Book Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Thank you to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

The Night Circus was a bit of a slow burn phenomenon for the bookish world. Over the 7/8 years since it was published, people have found it and fallen deeply in love with it at their own pace. I didn’t go crazy over The Night Circus when I first read it, but all these years later I find myself thinking about it a lot. The atmosphere, the setting, the magic, the character relationships. It really stuck in my brain, so I was very excited to hear that Morgenstern was finally coming out with a new book this year!

I was shocked when I saw The Starless Sea available for request on NetGalley. I had just assumed it would remain elusive and exclusive to only the most renowned of book reviewers. I was even more surprised when I was approved for the digital ARC.

A real quick synopsis: Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a grad student studying immersive media (video games) design and storytelling. One day he stumbles on a mysterious book in the library that appears to be a collection of short fairy tales and folklore. The thing is…a true story from his childhood is in this book. No one else knows this story but Zachary, and on top of that, the book looks to have been written way before Zachary was born. He starts to do some digging and in the process gets stuck down in a weird underground magical library where clothes are perfectly tailored for him and the food is exactly what you need and cats wander everywhere. But there is like, no one else in this library. The space itself is confusing and labyrinthine, and time and place don’t hold much power.

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Book Review: The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

OUT SEPTEMBER 24TH! Thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. (Trigger warnings for child abuse, sexual abuse/assault, murder/violence, family death)
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Image from Goodreads

This is a nasty little book, brutal and beautiful. To call it simply atmospheric would be doing it a great disservice. Jennifer Giesbrecht’s debut novella The Monster of Elendhaven is absolutely phenomenal. In a short 160 pages, Giesbrecht paints a world of cold, dark filth. It drips with pain and sorrow. The characters are wretched but fascinating and fully developed. I use these descriptors not as a way to dissuade you in reading it, but to let you know what arena you’d be playing in. The characters are wretched, yes, but you love to follow them in their dastardly plots. The setting is stark and harsh, but you will not be able to look away. And while the story is creepy and gory, it has moments of true tenderness and humor.

In The Monster of Elendhaven, a superhuman man named Johann stalks the dark and seedy streets of Elendhaven, acting as the city’s own Jack the Ripper of sorts. There’s something unique about Johann though: it appears he can’t be killed. He’s tried. Multiple times. When he encounters Florian, a man from one of Elendhaven’s oldest families, he sees a kindred spirit. Soon they team up, Johann acting as the strong arm for Florian’s dark revenge fantasies. But even the best laid of evil plans can experience some hiccups. Someone is hunting Florian, and they mean to kill.

Magic plays a huge role in this book, but it’s the kind of magic that you need to look at out of the corner of your eye. Sorcerers and magic used to fill the world, but as time passed it became dangerous to be a sorcerer. It was punished, shunned, and bred out of society…but not entirely. Elendhaven, being a fantasy mirror of a Germanic/Nordic country, has old magic and old lore that does not forget the truth behind the universe. It is a place where fantastical things can still happen. I love settings like this, that exist in the spaces between the modern mundane world and an older magical world.

What Giesbrecht does in such a short space is so impressive. She gives us a fully realized story, equipped with rich characters, a visceral setting, a deep mythology, and a satisfying end. And while we only get a fragment of the lore this world contains, it is robust and offers the appropriate support to the tale at hand. I could read a whole series based on these characters or set in Elendhaven or its surroundings.

The Monster of Elendhaven is like if Tim Burton and Rob Zombie collaborated on a film together. It’s a Dickensian tale on crystal meth. It will chill you to your core but leave you wanting more. I wait in eager anticipation for whatever Giesbrecht publishes next!

The Shameful Book Club: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

This was my fantasy pick for 2018.

Stardust-Neil-GaimanI love Neil Gaiman! Much like Alice Hoffman and Stephen King, I feel like I will enjoy anything that Gaiman puts out, but I am woefully behind on his works. I haven’t really read a whole lot, although I own copious amounts. So when I was trying to decide what fantasy novel to pick this year, Stardust caught my eye sitting on my shelf! I thought the movie was really fun, but slightly juvenile. I hoped that the book would be a bit more mature, a bit more complex, and maybe a bit spookier. I was super wrong.

Here is the description from Goodreads: “Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall – named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…”

I felt incredibly blah about Stardust. The tone was very confusing to me. There were parts that were very intense, mature, and yes even a bit spooky or graphic, but they were then followed up by some incredibly childish nonsense. I know I’m reading a fairy tale quest inspired by children’s literature, but I’ve been reading those my whole life. The ones I read as a child (like the Snow Queen) were more engaging and intense than this book. Frankly, I was bored.

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Readers’ Advisory: Fantasy for tween girls

pexels-photo-256546A skill that librarians must hone is Readers’ Advisory. This is, in simple terms, recommending books to people. But it can be a much harder job than it sounds. People will come up and ask things like, “I read a book recently about a beach. It had a red cover and I think there was a love story. I really liked it but cant’ remember the name. Can you recommend other books like it for me to read?” Obviously some follow up questions are necessary, as is making use of review websites, the library catalog and OPAC, and maybe even something a bit more intense (World CAT anyone?) to figure out what exactly they are talking about. You also have the, “I’m looking for more (insert genre) to read, any suggestions?” In this case, the questions you ask are really important. You need to know what about that genre the reader likes, what they have read in the past, any authors they’re in to, and even other genres they enjoy (because no genre exists in a vacuum). Readers’ Advisory can be so much fun, but if you don’t stay practiced in it, it can also be a horrible nightmare.

I read many books in a decently wide variety of topics and genres, but it is impossible for me to read or know of everything. In order to do RA well, I need to be using these different resources to confidently recommend books to patrons without knowing much about them myself. Another resources are my friends and coworkers, because they read stuff I don’t.

I don’t get to do a ton of RA at my current jobs, even though one is in a public library. And I’m moving to a new job soon where I probably won’t be doing any RA. This bums me out because I love RA and I need to practice RA regularly. Luckily, my friends have started to keep me busy. Recently I’ve had a few friends message me independently of one another, asking for book recommendations on one thing or another. I had so much fun filling their requests, and I thought I would post one of them here. I also would love to make this a regular thing on my blog, so if anyone has any RA questions, throw them at me! I’d love to give you a list of recommendations!

Ok, the question was from a friend asking on the behalf of friends of hers who said:

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