“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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“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?).

“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.

“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. 

“I’ve Got Your Number”


Kinsella, Sophie.  I’ve Got Your Number: A Novel.  New York: The Dial Press, 2012.  Electronic Book.

Borrowed from The Cedar Falls Public Library OverDrive Service.

Read between October 17-23, 2012.

Three and a half out of five stars.

Sophie Kinsella of Shopaholic series fame is back with another fun chick-lit novel.  I’ve Got Your Number is set in 2012 London, and follows Poppy Wyatt over the course of a week, and more than a few unfortunate events.  First, she loses her priceless family heirloom engagement ring, then her phone gets stolen, all just days before her wedding to the tall, dark and handsome Magnus Tavish.  She finds a cell phone in a trash can, which just so happens to belong to the up-and-quit-to-be-a-model assistant to a very important (and hot) businessman, Sam Roxton.  What follows is a smart, sassy, and sexy (though not erotic) story of Poppy’s attempts to turn the curt Sam into someone a bit more personable, all while using the found phone.  As she and Sam communicate through text and email, Poppy finds herself questioning her relationship with Magnus and their upcoming nuptials.  Is he truly the one for her? And will she be happy marrying into a family of academic elitists, who use words like “IRIDIUMS” and “CARYATID” in Scrabble and frequently discuss the merits of subjects (way) beyond the scope of her knowledge?

Told in a candid, conversational tone complete with text message jargon and acronyms, I’ve Got Your Number will appeal to readers who are looking for a fast-paced, dialogue-heavy book full of witty banter and gossipy twenty-somethings.  Readers of chick-lit will identify with the present-day setting and recognize somewhat stereotypical characters, though they may not agree with the protagonists choices, or will they… Kinsella includes footnotes throughout the book in a type of stream-of-consciousness rambling from Poppy, which was difficult to follow in an electronic format.  I enjoyed the book, though I can’t say I’ll be dying to read any more of Kinsella’s work, or any chick-lit, for that matter.  Kind of like a romantic comedy movie, I feel as though I know what’s going to happen before it does, but while I’m watching/reading I am briefly entertained but ultimately left wanting more character or plot development.  I would recommend this book as a good read for a beach: breezy and humorous, but not quite captivating enough.

“A Game of Thrones”

Martin, George R.R.  A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire Book 1.  New York: Bantam Books, 2011.  Print.

Martin, George R.R. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire Book 1.  New York: Random House Audio, 2011. Audio CD.

Audio-book borrowed from the Cedar Falls Public Library.

Print book bought from The Eastern Iowa Airport (CID).

Combined listening and reading throughout the summer of 2012.

Four out of five stars.

Winter is coming, and with it a fight for the Iron Throne that sits in King’s Landing.  At stake are ruling powers over the seven kingdoms of Westeros, and in the running are the Starks, the Lannisters, the Baratheons, and the Targaryens.  In a world where loyalties are bought with gold and people, allies and foes trade places upon whims, and seasons last for lifetimes a storm is brewing, bringing with it a game of thrones full of war and destruction.  George R. R. Martin’s inaugural book in his Song of Ice and Fire series takes readers from Winterfell in the north, home to the Stark family, south to the royal court of the houses Baratheon and Lannister in King’s Landing, east across the Small Sea with the dragon princess Daenerys Targaryen and the Dothraki horse-lords, and to the far north where a monstrous wall guards the land against the impending winter and the wildlings living beyond.  Dark, moody, ominous and suspenseful, this medieval epic is intricately plotted with elaborate subplots and a huge cast of both sinister and honorable characters (many of whom are both).  In typical fantasy series form, A Game of Thrones follows heroic quests pitting good against evil, though that dichotomy is often challenged and its lines are frequently blurred.  Told by many different characters’ perspectives (eight in all) and rife with flashbacks, foreboding, and internal monologues, this book will keep fans of dense fantasy epics entertained, and frustrate those seeking a straightforward, fast-paced series.  The lack of overly fantastical elements, (with the exception of dragons and undead enemies), helps make A Game of Thrones appealing to a wide variety of readers, particularly those who are interested in the intricacies of politics and royal family feuds.  This series is not recommended to those who become easily attached to characters, as no one seems to be safe in Martin’s world.  As Queen Cersei Lannister puts it, “When you play the game of thrones you either win or die.  There is no middle ground.”

I will certainly be continuing the series, of which five of the seven books have been completed.  Fans of the HBO series of the same name will be pleased to know that the show does not deviate far from the series, though it is difficult to include all that happens in the novel’s 700+ pages.