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


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

my 2014 giant: reading anna karenina

This book is not for the faint-hearted or casual reader, as my poor teddy, Beast, discovered when I performed open heart surgery on him to remove his two hearts for the photo (so no one is worried, he is making  healthy and happy full recovery).

Since reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo last year, I made it my mission to read one giant each year, and man, was this a giant. If you can’t read two books at once or stick to one story for months at a time, I’d suggest maybe this one isn’t for you. Starting in January, it took me a whopping six months to get through.

Having said that, slipping this monster back onto the bookshelf after its company for months was an amazingly satisfying feeling and if you think you can do it, give it a crack. The worst that’s going to happen is you won’t make it through first go, which considering the size isn’t really that devastating.

Anna Karenina is considered one of the two great adultery novels of the nineteenth century, the other being Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. The themes of marriage and relationships are definitely heavy in the novel, so if nineteenth century marriage values and culture don’t interest you, again this may not be for you. I will be honest, it nearly lost me a few times with heavy, essay-like chapters but managed to get it together again by the next chapter.

There are many plots running parallel and a fair few characters to keep track of which got a bit overwhelming. Everyone is connected and there are relationships going everywhere. I will be honest, there was one plot line and a few characters that I think I could have done without, and the book wasn’t nearly as much about Anna Karenina as you would expect from the title. But for the purposes of the concept and political motivations, I can see the reasoning.

Also, I’m not sure if it is a traditional thing in Russian literature, but everyone was referred to by full name or last name every time which gave the entire novel a bit of a stiff and formal feel.

My biggest problem with following the characters was the use of multiple names for each character, one character being referred to with multiple titles and names. To get around this, as silly as it may feel, the best option is probably to mind map it out and write down the multiple names (and maybe make a chart of their connections while you’re at it) so it’s easier to follow along, especially if it’s something you intend on picking up and putting down, or reading along with another book.

Lastly, I just want to slip in a little point about my photo. Every photo is taken by one of my fantastic housemates (who probably won’t even see this nice little shout out). Not only do they deal with a model who is more difficult that a constipated toddler that won’t smile, they do exactly what I want and don’t complain about my strange lack of facial control. So for that this is just a little thank you to them both.

This was my first Russian author and after this, I think I would try another, but definitely will be doing a smaller book next time. If you have the commitment or interest, I would say give it a shot. If not, I’ve heard Keira Knightley and Jude Law are pretty alright in the new film adaptation.

From the friend who is going to start reading one book at a time,

The Cat

the labyrinth 101: reading looking for alaska

It has been a while since our last post and I am going to remedy this fact. As the unemployed and perpetually bored partner of this duo I am going to attempt to maintain the blog while Curiosity is busy for the next month or two so bear with me on the results. For now I am definitely here and going to aim to post every weekend.

I know it was not long ago that I read another John Green book but he is just too good to save for later and with the announcement that Looking for Alaska is about to made into a film adaptation I thought now was an appropriate time to get everyone who hasn’t already read it to look into this book.

I have now read two of John Green’s four novels and am trying desperately (and with a tiny bit of success) to save the other two for my summer holidays. I now have them safely locked up in my housemate’s closet where they will stay until I have no uni left (or my lock picking skills improve dramatically).

Again, this man has jumped right into my chest and plucked my heartstrings like a professional harpist. I swear, he may as well just walk around with my heart in a jar from the skilled way in which he plays with my emotions.

Just like The Fault in our Stars, I managed to knock over Looking for Alaska in about 24 hours, mostly due to the amazing writing skills of this brilliant man (and only slightly because I am incredibly boring with not much to fill my days with).  By the midway point I was hooked and forfeited my personal appearance, hygiene and food intake for the remaining hours. If you have something to do, or somewhere to be, do not read John Green until you have done it. To date, apart from J.K Rowling, he is the hardest author to put down once you’ve started.

Like his other books, the characters are fantastically formed and completely thought out. Immediately I felt drawn into the world of boarding school, pranks and procrastinating homework. John Green expertly enters the mind of his teenage narrator and poses some thought-provoking questions.

The book is much more than a simple story. In a beautiful way that only John Green seems to capture, the book is underlined by fantastic and heart-wrenching concepts that go well beyond the normal themes of YA fiction. As I said, not since J.K. Rowling and Markus Zusak, have I seen such engaging YA fiction done so well.

Again, John Green has been successful in taking my world, shaking it around and turning my perspective completely upside down.  He has now easily made it as one of my favourite writers of all time and I can’t emphasise how highly or adamantly I think everyone should read his books. Nothing has changed my life this drastically since I discovered the magical properties of coffee.

From the reader who approves of the well-deserved attention and kudos John Green is getting,

The Cat