Book Review | The Night Circus

I finished The Night Circus this week. When I read The Starless Sea in February and didn’t enjoy it, a bunch of readers told me to read this one, promising that it would be a different, much better experience. They weren’t wrong … but they weren’t entirely right either.

The Night Circus

A little more about The Night Circus:

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 underway—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 love—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.

My thoughts

I will start my review by reflecting on the synopsis (above) because that was my largest issue with the book. I can’t help but wonder if the person who wrote the synopsis read the book. Did the author write her own synopsis? Did she realize it didn’t match the book she wrote? Who wrote the synopsis?!

After reading the book description, I expected to be thrown into a world with magical duels … but this “fierce competition” in the book is anything but. Sure, the “remarkable battle of imagination and will” is a little more accurate, but if you’re expecting anything fast-paced and exciting, you won’t get that with this book. You’ll just witness two characters who create tents and magical things for each other and call that fierce competition. Really lame and very flat.

Speaking of flat, Celia and Marco “tumbling” in love … eh? Yeah, when they touch hands things happen, but the characters are so two-dimensional that their love for each other seems forced and only for plot purposes. One moment, they are talking and clearly interested in each other for “competition” purposes. The next, they are hiding and kissing and in love with no context in-between. Not to mention, their first interaction and second “in love” interaction happens in a span of three years. Yeesh. I was lost.

This book promises a high stakes, competition-driven, heartbreaking romance, but the execution of the book was saturated. Don’t get me wrong — Morgenstern knows how to write flowery prose that captures your attention, but it’s almost used as a guise to hide her lack of skill in details and plot cohesion. So, again, the same issues that I found in The Starless Sea (her later work), were ever so present in The Night Circus. Lame. I don’t want to read a book JUST for its beautiful language. Especially if it is lacking in all of the areas that make it … a book?

Everything just seemed so fragmented, from the disconnect to the basic premise of the book to the disjointed storyline. Bouncing between timelines got very confusing . I kind of stopped paying attention because I just couldn’t keep track of the dates and times anymore. It got too much.

I am still working through my emotions here, but I liked the world that she created and the magic within the text. Despite all of the characters being flat, despite the lack of duel or anything of that nature, despite the not-so-convincing love story between Celia and Marco, I still read it in a few days. On Sunday, I read about 300 pages, not putting it down until it was completed. I just wish the author would pay more attention to her characters and plot.

After this experience, I have decided not to read any more of her books — even if she writes fantasy books.

Anyone else? Who has read The Night Circus? Did you love it or hate it? Do you agree or disagree with my views?

Book Review | The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite books that I’ve read all year: The Rose Code by Kate Quinn.

If you’ve been following along, I’ve read a few duds this year. And after a few blahs last month, I decided to craft my November TBR with my favorite genres in mind: historical fiction and fantasy.

So far this month, I’ve read Vicious by V.E. Schwab (which I really enjoyed; I won’t review that one until I read Vengeful later this month) and then this beauty, The Rose Code.

A little bit about The Rose Code:

1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to the mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, a product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.

1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter–the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings danger–and their true enemy–closer…

My thoughts

The Rose Code was everything I wanted in a historical fiction novel. I read The Alice Network a few years back and really enjoyed Quinn’s storytelling (I am going to read The Huntress next month), so I went into this one with high expectations. I was not disappointed!

This book is full of rich history and masterful explanations of the process of cryptanalysis during WWII. I never heard of Bletchley Park and was fascinated to hear that there were brilliant women who worked alongside men during the war to help undermine Germany and its allies. Osla, Mab, and Beth played different roles at BP, and it was truly amazing to witness their work unfold and follow their journeys. I just loved the characters that Quinn created.

Of course, they all followed different paths. Osla, a deb who was fluent in a few languages, including German, worked to decode and translate messages during the war. Mab, who came from poverty in east-end London, worked with the giant Enigma machines, breaking codes. Mab was my favorite of the three. I loved her maturity, dedication to her sister, Lucy, and how she protected her friends. And lastly, Beth, who was good at crosswords, worked in one of the most prestigious huts and as one of the park’s few female cryptanalysts. All workers at BP were sworn to secrecy, but that didn’t stop Osla, Mab, and Beth from creating a long-lasting, yet fractured sisterhood. They all were big bookworms too, and the group formed the Mad Hatters Society, a book club with more colorful characters.

I just really enjoyed reading this one. Along with the work at BP, Quinn throws in some royal family history with Osla’s love interest being Prince Phillip. Of course, we know how that turns out. Mab meets an amazing man, Francis Gray, and you witness unconditional, fierce, love. Beth is also entwined in romance while she navigates leaving her mother’s strict house and her own self-discovery. Beth is also sent to a mental institution by someone who betrays her, and readers also get to witness the ugly truths of how women with mental illnesses were treated.

This book is equal parts enticing and maddening. It’s such a beautiful story. Every twist and turn, every climatic point. The Rose Code will make you laugh, cry, and hurt. It comes together so holistically, and I closed it wanting more.

October Wrap-Up

It’s hard to believe that October is already over. The November chill is very much in the air in Connecticut and I am sad that Halloween and spooky season have come to an end. But … bring on the holidays! 🙂

Between work and (safe, vaccinated) visits at our home, I did not spend as much time reading as I anticipated. And now that I have only 10 books left to meet my Goodreads goal for the year (50 books), it’s time to hustle!

I read three books in October — two that were on my October Hopefuls list, and one baby book to prepare for our little one coming in February!

Here are the books I read this month:

The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin

The Nature of Witches

I enjoyed this one! This one left me pleasantly surprised. I haven’t been jiving with books lately, and this one was just what I needed. It was atmospheric with beautiful language and a sweet romance. You can learn more in my book review.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

A Lesson in Vengeance

This one was tough. While I appreciated the atmospheric, witchy vibes, it left me feeling befuddled and wanting more. I did hear that it was more of a thriller than a witchy book from other readers, and they weren’t wrong, but that’s not why I struggled.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was very similar to A Secret History by Donna Tartt. From the language to the plot, I felt as if I was reading a replica of the same story, except the author threw in witches and subtle paranormal themes. You can learn more in my book review.

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp

Future parents: Get this book. I found this book to be so helpful. I’ve been leafing through some baby books and have found that a lot of the advice is general/instinctive, but this book was a saving grace. It only makes sense that the doctor who wrote this also invented the Snoo, a bassinet that we plan to get for our little babe.

What did you read in October? Share some books below!

And, see what I’ve been reading this year:

January Wrap-Up

February Wrap-Up

March Wrap-Up

April Wrap-Up

May to September Wrap-Up

Review: Shadow and Bone Trilogy

The Shadow and Bone trilogy by Leigh Bardugo has been on my TBR for some time now, so I was looking forward to picking up the first book, Shadow and Bone, a couple of months ago. I heard that the trilogy was different from the other fantasy books I was reading (think anything by Sarah J. Maas), so I was excited for a change of pace.

The Shadow and Bone trilogy is part of the Grishaverse, a Russian-inspired fantasy world filled with magic and small science. The Shadow and Bone trilogy is the beginning of the Grishaverse, followed by The Six of Crows duology and The King of Scars duology. And yes, I will be reading them all!

In Shadow and Bone (#1), you are introduced to the Grisha, the magical elite of Ravka, one of the countries in the Grishaverse. The Grisha are known as the Soldiers of the Second Army and they practice small science, manipulating matter for the purpose of battle and healing. There are the Corporalki (Heartrenders & Healers), the Ethereakli (Squallers, Inferni, & Tidemakers), and the Materialki (Durasts & Aklemi). There are also Sun Summoners, members of the Ethereakli who can summon and control sunlight. If you are reading this and scratching your head in confusion, don’t worry; this world is broken down very well in the books and at the beginning of each book. There are lots of intricate maps and a handy-dandy chart.

The books (written in first-person) center around Alina Starkov, who is afraid to cross the Shadow Fold — think a thick cover of unnatural darkness that is infested with dangerous creatures. Who wouldn’t be? When her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes magic that reveals that she is a Sun Summoner. Alina then meets The Darkling, and before you shudder at the corny name like I did, hang tight. He is one of the best characters in the trilogy. The Darkling is a Shadow Summoner and is Second in Command in Ravka. He is feared by all. He is also *misunderstood* and *dreamy*. Think your “bad boy” character, but he is actually quite dangerous. These books can get very dark and graphic real quick (which I loved). After she realizes that The Darkling is corrupt and evil, Alina turns on him, and she goes out with a group of colorful characters to save her storyworld.

I’m not too into breaking down what each book is about and giving spoilers, so I will just give you some likes/dislikes.

What I like the most about this trilogy is that each character is neither “good” nor “bad.” They are all grey characters, which makes the characters (and books) so much more interesting. Alina, especially, is a compelling heroine. She grows in power throughout the trilogy and struggles with wanting more. She sees The Darkling as an enemy, but the power he holds over her storyworld (and her) is alluring. She can’t get away from him, and she’s not sure if she wants to. I certainly wouldn’t.

One thing I loved about these books can be summed up with one name: Nikolai. Nikolai forever and ever. I loved him. Still love him. Bardugo did a wonderful job creating such a witty, colorful character that you won’t forget easily. Nikolai is definitely her first take at creating the colorful, witty characters that you will meet in Six of Crows (which happens to be one of my favorite books of 2021 so far), and he is the reason I kept reading.

While there are things I liked about this trilogy, there were many dislikes. First, the pacing was tough to follow throughout. Rhythmically, I struggled reading this trilogy. The first book was very fast-paced, but the second and third books dragged. While Siege and Storm was definitely my favorite because of the nautical elements and of course, Nikolai, Bardugo rushed through some of the climatic parts, making me wonder if the world-building and unnecessary dialogue/plot points could have been edited out to leave space for the good stuff. The third book, Ruin and Rising, was even slower, and I found myself struggling to finish the book.

Ruin and Rising fell flat, and it all has to do with the ending (which I will not spoil). A large portion of the book followed that classic epic travel trope — lots of traveling, lots of dialogue, lots of unnecessary stuff. But what left me more disappointed was the salient moments in this book (and arguably, the trilogy) were rushed. I felt cheated, because the story and the characters deserved a better ending.

Also, if you are looking for steam, find another trilogy!

Speaking of those who deserved a better ending (and here is where I get a little spoiler-y and use a lot of CAPS … you can stop reading here if you want):

The Darkling! WHY did this happen? The Darkling is the most intriguing character in the series, yet he is the weakest character in the trilogy when it comes to storyline. MAL gets more of a storyline. MAL. MAL!!

I have a problem with Mal. Who doesn’t?

While readers anticipate The Darkling to be a complicated, grey character, these are only assumptions given to readers through Alina’s perspective. Alina knows that there is good in him, but it is not explored otherwise. Other than a backstory provided to Alina when she’s at Os Alta, there are only fleeting moments of his goodness, and that’s where this trilogy fails. I don’t mind “teases” throughout a trilogy, but I do mind a lack of execution. The Darkling was done dirty in this trilogy, and instead of creating an illusion or allure to his character, it shows a lack of structure and attention to a character. And his ending? I won’t get started. What a let down.

So, here is my very messy review of the Shadow and Bone trilogy. I enjoyed it, I won’t read it again, and I will be watching the Netflix show once I finish The Six of Crows duology (which I love much more than the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Bardugo thrives at writing in third-person).

Have you read The Shadow and Bone trilogy/the Grishaverse? What are your thoughts?! Please share in the comments!