There was a lot of hype surrounding Erin Morgenstern's 2011 debut novel but I honestly hadn't heard much of it when I bought the book (yes, yes I know...moreThere was a lot of hype surrounding Erin Morgenstern's 2011 debut novel but I honestly hadn't heard much of it when I bought the book (yes, yes I know, I must live in a cave). I'm glad I didn't though, because an over-hyped book can most times have a negative effect on my reading experience. Oddly enough, I knew I'd enjoy The Night Circus the moment I added it to my pile last August. I wasn't, however, prepared to fall head over heels in love with it.
If you're looking for a fast paced, action-packed fantasy about two magicians dueling it out at the circus Harry-Potter style, then this book is not for you. The Night Circus spans 30 years in the lives of two illusionists, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair. They are only children when the story begins; their rivaling guardians making an irrevocable pact to pit them against one another, each using their preferred method of magic and a circus as their choice of venue. Though the competition, nor the circus will come into play until many years later.
Celia and Marco essentially control the circus, like a chessboard, using the tents to move their pieces across it. Within each tent, they both employ their enchantments to create remarkable, awe-filled exhibits, yet both use different approaches to create their illusions. Marco's education being more intellectually infused, hours spent reading and deciphering texts, his magical intents are developed using books, charms, symbols and bindings very similar to that of witchcraft. Celia's strengths lie mainly with telekinesis and glamors. She excels as an illusionist working at the circus as well as in the competition, using manipulations solely with her mind without physical tokens or handbooks. Though they are taught how to hone their skills differently, they both grow up in severely lonely atmospheres. Both are adopted orphans who receive little or no empathy or physical affection from their instructors, only preparing them day-in and day-out for the time when they shall meet. At times, I was repulsed by Celia's father, Hector Bowen's measure of teaching, which involved cutting her and crushing her wrist as a way of teaching her to heal herself with her mind. Marco's foster father is not as cruel but more a cold, mysterious man who always wears a gray suit and never reveals anything whatsoever about himself to his son, not even his real name, preferring to be called Alexander. And preferring not to interact with Marco at all.
The circus is one of my favorite settings of any book I've ever read. Erin Morgenstern is a literary magician, creating divine masterpieces within the triangular tents striped in onyx and pearl. A circus that blooms at night rather than day; where everything and everyone is consumed in shades of black or white or grey properly; where it disappears and reappears erratically all over the world. I love the author's use of magical realism and the way she builds the world of the circus and the performances and attractions she forges for us to enjoy. It's like getting lost in a dreamworld that has no color but is still incredibly vibrant. There are some aspects of Le Cirque des Reves that are similar to a real circus; there are acrobats, aerialists, contortionists, a hall of mirrors, etc. but it mostly encloses extravagant dream-like features such as The Ice Garden (one of my faves and Celia's), made entirely of ice, snow and quiet calm; a cloud-maze; a never-ending bonfire that blazes white fire; a labyrinth-like construction that leads to room upon room of capricious, scenic domains and many more. The descriptions of the circus are written in beautiful, enriching prose that bring an instantaneous allure to her readers. It took me a long time to finish this book because I kept re-reading the passages, really wanting to be a character in this haven of wonderment.
There are no characters introduced in this story whose lives aren't affected by the circus. For Herr Thiessen, designer of the clock that sits inside the gates of the entrance, who became an aficionado of Le Cirque des Reves and unknowingly began the trend of the Reveurs, serious fans of the circus who followed it where ever its destination and wore the circus's signature colors with a splash of red to identify each other. For Poppet and Widget, two twins born on opening day and raised inside the circus, who will become important pieces in Marco and Celia's drawn out game that begins to cast negative circumstances on the people involved.
The time period is set between the late 1800s and the very early 1900s. The characters are all very eloquent and proper, dressed in suits, bowler hats and luxurious gowns and costumes. The way Marco courts Celia is old fashioned yet in a very flirtatious and suggestive manner, I was so smitten with the both of them. The storyline itself has a mysterious air to it; the timeline isn't organized, it jumps from past to future and back again. It doesn't necessarily take away from the story, you just have to pay attention to the dates at the beginning of each chapter. There are things about the characters that are not explained or elaborate explanations on the history behind the challenge that was destined for the main characters but as this book is almost 400 pages, I do not feel like those issues take away from the story at all.
The Night Circus is truly spellbinding. It was a favorite of mine before I was even finished reading it. As it is a book I will revisit many times, consider me a reveur.(less)
This book will blow your mind. I'm not kidding, you will literally have to hold onto your head while reading it. Laini Taylor is an amazing story-weav...moreThis book will blow your mind. I'm not kidding, you will literally have to hold onto your head while reading it. Laini Taylor is an amazing story-weaver. She wasted no space, not a single chapter was spared greatness. She took a mundane theme of angel versus devil, wrapped up in a Montague/Capulet scenario, and crafted a story filled with uniqueness and definition. You don't just fall in the love with the characters, you fall in love with the words she uses, with the descriptions of Prague, Morocco, and Elsewhere. You can't help but feel engaged in the past and present that's braided through the multiple worlds and characters, keeping you intrigued by the history and of what's to come next. It's nothing short of brilliant.
Karou. Hope. A blue haired girl with artist's hands, raised by a wishmonger with horns who gathers teeth and creates wishing stones. I loved her from the very beginning. She doesn't cower, waiting for someone else to save her and make things right again. She fights for what she wants and sets out to find the answers of how she came to be among the chimaeras and how to find a way to their world and find her family. Her relationships and conversations with her friends and family are so smooth and natural, I felt like they were all real people and the chemistry between her and Akiva is well-developed and believable. He is the most beautiful man Karou (or anyone) has ever seen but he is deeply flawed, a child of war and full of vengeance. And then there's all the stuff at the end, the twists and mysteries solved that I won't write about since I try to keep my reviews spoiler-free.
I don't know what else to say except that I LOVED this book. Period. Point. Blank. If you pass on this, you will be missing out on one of the best reads of 2011. This is a such a beautifully enriched and dark novel and I don't think many people would be disappointed by it, as long as you like meaningful characters, glorifying plots, lyrical prose, mystical beings and fantasy. Smoke and Bone is a not just a story about an angel and a devil. It's so much more. It's about love, hope, destiny, family, war, power and magic. (less)
Wikipedia's description of the Freak Observer Also known as Boltzmann Brain, named after Ludwig Boltzmann, the physicist. A hypothesized self-aware ent...moreWikipedia's description of the Freak Observer Also known as Boltzmann Brain, named after Ludwig Boltzmann, the physicist. A hypothesized self-aware entity which arises due to random fluctuations out of a state of chaos...(say what???)
Loa Lindgren's description of the Freak Observer "Everything has been simplified to a purple cereal bowl sitting on the table of time and space. Inside the big bowl are other, tinier bowls. Each little bowl is a universe. In a little blue bowl, there is a tiny Earth. The little blue cereal bowl is our visible universe. There are many little naked brains floating in the big purple bowl. They look like little tan walnuts, the brains do. Some are curled like chicks inside the shells of little bowls, but others are just "out there" in nothing. Those little brains floating all alone are the Freak Observers. Their job is to observe what we do not."
My description of The Freak Observer An extraordinary, award-winning contemporary young adult novel written by Blythe Woolston.
My review will not do this book justice, but here goes:
I loved this book so much and it's one of the best I've ever read. Every part of it. Every line. Every word. As I turned page after page, my reading became much slower. Because I didn't want it to end. Okay, okay, you get the idea. Why did I heart this book so much? Loa. Loa Lindgren. And I thank the author for creating her. I was absolutely absorbed with her and her perspective on the pain and tragedy in her life. She reminded me of one of my all-time favorite characters, Miss Melinda Sordino. Some would say this book could be a little weird but I 'm weird so it was perfect for me.
Loa suffers from PSTD. Post-traumatic stress disorder, brought on by the death of her sister, Asta and her best friend, Esther. She has terrible nightmares and hallucinations of body parts and a boogie man called The Bony Guy. She doesn't do so well in therapy so she makes up her own routine to keep these horrible things from happening all the time. She doesn't sleep, she tries to avoid certain smells and places that are triggers. She hardly speaks to anyone and is withdrawn. She's just kind of there, taking up space and matter, turning into a freak observer.
It's perplexing how Loa compares, initiates, and conceives everything based on physics, science and math. There is a logical explanation for everything and she hardly reacts or feels with emotional comprehension. She tries to find reasoning behind Esther mysteriously running straight in front of an oncoming truck. If she meant to or was it an accident? And she describes her home life as an orrery, a science model used to show how the solar system rotates. She places Asta in the middle, representing the sun and her family orbiting around her, as the planets. She is their light and they function in accordance to her existence. Asta suffered from Rett's syndrome and when she passed away, her family fell out of sync with their designated areas and drifted off into their own private emptiness.
If you love Laurie Halse Anderson (which I do), then you probably should check this one out. I only borrowed it from the library because it looked like a short, fast read but I ended up seriously mesmerized by this tiny novel. It can be depressing at times and there isn't a lot of closure at the end but it's more about the character's personality, voice and development during serious and traumatic issues than structured plot points.
"The important thing to remember is that this is normal--for crazy people. I even know its name: intrusive imagery. Esther's bloody heart isn't now, nor has it ever been, in the laundry basket. It's just a glitch in my brain. My programming is missing a breakpoint, and I'm stuck in an infinite loop. It's a processing problem, a stray spark lost in the dirty Jell-O inside my head."
"My dad used to tell me lots of stories about when he was a kid. Now he doesn't. He hardly talks at all. We walk past each other like ghosts. Sometimes I wonder if I died when Asta died, but I didn't notice."
"It is sort of like reading, once you learn to read, you can't look at a word and not read it. Even if you leave out letters, your brain will fill in the places and make a word and make it make sense. The constellations are like words I know how to read. I can't 'not see' them."(less)
Would you believe me if I said I never heard of John Green before I started blogging? Well, it's true. Even after the fact, I still passed his books b...moreWould you believe me if I said I never heard of John Green before I started blogging? Well, it's true. Even after the fact, I still passed his books by at the library and at the store, making mental notes to read one, at some point, later on. Which, of course, was completely absurd of me. No, no, no. One does not put off greatness of these measures. I suggest none of you follow my example and when you come across a John Green book, devour it immediately. Especially if you love contemporary YA (really knock-you-over-with-a-stick contemporary YA). Looking for Alaska is a rounded, hefty, thought-provoking piece of brilliance.
Miles, nicknamed "Pudge" (because he's so not), makes a decision to move to Alabama to attend the same boarding school as his father, in search of the "Great Perhaps". His life in Florida is mundane and he hungers for the opportunity to make memories with friends and have the same experiences his father always anecdotes to him. Although his situation at Culver Creek isn't ideal, he does acquire the friendships he needs to make his stay there more exciting: Chip "The Colonial" is his roommate and his best friend, who guides Pudge with his eccentric and deathly honest knowledge on life. Alaska is the hot girl Pudge crushes hard on, who's mood swings drive him crazy but so does her body and her flirting skills. And Takumi is the cool Asian kid who's just chill to be around. With all the smoking, drinking, the laughs and the pranks, Pudge's venture into the "Great Perhaps" seems to be a success. Until he wakes up one morning to learn about Alaska's death. Now he's left searching for solutions to the riddles Alaska left behind: Why she left? Was it suicide? Was it an accident? Who's to blame? And how will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?
Looking for Alaska is cut into two parts. Before Alaska dies and after. So the whole time you're reading the Before, you know she's not going to live to see the second part of the book. However, it still hit me like a ton of bricks when she was gone. The chapters mark off the days left before she dies and the closer I got to "one day before" the more I really didn't want it to happen. By then, I'd grown to love their foursome and couldn't see them getting ripped apart. I loved all the characters but if I had to pick one favorite it would be The Colonial. I loved his southern humor. But I also loved how much Pudge had transformed by the end of the book. He'd really grown up and became more insightful about the choices and problems life can throw at us.
This book is weighed down with very heavy issues like death, religion, guilt and consequences. And the whole time I was reading I couldn't help feeling like John Green was a teacher and I was learning philosophies on life and suffering. In the back of the book there is an awesome Q&A, where the author talks about Looking for Alaska being semi-autobiographical and the invincibility of teenagers. I do remember feeling very invincible when I was a teen and in my early 20s but now as an adult, it's been replaced with the utter fear that I could die any second. Oh, how times have changed...
Looking for Alaska is not a book you should just pass over. It has fun, memorable characters and John Green is an exceptional writer. I quoted so many passages in my book, I had to stop and just tell myself I to re-read it. It's that good.
Cover Story: I've seen many different covers for Looking for Alaska and I have to say I'm disappointed with all of them. None of them have the right "feel" for this book.(less)
"It's crank. Meth. The Monster. It's a bitch on the body, but damn do you fly."
This book took my breath away. I loved it, yet terrified of it all at t...more"It's crank. Meth. The Monster. It's a bitch on the body, but damn do you fly."
This book took my breath away. I loved it, yet terrified of it all at the same time. Kristina is the pretty caged bird with the entity of a fierce hawk living deep within her. When she flies from her perfect Nevada life to the seamy lows of New Mexico to visit her absentee father, trying to establish a relationship between them. Little did she know she would be left to fill her days with her own devices. In a new place, where nobody knows her, where she doesn't have to be perfect Kristina. She can be whomever she wants. She can have a demon. And Bree, her alter-ego is that demon, trapped in a box. And meth was the key to unleashing her. She's the gremlin that got fed after midnight. And she helps "the monster" wreck havoc on Kristina's life, faltering every decision she makes. In those few months in which the story takes place, the person she was would be swept away on gritty yellow lines, until even her own family couldn't recognize her anymore.
There are many YA novels that touch on the same topics of teens mixing with drugs and sex but Hopkins's phenomenal writing and word play, makes Crank stand out from the rest. This being my first encounter with fiction written in verse, I must say, it made it extremely hard for me not to bond with Kristina and her struggle with addiction. Line after line stayed with me long after I closed the book, circling around inside my head like dark blistering paper planes. The emotion shown through Kristina's eyes is so real, so honest, that it burns right through the skin until you're at the last page and all you are is a skeleton. No longer shadowed by the protection of living flesh and ignorance. What made me connect with the Kristina so much more is knowing that she's a real life person (Hopkins wrote this based very loosely on her daughter). I know this was a hard story to tell and for a mother to tell it about her own child makes it damn near impossible. Ellen Hopkins shows an incredible strength and I applaud her for sharing with us her most intimate nightmare about how "the monster" transformed her family. How she took all that pain, grated it against sharp-edged words and scattered the shavings across paper to make Crank. I know she has touched many young reader's lives with this novel and the ones that followed it.
In short, Crank is exceptional. Not many books have touched my heart the way this one did. Glass and Fallout are continuations of Kristina's battle with drugs and I can't wait to read both.(less)