Monday, March 30, 2015

My take on: The Magician's Lie

"Tonight, I will escape my torturer, once and for all time. Tonight, I will kill him." That line is just two pages into The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister.

Intriguing isn't it?

That cover is pretty intoxicating too. That woman seems to be hiding more than just a white dove behind her back. She's got secrets too. She might even be a murderer.

Let's set the scene, it's summer 1905 in Waterloo, Iowa. The amazing Arden a.k.a. Ada Bates is on stage performing her most famous trick -- sawing a man in half. It's supposed to be an optical illusion. Only the man is actually dead and Ada has disappeared. By sheer luck policeman Virgil Holt captures Ada. He doesn't turn her in. Why? Ada pleads her case, and insists she's not a murderer. Virgil gives her chance to tell her side of the story. It turns out to be her life story.

Ada was once a promising dancer, but her career was ruined literally and figuratively by a dangerous man named Ray. I was screaming in head for Ada to stand up for herself. In the present day, Ada is the confident and mysterious Arden. In the past, she's somewhat timid and naive. I wanted her to have some of that spunk in her youth. Ray was a horrible character. In his mind, Ada is his possession. No one else can have her. No matter what Ada does she can never escape him. Even when Ada runs away from everyone and everything in her life, Ray is never far from her mind. Will she ever be free of him?

I definitely liked the way the author chose to tell the story. With each chapter, Ada revealed something new about herself. Each detail seemed more ridiculous than the last. Virgil calls her out every chance he got. Ada had an air of innocence, but even Virgil was skeptical. So much so that he shackled Ada to a chair with five sets of handcuffs. Somehow five sets of handcuffs didn't seem like enough. While parts of this book were very good, I wanted more. I was expecting a murder mystery. A thriller. The middle part of the book moved a little slow for my tastes. I could totally see where the ending was going, and it felt a little bit rushed. This wasn't one of my favorites, but I would definitely read another book by Greer Macallister.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Sourcebooks). The Magician's Lie is one of She Reads books of Winter.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

One year, and We'll Still Always Have Paris

Last year I read and reviewed We'll Always Have Paris by Jennifer Coburn. To celebrate the book's one-year anniversary, the author is back for a guest post about her Aunt Bernice and her diaries.

The Tossed Diaries
There is a great deal I will never know about my Aunt Bernice because soon after her death, her son destroyed more than 75 years of her hand-written diaries. He dumped them in the incinerator in Bernice’s condo, where I had often tossed garbage bags filled with her empty mayonnaise jars and Weight Watchers snack wrappers.
What I do know about my aunt is this: she died shortly after her ritual midnight snack, this time half a rib eye steak and mashed potatoes left over from dinner at Smith and Wollensky. Her son told me that when he came to pick her up for breakfast the next morning, Bernice had already passed away. The leftovers from her last meal were missing from the fridge, a single plate and silverware setting in the dishwasher.
Bernice had been an unusual 90-year-old hospice patient, and her exit from life served as a fitting metaphor for how she lived it: enjoying every last bite. We spoke by phone earlier that day and in her thick New York accent, she said her doctors were crazy. “End of life heart disease?” she scoffed. “I feel marvelous.”
Bernice and I often talked about how I would inherit her diaries when she died. We shared a love of contemporary art, high-fat food, and writing. I told her I wanted to write a book about her, which she said would be a total bore except for the part about the pilot that invited her to take a Jell-O bath. Or the time an ex-fiancé sued her for keeping his lavish gifts after she dumped him. And there was the mix-up with that art gallery owner that allowed her to acquire a Salvador Dalí sculpture at a fraction of its value.
Bernice told sepia-toned stories of her childhood in Brooklyn in the 1930s, complete with details of her neighbors’ cloche hats and shabby furs. I always imagined her with a fountain pen, scratching out stories about her past: how her father lost his coat factory in a dice game with a guy with a gangster name like Skinny Carmine or about how her parents planned to stage their economic comeback by running card games from their Coney Island apartment.
By the time Bernice was a teenager, the nonstop topic of conversation at home was about how her Jewish family would survive if Adolf Hitler crossed the Atlantic Ocean and came to the United States. My grandparents’ plan for Bernice was for her to be hidden in a convent. She could pass as gentile, the nuns there said. The German family living in the apartment downstairs would adopt my father, an infant at the time. Bernice’s younger sister Rita had polio, so there was little hope for her.
Bernice wasn’t all nostalgic remembrances; she opined on contemporary issues too. She thought Sheryl Sandberg – or Sandersberger as she called her – was meshugenah with her “lean in nonsense.” Bernice said when she was a young woman, she called in sick to work every Friday. “Today Goldsmith Jewelers is out of business and I’m 90 years old with a beautiful life,” she said. “So who do you think had the right idea?”
More than the storyline of Bernice’s life, I was interested in how she had remained incredibly centered and positive in the face of a fair amount of prejudice and hardship throughout her long life.
Ten years before she died, Bernice had a stroke. “A mini,” she called it. On the phone from the county hospital, Bernice told me her room was lovely and that a gorgeous bud vase sat on a table beside her bed. When she mentioned this to the nurse, she found a red carnation in the vase the next morning. “Aren’t people marvelous?” she mused.
When I found out my aunt had died, I took some comfort knowing I would revisit familiar stories, and gain deeper perspective on her life through her diaries. Her son said he threw them away because not all of her memories were happy ones. Of course that is exactly why her writings would have been so precious to me. Like all of us, Bernice’s life was filled with emotional complexity and conflicting desire. Yet she always managed to experience the profound joy and goodness in the world.
Bernice’s son may have felt ambivalence over my reading his mother’s private thoughts, but I know Bernice would have shared them freely with me. During our last visit together, my aunt asked me to read aloud to her from one of her diaries. When I asked which volume I should select, she replied, “Surprise me.” Bernice was not a person with dark secrets. She was a wise old woman from whom I could have learned a lot.
I wish I could have piled the diaries on my bedside table and leafed through every page, hopeful that I might discover Bernice’s greatest secret – how to live life fully, and yet always have room for leftovers.
Jennifer Coburn is the author of We’ll Always Have Paris: a Mother-Daughter Adventure

Monday, March 9, 2015

My take on: The 100 Day 21

How often is a sequel better than the original? Very rarely happens in the movie world. For every Aliens, there's a Grease 2! In the book world, I haven't read a lot of sequels . . . or finished any series for that matter. But I am determined to finish The 100 series by Kass Morgan.

Before I begin, I'm going to assume you have read book 1 or watch the TV show. If you haven't, I will likely be spoiling things for you. So, if you don't want to read spoilers, go read the books or catch up on the TV show!

Book 1 felt a little uneven to me. A lot of the "world-building" and character setup took place in the first book. But that's all done in The 100: Day 21.

The action picks up right where the first book left off. Clarke, Wells, and Bellamy and the rest of the 100 are fighting for survival and for power on Earth. But someone is killing members of the 100. Who or what is doing this? Why? After Octavia goes missing, Bellamy certainly wants to know. Have these savage, violent Earthborns kidnapped Octavia? Or worse, have they killed her? He might get some answers. An alleged enemy, Sasha, has been captured. But she's not providing any answers. Can Clarke get them out of her? Maybe Wells has the magic touch? Life in space isn't much better for Glass, her boyfriend Luke, or her mother. Breathable air has become scarce. The Phoenicians have cut off the air supply for the Waldenites. Luke and Glass are separated. But for how long? A long-buried secret comes to light, and in an instant Luke and Glass' relationship might be over.

There is a lot more character depth in the second book. Clarke is hiding a big secret. It's been eating at her long before she landed on Earth. It's a secret that could tear Clarke's new-found friendship with Bellamy apart. Wells is almost like an outsider himself. As the son of the Chancellor responsible for putting them in prison, Wells has never been liked. It's only natural that he finds a friendship with Sasha. Bellamy's anger hasn't subsided in the least. In my opinion, he was a bit of a jerk in the first book. That hasn't changed in book 2. Occasionally, he shows his softer side with Clarke. I thought Wells and Clarke were meant to be, but that's out the window.

It's always hard for me to read something not based in reality, but I fully embraced this world the second time around. I wanted to know what happened to these characters. I wanted to know how life in space would go on or not go on. I felt like the writing in this book was tighter, more fast-paced, more engaging, and more emotional. This book like the last one ended on a cliffhanger. Fortunately, book 3 is already out! Once school is over, I will definitely be picking up a copy!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy from FSB Associates in exchange for an honest review.