Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

(reposted from my livejournal from March 2009)

A recommendation for your sanity: Do not read The Hunger Games. It will get inside you and make you lust for more. You will look online and find out that the next book isn’t coming out until September. September?! A neuron will combust or snap or whatever it is your particular neurons do. How will you survive until September? you wonder. Another neuron will bite the dust. You will realize that thinking about it is dangerous for your brain. You will try to put Katniss and her world out of your mind, but you will fail. By the time September rolls around, your family will be visiting you in a group home, wondering, “What happened?” Unless, of course, they also read the Hunger Games. In that case, they will know.

I repeat, read the Hunger Games. Or… Um… I don’t think I meant to say that… *sound of neurons blasting*

The Hunger Games is not a perfect book, but let’s be honest: a. perfection doesn’t exist and b. it’d probably be boring anyway. It took me a little while to really get into. My finely honed sense of dystopic futures and YA books combined and made me into a hyper-critical critic-type person. Don’t get me wrong, it was good from the start. But it wasn’t until seventy or so pages in that I really felt it was great. Perhaps some of that also had to do with the fact that every review I read was a rave. And as a suspicious person by nature, I was all ready to critique it before I opened the first page.

This is my first review, so I’m not sure how much I want to talk about the plot or the characters. Balance isn’t my strong point and I don’t want to spoil anything. Maybe I’ll start with history. (If you just want to read about the book, skip to the next paragraph.) Last summer, I got a mysterious package in the mail, which turned out to be an ARC of this book with a little letter from TeenReads.com saying that after reading it, I should write a review and submit it to the site (maybe I should do that, huh?). I didn’t remember signing up on the site (I’m not even a teen…) and after skimming the back, I wasn’t terribly interested. Looking back now, I feel mostly frustration with 9-months-younger me. If I had known what was between those covers, I would have moved it to the top of my TBR. As it was, it lay in some corner with other unloved books. And then the deluge started. Everywhere I looked, people were reviewing and loving The Hunger Games. The book was back on my radar, but I didn’t pick it up until last week. It took me a couple of days to get through the first hundred pages, and then the last 300 went by with me barely realizing it.

Onto the book itself: Katniss, a sixteen-year-old living in District 12, the poorest district, takes care of her mother and younger sister after her father dies in a mine explosion. One thing I love about Collins’ future is that she doesn’t delve too much into the past. There isn’t the shaking finger of so many dystopias. Katniss is only vaguely aware that her country, Panem used to be North America and we are never told why the US fell, what our great sins were. What is relevant to her life are the Capitol and the twelve Districts that surround it.
Katniss’s single-minded focus on survival, which has kept her and her family alive, is at once a strength and a weakness and Collins explores Katniss’ growing understanding that there may be more to life without changing her fundamentally. I always worry when a strong female character “sees the light” and becomes the “ideal” nuturing woman, but Collins does nothing of the sort. She does make Katniss completely unaware of any beauty or presence she possesses, which is one trope that bothers me quite a bit (and made me want to throw Twilight against the wall). There are scenes in which it is painfully obviously that a boy is interested in her, but she can’t accept that. Even I, with my grand total of zero guys ever asking me out, can tell when he’s at least thinking out. Or at the very least, I wonder. By the end of the book, however, I felt that Katniss had grown past that and I don’t think we’ll be seeing it again in the next book.

I don’t know how much more I want to say. I love exposition, I love the feeling of reading a book for the first time. Much more of the plot or discussion of characters other than Katniss will, I feel, answer questions that I wouldn’t want answered, so I think I will end the review here. The Hunger Games is easily the most gripping book I’ve read this year and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys either science fiction or young adult books. I wonder if there’s a way I can get my hands on an ARC of the sequel…

August edit: Thank goodness it is almost September!  I still can’t afford to buy a hardcover copy of this book, but that is what libraries are for, no?

The Longest Poem in the World

Via Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics

Take one random twitter post, find another one that rhymes, put it together and what have you got?

The longest poem in the world!

Some examples:
“gonna watch a movie with the hubby and then going to bed!
No, an eskimo that just stands there and you nail it to your head.”

“and everyone knows how that sad story ended..
I am sure not as Orwell and Spark intended”

“here we go again and again and again.
Boy you think you know somebody and then……”

“Life is too short to be small. Think big and always do great things.
watching the break-up alone and eating some shrimp and hot wings.”

“Got my eyebrows did and i got the nice lady. Score.
All that’s left is the shirt and the ears. I am so sore…”

I Simply Remember My Favorite Things!

No, no, don’t run away! I have a good singing voice, I swear!*

This is the first in a short series of posts that will have my favorite things relating to books.  All of these posts will be updated and linked to whenever I feel like it. What’s up for today? Why, my favorite novels of all time, OF COURSE!

In no particular order:

1. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle – Delicious prose, self-aware characters, anachronisms galore…  This book has it all!  I loved the animated cartoon when I was a wee child and when I learned, in high school, that there was a book, I bought it immediately and fell in love all over again.  I am a sucker for breathtaking prose and, boy, is Beagle ever the author for that.  Just listen to this opening (which I have memorized): “The unicorn lived in a lilac wood and she lived all alone.  She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night.  But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea.”  *sighs the happy sigh of utterly beautiful prose* Uh, okay, sorry.  I have more to say about this stunning book, but honestly, just go do yourself a favor and read it!

endersgame2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – A young boy, a terrible war, a frightening gift… Don’t you think I should write cover copy? In all seriousness, this is a classic YA (but with plenty of crossover to adult) science fiction novel, and it’s a classic for very good reason.

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3. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card – The sequel to Ender’s Game.  It’s rare that a sequel will get on this list, and even rarer that it will get a separate spot (normally I would just include it with the first), but Speaker for the Dead is such a different book that I wanted to give it it’s own place.

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sabriel_book_cover4. Sabriel (and the rest of the Abhorsen trilogy) by Garth Nix – A fantasy world that feels real, a new take on necromancy, a female heroine written by a male.  It can’t be so!  Sabriel is, like so much YA, about finding yourself and growing up, but it comes with wonderful plotting, snarky characters, and as I mentioned before, great world-building.

5. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay – It took me a long time to read this book, but it was worth it.  Kay, like Beagle, is a master of words (see also his Fionavar triology).  While I wasn’t a fan of a couple of the younger characters, the older ones and their relationships with each other are magnificently done.  Every other element of good novels (plot, world-building, excellent writing, etc) are without reproach.

6. Persuasion by Jane Austen

7. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

8. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein – The only Heinlein book I’ve read (I can never get past the first couple of chapters of Stranger in a Strange Land), but it made a fairly profound impact on me.  It is one of the few novels on this list that I’ve only read once.

9. The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling – I got to grow up with Harry Potter and let me tell you, I feel blessed that I did.

10. 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – I need to reread this (again). So, so intricate and lovely. I read Love in the Time of Cholera last year, but it, for me, pales in comparison to this masterpiece.

11.  A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – What an amazing author. I have only read this and the Blind Assassin by her and both were wonderful.

12.  The Astonishing Tale of Octavian Nothing (Parts I and II) by M.T. Anderson

13.  Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and

14.  The Giver by Lois Lowry – Some books need to be read at a certain time in your life to have their fullest impact.  The Giver may be one of those books, based on my own and my brother’s experiences.  This book may have changed my life.  My brother has it as three stars on Goodreads.

15.  Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

16.  Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett – Without a doubt, the funniest book I have ever read. I mean, really. This is one of my most reread books. In fact, I should go track down my (extremely beat up) copy.

17.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

18.  From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

19. Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman – This is a beautiful little book about dreams and time and people (as a whole, not as individuals). There is a sense of fairy tale in each dreaming, where the people of this other world are strange but familiar, where life is lovely and cruel, and where the flow of time might not be a flow at all, but a waterfall or a block of ice or flames.

20. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino – In some ways this is a similar book to Einstein’s Dreams, but where Lightman explores time, Calvino explores landscape. Both books take my breath away with the beauty of their prose and the depth of their imagination. They both make me wish our world was a little less uniform, with more pockets of utterly delightful weirdness.

What are some of your favorite books?

Other posts in this series: Favorite Authors

a story told in links

I’m eternally fascinated by what people are reading, and that includes friends, family, blog writers, and authors. Imagine my delight when I found out about RED, or the Reading Experience Database.  Using letters and other evidence, the people behind RED have been building a massive database of what Brits have been reading for the past six hundred years! So awesome!

The first author I looked up, of course, was Jane Austen.  I gathered quite a substantial list of books she had read (and enjoyed – what’s the point of reading something Jane disliked?) and started looking for them on Amazon and Project Gutenberg.  In the meantime, though, I stumbled upon a nifty little site called Girlebooks, which features, you guessed it, ebooks written by women.  Most of the books are copyright-free and so can be found free elsewhere, but they come in a multitude of formats and I’m just tickled pink by the emphasis of women authors, and specifically classic women authors.  There are many more than Jane Austen and Lousia May Alcott!  Anyway, I’ve downloaded a ton of books and am looking forward to reading them.  Now if only I could read them on something other than my laptop!

Historical fiction & women

I read a fair amount of historical fiction and one pet peeve is the compromise authors have to make between writing women that don’t act like historical women and women who don’t reflect our modern ideals.  All too often, women in historical fiction are either unbelievable or simply aggravating.  So I’ve read three books recently that present women and history in different ways, but they all make the compromise in a pretty satisfying way.  And Only To Deceive, by Tasha Alexander, is historical fiction with a rich, young widow living in the Victorian era.  The Time Travelers, by Linda Buckley-Archer, is YA fantasy with a young teenager who travels back to the eighteenth century. To round out the trio,  Austenland by Shannon Hale has a modern woman who goes on vacation to a resort that (mostly) throws one into the early nineteenth century.

And Only To Deceive wonderfully portrays a historical woman who grows into her intellectual identity.  I mentioned that I have read books where the historical, independent, intellectual woman exists solely because that is what we modern women need to read.  These women are more often than not spinsters (beautiful, of course), and so I was immediately relieved to see Emily, the heroine of the novel, was not a spinster but a widow.  She does begin as an independent young woman who resists marriage because she doesn’t want to submit to a man, which seems rather modern to me, but we do have evidence (i.e. Emma and others) that resisting marriage wasn’t wholly uncommon.  That she finally succumbed to marriage brought me another sigh of relief, as even women who may not have wished to marry often eventually did.  Her situation as a widow gives her the most freedom a Victorian era woman could have and, thinking upon it later, I was honestly shocked that it hasn’t been used more for historical heroines.  Emily barely knew her husband before he died and is shocked and delighted to learn that her husband had secret interests, including Greek and Roman antiquities.  It is through her husband that she comes into her own, which fits with my historical understanding, but she does it on her own and (SPOILER) she ends up on her own, (END SPOILER) which fits with my modern sensibilities.

The Time Travelers (previously published as Gideon the Cutpurse) and Austenland both feature modern women (well, one woman and one girl) who are immersed into a historical setting.  This is a technique that has been done before and so is less original than the technique used in And Only to Deceive.  I wanted to mention it, though, because the technique does make the aforementioned compromise rather elegantly.

These two books in particular, however, are worth mentioning because of the heroines they feature …and also because I read them right after I read And Only to Deceive.  The Time Travelers’ main character is actually a boy named Peter, but a close second (and one of the POV characters) is Kate Dyer, an extremely clever and brave farmgirl.  Her father is a physicist and both her parents love knowledge (two of their cows are Eramus and Darwin!), so Kate is full of snark and intelligence.  She hates the corsets and skirts that make adventuring difficult.  I think, actually, that one of my biggest problems with the book was that Kate gave up a little too quickly.  She complained to Peter about this, but she didn’t fight to be active!  I perhaps shouldn’t judge Kate too harshly, for I have never been forced into the stays and skirts of 1763 and cannot say I would do any more than her!

Austenland actually features a character type I struggle with.  Specifically, Jane is a woman who fights her fancies and whose main motivation is to “get over” her Austen obsession.  I have such mixed feelings about this character, because while I feel obsession is never good, I also think that the direct impact of media (books, movies, video games, etc) on our lives is overemphasized.  I love Mr. Darcy… when I am reading Pride and Prejudice.  However, I don’t expect or even want Mr. Darcy in my life!  Am I alone in this?  Are there really hundreds of thousands of women out there who have disastrous relationships because they are expecting and dreaming of Mr. Darcy? That said, Jane still proved to be a sympathetic character.  She is true to herself in ways that can’t easily be explained without reading the book.

I don’t have a whole lot more to say, after all this isn’t an academic essay where I have to have a point and prove it. (If I’m to be honest with myself and whoever reads this, I say that because I am struggling to have the informal tone appropriate to blogs and sound smart and have polished writing all at the same time.) But I know that a major reason people read reviews to see if they want to read the books (I do, at least!).  What I wrote above may not help much, so here are some quick grades for the books:

And Only to Deceive – B+
The Time Travelers – B
Austenland – B-

Nisaba be praised!

Sumerian scribes ended many of their clay tablets with the phrase “Nisaba be praised!”.  Likewise, Nisaba, the Sumerian goddess of writing and learning, will inspire me to write here.

I’m not sure exactly what this blog will consist of yet.  Books, certainly, and more specifically women’s literature, YA lit, science fiction & fantasy, and occasionally non-fiction of various topics.  I will post reviews of varying lengths, links to interesting things, perhaps occasionally opinion pieces.  I reserve the right to post bits of my own writing, and plan on doing a Weekend Warm-Up designed to get all of our creative juices flowing.  Other than that, I’m just going to take this as it goes.

Hope you enjoy the ride as much as I plan to!