Review: The clever, smart and imaginative The Magician’s Lie

MagiciansLieI have no idea why it took me so long to read Greer Macallister‘s The Magician’s Lie, but am so glad I finally did. Because, yes, it’s pretty magical.

Forgive the cliché, but I’m excited and can’t help myself. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a novel this entertaining, and I want you to read it, too.

Smart, imaginative and set in small-town Iowa at the turn of the 20th century, The Magician’s Lie tells the story of the Amazing Arden–the most famous female illusionist of her day. She’s renowned for her trick of sawing a man in half. But on the night that begins in Chapter 1, Arden exchanges her saw for a fire ax. Soon after the show, Arden’s dead husband and the ax are found underneath the collapsed stage.

Police Officer Virgil Holt is sure Arden is guilty. After a night of drinking to try to forget the injury that could cost him his career, his wife and his life, Virgil catches Arden trying to leave town. But the story she tells as the two sit alone in the police station makes Virgil begin wonder whether perhaps there’s a way they can both be free of their burdens.

Publisher’s Weekly gave The Magician’s Lie a starred review, and with good reason. Colored with meticulous research and generous, well-placed details, the novel is clever, suspenseful, well-crafted and highly original.

GreerLast month, Literary New England had the pleasure of hosting a terrific live Tweet chat and book giveaway with Greer. If you go to Twitter and type #LNEChat into the Search box, you can find and read our conversation, which was made that much more fun by all those who joined in.

Here’s a short excerpt of our #LNEChat:

LNE: Is it cliche to say writing a novel is like making magic?

GM: Lots of similarities btw the novelist’s art & the magician’s. We lie to a willing audience. … And if I do my job, you feel like the people are real, even though you know they’re not.

LNE: Did you take any magic classes to help you write The Magicians Lie?

GM: I tried to learn some magic, but it turns out, I’m terrible! That’s what’s great about words. They always work.

LNE: Please talk about your protagonist, Arden. Is she anything like you?

GM: Not much like me, really! She’s much more interesting. Me, I’m awfully normal.

LNE: Any advice for aspiring novelists?

GM: Hard work won’t guarantee you get published, but giving up guarantees you won’t. Keep going.

LNE: You Tweet a lot and have a strong Facebook presence. You enjoy interacting with fans?

GM: Oh gosh yes. I love readers THE MOST. Best thing about being a writer. (That & other writers, who are also readers.)

– Cindy Wolfe Boynton

Review: Girl in the Moonlight a Luminous Novel

Girl In the MoonlightIt’s clear why Charles Dubow’s Girl in the Moonlight is on so many summer reading lists: The story is passionate and engrossing; the writing simple, yet superb.

The novel tells the story of Wylie Rose who, at 9 years old, falls in love with Cesca Bonet–an impossibly beautiful, rich and incandescent girl a few years older. As teenagers, the two become lovers at her family’s summer home in East Hampton. But while Wylie wants forever, Cesca wants only freedom. As their paths cross and affair continues on and off over several decades, Cesca flees whenever Wylie’s passion becomes too constricting. Yet despite being hurt by Cesca time and again, Wylie’s devotion and desire never wanes. Instead, it flames into obsession, ruining him for other women (including the daughter of a count) and causing him to doubt his choices and his path.

A friendship with Cesca’s brother, an emerging painter named Aurelio, brings Wylie in and out of both Cesca’s life and the world of art. Painting plays a major role in the story as, through Aurelio, Wylie meets great artists and even gives a go at painting himself, attempting to live as an artist in New York City. In an interview with BookReporter, Dubow talks about his relationship with art, including how Goya’s Naked Maja and Manet’s Olympia inspired how he created and shaped Cesca: “There is an element of sensuality in the former and frankness in the latter, which I think sums up much of Cesca’s personality and the impact she has on people.”

Naked Maja, Goya
Naked Maja, Goya
Olympia, Manet
Olympia, Manet

“Sensual” is a great word to describe Girl in the Moonlight. Fans of Dubow’s debut novel, Indiscretion, won’t find the kind of R-rated sex that appeared there. Girl in the Moonlight is more PG or PG-13. But its sensuality is no less provocative and compelling. In fact, on many levels, it’s more real.

Not everyone will experience the kind of erotic passion that characters Claire and Harry do in Indiscretion. (Though how fabulous if we all did!) But the longing Wylie feels for Cesca–his ability, against reason, to move on and let go–is one that most of us have experienced, whether for a lover, a place, a talent or other desire that’s taken hold of our dreams and heart.

IndiscretionPeopled with engaging and poignant characters, Girl in the Moonlight takes readers from the wooded cottages of old East Hampton, to the dining rooms of Upper East Side Manhattan, to the bohemian art studios of Paris and Barcelona. As Kirkus wrote in its review, “Dubow offers a heady, intoxicating tale, and young Wylie’s journey to manhood is a memorable one.”

Charles Dubow will be one of our guests on the Monday, June 15, Literary New England Radio Show. Girl in the Moonlight will be among our giveaways that evening, as will Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness and Jean Zimmerman’s Savage Girl. The show will feature interviews with all three of these authors and, while listening, you’ll have the chance to Tweet or email us to win one of these terrific books!

Wrap Yourself in The Tapestry, the 3rd Satisfying Novel in Nancy Bilyeau’s Tudor Series

By Cindy Wolfe Boynton

Finishing The Tapestry–the final book in Nancy Bilyeau’s Tutor-era trilogy about Dominican novice Joanna Stafford–means saying goodbye to one of recent historical fiction’s most original, likeable and feisty heroines. … Though I’m hoping this goodbye isn’t forever.

“I’m not going to say that I’m never going back to Joanna, because she feels like part of my family,” Nancy said during our interview, which aired on this past Monday night’s Literary New England Radio Show. Linda Goodnight, author of The Memory House, and MO Walsh, author of My Sunshine Away, were my other guests.

“People’s responses to these books have also been just super,” Nancy continued, “so it’s possible that one day I’ll return to Joanna and write more. I do have other ideas for her. I’m also so passionate about Tudor England.”

It’s no secret to anyone who listens to the Literary New England podcast, or follows me on Twitter, that I’m a huge Nancy Bilyeau/Joanna Stafford fan. I LOVED the first two books in the series, couldn’t wait for The Tapestry to be published, and was ecstatic reading it from beginning to end.  Skillfully written and plotted, and full of Renaissance color, The Tapestry did not disappoint.

Like The Crown and The Chalice, The Tapestry is part thriller, part mystery and part romance. All are set in the mid-1500s. And, similar to Deborah Harkness’s The Discovery of Witches/All Souls series or JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books, each consecutive novel becomes bigger in length and scope, with The Tapestry satisfyingly brining Joanna’s story to an end.

In this page-turner, Joanna–whose life has been threatened more than once since Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell began destroying priories –has resolved to live quietly in her village of Dartford, weaving tapestries. A woman ahead of her time, she’s determined to live life on her terms, which means no more involvements in dangerous quests, conspiracies or the royal court. But then her cousin King Henry summons her to Whitehall Palace to add to his tapestry collection, which occurs in this excerpt from Chapter 1:

I was once told that whenever I felt suspicious of someone’s intent, no matter how faintly, I should trust that instinct, but since the man who issued this advice had himself tried to kill me, and nearly succeeded, it was difficult to know how much weight to give his words.

I felt this distrust in a place where all others seemed at ease, as I followed a page through the tall, gleaming rooms of the Palace of Whitehall, filled with the most prosperous subjects of King Henry VIII. To anyone else, it would seem the safest place in all of England.

But not to me. Never to me.

Only eight days earlier I’d received the summons, calling me back to London, the city where I had seen much cruelty and death. I read it in my small house on the High Street of Dartford, where I had come to serve as a novice at its priory of Dominican sisters and hoped and prayed to prove my worthiness to take vows and become a Bride of Christ. But, two years ago, by the king’s command, our exquisite priory was torn down, and I was cast out with the others.

“This missive is from the king’s council, Sister Joanna,” said Gregory, pushing it into my hands as if it were a loaf pulled fresh from the oven that was singeing his fingertips. Gregory was a clerk in the town. He married the vintner’s daughter just after Candlemas Day, and his face soon thickened, like a hunting dog turns fat and sleek when brought into the house at season’s end. But Gregory, no matter his station now, once served as porter to our priory and continued to take an interest in my welfare. He still called me Sister. When a letter came to town bearing the royal seal, Gregory insisted on delivering it to me.

I thanked him and closed the door on the bright noise of the High Street. My fingers heavy with dread, I found a knife to break the beeswax seal.

In the court of the king that, unknown to him, Joanna has twice attempted to overthrow, the former nun fears for her life, and rightly so. An assassin attempts to kill her within moments of arriving at Whitehall. And with so many hidden plots and agendas surrounding her, it’s impossible to tell who is friend or foe.

Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, Thomas Culpepper, Eustace Chapuys, Edward Seymour and the fascinating German painter Hans Holbein are among the characters brought to life in the compelling The Tapestry, where Joanna goes in search of the former friar she loves, fights for her life, faces off against the king and is ultimately forced to choose her fate.

Nancy’s bio on Amazon says that although she lives in New York City, her mind is always in Tudor England. In The Crown, The Chalice and The Tapestry, her passion and expertise on the 16th century are clear. She also blogs extensively about the period, right now focusing many of her posts on the PBS series Wolf Hall, which is based on Hilary Mantel’s magnificent prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

Nancy’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the players and mindset of the time make her blog, like her books, deliciously rich.

@annbauerwriter to appear at #MA’s @booksmithtweets 4/7, was reviewed by #LitNewEngland Radio Show host @WriterCindyWB, and so …


Author Anne Bauer – who was born in Boston, taught at Brown and has other New England connections – will appear at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., at 7 pm Tuesday, April 7. We’re going to do our best to have to have Anne on the show around the time of this visit. But if you want to get a sense of Anne’s latest novel Forgiveness 4 You right now, read this review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, written by Literary New England Radio Show host Cindy Wolfe Boynton, who also writes and teaches writing.


The moving, bittersweet Sweetland (@MichaelCrummey @LiverightPub)

I made two loaves of bread and a pot of vegetable soup today, inspired by both the snow and Michael Crummey’s novel Sweetland, which I finished around 1 am. At the time I interviewed him for last week’s Literary New England Radio Show, I hadn’t read more than the first dozen pages. I was waist-high in another book and am not someone who can read more than one at a time. But after talking with Crummey, and hearing Sweetland’s backstory, I decided to move it to the top of the to-reads. I’m so glad I did.

Set on a remote island off the coast of Newfoundland and sparsely–yet powerfully–written, Sweetland is a story about choices, family, truths, power, love, loyalty and secrets. It’s a story about a man named Moses Sweetland, who has nothing yet everything. Like Moses, most of those who live on the island of Sweetland (which Moses’ family settled) have never had any other home, or known life to be any other way. Among them are Queenie Coffin, who hasn’t stepped outside her house since 1970; the drug-addled Priddle brothers, who see Moses as a father; Duke Fewer, who keeps a barbershop but never gives a haircut; and Moses’ fragile young nephew Jesse, whose connection to the island is as primal and essential as Moses’. I’d love to spend a day there with all of them.

On Sweetland, stews made of rabbit, fish, potatoes and other island-borne ingredients make up a good part of Moses’ diet. So my dinner tonight is sort of an homage to him and Crummey’s terrific book. If Sweetland isn’t get on your reading radar, it should be. You can learn more about the book from its official website. You can also listen to my conversation with Crummey in the Literary New England Radio Show Archives. As Moses might say, I thinks yous be glad not to miss it.

– Cindy Wolfe Boynton @writercindywb


Taking a ride with The Girl On The Train (@PaulaHWrites @riverheadbooks)

Laundry. The Christmas lights that should already be down. The article I needed to write. None of it gone done last Saturday, thanks to Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train. I started it a few hours before I had to go to my son Steven’s fencing tournament, which was a mistake. I was so taken and infuriated with protagonist Rachel that there was no way I could leave her for the five or six hours I’d be at the high school. So I slid my iPad into my purse and hoped my son won’t notice me looking down at my lap in the bleachers. Of course, he did. And of course, I closed the iPad cover when he fenced. But otherwise, I could not put this book down. PR and advance reviews for The Girl On The Train say it’s a “chilling, assured debut,” “the most hotly anticipated thriller of 2015,” “better than Gone Girl.” One of the reasons I like it so much better than Gone Girl is because Rachel is so much more likeable than Amy. Both have been wronged by the men they love, and both are nuts. But while most of the time I wanted to give Amy several sharp slaps, what I wanted to give Rachel was a hug. And then maybe a gentle slap. And then take her to an AA meeting. Fast.

I’ll be interviewing Paula Hawkins in early February and airing our talk on the Monday, Feb. 9, Literary New England Radio Show. Listeners will have the chance to win a copy of the unputdownable The Girl On The Train, so please plan to tune in. In the meantime, if you’ve read it, tell me what you think. I just might weave your comments into the Feb. 9 show.

– Cindy Wolfe Boynton @writercindywb