Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Erin Morgenstern”

Samantha’s #CBR4 Review #16: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

This book has been reviewed ad infinitum around these parts, so I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to add to the conversation. It is largely worth all the hype, although I guess I will say that I expected and wanted a little bit more from it. Still, a very worthwhile read if you like truly creative and imaginative fiction.

Celia Bowen is the daughter to the famous magician Prospero the Enchanter, and heir to his (very real) magical powers. At a young age, her father binds her to a mysterious competition with a shadowy counterpart.  Essentially, she and her opponent will be representing two different schools of magical thought and practice.  She joins the fantastical  Cirque des Reves (Circus of Dreams) as their illusionist, and the games truly begin.

Let’s just call that the most vague synopsis ever and move on, ok? It would be really difficult to add much more to it without giving a lot away, and frankly, I am not up to the challenge of boiling the creative imagery of this book down to a few sentences. That is the selling feature here: the world (ok, mainly the circus) that Morgenstern has dreamed up is stunningly gorgeous. Within a few chapters, you will want to go to this circus, truly. It’s like a supremely ornate and exquisitely decorated pastry: all spun sugar and delicate detail. Every square inch of the place is wrought with loving craftsmanship, and nothing has been left out. It’s an amazing place, punctuated by amazing performances and a truly superior imagination.

Like a pastry, the Cirque des Reves is beautiful to look at, and delicious for a little while, but it’s ultimately hollow and unfulfilling. As impressive as the circus itself is, the characters and the plot are considerably less so. The characters we encounter, aside from Celia, are all drawn in fairly shallow strokes, with very little in the way of purpose or motivation. Celia’s opponent in the magical game, Marco, has hardly any personality to speak of; I will acknowledge that some part of that is integral to the character, but it doesn’t do much to make him a sympathetic figure. The supporting cast are essentially human extensions of the circus: curiosities left largely unexplained. The main story is actually a love story, but without fully realized characters it’s somewhat difficult to fully invest in the idea, and I found it hard to understand how or why the two individuals in question were, in fact, in love with one another. A secondary plot line, involving a young man named Bailey whose future becomes entwined with that of the Circus, fares a little better in that Bailey himself is a standard trope: a dreamer who wishes to escape his mundane line for a life of excitement. Obviously, the Circus itself can fulfill his fantasies, but in the final tally, exactly how it is supposed to do that is left rather vague.

I really, really wanted to like this book. I didn’t dislike it, exactly, but again, it was like eating something super-tasty but not all that filling. It left me wanting more. It seems to me that if Morgenstern had dialed back on descriptions of the circus (an entire chapter to describe a clock, really?) and put a little bit more of herself into her characters, the end result would be worth twice of what it actually is. She clearly has a great deal of talent, but in the case of The Night Circus, I don’t think that talented was focused in the right directions. There are a lot of great ideas, and sketches for great characters here, but ultimately, more time was spent on the trimmings and trappings, and less on the meat of the thing. Delightful if you have a sweet tooth, but less so if you’re looking for sustenance, I’m afraid.

Amurph11’s #CBR4 Review #32, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“People see what they wish to see. And in most cases, what they are told that they see.” -Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

I read The Night Circus as part of a community reading project, sponsored by my local library. It’s an enchanting story about two orphaned magicians who are trained since infancy to compete with each other, in a magical competition shrouded in mystery centering around an enchanted circus. The two lovers, upon finding out that they are competitors, promptly fall in love. I enjoyed the hell out of it upon my first reading, but when it came time to sit down and right this review, I was totally stumped. I knew I had enjoyed it, but I couldn’t quite remember why. Much like the illusive circus that the story centers around, the pleasure of reading it had been with me in the moment, but when asked just what exactly was so great about it, I couldn’t come up with a good answer.

The answer came to me after watching a talk by the author herself, Erin Morgenstern. Morgenstern is ridiculously charming, full of self-deprecating tales of her own writing foibles. Her story of writing The Night Circus was particularly endearing; it started as an image from an entirely different story, and the image itself became so entrancing that she based a book around it. Her first draft had, as she explained, “absolutely no plot.” It was 100% florid description of the circus’ many enchantments, with zero character stories behind it. The protagonist, Celia, did not exist in her first draft of the novel. Luckily, several agents took it upon themselves to explain this to her, and agreed to take a look at the work as it progressed. Eventually, one of them signed her, and after a round or two of edits, and it sold in a week.

After the event, I purchased the book and started re-reading it for this review. And here’s the thing – it could have used a few more rounds of edits. The descriptions of the circus are indeed enchanting, as indeed are many of the characters themselves. But despite a perfect framing device: a magical circus, star-crossed lovers, and a diabolical secret – there’s not much holding it together. The magic is inconsistent, and is never sufficiently explained to readers (a death knell in fantasy, as far as I’m concerned). Celia and Marco are charming, but neither of them have enough emotional backstory to make us fully invest in their love story. The antagonists were two of the most interesting characters, but not nearly enough time is spent clarifying their characters and motivations. There’s a side character named Bailey who I think was supposed to be important, but I’m not sure why. And despite the grand nature of the central conceit of the book – two magicians, completely unaware of each other’s role in their life-and-death competition – the stakes never seemed anything but low. Indeed, these low stakes are born out in the book’s ending, which shys away from tragedy at the last minute.

So why did I enjoy reading it? Two reasons: first, the description. Morgenstern knows how to write fantasy, giving just enough description to pique the imagination, but not so much too stifle it. Her descriptions are velvet and lovely, and leave just enough of a gap for the reader to fill in with images from their own consciousness.

And the second? Well, upon further thought, it turns out that the main reason I liked The Night Circus is because I expected to. It was a book with a beguiling magical premise and a popular audience I identified with (namely, frequenters of independent bookstores who also very much enjoy Harry Potter). I wanted for it to be good, and that desire was enough to fuel my entire first reading of the book. My mind saw what it wished to see, which was a fully-fleshed out fantasy. Sadly, that initial impression didn’t bear out with further examination. The Night Circus, as it turns out, is an enjoyable book, but not a particularly good one.

Read When: you’re in the mood to shut down your critical faculties for the night and just enjoy some really great escapist description.

Recommended For: People who dabble in fantasy, but aren’t die-hard fans. Too many holes in the magical universe for actual fantasy fans.

Listen With: Low-stakes opera. Puccini, Offenbach. Stay the hell away from Wagner.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 37: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

From Amazon: “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.”

This one has been reviewed about a thousand times, so given that and the Amazon description above, I’m not going to spend a ton of time on little details.

I will, however, offer criticism, as this book wasn’t 100% perfect for me. (Yes, I’m holding it to a higher standard than my pet genre of YA dystopian lit.) Essentially, what everyone before me has said is true: Morgenstern is a master storybuilder, and her vivid imagination of the Night Circus leaps off the page. It’s lush and beautiful and it’s the circus I wish I have always wanted to see. The off-linear pacing from the converging timelines was skillfully performed, but I was a little distracted by the second-person narratives that were thrown in from time to time.

But the biggest issue for me was the romance. I couldn’t grasp any motivation or reasoning behind Celia and Marco falling in love, other than that they were “supposed to.” As far as I can tell, Marco is enchanted at first sight, but Celia never seems to much register his existence; then, she discovers that he is her “opponent,” and a few brief meetings later, they are DEEPLY IN LOVE, owing to their magical cosmic connection or something. Celia goes from a strong, composed, charismatic and powerful person into a simpering “I don’t have the strength to do this without him!” trope.

It was so easy, with the rest of this book, to be picked up and swept away into the beauty and magic of the circus. The romance dragged me out of my reverie; it was too cliched and seemed to have been built on nothing. Clearly, this was not as distracting for a lot of people as it was for me, and truthfully, I still do highly recommend this book. It is a gorgeous and unique read, and it was evocative of vivid imagery in a way that few other novels have been recently. I just could have been truly blown away with some more depth to the characters and more truth to their romance.

TylerDFC #CBR4 Review 19 #The Night Circus by #Erin Morgenstern

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

No opening passage in some time has been as apt as this one for mood setting. You will not be expecting this book, and for a certain type of person, you may very well be as completely enraptured by it as I was. It is a difficult book to summarize and I know it has already been reviewed a few times on this Cannonball so I’m not going to go in to it again. The following is from Amazon:

Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors.

This is Morgenstern’s first novel but it reads as if it was written by a pro. Her characters are vividly drawn, descriptions are beautifully evocative and the story is absolutely mesmerizing. Set during the turn of the 20th century, Le Cirque des Rêves is a place full of wonders and subtle magic. The competition is not a battle so much as a trial of endurance to keep the circus operating and all of the illusions intact. As the competition wears on the lives of the magicians, the circus performers, even the visitors are all affected by the game that they have no way to escape until a victor is declared. Neither Celia or Marco know the rules of the competition nor how the winner will be named. As they begin to fall in love with each other things start to get even more complicated.

The Night Circus is the best book I have read in years and one I would call perfect. I compare it to Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, or Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. All three books perfectly balance story, characters, language, and mood and becomes something absolutely unique.

If more people would read The Night Circus and less were wasting their time with barely literate garbage like 50 Shades of Gray than the world would be an infinitely better place.


Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #41: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

To say that nearly every review or mention of The Night Circus that I’ve seen has been positive understates this novel’s reception. What I have heard goes beyond general positivity and rises into full on adoration. People love this book, even some who did not expect such a reaction, and having seen very few voices of dissent, I needed to see what the fuss was about.

You will not find dissent here either, for The Night Circus is a beautiful, bewildering, and romantic tale that reminds me of the best imaginative stories told between friends.

My full review can be found on Glorified Love Letters.

Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #20: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is yet another book that I read after its popularity peaked, but this time it was because I was patiently waiting for it to be available at the library.  It finally was, but in large-print edition, which caused a moral dilemma for me.  Should I check it out and possibly deny someone who really does need large print?  I decided to go ahead and do it.  I’m hoping that all the times I’ve avoided the handicapped stall in public restrooms will make up for it.  To further assuage my guilt, I planned to read the novel as quickly as possible to get it back to the library soon, but I needn’t have planned for it.  I loved the novel so I did read it quickly, but my plan backfired in that I loved the book so much that I insisted that my husband and I read it together after I had finished.

The book opens with a second-person narrative describing the experience of seeing the night circus, or Cirque des Reves, spring up near your home and waiting in line at dusk to see it.  Then, it proceeds through a series of chapter-like sections, each introduced by the place and date in which the action takes place.  It’s mostly chronological, detailing the training of a young girl named Celia by her father and a young boy who will eventually adopt the name Marco for a mysterious competition involving magic.  Eventually, both Marco and Celia find themselves part of the Cirque des Reves, a magical nighttime circus that each of them manipulates to one-up the other.  The circus performers and organizers become part of the story, as does a young man named Bailey who sneaks into the circus during the daytime as a child and encounters a beautiful little girl with striking red hair whom he remembers for years as he waits for the circus to return.  There’s also a German clock-maker who is commissioned to make a fantastic clock for the circus and eventually becomes its biggest fan and unofficial leader of the Reveurs, a dedicated group of fans who follow the circus and dress in all black with a touch of red, usually a scarf, to identify each other in the crowd.  All of these characters’ lives intertwine with each other and with the circus as Marco and Celia continue their mysterious competition.

I can’t say too much more about the book except that I am incredibly grateful to the many Cannonballers who recommended it last year.  It’s a beautiful, magical novel that is now one of my favorites.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR4 Review #25: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

After waiting ages and ages for my number to come up on the library hold list, I was finally rewarded last week with my chance to read Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. My book club is talking about it next week, and its been ages since I actually wanted to read one of the books that the club has picked, so I’m glad that this time I’ll be participating.  Two random things happened just before I started to read this book:

1)  I put my name down on every library list I came across — local, county, ebook, etc.  After waiting for months, I got alerts from two different libraries on the same night;  and 2) I’ve been catching up on Netflix instant TV while all of the shows I watch are on Summer vacation, and randomly watched the Torchwood episode about the traveling Night Circus on the same day I started to read the book.  Coincidence?  Luck?

Anyway, as I seem to be one of the last people in the Cannonball universe to read this book, I don’t really feel the need to get too into detail here.  I really enjoyed the story of the mysterious, magical circus and the people who ran it and lived it.  The writing was fresh and beautiful, a real treat.

I loved how the descriptions of the circus — the colors (or lack of color), the smells, the sounds — almost came to life in my mind as I was reading.  I wanted to eat caramel popcorn (and, oh! those mysterious cinnamon treats sounded pretty good, too!) and drink hot apple cider while I was reading.


My one criticism, which isn’t much of one, is that I didn’t love the scene where Celia and Marco talk to Bailey and explain the future of the circus to him.  All I could think about was the end of Willy Wonka, where Mr Wonka talks to Charlie in the Great Glass Elevator, and gives him his magical factory. I found it slightly distracting, but it didn’t change the fact that I was happy and excited for Bailey’s new life.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Alli’s #CBR4 Review #21: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

If you haven’t already read “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, what are you waiting for? I waited this long because there was a massive waiting list at the library and my book budget is negligible. I had heard quite a lot of good things about this book by other reviewers, but I let myself go in unspoiled as to the specifics and I was glad that I did.

Read the rest on my blog

Pinky’s CBRIV Book#4: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Shaman’s Cannonball read CBR#4 review #13: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I was surprised to find out that this was Morgenstern’s début book. The stuff dreams are made of indeed. So I guess that all the glowing reviews I’d read were right.

The Night Circus is about, well, a circus that you can only visit at night. It is a mysterious world, the board on which a game between two magicians is played. The main pieces in this game are Celia and Marco. Illusionists. As the circus travels through time and place, we find out more and more about this game, sometimes amazed at all the wonders the circus contains, sometimes with a knot in our stomach because of the potential for horror it carries.


The rest of my review can be found here.

Post Navigation