Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Book: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Doubleday
Release date: September 13, 2011
Source: Borrowed from local library, then bought

Summary: (from Goodreads) The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underwayâ??a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into loveâ??a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

First impressions: Opening a debut novel in 2nd person narrative is ballsy. But, oh man, did it work in this case. By introducing the reader to the wonder that is this night circus through gorgeous prose and the immediacy of the perspective, we are hooked from the first sentence. The circus arrives without warning.

Lasting impressions: I relished this book in a way that rarely happens for me – slowly. For the week I spent reading it, I rarely thought of anything else, yet I prolonged the reading experience in order to get the most out of it. This is a book that inspires reflection in all of the best ways, and rewards you for taking the time to read every word carefully. The story builds slowly, but purposefully, until the exciting climax threatens to turn the entire world of these characters upside down. It’s a beautiful journey to witness.

Conflicting impressions: I confess that I read all of the negative reviews of this book first. Surely no book could live up to the kind of magical hype this book has had heaped upon it, right? So I read the most blistering, scathing reviews, preparing myself for a slow, boring, overly dense novel with wooden characters and little action. And you know what I got? Subtle characters deftly written by a master puppeteer. Erin Morgenstern fills the pages with lush details, yes, but they all serve to inform us about the characters and the setting. I understood this world so well that I wanted to live in it for as long as possible, which is why I took so damn long to finish it. And why I bought a copy for my shelf the day before I returned my library book. I didn’t want a single day to go by without having this book in my possession.

Overall impressions: This book is magical, but not because it contains magic. This is not Harry Potter. Our young protagonists learn magic through natural ability and frustrating lessons by their parental figures – no straightforward schoolteachers to be found. They learn through trial and error, cruelty, and their own perseverance and curiosity.

Celia and Marco do not spend a lot of time in each other’s company, and as readers we are often much more knowledgeable than our characters. For me, this made the plot that much more enjoyable, as I had an inkling of where the story was going, but no idea how it was going to get there. As the story unfolded, I was more than willing to go along for the ride. This is a novel you either succumb to completely, or resign yourself to frustration. I think by the end of the first few chapters any reader will be able to tell if this is the book for him/her.

The Night Circus has rich period details, lots of colorful characters, and more than a handful of intrigue. This was not only one of my favorite books of the year, but one of my favorite books, period. If you’re looking to be entertained by something truly fresh and surprising, you must get your hands on this one.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

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Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Book: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release date: September 27, 2011
Source: ARC received from Around the World Tours
Series: Untitled sequel planned for Fall 2012

Summary: (from Goodreads) Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grow dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languagesâ??not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangersâ??beautiful, haunted Akivaâ??fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

First impressions: There are some books that make their greatness known from the first sentence. This is one of those books.

Lasting impressions: I will never be able to do this book justice through my clumsy attempts at a review. Laini Taylor’s work stands on its own, and this is definitely my favorite book of the year.

Conflicting impressions: Ha! It is absolutely laughable that I could even think of offering up a criticism of this phenomenal book.

Overall impressions: As I said on Twitter last night, JUST GO BUY IT!

There’s really not much more I can say other than that. Go buy it. You won’t be disappointed.

Karou does double duty in this one, functioning as both a normal art student in Prague and an errand girl for the mysterious monsters who summon her to fetch teeth. Yes, teeth. This is not your average paranormal.

And that is why I fell in love so hard. This book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Is there any greater compliment you can pay a writer than telling them their work is inspiringly unique?

Laini Taylor, I bow down to you.

Karou and the bizarre world she inhabits are intensely captivating. I could barely stand to put this book down. I relished every word, and the suspense of not knowing what would happen at any given moment was exhilarating. Finally, a book that can genuinely surprise me!

Who is Karou? Why did Brimstone raise her? Why does she gather teeth from all over the world for him? Why is Akiva out to destroy her?

The answers to these questions are half the fun of the novel. I was in no hurry to find this information, and waited patiently for our blue-haired heroine to figure it out for herself. In the last third we are treated to a glimpse into lost memories, as Karou starts to put the pieces of her disjointed life together. There is more emotion packed into the final pages of this book than in the last 10 books I read combined.

This book is haunting, magical, strange, glorious, and beautiful.

JUST GO BUY IT.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system



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