Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Arty -- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Whoohoo, late review!  I'm afraid it won't be a coherent one, but we'll see.

The Night Circus.  Good grief, where does one begin?

This is one of those books of quiet popularity that I think I'll get around to reading, but never do.  Then I got a rec from a friend on a writing forum (thanks, Whispeh!) and decided to go ahead and get it, even though it's pretty long and I had a lot on my literary plate.

I... really don't know how to summarize it.  It's like The Looking Glass Wars and Heroes Of The Valley and other books, that take place over such a long period of time and have so much going on, it's pretty much impossible to summarize it at all.  So I'm going to chicken out and grab Goodreads' snippet:

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. 

Okay, long snippet.  Like I said, insanely difficult book to sum up in brief.

I just finished the book about two minutes ago - literally.  I'm still trying to figure out what exactly my thoughts are on it, so if you'll pardon any rambling?  Thank you.

First, the best and most beautiful thing about it: the atmosphere.  Holy smokes.  Atmosphere oozes out of the book like... oozey stuff.  It's magical and stark and gorgeous and absolutely tantalizing.  I want Le Cirque des Rêves to come to my backyard and stay.  Forever.  Because I'd live in the place.  I'd be one of the reveurs, the circus enthusiasts who spring up about halfway through the book.  And unlike fanatics in a lot of similar books (if there are similar books), you know exactly where the reveurs are coming from.  I want the night circus, with the illusionist and the fortune-teller and the acrobats and the fire jugglers and the contortionist and - and twins with trained kittens, for goodness' sake!

Atmosphere is definitely the strong point.

I wasn't a great fan of many of the characters, but I'm pretty sure that was intentional.  Marco is likable at first, but he developed an ambiguity that bothered me.  Celia was always just... there.  Chandresh was interesting but not likable, either.  Tara and Lainie Burgess were cool, as was Madame Padva.  The characters who caught my real attention, however, were Bailey, a young man who comes in later (through intriguing chapters set some years in the future), and Poppet and Widget, said kitten-training twins.  I'm not sure if their being young teenagers did anything to endear them to me, but they seemed... nicer.  More real.

On the subject of characters - the villains are perfect.  Understated and beautifully drawn.  Hector, or "Prospero," seems idiotic and ridiculous at first, and he actually stays that way, but over time, you get a sense of just how dangerous and downright creepy he is.  Alexander, also known as Mr. A.H.-- or 'the man in gray,' was more ambiguous, managing to be at once even creepier than Hector and much, much nicer of a chap.  I'm... actually still not sure if Alexander really deserves the title of villain.  Antagonist might be better.  Either way, he and Hector were awesome.

On a slightly less glowing note, the actual plot of The Night Circus falters a little, what with all the attention given to making the circus as beautiful as it can possibly be.  There's not a whole lot of plot build-up - not much tension, not much action, just the choosing of Marco and Celia, their training by Alexander and Hector, respectively, the creation of the circus... time plodding along in the lives of everyone concerned.  It's all very slow - beautifully felt, like cobwebs or calligraphy, but very, very slow.  And, despite it's length, not a whole lot happens.  Well, a lot happens; most of it is just minor stuff, little bricks building a great big castle.

Really slowly.

Still, I think I can excuse the lack of plot, and the strange dangling storylines, and the rushed climax, and the rather disappointing last twenty pages.  Getting to experience the circus, even vicariously, was more than enough reason to read the book.  I probably won't read it again for a long, long time - it's exhausting - but it was still enjoyable.

So yes, I recommend the book very highly, if you're not afraid of rather psychedelic non-plots and really strange characters that you don't get too close to.  People who like 'normal' novels probably won't like The Night Circus.  But if you have a taste for something strange and different and deliciously written, then read this book.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Arena -- A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde!

Persy: ...How do we even start without sounding like idiots?

Arty: Pfffft, we should sound like total idiots.

Persy: Okeydaisy! WELCOME TO THE BOOK ARENA, Y'ALL. How's that?

Arty: How about... I WUV OWIVER. That's even better.

Persy: Totsally. Now I'm just going to be making an effort to sound like an idiot the whole time.

Arty: That'd be awesome.

Persy: Ahem. Welcome to the Book Arena, where your favorite book bloggers will be discussing a book we've BOTH read (we won't go as far as to say we've both enjoyed/hated it). Woah, look at this tree!


Persy: I KNOW. But anyway. This week we'll be discussing A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde (one of my favorite authors)!

Arty: Quickly becoming one of my favorite authors, too.

Persy: A Well-Timed Enchantment starts in the present day with our young heroine, Deanna, having been forced to spend her summer in France.

Arty: Her only friend in France turns out to be Oliver, a black cat. Oliver's with Deanna when she stops by a secluded well - and manages to drop her watch into it.

Persy: To her alarm, the water inside the well begins to rise, and Deanna is pulled in! Oliver jumps after her, and the duo find themselves in an empty clearing...but suddenly it's not so empty.

Arty: Two very strange men inform Deanna that by dropping her watch into the well, she's put time itself in danger - the well is a time portal, and the watch has ended up somewhere in medieval France, where anyone might happen to pick it up.

Persy: Deanna is forced to retrieve her watch from history, but not alone. The two men transform Oliver into a human boy, to "help" her, but things only get more complicated as Oliver and Deanna try to adjust. Will she get her watch back before history is changed? Will Oliver be able to cope with being human? WILL THEY GET BACK THEIR OWN TIME INTACT!?!?!?!??!!

Arty: THE SUSPENSE IS KILLING ME!! I mean, it was. Since I read it already, it's not anymore. It was a reeeally good ending...

Persy: Aaaaah, the suspense at the end was really good. Not so much in the beginning, but that's kind of the way all of VVV's books are (most of them anyway): slow beginning, amazing end.

Arty: Yeah, I'm starting to get that feel. But really, the beginning wasn't even that slow, since it had about a chapter of lead-up, and then BAM, she's falling the well and those two awesome elf/fair folk/whatever they are are explaining and then Oliver's a human and... I'm suddenly not sick of Deanna's issues anymore.

Persy: Heh, yeah. It's just not much like VVV's usual stuff, so I wasn't enjoying it a ton until the ending really started to kick in, and then I LOVED it. So rabid VVV fans might not enjoy this one as much.
I feel like some kind of lame talk show host...

Arty: XD
I liked it moderately except for Oliver... really, I was mostly reading it for him. HE WAS SO CUTE. I mean... he was such a cat. That can talk. It was just so cool... it got kind of rambly for a while, but whenever I started to get bored, Oliver did something adorable and I got reinterested.

Persy: I actually wasn't too interested in Oliver for a while, until I realized that he was still remarkably cat-like. VVV did a really good job of that. Oliver got better and better, but Deanna just got bearable, if you know what I mean.

Arty: Yeah, I was never overly interested in Deanna... she was just kind of there. I was very impressed with Oliver. I expected a snarky smart-alec, but then he acutally really WAS catlike, like you said, aaand it was just adorable. But I really liked the castle people, too. Leonard was hilarious.

Persy: Ooooh yes I LOVED them. Though that's one thing I really had to get into, because normally VVV's characters are more realistic rather than whimsical and fun, if you know what I mean. But once I'd embraced the general tone of A Well-Timed Enchantment, I really liked everyone in the castle.

Arty: Yeah, since I haven't read as much stuff by her, it was probably easier for me to like it... I haven't really gotten into her 'feel' so I wasn't expecting anything. Except it being really fun.

Persy: ...I can't think of much else to say, except to mention that MY COPY IS SIGNED.

Arty: Pffft, lucky.
I think this might work better if we Book Arena books that one of us dislikes... then we'd be all cuh-razy defense and offense and stuff...

Persy: Yeah really, 'cause this is going nowhere. We're both just agreeing with each other.

Arty: Preeeetty much.
Soo... that's pretty much that? Read the book, 'cause it's really fun once you get to the end? And it's hard to find a book that we both really like, so you know it's got to be good...

Persy: Yeah, really... SO tune in this weekend for a review by Arty, and look forward to our next BOOK ARENA when we'll actually argue about a book!

Arty: Which should be REALLY fun!

Persy: So...are we done then?

Arty: Yeah, i think so... geez, now I REALLY feel like a talk show host.

--Persy and Arty

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Persy -- Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Everyone knew the meteor was coming and it wasn't a big deal. Everyone left their houses to watch it strike the moon. Some were scared, some excited, and some didn't care. But then the unexpected happens. The moon is knocked closer to the Earth, and Hell breaks loose -- slowly.

Tsunamis sweep the globe due to the tidal change, power frequently goes out, and that's just the beginning. Hundreds die in just moments. Others take a year to flicker out of existence.

During all this, Miranda, a teenager in Pennsylvania, is faithfully keeping a diary, starting a few days before the collision and continuing it on throughout the apocalypse. She takes us through months and months of survival along with her family: Mom, Jonny, Matt, Dad, Lisa (stepmother), Peter (Mom's boyfriend), and Mrs. Nesbitt (next-door neighbor).

I'm kind of hesitant to review this right now, because I JUST finished it a few hours ago, but I really want to. So I hope you're all prepared for some scattered and disconnected thoughts.

The beginning is really dodgy. I almost put it down countless times, but for some reason I kept on reading. When I was about halfway through, it started to get really good and really hard to put down.

At first, Miranda is the dullest person ever. She's not really annoying, and she's miserable, but she has some pretty good reasons, so I don't mind that so much. She just seems like a really boring person. And she never gets exactly interesting, but she grows so much and when I set the book down, it took me a minute to connect end Miranda with beginning Miranda. And yet, she's still the same character.

None of the characters are really likeable, but they aren't meant to be. It's a very realistic book, which means none of the characters are mind-blowingly awesome. That's just something you have to get over, but the suspense makes it easier.

And the ending is really good. I don't want to give anything away, so... I really can't say much, but I'm impressed with Susan Beth Pfeffer's ability to write a good, final ending. And yet, it's not final final. If you know what I mean.

The only thing that really really irritates me (besides the beginning) is the scene where they burn hair. Burning hair produces an awful smell. Geez.

The second book in the Last Survivors series,The Dead And The Gone, is about someone completely different going through the same disaster, so I'm looking forward to it. Even though I grew to almost enjoy Miranda, I'm glad we're done with her.

In short, I'd strongly recommend Life As We Knew It, but it requires some persistence in order to get past the beginning and into the good stuff.


You might like this if you: like survival/apocalyptic novels; enjoy books like Unwind (Neal Shusterman, or Gone (Michael Grant); like beautiful moon covers; or if you're worried about the moon and want a guide on how to survive the oncoming apocalypse.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Arty -- Wizard At Work by Vivian Vande Velde

Happy Easter, everyone! Hope you all had a great weekend. I did. And I have candaaay. I guess that's obvious, though.

As you might guess from the cover, Wizard At Work is a book for younger kids. But that doesn't make it absolutely awesome. Actually, you could say it makes it more awesome, because you have license to throw 'suspension of disbelief' out the window and just have fun with stuff.

During winter, the wizard runs a school. But when summer comes, he has time to relax - do some gardening, sleep on his hammock, just unwind. At least, that's what he thinks. Until a witch shows up and blesses him out for assuming too much, based on appearances.

And thus starts his journey.

It's really more of a collection of stories - stories about the adventures the wizard has during what was supposed to be his summer break. It's a fast-paced book, and every story seems to take just a few minutes. That's a good thing and a bad thing - they're so good that you just wish they'd go on, and on, and on, and on...

The wizard is an awesome MC (though I was a leetle disappointed to never learn his name - I guess that would have taken some of the charm away). He's a young man, but he generally goes around wearing an old-man disguise, since people don't take young wizards quite as seriously. Obviously considerate and decent yet possessing a sarcastic wit, the wizard is ridiculously fun to read.

I'm pretty sure his adventures kept getting better as they went on. My personal favorite was the last - about princess failures and golden cucumbers - but all of them were just hilarious. And fun. And addicting. I grumbled every time I had to put the book down because I was having so much fun.

My only complaint is that we never got to see the wizard while he was working in his school. That would have been awesome. I guess I'll just hope for a sequel.

So... this is a pretty short review. But there's not a whole lot to say about Wizard At Work. It's adorable and addictive. Read it.

POSTSCRIPT: Do we have any rabid Hunger Games fans out there? Yes? Probably? Well, you're not in luck. But if you just mildly liked the books - like myself - then you should definitely see the Hunger Games movie. I saw it this weekend and was thoroughly impressed - to the point where I would pay to go see it again. It's very, very good.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wednesday Scrolls - March Review!

Hey, guys, Persy here. Ready for some March Madness?

I read seventeen books in March, with a total of 3,117 pages. A bit lower than February's, but that's okay (and actually, there were a few graphic novels I read that didn't have page numbers, so I've actually read 3,117+ pages).

Best March Book: Dallas by Gabriel Ba and Gerard Way, the second Umbrella Academy graphic novel. This is so much better than the first one! Time travel done perfectly.

Honorable Mention(s): Castle In The Air by Diana Wynne Jones, also a sequel, this one to Howl's Moving Castle (this was the first review ever written on this site!); Can't Kiss The Ring by Tite Kubo (also a sequel, strangely); and Dying To Meet You by Kate and M. Sarah Klise. Okay, so I had a lot of honorable mentions this month.

Worst March Book: Snitch by Allison van Diepen. I didn't finish it because Allison van Diepen is a total snob and also a really bad writer.

Dishonorable Mention: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth-Grahame Smith.

Let's see how April goes!


Hola, all! Arty here.

Well, March was significantly better than February. It cheers me up just thinking about it. I read 21 books this month, four of which were manga.

Best March Book: This is a really hard choice - seriously. But, by virtue of the spectacular ending, which had me crying in front of my mother and brother, my favorite book is A Tale of Two Cities by, of course, Charles Dickens. If you read any book by Dickens - or even any classic at all - read this one.

Honorable Mention: Where do I begin? The 21st volume of Fruits Basket was amazing. A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde (look for a "special" coming up on this book). To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, another really classic classic. And Lives of Christopher Chant, by my writer-hero Diana Wynne Jones.

Worst March Book: No Promises In The Wind by Irene Hunt. Another history book. Just... boring. The main character was annoying. And what was up with Howie, I have no idea.

Dishonorable Mention: Matched by Ally Condie. I only got a hundred pages into it before I pretty much fell asleep. Nothing. happened.

Here's hoping April is even better than March!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Persy -- Interview With The Vampire

I only just got around to reading the great gothic vampire classic, Interview With The Vampire by the renowned Anne Rice. I know, for someone who says she likes real vampires, you'd think I'd have gotten to Anne Rice earlier, but oh well. I finally read it.

One night in modern America (?), Louis the vampire meets with a young reporter to tell his life story, which is pretty long and action-packed. It starts centuries ago, when Louis first came to America from France and was turned into a vampire by Lestat. And... well, Louis's story spans across centuries, mostly involving himself and Lestat along with a few other vampires that come and go, namely Claudia and Armand. Throughout it all, you get glimpses of the future during scenes when Louis, mysteriously alone, interacts with his human interviewer.

I'm going to be entirely honest here. I didn't like it.

I'm sorry, but it was just... geez. Anne Rice's writing is gorgeous, but... I hated all the characters. From the beginning, I really wanted Louis to just kill Lestat and then throw himself into the sunlight so they'd all be put out of their dreadful misery. That's pretty much the basis of the entire book: misery. Immortal misery. Misery spanning centuries and centuries. Misery in America, misery in Europe. Misery with one person, misery with a whole group of people.


Basically, Louis's a sap and Lestat is a jerk. Claudia's insane, but that's not her fault, so mostly I just feel sorry for her. Armand's actually all right, but he's not in much and is also in a miserable situation... BECAUSE OF LOUIS AND LESTAT.

So basically, I'm right back at the beginning. Lestat and Louis should both just die.

I am going to read some later novels by Anne Rice, because her writing is pretty good, but Interview With The Vampire was just a huge disappointment.


You might like this if you: like gothic vampiric stuff; don't read books looking for cool characters; just want to say you've read it; or if you find yourself in an incredible state of misery and for some reason want to read about other people in misery.