Sunday, January 6, 2008

Book Review: HIGH SPIRITS by Dianne K. Salerni

High Spirits: A Tale of Ghostly Rapping and Romance by Dianne K. Salerni

5 Stars (Gold Star Award) on

When mischievous sisters Maggie and Kate Fox hear that their dreaded niece, Lizzie, is coming for a visit, they immediately start thinking of ways to get rid of her. Their prank takes the form of rapping noises that spell out messages from the dead, but instead of making Lizzie flee in fear, their plan backfires, and soon they have not only Lizzie and their family convinced, but the whole town.

All of a sudden, neighbors want to hold séances to give messages to their deceased loved ones, an innocent man is accused of murder, and a reporter comes to investigate, turning their harmless little prank into something much bigger.

The girls are thrilled with all the attention, but when their older sister, Leah, makes a visit and witnesses a spirit rapping for herself, she immediately sees through their shenanigans and recognizes that it is one of their tricks. Rather than turning them in, however, she gives them a choice: come with her and allow her to take charge of the rappings and make the decisions, or be revealed as frauds. Under Leah’s control, the spirit circles turn into a business venture, as she starts charging admission and adds a vast arsenal of spooky tricks to the evening’s entertainment.

The sisters travel around holding séances, and their fame grows, giving rise to spiritualism and mesmerism, and causing many more “mediums” to be discovered. Not everyone is impressed, though, and more than once they find themselves confronted by disbelievers and skeptics, even having to flee for their lives on occasion.

One of these skeptics is Elisha Kent Kane, a charismatic and well-known Arctic explorer who, despite his misgivings about her occupation, takes a great liking to Maggie and begins to court her. He insists that she give up the spirit rapping and the deception, even offering to provide her with an education and place to stay in order to improve her social status. Maggie finds herself with a decision to make, as she is torn between her feelings for Elisha and what he can provide, and her old way of life and the acceptance of her family.

HIGH SPIRITS is a fascinating book, made even more interesting by the fact that the story of the Fox sisters is based in truth. I enjoyed every second of reading it, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Readers will be swept along with Maggie and Kate as they bamboozle an entire nation, and will feel for Maggie as she debates whether or not to leave the profession and then has to deal with the consequences of her decision.

Dianne K. Salerni has written a brilliant debut novel and I am eagerly awaiting her next.

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