Review: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

 

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Title: The Fault In Our Stars

Author: John Green

Publisher: Penguin

Genre: YA General Fiction

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

 

I made a serious attempt to get my hands on a copy of The Fault In Our Stars before the movie came out.  Given that I work in a bookstore, this would’ve been easy except I’ve lately curbed my book spending.  If I can borrow it or get it from the library, that’s what I do.  So made myself #1000-something on my library’s hold list for both the hardcover and e-book edition.  I managed to get my hands on the hardcover edition 3 days before my sister and I planned on seeing the movie.  I can handle reading a book before or after seeing the movie adaptation but I’ve learned to never be in the middle of the book when you see the movie adaptation.  One instance leads to comparison, the other to spoilers.  I’m especially glad I followed this rule for The Fault In Our Stars because John Green was so intrical to the making of the movie.  However, now I end up feeling like I could have just seen the movie and not read the book.

Yes, here we have that occurrence so rare that avid book readers claim it never happens.  I liked the movie more than the book.  I found the book to be a bit pretentious, especially the character of Hazel.   That’s a bit ironic since I really connected with Shailene Woodley’s portrayal of Hazel and thought her version of Hazel was very likable.  This may have to do with the fact that you get more implications of person’s character in a movie and more description in a book. It’s the old “show don’t tell” adage.  The book reveals parts of of Hazel’s personality that just grate on my nerves. For example, the scene where Hazel first hangs out with Gus at his home, shortly after meeting him. They watch V For Vendetta because Gus thinks Hazel looks like Natalie Portman. When the movie is over and Gus asks her what she thought, this is part of Hazel’s internal thought process, “….It was kind of a boy movie. I don’t know why boys expect us to like boy movies. We don’t expect them to like girl movies.” But instead of saying she doesn’t like the movie, she lies to please him.  The movie cuts this internal monologue down to a single look that just implies she didn’t like the movie because she has different interests than Gus.  I know it’s being picky, but that line made me really dislike Hazel and John Green because it felt like he was writing a teenager gender stereotype. He’s never been a teenage girl so he has to run off the assumption that her priorities are boys, clothes, love and make up and, of course, staying alive.  I have been a teenage girl and I liked V for Vendetta  (the graphic novel more than the movie) and I like movies with storm troopers and zombies.  I think my teenage self would have been more attracted to Gus than Hazel should be.  They don’t seem to have much in common besides cancer.

It’s odd that some of Hazel’s reactions to things seem so immature when she is portrayed as a smart girl, wise beyond her years.  This book has some great moments where it speaks the truth about how the healthy interact with the sick or dying.  I even enjoyed the idea that Hazel’s favorite book stops mid-sentence and her quest to find out what happens after. I think this is an aspect of life that we all are curious about and it foreshadowed the end of this book. If it hadn’t, I would have found the abrupt ending more annoying. Peter Van Houten, the author of Hazel’s favorite novel  is both obnoxious and pretentious, making those sections of the book in Amsterdam almost unbearable to read.

All in all, this book is a simple love story between two “star-crossed” teenagers that wraps itself in huge ideas to seem important.  I enjoyed the story but don’t see why people think this is the BEST BOOK EVER. I’ve read better YA that managed to make me feel more emotions.  I guess I really wanted to feel destroyed emotionally by the end of this book and that just didn’t happen.  Even the movie made me cry harder.  Seeing the movie before reading the book didn’t lessen the end for me because this book makes it very clear how it will end almost on the first page.  What I didn’t expect was to not really connect with Hazel at all and fall for Gus instead. I guess, since it’s a love story, we’re all just supposed to fall for the guy.

Review: Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

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Title: Black Moon

Author: Kenneth Calhoun

Publisher: Random House

Genre: General Fiction; Science Fiction

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

I had really high hopes for this novel.  I love apocalyptic fiction.  The idea of everyone starting to go crazy from a severe case of insomnia was both intriguing and frightening to me. Unfortunately, Black Moon just did not live up to the expectations I had for it.  My disappointment with this novel lays mostly with the end, so I’ll say some might consider this review to have spoilers, even though I have tried to discuss my issues with the end in general terms.

Black Moon follows the stories of four characters who have somehow survived the first wave of insomnia that is gripping the world and turning people into exhausted, crazy, sometimes violent hordes.  Biggs has lost his wife,Carolyn, one night and now must venture from the safety of their apartment in order to find her.  Chase and his friend, Jordan, loot the local drug store in the early stages of the epidemic and make off toward the mountains, hatching a plan to live off the drugs they can sell.  Felicia, Chase’s ex-girlfriend, is an intern at a sleep study clinic looking for a cure.  Lila is a high school student forced from her home when her insomniac parents start to turn on her.

Black Moon is a more literary take on the classic epidemic-apocalyptic novel, a favorite subgenre of mine.  I’ve read a lot of these types of novels. I used to read The Stand every summer and have read more zombie novels than I can count.  One thing these books all have in common is that when the epidemic turns apocalyptic everyone gets on the move.  That is true of Black Moon. Most of these books take these different story lines and converge them to have the characters work together towards an end that is satisfactory to the reader. This is where Black Moon disappointed me.  I got about 100 pages to the end and wondered out loud, “When are these characters going to get together and figure out where to go from here?” Calhoun just leaves everyone wandering into oblivion.

Most of the middle of this novel seems to focus on Chase, a college student who is desparate to get back with Felicia and motivated by wanting to get laid.  There’s really no other way to describe it.  Chase take erectile dysfunction pills in the middle of the novel and his story line becomes him dealing with an erection while succumbing slowly to insomnia.  It’s ridiculous and goes on far too long, to the point where I no longer cared what happened to Chase. All that space in the plot could have been used for Felicia and Lila who have much more interesting stories but feel very underutilized.  Biggs is the only character that was both interesting and well served, except at the end where the plot feels rushed in order to give him some sort of fate.

The best part of the novel is the language. It feels truly unique when we’re engrossed in a character’s interaction with one of the insomniacs. One chapter completely concerns itself with a couple named Jori and Adam.  I think they are related to Biggs but I can’t remember.  Jori and Adam are succumbing to insomnia while taking care of their newborn baby.  This chapter feels like its own separate short story.  The way Jori and Adam speak to one another is an awesome use of language to show two people slowly declining into madness. It’s the most disturbing chapter in the book.

I wish Calhoun had shortened all the erection stuff with Chase and focused a bit more on concluding his story.  While the way he uses language to show who is suffering from various stages of insomnia is interesting and not as gimmicky as it could have been, it just cannot sustain a story that seems to end with a whimper rather than a bang.

Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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Title: Dark Places

Author: Gillian Flynn

Publisher: Random House

Genre: Mystery, General Fiction

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars out of 5

Libby Day was 7 when her mother and two sisters were murdered and her brother, Ben accused of the murder.  Now in her early 30’s, the majority of the world has lost interest in her case and the funds from strangers that Libby had been living off of are dwindling.  Faced with having to get a real job to support herself, Libby finds herself intertwined with members of a true crime society called The Kill Club.  They are convinced Ben is innocent and look to Libby to provide them access to people close to the case to provide the evidence needed to get Ben out of prison. Libby has spent the last 25 years avoiding talking to the surviving members of her family, including Ben. But desparate times call for desparate measures and Libby finds herself putting together the pieces of what exactly happened that night.

Like other Flynn novels, Dark Places is told by several narrators including Libby, Ben and their mother Patty.  Ben and Patty’s narration focuses on the day of the murders and the events leading up to that time. This provides the reader with information that Libby doesn’t have, making her an unreliable narrator at times.  Libby is often playing catch up as she speaks to people who were involved in her family’s life back in 1985.  I found this novel really hard to put down and entertaining. It runs at a steady pace and the characters are pretty well realized.  This book has the same amount of grit that Gone Girl does, especially in the descriptions of Kansas City. In fact, both novels feel like they take place in the same world, which could be coincidence or by design.

My biggest issue with this book is that it has too many twists. It almost feels like Flynn uses a twist to pick the story back up any time it lags. I started to think that no family could possibly have luck this bad, with it all happening around the same time.  I’ve read both Sharp Objects and Gone Girl and they both feel less convoluted and tighter in terms of plot.  I found myself at times forgetting I should be interested in whether or not Ben actually committed the murders and more interested in other things that were going on in the novel.  Not that the twists aren’t entertaining,  but they’re distracting from the main event and therefore each revelation tends to lose its impact.  I had a really hard time deciding what to rate this book because I did like it a lot. I just think Flynn’s other books are better. If I had read Dark Places first, my rating might have been higher. This book is being released as a movie starring Charlize Theron as Libby  in the same year as David Fincher’s adaptation of Gone Girl. It’ll be interesting to see how the two movies compare.  My money is still on Gone Girl, but Dark Places should also be a great piece of dark entertainment.