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.”

 

 

 

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

Why I Am Ditching the TBR Pile Concept This Month

Why I Am Ditching the TBR Pile Concept This Month

Hello fellow readers and friends, how are you?! I wanted to do a quick chatty post since it has been a little bit since I last talked to you guys about what I am reading and what I am up to.

You may have noticed that I didn’t post a TBR pile this month on my bookstagram (@worldswithinpages) or here on my blog and there’s a reason for that. These past few weeks have been super weird for me when it comes to reading. I am not in a reading SLUMP per se, but I am definitely going through a weird spot in my reading habits. Let me explain…

Before April, if you would have asked me to read a thriller novel, I would have told you I was not interested. Thriller/mystery used to be my LEAST favorite genre for various reasons and I would avoid them at all costs. However, during April, I completely abandoned that notion and I read almost nothing BUT thrillers back-to-back. I have NO idea what happened, it just did.

It all started when I read The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell. I picked it up randomly and after realizing that it had been on my shelf for quite some time and had not yet been read. I figured, after hearing some amazing reviews for it, that it would be a good bet. It was! I really enjoyed it and I am glad that my whims lead me to want to read it. However, it started a snowball effect of ONLY wanting to read thrillers. I didn’t want to read regular fiction, I didn’t want to read anything YA, and I didn’t want to read fantasy (my long-standing favorite genre). For some reason, all my brain wants right now is thrillers, thrillers, thrillers. Since then, I have read a total of 4 thriller/mystery/horror-type books… and I don’t see myself slowing down or changing course.

I started to fight this feeling for a little while when it first started creeping in, but I realized a few things. The first and most important thing I realized was that I read for fun! I don’t get paid to read and I don’t read for anyone else’s benefit but my own. Why pressure myself to read anything other than EXACTLY what I want to read, when I want to read it? The second thing I realized was that I have been blocked out SO many books by being exclusionary to the thriller genre. I am YEARS behind on reading what thriller fans have been loving and I have so much to catch up on! I will never run out of books to read now haha!

Another reason why I am not setting up a TBR pile this month is because I ALWAYS deviate from it. Every single time I set up a stack of 10+ books, I read maybe 3 from that pile. That’s always okay by me, but then I feel like there’s a feeling of guilt that I put on myself for not acheiving some sort of goal. I also have this weird thing that happens where, as soon as I say I am going to read a book by x date, I don’t want to read it anymore because it feels like a homework assignment (gross). Sitting and thinking about this more makes me wonder if I should never go back to a TBR pile again… time will tell!

Because of my weird reading mood I am currently in, I will not be setting up a TBR pile this month. I am going to read exactly what I want to read, when I want to read it. If that means that I divert away from thrillers to read something else, that’s fine by me! I think my brain is trying to teach me that I need to get back to reading what I love and not what I feel obligated to read and I am going to ride that wave as long as I can! Like I said, I read because I love books and I can’t wait to read more of the books that remind me of that!

I will say that I do have two hopefuls for this month that I would like to read: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood and Final Girls by Riley Sagar. I have heard INCREDIBLE things about both books and I am excited to dive into both of them!

I know this was a bit of a rambly post, but I am still trying to figure out what the heck is happening to my reading mood and feelings lately. I have no explanation for it, so I am just taking it book by book haha!

How do you feel about TBRs? Are you good at adhering to them or do you always deviate like I do?

 

Book Recs for Fans of The Greatest Showman

Book Recs for Fans of The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum is taking the world by storm at the moment and it’s easy to see why! With musical numbers that will be stuck in your head for weeks on end and a glittering cast of characters and production, it’s truly a dream of a movie!

With visions of acrobats still dancing in my head, I thought I would put together a list of a few book recommendations you might like if you are someone who also enjoyed The Greatest Showman!

 

  1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 
    The Night Circus
  2. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
    Water for Elephants
  3. The Grace Keepers by Kirsty Logan
    The Gracekeepers.jpg
  4. Everything You Came to See by Elizabeth Schulte Martin
    Everything You Came to See
  5. The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
    The Book of Speculation

 

There you have it! Just a handful of books that will bring you back to the circus, back to the magic, and allow you to start “dreamin’ with your eyes wide open!”

Have YOU seen The Greatest Showman? What is your favorite song from the movie? Do you have any favorite circus books that I missed? Let me know! 🙂

 

*Note: All images found on Amazon.com

Review: Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

Review: Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

First and foremost, I want to extend my sincere appreciation to my friends at Penguin Random House for sending me a copy of Unbury Carol in exchange for an honest review. I am so appreciative of their generosity and I always love working with them!

Unbury Carol is a thrilling novel that takes place in the Wild West and encompasses everything you’d hope to find in a Western story. There are outlaws that are chasing each other, sketchy narrators, shootouts, taverns, booze, and everything in between. However, the most compulsive part of the story, and what originally drew me to wanting to read the book ASAP, was the character of Carol Evers and her unique and terrifying “condition”.

Carol, a wealthy, well-known, and largely-loved individual in her small town suffers from a terrifying condition where, to the outside world, she appears to be completely dead. However, on the inside, Carol is very much alive and existing in a state of perpetual wind and falling that she refers to as “Howltown.” Howltown is an absolutely terrifying concept to me personally. Can you imagine being totally aware of everything happening around you and yet you can’t move, speak, or interact with the people around you? Horrifying!

Carol’s husband, Dwight, is the only person who knows about her condition. The danger in this fact? He also has his eye on her money. So on an emotionally stressful day when Carol unexpectedly falls into her death-like coma, Dwight, being the slimeball he is, decides that he will finally fake her death, bury her alive, and steal her fortune. The only problem? He ISN’T truly the only person who knows about her condition. Enter: James Moxie, Carol’s former love and outlaw extraordinaire.

Upon hearing of Carol’s ill fate, James takes off on his horse into the sunset to try and rescue the woman he used to love. But there’s someone else who is hot on his trail, an evil arsonist named Smoke, who would die to get his hands on James Moxie.

Will Carol be lowered into the ground and never return? Will James Moxie make it to her in time to save her or will Smoke catch up to him before he even has a chance?

 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I had no idea that it was going to be a Western so that was a bit of a surprise and not normally a genre I would dive into. I loved that I got to experience a new genre for me in a creative way!

The characters were also super rich in this book. I felt that I understood and always wanted to know more about them and I was so excited to see how their story would pan out. I do wish that we got to see more focus on the women in this story, including Carol. After chatting with my friend Audra over at @ouija.doodle.reads, we both realized that our favorite component of the book was actually the amazing cool women that were within it. We both agreed that the book would have been greatly strengthened had we been able to see more of all of their stories.

I ended up rating this book a 3/5 stars. I did enjoy it a lot, but I do feel it could have been improved. After reading Malerman’s Bird Box, I was so hoping for a book that would just grip me, keep me interested, disgust me, and scare me a bit. Maybe it was my own expectations for the book that lead to me giving it a lower star rating?

Either way, I can’t wait to see what Malerman comes up with next.

 

Again, thank you to Random House for sending this book my way! If you’re interested in reading the book, make sure you keep an eye out for it when it hits shelves on April 10, 2018.

 

 

Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Siiiiigh.

I really wanted to like this book a lot. I really did. I have had it on my shelf since the month it was released a few years ago in 2016, silently passing it over with the hopes that I would be holding off for something amazing. Then, when Thunderhead, the second book in the series was released a few months ago, I was finally motivated to read Scythe and figure out what it was that everyone was raving about it.

Unfortunately, even after reading the book, I still do not see what the fuss is all about. Let’s dive into my review about the things that I liked about the book and the things I did not.

Things I Liked About Scythe

There were a few things I did like about this book. The plot itself was a pretty original idea (kind of… see below) and I was really intrigued by the idea of a “perfect society.” I also really liked that there were a lot of themes of compassion and doing what is right by your fellow man even when what you are doing is difficult. I also appreciated the pacing of the book. It seemed like something new was happening with every chapter and there were a few twists that I didn’t see coming!

Things I Didn’t Like About Scythe

Alright, where do I begin here? I think it might be easier if I make a bulleted list.

  • This story is a bit tired. Two talented teens (one boy, one girl, because obviously we need to stick to that heteronormativity), they train under the direction of a powerful figure, they discover the government system they are fighting for is flawed, they work hard to stick it to the man, they fall in love, but oh man it’s forbidden love uh ohhh, and THEN of course something occurs that tears a seam in the world as we know it. Sound familiar (Hunger Games, Divergent, The Host, Shadow & Bone, etc. etc. etc. etc.)
  • The characters are so so shallow. While the plot is progressing and we are learning more about the characters themselves, I never truly felt like I knew or connected to either of the main characters. I realized this was the case when something happened where one of them could potentially die and I just really did not care. I was not invested in their lives at all. I have a really hard time reading books whose characters I can’t connect with, no matter how fast the plot was moving. I will say that Rowan (the main male character) does experience some emotional changes that we get to see, but it still didn’t make me like him more or less.
  • SPOILER ALERT: The two main characters, Citra and Rowan, fall in love. But we never find out why or how. You can see throughout the novel that there may be some hints of affection, but it goes from 0-100 REAL quick. There is almost NO reason for me to want to invest in their relationship or even care that they are “in love.” It’s almost creepy?
  • The violence in this book is incredibly graphic. Normally I can handle a little gore, but when it comes to this book, I had a really hard time being okay with and processing the fact that there were innocent people being killed for the sake of “world balance.” There was even a scene where a family with a father, mother, and children were eating at the dinner table and the Scythes showed up, took him away from his family at the table and lead him into the bedroom down the hall to “glean” him. This was incredibly discomforting to me and made me really anxious to think about. Not only that, but if the person who is being “gleaned” resists in any way whatsoever, their entire family will be hunted down and disposed of. It’s horribly violent and deeply disturbing. Some of the methods of gleaning were also incredibly immoral and I really just didn’t see the point of how grotesque some of the methods were. I was really disappointed in that element.

That’s about all I have to say about this book. I think I will read the second book just to see if it makes the first book seem any better but I have my doubts.

Overall, I feel like my reading tastes have evolved when it comes to YA fantasy and I have almost impossible standards for YA fantasy to achieve 4 & 5-star ratings. For having read SO much of it in my lifetime, it’s hard for me to excuse the things that I find are lacking in certain books that I have found in others.

I give this book 3/5 stars.

Have you read this book yet? What did you think?

Thanks for reading!

-Alisa

Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

I am going to be honest in this review, as I try to be with all of my reviews. This book is either one that people hate or people love. Luckily for me, I LOVED it.

Wintersong follows the story of a girl named Elisabeth (Liesl) who has grown up her entire life hearing fairytale-like stories about “The Goblin King” from her superstitious grandmother. However, her grandmother’s stories turn out to be more than just stories, as a grown-up Liesl starts to remember flashbacks of her childhood and dancing and laughing with this handsome and frightening “Goblin King.” When Liesl’s sister Kathe is lured into the Underground, the Earthy domain of The Goblin King and his minions, Liesl must find a way to save her, but it may cost Liesl something more than she could have ever prepared for.

Look, I understand why so many people have a hard time liking this book. It contains everything that you would think a YA fantasy would contain: A “bland and boring” female main character who has the hots for the mysterious fantasy bad boy, a steamy encounter (or two… or three), and an eventual proclamation of love that changes everything (look, you saw this coming, don’t tell me it’s a spoiler). HOWEVER, there is a special charm in this book that I rarely find in other “typical” fantasy YA novels. The connection that the two main characters have is so much more than just romantic and physical tension and I loved that there was almost a sense of vulnerability between the two of them. They wanted each other, badly, but they were respectful of one another, they understood one another, and Liesl made her boundaries well known to him. It’s also hard to NOT be attracted to someone as flawed and tormented as The Goblin King. While so many male protagonists are “flawed bad boys”, you can’t help but feel empathy for the role that The Goblin King has to play and the weight he has on his shoulders to keep the world from absolute ruin (literally).

This book was absolutely magical for me. The descriptions of the music that Liesl holds dear, the whole world that was created by the author, and the love and connection that was shared between the main characters was enchanting. If you read it like a fairytale and go into the story thinking of it as a fairytale, I feel that it would be much more enjoyable. This book is meant to be read as a story, not as a fantastical reality if that makes sense!

There are some flaws in this book that I would like to address, but they are minimal. Liesl REALLY had some self-esteem issues in the beginning of the novel that made me feel like it was a bit overdone. The whole “plain girl trope” is not something I like to see as much as it is portrayed and written into fantasy novels and I often find myself becoming irritated by it. However, I will say that her character arc does create an opportunity for her to become a bit more confident, but it’s at the hands of The Goblin King. I would have liked to see Liesl come into her confidence on her own without needing a man to give it to her (lol pun intended) to make it happen. I also wish that her sister Kathe was not viewed as an object as much as she was in the book. She was known for being beautiful and the author put her in so many situations where she was objectified and I felt really bad for her. We get it, she is desired, but couldn’t she have been so much more than that?

Overall, I REALLY enjoyed this book and I am excited to read the second book in this series that was just released about a month or so ago. I ended up giving this book 4/5 stars and I would definitely recommend it to people who are fans of fantasy.

Thanks for reading!

-Alisa