Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

They’ve been made into a movie and video games. There are hundreds of fan sites and paraphernalia built around them. They’ve been compared to the Harry Potter series; an association which seems to have become the greatest accolade for any book, as well as the highest proof of commercial success. In light of all this fame, a review seems superfluous. You must have heard of them. But have you read the books?

There are some bestsellers which I’ve picked up, read a few pages – perhaps a chapter or two – and abandoned, in favour of more interesting reads. Sometimes I go back and finish them, sometimes not. There are other books which I’ve taken up, meaning to just read a paragraph or two, and found myself in the middle of, so badly hooked to what the next word is going to reveal that I start feeling lightheaded before I realize I’ve been holding my breath the whole while. This series is one that belongs to the latter category.

Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire. Harry Potter,The Boy Who Lived. Tweak the prophecy a little: None can live while the others survive. It does seem like the comparison with J.K.R’s work is warranted, doesn’t it? However, while Jo introduced us to the magical world, Suzanne Collins explores the theme of a post-apocalyptic world in which hegemony prevails. Dystopia is a quite popular topic with both authors and film-makers, along with alien invasions and robotic apocalypses. Why did this particular series make such an impression on me, then? Perhaps because it’s the first time I’ve been pulled into reading one on this subject. I’m not a fan of masochistic literature.

If you don’t mind spoilers, you can read a summary of the book here. If you do, I’ll tell you what the books are like. The first book introduces us to the world of Panem, where the city of Capitol rules over twelve districts. Seventy five years ago, the 13th district rebelled against the political system, and was wiped out. The Hunger Games is an annual event to remind the people of how much they are in the power of the Capitol (If this isn’t an invitation to rebellion to a population which isn’t made up of zombies, I don’t know what is. -_- ) Every year each of the 12 districts is supposed to volunteer two ‘tributes’ – a boy and a girl – between the ages of 12 and 18, who will participate in the Games: with the winner being the sole survivor. Yes, the ‘game’ dictates that they should either kill or be killed.

The story unfolds from the point of view of Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old living in District 12 with her mother and younger sister. When her sister’s name is called out as one of the tributes for the Games, Katniss volunteers to go forth in her place and what follows is a spine-thrilling account of her experiences, as she battles for survival. The author shows elements of distrust, uncertainty, bonding, loyalty and betrayal quite well, and is to be commended for the gripping plot.

The first book is well worth a read, but the other two books in the trilogy fell rather short of the ideal, in my opinion. Suzanne Collins manages to hold your attention, but the plot turns dark. It’s war. Politics. Confusion. Suffering. Gore. Power. Horrors invented that are guaranteed to give one nightmares, if you’re not the type who enjoys R.L Stine. A character introduced in a chapter is probably killed in the next. Fear. Pain. Suffering. Did I mention that already? But it bears repeating – there’s just so much of it throughout the tale. But the story does end on a note of hope: which is the most attainable form of happily-ever-after that one can expect in real life.

All in all, the trilogy would be more enjoyable if the author spent a little more time on character development and explanation of the plot. However, it is quite effective in showing one the horrors borne of war and dirty politics, as well as the tortures that the human mind is capable of inventing – and if you’re into that sort of reading, you may be pleased with it.


A Wilde Story

A Woman Of No Importance

A few weeks back, I discovered Oscar Wilde. As one who strives quite hard to belong to the ranks of the well-read, I agree that it’s indeed shameful to have ignored such a famed author for so long. In self-defence, all I can say is that I had looked him up on Wikipedia long ago, in order to get a list of the books he’s known for, but (*cough*) I thought his style of living may not have produced an oeuvre which I may have been interested to peruse.

Having said that, I found myself downloading his play ‘A Woman Of No Importance’ from the Gutenberg website some time back. (As an aside, I’d like to thank those guys – they’re doing a great, great job. Kudos.) Why? Because the title caught my attention, of course, as it would, of any feminist worth her salt. Outraged sisters of mine, calm down. The absolutely fitting last line of the play is ‘A man of no importance.’ [I wonder whether this will get masculinists on the warpath? ;)] The heading made me forget my prejudices against the author, and for once, I was glad I’d let them go.

A Woman Of No Importance is a play full of the epigrams which Wilde was (apparently) famed for, and being someone who enjoys witticisms and word plays of all kinds, I was delighted with the book. It’s a satire, and though the plot isn’t all that special, (watching it being performed may have been better than reading it, but not by much) the dialogues and quips were so worth the read that I found myself wishing that I’d thought of them. (Yes, I suffer from a bad case of hubris.) It’s a pity that those who seem clever are also shown as being cynical and on the wrong side of the ethical standard; and those with any good feeling – merely earnest. The characters are well represented, though, which leads me to recommend the book to all those with a well-developed sense of the absurd.

Examples of the kind of wisecracks that are a part of the play:
“It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about, nowadays, saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.”
“Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humour in the woman. Or the want of it in the man.”
“But do you believe all that is written in the newspapers?
I do. Nowadays it is only the unreadable that occurs.”

The final verdict: I definitely want to read more Oscar Wilde. The Importance of being Ernest and An Ideal Husband are next on my list, and though I’ve heard of The Picture of Dorian Grey as belonging to the “classics” list of publishers, I’d like to know if the book is worth it’s fame, before delving in. Recommendations, anyone?

Fairy Tale Retellings

Yes, I like fairy tales. They’re idealistic, moralizing, fantastical and strange; and perfect fodder for imagination. Tales of princesses, magicians, witches and sorcerers; legends of intrigue, enchantment, splendour and glory; fables of dragons, voodoo, spells and wishes. Those abbreviated stories heard in childhood, served just to imprint those eternal messages in our minds – Truth always triumphs, Evil never goes unpunished et al. And, of course, the fate of do-gooders – the proverbial ‘happily-ever-after’. But what of the nuances, the plots, the characters of the stories, themselves?

Perhaps that is what makes retellings seem so much more interesting than those anonymous originals. For instance, the Once upon A Time series. You begin, with scant curiosity perhaps, with the confidence gained from knowing the plot beforehand. And yet, you find yourself being surprised – by the style of narration, by the twists in the tale you thought you knew, in the very characters of the protagonists which you had never thought to consider. The stories become new.

Intrigued? Try Cameron Dokey’s Belle (Beauty and The Beast retold), Golden (Rapunzel retold),The Storyteller’s Daughter (The Arabian Nights – Shahrazad’s tale retold),Wild Orchid (Mulan retold) and Beauty Sleep (Sleeping Beauty retold). And then there’s Robin McKinley – Beauty and Rose Daughter(Beauty and The Beast retold) and Spindle’s End (Sleeping Beauty retold).Alex Flinn’s Beastly and A Kiss In Time are modern retellings of the same, and Jessica Day George’s Princess Of The Midnight Ball of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. And Shannon Hale’s The Book Of A Thousand Days is a retelling of Maid Maleen, which scores quite high on humour, so you may want to read it(Even if you’ve never heard of the original.)

Need more encouragement?

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Albert Einstein said it.
You know what to do.

Reincarnation – Suzanne Weyn

Being a reader in the 21st century burdens one with quite a lot of cynicism, for, if one devotes a considerable quantity of time to reading all the kinds of books there are and have been, it isn’t long before all the genres, plots and styles are traversed. The element of surprise being lost, anticipation dims; and one feels weary of reading the same phrases, descriptions and situations over and over again – and it begins to seem as though all those worlds which had seemed out-of-reach, have already been explored, and there remains nothing new to be seen. [Oh, how bleak the world seems, with these words!]

Having attained the aforementioned state, it came as a pleasant surprise, to find a story – a love story, at that, which did not seem cliche’d. Suzanne Weyn’s Reincarnation is a story about star-crossed lovers, but (before you accuse me of contradicting my own words) what sets it apart from the multitude of other such tales, is the unique style in which it is presented.

The book is about two lovers, caught in the cycle of death and rebirth, right from the beginning of time (The Stone Age, to be precise.) The novel does not contain one story; instead, it’s a series of stories following the lives of the protagonists, threaded together by the bond which spans across lifetimes (No,don’t worry,it actually isn’t as sugary as it sounds.) As they are born into different times and ages, in different races and civilizations, with different names and faces, the reader begins to see the patterns which define them as individuals – for instance, after a few rebirths, one can see that the heroine invariably has a melodious voice in each birth, while the hero has a talent for writing. The story presents quite an interesting challenge to the reader, to pick up the clues subtly sprinkled about – a story which asks you to use your grey cells to get your bearings, and not merely drift along.

All in all, the subject of reincarnation is shown very neatly; though the breaks in the story (whenever they die,before being reborn -_- ) may put off followers of pure romance. For those who’re tired of the usual, however, this would definitely make an interesting read.

Anthony Horowitz – The Diamond Brothers

I recently read Anthony Horowitz’s Three of Diamonds, and as he seems to be known more for his Alex Rider series (which I haven’t read), I decided to write a review on his stories about the Diamond brothers(which I have).Tim Diamond (Real name: Herbert Timothy Simple) is the world’s worst detective at twenty-five, while his younger brother Nick, thirteen, solves what few cases come their way (And narrates the stories, making wisecracks on every other thing they come across, and mostly on his brother).

Suspense and thriller content-wise, the books are pretty good (I’m comparing with the Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle standard.) Murder is, of course, mostly the leitmotif – but even gruesome details are described in such a way as to never seem morbid. Mostly due to the sense of humor employed in the style of writing.

So, yeah, it’s the wit that sparkles through, which really made me like the books. Puns, double-entendre, witty one-liners, funny metaphors – the books are chock full of them. For example,

 My last client had asked me to find out who was stealing supplies from his glue factory, but he’d disappeared and I was beginning to think he must have come to a sticky end.

 Oh, and apparently they compare him to J.K Rowling. (Nah, she’s the best. -_-) Well, anyway they have a Chief Inspector called Snape, with an assistant called Boyle, who aren’t the villains, but aren’t their best friends either.(*rolling her eyes*) Perhaps this was more of the parodying that goes on in the rest of the books.

Basically, you keep chuckling throughout. (If you get the joke, that is.) Don’t get confused by the mixed reviews – these are nice books for light reading, and for laughs. Just read between the lines. (And the actual lines too.   -_-)

Eight Cousins – Louisa May Alcott

I first read Little Women when I was eleven. It was an abridged version, and the story seemed very pleasing to me, full of simple, joyous instances; funny, clean humour; and sensible, beautiful ideals which one would yearn to uphold and follow, so prettily expressed were they.
Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy became close friends, and being a bookworm, I naturally liked Jo the best.
As I grew up, I read the remaining books, the originals, and loved the characters even more, and longed to emulate them – for, which reader, wholly immersed in a book, can remain unaffected by the ideas expressed, which correspond to those thoughts in her own head, maybe unacknowledged, maybe silent, but there all the same?
I liked the simplicity of the storytelling, the portrayals which seemed so real, and the attractive description of such commonplace activities, which led the reader to appreciating her own blessings and living her own reality, instead of distracting the mind by making it long for worlds beyond reach.
Somehow, by chance or by negligence, I never got to read any other book by Louisa May Alcott for quite some time. Little Women is considered among one of the “classics” in most publishers’ lists, and so are the other books in the series, but I hadn’t come across any other work of hers.
Then by some good luck, I found the book Eight Cousins, and its sequel – Rose in Bloom. It seemed like a breath of fresh air, for I’d been immersed in fantasy and popular fiction for so long, that I was beginning to feel quite lost in all those illusions.
The books are about Rose, an orphan, who goes to live with her aunts and uncles, on the death of her father. She has seven boy cousins – a merry, youthful group, who call themselves “The Clan”, and take her into their fold, and help make her a healthy, happy child – under the eyes of her guardian, cheery, boyish Uncle Alec. The characters – Archie “The Chief”, responsible, kind and the oldest, Prince Charlie,charming and full of fun and frolic,Mac,the bookworm, Steve,the Dandy, Will and Geordie,the twin-like little soldiers and Jamie,the baby, make up the brood, along with sweet-voiced Phebe, the poor, orphaned maid who becomes a sister to Rose. And Rose herself –  sweet,generous hearted and strong minded, makes a lovely protagonist. The books follow the adventures they get into, as children; then the tribulations they face as they grow, finding just rewards at the end.
The characters are very likeable, and for those who love L.M Alcott’s writing, this will surely be a treasured read, regardless of whether the readers are young or old; for, though the books talk about children and their doings, there is so much good sense, such good advice spread through them, that I’m sure even “grown-ups” will love the books. 🙂

Georgette Heyer

Sometime back, when I was searching for good books to read, I came across some reviews of Georgette Heyer’s  novels, and full of the Regency craze around that time, I decided to give it a try.

Georgette Heyer was a writer of historical fiction – basically in the romance and mystery genres (Yeah, I know you’d have got this from Wikipedia too) .Her books mostly deal with the descriptions of lives of the gentry and nobility in Regency England. The language used is a bit difficult to follow, if you aren’t used to the expressions used in those times(like I was),the descriptions get tedious and the stories themselves need adjusting to, for only when you wade through a page or two can you understand who the characters are, and even then maybe not clearly.

After reading all that negative criticism, if you’re still reading this review, then you may as well join the ranks of Georgette Heyer fans. For all that’s needed is persistence. The first book of her’s I read, was Arabella ( fortunately, for like all others I too, fall for first impressions, and some other book may have put me off). I found the protagonist ( Arabella, duh) quite fascinating, though my initial impression was that of a birdwitted beauty – _- .

Mind you, I’ve only been reading her romances, for I tried a mystery – Cousin Kate – and found it too monotonous to credit the genre( I’m an ardent fan of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle ,is that a sufficient excuse? ), but what I’ve read, I really liked. The Masqueradors, These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, Sylvester, The Corinthian, The Nonesuch , The Unknown Ajax, The Grand Sophy, Frederica, Friday’s Child, The Talisman Ring, Lady Of Quality, Sprig Muslin, April Lady and The Reluctant Widow are some of my favourites – with intelligent characters, very humorous situations and happy endings ( What more could an aspiring romance want?) . The heroes are manly, the heroines feminine, everyone has sense, and some of the plots are truly masterpieces. The Masqueradors, especially, is an amazing story about a brother and sister who pretend to be each other (i.e a sister and brother) which I strongly recommend you to start off with.

Georgette has a sense of humour which leaves you in stitches, reading the reactions and dialogues of her characters. Altogether a very enjoyable read.

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

The title of this book is sufficient to hook any Jane Austen fanatic, and I was no exception.I was in such a haste to uncover the story, that I didn’t even consider the obvious truth, that this was fiction.

The author, Syrie James, tells us  in the prologue of this book,

“Chawton Manor House—one of the many homes owned by Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight (who was adopted by his father’s cousins, and inherited many valuable properties)—has been in the Knight family since the late sixteenth century. Jane Austen lived for many years in a cottage in the village nearby and was a frequent visitor.A workman recently employed to repair the roof of the manor house, in an attempt to trap an errant family of mice, discovered an old seaman’s chest bricked up behind a wall in a far corner of the immense, rambling attic. The chest, to the befuddlement of the entire work crew, was filled with what appeared to be old manuscripts. Incongruously, at the bottom of the chest, in a tiny velvet box, lay a delicate gold-and-ruby ring.

The chest, which is the type a seaman might have used to store his gear during the Napoleonic wars, may have belonged to one of Jane Austen’s other brothers, Frank or Charles, both of whom were in the Royal Navy. To the astonishment and exhilaration of the scholars who were first privileged to review its contents (myself included), the numerous documents stored inside appear to have been written during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and have been formally authenticated as being the work of Jane Austen herself.”

and goes on to reason why and how Jane Austen may have set about writing  these memoirs, in those last illness-filled days of hers.

The book follows Jane’s journey through life, her relationship with her family, especially her sister Cassandra, and the person who was the true love of her life.Yes, you heard that right. Jane says,

“People may read what I have written, and wonder: how could this spinster, this woman who, to all appearances, never even courted—who never felt that wondrous connection of mind and spirit between a man and woman, which, inspired by friendship and affection, blooms into something deeper—how could she have had the temerity to write about the revered institutions of love and courtship, having never experienced them herself?

To those few friends and relations who, upon learning of my authorship, have dared to pose a similar question (although, I must admit, in a rather more genteel turn of phrase), I have given the self-same reply: “Is it not conceivable that an active mind and an observant eye and ear, combined with a vivid imagination, might produce a literary work of some merit and amusement, which may, in turn, evoke sentiments and feelings which resemble life itself?”

There is much truth in this observation.

But there are many levels of veracity, are there not, between that truth which we reveal publicly and that which we silently acknowledge, in the privacy of our own thoughts, and perhaps to one or two of our most intimate acquaintances?”

Can you see now, why I was deluded into believing it was Jane who was speaking to me through this book? The style, the narrative(in first person), the humour , are all those which we have seen throughout her other books! Though it does get tedious at times, when we realise that almost all those situations which occur in her books are those Jane found herself in, her love story is different enough to make the book a good novel in its own right.

I definitely recommend this book to all those who love Jane Austen’s works, and who wish they knew more about her. Yes, this book is a work of fiction, but as Syrie James says, through Jane Austen’s nephew James-Edward,“Do you mean to say, that if I believe in your story as you have told it, then it is as good as if it were true?” , I prefer to believe that Jane may truly have lived such a life, and known true love.

I will not disclose any other details about the book, for any summary seems too dry to me, and if I continue including excerpts of the book, I shall soon have copied the whole book onto this post. 🙂 Enjoy reading, and tell me your views!