All the stars for Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea

I have a new ‘best book I’ve read this year,’ and it’s this breathtakingly beautiful piece of literature. I believe this is also now one of my top ten books of all time. I need more stars to rate it.

I enjoyed The Night Circus, but wasn’t totally blown away by it. Still, I have been looking forward to Morgenstern’s second novel since it was announced last year, and I felt like I won the lottery when I got a library copy of the audio on the day after it was released. Dreams really do come true, people! I’d like to thank my library, Overdrive’s lovely ‘recommend’ feature, my friend and constant companion, the Libby app, my mom… 😉

The Starless Sea is a story about stories. It’s a fairytale, and a tribute to storytelling, fantasy, and imagination. Masterfully written in such a way that for the first third of the book, I thought it was just a collection of unrelated tales, interwoven with the experiences of Zachary Ezra Rawlins as he tries to learn more about them. I was just fine with that, because all of the stories were that good. Then, all of the stories started to connect and merge with Zachary’s life, and the really extraordinary magic began.

We experience the stories in small bits, alternating between characters, places, and times, and these tales just flow along effortlessly. But… it’s like a puzzle slowly coming together, and I really had to pay attention to every detail. Morgenstern did not waste words here—everything that happens has meaning and value to the story, right up to the stunning ending.

So many fantastic, whimsical elements: doors that open to a hidden world that seems to run on magic, a literary party in Manhattan full of strange storytelling and people dressed as their favorite characters mingling with famous authors, a pirate and a pirate ship, lost loves, the moon and sun, fate and time, and a whole lot of cats.

The audiobook is beautifully done with some of my favorite narrators. I had to force myself to return it to the library (after listening to many parts repeatedly) so that the nine people waiting can experience this book, too. I’m definitely getting a hard copy for my favorites shelf, and I know that I will reread The Starless Sea many times.

In summary: stories, love, magic, and cats. Someone needs to give this book some awards. It’s perfection, and you should probably read it.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

I was so excited to get a copy of this book through NetGalley. I loved Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower, and the premise of this new book sounded very Stephen King, which translates to very my-kind-of-book. I had just been approved when my 15-year-old daughter also picked it as her BOTM add-on for October, so clearly this was meant to be.

Single mom Kate Reese is running from an abusive man and a heartbreaking past with her seven-year-old son, Christopher. They are both drawn to a tiny, out of the way town in Pennsylvania, and Kate is determine to start fresh and provide her son with a good life. Both are haunted by the suicide of Christopher’s father, who was also the only good man Kate every knew. Just as they are settling in, Christopher vanishes for 6 days after being mysteriously led into the woods outside of town by unknown forces. When he comes out, he can’t remember his time there, but he has a voice in his head that only he can hear and a strange mission to complete to save his mom and the town.

First things first: this is a BIG book (720 pages), and I have seen some reviews that say it’s too long or slow. That was most definitely not my experience reading Imaginary Friend. I though the pacing was perfect, and the tension builds throughout in a slow, perfect burn. There is honestly nothing I would rather have been cut from the story, as everything seems very deliberate and purposeful. I was so drawn in to this story that I also downloaded the audiobook so that I didn’t have to stop reading when I couldn’t sit down, and I finished the story in less than 3 days.

The writing is really, really good. The characters are so well-developed and complete. At the beginning of the book, Christopher is clearly written like a young child who is possibly dyslexic, struggling with school, confused about the loss of his father, and worried about his mom; after his return from the woods, he is most definitely changed, which is evident from not only his ‘spontaneous genius’ but from his more mature character voice. Chbosky effortlessly slips between many different character narratives as the town slides into terrifying chaos.

For me, the mark of a truly great read is the books ability to take me through a range of feelings. I cared about Kate, Christopher, and his friends. I felt for many of the townspeople, and I giggled, smiled, cried, and was truly frightened. The comparisons to King are likely because of the horror elements, but I was very pleased with how this book delivered the total experience I treasure as a reader. Just like Stephen King does for me so often.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Stephen Chbosky for writing one of my new favorite books of the year.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️