contemporary literature

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

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

the music is in the words: reading jazz

After a few weeks of hiatus we are back. Over that time I had the pleasure of enjoying a book I had an exam on, Toni Morrison’s Jazz. This piece of American beauty was intricate, engaging and overwhelming all at the same time.

The novel engages with a variety of characters who all have overlapping stories. In some ways this became difficult to follow as just as you felt you understood or connected with one character you were thrown off course and began focusing on a new one. Although unsettling at first, this became a really beautiful aspect of the novel.

After about the third bout of confusion and backtracking, I gave up trying to remember and identify the connections and the book became significantly easier and I found I was able to connect with the characters more.

This also happened with many of the sentences. The aim of the piece is not only to tell the story of the characters and explore the themes of love, loss, abandonment and human relationships, but is also to explore the lyricism of the Jazz movement and the musical genre. This is best presented through the language Morrsion uses.

Some of the sentences became a little nonsensical and confusing, needing two or three re-reads to make sense of. The best way again was to forget about it, go with the flow of the book and try and listen to the lyricism of the words. In both the literal and figurative sense, the music of the piece is in the words.

This book is inevitably one of those stories that every time you pick something new up you drop something you had before. It is also one that is open to many readings, every new perspective promising a new outlook and understanding of the characters and story.

I think this is one of the American novels that will stand the test of time and became a classic among the ranks of the Fitzgeralds, Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger.

A final note on housekeeping. Due to our busy schedules, Curiosity and I are struggling to read a book a week meaning we are going to drop the blog back to one post a week on alternate Fridays. We are however looking into many new exciting projects that we will keep all our readers updated on. For the best way to keep up with us, head over to our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/redchairreview, as that is where we keep our little updates and fun things we find during the week.

From your internet friend who is starting to feel a little like margarine,

The Cat