I'm sure that it's becoming apparent from my reviews that I am a Nora Roberts fan. English Lit degree to the contrary, I like light summer reading just as much as the next person; I just don't like feeling that I'm killing millions of brain cells while I read. Roberts bridges the gap nicely; writing romance novels with enough detail and research to keep the reader entertained as well as conscious. One of her finest books, in my opinion, is Honest Illusions, originally published in 1992.
::: Family of the Heart :::
Honest Illusions begins in the present, then flashes back to the past to give history before jumping back. Luke Callahan is a runaway; escaped from a life that makes Oliver Twist's look like Pollyanna by comparison. As he is picking pockets at a carnival, he is lured into the show of Max Nouveau, a magician. Max spots Luke in the audience plying his craft, and asks him backstage. He recognizes in Luke a kindred spirit, and offers to bring him along with the carnival, hiring him as a behind-the-scenes person, but treating him like a son.
Luke is soon drawn into Max's "family" including his daughter Roxanne, girlfriend/assistant Lily, mechanic Mouse, and, back home in New Orleans, a seeming cook and butler, LeClerc. It isn't long before Luke realizes that Max has more than one career: by day he owns the carnival and has his magic act, but by night, Max and company are accomplished jewel thieves. Luke learns to trust, as well as learns both of Max's crafts, and as he grows up, Max becomes more and more famous for his act while Luke beings to think of Roxy as less and less of a sister and more and more as a woman.
Still, Luke has a past that haunts him, and makes a few enemies along the way. When the book opens, he has returned to Roxanne after a five-year unexplained absence. But Luke has plans to seek revenge on his enemies, as well as get Roxanne back. Of course, Roxanne has a few surprises of her own.
::: I'll Admit It; I've Read It Several Times :::
Honest Illusions is probably my favorite Roberts book of all times, and I've read it more times than I care to admit. Roberts is at her finest with character development in this book, involving the reader in all their lives. Even seemingly minor characters aren't given short shrift, and Roberts' handle on both the carnival life as well as planning and executing jewel theft is absolutely incredible.
I'll confess that I usually read most romance novels with a jaded eye, treating them almost as if they were potato chips, indistinct from one another. I'd challenge any person to read this book and not cry at points, not root for Luke upon his return, and not gasp with shock and horror when Roberts reveals the reason for Luke's desertion.
The Nouveau troupe isn't the first time Roberts has made a major character or characters thieves, but she imbues them with such a sense of decency that you can't help but root for them and against those they steal from. Max even goes so far as to tithe profit from the sale of the items that he steals, and seeing him give Luke the love and care that he should have had all along will break any parent's heart.
If there is one single Roberts book that anyone curious should read, it should be Honest Illusions. Others are excellent as well, but this one is definitely one of her best, if not the best.
I originally reviewed this book years ago, and even that was years after I read it. I re-read it for possibly the 100th time this past week, beginning it while I was in New Orleans, after walking through the French Quarter. Roberts' ability to recreate setting in such a way that the reader can see where the characters are is impressive; I'd been able to picture New Orleans exactly as it is based on this book. Upon re-reading, it's still a favorite, and will probably be forever.
This review previously published at Goodreads.