All That Lives Hardcover – 1 May 2002
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
When the movie An American Haunting came out, I wasn't too excited about the main premise of the movie because it seemed too much of a twenty first century idea for a plot. However, a similar plot is used in All That Lives and it is done well, differently, and in a way that at least seems to be more historically accurate.
The ending of the book left me unimpressed - until I read it again. It seemed too fanciful and too imaginative compared to the rest of the book. But on a second reading, I began to realize that when you're writing about a paranormal subject, there comes a time when you have to fully step over in to the paranormal and examine the subject in all its glory. That's what the ending did, for me.
I do recommend this book, especially if you are interested in the history of Middle Tennessee in the early 1800s or the Bell Witch phenomena.
All That Lives by Melissa Sanders-Sell
This novel of The Bell Witch Haunting in Adams, Tennessee is told in first person through the words of Betsy Bell. The author states that the story of the witch was passed down to her, and appears to have some distant relation to the Bell Family.
The book is a page-turner of the first water! I found myself so much wondering what the next page might bring that I fought sleep as long as I could in an effort to finish it at one setting!
Told through the voice of the young girl just passing through puberty, the book does hint as others have that John Bell sexually abused his daughter. Her fear and distaste are written in a way that makes the reader want to cry.
Some of the historical parts of the legend do not appear here, at least as they usually do. The fuss between John Bell and Kate Batts is told as a passing event witnessed by one of the childred who know nothing of what it was about.
My only complaint is that the story ends abruptly, leaving people who do not know the legend to wonder what happened to Betsy Bell. When the book ends she has told Josh Gardner that she cannot marry him even though she loves him and they have shared their love. John Jr. and his brother Drewery are exchanging slightly hostile barbs over who will run the farm. Williams and Joel are growing up. Mrs. Bell is the matron of the family.
So what happened next? The reader will have to look elsewhere for the answers. I recommend An American Haunting: The Bell Witch by Brent Monahan.
Quoth the Raven
I love historical fiction if the facts are close to accurate, and because there are so many eyewitness accounts to the remarkable phenomenon known as the Bell Witch (1817-1821/28), and because I’ve read much on these accounts, I can relate with confidence that this fictional interpretation stays close to the facts.
All That Lives is told from the first person point-of-view of Betsy Bell, the youngest daughter of John and Lucy Bell, who, along with her father, bore the brunt of the witch’s cruel assaults. This approach to the legend provides the reader with many interesting facets to the tale, though it is slow to reveal when things become truly incredible, spending a lot of time on the lives of the family as they deal with the beginnings of the poltergeist-like activity before the entity becomes strong enough to speak. Anyone familiar with this story, and even those who are not, will probably agree that it isn’t necessary to prolong the initial confusion of the family as they deal with disembodied scratching and bedpost gnawing, as well as curious raps and bumps in the night. It seems an overreach as the point is made continually. It also spends a lot of time relaying the hair pulling and beatings Betsy and other witnesses were subject to before it heightens to the more fascinating aspect of the manifestation.
However, this book isn’t for everyone, not only because so many might not be drawn to a novel detailing historical events, but because, quite simply, the author practices the appropriate language of the period. However, with the exception of the events leading up to the witch’s capability to communicate, the pacing is decent enough, and the writing is certainly bearable.
This is one of those rare stories that avid readers are pleased to find, and I do recommend it for those who wouldn’t mind the romantically thrilling side of an otherwise startling, well documented account.
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