Book Reviews: The Magician's Lie, The Kennedy Wives, Van Gogh A Power Seething, & Once Upon A Time

Hello everyone,

ready for this week's reviews? Read on:

The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister
The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day. Her most notorious trick? Sawing a man in half. But, one night, rather than a saw, she uses a fire axe. A few hours later, her husband is found dead. When police officer Virgil Holt happens upon her as she's fleeing later that night, her guilt seems certain. But has she really done the horrible deed? Arden has only one night to convince Holt of her innocence and regain her freedom. Her only hope is to tell him her story. Her whole story. It's a fascinating but chilling story full of twists and turns, and a dark secret she's ready to lie for. Although a bit slow at first, her story captivates you, like it has captivated Holt, and you won't be able to put the book down until you know exactly what happened to Arden's husband, and what fate will befall her.
The story goes back and forth as Arden reminisces about her past and Virgil tries to get her to talk about the present and the murder. Yet, it never felt confusing. The reader always knows what's happening, when, and to whom. On the contrary, the flashbacks give us plenty of insights on Arden, on who she is, how she became an illusionist, and why she acts the way she does. Although strong and clever, at times her fear and vulnerability get the best of her and cause her to make the wrong choices. But that just makes Arden more relatable. Like all the other characters, she's well-rounded and developed. The only exception is Ray, the psychopathic villain. He's a bit too one-dimensional.
The story is also well-researched. I especially loved reading about how the illusions and magic tricks worked and how they were carried out on stage. The attention to detail is wonderful and make the world the characters inhabit come alive.
Overall, this is a beautiful, quite creative debut. I highly recommend it to those who love a good historical mystery novel with a magical element.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

The Kennedy Wives: Triumph and Tragedy in America's Most Public Family by Amber Hunt and David Batcher
The Kennedys are the most famous and fascinating family in the US. Blessed with power, wealth, political influence, and charm, they were, however, struck by a series of tragedies that shook not just the family but the whole world. The women who married into the family lived a privileged and glamorous life, but they paid a high price for it. They had to put up with their husbands' infidelities and the intrusion of the press, and do their fair share of work during electoral campaigns.
Rose, married to Joe Kennedy, was the matriarch of the family. Her incredible inner-strength, toughness, and faith allowed her to deal with everything life threw her way, such as her husband's loss of reputation in the UK during the Second World War, the mental disability of one daughter, and the deaths of four of her children. Ethel, Bobby's wife, was a tomboy and a bit of a rebel. She loved throwing parties and having a good time, but was also a devoted mother to her 11 children. Her and Bobby had a true partnership, and she was very supportive of his work. Jackie, the most famous of the Kennedy wives, charmed, with her elegance, graceful manners, and penchant for languages, everyone she met. She restored the White House to its former glory and forged the myth of Camelot when her husband died. Joan was the most beautiful, but also most fragile, of the Kennedy wives. Her husband Teddy's philandering awakened her insecurities, causing her to find solace in the bottle. She bravely tried her best to overcome her alcoholism, but her marriage didn't survive. She and Teddy divorced, and he remarried to a much younger woman, Vickie. Despite their age difference, the clever and supportive Vickie was the perfect wife for Ted, and she took great care of him during his last years.
The book is quite short and straight to the point. Although they don't delve too deeply into their lives, the authors skilfully and vividly bring to life the essences of these women, their strengths and their weaknesses, what made them tick, and the influence they had on the Kennedy family and American history. It's fast-paced, informative, and very engaging.
If you are already very familiar, with these women I doubt you'll discover anything new in this book. But if you want an introduction to the Kennedy wives, this is a great place to start.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Van Gogh: A Power Seething by Julian Bell
Van Gogh is one of the most famous painters in history. The rough beauty and bold colours of his works shocked the world, never gaining him the recognition he deserved in life. And then there's his madness. He's just as famous for that as he is for his paintings.
If Van Gogh has always fascinated you, but you don't feel like delving into a 800 pages long, super detailed biography, you should pick up a copy of Van Gogh A Power Seething by Julian Bell. This short volume covers all the most important events in the painter's life and captures the principles of his artworks, providing lots of interesting insights, all drawn and backed up by Vincent's words (he was a prolific letter writer as well) on both. It is also a very moving account. Van Gogh didn't have an easy life and, at times, just thinking about what he went through can bring a tear to your eyes.
The book is fast-paced and a quick read. Bell is a painter, not a writer, so while his style may sometimes be a bit convoluted and not all that elegant, his love for Van Gogh's work shines through every page. That alone makes this a joy to read.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

Once Upon A Time: A Short History Of Fairy Tale by Marina Warner
Beautiful princess, wicked stepmothers, monsters, magical objects, talking animals... fairy tales have all the ingredients to enchant both children and adults alike. It's no wonder that these fantastic stories are evergreen, passed down from generation to generation, changing and losing or acquiring new details in each retelling.
But what is a fairy tale? Where do they come from? Those are the questions I thought Marina Warner was gonna answer in her new book, Once Upon A Time. And she does. Briefly. Most of the book is not dedicated to the history of fairy tales at all, but to their analysis. She discusses the main characters and events in fairy tales, the role magic has in them, the reason why they were created and the messages they convey, and they way different times and epochs have put their stamp on the genre. The fairytale genre really exploded during the Victorian era, when these stories were aimed at children. It was then criticized, in the past century, by feminists who thought they were sending the wrong messages to young girls and boys. They are now being reclaimed by adults in new movies and musicals with ever darker overtones.
Because the book is more of a critical analysis of the genre than a history of fairy tales, Warner rarely backs up her claims. For instance, she claims that female characters get maimed in fairy tales more often than male ones, but you'll have to take her word for it. And that's not the only missed occasion for an in-depth analysis. The book, albeit full of fascinating insights, is overall quite shallow, skimming only the surface of the topic. The fairy tales mentioned in the book are mostly of Western origin too, and not all of them are well-know, which can be confusing for the casual reader. On the plus side, you'll discover lots of new fairy tales to read.
Despite its shortcomings, Once Upon A Time is a nice introduction to fairy tales. Those with a budding interest in the topic will find it more enjoyable than fairytale enthusiasts. The latter won't likely find anything new in this short book. It is a joy to read, though. Warner's passion for fairy tales is infectious and can be clearly felt in every page of the book.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

Are you going to read one or more of these books?

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