Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This book is not for everyone but I liked it a lot.  It reminds me of Neil Gaiman's Star Dust.  It is a fantasy.  It is beautifully written but until you get used to the prose can be a bit of a struggle to get into.  It's about the battle between two magicians.  They have each selected an apprentice to compete against each other.  I can't describe much more without it coming across as confusing so this is stolen from Wikipedia:The Night Circus is a phantasmagorical fairy tale set near an ahistorical Victorian London in a wandering magical circus that is open only from sunset to sunrise. Le Cirque des Rêves, the Circus of Dreams, features such wonders and "ethereal enigmas" as a blooming garden made all of ice and a fire-breathing paper dragon. The circus has no set schedule, appearing without warning and leaving without notice; they travel in a train disguised as an ordinary coal transport. A network of devoted fans who style themselves "rêveurs" develops around the circus; they identify to each other by adding a splash of red to garb that otherwise matches the characteristic black and white of the circus tents. The magical nature of the circus is occluded under the guise of legerdemain; the illusionist truly transforms her jacket into a raven and the fortune teller truly reads the uncertain future, and both are applauded for their ingenuity.
The circus serves a darker purpose beyond entertainment and profit. The magicians Prospero the Enchanter and the enigmatic Mr. A.H— groom their young proteges, Celia and Marco, to proxy their rivalry with the exhibits as a stage. Prospero teaches his daughter to hone her innate talents by holding ever larger and more complex magical workings in her mind. Celia takes her position on the game board as the illusionist, adding tents and maintaining wondrous aspects from the inside. Mr. A.H— trains his orphan ward with books in the ways of glyphs and sympathetic magic. Marco takes a position as majordomo to the producer of the circus; he works from the outside in, connected to the circus but not a part of it. The two generate nightly wonders for the circus and for each other, soon falling in love despite being magically bound to a deadly competition with rules neither understands; the magical courtship strains the fate laid out for them and endangers the circus that has touched the lives of so many and cannot survive without the talents of both players.

An Available Man

This book is about dating after the death of a spouse.  It was a great book, hopeful and beautiful.  Edward's beloved wife has died.  He becomes the target for widows, divorcees, friends of friends, etc. who are looking for an available man.  His adult stepchildren have placed a singles ad for him.  His former fiance has reappeared.  Edward just wants to be left alone, but slowly reemerges.  It is a great book. 

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee

Lately, and not on purpose, I have been reading a lot of fiction that centers on China, Japan, North Korea, etc.  (The Buddah in the Attic, Nothing to Envy, the Shanghai Sisters, Dreams of Joy).  This book takes place in Hong Kong.  I am always confused about Hong Kong, is it China, is it not, so I googled it.  Here's what I found:  Hong Kong is a group of islands off the coast of mainland China.  While part of China NOW it is one of two 'special administrative regions' of China.  It runs itself in all areas except for foreign relations and military matters.  At one point it was a British colony and then was occupied by Japan during WWII. 
The book covers two time time periods.  The first centers around the occupation by Japan, the atrocities committed then and the interplay between the Chinese and the foreigners who made Hong Kong their home.  The second is that of 10 years (or so) later.  The reprecussions of what occurred during the war and the secrets that came out of that time.  The two main characters are Claire, the piano teacher who has been hired by a very wealthy, influential Chinese family, the Chen's, to teach their daughter and Will, the Chen's driver..  It turns out that Will used to be involved with a cousin of the Chen's.  This was a very interesting book and I learned a lot. 

Heft by Liz Moore

This is one of those books that I could NOT put down but wanted to just so that I could savor it and have it never end.  I really enjoyed the two main characters.  I rooted for them and wanted to help and fix them.  This author, who I haven't read before and haven't yet researched enough to tell you anything more about, did an amazing job of speaking for each of these two very different men.  This is primarily a book about missed opportunities and loneliness.  It also touches on mental health and the isolation it can cause.  I LOVED THIS BOOK.  Here's the basic outline:
Arthur Opps is obese and agoraphobic and hasn't left his slowly deteriorating house in 10 years.  The high point of his life has been his correspondence with his former student Charlene.  He hasn't heard from her in years, but he thinks of her often and keeps all her letters.  He has kept much from her.  The fact that he no longer teaches, that he is homebound and that he now weighs somewhere around 500 pounds.  Charlene is not well.  She has a son in high school, Kel Kellerman.  She has kept this fact from Arthur.  Kel is floundering under the weight of Charlene's problems.  One day she picks up the phone, calls Arthur and asks him to call and help Kel.
Such a great story, great characters and I want the author to write a follow up so that I can spend even more time with Arthur and Kel.  READ THIS BOOK!!