Christina’s Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Christina’s Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Published by Penguin on 2012-01-10
Genres: Death & Dying, Love & Romance, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Now a Major Motion PictureTODAY Book Club pickTIME Magazine’s #1 Fiction Book of 2012

May’s book club pick was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This book is a popular book many have already read, and I know many have enjoyed. Please do not hate me or take this the wrong way when I say I am glad I am through this book and do not intend to read it again…

Recently on our Playing Jokers Facebook page, we posted the article: 16 Books to Read and Love Forever. This book was on the list… do you agree with it belonging here? I guess I should get into my review and thoughts before I answer this…

The Fault in Our Stars follows a teenage girl, Hazel, on her journey with cancer. Her parents push her to go out of the house and hang out with her friends more, so she does. While in her weekly cancer support group, she meets the handsome Augustus and the story really begins… Hazel and Augustus begin a friendship that turns into a romance of the ages. There is humor and tears intertwined with life lessons, experiences, inspirations and difficult times. The reader will be brought through a roller-coaster of emotions as they fall for Hazel and Augustus and wish for them a happily ever after.

For me, the story told is not truly about Hazel. Hazel may be the person whose life experiences are followed and who the reader sees through the eyes of. However, the story is more about Augustus. Augustus has his own hardships he has had to endure, particularly with losing his leg to cancer. He, like Hazel, grows through the book. The Fault in Our Stars reads as a definite YA, coming of age and understanding, book.

Now for the grit…

This book was hard for me to read. It was a book club pick and I wanted to contribute to the discussion, so I picked it up on a Friday night and read through it, finishing it by Saturday afternoon. I just had to get through it and did not want to linger on it. I had a feeling that would be the case going into it… as I got a couple of chapters in this initial thought was confirmed… I just was not ready to handle it. The Fault in Our Stars caused me to relive experiences I did not want to remember. I do not want to remember those hard times a loved one experienced but rather the beautiful memories I had shared with them before… I will not go further here on my personal experiences…

The Fault in Our Stars was revealing of the monster cancer is. It does not matter where you are in your life… 6…50…90 years old. Cancer is destructive and does not care about time or the person it eats. It does not care about love and the people around. Cancer is an evil in this world I would give anything for to cure it and give life back to those it stole from.

So for those who have not read this book: I felt it was a good book to read and understand the power and effects cancer can have. However, if you are familiar with cancer and its effects, this can be a hard book to read. For me, it was and I was not ready for it. Instead of making me attach myself to the love story taking place, I was caught up on the side effects of cancer told. So to answer the question I asked above if I believe this book should be included in Huffington Post’s article on “16 Books to Read and Love Forever” – no, I do not feel this book should be included. It is hard to like a book that brings back sad memories of loved ones, rather than the happy, beautiful, loving times you spent with them. I have returned this book to the library and will not revisit it again after book club.

I really hope I do not offend anyone… these opinions are my own. I just wanted to share because, sometimes, it helps.

pj - christina

Ellen’s Review: Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

Ellen’s Review: Edge of Eternity by Ken FollettEdge of Eternity by Ken Follett
Published by Penguin on 2014-09-16
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Sagas
Pages: 1120
Format: Paperback
Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy follows the fortunes of five intertwined families—American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh—as they make their way through the twentieth century. It has been called “potent, engrossing” (Publishers Weekly) and “truly epic” (Huffington Post). USA Today said, “You actually feel like you’re there.”Edge of  Eternity, the finale, covers one of the most tumultuous eras of all: the 1960s through the 1980s, encompassing civil rights, assassinations, Vietnam, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, presidential impeachment, revolution—and rock and roll. East German teacher Rebecca Hoffman discovers she’s been spied on by the Stasi for years and commits an impulsive act that will affect her family for generations… George Jakes, himself bi-racial, bypasses corporate law to join Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department and finds himself in the middle of not only the seminal events of the civil rights battle, but also a much more personal battle… Cameron Dewar, the grandson of a senator, jumps at the chance to do some espionage for a cause he believes in, only to discover that the world is much more dangerous than he’d imagined… Dimka Dvorkin, a young aide to Khrushchev, becomes an agent for good and for ill as the Soviet Union and the United States race to the brink of nuclear war, while his twin sister, Tania, carves out a role that will take her from Moscow to Cuba to Prague to Warsaw—and into history. These characters and many others find their lives inextricably entangled as they add their personal stories and insight to the most defining events of the 20th century. From the opulent offices of the most powerful world leaders to the shabby apartments of those trying to begin a new empire, from the elite clubs of the wealthy and highborn to the passionate protests of a country’s most marginalized citizens, this is truly a drama for the ages. With the Century Trilogy, Follett has guided readers through an entire era of history with a master’s touch. His unique ability to tell fascinating, brilliantly researched stories that captivate readers and keep them turning the pages is unparalleled. In this climactic and concluding saga, Follett brings us into a world we thought we knew, but now will never seem the same again.

With the final installment of Ken Follett’s The Century Trilogy finished, it really feels like I’ve ended an era (Edge of Eternity is a whopping 1100+ pages).  Within three months I’ve explored the evolution of war in Fall of Giants; I’ve read about the devastation of Europe in Winter of the World; and finally, I’ve experienced the constant fear of nuclear war, the battle for human rights, and the fall of the Iron Curtain in Edge of Eternity.

In short, I loved this book.  If it hasn’t been apparent from any of my previous reviews, I’m such a Euro history nerd and especially for Central Eastern Europe.  Although I’m Eurocentric, the best parts of this book focus on events outside of Europe and the United States.  In my studies – again because I’m a Euro girl – the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War are often overlooked; however, they are such important moments in history.

I don’t like to dive too much into specific moments in the books I review because I want to be as spoiler free as possible.  I am ignoring my rule for Edge of Eternity.  In the 1960’s, Jasper Murray, who is not a particularly likable character, is drafted into the American army.  Jasper is a British citizen, but due to his permit to work in the United States, he becomes eligible for the draft.  During a mission to find out where the Vietcong are hiding, Jasper’s group finds a Vietnamese village.  In the subsequent scenes, the horrors committed by U.S. soldiers are detailed.

My generation may not know many men or women who fought in the World Wars, but many Vietnam veterans can be found across the United States.  Follett makes no attempt to hide the atrocities that took place in Vietnam: the rape of young girls, the torture of civilians, and murder.  The most stomach churning moment of it all was when Follett wrote about officers forcing their soldiers to participate so that no one could claim innocence.  You know it’s fictional story, but U.S. atrocities in Vietnam are not fiction.  For a character that I disliked so much, Follett placed him in a situation that I would not wish upon anyone.  It is hard to imagine Vietnam veterans that we encounter take part in anything similar but some may have.

My problem with Edge of Eternity is that I wish it had been split in two.  When the story begins, all of the characters are young.  When the story ends, each is graying.  Beloved characters from Fall of Giants pass away, and many characters from Winter of the World are ignored.  It became difficult to keep track of characters’ ages.  Being such a long book, there were some stretches that I wanted to skip.  Also being selfish, I want more time with the characters (because forty years isn’t enough…).

Any of these books can be enjoyed as a standalone work.  However, if you are going to read them all, do so in order.  Of the three books, Fall of Giants remains my favorite.  This is perhaps because I find the events of the early twentieth century to be the most interesting and impactful of the century.  Edge of Eternity is a very close second.  Follett is a great storyteller and did extensive research to write these books as accurately as possible.  The series lacks a maturity that older, long-time historical fiction audiences may desire, but if you are interested in history and want major event after major event, The Century Trilogy is for you.


Ellen’s Review: Winter of the World by Ken Follet

Ellen’s Review: Winter of the World by Ken FolletWinter of the World by Ken Follett
Published by Penguin on 2012-09-18
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 928
THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Picking up where Fall of Giants, the first novel in the extraordinary Century Trilogy, left off, Winter of the World follows its five interrelated families—American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh—through a time of enormous social, political, and economic turmoil, beginning with the rise of the Third Reich, through the great dramas of World War II, and into the beginning of the long Cold War. Carla von Ulrich, born of German and English parents, finds her life engulfed by the Nazi tide until daring to commit a deed of great courage and heartbreak....American brothers Woody and Chuck Dewar, each with a secret, take separate paths to momentous events, one in Washington, the other in the bloody jungles of the Pacific....English student Lloyd Williams discovers in the crucible of the Spanish Civil War that he must fight Communism just as hard as Fascism....Daisy Peshkov, a driven social climber, cares only for popularity and the fast set until war transforms her life, while her cousin Volodya carves out a position in Soviet intelligence that will affect not only this war but also the war to come.

Winter of the World, the second installment of Ken Follett’s The Century Trilogy, takes place a couple years after Fall of Giants.  Our favorite characters from the first installment return, but the story now follows their children.  Spread across the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union, Winter of the World gives a glimpse into life during economic depression, the collapse of the Treaty of Versailles, the Spanish Civil War, Stalin’s government, and World War II.  We see characters live through major events like the bombings of London and Berlin, Pearl Harbor, and the division of Germany into occupational zones.

From a history perspective, there are a number of things that I appreciate about this book.  First, some background: There is a stigma surrounding German history during the twentieth century.  The Sonderweg, or special path, is essentially a modern theory that several historians – notably the Fischer school – subscribe to in which the events of German history are culpable for the inevitability of the rise of Nazi Germany.  This is merely an extremely general explanation, but overall, German history is viewed in a negative light due to the infamy of the Third Reich.  Recent debates sparked by the centennial of World War I challenge the notion of the Sonderweg.

Like in Fall of Giants, Ken Follett portrays both the horrendous acts of World War II Germany as well as the German citizens who fought back.  Despite being a fictitious account of the Second World War, Winter of the World does an excellent job challenging the stereotype surrounding the German people of this period.  Follett does not spend his chapters examining the brutality of the SS and Einsatzgruppen against the Jews because everyday citizens did not have access to this information; although, there is an example of violence against the LGBT community.  He shows the enchantment the Nazi party cast over German youth as well as those who rebelled against it.  For this showing the many faces of the German people, I believe that Follett conducted great research and put much effort into this work.

This trend is present in other areas of the book as well.  Victors tend to view themselves as great and containing few flaws, probably because it is the victors who write history, but Follett again shows that this must be challenged.  Winter of the World demonstrates how easily fascism almost spread to the United States and Great Britain.  Before each country battled fascist Germany, Italy, and Spain, many Americans and Brits were just as eager to voice anti-Semitic opinions, challenge democracy, and use scare tactics.  Scenes from Winter of the World include demonstrations, protests, and debates over the future of each country.

While I appreciate the depth Follett explores in history, the story itself was not as compelling for me as Fall of Giants.  Simply, there were too many characters and too many events.  I feel as if Follett wanted to make sure he included every major event, which in turn sacrificed the quality of character development and cohesiveness.  A big part of me wanted to follow the characters I came to know in Fall of Giants.  Yes, you get to continue their stories, but it is through another perspective – their children – and if each protagonist from the first book has two kids, it becomes a lot of characters to learn and build a relationship with.

My favorites in Winter of the World are Daisy Peshkov, daughter of Lev Peshkov; Lloyd Williams, son of Ethel Williams; and Carla von Ulrich, daughter of Maud and Walter von Ulrich; and at times Volodya Peshkov, adopted son of Grigori Peshkov.  These characters had the most exciting storylines, the most developed personalities, and were the easiest to become attached to and sympathize with.  The other protagonists had some exciting moments, but I found them to be mostly dull and just wanted to skip ahead.  Follett also included repetitive moments that seemed unnecessary.  For example in the cases of both Lev and Fitz, the abandoned son meets the wanted son.  Neither instance proved to be as dramatic as Follett probably intended, and neither instance added much substance to the plot.

Looking beyond these issues, I still recommend Winter of the Worlds to any historical fiction or series-loving fan.  The exciting moments make the book worth reading, as does the ability to see what happens to former protagonists.  I’m waiting for the final installment Edge of Eternity to be available for download from my library, so expect a review on the completed series in the near future.