What We’re Reading: September

This month we are reading a collection of supernatural tales—two ghosts and a time traveler.

american ghostAmerican Ghost by Hannah Nordhaus
review by Marilyn Noble

At La Posada de Santa Fe, a sad ghost haunts one of the upstairs bedrooms. She is Julia Schuster Staab, the original owner of the grand mansion, built for her by her husband Abraham. Hannah Nordhaus is the great-great granddaughter of the Staabs, and after having heard all the legends about her ancestors, she sets out to determine the truth from the myths. Her journey carries her from her home in Colorado to New Mexico, Florida, and Germany, where the family roots were established and finally destroyed during the Holocaust. Along the way she consults distant relatives, historians, and psychics to ferret out information about why Julia is a tortured soul who can’t leave the place where she lived and died.

Nordhaus is a skeptic about the spiritual world and not especially connected to her Jewish roots, but during the course of her research, both of those things change. She develops a new appreciation for her heritage and in particular, for the tribulations her ancestors faced living in the Wild West trading outpost that was Santa Fe in the 1800s. Even though they were successful and fabulously wealthy, for her cultured German great-great grandmother especially, life was difficult. Santa Fe was far from the chic center of art and culture that it is today. It was dusty, dirty, barren, isolated, and rowdy, a far cry from the small town in Westphalia where Julia was raised.

The book gives the reader a fascinating glimpse into New Mexico’s history, life and travel in the West in the late 1800s, the Spiritualist movement, the Holocaust, and the author’s own journey to embracing her family’s heritage and history.

ghost of greenwichThe Ghost of Greenwich Village by Lorna Graham
review by Jim Turner

It’s hard to find good, unusual books. Best sellers are not always for me, nor are books in which the author’s name on the cover is larger than the title. I like quirky mysteries, history, and the Beat Generation, so this book was a perfect fit.

As a writer, I like books about writers; go figure. The main character, Eve Weldon, is a writer for a morning news show very much like Good Morning America. The author worked for that show, so it’s a finely crafted insider view, charged with dramatic personalities. In between tales of 1960s Greenwich Village writers and artists, we get a fascinating look at the monumental amount of research involved in Eve’s job. It’s like preparing for graduate seminars on two dozen topics six days a week.

The novel weaves in several stories from different eras, another of my favorite styles. Eve’s mother lived in The Village at the height of the Beat Era, and gave it up to raise a family in Ohio. The ghost knew her mother, and died in Eve’s apartment. There are also lost manuscripts, and a “Stiletto Bandit,” not a man who carries a skinny knife, but one who wears high heels. One main thread is the poignant and courageous interaction between Eve and her mother.

Talk about life imitating art, last week I was called for a telephone pre-interview by a staff writer for a CBS online radio show. The interview turned out exactly like the ones Graham described in her book. It was uncanny; after an in-depth phone interview in which the staff writer appreciated the amount of fascinating material I gave him to work with, the star of the show used hardly a fraction of it. I urged my interviewer to read The Ghost of Greenwich Village, but his life is like Eve Weldon’s and Lorna Graham’s, so I’m sure he won’t have the time.

Gabaldon-Voyager-220x332Voyager (book 3 of Outlander series) by Diana Gabaldon
review by Caroline Cook

I’m late to the party on picking up Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, but after finishing Voyager, book 3, I am fully invested. Not just a silly romance series, Outlander defies genre and its thrills and love scenes are supported by the rich historical background of eighteenth-century Scotland, France, and beyond. Gabaldon has clearly done her research, writing in great detail about culture, military, government, and medicine of the time and place. And no wonder—the first three volumes push 1000 pages. She also doesn’t shy away from graphic violence, so reader be warned. Gabaldon has already moved the story ahead by decades by book 3, so I am interested in where she takes her epic tale over the total of eight books, which she completed in 2014.

The series thus far focuses on Claire Beauchamp, a twentieth-century British Army nurse, and her love with James Fraser, an eighteenth-century Scottish soldier. Claire, the “Outlander,” is accidentally whisked back in time during a Scottish honeymoon with her husband Frank and thrust into the world of James Fraser and the Jacobite risings against the English Crown. Voyager finds Claire and Jaime making the long and treacherous voyage across the Atlantic to the West Indies.

Outlander offers fun, somewhat light reading, while also being smart, detailed, and well-written. Gabaldon, a fellow Arizonan, has won me over.

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