The Illusionist by Jennifer Johnston

When Stella meets a mysterious young man on a train, she immediately falls for him. She is won over by Martyn’s charm and his fascinating illusions. Although they don’t really know each other, they decide to get married. But soon after their marriage, Stella realizes that she doesn’t know anything about Martyn’s past, his family or his occupation as an illusionist. When Martin becomes more and more distant and odd things begin to happen, Stella feels uneasy and begins to have doubts. Strangers visit their house and Martyn is spending most of his time in a locked room, pretending to work on his illusions. As Stella wants to find out more about her husband, Martyn becomes angry and doesn’t want to tell her anything. After the birth of their daughter Robin, Martyn seems to ignore his wife completely and as Robin grows older, the two seem to share a strong bond. Robin adores her father and wants to spend most of her time with him. They seem to have their own secrets now and Stella feels left out. Robin tries to blame her mother for Martyn’s odd moods and she always finds excuses for his unacceptable behaviour. As she feels neglected by her husband and her daughter, Stella escapes into her own world and begins to write. But Martyn doesn’t seem to like that and becomes angrier, more distant and secretive with every passing day. When Stella’s situation becomes unbearable and when Martyn’s lies begin to crumble, Stella is ready to leave him. What secrets did Martyn have and why does he die so suddenly? Also, will Robin ever understand who her father really was and will she stop hating Stella? There are many questions to be answered, both for Stella and for the reader. Some of these questions will be answered, but some of them will remain unanswered. 

I really wanted to like this book, but I was disappointed by it. When I first discovered it, its beautiful cover intrigued me and I also liked the synopsis of the book. Unfortunately, The Illusionist wasn’t what I expected. I suppose I expected too much, and I thought that this book would be magnificent. Well, it wasn’t; it was rather dull and it lacked suspense. I think that the author just tried too hard to make this book captivating and fascinating by using an internal narrator who tells the story retrospectively. The narrator shares her life story with us and she only gives us a glimpse into the events, waiting until the end of the book to reveal the whole tale. With every page, the reader is eager to find out the truth about everything and waits for an extraordinary and surprising ending, but the author disappoints. I normally like this “teasing” technique, but only when the author delivers a shocking and thrilling ending. I expected a rousing ending, full of surprises and explanations, but there was no such thing. Instead, the ending was predictable and boring; there were no major surprises and I already knew how it would end. Also, the author left me in the dark about Martyn’s death and about his secrets concerning his birds and the locked room. Maybe it was Jennifer Johnston’s purpose, but I would have liked to know more about it. Overall, I really disliked this book, the story and its characters. I really didn’t like Martyn and Robin, but I suppose it was the author’s purpose to make these characters unlikable, so that we could have more compassion for Stella. Maybe it was just me; maybe I had too many expectations and perhaps someone else will like this book. Maybe it was my fault to think that this book would have more to offer; I thought that this novel would focus more on Martyn’s secrets and his locked room and that his secrets concerning his occupation would eventually be revealed to us. I expected some gothic elements, but there weren’t such things in this story. Instead, this was a dramatic tale of a failed marriage and of a man who led a shady double life!



Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni

When Jackie at Farm Lane Books mentioned Ruby’s Spoon, it immediately aroused my interest and I absolutely wanted to read this book. Therefore, I was very happy when Kristina Miller from Spiegel & Grau sent me a copy of this great book!  

Ruby’s Spoon is a suspenseful novel revolving around Cradle Cross, a small town in England in the 1930’s. The industrial town is dominated by a declining button factory that has a scary reputation. With its close-knit community, its old-fashioned villagers and their unwritten rules, Cradle Cross is a town where time seems to have stood still. So when a stranger named Isa Fly arrives into town in order to track down her half-sister, everyone is sceptical. From the start, she seems to attract people like a magnet. There’s just something mysterious about Isa, and she seems to cast a spell on everyone she meets. She seems to have bewitched Ruby, a thirteen-year-old girl who is immediately willing to help Isa find her half-sister. Ruby is drawn to Isa and she constantly feels the need to be around her. The young girl seems to long for Isa’s attention and her approval and she wants to help Isa at all cost. But Ruby hopes that she will get something in return – namely that Isa will take her to the sea, if they find Isa’s missing person. Although she senses that there is more to it than meets the eye when it comes to Isa’s arrival in Cradle Cross, Ruby still wants to help this secretive stranger, because she hopes to go away with her. Ruby wants to get away from Cradle Cross because she feels alone there. Her mother has died when she was younger and she has no real relationship with her father. Ruby lives with her grandmother Annie, who is too overprotective and who doesn’t show Ruby any affection. Annie has to deal with a lot of grief as she tries to fight the demons of her past, and she doesn’t really know how to handle Ruby. As a result, the young girl feels neglected and that’s why she feels drawn to Isa. The fascinating woman gives Ruby the attention she needs and takes her seriously. Thus, the curious girl is determined to ask the villagers many questions in order to assist Isa with her search. But the narrow-minded villagers don’t like the fact that Ruby wants to help a complete stranger and they think that Isa’s arrival in town has nothing to do with a missing relative. They think that Isa has to hide something and they begin to be very suspicious of her. The village residents begin to be afraid of Isa and they think that she’s responsible for the misfortunes that have happened lately in Cradle Cross. Moreover, they think that she’s a witch and therefore, the prejudiced villagers won’t leave Isa alone until they have found out why she has really come to Cradle Cross. When many rumours emerge and acts of violence occur, Ruby doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything and she bravely defends Isa against all those cruel accusations. However, what Ruby doesn’t know is the fact that she puts herself in great danger while trying to support Isa. How far will Ruby go to help her friend? And will she be able to unravel Isa’s dark secrets?  

Well, you’ll have to read this engaging book if you want to find out. All I can say is that Ruby’s spoon is the key to everything.  

With Ruby’s Spoon, Anna Lawrence Pietroni has created a fascinating fairy tale with a dark and mystic atmosphere. Cradle Cross is a place where people still believe in witches and mermaids; it’s a town where people hold on to their talismans for protection and perform rituals in order to deal with their grief. The residents of Cradle Cross are hostile to outsiders and they easily find a black sheep when something goes wrong. So when Isa arrives in town, they see that she is different, that she does not belong there, and hence, she is held responsible for all the mishaps. Moreover, they don’t like the fact that she can easily attract so many people with her unique charm. Therefore, they spread rumours about her and even act violently just to take revenge.  

I really found it interesting to read about Cradle Cross and its residents. It made me think about such places and I am sure that even in today’s society, there are still small towns out there, where people are prejudiced and hostile to outsiders.  

Ruby’s Spoon is a magical tale about loss, prejudice, abandonment, revenge and dark family secrets. The novel’s characters are very appealing and the plot is very captivating. As soon as you start reading this book, you will be eager to find out what happens to the protagonists. I really liked this novel and I highly recommend it to everyone out there!