Monday, 30 July 2012

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

There have been two literary bandwagons that I could have jumped on this year.  The most recent, from what I've heard, actually involves a lot of jumping on in the story.  But Lady Chatterley's Lover filled my quota for the year on that sort of book.  So I chose the bandwagon from earlier in the year and started reading a book by Suzanne Collins.

The Hunger Games probably needs little introduction.  It is set in an America of the future, where the landscape is carved into Districts and the Capitol rules all.  To remind the Districts of a failed rebellion years before, each area must send two teenagers to compete in the annual Hunger Games - a 'winner takes all' fight to the death.

The idea of the Hunger Games themselves seems scarily realistic to me.  Looking at the way that reality TV is heading it's not too hard a leap to think that if one society got a true grip over another then this sort of thing could happen.  As I say, scary.

But more interesting is the set up of the society itself.  A lot of the Districts don't get much mention, just those from which the main contenders appear.  The Districts that have the worst poverty seem to be those that contribute the most to society.  Again, the echoes seem scarily real and not too far fetched.  I was completely swept in by the world that was created.

It doesn't take a genius to notice that I read this pretty quickly.  Less than 24 hours from start to finish, and that time included sleep, work and eating.  One factor was definitely the world drawing me in, but that alone wouldn't be enough.  The book was written for teenagers, which I find gives the author more freedom to write about what they want rather than what they thing people want to read.

It also allows for a real display of emotions.  Strangely, given the situation and storyline, one of the main words I would use to describe Katniss is 'innocent'.  And the same goes to Peeta too, although perhaps less surprisingly in his case.  The fact that the characters are allowed to be innocent and just, well, human makes it far easier to be absorbed in their lives.

In case you hadn't worked it out by now, yes I would very much recommend that you read this book.  I am currently regretting only borrowing the first one from my sister, and wondering how quickly I can get my hands on the other two.  Note that I haven't seen the film and so can't compare it to that.  But it would have to be a pretty amazing film to come close to the feelings of being inside someone's head that first-person writing gives.  So give it a go, it's not like it will take long to read!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett

True to intentions I returned to Discworld for my next book, and it didn't disappoint.  Carpe Jugulum (or "Go for the throat" as Nanny translates it) focuses on the witches and Lancre as dignitaries from across the Disc arrive for the naming ceremony of the baby princess.  Unfortunately, some of those invited guests include vampires, and once they've been invited they are hard to get rid of.

The whole idea of the story is one that really appeals to me.  Young vampires being conditioned from an early age to be resistant to holy water, garlic and similar items.  It makes perfect sense really, as everyone knows how to kill a vampire and so if you're immune to those methods you must be on to a winner.

Of the witches, my favourite is definitely Agnes.  The arguments with Perdita are a particular highlight, and these feature heavily in this book.  There's a lot to be said for listening to the nagging voice within, although talking back to it is a little weird.

But much as I love Agnes, the best character in Carpe Jugulum for me was Mightily Oats.  Definitely had a bit of a soft spot for the Omnian priest who never meant to get into any trouble.  The fact that he keeps trying to do the work his beliefs tell him is right, even though he's not sure if he's sure about those beliefs, seems reassuringly real.  His interactions with the witches also make for some very amusing encounters.

It took me a little while to get into this.  I think that there were so many strands of plot to set up that it wasn't until a few combined that I really got my head around which were the key points.  But, as always, I got fully immersed in the world and really struggled not to laugh out loud while reading in my lunch break.  I'd very much recommend reading the earlier witches books first, to really understand the interpersonal dynamics, but once you have done then this is a must read.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John le Carré

I swear reading used to be easier.  Still, I am determined to persevere with getting back into reading and if that means slogging through a few books that I lose interest in then that's what it takes.

Of course, this isn't the sort of book you are supposed to lose interest in.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is set in England during the Cold War and focuses on George Smiley, who used to work for 'the Circus', and his efforts to find a mole.  Not the furry, digging type, for anyone who was confused.

I actually quite enjoyed reading this, particularly as it got nearer the end.  Think I would have enjoyed the earlier parts more if I'd sat down and made the effort to get into it.  When I started the book I was out of the habit of making time to read and very tired, which is a deadly combination for an unfamiliar author.  For the first 10 or so chapters I was reading about half a chapter at a time before I fell asleep.  The result of which was I didn't really take a lot on board, which then made the book even harder to read.

One example of my ignorance came when some of the characters were discussing a former colleague.  I expected this to be followed up by a chapter about the colleague, as tends to happen in books, when I realised that this particular guy had already been the main feature of about 3 chapters earlier on.  His name had completely slipped my mind and I almost gave up and started reading again from the beginning.

Reviewing this book is really hard.  I'm very torn between being honest about the fact that I had no idea what was going on for most of the book and blaming my clueless-ness on my lifestyle for the last month.  Maybe one day I'll re-read it and find out for sure whether I liked it.  Maybe I'll just play it safe and read a Discworld book next, in an attempt to reboot my reading habit.