Book Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern in front of Patience the Lion

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Get your jammies on because it’s time to talk about The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. Jammies needed because this is the perfect before bedtime read. Get all snugly and immerse yourself in this magical story.

This is the first book that you all chose for me to read. So first off, thank you to all who voted for this book. I, of course, have to thank Bex from Dating in the City and on Twitter as @tothaground for recommending this one to me.

If you follow me on social media, then you know I struggled with this one in the beginning. It’s a long book so it took me a little while to truly get into it. I had to go back to Bex’s message about it for encouragement. She wrote, “It takes a few chapters to figure out what’s happening, but once you do, it’s very cool!” I was skeptical, but I wanted to keep going because Bex recommended it and I trust her judgement.

At first, I’m thinking, “What is this? A bunch of short stories? And is this really set in New York? How will I get to the Starless Sea in NYC?” The structure, in the beginning, freaked me out because I’m the kind of reader who always needs some time to get into a story. I typically reread the first page of a book over & over before I can focus. When a new story kept starting up, I thought, “I can’t do this.” However, there’s a clever point in the story that validated my feelings about it. That intrigued me enough to keep on going.

Summary of The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

In The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, eventually, the heart of the story emerges with Zachary Ezra Rawlins. Zachary Ezra Rawlins finds a mysterious book at his Vermont college’s library. It reminds him of a time in his childhood when he had a decision to make. That was, to either go forward or stay where he was, and he chose to stay put. He didn’t open the door. The book he reads, with its enchanting stories of an underworld of magic and books, along with a startling revelation, has woken in him his desire to make a new decision. To go forward to discover what’s beyond the door to see what awaits.

He starts his quest like I do when I want to find out more about a guy I’m about to date, with a google search, of course. The google search leads him to a masquerade party in New York City- yay! I breathed a sigh of relief when the book finally gets to NYC. Zachary soon meets a cast of characters, some friends, some foes, some romantical (or one). It leads him on the path to search out the hidden magical world of captivating stories. He learns some do everything to protect it while others are intended to destroy it.

My Thoughts on The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The short stories interspersed throughout the book. Before the central story emerged, I felt confused and a bit disinterested, if I’m being honest. However, once I became more invested in the whole story, the shorter stories within the larger story charmed me as well. I felt they would be relevant to the main story, which ended up being true. I even went back to reread the earlier stories and enjoyed them the second time around. One of my favorite stories is told within the main story. At the masquerade party, a mysterious man whispers the story to Zachary in a dark room. Very tantalizing!

All are intriguing stories and like Bex said, “If you are a lover of stories, you’ll like this book.”

With that being said, it’s very description-heavy. Morgenstern paints an elaborate picture with every step these characters take. The author describes this magical literary world in intricate detail and I wanted to immerse myself in it. I imagine it might make for a pretty cool visual movie along the lines of The Fountain. I found myself wishing that I could see this place rather than read the detailed descriptions. It is poetry on the page, but for me, at times, it was a little much. However, it is the perfect book to read a little bit at a time to fully invest in it. I felt like this book tucked me in at night. When I finished it, I found I missed it.

I read criticism about how Zachary is a passive protagonist, which I understand, however, I think that passivity might be explained in the end. I think his passivity is intentional by the author and symbolizes who he’s meant to be. It’s the kind of book, ripe with symbolism, that makes you wonder about the meaning of it all and how everything connects. I found myself on a Reddit board for quite a while after reading it. It’s the kind of book that should be read in a literature class to really dive into the complexity of it.

Cats!

I cannot overlook a continuing theme throughout this book, which I fully supported and that my friends, is cats. Yes, cute, furry kitty cats. Mysterious cats, beautiful cats, cats doing cat things, and popping up to steal the scene. I think all my favorite quotes involved cats because of course. If you know me, cute fluff is always my fav.

Fav Quotes

“What’s your problem?” he asks the cat.

“Meooorwrrrorr”, the cat says in a hybrid meow-growl implying that it has so many problems it does not even know where to begin.


“Meoowrrr,” the cat remarks, in approval or dissent or indifference.


They trip over fallen shelves and furniture, pausing to free a tabby cat from under a collapsed table. The tabby flees without thanking them.


Something hits his ankle, soft yet insistent, and he looks down to find the familiar, squished face of his Persian cat.

“Hey,” he says. “How’d you get down here?”

The cat does not reply.

“I heard you were looking for me.”

The cat neither confirms nor denies this statement.


And finally, a non-cat quote:

He can hear only his footsteps, his breath, his heartbeat, and the crackling flame of the torch that is definitely getting dimmer which is disappointing because he had hoped it would be a magic endless-light torch and not a regular extinguishable one.

Final Thoughts on The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

I do recommend this book despite its critics. It honestly is the perfect book to get cozy with before bed. It also has romance (and an LGBTQ theme) that keeps you invested. I lived for Zachary’s romantic storyline and some other characters have a little romance too.

It took until I was almost a third of the way before I really got into The Starless Sea. Then, I got totally invested but had to put it down at the halfway point to read another book with a pressing deadline.

I feel like that interruption made me have some trouble getting into it again, but soon enough I did become invested. At times, it seemed to meander a bit. We’d get some action, feel invested, and then the character is walking to another spot where we get treated to another long vivid description of the new area. The world is vast, so Morgenstern leaves no stone unturned in describing it. For me, that style took me out of the action at times. However, I wanted to make sure I got the full picture of the world and the story. Therefore, I decided to embrace the style and let it wash over me.

If you like magical, fantasy worlds with enchanting stories (and cats), read this book. It goes down like hot tea with honey and lemon.

To learn more about The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, head to her website at ErinMorgenstern.com. Her first book, The Night Circus, sounds so good too. It sounds like a combination of The Starless Sea and The Hunger Games. I can get into that! To purchase the book, try Bookshop.

If you’ve read The Starless Sea or The Night Circus, let me know your thoughts about it below.

The Starless Sea Literary Date

The Starless Sea literary date will have to wait until indoor activities are allowed again.

However, this is what it might look like (get ready Bex, we’re doing this one together, right?):

The New York Public Library

The New York Public Library

I stopped by to get pictures but I would love to fully explore it. I’ve been one time that I can recall when I went to a Jack Kerouac On the Road exhibit. My father encouraged that visit and he knew I’d be interested since I read the book for a literature class. Google shows that the exhibit took place circa 2007-2008, so it’s time I got back there.

Of course, when reading a book about a fantastical magical underground literary world, the closest real-life version of that would be The New York Public Library. Or maybe that’s the egotistical New Yorker in me? Please educate me on other incredible libraries throughout the world. I’m totally lacking in this area as a book blogger.

However, it’s not just me being an egotistical New Yorker because Zachary meets up with someone here in the book. He’s given instructions to meet at Patience and Fortitude.

Patience the Lion at The New York Public Library

Patience

Fortitude the Lion at The New York Public Library

Fortitude

Originally, the lions were named after the library’s founders and known as Lady Astor and Lord Lenox (even though they are both male lions), but in the 1930s, the mayor renamed them Patience and Fortitude after the qualities he felt New Yorkers needed to survive the economic depression. Rings true today during this global pandemic.

Patience and Fortitude apparently have been decked out for the holidays, worn Mets and Yankees caps, top hats, and more. I even read they wore face masks recently, however, I was just there so I guess they were removed.

Learn more about the New York Public Library’s mascots at nypl.org.

The Algonquin Hotel

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern in front of The Algonquin Hotel

In The Starless Sea, Zachary is lead to the annual literary masquerade ball at The Algonquin Hotel.

I’m not sure if there really is an annual literary masquerade ball there, but maybe you have to be in the know to know about it? Regardless, it is known as a literary hotel with a history of many famous authors, writers, journalists, and others meeting up here.

Also, probably my favorite feature is that the hotel has resident cats dating back 40 years. YES! Cats! You read that right. They’ve had 8 Hamlets and 3 Matildas. You better believe I’m now following @thealgonquincat on Instagram. I would LOVE to learn more and meet this cat or 2 cats?

It seems like the Algonquin’s cats could have been Morgenstern’s inspiration for featuring cats throughout her book. Purrfection.

Notable Mentions

Central Park is featured in the book, particularly the Belvedere Castle and the Shakespeare Garden. I’d have to find a small bridge over a pond to cross over.

The Collectors Club is near a spot in the book that has the same name. The actual Collectors Club is for stamp collectors. True story. Need a membership to be part of the club. Anybody have any stamps to send me so I can prove my devotion to stamp collecting?

Union Square Farmers’ Market it’s one of the city’s favorite markets that pops up on Union Square on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturdays. It’s actually called Greenmarket but I think everyone in the city refers to it as the farmers’ market and so does the character in the book.

Noodle Bar, a character eats here. Yay, food!

Psychic, I’m putting this one here because Zachary Ezra Rawlins is the son of a fortune teller and those who have been following me for a while might remember I visited a psychic for one of my earlier tours. My Annie Van Tour. l would LOVE to go back to that psychic.

Next Up

I think that all of that would make for a pretty cool literary date in the city. Let me know your thoughts on this potential The Starless Sea tour of the city.

I also just finished reading With Just One Kiss by Francis Ray so I will post about that soon. You also will get to hear me talk about it with Kelly Reynolds on her awesome podcast Boobies & Noobies. That will air later this month. I’m excited!

The next book I will be reading was sent to me by publisher, Avid Reader Press. Kings County by David Goodwillie. More on that later but I’m excited that it’s set in Brooklyn. It’s at least partially set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which I’ve always wanted to show you all. I even thought of rereading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn so that I could share Greenpoint and Williamsburg with you. Hopefully, instead, this book will be able to inspire a cool tour. I hope it’s a good book!

Thank you all for connecting with me. Let me know what you are reading or up to in the comments.

I’ll leave you with the path that leads to The New York Public Library:

Literary quotes on the street leading up to The New York Public Library

And if you like it Pin it!

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern in front of Patience the Lion

11 Comments

  1. Lori
    August 12, 2020 / 3:52 pm

    I love short story books. And this seems to be a combo. I’ll add it to my long list of books to. Heck out.

    • August 14, 2020 / 12:53 pm

      I think you would like it! Let me know if you read it! I’d love to discuss the meaning of it all.😊

  2. August 12, 2020 / 4:29 pm

    I had no idea that pathway existed! I think the closest I got to the NYPL was across the street every time I’ve been to NYC.

    I think it took me until 60% into the audiobook to realize that this was a book within a book. I think I’ll eventually read it again to see if it makes better sense.

    • August 14, 2020 / 12:59 pm

      I didn’t either about that pathway! It’s pretty cool.
      I know, me too. I was confused by a lot. I may reread it one day since I really did love getting cozy with it before bed and I know there’s so much I probably missed. I feel like I need to really dissect all the symbolism to fully understand this book. Lots to unpack. Thanks for checking out my post about it!

  3. August 12, 2020 / 11:32 pm

    I feel like I get really distracted when there are a whole lot of short stories going on at once–it definitely does sound like a book that’d be a really good pick a literature class to analyze though!

    You know I’m definitely all for cute adorable fluffs as well! 😀 “The cat neither confirms nor denies this statement” sounds about right, haha.

    • August 14, 2020 / 1:03 pm

      At first I had trouble with them before the central story emerged but then once it did, it’s like a lightbulb came on and I looked forward to reading each short story within the story. They really were intriguing little stories.
      Exactly. There’s so much to analyze with this book. I didn’t even really crack the surface with all the symbolism. The bees, the keys, swords…that’s why I went on the Reddit board. It’s interesting to think about it all.

      Haha! I love the cat quotes! The author nailed the cat personality.😂

  4. August 13, 2020 / 9:15 pm

    I am obsessed with writing that is “overly” descriptive, especially when set in fantastical or magical arenas. For this reason, I grow to be more and more drawn to The Starless Sea every time I read a review about it! I think the approach is so different that it must be refreshing, and I’m excited to delve into Erin Morgenstern’s writing style whenever I finally get around to reading this. I’ll have to come back to this post to re-check out the photos you shared!

    • August 14, 2020 / 1:09 pm

      You will LOVE it then! I usually skim descriptions, I admit, when I read books but I didn’t want to do that with this book. Would have missed way too much. The author really puts you in the world. You almost feel like Zachary wandering around this incredible world. So it’s not usually my thing but I tried to embrace it and appreciate it.
      I definitely want to read her first book. I can’t wait until I’m able to find time for it. I may need to put my blog on hold to just read a bunch of non-related to my blog books. All these books I’ve put on the back burner.
      Thank you for checking out my post! Let me know when you read the book. Can’t wait to see your perfect bookstagram pics for it.😍

  5. September 5, 2020 / 2:45 pm

    I am actually like you, and I struggled with this in high school: when I would first read a book, I would get trapped, lost, or confused in the first chapter. I’d have to re-read the first page or so, as well. Short stories kill me because of that. I remember for AP English tests, I bombed a lot of the short story work because I couldn’t remember people’s names in such a short period of rushed time. I needed to re-read short stories twice to really take it ALL in. I’m also terrible at remembering certain facts. Pop quizzes were not for me in this sense. I did the reading but names eluded me there, too. This book makes me nervous loll!

    I laughed when you wrote about how like Zachary, you Google your dates. We all know about your serious online dating research skills. Lol

    Like we’ve discussed online, I am slightly turned off by the length of this one along with the mixed reviews. I am glad that you finally got into the book, and I still haven’t decided if I will read it. Maybe after the busy fall is over?! I also would have wondered how this one would land in NYC! I didn’t realize it was LGBT+ either.

    I read The Night Circus, and I remember enjoying it. I think it was a bit of a slow burn for me?! It was a while ago. I do remember it being magical.

    I’m loving the NYPL pics, and I just read a book this summer: The Lions of Fifth Ave. The book is set at the NYPL, and of course, the lions are mentioned.

    I had to go look at the Algonquin’s cat, as I told you on IG. SO FUN and SWEET.

    P.S. I love your gorgeous ring and that it matches the book cover. Thank you so much for the honest review and book tour around NYC with A LIBRARY. LOVE IT!

  6. September 7, 2020 / 2:30 pm

    Hmmm not sure about this book for me, but if I had it available to read, I’d give it a go. Sounds like it would take me a while to read. These days, if the book doesn’t hook me in the first chapter, I am done. Gotta keep my focus. This one sounds worth the read once you get into it and I’d have to keep pushing forward reading a chapter a day until I’m invested.

    I do LOVE the sound of this literary date and absolutely think you should do it.

    I love that The Algonquin Hote has cats.

    • September 19, 2020 / 3:41 pm

      Yes, I think it’s a good one to read a little bit at a time. I already said in my post but it’s the perfect before bedtime read.
      I’d love to do this literary date. Hopefully one day!😍

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