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.”

 

 

 

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!

 

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

Fantasy in February

Fantasy in February

Hellooo and happy February, my loves! January was a doozy for a lot of us, so I am sure that many of you are breathing sighs of relief that it is FINALLY February.

If you follow me on Instagram (@worldswithinpages), you may already know that I am doing something pretty fun in the month of February. After looking at my bookshelves full of the books that I can’t WAIT to get to, I realized that many of the books I had been excited to read but hadn’t made time for yet were in the fantasy genre. That is why I made the exciting decision to ONLY read fantasy/sci-fi books during the month of February. Because it is my favorite genre to read, I have a feeling this may become my best reading month of the year!

When picking out which books I wanted to read, I took into account the ones that had been sitting on my shelves the longest and the new releases that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. What I came up with was a list of hopefuls as long as my arm and an excitement to read that I hadn’t felt in such a long time. Wanna know which books I chose? Keep reading!

  1. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
    This book was released on Tuesday, January 30th and you bet your bottom dollar I went out to buy it that same weekend. I ended up finishing it already because I just couldn’t wait any longer to dive in (review to come).The book follows the story of a girl named Alice whose grandmother is a famous fairytale author who lives in a secluded mansion named “The Hazel Wood.” The problem is that Alice has never read any of her grandmother’s stories and getting her hands on a copy of the novel is impossible (literally). However, strange things start to happen and her Mom disappears mysteriously, leaving her behind with only one message: “Stay away from The Hazel Wood.” Alice begins to suspect that her grandmother’s fairy tale stories may be MORE than just stories after all. With the help of her classmate Ellery Finch (who has read her grandmother’s book but had it stolen from him years ago), Alice must find a place she has never been to rescue her mother from danger. But all is not what it seems…
  2. Scythe by Neal Schusterman
    Scythe by Neal Schusterman is one of the novels that has been waiting patiently on my shelves the longest. I actually bought it last year out of excitement that the author of Challenger Deep (one of my favorite reads centered on mental illness) had released a new novel. But now, with the release of the second book in the series (Thunderhead), it is finally time for me to pick up the book and give it a go! I am also doing a buddy read for this novel, so being able to experience it with a friend will be very exciting!Scythe centers on two teenagers, Citra and Rowan, who are chosen to act as apprentices under a scythe. During their apprenticeship, the teens will be instructed on how to take people’s lives without endangering their own. Scythes are necessary for the world they live in, as humanity has learned to conquer disease, hunger, and war meaning that they have also conquered death. But Citra and Rowan do not want to fit into this role that society has set aside for them (can’t really say I blame them…). What will be the cost of a perfect world? Is it so perfect after all?
  3. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
    So, the sad thing about this book is that I was really looking forward to it. It had been calling my name since March of 2017 and I was finally ready to take the plunge and see what the fuss was about. Truthfully? I didn’t like it. I read about 50 pages in earlier this week and realized that Laini Taylor’s writing style may just not be for me. It’s very lyrical and poetic and was definitely not the feeling that I expect to get from YA fantasy. I am really sad that this didn’t turn out better for me this month, but I am hoping to maybe revisit it sometime in the future when I have more patience for it.Strange the Dreamer is about a young boy named Lazlo Strange who is an orphan and junior librarian with big dreams of discovering the secrets buried within the mystical lost city of Weep. He longs to discover why it was cut off from the rest of the world long ago, but knows that he can’t do it alone. When a band of legendary warriors lead by a hero called the “Godslayer” crosses paths with Lazlo, he seizes the opportunity to travel with them to find the answers he’s been looking for.
  4. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
    The Grishaverse world is one that I have been waiting to dive into for so long! I purchased the box set last summer and even though I have read most of the first book, I am ready to pick it up again and finish strong with the entire trilogy.Shadow and Bone is the first book in the Shadow and Bone trilogy and centers on a young girl named Alina Starkov. Alina is a soldier in an army that travels across a section of her country called The Shadow Fold. The Shadow Fold is full of monsters and dark magic and threatens the lives of the soldiers with every step. One day, when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes magic within herself that she never knew she had. This discovery leads to her life changing drastically, as she is sent to train with the Grisha, a group of military elite who have magical abilities like hers. But do Alina’s powers hold more than just simple abilities?
  5. The Diviners by Libba Bray
    The Diviners is an older release, but one of my newer discoveries for books I want to read. I originally started listening to this book on audiobook and didn’t enjoy the narrator’s portrayal of the characters and really didn’t want to finish the book because of that. However, after seeing one of my favorite Booktubers rave about the book and how much she liked it, I decided to give it another chance and read it in my own voice in hopes that I will like it a bit better that way.The Diviners takes place in 1926 and follows the journey of Evangeline (Evie) O’Neill from her boring hometown to the thriving streets of New York City. While there, Evangeline is forced to live with her uncle Will who is a little bit eccentric, specifically, he has an obsession with the occult and knows how to spot sneaky paranormal activity and objects. The catch? Evie has a secret ability that she is desperate to keep from him, powers that she would rather he not know about. But when a local citizen winds up dead with a suspicious symbol branded into her skin, Evie knows that her secret abilities may be the only chance the city has at catching the killer.
  6. Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
    To be honest, this is the book on my TBR that I know the least about. I am just going to put it out there that I was attracted to the cover last year and that’s why I got it and DO NOT JUDGE ME OKAY? But I do know that the sequel was just released on the day that I am writing this post, so that’s as good a reason as any to try out the first book this month, right?!Wintersong originally snagged my attention with the Amazon description that claims that it is “an enchanting coming-of-age story for fans of Labyrinth and Beauty and the Beast.” As a lover of both of those, I am HERE for this. Here is the rest of the description from Amazon:

    The last night of the year. Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride…All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her mind, her spirit, and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen and helping to run her family’s inn, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away.
    But when her own sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl has no choice but to journey to the Underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds―and the mysterious man who rules it―she soon faces an impossible decision. And with time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.”

  7. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
    As one of the BIGGEST Disney fans on the planet, I am hoping to read more of the books behind the movies this year. First stop? Peter Pan! While Peter Pan isn’t my favorite Disney story (and, let’s be honest, it’s PRETTY problematic), I do enjoy the ideals it embodies of adventure and childhood being a state of mind. I can’t wait to read it!
  8. Cinder by Marissa Meyer 
    Another series that has been patiently waiting for me to read it is the Lunar Chronicles series! Cinder is the first book in this series that seems to have the hearts of so many YA fantasy readers and I can’t wait to see if this modern spin on some of my favorite Disney stories warms my heart as much as they seem to warm others’.Here is the Amazon description for Cinder:
    “Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.”

In addition to the incredible fantasy reads I have lined up, I also have a handful of non-fantasy books I will be reading for pre-planned buddy reads and review request for publishers. I will also be reading:

I am also currently rereading A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab because what is a month of fantasy without a reread of one of my favorite fantasy series of all time?! I will carry on with the reread of the rest of the series in March as a fun way to celebrate my birthday!

I am so excited about the number of friends I have on instagram who are participating in #FantasyinFebruary! I am looking forward to seeing the incredible recommendations that everyone has to offer and I can’t wait to dive into the books on my list.

Thank you so much for reading and if you have an instagram account, feel free to follow along with me this month!

Lots of hugs,

-Alisa