May books 22nd to 31st

Queenie- Candice Carty-Williams (physical book, new read)

Meet Queenie. She just can’t cut a break. Well, apart from one from her long term boyfriend, Tom. That’s just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Stuck between a boss who doesn’t seem to see her, a family who don’t seem to listen (if it’s not Jesus or water rates, they’re not interested), and trying to fit in two worlds that don’t really understand her, it’s no wonder she’s struggling.’ (Queenie synopsis)

Whilst I read this book before the murder of George Floyd and the protests, I would again like to address the horrific events and systemic racism that black people are experiencing, specific police brutality and everyday racism at the hands of ignorant white people. I am continuing to educate myself, sign petitions and donate to causes that support Black lives matter, and I will continue to read- and actively seek out books- written by black authors or representing the experiences of black people to enhance my education as I aim to become actively anti-racist. I understand that I will never understand. However, I stand.

I knew nothing about this book going into it, but I instantly loved Queenie as a character and found this very quick and easy to read. This book emphasises the more ‘every-day’ elements of systemic racism and Candy-Williams highlighted the ignorance of white people in denying racism through the dismissive nature of the white characters; Queenie experiences lots of gaslighting from her relationship and there are several examples of her ex-boyfriend supporting the racist statements and assumptions made by his family. As a result of this gaslighting, Queenie often doubts herself and the racism or sexism that she faces throughout this book- I loved the nuanced way that this is addressed as the writer effectively emphasised the doubt that people can feel whilst standing up for what’s right, and the way that dominant assumptions and meritocratic discourse create an environment where racism and sexism can go unchallenged. Queenie will be a very relatable character for readers in her actions and inner monologues. I will note here that there is lots on consent, power and abuse which is extremely well written but may act as a trigger for some readers.

I also enjoyed the realistic and positive depictions of mental health and illness, and Queenies relationships with her family and friends. Themes of reliance on others and the need to work on yourself and learn to love yourself can be seen throughout. It was very interesting to read about the cultural elements of mental health discussions in this book; Queenie and her family reflect upon the often-dismissive reaction to mental illness within Jamaican culture, and reluctance or shame surrounding accepting help.

Important/meaningful quote:

It’s not putting black lives on a pedestal, I don’t even know what that means,” I said, my heart beating fast. “It’s saying that black lives, at this point, and historically, do not, and have not mattered, and that they should!”
I looked first at Gina, then around the room to see if anyone was going to back me up. Instead, I was met with what I’d been trying to pretend hadn’t always been a room full of white not-quite-liberals whose opinions, like their money, had been inherited.”

The Hate U Give- Angie Thomas (audiobook, new read)

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.’ (The Hate U Give synopsis)

I watched this film when it came out and I was incredibly moved but having never read the book I decided to listen to it. This book is extremely powerful and is still incredibly relevant, the events of this story are exactly parallel within the police brutality, protests, and social media conversations we are having today. The fact that this story was relevant and continues to be relevant is despicable. Starr is an amazing and relatable character and I would recommend that everybody read this story, regardless of age. I’ve been thinking about books that I can read with my class to learn about race and racism, and whilst The Hate U Give is too mature for primary school I highly recommend giving this book to any teenagers and young adults, it is incredible. I would also recommend watching the film, it has been adapted very well and is incredibly powerful.

Important/meaningful quote:

That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

People like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation- Ottessa Moshfegh (physical book, new read)

It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong? Our narrator has many of the advantages of life: Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like everything else, by her inheritance. But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents in college, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend.’ (My Year of Rest and Relaxation synopsis)

This book is a little bit mental hahaha, I’m intrigued to read some of Moshfegh’s other books to see if they have similar surreal plots and characters. Whilst this book touches on elements of grief and depression it is a satirical account of wealth, youth and the sense of dissatisfaction or ingratitude that can come with privilege. I think this is also written as though it is a social commentary of those who perceive ‘Generation z’ to be lazy, entitled, and uninspired due to the perceived ease of life today. The main character is unlikable and Moshfegh writes her sense of entitlement and selfish nature in a very interesting insightful way. This book has a particularly unsettling contrast when read alongside the other books I read this week, with themes of privilege, prejudice, and discrimination. The tone of this book is in parts gloomy and funny and I found it very interesting to read about the caricatures of realistic people (if that makes any sense at all).

Whilst reading, I also noted that the main character has a similar vibe to the narrator of American Psycho and these books gave me a similar sort of feeling (I liked this one more though, American Psycho made me feel a bit queasy most of the time). I was also reminded of The Vegetarian in the last half of the book, the characters ‘transformations’ felt similar.

Important/meaningful quote:

‘in my frenzied state of despair, I understood: there was stability in living in the past.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

I made an entire blog post about this book (basically a rant hahaha, it was not my favourite).

Thank you for reading and I hope you’re all doing okay. Please consider writing to your MP/MSP if you live in the UK, signing petitions, donating if you can and educating yourself to become actively anti-racist.

https://www.change.org/p/mayor-jacob-frey-justice-for-george-floyd

https://www.blackvisionsmn.org/

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/CharitableArtByCarly

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins

If you’ve read this book and loved it, I would maybe suggest reading another blog post hahaha. I wrote a blog post last week about how much I absolutely love The Hunger Games trilogy, that’s a far more positive post about one of my favourite series’. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the same way at all about this book. I’ll say in advance, I tend not to like books out with the original series and often I don’t read them, for example, I hate the Fantastic Beasts films and I refuse to even read The Cursed Child, it doesn’t exist in my mind haha. It’s probably unfair for me to write about this book knowing this, however, I did find the premise intriguing, so I thought I’d give it a try. I’ll also say, I don’t think I’ll go too in depth, but this will probably spoil parts of the book if you haven’t read it yet.

I’ll start with a positive; while rereading the Hunger Games last week I was happy to note that it is consistently amazing regardless of how many times I’ve read it, and the impact it has on me never fades. If anything this book made me appreciate the Hunger Games and Katniss as a heroine even more in comparison, Katniss is an exceptional character (I won’t talk about her though, I did enough of that in my dissertation-like hunger games blog post ramble). My favourite books are character driven stories (as I’ve mentioned many times haha), and while I don’t necessarily have to like the main character, I like characters to feel complex or show development or be written in a way where I love to hate them (ASOIAF is excellent for complex characters). I didn’t really connect Snow as being the same character as in the Hunger Games and whilst I despise his character, I didn’t find him very compelling throughout this story or really feel anything at all. I feel Lucy Grey is supposed to intrigue us and balance some of Snow’s more horrible instincts to drive his character development and allow us to see a ‘softer’ side of him. Unfortunately I didn’t really connect with Lucy either as I found her character to be quite cheesy and she was not given enough time to feel like a real person, she felt like a caricature at times (these are all my own opinions, and I probably feel strongly about this book because I’m so connected to the Hunger Games). I think the songs felt forced at times and I found Lucy’s character to be a bit one dimensional and annoying. I feel that the pacing of the book caused a lot of the issues I had with it; this story is missing my favourite elements of Collin’s writing in the Hunger Games trilogy. There is a strong sense of Katniss’ personality and identity coming through her narration, and the love story elements with Peeta feel very realistic and make sense within the book’s context. The Ballad of Songbird’s and Snakes feels like an ‘insta-love’ in comparison and I found it quite jarring:

She was his girl, she had saved his life, and he had to do everything he could to save hers’. (The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, pg. 190)

The characters had only met a few times, and whilst the heightened circumstances may have developed their feelings more quickly, I just didn’t believe their ‘love’. The pace of this love story is entirely opposite to the slower development in the Hungers Games and felt very rushed. This book felt a bit vague at times, as though trying to cover too many events, yet I paradoxically felt bored. After around 200 pages I considered not reading the rest, but I feel it’s only fair that I finish a book if I’m going to discuss it or write about it. There were elements of the story that I personally didn’t like such as the circus theme and the way Dr Gaul rhymed constantly; her character just annoyed me overall, as did many. I feel that the ‘vague’ plot may reflect Snows uncertainty around his own character and future, however, it resulted in a lack of character development. I’d be interested to read a review by someone who has never read the Hunger Games, to observe how this book reads as a standalone; it may be an interesting concept, however, in knowing what Snow becomes, I felt that anything ‘decent’ that he did lost a lot of it’s meaning. This did not work (for me) as a character driven novel because I know how Snow ‘turns out’. I’ve also just realised that the Hunger Games are first person whereas this story uses a third person narrator, which may be a reason for the disconnect I felt.

On a positive note though, I did enjoy Collin’s attempts to show the moral ambiguity felt by some people who lived in the Capitol, or even some of the mentors, with discussion around the morality and purpose of the games. I also found the concept of the design of the games interesting: how the games were constructed to become an ‘entertainment’ form that appeared to alter the purpose of the games. For those who read Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes first, I think it will be very interesting (if dark and horrifying) to read about these changes and read about the modern games from the perspective of Katniss as a tribute. Overall, I think that this book would probably be more interesting if read prior to reading the Hunger Games.

Despite the overall tone and pace of this book feeling very different to the Hunger Games, some of the little phrases were very similar and I found this to be a bit jarring, for example, the consistent use of the phrase ‘rooting for you’ and ‘put as much distance as you can between you and the others’. I feel that I’m being very picky and probably wouldn’t have found this as annoying if I hadn’t just read the trilogy, however, it stuck in my head whilst reading and took me out of the story. I feel that the inclusion of the hanging tree song and the meadow song are referencing the Hunger Games in a nostalgic way, and some comments are made in an ironic nod to the reader of events to come in the Hunger Games, which many readers will love. I, however, appear to be in a moaning mood haha, and I didn’t really like these references. They felt almost like breaking the fourth wall in a way and I didn’t really like how self-aware this book was, for example, when discussing the mockingjays:

If they can, what’s one more songbird?’ She said. Coriolanus agreed they were probably harmless. (pg. 417)

Some people call them swamp potatoes, but I like Katniss better. Has a nice ring to it.’ (pg. 436)

I’d like to end on a somewhat positive note, so I’d say I liked Snow’s internal dialogue surrounding identity; it nicely parallels the identity theme I rambled on about in my Hunger Games blog post:

‘And what on earth would they do with themselves, when the challenges of obtaining food and shelter had been met? Her with no music. Him with no school, military, or anything. Have a family? It seemed to bleak an existence to condemn a child to. Any child let alone one of his own. What was there to aspire to once wealth, fame and power had been eliminated? Was the goal of survival further survival and nothing more?’ (pg. 495)

I find it interesting that Snow and Katniss’ environment, upbringing and personality result in entirely opposite perspectives of life and meaning. The woods and running away represent freedom and happiness to Katniss, whilst Snow associates this ‘freedom’ as feeling trapped and losing out on the life of structure that the capitol can offer. There is also an interesting disconnect between Snow’s experiences, emotions and the choices he makes in later life. He acknowledges the innocence of children, the terrible experience of life in the districts, he himself has experienced the sever punishment and corruption within the capitol and has been in the games himself. However, these experiences are not enough for Snow to care about those suffering, and when he is in the most powerful position rather than making a positive difference, he uses his position as president to maintain this state of oppression, inequality, cruelty and suffering (what kind of president would do that?!).  I think we are supposed to make our own decisions as to the factors that led Snow to become such a terrible man and think about the age-old debate of nature/nurture.

I’m so sorry that I was no negative towards this book, as I’ve mentioned, these are only my opinions and I am biased towards prequels. Please let me know how you felt about this book and don’t let my rambling put you off if you’re interested😊 I love how different the experience of reading is for everyone and I hope you enjoyed this book. Thank you for reading, I hope you’re well. 😊

Amazon 100 books to read in a lifetime (part three)

The last part, thank you if you’ve read them all! 😊 I love challenges (and use list challenges) and it’s always fun to think about the way that you read and the way reviews and advertising can influence reading choices.

67. The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’m convinced there’s a ghost in my house haha because I distinctly remembering reading half of this book in the bath then it genuinely disappeared- my whole house has been cleared out since then and it’s nowhere to be seen. I enjoyed what I read before the ghost stole it so I’ll definitely finish it soon.

68. The Handmaid’s Tale- Margaret Atwood

I took a while to finally read this book because it was just everywhere and I didn’t want to expect to much, but I really enjoyed it! I listened to the audiobook and I feel that the emotion within the narration (by Elisabeth Moss) added to the storytelling. This book is written in quite a plain style which is deliberate and works well to transport the reader into the dystopian setting. Overall, I found the concept of this book very interesting and really enjoyed it! I will say though, I went on to listen to The Testaments and it felt a bit unnecessary, I personally feel that this is more powerful as a stand alone novel.

69. The House at Pooh Corner- A. A. Milne

I was given the entire collection of Winnie the Pooh stories when I was born and still have the book, I love the stories that I’ve read, and I’ll definitely read them to any children I have. I feel like Winnie the Pooh created philosophy for children and the messages in the stories and incredibly touching and at times emotional. 

70. The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins

I recently reread and discussed this series; I just think it’s perfect.

71. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

72. The Liar’s Club: A memoir- Mary Karr

73. The Lightening Thief- Rick Riordan

74. The Little Prince- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

75. The Long Goodbye- Raymond Chandler

76. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11- Lawrence Wright

77. The Lord of the Rings- J.R.R. Tolkein

I recently read this book for the first time, however, it wasn’t my favourite. Whilst I love Tolkein’s writing style and appreciate the influence of this saga on fantasy as a genre, I unfortunately wasn’t very interested in the story or the characters.

78. The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tale- Oliver Sacks

I started this book because it sounded really interesting, but I never finished it. I think lots of people would love it, but after studying Psychology at Uni I’m a bit sick of clinical science terms haha. For academic non-fiction I think I’m more interested in books about philosophy (although I haven’t read many, so please feel free to recommend). 😊

79. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals- Michael Pollan

80. The Phantom Tollbooth- Norton Juster

81. The Poisonwood Bible- Barbara Kingsolver

82. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York- Robert A. Caro

83. The Right Stuff- Tom Wolfe

84. The Road- Cormac McCarthy

85. The Secret History- Donna Tart

86. The Shining- Stephen King

87. The Stranger- Albert Camus

88. The Sun Also Rises- Ernest Hemingway

89. The Things They Carried- Tim O’Brien

90. The Very Hungry Caterpillar- Eric Carle

Who hasn’t read this classic in nursery haha (at least in the UK, I’m not sure about elsewhere). I remember my nursery teacher read us this story then we looked after little caterpillars and watched them turn to butterflies.

91. The Wind in the Willows- Kenneth Grahame

92. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle- Haruki Murakami

93. The World According to Garp- John Irving

94. The Year of Magical Thinking- Joan Didion

95. Things Fall Apart- Chinua Achebe

I read this book in school so I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I could due to the stressful exams etc haha. I do actually still remember quotes from it because I drilled them into my head so much, and I can’t remember if I even wrote about this book. I remember liking Ikemefuna and Okonknwo’s dad, but I don’t remember any other characters. I’d be interested to read this again now to see if I take it any more elements of the story and it’s themes.

96. To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee

97. Unbroken: A World War 2 Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption- Laura Hillenbrand

98. Valley of the Dolls- Jacqueline Susann

99. Where the Sidewalk Ends- Shel Silverstein

100. Where the Wild Things Are- Maurice Sendak

I’ve read 18 out of 100 oh dear hahaha. Ah well, maybe it means I’ve got a while to live yet (I always get strangely worried to complete lists like this in case I jinx it and get struck down by lightening). There are a few on this list that I’d love to read, please let me know if you’d recommend any in particular! 😊

Amazon 100 books to read in a lifetime (part two)

Again, I’m going to highlight the books I’ve read and write a lil bit/ramble about them. 😊

34. Kitchen Confidential- Anthony Bourdain

35. Life After Life- Kate Atkinson

36. Little House of the Prairie- Laura Inglass Wilder

37. Lolita- Vladimir Nabokov

I think I read this when I was 17, it was definitely a while ago. Whilst disturbing and an unsettling subject matter, I did find this book interesting. I think Nabokov’s beautiful descriptive writing style and elements of black humour from the narrator contrast with the horrific themes to make this an incredibly engaging and unusual book. These contrasts create an unsettling atmosphere that matches the story. It’s hard to think of examples because I read it so long ago, but I remember this contrast standing out, and I’d like to read more by Nabokov to see if these elements are included in the writing style of his other novels.

38. Love in the Time of Cholera- Gabriel Garcia Marquez

39. Love Medicine- Louise Erdrich

40. Man’s Search for Meaning- Viktor E. Frankl

41. Me Talk Pretty One Day- David Sedaris

42. Middlesex- Jeffrey Eugenides

43. Midnight’s Children- Salman Rushdie

44. Moneyball: The Art of Winning and Unfair Game- Michael Lewis

45. Of Human Bondage- W. Somerset Maugham

46. On the Road- Jack Kerouac

47. Out of Africa- Isak Dinesen

48. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood- Marjane Satrapi

49. Portnoy’s Complaint- Philip Roth

50. Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen

This wasn’t my favourite classic to read- I preferred Jane Eyre and Little Women- but I loved the story and the majority of characters. I LOVE Lizzies character and the way the romance is built up through small significant elements and almost suspense rather than dialogue and large gestures. I also love the distinct personality of each sister and the relationships between them, as well as the overarching feminist themes in the book. Also, I do moan when people talk about films over books, but I love the 2005 film, if you don’t have time to read the book I’d recommend this. 😊

51. Silent Spring- Rachel Carson

52. Slaughterhouse-five- Kurt Vonnegut

53. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

54. The Age of Innocence- Edith Wharton

55. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay- Michael Chabon

56. The Autobiography of Malcom X: As Told to Alex Haley- Malcom X and Alex Haley

57. The Book Thief- Marcus Zusak

I love this book, I love the unusual narration and the decision to focus on Liesel’s story rather than an adult’s perspective- it brought certain elements of light, hope and positivity that the book needed (I love the positive kind spirit that children have that I sometimes feel can sadly be lost a little bit by adulthood). That said, this book is incredibly touching and sad, but it’s beautiful too. I love Liesel’s relationships with the other characters (all of them, but particularly with Papa).

58. The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao- Junot Diaz

59. The Catcher in the Rye- J. D. Salinger

I read this book most recently in one sitting and I loved it- although enjoyed is not the word for this story. I found that this book flowed very well and it was easy to get into Holden’s mind/see things through his perspective throughout the story. The subject, characters and angst reminded me of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I feel like Chbosky must have been influenced by this book because it doesn’t feel coincidental. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is probably one of my favourite books, so I was undoubtedly going to enjoy this. I’d like to read more by Salinger as I enjoyed how easy this reading experience was.

60. The Colour of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother- James McBride

61. The Corrections- Jonathan Franzen

62. The Devil in the White City- Erik Larson

63. The Diary of a Young Girl- Anne Frank

I doubt there are many readers who haven’t read this book, or at least heard of it. It’s incredibly touching, heart-warming in many ways despite its extremely sad subject matter. I feel like young people now reading Anne’s diary will relate to elements of her feelings and thoughts process throughout this story despite the incredibly different circumstances, and this might reflect the popularity of this exceptional story. I hope to visit Anne Franks house one day and experience this part of history.

64. The Fault in Our Stars- John Green

I’m not sure what it is about John Green but I don’t really like his books and I didn’t like the Fault in Our Stars when it came out. I understand why Green’s books are so popular, but I feel that the writing style is quite pretentious which puts me off the story. I also had similar concerns with this book as with A Little Life (which I ranted about quite a lot haha)- I often read stories about harrowing subjects such as loss and grief as I feel they are important, however, The Fault in Our Stars felt a little bit exploitative to me, maybe because of the pretentious writing style.

65. The Giver- Lois Lowry

66. The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials- Philip Pullman

I still haven’t read these books; I feel like I’m missing out on a childhood experience! I do own this book so I’ll read it soon (there is literally no better time).

12 out of 66 so far, still not the best- although a few are classics so I’m giving myself credit for that haha. Have you read any of these, and if so would you recommend them? 😊

Rereading the Hunger Games trilogy (spoiler: one of my favourite book series’)

The Hunger games

I decided to reread the Hunger Games this month for a number of reasons- I reread my favourite book series’ around every two years (I love rereading, it’s a problem haha), The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is causing a lot of Hunger Games discussions which really made me want to reread, and I’ve found that there is something strangely entertaining about reading dystopian during a lockdown (in a very odd, dark way).  I first read this series when I was around 14 or 15, without any expectations as I hadn’t heard about the series until my friend recommended it (thank you)- it’s strange to think about the extent to which a film franchise can influence the popularity of a book. I definitely think reading this series before the film came out gave me an advantage; I was able to objectively form opinions and I was unprepared for the depth of emotion and the attachment I developed to these characters whilst reading. I’d just like to say that this is not an academic analysis or review or these books, more so a stream of consciousness so that I can ramble about my thoughts and the emotions I experienced whilst reading. I’ll also say here that I typically do not like YA books and a number of their tropes, however, I would class this series as a favourite, and I think it’s beautiful. P.s. sorry this is a long one, also there will be spoilers.

Relationships:

I think I should first address the love triangle: it’s a standard trope in YA that I usually hate, but I think it works in this story. The format of the story and the situations that drive the characters actions and decisions allow the ‘love triangle’ to feel natural and true. A large part of Katniss’ story arc is initially feeling like a pawn of the capital with the burden that is thrust upon her. Katniss’ relationship arcs with both Gale and Peeta make sense within the context of the story and are very interesting in understanding Katniss’ character and the influence of this dystopian society. When I read the Hunger Games for the first time, I was ‘team Gale’ due to the similarities between Gale and Katniss, their pre-hunger games connection and I just liked him more overall. However, I think this was just to get away from the popular opinion haha, and even on first read, the love triangle was definitely not the forefront of my mind; these books are about character and identity, with love and relationships developing as a natural outcome of these themes. I love that the ‘romance’ has been written in this way and I’ll talk more about this when I think about Mockingjay. I love the metaphors and illusions to hope, life and future that are associated with Peeta, creating a subtle (in comparison to a number of YA books) depiction of Katniss’ connection to Peeta before their relationship begins. Peeta personifies safety, warmth and assurance for Katniss who would have been open to these qualities had she not been forced into such a horrific situation.

No one has held me like this in such a long time. Since my father died and I stopped trusting my mother, no one else’s arms have made me feel this safe.’ (Hunger Games pg. 363)

Characterisation and themes of grief/loss:

I don’t know if I feel more sensitive or ‘connected’ to books during this time of lockdown, but I instantly felt a strange sense of emotion and nostalgia when I started reading this book. I’ve spent a lot of time in woods and forests, and whilst I’ve definitely not been hunting or sleeping in trees, I’ve felt more connected to nature (I’ve always loved nature but a benefit of this time is experiencing it more deeply). I love birdsongs and I’ve been thinking and the importance of birds and nature within this story. I recently read Jen Campbells Instagram story (she’s a writer and talks about books on youtube), where she filmed a beautiful 5am sunrise in an isolated forest with birdsong and wildlife. Jen heard a bird mimicking an ambulance siren in a haunting and sad moment. This contrast of beautiful untouched nature, and the difficult experiences of human life was very emotional and reminded me of The Hunger Games, where the environment creates a peaceful escape for Katniss even within the confines and struggles of her lifestyle. I think in character I’m closer to Peeta than Katniss, and even more so Prim (although I’m not as kind, I think it’d be hard to be), however, I identify with Katniss’ independence and almost closed off nature that has been heavily influenced by the loss of her father (in writing a collection of my thoughts, this may become a bit deep at times). My dad passed away when I was 11 and the portrayal of grief and loss throughout this series is one of the main reasons it resonates so closely with me; I find Collins depiction of grief to be incredibly realistic and allows me to identify with the very real characters, even in such a dramatic story. I relate to Katniss’ sense of independence and extremely close relationship to her family (as well as her drive to look after and protect them)- I think it is extremely realistic to assume that these qualities would drive Katniss after the death of her father. Katniss’ sense of identity is primarily focused on her adoption of her father’s role as a hunter and provider for the family. Collins often emphasises the similarities between Prim and her mother, whilst Katniss has her father’s traits and favours her father. I think this is important is understanding her actions and sense of identity. This is also very important in understand Katniss’ relationship with Gale. Gale’s own grief is expressed as anger and rooted in the past. I feel that Katniss ultimately could not find peace in the future if she was to be with Gale, his anger has become so that it makes a large part of who he is- evident in Mockingjay during the rebellion without the confines of the Capitol.

I glance over at Gales face, still smouldering underneath his stony expression. His rage seems pointless to me, although I never say so. It’s not that I don’t agree with him. I do. But what good is yelling about the Capitol in the middle of the woods? It doesn’t change anything.. I let him yell though. Better he does it in the woods that in the district.’ (Hunger Games pg. 17)

I feel that several books, particularly in the ‘chosen one’ genre have the loss of a parent or carer as an adverse experience driving the main character, however, this loss is never mentioned again. Similarly, the main character will often experience a loss in the middle of a series, to move the plot forward and create character development. I feel that The Hunger Games deals with grief more authentically and Katniss’ memories of her dad are interwoven into the story in a very natural way, influencing her sense of identity and relationships (Katniss’ somewhat unconscious struggle to feel safe and let people in is a very important aspect in her dynamic with Peeta throughout the trilogy). I’ll reflect more on the themes on loss and grief in Mockingjay (after I cry for several hours haha) but I truly admire Collins ability to create a perfect, authentic tone.

Writing style:

I really enjoy the simple writing style and structured format of these books. It can’t be described as calming due to the subject matter, however, I find the format almost satisfying: Katniss deals with the immediate problem, breaks it down and finds a solution. This format ensures that the book is fast paced, interesting and easy to read. I also feel that this approach to problem solving matches Katniss’ instincts as a hunter, and therefore feels like the narration is personalised; it feels like the writing structure is reflective of Katniss’ character and role specifically, rather than a generic narrator. This writing style also creates fast paced storytelling and gets across the message of the story quickly and powerfully.

Identity:

I noticed in rereading that identity appears to be the key theme and is driven by the element’s safety vs. rebellion and family/relationships. Another element of this series that makes it a favourite for me is the fact that these characters are real multi-dimensional people aiming to find a purpose and dealing with the emotions that life brings; the dystopian setting and plot of the games feels secondary to me, but this setting has been used as a device to reflect upon the influence of society, culture and safety on a person’s identity and happiness. I find this incredibly interesting, and coupled with the attachment to the characters, this story is one that really stays with the reader (for the most part any way, I’m sure some people don’t like these books). I think themes of identity are set up in the Hunger Games and are explored more deeply in the next two books.

For the first time, I allow myself to truly think about the possibility that I might make it home.. No fear of hunger. A new kind of freedom. But then…what? Most of it has been consumed with the acquisition of food. Take that away and I’m not really sure who I am, what my identity is.’ (Hunger Games pg. 378)

As I slowly, thoroughly wash the makeup from my face and put my hair in it’s braid, I begin transforming into myself.. I stare in the mirror as I try to remember who I am and who I am not. By the time I join the others, the pressure of Peeta’s arm around my shoulders feels alien. (Hunger Games pg. 450)

Catching Fire

After the games, Katniss (and all of the people in her life) is impacted by more loss and trauma. Katniss has lost the sense of identity she has worked hard to create with the money (and notoriety) she has gained, and I was very interested in the ways in which this perceived freedom and ironically increased restriction impacted Katniss’ sense of identity. Katniss begins to try and align her identity with one that can exist within a state of rebellion. For Katniss, rebellion represents a shift from survival instincts to fighting for Peeta’s life.

Now a new kind of confidence is lighting up inside of me, because I think I finally know who Haymitch is. And I’m beginning to know who I am. And surely, two people who have caused the Capitol so much trouble can think of a way to get Peeta home alive.’ (Catching Fire pg. 244)

Katniss is still treated as a ‘pawn’ in catching fire, passive in the events and rebellious opportunities that have been created. Gale and Peeta represent interest in the building rebellion more so that Katniss, and throughout this story the shift can be observed. I liked Katniss’ uncertainty and shifts in attitude that continued throughout Catching Fire and Mockingjay with regards to rebellion, I think this uncertainty matches Katniss’ identity and is more realistic than the enthusiastic ‘chosen one’ arc that several main characters in dystopian or YA books take on. Again, these shifts and Katniss’ part in the rebellion feel more nuanced and realistic than the sudden and bold character changes I’ve observed in some books.

The berries. I realise the answer to who I am lies in that handful of poisonous fruit. If I held them out to save Peeta because I knew I would be shunned if I came back without him, then I am despicable. If I held them out because I loved him, I am still self-centred but forgivable. But if I held them out to defy the Capitol, I am someone of worth. The trouble is, I don’t know what exactly was going on inside me at that moment.’ (Catching Fire pg. 143)

Mockingjay

I should probably say that I’ve been writing this in chunks, and I’m writing this part directly after finishing Mockingjay- well, an hour after because I couldn’t see the keyboard through my tears (it’s 2am, I’m definitely a night owl). Thank you if you’ve made it this far, I’ve loved writing and reflecting in this way even though I know I’m going to post this and think of so many things I’ve forgotten to mention haha.

Haymitch:

The first thing it strikes me that I want to think about is Haymitch and his relationship with Katniss. Haymitch represents so many things: I see him as an equal to Katniss in a sense, they are very similar and mirror each other in personality, spirit and logic, however, he has a number of roles to play in Katniss’ life- almost a brother or an uncle and in some ways even a father figure (not in a traditional sense, but in the way that Katniss requires him to be and to the extent that she can accept). Relationships and character are the most important elements of a book for me, and I love Katniss’ relationship with Haymitch. At the end of Catching Fire, Katniss is left reflecting upon her own rage and the anger at Haymitch’s betrayal, the way that he has used her as she is consistently used. Katniss is continuously used by the rebellion, individuals, and the Capitol representing the war and politics around her. In this sense, Katniss is a pawn in the rebellion. I was, however, interested to note that Katniss’ instinctual actions in times of agency ‘spark’ the instances where she becomes- as she perceives herself- a pawn. The tribute for Rue, the berries, and Katniss decision to confide in- and therefore trust- Haymitch in her plan to rebel (during Catching Fire). As a side note, this quote represents important growth in Katniss’ transition from pawn:

It just goes around and around, and who wins? Not us. Not the districts. Always the capitol. But I’m tired of being a piece in their games.’ Peeta. On the rooftop the night before out first Hunger Games. He understood it all before we’d even set foot in the arena.’ (Mockingjay, pg. 252)

 Katniss truly understands her connection to Haymitch and feels like she is observing in him the qualities her own qualities that she does not like. I believe that this is why Katniss is incredibly intolerant of his drinking and depression, she cannot abide by weakness and is exceptionally hard on herself when she feels weak. Haymitch potentially represents the reality of the future Katniss could face. In saying this, I love the subtle but essential character development throughout the books as Katniss’ perception of weakness, grief and loss changes to become far more accepting and less black and white. In seeing herself in Haymitch, he is the character Katniss ends up confiding in and displaying vulnerability towards; this results in so many of the cutting remarks that create frustration or a sense of betrayal when Katniss or Haymitch inevitably hurt each other and ‘put up their walls’ to mask their pain. I find their relationship very interesting and touching. I also appreciate their ending in Mockingjay and the way it reflects their relationship and personalities- they are quietly and steadily there for each other even in the times where grief and illness create a need for solitude. Their relationship is consistently steadied by Peeta.

He looks yellow and has lost a lot of weight, giving him a shrunken appearance. For a second, I’m afraid he’s dying. I have to remind myself that I don’t care.(Mockingjay, pg.87)

Several sets of arms would embrace me. But in the end, the only person I truly want to comfort me is Haymitch, because he loves Peeta too. I reach out for him and say something like his name and he’s there holding me and patting my back. (Mockingjay, pg. 191)

‘A furious Peeta hammers Haymitch with the atrocity he could become party to, but I can feel Haymitch watching me. This is the moment then. When we find out exactly how alike we are, and how much he understands me. ‘I’m with the Mockingjay’ he says. (Mockingjay pg. 432, deciding upon a final games)

I’d also like to mention that I love Katniss’ relationship with Finnick. Finnick’s death is always a strange one for me. I feel that it’s a good example of the point about narration that I rambled about earlier. Finnick’s death is exceptionally sad but I never really feel it and this is because it’s over quickly and I feel numb. In writing this way, the reader experiences the numbness that Katniss feels at this moment, the lethargy and horror of War (I also feel that the volume of events and horror happening in this relatively short story are written to represent the strange mixture of lethargy and adrenaline felt in War. That sounds very dramatic, but I just mean I think Collins may be trying to engage us in the setting and tone, as she does throughout the series through the writing style. Then again, I always somehow end up reading this book in almost one go, ending in the middle of the night haha, so that might contribute to this feeling). I feel Finnick’s death more in rereading Catching Fire and Mockingjay as we see the elements of his personality. Some of my favourite quotes:

Really, the combination of the scabs and the ointment looks hideous. I can’t help enjoying his distress. “Poor Finnick. Is this the first time in your life you haven’t looked pretty?” I say.
“It must be. The sensation’s completely new. How have you managed it all these years?” he asks
.’
(Catching Fire)

Finnick grasps my hand to give me an anchor, and I try to hang on. (Mockingjay pg. 155)

It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart. (Mockingjay pg. 183)

I was going to say that I also love hearing Finnick recall his story, however, I realised that I just love his character and entire storyline including his humour and persona in Catching Fire. I love his relationship with Mags, Annie and Joanna, I love his reaction after he saves Peeta’s life and contemplates Katniss’ reaction, I just love his character. I’d also like to spend time thinking about Prim but this is going to become an entire dissertation in a minute so I won’t haha.

Peeta:

There is just so much to say about Peeta that it’s almost making me not want to touch on his character in a way haha, because I wouldn’t do it justice. I didn’t appreciate Peeta’s character the first time I read this series, I think he needed to grow on me because on first read as a teenager he’s not the most ‘exciting’ in comparison to characters like Gale, however, now I appreciate that he’s exceptional. As I mentioned, I love the mirroring of this series and I appreciate that Peeta’s traits, values and qualities align with Prim. Peeta therefore has the ability to recall Prim’s memory and he can support Katniss to process her grief in a positive healthy way.

While I was reading today, I began to consider that Katniss became close to Gale due to the connection in the grief for their fathers, however, Katniss subconsciously associates Gale with her own supressed grief and his rage. Peeta’s memories of Katniss’ father are distanced from the loss and grief, and Peeta therefore brings life to her father in the way he recalls his singing. In having this ability, Peeta creates an opportunity for Katniss to think of a way forward through her grief and create a sense of peace in her memories for her father (and sister). This is almost a metaphor for Katniss’ entire relationship with both Gale and Peeta and represents the way Peeta helps Katniss to live and grow and overall represents life.

Rue, who when you ask her what she loves most in the world, replies, of all things ‘music’. ‘Music?’ I say. In our world, I rank music somewhere between hair ribbons and rainbows in terms of usefulness.’ (Hunger Games pg. 255)

This is the first time music is referenced in the story. Katniss is in character here with her roles driven by a need to survive and her hunter instincts not allowing time for anything that is not a necessity.

Because when he sings.. even the birds stop to listen.’.. It strikes me that my own reluctance to sing, my own dismissal of music might not really be that it’s a waste of time. It might be because it reminds me too much of my father.’ (Hunger Games pg. 366)

Even as Katniss and Peeta are just getting to know each other, and within such extreme life threatening circumstances, Peeta is the one to draw out memories of Katniss’ father and allow Katniss to process her grief in subtle ways.

‘A hush in the trees. Just the rustle of leaves in the breeze. But no birds, mockingjay or other. Peeta’s right. They do fall silent when I sing. Just as they did for my father.’ (Mockingjay pg. 145)

He couldn’t Haymitch. He never heard me sing that song.’ ‘Not you, your father. He heard him singing it one day when he came to trade at the bakery. Peeta was small, probably six or seven, but he remembered it because he was specially listening to see if the birds stopped singing.’ (Mockingjay pg. 246)

Peeta and Rue allow Katniss to think about singing again, representing a healthy outlet for grief and the time to remember her father as he lived. I find this incredibly poignant. I’ve always felt deeply connected to music and singing, and I remember my Dad through his favourite songs. This can be painful but it’s very healthy and allows me to feel connected and feel the emotions that are important to experience. I can also feel incredibly happy when I sing a song that reminds me of childhood, or a funny memory associated with my dad. The moment that I really start to cry whilst reading Mockingjay is without fail always this one:

something unexpected happens. I begin to sing.. Hour after hour of ballads, love songs, mountain airs. All the songs my father taught me before he died, for certainly there has been very little music in my life since.. a voice that would make the mockingjays fall silent and then tumble over themselves to join in.’ (Mockingjay pg. 439)

The ending:

I’d like to reflect upon the ending of the story now. Because I love character driven stories, I’m actually quite lazy with plot and while I find action scenes interesting, I prefer them to be short to I can get to the impact of these events. This may be the reason that I was very happy with the decision to stay with Katniss and her recovery and discover the conclusion of the war as Katniss does. For one, Katniss has a strong presence as a narrator, and I hate when books turn to a different narrator nearing the end of a story as I find it very jarring. This is a story about characters (particularly Katniss) and the impact of War and loss. This is not a story about a rebellion or War, rather those who are impacted by the War and politics they had no intention to be involved in or no power to avoid. At no point did I want the story to become one of action and rebellion, and at no point did I feel I missed anything by staying with Katniss. I wouldn’t have brought this up, but I made the mistake of reading a number of Mockingjay reviews after reading it for the first time and I was shocked to read so many angry reviews that felt cheated out of the action. This is just my opinion, but I feel that this is missing the point of the series and I don’t know what readers are getting out of this story if after three books they do not feel close to the main character. I interpret the purpose of Mockingjay as being a story to reflect upon the themes of meaning, choice and identity within a society that limits free will through it’s constructs that confine the lifestyle people can have.

This leads on to another point that I saw several readers make- reviewers expressed anger or confusion about the way the romance ends. Some people commented that they expected Katniss and Peeta to be together immediately after the War, to be more ‘passionately’ in love. Again, in my opinion, I feel that this distance and time is the only realistic portrayal of love in a setting where the characters are experiencing so much grief and PTSD. After overcoming the initial trauma, Katniss is finally free to build her life, rediscover who she is out with the confines of the capitol and think about the future she wants- or even just the future she can cope with. This is also true for Peeta. To have these characters gravitate towards each other through choice after a period of  time portrays (in my opinion)  the depth of their relationship and is the only realistic way to express that Katniss loves Peeta- she chooses him, he is not chosen for her, she does not have to be with Peeta or see him ever again, she chooses him freely (as does Peeta). I absolutely love the way this happens even though it is heart-breaking. I also love the writing decision to rebuild their relationship by supporting each other through grief, this is again realistic and emphasises the love they feel (I also love that Haymitch continues to be in their lives as the three resume their roles in their relationship dynamics).

Lastly in my seemingly endless ramble, the epilogue. In general, I hate book epilogues, I don’t even like Harry Potters, I tolerate it. I think it’s the time element that can feel a bit jarring and makes me feel distanced from characters I love. I do, however, think Mockingjay did it well by keeping it brief, sentimental but with purpose. I’ve read reviews where readers were unhappy that we did not read more detail such as the children’s names. I’m very happy these details were not included; they don’t need to be and would take away from the ending of the story in my opinion. I’ve also seen reviews where people express anger that Katniss has children. I understand these more, however, I think the point within the story is not that Katniss doesn’t want children, but instead that she is afraid to raise them in a society where they could be involved in the games. Katniss is incredibly nurturing towards Prim and Rue and I personally believe that her actions express that she would like to be a mother, she has just never allowed herself to think about this. 

As I drift off, I try to imagine that world, somewhere in the future, with no games, no Capitol. A place like the meadow in the song I sang to Rue as she died. Where Peeta’s child could be safe. (Catching Fire pg. 427)

I was going to go into grief a little bit more, but I’d rather leave it where it is in a somewhat happier note. I do, however, as I’ve mentioned appreciate the portrayal of grief in this series, I find it very realistic (and therefore very hard to read at the end of Mockingjay). I’m sure this is going to sound dramatic, but I feel like books can be an outlet for grief. I’m constantly brought back to the comfort and nostalgia of rereading my old favourites, but ironically a lot of my favourite books feature elements of grief, for example, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and The Time Travellers Wife. These book also feature friendship, love and characters that I feel connected to, and I think I’ve therefore come to associate these characters and consequently reading as a safe and comforting way to cope with grief and anxieties in life. That sounds very depressing and morbid, but I think it’s quite magical in a way. That someone can write a story, create a fictional character that can resonate with your personality, experiences, interests, emotions and even grief, and that this work of fiction can comfort and potentially heal. This is why I think writers are incredible and why I read.

Thank you for reading, I hope you’re well. Please let me know what you think about this series.

Weekly books (May 8th to May 14th)

A bit of a Stretch: The Diaries of a Prisoner- Chris Atkins (new read, audiobook)

Where can a tin of tuna buy you clean clothes? Where is it easier to get ‘spice’ than paracetamol? Where does self-harm barely raise an eyebrow?

Welcome to Her Majesty’s Prison Service. Like most people, documentary-maker Chris Atkins didn’t spend much time thinking about prisons. But after becoming embroiled in a dodgy scheme to fund his latest film, he was sent down for five years. His new home would be HMP Wandsworth, one of the largest and most dysfunctional prisons in Europe. With a cast of characters ranging from wily drug dealers to senior officials bent on endless reform, this powerful memoir uncovers the horrifying reality behind the locked gates. Filled with dark humour and shocking stories, A Bit of a Stretch reveals why our creaking prison system is sorely costing us all – and why you should care
.’ (A Bit of a Stretch synopsis)

I don’t read very much non-fiction (I need to read more), but memoirs are my favourite genre to read via audiobook, I think they work really well and can be brought to life- particularly because they’re usually narrated by the author. I particularly seem to enjoy memoirs about institutions such as hospitals and prison (I’d recommend This is Going to Hurt, and the Confessions series). I enjoyed this book, felt for the people and I think it has a great balance of humour. I really felt enveloped in the setting and the stories were told in a way that brought the individuals and setting to life. I wouldn’t say this is my favourite prison memoir, and I probably enjoyed Orange is the New Black more (I will say here, Orange is the New Black is one of the rare tv shows that is better than the book, they have done so much with the characters and I can’t recommend it highly enough). Throughout this book, I thought about the crime committed by Atkins and his place in prison- as a white male who has not experienced mental illness, poverty or trauma, the writer’s prison experience is not reflective of the majority. However, I was extremely happy when Atkins acknowledged this himself and reflected upon the privilege that he experienced even within prison; this awareness made the memoir and narrator more likeable. Atkins also used the memoir to emphasise some of the struggles of other men within the prison and used his time to become a better person, as well as highlighting the issues within the prison system. I personally agree that prison is not working, people are dehumanised and there should be far more done to support those with mental health issues and rehabilitate. Overall, this was an enjoyable insightful book and I would really recommend it if you like this genre! 😊 Please let me know if you’ve read any memoirs about the prison system, I find them so interesting.

Favourite/meaningful quote:

I always forget to note quotes for audiobooks haha but there were lots!

Perfect- Cecelia Ahern (new read, physical book)

Celestine North lives in a society that demands perfection. After she was branded Flawed by a morality court, Celestine’s life has completely fractured – all her freedoms gone. Since Judge Crevan has declared her the number one threat to the public, she has been a ghost, on the run with the complicated, powerfully attractive Carrick, the only person she can trust. But Celestine has a secret – one that could bring the entire Flawed system crumbling to the ground.

Judge Crevan is gaining the upper hand, and time is running out for Celestine. With tensions building, Celestine must make a choice: save only herself, or risk her life to save all the Flawed. And, most important of all, can she prove that to be human in itself is to be Flawed…?’ (Perfect synopsis)

I enjoyed the first book in this series (Flawed), however, I didn’t really like this book, I mainly kept reading because I have an annoying irrational need to finish books haha, and my friend gave me it to borrow. I don’t really like love triangles, and whilst this wasn’t as bad as some it did still annoy me a little bit. I thought the pace was a little bit strange sometimes and a little rushed at the end, however, there were strong parts and I’m glad the Ahern decided to go with two books instead of the typical trilogy as I don’t feel that another book would have been necessary. I have to admit I’m struggling to remember too much about this book, but I wrote a couple of tiny notes: at times I felt that there were instant connections between Celestine and new characters who were introduced. This is a heightened, dystopian world; however, these relationships didn’t feel very realistic. This book still has elements of the Hunger Games and more of Divergent. There were also some unsettling parallels to concentration camps within the book. Overall, despite whingeing about this book I did enjoy the idea of a dystopian story based on ethics and moral dilemmas, and I think the message of anti-discrimination is amazing, I just personally didn’t like elements of the writing style. You may like this book if you enjoy Divergent or if you’ve read Flawed in the past. 😊

Important/meaningful quote:

Maybe the strongest fighters are the nurturers because they’re connected to something deep in their core, they’ve got something to fight for, they’ve got something worth saving.’

The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins (reread, physical book) and Catching Fire- Suzanne Collins (reread, physical book)

I’m writing a separate blog post for my hunger games reread when I finish Mockingjay, this is one of my absolute favourite series.

Thank you for reading, please recommend non-fiction, I’d like to read more of it! Also, memoirs and books set in institutions. 😊