Review | The Ballroom by Anna Hope

Beautiful writing overwhelmed by gloomy content. 3.5/5 stars.

The Ballroom by Anna Hope book cover

The blurb: Where love is your only escape ….

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautiful. For one bright evening every week they come together and dance. When John and Ella meet it is a dance that will change two lives forever.

Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, THE BALLROOM is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.

My take:

Perhaps I’m just an optimistic romantic… but when I read the blurb for The Ballroom I jumped to the conclusion it would be a “love conquers all” story. Well, it’s not.

Continue reading…

Review | The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Dull, unlikeable characters three times over. 3/5 stars.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett book cover

The blurb: Some moments can change your life for ever. Have you ever wondered, what if…?

A man is walking down a country lane. A woman, cycling towards him, swerves to avoid a dog. On that moment, their future hinges. There are three possible outcomes, three small decisions that could determine the rest of their life.

Eva and Jim are nineteen and students at Cambridge when their paths first cross in 1958. And then there is David, Eva’s then-lover, an ambitious actor who loves Eva deeply. The Versions of Us follows the three different courses their lives could take following this first meeting. Lives filled with love, betrayal, ambition but through it all is a deep connection that endures whatever fate might throw at them.

My take:

I didn’t enjoy this. I found it deathly dull. The characters were insufferable, privileged, navel-gazing, upper-middle class moaners with few real problems (particularly Jim. Pull it together man!). I wouldn’t have minded so much had there been some humour or satire, but the characters are as po-faced as the book which takes itself very seriously.

Continue reading…

Review | The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern book coverThis book contains many scenes which deserve a 5-star rating. However, as a whole, I give The Night Circus 4/5 stars for having a weak fourth act and not being reader-friendly.

(For those who want to know more before they read, the blurb is at the bottom of this review)

I can understand the fuss. The descriptions in The Night Circus are fantastic. I haven’t read a book in a while that displays this level of skill, imagination and originality in conjuring (ha! see what I did there?) a place and its atmosphere.

The idea of the circus and the magic behind it is ingenious and many of the characters are truly intriguing.

But this book doesn’t do its readers any favours. It jumps back and forth in time and place almost every chapter. I read the book in three long sittings and still got lost. I felt I needed to draw myself a timeline so I could figure out how old everyone should be and what had happened and what was going to happen. If you were reading this book in short bursts I imagine you would get exasperated quite quickly.

In its fourth act the book seems to tail off. The conclusion is ok but feels somewhat flat when we suffering readers deserve something spectacular for having kept up with all the time hopping. And then there is a final scene to do with storytelling that makes a stab at being “meta” and “wink-wink, readers, I know you’re there” which made me cringe.

Overall: The Night Circus is worth reading for the experience of the circus, brought to life so effectively by Morgenstern’s jaw-dropping descriptive talents. Just don’t expect a relaxing read or an explosive conclusion.

P.S. My review is solely about the story, but I would like to mention what a beautiful object the hardback edition of this book is. The illustrators and designers should be proud.

The blurb:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called “Le Cirque des Reves,” and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

 Claire Huston / Art and Soul