Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I had been wanting to read The Hunger Games since it came out, but had not found it in in any library. I can understand why. To assign it to a genre is not easy. At times it is and adventure, a romance, science fiction and above all, dystopian.

Set in Panem, formerly North America, Collins tells a story of how far reality shows can go. Every year, twenty-four young people, a girl and boy from each of the twelve districts is sent to the Capitol to participate in a fight to the death. Only one will survive the ordeal that is not only televised throughout the country, but is mandatory viewing.

Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen-year-old who lives with her mother and younger sister, Prim(rose) in District Twelve, the Seam, in what appears to be like Appalachia with its dependence on the coal mines for economic survival. "Catnip" as she is called by Gale, an older boy on whom she has a crush, is a savvy hunter and knowledgeable about the woods and survival. On the day of the Reaping when the tributes to the Hunger Games are chosen by lot, it is Prim's name that is called first. Realizing that her sister would never survive the games, Katniss immediately volunteers in her place. She is joined by Peeta, the son of the town baker as the two representatives who will be sent to their sure death in the Capital.

The journey begins as the two travel to the Capitol by train with their mentors HaymitchCinna and Portia. It is up to the stylists to prepare them in an attractive way so that they may be worthy of sponsor money. In an elaborate ceremony all the contestants are presented to the public. It is then that Peeta declares that he has been in love with Katniss since they were five. It was a twist that she never expected, but one that she could exploit as she prepared her survival plan. The next day they would find themselves in the fight of their lives in the "arena," an expansive area of jungles, desserts, lakes, rivers, and wild animals where the Gamemakers control all aspects of the environment.

The novel is incredibly exciting and has enough twists and turns to keep the reader turning page after page. I loved the character of Katniss. She is empathetic, clever, and resourceful. We root for her and Peeta, but realize there can be only one winner and they are the two underdogs to the stronger players like Thresh, Cato, and Foxface.

There are familiar elements here. The scenario of the games reminded of the tributes that the ancient Athenians sent every year to Crete to battle the Minotaur. Katniss and Peeta appear as star-crossed lovers at the mercy of others around them even as Romeo and Juliet did. It was a grand read and I anxio
Abernathy and Effie Trinket, two eccentric personalities. Once at their destination they are escorted to their rooms and meet their stylists, usly await the time when I can get my hands on Catching Fire, the second part of the trilogy.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Taken by Kathleen George

It is always exciting to discover a new author. Kathleen George is a professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Pittsburgh from which she also has earned her B.A. and M.F.A. in Creative Writing. I read a review of her newest book, The Odds in Entertainment Weekly and two
things caught my eye - the book got a grade of A- and it was set in Pittsburgh. Upon doing some research about Kathleen George, I found that the detective in the book had also been featured in previous novels. So being the kind of person that I am and having to do things in order, I had to start with Taken.

The novel begins as Marina and Michael Benedict leave a marriage counselor's office. As they go their separate ways Marina connects with a darling baby in a stroller coming from the elevator. As many people do when they see a cute baby, they interact and comment to the mother on how cute the child is. Marina was no different. She was especially touched since she and Michael could not have children. But then as she headed home and got on the bus she saw the baby again. But was it the same child? Of course it was, only this time the baby was in a man's lap - no stroller, no diaper bag. Something was definitely amiss. The man and the baby got off, but Marina could not let it go. Hastily asking the bus driver to stop a block further on the route she retraced the route and attempted to follow the man and baby. Here began the gripping and thrilling tale of how she became involved in a kidnapping and eventual murder scene.

The police are immediately called by the mother of the baby who turns out to be the wife of a young Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher and as a result thrusts the kidnapping into a major news story. Detective Richard Christie begins the investigation into why and how the abduction has occurred. As Kathleen George points out, it couldn't be for ransom money, because the kidnappers would be then be the last people in America who knew how poor the Pittsburgh Pirates were. As the investigation unfolds with all the twists and turns, it keeps the reader turning pages and on the edge of her seat.

The setting moves all around the Pittsburgh area to Erie, West Virginia, and Ohio. Within the city itself we get glimpses of East Braddock, Gateway Towers, and of course Primanti's.

There is tension in the book that is conveyed to the reader - tension between Michael and Marina, between the kidnappers, and between Christie and his wife. All lead to a grand mystery and entangling plot lines. It was a great read - stayed up way to late to finish it - and cannot wait to start the next one.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Kalish

The March selection for the Flower Library Book Club, Little Mildred Kalish was just a delightful book to read. I was a bit skeptical at first when I ordered the book. Was this going to just be another down and out book about the gloom of living through the Great Depression? I can't imagine what it was like to live during the time that so shaped the spirit of my grandparents, parents, and, really, our country. But what a surprise to read a book with such an upbeat point of view.

Kalish recounts her life in this NY Times top book of 2007 as one of the Little Kids growing up on a farm in Iowa. The book is more than a memoir; it is a prescription on how to live independently and with pity and suffering. The book begins "My childhood came to a virtual halt when I was around five years old. That was when by grandfather banished my father from our lives forever for some transgression that was not to be disclosed to us children...His name was never spoken again in our presence; he just abruptly disappeared from our lives." That beginning would be enough to whet any reader's appetite. But we never read another word about her father. And that is the way life would be for a family brought up with spirit of Independence.

Children were expected to do chores, pitch in with the planting and harvesting and play on their own. If they got a cut or bruise, they didn't immediately run for the attention of their parents, but dealt the best they could. They lived with out electricity, indoor plumbing, cars and mobile phones, and SURVIVED. When you bought something it was meant to last for a while. The phrase, "waste not, want not" really had meaning and it wasn't doom and gloom.

Little Heathens is also a compendium of home remedies and recipes. Kalish was born the same year that my mother was and for this reason I felt as I was reading the book that there was so much that was familiar. I had heard a lot about these remedies, household solutions, and have eaten the meals that were part of the family's repertoire. The beginning of Chapter 11, Farm Food resonates today - after breakfast the first question that was asked is what to have for dinner? My mother did this and I do today. If I haven't made out the week's menu, that is the order of business on my agenda.

I truly enjoyed this book and really wanted more after each chapter. I know I will go back and reread parts of this book. I can actually see it being used as a curriculum related read. It would give great insight into an era that did produce a great generation. It brings us back to the reality of what we need to live - resourcefulness, love, and family.