“Should we wake and find it gone. Remember this our favorite town”

night circus

 

This is another selection for which I’m extremely late to the party since it’s been getting good press since its 2011 publication.  I finally got The Night Circus from the library when the buzz for Erin Morgenstern’s most recent book “The Starless Sea” reached a fever pitch.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect because none of the book podcasts I listen to knew quite how to describe it.  It’s not quite fantasy, not quite magical realism and not quite romance.  It seems to borrow from all the best parts of these genres.
Le Cirque de Reves (The Circus of Dreams) appears in town without warning and it’s tents are silent and still until it opens at dusk.  What you see once you enter is a feast for the senses and the imagination.  Everything inside will feel elevated from your average circus. Though none but a select few know it, two young lovers, Marco and Celia, supply the magic that keeps the show alive.  They have been locked in a competition set up by their wards when they were just small children and have fallen in love in spite of this. Before the book’s end, everyone who gets close to Le Cirque de Reve will be pulled in to their orbit and affected for good or ill.

What was so engrossing for me about this book was not just the beauty and wonder of the Le Cirque de Reves but the pervasive feeling that everyone who came in contact with it was a part of something magical.  Which, technically they were but that feeling was transferred to me as a reader as well.  The descriptions are so rich that you are transported and begin to feel like another circus-goer. There is an argument to be made that some of the character development suffers as a result of all this book’s lush surroundings. However, as a reader, the feeling of being a part of something special and magical when you open a book is one of the best feelings you can get. 

 

“The shiniest cloaks and the most coveted daggers”

ninth house

 

I have a couple of Leigh Bardugo books sitting in my massive TBR pile already but the ingredients of this new book were basically catnip to me (ivy league campus, secret societies, magic, murder mystery) so I put it on hold at the library and waited rather than read what I already had.  Based on the way it’s listed on Goodreads it’s the first in a series and I’ve already tagged it’s untitled sequel as “want to read.”  In the world of Ninth House, secret societies e.g. Skull and Bones are not only real but use magic to exert control over the world in varying ways. There are eight of these societies on the campus of Yale along with Lethe, the titular “Ninth House” whose job it is to watch over the other 8 and make sure they never kill any innocent civilians or let their magic get loose in the world.

The story centers on Galaxy “Alex” Stern, who is the last person you’d expect to find as a Yale freshman.  Raised by a hippie mother, Alex’s world involved heavy drug use, shady people and much worse.  After a catastrophic event brings her to the attention of Lethe house, she is recruited into their ranks.  An off-campus murder the night of a ritual is written off as unrelated to the societies but Alex can’t shake the feeling that there is more to it.  Despite being told by her superiors and her police contact to leave it alone she dives into the investigation and finds herself involved in the misdeeds of privileged college kids, hundred year old ghosts and a conspiracy that might shake the foundations of Lethe House.
I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Alex Stern is an often infuriating character but her flaws are more than earned.  She does things that she absolutely should not do but you understand why.  I want to wrap myself up in the world of the Yale and its secret societies even if I don’t trust most of the members any further than I could throw them.  Ninth House is a great beginning to what I hope is an exciting series.

“You be the captain, I’ll be no one”

song of achilles

The story and characters contained in Song of Achilles will be familiar to anyone who knows their Greek history. It is the story of Iliad. It’s conceit is that it is told from the perspective of Patroclus, the companion of Achilles. Different treatments of the legend vary on what type of “companion” he was but in Madeline Miller’s, Patroclus and Achilles are unambiguously lovers. Exiled from his own land as a boy, Patroclus is sent to live in the house of Achilles’ father. Over the years, the boys grow from best friends to something more as they mature. The story follows them from their childhood until long after both their deaths.
Madeline Miller’s writing is simply beautiful. A tale as well worn as this one could easily be stale but Song of Achilles never is. While the majority of the book takes place during the Trojan War, it is a love story as legendary is the heroes contained in its pages. Though Patroclus is (by the standards of the ancient Greeks) an average man and Achilles is a literal demigod destined for glory, their relationship is on equal footing and one of mutual adoration. Patroclus is never jealous or bitter of Achilles fame or ability; he is content to be the moon to his sun.
The fates of Achilles and Patroclus can hardly be a spoiler but I’ll leave it out of this review. Even knowing how the story ended I couldn’t put the book down until the final page and I was not disappointed. There are some content warnings for rape, cruelty to animals and the violence that goes along with a drawn out war. This is a fantastic book that I am way overdue in reading.