Re-Read: The Hunger Games

Finally in the school summer holidays, I got round to my planned re-read of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the first book in Collins’ highly successful, young adult dystopian trilogy. A trilogy that went on to spawn a film franchise that was a massive box-office success. After enjoying the films a lot, I was excited to remind myself of the extra details in the books.

This first book, introduces us to the nation of Panem, which was formed from the remains of North America after a post-apocalyptic event. This is a brutal and unfair world consisting of a rich, privileged Capitol region surrounded by twelve poor, working districts. After a failed, bloody rebellion by a former thirteenth district early in its history, the Capitol now reminds and punishes the remaining districts with the Hunger Games, a barbaric and cruel annual televised event. That forces each district to yield one boy and one girl, as ‘tributes’ for the games, who will be forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.

It is on the day of the Reaping – a lottery system to choose the ‘tributes’ – in the poorest District 12 that we meet 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen as she selflessly volunteers herself, after her little sister, Prim is chosen. Katniss’ male counterpart chosen is Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son who once showed her great kindness. The games are pretty much a death sentence for them, as they will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives from the richer districts, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. But Katniss is a survivor and Peeta will be a better ally than she realises.

What I love about Katniss is that she is an imperfect heroine. On face value she comes across prickly and she can be naïve and fiercely independent – finding it hard to trust people. However she is also loyal, kind, brave and devoted to her little sister, which adds up to make an imperfect but realistic heroine. Peeta on the other hand is exactly how you find him: strong, kind, personable and honest. (If anyone knows where I can find a Peeta of my own please let me know?!) They are both characters you can really root for and I found myself completely invested in their blossoming, complicated relationship.

Loving these characters means, that even though I knew exactly what was coming, I still found myself gripped and on the very edge of my seat as through Katniss’ eyes we enter the arena and have front row seats to the unfolding bloody games. After escaping the opening massacre, Katniss must find food, water and shelter. Whilst always being on guard for other ‘tributes’, because everyone is a possible enemy, including Peeta as only one can win this game. If all that wasn’t bad enough, the games masters also have some horrific tricks up their sleeves: a deadly wild-fire with fireballs reigning down; killer crackerjack bees; poisonous berries; water supplies drying up overnight and finally hideous mutant beasts.

All in all The Hunger Games is a gritty, dystopian young adult adventure, full of hardship, danger, love, death, friendship and courage; that lost known of its shine on re-reading it. I look forward to continuing my re-read of the trilogy with Catching Fire soon. Great read.

Have you read this? Have you watched the films?

This was also book 5/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

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New Read: Hannah’s Moon

Having previously enjoyed John A. Heldt’s Indiana Belle and Class of ’59, I picked up Hannah’s Moon, the fifth and final instalment in Heldt’s American Journey series, back in July to discover how it all ends. Although there is a continuing background thread to this series each book has its own individual, time travelling adventure so you could read these as stand-alone stories too.

In 2017, after struggling for years to conceive and then suffering the tragic still-birth of their only child, Claire and Ron Rasmussen decide to turn to adoption to start their longed-for family. Just after making this difficult decision, Claire is contacted by her brother David with an extraordinary offer from their distant aunt and uncle: How would they like to travel back to a time when there was an abundance of bouncing babies available to adopt and red tape was short? Within weeks, Claire, Ron, and David unbelievably find themselves, with a suitcase of money and false documents, on a train to Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1945!

Through the alternating third person narration of Claire, Ron and David it was lovely to experience 1940s America, with its sedan cars, friendly neighbours, copious amounts of pie and a wonderful innocence, even despite the world war which is still raging. Claire, Ron and David are all likeable characters (even if they ‘chuckled’ and ‘giggled’ a little too much for my liking, as was Cameron’s wont in Indiana Belle too). So I enjoyed seeing Claire and Ron successfully adopt the angelic baby Hannah and David befriending their beautiful neighbour, Margaret. Then I felt for them when Ron is forced to join the Navy and Claire and David come under suspicion by the secret services.

As with his previous books, Heldt has stuck to his familiar time travelling formulae. A formulae which some may argue is a little far-fetched, as Heldt never really explains how the characters time travel with any realistic scientific detail. Personally I prefer the lack of scientific detail and I am happy to completely suspend belief and once you have these books make for light, escapist reads full of love, romance, hope, danger and endurance. And Hannah’s Moon is no exception.

For those interested, the continuing background thread revolves around Geoffrey and Jeanette Belle, through whose time tunnel (powered by gypsum crystals in their basement) all the characters in this series have gone off on their time travelling adventures. If you hadn’t already guessed it, the Belles are Claire’s distant aunt and uncle. And the last few chapters of this final book are dedicated to a reunion of all the characters from the series (some were unfamiliar to me as I haven’t read the earlier books but this wasn’t an issue as Heldt introduces them all to each other) for a poignant resolution.

Overall, I thought Hannah’s Moon was a nostalgic, time travelling adventure with touches of romance and drama. I enjoyed it more than Class of ’59 but not as much as Indiana Belle, the latter is definitely still my favourite. Now this series has come to an end, I look forward to trying Heldt’s newer Carson Chronicles series. Okay read.

Thank you to the author for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Any recommendations of other books set in the 1940s?

This is book 4/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

Goodbye August, Hello September 2018

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are well? The last month of summer has been a more peaceful one for me. Where I have enjoyed a good rest, caught up with friends, had a good clean out and visited my mum down south, which included a trip to The Hobbit Pub in Southampton. During this time here is what I managed to read:

Fiction: 4          Non-Fiction: 2

First, I finished reading the time travelling romance, Hannah’s Moon by John A. Heldt, which took me back to Chattanooga, Tennessee 1945. An easy read and a satisfying conclusion to Heldt’s American Journey series. Next, I time travelled forward with a re-read of the gritty, dystopian The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the first book in Collins’ bestselling young adult trilogy. After enjoying the films, it was great to go back and refresh myself on the book’s extra details. I whipped through this in just three days!

Then it was back in time again, as I completely lost myself in the scandal and danger of the tumultuous Tudor Court in Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir, the second book in Weir’ epic Six Tudor Queens series. Finally, nearing the end of the month, I finished reading the charming children’s classic, The Enchanted Castle by E Nesbit, the fourth of Nesbit’s juvenile novels I have now read and another title ticked off my new Classics Club list.

Alongside these fictions, I also read two non-fictions in August. First, I read another quick and interesting history, Seven Sovereign Queens by Geoffrey Trease, who was one of my favourite new authors of last year. Then, on the very last day of the month, I finished reading the interesting Christian non-fiction, But is it Real? by Amy Orr-Ewing for my church’s book club, which will be meeting next week.

Pick of the Month: The Hunger Games

Altogether that is six books finished, which is a great amount! However I am so behind on writing reviews! So my full thoughts on all of these are still to be posted about. As it is the end of summer too, I will soon be doing a round-up post for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

In September, I am excited/nervous to start my new job in a special needs secondary school. I am also looking forward to going to see historian Lucy Worsley do a talk on Queen Victoria and starting my autumnal reading with the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XIII reading event.

What did you do and read in August? What are your plans for September?

New Books: July & August 2018

Hello my fellow bookworms, I have another combined post here for you. Over the last month and a half, here are the new books I have got my hands on:

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

In July, at the end of the school year, I helped to re-organise and clear out the school library. Where sadly there were too many sets of older books, which have either been dropped out of the curriculum or there just isn’t enough time in the year to fit in. So I snuffled up a copy of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a book I haven’t read since I was in school, before it was thrown out!

Stop Press Murder by Peter Bartram

Earlier this year, I enjoyed Bartram’s nostalgic murder mystery, Headline Murder, so I was thrilled to be contacted by the author and offered a copy of the next book in the series, Stop Press Murder.

The Carnival of Florence by Marjorie Bowen

Finally, through Endeavour Press’ weekly e-newsletter, I got a free copy of historical fiction The Carnival of Florence by Marjorie Bowen, an author I haven’t read but who I have heard very good things about.

Do you fancy any of these? What new books have you got recently?

New Read: Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia

After I enjoyed the swashbuckling classic, Sandokan, The Tigers of Mompracem by Italian author Emilio Salgari, last year, I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read another, Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia, by its translator Nico Lorenzutti. First published in 1896 this edition was translated by Lorenzutti in 2007.

Some years after the last adventure and the destruction of their home, Sandokan, the feared ‘Tiger of Malaysia’; his faithful friend Yanez and his loyal band of rebel pirates are back with a vengeance. On one such raid, Yanez spares the life of a young Indian man, Kammamuri, who is attempting to rescues his poor master, Tremal-Naik, who has been wrongfully sentenced to life in a notorious British penal colony. Kammamuri enlists the help of Sandokan and Yanez, but in order to succeed they must lead their men against the forces of James Brooke, ‘The Exterminator’, the dreaded White Rajah of Sarawak.

It was great fun to be re-united with our righteously angry, princely pirate Sandokan and his friend, my personal favourite, Yanez, the charming Portuguese adventurer. However it was sad to learn that Marianna, ‘The Pearl of Labuan’, the woman Sandokan moved heaven and earth to possess, has tragically died in the few intervening years. But this does help to show a softer, more human side to Sandokan, especially when he discovers that Kammamuri has in his protection his master’s fiancée Ada Corishant; who is the very image of her beautiful cousin… Sandokan’s very own, dear Marianna!

Sadly Ada plays an equally small, passive role in the adventure, as Marianna did in the previous book. However Ada is by far a more interesting character: having been snatched from her father and fiancée in India by the terrible Thuggee cult. This shocking event and the violence she witnesses during her time with them have shockingly sent her quite mad, which is the main reason she plays such an understandably passive role. Seeing the sad state this beautiful, young woman has been brought to only resolves Sandokan and his pirates to see her fiancée, Tremal-Naik free and reunited with her.

While it was nice to have a more interesting female character and through her a more touching, realistic romance, what I really picked this book up for was adventure! And boy did Salgari deliver more of that! With battles at sea, deadly traps, shipwrecks, cannibals, jungle hideouts and a fetid convict ship, Salgari takes us on another fast paced, roller coaster ride. Also Lorenzutti’s translation is so smooth and seamless it means we never miss a beat or flow of the all the twists and turns.

Overall, I thought Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia was another rip-roaring adventure (with a touch of romance) that swept me back in time and across the seas. I look forward to reading more by this author. Good read.

Thank you to the translator for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any of Sandokan’s other adventures?

This is also book 3/50 off my Classics Club II list.

New Read: Sourcery

A few years ago now, I started to work my way through the books from Terry Pratchett’s epic Discworld series, which my father and I already own or as we get our hands on them. My last foray into this series was the Egyptian-inspired Pyramids, however for my next read I had to go back a little in the series. After getting my hands on a copy of Sourcery, the fourth published Discworld novel, last year.

In Sourcery, we return to Pratchett’s magic, weird and fantastical Discworld, as summer thunder rolls over sandy cliffs and the banished Ipslore the Red sits among the sea grasses, with his baby son, Coin awaiting Death. Now Ipslore was the eighth son of an eighth son, so, quite naturally, he was a wizard. But quite unnaturally he went and had seven sons, and then he had Coin: an eighth son… a wizard squared… a source of magic… a Sourcerer! Fast forward a few years to Coin – now an extremely powerful little boy – as he and his enchanted staff arrive at the Unseen University. Creating chaos as pure, raw magic flows from him into the old fusty wizards and building.

What ensues is the upheaval of the old, the traditional, the normal! As through the staff Ipslore controls Coin to enact revenge over the wizards, that banished him, and the world, which has side-lined magic as irrelevant. In steps Rincewind, an insufferably inept wizard and his fiercely loyal but maniacal Luggage to the rather reluctant rescue! (For those who don’t know, the Luggage is a large, iron-bound chest made of magical Sapient Pearwood, which has legs and can move very fast if the need arises). They are joined by the beautiful but deadly Conina, daughter of Conan the Barbarian in a hair-brain scheme led by a hat to save the world. Yes, I said a hat!

I love Terry Pratchett and this is now my tenth Discworld novel I have read. It is the fourth instalment in the series, first published back in 1988 (a great year). However this is a series I don’t feel you necessarily have to read in order, as the stories often follow various different groups of characters. In this case we see the return of old favourites Rincewind, the Luggage and the banana loving Librarian, as well as a host of new, colourful characters. So while I don’t think this is perhaps the funniest or most memorable of those I have read, there is definitely something here for existing, diehard Discworld fans and new readers alike.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Sourcery by Terry Pratchett. Although not one of my favourites from the series, it is another slice of madcap, fantasy fun, which helped me relax and escape the madness of the end of term at work. I look forward to reading more and I have plenty to choose from on my TBR. Good read.

Have you read this? What other Discworld novels have you read?

This is book 3/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

New Read: The House on the Strand

After loving My Cousin Rachel last summer, it felt right, back in June, to start this summer of reading with another of Daphne du Maurier’s wonderfully atmospheric novels. Taking recommendations from my fellow bloggers, I decided to read du Maurier’s 1969 novel, The House on the Strand next.

When Dick Young’s old friend, Magnus, offers him an escape to his country-pile of Kilmarth, on the Cornish coast for the summer holidays, Dick jumps at the chance. However there is a catch… Magnus also wants him to trial a new drug, a drug which transports Dick back to the wild, bleak Cornwall of the troublesome fourteenth century. Where Dick witnesses the intrigues of the local gentry, and becomes fixated on a horseman named Roger and the captivating Lady Isolde Carminowe. But soon Dick’s repeated trips see him withdrawing from the modern world and his family, and lead to some worrying and dangerous repercussions in the present.

After having previously only read novels by du Maurier set in the 1930s or earlier, it was a little disconcerting when I started reading this to hear mention of televisions and dishwashers! However this more modern, safe, comfortable setting is used to great effect as a clear juxtaposition to the wild, dangerous past that Dick travels back to. I must admit time travel was not something I would have ever linked with the gothic queen, du Maurier, but in fact she does it very well! Creating two gripping time lines which I was equally invested in – a precursor/inspiration perhaps for those newer dual narrative novels by Susanna Kearsley and others that I enjoy so much.

That being said, Dick is not the most likeable of characters, especially with the indifference and sometimes even contempt he treats his wife and stepsons with. As the terrible consequences of Dick’s addiction start to unfold it was them I truly felt for and Magnus: Dick’s long-lasting friendship with whom is about his only endearing feature. Like Dick though I did feel for and found myself rooting for Roger and Isolde in the past. Which made for double tension! Hauntingly I watched as Dick was powerless to help them as their fate was revealed, while I myself was powerless to stop him.

Now this wouldn’t be a review of a du Maurier novel without mentioning her ever vivid and realistic portrayal of the Cornish coast, that, like in many of her novels, is as important as a character in its own right. In the modern day, I was able to immerse myself in long summer days of sailing, fishing and picnics. While, in stark contrast, in the fourteenth century we go through all the seasons: from Isolde’s children riding on a sunny day, to a ship floundering in a storm and deep snow trapping everyone indoors. Although some of the houses have come and gone, the only big (ominous) change to the landscape is the railway cutting through the land in the present day.

All in all, I thought The House on the Strand was a superb, time-travelling horror, that had me gripped from beginning to end. Not as great as Rebecca but definitely a contender for my top ten reads of this year. I look forward to reading even more from du Maurier – I have Frenchman’s Creek and The Loving Spirit on my shelf to choose from next. Great read.

Have you read this? What do you think I should read next?

This is book 1/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.