Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Category: Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Published Date: Sept. 14, 2008, Sept. 1 2009, Aug. 24, 2010

ISBN-10: 0439023483, 0439023491, 0439023513

ISBN-13: 978-0439023481, 978-0439023498, 978-0439023511

I guess technically, this is three books this week, not one, but I have a habit of looking at a series as one book, in parts.

Having finished a few long and/or dark books in the last few weeks, and starting to read Moby Dick – very long and a more difficult read, I was looking for something easy. My sister-in-law had been talking up this series when I chatted with her over Christmas, so last Thursday I bought the e-book version at lunch. Before I got back to work at 1:30 I had read 37% of it. It was exactly the addictive, easy-but-not-simple read I was looking for.

The Hunger Games is a young-adult science fiction dystopian trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. Our heroine is 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives with her mother and sister in District 12 of the country of Panem – all that remains of what we now call North America. The 12 districts of Panem are controlled by a powerful government located in the central city called simply The Capitol. The Hunger Games of the title are an annual televised reality-show type event where one boy and one girl from each district are chosen to fight to the death, in a gruesome reminder that The Capitol holds the power, and not even children are beyond their reach. (This is in retaliation for an uprising by the districts, many decades earlier.)

When her 12-year-old sister is chosen to represent District 12, Katniss volunteers to replace her, and is sent off to The Capitol to compete, along with District 12’s other champion, Peeta Mellark. They are not friends, but many years earlier, Peeta saved the lives of Katniss and her family with a gift of food. So Peeta and Katniss struggle to trust and help each other survive the Games, with the knowledge that only one can survive in the end, which may mean killing one another before it is over.

That’s only the beginning of the first book – and I can’t tell you much more without spoiling it. Of course, with three books you can assume our heroine survives. Does she ever. Katniss is one of the most inspiring female characters I have read in young adult fiction. Collins has created an amazingly strong feminine character. She’s smart. She’s resourceful. She fights to the death. Even the typical love-triangle plot doesn’t turn her into a confused young girl stereotype. She is far from perfect, and could stand to put a little more trust in her instincts and in her friends, but given her life history it is not surprising that she doesn’t.

Simply put, these books were amazing. They took the dark themes of war, survival, tyranny and death and yet played out a beautiful story of friendship, loyalty and perseverance. Despite being written for a young audience, no theme was off-limits – except perhaps sex. Characters were remarkably chaste, despite all the kissing going on. (I remember reading books where teens had sex, or at least some serious making out and temptation. Is that not OK anymore? Particularly when compared to how realistic the rest of the interactions were.)

What struck me the most was the attitude towards war and killing. With the exception of a few characters, all struggle with the realities of taking another life. Whether it happened during the Games or later during the uprising, characters feel the killing, and deal with what can only be symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Violence is not glossed-over. It is not simplified. Characters deal with guilt and loss in very real ways. Also, with the exception of a few characters who are clearly meant to personify good and evil, all characters have a depth not usually seen in this genre. They question their own motivations. They change their opinions on matters, and change them again. They learn and grow based on what is happening around them.

If I can criticise anything it would be that by the end of book three I was beginning to be overwhelmed by just how many bad things are happening. I almost feel the story could have ended 2-3 chapters sooner, that some of the final battles and catastrophes were not necessary. I don’t know which I would choose to cut, only that I found myself wondering if it was ever going to end. And then it did, and I was devastated, because the story was so good I wanted it to continue.

Some of the fault there may also be mine. I read all three books in three days. I just couldn’t stop reading. Perhaps if I had paced myself better, if I’d had to wait for the release of the 3rd book, the ending would have seemed more fitting. Regardless, all three books are well worth the read. You won’t be disappointed.

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Barney’s Version: the film

Date night last night. D and I went to the movies, and though it wasn’t his first choice, he graciously agreed to watch Barney’s Version with me. The fact that it is playing at The Oxford (best theatre ever) helped a lot.

I really enjoyed the film. I mean, I have a long list of things I can’t believe they did to such a fabulous book, but long story short: it was a good but not excellent film, Paul Giamatti was fantastic–the perfect Barney, Minnie Driver was hilariously over the top, and Dustin Hoffman was hilarious as his Dad (I didn’t expect to like that choice). I recommend you go see it. I also recommend you bring tissue. I’m not usually a crier when it comes to movies, though a sad book kills me. Maybe because I’d just finished reading it? Or maybe I’m getting softer with age.

Just bear in mind: He lived in Paris in his 20’s, not Rome. Everything the film says happened in New York should have happened in Toronto. And Solange (the actress who is reduced to a sad stereotype) was a much deeper character and a great friend to Barney.


Review: Barney’s Version

Trade Paperback

September 1, 1998

Knopf Canada

0676971741
9780676971743

What a brilliant read. Our hero (or anti-hero) Barney Panofsky really only believes two things: life is absurd and nobody truly ever understands anybody else. Oh, and that his third wife, Miriam, is the love of his life. So, three things. Barney always wanted to be a writer, but found it too pretentious (arguably because he wasn’t very good at it), so instead he makes bad movies and cheesy Canadian television shows like McIver of the RCMP, rather obviously and hilariously based on Due South. He is quite clear about having no interest in making anything with artistic or cultural merit.

When his old-friend-turned-enemy publishes his memoirs in which he calls Barney a wife abuser, intellectual fraud and murderer, Barney decides it is finally time for him to write. And so, he sets about to write his own memoirs, his Version, if you will. What follows is a confused, erroneous, but ultimately endearing collection of memories. You will fall in love with Barney Panofsky, despite it being painfully clear that he’s a schmuck. A schmuck with a heart of gold, of course, who is always willing to help a friend, loan/gift money, give any down-and-out actor friend a job, promote the inept into a harmless position rather than fire a loyal colleague, etc. How these actions don’t ruin him is beyond me.

Set mostly in Montreal, with stops in London, Paris, Toronto, Los Angeles and elsewhere, Barney’s Version is a hilarious tale of not only Barney’s Life, but the evolution of Canadian culture and all our related insecurities. With the 1995 referendum in the backdrop, it is also scathingly critical of Quebec’s separatist movement and language laws.

This book has been on my list for years. I have no idea why it took me this long to read it. I finally found the motivation I needed when I saw a trailer for the new movie, and realised someone would soon ruin the story on me. So despite already being half way through two other books, I started it.

Barney’s Version is one of those books all Canadians should read. I don’t say this lightly. It is the kind of book Canada Reads was designed for. (It was debated, in 2004, but lost to another fabulous novel: The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhague.) I highly recommend it. And please, while I encourage you to check out the film, starring Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman & Minnie Driver, please, please, please read the book first. I love movies, but they do have a way of ruining good books.


The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follet

Paperback: 1008 pages

Publisher: Signet, June 29, 2010 (Originally published by William Morrow, New York in 1989)

ISBN-10: 045123281X

ISBN-13: 978-0451232816

I read this book last spring, on a whim. Honestly, there was a “buy three, get one free” sale, and I was buying three… so I searched the shop for something that looked interesting, that I may not have otherwise bought.

This is a hard review to write, as my feelings are mixed. I loved the story and sped through the 1000+ pages in less than a week. I like historical fiction, particularly stories that span generations like this. The building of the church fascinated me. It was a great idea… but just not a great book. I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but let me try to explain.

I found it very poorly written. The characters were thin and one-dimensional: either all-good, or all-evil. The plot needed work. And I just couldn’t shake the idea that Follet really didn’t understand the 12th century. Sure he may have done his research and had extensive background knowledge, but he just didn’t seem to “get it.” It was like reading about modern-day characters, wearing old-fashioned clothes (seriously, how many times did you need to specify he was wearing a tunic?) and lacking in technology. They just would not have spoken and interacted the same way in that time.

Also, and forgive me if I sound like a prude because I am not, but the book was unnecessarily violent, particularly in its treatment of women. There was just no need for so many vivid, detailed descriptions of violent rape. Describe one to get your “this guy is evil” point across, and let us use our imagination on the rest. Please.

That said, would I recommend the book? Yes – but with a caveat. It is not great literature. Not all books are. If you enjoy historical fiction, and like a good story, it’s the book for you. Otherwise, pass.

Or, check out the mini-series playing this month on CBC. I did not find out about this until I’d already missed two episodes, but thanks to the CBC website, I can catch up, and so can you. I would typically suggest you read the book first, as a movie always lacks the depth of the novel, but as depth is what I found this novel lacking, I don’t expect it to be an issue.


2011 To Be Read (TBR) Challenge

Thanks to Kristina at The Reader for posting this challenge this morning (And Ryan, for posting it to Facebook, where I found it). It is just what I was looking for. The idea is similar to the idea that led to this blog: finally read all those books that have been piling up on my shelf and in my mental “to read” list.

Here’s how it works:

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from my “to be read” pile, within the next 12 months.

Specifics:

1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list forAT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2010 or later. Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.

2.  Every listed book must be completed and must be reviewed in order to count as completed.

3. List must be posted by Saturday, January 15th, 2011, at the Roof Beam Reader website (Challenge host). I will also be posting there periodically, and linking to my reviews of the 12.   Every person who successfully reads his/her 12 books and/or alternates (and who provides a working link to their list, which has links to the review locations) will be entered to win a $50 gift card from either Amazon.com or The Book Depository. Incentive is always good.

My Twelve Chosen:

  1. The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre
  2. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
  3. Moby Dick by Herman Mellville
  4. Barney’s Version by Mordechai Richler
  5. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
  6. The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
  7. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
  8. Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
  9. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  10. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  11. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
  12. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

The Two Alternates:

  1. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
  2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

A few of these are on my book club list, so I will have to read, but the others I have simply always wanted to read, even bought or put on my Christmas list, then never got around to in the midst of book club reading and work reading and school reading. This year I will get to them. Do you have a list? There is still time to join the challenge.


Come Thou, Tortoise

Written by Jessica Grant

Category: Fiction
Format: Hardcover, 432 pages
Publisher: Knopf Canada
ISBN: 978-0-307-39754-6 (0-307-39754-8)
Pub Date: March 10, 2009

I grabbed this book from my sister at the last minute, before a three-part flight from Halifax, NS to Montgomery, AL. I was intending to spend most of the flight working, and wanted a little something extra just in case I needed a break. I cracked it open a few minutes after leaving Halifax, and was finished by the time plane #2 landed in Atlanta. I could not stop reading.

The story starts with Audrey (Oddly) Flowers, living in Oregon with her tortoise Winnifred, having recently broken up with her boyfriend. She receives a call saying her father was in a terrible accident, so she leaves Winnifred with some rather unreliable friends and heads home to St. John’s, NL. On the way, she disarms an air marshal, who she believes is a terrorist, and locks herself in the plane bathroom with his gun.

It is an atypical coming of age story. The usual bits are there: she arrives home, her father passes away, her Uncle Thoby leaves for England, she is alone to sort out her life. And she discovers she didn’t know her family & friends as well as she thought she did. But that’s the end of anything ‘usual’ in the novel. Narrated jointly by Audrey and Winnifred (yes, the tortoise helps to narrate), and featuring a talking fruit fly (just for a moment), is a beautiful, hilarious, and surprisingly deep story of love and family secrets.

Come Thou, Tortoise is possibly the quirkiest, most charming book I have ever read. I have read a lot of quirky, but it often comes without the charm, leaving you with the thought that the author is trying to prove just how odd they can be. But this is a story that is necessarily quirky. No one is trying to prove anything, this is just how it has to be.

I absolutely adored this book. I laughed out loud. I cried. All on the plane. In front of strangers. It was fabulous.

 

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Published at Her Ladyship’s Quest.