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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.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

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 2017-06-30 14:10
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
The Changeling - Victor LaValle

 Apollo Kagwa grew up without a dad and now that he's a brand new father himself, he is determined to be there for every second of his son's life. Every second, that is, until his wife suddenly, crazily, gets it into her head that their baby is not their baby at all, but something else entirely. Apollo thinks she's out of her mind with lack of sleep and overwhelming responsibility, but is she really? If so, who keeps sending her pictures of their baby on her cell phone? Then again, the pictures keep "disappearing" from her phone after she sees them, so maybe she's out of her mind after all? You'll have to read The Changeling to find out!

 

Victor LaValle is able to weave together myths and legends, make them believable, (for the most part), and then sets them down in the middle of New York City. It turns out the Big Apple does have some mystery and wilderness left in it, and Victor treats it all like his own personal playground. I felt like the city was a character in this story-with all of its history, hopes, dreams and death-the layers are all there. By the time the end of the story came around, I wished I could reach out and hug it-it had seen so much.

 

One other thing about the writing that I wanted to mention was the author's ability to reach over and squeeze the life out of the reader's heart. Apollo's grief was so palpable at times, that I had to set aside the book because my chest hurt-my heart hurt. I generally consider my horror loving heart to be quite cold, but The Changeling proved me wrong.

 

I'm sure at this point, just over halfway through 2017,  that this book will be on my "BEST OF" list at the end of the year. If you find yourself looking for a satisfying story that combines myth and legend with the grit of real life in the modern world, I say pick up this book and let yourself fall under Victor LaValle's spell. You won't regret it!

 

Highly recommended!

 

You can get your copy here: The Changeling: A Novel

 

*Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.*

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review 2017-04-15 15:27
Zeitgemäße Geschichte einer Einwandererfamilie
Das geträumte Land: Roman - Imbolo Mbue,... Das geträumte Land: Roman - Imbolo Mbue,Maria Hummitzsch

Ich konnte "Das geträumte Land" kaum aus der Hand legen. Der Debutroman von Imbolo Mbue erzählt die bewegende Geschichte von Jende Jonga aus Kamerun, der nach New York City auswandert, und später seine Frau Neni und den gemeinsamen Sohn Liomi nachholt. Die Eltern finden Arbeit bei der reichen Familie Edwards und die Schicksale der beiden so unterschiedlichen Familien sind bald beruflich und privat auf teils schwierige Weise miteinander verknüpft.

Imbolo Mbue schreibt mit viel Empathie für ihre Charaktere, ohne dabei sentimental zu werden. Keiner ihrer Protagonisten ist unfehlbar. Sie erzählt eine hochaktuelle Geschichte um die Herausforderungen des Einwandererlebens. Die Autorin, die selbst vor über zehn Jahren von Kamerun in die USA ausgewandert ist, betrachtet Amerika, das Land der angeblich unbegrenzten Möglichkeiten, aus mehreren Perspektiven: Sie setzt Charakteren, die die USA verklären und glorifizieren, solche gegenüber, die das Land kritisch betrachten. Dadurch entstehen interessante Spannungen innerhalb der beiden Familien. Auch Kultur- und Klassenunterschiede fließen in diese komplexe menschliche Geschichte ein. Gleichzeitig bewahrt die Autorin einen flüssigen, anschaulichen Stil. Ihr gelingt es zudem, jedem Protagonisten eine sprachliche Identität zu verleihen, die authentisch klingt. "Das geträumte Land" ist ein wirklich bemerkenswerter Roman, der mich sehr nachdenklich gestimmt hat.

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review 2017-04-15 14:49
Neuauflage eines alten Krimis mit zeitgemäßem Thema
Es klingelte an der Tür: Ein Fall für Nero Wolfe - Rex Stout,Jürgen Kaube,Conny Lösch

"Es klingelte an der Tür" ist ein kurzweiliger Krimi mit hohem Unterhaltungswert. Es handelt sich um den 41. Fall des Privatdetektivs Nero Wolfe aus New York City, der mit bisher kein Begriff war. Das hat mich bei der Lektüre aber nicht gestört: Die Handlung ist in sich abgeschlossen und macht auch Sinn, wenn man die vorherigen 40 Geschichten nicht kennt.

Es geht um die reiche und exzentrische Mrs. Bruner, die dem FBI kritisch gegenübersteht und nun von der Behörde überwacht wird. Sie hofft, dass Wolfe die Überwachung stoppen kann und gibt ihm neben einem großen Scheck viel Freiraum bei der Ausführung des Auftrags. Wolfe und sein Assistent Archie Goodwin stellen dem FBI eine clevere Falle... Das FBI wird in diesem Buch vor allem für illegale Abhöraktionen kritisiert. Obwohl der Krimi bereits 1965 veröffentlicht wurde, erhält er durch dieses Thema eine aktuelle Dimension.

Die beiden Protagonisten Nero Wolfe und Archie Goodwin sind ziemlich verschrobene und nicht unbedingt durchgehend sympathische Charaktere. Das macht die Geschichte aber zusätzlich interessant. Der übergewichtige Detektiv Wolfe verlässt so gut wie nie das Haus und züchtet mit großer Hingabe Orchideen. Er ist zwar ziemlich intelligent, reagiert aber oft knurrig und arrogant. Archie, Wolfes Assistent mit einer Vorliebe für Milch, berichtet aus der Ich-Perspektive.

Die nicht voraussehbaren Wendungen, das aktuelle Thema und die interessanten Charaktere machen "Es klingelte an der Tür" zu einer sehr unterhaltsamen Lektüre.

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review 2017-03-10 06:40
Losing The Light by Andrea Dunlop
Losing the Light: A Novel - Andrea Dunlop

When thirty-year-old Brooke Thompson unexpectedly runs into a man from her past, she’s plunged headlong into memories she’s long tried to forget about the year she spent in France following a disastrous affair with a professor. As a newly arrived exchange student in the picturesque city of Nantes, young Brooke develops a deep and complicated friendship with Sophie, a fellow American and stunning blonde, whose golden girl façade hides a precarious emotional fragility. Sophie and Brooke soon become inseparable and find themselves intoxicated by their new surroundings—and each other. But their lives are forever changed when they meet a sly, stylish French student, Veronique, and her impossibly sexy older cousin, Alex. The cousins draw Sophie and Brooke into an irresistible world of art, money, decadence, and ultimately, a disastrous love triangle that consumes them both. And of the two of them, only one will make it home.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Brooke Thompson is a copy editor living in NYC when a friend invites her to attend an event which brings Brooke's past rushing back to her in an instant. It turns out another attendee at this party is none other than Alex, a Frenchman with whom Brooke once had a heady but fleeting romance. A romance it's taken her years to let go of.

 

While the novel starts out in present day, the bulk of Losing The Light lays out what happens that fateful year when college-aged Brooke was encouraged to take a study-abroad course in Nantes, France. The final chapters bring us back to present day as Brooke tries to bring closure to the most painful story of her life. 

 

In her debut novel, author Andrea Dunlop gives readers a complex story of friendship, lust and luxury that ultimately runs off the rails. While Brooke is in college, she, along with one of her professors, gets caught up in a school scandal. While the professor chooses to resign his position, the college dean encourages Brooke to take a study abroad course in France temporarily, while everyone waits for the heat of the situation to die down. Brooke agrees and soon even has schoolmate Sophie tagging along on her trip. Shortly after starting up classes in Nantes, Sophie and Brooke meet local Veronique, who invites them to a gathering at her apartment to meet the other local 20-somethings. It's at this party that Sophie and Brooke first meet Veronique's gorgeous cousin, Alex -- the man who will prove to be their ruination. Having fallen under the spell of Veronique and Alex (and the whole de Persaud family for that matter, what with their proverbial closets seemingly chock full of mysteries and skeletons!), Brooke and Sophie get caught up in a whirlwind of culture, money, love and decadence. Only too late do they realize they are in a tailspin towards a painful reality! 

 

Brooke is written as the more shy one, while Sophie is your fun-loving, social butterfly... at least on the outside. Little hints here and there suggest that Sophie is struggling with some sort of mental disorder or hardship -- manic depression, perhaps? -- which she has had to be temporarily committed for, as well as being on medications which she is reluctant to take / stay on. The scenes where Brooke and Sophie first arrive in Nantes reminded me a bit of the scenes in the first Taken movie, where the girls first arrive in Paris (I think it was Paris, been a minute since I watched those films...). This novel, once you know the synopsis, gives you that same sort of unease as that film. You know things are going to start out nice and lovely but you're just waiting for the fake backdrop to fall to expose what's really in store for the girls. 

 

As far as the setting of the novel, I was all set to settle into a story with heavy doses of -- what would you call it... "French-ness"? -- I didn't want things to go full-bore Pepe LePew obviously, but with any novel set in a place you know to be steeped in culture, you want to have that armchair traveling vibe firmly established. I can't say I completely felt that in the Nantes portions of the story (though there is a little bit with moments of shopping, cafe lunches and meeting with Alex / Veronique's grandmother at her grand estate... otherwise, it often seemed like the Nantes portions of the story really could have been set anywhere) but the feel I was hoping for does kick in when the ladies go on excursions to Paris and the French Rivera. 

 

Paris didn't feel like a place you could just go to the way you could move to any American city. Its money and glamour were ancient and inherited, as inaccessible as the stars. 

 

This novel had a bit of a slow burn for me. It didn't seem like too much was going on for the first 100 pages or so. But I was curious to stick with it. The author herself contacted me after having read my review for Abroad by Katie Crouch, which has a somewhat similar storyline to this book (Crouch even provides a blurb on the cover of Losing the Light). I had read enough into the novel to find I had developed solid interest in the characters and was definitely invested enough to see how everyone's story panned out. 

 

Alex gave me mixed feelings. Sometimes he comes off as the stereotypical, overly suave Frenchman. He'll push boundaries, sometimes get a little too handsy without permission from the ladies, sometimes say a truly cringe-worthy line (that you would probably fall for, at least once, if it was directed at you, let's be honest)... other times you gotta give it to the guy, he can be damn smooth with his technique. But then when you're almost ready to like him, he'll go and say / do something to perfectly ruin every good impression you almost had. I know this guy. I ashamedly admit I dated this guy -- more than once! -- during my early college years, so I felt for Brooke. Just a part of life ladies have to do the walk of shame through and ride out so they know what the deal breakers are on their way to the true Mr. Right. ;-)

 

I'd say my favorite character was Sophie. I liked her complicated blend of "social butterfly with the perfect life" exterior + dumpster fire of emotions on the inside. Yes, she could be selfish and bratty at times, but other moments you see her vulnerable, her insights on the world around her offering important social commentary on the struggle so many have with the "us vs them" mentality that bounces between "the beautiful people" who seem to have it all and the blue collar folk who feel like they have to endlessly struggle to hold on to even a few crumbs of good fortune. Sophie ponders on the lengths people go to aspire to BE the beautiful people while never understanding that problems -- serious, dark problems --  exist on that side too, problems that are never taken seriously because of the shiny glow around all that reside in that world. The only trouble I had with Sophie was that I didn't feel that her character was developed quite enough to have the full, high-intensity impact needed to really make that ending knock the wind out of the reader. While I wanted to gasp, I was left more with a quiet "well, that's a shame..." followed by a "wait, what now?!" (but again, not in a jaw-dropping shock kind of way, but more like a hazy confusion).

 

Note to sensitive readers: This novel does use some crude language at times within the dialogue of the characters, and some characters do have some sexy-times scenes that do include descriptions of fellacio / cunnilingus. Just a heads up if you prefer to avoid such subject matter in your reading. 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Author Andrea Dunlop 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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