Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review: The Night Circus (audiobook)

Title: The Night Circus (audiobook)
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Narrator: Jim Dale
Genre/Date: Fantasy/2011
Audio Length: 13 hrs, 39 mins
Source: Audible purchase
My rating: 4.5/5

I really enjoyed Water for Elephants which is a book whose characters are part of the circus, so I figured another book about the circus would be of interest to me. However, The Night Circus is completely different. It is a magical, lyrical, and imaginative work with all the characters completely engrossed, enmeshed, and consumed by the circus called Le Cirque des Reves.

Its very soothing prose set to the melodic voice of Jim Dale lends itself to daydreaming about running away to the circus and forever living as either a circus performer or a spectator for eternity. In a world filled with black and white striped tents, ice gardens, and all sorts of chocolate sweets, Celia and Marco are set against each in a contest of magical abilities. Celia has been trained by her father, the famous magician Prospero, since the age of 5 after her mother committed suicide; Marco has been selected from an orphanage while a child to be trained by A.H., the "man in the gray suit". Neither of them fully understands the true meaning of this contest, either the rules of it or how one wins it. When they do realize the true meaning of the contest and what a folly it is, they must figure out a way to change it. They realize they are completely in love with each other, and cannot continue to be pawns in their teachers' game.

Some of the characters in this story are fascinating. I loved the red-haired twins, Poppet and Widget, who grow up in the circus as performers. They are honest, funny, and oddly mesmerizing. They have a wonderful relationship with a boy named Bailey who becomes entwined in the circus after a dare with his sister. This part of the story brings the circus to life and entices the reader to want to run and get tickets to the circus. Anyone would want to visit tents filled with clouds that you can fly from, wishing trees, or jars filled with the magic to transport you to places of extreme beauty.

As I was listening to this story, I was wondering where it was leading me. Part of me felt that this story was similar to Alice in Wonderland. In both of these stories, I thought that the authors were writing and following along where their imaginations rambled - that the plot of the story was not thought out in advance. I am probably wrong about this, but I could not help these thoughts from surfacing in me from time to time. Maybe this is what interests me about both of these books. 

I plan to visit this book again in the future. I will want to return to the innocent times during the late 19th century when the circus was one of the most entertaining places for both children and adults to visit.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: A Game Of Thrones (audiobook)

Title: A Game of Thrones
Author: George R.R. Martin
Narrator: Roy Dotrice
Genre/Date: Fantasy/1996
Audio Length: 33 hours, 50 mins
Source: Audible Purchase
My Rating: 5/5

This is a fantasy series I have heard a lot of great things about, and I'm very happy that I began it. It was hard to begin another lengthy audiobook, but this production was fascinating and very difficult to put down. I liked it so much that when I was about four-fifths through it, I decided to begin all over again, just to make sure I understood all the characters and their families and histories. There is much to grasp here, and I knew I wanted to continue with the next book soon. Also, when I first began the audiobook, I had a difficult time understanding the narrator, Roy Dotrice. He has a distinctive yet somewhat gruff voice. But I grew to love his interpretations of the various characters, in particular the female ones. Now I think he is the perfect narrator for this book!

The winter is coming! And the seven kingdoms should be preparing for it. They have had many years of summer and only the old ones remember and tell the stories of winter. Instead all are focusing on who will be the new king and have power over the seven kingdoms. They are not realizing what is happening up north. The children of the forest and the undead with blue eyes are returning. This is where the armies should be amassing. Instead the Lannister family have seized power after King Robert Baratheon has been suspiciously killed by a boar. The Stark family of Winterfell are comprised of: Lord Eddard; his wife Catelyn Tully formerly of Riverrun in the South; Robb, the eldest of their 5 children at 14; Sansa the eldest daughter at 11 and betrothed to Prince Joffrey Lannister, a pretender to the throne; Arya, a spirited 9 year old girl (one of my favorite characters); Bran at 7 who succumbs to the treachery of Jaime Lannister; and the toddler Rickon. But not to be missed is Eddard's bastard son Jon Sno, just months younger than Robb, who is a Eddard's son by a mysterious woman no one ever talks about. Jon has gone to the wall protecting the seven kingdoms from the north to be a brother of the Night's Watch. Meanwhile, across the sea in the land of the barbaric Dothroki there is the only survivor of the Targaryen family, Daenerys, whose brothers and father, King Aerys, were killed years ago and their family's throne wrenched away by Jaime Lannister. She is from the family of dragons who no longer exist, but may return. She plans to come back from exile and reclaim the throne.

This story reads very much like historical fiction because the details are very accurate to what could have happened in the the middle ages in Britain. However, the magical parts add another level which is fascinating with the inclusion of dragons, the undead, the children of the forest, the trees with faces, and the dark magic.

This story relates each important characters' perspective, even through the eyes of a child, and it is done masterfully. I enjoyed all the varying viewpoints and would be sad to leave one part of the story, only to once again become intensely engrossed in another part of the story. This was a wonderful listen and I am looking forward to the next book in the series.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Reading Plans for January 2012

I want to focus more on goals for each month and it will help me to end the year with most of the books I wanted to read finished. Time marches on and there are so many books I want to read, so a plan is the right step for me. I still want to read long books and not worry that I haven't read enough for the year and I will enjoy each book as it comes. And if that means I have to go back and reread or relisten to a portion, I will do it. It's not a race, but a pleasant jog through literature. These choices can change, but will help when I end up procrastinating not knowing which book to choose next. Most of the time I will just grab a non-fiction title because I find it easier to begin. I will try to change this with a monthly list. For now, I'm shooting for 6 titles per month which will get me to 72 total for the year. I think this is a more modest approach for me at this time. I would like at some point to read around 100 books per year and I will get there one of these years!

The Night Circus (audiobook) by Erin Morgenstern
The Myth of "Bloody Mary": A Biography of Queen Mary I of England by Linda Porter
A Clash of Kings (audiobook) by George R.R. Martin
A Thousand Pleasant Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Monday, January 2, 2012

Review: The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers

Title: The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by
         His Fool, Will Somers
Author: Margaret George
Date of Publication: 1986
Genre/Pages: Historical Fiction / 930 pages
Source: Amazon Purchase for my iPad
My Rating: 4.5/5

This novel was written as though Henry is the author and Will Somers, his fool, has added his thoughts to the King's journal after Henry has died. This "autobiography" starts with Henry's first memories and ends with Will Somers asking the King what are his actual first memories, the day before Henry dies. This is an account of Henry Tudor and his reign of England with all the details of his relationships with his wives, councilors, courtiers, and family members. It puts a positive spin on Henry's decisions as king because this novel is told as if directly from Henry's viewpoint. Somers' notes serve to give the reader background information which Henry would assume, if he had actually written this autobiography, the people reading it would know and understand. I found the notes added by the fool Somers to be witty and informative.

From the beginning we can see that Henry spent very little time with his mother and that his father was devoted to Arthur, the oldest son and future king. This was very common for the children of nobility to spend years away from their parents and be raised by governesses and other tutors. It is also shown in this novel how gullible Henry allowed himself to be, having been tricked by many of the women in his life. Maybe this is because of his lack of a close female relationship growing up, in particular with his mother.

This novel focuses on Henry's desire to bring changes to the Catholic church in England, but not to change it so much so that Protestantism would grow out of control. It's interesting to me that Henry was really a Catholic at heart, but he did not want the Pope telling him what to do, or anyone else for that matter.  Henry did not like to follow the rules, so his philosophy was to get rid of anyone who tried to control him with said rules. Henry was brought up to be a religious man as an adult, and Arthur was to be the king of England. But it did not turn out that way, when Arthur died at the young age of 15. Henry studied and knew much about Catholicism; he appears to have been very religious with his attendance at daily mass. This was a given practice for all the nobility. It is ironic that Henry's personal goals (closing the monastaries and confiscating their treasures and divorcing whenever it suited him) would lead to the rise of Protestantism in England, but this may have happened anyway with the rise of it on mainland Europe. 

It is hard for me to understand how one minute Henry could absolutely love a person, such as Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell, taking their advice for many years and knowing them on such a deep level, and then completely reverse his feelings for them.  It is difficult to try to place oneself in Henry's shoes and see if you would be able to command their heads to be chopped off.

This novel is a very good narrative about the life of Henry. It made me feel sympathy for him, and I did not think that would ever be possible. This book accomplishes the goal of getting the reader in touch with what must have been the feelings of Henry, gaining insight into his fluctuating behavior.  I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and learned even more and with greater depth a knowledge of Henry Tudor, the man and King of England.