I have resolved to be a more faithful blogger updating this site more frequently.

One way I like to ring in the new year is with a new book and for those who are looking to be transported back in time, may I suggest my new book "My Heart is in the Cause": The Civil War Diaries of James A. Meyers, 45th PA.  follow James A. Meyers as he journeyed from Fredericksburg, VA to Vicksburg, MS, then back to Virginia at the end of the Civil War as the Hospital Steward of the 45th PA through the entries in his compelling diary written in the fields.  Available now on Amazon.com!