CIRKUS by Patti Frazee

In Patti Frazee’s astonishing debut novel, enchantment and illusion casually commingle with reality as the Borefsky Brothers Circus makes its way across the American Midwest in the summer of 1900.

Mariana, the fortune teller, makes herself invisible and drifts through the nighttime circus, listening in on conversations and watching over her beloved Shanghai, a fire-breathing dwarf who closely guards his secrets, even from Mariana’s second sight. Conjoined twins Atasha and Anna cling to each other and weep for their home and for their mother and father who sold them to the circus. Jakub, the circus manager and husband to Mariana, fears his wife’s gifts, grieves his own failures, and drinks to forget it all. The stories and closely guarded histories of the troupe of performers dance around each other until a love affair between Shanghai and Atasha destroys the delicate balance.

As secrets are revealed and old wounds are opened, the consequences are unbearable to some and liberating to others. Lyrically graceful and populated by vividly drawn characters, Cirkus is a haunting novel of devastating heartbreak and exquisite loveliness.

OK, it is about a dwarf, a gypsy fortune teller, conjoined twin teenage girls, all in one of those turn of the century (twentieth century) small traveling circuses that plied the rural areas of the USA, as well as Europe.  It is a story about the trials and tribulations of side show “freaks” and other nomadic circus personnel. mostly of Czech origin, as they travel around the midwestern US entertaining the “rubes” and trying to deal with each other. It is full of  melodramatic romance plots of unrequited love, frustrated passion and star crossed lovers.

Hard to pigeonhole it as to genre, but I would say fantasy, quasi-historical fiction, where dreams have a reality of their own, and it is all a bit surreal.

I enjoyed it, although the first half was a bit slow.  But the last quarter was a toboggan ride, that’s for sure!

 

 

 

THE DANGEROUS EDGE OF THINGS by Tina Whittle

Tai Randolph is still adjusting to a newly inherited Confederate-themed gun shop when she gets a big shock: a murdered corpse in her brother’s driveway. Worse, her respectable sibling has fled to the Bahamas, leaving her to deal with the homicide and questions from the Atlanta PD. Complicating her plan to clear the family name is Trey Seaver, field agent for an exclusive corporate security firm hired to investigate the crime. Trey, recovering from a car accident that left him cognitively and emotionally damaged, is fearless, focused, and – to Tai’s dismay – utterly impervious to bribes, threats, and clever deceptions.

Tai’s investigations lead from the cold-eyed glamour of Atlanta’s adult entertainment scene to the gilded treachery of Tuxedo Road. Potential suspects abound. But it takes another murder – and threats to her own life – to make her realize that to solve this crime, she has to trust the most dangerous man she’s ever met.

This is the first in a six book series, and I gotta say, I really enjoyed it.  The writing style, the characters, and the plot just did it for me.  Hard to say exactly why, but I found it a fun read, not noir but yet not cozy either.  Well, done, Ms Whittle.

THE DISCOVERY by Dan Walsh

Gerard Warner was not only a literary giant whose suspense novels sold in the millions, he was also a man devoted to his family, especially his wife of nearly 60 years. When he dies he leaves his Charleston estate to his grandson, Michael, an aspiring writer himself. Michael settles in to write his own first novel and discovers an unpublished manuscript his grandfather had written, something he’d kept hidden from everyone but clearly intended Michael to find. Michael begins to read an exciting tale about Nazi spies and sabotage, but something about this story is different from all of Gerard Warner’s other books. It’s actually a love story.

As Michael delves deeper into the story he discovers something that has the power to change not only his future but his past as well.

Laced with suspense and intrigue, The Discovery is a richly woven novel that explores the incredible sacrifices that must be made to forge the love of a lifetime. 

OK, this is a novel within a novel, never my favorite trope.  The grandson finds an unpublished novel written by his wildly famous grandfather, and lucky us, we readers get to read it.  But here’s the thing.  It is written in the same meh writing style of the author of this book, and there is no way the grandpop would have been famous for bleh writing like that.

It is a story of a spy who came in from the cold and lived a life basically of lies, and we are supposed to get all teary eyed and sniffly at the story.

A two star effort.  Oh well, they can’t all be home runs.

THE BABA YAGA by Leon Shure

The first book in the Myth-steries series, mysteries with a touch of the strange. A young doctor, Adam Karl, who has perceptual problems, and his “seeing eye woman,” Kayko Brasen, are asked by a Chicago Police Detective, Michael Dunne, to get testimony from an autistic child who is the only witness to his mother’s murder. Stalked, Dr Karl discovers frightening secrets about his own family.

Despite the damning with faint praise reviews obviously written by friends and/or family of the author, this was one of those odd books that make no sense, have only a tenuous hold on reality, but yet keeps you reading anyway.

The protagonist is a neurosurgeon just finishing his residency and beginning a practice.  BUT …. he is autistic, and has a condition called Prosopagnosia,  a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces. Prosopagnosia is also known as face blindness or facial agnosia. However, this guy also cannot see other people’s facial reactions, such as smiling, etc, so his uncle hires a woman to go around with him and whisper in his ear what the people look like and their expressions. WTF?  Even in his medical practice?  He also tells us in his first person narrative that his own voice and face have no affect, he sounds like a robot.

He is extremely wealthy, but the huge estate where he lives seems to have only a butler type person, a housekeeper, and one cleaning person, and a driver.

The police contact him to see if he can make contact with a little autistic boy who witnessed his mother’s murder. Then the whole book goes on and on about all kinds of other stuff, and he doesn’t make contact with the little boy until almost the end, and it is a failure.  Meanwhile, there is a whole conspiracy thing about a drug being developed — a kind of controlled virus, his helper woman get kidnapped, and after a bunch of other totally unrealistic events is found and rescued, and after a dose of something to reverse the effects of the drug she was given, is suddenly just fine and dandy.

Every character is just absolutely over the top, and the ending is that the family business seems to be a world-wide crime syndicate or something, led by his elderly grandmother, Baba Yaga.

I mean, really.  Really.

PRAISE JERUSALEM! by Augusta Trobaugh

This story is about the lives of three elderly Southern women who have been thrust into a concerted effort to find their “New Jerusalem” – a utopia of heavenly perfection. In this case, however, it is the small town of Jerusalem, Georgia, to which the women journey, each expecting to find happiness at last. But to find their utopia, they must overcome the social and racial estrangements that isolate them from each other. Mamie Johnson, an African-American woman who is fleeing from an abusive relationship, desires an existence in which she will be free not only from abuse but also from centuries-old racial stereotypes. Maybelline, in exquisitely polite Southern terms, “has not had advantages, ” but despite her lack of “good blood, ” formal education, or fine manners, she determinedly pursues a course of service to the others. Miss Amelia, a small-town dowager who finds herself suddenly bereft of the social and economic security she has enjoyed all her life, makes a dual journey – one in the company of Mamie and Maybelline, and another, more reluctant journey back in memory to a summer of her childhood. 

Sweet story, with just a smidge of the paranormal, as Miss Amelia tells of her childhood and being able to understand the glossolalia of an elderly and sick woman and pass the translation on to the woman’s family in order to get her baptized before she dies of her disease.

It seems to fit in with the trope of elderly ladies setting off on their own to find a home in a distant and never before seen town, either alone or with a friend or friends.

I enjoyed it, as it gave us a picture of a disappearing lifestyle of the genteel American south.

A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V. E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive. 

A thriller about magic and stuff.  Once again, we have a people who are able to create parallel cities and close them with magic, but haven’t figured out how to have indoor plumbing, flush toilets, or even electricity.  You would think some magician along the line would come up with an idea for lighting a room without having to use kerosene lanterns, wouldn’t you?  Why are all stories about magic set in some sort of faux medieval England? Kell is given some mysterious stone which creates stuff.  The poverty stricken pickpocket girl steals it from him and so what does she make from it?  Money?  Gold? Food? Nah.  A sword.  Gimme a break.

Oh, well, nice story if you are into stories about magic.

 

THE CELIBATE MOUSE by Diana Hockley

Police procedural meets cozy mystery meets rom-com, set in Australia.

Shell-shocked from a tragedy at work and an acrimonious domestic upheaval, Detective Senior Sergeant Susan Prescott flees town to recuperate, but fate has other ideas.

Her plan to house-sit for relatives in a rural community is shattered when Susan witnesses a very public murder within an hour of her arrival. Things turn sinister after an encounter with an elderly lady; a hint of a long ago murder is not a secret with which Susan wants to be entrusted.

Enter Detective Inspector David Maguire whom she has not seen for thirteen years and who is assigned to the case, which sends her into a further tailspin. Against her better judgment, Susan is drawn inexorably into the investigation, surrounded by menacing strangers whose private agendas threaten her safety, and soon, her life.

OK, the David Maquire who appears is her first husband and father of her twin teenage daughters.  Yeah.  I hear ya.  All the characters are over-the-top, from the one nasty-mouth daughter, to the believably handsome ex, to her extremely overbearing mother, to Maguire’s squeeze from another city who is also unbelievably overbearing and stalks him to this city, to the point of walking into Susan’s house not only not invited but without knocking in order to berate both Susan, whom she does not know, and David, who has been trying to break up with her.

Oh, yeah, and there is the current spouse, also overbearing, and the elderly wife of an elderly knight who pushes everyone around.

I can’t figure out how this supposedly formidable Detective Senior Sergeant just lets everybody boss her around, yell at her without consequences, and walk all over her.

Good and interesting mystery, but the whole rest of it was just plain stupid.

The title comes from finding a mommy mouse under the sink having lined her nest with photo evidence of the case, and one character saying if there is one, there are relatives, because there is no such thing as a celibate mouse.