The Hunger Games (Part One)

* This review is originally from 2009

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is something of a rarity- A book specifically aimed at pre and early teens which has fully formed characters, is not patronising towards its audience, and aims to thoughfully inform rather than preach. Already garnering rave reviews from literary critics, writers as big as Stephen King, and now most importantly, from everyday readers, Collins’s book is an entertaining, action packed, ominously realistic read, portraying a fictional world which only seems a few close districts away.

Our narrator and protagonist is 16 year old Katniss, protective sister, loving daughter, fearsome hunter. She has learned to be a survivor in a world where the rich control the poor by the sword. After an unsuccessful rebellion, the rich lords of the Capitol invented an exciting solution/punishment- once a year one girl and one boy from each area of the new America are chosen to fight to the death until one survives. The prize for survival is food for your area and family, and heroic status. Watching are the millions that were not selected. Katniss volunteers herself into the Games to protect her sister, but is equally horrified when her only friend is also picked. Can they trust each other? Can they survive, and is there a future for a world so filled with injustice?

After a slightly slow and bleak start, The Hunger Games kicks into a high gear and rarely slows down. There is action and horror, but never exploitive, there is romance, but true to the plot it is never sentimental, and there are vital and unsettling lessons to learn. Collins has taken clear inspiration from other great works- 1984, Battle Royale, and to a lesser extent Lord Of The Flies. While not reaching those heights, The Hunger Games aims similarly, and doesn’t miss by much. We have empathy for the characters who are refreshingly distant, and are not people you would like to meet. The book itself is fairly long for the target audience and will definately keep readers engaged under the blanket, though there is great energy throughout ensuring the long read is also a quick one. You will be left wanting more- part two is on the way.

The Devouring (Sorry Night Part 1)

Simon Holt’s Devouring (Sorry Night 1) begins with that good old horror standard- the story within a story. The story within is actually quite horrifying and the central story once it gets going is fairly disturbing with lots of nice gruesome moments for younger horror fans. Again parents beware- there is minimal swearing, but there are plenty of moments which might be too much for younger or more sensitive readers. I believe children should be exposed to horror fiction (whether in book or TV form) at a relatively young age, and this book explores both the pros and cons of that way of thinking. On one hand exposing them may prepare children for real life horrors, helping them to cope better, though on the other hand it may help to bring out a darker side and can have dangerous effects. It may be simpler to say that horror simply makes for a damn good read or viewing.

The Devouring focuses on Regina, an adolescent girl and avid horror fan (her references to movies and texts may get kids into the classics of the genre), her eight year old brother Henry, and her friend Aaron- nerd and love of serial killer histories. Other characters come and go, but the central trio are interesting and loveable enough to help the pages turn. Reggie and Henry live with their father after their mum left without saying goodbye, and Reggie acts as surrogate. On a night before Christmas Reggie reads a strange horror journal she recently found in the bookstore she works in to Henry, and of course it terrifies him. The book tells of creatures called Vours who (Body Snatchers style) take over your body and send your sould off to a hell made up of your own fears. They only come one night a year, and only attack those most scared. Of course, it’s only a story, and of course Sorry Night comes and bring the Vours to Henry (Evil Dead style) after reading the book. A race to save Henry begins, but there may be a larger threat on the horizon.

The Devouring is a quick read which should leave readers thirsty for more. There are plenty of the usual horror cliches but hopefully most readers will not have encountered them before and there are plenty of other surprises and shocks to keep us enthralled. The plot and characters are interesting, the bad guys seem genuinely evil and threatening, and the scary parts come thick and fast. Part 2 will definately be one to look forward to and Simon Holt may well be writing scarier stories than the more established Darren Shan- judge for yourself.

The Mask

Scream Steet: Fang Of The Vampire

Scream Street

Tommy Donbavand’s Fang Of The Vampire is Part One of his Scream Street series- a horror series which is aimed at children approaching ten years old. In some parts this is gruesome and graphic, but parents need not worry- it is done in a Roald Dahl style which is humourous and harmless. Book One is fast paced througout, introduces our hero in a mysterious fashion, and brings the other characters into play early on. The key is that each character is an archetypal monster- Luke is a Werewolf, his first friend is a vampire, his second a mummy. Along the way, usually as a cliffhanger to each short chapter, we meet witches, zombies etc. It is a nice way to introduce children to classic villians and their traits, but showing them here to be good guys or outcasts. Every child enjoys a few gentle scares and while this may not frighten even the softest kid, it will give them something too chew on before they make their way to fleshier stories.

The story follows Luke- a boy who has recently found out he is a werewolf. Monsters can have no place in civilised human society, and therefore must be taken away. However, as monsters are not monsters, they are given a civilised home of their own- Scream Street- where they all can live in supposed harmony. Built by the founding fathers of monsters- a vampire, a werewolf etc, hundreds of years before, Scream Street is both scary and intriguing for Luke. Luke’s parents though as normal, and as such do not fit in. He wants to find a way to return them to their own world, but this is unheard of. Only a secret book has the power to reveal any such escape plan, but it is held by the hateful and insane boss of Scream Street, Sir Otto. Luke and his gang set out on the quest to find the secrets of Scream Street.

There are a few potential flaws with the book which are entirely subjective- It is quite brief and simple, with not much back story, a very easy plot, few surprises and basic characterisation. Perhaps the book could be aimed at a younger audience- then again such ratings are also subjective and usually meaningless. When i was 7-9 i would have liked something a bit more challenging. I was a strange kid however, and at that age I was reading Homer’s Odyssey. This easily makes good bedtime reading for a child on their own, or from parent too child. Each chapter is carefully laid out, so that one or two before bedtime will keep the child entertained, but thirsty for more the next night. As an introduction the book is fine, and there is plenty of room in the books following to build up back story and character. A good start, and with good intentions- we all need a few vampires, ghosts, and zombies in our lives.

The Gargoyle- Andrew Davidson

Andrew Davidson’s debut is an accomplished, confident, self-depricating, chaotic beauty of a novel. At turns shocking, funny, real, fantastical, full of hatred and uncertainty, yet uplifting, The Gargoyle is ultimately a love story about a man whose life has forced him to become a monster inside, and it takes a horrific accident to bring the monster to the surface. Only then can it be tamed and overcome by the appearance of a mysterious woman who speaks of times long since passed, and a love long lost but never forgotten.

Davidson appears, like his nameless storyteller, to be a man who enjoys dipping his thought gland into the juices of every area of life and experience, and sucking what he can into his own fleshy being. Many parts of history are covered, many peoples and countries, science, religion, philosophy are each encountered and wrestled. Our hero starts out by re-telling his early life- hardship after hardship only served to build character- he loves to read and learn, although these hardships also pushed him into the porn industry and many vices and habits. Forced into hospital with near total body burns, he is faced with months of staring at a ceiling in agony and the thought that his life is well and truly over. He has no desire, like his fellow patients to ‘beat this’ and get better- He knows that he will forever be the freak that everyone will cross the road to avoid, and his only desire of getting better is so he has the strentgh to kill himself. Until she appears. Even with his experience of women, he is intrigued by her, and her apparent knowledge of parts of his life he believed to be totally secret.

Any more would be spoiling the story, but hopefully this has suckled your own thought gland. I must mention the book in its physical sense- one of the most gorgeous i have on my shelves, dark and enticing. It seems like one of those books which everyone would be drawn to lifting upon entering the room. You shouldn’t judge it by its cover- but if you are drawn in you will enjoy it for its merits.

The Gargoyle

The Mayan Prophecies- Gerald Benedict

Gerald Benedict’s Mayan Prophecies is the latest in a long list of modern takes on ancient prophecies. The current climate we live in is full of fear-mongers and paranoids who claim that the world is coming to an end, either through global warming (man made or not), war, terrorism, disease, poverty, nukes, zombies, natural disasters, Giant Wasps, aliens, NWO, Jeremy Beadle’s ghost, the return of Christ, etc etc. A perfect time then to release a book of ‘eerily accurate’ prophecies which all point to the world going through a potentially catastophic change in 2012. The book does point out that, according to the prophecies the change will more likely be for the good of humanity (psychic powers..)but that it won’t be without great stress and trouble.

Benedict gives a long, though mostly interesting introduction of Mayan culture- incredibly talented star gazers, builders, and mathmaticians, and explains a little about their society- how their every day life and yearly routines were decided by prophecies guided by the movement of stars. Eventually he gets to the prophecies themselves, a few early ones to show how supposedly accurate they could be- predicting the fall of their own civilisation, and the eventual rise of others.  Soon we read about the predictions for 2012- The Winter Solstice when….something may happen. The return of a God, or the embodiment of Godly wisdom in each of us starting with this date. The problem of course with prophecies is that anyone can make them at any time, and anyone can interpret them any way they please. The prophecies of a wise man or people are only marginally more acceptable than those of a drunk on the street at night.

This should not suggest though that the book isn’t a good read. For those, including myself, with an interest in ancient cultures, the supernatural, or anything remotely apocalyptic, this is interesting and accessible. You don’t need to know too much about the Mayans to understand it, and it is written in a simple fashion. Some of you may even find affinity with some of the prophecies and change your life. Taking the book another way, it can simply be read as another warning that we are hurting the planet and ourselves with our ignorance, passivity, and hatred, and that a few simple changes to our own lifestyle and thoughts could go a long way to making the world a better place. Lovely.

The Art Of Racing In The Rain- Garth Stein

The Art Of Racing In The Rain

Garth Stein’s novel ‘The Art Of racing In The Rain’ is exactly as the majority of reviews here claim: funny, touching, sad, heart-warming, and thankfully brief. There isn’t much esle to say about the book: these are all reasons to recommend it. Any reader who feels this book may not be for them should reconsider as there is something here for everyone, and Stein’s easy going and free flowing style ensures that the pages flutter by quickly. For what may sound like a tough read: a dying dog relates his life to us, including the death of his master’s wife, the book is full of light moments, largely involving the antics of Enzo, our storyteller- the dog who wishes he was human.

Enzo has lived with his master Denny most of his life. As the story begins, Enzo has accepted that he is ready to die. Thanks too many hours and days watching TV though, he believes that his purpose in this body has been served and that his soul can move on to a new body, and a new life. He then describes his life and loves- watching TV alone while Denny is at work, and particularly watching car races with Denny. Denny is a struggling racer, an expert who needs a break in life, a chance to prove his racing ability. Through all of this Enzo has learnt a great deal about racing, and about human nature. He shares his thoughts on life and using metaphors from the race-track; he shares his thoughts on human nature with a wry humour and desperation from the futile inhabiting of a dog’s body.

Enzo’s life with Denny is as happy as it could possibly be. Then Denny meets and marries Eve. As expected, he doesn’t appreciate sharing Denny’s affections. He is however a dog, a good dog, and knows his place. Their family grows again with the birth of Zoe, who Enzo becomes infatuated with, and becomes protector of. The story takes a darker turn though, as Eve becomes sick, and the family starts to fall apart. Tragic though it may be, this event is necessary as 300 pages of witty dog observations would wear thin quickly. This gives the story a boost and helps the reader feel there is a purpose to it all. However, the following section of the book slows down with the involvement of Eve’s parents, and the accusations aimed at Denny. This I feel is the main negative aspect of the book. These events feel too dragged out when we want Denny to be happy. Along with the ending which feels almost dreamlike, and certain passages which shift from narrative to thought, the book isn’t perfect. There are enough funny moments and enough hope in the darkness to make this one of the best books of the year.

Time Out Paris Guide: 2009

The Time Out travel guides are amongst the most well written, handy, informative, useful, and overall best guides in the world, with a wide series covering cities and countries across the globe. This edition, relating to Paris is no exception, giving the reader valuable insight to the city, as well as providing information on the best places to go, monuments to see, and restaurants and bars to visit. Not initially being a fan to these types of guides, being a believer that you should go, be surprised, and experience the world for yourself. However, for less adventurous travellers, families, and couples – no trip to Paris should be complete without this.

The structure of the book is laid out in an easy to understand manner, with Paris split up into different districts, a map for each, and subdivided into categories such as places to see, places to eat etc. The descriptions are simple to follow, and are never boring as many guides can be. There are many photographs of famous buildings and streets to colour the guide, listings for opening and closing times, train time-tables, and even planned daily guides of where to go if you want to be led around. Also, there is a map of the metro system which at first may seem daunting is easy to understand with a little time. This map certainly helps when deciding where to go next and how to get there. If you’re heading to Paris soon, and are unsure of going it alone, then this guide will act as your… guide.

Time Out London Guide 2008

The Time Out travel guides are amongst the most well written, handy, informative, useful, and overall best guides in the world, with a wide series covering cities and countries across the globe. This edition, relating to London is no exception, giving the reader valuable insight to the city, as well as providing information on the best places to go, monuments to see, and restaurants and bars to visit. Not initially being a fan to these types of guides, being a believer that you should go, be surprised, and experience the world for yourself. However, for less adventurous travellers, families, and couples – no trip to London should be complete without this.

The structure of the book is laid out in an easy to understand manner, with London split up into different districts, a map for each, and subdivided into categories such as places to see, events which are on, shows to see, places to eat etc. The descriptions are simple to follow, and are never boring as many guides can be. There are many photographs of famous buildings and streets to colour the guide, listings for opening and closing times, train time-tables, and even planned daily guides of where to go if you want to be led around. Also, there is a map of the metro system which at first may seem daunting is easy to understand with a little time. This map certainly helps when deciding where to go next and how to get there. If you’re heading to London soon for the first time, and are unsure of going it alone, then this guide will act as your… guide.