Monday, 16 January 2012

Book #3

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss's family, not her friends, not the people of District 12.

It's over. This little world I've been submerged in for the last few weeks is gone. I am very, very impressed at the depths I was dragged down to and the feats I was forced to believe were real.

Mockingjay has completely restored my faith in the trilogy, although it was quite shaky and perplexing to begin with, with Katniss just memorising, soliloquising, and generally annoying me to death. A lot of the pages towards the beginning of the novel were unnecessary and dull. After these had passed, however, and the action began, nothing was sacred. Action kept pouring itself out of the pages, and once again I was faced with the ever-delightful couldn't put it down book review cliché. I found there to be more shock and suspense than there was in Catching Fire, and I was so pleased that this was the case.

I think the main thing to note here is that my crocodile eyes were weeping again at various places in the novel. I cried viciously during The Hunger Games, but not once during Catching Fire. Indicative.

The characterisation was wonderful, and I was still in love with my old favourites and holding a terrible hatred for the dullard Katniss which was born from Catching Fire. How angsty! Where is this girl who volunteered to take her sister's place in the reaping? Is this same girl to the one who we now see moping about like a soggy bit of cardboard? UGH. She spends the majority of the novel hiding in little forts feeling sorry for herself. As I've said before, I realise she has been through a lot, but we're looking for a strong protagonist here, not an indecisive irritating moron. I didn't have any sympathy or respect for her until the final few chapters where my opinion completely turned around. I'm pleased this happened; the ending wouldn't have been the same had I continued to hate her.

Tiny spoiler: people died. (Please don't moan if I wasted anything for you here, it's the last book of the trilogy, what do you expect?) Certain people died who I felt were not mourned properly, there was no closure, they died and that was it. One of these people I loved. Cheers, Collins; I wanted to lament. I don't even forgive you for killing him off in the first place. I didn't find this death to be important to the plot. It was merciless and unforgivable. Huff!

I enjoyed the political, social and cultural comments, particularly when considering that although this is a dystopian novel, it really is only a stone's throw away from real life. Children trained to kill children; does this ring any bells? How comfortable are you challenging someone with authority, or someone in uniform?

Collins managed to convey a good message about war; that nothing is black and white, and very rarely does anyone truly win when you consider what has to be lost to ensure a victory. She's trying to get us to think about when we should stop fighting, when does it become too much. I think the book ended on quite a dark note, and although I'd usually champion dark endings, I can't help but feel it was slightly devoid of hope for a young adult novel. I can't explain it; I just didn’t feel good about it.

Another disjointed review stemming from my disjointed feelings. It's a haunting and shocking finale, with the tale taking well-executed turns that couldn't ever have been predicted. It’s an obvious must-read for those who have tried the first two installments, with a chilling and displaced ending.

3 / 50 books. 6% done!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Book #2

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Ah, the second installment. Are you familiar with the age-old argument that the sequel is never as good as the original? This applies here. After all of my excitement, adrenaline, and urging of everyone I know to read The Hunger Games, this third of the trilogy has left me incredibly disappointed and deflated.

The plot was slightly jarring and felt strange. Collins uses a lot of pages describing the events in District 12 prior to the real plot action which begins more than halfway into the book, and I really felt this could have been more diluted. The more important scenes seem as though they were rushed, especially the second to last chapter which I found diabolically fast-paced and impossible to comprehend. Although the plot is hugely similar to the previous novel, it just doesn't have the same feeling surrounding it.

One of the factors of The Hunger Games which made me fall in love with it were the cliffhanger endings to chapters. I could not possibly put the book down, and was forced to read on. The chapter endings in Catching Fire hugely attempted to mirror those in The Hunger Games, but failed miserably. They were a half-arsed attempt to drag us in, and only really managed the odd groan from me rather than my previous hyperactive, breathless excitement at the thought of another chapter.

Katniss shifts from the strong female protagonist into a bland pain. The first book depicts her as a firey survivor and now she is an emotional wreck. Of course, she has been through an ordeal but it really didn't seem as though this was reason behind her dreariness; I really think it's the writing. She dithers constantly - Peeta or Gale? Peeta or Gale? - these two are the same person. Strong boys in love with her, but stuck in the friend-zone until she actually grows a pair. They have minor differences, but nothing too memorable. There is none of the typical love triangle contention, and Peeta and Gale's similarities meant that I didn't care who she preferred, nor did I have any personal interest in how the situation turned out.

The best part of the book is that it focuses more on politics and government control, and gives us more perspective on the forces at work. The idea of areas in revolt, the reasons for this, and the possibility of a successful rebellion under a totalitarian government is absolutely delicious. I enjoyed reading about the inner workings of the Capitol, the destruction which was a result of the previous rebellion, and most of all the rumours behind the fabled District 13.

I must admit the final chapter did raise the game considerably, and did allow me some excitement in anticipating the final installment. I just wished the book had been as thrilling as this in its entirety.

Perhaps I have been a bit too harsh here. Or have I? Am I dithering like our beloved Katniss? The book certainly did have its moments; I just think it dulls in comparison to its predecessor. It's very difficult for me to make valid comments here without posting spoilers, so I will refrain. Collins set the bar high with The Hunger Games and has failed to beat her high score here. Here's hoping Mockingjay will restore my opinions somewhat.

2 / 50 books. 4% done!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Book #1

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Katniss Everdeen is a survivor. She has to be; she's representing her District, number 12, in the 74th Hunger Games in the Capitol, the heart of Panem, a new land that rose from the ruins of a post-apocalyptic North America. To punish citizens for an early rebellion, the rulers require each district to provide one girl and one boy, 24 in all, to fight like gladiators in a futuristic arena. The event is broadcast like reality TV, and the winner returns with wealth for his or her district.

Wow. I absolutely loved this book, it’s been quite a journey! I have a secret passion for young adult fiction, and this did not disappoint in the slightest. There has been a great deal of hype surrounding this trilogy, which I must admit made me a bit cautious (after all, the last highly hyped young adult series was none other than the aggrandised Twilight), but it absolutely lived up to the glory.

I despise using the phrase "I couldn't put it down," but this was definitely the case. To describe my reading experience without using a clichéd phrase, I read through the novel in a perpetual state of anticipation, experiencing more adrenaline than I have for a while. I was so excited, and so invested in the characters and the story.

This is a dystopian future (dystopia being one of my favourite genres), and a delicious one at that. The subtle social commentary was interesting; the Capitol being the rich and affluent area, and the twelve districts living in abject poverty, circling the Capitol as though protecting it from harm. It dawned on me from time to time that the economics and politics of this arrangement didn't make much sense in the wider picture, but I couldn't really comment further on this having an utterly amateur mind on both. The world Collins has created is so interesting, however, and I loved reading about how America was divided into districts, the rebellion, and how the Games were created as a result of that. It's a believable future, which is always a scary thought in dystopian novels, but it's a gorgeous world to find yourself submerged in.

It's very dark and brutal. Although I didn't feel the violence was graphic at all, I did feel it to be very vicious, especially when considering the motives behind the actions, and that the actions were being made by very young people. The emotion invoked in me was unreal; I do get emotionally invested in my books, but I very rarely cry whilst reading. Apart from the constant heart-banging going on in my chest, I managed to break down and cry three times in the space of this novel. Three times, which completely ruined my heart of stone demeanour. Damn and blast.

Katniss Everdeen is a beautiful character. Her love for her family and her absolute determination to keep them alive is inspirational. Despite this lovely side to her, I particularly liked her savagery, her survival skills, and the plain fact that she is a complete bad ass. She is so strong and capable; she's quite the independent woman. I am a total wimp compared to her; I was moaning about being hungry the other day and then realised, "I would be atrocious in the Hunger Games." I did like Katniss's conflicting emotions throughout the Games, however, especially with regards to the two men in her life. Strong but confused makes her a lot more human, and a bit more relatable.

I did enjoy the characterisation in general, and with the description of lives in the districts I really managed to feel for all of them. I felt a lot in particular for the character of Haymitch; the previous District 12 winner of the Games. Although he was an alcoholic, and incredibly irritating and strange at the beginning of the novel, I think this was a reminder that the Games can mess you up entirely.

I like what Collins has done with the young adult novel, however. It is still apparent these days that young adult books are characterised into boy/girl areas. She has blown this out of the water by giving a female protagonist to a violent plot, forcing people to wonder whether this is a boy book or a girl book. It's both, as are all books (although this is a debate I won’t get into at the moment).

I must admit, I did find the ending incredibly anticlimactic, and I was disappointed. Since I was aware there are another two books to get through, I was expecting a cliff-hanger, something that says, "Oh, there's more to come," but nothing like this was given to me! Why?! I would've liked to see a reunion, however I imagine I shall see that at the beginning of Catching Fire. This is my only gripe.

I would recommend this to anyone. I was sucked in completely, left breathless, addicted, in tears, and then blown away entirely. If I was ever interrupted by the phone ringing, or something similar, whilst reading, I felt as though I had snapped out of a dream, asking myself, "Where am I?" What a world! You must read this immediately, and may the odds be ever in your favour.

1 / 50 books. 2% done!