“The Fault in Our Stars”

Green, John, narrated by Kate Rudd.  The Fault in Our Stars.  Grand Haven: Brilliance Audio, 2006.  Audio.

Borrowed from the Cedar Falls Public Library.

Listened to between February 13 and February 20, 2013.

3.75 out of five stars.

The Fault in our Stars

I find it pleasantly ironic that Jodi Picoult’s blurb is featured on the front cover of “A Fault in Our Stars”.  After finishing this book I found myself comparing her and John Green, in particular how each author seems to follow distinct (albeit different) writing formulas in terms of character types and plot progressions.  In other words, if you’ve read one Picoult or Green, you’ve read them all.  Now, before all the Nerdfighters rush in to throw rocks at me, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy “The Fault in Our Stars”.  However, having just finished “An Abundance of Katherines” I’m a bit John Green-ed out at the moment.  I tend to be a rut reader, and after reading “AAoK” I thought, “Well that was fun and refreshing, let’s try another one of Green’s novels” (“AAoK” being my first).  I should have paid more attention to the novel’s synopsis, because fun and refreshing “A Fault in Our Stars” is most decidedly not.  I don’t tend to cry often, but I did tear up on more than one occasion during my listening of this book (which is not the safest thing to do whilst driving…).  As novels about terminally ill teens are inclined to be, “The Fault in Our Stars” is melancholy and raw, more bittersweet than sad.

I won’t go into any plot details, because there are other reviews that explain this novel far more eloquently than I can.  In terms of writing style there were a few notable elements:
1) Green deviated from his usual teenaged male narrator in favor of a female one, a decision he explains in the Q & A session (from NPR or PBS, I believe) at the end of the audiobook presentation.  Fans of Green’s other works will see Colin/Miles/Quentin reflected in Hazel (either to their enjoyment or chagrin).
2) There will be readers who criticize the dialogue, claiming “normal teenagers” would never be as sarcastic/ironic/witty/clever/insightful/whatever as Hazel and Augustus*.  It was for this reason I didn’t give the book a higher rating.  There were several times I rolled my eyes at Hazel and Augustus’s  banter. I feel fairly confident that Hazel would have owned a highlighted and well loved copy of “Infinite Jest” and would have spent her free time perusing a thesaurus.  I don’t mean to sound harsh, because overall I did enjoy this book, and of course Hazel and Augustus weren’t “normal teenagers”, but they just didn’t sound authentic enough for me.

Overall, I did enjoy this book (as much as one can truly enjoy a book about kids with cancer).  It was at times overly melodramatic and metaphorical, even borderline pretentious, but the story was engaging and for the most part well told.  The narrator of the audiobook, Kate Rudd, was excellent, and the Q & A session at the end of the performance was enlightening.  I would definitely recommend this book to readers.

*Seriously, “Augustus”? Even his name calls forth notions of a self-aggrandizing** egomaniac.  Apologies to all Augustuses out there.
**”Self-aggrandizing” is one such pompous term used by multiple teenaged characters in “The Fault in Our Stars”.

“It’s a Book”

Smith, Lane.  It’s a Book.  New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2010.  Print.

Read at the Waverly Public Library.

Read on February 7, 2013.

Five out of five stars.


If Lane Smith’s “It’s a Book” were to have a subtitle, it would be “A Print Book’s Manifesto”. The story depicts a conversation between a donkey* (with a computer) and a monkey (with a print book and a mouse sidekick). As children are wont to do, Donkey* pesters Monkey about the book’s capabilities (How do you scroll? Where is the mouse? Can it text? Tweet? Blog?), to which Monkey repeatedly replies, “It’s a book”. Eventually the enigmatic nature of Monkey’s print book entices Donkey* and he finds himself lost in its story, prompting Monkey to take a trip to the library.

Both tongue in cheek and wistfully nostalgic, “It’s a Book” is not anti-technology, but rather celebrates print and its unique ability to foster and stimulate the reader’s imagination. This book teaches a valuable lesson about the importance of books and reading to children, but is told cleverly enough to appeal to adults as well. A well timed one liner told by Mouse on the last page will surely elicit laughs (and gasps) perhaps even a hearty Amen!.

*Smith uses “Jackass” in place of donkey (appears twice), which may offend parents who are themselves being jackasses for making a fuss about a word.

PS, apologies for the lack in recent content.  I have quite a few books I’ve read and have yet to review, I’ve just been pretty busy (two jobs, a practicum, school, training, failing attempting to remain sane)…  I hope to finish and post them soon, but I thought this little gem might tide you over for a few more days.

“An Abundance of Katherines”

Green, John, narrated by Jeff Woodman.  An Abundance of Katherines.  Grand Haven: Brilliance Audio, 2006.  Audio.

Borrowed from the Cedar Falls Public Library.

Listened to between January 24, and February 5, 2013.

3.75 out of five stars.

An Abundance of Katherines

Nerd alert: “An Abundance of Katherines” is chock full of word puzzles, informative tangents, clarifying footnotes, foreign language utterances and (shudder) math.  If these literary devices bother you, steer clear.

“An Abundance of Katherines” was assigned for my Resources for Young Adults course (and is one of the very few relatively current publications we are reading this semester).  I’ll admit, the title intrigued me despite its mathematical appearance and without knowing anything about the plot.  Also, (are you sitting down), “AAoK” is the one that finally popped my John Green cherry.  I know, shocking…my very first John Green book. I promise to read “Looking for the Fault in Our Paper Alaskan Towns” as soon as I escape the hell* that is graduate school.  I chose to listen to this mainly because there weren’t many of my assigned readings that were readily available in audio.  I realize now I may have missed some of Green’s stylistic intentions by not having the print copy**, however I really enjoyed Jeff Woodman’s performance.  He was able to pronounce all the different languages (12, I believe) far better than I could have and convincingly pulled off a jaw-less octogenarian Tennessean.  Also, kudos to Brilliance Audio for multiple short tracks and announcing the end of each disc.  Nothing is more frustrating when listening to an audio book than having to go back a full 6 minutes because you missed the last 30 seconds, or restarting the disc without realizing (not that I have done that or anything).

As the title suggests, “An Abundance of Katherines” is about an excess of x-chromosomal-owning exes who all have one thing in common: Colin Singleton.  Colin, a one-time child prodigy (not to be confused with genius) has been dumped by the latest of 19 girls who all answer to the name “Katherine”.  Along with his friend Hassan (a slightly overweight Arab and Judge Judy aficionado) they set out on a road trip aimed at mending Colin’s broken heart.  Upon their arrival in Gutshot, TN the pair meets Lindsey, heiress to a tampon string manufacturing plant who happens to be dating a hillbilly heart throb named (wait for it…) Colin.  What follows is an endearing coming of age story that Green tells in his trademark conversational style, chock full of self-deprecating humor and wit.  “An Abundance of Katherines” is lighthearted, fun and upbeat, populated by memorable (and surprisingly well developed) characters that are sure to elicit laughs and the occasional poignant thought.

*It’s not really that bad.

**I am currently listening to “Wintergirls” by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Another probably-should-have-been-read-in-print-but-the-audio-was-available-so-I-took-it selection.  Time spent in my car is unfortunately plentiful so I listen to whatever books I can.

“The Night Circus”

Morgenstern, Erin.  The Night Circus.  New York: Doubleday, 2011.  Print.

Borrowed from the Cedar Falls Public Library.

Read between December 15, 2012- January 3, 2013.

Three and a half out of five stars.

night circus

Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel “The Night Circus” is about just that: a circus that shows up unannounced and is open for business between dusk and dawn.  There is also a side story about a competition between two magicians: Celia, the Night Circus’s Illusionist (who in reality possesses the ability to manipulate tangible objects while making her performances appear merely magical) and Marco whose talents lie not only in his capacity to create illusions within a person’s mind that seem genuine and authentic, but also in his role as the circus’s offsite caretaker, (which apparently requires lots of handwritten journals full of spells, charms, hieroglyphs, symbols and the like).  This magician’s duel was arranged by Celia’s father, Hector “Prospero the Enchanter” Bowen, and Marco’s teacher, the mysterious A. H. —*  long before either student fully understands their extraordinary talents.  The Night Circus, or Le Cirque des Rêves, is then created as an elaborate arena for the two to play their game, but without either knowing their opponent, or the premise of the competition, nor its stakes.  But wait, that is simply a side story you say?  Isn’t the contest the entire premise of the book?  That is after all, what was promised on the book jacket…

Yes, and no.  Sure, the game between Celia and Marco comprises the majority of the plot and involves many of the novel’s main characters, but to me it was just, well, meh.  It lacked suspense (non spoiler alert: Celia and Marco fall in love!  They figure out what will happen when one of them is declared the victor!  Sappiness and predictable reactions ensue!), and I never felt fully invested in either character: I couldn’t care less who won or lost, or what would happen to them once the game reached its (anti-climatic) conclusion.  For being the novel’s main protagonists, Celia and Marco were far too underdeveloped, unimaginative, and uninteresting.  Yawn.

What I loved about “The Night Circus” was the imagery and atmosphere that Morgenstern effortlessly constructed.  Her vivid descriptions of the various circus tents and performers were entrancing and seductive.  Also I thoroughly enjoyed the novel’s supporting cast, in particular the German clock maker Herr Thiessen, and Poppet and Widget, the red-headed twins who were born on the circus’s opening night and are able to view a person’s past and see into the future, respectively.

“The Night Circus” is written in a nonlinear format, jumping between times, places, and character perspectives.  Personally, I enjoy books that are constructed in this manner, but I am fully aware that it can be rather annoying or confusing to some readers.    Also, in the case of “The Night Circus”, rather than adding to the overall drama and suspense, the writing format instead impeded the pace of the plot tremendously.  I can certainly understand why some readers would become frustrated with the book’s lack of action and quit reading 100 pages in.  For me, the setting and language kept me interested enough until the pace finally picks up just after the halfway part.  It took me over two weeks to read the first half, and only a few hours to finish the rest.

Overall, I felt that “The Night Circus” was seriously lacking in its depth of characters and the premise of the plot, however I was completely drawn in by the fantastical environment Morgenstern created.

* A. H.— is truly how his name appears throughout the book, ugh. Honestly, what is with the “—“?  Is it because the characters are never privy to his real last name?  Or, does A. H — somehow place an enchantment on everyone to simply forget?  Perhaps it was covered somewhere, but I can’t seem to recall…

(Sidenote: I read this book for my upcoming “Resources for Young Adults” class.  I think the professor’s intention in including this on a YA reading list is to explore crossover titles, because it didn’t scream YA, but neither did it seem strictly “adult”.  Perhaps New Adult, a term that I’ve only recently been made aware?).

“Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?”

Godin, Seth.  Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?.  Westminster: Do You Zoom, Inc., 2010.  Print.

Borrowed from the Waterloo Public Library.

Read between December 10-12, 2012.

Three out of five stars.


In his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin seeks to identify a new team in the organizational landscape, one that is neither labor nor management, but rather a new type of workers which Godin refers to as “linchpins”.  This type of person is one who sees things differently than others; they have exceptional insight, are able to view the world through an unbiased lens (known as pranja), are productive, generous, creative, good at making connections with others, and are selfless.

In the first third of the book, Godin replays the evolution of work from humans’ origins as hunters to farmers and eventually factory workers.  Organizations, in an attempt to lower monetary, time, and effort costs created a system where workers would perform the same duties day in and day out in order to efficiently create the final end product, whether it is a car, a hamburger, a website, and etcetera. People working in this type of environment developed a “produce, conform, consume” mentality, which in turn fed the factory-model of organizations and furthered the demand for more cogs to spin the wheels.  Enter the linchpins who, unlike the passive, obedient, replaceable “cog” laborers of the factory-mentality economy, are indispensable artists, entrepreneurs, inventors and leaders.

The author’s analysis of the shift from the factory-era worker to this new linchpin mindset was fairly straightforward.  He explained how people (through the factory-model) are taught to be replaceable, to consume heavily, and to fit in.  Repeated attempts at keeping up with the Joneses created a network effect of consumerism: people wanted things immediately, cheaply, and easily.  However, as economic shifts occur it has become easier to outsource work overseas, create machines that can perform work tasks, or consolidate several positions into one or two.  The author argues that organizations are now left with an abundance of cogs: replaceable workers who are easily outsourced, consolidated, or eliminated.  Godin’s answer is to transform into linchpins by continually seeking out new problems to solve, developing a good sense of judgment and depth of knowledge, treating each interaction with customers, clients, coworkers and supervisors as a learning experience and by exerting emotional labor.

On page 101, Godin begins his chapter called “The Resistance”, where he outlines reasons why people are hesitant to transform from cogs to linchpins.  To me, this is where I began to lose interest.  Godin starts off strong with a quote from Steve Jobs, “Real artists ship”, and explains the factors that inhibit shipping, (which refers to publishing, selling, presenting, sending, etc.).  One of these forces Godin calls “thrashing”, which refers to the editing, tweaking, changing, and deleting that occurs before, and often delays, shipping. The next is coordination, which can postpone shipment when there are too many people involved. Following this initial forthright segment, the next 50 pages read as a disjointed, schizophrenic rambling about “lizard brains” (a person’s fight-or-flight response), fear, procrastination, hesitation, second-guessing and rationalization that all hinder a person’s conversion from cog to linchpin.  Godin could have easily edited this section down to far fewer pages and made the same point: in order to ship you have to stop thrashing and start doing.  He eventually offers some concrete advice on how to do this, (1. Write down the due date, 2. Keep track of each idea, notion, thought, plan, sketch, etc. on paper, 3. Collect the cards of ideas and put them in a database, 4. Create a description for the project/website/presentation/ paper etc., 5. Take the blueprint to your supervisor or boss), but the steps almost get lost in the mix of everything else.

Following “The Resistance” are chapters on gifting (a process necessary of linchpins), creating your own maps, choosing to become a linchpin, and what to do when being a linchpin isn’t working.  Only one chapter, “The Seven Abilities of the Linchpin” provides readers with any sort of concrete, how-to advice.  While other readers might want clearer guidelines and straightforward instructions, I don’t think it was the author’s intent to provide them.  Rather, in linchpin-esque fashion, I think Godin wants readers to create their own map and come to their own conclusions on how to stop being a cog and start being a linchpin.

I chose to read and review this book after coming across it on GoodReads.com’s “Best Career Books for Young Professionals” list (and had to read and review a business book for my Organizational Management class).  Linchpin had overall good ratings on GoodReads (3.96 average out of 5) and was ranked number four on the list, and after skimming the reviews I thought it would be an interesting read (other readers called it “riveting”, “provocative”, “thought-provoking”, “stimulating”, etc.).  While there were certainly portions of this book I would describe using those adjectives, overall I think the book suffered from being too long, too fragmented, and too repetitive.  I think it would have made a wonderful chapter in another book, an essay, or a series of blog posts, but I often felt as though I was rereading segments, or the author was rehashing (and more than once contradicting) past portions.  Overall, I felt that the content was innovative, intriguing, and interesting, but the delivery was lacking.

Despite some of the issues I had with this book, I would still be interested in reading a few of Seth Godin’s other titles, notably The Dip, Tribes, and Purple Cow, all of which are mentioned briefly in Linchpin.  Although I am not certain, I felt that there were ideas in Linchpin that were not fully explained because they had been touched on in Godin’s previous books.  I would recommend this book to someone who is either familiar with Godin’s other works, or who is looking for something they will be able to put it down and come back to over a long period of time, rather than read straight through in a few sittings.  I felt that this book contained some great ideas, but that they just weren’t cohesive enough.

“Winter of the World”

Follett, Kenneth, narrated by John Lee.  Winter of the World: The Century Trilogy, Book Two.  Westminster: Penguin Group USA, 2012.  Audio Book.

Borrowed from the Waterloo Public Library.

Listened to between September 20 and November 28, 2012.

Four and a half out of five stars.Winter of the World

Winter of the World is the second book in Ken Follet’s Century Trilogy*.  The first, Fall of Giants, followed five families across Europe, Asia, and North America throughout the Russian Revolution and the First World War.   Follett continues these stories vicariously through the children of Giants’ characters taking readers on an intricately plotted ride through the world-wide economic, political, and social turmoil of the 1930’s and 40’s.  Readers will get to know Carla von Ulrich as she struggles to stand up for what is right, in spite of the dire consequences to defying the Nazis; Lloyd Williams the son of a housemaid-turned-Labor Party Parliament member, who travels to Spain to fight Fascism and witnesses the horrors of civil war;  Daisy Peshkov as she climbs the social ladder from Buffalo, New York to London meanwhile her half-brother Greg works to develop a nuclear bomb for the United States and their cousin Volodya spies for Russia, vehemently defending (but eventually questioning) communism; Chuck and Woody Dewar, sons of an American senator who travel vastly different roads to war; and a large supporting cast of complex characters with varying degrees of likability, but all written with such candor and grit as Follett is known for.  Though Winter of the World is packed with action, the characters are developed over time and the overlapping plot lines are slowly unveiled, spanning the course of sixteen years.  There is an equal amount of description and dialogue, both of which are engagingly and richly written.  The tone of the book changes from bleak, melancholy, and sobering as it deals with the realities and hardships of war, to moving, impassioned, and dramatic as the multitude of characters fall in and out of friendship and love.  The book is heavy (both figuratively and literally), and not for the faint of heart as sex and violence are detailed with absolute frankness.  Fans of historical fiction, particularly that dealing with World War Two from different countries’ perspectives, will enjoy Winter of the World, as will those who enjoy a large assembly of multifaceted characters and deeply interwoven plot lines.

John Lee, (who also narrates Follett’s other historical fictions Fall of Giants: Book One of The Century Trilogy, The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End), effortlessly conveys the emotional developments of the novel’s numerous characters with clarity of tone and pitch.  In addition, Lee also captures perfectly the various dialects and accents (Russian, German, Welsh, English, Spanish, French, and more), as well as both male and female characters, throughout the book’s 31.5 unabridged hours of listening time.

Having listened to quite a few audio books, I have developed more than a few personal preferences when it comes to this particular format.  That being said, a few criticisms come to mind with this production of Winter of the World.  For one, there were relatively few tracks per disc, about twelve, which made each individual track around six and a half minutes long (which, from what I can tell, is fairly standard for audio books).  However, I listened to this book while driving, and was therefore not always able to devote my full attention to the story, and occasionally would not miss a minute or so.  This meant I would have to go back to the beginning of the track, or hope I hadn’t skipped anything too important and carry on.  Secondly, there was not any indication on the final track that I had reached the end of a CD, so I would sometimes inadvertently start to re-listen to the first track. These didn’t stop me from listening to the book in its entirety, but are just a few idiosyncrasies I thought I would address, in case Penguin Audio reads this (ha!).  I am already a huge fan of both John Lee and Ken Follett (The Pillars of the Earth is my favorite book of all time…), so it came as no surprise that I loved this book.

*Although it is technically a sequel, Winter of the World could be read as a stand-alone title or as the second book in Follett’s Century Trilogy, which may appeal to readers and readers’ advisors alike.

“A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel, Vol. 1”

A Game of Thrones Graphic Novel Martin, George R R, adapted by Daniel Abraham, illustrated by Tommy Patterson.  A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel, Volume One.  New York: Random House, 2012.  Print.

Borrowed from the Cedar Falls Public Library.

Read between November 21-27, 2012.

Four out of five stars.

Daniel Abraham’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones is beautifully and vividly illustrated by Tommy Patterson throughout the graphic novel’s 240 full color glossy pages. This interpretation of the first title* in the hugely popular fantasy series includes an introduction by Martin where the author expounds his love of the graphic novel (or comic book, as he prefers) format, and his hesitation to attempt a film or other translation of the book.  Martin’s involvement in the project is evident in the graphic novel’s close attention to detail and rigid adherence to the original print format’s storyline.   GoT Two

A combination of full page panels and multiple panel pages, the graphic novel relies heavily on dialogue between the series’ many characters, and less on thought bubbles or descriptor text boxes.  As Martin explains in the preface, part of his skepticism to creating a graphic novel format of A Game of Thrones was how the print format’s heavy reliance on internal monologues would translate.  In this sense, the graphic novel fails to fully capture the inner turmoil being experienced by the book’s characters.  The illustrations help to convey the overall feeling of the book, though at times lack true grittiness and melancholy that is found throughout the print version.

GoT Three

Another criticism of the graphic novel is its portrayal of the book’s female characters, though this is nothing new to the format (read: full bust, small waist, luxurious hair, doe eyes).  For instance, in the original print book Daenerys is a thirteen year old girl, however she is pictured in the graphic novel as a fully developed woman, more often in the nude than clothed.  Catelyn Stark too is shown au naturale, and looks much (much) younger than she is described in the original book.  While there are instances of nudity, including some full frontal shots of female characters, there are not any explicit sex scenes; (more soft-core than hard, to be blunt).  Readers who have watched the HBO series will find that the graphic novel is far less, well, graphic, than the show.

GoT One

A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel, Volume One also contains some post-script, behind-the-scenes/the-making-of pages, which will appeal to those who are interested in the creative process and construction of graphic novels.  The graphic novel will also appeal to readers who are interested in the Song of Ice and Fire series, but who may not be ready to commit to the length of the print format.

Overall, readers who are familiar with the series will undoubtedly find discrepancies between the graphic novel and the print format, but having read both I appreciate this interpretation and look forward to the continuance of the series.  I have not, however, read many graphic novels, and hence cannot claim to be an expert in the format.  I will continue to read graphic novels, both stand-alones and series.

*Volume One covers roughly one-third of the original print format.  Volume Two is scheduled for release on June, 2013.  I will definitely be reading the second installment.