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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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.

Saints and Misfits

32333055by S.K. Ali
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: June 13, 2017

This is a perfect depiction of high school–a YA book truly written for teens, and I loved it!

Janna Yusuf is an Indian-American hijabi teen trying to fit her identity into every part of her life while making the fewest waves. But when her best friend’s cousin assaults her, she must decide if she will be the one to expose him. He’s a saint in their community, and she’s the only one who knows he’s a monster.

This is a serious novel and a heavy read, but the writing is excellent. Janna’s stress and emotional turmoil is portrayed in big and small moments. Sometimes she lashes out, sometimes she makes a surprisingly compassionate decision, but she does everything while navigating her parents’ recent divorce, her brother’s courtship with the perfect Muslim girl, and her network of friends. She learns who to trust, and what her personal beliefs are, and what forms a solid faith and what does not. Her female friendships are the brightest and lowest points of the book and I loved how true that is to high school. There are feel-good moments in this story but it doesn’t sugarcoat anything either. I rec this to anyone who enjoys YA contemporary with more nuance and reflection.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Saints and Misfits 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.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – Starr’s life comes under intense scrutiny from both her white high school and her black neighborhood when she witnesses the police shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil. 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.
  • Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley – Aki has always known she is bi. At least, she’s pretty sure, even though she’s only had boyfriends. But when she develops a crush on another girl during their Mexico mission trip, she finds herself putting her theory into practice as they deepen their secret relationship. But Christa doesn’t want to keep it a secret. See my review here.’
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi is caught between two worlds, trying to please her traditional Mexican American family, and trying to fit in at school. Both worlds give her nothing but stress: college apps, one best friend coming out to his religious family, her pregnant sister, her father’s drug habit, and her mother’s constant advice to lose weight. Finding her voice through poetry might be the only way she survives. See my review here.

When Dimple Met Rishi

28458598by Sandhya Menon
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: May 30, 2017

I heard nothing but good things for months leading up to this release and I snagged a copy at her Denver signing!

Dimple is preparing for Stanford where she wants to code apps that change the world. She’s used to explaining this to her mother every day: marriage is the last thing on her mind, thanks. Rishi was accepted at MIT for engineering and his parents’ pride is his own satisfaction. When Rishi finds Dimple at InsomniaCon (a 6-week coding competition) he is so excited to introduce himself and begin their relationship. The only problem is Dimple has absolutely no idea that their parents have planned for them to get married and thought that InsomniaCon might be an easy way to put them together.

The inevitable clash of ideals between Dimple and Rishi is just as funny as I hoped! They are both so sure of what their futures hold and yet both of them are surprised by the other’s dreams and personality. They have cute moments, serious conversations, chances to compromise and chances to stick up for what they value.

I can’t stress enough how fun this story is, and how adeptly it handles serious topics. Dimple and Rishi are earnest, with good intentions, yet they both are so obviously teens. I saw so much of my high school self in Dimple and Rishi! How simplistically and idealistically you can view the world and how hard it is to accept that things are complicated. How you can feel so confident one moment and so vulnerable the next. (Actually I still feel that way.) But Dimple and Rishi both learn and grow so much in a short time, and it’s a nice reminder that we’re meant to keep changing and striving to be better than before. I absolutely adored this book!

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


Similar reads:

  • This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills – 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.
  • Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown – Jo has a tough choice when it comes to pleasing her parents or being herself. Jo’s dad is a pastor, and for years she has wanted to add an LGBTQ-friendly radio show to his extensive radio ministry. She might finally get her wish—if she can pretend to be straight for his new wife’s extended family, until she graduates high school. Sketchy, but fine, Jo agrees. And then she meets beautiful, funny, sensitive Mary Carlson.See my review here.
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord – Vivi’s summer in a beach town is already off to a great start when she meets the attractive and quiet Jonah. A summer romance, perfect! Because neither of them could possibly have intense personal secrets that could erupt at any time. 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.

The Hate U Give

32075671by Angie Thomas
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: February 28, 2017

I don’t know what to say that hasn’t been said – important, powerful, emotional, hopeful – all of those things and more.

Starr Carter has two identities. She is one of the only black students at her preppy high school, careful never to present herself as “sassy” “loud” “angry” or any other stereotype that will make her friends raise an eyebrow. In her neighborhood, she’s Big Mav’s daughter who works at the store, “too snobby” to hang out at parties or date any guys. (Her boyfriend is Chris–rich, white, and definitely a secret). When she does go to a neighborhood party with her friend Khalil, they have to leave when shots ring out. But on their drive home, a cop stops them–and five minutes later, Khalil is dead. Starr is the only witness to the shooting, and what she decides to say or not say about that night will have far-reaching consequences.

Although there are definitely moments of humor, love, and hope, the overall mood is somber, as it should be. I suppose the pacing is unhurried, but it definitely captures the feeling that law enforcement is unhurried when you need them. When it’s your situation, the waiting is agonizing. Around all that, Starr shows us how her two worlds are colliding and it can be the best or worst thing imaginable.

The true strength of this story is Starr’s voice. Everyone you meet and every place you go feels so real you could blink and be there. I loved her, her parents, her friends (even her “annoying” younger brother). This story doesn’t pull any punches–I teared up so many times–and it’s something I will recommend to everyone.

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


Similar reads:

  • You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner – When Julia puts a graffiti mural over an offensive slur meant for her best friend, she’s shocked when her friend rats her out. Being expelled and becoming the only Deaf student in her new high school is another shock. This is a fun, fast read that deftly takes you to new turf. See my review here.
  • The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis – A brutal, unflinching take-down of rape culture in America. Alex Craft took vengeance into her own hands when her sister’s killer walked free, but keeping that secret becomes harder when star athlete Jack and preacher’s daughter Peekay befriend her during senior year. See my review here.
  • The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter – An excellent and uncomfortable portrayal how insidious toxic relationships are, especially when it’s someone in your immediate family. Cassie is determined to put her abusive relationship with her mother behind her as she goes to college, but when her mother turns up promising a fresh start and the love Cassie has craved her whole life, she wonders where a second chance will lead. See my review here.
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi is caught between two worlds, trying to please her traditional Mexican American family, and trying to fit in at school. Both worlds give her nothing but stress: college apps, one best friend coming out to his religious family, her pregnant sister, her father’s drug habit, and her mother’s constant advice to lose weight. Finding her voice through poetry might be the only way she survives. See my review here.

The Princess Saves Herself in This One

32334098by Amanda Lovelace
Poetry
4 of 5 stars
Debut: March 23, 2017

My nonfiction entry of the month! There aren’t exactly any surprises in this volume but it was a satisfying read nonetheless.

This was originally self-published via CreateSpace and much like Milk and Honey, it garnered such a response that the same publisher grabbed it and put out a hard copy. This deeply personal collection explores the arduous healing process after abusive relationships and has an uplifting ending. Broken up into four sections (The Princess, The Damsel, The Queen, You) it’s only after reading the darkest parts of the earlier sections that the final one can provide universal inspiration.

A short, powerful read and one that bravely lets you step into someone else’s soul. It’s impossible to ignore the emotion and courage poured into each piece, and it’s lovely reminder that no matter the grief and loss you suffer, there are bright spaces ahead of you.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Princess Saves Herself in This One 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 Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by Thomas H. Johnson – Dickinson’s unique style is often well-remembered from English classes. This collection is unaltered (many collections change her punctuation or wording to “clarify” the poems), presented in chronological order, and even includes several drafts of some of her work. She explores all kinds of themes (life, death, loneliness), but the ones that hint at her unconventional life as an unmarried woman were the ones I found most interesting.
  • Classic Haiku edited by Tom Lowenstein – This collection of four haiku masters’ poems (Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki) is poignant, reflective, and at times surprisingly funny!
  • Moon in the Pines translated by Jonathan Clements – This has a really good intro that helps you understand and enjoy the poetry. Beautiful artwork is interspersed and there’s some brief interpretations of the poems in the back. I loved it!

Serafina and the Black Cloak

23507745by Robert Beatty
Children’s Fiction
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: July 14, 2015

I bought a bunch of MG books last year and this one has sat on my shelf the longest. I wasn’t sure what to expect (especially given my limited experience with the Disney imprint) but it was not the “safe” adventure I expected!

Serafina and her father secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore mansion. Her father is the estate’s head engineer, and Serafina does not exist, as far as the Biltmores are concerned. But when children start disappearing from the estate, Serafina reveals herself to the Biltmore’s nephew, Braeden, and they try to save the children before it’s too late.

What surprised me is just how dark this story got when it came to tracking down the Man in the Black Cloak! Not only is the Cloak super sinister, the things Serafina encounters as she hunts him down made me squirm with the creeps. (I read it on a plane and actually squirmed, several times). Encounters with various bloody remains and dark places in the Forest had me cringing in the best way! Serafina is a tougher girl than I am, and could grit her teeth and keep going.

It’s not the subtlest in terms of Serafina’s mysterious past and such, but it was fun and pretty satisfying. Gothic vibes made for middle-grade readers!

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


Similar reads:

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman – The other gruesome MG book I have read. Coraline’s family moves to a new house, and she has fun exploring it. Then she finds the Other Mother, who is determined to keep Coraline forever if Coraline can’t outsmart her trap.
  • Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi – A girl’s quest to locate her father in a neighboring magical realm goes horribly wrong. This is an interesting blend of total lighthearted whimsy and the darker depths of human nature. Enjoy this journey through two realms who use magic very differently! See my review here.
  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – Definitely YA, but with that same creepy, country vibe. Three unreliable narrators tell you what they think happened one dark night at the haunted house. See my review here.

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