Tag Archives: Suzanne Collins

Friday Faceoff – The book is a film that takes place in the mind of the reader… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffmovietieincovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is MOVIE TIE-IN. I’ve selected Catching Fire – Book 2 of The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Mostly because I think both the book and film are more successful than most notoriously difficult second-in-the-series efforts.

 

This edition was produced by Scholastic Press in September 2009 and is a strong design that catches the eye on the shelves (I know – I bought this edition, having seen it on said shelves). Red and gold are always a strong colour combination and the design and the unusual bird give a sci fi feel to this cover. If I have a moan, it’s that blocky, rather uninspired font.

 

Published in November 2011 by Nemira, this Romanian edition is very effective, with the face half-hidden by those red leaves. The detail of the raindrops beading the leaves gives a nice three-dimensional aspect. But then they went and botched it by plonking the title font bang in the middle of the cover in the same shade of red. It both clutters the overall design and is difficult to read – hard to imagine how they could have made more of a mess of it, really.

 

This edition, published by Scholastic in October 2014, goes for a different suite of colours no less eye-catching than the red and gold. I love the treatment of the font which is both attractive and imaginative. However, that negative effect on the mockingjay makes it look like a fossilised pterodactyl, which isn’t an accurate portrayal of the book. I suppose I can give them a pass on this one – by 2014 you’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard of The Hunger Games, but it goes against the grain to have a cover that doesn’t accurately reflect the book’s genre.

 

This movie tie-in edition, produced by Scholastic in October 2013 is an underwhelming effort. It certainly doesn’t work all that well in thumbnail – all you see are those roiling clouds. Katniss merely blends into the background wearing her hunting attire. I think this is the least effective of all the covers.

This Scholastic Singapore edition, published in October 2014, is my favourite. Just look at the bird on fire against the black background. Gloriously simple and yet so beautiful and visually compelling. It is also one of the movie tie-in covers and if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know it works really well as a nod to that terrible scene when it all does, indeed, catch fire… Which is your favourite?

My Top Ten Literary Villains

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Being a fan of lists and having recently covered my favourite heroines here and my favourite heroes here, I thought it was about time I produced a list of my favourite villains. There is a caveat to this list – I avoided wandering into Spoiler Territory by divulging a villain that isn’t immediately apparent at the start of the book or series, so there are one or two omissions that I would have otherwise included. To make this list, the character in question has to be opposed, at least part of the time, to the aspirations of the protagonist(s). In no particular order, here they are:-

1. Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Yep. I know everyone cites Voldermort, or He Who Must Not Be Named. And I’ll agree that he is dislikeable and Harrypotterclearly opposed to Harry. But he is also utterly unredeemable and behaves so outrageously obnoxiously, I keep waiting for him to twirl a moustache and cackle evilly. Rowling packs her books with plenty of antagonists, ranging from Draco Malfoy through to Gilderoy Lockhart. But Severus Snape, the horrible Potions Master is outstanding, both in his blatantly unfair behaviour and the heartbreaking backstory that explains his feelings towards Harry.

2. The Vogons from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams hitchhikersguideThe Vogons certainly tick all the boxes regarding sheer unpleasantness. These nasty aliens decide that Earth needs to be destroyed to make way for a new hyperspace by-pass – and are completely unmoved by the fact that the humans inhabiting our planet were unaware of their intention. In addition to vaporising the planet as per their planning regulations, they then compound their hatefulness by inflicting their atrocious poetry on everyone. They are truly memorably horrible villains.

3. Saruman from the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkeinreturnoftheking I regularly read that Sauron is the Big Bad in the Lord of the Rings. But as a villain, his threat is very diffuse and while he makes Sam and Frodo’s life hellish while they are carrying the ring, it is The White Wizard who causes a lot of the actual chaos they have to deal with. Initially he is working alongside Gandulf to keep the forces of Mordor at bay – until he is bribed with the promise of greater power to turn to the dark side. So he is not only a villain, he is a traitorous villain, who is also responsible for the scouring of the Shire – and don’t we love to spit on those rascals?

4. Heathcliffe from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte WutheringheightsYes, I know – his reputation is as the starcrossed lover who is claimed by the ghostly Kathy, mostly thanks to the fey song by Kate Bush and the 1939 film adaptation starring Laurence Olivier as Heathcliffe. But if you go back to the book, Heathcliffe comes across as a boorish, embittered bully who makes his ward and his child’s life hell. Ellen, the servant telling the story, deeply dislikes him and as she recounts the story, the prickly boy who is picked up on the streets has a dire impact on the family who take him in. Catherine may have run wild on the moors with him and she may have even loved him, but she knew he would make a really bad husband, which is why – I think – she latched onto any excuse not to marry him…

5. President Snow from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne CollinsHungergames_poster And isn’t he a really nasty piece of work? While there has to be a very large organisation at his beck and call to run this autocratic, unfair system of government, President Snow is the public face of this system. And the private despot who arranges killings for those who fail to carry out his wishes. It is President Snow’s dislike of Katniss that influences what happens to her after her initial win, with ultimately catastrophic consequences…

titusgroan

6. Steerpike in The Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake This gothic series, set in Castle Gormenghast, is something of an oddity in that although it is often described as a fantasy novel, there are no magic or paranormal elements. It’s an examination of what happens when those in power get complacent and far too steeped in tradition, allowing a villain like Steerpike to worm his way in and wreck far too many lives.

7. Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip PulmanNorthern-Lights The beautiful, accomplished and very charming Mrs Coulter is a deadly villain who only spares Lyra because she is her daughter. It doesn’t stop her imprisoning other children and torturing them in the name of science, though. Time and again, throughout the various adventures that befall Lyra, Mrs Coulter pops up to try and thwart the scientific investigations into Dust by any foul means she can.

8. Mr Teatime from Hogfather by Terry Pratchett hogfatherJonathan Teatime is the assassin hired by The Auditors to kill the Hogfather – Discworld’s version of Santa Claus. He seems a quietly spoken, mild mannered young man who insists his name is pronounced “Te-ah-tim-eh,” and gets very bothered when they don’t. And you really don’t want to upset him, because he is very, very casual about killing people, even when the Assassin’s Guild recommends they should be left alive… Terry Pratchett’s villains often have a redeeming feature or a thread of humanity about them – there are a select few that are beyond redemption and Mr Teatime is one of those few.

9. Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verneverne-20000 I read this book more years ago than I care to recall – but it has always stayed with me. Mostly because of Captain Nemo, whose wonderful submarine took his captors to parts of the planet they had never seen. But this depressed visionary is also an early template for all those mad geniuses who kept cropping up in James Bond films, building empires of incredible beauty and vision that would advance their own craving for power so that Bond was able to destroy them in a welter of death and fiery destruction with impunity.

10. Queen Jadis/The White Queen from The Chronicles of Nania by C.S. Lewis themagiciannephewQueen Jadis initially appears in The Magician’s Nephew and very nearly conquers Earth when she follows Digory and Polly back to their own time. And when she reappears in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe she has managed to become ruler of Nania, condemning the land to everlasting winter and being the cruel, capricious ruler that had depopulated her first conquered state of Charn, whose inhabitants all were killed by Jadis, rather than be ruled by anyone else. Truly, a very, very villainous character – and don’t let’s start on what she did to Aslan…

The near misses include Madam Mumblechook from The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, whose casual cruelty towards the animals she tortures and deforms is truly shocking; the Grand High Witch from The Witches by Roal Dahl who takes a lot of beating for plain sheer nastiness and would definitely have made the list, but for the fact that I’d already mentioned her in my article about who I’d snog, marry or kill here; Alec D’Urberville from Tess of the D’Urbevilles by Thomas Hardy, whose initial rape of poor Tess causes such havoc in her life; and Satan from John Milton’s Paradise Lost – the depiction of the beautifully patterned, upright serpent who manages to charm Eve into disobeying God is mesmerising and chilling. So there you have it, my top ten choices for the bad’uns that crop up in books. Do you agree with me? Who are the villains you love to hate?

Review of Mockingjay – Book 3 of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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This is the third book in this Y.A. dystopian series that was such a runaway success. Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games. Twice. But she’s still not safe. A revolution is unfolding, and everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans – everyone except Katniss. And yet she must play the most vital part in the final battle. Katniss must become their Mockingjay – the symbol of rebellion – no matter what the personal cost.

mockingjayHonourable mention must go to the unsung hero who did the blurb. This series is all about plot, despite the very strong protagonist at the heart of the action – and yet no one has seen fit to give away any major plot points on the back cover, which would have been all too easy. Well done, Scholastic – you certainly get a gold star from me over this. Would that other publishers were so careful of their authors’ content.

So… the first two books created plenty of tension, full-on action and a painful ongoing love triangle. As well as making harsh, pertinent comments about the exploitative nature of our current celebrity culture. Has Collins managed to sustain the energy and strong plotlines through to this final book in the trilogy? Does she manage to produce a sufficiently strong ending after the climactic moments her readers experienced throughout The Hunger Games?

It would have been so easy to fluff this book. Decide to go for a safe option – give us the Hunger Games, again, for instance. Ease up on her poor put-upon heroine. Lapse into the odd treacly moment, or turn her into a Mary-Sue construct who – somehow – manages to have the fate of Panem hinging on her personal agenda…

Fortunately for her readership, Collins is far too adept a writer to commit those sins and for my money, Mockingjay is the best of the series. It doesn’t take a huge stretch of imagination to visualise how quickly minor celebrities get trapped by their ‘image’ in much the same way that Katniss finds herself boxed in by becoming the poster child for the rebellion against the brutal regime running Panem.

Collins also continues to pull off those jaw-dropping moments which I certainly didn’t see coming – particularly the shocking climax. I sat down intending to give myself a small slice of Hunger Games magic – and was still reading hours later when I had a stack of other chores calling for my attention.

I find it particularly impressive the way that Collins manages to immerse her readers in the adrenaline-fuelled action, without making that the sole purpose of the books. There is passion and action without resorting to the eroticism of Twilight. And a sharp commentary that shines an unforgiving light on our Western culture. Collins certainly intends her readers to compare current middle-class American concerns with those sweet natured make-up artists from the Capital that work on Katniss. It is also refreshing to encounter all-action heroes, such as the Hunger Games’ survivors, who have been significantly damaged by their experiences. While Collins doesn’t flinch from depicting violent fights and deaths, she also shows there is always a price to pay for those left standing. And often that price is too much.

As for the romantic interest that wound through all three books – does Collins manage to conclude this satisfactorily? Absolutely. Along with the heartbreaking reason behind her choice…

If you want a masterclass in how to construct a classic plot, with the necessary action interspersed by introspection and exposition setting up the next scene – and a sudden unexpected twist thrown into the mix at intervals, then have a good, hard look at The Hunger Games series. Particularly this final book. It is provides a fitting conclusion to an exceptional series.
10/10

Review of Catching Fire – Book 2 of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are still alive. Katniss should be relieved, but now there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol – a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create. As the nation watches Katniss and Peeta, the stakes are higher than ever. One false move and the consequences will be unimaginable.
I read The Hunger Games on a train journey and couldn’t get the book out of my head – despite the fact that it wasn’t aimed at my age group. The tense page-turning action and unexpected twists had haunted me, as well as Collins’ spiky, conflicted heroine, Katniss. So – was Catching Fire going to be able to sustain the excellent story-telling skills Collins’ demonstrated in The Hunger Games?

If readers are expecting Katniss to be remotely upbeat about their survival after The Hunger Games, they are quickly put straight in the opening section. The whole experience has left Katniss traumatised. And once the ‘victory tour’ gets under way, that trauma becomes something else. For there are clearly signs in some of the Districts that the inhabitants are becoming restive under Capitol’s brutal control – and when President Snow has a private word with Katniss and makes it clear that he holds her liable for keeping any sort of rebellion in check, she realises that her responsibilities haven’t ended with keeping her family safe and Peeta alive… Hundreds of lives may depend on how she acts and what she says during their tour.

As for her relationship with Peeta and Gale… Snow points out, she now has to take a certain course in that direction, as well. I was gratified to see a complete lack of the self satisfied wriggling that occasionally accompanies a three-cornered relationship in some urban fantasies. Anyone who has been in that situation will know that it is generally a miserably painful business.

It is a lot harder to pull off a successful middle book in any trilogy than Collins makes it look. There has to be plenty of progression and action, sustaining the strong start that a best-selling first book has achieved, with sufficient exposition so that anyone reading the books out of sequence isn’t completely flailing around, yet without exasperating the reader who has the sense to read them in the proper order (something I rarely manage to do…). And the ending is particularly tricky. There has to be a complete story arc within the trilogy, yet with a couple of trailing plot points to ensure your loyal readership cannot resist rushing out and getting hold of the third book at the earliest opportunity. Collins gives a masterclass in getting this balance right. The concept of the whole series is neatly apt; her characterisation of Katniss is very strong with a compelling narrative voice – yet, I still think that Collins major talent lies in her ability to craft a classic story structure that pulls her audience into her tale.

I had resisted the pull of Chasing Fire by reading a couple of other books between The Hunger Games and its sequel on the grounds that often by reading a series of books by the same author, I become sensitive to the writer’s foibles which inhibits my enjoyment of his/her work. But as soon as I completed Chasing Fire, I reached for Mockingjay – I had to know what happens next. So if you’ve decided to avoid The Hunger Games series because you generally find books with a lot of hype surrounding them are often a disappointment – yet enjoy character-led near future, dystopian science fiction, then I strongly recommend you seek out this series. It’s worth it.
9/10

Review of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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I’d heard a lot about this book, so when I saw the trilogy on the book shelves, I decided to get it and see what all the fuss was about…

Post-apocalyptic America, now named Panem, is divided into Districts and ruled by the authoritarian Capitol who keep the downtrodden, hungry populace under control by working them extremely hard. To emphasise who’s in charge, once a year all teenagers between 13 and 18 have their names put forward for the Hunger Games. When her younger sister’s name comes up, tough huntress Katniss Everdeen volunteers to replace her, knowing it is probably a death sentence. There can only be one survivor. But Katniss has been surviving for most of her life…

hungergamesThe neat premise is based on the Greek habit of selecting young men and women as sacrificial tributes – and like these tributes, before the ultimate ceremony, the Hunger Games players are treated like celebrities. Given a team to dress them and offered food they could only dream of, they are trained and interviewed and every move and reaction they make is commented upon. Collins certainly points up the carnivorous aspect of modern-day fame as Katniss stumbles through this particular minefield. But it is all a preliminary to the Games themselves…

I took this book to read on a long train journey – an excellent choice, as it turned out. Because it has to be one of most compelling page-turners I’ve read this year. In first person viewpoint, Katniss’s experiences grabbed my attention from the start and pulled me into the book. It isn’t a demanding or difficult read – but then that isn’t what Collins set out to write.

Katniss is marked by having to become the provider for her family after her father’s sudden death, and Collins’ depiction of a character constantly driven by need was utterly convincing. She is wary, automatically suspicious and determined to do whatever it takes to be the one to survive. Even if it means learning to walk in high heels and clinging dresses. Even if it means appearing to be in love with the other District 12 candidate…

However, Katniss discovers it isn’t that easy. There are the other contestants – and the hard truth remains that in order to survive, they all have to die. Once the Games started, I had a strong idea how the story would go – after all I’ve been reading Fantasy for one or three years, now. This, after all, is a book designed for a less jaded readership than yours truly. But Collins confounded my expectations – and while the overall ending was, inevitably, not a stunning surprise, many of the events along the way were unexpected. This book is a masterclass in how to handle full-on action, by producing a range of different challenges for the protagonist – and give her some time to assimilate them, before moving on again.

No one has claimed this is Great Literature – but it is certainly beautifully judged as a piece of writing entertainment. And in amongst the adventure and drama, there are some telling comments about our celebrity culture targeted right at the audience who should be seriously considering what the media is offering them. For my money, again, Collins’ has the got the mix right. The message of the book is stark – if celebrity shows continue to pander to an audience’s basest instincts, then something like the Hunger Games is the result – right back to the Roman mob’s raw blood lust while watching gladiators kill each other. And when considering the likes of The Jeremy Kyle Show, the only difference between the Hunger Games and our present day attitude is our decision not to actually kill participants – we certainly have no compunction in watching other people emotionally eviscerated for our entertainment.

I thoroughly enjoyed this vividly written book and look forward to reading the sequel.
9/10