Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD. Mockingjay is the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  I began reading it right after I finished the second book, Catching Fire, but on top of not liking the ending of the second book, Mockingjay wasn't holding my interest and so I stopped reading.  Now I am back...almost two years later...and boy do I have some strong thoughts on this final installment. 
Mockingjay picks off from where we left off in the previous book.  Katniss has been rescued by the rebels who have been planning her rescue mission for months without her knowledge and Peeta has been taken captive by the capitol.  Shaken and depressed, Katniss can hardly keep her own world together, let alone become the symbol of hope everyone wants her to be for the entire world - the Mockingjay.  She is the symbol of hope to Panem and they seem to need her now more than ever.  The only question is, can Katniss do it?  Can she become the symbol of hope after watching people die for her and her cause?  Can she become the symbol of hope without Peeta by her side?
I will say right from the beginning that I did not have high expectations for this book.  As you may know from my Catching Fire review, I found the ending of that book to be too easy and predictable.  Seriously, all I kept thinking while reading that ending was...I bet a plane is just going to come and save her or something and all the good guys have planned an escape from the start, and if that happens  I am going to be pissed. happened....and I was pissed.  I know to some the ending was completely unexpected but for me, it was the easiest conclusion.  I knew from the get go that the situation Collins put her characters in was a hard one to get out of and I had hoped for something more thought out but instead I found her solution to be easy and predictable.
Mockingjay doesn't do much better.  If there is one thing I can say about the book that I liked it is that Collins really knows how to master character psychology...particularly with Katniss.  It isn't the best character psychology that I have read but it is pretty darn good.
What didn't I like about this book?  There are a lot of things that held this book back in my opinion.  For starters, I think this book's mere existence held it back.  The Hungers Games as a trilogy is a nice money spinner and I will admit, it is nice to read on and on about Katniss's adventures.  But the Hungers Games, in my opinion, is not a very strong series and would have been stronger if it was just one single book (and change the ending of that book to something a bit more solid but still hinting that the war isn't over yet and things aren't perfect and that is okay).  I truly believe that if the Hunger Games had just been one book, it would become a classic someday.   I think the book series will be classic in it's own right but it won't be sitting with the great novels.  I gave Catching Fire 4.5 stars and I still agree with my rating.  That book was awesome (until the ending) and I really really enjoyed it and felt Collins had come back with a hit sequel (until the ending).  But even though I enjoyed the book, I don't think it was necessary.  The Hunger Games series is about the character Katniss.  I love Katniss and I love watching her develop as a character.  But if the Hunger Games was just one single book, I think it would be about something much bigger than Katniss and that is the message the book sends to it's readers - the message that media is a powerful weapon and that we should be cautious and not believe everything we are told through it and that there is importance in being yourself (remember Peeta saying he hoped the games wouldn't change him?) and above all, power resides where we allow it to reside.  At least those are the messages I have always seen in the books.  That message, while still present in the entire series, fades away with each book and by the end we are more focused on Katniss instead of the message that was there in the first place.
My second big problem with this book was the ending.  I am not shocked that the ending disappointed me.  I don't know if I am the only one who feels this way, but when it comes to Suzanne Collins and ending scenes, her writing becomes fast and confusing.  The first two books were this way and so was Mockingjay.  Prim's death happened so fast that when I read it I had to reread the passage because I wasn't sure if this was the moment or not (I knew Prim was going to die).  Then
there was a scene with President Snow in a room with roses and he talked to Katniss and I didn't get the point of that scene at all.  I am willing to admit that for someone who majored in English and loves to read, I have very poor reading comprehension.  Perhaps my lack of understanding attributes to this.  Either way, the ending was confusing and rushed.  All of a sudden there was an explosion, the war was won and then it is years into the future. 
There were some smaller faults in the book.  Collins often creates scenarios that seem impossible to breech and then suddenly they breech it and everything is okay.  These scenarios become obvious plot devices and don't give the story any depth but only propel it forward into more annoying plot devices.  For example - Peeta.  Peeta is brain washed, rescued, and told it will be impossible for him to recover.  He seems to get a little better but is still brainwashed and dangerous.  Then all of a sudden he is in combat with Katniss.  It is pretty obvious that Collins wanted him to be there with Katniss to give the two of them more interaction when in reality, Peeta would never have been let out.  This is a detail that can easily be overlooked but when it happens often, it is hard to think of anything else.
On a positive note, I can safely say that I didn't find Katniss's narration to be as annoying as I remember it being.  I really sympathized with Katniss this time around...not that I didn't before but for some reason that I can't quite put my finger on, I wasn't frustrated with her.
I don't think there is much else to say for this book.  It is by far the weakest book in the series and in my opinion it is an unnecessary part of the series and should not exist but, alas, we readers do love returning to the stories and characters we are used to.  That is one of the criticisms of the series novel actually...but I won't bore you with any of that mumbo-jumbo.  I wouldn't recommend this to everyone but if you enjoy series novels than by all means, give it a go.  I wouldn't have high hopes though.

RATING: 2 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The first time I read Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was when I was 16 years old, a mere tenth grader.  I didn't like the book upon my first read.  In fact, I may have hated it.  Why?  Simply because of all of the swearing.  I was a very rule following type of kid in high school and to think that we were reading a book where the main characters swears all of the time was insane to my young mind.  I didn't sympathize with him at all.  I shouldn't say that I read the book in high school actually....I rarely ever read the books assigned to me except summer reading.  But my class went over the book for quite some time and I couldn't figure out why so many people were loving this novel.  Many of my peers loved the book and claimed it changed their life.  I just couldn't see how.
Being an English major in college sure changed my perspective on a lot of things.  Not only did I hear my peers and my professors rave about the book but I now noticed references to it in other works of fiction and in TV shows and movies and YouTube videos.  It seemed that Catcher in the Rye was not going to let me go so easily.  I soon learned through all of the snippets that I encountered the book in that the book revolved around the theme of childhood innocence which is something I have a big interest in.  I knew that I would have to read the book myself and soon.  I can now say that after reading this book in full, I loved it.  I spent almost an entire night reading it and that night was...New Year's Eve.  Who would do such a thing?  This gal.
"The mark of an immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one." -Wilhelm Stekel
I feel a bit cliche when saying how much I enjoyed this book.  I mean, it is such an obvious favorite that one might do well to stay away from it and try to experience other less known works.  When I did a presentation on author John Green and told the class that his favorite book was Catcher in the Rye, one of my peers raised his hand and said "Seriously?".  But I think there is a reason, though it may not be an obvious black and white reason, as to why this book has connected with so many readers.  Whether it be the teenage angst voice of the protagonist or the city he encounters, people feel as if this book speaks to them and I must admit...I felt the same way.  Yes, I feel it is safe to say that this book truly spoke to me in more ways than one.
I guess this is the part where I say SPOILERS are ahead.  So, as I read this book I noticed the pattern that the main character, Holden, kept having conversations with people and I couldn't figure out what he was trying to figure out himself.  After finishing the book, I watched a Crash Course episode on YouTube about the book and realized that Holden was trying to find comfort in the idea of growing up.  He tries talking to all kinds of people - the roommate he can't stand, two nuns, an old friend named Sally, a prostitute, and more - and no one seems to hear him.  They constantly say he should keep his voice down and ask him to make sense but he himself can't even make sense.  The only person he wants to talk to is his younger sister, Phoebe, but even confronts him and says that all he does is complain.  Holden wants to know that the world isn't bad once you become an adult. 
I think what makes this book strong is that it is basically calling out all of the "phonies" in the world.  Holden is our lens into the world that is so mixed up in it's values and beliefs and Holden just can't stand it.  Sure he complains all of the time but he has a lot of fair points and valid arguments.  For example, one part of the book that I really loved was when Holden referred back to his friend Jane who he had spent a summer with.  His roommate goes out with her and implies that he did stuff with her upon which Holden keeps wondering if his roommate asked Jane if she remembered playing checkers with him that one summer.  He doesn't want to view her in a sexual way but as the girl who was really good at playing checkers who always kept her pieces in the very back row.
The book is very character driven and focuses much on Holden's inner thoughts and dialogue.  There are some books that I can look back on and honestly tell you that I love them and would read again in a heartbeat.  Then there are books that I love and I feel change my perspective on life and literature or just get me thinking though I don't call them favorites.  This books fit the later.  I loved it but am hesitant to call it a favorite just yet.  Maybe someday though.  There is a whole lot more I want to say but just don't have the time.   All in all - this book is a must read!

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner

I will be honest with you...I did not want to read this book.  If I could have avoided it, I would have.  However, a friend of mine asked my opinion on the book and recommended I read it so we could discuss certain aspects of the story.  I borrowed it from her and after two months I had only read the first chapter and didn't want to continue reading.  After just reading that first chapter, I found that I disliked Gardner's writing style and I wasn't too eager on reading his story.  It always irks me when reading personal stories like this.  I love the honesty that people put into them but Gardner, like many who write their own "biographies", seemed to want me to feel sorry for him right from the beginning and I just didn't.  I felt nothing but annoyance since there were so many other books I wanted to be reading.  But I still wanted to comment on the novel and wanted to see what it had to offer so I bought the audio book.  Best decision I could have made!
Chris Gardner grew up without a father.  Although there was a man in his life, he was degrading and unpredictable.  This man was his stepfather who constantly reminded him that he was not Chris's daddy.  At a young age, Chris vowed to never be like this man.  He vowed that if he ever had a child, he would constantly be by his/her side and in his/her life.  Growing up in a variety of places and with a variety of people, Chris had a challenging childhood.  As an adult, he entered the medical field even though he never went to medical school.  After a colorful array of circumstances involving marriage, sex, and cheating, Chris had a son and was soon left homeless after his wife left him, taking their son with her.  When his son is finally returned to him and his wife leaves once again, Chis doesn't have a steady amount of pay to provide housing for the two of them and so they must live homeless - sleeping at the park, at work, or at the airport terminal.
When I was literally reading this book, I expected it to be one of those crappy and cheesy American Dream stories.  That idea quickly left my mind after a while.  You may be wondering about now why listening to this book was better than actually reading the book, right?  The best answer I can give you is this - the narrator.  The audiobook is narrated by a man named Andre Blake and he did a fantastic job!  I can tell you right now that I am not a fan of audiobooks and try to avoid them but this was a special case.  I'm so glad I listened to this book.  I believe that the reason I enjoyed listening to someone competently read this book was because I didn't quite enjoy Gardner's style of writing.  It annoyed the hell out of me to tell you the truth.  His sentence structure was awkward and confusing in that first chapter.  Listening to the book made me realize that Gardner's style is much better spoken than read.  It was as if I were sitting at a campfire and someone was telling a story...not a very happy story but you get the idea.  Anyway, I really sympathized with Chris.  There were a lot of moments were he acted on innocent notions and ideas and I felt I could relate because I too will often speak my mind about things innocently and my words come back and bite me in the butt.  I also enjoyed the central theme of this book - a boy searching for a father figure.
Now, I have seen the movie but I don't remember it much.  If my memory serves, the film definitely pushes the American Dream and only captures a quarter of this book - and adds a rubix cube into the picture.  Pssht.  I looked at a few reviews on Good Reads and I am a bit turned off at how many people are complaining in the first line of their review about how the movie was so touching and then they read the book and were let down.  I mean, if I watch the movie tomorrow I may agree with these reviewers.  But c'mon, are people really expecting a Hollywood adaption to be like the book?  Hollywood always takes the liberty of making things truly their own - which isn't a bad thing necessarily but I won't go into the details of that argument. 
While this story was very heart wrenching and moving, I can't say Chris is the most likeable of character's.  I have a hard time saying that because this isn't some fictional character I can critique - he is real dude and he exposed himself a whole lot in this book and I respect him for that.  At one point though, he pretty much murders a guy...or at least, it seemed to imply.  I'm still not sure how I feel about that.  I don't recall him ever saying if the guy was dead or not but regardless, I'm surprised there isn't more discussion about that event. 
Is this book quality?  Yes, this book is quality!  What made it a quality read was the insight Gardner provides into growing up in a racist America and struggling to make ends meet.  What made the novel excel in my opinion is seeing all the nice things people did when least expected - particularly the scene where the prostitute's give Chris's son, Chris Jr., five dollars almost everyday.  Out of all the people Chris passed by daily, it was the ones people call dirty that did the nice thing and I think Chris sharing this with his readers is enough to call this a quality novel!
Do I recommend the book?  I recommend you check out audible and listen to it...although I must tell you, it is the abridged version.  I feel a bit cheated in that regard...

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Matilda by Roald Dahl

As with all my book reviews, allow me to start off with my personal attachment to this book and why I chose to read it.  I am a 90's kid and I won't lie, I feel that I have grown up with a lot of great entertainment.  I am the child of the Disney Renaissance age, Nickelodeon's golden shows, and particularly awesome book to movie adaptions - one of them being Matilda.  I owned Matilda on VHS tape and watched it quite a bit.  I related to Matilda's love of reading and was mesmerized by her ability to make objects move at her will.  I never read a Roald Dahl book on my own choosing (my third grade teacher read us one of his books called Esio Trot) and figured this would be a good way to start.
I didn't plan on reading this book.  I went to the library to grab one book and ended up grabbing this along with two other books cause I figured...when in Rome.  At first I was afraid that my love for the movie would ruin my chances of enjoying the book but that turned out to not be the case at all.  I loved reading this book!  Of course it was not identical to the film adaption - that is to be expected - but the original intent of Roald Dahl for this book is just brilliant.  It is the story of a miracle child living in an abusive home and learning how to break free.  For those of you who have no knowledge of Matilda, here is the scoop.  Matilda is a young child who lives in a home where she isn't appreciated.  She is very bright for her age and when she enters school she has already read the Dickens and can do large multiplication problems in her head.  Her teacher, Miss Honey, a very poor woman who fears standing up for herself, takes a great interest in Matilda.  When Matilda learns of Miss Honey's predicament, she vows to do whatever she can in her power to help - which says a lot when it comes to the brilliant Matilda!
As I said above, there were differences from book to film but overall, I really enjoyed Matilda.  Dahl's writing style is very witty but intelligent and you get the sense that he isn't talking down to you as the reader.  I also loved that the general theme of the book is in fact intelligence and reading and although we may not be able to do supernatural things like Matilda, I do think reading gives us our own power in some way, shape, or form.
Overall, I loved this book!  Quick read and it was excellent!  I will definitely be picking up some more Roald Dahl in the future!  5 out of 5 stars!

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD.  A Storm of Swords is the third book in George R. R. Martin's book series, A Song of Ice and Fire.  After reading the second book in the series and watching the second season of the HBO television adaption, I was a bit weary when picking up this book.  I was weary for a number of reasons.  I enjoyed the second book however was told by a few people that the series continually gets worse and worse with every book.  I have to say I disagree.  I don't think the series is getting worse as it goes along however I do not think it is getting better either.  Maybe I am a bit biased since I miss Ned so much and love the first novel, A Game of Thrones, but that is just my opinion.  This book, I can say right away, was fantastic but it lacked what I loved about the first book and unfortunately I am unable to put my thoughts into words as to why I feel this way.  I think this book is better than the second.  Another reason I was weary was because I really didn't like the adaption of the second season of the show and was afraid that reading this book would get my hopes up only to be crushed while watching my favorite scenes be trashed.  The reason I fell in love with the show in the first place, beside the amazing plot, characters, actors, cinematography, etc. was because of how well the adapters stuck to the book.  Season two proved me wrong. 
My experience reading this third installment was much different than reading the second.  For one thing, I had refrained from watching the show before reading.  With the first two books in the series I had watched more than half of the adapted season before reading.  Another thing that differed this reading experience was the fact that I had begun listening to a Game of Thrones podcast (titled Game of Owns) and had a much better understanding of the plot, the characters, and the setting than I did with the second book.  This helped me a lot because when reading the second book there were many times when I was lost after reading certain chapters and Game of Owns helped set me straight.
A Storm of Swords is said to be a fan favorite.  In fact, many of the TV show's creators said that the specifically wanted to adapt the show for this book alone (which is a bit worrying but I digress).  Anyway, I can see why it is a fan favorite.  There are a ton of epic scenes, epic deaths, and epic surprises.  To name a few, and remember THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS, Catelyn's corpse, Little Finger shoving Lysa Arryn out of the moon door, Joffery's death, Daenerys freaking Targaryen freeing slaves and burning cities, Tyrion's marriage to Sansa, Jon Snow's sexy time, Stannis saving the Night's Watch, Jaime and Brienne, and Arya's chapters in general - they were all wonderfully brilliant.  I know, you thought I was going to mention the Red Wedding.  Unfortunately, since the event was so huge on the television show, I was spoiled.  I know, bummer right?
I can't really think of any negatives about this book other than it being really hard to get through since it was so long.  The writing was excellent, per the usual, and the story was just incredible.  I think it is of utter importance that aspiring writers, especially of the fantasy genre, read these books.  They are very well crafted and thought out.  I guess the only thing left to say is...5 out of 5 stars!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Quality Over Quantity: Changes in 2014

2013 was an interesting year.  I know, "interesting" is such a bland adjective to use but that is all I can say to describe it.  There were ups and there were downs and I enjoyed the year as a whole but toward the end, I began to feel overwhelmed.  I work everyday until 5 and then eat dinner, relax with my family and then try to get some stuff done before I become too tired and have to do it all over again the next day while trying to fit in seeing friends and family.  The big thing that has been affected by all of this is my blog.  I haven't been satisfied with my performance on my blog these past few months.  When I write book reviews or normal blogs, I find that I am unhappy with them for the most part and feel like I could have done better but don't know what I could do to make it better.  I am also haven't been blogging as much which has been putting a lot of pressure on me because now I have a ton of book reviews to write.  I shouldn't be complaining.  I love this blog and I don't want to stop working on it.  But things need to change.  The blogging experience isn't the same for me anymore - whether it be because of my performance in the past few months or because I have been getting bored with the same old thing, I just want a change.
I didn't make it a goal to read 50 books this year like I did in 2012 but I almost expected it of myself and therefore when the year was coming to a close, I panicked and grabbed a bunch of children's books to read so that I could make it to the 50 mark.  I made it and the children's books I read were well worth reading.  But that isn't how I want to complete a goal.  I want it to be something fun, not a stressful chore.  On New Year's Eve I began to think about what I could do to fix my blogging habits and then something occurred to me.  I have been super stressed and reading a ton of books isn't helping.  I would often stay up later and make myself read so that I could get through the book and make it to 50 by the end of the year.  Putting off book reviews, which has become a staple for me, hasn't helped either.  And so I thought I should switch things up.  Rather than measure the quantity of books I am reading, in 2014 I am going to measure the quality.
While in 2012 I was concerned about how little I was reading the year previous, now in 2014 I am concerned that I am reading so many books so fast that I am not getting as much out of them and I'm not able to put well crafted thought into my book reviews.  I don't want this streak to continue.  So what changes will be made?  Well, from now on my book reviews (starting with books I have read this year in 2014) will not longer contain keep calm posters.  I know, I will miss them but what was once a quirky addition has now become a hassle.  Another change is that I will be giving books a quality stamp.  I will still be rating the books out of 5 stars.  If the book is quality, it will get a quality stamp of approval.  I can't say I read many books that I don't think hold some sort of quality but we will see what the new year brings.  I'm trying to focus on the happy aspects of novels.  When I say happy, I don't mean rainbows and pretty flowers or stuff like that.  I mean the things that make the novel something worth while.  I understand that no book is perfect and there will always be drawbacks but I want to explain why the book I read was worth my time and hopefully will be worth your time should you choose to read my review and think to yourself, "hmm, this seems like a good book! I am gonna read it!"
I'm not a believer in New Year's will know that from my Wasted Wednesday post from last year.  But I do believe in fresh starts and trying new things and I figured this is a good a time as ever to change my blog around!  I can't wait!  Happy New Year everyone!