Wrapping Up 2010, Looking Forward 2011

Hullo! Is it the end of the year already? That was fast. Christmas came and then things were very busy for awhile and now that I have time to sit down at the computer I find 2010 is over. Well. I suppose I should tie up some loose ends now. Here’s a few things I just finished up:

  • Finished Falling for Snow review (almost…I’m so tired, my apologies…..)
  • Posted a Depeche Mode review for December 28
  • Posted the second part of The Hunger Games trilogy review
  • Edited the books, writing and music links up top. Now you can browse an index of sorts of all my posts in the loads of free time you have. ;P

I’ve realized that posting one book review a week is not enough, especially in 2011 with all the challenges I’ve taken up! Here are some short review of a couple of books I finished recently but didn’t have the change to post review. I just want to wrap them up here so I can have a fresh start next year.

  • The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville (Rating: 3.5 stars) – The fourth and final book in a series I began in grade two. The first two books were published in the last nineties, the third was published in 2008 when I never ever expected the series to be finished. This final book did not disappoint and keeping in mind that it’s a series meant for early/middle schoolers, I still enjoyed it. I couldn’t help but compare the family dynamics to those of Inkheart which of course is an entirely different story, so while the family aspects of The Last Hunt could have been much stronger, they were appropriate for the story. I would have liked to have seen more of the Dimblethum, but otherwise it was a good read. I hope to read these books to my niece or nephew one day, perhaps.
  • Blood Relatives by Craig Francis Powers (Rating: 4 stars) I bought this book at the local writers festival in September and finally read it in November. Young Newfie author, his first book. Completely different from what I usually like to read (very gritty, realistic, people are shit and so is my life kind of story) but I found myself really enjoying the prose and the story, even though almost all of the characters were disgusting (but that was the point). The ending was not at all what I expected but it was satisfying. I’d recommend this if you can get your hands on it.
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (4.5 stars) – I can’t remember why I picked this up. It was very good (dur…). The beginning was a bit slow, but I eventually became absorbed in the characters and the straight-forward but oh so true prose. I don’t usually read books like this, that are sort of a reflection on people and relationships, but I was in the mood for something like that for once. I will for sure be buying this one. I’m also interested in seeing the movie, especially since it stars Carey Mulligan.

Earlier this month I discovered ‘book blogging’ and challenges. While I wouldn’t put myself in the category of book blogger, I’ve been enjoying browsing blogs and I definitely like the idea of challenges. You can click here [page no longer exists] to see the ones I’ve signed up for. I’m hoping these challenges will help me plow through some books I’ve been meaning to read for ages and also to just generally increase my reading habit back to a level where it used to be. With the list of books I have now, I’ll have to read one book every two days or so for 2011. That would’ve been no problem a few years ago…but with a full university course load and work I’ll have to see how well I’ll do! I’m not really sure how I’ll go about blogging about the books…perhaps I’ll do my best do full ‘reviews’ as often as possible and then do a monthly summary review if need be.

Happy New Year 🙂

Suzanne Collins – Catching Fire and Mockingjay


Author: Suzanne Collins

Series: The Hunger Games trilogy
Titles: Catching Fire/Mockingjay
Published: September 2009/August 2010
Publisher: Scholastic
Length: 391/390 pages
Genre: Dystopian scifi
Target age: Young adult
Why I picked it up: So many people have been raving about it, I felt like something had passed me by when Mockingjay was released so I bought a boxed set of the trilogy
Rating: 3 stars/2 stars
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!
Related: The Hunger Games review

I am sad that I have so many negative things to say. To see an author put out a fantastic book followed by a good book followed by a terrible book is very sad to see. Let me be upfront: This review is going to be full of nothing but complaints. The reason is, I’ve been paying far more attention to authorial choices, if you will, when I read and these two novels made it very easy for me to see something and think ‘Why would she make that choice?!’ I wasn’t quite so frustrated with the two books while I was reading them, merely annoyed. I was somewhat disappointed in the ending, but the feeling grew as I thought of more and more things I didn’t like. I would still recommend the trilogy as a whole. Read the books, just don’t get your hopes up for a satisfying conclusion.
CATCHING FIRE SPOILERS AHEAD
My first and only point is more of an observance rather than an objection. I wasn’t anticipating the premise of the second book at all. I was fully prepared to follow Katniss as she mentored a girl for the next Hunger Games. I should have known better than to think it would be something like that, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to find her and Peeta back in the arena. I was so surprised by that at first, I didn’t have time to groan about it. But, it turned out to be a much more interesting story than I could have expected. Not quite as exciting as their first time around in the arena, but still a good read.

MOCKINGJAY SPOILERS AHEAD

 

It’s easy to screw up death scenes. But sometimes they’re just so blatantly bad you wonder how come nobody noticed. An author should make an effort to make the reader feel some sort of emotion when a character dies. Two deaths happened that should have made feel something but neither did. Finnick’s death was so poorly portrayed I read past it a few pages and then thought ‘Wait, I think Finnick just died back there’ and I had to go back. Finnick was my favourite character and if he had to die, he deserved a much better death. I didn’t like how Annie was shown dealing with his death, it didn’t seem to fit her character at all. And Prim’s death…ooh, that just infuriated me. Poorly executed scene. Unemotional. Who cares. Ultimately had little affect on the story. Her death could have been handled far, far better and actually served some purpose to the plot instead of just ‘Oh, it’ll be sad if we kill off the cute little sister.’ Gahh.
My complaints about how Peeta was handled tie in with my complaints about how the romance was dealt with. One of my notes for this post reads: ‘Lack of Peeta/hooking up with Peeta at the end/lack of support for Katniss’ choice FUUUUU PEETA.’ It’s not Peeta’s fault that he had to play such a terrible role, though. I feel bad for him. I don’t think Peeta was present enough in the story for being such a crucial character, but I’m not sure if that’s a valid criticism or just my own personal preference. Earlier in the trilogy, I felt like there could be something between Peeta and Katniss. That vanished in Mockingjay but somehow the two have no problems reconnecting and picking up their ‘love’ despite everything that did/didn’t happen between them in the final book.
Perhaps the most shocking/disturbing thing to me was the decision to hold a final Hunger Game, a decision which was decided ultimately by Katniss. That was a true WTF moment for me. It was such a quickly decided thing, with no little explanation and no actual impact on the story. It was just ‘Yeah, sure, let’s hold one more.’ No! No! I want to know why, I want to know more about that, that’s such a huge decision! But it wasn’t, it was totally played down in the novel. Maybe it was just me, but I don’t understand why Collins would include something like that if she was just going to sweep over it.
Those are my biggest issues with the conclusion of The Hunger Games trilogy…other things include there being too many dull passages, cheap tricks (like knocking out the protagonist for the climax. I find that so irritating, I understand why an author might do that, but it feels like an easy way out) and the epilogue (Katniss just settles down and has kids and everything? What a disappointing message. I think the story would have a much better impact if Katniss had been destroyed by her whole ordeal but I like my stories bleak).

I couldn’t resist looking on Amazon to see if I was the only reader so frustrated with this conclusion. Apparently the opinion is split, the two most helpful reviews when I looked are a five star review and a one star review. For a lengthier, more eloquently written review (the review took the words straight from my mouth, if I could have said them as well :P), I’d actually recommend this. I found myself nodding and muttering yes as i read it. I wish I didn’t have to feel this way about Mockingjay. It’s a tragedy to see a story fall apart in just three books.

Jamie Bastedo – Falling for Snow

Author: Jamie Bastedo
Titles: Falling for Snow
Published: October 2003
Publisher: Red Deer Press
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Non-fiction naturalist
Target age: Adult
Why I picked it up: Found it while browsing at the library
Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy: McNally Robinson | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

A couple of weeks ago I was at the library browsing for books, something I hadn’t done in a long time. One of the types of books I was looking for sort of naturalist books, I suppose you could say. I picked out two wintry books, this and another I still have to read. Falling for Snow  is, quite simply, exactly says.

The narration style of this book is the only thing that irritated me slightly. It quickly became clear to me that I wasn’t the target audience, though – it was the tone the author took that tipped me off to that. This book is clearly written for people who have never experienced snow properly. I am not one of those people. The prose is full of gentle teasing and ‘Snow really is a good thing, believe it or not!’ Which, of course, is how I sometimes like to talk my friends in warmer climates, but to put up with it for a whole book could be tiring. Still, it’s barely worth mentioning in comparison to all the better aspects of this book. (I feel like just pointing it out makes it so much bigger than it actually was…it was just something I noticed, not something that unduly bothered me ^^;)

Okay, I’ve been writing this post for weeks and I’m gonna wrap it up quickly now so I can take this book back to the library: There was a section about various blizzards and how different places dealt with them and I was waiting for the Toronto snowstorm heading, because I figured that would have to be in there but there was no subheading and I was kind of disappointed until I turned the page and saw that Toronto got there own heading, haha. I like hearing about Toronto’s snow problem, makes me feel nice and smug. I liked that chapter about the different writings on snow, the poetry and the bits of prose. I liked the story about James Glashier (crazy man. somebody should write a fictionalized account about him…). I liked all the different knowledge/information about snow contained in this book. A good read with lots of different perspectives on the subject.

Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins
Series: The Hunger Games trilogy
Titles: The Hunger Games
Published: September 2008
Publisher: Scholastic
Length: 378 pages
Genre: Dystopian scifi
Target age: Young adult
Why I picked it up: So many people have been raving about it, I felt like something had passed me by when Mockingjay was released so I bought a boxed set of the trilogy 
Rating: 4 stars
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

As mentioned up there, I purchased a boxed set of The Hunger Games a few months ago at Costco (half the Chapters price! I love it when Costco has the books I want). I proceeded to devour the trilogy, finishing just before I started NaNo. I’ve decided to do this review in two parts, because I feel one way about The Hunger Games and another way about Catching Fire and Mockingjay. To give you an example of what I mean: I’m having a very hard time getting this review out because Mockingjay is the most recent book I read and all I can do is think up complaints about that one. But I will do my best to focus on The Hunger Games and all the great things about that book.

One of the things I was really impressed by was how Collins incorporated appearance into the plot line. It’s something most stories like this (post-apocalyptic death arena, yaaay) don’t normally deal with.I think the use of fashion and presentation was dealt with quite well and its affect on the plot might have a seemed a tad over the top at times, but given the scenario I think it’s hard to judge if the reactions were over the top or not. Overall, I thought the significance of appearance was appropriate and refreshing.

I generally despise romance. Er, well, I suppose that’s not a very accurate statement. I don’t like romance when it is there for romance’s sake. Romance or love or what have you better have a purpose and it better be believable. That being said, I was very happy with how the romance was handled (in this first book, cough cough). Love triangles are always dangerous and this scenario seems a little far-fetched when taken out of context (so I’m not going to elaborate further :P), but it worked with the characters who were involved. Katniss’ actions were believable and understandable. I didn’t mind how the romance played out in this book and I especially liked how Katniss wasn’t at all interested in love, just in survival.

Whenever you pit a large number of people together in a battle which only one can survive (and it has to be your main character), there’s always the danger that someone’s death will seem unrealistic. Maybe that was the case in this book. I didn’t notice, though. For me, everything felt believable and still creative or surprising or interesting. Not sure what the proper adjective is here, but I was satisfied with how all the deaths played out.

In the same vein as what I was discussing in the previous paragraph, I was very satisfied with the ending. I found it unexpected (but I should note that I never expect things…) and very attention-grabbing and keeping, which is something a high-risk story such as this one should always do. I think I’ll just leave that at that to avoid spoilers. I liked the ending. You should too. 😉

A lot of this novel contained elements that could have easily ruined the book if they had been poorly executed. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen until the next two books. The Hunger Games is by far the best book in the bunch.

    Jose Saramago – Death With Interruptions

     *The following information applies to the English hardcover edition. (the novel was originally published in Portuguese in 2005). Also, the edition of the book I read doesn’t have the skull on the cover.*

    Author: Jose Saramago
    Translator: Margaret Jull Costa

    Title: Death With Interruptions
    Published: 2008
    Publisher: Harcourt
    Length: 238 pages
    Genre: Magic realism, hypothetical fiction
    Target age: Young adult
    Why I picked it up: I enjoy the author’s writing style
    Rating: 4.5 stars

    Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

    I liked this book as much as I liked the one I previously read by the same author, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. Although both novels are very different with regards to the type of story that is being told, I enjoyed them both equally.

    Of course, one of the main reason I liked Death With Interruptions is because of Saramago’s unique writing style, the main feature of which is winding sentences and a lack of punctuation. I just had to mark this passage, in which a grammarian is criticizing the style of writing of a certain letter.

      …but that could be forgiven, one could even consider it a minor defect given the chaotic syntax, the absence of full stops, the complete lack of very necessary parentheses, the obsessive elimination of paragraphs, the random use of commas and, most unforgivable sin of all, the intentional and almost diabolical abolition of the capital letter, which, can you imagine, is even omitted from the actual signature of the letter and replaced by a lower-case d.

    I wrote in my previous review of the interesting perspective of whoever is narrating the story. That perspective continues to crop up occasionally within this novel.

    We humbly recognize that our explanations about this and much more have been sadly lacking, we confess that we are unable to provide explanations that will satisfy those demanding them, unless, taking advantage of the reader’s credulity and leaping over the respect owed to the logic of events, we were to add further unrealities to the congenital unreality of this fable…

    One of the differences I noticed between this novel and the one about Jesus was the dialogue felt a lot different. Perhaps this was just me, but it felt a lot more natural and seemed to flow more like I was hearing the conversation instead of reading. This could be because I’ve gotten more used to the style. But it felt different (thought certainly not worse!) nonetheless.

    I think I’ve said enough about the writing style. As opposed to the last Saramago novel I chose (I chose it because of the premise), I chose this one for the writing style but of course, the story itself was very much up to par. The first half of the novel examines how a fictional country deals when humans suddenly stop dying, which in itself made for a very fun and thoughtful read. The second half follows death (the character) as she becomes intrigued by a man who refuses to die. Both ‘stories’ were very original and creative. I wasn’t expecting the ending at all, which was a nice surprise because that rarely happens for me! I finished the book with a very satisfied feeling.

    SPOILERS AHEAD

    I would say I have only one complaint to note, but oddly enough it doesn’t feel like a complaint to me. The second half of the book revolves around a man who won’t die, even when death has started killing again. The reason why he will not die is never explained. This did not feel like a letdown, though. I didn’t even realize it had not been explained until I started to think of book a few days later and thought to myself, ‘Hey, how come that guy wouldn’t die?’ This omission might bother some people, but it did not bother me.

    I started this book just before November and finished it just after November. That might have something to do with my participation in NaNoWriMo, but I also don’t think you can rush through Saramago’s work. You have to take it it at your own pace, piece by piece, and let it digest. If you can do that, then you will have a very enjoyable read on your hands.