25 February 2014

Book Club: The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games trilogy imagines a post-apocalyptic future where North America, now called Panem, has been split into twelve districts following a rebellion against the wealthy Capitol. To ensure compliance with the Capitol regime and prevent future rebellion, every year a boy and a girl aged 12-18 are chosen at random to become tributes for each district and must compete in the Hunger Games; a vicious and televised battle to the death that can have only one survivor.
The books are told from the point of view of Katniss Everdeen, who lives in District 12, an impoverished district which primarily mines coal. Katniss has been providing food and money for her mother and younger sister, Prim, since the death of her father and is a skilled hunter, expertly wielding a bow and arrow.

It is Katniss' love for her sister that sees her volunteer as tribute when Prim is drawn as a participant in the Games and the beginning of the first book. Along with Katniss, Peeta Mellark, the son of the district's baker, is selected and the two are whisked to the Capitol to take their place in the Games where they face almost certain death. However, along with desperately trying to survive, something else develops between the pair that makes staying alive even more important.
I really enjoyed the first book. I loved the idea behind it; an evil, elite few use children as tools to remind people of the power they have over them and subdue a population, a baying audience watch and cheer as children are murdered live on television and place bets on who will die and when, while the survivors are treated as celebrities despite the trauma they have endured and the potentially hideous actions they took to survive. I felt that the pace was excellent and it kept me reading long into the night. Despite knowing that Katniss wouldn't meet her end in the arena (the sequels made that quite clear!) I was still so excited to see what would happen and I loved the rich world that Collins had created.

This excitement continued as I read Catching Fire. President Snow is furious with Katniss for making the Capitol look foolish and inciting small pockets of rebellion around Panem. In a bid to destroy the anti-Capitol sentiment created by Katniss' final stunt in the arena, a special 75th Hunger Games sees previous victors return to the arena and it is clear the Capitol rulers see this as the perfect opportunity to get rid of Katniss and all she symbolises. I really liked how the evil of the Capitol began to shine through in this book, with harsh punishments doled out across the Districts in a bid to quell any sign of rebellion. The mental torture inflicted on Katniss also served to effectively highlight the true nature of the Capitol's leaders in a way that wasn't always as apparent in the first novel. I really loved the Games in this book too, as the Games makers sought to come up with hideous new methods to inflict pain on the tributes. The insight into previous Games and other victors was also really interesting, allowing you a glimpse into what life was like after winning the Games.

It was with so much excitement that I picked up Mockingjay and raced towards the conclusion of the trilogy. Unfortunately, this installment failed to provide the impact of its predecessors. Rebellion in Panem is now widespread, with almost every District in revolt. Katniss is selected to act as the Mockingjay and provide a focal point for the rebels who want to overthrow the Capitol. It seemed like this book would provide the most action of the trilogy as people fought for their freedom.
However, most of the book see Katniss in hospital recovering from various injuries and complaining about it. A lot. Even once Katniss is able to leave and visit other Districts, it seems that it isn't long before she's whisked back to a hospital bed for another few chapters. I felt this really stilted the progress of the novel.
I loved the action sequences where Katniss was fighting and the third part of the book was so exciting as the rebellion got closer and closer to the Capitol. I even had nightmares about one of the 'weapons' the Capitol deployed in its quest to extinguish the spark of hope Katniss embodies once and for all. There were also a few shocks in there too, and I loved how Collins wasn't afraid to kill some characters other authors may have been more timid to.
Having said that, I felt let down by the closing chapter of the book. I felt that Katniss deserved so much more than the final fate she was given and the epilogue seemed to directly contradict previous statements she had made regarding her future.

Overall, I would definitely recommend the Hunger Games trilogy. Although I feel it was somewhat let down by a final book that felt a bit sloppy and hasty, the dark ideas combined with some really thrilling writing made it a great read.
I also think it's an extremely important series for girls, as Katniss is one of few heroines I can recall and I feel that having a strong and brave role model like her is vital for teenage girls- and, perhaps, twenty-something ones who are using her strength as inspiration to finally start that fitness regime properly; well, I want to survive if my name is ever drawn at The Reaping, don't I?!

Have you read the Hunger Games trilogy? What did you think? Were you disappointed by Mockingjay like I was?

You can see what else I've been reading by adding me on Goodreads.

13 February 2014

Happy Galentine's Day!

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Galentine's Day was created by the wonderful (and sadly fictional) Leslie Knope as a special day to celebrate her female friends the day before Valentine's Day. I completely aspire to be as much like Leslie as possible- even my laptop background reminds me to channel her at every opportunity- so I thought I'd celebrate this Galentine's Day by telling you about some of my favourite female bloggers in a bid to spread the love!

Gillian from elevatormusik
I love everything about Gillian's blog. The layout is amazing, her pictures are great and everything is infused with a really nice personal writing style that instantly draws me in. I love the varied content Gillian produces as well; she covers everything from makeup to books to TV, and her guides to Edinburgh are superb.
I actually think that we are quite similar, particularly in regard to our tastes in books, films and TV, and are at similar stages in life having both completed Masters degrees recently and it's nice to see someone whose life you can relate to.

Jennie from sailboatJennie is one of the sweetest, most genuine bloggers I have ever come across. Each post is infused with such warmth and is just so lovely to read, and she also makes a real effort to interact with her readers which is great. I love the breadth of content that Jennie covers and her pictures are amazing. And she has the cutest little bunny ever who makes frequent appearances in her posts, and bunnies can never be a bad thing!

Annie from appletoothpasteAnnie and I were actually at Cardiff together and both studied Law, but we never knew each other then.
I love her personal posts as they're full of honesty and I can definitely relate to a lot of the things she says, particularly when it comes to job hunting. I also love her wishlist posts, they're packed with things I could actually afford to buy which is always good, and her underwear taste is always on point. (Is that a weird thing to say?)

Charlotte from ginandgingerOh man, Charlotte is so smart! Every time I want to write something about politics, current affairs or feminism, she beats me to it and writes something 100 times better than I ever could! I love how she makes difficult subjects accessible as well and I'm honestly inspired by her to write more on those topics that interest me and perhaps veer away from the general current scope of my blog. I also really enjoy her lifestyle posts; they're always full of fun and happiness.

So there's some of the blogs I am loving this Galentine's Day! Who are your favourite female bloggers?

9 February 2014

Reasons to be Cheerful #4

1)Long Overdue Catch Ups: My best friend from university, Caroline, was on a trip to Dublin this week and was able to come and visit me in Belfast for a few hours. I haven't seen her for almost two years since we graduated and seeing her this week made me so happy. We talked the whole day away and even the awful weather couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces. We laughed the whole time and shared memories from our time at university. It was such a lovely day and I can't wait for our next reunion, which I am determined to have as soon as possible.
Caroline is so great and I am so lucky to have her as a friend. We've had some excellent times throughout our friendship, but she's always been there if things haven't been so rosy and I am so grateful to her.

2)A Twist of Fate: I'm not really big on Valentine's Day but I do sometimes get frustrated that Pete and I don't even get a choice about whether or not we'll do anything to celebrate it. This year was no exception until I got a potentially very exciting email on Thursday. The email itself could lead to very good things in the future (I don't want to dwell on that too much in case I freak myself out) but it does mean that I will be flying to Cardiff on Thursday. After Cardiff, I'm going to travel to Cheltenham and Pete and I will be able to spend the weekend together!
We originally thought we wouldn't be able to see each other again until the end of March so it's such a nice surprise to get to see each other next weekend. I can't imagine we will do anything terribly romantic while I'm there, but that's OK with me; just being together will be enough (sorry!)

3)Getting Lost in Panem: The last book I read, English Passengers, was sadly a bit disappointing and I was let down after wanting to read it for a while. I decided to reach for a book on the opposite end of the spectrum and made a start on The Hunger Games trilogy that my brother bought me for Christmas. I'm completely hooked! I read the first book in 2 days and I'm already a third of the way into Catching Fire after only starting it last night. I'm really enjoying the books and I find them really exciting, despite having seen the first two films already. Although the writing is perhaps a bit more simplistic compared to my usual reads, I am loving every page and I can't wait to get onto Mockingjay and see what happens in the end.

That's what's been making me happy recently. What's put a smile on your face?

3 February 2014

What I Watched: Blue Valentine

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Blue Valentine has been in my DVD collection for over three years but I only got round to watching it last weekend and I'm so glad I did. I could kick myself for leaving it so long to watch it; it's definitely one of the best films I have ever seen and I wish I had experienced it sooner.

The film stars Ryan Gosling  and Michelle Williams (rightly nominated for a Best Actress Oscar) as Dean and Cindy, a married couple with a young daughter, and focuses on the dissolution of their relationship over a tumultuous few days. At first look it seems like a standard drama about the end of a relationship, but the disintegration of their marriage is intercut with scenes from the beginning of their relationship which adds an extra dimension to the film.

The way Blue Valentine is shot makes it so spectacular to watch. Tiny, subtle moments are captured but not overdone, leaving you to make of each action what you want. It doesn't spell out the fact that this couple are falling apart, but the insinuations run deep through the very heart of every scene.
However, the use of footage from the beginning of Dean and Cindy's relationship is what makes it really heartbreaking. The juxtaposition between the palpable happiness and love the two share when they first meet and the awkward interactions they share in the present day is astonishing. It was actually painful at times to watch the two clumsily interact with each other in the present and the way director Derek Cianfrance captured the discomfort between the couple was amazing.

The subtle style of the film and its amazing performances were what made it stand out so much. There was no huge, dramatic plot twist to drive the action, just a quiet insight into a relationship that had just stopped. Rather than overblown, sentimental scenes that you can tell were aiming to make you cry, Blue Valentine is so natural and realistic. Its strength lies in its central performances, with both Gosling and Williams on top form, and the chemistry between the two makes it so convincing as well. It's a completely believable, natural film that I couldn't fault at all.

The atmosphere of the film is definitely one of heartbreak. The whole way through, I could feel sadness creeping up on me and,10 minutes before the end, one of the flashback scenes affected me so profoundly that I had to pause the film and cry for a very long time. I was utterly devastated by the entire film and the vein of sadness stuck with me long after the credits rolled.

I'm so glad i finally watched Blue Valentine and I'd recommend it to anyone. It is full of sadness at times and I personally found it so heartbreaking that when I tried to talk about it afterwards I cried all over again, but the performances are incredible, the atmosphere and cinematography is beautiful and the use of music, particularly You and Me by Penny & the Quarters, adds so much depth and emotion to the film. It's a truly excellent film and it's definitely become one of my favourites already.

Have you seen Blue Valentine? What other sad films can you recommend for me?