July 23, 2013

Review: The Time I Joined The Circus by J.J. Howard

Title: The Time I Joined The Circus
Author: J.J. Howard
Release Date: April 1st, 2013
Publisher: Point
Page Count: 259
Source: ARCycling
Rating: The Pretty Cover Caper - not the worst attention theft in the world, but it could have been better.
Lexi Ryan just ran away to join the circus, but not on purpose.

A music-obsessed, slightly snarky New York City girl, Lexi is on her own. After making a huge mistake--and facing a terrible tragedy--Lexi has no choice but to track down her long-absent mother. Rumor has it that Lexi's mom is somewhere in Florida with a traveling circus.

When Lexi arrives at her new, three-ring reality, her mom isn't there... but her destiny might be. Surrounded by tigers, elephants, and trapeze artists, Lexi finds some surprising friends and an even more surprising chance at true love. She even lucks into a spot as the circus's fortune teller, reading tarot cards and making predictions.

But then Lexi's ex-best friend from home shows up, and suddenly it's Lexi's own future that's thrown into question.

With humor, wisdom, and a dazzlingly fresh voice, this debut reminds us of the magic of circus tents, city lights, first kisses, and the importance of an excellent playlist.

[Summary Source: Goodreads]

Lexi's (Xandra?) father dies. Lexi's best friends aren't speaking to her and the girl has to vacate the city due to no guardian and no apartment. Where does she have to go, you might ask? Well, she's sent down south to the circus to find her wayward mother - who's not ACTUALLY at said circus. So Lexi, with no where to go, starts doing what her mother's not - working at the circus. Shenanigans ensue.

Let's break this down:

I liked a whole freaking lot about this book, starting with the circus. I freaking love circuses. I'm not sure how accurate the portrayal of the circus was in this book, but I don't really care because A) THERE WERE ELEPHANTS and, more practically, B) this book isn't so much about the setting but about what goes down in this setting. It is in this setting that Lexi makes friends with people who really care about her and help her get over what happened to her in Manhattan. She really finds a family - something you kind of get the feeling she never really had. Don't get me wrong, she loved her dad, but he was less of a father figure and more of a friend who supervised her life lightly.

Okay, so not that we've established that I loved the foundation of this book, I think we should talk about my biggest problem with it: THERE ARE TOO MANY CHARACTERS/PLOT. I loved every single person in this book. I also loved every bit of plot to be found. I just felt like this was the little book that as trying to do too much, y'know? Either the book should have been 100 pages longer, or had one less plot point (The mother plot point? It wouldn't have been terrible if she'd stayed deadbeat and off-screen).

I will say that I really liked how the romance went down. Even though I could have done without the whole Jamie plot-point (the ending of which was startling abrupt) and Nick's "I'm no good for you" attitude, the construct of the whole thing was pretty awesome and totally heartbreaking. You never really knew what turn the romance was going to take and I kind of liked the surprise. Like a lot.

Finally, I really liked Lexi herself. She was kind of all over the place, y'know? Which is exactly how I would be if my entirely life collapsed around me. Probably. I think. (Thankfully that's never happened to me so I don't really know.) Anyway, she was headstrong, impulsive, and independent - basically all of the teenage things. She took care of herself even when it looked like every dropped out of her life. And I like that in a main character.

PS (for those of you who've read this book): The lawyer in this book? What a self-centered jerk. So much of the story bizarrely stems from him and I kind of want to punch him out, remove him from the story and bring the plot back to basics. Because, like I said earlier, this book really should've been more focused. Too many plots, too many people.

The long and short of it?

Plot: TOO MUCH. IT'S TOO MUCH. But I really liked ALL OF IT. I kind of wish J.J. Howard had multiple circus books and each was about a different character who either ran to or from the same circus because of the different plots found in this book. That would have been a cool companion set.
World Building: I don't know much about carnivals but the NYC attitude in this book is pretty much textbook, so I'm down.
Character Development: I really loved everything that went on with Lexi and all of the too many characters in this book. Really. They all seemed super real - despite the soap opera amount of drama going on at any given moment.
Prose: Straight up teenage talk. It's first person so that really works for me and the book.
Would I Recommend This Book?: There was a lot of really good stuff in this book - but maybe TOO much good stuff. Because apparently too much of a good thing is a bad thing. So I would say if you can get past the overabundance of plot and are really interested in this pretty cover and circus premise, you might wanna grab this one from the library. Otherwise, maybe you wanna skip it.

Did you guys also fall prey to this pretty cover? And if you have read it, what did you think of the TOO MANY PLOTS/TOO MANY BOYS? If not, do you think you'll pick it up despite my warnings? Let me know in the comments below!


  1. Okay, this is a great review. I have this book FOR review and just have not gotten to it yet (BAD!!) but I DID indeed fall for the pretty cover (I DO THAT, I DO). I'm interested in the TOO MUCH thing because I think that happens a lot and I never really mind if a book needs to be 100 pages longer if it is warranted. We'll see. Looks like the Goodreads ratings are all over the place. You kind of make me want to read this sooner, Gaby, so I can see for myself. I LOVE mixed reviews on a book, which is kind of weird but how I roll. Great thoughts. (:

  2. I wasn't the biggest fan of this book, honestly, because it just felt scattered to me. You hit the nail on the head when saying that there are a LOT of plot points! While most of the time I can handle that sort of thing, I just felt like it wasn't fleshed out very well. Still, I liked the circus bits. And the musical bits too!

  3. I wondered about this one! I got burned on circus-themed books with Water for Elephants (*ducks for cover* I know a lot of people loved it!). I think it was the animal cruelty in that one; I just couldn't stomach the thought of the animals being so abused! BUT, I shouldn't hold that against all circus books! Haha, great review. I may have to pick this one up.


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