Book #59: The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a fantasy novel about Le Cirque des Rêves, a graveling Circus Open only at night. The Circus appears in a town like magic and disappears just as quickly. Patrons find acts beyond their wildest dreams that push the boundaries of reality. But the Circus is not just for entertainment – it’s a venue for Marco and Celia, two magicians, to stage their skill and endurance in a competition that not only determines their future but the fate of everyone connected to the circus. I did not hate this book, it wasn’t awful, but it also wasn’t good. I didn’t care about it once I finished it; I couldn’t even remember the main characters names, that’s how little I connected with this book. The plot was confusing and drawn out way too long. The characters were flat with no emotional resonance with the reader. The writing style was choppy, each chapter jumped to a different point of view, making it hard to feel like you ever get settled in the novel. Honestly, I’m not sure why I bothered finishing it except that I’m stubborn and rarely quit books. This was a bestseller and people love it, though I have no idea why.

Book #58: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser is a sweet middle grade novel about the Vanderbeeker family: Papa, Mama, Jessie, Isa, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney. They live in a brownstone apartment in New York City, a home they love in a neighborhood they adore. But just a few days before Christmas they learn that their landlord, Mr. Beiderman, is not renewing their lease – and they have to move before the end of the year. The Vanderbeeker kids set out to change Biederman’s mind and give their parents the best Christmas present ever – their home for years to come. The family Glaser has created is so endearing and lovably quirky; each child has a distinct personality, and as a whole the family exhibits a beautiful love through difficulty and turmoil. The plot is predictable and wraps up a little too nicely, but that’s not so surprising for a kid’s book. If you fall in love with the Vanderbeekers, there is a sequel.

Book #57: The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden draws heavily from Russian folklore. Vasya is the independent, tomboyish daughter of a Russian noble. After her mother died giving birth to her, she is raised by her nurse, Dunya, who tells her all the old Russian fairy tales, particularly about the Frost Demon. Life is good for Vasya’s family and her people, until her father remarries and the new stepmother makes them abandon their old ways. Vasya’s home and people lose the protection of their household spirits, and a new evil threatens them all. The novel is well-written, evoking the cold and isolation of Russian winters, and truly frightening suspense from the villain. I also enjoyed entering into a new world of tales I am unfamiliar with. But, overall, the book was unsatisfying. Turns out, it’s the first book in a trilogy and is unable to stand on its own. Throughout the book are many allusions to a greater story happening behind the events of the novel, but it is never explained – even a cursory explanation – and that just left me frustrated. I’m somewhat interested in the next two books, but if the author can’t flesh out the bigger story even a little in the first book, will she be able to at all? I don’t expect that reading the whole trilogy would satisfy my curiosity, nor do I want to buy them, so this is probably the end of the story for me. 

Book #56: The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Coming out of my Harry Potter immersion, I picked up The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling. The Tales plays a role in the seventh Harry Potter book, and after she finished the series, Rowling actually created this book, straight out of Harry Potter’s world. It’s a collection of tales much like Aesop’s fables or Grimm’s fairy tales, but what they would be like if they’d come out of the wizard community. It doesn’t contribute to the Harry Potter plot at all, but it was cute and another example of Rowling’s amazing creativity.

Books 49-55: the Harry Potter Series

I read the entire Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling for the second time. I first read them about 12 years ago. The story of the boy wizard facing off against the evil Lord Voldemort is well-known and loved by many. I was surprised by how much I didn’t remember, which made it fun as the story unfolded – it was almost like experiencing it for the first time again. I did remember enough that I picked up more connections and foreshadowing, which makes me marvel at how masterfully crafted this series is. Rowling really wove together a fantastic, deep story of good versus evil. Certainly enjoyed these!

Book #48:Devoted to God

Sinclair Ferguson is an intimidating author, and for that reason I’ve never read any of his works. But I know he’s a great theologian and when Ben got me Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification I figured it was time to give him a try. This is a dense, thorough book about the ins-and-outs of sanctification in the Christian’s life. It took me about four months of slow reading to wade through but it was completely worth it. It is so rich and edifying, and a good challenge to stretch my knowledge and understanding.

Book #47: Ramona the Pest

Inspired by Wild Things, I decided to try some Beverly Cleary. I have never read any of her books, but I had a cool, old hardback copy of Ramona the Pest I’d picked up at a thrift store a while ago. This short children’s novel tells the story of Ramona beginning kindergarten. She’s excited she’ll finally be going to school like her older sister, Beezus, and learn to read and write. Each chapter tells of the many new experiences she encounters at school and the difficulty of discovering her way in the world. It’s not really my kind of book though I can see the appeal to children. One aspect of it I did appreciate was how Cleary captures the different way children view the world, deciphering their own meaning from words they don’t understand or the mysterious compulsion to pull another girl’s curl and watch it go boing.. I won’t be delving into any more Cleary anytime soon.

Book #46: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Snagged this children’s novel for a buck. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is a Newberry-award-winning fantasy novel. Every year in the Protectorate the Elders choose an infant to be left to the witch in the woods as a sacrifice to keep them safe. Every year Xan, the witch that lives in the woods, rescues an abandoned baby from outside the Protectorate. She carries the infant through the treacherous woods, feeding it with starlight along the way, and gives them to a family in the towns on the other side. One baby though, Xan is particularly taken with and accidentally feeds her moonlight. She decides to raise the baby, naming her Luna, as her granddaughter. But all that moonlight left Luna full to the brim with magic and Xan has to somehow teach her to control it. This was a delightful, creative story and another easy read to get through long nights.

Book #45: The One-in-a-Million Boy

I would not have picked this book except that it was a couple bucks on Kindle, and it turned out to be an enjoyable read. The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood is the story Ona Vitkus, a 104 year old immigrant woman who is assigned to the titular boy as a Boy Scouts project. The story revolves around Guinness world records, the complexities of family, and finding friendship even when you’re the outsider and a little different. It was a sweet book, in the vein of A Man Called Ove, and an easy read for late nights.