magical realism

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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“Then the iron gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition. They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.

Now the circus is open.

Now you may enter.”

There are two rival illusionists with opposing world views. They each select a champion and magically bind them to compete in a challenge when they are older. One chooses his own daughter, Celia, who displays a powerful natural talent when she is dropped on his doorstep at a young age. One chooses an orphan, Marco, that he takes in and trains. Celia and Marco grow up separately and eventually meet as The Night Circus is forming, which will be the stage upon which they compete, though it takes them a while to realize that.  As the circus grows in popularity and ever impressive spectacles, Celia and Marco stumble forward with the challenge without knowing the rules against which they’re playing or even how to win.

This would be a great read for late summer or early fall. It is so beautifully written and atmospheric – the black and white color scheme, the scents of popcorn, caramel apples, and cider, the mystery of the challenge and the spectacular feats of magic itself. It’s enchanting and whimsical with something wistful lying underneath. The circus travels around the world, suddenly appearing without a trace, and is only open between dusk and dawn. It draws people in, it attracts a group of passionate followers, and the challenge between Celia and Marco can and will affect everyone that is a part of it.

The Night Circus feels like a movie – one that has dazzling special effects and is enjoyable to watch, and you talk about how great it was with your friends. But it’s probably not one that has a lot of re-watch value. I really liked the book while I was reading it – I can see why it’s so popular. But even though there are a lot of really interesting characters, there aren’t any that I developed a surging affection for. I really liked Celia, but more for how incredibly powerful she was more than a sense of her personality. I really do hope that it gets made into a movie – the acts of magic and illusion practically beg to be put on the big screen, and if it’s done well it could be one of those movies that ends up being even better than the book.

If you like magical realism and whirlwind mystery love stories, The Night Circus won’t disappoint. Have a glass of wine while you read, and enjoy sinking into it.

Sarah Says: 4 stars

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Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

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What a wonderful gem of a book!

I added Alif the Unseen to my get-from-the-library list a little while back, when I saw Riv’s review praising it. And really, you should read her review because she did a fantastic job and I’m sure my review isn’t going to be nearly as articulate.

So. What’s this book about? I tried telling two different people about this book and they both just kind of gave me blank, confused stares. I always thought that writing book blurbs and summaries for the book covers would be the coolest job, but obviously I’d be terrible at it! Anyways, here’s the description from the book jacket:

“In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients – dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups – from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif – the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the state’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line.

Then it turns out his lover’s new fiancé is the “Hand of God”, as they call the head of state security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.”

Hackers! Jinn! Deserts! Young love! So much stuff that I didn’t necessarily think would fit well together, but totally did.

So young Alif is crazy good at computer programming or coding or whatever the cool technological lingo is. As a way to make some money and to kind of stick it to the Big Brother-esque government, he offers security and protection for the websites of his clients so that they can’t be tracked, shut down, and arrested. In real life, he’s a bit of a dolt at first. He has typical teenage-y girl problems, thinking he’s in love with a rich, pretty girl and ignoring the girl next door. He’s a little flippant with his mom. He’s stubborn. But once the crap hits the fan, he turns into a much smarter, caring, and heroic person.

I LOVED the premise of this book – that computer technology and the unseen world of the jinn are intertwined. Alif has a conversation with a man in a mosque comparing quantum computing to the meanings of all the words in the Quran. You have no idea how much the nerd in me enjoyed that. And when Alif figures out exactly what the Hand wants with The Thousand and One Days and what he thinks he can create with it? Maaaaaan.

Vikram is one of the jinn, and he’s awesome. Creepy and scary, but also funny and kind of a jerk. And there are a few other good secondary characters as well that I grew to really like, BUT I don’t want to tell you who they are because you should really just read this and discover for yourself. The whole story just kind of unfolds around you as you read.

Basically, there’s nothing I disliked about this book. It was an interesting concept, beautifully executed. I can’t wait to buy my own copy.

Sarah Says: 5 stars

The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern

The Book of Tomorrow, Cecelia Ahern

Even though I hear such good things about Cecelia Ahern, and even though I actually own some of her books, and even though I’ve seen P.S. I Love You and really enjoyed it… The Book of Tomorrow is the first novel of hers I’ve ever read! I guess I was looking for a kick in the pants to finally read one, so I am extremely pleased I got to be part of the TLC Book Tour for The Book of Tomorrow!*

Here’s the synopsis of the book from the TLC website:

Raised in the lap of luxury, spoiled and tempestuous sixteen-year-old Tamara Goodwin has never had to think about tomorrow. But when her world is irrevocably shaken by her father’s self-imposed death, she and her mother are left drowning in debt and forced to move in with Tamara’s peculiar aunt and uncle in a tiny countryside village.

Lonely and bored, Tamara’s sole diversion is a traveling library. There she finds a large leather-bound book with a gold clasp and padlock, but no author name or title. Intrigued, she pries open the lock, and what she finds takes her breath away—for what’s written inside is not only impossible and magical . . . it’s her future.

 

I was looking forward to The Book of Tomorrow a lot for the magical realism element – a book that tells the reader what will happen to her the next day? Awesome! Sadly, this didn’t really come into play until almost 100 pages into the book, so the beginning was a bit slow. You get to know Tamara pretty well – she’s spoiled, immature, and really a horrible teenage girl. I know that she deserved some sympathy for her father’s death and for her whole lifestyle being ripped away from her… but I kind of thought that she deserved it. Younger readers (I’m 25, so I suppose by that I mean teenage readers) might find Tamara more likable, but I did not.

It’s really hard to keep me engaged when I dislike the main character, but luckily the mystery of this book was enough to keep me reading and I finished the book in only two days. Tamara’s aunt and uncle are really strange and seem to be obviously hiding something, and she’s having trouble getting through to her mom. When everything was finally revealed at the end, I was happy to finally learn the big secret but I still felt like there was something I wasn’t getting. Mostly I was like “Well that was weird” and shut the book and didn’t really think about it after that.

I get the feeling that this is a “miss” for an otherwise really good and popular author. While I don’t think I’d recommend this book to others, I’m actually looking forward to reading more of Cecelia Ahern’s books because I still feel like I would enjoy them and that this one was just a fluke. Maybe I’ll try P.S. I Love You next, seeing as how I saw the movie and enjoyed the basic storyline.

Sarah Says: 2 stars

About the author:

Cecelia Ahern

At twenty-one, Cecelia Ahern wrote her first novel, P.S. I Love You, which became an international bestseller and was adapted into a major motion picture starring Hilary Swank. Her successive novels—Love, Rosie; If You Could See Me Now; There’s No Place Like Here; Thanks for the Memories; The Gift; and The Time of My Life—were also international bestsellers, published in forty-six countries and selling more than 15 million copies collectively. The daughter of Ireland’s former prime minister, Ahern lives in Dublin, Ireland.

Visit her website here.

The Book of Tomorrow is already out, so you can visit your favorite bookstore or online retailer to purchase!

The tour is far from over! Please visit some of the other stops to see more reviews:

Tuesday, July 24th: The Lost Entwife

Wednesday, July 25th: I Read. Do You?

Thursday, July 26th: Kristina’s Favorites

Monday, July 30th: Twisting the Lens

Tuesday, July 31st: Sarah Says Read

Wednesday, August 1st: Why Girls Are Weird

Thursday, August 2nd: A Novel Source

Monday, August 6th: Drey’s Library

Wednesday, August 8th: A Chick Who Reads

Friday, August 10th: Just Joanna

Saturday, August 11th: Doing Dewey

Date TBD: My Bookshelf

 

And thank you SO MUCH to TLC Book Tours for letting me a part of this tour!

~Sarah

 

*I was given this book in exchange for an honest review, and I receive no compensation of any sort.

>The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

>The Peach Keeper,Sarah Addison Allen,book,book cover

Alrighty, this was my first book finished as part of the readathon. It was also the poll winner for what you lovely readers wanted to see read & reviewed here in April.

I love Sarah Addison Allen. Her past three novels were all filled with such a wonderful, magical, delight. I lost myself in each story, and I love them each for different reasons. All that being said… this is unfortunately my least favorite of hers so far.

The Peach Keeper revolves around two 30-year old women, Paxton and Willa. Both live in the little town of Walls of Water, NC. While vastly different, these two women have a lot more in common than they think. Paxton’s very well-off family buys the mansion The Blue Ridge Madam, and Paxton’s working hard to see it restored to it’s former glory so that she can host the 75-year anniversary of the local ladies’ club there. A bit of a mystery comes up when something is found buried on the land there, and it draws Paxton and Willa together – learning about their family’s histories, and themselves, in the process.

This novel is really different from Allen’s other novels, which isn’t by itself a bad thing. The mystery aspect of the story was kind of intriguing, though mystery isn’t usually my thing. The magical realism so often found in Allen’s other books isn’t as strong here, and I think that’s part of why I like it less. The magic was less pronounced – there were spooky little hints of it here and there, making it more gothic and mysterious-feeling than her other books.

As for the characters: they were interesting and I liked them all a lot. I found the dialogue among them to be a bit forced though. The conversations that some of them had, especially with those other characters that they weren’t close to, just didn’t feel real to me.

All this being said though, it was a good book. Things like mystery, less magic, and the dialogue are just some of my little issues / preferences. And it did convey that wonderful small, hometown feel that I love about Allen’s books. They always make me want to drop everything and move to a tiny little town in North Carolina where everyone knows everyone else. Also, there were some very cute quotes (though a bit cheesy). One quote I really liked:

“Her grandmother used to tell her that a pink sky meant someone in the distance had just fallen in love…”

Just that one line is great to me. I wish my parents or grandparents had said such plainly fanciful things to me as I was growing up. It’s such a beautiful way to look at the world. I think maybe I’ll try to think of things like this to say to my nieces and nephews as they grow up.

Anyways, good book overall. If you’re familiar with Sarah Addison Allen, expect it to be a bit different than her other novels.

Sarah Says: 3.5 stars

When Autumn Leaves by Amy Foster

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This was a very cute book. It kind of reminded me of Sarah Addison Allen’s books, who I love. This one was a bit of a disappointment though.

Autumn is a wise old-ish lady witch who is told that she needs to find a replacement to take over her place in the town of Avening. She spends a year searching the town for the perfect person to replace her, and in turn we meet 13 women with magical abilities or leanings.

I really liked the little bits of magic sprinkled throughout this book. It definitely made me wish that this quaint little town actually existed.

What the book lacked for me was character development. Just as I was getting to know one of the characters, it switched to a new one and I never learned anymore about them. For example, one chapter revolved around two characters falling in love even though the shouldn’t, but you never get to find out if it all worked out or not. I really wish the book had been a bit longer. Also, I think the book tried too hard to explain the sisterhood and magic, etc.

Anyhoo, it was a cute little book, but definitely not a fave.

2.5 stars

~Sarah

>Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman

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You can always count on Alice Hoffman for a great magical read.
 
Blackbird House is essentially a bunch of chronological short stories, revolving around the inhabitants of the same “Blackbird House”, and spanning hundreds of years. This book was full of beautiful descriptions of windy sea weather, the smell of sweet peas and fruit and salt, and some really interesting characters.
 

The first story, Edge of the World, was my favorite. It starts with the family that builds the house, and honestly this one made me misty-eyed. I realized however that on contrast, the last story wasn’t nearly as good. While the very first story was passionate, and the female character was really strong, the very last story had a female character that I had a hard time liking (odd, because she’s pretty cool in a previous story). As the book progressed, the stories got less interesting. I have a feel that has more to do with my fondness for the old settings and people, and being biased against the more modern days. Things just seemed more interesting and dramatic back in the day!

 

(Also, this was my first completed read of the 24-Hour Read-A-Thon, so expect at least one more review today, hopefully two. )

 

4 stars

 

~Sarah