I focus primarily on Young Adult, Middle Grade, and Children's books, but my tastes are eclectic, so I change things up frequently!
Teri Brown's Born of Illusion transports readers to 1920s New York into a world of magic, lies, secrets, and the paranormal.
The novel follows Anna, the daughter of a renowned medium and the rumored illegitimate daughter of the great Harry Houdini. Anna and her mother have spent their lives living show to show and evading the law, which they've been on the wrong side of a time or two. Finally, Anna's life has taken a turn for the better and she and her mother seem to be standing on solid ground as their new show gains success and popularity. Together, they transfix their audience; Anna performing magical illusion and her mother showcasing her psychic abilities. Of course, the audience doesn't know that, in truth, Anna's mother is no more psychic than they are, though she is gifted actress. In fact, it's Anna that possesses psychic abilities. She can sense feelings, foretell the future, and talk to the dead. However, the stable existence Anna yearns for is still just out of reach as she begins having horrifying visions of her mother in peril and her own safety is threatened.
For me, one of the most compelling aspects of Born of Illusion was Anna's relationship with her mother. Their relationship is a complicated one... Sometimes it feels as if their roles of mother and daughter have reversed, other times they appear to be nothing more than competitors. It was interesting to see how Anna reacted to her mother's often immature and petty actions that seemed motivated by jealousy and her fear of her daughter besting her. Still, as soon as Anna (and the reader) thinks her mother's motivations are clear, she seems protective and motherly, as if she only has Anna's best interests in mind.
It's clear that much of Anna's independence is born from necessity. Her mother, no matter her motivations, could never be called reliable. This independence serves her character and the book well. Anna is a capable and strong character, but not without weaknesses. She has a tendency to run from her things that overwhelm her and sometimes has irrational reactions to deep emotion, but she isn't afraid to own up to her shortcomings and she always gathers the strength to do what needs to be done.
The novel features a bit of a love triangle, but it's always clear who's truly in Anna's heart. Still, I liked that she considered both love interests. In some ways, Anna has lived a very adventuresome life (after all, she did travel with a circus troupe for some time), but, in what one may consider the "normal" life of a teenaged girl, she's a bit inexperienced. The two boys, who are very, very different from one another, show Anna different sides of New York... and of herself. Also, I liked that fact that Anna is the one who makes a misguided mistake and has to apologize, not the boy involved int he situation. It often feels like the situation is always reversed and it was good to see something different.
I'll definitely be reading the next book featuring Anna, Born of Deception, which is due out sometime in 2014. I don't know anything about it except the fact that it features Rasputin, but that's enough!