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Susan Tunis (San Francisco, CA)

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The Night Circus (Vintage Magic)
The Night Circus (Vintage Magic)
by Erin Morgenstern
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.39

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It sounds rather like magic, doesn't it?", 15 Sep 2011
If there is magic, in the world as I know it, it is found in the pages of books. And Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus, is the most magical, transporting experience I've had in quite some time. It opens in 1873, backstage in a New York theater with these words, "The man billed as Prospero the Enchanter receives a fair amount of correspondence via the theater office, but this is the first envelope addressed to him that contains a suicide note, and it is also the first to arrive carefully pinned to the coat of a five-year-old girl." And so it is that Hector Bowen learns of the existence of his daughter, Celia. Hector's response to his change in circumstances is unenthusiastic, but he soon discovers that Celia is a chip off the old block. You see, Hector only pretends to be an illusionist on stage. The magic he practices is entirely real--and Celia has inherited talent.

Hector is not content to merely mentor his daughter. He contacts his associate, Mr. A. H-- about a wager. A deal is struck, after which that gentleman returns to London and adopts a protégé of his own, the orphaned Marco. These two young people are raised unconventionally, studying magic under their tutors' philosophies, all the while knowing there will be a competition between the two of them some day. Enter impresario Chandresh Lefèvre, who has imagined something wondrous. He explains:

"More than a circus, really, like no circus anyone has ever seen. Not a single large tent but a multitude of tents, each with a particular exhibition. No elephants or clowns. No, something more refined than that. Nothing commonplace. This will be different, this will be an utterly unique experience, a feast for the senses. Theatrics sans theater, an immersive entertainment. We will destroy the presumptions and preconceived notions of what a circus is and make it something else entirely, something new."

And so the venue for the magical competition between Celia and Marco is born. And there you have the bare bones of Ms. Morgenstern's story. There's no need to tell more. The magic of this tale is in the language and the characters and in Ms. Morgenstern's infinitely rich, romantic imagination.

The circus, it is said, "arrives without warning." Not so this novel. There have been all kinds of pre-pub buzz and hype for this title. There's a reason; this book is so special that almost all who read it take note. Ms. Morgenstern's tale transcended the page and brought true enchantment to my oh-so-ordinary life. As it happens, one of the characters could be speaking for the author herself:

"I find I think of myself not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to reach the circus. To visit the circus again, if only in their minds, when they are unable to attend it physically. I relay it through printed words on crumpled newsprint, words they can read again and again, returning to the circus whenever they wish, regardless of time of day or physical location. Transporting them at will.

When put that way, it sounds rather like magic, doesn't it?"

Oh yes, it does! And I expect to be returning to this circus for many years to come.

Guilt by Association (Rachel Knight Story)
Guilt by Association (Rachel Knight Story)
by Marcia Clark
Edition: Hardcover

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another win for Marcia Clark, 8 April 2011
After having previously written about her life and role as chief prosecutor on the O.J. Simpson trial, former Assistant District Attorney Marcia Clark has turned her hand to fiction. And multiple starred reviews in the publishing trades attest that she hasn't done a half-bad job of it.

After a brief prologue, Guilt by Association opens with colleagues toasting a legal victory at the end of the workday. The victor is ADA Rachel Knight, who was just handed a guilty verdict in record time. The wins are why she and her colleagues put in the long hours, and no one is a bigger workaholic than Rachel, except perhaps for Jake. When Jake and Toni head out for the night, Rachel promises she'll follow just as soon as she gets a little more work done... And, after all, home is only a six-block walk from the office. Once outside she hears sirens and quickly comes across an unfolding crime scene--a homicide by the looks of it. She's waiting around out of professional curiosity when a ranking cop tries to send her packing. Rachel is confounded and annoyed--until she sees the face of one of the two victims. It's Jake; hard-working, nice guy Jake.

The next morning, the news gets worse. The crime appears to be a murder-suicide. Jake was in a sleazy motel room with a 17-year-old boy, who he appears to have shot before then shooting himself. There was a naked photo of the kid in his pocket. Hung-over and still in shock, Rachel doesn't believe it. The facts are damning, and even though no one really knew about his personal life, she just knows Jake can't have done what they're saying. Unfortunately, she's warned off Jake's case in no uncertain terms. Rather, she's asked to take over one of the cases that Jake had been working on, that of the rape of affluent 15-year-old Susan Densmore. Rachel, with the help of her detective friend Bailey and a host of other allies, launches herself into both cases, constantly fearing she's about to be fired for insubordination. "I took another sip of my drink and pondered what I could do on my own. Being a prosecutor, I was not, as they say, without resources." True that.

It's a strong debut, no doubt. Right from the opening, you just can't help thinking as you read, "Wow, this woman REALLY knows what she's writing about!" So much of the novel has the ring of verisimilitude. It may be the greatest strength. Even so, this novel really wasn't what I was expecting. It's been described as a legal thriller, but truthfully, it was far more a police procedural. There wasn't a single scene in a courtroom. Rather, Rachel was frequently out in the field, partnering Bailey, gun literally in hand, as they investigated the cases. She's not a lawyer content to sit behind a desk while the cops do their job, and I have to wonder how realistic the depiction is. It's not that it was unbelievable, but it was surprising. Either way, it's fiction, and I was willing to go along for the ride.

Rachel Knight is a strong, likable protagonist. Ms. Clark has imbued her with enough idiosyncratic detail that she, too, has the ring of verisimilitude. For instance, Rachel's obsessed with every calorie she puts in her mouth, unless it's in an alcoholic beverage or eaten off someone else's plate. While this is a stand alone novel, it's easy to image that Rachel and the various supporting characters may be back in future novels. If so, Guilt by Association serves as a good introduction. The novel is not perfect. There were times when Clark told instead of showing. Another time Rachel took an unbelievably stupid risk. And the plot did suffer one big fictional cliché, but I can't mention it without spoilers. Still, those are relatively minor complaints.

Clark keeps things moving along briskly, and while the pace never lags, about midway through things really pick up and stay up straight through the novel's end. It's a nice, tight, coherent plot with plenty of surprises and a satisfying conclusion. Looks like you've racked up another win, Ms. Clark.
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