Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Books:  Catching Fire and Mockingjay

Author:  Suzanne Collins 

Catching Fire:  B 
Mockingjay:  B+ 

Recommended To:  Adults, Suzanne is fooling herself if she thinks these are YA novels. 

Catching Fire

There are some in my book club world that believe that Catching Fire was better than The Hunger Games, but I disagree with those women wholeheartedly.  Catching Fire follows Katniss on her journey back to District 12 after she wins the Hunger Games.  But, this is the year of the Quarter Quell - the 75th anniversary of the games where there are special circumstances for the games.  I don't want to give too much away, but there's a mega huge surprise at the end and I had to re-read the last 6 chapters or so to make sense of the ending.

Catching Fire was not as good as the first in the series because for most of the book, it was much of the same, except now there are uprisings in the districts and Katniss is super rich because of her victory.  The ending was sufficiently shocking to make up for some of the repetitiveness in the rest of the story.

This isn't to say that I didn't like Catching Fire.  It was magnificently well written and again has very dark themes that are not suitable for children or even some young adults.


This was far and above the best book in the series.  Katniss has escaped to the mysterious District 13 to begin healing from her ordeal in Catching Fire.  What I really like about this book is that Katniss is so broken.  She is absolutely not a typical hero - she has feelings, emotions, and severe PTSD from her experiences.  I am so glad the author didn't make her any stronger because Katniss's weakness made her believable and extremely interesting.

That said, she still does a lot of hero things - but she does them reluctantly and she does them with a sense that the decisions she makes may not be the right ones.  I appreciate Collins' restraint and ability to craft a believable character that is also heroic.  Isn't that always it anyway - the heroes are the ones who are actually pretty normal?

That is what makes Mockingjay the best book in the series.  There are some superb actions scenes too though, so if you aren't interested in Katniss getting over her issues, Mockingjay does not lack for a great story line.

Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Book:  The Postmistress 

Author:  Sarah Blake 

Grade:  C

Recommended:  Just read the first 1/3 and make up the rest.

I got this book because Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help recommended it when I went to see her for an author talk.  She raved about it and there's even a quote on the front of the book by Kathryn praising this book.

I am not of the same opinion.  The book started off very very well.  The beginning was tremendously written and the premise is intriguing.   Basically there are three stories intermingled; a postmistress in Cape Cod, a doctor and his wife in the same small town, and Frankie - a female war reporter in London during the Blitz.  The lives of these people intersect in one way or another, and some of the stories end tragically, of course.

The back of the book says that the postmistress saves a letter and doesn't deliver news.  But, that's not really what happens.  The Doctor leaves a letter with the postmistress and tells her to deliver it to his wife in the event of his death, when letters stop arriving from the Dr., everyone presumes that he is dead, but the postmistress decides not to hand over the letter.  Who cares?  Seriously.  I know this is all about preventing pain and looking out for one another, but to me, this isn't the big moral dilemma that the author tries to create. 

Further, the end of the book simply sucked.  All of these characters go on these big "growing spurts" and "change for the better"  but I didn't get that at all from the book.  Emma, the doctor's wife had no growth whatsoever.  She just moped around the whole book thinking about how she was going to be lonely for the rest of her life.  Boring.

Frankie has these amazing scenes in Europe where she is traveling by train with Jewish refugees and recording their voices, then she goes to Cape Cod to befriend Emma?  Also boring.  Finally, Iris, the postmistress has this scene where she goes to a doctor who finds her to be "intact" and writes up a certificate for her new boyfriend.    In my opinion, that is interesting stuff, but after that - she's just this crochety old lady who sorts mail. 

I liked these characters in the beginning but about 1/3 of the way through the book became a serious struggle to finish.  Especially when it had to compete with Catching Fire (Hunger Games 2) for my attention. 

I don't know who I recommend this book to, but I my opinion of Kathryn Stockett's preferences has diminished after reading The Postmistress.

Happy Reading!!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Book:  The Hunger Games 

Author:  Suzanne Collins 

Grade:  B

Recommended To:  Everyone. 

You know a book is great when you put off working on your very first jury trial in order to read long into the night.  You also know a book is good when you are sitting in the courtroom for your trial and you are still reading The Hunger Games.  In all fairness - I wasn't really slacking - there was a 5% chance that the trial would go and it didn't end up going.

Either way, this book snatches your attention and doesn't let go.  This is the book club book this month and it is excellent.  It was probably the fastest I've ever read a book and I could not put it down for the 24 hours it took me to read the thing. 

I'm probably late to the Hunger Games phenomenon - but in case you are also late - this book is about a post-apocalypse society that is controlled by the Capital.  Each year the Capital picks a boy and a girl from each of the 12 Districts and sticks them all in an arena to fight to the death.  It is all about survival and taking chances.

Although this book is technically "young adult,"  I wouldn't let kids younger than say 15 read this book.  There are a lot of dark themes that left me thinking several days after I finished the book and I don't think they are appropriate for young kids.  I also don't read a lot of  YA books, but this book was refreshingly adult and interesting.

The book did smack of Stephen King's The Long Walk and I found myself wondering if Ms. Collins borrowed some themes from other prominent last-man-standing books.  But, either way, I'm going to definitely read the second and third books in the series.

You should check this book out if you want something super fast - but, I recommend reading it on a weekend when you don't have a work conflict.

Happy Reading!!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch

Book:  The 13th Hour 

Author:  Richard Doetsch

Grade: C

Recommended To:  Thriller fans, People who can't read clocks. 

I feel a little bad giving this book a C, but I give way too many B+'s and honestly I liked this book, but it has an audience that is limited to fast-paced thriller fiction.

This book starts out with the last chapter and works its way backward into time and the story.  The premise is very fresh, which was why I liked this book so much.  The main dude is at home and sees his wife get murdered right in front of him.  Then, as he is being questioned as the murderer, a mysterious man appears and gives him a watch that makes him go back in time an hour at a time until he figures out who killed his wife.

This book has a lot of action and a lot of twists and turns that are totally unexpected.  I liked that the premise was original.  And, instead of a story that just goes in "forward" motion - this book kept me thinking about what had happened previously and this meant that I couldn't just veg out while reading. 

I recommend this book to anyone that likes thriller/action books.  I checked out Doetsch's website and evidently he is an extreme sports enthusiast who enjoys "100 foot drops into water without anything to slow his descent."  Crazy.  But, he writes well - so hopefully he doesn't kill himself before coming up with something else captivating.

Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams

Book:  Miles from Ordinary 

Author:  Carol Lynch Williams 

Grade:  B+ 

Recommended To:  This is Young Adult, but there were some intensely strong themes - so probably not young adults. 

My friend won this book on a giveaway and was surprised at how good it was.  So, she recommended it to me.  I don't usually read young adult fiction and I picked this book for this weekend mostly to up my book count on Goodreads.  I have goals to meet, you know.

I was also pleasantly surprised about how excellent this book was.  This is the story of a 13 year old girl who is left to care for her mentally ill mother.  The story takes place over just one 24 hour period and essentially reads like a short story.  It took me under three hours to finish it.

Lacey, the main character, and her mother live in her mother's childhood home and are both starting new jobs at the beginning of the story.  The book unravels slowly all of the tension and drama that has caused Lacey to be the sole caretaker for her mother and the book ends with a bang.

I really enjoyed it - I feel like I can't describe the book much more because I'll give away something juicy, but I think this book was surprisingly well written, it kept my attention for the three hours that I read it, and it was a good story that I thought about for a bit afterward.  There is some really heavy stuff in this book and I don't think it is really for kids, but, it was a good read for me on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Happy Reading!!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Book:  Cleopatra:  A Life 

Author:  Stacy Schiff 

Grade:  B 

Recommended To:  Strong women,  people interested in the Roman version of Cleopatra's life. 

I finally finished Cleopatra  this weekend and I really enjoyed it. Stacy Schiff does an excellent job creating a picture of a woman who ruled a vast and dense empire for 22 years.  This is a very different picture from the motion picture version we all get.

Most of us think of Cleo as the woman most famous for her relationships with Ceasar and Mark Antony and then for her famous death at the fangs of an Asp.

But, that version has some serious flaws as Schiff points out.  Sure, she slept with and had children with both Ceasar and Mark Antony, but she also was one of the most successful female leaders, if not the most, of the last 2000 years.  Cleo ruled over a kingdom that never revolted, was the richest kingdom in the ancient world and grew to the largest it had ever been under the Ptolomies.

I really liked that the author didn't make anything up when there were holes in the history.  Schiff acknowledged that there are parts of Cleopatra's life missing and she used other parts of the Ptolomaic history to fill in the holes.   Most of the reason why we do not have a complete life of Cleopatra is because papyrus is a notoriously poor instrument to last 2000 years and because Ceasar burned the Alexandrian library.  So, all of the information we have about Cleopatra comes Rome.

This colors her history significantly because she wasn't very popular with the prolific writers in Rome during her lifetime.  Schiff does an excellent job of parsing out the bias and crafting an interesting account of cleopatra's life.

I really enjoyed this book and I recommend it to any lover of non-fiction who wants to read about a powerful woman who had an amazing reign.

Happy Reading!!