“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?).

“The Wedding Dress”

Hauck, Rachel.  The Wedding Dress.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012.  Electronic Book.

Purchased for Nook Tablet from Barnes and Noble.

Read between October 31 and November 6, 2012.

Three out of five stars.The Wedding Dress

It’s what every little girl dreams of: Finding her perfect wedding dress.  For Charlotte Malone, it should be a piece of (wedding) cake.  She does, after all, own a contemporary bridal boutique in Birmingham, Alabama that she runs with her best friend Dixie…
Finding the perfect gown should also be “To-Do List Task Number One”, being that her wedding to Tim Rose is just two short months away.  So why then, does Charlotte find herself heading up to Red Mountain seeking God’s wisdom and guidance, praying for answers to her questions and doubts?  Perhaps it was fate that brought her there on the exact day of the famous Ludlow Family Estate auction.  Maybe it was destiny that drove her to bid on and win a rickety old trunk.  Inside the trunk, to Charlotte’s surprise, is a pristine wedding dress.  One that has quite the story to tell…

What follows is Rachel Hauck’s heartfelt, homespun novel The Wedding Dress, tracing the interwoven tales of four women: Charlotte, Emily, Hillary and Mary Grace; and the bridal gown that is the common thread tying their lives together.  It makes a valiant attempt at being a whimsical blend of romance, historical fiction, and chick-lit, but in the end falls short of this lofty goal.  The book focuses heavily on only two of the women, Charlotte and Emily, almost ignoring the other two, and bites off more than it can chew.  I felt that it should have picked one or the other, romance or historical fiction, instead of trying to be both plus Christian  and/or Inspirational fiction.  I include Inspirational fiction because it’s not overly religious, rather it mentions God sporadically or a character prays in passing.  The Wedding Dress will appeal to brides-to-be, newly-weds, women celebrating their umpteenth anniversary, and anyone in between who appreciates a sincere and spiritual light-hearted book about love between friends, strangers, partners, families, and yes, occasionally God.

“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.

“The Next Always”

Roberts, Nora.  The Next Always: Book One of the Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy.  Westminster: Penguin Books., 2011.  Print.

Borrowed from the Iowa City Public Library.

Read in between September 12 and 19, 2012.

Three and a half out of five stars.

Nora Roberts’s first book in the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy, The Next Always follows the development of the relationship between lead female protagonist Clare Brewster and her male counterpart Beckett Montgomery.  Beckett has been in love with Clare for years, however the two couldn’t be together due to extenuating circumstances (her high school sweetheart-turned-husband).  When Clare’s husband is killed in Iraq, she returns to her hometown in Maryland,  where the Montgomery brothers have taken on the job of renovating the Boonsboro Inn (which comes equipped with literary-themed suites such as the Titania and Oberon and Westley and Buttercup ).  The Next Always entertains readers through its cast of characters which includes Clare’s three rambunctious young sons, Beckett’s two handsome brothers Owen and Ryder, the fierce and protective Montgomery family matriarch Justine, and Clare’s quirky and loveable BFF Avery.  In addition to these characters, places in the book the Boonsboro Inn and Clare’s bookstore play prominent roles. Roberts writes in a candid and conversational tone with just enough sauciness to make the book a touch steamy, but not overly erotic or explicit.  It is both humorous and heartwarming, though at times bittersweet and nostalgic.  Although a bit predictable, fans of Nora Roberts will recognize her voice throughout the book, and Romance newcomers will appreciate the lighthearted novel that keeps readers guessing with its many sub-plot twists and obstacles (including a ghost and a stalker!).  The Next Always will satisfy readers who are looking for a romantic story with just enough heat to be interesting, but nothing too graphic or detailed.

 

As my first foray into the Romance genre, I chose to read a Nora Roberts book because I know how popular and prominent she is (with over 200 novels published), and because I assumed it would follow the traditional romance formula.  I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised.  It certainly wasn’t what I would consider a great literary work, nor was it deeply thought-provoking, but it was entertaining and served its purpose as being a mostly upbeat, heartwarming (though exceedingly predictable) tale.  Readers of Roberts’ work certainly won’t need any convincing to read this title, though in my reading of other reviews it may disappoint some of her more diehard fans.  I have nothing to which I can compare this book, though I will probably read the other two books in the series.