The Hunger Games: Mockingjay

mockingjayTitle: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay

Author: Suzanne Collins

Summary: Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But she’s still not safe. A revolution is unfolding, and everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans – everyone except Katniss. And yet she must play the most vital part in the final battle. Katniss must become their Mockingjay – the symbol of rebellion – no matter what the personal cost.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: The conclusion to The Hunger Games series. I don’t think i can review this without spoilers. I was hoping by the end of the last book, i would want to go back and give all the books five stars, but no. They stand firm at four stars, though had this last book been a little better, the series could have made it to five stars.

I got what i wanted, after finishing the second book: this book has no Hunger Games and is purely about the revolution. It’s the revolution through Katniss’ eyes, though, so there are limits to what we see. Convinced into becoming the Mockingjay, the rebellious figurehead of the revolution, Katniss is less fighting in the revolution that she is a pawn in it. She makes promotional videos that are, basically, used to advertise the rebellion and encourage other districts and citizens to join the resistance. It was tacky and made me cringe, but i loved it because, that was the point. War, with governments and rebels seeking support and soldiers is not pretty, and is ultimately played out like a game for those orchestrating the thing behind closed doors.

Katniss, in this book, is already broken. It seems she’s only put back together and broken again several more times throughout the story. At times i found her as headstrong as her original self, but a lot of the time i found her too passive, too unsure of herself and veering between different ideas, motivation and plans. The only thing she was sure of throughout the book–that she wanted to kill Snow–she managed to fail at, but, i also view that scene as her greatest accomplishment in the book. I just wish there could have been more discourse on it, i wish she’d been allowed to air her reasons. Of course that would have landed her in prison, or worse, but that was me still hoping for an unrealistic politically unachievable ending. I can settle for the fact that Katniss did it, without the world realising why it was such an important act.

This book introduced a lot of new characters. Both the previous books, of course, had a lot of characters because of the participants for the Hunger Games, but realistically, we only got to know a handful of them. Here more characters are of more importance, and honestly, i couldn’t follow them all. And with a few similar names (Flavius/Fulvia Cressida/Messalla) i was often getting confused as to who was who. I will say: I loved Boggs, Pollux, Paylor, and most of the returning characters. The rest i either disliked, or didn’t care enough about. So, really, only two deaths upset me. One that didn’t, was actually the one that affected Katniss the most. I just think that death wasn’t made the most of; it ultimately made everything Katniss has been through pointless, but nothing was made of it.

Gale versus Peeta. Well, i will say i like both of them. Peeta is so positive, so genuine and so kind, and what he was put through in this book was horrible. Gale is strong, a fighter, independent and Katniss’ equal. I liked them both, but realistically, i didn’t want Katniss to end up with either of them. It would have seemed forced, whoever it was. And it was; i felt the wedge being forced between Katniss and Gale, leaving Peeta as her only option, which was rubbish.

As the end approached, and Katniss and Haymitch headed back to District 12, the emotions got me. Both of them wallowing in their misery, alone, not leaving the house. As upsetting as that picture was, it was real. After everything they’d been through, how could they be okay? That’s where i wanted it to end, not happily, but full of emotion, and realistically. Then Peeta showed up and ruined it all.

Don’t even get me started on the epilogue. Katniss was ruined by the end; not by the Games, or the war, or her emotional and physiological problems, but by being turned from a strong, free-thinking female character, into a woman who has to settle down with a nice man and have kids. Honestly, it made me sick.

My favourite relationship throughout all three books has been Katniss and Haymitch. How they understand each other, rile each other, but ultimately trust each other. I think that’s why i found the pair of them living out their lives in parallel misery seemed so fitting to me.

I said there wasn’t a Hunger Games in this book, but the war was being played out like one. Collins is drawing parallels between the two, showing wide-ranging and mis-matching opinions of both. For anyone looking beyond the superficial love stories and traumatic personal plights, this book takes a very interesting look at government, politics, power, the media and rebellion.

I Capture the Castle

!!d71vRgEWM~$(KGrHqYOKm8Ew9Bs7C7-BMR82FFvZQ~~_35Title: I Capture the Castle

Author: Dodie Smith

Summary: ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’ is the first line of a novel about love, sibling rivalry and a bohemian existence in a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere. Cassandra Mortmain’s journal records her fadingly glamorous stepmother, Topaz, her beautiful, wistful older sister, Rose and the man to whom all three of them owe their isolation and poverty: Father.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I didn’t know too much about this book before i read it. I can’t even remember how it ended up on my to-read list. I just knew it was about a family that lived in a run down old castle, and that sounded fun.

I love the writing. As the book is the journal of Cassandra, it was impossible to love the writing without loving her too. She’s smart and observant, and i just loved her voice. She is so kind and sees the good in everyone, i admire that because i certainly can’t do it myself!

Cassandra also makes some stunningly beautiful and meaningful comments, almost too casually. She says she wishes she could write poetry, but to me she already does.

What the book lacks is an interesting plot. I loved this family, i loved how close they were despite their troubles and poor financial situation. I love how they all pulled together to do what they could. I loved the mystery surrounding the father and the will he/won’t he, can he/can’t he regarding his writing career.

What i did not like was the love stories. He loves her, but she loves him, but he loves her sister, but she loves her brother… bah. Early on in the book Cassandra and Rose briefly discuss books, Rose favouring Jane Austen and Cassandra liking Charlotte Brontë. I wondered then what i’d let myself in for. Books whose focus is on the main female characters falling in love and being swept of her feet and… not my thing. Not my thing at all.

The writing, narrative voice and lots of the characters were truly wonderful. I just didn’t like what they were used for.

This is the second book i’ve read from my Classics Club list.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Catching FireTitle: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins

Summary: Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are still alive. Katniss should be relieved, but now there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol – a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

As the nation watches Katniss and Peeta, the stakes are higher than ever. One false move and the consequences will be unimaginable.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: As much as i wanted to pick up this book immediately after finishing the first one, i tried to pace myself. Three books is pacing, right? I’m going to see the Catching Fire film in the near future, so i decided i had better read it before then.

This book is just as unputdownable as the first. When i had just over 100 pages left, i spent a whole work shift thinking about the book and just wanted to get back to reading it. I went home and stayed up much later than normal finishing it. How tired i was the next day was totally worth it.

I’m not even sure what it is. The setting, the situation and the plot are all just… bloody good.

There is one thing that’s not good, though. I noticed it in the first book, but for whatever reason it didn’t bother me as much. The writing. The book is written in first person, and is immensely tell rather than show. The reader is not left to wonder about things, or come to their own conclusions about anything. Katniss, almost methodically, analyses everything and everyone around her, drawing conclusions (which are not always right and are prone to change, as more information is gathered and analysed) and telling the reader what to think about things. It irked me more often in this book than the first (but never enough for me to even pause in my reading).

As much as i appreciate Katniss for being a strong female character, not defined by the men around her and not a slave to her emotions, it would be good if, now and again, she actually had emotions. I guess that’s a little harsh. She does have them; she loves her sister and hates President Snow. I guess what bothers me is how two dimensional they are. Even her feelings seem to be thought about, analysed and conclusions drawn, rather than just felt.

Basically, Katniss thinks too much.

I liked what the new characters brought to the book, though this time around i didn’t like all of the characters. I think because we didn’t get a chance to know them well enough. We saw only one side to them, in a situation where they were playing a game (two games?). But i was interested enough to want to know more about them (though perhaps not through Katniss’ eyes).

Also, the revolting and rioting and defiance of the Capitol. YES. This is what i really loved, and is also what i can’t wait for more of in the last book. At this point, i’m thinking, ‘Screw the Hunger Games, just give me a whole book about a revolution!”

The Hunger Games

hunger gamesTitle: The Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins.

Summary: Winning will make you famous. Losing means certain death.
In a dark vision of the near future, twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live TV show called The Hunger Games. There is only one rule: Kill or be killed.
When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her sister’s place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I feel like i should have read this book a long time ago. I was finally driven to reading it after i recently watched the film (yes, before reading the book, shame on me!) and although i enjoyed it, i knew the book would be so much better. Spoiler: It is.

I basically read this book in two sittings. It was completely one of those books i didn’t want to put down. I’m still thinking about it as if i’m still reading it, and all i want to do is pick up Catching Fire and carry on reading. I am pacing myself, though.

The first person narrative was a little jarring at first, but i quickly got used to it and really, it’s necessary. The reader needs to get inside Katniss’ head and understand her motivations and conflicting, confused emotions. She’s an interesting character and it’s refreshing to read a lead female character who is truly independent and not defined by the men around her.

The basic idea of The Hunger Games has been done before in films like Battle Royale and Series 7, but that don’t make this book unoriginal. There is a lot of focus on why The Hunger Games happen, which is the real interesting topic for me. The Capitol, the 12 districts and the use of the games to keep people in their place… I love a good dystopia.

It’s almost a miracle, but i actually liked all the characters. Well, all the characters that weren’t Careers. I didn’t necessarily love them all, but i liked them all enough to empathise with them. What most surprised me was when i felt bad for Peeta at the end, because despite Katniss’ conflicted feelings about and towards him, it’s so obvious he’s a genuinely nice guy (something i did not get from the film at all, incidentally).

I debated whether to give this book four or five stars. In the end i gave four, because there was this huge ellipsis at the end of the book. Maybe that’s because i know there is a sequel, and that this isn’t the end for these characters, but equally, everything wasn’t concluded enough. I can’t possibly give this five stars until i know what happens in the two succeeding books–until i’m satisfied.

Looking for Alaska

lookingforakTitle: Looking for Alaska.

Author: John Green.

Summary: Alaska Young. Gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, screwed up – and utterly fascinating. Miles Halter could not be more in love with her. But when tragedy strikes, Miles discovers the value and the pain of living and loving unconditionally.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I decided to pick up a John Green book after watching several of his youtube videos and finding him to be a very intelligent and articulate person. So, despite the fact his books are quoted on tumblr like scripture by teenagers, i chose to read one. And, as is my wont, i began chronologically.

As far as i am aware, i had come across no spoilers for this book, but i somehow knew what was going to happen, knew that Alaska was a person and knew what the ‘looking’ was eluding to.

The front cover, blurb and back cover quote, in my opinion, do nothing for the book. If i had not already decided i wanted to read this book, nothing about the book itself would have compelled me to. It looks and sounds immature and awfully clichéd. (Thankfully) a perfect example of ‘never judge a book by its cover’ (or blurb or quotes).

I liked the chapter and book divisions; X Days Before/X Days After. The ‘before’ half of the book was, for me, the weaker half. It was the “normal” half. Boy makes friends, meets girls, enjoys life… It was very well written, made me laugh often and was enjoyable to read, but wasn’t overly thrilling or the kind of genre i usually like to read.

The ‘after’ half is what makes the book. The first half was just a very long prelude, in comparison. The first half sets the scene and the characters, the second half truly explores them. The second half is when i really began to care, about the characters and the situation they find themselves in.

There are, as tumblr can attest, plenty of quote-worthy one liners in this book, but the real meaning behind them is lost without the context of the story. Similarly with Pudge’s last words obsession; he often recounts the situation of the person’s death in order to give their last words their true meaning.

Although teetering oh so close to the “normal” fiction which i avoid vehemently, John Green’s writing is very compelling. Regardless of the subject matter, he makes reading it interesting. I plan on reading at least one more of his books, at some point, before deciding if the tumblr masses are crazily over-obsessed teenagers, or averagely-obsessed teenagers with good taste.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

perksTitle: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Author: Stephen Chbosky.

Summary: Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2/5

Review: I pretty much finished this book in one sitting, but not for any positive reasons. The hipster handbook, i knew what i was letting myself in for in regards to overly meaningful while ultimately vague one-liner quotes. But i hadn’t realised just how bad the entire book was.

Told in a series of letters to someone the narrator, Charlie, has never even met, the concept is intriguing. The problems started immediately for me, though. Charlie is 15 years old, but his use of language makes him seem more like seven, if that. I can forgive poor language if it adds to the character; if it gives a sense of the person telling the story; if there is a point. In this case, it didn’t and there wasn’t.

Charlie is purportedly “intelligent beyond his years,” but to be totally un-PC, he just came across as “special” to me. He noticed things, he wondered things, he read books… but everything he conveyed about these things was unenlightened, simple and childlike. He doesn’t grasp the points he’s making, the reader does. His awkward use of English and his simple-mindedness often made me chuckle and snicker, but i’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to.

I got through this book so quickly because i was constantly waiting. I was waiting for something to happen. Something to really kick the book into gear, to get it going. I was still waiting by the time i turned the last page. The book trundles along, never enough to be truly dull, but never really getting exciting.

Several times Charlie references the fact that the person he is sending his letters to doesn’t know who he is. Charlie says he hopes the receiver of the letters doesn’t mind getting post from a random stranger in the mail. By the end of the book he wants his recipient to “believe that things are good” with him, and that he will “believe the same about you.” With the letters addressed ‘Dear Friend’, and a sex never mentioned, the reader of the book is placed into the role of the recipient of the letters. But really? I never managed to put myself there. At the end of each particularly self-pitying/”meaningful”/dramatic letter, i imagined the fictional character who was receiving them frowning at yet another letter from that weird kid, screwing it up and throwing it away unread. And i can’t blame him.

Constantly referencing certain books, music and recreational hobbies, this book is trying hard to be the hipster handbook it has become. For me, though, any book that tries too hard to be something is doing it wrong.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower wanted to be another Catcher in the Rye, but ultimately wound up being the next Diary of Adrian Mole.

The Book Thief

Title: The Book Thief.

Author: Markus Zusak.

Summary: Here is a small fact: You are going to die.
1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.
Some important information: This novel is narrated by Death.
It’s a small story, about: a girl • an accordionist • some fanatical Germans • a Jewish fist fighter • and quite a lot of thievery.
Another thing you should know: Death will visit The Book Thief three times.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: “Some important information: This novel is narrated by Death.” This line was the one that grabbed me, and made me want to read this book. And really, for me, the fact that the narrator is Death is what makes the book. He has the unique advantage of knowing what’s going on in far more depth and breadth than the characters could know. The fact that wherever he is, wherever he goes, he always sees humans in their last moments gives him an unparalleled point of view. As Death himself puts it:

“I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.”

Death is a step apart from the lives of the people this book is about, but in another way he is closer to each of them than they are to each other. This unique vantage offers an incredibly told story.

Also, Death is a tease. He outright states at various points what will and will not happen; who will and will not die. Then he admits he’s getting ahead of himself and slows right down. It’s infuriating, infectious and makes the book almost impossible to put down. You might know what’s coming, but you’re desperate to see how they get there.

“Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me. There are many things to think of. There is much story.”

The story itself is about The Book Thief, Liesel. She steals books to read, escape and, perhaps most importantly, regain some semblance of control in her life, which is constantly changing around her. During her adolescent years in which the story is set, we see her make friends and loyalties, enemies and vendettas. We see her share secrets with the Jew hiding in her basement and strike up an acquaintance with a woman who has swastikas on her slippers. We see her ups and her downs, and those of the people around her. And then we see it all ripped away.

The characters are wonderful. They are true, and flawed and, each in their own way, perfect. I am so used to simply loving or hating characters completely, that it was really nice to like and dislike something about them all. They frustrated me, they delighted me. They disgusted me, they made me proud. Their motivations were clear and honest, if sometimes questionable. Fictional though they may be, i was made to care about them. I mourned each and every single one.

The amount of times this book ripped my heart out, stomped on it a little and then gently picked it up and carefully placed it back into my chest is unbelievable. Yes, i cried. (And if you don’t cry at books filled with words, characters and situations that are constructed to toy with your emotions, then please don’t read this book—it will be wasted on you.) I cried, but i also smiled and laughed and gasped and winced. And it was all worth it. I can’t say this book has a happy ending, but it certainly doesn’t have a hopeless one.

“I have to say that although it broke my heart, I was, and still am, glad I was there.”