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: Beartown

Beartown has been sitting on my shelves for a few years now. When I first picked it up, I thought the book wasn’t for me because of all of the hockey content, but I pushed forward this time and realized it was much more than that.

This book, like all of Backman’s books, is complicated. There are many characters presented within the text who are experiencing different, yet relatable struggles. Whether it is your identity or financial hardships, marital struggles, or internal strife, you find yourself in each and every one of those characters as they experience their separate grief, sadness, and fear. You find peace knowing you are not alone. Beartown is a story about being human. It’s raw and poignant to every reader.

Beartown, largely, is about how a fragile and already violent and complicit community reacts to a tragic moment. It looks at characters who make the right decisions, and characters who make the wrong ones. It is fictional, yet we see this happen all of the time, and it is frustrating.

The town, focused solely on getting its hockey team to the finals, loses sight of morality and humanity in this one important event. I read this book with shaking hands and angry tears most of the time, but Backman does not fully betray the reader. He shows that in darkness, there is light and that there are bears in this community who will fight for their cubs.

There are many “teams” in this book besides the obvious hockey one. Beartown demonstrates the power behind a good team and the strength of small teams. These teams can be husband and wife, lovers, best friends, colleagues, and mentors. Characters were constantly learning throughout this story how to be better individuals so that they can support their teams. I was moved by many of the characters and their loyalty to one another. It was a beautiful, raw, and complicated story.

A few things to wrap up my review:

Believe victims and survivors. BELIEVE THEM.

Have grit and persevere.

Knock yourself into that wall if you need to — full force. Again. Again. Again. You have strength and you have worth.

And,

“Words are not small things.”

Trigger warnings: rape, suicidal thoughts, suicide mentions, sexual assault, homophobia, guns, violence, victim blaming, child mortality (past), foul language.

Book Review: Anxious People

“They say that a person’s personality is the sum of their experiences. But that isn’t true, at least not entirely, because if our past was all that defined us, we’d never be able to put up with ourselves. We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we’re more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows.”

“You don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore. You’re good enough.”

“But when you get home this evening, when this day is over and the night takes us, allow yourself a deep breath. Because we made it through this day as well.

There’ll be another one along tomorrow.”

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

I wanted to highlight these quotes from Fredrik Backman’s latest book Anxious People because they made me feel the most. Like, the hand-over-your-mouth-with-tears-in-your-eyes feels after a long day of work during a global pandemic and divisive political election. Just … lots of feelings.

It’s been a rough year for all, and when I first heard of Anxious People, I was admittedly … anxious about it. A book about mental health? Would it be too triggering for me? Would I have trouble reading it? Will I like it?

The answer to all of these questions is yes. It was hard to read. Some moments, I needed to put the book down and read something else for a few days. The story, however, was so intricate and powerful that I needed to learn what happened to these likeable, sometimes unbearable characters. I needed to work through that pain and discomfort, for in the end it was worth it. The ending was so beautiful! It was restorative.

I laughed out loud the first 5 pages of this book (something I never do). I cried during this book (something I usually do not do). I just really enjoyed reading it. I heard the audio is fantastic, and consider listening to it down the road as a reread.

Backman has a gift for writing about the intense, raw moments of being a human. (A Man Called Ove? I still get choked up) In this book, like all of the others, of the characters were flawed and are written in such a unique way. He really has a gift. I am grateful I had the chance to read it with a group of insanely sweet bookstagram friends. Have you read this one?

Synopsis (pulled from Goodreads):

This is a poignant comedy about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers slowly begin opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths.

As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.