Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Published by Doubleday

ISBN 13: 9780385534635

 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, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

 This story captivated me from the first time I read a review of it.  When I discovered my friend Cassie was reading it, I had to know what she thought.  She recommended it. 

 I love the magical nature of this story.  It encapsulates so many genre, without being specific – i.e. Mystery, suspense, romance, science fiction, fantasy, magical, horror, steampunk – it was just a symphony of words!

 I loved the characters of Marco and Celia, how they discover just what they had gotten into, how they had been manipulated into the circus in the first place, and the surprising twists and turns that happen along the way.  The people you think are innocents, are not, and those you are suspicious of, are innocent.  Just when you think you have the story pegged, it changes again.

 I read the Night Circus in three days, with breaks in between, but I couldn’t wait to pick it up and start it again, and I am pleased that I read it.  It is a book with a wide range of appeal, and the writing within it is purely poetic (even I can’t do it justice!)  The entire concept of the story is original, and I can picture the black and white circus with its black and white customs, and I want to see this book made into a movie.

Spectyr – Book of the Order 2

Though one of the most powerful Deacons, Sorcha Faris has a tarnished reputation to overcome, which is why she jumps at the chance to investigate a string of murders in the exotic city of Orinthal. But it is there that her lover, the shapeshifting rival to the throne, is targeted by a cruel and vengeful goddess, unwittingly unleashed by the Emperor’s sister.

I was so excited when this book came out, even more so because it was available for purchase on the Kindle in the Oceanic region at the same time as it was for the US. It’s not often the case with the new releases I actually want to purchase.

I’ll confess to being a bit of a Philippa Ballantine fan. I’m keeping up to date with all her recent work – I actually won a copy of Geist when it came out last year – and reviewed Phoenix Rising earlier this year. Aside from being a great writer, she is also a really approachable, lovely person. Plus, she’s a Kiwi, and I love being able to promote works by NZ writers!

Anyway, back to Spectyr. This is the second novel in the series and is set not long after the first. Sorcha and her new partner Merrick are in limbo after the fallout from the first book, being given simple jobs to keep them occupied and out of trouble. However, the Otherside finds a way to contact them, drawing them into another action packed adventure that is tied to Sorcha’s love interest, Raed, the Young Pretender/Rossin.

I love the characters in this series, they all have their quirks and are tied together by a bond that none of them intended to create, but cannot break. This novel deepens their relationships, and gives further insight into who these individuals are, and how they work together as a team. It was great to see different sides to the characters in this novel – Sorcha has some softer moments, and Merrick seems to mature a little and grow into his abilities. Raed’s strong feelings of familial responsibility come through as well.

A lot happens in this book, some of the scenes are amazingly detailed and fast paced to boot. If anything, I’d say this book is better than Geist. It takes all the foundations that were laid and builds on them, giving more depth to both the world and the characters. Ballantine has crafted a world that is rich and vibrant, with a distinctive flavour all of its own. The plot is set against a backdrop of politics, and religion as well as both the regular world and the Otherside.

Ballantine knows how to weave a story with lots of interesting threads and layers that come together to create a stunning climax. I’d recommend that you read Book One before reading this one though, as it dives straight in. You can definitely still enjoy the story, but you’ll get more from it if you’ve already read Geist.

While this book isn’t exactly a cliffhanger, it leaves you with plenty of unanswered questions. I know that I’ll be picking Wrayth, the 3rd novel in the series, up as soon as it’s available.

Roil – Trent Jamieson

Where once there were twelve great cities, now only four remain, and their borders are being threatened by the growing cloud of darkness. The last humans are fighting back with ever more bizarre new machines. But one by one the defences are failing. And the Roil continues to grow.

With the land in turmoil, it’s up to a decadent wastrel, a four thousand year-old man, and a young woman intent on revenge to try to save their city – and the world.

Publisher: Angry Robot
Release Date: 30th August, 2011

I picked this book up via NetGalley as it sounded like an interesting read. While a little confusing to begin with, it didn’t take long to get a picture of what was going on. The author really does throw you in the deep end, though it is well worth sticking with because even if you feel like you’re playing catch up, it’s an exciting place to be in!

It’s been a long time since I’ve hit upon such a richly imagined world. It was so alien, so new, so fascinating, and so beautifully described. I easily lost myself in it, and look forward to having that opportunity again in the second book in the series.

The Roil – the rolling, hot, massive darkness that seems intent on devouring the whole world – is a character in it’s own right. Populated with scary and intriguing creatures, we learn throughout the book the ways in which is has evolved. I particularly enjoyed the ‘witmoths’, beautifully creepy critters which infest humans to bring them to the Roil’s side.

The other characters are all unique and interesting as well. The heroes of the tale are a drug addicted guy, an Old Man (who is creepy and dangerous), and a young woman who has escaped a fallen city and is intent on getting revenge against the Roil, which took her parents. Initially their story lines are individual, but they all meet up eventually, and find that they are walking the same path. Cadell, the Old Man, in particular is a fantastic character. I really loved learning more about the Old Men, they are so creepy, and horrific in some instances, but definitely working against the Roil.

Wound throughout this are secondary characters with their own back story and motivations – a lot of those political – which add to the depth and richness of the story. It’s a complex world, with a lot going on it it. Over the course of the novel we learn a fair bit about the history of the cities, the Roil, the world and the different groups of people that populate it.

This is a pretty dark book, with lots of unpleasant things happening in it – LOVED it. If I had to say a few negative things it would possibly be that while I enjoyed reading the characters and found them unique, I didn’t really connect with any of them on an emotional level. Also, while you are thrown into action initially, it takes a little while for the story line to really get moving. By the time I hit half way I was well and truly caught up in it, but if it’s not up your alley, you might struggle a little to begin with. I lost track of how far through I was and the end hit me pretty quickly. When I read it, I didn’t realize it was the first book in a series so that came as a bit of a shock – I really can’t wait for the next book to come out so that I can immerse myself in this world again.

Photographs & Phantoms

This novella is labeled ‘1.5’ in the Gaslight Chronicles – coming between the first full length novel, and the second. I haven’t read either of these but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this book.

Author: Cindy Spencer Pape
Released by: Carina Press

As a member of the Order of the Round Table, Kendall Lake is overqualified to be investigating strange phenomena at a seaside photography studio. But since the photographer is related to the Order’s most powerful sorcerer, Kendall reluctantly boards a dirigible to Brighton. 

Amy Deland is haunted by a shadow that appears in some of her recent portraits. In each case, the subject died within days of the sitting. Does she have her grandmother’s gift of foresight, or has she somehow caused the deaths? 

As Kendall and Amy search for answers, their investigation draws them together in a most improper way—but it seems the evil presence in the studio is determined to keep them apart…

I picked this up from the Amazon Free Bestselling list, and I think it’s the first time I have read a .5 book, though I am seeing more of them around. In principle I think they are a great idea – introducing new readers to the world of a series before they invest in a longer work, and also filling readers desire for more while they wait for the next in the series to be released.

I’m quite fond of steampunk, so it was a no brainer that I was going to pick this one up. The cover was quite interesting, and so was the premise. I don’t believe I’ve read any books released by Carina Press before, so it was also a good introduction to the novels they publish.

The world is quite different from most of the other steampunk books: the steam aspect was in the background, there was less action and guns and other stuff. Instead there were a lot of allusions to paranormal stuff going on which I really enjoyed. It was an interesting world, once which I’d be interested to see more of. The story focuses primarily on the two lead characters and the phantoms in the photographs, and leaving everything else very much in the background.

I enjoyed both of the lead characters. Amy is a strong independent woman who has set about creating a living for herself, without the need of a man to care for her. This, in fact, is part of the reason she encounters this mysterious phantom in her photographs, and with the help of Kendall, they solve the mystery fairly quickly.

It’s a very quick read, but an enjoyable one. It’s not the kind of thing that will stick with you long after, but it is fairly well written and hints at a much larger would, and let’s the reader know what to expect from the author. I will most probably check out the other titles in this series at some point, as I’d love to see what she does with the setting and elements in play.

Phoenix Rising – Corset Busting Fun

Title: PhoenixRising:  A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel

Authors:  Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

Publisher:  Harper Collins

ISBN: 0062049763

Evil is most assuredly afoot—and Britain’s fate rests in the hands of an alluring renegade . . . and a librarian.

I am new to Steam Punk, and I have to admit, this is the first Steam Punk novel I have read.  And I loved it.

Why?  Because it has a strong female character who happens to be from New Zealand.  Well there were other reasons as well, but this was what really hooked me.  That and the opening of the story.

I could hear every nuance and inflection in the accents and Wellington Books and Eliza Braun came to life in my own mind, running rampant riot across Victorian London and beyond.  Each flick of the cane, adjustment of corsets, or cravat, I could see their mannerisms and made this story very real for me.

I liked the way the book flowed and I didn’t find any lull in the story between chapters, and the action from the start went right throughout the story to the thrilling excitement at the end.

Another thing I appreciated was that my intelligence wasn’t insulted by minute details given to every strange device written into the story.  While I have a basic understanding of what steam punk is, it was nice to be able to use my own imagination to fill in the blanks, and as I kept reading, my own imagination was justified.  Nice to know I am on the same wavelength as the writers!

Like Wellington Books, I found the steam powered contraptions very intriguing, and I honestly can’t wait to read more of their adventures, because no doubt, there will be more adventures!

Don’t just take my word for it, check out JC’s review here.

Four out of five stars.

Camera Obscura

I received this as an e-arc, via Netgalley. I didn’t realize it was part of a series, but it stands on it’s own really well – I didn’t feel lost at all!

Author: Lavie Tidhar
Publisher: Angry Robot
Published: May 3rd, 2011

CAN’T FIND A RATIONAL EXPLANATION TO A MYSTERY? CALL IN THE QUIET COUNCIL. The mysterious and glamorous Lady De Winter is one of their most valuable agents. A despicable murder inside a locked and bolted room on the Rue Morgue in Paris is just the start. This whirlwind adventure will take Milady to the highest and lowest parts of that great city – and cause her to question the very nature of reality itself.

It’s hard to give this book a clear genre. I think you’d have to call it steampunk, through there is so much else going on as well that it could be any number of other things: science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller.

I was drawn in by the blurb, and the cover, which I just adore. The opening scene is really intriguing, and I was really interested to see where it would go. We’re presented with a problematic crime scene, and intensely interesting character (Milady), and some some kind of clockwork bug companion (Grimm), as well as information about the world – but not a lot. The first time the lizard queen was mentioned I raised an eyebrow and wondered if I had read incorrectly.

But that is one of the good things about this novel – you are never given all the information. You are dragged along on this journey, learning things about the world, left in the dark about the details and history. And I liked that.

After the beginning, I thought it was just a murder mystery, waiting to be resolved. Over time, you find that this is not the case, in fact the mystery is much bigger, much deeper than you imagined. Some amazing world building has been done here, it draws from so many cultures and backgrounds, and lumps it all into the same novel. I loved the worldly feel this achieved, as if anyone, from anywhere, might crop up in the novel – ranging from actual historical figures, to invented ones.

The writing style was a little different, and took some adjusting to, but I enjoyed the story more as it went on – in fact, it’s not until a fair way into the book that I felt like I MUST read on. There are so many interesting characters, with interesting pasts, all converging  eventually into the main story line. Until you get to that point, it seems a little disjointed at times, but in my opinion, worth pushing on until you get to the good parts.

It’s a big story, breathtaking at times, truly an epic adventure, rich in details and keeping you on the edge of your seat once it gets going. I would give this book a 3.5 star rating, and I would definitely be interested in picking up another book from this author.

Phoenix Rising – Rip Roaring Good Fun!

Release date: 1st May, 2011
Authors: Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

These are dark days indeed in Victoria’s England. Londoners are vanishing, then reappearing, washing up as corpses on the banks of the Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences– the Crown’s clandestine organization whose bailiwick is the strange and unsettling — will not allow its agents to investigate. Fearless and exceedingly lovely Eliza D. Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and a disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest. . .and she’s prepared to drag her timorous new partner, Wellington Books, along with her into the perilous fray.

For a malevolent brotherhood is operating in the deepening London shadows, intent upon the enslavement of all Britons. And Brooks and Braun — he with his encyclopedic brain and she with her remarkable devices — must get to the twisted roots of a most nefarious plot . . .or see England fall to the Phoenix!

I’ve always had a soft spot for the idea of Steam Punk. It’s an appealing genre for so many reasons, but mostly, I guess, because it’s just plain fun. I like to put on the British accent and affect the mannerisms as I read and it just really makes me happy. Typically set in the Victorian era, it invents an alternate history for the world where so many things are possible.

Now, I said I like the idea of it. I have to confess to not having read a whole lot of this genre, so I don’t have much to compare ‘Phoenix Rising’ with. What I can say is that it had everything I could have hoped for: guns, machines, action, secrecy, sinister plots, good old fashioned British sensibilities.

It also had something I didn’t really expect, in the form of the main characters: Eliza Braun, a feisty colonial from New Zealand—obviously this is going to go down well with me, a New Zealander through and through. While the bulk of the novel is set in Britain, it was pleasantly surprising to have someone from outside that country play such an important role.

Books, the unassuming Archivist for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, is also an intriguing character. He is so much more than he first seems. I adore him.

Both are refreshing and original. I thought they were really well developed and brought a lot of depth to this novel. Both appeared to be a certain way to begin with, and over the course of the story we’re shown more of their layers and complexities, which is something that really worked for me.

And the plot? Wow. Just, wow. Right from the very start it’s action packed—these two sure know how to get themselves caught up in trouble, and get themselves out of it (in fairly good shape anyway!). The storyline threaded through past and present, blending backstory and character history seamlessly into the action, while also raising enough questions to leave the reader itching for the next book in the series. There are bigger things afoot, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

If you like a rollicking good time, then I encourage you to check this one out—you won’t be disappointed. Also, if you get a chance, why not check out the fabulous website for the book? There are some great podcasts in there as well as other fun stuff.