Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Series: The Hunger Games #2
Publisher: Scholastic Press | 2009 | 391 pages
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So this book is a continuation of The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark of District 12 of the nation of Panem have won the 74th Hunger Games. They must now keep up the act as a loving couple to prove to the other districts and also the snakelike President Snow that they were not actually rebelling against the Capitol.

While Katniss tries to figure out her feelings and relationship with her long-time friend, Gale, she must appear to be in love with Peeta as they visit other districts during their victory tour. Most of the tours appear uneventful except for some but there has been talk that certain districts are planning uprising efforts against The Capitol.

Then there is the upcoming 75th Hunger Games which also happens to be the Quarter Quell edition that occurs every 25 years. To mark such an edition, there is a twist in the Games to make it different from the usual ones. And in this latest Quarter Quell, past victors from earlier Games are to compete again. Two tributes – one male and one female – from each district will be required to participate in the Games.

Since Katniss is the only female victor from District 12, she has no other choice but to be chosen. Her mentor from the 74th Games, Haymitch Abernathy, had been chosen as male tribute but Peeta steps forward, volunteering to take his place.

As the upcoming Games will have older and experienced victors, it will definitely be quite a challenge for Katniss and Peeta. How will they stay on top of the game? Should they form an alliance with others? Who should they trust? Will both of them survive the Games again this time?

After finishing the first book, The Hunger Games, I was very eager to continue reading Catching Fire to know what’s next. It has been a long time since I got excited over any series and I do not know why I waited so long to read this one.

I gave The Hunger Games a rating of three out of five stars in Goodreads but Catching Fire is much better. Four stars. No, I didn’t love it but it was gripping enough to hold my attention for hours.

There is a glimpse of the possibility of the existence of a District 13, which was purportedly wiped off the map after an earlier uprising many years ago. So that makes it more interesting when Katniss finds out about it. I was also wondering if she would make a run for it into the forest with Gale, Peeta, their families and hers since President Snow has threatened to harm them if Katniss is really the cause of the possible rebellion in other districts.

As for the love triangle, Katniss is torn between the two guys, Gale and Peeta, who are already in love with her. When Gale is around, Katniss is drawn to him. But if he is not around because of work or his injuries, she stays close to Peeta. Nevertheless, Peeta remains sweet and devoted to her.

There you have it. The ending of Book Two of the Hunger Games will definitely leave the reader wanting to know how it progresses. Now it’s off to reading the third and final book, Mockingjay!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Series: The Hunger Games #1
Publisher: Scholastic Press | 2008 | 374 pages
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In the nation of Panem, its biggest city is called The Capitol, which is surrounded by 12 outlying districts. To show its power and domination over the 12 poorer districts, it forces them (the districts) to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. The children that are selected are called tributes.

During the reaping ceremony in District 12 for the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen, 16, volunteers to replace her 12-year-old sister, Prim, to be a tribute representing her district in the games. The boy chosen was Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son who once threw a bread to Katniss when she and her family were starving.

The two tributes of District 12 would be under the mentorship of former Games victor, Haymitch Abernathy. Haymitch however appears drunk at first but later tries to sober up to impart survival tips to Katniss and Peeta. Both tributes make a good first impression among the show’s audience, which will later help them to get sponsors. Sponsors will able to send gifts to the tributes if the latter needed something desperately during the Games.

Katniss and Peeta soon become among the attractions of the current Games as they appear as star-crossed lovers, thanks to Peeta’s ‘confession’ during his interview on TV about his forever crush on Katniss.

Soon after the Games begins, Katniss finds out that Peeta has ganged up with the Career Tributes, tributes who have trained their whole lives to enter the Games. Does this mean that Peeta was just putting on a show all the time, in the hopes of getting Katniss killed in the Games?

I only read the The Hunger Games book after I watched the movie twice! It was not on purpose that I watched it twice but I went to the cinema with two different people. :) Anyway, the movie was so good that I thought that I had better read the book fast. It was then that I knew why the book is such a hit with both the young adult and adult groups.

Although the movie version kept me on the edge of my seat, the book was only OK for me. The story in the book is, however, told from Katniss’ point of view, so I understood some parts of the story better. If only we knew what Peeta was thinking all the while! I also liked the conversations between Peeta and Katniss.

As for the said love triangle, was there one? Gale, Katniss’ hunting partner, only appears in the beginning of the book and after Katniss goes for training and the actual Games, she mostly mentions Gale in her thoughts.

Of course I found the idea of children killing children a disturbing one. Thank goodness it is only set in a dystopian society. Parents might want to think first before allowing their children to read the book and the sequels after that.

Sure, there are other themes in the story such as family, love, friendship, survival and the lack of compassion (???). I mean, how cruel is that for Panem to allow these teenagers to die on live TV, right in front of their eyes while they cheer on the surviving tributes and bet on the potential victor? It is quite sick, actually.

And so, it is up to several characters in the story to not be inhuman, thus rebelling against the cruel Capitol.

I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy, Catching Fire.

The Baby Bible Christmas Storybook by Robin Currie and Constanza Basaluzzo

No Christian kid is too ever too young to get to know the Bible. This is why The Baby Bible Christmas Storybook is the perfect first glimpse of bible stories for a young child.

It begins with ‘Mary’s Secret’ where Mary finds out from the angel Gabriel that she’s going to be the Mother of God.

After that, it’s a chronology of events right up until the birth of Jesus Christ.

There is a short prayer included at the end of every story. I love this one because of the way it’s written:

Dear God, thank You for the best secret: Jesus. Amen

What’s fun is that you don’t only read from the book to your kid but both of you could engage in some fun movements to bring the stories to life! For example,

The angel told Mary a special secret.
Put your fingers on your lips: shhhh.

You and your child will not find a dull moment while reading it.

Written by Robin Currie and illustrated by Constanza Basaluzzo, it is a sturdy board book with cute, colourful graphics to keep your kid (and you!) glued to the pages till the very end. Even if your baby decides to chew on the pages, the book won’t fall to bits.

This book is a recommended read during Christmas, of course. But don’t let it stop you from picking it up at other times of the year and re-reading with your child about the events that lead up to the birth of Jesus, which is the moment celebrated by Christians worldwide every Dec 25th!

***Thanks to Audra Jennings from The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy of this book.

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn

The first Emily Dickinson poem that I learnt was ‘There’s Been a Death in the Opposite House’ when I was in secondary school. I didn’t know much about her then. Fast forward to my uni days: for my English class, we learnt six of her poems and most of them revolved around the theme of death. Depressing? Yes, kind of, but it’s interesting to discover why Ms Dickinson constantly wrote about it. She also liked to write poems about nature.

Anyway, did you know that she wrote nearly 1,800 poems? Incredible, huh? She never got married and she died when she was 55. She was known to wear white all the time, never left her house, never met anyone but her family and she would lower down baskets of food through her window. The only form of communication she has with the outside world was through writing letters. Besides, she was good at baking and her famous black cake is mentioned many times in this book.

Take a look at the cover. Are you smiling at the cheekiness of it? Or are you raising an eyebrow since the cover does not seem compatible with my description of Emily? Well, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson is about the secret, wilder side of the poet that will shock you horrendously. Don’t get too excited as it is part fiction with several fictional characters thrown in for an added thrill.

The story begins with Emily as a student at the seminary Mount Holyoke which had strict rules for its students. There, she falls in love with a blond, blue-eyed handyman named Tom. Though she thinks of him all the time and wants to woo him, she never had the chance to be with him. Emily was to find out later that her schoolmate Zilpah Marsh had already made Tom her man.

Her relationships with various characters are also explored throughout the novel. The characters include her protective father Edward Dickinson, her faithful dog Carlo, the fictitious Zilpah Marsh, her sister-in-law Sue, and also her array of suitors. In the book, she fell in love over and over again but I think her heart always belonged to Tom the handyman.

The author, Jerome Charyn, has used her letters and poetry as inspiration for the book. Therefore, you can spot some lines from her poems in the story along with her eccentric way of capitalising the first letter of certain words. Lots of metaphors are also used and I had to read some paragraphs again and again to comprehend the meaning. Honestly I gave up at some and just continued reading.

Split into seven parts and 48 chapters, the 348-page novel is written from Emily’s point of view. If you want to get to know Emily Dickinson intimately, read this book and you’ll observe how imaginative and flirtatious she can be! You’ll also find yourself delved into her innermost thoughts and following her on daring adventures (daring for women of her time). Remember that it is her secret life and secrets can be scandalous, can’t they?

***Thanks to Mark Goldman for sending me a copy of this book to review.