Book Review: “The Night Circus” (2011) by Erin Morgenstern

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Cover art.

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Now that National Novel Writing Month has officially kicked off, I thought it might be nice to take a look at a novel that started out as a NaNoWriMo project and later became an international bestseller. In 2011 Erin Morgenstern wrote in her NaNo pep talk:

The circus was my variation on the wise and ancient NaNo wisdom: when in doubt, just add ninjas. I had this plodding, Edward Gorey-esque thing with mysterious figures in fur coats being mysterious and doing very little else. I got tremendously bored with it because nothing was happening so I sent the otherwise boring characters to a circus. And it worked. I ended up tossing that beginning and focusing purely on the circus. An imaginary location I created out of desperation expanded and changed and became its own story over many non-November months of revisions and more revisions and now it is all grown-up and book-shaped and published and bestselling. And it all started with NaNoWriMo.

Brilliant. Bring on the metaphorical ninjas! Read more

Book Review: “Last Night I Sang To The Monster” (2009) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz AND “A Monster Calls” (2011) by Patrick Ness

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“A Monster Calls” illustration by Jim Kay.

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We tend to think of grief and mourning as maladies of the mind, but the loss can grow and expand until it feels like more like a presence than an absence. In the poem “Death Barged In,” Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno describes her pain as a mysterious figure in a Russian greatcoat who barges in, slams the door, and now makes all her decisions for her:

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me.

I read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Last Night I Sang To The Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz back to back on a whim, only to find out that they have much more in common than just the word ‘monster’ in the title. Both are by incredibly talented young adult authors, both are about troubled families, and in both books, the loss these protagonists so desperately refuse to acknowledge takes on the physical form of a monster, looming over them.

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Book Review: “More Fool Me” (2014) by Stephen Fry

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“More Fool Me” book cover.

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When I was a young girl (she said, at the ripe age of 26), Stephen Fry was my hero. He was intelligent, funny, eloquent, charming, talented, well-travelled, well-connected, and well-read – everything I wanted to be. Like a lot of people, I put him up on a pedestal and idolised him. His first memoir, Moab Is My Washpot, brought him back down to earth for me. In this book, he talked about his fears and insecurities, and it helped me see him for what he truly was: just a man. He wrote about his first love, feeling like an outsider, his criminal record, and his eventual suicide attempt in a way that felt deeply, deeply personal and honest. It took the halo away for good, but if anything, I liked him even more now that he was vulnerable and flawed. Even Stephen “Britain’s National Treasure” Fry is wrecked by insecurities. Read more

Book Review: “The Absolutist” (2011) by John Boyne

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“Birdsong” (2012) still.

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As one of the last people left on this planet who has not read The Boy In The Striped Pajamas (2006), I was not familiar with John Boyne as a writer when I first picked up this book. However, I still went into it with certain expectations. A story about a young soldier who falls in love with a fellow private during World War One? I flew through The Absolutist in one sitting with a stack of tissues and a fluffy pillow on standby at all times, because there was no way that this would end well (“spoiler” alert: it didn’t).

On the surface, this book seems to have been tailor-made for me in terms of theme and setting, and at first I did enjoy it. However, the following morning I kept thinking of things I didn’t like about it and as I was writing this review, I discovered even more; it turns out that on the surface is exactly where The Absolutist stays.

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