Redeems itself at the end

‘Mockingjay’ – Suzanne Collins

4-star-rating

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

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.

The final instalment to ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy, I found myself finally being able to complete this series without having seen all of the films! Interestingly, my response to the first half of the book (i.e, part one of the film), was the same as the film: quite a lot of talk and description that slowed the pace down considerably in comparison to the opening novel. However, the second part of ‘Mockingjay’ kept me guessing with its twists and turns; the ending had me physically gasping aloud as I could not see how the story would conclude.

There is a lot of focus on Katniss’s mental state, which the film certainly overlooked. Tormented by her role in the two Hunger Games, she still struggles dealing with the death she has caused and her now pivotal role in the rebellion again the Capitol. It was this that slowed the pace down but on reflection, was a key part to the story’s conclusion. For a seventeen-year-old girl, she definitely carries a lot of emotional baggage and her conflicting emotions towards Gale and Peeta have her searching inwardly in a bid to find peace with herself.

As I drew closer to the end of the novel, I initially felt the ending was becoming predictable and too simplistic for even a teenage audience. However, the final few chapters intensified the plot and Collins surprises readers with Katniss’s fragility and the Capitol’s downfall. Not wanting to reveal the ending, I could not believe how ‘The Hunger Games’ ended and applaud Collins for taking the bold step of not keeping characters alive just because of popularity/importance. I think this is what redeemed the story and, coupled with Katniss’s troubled state of mind, could not put down the book until I had reached its satisfying conclusion.

What was also refreshing about ‘Mockingjay’ was the fact it was not a similar plot to the first two books. Not having to read about another Hunger Games made the novel more enjoyable. But, Collins does continue to interweave the theme of playing games throughout, to the extent that at times I had to pause and think about what was being suggested as the story came to its end.

The explosive finish really caught my imagination. Vivid descriptions made it difficult not to imagine the Capitol’s eventual downfall as the rebels grow in power and, whilst the film adaptations mean you cannot but see Katniss as Jennifer Lawrence, the heroine she becomes is admirable and disturbing at the same time. I found myself always wishing she would be able to return to the humble young girl she was at the start of the series, but enjoyed reading how she attempted to deal with the pressures that being the Mockingjay gave.

This was a really enjoyable read and a series I would not hesitate to revisit in a few years time. Even after finishing it, I found myself haunted by parts of the story and I think this is what makes a solid read. Collins concludes ‘The Hunger Games’ series in a satisfying way, leaving no room for a further instalment, whilst at the same time giving her fans exactly what they deserve: an ending that you can sit and imagine other parts to the story.

Advertisements

Tedious

‘Hands Up!’ – Oenone Crossley-Holland

2-star-rating-1

Hands Up! - Oenone Crossley-Holland

Hands Up! – Oenone Crossley-Holland

Dear Ms Crossley-Holland, I didn’t Oink at you yesterday but I do admit I did oink it was a private joke between me and Billie. Know I do Admitt I should not of been making noises so I am sorry for making noises but yeah as I said I am only sorry for making noises. From Chantelle

When Oenone Crossley-Holland started teaching at an inner city school in London, she had no idea what to expect. She just knew that there was no going back. She would have one of the most challenging and overwhelming years of her life, in which she would get involved in the lives of some wonderfully (and sometimes horrifyingly) exuberant students, and find herself tested to the limit. In this colorful and moving account, Oenone tells of the lows and unexpected highs of the sharper end of teaching. Will she make it through the year? Will she make it through another day? Hands Up! is for anyone who’s ever worked in a school or thought about teaching. It also gives a very clear answer to those who still believe that those who can’t do, teach.

Let me start with two health warnings: firstly don’t expect this to be a book of humorous anecdotes from a secondary school teacher; secondly, don’t attempt to read this if you happen to be in the profession or have an idea of what teaching is really like. The outcome? A tedious read that seemed to take far longer than a less than 300 page book should have done.

This book follows a secondary school English teacher who is training on the Teach First scheme which was in place several years ago. This was back when English curriculum was different both for Key Stage Three and GCSE. As such it makes the book a little bit more difficult to relate to, especially if you are newly qualified. Nonetheless, the trials and tribulations that Crossley-Holland faces are generic across the years and it certainly brought back memories for me from when I was in the teaching sector.

What I found most irritating was the fact that Crossley-Holland continues to moan about the amount of work required, the lack of time she has, and how tired she feels. Yet, on the flip side, she tends to spend most of the week-nights and weekends socialising and out late. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with this, but surely from a logical perspective she is simply making things worse for herself? If it is that difficult, don’t go out each night but instead spend the time doing some of this school work that you repeatedly hark on about. It is this which made me feel impatient to finish this book because I simply could not sympathise with someone who is not making things easier for herself.

The book’s chapters reflect the half terms of a school year. Within these chapters are breaks to show different episodes whilst Crossley-Holland is teaching. This definitely made it easier to dip in and out of but I do think it made the book feel like it was dragging on far longer than it actually was. On reflection I think this book is probably best enjoyed whilst read alongside something else. That way you don’t feel too committed to reading it, and just perhaps enjoy the anecdotes far more.

Although I haven’t read many other teaching books, I am sure there are far more enjoyable memoirs out there than ‘Hands Up!’ can offer. If you really want to have an insight into the teaching profession, you might want to give this a go. However, Crossley-Holland is simply irritating and I think there are better written examples on the shelves. Quite frankly I’m a bit disappointed I wasted time to read this and even now I think perhaps two stars is being a bit generous. On a final note, the author writes a column for a broadsheet newspaper so maybe her articles are far more interesting and enjoyable to read than this memoir.

An echo of the first

‘Catching Fire’ – Suzanne Collins

4-star-rating

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

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.

Following on from ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Catching Fire’ follows Katniss and Peeta in the aftermath of winning the Games. What I liked was the fact that little time has passed as Collins continues the story just where we left off. With the return of Effie and Haymitch plus new characters introduced, I found this novel very easy to pick up.

Unlike the first novel, Collins seems to focus more on Katniss and her internal battles. As she deliberates the fall out from defying the Capitol, readers witness her emotional turmoil in the desperation to protect the ones she loves. Whilst I enjoyed learning more about Katniss and her character, it did come with its downfall. This slows the pace compared to the first novel which did leave me feeling a little bored at times.

‘Catching Fire’ sees Katniss returns to the arena, battling in a special edition of the Games with Peeta, fighting against previous victors from the other Districts. I found this turn of events disappointing and not too dissimilar from the first novel. I would have preferred seeing more developments from the Capitol but instead was presented with what felt a replay of ‘The Hunger Games’. True, new characters and a different battleground meant that the challenges were unique, I couldn’t help but read with a strong sense of déjà vu. This left me feeling quite frustrated towards the end of the story and ready to see the finishing pages.

Would I recommend this? Well, if you enjoyed the first book then you should certainly read ‘Catching Fire’ to find out what happens next to Katniss. As long as you are prepared for a bit of repetition from the first book, you will probably find this an enjoyable read.

Twisted and disturbing

‘Sharp Objects’ – Gillian Flynn

4-star-rating

Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn

When two girls are abducted and killed in Missouri, journalist Camille Preaker is sent back to her home town to report on the crimes. Long-haunted by a childhood tragedy and estranged from her mother for years, Camille suddenly finds herself installed once again in her family’s mansion, reacquainting herself with her distant mother and the half-sister she barely knows – a precocious 13-year-old who holds a disquieting grip on the town. As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims – a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

Having read Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’ a few months ago, I was keen to see what her other books were like. ‘Sharp Objects’ doesn’t disappoint and follows the same crime/thriller genre that kept me guessing almost until the very end. However, I found the narrative quite suffocating and twisted, and the protagonist, Camille, rather disturbing.

Without wanting to give too much away, I found the plot development rather slow and dense. It took me a while to really get into the story and I think this reflects Flynn’s writing style as this was the same for me when reading ‘Gone Girl’. Perhaps I was trying to compare the two novels because I had enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ so much, it distracted me a little from what was happening in the opening chapters. But writing this review now, I guess the suffocating narrative simply reinforces Camille’s home town of Wind Gap and how the community have reacted to the murders of two young girls.

As readers learn more about Camille and her family, you cannot help but be shocked by the revelations. This is what I found cleverly disturbing and what I consider to be the main hook of the story. Finding out about Camille’s childhood and growing up in Wind Gap, it is hardly surprising that she carries such emotional baggage and it makes you question whether she can really handle investigating these murders. In addition, the stark contrast between her and her half-sister, Amma, really blew me away. I forgot the massive age difference between the two based on how they behaved and this I feel became another element to the narrative’s development.

So, to consider this novel twisted and disturbing is, in its own right, a compliment. Once you are hooked and get a “feel” for what ‘Sharp Objects’ is offering, you cannot help but follow Camille on her journey. The ending was full of unexpected surprises that redeemed the slow start for me. If you enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ then definitely pick up this read. Like me, you might find yourself comparing the two novels, but I feel that ‘Sharp Objects’ certainly deserves an identity of its own.

Spot on

‘The Hunger Games’ – Suzanne Collins

5-star-rating

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

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.

May the odds be ever in your favour.

I’ve been promising myself to read this ever since I saw the first film. Now, three films down and one to go, I have finally managed to get round to reading the first of this trilogy. Unsurprisingly, the film adaptation played in my head over the course of my reading, but this did not lessen my enjoyment as I rapidly finished this novel.

What I enjoyed most about this novel is the added detail that you just don’t get in the film. Learning more about the characters and their actions during the Hunger Games added depth to the plot and made the action more intense. In addition, the detail Collins goes into for the relationship between Peeta and Katniss was quite surprising for me as I didn’t feel this was portrayed so closely in the film. For me, it was this element that reinforced the novel’s young adult audience.

I really liked the relationship established between Rue and Katniss. It was very touching at times and has a clear impact on how Katniss plays the remainder of the Hunger Games. Collins portrays a different side of Katniss and perhaps it is this that sets up the development in her relationship with Peeta?

Having finally read the first in the series, I did not find ‘The Hunger Games’ disappointing. It delivered on every expected level and I would recommend this to anyone. If you have seen the film, you will not be disappointed by the original plot. If you are lucky enough to not know the story behind this trilogy, the originality and it’s characters will keep you hooked right until the very end.

A bit of a trudge

‘The Kite Runner’ – Khaled Hosseini

3-star-rating

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

‘The Kite Runner’ of Khaled Hosseini’s deeply moving fiction debut is an illiterate Afghan boy with an uncanny instinct for predicting exactly where a downed kite will land. Growing up in the city of Kabul in the early 1970s, Hassan was narrator Amir’s closest friend even though the loyal 11-year-old with “a face like a Chinese doll” was the son of Amir’s father’s servant and a member of Afghanistan’s despised Hazara minority. But in 1975, on the day of Kabul’s annual kite-fighting tournament, something unspeakable happened between the two boys.

I devoured Hosseini’s ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ and was keen to read ‘The Kite Runner’, particularly after seeing the film several years ago. But I found this novel difficult to get into and did not find it as gripping or engaging as her previous work. That being said, I didn’t think this was a terrible book and one that does deserve your attention.

Funnily enough, the theme of kite running does not feature heavily in this book, but instead follows Amir and how his life changed from an unspeakable event he observed during the kite tournament. I find this makes the novel more of a drama as we watch how Amir reacts to what he has seen and how this haunts him growing up. When him and his father are forced to flee their home due to fighting and unrest, you feel that Amir is seeking some closure. But living in America does not give him the clean conscience he was hoping for.

I found the second half of the novel more engaging and think this was because Amir returns to Afghanistan. The changes that the country has undergone was difficult for Amir to accept, especially the scene in the stadium. This reminded me of ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ and wondered if Hosseini already had the story for her follow-up novel and made me a little wistful that ‘The Kite Runner’ was not proving as enjoyable.

The second half of the novel was certainly faster-paced and I was keen to see Amir return to safety. He finally confronts his childhood demons and by the end of the novel, readers assume that he has finally found that inner peace he had been searching for for so many years. The novel comes full circle and finishes with the kites and this charming ending reinforces the closure that Amir had desired.

I’m not sure whether I would re-visit this novel in a hurry, particularly as I found Hosseini’s other novel more enjoyable. That being said, I think it is worth looking at so you can make your own mind up. If this doesn’t tick all of your boxes but your are intrigued by the Afghanistan setting, then I believe you will get more satisfaction from reading ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’.

A story within a story about a story‏

‘The Silent Tide’ Rachel Hore

3-star-rating

The Silent Tide - Rachel Hore

The Silent Tide – Rachel Hore

The new novel from best-selling author Rachel Hore, much loved for her stories in which past and present are grippingly entwined.When Emily Gordon, editor at a London publishing house, commissions an account of great English novelist Hugh Morton, she finds herself steering a tricky path between Morton’s formidable widow, Jacqueline, who’s determined to protect his secrets, and the biographer, charming and ambitious Joel Richards. But someone is sending Emily mysterious missives about Hugh Morton’s past and she discovers a buried story that simply has to be told…

One winter’s day in 1948, nineteen year old Isabel Barber arrives at her Aunt Penelope’s house in Earl’s Court having run away from home to follow her star. A chance meeting with an East European refugee poet leads to a job with his publisher, McKinnon & Holt, and a fascinating career beckons. But when she develops a close editorial relationship with charismatic young debut novelist Hugh Morton and the professional becomes passionately personal, not only are all her plans put to flight, but she finds herself in a struggle for her very survival.

Rachel Hore’s intriguing and suspenseful new novel magnificently evokes the milieux of London publishing past and present and connects the very different worlds of two young women, Emily and Isabel, who through their individual quests for truth, love and happiness become inextricably linked.

This is a decent read and one that ashamedly took me several months to read. Not through lack of enjoyment, I can assure you, and this does merit to Hore’s writing. I could quite easily pick up where I left off, even when considerable time had passed and did not feel I had lost a connection with the characters. However, I did find that by the time I was reaching the novel’s climax, I had forgotten the opening chapter and did need to skim it again to remind myself of how the story began.

The Silent Tide follows two women working in the publishing industry – Isabel in the 1950s and present-day Emily. The parallels between the two women were not as striking as I initially expected and their main connection, Hugh Morton, becomes the fuel for the story. As Emily learns more about Isabel and her life, she becomes dedicated to ensuring that Isabel’s story is told in a new biography about Hugh Morton – Isabel’s eventual husband. There are plenty of twists and turns that keep Isabel’s story intriguing, but I found Emily a rather insipid and bland character who “got in the way” of me finding more about Isabel. As the novel progressed, I felt that Emily was a mere vehicle that allowed readers to explore Isabel’s life and became frustrated when the story returned to present-day. It was this that influenced me to rate this book three stars, rather than four.

Isabel’s character was particularly interesting throughout and I really enjoyed seeing her develop from a young girl who left home, to becoming a reputable editor. When her life makes a sudden change through her marriage and then pregnancy, we see how social expectations of the role of the woman in the home makes Isabel feel suffocated and isolated from her busy working life. The way Hore portrays Isabel’s emotions, both towards Hugh, her mother-in-law and post-pregnancy, were really convincing and I could feel Isabel’s frustrations towards the confinements of her new role and what is expected of her.

The novel’s closing chapters were unexpected and I enjoyed the twists and turns. It even made Emily redeem herself a bit more after her “bumbling” through the story. The Epilogue was brilliant and a great way for Hore to close The Silent Tide but I did found it a little “ploddy” in the story from the focus on Emily. That being said, it’s a harmless read and as I have demonstrated, one you can easily come back to after time has passed without having lost the thread of the story.