A Book Review: Just Read It

Celia is the young daughter of a world famous magician and Marco is an orphan, plucked from an orphanage by a mysterious stranger. Unbeknownst to these children, their guardians have enlisted them in a duel to the death in a battle of magical might to be showcased in a traveling night circus. Celia and Marko display their talents by constructing ever more elaborate magic in the black and white tents of the circus. Before they discover the grave consequences of the game they’re playing, they find each other and fall in love, using the circus to demonstrate their devotion to one another. Meanwhile the romantic misfits of the world simultaneously fall in love with their creations forming a devout following of writers, artists, and dreamers.

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is a visually stunning debut novel full of fantasy and romance. The imagery evokes the art and films of Tim Burton with an eclectic cast of quirky characters and every visual element of the circus clad in only black, white, and grey hues. Morgenstern takes us to the mystical atmosphere of 19th century Europe while adding her own creative flair in the intricate details while the story as a whole makes a moving statement regarding the power of art on the beholder. I agree with one of her characters who says, “The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.”

My only complaint about this story regards the character of Celia. Although I admire her independence and intelligence, I’m getting tired of reading about female characters whose stories center on their rebellions and/or devotions to male characters. Celia’s whole life is spent reacting to the men in her life. She takes control and uses her brain to face all challenges and I respect and admire the author for that portrayal of a strong woman. But I would have loved to see one scene where she was acting in total independence and not in reaction to a man.

 

A Book Review: Just Read It

A powerful princess of the Jinn (or genie) world falls in love with a human philosopher and spawns a race of humans that will play a key role in an impending war between the human world and the Fairy world. In the 21st century, a revolution erupts against the Jinn who escape their realm in order to conquer and terrorize humanity. Told from our ancestors point of view 1001 years in the future and inspired by Islamic mythology and theology, this is a layered and complex story with a wide range of characters. It is a whimsical tale full or popular culture references and humor but mixed with dazzling moments of philosophical insight. However, I will say this isn’t a book for readers looking for a straightforward and linear plot. Prepare yourself for stories within stories and digressions within digressions.

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A Year in Book Review: 2016’s Favorite Fiction

Super Sad & Symbolic Shipping News (3 out of 5)

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Set at the time of writing in the 1990s, Annie Proulx’s second novel, The Shipping News, follows thirty-six year old Quoyle from his small hometown in New York on his quest to escape his tragic past. He moves to his ancestral home in Newfoundland, Canada, with his tough, no-nonsense aunt in hopes of providing his two young daughters with happier childhoods than his own. Quoyle joins a crew of quirky locals in writing a small newspaper in the fishing town of Killic-Claw. Assigned to report on car wrecks and shipping news, Quoyle slowly finds his voice while creating a home capable of housing love without pain.

The novel was written in a distinctly modern style, often mirroring the headline style of the newspaper articles Quoyle writes, providing bullet point factual accounts of the action. Although this was effective, I did find it distracting at times as I kept rereading in search of missing subjects or articles. While the plot takes a hopeful and uplifting turn towards the conclusion, the majority of the novel focuses on somber themes including lengthy descriptions of setting that are dense with symbolism. I think it was a challenging and worthwhile read, but one that makes you work and throws in some dark twists and turns. It’s not one for the beach.

 

Amazingly Imaginative All Soul’s Trilogy (4 out of 5)

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Two scholars at Oxford seem to have nothing in common until they discover their mutual interest in an elusive enchanted manuscript hidden in the Bodleian Library.  Matthew Clairemont and Diana Bishop are two stubborn and strong-willed opposites who quickly fall for each other as they team up to find the manuscript. Written by new novelist and historian, Deborah Harkness, The All Souls Trilogy is a unique combination of genres. One part popular fantasy where vampires and witches are real, one part science fiction where the vampire is a renowned geneticist and the witch can time travel, and one part history lesson where we learn about New England witch trials and journey to Elizabethan London.

As a sucker for unlikely romances between outcasts, of course I fell in love with this series. But even so, I found some scenes too cheesy or dramatic to take seriously and found myself laughing a bit instead. I also thought the obvious attempts to compare monsters and witches ostracism to the modern day plight of homosexuals a little heavy-handed. Although I agree with the message that love in any form or grouping is a major positive, I think the delivery could have been more subtle. It just felt a little too after-school-special. There were also times the plot became a little predictable due to it’s structural similarities to Twilight. But I will say I was happily surprised at the feminist aspects that were nowhere to be found in Twilight. In fact, the strong female characters and relationships are my favorite part of the series.

Simon Rich’s Silly and Smart Short Stories (5 out of 5)

The Last Girlfriend on Earth: And Other Love Stories

Simon Rich is a Harvard graduate, a former SNL writer, a former Pixar staff writer, and co-creator of my favorite show on television, Man Seeking Woman. I read four of his short story collections this year including Ant Farm & Other Desperate Situations, The Last Girlfriend on Earth: & Other Love Stories, Spoiled Brats, and Free Range Chickens. Rich has a talent for summing up the Millennial experience in hilarious, concise, and unexpected stories.

On one page you’re reading about the futile existence of video game villains dying off after three punches, on the next you’re reading about the fantasy of putting your parents through the excruciatingly awkward situations of your youth, like  inviting over their entire office for their birthday so as not to exclude anyone, or insisting on impromptu performances of their talents to impress your friends. One story describes Zeus’s inability to reign in a rebellious Cupid who would rather learn to rap than spread love. The ideas are so clever and original. I loved every collection and laughed out loud all the way through. Simon Rich is a new favorite.