May. 3rd, 2017

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Book No. 19 was "Ursula, Under" by Ingrid Hill. I got this used at a thrift shop knowing very little about it except that it was largely set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Not many books are set in the place I grew up, so I knew I wanted to grab it. It opens with the story of Ursula Wong, a toddler who falls down a mine shaft in the Upper Peninsula. A bystander wonders why so much time and expense should be "wasted" on a "half-breed" toddler. The rest of the story explores the stories of Ursula's Finnish and Chinese ancestors from thousands of years ago up through Ursula's parents and grandparents, showing how Ursula, like each of us, is a little miracle that might not have been if one of our ancestors had died early or not married or done something different with their lives. I liked some of the stories of the ancestors better than others, but it is a beautifully written book, very sad in places, but ultimately very life-affirming as well. I thought it was lovely.

Book No. 20 was "The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World" by David Jaher. I saw this on a "best books of the year" list and knew I wanted to read it. I knew that Houdini was a skeptic, as many stage magicians are, and I knew that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a believer in spiritualism. However, I didn't know that the two knew each other or that they were both involved to some degree with a Scientific American contest trying to find incontrovertible proof that a spiritualist was truly communicating with the dead rather than faking. Their best candidate was a spirit medium named Margery, who defied the stereotype of the shabby grifter pretending to be a medium and instead was a high society housewife who charged nothing for her seances. I don't want to give any spoilers, but this book, though nonfiction, was as engrossing and suspenseful as a novel. Highly recommended!

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