REVIEW: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea is Morgenstern’s second novel coming after the success of her first novel, The Night Circus. I’d read The Night Circus a while ago and remembered loving it, but didn’t know if it would hold up to a reread. Recently, I tried the audio book for The Night Circus (read by Jim Dale!) and it was AMAZING. Highly, highly recommend. Le Cirque des Rêves was just as captivating as I remembered it. All of that is just to say that my expectations for this book were already HIGH, but then the synopsis of this book comes out including secret societies and underground libraries and quests… If it was possible, my expectations rose even higher.

Now, you may have heard some conflicting things about this book. I’ve read some reviews that strongly disliked this book. Let me just say, this book is very different and it’s not one that can be zoomed through (as I typically zoom through books). If I’m really enjoying a book (300-400 page range) I can usually finish it in about three days max (usually less). This book is around 500 pages, so a little longer than my average and it took me almost four WEEKS to read (26 days to be precise). Caveat: I wasn’t reading this book exclusively or reading every single day, also we were in the process of moving house to another state for some of that time. With that being said, however, this is a book that DEMANDS you take your time to read it. If you don’t, you’ll get confused and you’ll miss out on all of the wonderful complexities that this book holds.

The story is made up of several different sections and multiple perspective shifts with interwoven short stories. It’s confusing, especially at the beginning, but after a while I found that I liked the variation of the chapters. It’s amazing to me to think about Morgenstern writing this book. There are just so many pieces to it and I feel that she really masterfully weaves them together into a cohesive tapestry of deliciousness.

There has been a lot of criticism calling this book “boring” and “plotless”. A lot of people have especially had a problem with the main character, Zachary Ezra Rawlins, feeling like he just purposelessly drifts through the story with no development. I strongly disagree on both of those points. First, no this book isn’t what I would call fast-paced, but I wouldn’t call it boring by any stretch of the imagination! The short stories are beautiful, well-written, and frankly not that long compared to Zachary’s chapters. I, personally, was sucked into Zachary’s story immediately. There’s mystery and magic(?) and even a little action thrown into the mix as well. I think that Zachary’s character makes a lot more sense if you remember that he’s a grad student studying video games. He often views his journey as a video game and I think that informs some of the decisions that he makes. He’s not delusional or anything, he doesn’t think he’s ACTUALLY in a video game, but the “aimless wandering” that a lot of people have a problem with makes more sense if you view it from that lens. A lot of exploring type video games have a main quest, side quests, and then a bunch of other random stuff that you can explore. Zachary does a lot of exploring that I guess some people found to be boring, however, I did not.

As a character, I think Zachary undoubtedly develops. He’s not the same boy that he was when he first encountered a door painted on the side of a wall. He starts the book as a 2D character, but ends as a fully fleshed out being. There are decisions that he makes towards the end of the book that he simply would not have made at the beginning. Zachary does not finish the book as the same person that he was.

I’m finding it really hard to put into words EXACTLY what I loved so much about this book. It’s just so cozy. I loved all of the little stories and I loved when the pieces started to overlap and click together. Some people had a problem with the ending, but I thought it was perfect and right and fit the book precisely. The writing was beautiful and whimsical and the setting of the Harbor was just as magical as Le Cirque des Rêves, in my opinion. And then The Kitchen. Oh how I loved The Kitchen. This is the kind of book that you want to start over immediately after finishing because now you finally get it and can pick up on things that you missed the first time.

I’ll just end this review by pleading with you to not let the negative reviews scare you away. Give it a try and if it’s not for you, that’s fine. But where others found this book boring, I found it captivating. Where others found the descriptions to be too long, I found them to be beautiful and evocative. Just one warning: because of all of the interweaving stories I’d probably not recommend this as an audio book–I think it would just be confusing. But as a physical book or an eBook? Magical. You will never find another book like this.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Mild
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

James Halliday was the richest man on Earth and when he died, he left his entire legacy and fortune at the end of an elaborate Easter Egg Hunt. With the only hint being a mysterious riddle, the egg goes undisturbed for five years. Until one day, Wade Watts–just your average teenage boy–makes a connection and is the first to find the Copper Key, the starting point of the Egg Race. When his name appears on the long empty scoreboard, the world goes into a frenzy. Wade will have to use his knowledge of all things 80’s and battle against friends and an evil corporation if he wants to win.A1bCf-Xhe4L

This book is great. I first read it a few years ago and what immediately drew me to it was the title. “Ready Player One”. I just feel like it’s a REALLY good title. It makes you want to read it while at the same time telling you exactly what this book is going to be about: video games. The beginning of the book (one of the few scenes where we’re in the real world) is a little boring as we’re being introduced to this version of the future. There’s a lot of background on Halliday and GSS and OASIS and all of that. It gets a little wordy and too much (but you can obviously tell the the author knows his video games). Other than that, the action is pretty non-stop. It only really slows down when the author is going into more technical things (he does this a few times, but it’s not too bad).

I’m not really a video game person, but this book almost makes me want to be. The games all sound fun and the passion that Wade has for them makes them seem even MORE fun. The book is fast-paced and it’s easy to get caught up in the various quests and challenges. I liked the timing between the first and second keys, but once they got through the second gate, it was like boom, boom, boom. With how much trouble they had figuring out the first and second keys and the second gate, it seemed too easy to find the Crystal Key and then it was also pretty obvious where the Crystal Gate was even if it was more difficult to open. One thing I did really like, though, was that this is a standalone novel. He could have split it up into a series if he wanted to (book 1=copper key/gate, book 2=jade key/gate, book 3=crystal key/gate, book 4=taking down IOI, book 5=book that only abstractly relates to the original concept, book 6=book that does not relate to the original concept but still makes it into the series.) There you go, he could have easily had six books out of this story.

Overall, a good read even if you don’t like video games. I felt special every time I recognized something that Wade referenced. Dig Dug? Totally used to play that. Rumor has it that this is going to be turned into a movie sometime directed by Spielberg. We’ll see!

Overall Rating: 4
Violence: Moderate. A lot of fighting/slaying of monsters (like a video game), but no explicit gore.
Sexual Content: Moderate
Language: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Mild. Some drug references, but nothing explicit, nothing used by the main characters.

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

VirtNet has taken over the world. It’s a Virtual Reality forum where you can play games, hang out with friends, and basically live another life. Michael spends most of his time online with his two Virt-friends Sarah and Bryson. When a cyber terrorist named Kaine starts killing people in real life, the government comes to Michael and his friends to hunt him down.51YpOI+BGHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

I am a big fan of The Maze Runner by the same author and I also really liked Ready Player One which has a similar premise, so I thought I’d like this series, but I didn’t end up thinking it was that great. I didn’t like the characters very much or the plot. I liked “Ready Player One” because it felt like I was playing the game while I was reading, but this book didn’t feel like that and I struggled with caring about what was happening to the characters.

The characters didn’t feel developed or important. More often than not I was annoyed with them and the decisions they were making. Some of the book felt muddy and hard to understand as well. I just didn’t like it–not my thing I guess.

I do seem to be in the minority, however. The book has a lot of good reviews on Amazon, so if you do end up liking it, the second book is The Rule of Thoughts and the third book, The Game of Lives, comes out November 17th.

Overall Rating: 2
Violence: Heavy. A lot of fighting, moderate gore.
Sexual Content: Mild (maybe)
Language: Mild (if that)
Smoking/Drinking: None