“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”.

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“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.

“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.

“Gone Girl”


Flynn, Gillian.  Gone Girl: A Novel.  New York: Crown Publishing, 2012.  Audio Book.

Borrowed from The Cedar Falls Public Library.

Listened to between November 7-13, 2012.

Three out of five stars.

Gone Girl

Nick Dunn wakes up one summer morning expecting to humor his wife with her 5th annual anniversary day scavenger hunt.  Instead, he finds that she has disappeared mysteriously, perhaps violently, and suddenly Nick finds himself the prime suspect.  What unfolds is a dark, mysterious and suspenseful tale that unravels the seemingly perfect marriage of Nick and Amy.  Unreliable narrators alternate their versions of the story via Amy’s secret diary and Nick’s post-disappearance experiences, keeping readers second- and third-guessing their immediate reactions as more truths about Nick and Amy’s lives are revealed and their picture-perfect façade crumbles.

What starts as a compelling, action packed, complex tale of “he said/she said”, quickly loses steam.  The initial gritty, disturbing story becomes increasingly whiny and cringe-worthy, though a shocking plot twist around the half-way point was promising.  The book ends abruptly, and without justice, as though Flynn simply ran out of things to say.  I found myself hating Amy and Nick both, (albeit for different reasons), throughout the book’s duration.  This may be a credit to the author, but ultimately left me angry and wishing it had concluded differently.  I also could hardly stand the narrators (Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne as Amy and Nick, respectively), which may have affected my overall impression.  I would suggest this book for readers looking to stay on their toes and question their intuition, and those who have perhaps been scorned in love and wistfully plotted revenge.  I did enjoy Flynn’s writing for the most part and would give her other books a chance, but I wouldn’t buy into all the hype after being let down by Gone Girl.