Catching Fire: Hunger Games (Book 2)- Suzanne Collins (Narrator: Carolyn McCormick)

Cover of "Catching Fire (The Second Book ...

Cover via Amazon

This is a difficult review to write, simply because I don’t know how to talk about Catching Fire: Hunger Games (Book 2) by Suzanne Collins without giving away what happens in the first book The Hunger Games. So, if you have NOT read The Hunger Games I urge you to look away now. (A review of The Hunger Games  is posted below.) …..

Okay, now that they have all left, we can talk about Catching Fire. I would just like to say “Oh My God!” If you thought the first book was awesome, this second installment in the series goes to a whole new level.

We start out with Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark who are trying to settle back into life after winning the Hunger Games. Katniss, her family, and Peeta have all moved to the ‘victors’ village’ in District 12, and are using their new wealth to try to improve the living conditions of the rest of District 12. Also, Katniss has to deal with the complication of her ‘romance’ with Peeta that contributed to their victory in the game and how that will affect her relationship with Gale, her long time friend and hunting partner.

At the end of the first book, we saw that Katniss’ defiance  in the incident with the berries did not make her any friends amongst the powers-that-be in The Capital. Now, in Catching Fire,  Katniss is made aware that her actions in The Games have stirred up rebellion in a number of the districts. She, and Peeta, have become a dangerous symbol for those opposed to the oppressive regime overseen by The Capital.  How will The Capital respond?

As I said before this book is actually even better than the first. It is action packed and fast paced. If you liked The Hunger Games even a little bit, you MUST read this book.

 

 

 

 

Lovesong- Alex Miller

Courtesy of Allen and Unwin.

I started reading Lovesong by Alex Miller because I had tickets to see him speak at The Wheeler Centre. I must confess that prior to the event I had never heard of him. But, I am always keen to find new authors whose work I will love so I jumped at the opportunity. It turns out that Alex Miller is a two-time winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award. It could be argued that to win the prize once is a fluke, but to win it twice suggests some that can write. While not being one of the book that won that prestigious accolade, Lovesong has not been entirely missed by the various literary awards about the place. It was the winner of several prestigious awards including The Age 2010 Book of the Year and the 2011 NSW Premiers Literary Awards- People’s Choice Award.  Clearly this is a ‘great’ book.

Ken is a ‘retired’ writer living in Carlton with his grown up daughter. He has just returned from Venice when he discovers that one of the old shops in the local shopping strip has been turned into a pastry shop run by an Australian man and his exotic North African wife, and their five-year old daughter. His story teller’s antennae is up releasing that these people must have a great story to tell. He befriends John and begins to draw out their incredible story, and so we get the story of Sabiha, and John, and their life in the industrial arrondissement of Paris.

Miller’s is a talented and skillful writer. The tone of the story changes between the slow, almost dreamlike pace of the Paris story and the plain-spoken story of life in Carlton. The story of John and Sabiha is one about love, hopes, dreams and the pain that is caused by dreams going unfulfilled. In this case, Sabiha’s dream is to be a mother of a daughter. When, after sixteen years of marriage she is still without her child, she takes drastic action to remedy the situation, with consequences for all concerned.

This is a beautiful book. Miller has drawn all his characters, including the minor characters, with empathy. There were times when I didn’t like or approve of Sabiha or her actions. But, I remained committed to following her story to the end, and I was well rewarded when I got there. This book is excellent, admittedly not ‘high action’, just a good story about two people trying to make a life together.

 

Lab Rat One- Andrea K Höst

Lab Rat One by Andrea K Höst is the second installment in the Touchstone trilogy. Followers of my blog will know how

Image courtesy of http://www.andreakhost.com

much I loved the first book, Stray. Well, this is BETTER. I think that because the first book dealt so much with Cassandra getting lost, and then finding her way on the alien world, this book was able to focus more on the day-to-day of her new life as the ‘useful stray’. It is a bit like how Star Wars was an awesome film, and then along came Empire Strikes Back. However, I would NOT advise reading this without having read the first book. Höst has created such a complete and detailed world with its own language, customs and idiosyncrasies, most of which were introduced and explained in the first book, and unlike many authors of series she DOES NOT explain things over and over from one book to the next. She assumes you know.

This book carries on from where the first book broke off. The Tarens with the aid of Cassandra have discovered their lost world of Muina and are in the process of settling the new city of ‘Pandora’ (a name chosen by our heroine). They have begun exploring with teams of scientists studying flora and fauna, while their archeologists  search for evidence of their ancestors and answers about the Pillars so that they might aid their own planet.

While this is happening Cass is settling into life with the black nanosuit wearing Setari (the flying ninjas) and developing strange new ‘talents’ . She is making friends, and falling in love. She has to deal with bullies and paparazzi as her existence becomes known outside the confides of KOTIS. Her special role in helping the Tarens find their old home make her of particular interest and curiosity.

As I said this book is FANTASTIC!!!! I found that when I got to the end I was devastated, because I wanted to know what would happen next, but I have to wait until the third and final installment is released. This series is great and I can’t wait to see how it ends.

How I Became A Famous Novelist- Steve Hely

Cover of "How I Became a Famous Novelist&...

Cover of How I Became a Famous Novelist

How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely is another book I picked up as a result of a session at the 2011 Melbourne Writer’s Festival. For those who are not aware, Steve Hely is part of the writing team on such hit television series as 30 Rock, The Office (the US version) and American Dad. So my expectations for this book were that this would be a funny book. What I got was not so much a laugh a minute side-splitting comedy, and more of a satirical examination of the world of contemporary literature, publishing and what it means to be a successful writer.

When Peter Tarslaw receives an invitation to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend, who unceremoniously dumped him, leaving him a broken shell of a man, he decides that the only way he can tolerably attend the event is if he is a success at something. At this time he sees an interview with one of his ex-girlfriend’s favourite authors, Preston Brooks. He is a frequent fixture on the New York Times Bestseller list. Tarslaw is not a fan of his work. However, in watching the interview Tarslaw decides that Brooks is in fact a genius having made a name for himself by writing what people want, and living up to people’s idea of what a novelist should be. He decides that if Preston Brooks can do it, then so can he. He then sets about writing a book that will make him famous.

As I said this book is a satire, and while funny at times, there are moments that are so close to how things actually are, that it is more scary than funny. He makes some uncomfortable observations about the publishing business, and the idea that books and reading have become commodities that are publicised and sold in the same way that other firms sell soft drink or hamburgers. That giving the masses what they want, and creating a ‘sensation’ are more important the creating a great piece of literature.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was especially meaningful for me since I have become a participant, through this very blog, in the ‘book industry’ that he describes. ( I can only hope that my contribution is for the good of books and reading, and not part of the greater problem.) I recommend this to anyone with an interest in books, reading or publishing.

The Sense of an Ending- Julian Barnes

I read the other day that the Man Booker Prize  for 2011 had been awarded to The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. It occurred to me that I had the book in ‘My Tower of Shame’, I decided it was time to see what the fuss was about. The only thing that stopped me reading this in one sitting was that I had to go to sleep to get up for work the next morning. Unlike some books that win various prizes, that when read leave you wondering what the judges were thinking, this book is excellent.

It is in a sense a memoir, but not. It is about history, the personal kind, and the fallibility of memory for the reliable retelling of our stories. It is the story of Tony Webster, now in his sixties. He is remembering the key moments in his youth. His friendship with boys he met at school, and most notably that of Adrian, the boy who came to the group late, and whose high opinion the other sought. He remembers the first woman he loved, and the lasting effect that his own interpretation of the memories of that time have had on him. It is also about suicide, and divorce and being a father, and of life continuing on and on to its inevitable conclusion. He talks about how when we are young, we are ‘still waiting for life to start, not realising that it has in fact already begun’. Then in our middle age we realise that the opportunities to effect any real change in our lives has gone, and that this is probably ‘it’.

I just finished reading this morning, and I confess that a lot of it has probably gone over my head, and I won’t get it until after, when I’ve had a chance to ruminate and mull over it. But, that in itself is a measure of how superb this book is. So many books are fine, and a good way to pass the time and escape from reality for a while. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact it can be a pleasure in and of itself. But, great literature is the kind that stays with you for months, if not years later, while you try to figure out the enigma of it.

A great book and a worthy winner, and at no more than 150 pages a quick and satisfying read. Well worth picking up.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella- Stephenie Meyer

Cover of "Short Second Life of Bree Tanne...

Cover via Amazon

Those of you who know me will be surprised that it has taken me this long to read this book. I am such an avid fan of all things Twilight that you would think I would have devoured it within hours of its release. But, I didn’t. I think that perhaps that I was worried that The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer wouldn’t live up to the high expectations of the series, and so ruin my overall love of the books. I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

Although not quite in the same league as the longer four books in the series, given that I did end up devouring this in a matter of hours is testament to the fact that I love how Meyer writes, and that its been too long since I last re-read the Twilight series.  However, I will say this, I doubt very much that anyone not already a fan of her work will read this and go “Ah! That’s what they’re all talking about”. In fact, the book does presuppose that the reader is familiar with at least the basic premise of the books.

Bree Tanner runs parallel with the last moments of Eclipse, the third book of the series. In characteristic Stephenie Meyer fashion, it is a first person perspective  of one the ‘newborn’ vampires that have been created by Victoria to kill Bella, thereby avenging her own mate James, who was killed by Edward in the first book.  However, Victoria (and subsequently her partner Riley) is not interested in the ‘newborns’ as anything other than pawns in her plan for revenge. The ‘newborns’ have been left ‘in the dark’ so to speak about the new life that they have been brought into, and so are unaware of exactly what the rules are, and what their abilities and limitations are. Through Bree’s eyes we see her, and her new-found paramour Diego (another vampire, a couple of months older than she) discover this world together.

As I said, I doubt that this will interest anyone not already into the Twlight phenomenon. But, if like me you have been hesitant because you were concerned it would be awful, I can tell you it is well worth getting hold of. Now, if we can just get her to finish Midnight Sun

The Hunger Games (Unabridged)- Suzanne Collins [Narrator: Carolyn McCormick]

Cover of "The Hunger Games"

Cover of The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, is the first of the Hunger Games Trilogy. It is a Young Adult, Sci-Fi thriller that keeps moving from beginning to end. I listened to this as an audio book, the first that I’ve listened to. I don’t think I could have found a better choice to try the medium. This book is awesome.

In a post-apocalyptic world, twelve districts are governed by The Capital. Some time ago the districts rose up in rebellion, against The Capital. The Capital ruthlessly crushed their rebellion, and ever since they have used every means at their disposal to keep the districts subjugated and cowered. (There were originally thirteen districts, but District 13 were completely annihilated.)Their most ingenious, and diabolical means of controlling the districts are through ‘The Hunger Games’.

Each year one boy and one girl, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, from each of the twelve districts are selected by way of a ballot to enter ‘The Games’ which is a Survivor style game, televised for the titillation of the people of the Capital. The winner of ‘The Games’, is the last competitor still alive.

The story is told by Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl, living with her mother and younger sister in ‘The Seem’, the most impoverished area of District 12. She has taken on the role of ‘bread-winner’ since her father died in the mines, doing all she can to keep her family fed. When her twelve-year-old  sister, Prim, is pulled out during ‘The Reaping’, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

As I said, this is fantastic. Apparently, the series is in the process of becoming the next big movie franchise, in the tradition of the Harry Potter and Twilight series. I can see that this (and I am assuming the two subsequent novels) will make terrific movies. I most definitely look forward to seeing them.

There is an enormous amount of hype around this book, and that is likely to increase prior to the film’s release. Sometime that can be off-putting, and suggestive of a less than satisfactory read. DO NOT be put off by the  hype. For once, the accolades and excitement around this book are thoroughly deserved.