Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

After almost a decade after the release of The Night Circus, The Starless Sea, released in early November of this year, was an incredibly highly-anticipated new novel from Erin Morgenstern.

All over Instagram, Goodreads, and anywhere books are talked about, The Starless Sea has been getting rave reviews from people who have been relentless evangelicals for this novel. Because of this hype, I wanted to offer my thoughts in a more in-depth, but spoiler free, review from my perspective.

What I Liked About the Novel:

Overall, I enjoyed my time reading The Starless Sea. It’s incredibly reminiscent of the dreamlike atmosphere Morgenstern created in The Night Circus and kept me guessing, entertained, and captivated by its whimsy.

One thing that I kept comparing this story to, which is not a negative thing, is Alice and Wonderland. The idea that someone falls down a “rabbit hole” of sorts and experiences otherworldly things that they have to figure out along the way is not a “new idea,” but Morgenstern’s execution of this trope was unique. While the setup was familiar, nothing else about the story was. I really loved the setting of this novel which was so book-focused and centered on literature. Despite the high level of adventure, there was comfort and a sense of “home” that made you desperate to visit the underground library/world in which it takes place.

In addition to the overall richness of the story, I was constantly highlighting quotes throughout the entire novel. There were so many hard-hitting (in a good way) nuggets of beautiful prose that resonated with me so fully. Here are a few of my favorites:

“”You’re not wearing shoes.” “I hate shoes.” “Hate is a strong emotion for footwear,” Zachary observes. “Most of my emotions are strong,” Dorian responds.”

“We’re here to wander through other people’s stories, searching for our own. To seeking,” Dorian says, tilting the bottle toward Zachary.”

“No, each one’s different. They have similar elements, though. All stories do, no matter what form they take. Something was, and then something changed. Change is what a story is, after all.”

 

What Did Not Work for Me About the Novel:

The characters in this book are, in my opinion, definitely not the main focus of this story. You hear their stories, follow their perspectives, but the world building of the story and the “once upon a time” setup leaves little room for “who are these characters” and “what motivates them.” While this is something that a lot of readers don’t mind, I find that, especially with fantasy novels, I need to have more character development to be able to really connect with the fantastic themes. Even character physical descriptions would have been nice just to be able to picture them in your mind. Some authors leave out descriptions on purpose so the reader can form them in their minds, so maybe that was a purposeful omission, but I would have liked even small hints.

While I enjoyed the interwoven stories from the magical books featured within the worlds of this story, I felt distracted by the fact that I was required to remember themes, characters, and storylines I was told hundreds of pages ago to be able to connect them to things that were currently happening in the main plot. If you did not remember the importance or finer details of those side stories, you would miss them and quickly become lost. Because I read the book so slowly over a few weeks, I think I shot myself in the foot in this regard. I should have taken notes or added bookmarks with markers of those side stories so I could revisit them when the context popped up later on, but I didn’t and found myself having to flip back and forth for reminders. This hurt my understanding especially when characters in the “now plot” ended up being one or two different characters with one or two different connections in the “side story plots.”

The last thing I felt could have been better executed in this book were the romantic themes. Because this is intended to be a spoiler-free review, I won’t mention whose romance arc I wasn’t convinced of, but for those who have read it, as a hint, it is the romance of those who travel into a wardrobe together (amidst Narnia jokes) and attend a ball. I really wish there would have been a more natural progression of the romance between them so we could see it flower and feel more connected to their love as an observer.

 

Overall Thoughts:

As I mentioned, I did enjoy this story. I do think I could have been a better reader of this book and I feel my slow reading and lack of attentiveness may have contributed to my enjoying it maybe a bit less than others.

For those who like star ratings, I give this novel a  3.5/5 stars with a caveat that “it’s not you… it’s me, The Starless Sea.”

 

 

 

Coping with Bookstagram Frustration

Coping with Bookstagram Frustration

I’m writing this post at a time when my frustration is fresh. In fact, I’m frustrated right now. My engagement over the last two weeks on bookstagram has been incredibly low compared to what it normally is. I’ve tried posting popular books, unpopular books, staged photos, casual photos, indoor photos, outdoor photos… and nothing has performed in my favor. My follower growth has also all but become stagnant and, admittedly, sometimes I really let it get to me.

When times like these come around, and they do fairly frequently, it’s really hard for me to not take it personally. I’ve gotten better at it in my 2 years on bookstagram, but it’s still incredibly easy to fall into that mind vortex of thinking you’ve lost your touch or people no longer care what you post or have to say.

I wanted to write this post for those of you who also struggle with this frustration and as a reminder to myself now and in the future. I am hopeful that this post will help more than just me when the bookstagram frustration sets in. So, here are a few reminders and lessons learned that I hope we can all use as a source of comfort:

This too shall pass.

The truth is that this time of poor engagement will pass. There have been endless cycles of poor engagement to stellar engagement for me. It’s the bookstagram “circle of life.” We can’t pressure ourselves to fight against it because it’s out of our control. Hang tight, the circle is on the upswing, love.

Bookstagram is for fun. Nobody else is judging you.

One thing I’ve been trying to come to terms with is that there is no one out there keeping an eye on how many likes or comments your posts get except you. Nobody is judging you for that post that is totally bombing. It’s frustrating for us, but we’ve all had bad days on bookstagram. We don’t judge you!

Posting what makes you happy is more important than likes.

Me posting a book that made me smile or even just posting book photos that feature my dogs, places I’ve traveled, and yummy food I am eating is fun for me and makes me smile when I look back on the photos after posting. Curating a space that fills me with joy is more important to me than the less than ONE second it takes someone to double click on my photo to pop up that heart icon and add another tic mark to the  number below my photo. This is really hard for me to remember. You want people to care about what you’re posting and find what you are doing entertaining enough to engage and keep following. But imagine that, in 30+ years from now, one of your loved ones (or even your older self) finds your account. What would your account say about you? Is it filled with what you love and does it stay true to who you are? Does it contain memories of the reality of things that were going on in your life? Being able to get a clear picture of YOU during this time in your life is going to mean more than how many likes your posts got.

Book popularity falters and what’s popular changes faster than light.

Trying to keep up with the newest releases and posting the latest books people are talking about is impossible. Like with most things in life, things move fast, especially trends and what’s hot on social media. Staying true to your reading taste and what you want to read is so much easier. Not to mention, it will make you feel more genuine and connecting with your followers and friends will be easier and more natural because they will know exactly who you are!

Being genuine and kind is more important than being popular.

I think this one is pretty self explanatory. Life is more meaningful in the land of kindness!

I know a lot of this stuff is kind of easier said than done. Like I said, this is supposed to act as a reminder to you AND to me. But maybe, as we spend more time on this platform, we will get better and better at remembering them, allowing them to become a natural habit and state of mind. We got this!

Do you get frustrated every once in awhile when it comes to social media/bookstagram? What helps you feel more positive? Let me know and I will add it to the list! 🙂

Oh! And don’t forget to follow me on @worldswithinpages on Instagram! 🙂

June Reading Wrap Up

June Reading Wrap Up

In the month of June, I read a large book that, apparently, has taken others MONTHS to finish. While I am proud and happy with this massive undertaking, it also means that I didn’t read a large quantity of books. Not mad about it though, because I really liked all of what I read and had an overall REALLY phenomenal reading month. I have also been really enjoying SLOWING THE EFF DOWN with my reading, but that is another blog post for another time… {foreshadowing??

In the month of June, I read four books (technically, I am still making my way through the fourth book, but shhhh…..). I read the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, Miracle Creek by Angie Kim, The Whisper Man by Alex North, and I am about halfway through The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. To read a quick and snappy overview of what I thought about what I read, keep reading!

 

  1. Miracle Creek by Angie KimOverall rating: 5/5 stars

    Miracle Creek: A Novel by [Kim, Angie]

    What I loved about this book is that it tied turbulent family dynamics and drama into a bow wrapped around a mystery that you couldn’t help but remain on the edge of your seat for. It is always extremely refreshing to have authors go full throttle into the lives of their characters while balancing the overall plot, neither outweighing the other. Angie Kim did a PHENOMENAL job with this book and I highly recommend this one to people who love mysteries surrounding small towns, domestic drama, legal proceedings, and overall anxiety and tensions between characters. 

  2. Game of Thrones by George R.R. MartinOverall rating: 5/5 stars

    A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) by [Martin, George R. R.]

    After the last episode aired on the final season of Game of Thrones, I finally had an excuse to start the books. I have really been enjoying visiting my friends and foes in Westeros and I am really excited to start the second book in July. Yes, these books are MASSIVE and yes, they are a bit over hyped in terms of popularity. But take it from someone who never lies about the quality of books regardless of their popularity: The series is (so far) so freaking GOOD. SO GOOD. I love it so much. In case you were wondering, which a lot of people do, yes, I do think you should watch the show before reading the books. This may seem backwards coming from a reader, but having the characters faces/storylines/etc. to reference as you work your way through the book makes it about 10x easier to remember who people are, where they come from, and why they’re relevant (or irrelevant) to the story. I recommend this series to people who love the show, love large fantasy novels, enjoy rotating character perspectives, and those who love a good political fantasy tome.

  3. The Whisper Man by Alex NorthOverall rating: 4/5 stars

    The Whisper Man: A Novel by [North, Alex]
    I am so grateful to Celadon Books for sending me an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of The Whisper Man by Alex North. I believe that this novel was previously published in Europe, but it will be available in the US for the first time on August 20, 2019. If you like books that will make you peek around corners, watching for dangerous serial killers, you will find exactly what your spooky heart needs in this novel. Trust me, I read a lot of horror and it takes a LOT to really rock my boat. This book creeped me OUT. It probably didn’t help that my husband was away for work while I was reading it, but STILL. This one has minimal gore, a hint of supernatural, a heartwarming undertone, and spine tingling creepiness. Basically, it’s perfect, and you should all read it! The only reason I did not give it 5 stars is because I would have liked it to have been a bit longer to really flesh out some of the smaller characters and interactions people had with one another.

  4. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt 

    Overall rating: First half of the book is a 3.5/5, final rating TBDThe Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) by [Tartt, Donna]

    Here’s the thing about this book for me: While it is beautifully written, explores topics that people would rather not talk about (i.e. the death of a parent), and has kept my attention for quite some time, I do think that this book is way too long and would benefit from “wrapping things up” in about half the time it is currently using. Yes, I understand that the depth of the book is intentional and needed for this Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel to shine in all its glory, but I think a good cutback of about 25% of this book would be beneficial to my overall interest and compulsion to read it. I have started to listen to the audiobook versus reading the paperback because a) the narrator is great and b) I don’t think I would make it through this book on my own haha. TBD how much I end up liking it once I complete it.

 

 

That’s it! That’s my June monthly wrap up! I am hoping to have a few more books to talk about next month, but we shall see. What did you read this month? Any new favorites?

 

Until then, thank you for reading and I will see you next time!

-Alisa

5 Horror Recommendations for “Wimps”

5 Horror Recommendations for “Wimps”

*Sits down to type this post in my Haunted Mansion shirt from Disney World*

Hello, foolish mortals, and welcome to one of the THE most requested post/list I get from people on the reg over on Bookstagram (shameless plug, go follow me on insta @worldswithinpages).

 

Over the last few months on bookstagram, it seems like I have developed a bit of a reputation. That reputation has been based on my newly found love of Stephen King as well as the endless number of books I have picked up in the last few months that fall under a genre that is often avoided at all costs: horror.

Let me put this out there, I used to think I would hate horror novels! I thought I would get way too scared and would have nightmares and spend hours at night peering around at the shadows in my room, just waiting for a murdery ghost to try and kill me. BUT… I have since learned that, not only can I handle horror novels way better than I thought I would (better than scary movies, for sure), but I LOVE them and I can’t seem to get enough!!

So, the question you all came here to have answered, if you are a wimp and normally hate scary things, where should you start if you’re feeling just a little brave and want to dip your toe into the “horror” genre? I have five suggestions for you, but first, a big fat disclaimer:

*Horror novels, including the ones I am about to mention, often have very graphic scenes varying from general blood and gore to psychologically disturbing content. I will tag TW’s down below along with the titles, but please be warned that I do not recommend the horror genre for those who are unable to process disturbing themes safely.*

Here we go…

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Image result for bird box by josh malerman

Bird Box was actually the very first horror book I read that made me realize “hey, I actually like this stuff!” If you’re into atmospheric stories that contain an air of supernatural mystery, this book is for you!Bird Box follows a woman named Malorie and her two children (called Boy and Girl) as they struggle to navigate life in a post-apocalyptic world where ~something~ is lurking. Seeing this ~something~ causes extremely gruesome acts of violence against others, and/or against yourself, which means closed eyes and blindfolds are mandatory at all times. This is the life that Malorie has been forced to raise her children in since the moment they were born, and one that she has suffered to survive while everyone else around her is dead. If there is ANY good news in this situation, or even a glimmer of hope, Malorie has become aware of a location where she and her children can maybe find safety and protection from the “monster.” The only problem? She isn’t positive where it’s located and, obviously, she will have to be blindfolded the entire way.Side note: The book is 400x better than the movie, so if you have seen the movie and were “meh” on it, don’t hesitate to give this one a go!

 

*TW for gore, suicide, and intense descriptions of disturbing things*

 

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Image result for the winter people by jennifer mcmahon

The Winter People would be a PERFECT introductory read to the horror newbie. While there are *~spooky~* things that are happening, it is the atmosphere of the setting that McMahon builds that really gives you the creeps. If you’re into books that suspend your satisfaction until the very end, this is a GREAT choice for you.

Description via Amazon (because it’s hard to describe on my own lols):

“West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.

Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.”

*TW for very mild gore and violence*

 

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Image result for the haunting of hill house book

It’s fairly likely that you have heard of this book, or the show that was inspired by it that had everyone sleeping with the light on during the winter months after it aired on Netflix. The funny thing is, this book is NOWHERE near as scary as the show. Not even close. Does it give you all the ghosty goodness that a haunted house story should? Of course! But don’t use the show as a barometer of how badly this book will scare you because the book and the movie are like your eyebrows should be: Sisters, but not twins.

In case you’re not up to speed on what this book is about, it’s basically your formulaic haunted house story. A group of people are invited to stay at a mansion with a mysterious past and haunting ensues. What makes this book slightly more disturbing than most is that it combines external ghosty hauntings with internal mental hauntings (I don’t know what else to call it, okay? You’ll see…). This book would also be a good choice if you are trying to read more classics this year, but you don’t want to get bogged down by “ye olden tyme” syntax.

Carrie by Stephen King
Image result for Carrie book

Despite the fact that Stephen King is known for his unstoppable and uniquely disturbing prowess in horror, a few of his books sit very comfortably on the “mild side” when it comes to really getting under your skin. Carrie is one of those books. As King’s first novel, Carrie serves as a pinky toe dip into the cold pool of horror novels for his readers AND his own artistry.

This book, in true King fashion, reveals creepy themes in multiple layers. It’s like an onion of fear (or an ogre). You’ll get unsettling flashbacks of teenage high school bullying, telekinetic violence, extreme religion-based manipulation and abuse, and disturbing scenes that bring you into the moment and inside the mind of Carrie as she deals with some pretty rough things.

  *TW for very mild gore and violence*

 

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

If you want to dive into more of a spooky haunted house setting that’s just slightly more brave than The Haunting of Hill House, The Grip of It by Jac Jemc will deliver. The cover art alone is a bit unsettling, and sets the tone for the entire novel.

A young married couple, Julie and James, decide to leave the “big city” behind and settle into a house in a secluded wood that will allow them to focus on mending their tumultuous relationship and have a fresh start toward a new life. Little do they know, the house they move into has other plans, which makes sense, as it becomes very clear that it has a true mind of its own. Rooms disappear, disturbing smells and stains drift in and out of focus, bruises appear overnight on Julie’s body, and their off putting next door neighbor is just the icing on the creepy cake. When the pieces of the puzzle start to come together for what happened in the house that caused such unrest within, Julie and James, and their sanity, begin to unravel. What really happened in this house? Are the random labyrinth of rooms that appear and then decay really there or just a hallucination? Who is the next door neighbor and why does he keep watching their every move?

 

 

Hopefully this list gives you a good place to start on your spooky horror journey! As someone who has been getting deeper and deeper into the horror genre, I will definitely be offering up more recommendations and reviews in the future, so be sure to keep an eye out for that post if you’re interested!

In the meantime, be sure to follow me on instagram at @worldswithinpages to keep up with what I am reading and all my random adventures! 🙂

Ta ta for now!