Book Review: Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

night circusTitle: Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Doubleday
Hardcover: 387 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

Within these nocturnal black-and-white striped tents awaits an utterly unique, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stare in wonderment as the tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and become deliciously tipsy from the scents of caramel and cinnamon that waft through the air.

Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves.

Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is under way–a contest between two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in a “game” to which they have been irrevocably bound by their mercurial masters. Unbeknownst to the players, 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.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I’ve been hearing about Night Circus for a while now, but there always seemed to be something else to read before I could read this (the dilemma when you have a long “to read” list). Also, whenever something becomes as popular as Night Circus, I’m more reluctant to read it, because I don’t want to be disappointed. (I’ve been burned before with Divergent, Twilight, etc., so popular books nearly always scare me when I first set out to read them.) However, this finally became available through OverDrive and I’d run out of excuses not to read it, so it was just time to get down to it. Luckily, there was no reason to worry.

The story itself is absolutely lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of reading it. It was one of those books where I couldn’t put it down, but I wanted to stretch out the experience so I could spend more time enjoying it — quite the dilemma when I’m reading a good book. It has a nice mix of realism along with fantasy, to the point where I could see it *almost* being reminiscent of magical realism, but it doesn’t quite hit that point. I think the way Morgenstern portrays the darker side of magic and the game/war between the two older magicians touches on a lot of deeply gruesome notes, and it kind of reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in regards to the dreaminess and darkness of the story itself. (But don’t worry! This novel isn’t nearly as long or as complicated. It’s much more to-the-point.)

I was worried when a romance started blooming in the book, but I think it was handled well. It was just whimsical enough to be believable, but not so overly dramatic that it annoyed me. The characters weren’t going crazy for each other and abandoning everything so that they could be together, which I really appreciated. This is the type of romance I want in young adult books. So, well done on Morgenstern for that.

The only thing that pulled me out of it is that I wasn’t quite sold on how the story is told. There were some chapters written in second person that I didn’t feel were relevant, and I’m not sure that the story was at all enhanced by the past-future switch that occasionally happens. Without those things niggling at me, this book would have been 5 stars for sure. Highly recommend. I’m trying to convince Andrew to listen to the audiobook version of this since it’s narrated by Jim Dale. Hopefully we can get a copy of that so he can listen to it soon, and then he can share his thoughts on the book!

Book Review: A Slip of the Keyboard – Collected Nonfiction by Terry Pratchett

slip of the keyboardTitle: A Slip of the Keyboard – Collected Nonfiction
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Doubleday
Hardcover: 323 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Terry Pratchett has earned a place in the hearts of readers the world over with his bestselling Discworld series — but in recent years he has become equally well-known and respected as an outspoken campaigner for causes including Alzheimer’s research and animal rights. A Slip of the Keyboard brings together for the first time the finest examples of Pratchett’s non fiction writing, both serious and surreal: from musings on mushrooms to what it means to be a writer (and why banana daiquiris are so important); from memories of Granny Pratchett to speculation about Gandalf’s love life, and passionate defences of the causes dear to him.

With all the humour and humanity that have made his novels so enduringly popular, this collection brings Pratchett out from behind the scenes of the Discworld to speak for himself — man and boy, bibliophile and computer geek, champion of hats, orangutans and Dignity in Dying.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I’ve unfortunately read too little of Terry Pratchett in the past years, and the only excuse for it is that I’ve been reading so much of everything else, which isn’t much of an excuse, I’ll admit. Luckily, my fiancé, Andrew, is a fan of his, so I’ve been delving a bit more into his work. (I’m currently reading Good Omens, which is turning out to be fantastic.)

I started this book for a few reasons:

  1. I have a bad habit of reading at work during the dead time in between appointments, and it’s better if I’m reading a collection of short stories or essays, because once I finish a short story, I’ve gotten my fix and I’m back to being productive and doing what I’m getting paid to do.
  2. It was available on OverDrive at my library.
  3. Andrew loves non-fiction, so I thought I’d read this to see if I thought he’d be interested in adding this to his to-read list, though I know that being with me has probably added a few too many books to that list. (Even though they are really just so good.)
  4. I think it’s interesting to know the person behind the writing, either before or after I’ve met that person through their stories. It’s a bit backwards from what traditionally happens in this case, but I think that I’ll be able to better appreciate his work now knowing some of his thoughts behind life, living, and stories.

I truly enjoyed this book. I agree with Pratchett on many things and reading the words of someone who loves words and stories so much is deeply gratifying. Some of these stories were sad, as he talks about his struggle with Alzheimer’s and his thoughts about assisted death, but I think he offers useful insights from his experiences. For those of us who have studied writing or write in some way, he puts a humorous viewpoint on how we get our work done and how we feel about it before, during, and afterwards, which I truly enjoy. I think that writing is at once a unique and universal thing — we all, after all, tell stories. Getting someone else’s viewpoint on the process is at once relieving and fascinating, as there are often so many similarities to my own experience with it.

Besides the similarities, though, I loved learning fun new facts about Pratchett and his life. Reading about his hat collection, adventures (or non-adventures) on book tours, and getting to know him a little bit better was a wonderful experience that I greatly appreciated.

The only complaint I had is that because of the way the book is set up, some of his thoughts and arguments become repetitive. In real life, nobody would have noticed, because he wrote these essays years, even decades apart, but having them collected together, sorted by theme, I felt like some of the essays were almost the same as the others. Not his fault, of course, and I didn’t enjoy the book any less, but if you’re going to read this, I do recommend taking your time through it so that you don’t feel frustrated with the repetition.

I recommend this to all writers, readers, and fans of Terry Pratchett. It’s a solid collection, and I can’t imagine there being anyone who wouldn’t enjoy at least two works from this book.

Favorite Quotes:

“Keep an eye on the trade press. When an editor moves on, immediately send your precious MS to his or her office, with a covering letter addressed to said departed editor. Say, in the tones of one engaged in a cooperative effort, something like this: ‘Dear X, I was very pleased to receive your encouraging letter indicating your interest in my book, and I have made all the changes you asked for.…’ Of course they won’t find the letter. Publishers can never find anything. But at least someone might panic enough to read the MS.”

“The first thing I do when I finish writing a book is start a new one. This was a course of action suggested, I believe, by the late Douglas Adams, although regrettably he famously failed to follow his own advice.

“People are magnificent research, almost the best there is. An old copper will tell you more about policing than a textbook ever will. An old lady is happy to talk about life as a midwife in the 1930s, a long way from any doctor, while your blood runs cold.”