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.

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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.

Jump around

‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ – Audrey Niffenegger

5-star-rating

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

This is the extraordinary love story of Clare and Henry who met when Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry was thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. In the face of this force they can neither prevent nor control, Henry and Clare’s struggle to lead normal lives is both intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

Firstly, I must apologise that I haven’t blogged for a while! Totally shameful, but life has taken a massive and positive turn and I have found my time to read significantly reduced. Hopefully I can get more time in the future (I certainly hope so!) but followers of Mrs Brown’s books, do not despair, I will read as and when I can and blog as soon as possible. Stay tuned!

So, although this did take me a while to read, I was revisiting a previous love. The one thing that always stood out for me was how Niffenegger makes the non-linear narrative work so effortlessly. Normally I would frown upon reading a book that doesn’t flow in chronological order or, in this case, one that switches between time and narrators in such a short space of text. But, once you get used to this and how it is a defining part of the story, it is difficult not to embrace it and enjoy the lack of predictability.

I love the whole concept of someone who can time travel. One of my favourite films is ‘Back to the Future’ but this is in no way similar. Forget the Delorian and a mad scientist, when Henry experiences intense emotion he finds himself transporting to another place, unfortunately ending up butt naked at his new destination. The near-misses he experiences with the law and the confusion he causes with his work colleagues at the library were particularly intriguing, especially the incident with the Cage…

The relationship between Clare and Henry is endearing. Clare is the backbone to the relationship, the steady  rock that progresses through time whilst Henry’s own memories are being jiggled around. As Clare is growing up, you can’t help but wonder how she and Henry will wind up married, especially as it feels as if she is waiting for the next appearance of Henry. Henry’s protectiveness towards Clare is sweet and as the novel reaches its climax, you know he is doing everything in his power to make sure she is strong right towards the end.

What I really enjoyed was how Clare and Henry shared his unique disorder with those around them, from the doctor to their close friends. I was always sceptical about how soon they seemed convinced Henry was telling the truth but then, with his strange behaviour and inexplicable ageing between encounters, I guess it was the only explanation that could really make sense to them. As I was reading this novel, I did wonder whether it would work if Niffenegger included some sections from those closest to Henry, such as Alba, Gomez or Ingrid. It certinaly would add another dimension to the story but I figure it would mean the novel would lose its charm.

If you have seen the film adaptation of this novel, I would still recommend you reading ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’. It is so different to other books out there and has so many plot elements that it will keep you guessing as much as Henry is with where he will next end up!

Two characters whose lives are tantalisingly close

‘A Twist of Fate’ – Joanna Rees

4-star-rating

A Twist of Fate - Joanna Rees

A Twist of Fate – Joanna Rees

Romy and Thea, two beautiful baby girls, their future’s sealed with the flip of a coin. One will enter a life of privilege, surrounded by only the best money can buy. The other will fight for survival in an orphanage, against an evil regime who seek only to exploit her. Throughout the years their paths will cross, neither knowing who the other one is, their lives overflowing with secrets, blackmail and murder. From the snow covered forests of Eastern Europe to the glistening white beaches of the Caribbean. From the gutters of London’s Soho to the towering skyscrapers of New York, A twist of fate tore them apart, only their strength and determination can reunite them…

A tantalising story of how two different lives can intertwine over the years, this novel really had me yelling at the bad characters and rooting for Romy and Thea. Rees creates such convincing protagonists with Romy and Thea that by the end of the story, I felt like I really knew them and could sympathise with their plights.

The narrative is cleverly structured to follow the lives of Romy and Thea, starting in the 1970s and finishing practically in present day. The chapters switch between Romy and Thea and initially, it is like reading about the prince and the pauper, because the girls are at opposite ends of the social spectrum. However, when Romy is unexpectedly talent-spotted as a model, her status is elevated and I found that I couldn’t help but see similarities between her and Thea’s way of living. Secondly, Rees keeps the narrative interesting and does not focus on the intricacies of Romy and  Thea’s lives. Instead, the chapters usually begin setting the scene of the current year, then having several paragraphs recounting the time that has passed since the previous chapter – because often we are leaving the character on an ‘Eastenders’ moment (cue dramatic cliff-hanger music). Instead of finding it frustrating that it kept switching between the two characters, I enjoyed this element so much because I knew they would eventually be crossing paths…

It is tantalising the way that Romy and Thea’s paths cross without them realising it. For instance, Brett becomes central to both the characters lives and I wanted to scream at him and the author for not linking Romy and Thea sooner! Brett is such an easy character to dislike that I certainly enjoyed hating him whenever he appeared. The whole idea of fate is really played out in this story and Rees keeps readers teased to not allow Romy and Thea come together at the earliest opportunity.

This is a great summer read and has many elements that will keep you guessing throughout. Historical references such as the falling of the Berlin Wall and the tragic events of September 2011 are clever ways to keep the story rooted in time and I found this quite appropriate to give added depth to the story. ‘A Twist of Fate’ is definitely one to read because it is quite unique in terms of women’s fiction and certainly does not offer happy endings and a successful love story on a plate – the characters really have to work at it!