Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It Was All An Illusion

Expected Publication:  June 11th, 2013
Born of Illusion (Born of Illusion # 1)
By: Teri Brown
Balzer & Bray
ISBN-13:  9780062187543

Anna Van Housen is thirteen the first time she breaks her mother out of jail. By sixteen she’s street smart and savvy, assisting her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and séances, and easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums and mentalists in 1920’s New York City. Handcuffs and sleight of hand illusions have never been much of a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her true gifts secret from her opportunistic mother, who will stop at nothing to gain her ambition of becoming the most famous medium who ever lived.

But when a strange, serious young man moves into the flat downstairs, introducing her to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, he threatens to reveal the secrets Anna has fought so hard to keep, forcing her to face the truth about her past. Could the stories her mother has told her really be true? Could she really be the illegitimate daughter of the greatest magician of all?

     Anna is in one of the most exciting times of her life so far.  The stage show she performs magic in, while her Mother does work as a medium, is really gaining momentum and their private séances are attracting richer patron.  Making ends meet is becoming easier and Anna's Mother wants her to act like a respectable young lady.  But Anna has been keeping a dangerous secret - while her Mother only pretends the ability to contact the dead, Anna actually can.  She is also able to see visions of the future and has witnessed some great disasters, such as the Titanic and the Spanish Influenza, firsthand.  Now with a mysterious young man named Cole moving in down the hall and some suspicious things happening, can Anna keep herself and her Mother out of danger?  And can they keep their show going when Houdini's quest to expose false mediums starts to encroach upon their best methods?  Also, will Anna ever find out once and for all if she really is Houdini's illegitimate daughter? 
     Anna is a wonderful character and so easy to identify with as a reader.  She's growing up and after an unsteady childhood, with no real home and her volatile Mother as the only person constantly in her life she wants a sense of permanence.  But at the same time, Anna longs to be a true magician and be recognized for her town great talents instead of as her Mother's opening act and possibly being the daughter of Houdini.  Most of the book revolves around the mystery of who is trying to hurt Anna and her Mother after Anna has a vision where they are both in mortal jeopardy.  Her relationship with her Mother is rocky at best, but Anna loves her and is loathe to actually do anything to hurt her in any way.  The way she treats Anna became a source of serious frustration throughout the book, as she uses her for whatever is convenient and then tries to get her removed from the show when she upstages her, tries to fix her up with an obviously slimy/untrustworthy young man, etc.  It got on my nerves and only served to make me feel even sorrier for the heroine - which I suppose was the author's intention! 
     The romance was cute but I felt like Anna and her cute new neighbor Cole should have just stayed friends.  Also, the manager's nephew was an obviously not-so-good guy.  And it made things all the more obvious when the author kept getting Anna into situations where he keeps proving this fact over and over again.  It got very anvil on the head, un-subtle and it began to annoy me slightly near the end.  To make a comparison, verging on those old movies where the girl goes with the handlebar mustache guy who ties her to the train tracks and the hero has to save her.  Yeah, that sums up that aspect for me personally.  I did like the historical details that snuck into the story, like the silent Houdini movies with the piano/organ in theater, the cute 1920s clothing (everyone say 'cloche hats') and the ever present shadow of Prohibition.  But I also felt like by isolating Anna from the rest of the regular world so completely in her upbringing and current living situation, that the author missed out on some fun opportunities.  There were no speakeasies in this book and as someone who loves that sort of thing, I found that disappointing.  Extra points for the mafia presence near the end of the book.  Definitely added to the historical resonance for me and made things fun during the blackmail portion of the mystery. 
     Favorite character award definitely goes to Mr. Darby, who Cole lives with, and is a grumpy, old-man inventor.  He has a funny banter thing going with Anna and they occasionally have breakfast together.  Mr. Darby is absolutely hilarious and the fact that he can never invent anything that hasn't already been thought of definitely endears him to me even more.  With a somewhat predictable mystery and a plot that drifts for some of the book, overall this was still an enjoyable and decent read.  I just wanted more from it than I got.  But maybe there will be some more answers in the sequel than there were in this initial installment (a.k.a. is she Houdini's DAUGHTER???!!!)  But I'm not sure if it will be something that I'll read.  I know a good many people who would love this book to pieces and I highly recommend it for fans of Libba Bray's latest book, The Diviners
VERDICT:  3.75/5  Stars
*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via Edelweiss. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is June 11th, 2013.*

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