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text 2017-07-22 22:07
A Favourite
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

It just draws you in, you can actually smell the circus. For real.

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review 2017-07-04 14:03
The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron
The Illusionist's Apprentice - Kristy Cambron

Wren Lockhart, apprentice to master illusionist Harry Houdini, uses life on a vaudeville stage to escape the pain of her past. She continues her career of illusion after her mentor’s death, intent on burying her true identity. But when a rival performer’s act goes tragically wrong, the newly formed FBI calls on Wren to speak the truth—and reveal her real name to the world. She transfers her skills for misdirection from the stage to the back halls of vaudeville, as she finds herself the unlikely partner in the FBI’s investigation. All the while Houdini’s words echo in her mind: Whatever occurs, the crowd must believe it’s what you meant to happen. She knows that if anyone digs too deep, secrets long kept hidden may find their way to the surface—and shatter her carefully controlled world. Set during one of the richest, most vibrant eras in American history, this Jazz Age novel of illusion, suspense, and forgotten pasts is perfect for fans of The Magician’s Lie, challenging all to find the underpinnings of faith on their own life’s stage.





Wren Lockhart rises from street swindler to apprentice to famed escape artist Harry Houdini. This novel opens in the months following Houdini's death in the 1920s. While focusing on the 20s, there are also chapters that periodically flash back to either Wren's childhood or her time working with Houdini (one such chapter involving their attending a seance performed by Margery Crandon, the Witch of Lime Street). 


Wren attends a demonstration being performed by a fellow illusionist. It is at this performance that a man dies. The death is investigated and once it's suspected that the deceased might have been murdered, the FBI gets involved. In walks in Agent Elliot Matthews, who approaches Wren in hopes that she might be able to provide valuable information, given her close proximity to the deceased at the time of their death. But Wren fears that the FBI's involvement, Matthews' questioning and prying specifically, could possibly uncover secrets within her own family she very much needs kept buried. Lives of family members are at stake. 


"Wren, you once told me you lost someone very dear to you."

She drew in a sharp breath, absorbing his swift change in subject. 

"Yes, I did lose someone once." She avoided revealing emotion with her quiet tone.

"The person you lost, what would you give to speak with them again? If only for a moment?"

"I'd give everything I own without a second thought."

"As would I, Wren."


After crafting quite the historical love story within The Ringmaster's Wife, author Kristy Cambron returns to the performance tent with The Illusionist's Apprenticea tale inspired by the true-life story of Dorothy Young, who was, in fact, brought on as an apprentice to Houdini in her teens! . Wren's impressive crowdwork is a delight to read, particularly during one scene when she and Agent Matthews team up on stage. Their banter is adorable and slyly cheeky! 


For those picking this up not realizing it falls under Christian fiction, have no fears of uncomfortable reading. The religious elements are actually quite light, not going much beyond light, passing mentions of "God's Light" or "King of Kings", that kind of thing. That and possibly Wren's repeated distinction between magic and illusion. She does not like being labeled a magician because she feels magic touches upon darkness. Illusion meanwhile (she reasons) is merely slight-of-hand work.  


Staring through the doorway to the glass house, Wren watched the melody of the birds' flight. Why hadn't they tried to escape? They never did. Not even in her stage show. They flew over balconies. Under theater ceilings. Turning endless circles in cages of glass... But the birds never found freedom. They floated from branch to branch, content in their caged world, when if they'd been brave but once, they could have flown out the next time they door had been opened....Why, when freedom was so close, did they cling to their chains?


Wren tore her gaze from the winged creatures, the fight to suppress emotion a losing battle. She let go for a rare moment, allowing herself to weep into her hands.


I came to find that I had guessed one of Wren's major secrets in the early chapters of the story, as well as pinning who the main "bad guy" would be at around the halfway point, though it is not actually revealed until pretty close to the end of the novel. So, somewhat of a predictablity factor there for me but still quite a fun read! I got a chuckle near the end, as characters are escaping a major fire, because the way Cambron describes the moment reminded me of the close of the first Die Hard film! 


*Bonus: If you're a fan of the Gwen Marcey series by Carrie Stuart Parks, Cambron gives a shout-out to her in the acknowledgements in this book, giving thanks for helping out with the toxicology elements of the plot here.


FTC Disclaimer: Thomas Nelson Publishers,via both BookLookBloggers.com and TNZ Fiction Guild, kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2017-06-28 21:35
A solid and entertaining cozy mystery set in the world of the circus, and a must for those who love big cats
A Spark of Justice - J.D. Hawkins

I was sent an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This book is classed as a cozy mystery and is set in the world of the circus, probably in the recent past, although this is not specified and the novel has a somewhat timeless feel.  There are mobile phones (but hardly ever used, and most people rely on land lines as nobody is located unless they are at home or at work), computers (but only an old-fashioned one is ever mentioned or seen and reports are paper based) but most people do not seem to use any modern commodities, although the mauling of Rolo, the lion tamer and the victim whose murder/accidental death is the mystery at the centre of the novel, is available on YouTube. And of course, the circus where the story is set still has performing animal, including big felines (lions, leopards, tigers, and panthers). In the US there is no federal ban as such yet (although they are banned in many countries) but most of the big circuses have stopped showing those numbers (and indeed Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus gave its last performance in May this year) and there are many local bans, so that adds to the feeling of a somewhat idealised and old-fashioned world.

The story is told in the third person but from the point of view of John (Juan) Nieves, an insurance investigator of Puerto Rican origin, born in New York, who left his studies as a vet to join the police, and after working for the police for a time, moved to the Mid-West and changed his job to try and save his marriage. Unfortunately, it did not work, but he loves his son, thinks about him often and lives for his visits.  His lifestyle is itinerant and he feels no strong attachment to his current job or to his apartment. For some reason, he feels irresistibly attracted to the world of the circus from the moment he sets foot in it. Although he does not like clowns and he is less than welcome by the circus artists initially, he cannot stop going back, even when he does not have a very good reason to. At first, it seems it is due to his attachment to detective work and to his wish to solve the mystery, but later we realise there is something else at play.

As happens in all good detective or mystery novels, the story is not only about the mystery but also about the investigator. In this case, John’s motives and sense of self and identity are put into question from the very beginning, and eventually, the process of self-discovery becomes more interesting than the case itself. If circuses have traditionally been places where people could run away from their circumstances and become a new person, this novel shows them as a big family happy to accommodate those who might not fit into normal society and others who want to become who they feel they really are, no matter how alternative. It is perhaps significant that Rolo did not spend all year with the circus but lived at times with his outside family, and was not as fully invested as the rest of the artists and did not truly belong.

The mystery is pretty intriguing too, don’t get me wrong. A death by a deadly tiger attack is not everyday news, and the fact that the tiger had been spooked by an electrical spark from a damaged cable makes it even less common. There are a suitably large number of suspects (both from within the circus —as Rolo was not very well liked, for reasons we discover later—, and from his personal life, including a wife, a lover, and a brother), a complex web of deceit and betrayal; there are threats and warnings to John to keep out of circus’s business, and there are wonderful descriptions of the world of circus, wild cats, clowns, and behind the curtains insights that will delight anybody who has ever felt curious about this world.

Although there are anxiety provoking and scary moments (near- miss accidents, close calls with a knife thrower, eerie moments with a lion and a panther, and also more run of the mill human violence), there is no actual gore and the investigation itself is not precise and full of detail (in fact, once some of the suspects are removed from the scene they practically disappear from the story).

I liked John (Juan) Nieves, the main character. He is not the usual noir detective, full of clever repartees and sarcastic comments. He thinks before he acts (mostly); he is not unduly violent and uses no foul language; he thinks of his son often and is kind towards animals and kids, and he acknowledges his weaknesses, his doubts, and his mistakes. He is happy to let certain things drop and to hide others that have no real bearing on the matter and will not affect his employer. He is not a rigid believer in the value of finding the truth and revealing it at all costs and is more interested in human beings (and big cats) than he is in some perfect vision of duty.  The author, who describes a personal background in carnival attractions, creates some interesting secondary characters, particularly the circus’s performers, although due to how different clowns look with and without makeup, it is quite easy to get confused as to who is who, but this does not prevent us from following the plot and enjoying the story.

I have read some comments that describe the ending as a let-down and this is true if we think of the novel as being only about the investigation of Rolo’s death. On the other hand, if we see it as a process of investigating and revealing who the real John (Juan) Nieves is, there is no disappointment at all.

Recommended to lovers of cozy mysteries set in original settings, to those who like big cats (or cats of any size), and to readers who appreciate a good background and an inside knowledge of the world of circus, especially those who feel nostalgic about a world that seems to be on the verge of disappearance. A solid and entertaining read.

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review 2017-06-26 12:50
#Audiobook Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus
Owl and the Japanese Circus - Audible Studios,Kristi Charish,Christy Carlson Romano

Owl (former archeology student Alix), is a well-paid antiquities thief. A year ago, she stumbled into the hidden world of supernatural creatures, accidentally killing a vampire in the process. Now she’s on the run, and it looks like her only way out of the mess is to make a bargain with a powerful dragon. Trusting only her best friend, Nadya, and a man who could break her heart, Ryan, she sets off on a dangerous journey, one that most likely will leave her dead.


Follow review teammate, Una, raves about this unique and interesting urban fantasy series, so I decided to give it a try on audio. Overall, I enjoy the mythology and storyline behind The Adventures of Owl series. I appreciate that Owl is a flawed human and makes mistakes. She is intelligent, but not always smart, which makes her a more realistic heroine. 


However, the very things I like about Owl also caused problems for me. She can be reckless and juvenile at times. Her character is inconsistent: at times smart and others not as much. She doesn’t seem to learn from her missteps. For example, the fact that she doesn’t walk away and hide from an online “friend” makes NO SENSE. She’s super careful, private, and protective, yet keeps going back to him, even though he is stalking her. Also, knowing how concerned she is with privacy, how can she NOT have any security lock on her phone? Again, an inconsistency of character.


The narration by Christy Romano was a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed her narrator voice, which is fitting for the first person heroine. I started listening at 1.25x speed, but upped it to 1.5x after about five chapters. Ms. Romano does well with accents, however, at times they seems to drop. So when the dialogue is quick and clipped, both Nadya and Ryan’s voices sound very much the same. Also, Ryan loses his masculine sound at times, and it sounds like Owl is talking to herself. Overall, I like most voices, but the only voice I'm not fond of is the Red Dragon. It's described as perfect Western with no hints of Japanese. But it's too feminine. It doesn't suit a bad ass dragon.


Overall, I liked Owl and the Japanese Circus and the premise behind the series enough that I want to listen to the second book. I’m hoping Owl will begin to mature and develop into a more solid character, which seemed to be lacking in this first title.


My Rating: C+

Narration: B-

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review 2017-06-09 10:05
Eine Hommage an alles Zauberhafte, Unerklärliche und Wundersame
Der Nachtzirkus - Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern, die Autorin des Erfolgsromans „Der Nachtzirkus“, ist mir unheimlich sympathisch. Nicht, weil ihr Buch zauberhaft ist (obwohl es das ist), sondern weil sie ehrlich ist. Seit 2011 hat Morgenstern nichts mehr veröffentlicht. Sie arbeitet an einem neuen Projekt, ohne dass ein Ende absehbar wäre. Warum wird die gute Frau nicht fertig, fragt ihr euch? Weil ihr das Schreiben unfassbar schwerfällt, was sie auf ihrem Blog offen bekennt. Genau das ist der Grund, weshalb ihr spontan mein Herz zufliegt. Sie ist kein Naturtalent. Sie muss hart für jedes Wort kämpfen und jeden Satz mühsam erarbeiten. Ich verstehe, dass sie der Schreibprozess folglich häufig frustriert und das letzte, was sie hören oder lesen möchte, Fragen danach sind, wann endlich ihr neues Buch rauskommt. Also, lassen wir Erin Morgenstern doch einfach in Ruhe und erfreuen uns an dem, was wir haben: „Der Nachtzirkus“.


Er kündigt sich nicht an. Er kommt auf leisen Sohlen, im Schutz der Nacht. Eines Morgens stehen seine Zelte plötzlich auf einem Feld oder einem freien Platz in deiner Stadt, wie von Geisterhand. Er öffnet erst nach Einbruch der Dunkelheit. Einen Besuch wirst du nie mehr vergessen. Er lehrt dich das Staunen, verzaubert dich mit unbeschreiblichen Wundern: der Cirque des Rêves.
Niemand ahnt, dass der gefeierte Zirkus der Träume hinter den Kulissen der Austragungsort eines magischen Wettstreits ist. Zwischen den fantastischen Zelten einzigartiger Attraktionen tobt der Kampf zweier konkurrierender Zauberer, ein Kampf auf Leben und Tod. Jahrelang bereiteten sie ihre Schützlinge akribisch auf die Anforderungen des Wettbewerbs vor, schulten und testeten sie unabhängig voneinander. Marco und Celia wurde das Geschenk der Magie zuteil. Doch dieses Geschenk fordert einen entsetzlich hohen Preis. Wie hoch dieser Preis tatsächlich ist, erfahren sie erst, als sie sich begegnen und sich unsterblich ineinander verlieben…


Ich will mir ein Beispiel an Erin Morgensterns Ehrlichkeit nehmen: die Rezension zu „Der Nachtzirkus“ fällt mir schwer. Ich weiß nicht so richtig, was ich schreiben soll. Diesem Buch ist nichts hinzuzufügen, es gibt meiner Meinung nach keine Rätsel, die analysiert oder entschlüsselt werden müssten. Es steht für sich selbst. Die Geschichte lebt durch sich selbst, nach versteckten Bedeutungen fahndete ich vergeblich. Ich habe das Gefühl, dass Erin Morgenstern nicht versuchte, eine Botschaft zu vermitteln, sondern einfach einen Roman schrieb, der eine wundervolle Hommage an die Fantasie und die Liebe, an alles Zauberhafte, Unerklärliche und Wundersame ist. Sie schrieb ein Buch zum Genießen, ein Buch zum Träumen. Ich denke nicht, dass sie möchte, dass sich ihre Leser_innen den Kopf über Dinge zerbrechen, die gar nicht da sind, auf Teufel komm raus jedes Wort interpretieren und jeden Satz zerpflücken. Ich glaube, dieses Buch muss man einfach so nehmen, wie es ist: märchenhaft und träumerisch. Dieser Intuition folgte ich während der Lektüre und gab mir große Mühe, den Cirque des Rêves wahrhaft zu erleben, mich der geheimnisvollen, mystischen Atmosphäre hinzugeben und jeden Augenblick auszukosten. Der Zirkus ist eine sagenhafte Kulisse und ein unverzichtbarer Baustein im Geflecht der Geschichte. Fast wirkte er auf mich wie ein lebendiges Wesen, mit einer individuellen Persönlichkeit und einem eigenen Charakter. Er verbindet die vielen verschiedenen, liebenswert skurrilen Akteure des Romans, die in ihm alle etwas anderes, aber genau das finden, was sie suchen und brauchen. Er erfüllt die Menschen, Besucher_innen wie Betreiber_innen gleichermaßen. Er inspiriert Liebe und die Bereitschaft, an Wunder zu glauben. Magie schimmert zwischen und in den Zelten, in jeder Ecke und jedem Winkel, da Marco und Celia ihm während ihres unfreiwilligen Wettstreits unbeabsichtigt Leben einhauchen. Ihre Liebesgeschichte ist eine bezaubernde Variation des „Romeo und Julia“ – Motivs, die sich unaufdringlich einschleicht. Obwohl ihre Situation durchaus dramatisch und tragisch ist, verzichtete Erin Morgenstern auf billige, plakative Dramatik und schildert ihren verzweifelten Kampf gegen die Beschränkungen und Regeln des Wettbewerbs, für eine gemeinsame Zukunft, ernsthaft und glaubwürdig. Effekthascherei und Kitsch scheinen ihr völlig fremd zu sein, sodass ich mich von der emotionalen Ebene in „Der Nachtzirkus“ nicht abgestoßen, sondern berührt fühlte. Ich wünschte Marco und Celia, dass sie eine Möglichkeit finden, zusammen zu sein. Trotz dessen muss ich gestehen, dass mir das Buch beinahe zu leise, zu sanft und zart erschien. Es ist so filigran und subtil, dass mir ein wenig der Wow-Moment fehlte. Beim Lesen empfand ich keine Spannung, sondern Faszination. Es reißt nicht mit, es nimmt die Leser_innen behutsam an die Hand. Nun ist das natürlich reine Geschmackssache, doch ich mag es einfach etwas zupackender.


„Der Nachtzirkus“ ist fantasievoll und charmant. Der Reiz der Geschichte bündelt sich in dem atemberaubenden Setting, denn der Cirque des Rêves ist Dreh- und Angelpunkt aller inhaltlichen Entwicklungen. Er ist Ursache und Wirkung, Alpha und Omega, Anfang und Ende. Jede Seite des Buches ist von seiner besonderen Magie gezeichnet, weshalb die Lektüre für mich eine einzigartige Erfahrung war, die ich von Herzen weiterempfehlen kann. Obwohl ich normalerweise keine große Vorliebe für Liebesgeschichten habe, ging die anmutige Romantik von Marcos und Celias Beziehung zueinander und ihrer Beziehung zum Zirkus nicht an mir verloren. Ich war verzaubert. Ich wünschte, ich könnte nur eine Nacht lang durch die Gänge und Zelte schlendern, den Alltag vergessen und selbst all die Wunder erleben, die hinter den schwarz-weiß gestreiften Planen darauf warten, entdeckt zu werden. Es ist wahr: einen Besuch im Cirque des Rêves vergisst man nie mehr. Selbst, wenn man ihn nur mental mit Erin Morgensterns Hilfe in „Der Nachtzirkus“ betreten konnte.

Source: wortmagieblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/erin-morgenstern-der-nachtzirkus
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