faintingviolet’s #CBR5 review #28: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

You probably already know the plot of the book. By now, with the movie out, it’s well-known.

What I think I’d like to talk about in my review is the theme of love. I wrote a blog post almost two years ago about what I like to think of as pure love, and I think Katniss and her various relationships can explore that quite easily. Most, if not all, of her decisions are based on love.

One of my chief complaints about the movies (although I enjoyed the second so much more than the first) is that they don’t really get into Katniss’s difficulty with emotions.  They do a great job dealing with her fears for everyone’s safety, and that is evident on Jennifer Lawrence’s face every time her character has to think about those who are in peril thanks to her actions in the Games. But JLaw’s Katniss is not the emotionally unavailable Katniss I read in the books.

So let’s talk about the conversation that my group of friends of having, and I’m sure lots of groups are having right now too: Is this really a love triangle? I vote no.

I’ve always been firmly in the camp that Katniss does love Peeta from somewhere in Book 1 (sometime between training camp and finding him in the arena), but that it scares her. Because she had already decided that she would never marry and never have kids and Peeta is the kind of guy who is all about the marrying and the kids. I also agree that while she loves Gale it’s more like the love she has for her family. Katniss is fiercely loyal and loving of her family, as seen by the extent that she loves Prim. And even though their relationship is strained from her mother’s weakness following her father’s death that is still an incredibly strong bond of love. This is where her love for Gale fits, she loves him the way she loves her family. But because Katniss does not have the language to sort out these emotional differences, she sees it as a conflict to the love she feels for Peeta, which is the love that dominates most of her actions.

And because she is so unused to her own emotions she doesn’t know how to process them even as they are influencing every choice she makes. So, she makes herself content to put Peeta off to the side because 1) they share terrible memories and 2) she doesn’t want to hurt him any more than she already has. She goes back to Gale for reassurance and to ‘run’ because he’s the partner she knows in her normal life. But it’s all very complicated because Gale has the feels for her. It’s predominately one-sided.

So, not really a triangle, just a brilliantly complex layered look at love.

Moving on from that, my other complaints about the movie adaptation of the book include that there is no plant book interlude with Peeta, and that really robes some great character development from both of them. And, it’s criminal that the movies cut Madge, because that storyline, and the layers it adds to Haymitch, are some of my favorite stuff in the book.

Also, a growing part of me wishes these books were from Peeta’s POV.

faintingviolet’s #CBR5 review #27: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I’ve started and stopped this review several times. I wanted to pull The Ocean at the End of the Lane apart and put it back together again, because to a certain extent that’s what the book felt like it did to my brain. And I wanted to be able to express that to you – what the moving around of the landscape in my mind to make room for the story of a boy fighting his boyhood foes, and his adulthood ones too, felt like.

I want to talk about how an unnamed narrator can feel like he has a name, and that it’s right on the tip of your tongue, and if you just go back to the book and look it up surely it will be there. And how the world in the novel is so very like the one we’re existing in, with a few fantastical and mythological quirks added in, and what that means to a reader who is not generally a fantasy reader.

Or how you found yourself debating back and forth with yourself whether the Hempstocks were the mother, the maiden and the crone, or if they were the three fates, or if they were simply creatures from another time who were sent to protect our young world, and by default our young protagonist when he finds himself in trouble.

Or perhaps we can talk about the overarching themes of the death of a parent or what it means to become an adult, and if we do. Or if we are simply walking around in adult suits and in some ways forever remain the children we once were.

Or maybe you’d rather have a chat about memory, and what that means. And how we are doomed to forget the things we’d most like to remember. And that we are likely to be haunted by the things we cannot forget, and wish that we could.

Or I could share with you my favorite quote from the book (“You were her way here, and it’s a dangerous thing to be a door.”), and we could discuss how it relates to Neverwhere and have a discussion about how the transitions in our lives can define us more than the times in between, because that’s when we’re under stress and who we really are comes to the surface.

Or not.

If you want a summary of the plot, you can head over to Goodreads, and if you want some more in depth analysis you can visit The Faintest Inklings post , but I think for now, I’m done wrestling with how to talk to you about this book.

Just go read it, won’t you?

faintingviolet’s #CBR5 review #26: The Tall Pine Polka by Lorna Landvik

After a rough reading year, in which I will only be completing a half cannonball instead of the full cannonball I signed up for (but I feel okay about it since last year I signed up for a half cannonball and managed to complete the full cannonball), I decided to make my 26th book one that I know I love: The Tall Pine Polka by Lorna Landvik. This is the only book of hers that I have ever read. But I have read it at least half a dozen times in as many years.

It arrived to me as a hand-me-down. My mother’s friend gave it to her to read, and when she was done she passed it off to me. I have not passed it to anyone since.

The story focuses on Fenny and her loyal group of compatriots. Her social life revolves around her friends at the Cup O’Delight and their Polka Nights. The hub of this social wheel is Fenny’s closest friend: Lee O’Leary the proprietor of the cafe. This group is made up of the resident lesbian couple, the mayor, the shoe repairman, and the self-described poet who no one can really stand just to name a few. Fenny lives a quiet life in the northern woods of Minnesota with her friends, until a scout for a movie sees her in her family’s store and decides that she is the living embodiment of the lead character.

What follows is a sometimes disjointed, but far more emotionally investing, story of what the change in Fenny’s life does to the overall picture of whom she is and the life she is going to lead. More characters join the crows, locations change, and lots of big life events take place. Some relatively minor with lasting impacts, others the matter of life and death. This book reads the way life plays out, once you take being discovered by Hollywood out of the equation. We’ve all known someone with an abusive spouse, a lover who isn’t telling you the whole story, a job you landed that you likely weren’t completely qualified for, and knowing that you’ve missed someone’s heart along the way. But somehow, we make ourselves a life, and Fenny and the rest of these well drawn characters do the same. They make a life.

So, if you want an easy read with some fantastic characters pick this up. But make sure to brew a pot of coffee or tea, because the amount of caffeine these characters consume will make you jealous.

This review, and all my others, can be found here.

faintingviolet’s #CBR5 review #25: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

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If you are a regular follower of reviews on the Cannonball blog you know that there are a group of dedicated Rainbow Rowell’s fans who are spreading the gospel of this author. I am happy to report that I now include myself in the group, although I may not be as rabid as some.

The story revolves around three characters, but I’d say the protagonist is Lincoln. Lincoln is 28, a multiple degree holder with a broken heart which remained unhealed more than 7 years after his first great love, and he is finding adulthood difficult to transition to. His journey into his adult self begins when he becomes employed at the local newspaper as their technology security person leading up to Y2K.

Lincoln’s main job is to check the security program which catches inappropriate emails. This is where we are introduced to the two other main characters, Jennifer and Beth. Best friends Jennifer, a copy editor, and Beth, an entertainment writer, treat their work email as a personal chat service (which I am EXTREMELY guilty of). Lincoln has to read the flagged emails and decide if the writers need to be sent a warning, he becomes so enthralled with Beth and Jennifer’s correspondence he never sends those warnings, and in fact becomes emotionally involved in their lives.

Much has been said about the creepy aspect of Lincoln’s job and how as a narrative device it could turn the reader off. I personally wasn’t, but that may be because I was thoroughly warned. Much of the action in the second two thirds of the book revolves around the steps Lincoln takes in his continuing journey into true independence and adulthood; meanwhile chronicling his growing attraction to the woman he is discovering Beth to be from her writings to Jennifer.

I actually started reading this novel during my summer malaise, and took about 6 weeks off between the first 100 pages and the rest of the book. This did shade my understanding of the book (for example I got very confused when Beth is describing her Cute Boy, I didn’t realize initially it was Lincoln), and my appreciation thereof, so my 4 star rating may turn into a 5 upon rereading. But for now Ms. Rowell has created an intriguing novel that is as engrossing as it is difficult to explain.

But what really sold me on this book was the characterization. I could not help but fall in love with each of our leads as they navigated their various life struggles. I don’t know the last time I read such honest character reactions to the various foibles and flaws demonstrated by Jennifer, Beth, and Lincoln. By the time we get to the end of the novel and everyone has finally made the choices they needed to make to more fully live their lives, you can’t help but be glad that you were along for the ride.

faintingviolet’s #CBR5 review #24: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

I was always going to like this book. I have been a Graham fan for nearly 15 years, which is half my life. My sister and I use Gilmore Girls as the basis for our understanding of our relationship to one another and I watch Parenthood religiously. I will also watch terrible movies that feature her (why won’t she stick to television?) and I love watching her as a guest on Craig Ferguson’s The Late Late Show.

And I do like this book, but I really wish I loved it.

Someday, Someday, Maybe focuses on six months in the life of Franny Banks, aspiring actress in New York City. Franny has a given herself three years to ‘make it’ and she is entering her final six. We follow her as she navigates class, work, agents, auditions, bookings, and boys. Graham was herself an aspiring actress in New York in the early 90s and while I believe her claims that Franny is a fictional character based on some of her experiences, I couldn’t help but see Graham as the main character.

The things I enjoyed most about this book happen near the end, and not because of how the story resolves itself but more in that Franny and her roommate Dan get into a great discussion about the trappings of romantic subplots and what they mean to the larger storytelling going on. It’s a great conversation and one that I would love to join in on, particularly as relates to Love Octagons (because Love Triangles are so passé).

There really aren’t any beats that a seasoned reader (that would be us, Cannonballers) wouldn’t see telegraphed a mile away, but it’s a fun quick read that is very much in the voice of one of our favorite television actresses.

faintingviolet’s #CBR5 Review #23: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

After a two month drought I’m back with one of the most popular books from last year’s cannonball. I put out a plea to friends, loved ones, and tweeps for quick, easy reads to reinvigorate me after a summer of no luck. (I picked up and put down at least 4 books in the past few months and am fighting with another as we speak.) So, two of my colleagues who adore The Hunger Games set me up with the first book.

I read it in two marathon sessions over the course of a week. Drought broken.

The story by now is familiar to almost everyone, particularly with the movie out last year. In the future North America is now the country of Panem with a ruling Capital district and 12 other districts who, after an uprising quelled a generation ago, serve the capital. To be reminded of the sins of their forebears each year a Reaping is held and a girl and boy ages 12-18 are selected to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. One victor is named and he or she will bring pride to their District and money to their family.  Our eyes to this world are Katniss’s. She’s 16 and an outsider. In order to survive following her father’s death in one of District 12’s coal mines Katniss sneaks out to the forest surrounding District 12 to hunt for her family. However, her normal life is thrown to the wind when her sister Prim, just 12, is selected at the Reaping and Katniss volunteers to go in her place.

We spend the second two-thirds of the novel with Katniss in the training and actual games. It is at times a bleak read. We are talking about children killing other children. What I found most interesting in the transition to the movie (which I watched within 24 hours of finishing the book, thanks Netflix) is how they both sanitized some of the most horrendous deaths and also took away some of Katniss’ insights and turned them into physical promptings from her mentor, Haymitch. I felt it weakened the character. However, I did enjoy deploying the play by play analysts as our narrators throughout the Games.

But I think why this novel is resonating with non YA audiences is that it dives into some greater themes while leaving plenty of surface action for those who only care for the ‘who wins and how’ storylines. For instance Haymitch, a previous Victor of the Hunger Games who is now in charge of mentoring District 12’s two Tributes each year is depressed and has a serious drinking problem. We are also given a view into the cost of the Games to Katniss and the other combatants, an easy opening for discussions about Post Traumatic Stress.   There is also plenty to unpack in the dialogue between a Capital unable to support itself and instead focused on entertainment and diversion, surely a topic relevant to us today.

This review and all other CBR4 and CBR5 reviews can be found here.

faintingviolet’s #CBR5 review #21: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I have never read what I suppose is classified as Urban Fantasy and Neverwhere was a great introduction to it. I wouldn’t have picked up the book if not for the BBC4 radio version last year. I listened to the episodes before bed each night but missed the finale. Interested to see how the story ended I picked it up from the library.

For more… http://faintingviolet.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/neverwhere-cbr5-21/

faintingviolet’s #CBR5 review #20: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

I’ve been putting off reviewing The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman for nearly a week trying to wrap my brain around how to express what this novel is, and what my opinions are about it.

The Light Between Oceans came to my attention from Valyruh’s review as well as from Goodreads Best of 2012 voting (it won for best Historical Fiction). I waited rather patiently for it to arrive from my library and only started to get truly anxious to read it once I saw Jen K’s five-star review, since she and I agree on many, many books. In numerous ways I agree with her review of the book. But, when I initially finished the book I only gave it four stars as compared to her five.

The titular light is Janus, the lighthouse located on the southwestern coast of Australia sitting between the Indian and Southern oceans. It is on this small island that the reader learns the tale of Tom Sherbourne and his wife, Isabel. Tom returns from the Great War a broken man, withdrawing from society. He finds refuge working on the lights, having minute but immeasurably important tasks which physically remove him from civilization. It is on his way to Janus to serve as a relief keeper that Tom meets Isabel and their paths become intertwined.  Isabel brings Tom out of his shell and they build a life together on Janus, but after suffering a series of miscarriages, Isabel’s grief and the arrival of a rowboat with a dead man and an infant, Tom makes a decision for the sake of his wife that is morally and ethicaly suspect.

This is Stedman’s debut novel and it is exquisitely delivered. The descriptive language and vacillation between third person and first person storytelling make the story simultaneously intimate and overarching. At its center this is a novel about the moral and ethical boundaries we will bend for love, and what it means to create a family, and how families are both incredibly fragile and strong beyond measure. In her review Valyruh points out that “As many reviewers have commented, this is a sad tale. But it is a riveting one, forcing us to reflect on the morally ambiguous choices good people–like ourselves–make every day without thought of the consequences. Stedman’s writing is compelling, her settings gorgeously described, and her characters have histories and embody all the strengths and weaknesses, beauty and ugliness of everyman.” The novel is inherently sad, and that is perhaps my greatest complaint against it. There is just so much pain, but none of it is blown beyond the proportions of the plot and all of the decisions and actions of the characters fit into who they are. The reader is never left to question why they do what they do, only to fear for what comes next.

The pacing in the novel works especially well, we know from the very beginning the Sherbournes’ big secret, and we spend the rest of the novel tracking how they arrive at that point and how they proceed with their lives. The reader gets swept up like one of Janus’ crashing waves and we see disaster looming on the horizon, waiting for the storm to breach the shore. When it does, the story turns on end. Stedman performs a high wire act of great skill towards the conclusion of the novel, and in the final few chapters gives us a satisfying narrative which was more subtle and certainly more unexpected than I’d dared hoped.

I find for CBR5 the difference between four and five stars to be purely a matter of heart. If I LOVE the book and want to shout that love from the rooftops it gets five stars, if I think it’s fantastic but it doesn’t pull at my heartstrings, or if I don’t find myself aching to push it into the hands of everyone I know then it gets a four star rating. This book had me in LOVE with its characters from the moment go and pulled at every bit of my heart but I’m having a hard time actively inviting anyone else into the heartache this book delivers. Read at your own risk, but know that this is a masterfully crafted novel.

This review is cross-posted.

P.S. In November DreamWorks Studios announced that it has entered into exclusive talks to acquire the feature film rights to The Light Between Oceans.

faintingviolet’s #CBR5 review #19: Looking for Alaska by John Green

After reading The Fault in Our Stars last year and seeing many positive reviews of John Green’s earlier work I decided to start at the beginning of his oeuvre and have a read through. That brought me to Looking for Alaska. It also didn’t hurt that it made the top ten most frequently challenged books list of 2012 for having offensive language, being sexually explicit, as well as being unsuited for age group. I had to see what all the fuss was about.

See what I had to say…