March 31, 2012

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Why am I so stubborn??! When a book or book series gets overly popular, I have this tendency to refuse to read it. I don’t really know why I do this. I guess I just like to be the last one to jump on the bandwagon. (Confession: I still haven’t read the entire Harry Potter series!) Usually, as soon as I get wind that a movie adaptation of a book I do actually plan to read one day is coming out, I make a conscious effort to finally read that book. (Confession #2: When at all possible, I will always read the book before seeing the movie. Confession #3: I haven’t seen any of the Harry Potter movies either.) 

It’s probably also important to note that working in a bookstore and having not read The Hunger Games made me feel a little left out amongst my co-workers. It’s also really hard to convince someone to buy the book just because you’ve heard it’s “really, really good.” So I finally did it; I read The Hunger Games. In less than a day. It truly was that captivating. 

The Hunger Games is a set in a post apocalyptic North America. The world as we know it today is no longer, all that remains is the nation of Panem, a wealthy Capitol, surrounded by twelve outlying districts. In order for the Capitol to keep the districts in line and discourage rebellions, each year, every boy and every girl ages 12-18 are entered into a lottery known as The Reaping. One boy and one girl are randomly chosen from each district to compete in the annual Hunger Games, a nationally televised event. Here, 24 contestants fight to the death. There can only be one survivor, one winner.  Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen’s 12 year old sister’s name is drawn for the 74th Hunger Games. Without missing a beat, Kat volunteers herself in her sister’s place. From the moment Prim’s name was called, my heart was racing and I still get goose bumps when I think about it.

I was immediately pulled in from chapter one of this book. I was enraptured by this dystopian world and found the preparation of the tributes leading up to the actual games fascinating and intense. And it was such a pleasure to read a young adult novel that had a strong and resilient female as the main character. I am so glad I waited until I had a day off where I could read the entire book in one sitting.

I am so pumped, albeit quite nervous, to see this book come alive in the theatre! 

March 27, 2012

The Space Between Us, by Thrity Umrigar

March Book Club Pick

In The Space Between Us, Sera, an upper-middle-class Parsi woman and Bhima, the woman who has worked in Sera’s home for more than 20 years, weave a heart-breaking and powerful story of how two women can have such a strong bond, yet are unable to bridge the gap that social standing and influence place upon them.  It would even be fair to say that Sera and Bhima are each other’s closest confidants, best friends even. They spend all day together, cleaning, cooking, and tending to household chores, all the while chatting and ultimately knowing all that goes on in each other’s lives, like true friends would. 

But Bhima is Sera’s servant and they come from different social classes. And there are rules to be followed, rules that societal norms place on mistresses and their servants. For example, Bhima is not allowed to sit on any of the furniture in Sera’s house, resorting to crouching when having a break for lunch. Bhima must also use her own dishes and utensils, which she keeps tucked away in her own corner of a cupboard. It does not matter that Sera and Bhima get along so well, or that either woman would do almost anything for the well-being of both each other and each other’s family members. The social disgrace that would be bestowed upon Sera were her friends to find out that these aforementioned rules were not followed by Bhima, would ostracize Sera from her peers and be downright unacceptable in their eyes. Sera and Bhima are both painfully aware of this divide throughout the book.  No matter how close they get, this space between them - the social divide, can never be bridged.  

This book deals with so many delicate issues, but in a very thought-provoking way: Is blood thicker than water? Would you do anything to stand up for your family’s pride, even if it meant risking your job? Do you stand by an abusive or alcoholic husband, or do you leave? How can people who work so hard, day after day, year after year, still struggle to put food on the table? Is literacy and education the ultimate wealth and power? Without sounding too cliché, this book made me take a look at my own life and acknowledge how fortunate I am to be a young, educated woman with so few barriers to my life goals and dreams. 

While this is a sad story, with what felt like tragedy after tragedy occurring, I truly loved this book. I loved that the author was able to describe so well, the slums of Bombay; at times I felt I could smell the stench of the streets and feel the filth on my own skin. I love being exposed to another world and culture when I read, and The Space Between Us did just this. I don’t want every book I read to be happy and light-hearted; sometimes the serious, dark novels are just as memorable and just as worth recommending to fellow book-readers.

March 19, 2012

The Ice Princess, by Camilla Lackberg

2012 is stacking up to be a year of many firsts for me in regards to book reading. I took my first 50 book pledge; I started my first blog; I read my first Fantasy novel; and now, my first Mystery. Ok, so the only other mystery I’ve ever read (twice) is Agatha Christie’s, And Then There Were None.  But that was years ago.

Several weeks ago I won a copy of The Savvy Reader’s 50 book pledge group read, The Ice Princess.  My very first ever book win. It’s very exciting to win free books! Although, I'll admit, I was hesitant to read this one as I’m not a big fan of scary or overly suspenseful novels. But I decided to dive in, worried that if I didn’t, this book would get lost in my never-ending to be read pile. 

Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not a well-read mystery novel reader. I haven’t even read Stieg Larrson’s, The Millennium Trilogy, so I cannot compare this book to anything else; all I can do is tell you what I thought about it. 

The Ice Princess, reading more like what I imagine a crime novel would read like, is centered on solving the murder of a young woman named Alex, who at first appears to have taken her own life. Erica, Alex’s childhood friend, is a writer and happens to be the second person to see Alex’s dead body. She is quickly invested in trying to solve this mystery, being somewhat driven by now wanting to write a book about Alex’s life and death. The police detective on the case is Patrik Hedstrom, a man that used to have a huge crush on Erica in their younger years. These two quickly form a romance and work together to help solve this crime.  

The Ice Princess promises to be “heart-stopping...a masterclass in Scandinavian crime writing”; “Expert at mixing scenes of domestic cosiness with blood-curdling horror”. My heart neither stopped, nor did I ever feel a sense of blood-curdling horror. I was actually quite disappointed. I was ready to be scared, to have my heart beat fast, and to not be able to read this book right before bed. So needless to say, I feel a little let down. 

In no particular order, here are some things I didn’t like about this book:

1. Throughout the book, Patrik and Erica come across clues, but we, the reader, is left in the dark. We are not given access to these clues. We do not find out what the clue was until after the character has deciphered the clue themselves. This is sooooo annoying. I want to try and figure out the mystery too! Was this done intentionally, so readers had no choice but to keep reading until the end in order to find out who the murderer was? 

2. Erica’s younger sister, Anna, is married to a controlling, abusive man. While Anna finally comes to Erica for help, there is no actual resolution to Anna’s situation. I actually found the scenes between Anna and her husband to be the most disturbing, so even though Anna finally reaches out to Erica for help, there are a lot of loose strings left untied which I also found frustrating. I need to know that Anna is going to be okay! (Now maybe the second novel in this series will have some resolutions, but I’m not sure if I will read it to find out...)

3. “She placed her mittens on a park bench and then sat down on them as protection under her seat. Urinary tract infections were nothing to play around with; that was the last thing she needed right now.” WHAT? I think I re-read this sentence ten times, unable to believe it had actually made it into print. As a nurse, I have never ever heard about anyone contracting a UTI by sitting on a cold bench. Do people in Sweden actually think you can contract a UTI from the cold?? 

4. Erica, and I’ll give her this, has the brains to call back the last number on the phone at Alex’s house. This is definitely something the police should have thought of doing. 

5. At the beginning of the book, it is an old man by the name of Eilert Berg who initially finds Alex’s body. He had been hired by Alex to check in on her place once a week as she only came to this home on most weekends. We hear almost nothing more of Eilert until the end of the book, where his wife is introduced to us and we learn of what Eilert chooses to do with the rest of his retirement. I’m not sure why this was important seeing as Eilert was not a recurring character in the book. Introducing a new character (his wife) in the last 30 pages seemed unnecessary. I would have preferred that the author used the space to tie up other loose ends in the story. 

Was I able to solve the murder before the end of the book? No. Would I have been able to, had the author disclosed the clues as the characters uncovered them? Well, I would have at least had fun trying.   

There’s a part of me that really wants to read the next book in this series, just to see if some of the unresolved issues do get resolved. And like with many authors, sometimes their writing improves with time. But my TBR pile is too high at this point to trudge on. I think I’ll read the Hunger Games next!