Historical

Book Review: The Night Circus

Author
Morgenstern, Erin
Rating
4 stars = Really Good
Review

This novel is unique. It is a historical fantasy that is almost impressionistic in style and dreamlike in tone. It tells the story of two enchanters who occupy themselves by forcing their respective students into decades-long, painfully drawn-out, life-engulfing…duels? Competitions? Contests? Endurance tests? The rules are vague and the structure of the contest difficult to illustrate, describe, or understand, but the author is so skilled that the reader is drawn in completely, despite the lack of concrete concepts. The mysterious Night Circus of the title is merely the venue for the contest, but it is so compellingly depicted that it pulses with life – almost as if it is a character itself. The real stars are the competitors, however. Celia and Marco – two impossibly gorgeous, talented, and intelligent magicians whose magic is so beautiful and illusory in itself that the reader wishes that it were real, if only to experience the dream which the circus patrons are privileged to witness. The magicians are trapped in a constant battle for something they don’t understand, despite their being drawn to one another and entirely fascinated by the other’s whole being. They strive to win, and, eventually, strive to lose.

The plot is nonlinear, going back and forth in time with almost every chapter, but this is rarely a problem since the chapter headings give precise dates and the chapters focus almost exclusively on one set of characters at a time. The plot is filled to the brim with other fascinating side characters with enchanting plot lines of their own – some are likable, some despicable, all mysterious. The story is woven together intricately. No thread is complete until the final moment, and even then, some enigmatic strings are left hanging, just to give the reader something to think about.

The author does a wonderful job of simply describing – everything. While occasionally the detail is overwhelming and the plot only loosely defined, it makes for pleasurable reading nonetheless. The brief portions written in 2nd-person are spellbinding. Suspension of disbelief is required in enormous quantities, but if you have a good imagination, that should be no problem. Additionally, I found Celia and Marco to be rather boring and unrealistically perfect compared to other characters (the unlikely hero is much more compelling), but that’s part of the charm – the author merely portrays the facts, and the conclusions are left to the reader. If you can briefly relinquish your hold on reality, this book is absolutely magical.

Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name
Caroline K.

Book Review: Justin Morgan Had a Horse

Author
Henry, Marguerite
Rating
4 stars = Really Good
Review

I liked this book because it was very catchy. For instance, at the end of a chapter, it left you at a cliffhanger. For example, Little Bub, later called Justin Morgan, was about to run in the biggest race in his life, and then the chapter ended. Also, it was a great book for kids because it didn’t have too much detail about the Morgan breed, but it still gave you the feel of the great horse.

My favorite character is either Little Bub or Joel, the main character. I liked Little Bub because he was such a good runner and puller and because of his funny little neigh. Joel and Little Bub became fast friends partly because of that neigh, and as the author describes it, “like the sound of a bugle.” His ability to run so fast helped the schoolmaster (Justin Morgan) to pay off his debts. I liked Joel because of his determination, like when he served for his state in the militia, to help care for the horses. He worked odd jobs in peoples houses to get much-needed supplies, such as water
pails and blankets. Also, I admire Joel in his hopefulness and patience.
For example, he had expected a letter from the schoolmaster and he waited for months. He stayed hopeful, and finally the letter came! Another example was that when the stranger bought little Bub, he didn’t give up looking for him, and he finally found him!

Right now, if I was the author, I would change three things. One, I would change the schoolmaster dying. Two, I would change the author not revealing who the anonymous buyer was for Little Bub. Three, I would change the scene where the small puppy ran out onto the racetrack. I thought Joel shouldn’t of interfered with the schoolmaster’s life.

Reviewer's Name
Kyle

Book Review: Justin Morgan Had a Horse

Author
Tytle, Harry
Rating
4 stars = Really Good
Review

My favorite character in the book was Little Bub because of his personality.
He was a very hard worker and he was brave. He stepped into a boat without hesitation. He worked all day pulling down trees. He was in pulling matches at night.

I liked this book because it had really good descriptions. The author wrote great descriptions like “You are as skinny as a fiddle string!” I also
liked the suspense. When we read about the races we didn’t want to stop.
My least favorite part was that the schoolmaster died. It made me sad because he was really nice. He was like a grandpa to Joel. He was loving because he took Joel on a trip.

Reviewer's Name
Seth

Book Review: The Alienist

Author
Carr, Caleb
Rating
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review

This book is amazing. It spent weeks on the bestseller lists the year it was published, and is currently being turned into a television series. It takes place in 1896 and concerns fictional psychologist (or “alienist”) Dr. Laszlo Kreizler who works with his best friend John Moore, a crime reporter, to solve a series of brutal and perverted murders of New York City child prostitutes. They are joined by several other unconventional and intrepid characters who help them investigate the murders, eventually leading to an edge-of-your-seat climactic showdown worthy of any blockbuster thriller.
Our narrator, John Moore, is well-drawn and extremely likeable, providing insight into the personalities of more-difficult-to-access characters such as Laszlo as well as entertaining the reader with sarcastic asides and private commentary. His interactions with Laszlo are especially enjoyable – the two are polar opposites, yet have an enduring friendship that allows them to work together like Holmes and Watson. Dr. Laszlo Kreizler himself is dark, brooding, and intelligent, but moves beyond a stereotype and gains the reader’s sympathy, especially as his intriguing past – and relationships -- come to light. The other members of the team are generally likable as well, if rather underdeveloped. Their racial and religious political correctness seems somewhat manufactured considering the time period, but the strength of the plot and their own likability allows the reader to accept it as signs of the characters’ progressive viewpoints and accepting natures. Also, Theodore Roosevelt and other actual historical figures make cameos – it’s like a treat for history buffs.
Speaking of history, a main factor in the story is the concept of “psychological determinism,” a psychological theory that was new at the time but is now largely accepted, as well as forensic science, which was also mostly untested in 1896. The heroes in this story aren’t your typical Victorian detectives, using Holmesian deduction and raw logic to trace the killer. These investigators use psychology and forensics to catch a murderer who leaves no hard clues, making this mystery uncommonly scientific and engrossing. Additionally, the abundance of subplots -- romantic, criminal, historical, etc. -- create an atmospheric and fleshed-out world that serves its reader well.
I urge fans of psychological thrillers as well as traditional mysteries to read this book. However (as you may have guessed), the subject matter is dark, and there is more than one gory and detailed description of a dismembered body. Additionally, the nature of the investigation leads the investigators into some very unsavory locales. The imagery alone requires that I recommend this book for mature readers, probably ages 15 and up. If you don’t have a strong stomach, you may want to skip a few scenes. Otherwise, this is one mystery you won’t want to miss.

Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name
Caroline K.

Book Review: A Lesson Before Dying

Author
Gaines, Ernest J.
Rating
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review

Two characters. Grant and Jefferson. Playing the roles of God in Jesus in society, as saviors. Jefferson is on death row for killing a man. Grant is a man who would rather have nothing to do with the sinner, Jefferson. However, Grant is persuaded to help Jefferson. The two men develop a crazy relationship. Grant’s job is to help Jefferson find his humanity again, after Jefferson’s astonishing defense in trial that compared him to a swine who wouldn’t know better than to kill a man, for he is just that dumb. This book teaches so many lessons, but most important how to be a hero for others. Read this book for nothing else than to get to Jefferson’s tragic journal in the end, where you should be prepared with tears and tissues, for your heart will break for these characters.

Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name
Madison H.

Book Review: One Crazy Summer

Author
Williams-Garcia, Rita
Rating
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review

I honestly don’t have the words to describe how much I loved this book. It has won four national book awards and has left its mark on my heart. I really enjoyed how this book gave a new aspect on the life of other people in our world. This is a story that readers will look back on for years to come. The changes that these three girls go through are remarkable and their love for each other is touching. A phenomenal piece of work that will stick with children, teens, and anyone who appreciates a good story.

Reviewer Grade: 9

Reviewer's Name
Gerilyn M.

Book Review: Heart of Darkness

Author
Conrad, Joseph
Rating
2 stars = Meh
Review

Actual Rating: 2.5
Heart of Darkness is a classic book by Joseph Conrad that is deep, heavy, and somewhat disturbing. I probably would have given this book more stars if it were not for the immense amounts of dialogue and a maddeningly complex storyline. I did find what the book was actually about interesting, however, trying to follow along with what was happening with all the detailing and talking practically made my brain come out my ears. So, in spite of the complexity, I will sum it up as best as I can. Here’s basically what happens: The book begins with the narrator (presumably an unnamed sailor), along with several others, listening to a man named Marlow tell a story on board the Nellie, a sailing vessel. Marlow tells them a story about when he was a young man working a job as an ivory transporter on the Congo. Through an ivory trading expedition, he develops an interest in a man named Kurtz, who seems to have a godlike power over the natives. Through talking to several others, he discovers three main things about the mysterious Kurtz: that he is in poor health, that he has tons of ivory, and, according to one source, that he may be trying to steal the manager’s job. Marlow and some of Kurtz’s acquaintances then take a boat to bring relief to the man, but are attacked by the natives. They later learn that the natives attacked them because they were worried that Kurtz would be taken away from them. I will not give away any more as it may ruin the story, but it is a somewhat tragic one. I would recommend this book to people who like books that are deep and thought provoking, and can comprehend complex plots and conversations.
Reviewer Grade: 7

Reviewer's Name
Jacob U.

Book Review: Code Name Verity

Author
Wein, Elizabeth
Rating
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review

This book is about Verity, a spy imprisoned by the Nazis during WWII who agrees to write everything she knows down for them, just to buy time. I found the format very interesting in this book. Although it was slow and seemingly pointless at the beginning, the little details all come together in the end to complete the story. Even though the ending may appear predictable, it is pulled off in a surprising way. I liked the characters in this book; most of their personalities were well developed and there were some plot twists about them revealed later in the book.

Reviewer Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name
Camille A.

Book Review: Clockwork Angel

Author
Clare, Cassandra
Rating
4 stars = Really Good
Review

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, is a pretty interesting novel. There are a lot of different scenarios taking place for the main character named Tessa, who is also trying to find out who she really is along with finding her brother, Nate. A majority of the book is taking place at the institute, which is a place where not so normal people are taken to. This book has many different fantasy-like aspects from demons, shadow hunters, downworlders, vampires, etc. I thought it was a pretty good book and super fun to read, though it's somewhat long for some.

Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name
Dominique R.

Book Review: The Paris Wife

Author
McLain, Paula
Rating
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review

I loved this book. I felt like I was right there in post-WWI Paris amongst the Lost Generation and the great writers of that time. Having studied literature in college, I appreciated the insight into the mysterious personalities of Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. I also liked the way the author portrayed the Fitzgeralds. While this is a work of historical fiction, it was based off of detailed research and correspondences of that time. I've never been a fan of Hemingway's works, and honestly I'm still not a fan, but Hadley was fascinating. It's telling that his second wife is just a flash in the pan, while Hadley is regarded as his great love. I've got A Moveable Feast on my list to read now

Reviewer's Name
vfranklyn