The Night Circus

Title: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Genres: Fantasy | Magical Realism | Romance

Length: 490 pages

Source: Book Depository

Format: Paperback

Rating: 4.5/5

Premise:

The Circus arrives without warning. (…) It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
The book tell us how did this wonder came to be.

Review:

The Night Circus takes magic to a whole new level. The book is entrancing, whimsical and it just whisked me away whether I wanted to or not.

It is quite an epic tale and did tire me after a while. I was unable to fully feel enraptured by all the beauty because I wanted something more to happen. But that is my own fault. I find myself seeking fantasy less and less and craving more complex characters in each book I read.

However, this was very well done indeed. Even the romance was expertly weaved into the masterful tale and that is usually the part that lets me down the most in a book that has such amazing world building.

I find the narrative quite well achieved. The different timelines and the short chapters using second person bring more dynamic to the book, which definitely helped, even though I was often confused at what happened when.

It is not a book that you can skim through. It is a full-out adventure that you need to completely immerse yourself in and have no room for anything else. However, it will be worth it.

Welcome the Le Cirque des Rêves. Step right in and be mesmerised.

Read from Jun 4th to Jun 11th, 2017
GR Review

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Title: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Author: Oscar Wilde

Genres: Horror | Magical Realism

Length: 165 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 3.5/5

Premise:

After meeting Lord Henry Wooton, young Dorian Gray engages in a self-destructive lifestyle.
If only his picture, an unparalleled work of art, could take the consequences instead of his youthful body…

Review:

The Picture of Dorian Gray is quite a work of art. From that first chapter I was enraptured, and I found the way our main character and his picture were introduced quite ingenious.
The main characters were quite entrancing, particularly Sir Henry Wooton.

However, at times I found it too philosophic, particularly after halfway or so. Sir Henry’s lines that I had previously enjoyed became overbearing, and the long flowery descriptions about perfumes, jewels, music and christian artefacts caused my attention to wander, making the book’s meagre 165 pages stretch on and on.

Also, I found characters repeatedly telling Sir Henry that he did not really believe what he was saying annoying after a point, and I found myself thinking that there was much talk of sins being committed but not much was shown in that sense. Though I appreciate the level of subtlety throughout the story, I believe further descriptions along those lines would have helped me form a better image of the de-evolution of Dorian Gray.

There is so much more to The Picture of Dorian Gray than a magical painting. Even though the ending was predictable I still think it is worth reading and contemplating. And it is quite amazing how contemporary this theme is, in a society which obsesses over youth and beauty more and more.

Read from Feb 22nd to Feb 26th, 2016

GR Review

The Well

Title: The Well

Author: Catherine Chanter

Genres: Contemporary | Dystopia | Magical Realism | Mystery | Thriller

Length: 400 pages | locations

Source: Netgalley

Format: Mobi

Rating: 2/5

Premise:

Ruth returns home, after having been in custody, to The Well, the only place on the country where it still rains, while everywhere else is going through intense drought.
She is traumatized by the death of her grandson, and even more so by the fact that everyone, including the ones she loves the most, seems to think she did it.
It is up to Ruth to find out what happened to Lucien, but can she do so in such a frail state of mind?

Review:

It took me a while to get into this book and, to be utterly honest, to stay with it.

First of all, I was confused because I had read in the synopsis our main character was viewed either as a witch or a saviour, so for some reason I thought the story took place long ago. Then I started seeing references to all sorts of current things, and when Ruth’s narrative goes back in time I realized that her world started out just as our own and it can be considered present day.

I also could not connect with the main character, and that stayed with me throughout the book. I never got a clear idea of what she felt. As a narrator, she would just go I did this, then that, then that. I wanted to do this and find that, etc. It was a cold narrative, devoid of feeling.

Then I started getting comfortable, even with the cold narrator. I could see something like this happening in our world and, more particularly, in my country since, here in Portugal, it has been raining less and less each year. When you have what other people want, you begin to see the worst in them, let alone if it’s something they actually need.

My favourite thing to read in this novel were precisely the effects of the drought in people; I only wish there would have been more of it. In the book, when people realize the drought is not something temporary at all and that The Well is getting more and more prosper while everywhere else is deteriorating, things slowly degenerate and people get mean out of desperation. Ruth and Mark’s dream slowly turns into a nightmare.
I enjoyed reading stuff like petrol going up 120% and bars closing up because drinks were too expensive, because it felt so real – I really wished there would have been more of that, of how the rest of the country was dealing with the drought, and what theories there were to why it only rained at The Well.
I also did not get why there were not more attempts to try and get The Well’s water from the people around them, if it was that precious. Instead people basically scowl at Ruth and Mark because how dare they. So on one hand I get the idea that things are really bad because of the drought and the next, well, not so much.

Overall, I found the way the mysteries were presented very intriguing and the innuendos drove me crazy in a good way, but the way the resolutions were delivered not so much. They took ages to arrive, and sometimes they didn’t at all.

The writing too dense, lyrical and flourished. Often times, I would not know what was going on at all. Ruth would go on these weird ramblings that seemed so pointless to me – and they could have been engaging, if they allowed me to get in her mind, but being so devoid of feeling I just struggled to stay with the story and my mind kept travelling to other places. I have to say I did go to bed much earlier thanks to this book because the letters would just start dancing after a few lines, and therefore ended up getting more rest, so that’s good. In a way, at least.

The dialogues also did not help at times, because they would go like – a character’s line, then a reply, then a character’s line, then Ruth’s thoughts, then another line… At times she would go on and on, and then say ‘I said that much’. Ok, so I know she said her thoughts out loud, but exactly how much of it?
Other times, I didn’t get what she said at all, if anything. Example:

Ruth: “They’re down in the dip.”
Someone else: “I know that, but what do they believe?”
Ruth: Good question.
Someone else: “Do you think they’ll stay long?”

So… What did she reply regarding that question on what they believe, as the ‘good question’ bit was an inner monologue? It doesn’t seem plausible that she said nothing and the other person would just move on to the next question, right? I don’t know…

There were some things I didn’t get, like Boy warning Ruth about taking her meds, that if she doesn’t they can force her via patch or injections. And yet, when she trashes the place it seems that there are no consequences, not to mention several other things which clearly show she hasn’t been taking them. I also still do not get the chronology of Ruth getting pregnant with Angie and marrying Mark. The whole getting married thing was presented as if Mark doing the right thing, as in marrying the girl he knocked up, but if it wasn’t his kid in the first place, why describe it like that? In the beginning it is mentioned that Lucien was 7 years old when he died, and the rest of the book refers to him as being 5; I suppose that, this being an ARC, this will be fixed.

Most of all, I thought I would be diving into a book packed with emotion. This woman lives in the seemingly only place not affected by the worldwide drought, she is psychological unstable and everyone thinks she killed her grandson – even she isn’t sure that she did not. And, in the end, there was just a lot of poetic prose about anything and everything, and I could not feel much at all. Not even towards her daughter. We are told she is an addict but, again, where is the motherly ache and grief towards her child turning into that? The helplessness of not being able to bring her out of it, of the wasted years? Even some guilt in feeling she could have done something to prevent it? The rare times anything of the sort is mentioned, I felt they were just thrown in there because the reader was expecting it, but they did not feel real to me at all.

So we are supposed to be reading about a mentally unstable woman who doesn’t seem to be much at all besides utterly void of any emotion, as a woman, mother and wife. I can tell the cult drove her to it, but not exactly how. She seemed to be such an intelligent woman, and I could not tell at all why she even fell for it in the first place. I also could never tell what exactly their ‘worshipping’ consisted of, other than frolicking in the water. Most of the time she seems very lucid, and even aware that she is being manipulated, but then we are hearing about her having delusions – even in present day, after all has been said and done – and I have no idea where that came from.
I was also disappointed that the secondary characters were so flat. I have read books told by the main character where that did not happen, but in this one it’s all Ruth, me-me-me.

I did not even get much closure at all. The mystery of Lucien’s murder was beyond predictable, especially after a certain point, just not the specifics of it; I didn’t even get if the allegations towards Mark were true or not, especially with a handful of scenes where it really could be either way; nor why it only rained at The Well, which was what got me interested in the book in the first place.

I have to admit that, most of the time, I was very bored reading this book. It’s like it could not decide what it wanted to be. I was actually pretty excited in the beginning, reading about the effects of the drought and this magical land which seemed to have been spared of it all. Then the effects of all that psychological pressure on Ruth and Mark, which put a toll on their marriage. The cult thing was clutter to me, and the murder mystery stretched on for ages. I felt that it took me a small eternity to finish the novel because I just did not feel engaged with the story and it seemed to drag on and on and on. Even the plot twist was not dramatic at all, and the ending itself stretched on for pages and pages, utterly unnecessary!
I was so disappointed at said ending. When I turned the last page and there was nothing else, I was like… That’s it? This is how this character redeems herself? Is this supposed to give me hope that she will be happy one day? Instead of trying her best to make amends with her husband and daughter, she turns her back on them and starts from scratch? Is this really how a character plagued with guilt goes about handling it? She spent the whole book driving those who she supposedly loves away, and that’s how it ends, more of the same? So disappointing.

If you don’t mind a slow-paced book (and there can be very good slow-paced books) and not getting much closure, then you can enjoy this book, because it does have some good things, especially the world building and all the nuances at what is coming ahead. But do keep in mind that this is more of a psychological journey and a murder mystery, not a paranormal story at all. I guess I feel I was misled a bit. Even without the paranormal aspect, I could have enjoyed this book because I have read others of the kind. You may enjoy it very much, there are loads of very high rating reviews out there. In the end, it was just not for me.

Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Read from Jul 10 to Ju 18, 2015
GR Review

The World Before Us

Title: The World Before Us

Author: Aislinn Hunter

Genres: Contemporary | Historical Fiction | Magical Realism | Mystery

Length: 432 pages | 4833 locations

Source: Blogging for Books | Negalley

Format: Mobi

Rating: 1.75/5

Premise:

Jane is tormented by an event which took place when she was 15 years old. She was responsible for minding 5 year-old Lily while taking a stroll through the woods, and the child was lost, never to be found. Since then, Jane has sort of been wandering through life, trying to find meaning for it. She comes across a story of a girl whose name she does not even know, only its initial (N), who got lost in the same woods as Lily and makes it her mission to find out what happened to her.

Review:

When I first started reading this book, I was curious. The story is narrated in present tense, first person plural; I don’t think I had ever read that before. From the start, I wondered who we were and although it did not take me long to figure it out, I did enjoy discovering who each individual was and their personal stories.

As intrigued as I was, I could tell I would have a difficult time with the prose. At first, I thought I just need to dedicate my full attention to this.
But then I realized that doing my best to focus was not going to be an easy task, or enough to increment my enjoyment of the book.

There were two main things that caused my attention to waver and my satisfaction to subside:
1) The prose was simply too dense; there were endless details in, well, everything. The sentences and chapters were much too long, filled with superfluous narrations that, despite being pretty, came across, to me, as utterly unnecessary and distracting.
2) The fact that there is more than one narrator managed to play against my enjoyment as well, since whenever something came up I would be presented with the myriad of ways to experience it. Example:

Ask us what shape certainty takes and we will all point to a different corner of the museum: to the pendulum of the long-case clock, to the black stones of the birds’ eyes, to the teacups in the upper gallery, to books, locks of hair, dress silk, to the computer in Jane’s office, or the cabinet of milkweed and wild strawberry glass models made in a factory between wars.

As you can imagine, these thorough descriptions convey the book an extremely slow place and, while pretty, the fact is not much was happening for a long time.
I also struggled trying to follow all the secondary stories and numerous characters, never really feeling connected to them. At some point, I had no idea who was who anymore.

There were good things, of course. I have not read much historical fiction, but following my brief experiences I did notice that writing accordingly to the time portrayed is not an easy matter. Everything seemed well in that stance, the context was quite believable, as was the language. Going through some instances of what happens in an asylum was eerily entertaining, as much as the attempt to rationalize the inmates’ thoughts and actions. The act of digging through archives, trying to excavate long past events drew me in. The mysteries were interesting and I did want to know what happened to Jane, I just got discouraged by all the endless descriptions. And I have to admit the last 20% or so gripped me.

Sadly, the good things were not nearly enough to bring the rating up. For me, the narrative style was just dreadful, and there were several unanswered questions in the end. Only a few examples: I wanted to know what happened to Lily, how she died; how exactly the ghosts became attached to Jane; what happened to them in the end, if they ceased or otherwise found peace; and I really wanted to know who the narrator was.

At the end of the day, I could not help but think this book was unnecessarily long and kept looking at the percentage progress on my Kindle, which is never a good sign. One thing that accompanied me throughout the read was the feeling that there was a really good story hidden underneath all that flourish and clutter. Shame, really.

I fully acknowledge that the writer is very talented with words and that this book is more than capable of bringing true enjoyment to readers who appreciate this sort of prose. It was just not my case.

Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher, Blogging for Books and Netgalley for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Other info:

 

Read from Jun 16 to Jun 20, 2015
GR Review

The Glass Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy #2)

Title: The Glass Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy #2)

Author: Charlie N. Holmberg

Genres: Fantasy | Historical Fiction | Magical Realism | Paranormal | Romance

Length: 222 pages | 2877 locations

Source: Netgalley

Format: Mobi

Rating: 3/5

Premise:

After the events of The Paper Magician, Ceony attempts to resume her apprenticeship with Magician Thane.
However, she soon finds her life is in danger, because now two bad guys are chasing her, each with their own agenda.
Ultimately, Ceony has to learn to accept help, and realize she cannot handle these two on her own, whether she wants to or not.

Review:

The Glass Magician started really well for me. One of the things that bothered me by the end of the previous book in the series (the romance) did not quite work out as the protagonist intended. Good. Realistic.
I enjoyed meeting her family too, though they did not strike me as poor as we were told.

Shortly after, I was again reading about Emery’s eyes, and whether his smile reached them or not, and about Ceony flushing, and her heart fluttering – particularly whenever he touched her in the slightest way -, and her racing pulse, and her dropping her gaze to the floor so he wouldn’t see her blush and… You get the picture. The book lost me for a while.

Again I felt that the scenes featuring Ceony against magicians who have years of experience on her were not the least realistic. And I just could not like her, not only because of what I mentioned above but because she was not put in the middle of danger, she actually went to it willingly. She says she knows she doesn’t have much of a chance, but both in book 1 and this one she just does it, putting herself and others in harm’s way.

I continued to be annoyed by Ceony’s miss know it all attitude, her recklessness, her perfection in everything she does. So at the risk of sounding like a horrible person, I have to admit I was glad to finally see her cry for a reason other than Emery not loving her back (woe is me) – especially when everyone else can see he does (Why? No idea.) – but actually because she was at a loss on what to do. It is a shame that emotion was not explored, to bring a new dimension to this character.

The issues with language not belonging in the time frame remain – there was even a sentence beginning with Methinks, what the heck was that??

The plot twist towards the end sounded rushed and much too easy. Why would the bad guy tell Ceony something he has been struggling to find for years? It reminded me of the cartoons I used to watch as a kid where the bad guy would reveal his ultimate plan, as well as everything bad he did, because he was so sure the hero would not live to do anything about it. Again, too easy. Not to mention that, again, she is able to reproduce something she has never done before flawlessly – several times over the book. Apparently as many times as she wants *sigh*

Despite all that, overall, I found The Glass Magician a large improvement over the first book in the series. Let’s face it, the whole walking through Emery’s heart thing was beyond lame. Let me start with the obvious: the heart is a muscle, memories and emotions are not stored in it. This whole adventure went on for roughly 50% of the book, from the beginning of which we knew what would happen: Ceony would have to go through all four chambers to get to the end. Knowing that from the start, as well as knowing she would obviously see both the good and the bad of him, brought a lack of enthusiasm because there was just no build up. Plus, it was just her prancing around. Every now and then, Lira the bad guy would pop up, but never presenting much of a menace; Ceony the perfect, brave girl would always outrun her.

Unlike The Paper Magician, not only do we get to know several characters, though never to much extent (and here I would like to note that it was nice to see some fire in Magician Thane, he was rapidly progressing from mysterious and enigmatic to bland and hollow), but there are also several surprises, plenty of action, different settings and, most importantly, we get to see some actual magic. Different kinds too: not just paper, but also glass and even some rubber and metal. Also, people actually die, both good and bad guys.

Again, I wanted certain things to have been handled differently, because this world has such potential! To name a few, I would have liked better character development, a less annoying main character, and even more information about the magic – not only just the spells themselves and what they do, but more particularly how the whole world interacts with this magic system, how it is viewed and accepted; there has got to be a difference of opinions regarding it, right? After all, a handful of people are capable or able to access magic and the large majority isn’t, right? And what does having tires that never wear, and other objects I am sure, do the economy?? And do policemen wielding guns that never miss their targets even need to practice anymore? Ah, there is so much I would have liked to know…

The Glass Magician was an interesting read which did capture my attention here and there, despite the eye-rolling in between. With several tweaks, it could be an awesome book.

I am not interested in continuing the series, though. I think the covers are misleading. I expected something entirely different. I am sure it will please other people but not sure if these covers would appeal to the actual intended audience.

Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Read from Jun 14 to Jun 15, 2015
GR Review

The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy #1)

Title: The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy #1)

Author: Charlie N. Holmberg

Genres: Fantasy | Historical Fiction | Magical Realism | Paranormal | Romance

Length: 224 pages | 3143 locations

Source: Netgalley

Format: Mobi

Rating: 2.25/5

Premise:

After graduating from Tagis Praff School for the Magical Inclined, Ceony gets to specialize in the element of her choice. She really wants to become a smelter, but is forced to take up Folding.
Paper strikes her as rather useless, and she does not appreciate being pushed to bond with an element for life against her choice.
However, Ceony’s teacher turns out to be a quite enigmatic person and she will come to appreciate being his apprentice, to the point where she will risk her life on a daunting adventure to save his.

Review:

When I started reading The Paper Magician, I did not take to the main character. Sadly, that feeling stayed with me throughout the book.
She is 19 years old, but came across more as your typical rebellious 15 year-old.

At the time we meet her, she has finished her training at Tagis Praff School for the Magical Inclined. When that happens, especially if you graduate top of the class as Ceony did, you can supposedly choose what to specialize on.
Ceony really wanted to be a smelter. Really, really wanted it, I get it. But she is forced to take up a Folding apprenticeship. And, once you are bonded with an element, you cannot ever change it.
But considering we are told that she almost did not engross in the magic school at all because she could not afford it – actually had her eye set on a cooking school as the alternative – I just could not relate to her attitude. It’s like she was throwing a tantrum in every little thing she did or thought, starting by the frumpy way she got dressed and did her hair before meeting Magician Thane, or comments like she wished her heart would just stop.

Also, when she first gets to the Magician’s house, she immediately labels him mad. While I was baffled and utterly enchanted by what the things she was seeing, she thought it was all the product of a mad man. Example: A small wind chime hung in the corner (…) She surmised that Mg. Thane liked the look of it, but not the sound. Mad, indeed. Well then I guess I am mad as well.

Then Magician Thane started teaching Ceony about paper magic and I was again enchanted. The descriptions were lovely, I just had to trudge through the attitude. The fact that she came across as so perfect in so many aspects did not help me feel related to her, though. She had a perfect memory, learned things on her first try, was a brilliant cook, always motivated, and seemed to know what to do at all times. And she blushed a lot. How coy.

Regardless, I tried to get past that and actually came to appreciate the banter between Ceony and Magician Thane, particularly at the dinner table. Boy oh boy, was the guy patient. I liked him.

But after the plot twist around the first third of the book, the one the blurb sadly openly mentions, it all went downhill for me. I could not get engaged in the story because I found it got repetitive (Ceony’s adventure lasts around 50% of the book), and all the time I kept thinking how the heck is she going to get out of there?? – even if she does get to the end .

So I was very sad about the turn of events. I had expected magic and instead got a character study of Emery and a repetitive plot line.
I could not even understand how the bad guy turned out to be that bad! Now that would have been interesting. What makes someone so lovely become so hideous?

There were quite a few moments where I actually remember rolling my eyes at what I was reading (I would still like to know how on earth a person manages to force a flush down into her chest, where the magician wouldn’t see it).
The chapters were too long and the pace felt off to me. She is being chased by a bad guy who, even though cast the spell herself, cannot ever seem to catch up to our hero – who by the way, despite being chased by an evil person, still has time to fold little birds and fish and wallow in visions.

Even though the action takes place in the early 1900s, the language itself felt much too modern.

The world building was beyond lacking. I could not even really understand the role of magic in such a world. For instance, something which is outright obvious in other books of the sort: how known is magic? It doesn’t seem to be a hidden thing as in The Paper Magician‘s counterparts, especially since they get the police to help chase the bad guys, but we are also not really shown its role in society. I remember a fountain being enchanted to make pretty water effects but that’s it.
So disappointing.

The ending left a bad taste in my mouth too. Yes, the fighting sequences were fairly believable, I suppose, but Ceony could never have defeated such a powerful mage. It just does not make any sense.
And the love thing with her teacher… I had actually thought I was going get through a book without romance. And it’s not even about the 12 year difference or the fact that he is a teacher – though they do matter, in my opinion. I suppose I can understand her starting to develop feelings for him after so thoroughly examining his heart and seeing the good and the bad (though not outright love), but him falling back in love with her, to the point where his future shows the two of them together with two sons? Just because she saved him? He doesn’t even know her! Not to mention that I just can’t see them together. I see Emery with a much more mature person.

In the end, there was one thing I truly appreciated: there were little details here and there that made the whole thing feel real, small references which made all the difference. I especially liked that Magician Thane seemed to have a bit of an OCD issue.
The fact that, despite the protagonist’s annoying perfection, everything did not go according to plan also helped, even though this was countered by the fact she always seemed to know what to do and what the visions meant.

I thoroughly enjoyed the sequences about Folding and anything related to magic. But it just was not enough to pull the whole weight of the book and, in the end, I just did not relate to The Paper Magician much. It could have been such a whimsical story, if the world had been further developed, but it just fell short for me.

I am going to read the sequel and truly hope there will be there less romance and more magic.

Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Read from Jun 12 to Jun 13, 2015
GR Review