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I’m still figuring out how to be an author in a public forum, so I’d like to apologize in advance if this comes off as strange or nonsensical. But as long as I have a blog, I might as well talk about books, and talking about my own books all the time is more than a little egotistical. (Not to mention boring.) So this is the inaugural post of a new tag: What I’m Reading.

Most of my reads won’t be new releases. I grab things off the shelf based on my current interests, research needs, or just because it has a good title. I’m a sucker for a good title.

So here’s what I’ve been reading in the month of September.

This is Magic, Will Dexter (1958) Experienced magician Will Dexter takes the reader through the fundamentals of stage magic: card tricks, number tricks, cups and balls, The Lady Vanishes, and the history and mechanics of each. Not everything is revealed–that would be impossible in such a short book–but Mr. Dexter’s lively writing makes this a friendly, funny introduction to the magician’s art.

This book also provides what I think is a very useful maxim for anyone who wants to create or entertain. “A new principle in magic is a very rare novelty. But a new effect–that’s a different thing altogether!” (p. 47) As it is with magic, so it is with fiction. As my father loves to point out, The Lion King and Hamlet both have the same basic plot, but their effects are definitely different!

Thunderstruck, Erik Larson (2007) I was drawn to Mr. Larson’s book The Devil in the White City (2004) by my love of Chicago history, and I was drawn to Thunderstruck by my love of The Devil in the White City. Here Mr. Larson follows a similar path to Devil, interweaving the story of a creator and a destroyer as they move into the same orbit. This time the creator is Guglielmo Marconi, father of the wireless telegraph, and the destroyer is famous wife-murderer Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen.

The dynamic here is different, though. Devil had a kind of moral starkness to it, contrasting a great architect’s dream of human achievement to the eerie movements of a sociopathic serial killer. Thunderstruck is more shades of gray: Mr. Larson’s Marconi is also great, but he comes across as careless, unpleasant and egotistic, while we watch Dr. Crippen slowly buckle under the weight of his wife’s hostility. It’s a more intimate portrait of its two leads, and in some ways it’s more frightening.

Thunderstruck was sometimes hard for me to read. But is it a good book? Yes. Oh, yes.

The Duchess War, Courtney Milan (2013) Holy mood whiplash, Batman! I probably shouldn’t have listed these books alphabetically by author. But Courtney Milan’s work entertained me so much that I couldn’t not list her.

I bought one of the more recent releases of her Brothers Sinister series, The Suffragette Scandal, after a glowing review on Smart Bitches Trashy Books. And I loved it. Bright, snappy characters, colorful historical detail, a romance centered around two leads who can make mistakes without being annoying–The Suffragette Scandal was pretty much my Platonic ideal of a historical romance. Of course that was a bit of a problem, because now I have to go back and read the whole series in order. Woe is me.

The Duchess War features a shrinking-violet heroine who’s hiding from a rather scandalous past, playing off against a young duke dabbling in pro-labor rabblerousing. Neither of the leads knows exactly what they’re getting into when they meet, but things rapidly get out of control and … well, spoilers. But Courtney Milan is now on my auto-buy list.