the unexpected: reading the hunger games – catching fire

Just like the first book, I made my way through the second book in the Hunger Games series in about 24 hours. Between the challenge and the exceptional writing, I feel like I’m flying through this trilogy and starting to realise I only have one book left.

Catching Fire was fantastic and confirmed that I will be singing the trilogy praise just like everyone else.

The plot is brilliant and kept me guessing up until the very end. There were so many twists, turns and details that it is not surprising that I will probably be reading this one again very soon to pick up what I missed the first time.

Just when I thought that everyone was safe, or everyone was doomed, another plot twist came in that completely changed the story and left me grappling for the next few pages, with the constant phrase, ‘Just one more chapter’.

Like the first, the pacing and timing of these plot twists and the tension is brilliant and keeps you reading until all hours of the night (I may have continued reading until 3am to finish this one).

It was also a very easy story and world to jump back into. Suzanne Collins makes it particularly easy by recapping small details covered in the first book through quick, short reminders. It meant that those of us with bad memories were able to quickly immerse ourselves back into certain customs, characters or events in the world without taking up a lot of time.

It also means the books can stand alone outside the trilogy and probably easily readable without the knowledge of the first (however, I think I can safely say, if you’ve read the second without the first, you will backtrack!).

I found I connected easily with the characters and slipped right back into my attachment for them. They continued to develop and change rather than remaining the same as the first book which only made me love the characters and the author more.

In this one, I also liked the development of the Gale and Peeta conundrum. I was a little reluctant about this aspect of the plot and had anticipated it may be underwhelming or irritating, (or at worst, come across a little Twilight-ish), however I found myself deep in confusion for Katniss.

I will be the first to admit, it really didn’t take me long to figure out who I would choose (Peeta’s too much of a sweetheart not to!), but it did develop the relationship between Katniss and Gale and develop the complexity of the problem, both emotionally and practically. I also liked the Katniss reaction to it all, which was guided by practicality as well as emotions which I think is realistic and necessary to the characters and the plot.

My final favourite part of this book was the mental and emotional effects of the Games and the different ways they came through in each of the victors. This book had more surviving victors and was able to really explore the psychological effects of the Games and the Capitol. From alcoholism and drug abuse, to post traumatic stress disorder and mental instability, the book really looked at whether it is better to have died in the arena or survived to live as a victor. I just thought this was a really realistic element that needed to be explored and created more connection with the characters and intensity in the plot.

Just like the first book, I loved every minute of reading this one, but brace yourselves for the end, because I was not prepared and it hit me like a tonne of bricks.

From the girl who is now desperately in love with a fictional boy (again),

The Cat

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learning to braid: reading the hunger games

It has been brought to my attention that I must be one of the very last people in the known universe that has not seen or read the Hunger Games trilogy. Not that I have been actively avoiding them, they’ve just been a thing I hadn’t got round to doing.

With the release of the Mockingjay Part One trailer and my new job in a spoiler-filled cinema, I figured it might be about time to join the ranks and fight the Capitol.

With this in mind, I set myself a challenge fit for Katniss Everdeen. The Challenge: to read the Hunger Games trilogy in a week. The Competitor: this totally-not-prepared and already sleep-deprived Cat. The Prize: the respect of my fellow housemates and friends, as well as the strength to face my job free from the fear of spoilers.

So far, my achievement list includes the first book, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins,  which I managed to read in under 24 hours.

The opening was a little slow and heavy with description which made the start feel a little dry and drab and didn’t really attach me to Katniss in the way I was initially expecting.

However, once the story picked up and the tributes were announced, I found myself totally sucked in to the world. The description was dispersed through the immense amounts of action and excitement, and even when nothing was happening plot-wise, something was always happening, character-wise. There is a brilliant balance between being plot-driven and character-driven which makes this book a page turner.

I will throw out a little warning. It is pretty confronting. I think I was less shocked because I was told by so many people how gruesome, gory or intense it was, so I wasn’t overwhelmed by what happened mostly, but there were definitely still some moments that pulled at the heartstrings (as well as the gag reflex).

At points, I found I had distanced myself and had forgotten the age or circumstances of the characters, but whenever this happened, there seemed to be an action or event that pulled me right back in to the confronting and harsh circumstances and the childish age of the characters.

Despite my best efforts, I did have a few spoilers up my sleeve, which I thought would have taken some of the pressure or stress out of the plot, but surprisingly and luckily it didn’t.

Instead I found myself still fearing for the characters, trying to figure out their next moves and trying to figure out the plot twists before they occurred. On the final two fronts, I was unsuccessful, still being constantly surprised by the characters, plot and writing.

The timing is perfect and Collins has created the suspense and tension in the book that regardless of what knowledge you had before, you genuinely connect with and fear for the characters. I definitely developed a respect and connection with Katniss and found myself easily falling in love with Peeta (I assume in this I am not alone!).

I also found myself strangely attached to some of the fringe characters, like Foxface, who was developed through Katniss’ limited experiences. These characterisations are obviously from Katniss’ point of view and I found myself sharing a lot of her respect and intrigue for some of them.

The first book for me was a total success and I’m very glad there are two more books to follow. I’m aiming to have the second book done by Thursday and the final book done by Saturday, so stay tuned.

From the reader who has already read the first page of the next book,

The Cat

(in)sanity: reading prelude to christopher

Hello friendly readers,

This is a very exciting post. This is the review of my final university set text. After this book, I no longer have assigned novels or books to read. At last count I am eleven weeks and 4,200 words away from completing my degree and graduation so fun times ahead.

So without any further rambling, here are my thoughts on Eleanor Dark’s Prelude to Christopher.

This was the first Australian book I have read that didn’t revolve entirely around the Australian landscape or setting in some way or another. Although there are obvious elements of Australian culture and values, for me it was significantly different to all the other Australian literature I have read.

The basis of the book is the exploration of hereditary mental illness and insanity. The main questions posed are whether mental illness is hereditary and can be passed on through genetics, whether being told you’re mentally ill can result in making you mentally ill and whether there is a way of breaking the cycle of events around you.

Although the discussions of eugenics may seem a little confronting and worrisome, the novel was written before World War II, an important factor to keep in mind while reading. In this sense, Dark effectively captures some of the discussions and opinions occurring in Australia and other countries during the period.

The novel, similar to the writings of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, takes place over a short amount of time, just four days. This works as Dark intersperses the present with the past to create an interesting collage of stories, characters and events. It also means the story ends up with an interesting crime/mystery fiction feel as the reader tries to put the pieces together.

The novel reflects on a variety of characters, their lifestyles and circumstances and the ways in which these impact and inform their mental and emotional stability. Overall, it represents the shifting ideologies and new ideas that were forming in Australia and other countries in the period before WWII.

It was a very enjoyable read and I was completely drawn into the world and characters, even questioning my own mental stability at times. It has changed my perspective on contemporary and pre-war Australian literature and greatly improved my outlook for the remainder of the course.

From the internet friend who has stopped questioning her mental stability (coz we all know there are a few bits missing),

The Cat

still searching for my mr darcy: reading pride and prejudice

Although the photo this week is Curiosity, it is still The Cat manning the ship. Due to extenuating circumstances (namely helping my mum with her veggie garden and seeing Sammy J and Randy live) I was unable to get in front or behind a camera this week.

My copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a ratty looking book with a vibrant green cover and a garish pink spine. It is easily one of the most hideous books on my bookshelf and a bit of an eyesore. But this is one of my most dearly beloved books and one I will never part with.

This is the first book I bought for myself in a different country and has ended up being more well-travelled than some members of my family. A resident on three different bookshelves in three different Australian states, as well as being a trusty handbag companion through San Diego, San Francisco and a short stint in Las Angeles, my copy of P & P has seen me through all sorts of life stages and emotions.

Some girls have travelling pants, others have diaries, and I have this book. Taped together and dog-eared, I am surprised this faithful classic is still holding together.

So, after finishing another session of uni, I got a little nostalgic and flicked through the pages again. As always, I fell madly in love with the book, the emotions, and of course, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy.

Elizabeth Bennet was my second fictional female role model (the first being Hermione Granger). She is strong, intellectual and feisty, not to mention, brave, passionate and just downright amazing. She passionately defends her beliefs, protects and cares for her friends and doesn’t succumb to the gender and social norms of the period.

Every time I read this book and look at the women in my life, I am always proud and thankful to have such strong female influences in my life, from my sweet Jane Bennet-like sister to my loyal Charlotte Lucas Collins best friend. The book explores a variety of female characters, each one having value despite their less than favourable qualities. Best of all, because of this, they are realistic. 

Similarly, Mr Darcy isn’t your dashing, blonde Prince Charming, but a brooding, moody and mysterious creature. I was not impressed with Darcy for the majority of the novel, my allegiance firmly placed with Elizabeth.

However, just like Elizabeth, after a few frustrated exclamations and irritated outbursts, I found myself charismatically swayed to a little fondness. He is represented as human and like everyone else, makes mistakes, evident in his judgement and under-estimation of Elizabeth Bennet, an error he pays for.

There is a reason Jane Austen is revered in the literary community and Pride and Prejudice is a classic. This book and these characters were game changers in my life and easily influenced the beliefs and passions I have today. I can’t imagine ever dating anyone who I couldn’t have an intellectual conversation with, and I think this book is one of the reasons why.

From the girl who is still searching for her own Mr Darcy,

The Cat

 

the cards we are dealt: reading i am the messenger

This week’s book as voted into the 101 Club as one of the 101 Best Books as voted for by Dymocks readers and it definitely deserves it.

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak was one of the few highlights of the couple of days in which I was based in my bed surrounded by tissue boxes, Strepsil packets and steaming hot mugs of tea..

Luckily, I can safely say, this book was a fantastic bedside companion. Between sneezes, I gripped the pages of the book, quickly turning through the chapters. At every point, I wanted to continue reading and managed to finish the book in under 48 hours (granted I was stuck in bed, but it is an amazing experience nonetheless).

Many of you may now be familiar with the work of Markus Zusak because of the recent film adaptation of his novel, The Book Thief. If you aren’t familiar with his work, get familiar. I read The Book Thief a few years ago and was impressed, but I Am the Messenger definitely put Markus Zusak on a whole new level for me.

This book was a gift I bought for myself that went well beyond my expectations. What I was expecting was an enjoyable plot with interesting characters all portrayed through beautiful language. What I got was so much more than that.

Sometimes when you read a book, you get caught up in the world, but when you finish the last page, you close the book, slip it back onto the shelf and continue about your life.

But other books stay with you and change the way you live. Through this blog and the reading challenge I set myself this year, I have been very lucky to find a number of these books such as John Green’s Looking for Alaska and Craig Silvey’s Rhubarb. Currently, I Am the Messenger is the most inspiring book I have read this year.

The novel is filled with ideas and is one of the first experiences I have had where I have read a book with the conscious thought that every reader will take away something different. Now that I have read the book, I feel it will be a different story every time I read it. It became a very subjective and personal experience that I felt deeply connected with.

For me, the book really explored the ways in which we can change and impact the lives of others through both small and seemingly mediocre actions, as well as through grand gestures and big changes. It also made me think about the human capacity for compassion and love and the ability to connect with others. The ideas of the book went beyond the pages and really moved me. It really showed the way that we can take the smallest skills we have and use them to become a better person and better those around us. 

With this in mind, and my experience of the book, I am going to take each of the playing cards from my photo and do something nice with them. I haven’t decided exactly what those will be yet but they might range from something simple like writing someone a note, to something a little bigger like volunteering my time. As I complete each card over the next fortnight or two, I’ll keep you readers updated in the comments section.

From the girl who is now inspired to change someone’s day with a smile,

The Cat

getting a little foxy: reading fantastic mr fox

With yesterday being National Bookshop Day and the arrival of my wonderful new cousin a few weekends ago, this week I got a little nostalgic. I went through my bookshelf, making a mental list of all the fantastic books my new cousin will one day read.

When my eye fell on Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, I knew I had to read it again. My copy is only eighty-one pages long and in fairly large print (meaning, like a rebel, I didn’t even get up to get my glasses!). Just like every other time, I read the book in one sitting, flying through the crazy antics of these wild animals. And like every other time, I loved every word.

I think it is a real toast to Roald Dahl that his books are still loved and read, and that as a twenty-one year old literature student, I still pore over the words he wrote. There is something in the characters and the simple but exciting plot that means the book can be read and re-read and still be enjoyed each time.

This is my first review on an illustrated book and I can’t leave them unmentioned. I can’t imagine a Roald Dahl book without the simple but intricate illustrations of Quentin Blake. I have always adored these illustrations and went through a phase where all my school books and notepads were covered in poor attempts at imitating this style when drawing my teachers. There is definitely more skill in detailing the over-extended nose or drooping ear lobes of a person than I had first anticipated. Kudos to Quentin Blake. 

This book is something that can be read by anyone. The words aren’t long and the illustrations are fun and exciting, meaning it is great for the intended child audience, but the great writing and wonderful characters mean adults can still enjoy the book too.

I am seriously looking forward to adding this book to ever-growing pile that I am hoping to one day read to my lovely cousin.

From the reader who knows the real answer to the question ‘What does the fox say?’,

The Cat

it’s raining, it’s pouring: reading it’s raining in mango

This week is another Australian classic from my class set reading list, Thea Astley’s It’s Raining in Mango. My free time is a bit low on the ground at the moment meaning my free reading is getting a little bit limited, but rest assured I’m hoping to get a little bit more done over the month. Keep an eye out for a potential Hunger Games week challenge I’m going to announce over the coming weeks.

Like the title, my week was full of rain, wind and hail so it was a nice feeling to curl up in bed with a hot tea and warm blanket and read.

I did really enjoy this book. It was a bit of a surprise because the pile of books I wanted to read was quite high when I begrudgingly picked this up for class but I am pleased I read it.

The book is really interesting because there are quite a number of characters, plot lines and time periods. The best part is the way each of these characters either interact with or embody historical moments, beliefs or shifts in Australia during the nineteenth century.

With that said, the characters and these movements are not romanticised or overtly celebrated like many traditional Australian narratives, but reflect a serious attempt to analyse both the positives and negatives of these situations.

For me, this made the book and characters more realistic as it didn’t have the pronounced nationalist feel that certain texts sometimes seem to have. It also meant the culture of Australia during this period was more true to the history.

The other unique feature of the book was the Australian climate and landscapes. Rather than use the traditional Australian bush landscape, Astley sets the book in the tropical parts of northern Queensland. This made the book far more interesting as it differs from a lot of the traditional Australian narratives but also meant a number of different themes and concepts could be explored.

The book overall was a surprise and was again another Australian classic that I feel accurately reflected and examined the Australian culture of the nineteenth century. However, if you are searching for a happy ending or a heart-warming and nationalistic piece, this probably isn’t the book for you.

From the internet friend who is holding out for more sunshine and warmer weather, 

The Cat