The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I’m just getting around to reading the Hunger Games series (I know, I know, but I like living under a rock!) and decided that since they were so popular and such major movies, I’d do a book/movie comparison! I mean, we all know the book is going to be much better because Hollywood likes cutting the good stuff for movie length reasons (just give us the 4 hour movie, seriously!) but I like being able to remember what really happened vs what happened in the movies.

  • The introduction of the movie sums up the first few chapters of the book fairly well, though there is far more background in the book. And the relationship between Gale and Katniss isn’t as defined at the start of the movie as in the book.
  • How Katniss got the Mockingjay pin is far more meaningful in the book than in the movie. For a mayor’s daughter to give away a pure gold pin versus being handed it by a Hob woman without much insight on the pin doesn’t give the audience much information about the state of the district and the worth of the pin to Katniss. Though they add sentimentality in the movie- where Katniss gives the pin to Prim to protect her, and then she gives it back after the reaping- it still doesn’t do the book justice, in my opinion.
  • Katniss doesn’t put on as much of a show in the opening ceremony in the movie, and it’s Peeta’s idea to hold hands and not Cinna’s. Truthfully, this carries throughout the movie, and it makes their romantic interest in each other hard to believe in the movie. In the books, you really think there could be something mixed in from what the reader gathers from Katniss’ internal conflict.
  • Katniss’ display to the scoring panel- way more thrilling in the book than the movie- although, seeing her hit the apple was pretty cool!
  • The constant surveillance isn’t as apparent in the movies as in the book. The things that Peeta tells Katniss the eve of the Games in the movie is less censored than the book. The surveillance in general during the games is also lesser than the book portrays. Katniss doesn’t act up or hide her emotions in the movie as often as the book says. In the book, they seem to be constantly aware of the cameras.
  • The relationship between Katniss and Rue wasn’t as developed in the movie as the book. You get that they admire each other, but you don’t see Katniss’ soft side, the part that makes Rue remind her of Prim.
  • Katniss didn’t stay hidden after blowing up the cornucopia in the movie, nor did they explain her hearing loss.
  • The uprising of District 11 in the movie wasn’t talked about in the book. None of the underlying Gamemaker/Capital business is truly revealed, only speculated by Katniss, until the end of the book. Even so there wasn’t any mention of any district outside of the capital being upset about the Games ending the way that it did.
  • The love story is definitely not played up as much in the movie, making the whole “Romeo and Juliet star-crossed lovers” death threat at the end a lot less believable, and the whole end of the book is Katniss trying to sort out her feelings in the Games vs her reality.
  • There is no mention of the separation of the two main characters at the end of the movie, and Peeta finding out about Katniss’ not reciprocating the same feelings for Peeta. This obviously is supposed to set the reader up for the following book in the series, and therefore should also be done in the movies- but it wasn’t.

Obviously, as the first in the series, the movie left the audience curious about what might happen next, but the book left the reader rushing off to the store in search for the next one. Now, if you’re like me and haven’t read or seen the movie, I suggest you check them out, because even though I found the movie lacking in comparison, both the book and movie are thrilling and keep their respective audiences wanting more.

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Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg

Texts From Jane Eyre is another very witty and clever book that I highly recommend for a change of pace and a good laugh. The book is comprised of short “screenshots” of text conversations between some of literature’s most memorable characters and authors, including Jane Eyre (hence the title), some done in a modern style and some retaining their classic voices.

Because it’s such a short book and again, I don’t want to spoil it for you, here are just a few classic characters you will “chat” with:

  • Circe:
    • “where did the pigs come from Circe?”
    • “i don’t know, a pig farm, a pig mommy and a pig daddy who loved each other very much…”
  • Jane Eyre:
    • “I KNEW IT. DID YOU LEAVE BECAUSE OF MY ATTIC WIFE IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ABOUT”
    • “yes. Absolutely.”
  • Hamlet:
    • “darling i don’t mean to criticize but you really hurt your father’s feelings last night”
    • “hes not my real dad. why do you even like him”
  • Nancy Drew:
    • “do you think you can come get me?”
    • “are you tied up again?”
    • “i’m just over at the cave by the old mill”
    • “so you’re tied up…in a cave.”

If you giggled at any one (or all!) of these, then you’ll really enjoy the rest. It’s a perfect way to get to “connect” with some of your favorite literary characters in one place. It’s fast paced, light fare, and well worth checking out!

 

 

 

 

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

For Marie- Laure, it all starts with the Sea of Flames and the legend behind it- of one rare blue teardrop diamond with a flare of red in the center, with the power of immortality to the owner at the price of a curse: ill fate to those dearest. It was a centuries old story that Marie-Laure wasn’t quite convinced was true, but she pondered the legend anyways, imagining what the diamond would look like- for not only was she blind, but the jewel was said to be held deep in a vault with thirteen doors. After all, her father, security and keeper of the keys at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France, worked in close proximity to the vault.

For Werner, it all starts with a copy of a popular mechanics magazine and a simple radio, listening to a broadcast from who knows where of a man teaching science. An orphan living with his sister, Jutta, at Children’s House (an orphanage), Werner was eager to understand the world around him, studying conduits and gears, magnets and electricity, and eventually becoming extremely talented at fashioning simple machines and fixing even the most complex radios. When a German officer has him repair his radio, Werner is inspired by his praise and decides to attend the National Political Institute of Education at Schulpforta, in an effort to make something of himself- to go far, do well.

What these two young children aren’t expecting is the start of World War II, and how quickly it would change their lives.

For Marie-Laure, she would flee with her father to Saint-Malo, having to learn the area through her father and his handcrafted wooden replica of the town by feel and sound. Her great-uncle Etienne, who fought in World War I and still battled his demons post-war, and his housekeeper, Madame Manec, took them in, eventually becoming Marie-Laure’s guardians when her father is caught and sent to a labor camp in Germany. Determined to aid the allied war effort, Madame, Marie-Laure, and even Etienne risk their lives running operations in code through the sound waves of Etienne’s radio.

For Werner, he would become one of Hitler’s Youth, learning the cold methodology of the Nazi SS organization. Though he witnessed the cruelty of the system, there didn’t seem to be a way to stand up against it- nor was he sure that he could. Attempting to keep his nose to the grindstone, he surprises one of his teachers with his quick ability to produce simple mechanics and electronics, and becomes a favorite of his instructor. Then, when Werner tries to level the favoritism playing field between himself and his peers, the instructor turns against him and enlists him. As a soldier in Hitler’s Army, he scans the radio waves for illicit transmitters, ones that could be aiding the allied war effort.

As the two plot lines connect, the pages seem to turn faster and faster as the reader learns what is to become of the now young adults. It’s a beautiful story, and the sensual visualizations (sight, sound, even tactile) that Doerr gives the reader through his two main characters is so realistic that it’s like you are there, witnessing everything for yourself. I also enjoyed reading about World War II from yet another point of view, in which the characters are affected by the war differently than some other novels I’ve read- though it still reads heavy because no matter who is talking about the subject matter, the subject is still about the one of the darkest times in our history. I should also mention that the chapters alternate by character and are very short, so though it is a 500+ page novel, it still reads rather quick.

Overall, I’d recommend All The Light We Cannot See, but I wasn’t as enamored with it as I thought I would be. It’s a good story, and if I found the book on one of my Goodwill hauls, I’d certainly pick it up, but I’m not rushing to the store for my own personal copy. I’m glad that I did read it though, and would say that those who recommended it to me were spot on in saying that I would enjoy it!

 

 

 

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

As always, Jodi Picoult knows how to write a page turner, complete with uncomfortable controversy that squarely reflects current affairs. Small Great Things, published last year (2016), is her latest heavy-hitter, this time tackling the subject of race, privilege, and prejudice.

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse of twenty years, single mother of a straight-A student, and a well-educated, hard-working woman. Her mother, a domestic to a wealthy television personality’s family, gave her every opportunity she could to further Ruth’s education and independence. When Ruth found out she was pregnant while her husband was overseas fighting in the war on Afghanistan, she was determined to give her child the same opportunities to be successful and then some- anything to help overcome the imminent obstacles from being Black.

Turk Bauer is a new father to baby Davis, husband of Brittany, and son-in-law to infamous white supremacist Francis Mitchum. His childhood was rocky, to say the least. His father left the family when Turk was young, his brother was killed in a car accident, and his mother drank herself into a stupor that eventually left her dead. Lost and angry, Turk befriends followers of the Mitchums, learns the ways of white supremacists, and eventually marries into the Mitchum family. At the hospital with new baby Davis, the last thing Turk wants to see is nurse Ruth coming into the hospital room, examining his child and wife. As soon as she’s done, Davis’ file is slapped with a Post-it:

“NO AFRICAN-AMERICAN PERSONNEL TO CARE FOR THIS PATIENT.”

When baby Davis goes into cardiac arrest with only Ruth available to help, Ruth has to decide- disobey orders to try to save the baby’s life, or watch on as he’s unable to breathe and do nothing.

Following a typical Picoult plot, the situation plays out in court and the reader gets to see every facet of the argument with points of view from all the characters involved. I have always loved this about Picoult’s books, because she easily allows the reader to slip into the first person narrative from one character to the next. Reading from Ruth’s point of view, I find myself cringing at the blasé comments from Ruth’s white coworkers, and near tears when she is arrested maliciously in the middle of the night. Despite all that she has done to blend in, she still sticks out. She unknowingly surrounded herself with people in denial, not acceptance, of her color. When reading from Turk’s point of view, I absolutely despised him, even when I found that I was pitying him. His childhood was terrible, the situation with his son was terrible… but his anger and strife fueled hate, and he never sought to rise above, only to get even.

Throughout the novel, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable. I’m white, privileged, and one of those people who don’t like to ruffle feathers (so to speak), but I’m aware of the facts that others don’t have the same privileges I do because of the color of their skin. Yet, I haven’t gotten the courage to stand up against it- I’ve sat back and kept quiet in fear of sounding ignorant, naive, or racist, and that’s just as bad as encouraging it. Reading novels like this (or like this http://bit.ly/2voDbia ), makes me check my white privilege, and gives me the determination to discuss these issues, even when it makes me uncomfortable. As Picoult mentioned in her Author’s Note:

“Why was writing about a person of color any different? Because race is different. Racism is different. It’s fraught, and it’s hard to discuss, and so as a result we often don’t.”

These days, it’s easy enough to go on any social media outlet and find heated discussions on racism, but to actually discuss racism from an educational standpoint, without personal or political bias, is difficult. I applaud Picoult for encouraging these discussions in a thought-provoking manner, for writing this book, for helping others open their eyes and truly see color, rather than ignore it.

Small Great Things is absolutely a must read, and another that belongs on your bookshelves.

 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Another recommendation from my friend from the stacks at the local public library.

The Nightingale took me a little time to get hooked on the story- it starts off rather slow (in my opinion). We are introduced to an unnamed elderly (but not old, as she would put it) lady who is reflecting on her life, and she eventually winds her way up to the attic and pulls out a memory box. Within the box, she finds documents dating back to World War II- specifically, identification papers of a Juliette Gervaise.

Trapped in the memory, the reader is taken back to France, 1939. We are introduced to Vianne Mauriac, a school teacher, mother, wife. On a perfectly normal day, she learns that her husband, Antoine, is being drafted to fight for France against the Germans. She is upset but permissive, believing that the talk of war is exaggerated and that he would be returning home soon. Imagining life without Antoine by her side was too much to think about for Vianne- after all, he had been there for as long as she could remember, certainly longer than her father had. Dealing with her own abandonment issues was Vianne’s younger sister, Isabelle Rossignol. Rebelling against the traditional French-woman behavior, Isabelle ran away to home far too often, causing her to be expelled from many boarding schools. After the death of her mother, her father had abandoned them by dumping them at a boarding school. Where Vianne found Antoine and befriended a girl named Rachel, Isabelle was left behind, the forgotten little sister. Now as a rebellious young adult, Isabelle is running for another reason- to survive the storm of Germans coming to occupy Paris.

As the start of the war happens, Vianne and Isabelle can’t let go of the hurt from their past. With varying views on the German occupation, Isabelle decides to join the war effort by secretly aiding the Allies, and Vianne takes a more passive route, complying with billeting soldiers in her home and abiding the German command. As the war wages on, the two seem to lead separate lives. Vianne attempts to stay her ground, doing her best to protect her daughter Sophie from the damages of war, and her neighbors when she can, all the while trying to maintain hope that the war will end soon. Meanwhile, Isabelle is running risky operations to save downed Ally airmen, a crime punishable by death, under the noses of commanding German officers. It is only when their two worlds collide again that the sisters begin to realize that they must put aside their past and hope to have a chance at a future.

Hannah took about 100 pages to get me hooked, but when she did, the hook went straight to my heart. As you all know, I have a weakness for historical fiction, and in particular those surrounding WWII. My great-grandfather was a volunteer of the Red Cross and helped liberate concentration camps in Germany in 1944-1945. We found photos that he took during that time after he passed away… and they will haunt me forever. So when I read these fictional stories, I know there is a very similar non-fictional story out there. A biography, even. And it makes me incredibly hurt and amazed that mankind would do such horrible things to each other, and yet people survived, had a will to survive….

I  also wanted to note that while somewhere in the middle of this book, I kept thinking about another novel, Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key, about WWII from the French perspective. I kept mentally comparing the two, and for about 100 pages, I kept thinking that de Rosnay’s was a more gripping read… and then Hannah’s hook got into me. What I found most interesting was that de Rosnay actually worked with Hannah on this novel, a few years after her own came out. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do so, and if you haven’t read The Nightingale, the same goes for it. Just be ready to grab a box of tissues.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

“She gave me a complicated smile. “You’ve heard the joke, haven’t you? Are you married or do you live in Kenya?“”

When my book-loving coworker suggested I read this novel, it didn’t take me long to reserve it at the library, nor did it take me long to read it. 350 pages, each one full of a romantic view of life in the 1920’s British East Africa as experienced by Beryl Clutterbuck. Though a fictional novel, Clutterbuck, who becomes Markham after her second marriage, is actually a nonfictional character, as well as the others described in the novel. When I finished reading, I couldn’t stop myself from doing some more historical research, trying to piece together the timeline and get better images of the people involved. I love when a book does that to me- inspires me to learn more.

Anyways, we are introduced to Beryl as a young girl living with her family in colonial Kenya. Her father is running a horse farm as a trainer and breeder of racing thoroughbreds, and Beryl wants to follow in his footsteps. When her mother and brother leave to return to England, she decides Kenya is her home, and she wants to stay with her father on the farm. As she reaches her teen years, she rebels against her father’s wishes to become a more suitable woman by taunting her new governess and running away from boarding school. She isn’t interested in becoming the expected civilized housewife. Growing up in the bush, she’s followed her best friend Kibii step for step as he learned from his tribe how to be a warrior. Matching his courage and skills, Beryl knows she can take on any man’s job with determination and hard work, and succeed. However, when she reaches the age of sixteen, the tables are turned when she learns her father’s business has gone bankrupt, and he must sell the farm and train at another stable, leaving Beryl to decide if she should stay on the farm, go work for her father, or become a wife.

She decides to marry Jock, a man who just moved to the colony near her father’s farm. The merge leaves Beryl with her father’s horses, but also with a loveless relationship. When it becomes obvious that the marriage isn’t going to work out, Beryl decides to separate from Jock to go work as a trainer on her friend and mentor’s farm. A turning point for Beryl, she becomes the first English licensed female horse trainer (at least in Kenya, maybe the world). As her reputation builds for her training, she also gains a reputation for being a nontraditional wife, if you catch my drift. Despite her successes at the racetrack, her personal life causes her difficulties in keeping clients. After some time, she requests a divorce from her husband. He isn’t willing to grant the divorce because he doesn’t want to be seen as a man who can’t control his wife, nor take a hit to his reputation. They fight- him by drinking and getting into physical altercations, her by holding her ground and occasionally another man. As her relationship with Jock flames out, a new one with Denys Finch- Hatton fires up.

While reading, not only does the personal drama keep things interesting, but the romance of living in such wild country in Africa draws you in. I loved imagining the red clay, the safari trips, the rain season, the flamingo flocks near where Beryl exercised her horses… all the imagery was lovely, even in terrifying moments. Because of McLain’s wordsmithery, I was living right with Beryl in the environment that she loved so much.

With so much depth and strength to the characters, the setting, and the overall complexity of human relationships, I’d recommend it to anyone, and especially for those with the additional interest in the female empowerment and equality. I’m amazed at what barriers Beryl broke back in the 1920/1930s, of how much has changed since pioneers like her broke traditional female roles, and of how we are still pushing to get through the glass ceiling today. “Circling the Sun” is a must read.

Tatiana and Alexander by Paullina Simons

I’ll keep this one short because I’m afraid if I say too much, all the plot twists will be revealed! Tatiana and Alexander is the sequel to The Bronze Horseman, one I didn’t realize existed until I started doing a little research after my last book review. I found it online and ordered it, and I think it took longer to ship the book than it took me to read it. It’s over 500 pages, and I couldn’t put it down for about three days.

Now, if you haven’t read the first book, stop right here. Seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Still with me? Okay. The sequel follows Tatiana as she figured out how to live without Alexander in America. She and her little boy, Anthony, take up residence on Ellis Island, and Tatiana becomes a nurse, aiding the sick who enter as refugees and captives of the war. All the while, she holds on to the nagging feeling that Alexander hasn’t left her, that he must be alive…. and though she doesn’t quite know it, he is. He’s narrowly escaped death not once, but a handful of times, and he won’t stop holding on to the hope that he will see Tatiana and their baby again.

It’s an epic love story novel, and if you loved The Bronze Horseman, you’ll love reading their final chapters in Tatiana and Alexander.