The Night Circus

13330943by Erin Morgenstern
Fantasy
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: September 13, 2011

I have been meaning to read this book for years, and I finally bought myself a copy so that I could leisurely make my way through the 500 pages. This is one of the best stories I’ve ever read–ever.

Told over the span of decades, through multiple characters, bouncing back and forth through time and different countries, it drew me in from the first page, promising not just a story, but an experience. And it completely delivered that for me! I seriously considered not finishing the book just to prolong the feeling of the circus.

As children, Celia and Marco are bound to a magical competition by their instructors, unaware that only one can survive the challenge. After years of training, the Night Circus is created to showcase their abilities as exhibitors, and drawing innocent people into the web of the contest. When Celia and Marco fall in love, things get even more complicated.

I just adored this story–the magic is beautiful and interesting and at times just fun, reminiscent of Harry Potter. It’s immersive, and although the plot is slow, the enjoyment of this book comes from the journey and the little moments of detail in each chapter. It is one of those stories that makes you long to be there yourself. Definitely a new favorite for me, and a wonderful way to close out this year!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Night Circus is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Agnieszka knows her perfect best friend is going to be the local wizard’s captive apprentice—except when he comes to choose a girl it isn’t Kasia. Incredible world-building, dark magic, excellent twists. Addictive and immersive! See my review here.
  • A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi – A captured princess and cunning prince team up to compete in the Tournament of Wishes, which will test their resolve in every way imaginable. As enthralling as it is emotional, I adore this story. It’s a love letter to stories and readers. See my review here.
  • When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore – Lush prose that draws you into a small town filled with magic, secrets, and romance. Sam and Miel have been best friends their whole lives, but when the Bonner sisters decide they want the roses that grow from Miel’s wrists, protecting Miel could reveal all the secrets Sam and Miel have kept from each other and themselves. See my review here.
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Born a Crime

29780253by Trevor Noah
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

This is an incredible story that I couldn’t put down! Part history lesson, part autobiography, full of dry humor and even more grit.

Chronicling his childhood and teenage years in South Africa before his career on the comedy circuit, this is as much his mother’s story as his. A single woman raising a child with a white father during the final years of apartheid, her faith in Jesus was the only constant in a life spent hiding and running.

Noah holds nothing back–the darker stories of his upbringing and the racial tensions are only occasionally lightened with humor. The details of surviving through pirating music and DJ-ing parties are thrown together with his abusive stepfather, and continually searching for a group to belong to as a mixed race child. (Because even with everyone stringently categorized, he is alone). He examines all the aspects of white privilege as deftly as family dynamics and religion. Every chapter is riveting! This should be taught in high schools.

I’ll be recommending this to everyone! It presents the complexities of identity in a compelling, honest way with vivid language, the emotions bleeding through the carefully thought out anecdotes.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Born a Crime is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari – A study of how romance has changed in the last few decades, with plenty of humor! See my review here.
  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey –  This is an excellent illustration of the sacredness of life in any state or size and has similar insights into knowing and accepting yourself as you are. See my review here.
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler – A funny and inspiring autobiography about being a woman in comedy and television. I really enjoyed her perspective! See my review here.

Warcross

29385546by Marie Lu
Science Fiction
5 of 5 stars

This book blew me away! Some stories are just FUN to read and this is one of them! It’s completely different from Lu’s last trilogy (which I loved) and I was sucked in the same way. I’ve never wanted to be a part of a sci-fi world before, but this one is as addictive as the virtual reality game at its heart!

Emika Chen has been a coder, hacker, and bounty hunter since her father died. Warcross is the biggest game in the world, and gambling on it is illegal, but commonplace. Emika hunts these gamblers for the police to pay her debts, but it hasn’t been going well. When she accidentally glitches herself into the Warcross tournament, she catches the eye of the game’s creator, Hideo Tanaka. He wants her to be his bounty hunter, because someone else has been expertly hacking Warcross, and he wants to catch them.

There’s a lot to explain about this world, Warcross, and the tournament, but Emika takes us through it all with ease, filling you in yet keeping her own secrets (good and bad) from you until she chooses to divulge them. Although Emika’s voice is very matter-of-fact, there are surprising emotional moments that punch you in the gut.

The pacing is perfect, and the reveals are satisfying. Each beat tugs your heart in just the right way, like a perfect popcorn / spy / adventure flick. Even the cover clicks into the story in the best way. It was an absolute pleasure to read and I can’t wait for the sequel!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Warcross is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Want by Cindy Pon – In the future, air pollution is so bad that the elite wear specially designed suits to protect their health, enabling them to live longer. Jason Zhou suspect Jin Corp, the maker of the suits, is manufacturing the pollution that makes their product necessary. He infiltrates Jin Corp, but falling for Daiyu, the CEO’s daughter, is not part of his plan to bring the company down. See my review here.
  • Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh – This debut explore futuristic Korea through the eyes of Jaewon, a soldier commissioned to guard a girl in a test program for people given superhuman abilities. Jaewon will have to guard his heart as well as Tera if he wants to succeed–but success means choosing to support a regime that goes against everything his parents fought for.

The Sun and Her Flowers

35606560by Rupi Kaur
Poetry
5 of 5 stars

I have wanted more of her poetry since I read her first book, and this was exactly what I hoped for! Another heartfelt collection of inspiring poems about hurting, healing, and reaching out to others with your story. This book is broken into five parts: wilting, falling, rooting, rising, blooming.

It’s a journey that examines abusive relationships, femininity, and grappling with what it means to be a child of immigrants. These lovingly crafted pieces and illustrations hold nothing back, and I’m so grateful she has chosen to keep sharing her life with thousands of readers! I know I will be inspired by her work every time I read it. Everyone should have these small books on their shelf to turn to whenever you feel like you aren’t enough, so that you can hear the reminder that yes, you are.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Sun and Her Flowers is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur – This emotional journey is tragic, beautiful, hopeful, and inspiring. I’ll be reading this many, many times.  Highly recommend – these simplistic and raw verses can speak to anyone! See my review here.
  • The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace – A story of a girl finding the courage to love herself, and how that vanquished the witch and the dragons. See my review here.
  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey – Although it isn’t written in verse, this is an excellent illustration of the sacredness of life in any state or size and has similar insights into knowing and accepting yourself as you are. See my review here.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

12000020by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars

Aristotle and Dante meet one day at their local swimming pool, and Dante’s offer to teach Aristotle to swim will change their lives. The two strike up an unlikely friendship (Aristotle is angry about a lot of things, mainly not knowing why his older brother is in prison and Dante seems happy-go-lucky). Both of them are introspective, struggling to find their identities in a world they don’t fully understand, and their conversations involve a lot of musing and laughing as they wait to grow up and receive some answers. Then an accident changes their relationship forever.

Ari might be angry and prickly but the things he loves bring out the best parts of him and make you feel for this boy that wants so desperately to find his place in the world. I fell in love with his desert and his family and his dog and his truck. I wanted him to find answers and the things he learns along the way are meaningful to everyone. It would be easy for this book to sound instructional or preachy, but it never does.

This is a deceptively simple book about a boy trying to solve the mystery of himself that pulls you into every day life and then rips the rug out from under your feelings to leave you a sobbing mess. The relationships manage to be nuanced and real when we only glimpse them in “ordinary” moments. I enjoyed the first 3/4, but it’s the end that made me LOVE it.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy – Ramona is as well-known in her small southern town for her blue hair as she is for being a lesbian. But her surety of her identity is tested when an old friend moves back and she discovers not everyone fits into a box. See my review here.
  • Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – Simon is only “out” with his mysterious email pen pal Blue. Both of them haven’t told each other their real names, but their growing relationship is threatened by another student who will expose their emails to the school unless Simon helps him land a girlfriend. See my review here.
  • You’re Welcome Universe by Whitney Gardner – An art-filled story of friendship–and rivalry. When Julia is expelled and becomes the only Deaf girl in a mainstream school, she throws herself into her art even more. But she unwittingly stumbles into a turf war and must figure out who is trying to push her out. See my review here.

A Crown of Wishes

29939047by Roshani Chokshi
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

A new favorite! A book lover’s dream, a love letter to stories and everything they are to our souls.

You might remember Gauri from her brief appearance in The Star-Touched Queen. She isn’t a side character anymore, she is a tough as nails heroine ready to carve out her own destiny! As soon as she gets out of prison for a failed uprising, that is. Vikram is the Fox Prince, known to be clever, not widely known to be the adopted son of the king–and thus bereft of royal blood and the right to rule. Both of them desperately want to help the people of their two countries, but rather than an alliance of marriage, they become partners in the Tournament of Wishes–a dangerous competition in the Otherworld where the winners are granted one wish.

This story resonated with me so deeply. Gauri and Vikram have to face their fears, adapt their strengths, learn to trust, and ultimately decide what they truly wish for in life–and if they have the nerve to go after their dreams. Some might find it too metaphorical or philosophical, but I was obsessed with their personal journeys and how closely they mirror our own lives. The whole thing was cathartic bliss.

Of course there’s plenty of adventure too! The Otherworld is not a dull place. Demon fruit, poisonous courtesans, the Serpent King’s lair…I loved the tournament itself. It was the cherry on top.

The language is lush, Gauri and Vikram are winsome characters that long to be remembered (and will be), and the Otherworld is a candyland of whimsy and danger. This book turns our world into magic, and reminds you that everything you want is within reach, for good or ill. A crown of stars for this story!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, A Crown of Wishes is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – Shazi volunteers to be the killer king’s next queen after her best friend is the last in a string of girls to be a bride one day and a corpse the next. Shazi plans to be the last—she’s going to kill the king. A beautiful retelling of The 1001 Nights. See my review here.
  • This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills – I recommend this simply because it’s another book that tracked closely with my personal journey and I loved it! Sloane doesn’t expect to make friends in her new town, but then she falls in with the complicated lives of twins Vera and Gabe. This is a fun, emotional story about senior year in a new place that might be the perfect place for you. See my review here.
  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber – If you enjoy magical tournaments, you’d probably like this one. Scarlett gets her dreamed-of chance to enter Caraval, but she had hoped to play with her sister, not play for her sister’s life. See my review here.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

33958230by Julie C. Dao
YA Fantasy / Fantasy
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: October 10, 2017
*ARC review

This was one of my most-anticipated releases for this fall and I was lucky enough to snag an advanced reading copy at ALA this summer. This swept me away from the first chapter and I’m so sad this dark dream is over!

Xifeng’s impoverished existence is shadowed by her aunt Guma’s continual predictions for her greatness. Every time she reads Xifeng’s cards, they indicate she is meant to be Empress. Xifeng scoffs at the idea. She is no one, her incredible beauty and cleverness wasted in obscurity. Guma wants her to reject Wei, the man who loves her, because of her destiny, but Xifeng continues to see him–enduring brutal beatings from her aunt as a result. When Wei gives her the chance to run away, Xifeng thinks she is free of Guma’s abuse and can find her own fate. But her journey takes her to the imperial palace, and Xifeng decides to embrace her destiny and enter the palace as a lady-in-waiting. The competitive house of women tests Xifeng’s cunning in ways she didn’t expect, but each choice and gamble brings her closer to her goal. But becoming Empress will mean sacrificing everything she values and the man who loves her to claim the Emperor’s heart.

This is such a dark, addictive character study of a woman who believes her only worth lies in her flawless face and the power it provides. Xifeng is ruthless yet insecure as she feels the pull of destiny unraveling her morality. All she wants is the ability to control her own life, but as a woman in a patriarchal society her options are limited. Becoming Empress symbolizes safety and happiness for her because no one would outrank her.

Based on the stories of the Evil Queen, the fairy tale skeleton is visible beneath layers of fresh material and it provides additional significance to key moments in the best way. Xifeng’s journey feels inevitable and yet it’s clearly happening based on the choices she makes. Despite her darkness I could never bring myself to stop hoping she succeeded.

Although this is marketed as YA fantasy, I think the pacing, style, and themes better fit adult fantasy. Any readers who enjoy fairy tale re-tellings would enjoy this though!

The writing is vibrant, poetic, yet just as direct as its protagonist. Xifeng is unapologetically ambitious and I just wanted this story to last forever. Her rise from lowly peasant to life in the palace reads like a magical, disturbing Jane Austen / royal court drama and I was completely addicted to her bold game of chance and fate. I can’t wait for the sequel!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Agnieszka knows her perfect best friend is going to be the local wizard’s captive apprentice—except when he comes to choose a girl it isn’t Kasia. Incredible world-building, dark magic, excellent twists. This is the only fantasy novel nearly as dark and addictive as Forest that I’ve come across. See my review here.
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer – The Queen of Hearts used to be a girl that wanted to open a bakery, but from the day she makes tarts for the King her parents try to push her towards royal ambitions. Cath is convinced she doesn’t want status or riches, but she doesn’t expect a forbidden romance with a joker to change her fate. See my review here.
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – Kell is one of the last Antari, magicians that can travel between the four parallel worlds. Officially, he works for the king of Red London (where magic is vibrant and free) but unofficially, he smuggles objects between the worlds for those willing to pay. But when he accidentally smuggles a piece of Black London (which should be extinct) into Red London, all hell breaks loose across the four worlds. See my review here.
  • The Rose Society by Marie Lu – Adelina’s journey to power and descent into darkness becomes more compelling and dangerous in this sequel. The stakes continue to rise and Adelina must continually sacrifice to achieve her dark dreams. See my review here.

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