The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

GoodReads Summary:
Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it. He follows a silent siren song, an inexplicable knowledge that he is meant for another place. When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library he begins to read, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood impossibly written in this book that is older than he is.
A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book lead Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life: Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. These strangers guide Zachary through masquerade party dances and whispered back room stories to the headquarters of a secret society where doorknobs hang from ribbons, and finally through a door conjured from paint to the place he has always yearned for. Amid twisting tunnels filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and wine-dark shores Zachary falls into an intoxicating world soaked in romance and mystery. But a battle is raging over the fate of this place and though there are those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect it, there are just as many intent on its destruction. As Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian venture deeper into the space and its histories and myths, searching for answers and each other, a timeless love story unspools, casting a spell of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a Starless Sea.
The Starless SeaReview:
I feel like I start all of my reviews for books that I really love the same way. And I’m going to do it again. I don’t know what to say about The Starless Sea. It was such an incredible story and I just don’t know how to convert my love and emotions into words. So, if you take one thing from this review, it’s that I loved this book and every single thing about it. It might have just become my new favorite book, definitely a favorite, but maybe even the number one favorite.
The Starless Sea follows Zachary Ezra Rawlins when he finds a door as a boy. He’s fascinated by the door, but for some reason, he doesn’t open it. When he realizes his mistake the next day and goes back to try to open the door, it’s no longer there. The story goes forward many years, and Zachary finds a mysterious book in the library. Little does he know; this is his key to finding another door (sort of). This book tells stories of the Starless Sea (an underground world that few find their way to. It’s home to stories, with many different moving parts which we get to learn all about.) After he’s read the book several times, he starts to do some research to try and figure out if he can find out more about what the book really is. It leads him down a rabbit hole of secret societies and many, many questions. I had so many questions throughout the story, and that’s something that usually drives me crazy because not many authors can slowly give the answers I want quick enough for me, but Morgenstern did it wonderfully. Just as I was getting frustrated with being so confused, I’d get a few pieces to the puzzle. This book was a story for all of the people out there that wished to escape into a world of stories. I dreamed of finding a place like the Starless Sea so many times when I was younger. I mostly liked Zachary. I liked that though he was so interested in finding the hidden world he missed out on when he first found the door, he was still skeptical. He asked questions and only sometimes let himself get pushed into stuff he wasn’t sure about. I loved all of the characters that Zachary met along the way. Dorian and Max were so different, but both made the story better.
I have to talk about the writing. It was nothing short of stunning on every single page. While we’re following Zachary, we also get other stories in between chapters. We learn about a pirate who is in love with a girl. We learn about Simon and Elenore who fall in love out of time. We get several fairytale-like stories that were beautiful and thought-provoking. But the best part was that every single one of these stories was relevant and added so much to the overall plotline. I loved how we didn’t know this, but while reading and putting the pieces together and thinks started clicking, that ‘aha!’ moment was fabulous. I loved how connected this story was. It was a beautiful way to learn the history of the characters (in a roundabout way).
Overall, I loved literally every single thing about The Starless Sea. It was pure perfection. I think I said it already, but this book may have bumped all other books out of their places for favorites. I loved all of the characters. I loved the in-between stories and how they were related to the rest of the story. The way the author managed to weave all of the stories and characters together I am blown away by the beauty of this story. It very quickly found its way into my heart and it will not be leaving any time soon. Please read this beautiful, stunning masterpiece so you can love it as much as I do.

Quotes:

“Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.”

“But the world is strange and endings are not truly endings no matter how the stars might wish it so.”

“Strange, isn’t it? To love a book. When the words on the pages become so precious that they feel like part of your own history because they are. It’s nice to finally have someone read stories I know so intimately.”

“Be brave,’ she says. ‘Be bold. Be loud. Never change for anyone but yourself. Any soul worth their star-stuff will take the whole package as is and however it grows. Don’t waste your time on anyone who doesn’t believe you when you tell them how you feel.”

“For a while I was looking for a person but I didn’t find them and after that I was looking for myself. Now that I’ve found me I’m back to exploring, which is what I was doing in the first place before I was doing anything else and I think I was supposed to be exploring all along.”

“Once, very long ago, Time fell in love with Fate. This, as you might imagine, proved problematic. Their romance disrupted the flow of time. It tangled the strings of fortune into knots. The stars watched from the heavens nervously, worrying what might occur. What might happen to the days and nights were time to suffer a broken heart? What catastrophes might result if the same fate awaited Fate itself?”

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Books & Baking – The Night Circus

Hellllllo, lovelies! I’m back today for another round of Books & Baking. For this edition, I’ve chosen the book The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It was one of the first recipes I found when searching for ideas for this new blog feature, but it’s a relatively complicated recipe. So, I tried a few other ideas first. Check out the first two installments of Books & Baking here: House of Salt and Sorrows Heartless

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Book: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Read my full review here!

This story takes place over many, many years which was something I really enjoyed. Our two main characters, Celia and Marco,  were ones that I completely fell in love with. Celia grew so much throughout the book. She was caring and clever and I adored her. Marco had me going back and forth with my feelings. I didn’t always like the choices he made. But ended up really liking him once he and Celia finally met. I also really liked how developed some of the supporting characters was. This book is atmospheric and mysterious. Morgenstern is an incredible writer and this is a must-read.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong being a dreamer.”

“Life takes us to unexpected places sometimes. The future is never set in stone, remember that.”

“Good and evil are a great deal more complex than a princess and a dragon . . . is not the dragon the hero of his own story?”

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”

“Secrets have power. And that power diminishes when they are shared, so they are best kept and kept well. Sharing secrets, real secrets, important ones, with even one other person, will change them. Writing them down is worse, because who can tell how many eyes might see them inscribed on paper, no matter how careful you might be with it. So it’s really best to keep your secrets when you have them, for their own good, as well as yours.”

Baking: Darkness to Light Cake  

Find the recipe here!

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For this installment,  I went with a cake that had Night Circus vibes as a whole rather than something that was actually mentioned in the book.

“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 Rêves, and it is only open at night.”

As I said above, this was a pretty complicated recipe. There are three different kinds of cake, frosting, and chocolate ganache. So, stick with me for the instructions!

White Cake Ingredients

Cake flour
Baking powder
Salt
Unsalted, softened butter
Sugar
Vanilla extract
Whole milk
Eggs whites

Caramel Cake Ingredients

Sugar
Water
All-purpose flour
Baking powder
Salt
Unsalted, softened butter
Egg
Whole Milk

Chocolate Cake Ingredients

All-purpose flour
Unsweetened cocoa powder
Baking soda
Baking powder
Salt
Unsalted, softened butter
Light brown sugar
Sugar
Eggs
Vanilla extract
61% Semisweet chocolate, melted
72% Bittersweet chocolate, melted
Whole milk
Water

Caramel Buttercream Ingredients

Unsalted, softened butter
Confectioners sugar, sifted
Vanilla extract
Caramel syrup (from cake recipe)

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients

61% Semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
72% Bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Heavy cream
Corn syrup

White Cake Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease cake pan. Mix cake flour, baking powder, and salt, then set aside. Combine butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Mix milk and vanilla extract. Add flour mix and milk mix to the butter mix, alternating each time, starting and ending with the flour mix. Mix fully before adding the next addition. Whip egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into the batter. Pour mixture into the greased baking dish and bake 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Caramel Cake Instructions

Start by making caramel syrup. Mix 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water into a pan on the stove. Cook on medium heat until sugar melts and the mixture comes to boil. Let syrup boil until it turns dark golden, then remove from heat and add another 1/2 cup boiling water. Let syrup cool before using.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking dish. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt then set aside. Combine remaining sugar and butter, beat until light and fluffy. Slowly pour in about 3 tablespoons of caramel syrup, letting each incorporate fully before adding the next. Add in the egg and beat until combined. Add flour mix and milk mix to the butter mix, alternating each time, starting and ending with the flour mix. Pour batter into the baking dish. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Chocolate Cake Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the baking dish. Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside. Combine sugars and butter and beat until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs and beat until combined. Add in the vanilla and beat until combined. Pour in both melted chocolates and beat until combined. Add flour mix and milk mix to the butter mix, alternating each time, starting and ending with the flour mix. Add in a 1/4 cup boiling water and beat until combined. Pour batter into the baking dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Caramel Buttercream Instructions

Start with the butter, beat until soft and creamy. Add 1/2 cup of confectioners sugar at a time, fully incorporating before adding the next half cup. Add in vanilla extract and caramel syrup, mix until fully combined.

Chocolate Ganache Instructions

Do this after assembling the cake.
Place finely chopped chocolates in a bowl. Combine corn syrup and heavy cream in a pan on the stove and bring to a boil. Then, pour over chocolates, let sit for a moment, then stir to combine into a glaze. Let cool slightly.

Assembly Instructions

Level each cake layer so they are all flat and even sized. Place chocolate layer on the bottom. Spread a layer of caramel buttercream on top. Add caramel cake on top of the buttercream, then spread another layer of caramel buttercream on top. Add the final layer of white cake. If enough caramel buttercream is left, you may frost the rest of the cake with it. Or continue with the chocolate ganache. Pour the ganache on top of the cake. Use a spatula to guide the chocolate, but don’t spread with it or it may ruin the shiny the finish. Let sit to set at room temperature before serving the cake.

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I went a step further and added some white, vanilla icing around the sides to add a bit of black/white element to the outside of the cake. The original recipe suggested white chocolate plaques, but that was a bit out of my skillset so I went with some easier icing.

The verdict on this cake was decided to be absolutely delicious by myself and my husband. My daughter even tried some and liked it too. I would suggest making this for more than two adults and a one-year-old though, it was hard to finish it in a timely fashion. Regardless, the cake was super good and fun to make.

Is this a recipe you would attempt? Let me know in the comments if you try to make it!

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

GoodReads Summary:
Two star-crossed magicians engage in a deadly game of cunning in The Night Circus, the spellbinding bestseller that has captured the world’s imagination. 
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 Rêves, 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 both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.
Review:
When I started this book it was as an audiobook that I got from my library. I found with the audiobook that I had a really hard time focusing and noticed that I had to rewind and listen again because I would lose focus and miss important details. About twenty percent into The Night Circus I decided to see if the ebook version was available from my library and it was, so I made the switch. I had a much more enjoyable time once I switch to the ebook.
I ate this story up. The Night Circus is a book that I heard about through the bookstagram world (thank god for the bookish community.) I honestly didn’t even read the summary of the book until after I’d already started the audiobook. But by then my attention had already been caught, so it didn’t really matter what the book summary said.
By then I had already started to become attached to Celia after seeing her meet her father as a little girl and have no idea what her father was signing her up for. After watching her train herself and learn more about her abilities and how far she can take them. I only grew more attached as I read instead of listened to the story. I fell more in love as she became a young woman who learned how to stand up to her father, while still learning the things he wants her to. I love Celia. She’s intelligent, caring, clever, and mysterious all at the same time.
While falling in love with Celia I was also learning to love Marco. Adopted as an orphan for the sole purpose of being trained for this challenge, but never being given the full story, he was a very compelling character. I so enjoyed watching him try to figure things out on his own and the way he learned to teach himself and take care of himself because he knew that no one else would. I liked Marco most of the time. There were a  few moments that had me shaking my head wondering why he thought that was the best course of action  (it wasn’t). Regardless, I enjoyed Marco especially once he and Celia started interacting directly rather than just through the circus.
There were some excellent supporting characters in this story. Many others that got their own side story that only added interest to The Night Circus as a whole, like the clockmaker and the fortune-teller. I love when authors give me supporting characters that have stories to tell. I think it makes the book just that much better overall. This was one thing that made it hard for me to listen to this as an audiobook. There were so many different stories being told within this one book that listening to it had them blending together and it wasn’t always clear when we were moving to a new perspective. I really like books with multiple perspectives, especially when they’re complex like this one. I just might not recommend the audiobook over the ebook or paper version unless you know you’ll be able to focus.
Another thing I really liked was that this story was set in the late 1800s into the early 1900s. Over the period of many years. Too many stories have timelines that just aren’t realistic or don’t make sense. This book didn’t do that. We read through many many years of our characters lives. I think that just gives the reader a feeling of really knowing the characters and as if we’ve been on this journey with them. I also have to compliment the author on her writing skills because I don’t think I would be able to write a multi-perspective book with this complex story.
As a whole, I liked The Night Circus. Erin Morgenstern is a very talented writer and I hope to be able to write a story like this one day. This book was complex and interesting. Extremely detailed and involved but not to the point where it was hard to get through, just enough to hold my attention and keep me dying to know what’s going to happen. I loved that while it was romantic, with forbidden love (my favorite), there were also some pretty dark aspects to this story. This was a nice touch because what’s life without a little darkness?

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

*Please be aware that the book cover on this post is a link to purchase this book through Amazon. Feel free to purchase with our affiliate link (just click on the book cover) to support us!

WWW Wednesday

Hey, bookworms! It’s that day of the week again where we participate in the wonderful bookish post that was formerly hosted by Should be Reading and was recently taken over by Taking on a World of Words. To play along just answer three questions to give an update about what you’re currently reading, going to read next and have read recently. Feel free to leave your answers in the comments or link your post!

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What are you currently reading?

Amanda- I’m currently reading Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer as an ebook. I’m also still in the middle of Air Awakens by Elise Kova. I’m listening to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Antonia- I’m about to finish Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts. I always love her books and this has been no exception. Look for my review soon.

What did you recently finish reading?

Amanda- I recently finished listening to Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel. I also recently finished reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman. The book was not what I expected, but I’m excited to watch the show and see the differences.

Antonia- I recently finished Earth’s End by Elise Kova. It was amazing and you can read my review here.

What do you think you will read next?

Amanda- Next I’d like to start Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard. It’s sitting on my side table in my living room staring at me…Begging to be picked up and read. I will also likely listen to Truthwitch by Susan Dennard as my next audiobook. I’ve requested it from the library like three times and just haven’t had the time to listen to it yet.

Antonia- I just bought a few new books I’d been waiting for and Shelter in Place was one of them. Originally I’d planned to start with A Court of Frost and Starlight but as soon as my husband saw it he stole it and took it on vacation with him. So I’ll either continue with the Air Awakens series or start Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake.

Thanks for reading our W’s this week. What are yours? Leave them in the comments or leave us a link to your post.

WWW Wednesday

Hey, bookworms! It’s that day of the week again where we participate in the wonderful bookish post that was formerly hosted by Should be Reading and was recently taken over by Taking on a World of Words. To play along just answer three questions to give an update about what you’re currently reading, going to read next and have read recently. Feel free to leave your answers in the comments or link your post!

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What are you currently reading?

Amanda- I’m currently rereading Air Awakens by Elise Kova on my Kindle. I’m also listening to Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel.

Antonia- I just started Water’s Wrath by Elise Kova. I’m only about a chapter into it but I’m loving this series so far.

What did you recently finish reading?

Amanda- I recently finished reading The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw. My review will be posted next week.

Antonia- I just finished Earth’s End by Elise Kova. I couldn’t wait to start the next book (Kova really knows how to keep you invested with these endings), but you can expect to see my review of this one soon.

What do you think you will read next?

Amanda- Next I’ll be listening to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I’ll continue the Air Awakens Series with Fire Falling by Elise Kova on my Kindle. I think I’ll be starting Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard sometime this week too.

Antonia- Honestly, it’ll probably be Crystal Crowned by Elise Kova. I’m a little obsessed with this series and don’t think I’ll be able to help myself. I’d originally planned on reading other books in between so my reviews would be more spaced out but that obviously hasn’t happened.

Thanks for reading our W’s this week. What are yours? Leave them in the comments or leave us a link to your post.