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How serendipitous – I return from my own blogging disappearance to share my thoughts on the debut novel, THE ART OF DISAPPEARING.

My own disappearance is nothing like in the novel – I didn’t travel to another dimension or get lost in a hidden pocket of space or have a spur-of-the-moment wedding in Vegas (though I think my mom wondered when I called her quite late from the Caribbean!)… But we are not Toby and Mel.

Toby Warring and Mel Snow have a relationship that began unconventionally – having met in a desolate diner in a small town in Nevada, just outside the circle of the Vegas lights then married within 48 hours upon arrival in Sin City (sober, I’m compelled to add).  Toby is not merely a magician who pulls rabbits out of hats, but has the ability to create his own magic not relying on illusions and tricks of the eye.  Mel accepts Toby’s abilities/magic without reluctance (I’m a big fan of magic myself, but this was more than mind tricks and into the realm of paranormal – I would definitely have been a little more freaked out about his abilities – except white wine to red and vice versa sounds fun).

The paranormal comes from more than just Toby’s abilities. Though he has no malicious intent (no black magic here), he doesn’t always have control over his abilities. Most notably, he lost his past assistant and girlfriend Eva in the middle of a magic trick. Though Mel’s career seems more grounded in reality (less “woo woo,” as Catherine Coulter would say), she can hear fabrics sing to her.

The woman behind the beautiful prose

A little odd right?  A magician with real abilities and a consultant who can hear fabrics sing.  A story that may have unraveled or gone up in smoke (lame puns intended), debut author Ivy Pochoda has a way with words that keeps the story moving.  She lyrically and poetically describes magic in a way that makes this novel less “woo woo” (as Catherine Coulter would say) and crafts into a love story grounded in reality… if you’re willing to bend your imagination to contend with hidden “pockets” in the air, into which people and objects magically appear and also hide.

I think the characters were drawn together over shared loneliness.  Both were haunted by happenings in their past – Toby his missing assistant along with the tragedy that happened in Vegas, and Mel with her brother that feel too deeply in love with water.  I wanted more between the characters – it never clicked to me as to why they were together; what compelled them to love the other.  And maybe that’s why it ended the way it did (I don’t want to ruin anything – read it  yourself!) – because it was more a relationship of timing and the shared need to shed loneliness than a real partnership

I’m thrilled that TLC Book Tours introduced me to the writing of Ivy Pochoda – Marilyn Dahl of Shelf Awareness says it best with “Ivy Pochoda has written a lyrical novel that will enchant you with a love story and with poetic, evocative prose.”

You can connect with Ivy on her website or on Facebook, and I highly suggest you visit other reviews of this enchanting debut novel on the TLC tour found here.

My Vegas flush (excuse the 5am pic circa 2006)

I like to think I’m lucky.

Take me to Vegas, and it’s probably I’ll win you money (really, a Jack and a two is a winning hand for me in Texas Hold ‘Em).  I enjoy the thrill of betting, though get just as excited over penny slots as hundred dollar bets (well, maybe that’s a stretch, but not having lots of extra $$ I’d have a heart attack before winning if lots was at stake).

I also love brackets.  Wayyyy more than basketball.  But year after year, I tend to perform well in brackets knowing nothing about the sport (see above: I’m lucky).

Luckily, in this month o’ brackets, I have more options from which to choose, and on a subject I’m knowledgeable: Books!

The Morning News is at it again with their new Tournament of Books (#ToB for your Tweeters).  I’m engaged: THE HELP has already beat LOWBOY, and LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN has overtaken Nami Munn’s lovely debut, MILES FROM NOWHERE (which I read when it first came out in hardcover and found it to be amazing).

Not only are books just as exciting as basketball (or more-so, in some cases), these “competitions” are judged by well-written experts.  After reading Rosecran Baldwin’s review of why he chose McCann instead of Munn, I’ve already ordered LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN and am eagerly anticipating its arrival.

On a side note, Baldwin happens to be the author of an upcoming Riverhead title, YOU LOST ME THERE (August 12), which has officially climbed up on my TBR stack after having read, and loved, his thoughts and style.

Now that you’re hooked on the ToB, who do you think will win?

Onto Bracket #2!  The fabulous Jen Forbus over at Jen’s Book Thoughts, is hosting a bracket for the “World’s Favorite Detective” tournament!

I tried to revisit the bracket to give you a better rundown, but her techie site seems to think I’m trying to stack the vote (which I may have considered) and won’t let me back in.  No worries, as I can about guarantee your favorite detective is included!

From classics like Agatha Christie’s Hercules, to the contemporary and swoon-worthy Elvis Cole, this bracket reads like the “who’s who of crime fiction.”  Voting in Round One is occasionally like “Sophie’s Choice” – how can you reasonably choose between Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton) and V.I. Warshawski (Sara Paretsky).


But, as you’ve probably noticed, after touting my “lucky” status, I’m not about to jinx myself and share my predictions on the book brackets!  I’ll be sure to let you know how my predictions (jotted down in a post-it somewhere) turn out…

The other night a group of 11 of us girls got together for a 25th birthday dinner for a friend.  Quartino’s, the fun Gold Coast spot we chose for shared small-plates and affordable wine was smart enough to seat our loud-chattering and wine-induced crowd into our own private, window enclosed room.  In which we could look through the glass at the other diners if we so chose, or had the option of pulling the shades, making out own secret room.  Romantic? Maybe with a different crowd.  Prestigious? Potentially, if we weren’t buying the cheapest liters of house wine from the menu.  Secretive?  Definitely.  My mind immediately went to the “Mob-like” activities that could have, and most likely did, occur in similar rooms throughout Chicago in the 1990s.

“Most cities have one overriding claim to fame.  Say Los Angeles and you think about the movies; say Paris, you think art; Detroit, cars.  But when people the world over, say Chicago, they think of something less marketable:  Organized Crime.” -Robert Cooley

Since I’ve been unemployed, I’ve had time to wander the city (please note my updated To Do: Chicago list) and really have begun to appreciate the history that’s apparent on every street.  To delve into the past, I’ve decided to embark on a trip down the darker side of Chicago, that of the Mob, and Robert Cooley, cited above, is the rabble-rousing teenager -> policeman -> lawyer -> crooked lawyer -> government informant who is the source to take us behind the scenes of the once all-powerful Chicago Outfit.

Certain aspects of mob life are rather appealing… The glitz and glamour, bottles of champagne (as opposed to the house wine!) at all the hottest bars and clubs, the notoriety and special attention, almost like a modern day celebrity with an underlying aspect of danger (Chris Brown, anyone?!)… But of course, that’s ignoring the drugs, violence, total un-loyalty and the all too common occurrence of being unaware you’re being treated to your last supper before being violently disposed of in a very inhumane way, most likely by a trusted confidant.

This is a memoir/autobiography told from one immersed in the mob, and character_cooleynot always on the right side of the law – When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down.

Robert Cooley was the “Mechanic” for the Chicago Mafia – nothing to do with cars, he was the lawyer responsible for buying judges and guaranteeing a “Not Guilty” verdict for hitmen and gamblers alike.  In return for his services, Cooley enjoyed protected as well as a steady influx of cash to feed any vice in which he chose to indulge, and there were many.

I tend to be naive, but I believe that even for those jaded, cynical people, the depth of corruption was shocking – from the police force to government officials, the Mob had ties, and typically high-ranking officials, in every office.

Harry Aleman in 1977. He was the Outfit’s top Hit Man, "the killing machine."

The Outfit’s top Hit Man, "the killing machine."

In an inexplicable attack of conscience, Cooley strolled into the office of the FBI’s Organized Crime Strike Force and turned the tables on the mob, wearing a wire from 1986-1989, eventually becoming responsible for more than 30 convictions.

An intense book about a piece of Chicago’s history many would rather was forgotten, this is a nail-biting tale that manages to drag the reader in even though Cooley isn’t always likable.  I guess to put your life in danger with a notoriously violence group who will put a $1MM reward on your head takes a cocky man, and Cooley definitely fits the bill.

Read this if: You’re into gangster lore, crime stories, Chicago’s history, or are still upset The Sopranos went off-air.

Avoid this if: You believe justice is always served fair and equal, and want to remain believe so.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B+
  • Title: When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down
  • Author: Robert Cooley with Hillel Levin
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers, an imprint of Avalon

NovelWhore rambling: Much of this book takes place in my Gold Coast neighborhood, and I have to admit my over-active imagination has been taking me places with every well-dressed man I see walking down the street, especially those with an entourage and a bulge (imagined? possibly…) beneath a suit jacket that could very likely be a gun… Could a group so in-charge and infamous as recent as the 1990s be really be made obsolete?  I can’t help wondering what lucrative business deals the mob has a hold on now, though I like to believe they have refocused their sites on the less-popular prostitution and gambling rings and the courts are now clean… Thoughts?!

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