Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On Magicians: A Review of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus was a book completely defied my expectations. When I first saw if pop up in reviews and such, I thought it was a light hearted book meant for younger teens, but with enough charm that adults might enjoy it as well--like Harry Potter. After picking it up and reading the blurb on the cover, I quickly realized that it isn't really a YA at all--based on that summary, I thought it was going to be a grand and bittersweet love story. But it isn't really that, either.

 The Night Circus is about a circus that was originally built a a venue for a competition between two magicians--Celia and Marco. Both were raised to compete, each taught magic, but each following a very different school of thought. But as the competition carries on, the circus takes on a life of it's own, becoming home, refuge, and dream for it's inhabitants and it's visitors. Celia and Marco continue to fall in love and make magic, even as the competition looming over them threatens the circus.

Positive Comments:

In past reviews I've written a great deal about books that are plot driven vs. character driven, and how I usually prefer plot driven (with some notable exceptions). This book is something else entirely. It's setting driven. The circus almost becomes a character unto itself, with a personality and flaws and conflict that allows it to change over time. As a reader, I became deeply immersed in the circus, which is described so brilliantly that it appeals to all of your senses. I felt like I could smell the bonfire, hear the circus music, and oh my goodness the food--I have an as yet unfulfilled desire for a caramel apple that I blame on this book.

All that said, the characters themselves are somehow less vibrant and important, although their stories are still interesting. I find myself thinking of the lot of them as secondary characters, because they aren't as well developed and because the circus stands out to such a large extent. I found myself invested in Celia and Marcos romance, which progresses through magic and involves a great deal of longing and waiting. I was also interested in the story of the twins, Poppet and Widget, and their friend Bailey, and how their story would ultimately unfold. The list of characters just goes on from there. I liked watching how such very different people came together to create the circus, and how, after taking on a life of it's own, it managed to reshape each of their lives.

Critical Comments:

I don't have any complaints: I loved this books. I have...cautions for potential readers.

1) The plot moves slowly. The plot doesn't have a lot of logic behind it. It's a book about magic and the plot is magic driven. If you like a fast paced, clear cut plot, this isn't for you.

2) No, it's not a romance. It's more of a fantasy, and it's a fantasy based on a magical place that remains largely mysterious right up and to the end. The romance is secondary to the circus itself.

3)Try to read it in one sitting, or a few sittings. It's a book that's just begging for you to get sucked into the setting--as I said above, it's a sensory experience. But you won't be able to appreciate it if you have to keep getting interrupted--I made that mistake at first. Save this one for when it can have your full attention.

This is a brilliant book. Easily one of the best reading experiences I've had in awhile. I recommend checking it out. 4.5 stars.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Miscellaneous Monday: Misbehaving Online

Last week I observed quite a few encounters with authors online, encounters that ranged from mildly bothersome to seriously off-putting. This prompted me to ask pose the question of whether author behavior matters to you, as a reader, when it comes to buying/borrowing books. I've noticed, more and more, that author behavior online does influence my reading habits...and I really wish it didn't.

Thinking back to my earliest reading experiences, I can't say that I was even aware of authors as anything more than names on the cover on my books. The only time those names were important was if I really loved a book, and I wanted more of the same. My reading at that time was motivated mostly by random fancy, and I would read anything with an intriguing cover or title. Anything. I felt no connection to the authors, and I didn't care because I had such a strong connection to the books.

Now, it's difficult to say whether my paradigm shift was due to growing up, or the evolution of the internet and the online reading community--probably some combination of the two. In any case, these days I'm more conscious of the author responsible for every book I read--aware of the style, personality, and work that they put into those books. But more to the point, I'm aware of authors as brand names. Many authors promote themselves and their books online with great enthusiasm. Just take a look at Gail Carriger's website. Spend ten minutes browsing it and you'll have a pretty good idea of what her work is like, and a pretty good idea of whether you would like to try one of her books.

So, the internet has made me more aware of authors as artists, and of authors as brand names. And from a book selling perspective (the author's) or a book buying perspective (mine), this is all a good thing. They get to sell their product the way they want to, I get to buy things I like, everyone is happy. Where this all falls apart for me is when I become too aware of authors as people. And actually, even that is fine about 90% of the time--I don't really mind if an author posts on his/her blog about beloved pets or shoe shopping or favorite flavors of cheese. The problem is this: some people are jerks. And even non-jerks have bad days when they behave badly.

Hypothetically, let's say that an author has said or done something online that you find appalling. Can you ignore it enough to still buy (or borrow) and enjoy his/her book? I can't, and that kind of saddens me. Once that name is stuck it my mind as "That one author that went ballistic on goodreads/amazon because of bad reviews" I literally cannot bring myself to buy that book. Who knows, I might be missing out on something I'd really enjoy, all because the author chose to act like a dick one time. Am I the only one with this problem?

The bottom line is, while I love the connectivity of the online reading community, part of me longs for that time when authors seemed like the anonymous magicians behind the awesome experience of books. Maybe someday soon I'll mature a little more as a reader and be able to read books by misbehaving authors, without bias or preconceived notions. Or maybe not. Maybe they really don't deserve my time and money.

How has author behavior influenced you? Have you ever been driven to read a book because of an author's awesome online presence? Or driven away by off-putting behavior? Have you found a way to ignore all of it altogether? Share your thoughts in the comments! Happy Monday, everyone!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Follow Friday 20

Q: Which book genre do you avoid at all costs and why?

I don't care for murder mysteries. I can't explain precisely why, but they bore me. 

On Ghouls: A Review of This Side of the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

This Side of the Grave is book 5 in Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress books. I found book four to be deeply frustrating for a number of reasons (listed here), and so I approached this one wearily.

The main plot of this book involves the threat of a war between vampires and ghouls. Cat's unique abilities and position in the supernatural world place her in the middle of the conflict. In an effort to minimize the bloodshed, she and Bones go to the ghoul queen of New Orleans for help. There Cat learns that her abilities have only just begun to show, and she must fight to keep from being overwhelmed by power even as she tries to end the oncoming war.

Positive Comments

Cat showed a maturity in this book that I didn't see in the previous books. She's come a long way since book one, and it's nice to finally see all of that development realized. Cat's relationship with Bones has likewise matured. And there's still a lot of sex, which I understand might be a negative for some readers, but it's a positive for me.

I like the mythology. You don't see ghouls in too many books. It seems like they fall in line with zombies--second class monsters that are often the villains but rarely the heroes. Frost's ghouls are a little more multidimensional. As a result, the plot engaging.

Critical Comments

My main criticism is just that after 5 books, Frost has ceased to surprise me. Even on the first read through, this book felt familiar, and just shy of predictable. I think the problem stems from having a character evolve over 5 books and so many years, and having many of the changes that she goes through be so drastic. You hit a point where you really don't have anything left to do to that character that readers won't see coming, and where the outcome is not totally apparent from page 1. And that was how this book felt to me. In each book Cat goes through a big trauma, but Frost is running out of things to traumatize her with.

 Overall, this is still a great series. I enjoyed this book, and I do intend to read the next one. 4 stars.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Miscellaneous Monday: The Acquisitive Penguin

Raymond M. Blasco, M.D., Memorial Library
In last weeks poll, I asked you guys where you get your books, and today I thought I'd share where I get mine. The most popular answer, by the way, was "order them online" which seriously doesn't surprise me. With gas prices high and everyone busy working overtime, the convenience of shopping online is way too good to pass up. And for me, there are some books that I just can't find any other way.

The truth is, despite the fact that most of my book shopping is done virtually, I love exploring shelves of physical books and finding hidden treasures. The building you see in the picture is largely responsible for that addiction. This is my library. It was built when I was a kid, to replace a very old and crumbling library that I don't remember. All I can say is that visiting a brand new library, one that was filled with books both new and ancient, permanently instilled a love of reading in me. It also happens to be right on the lake, which makes for gorgeous views.

These days I try to get as many of my books from the library as I can. Their YA section is, for whatever reason, particularly well stocked. New paperbacks or anything from a new author is a lot harder to find, so that's where the internet comes in. When all is said and done, my TBR is always alarmingly full, which makes me very happy.

Do you have a special place for acquiring books, physical or virtual? Share with the group!

This weeks poll question asks about author behavior. Many authors have a great online presence, treat their fans very well, and handle themselves with grace. But every now and then, an author will do/say something offensive (occasionally just plain crazy). And some authors really aren't online at all. So this weeks question asks, does that matter to you? Does a positive online presence draw you more toward reading someone's books? Do negative attitudes put you off? Or do you not care either way? Take a second to vote, on the right side of your screen, and next week we will discuss the results. Happy Reading!

Friday, January 20, 2012

On Polish Witches: A Review of Hexed by Kevin Hearne

I treated myself to Hexed by Kevin Hearne because I really liked the first book in the series, Hounded (see my review HERE), and because I kind of felt I needed a break from YA and angels.

In this book, our hero, Atticus, is dealing with a very full plate. He has fallen angels, Bacchants, and tricky gods to deal with, and for some reason everyone thinks he should kill Thor. Because in this world Thor is a dick, I guess. But the main focus of this book is on a group of German witches who've been consorting demons, who move into the Tempe territory and threaten the  general peace. So, Atticus teams up with the Polish witches who live in the territory to kill all the nasty witches.

Positive Comments

I'm half Polish, so I'm simply tickled pink to see the touches of Polish language and mythology in this book. I love all of the mythology that Hearne makes use of. It follows the same logic used in Neil Gaiman's American Gods, where all of the gods that anyone has ever believed in exist, and some of them aren't too nice. This leads to endless possibilities, and I really enjoy the character interactions and plot lines that result from it.

I liked the plot, which has Atticus dealing with so many different obstacles. I like his motivation: he wants to stay in the area so that he can heal damaged earth, so he has to fight off anything that threatens peace. There's a ton of action, the book is never boring, and it all comes to a satisfying conclusion.

I love the characters. Atticus is completely unique, very intelligent, and very likeable. It isn't easy to write ancient characters (Atticus is 2000 or so?) and actually make them seem ancient to the reader. I know, because I've been reading vampire books for years and I've seen so many authors fail at this task utterly. Hearne succeeds spectacularly, dropping hints about Atticus's history, giving him mannerisms that make him seem weathered. At the same time, he isn't stuffy--he has a sense of humor, blends in well, and is self aware. The side characters are also fantastic. Oberon, the Irish wolfhound, always makes me smile. I like Granuaile, the apprentice. I think I'm a bit jealous of her, actually. I like Leif the vampire/lawyer. The list goes on.

Critical Comments

While I like all of the plot elements, I find myself wishing they fit together better. Some of them seemed like random and unrelated events that might become important later in the series, but felt out of place in this book.

Atticus's love life, sex life, however you want to look at it, has started to bug me. A tad. He's very casual about sex in certain situations, which I can buy because the argument is that he's from a time where it's less of a BIG DEAL. And it's not like I've ever wanted my book heroes to be celibate. But there's a scene in the book where he has sex with one chick, and then another shows up and she wants him, and flips out when she can't have him...And in the last book there was yet another woman. All of whom are high up on the mythological food chain, are beautiful, could have anyone and everyone, but want him specifically. And so it's starting to feel like wish fulfillment, and it's starting to bother me, because of the objectification of the characters in question. To be clear, I'm not arguing sexism here--this would bug me equally if we reversed all of the genders. I don't like blatant wish fulfillment subplots with lots of horny people who all happen to want the protagonist. Unless it's erotica, but that's a different story.

Ok, short story long...I liked this book. If you like urban fantasy, and you like it with a lot of obscure mythology, you should give this series a try. 3.5 stars.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Follow Friday (19)


Q: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to get your hands on any particular book?

Umm...I stood in line for Harry Potter. For like 4 hours. I don't think that's too crazy though...

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