Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

As anticipated, I sat down on Monday night and read Mockingjay, the third part of the Hunger Games trilogy.  If I'm being honest, I read it too quickly.  Once things got going it was really hard to put down, and my impatience to find out what happened meant that I was practically speed-reading towards the end.  Still, it was worth it.

Ok, so I then had to sit down last night and re-read the last few chapters, but that's somewhat of a habit that I've got into lately with the end of trilogies.  It's nice to take a little while to reflect on what happened, and then return to pick up the nuances that were missed.  And somehow it's much more satisfying to be able to just relaxing into the situation knowing what will happen.  That is if you liked the ending of course.  Probably if you hated the ending then it wouldn't be such a good thing.

Thankfully though, I got the ending I wanted.  Selfish, maybe, but right from the first book I knew exactly how, in my mind, one of the plotlines should finish.  And it did.  Which is good, as it means I didn't have to get annoyed at the book.  It would have been a shame to get annoyed with it, particularly given how beautifully crafted the whole country of Panem is.

This is where I have a difficulty.  One thing I've really been trying while writing about the books I read is to not include spoilers.  It would be great if my babble encouraged someone to pick up a book they might otherwise not try.  And generally this is easy enough.  But when you're writing about the third book in a trilogy which involves lots of killing it becomes difficult to write about the characters without spoiling earlier books.

Having thought about this, my advice is for you to go read the first two books now and then come back again.  Or just carry on anyway.

A lot of conflicting feelings appear throughout this story, with Katniss struggling to decide on where her future should lie.  Should she keep hoping that Peeta will be safe or instead try to build a future with Gale?  Should she keep her head down or agree to be the face of the rebellion?  So granted, they're quite life-changing decisions, but there a few occasions on which I just wanted to knock some sense into her.  Well, many occasions actually.

My sister and I discussed the trilogy yesterday and she commented that as the time in the Arena is her favourite bit, she liked the third book the least.  I can definitely see that point of view.  The moments in the Arena seem the most thought through, with the attention to detail and raw emotion.  The idea flows throughout the third book that Katniss performs best when she is just being herself, and I think that when she is fighting for her survival, or someone else's, she really shines through.

I had my reservations during the second book about how many events had been set off so quickly, however it definitely wasn't as extreme as it could have been.  I liked the way a lot of the events were handled.  The brutality of war situations wasn't covered up, and the idea of klling others wasn't glorified.  It was just there, as something that was happening and couldn't be avoided.  And the aftermath of emotions were there too.

My favourite character stayed the same from the moment they were introduced in the first book to the very last page of the last book.  This could mean that I'm loyal, that they are the best-written character, or that they are the one I sympathise with the most.  Maybe it's all three, I don't know.  But as it always seems sad to read a book and not truly want at least one character to succeed, I would say this did its job.

Definitely read the Hunger Games trilogy.  Even if it's not your normal sort of book, give it ago.  I'm not sure if I'll have chance to read it again, but get the feeling it will be playing on my mind for a while.  And after the beautifully described last few chapters I have no desire at all to watch the film(s), there are just too many favourite moments for the filmmakers to get wrong.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins

My sister visited us last week and the only criteria I gave for letting her stay was the loan of the second and third books in the Hunger Games trilogy.  And so yesterday afternoon, when I should have been unpacking boxes, I curled up on the sofa and started to read Catching Fire.  With breaks for dinner and a bit of cleaning, I finished the book at around half past 10 last night.

In some ways that says everything that needs to be said, but given the speed with which I read the first book it's unsurprising that I found this one easy to get through.  The story starts around six months after the end of the first book, shortly before the Victory Tour is about to commence.  The major events of the missing six months are slowly filled in as the story progresses.

The break in time does allow for more 'important' storylines to be the focus, but as a character fan it also feels a slightly wasted opportunity.  It almost feels as though they were marking time, and that the relationships have changed very little from where they were before.  Any tense feelings that lasted for those months seem quickly forgiven and forgotten, although it is true that some things last on.

Far-fetched is a word that popped into my mind a lot when I was mentally replaying the story last night.  Some aspects of the plot seemed overly dramatic and all very sudden.  And our storyteller does seem to quickly change her mind about the most important of decisions.  However, on reflection, it wasn't quite so far-fetched as it seemed.  The gap of six months allows plenty of time for build ups, and the lack of communication between Districts would account for everything seeming sudden.  And thinking about it, it's often the most important of decisions that are the hardest to make up your mind about and yet the clearest when the right answer has been reached.

I enjoyed reading Catching Fire, but I guess we'll have to wait until tomorrow for a true opinion as, like many second books in a trilogy, it's hard to judge the build-up without knowing the conclusion.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Enigma - Robert Harris

When I started writing this blog I made a rule for myself that I can't start reading a new book until the blog post for the previous one has been written.  This ensures that I don't skip a blog post for any book, and so the record is maintained.  Unfortunately this time it's somewhat backfired.

Due to being off work ill, I read most of Enigma in one day, finishing on Tuesday 7th August.  Since then I have moved house, and so haven't managed to find the time to sit and write about it.  However there have been lots of occasions on which I could have happily sat down and read a few chapters of book.  And so the blog that was designed to keep me reading has stopped me reading.  The real lesson is, though, that I should just make the time to write sooner!

Back in January I read Fatherland by Robert Harris and commented that I would try some more of his books in future, and the next one I picked was Enigma.  As the name suggests, the story is based during World War II in Bletchley Park.  For those who don't know, Bletchley Park was where the greatest British minds of the generation gathered to break the codes generated by the German Enigma machines.

The plot itself focuses on one particular cryptoanalyst called Tom Jericho.  Part of it focuses on attempts to crack the hardest codes encountered so far, and the rest is a mystery surrounding Tom's former girlfriend.  Each section starts with an extract from the real cryptography manuals from Bletchley Park, which is nice to set the scene and to give some explanations about the jargon used.

Many of the characters are proper geeks, which is kind of what you would expect from a group of mathematicians that all get together for a secret project.  Personally, I didn't mind this.  But then being one of the geeky cryptoanalysts would have a huge appeal to me, which may have swayed my opinion somewhat.

The concept of the story was interesting.  At the start I wasn't really sure what to expect, which is probably a good way to go into a book really.  It means that the story is judged for what it is, not for what you thought you already knew about it.  In this case, the judging was pretty positive all round.  Some of the characters did lack a little depth.  I suppose you could argue that none of them knew each other overly well, and so the little details wouldn't have been mentioned, but it still felt difficult to really understand where they were coming from.

I would definitely recommend reading Enigma.  Apart from anything, the historical context is fascinating, and anything that makes you want to find out more about the time in which it was set must be a good thing.  I'm not sure what it would be like to read this with no prior knowledge of Turing, Bletchley Park or Enigma, but if that applies to you then read the book and let me know!