A couple of times now I have almost paid for a theme. I wish there was a PayPal option so I don't have to worry about entering my credit card numbers online. I feel so much safer using PayPal but it also easier. With PayPal, my card info has already been entered. I can just click and pay quickly. Otherwise, I have to get up (which is easier said than done for me because of chronic pain), locate my purse and then my wallet and then debate about whether it is safe to enter my card into on this site. So far it hasn't happened.
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 Apprentice, a 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.
The Friday Society is set in London in the year 1900 and stars three different girls: Cora, Michiko, and Nellie.
Cora used to sell flowers on the streets but now has a comfortable and endlessly interesting life as Lord White’s lab assistant. Unfortunately, it looks like Lord White might be planning on replacing her.
Michiko ran away from home when she was 11 and spent a few years as a retired geisha’s servant before running away yet again and becoming a samurai trainee. Frustrated at her teacher’s unwillingness to give her her own sword, she agreed to go to London with a man named Callum and work as his assistant. Callum was nice enough, at first, but it soon became clear that he was using Michiko’s skills to trick rich Londoners into paying him enormous fees for his self-defense courses.
Nellie used to work at a burlesque house and is now a magician’s assistant. She’s strong, flexible, and never forgets anything. She’s also incredibly beautiful and hates the attention this attracts, even as she is aware that her looks help draw a crowd and add to the Great Raheem’s act.
The three girls’ paths cross when they meet at a ball and discover a severed head. They gradually realize that this murdered man may be connected to other recent deaths, so they decide to team up and find the killer.
I picked this up a while back on the basis of its cover and vague memories of reading a couple positive reviews of it. I was expecting it to be fluffy and action-packed fun. Unfortunately, it turned out to be utterly terrible.
First, the good. Let’s see… It was a really quick read, despite its many problems. The cute young police officer that Nellie fell for was really nice. Michiko had the potential to be one of the most interesting girls in the book. The action scenes near the end were okay. And there was parkour!
Okay, that’s all I’ve got. Now for the bad.
I generally interpret steampunk books to be alternate history. If a book says it’s set in London in 1900, I want it to feel at least vaguely like it’s actually set in that time and place. However, history was one of my worst subjects in school, and I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of historical romances that are really only historical-ish. My standards for historical details aren’t very high, and yet this book had me checking the Oxford English Dictionary by page 18, when Cora used the word “skeevy.” On page 17, Cora had been thinking about how a particular opium den “freaked her out.” Had this book been set in the 1960s or 1970s, this would have been more appropriate, but the language didn’t work at all for something supposedly set in 1900. I had the sneaking suspicion that the author’s “research” for this book was limited to a handful of Wikipedia pages and some Buffy the Vampire Slayer binge-watching for dialogue inspiration.
Then there was the enormous and useless mess that was the investigation. Crime scene preservation was nonexistent. It was not uncommon for the girls to cart bodies away from crime scenes. They took one dead girl home to her family before reporting her murder to the police. Later on, they went to the extra effort of carrying a dead boy to the police rather than going with the much easier option of contacting the police and having them come to the scene of the crime. The only explanation I could come up with for this was that readers were supposed to believe the police would have just ignored the murder and let the body rot in the streets.
The girls did so little actual investigating that, when they finally met up with the villain, the person had to do a stereotypical villain monologue just so they’d know the whole story. They’d have missed out on almost everything important, otherwise. The one crime that I solved ages before them (seriously, the villain practically confessed to one of the girls), they didn’t manage to figure out until the solution had been spelled out for them and then basically underlined.
I wanted the girls to be more awesome than they turned out to be. They were all hugely dependent on their masters, and only one out of those three masters was worth squat (although I was taken aback at how casually he killed a man - okay, so the guy had been poisoned and was dying, but he just snapped that man’s neck like it was nothing). Two out of three of the girls had love interests who turned their brains to mush. All Cora’s love interest had going for him was that he was handsome, and their kissing scene came out of nowhere. Nellie supposedly hated the way guys reacted to her beauty, and yet she instantly fell for the young cop, apparently because he was the first young man to ever notice her looks and yet not grope her.
Kress didn’t make as good use of the girls’ skills as she could have. Cora had one invention of her own that came into play near the end of the book. Nellie’s flexibility and burglary skills turned out to be useful, but her memory was a throwaway detail at the beginning that never came up again. In fact, since Cora remembered something near the end of the book better than Nellie did, I have a feeling the author forgot that Nellie was supposed to have more abilities under her belt than being able to pick locks and break in and out of buildings. Michiko only had one skill, swordsmanship, although she was learning a bit of parkour on the side. She was at least a good fighter, and more focused than the other two girls.
Although I probably liked her the best out of the three, I have to talk about Michiko. The girl was a giant stereotype. From the age of 11 to 14, she lived with a retired geisha who taught her how to play the shamisen and perform a few geisha dances. She said she’d been with Callum for about a year, and all the girls were about 16 or 17 years old, so I’m guessing that her samurai training lasted from about age 14 to 15 or 16. I’m a little surprised that Kress didn’t somehow cram a bit of ninja training in there.
At any rate, the geisha training was brushed aside like it had never happened, even though Michiko had technically spent more years on that than on her samurai training. Despite having started her samurai training pretty late (a little googling seems to indicate that most started their training between the ages of 5 and 7), she supposedly became so good that the only possible reason she wasn’t given her own sword was because she was a girl. I...find that a little difficult to believe, although I’ll grant that she was probably much better than Callum could ever hope to be.
Even though she managed to learn all these things between the age of 11 and maybe 17, she somehow had barely learned any English after a year with Callum. For much of the book her vocabulary consisted of maybe a dozen words, including “apologies” and “death.” This unfortunately meant that she was excluded from most of Cora and Nellie’s conversations. This particularly bugged me during a sudden drunken sleepover that happened right after the first body was discovered (well, sort of the first). The sleepover was stupid to begin with, but I had to grit my teeth every time the text made a point of telling readers that the girls were trying to include Michiko in their activities but, well, they just couldn’t because she couldn’t understand anything. Later on, Cora mentally described Michiko as “all silence and mystery” (162), conveniently forgetting that Michiko didn’t have the language skills necessary to talk about herself.
I mentioned earlier that the author’s research was probably limited to a few Wikipedia pages. Most of those Wikipedia pages probably dealt with Japanese honorifics and samurai, judging by a few very odd little sections in the book. I can’t really judge the accuracy of the samurai stuff, although the repeated mention of samurai masks seemed a bit odd to me. Honorifics came up during one awkwardly long moment, when an elderly samurai in London lectured Michiko on her privately rebellious habit of calling Callum “Callum-kun” rather than “Callum-san.”
I seem to be in the minority - lots of people thought this book was at least decent. Personally, I can’t imagine recommending this to anyone. It wasn’t interesting enough to make up for its many faults.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
Because without hope, we are all lost.
Because without hope, we have nothing.
The final installment of this trilogy leaves me shattered and sad, and full of anger towards the men who perpetrate this kind of abuse on children. But most of all, it leaves me with hope, exhilarated and happy, which, in this context, is nothing short of magic on the author’s part.
To take this extremely important and difficult subject matter, and lovingly show it without condescension or sensationalism, and give so many young people hope? Magic, indeed.
There is such powerful truth in this series. There is such compassionate giving of hope. It is horrid and beautiful at the same time, and it has a way of sending a spiraling sense of meaning out to young people who are hurting, telling them there is a future, there is a life, there is a way. Telling them that there are good people out there, who will love them.
Hope. Truly the most powerful of all human feelings.
We started with beauty in book one. And horror. And friendship. And love.
We continued with courage in book two. Lots and lots of courage. And love.
We finish with hope in this third book, as we run, and hide, and make mistakes, and fix them again. And love.
Thimi is a young boy who lived through the same horrors as Christy in Greece, and Christy finally gets to see his old friend again as he arrives in the US as a scared little waif of a boy. Thimi slowly opens up through the story, and as he starts to understand the sunshine that can exist in a normal life we get to see more about what happens inside a child after abuse.
When you read a YA book, not often does it also work as a manual of how to do things to help a former victim of abuse. It is not often that, in soft tones and sweet turns of phrase, you will understand and learn how to act around people who have been through the unthinkable. Who have been through the unspeakable.
This is a little bit like a beautifully crafted Technical Manual of Care and Maintenance for those who work with our collective youth, especially if they work with children or young adults who have had a hard time.
And the end result? The telling of a great, great love story — with true friendship shining through, the kind of love that inspires both happy endings and good laughs.
There are other new fascinating characters entering the scene, too, and especially Zero is someone I would love to see more of in a future book... I can truly say that I hope this trilogy gets a fourth and fifth instalment, because there are still things I’d like to know, (and history is full of excellent trilogies in five parts). (Just sayin’).
Beauty and Courage and Hope.
Because Elpida means hope.
And, as we said in the beginning, without hope, we are all lost.
I was given a free copy of this book from the publisher, Harmony Ink Press.
A positive review wasn’t promised in return. I also beta-read an early version of the manuscript.