Review: The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins

Over the end of 2020 and start of 2021, I read The Hunger Games trilogy (not the newly released prequel, though). The books are set in a dystopian world in which life is much changed from what we have at present, but people perhaps remain the same. The country is—Panem where the Capitol ruthlessly rules over 12 districts; originally 13 districts had revolted against the Capitol but the revolt was crushed and district 13 destroyed. The 12 that remain are paying the price, living under the iron hand of the Capitol and supplying one essential commodity each—coal, agriculture, textiles, and such. But this isn’t all, to be reminded of their ‘crime’, each year, every district must offer up two ‘tributes’ (something that reminded me of the Athenian tributes sent annually as sacrifice to the Minotaur)—a boy and a girl aged between 12 and 18—to the Hunger Games. Here the 24 children (for they are really little more than that) must fight for survival and kill each other till only one is left standing—and the Games—televised—are mandatory viewing for everyone. In this world, our story narrated by sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen opens in district 12, where the coal mines are. Katniss lost her father to a mining accident, and because of her mother’s resulting depression, has had to single-handedly look after her family—mostly by hunting illegally with her friend Gale. On the day of the ‘reaping’ when tributes are picked, Katniss’ sister Prim (Primrose)’s name is in the pool for the first time but as luck would have it, it she who is picked. Immediately Katniss volunteers to take her place, almost certain that she will not return. The male tribute is Peeta Mellark, son of the baker, and who secretly admires Katniss. Their ‘mentor’, the only previous winner from their district is the perpetually inebriated Haymitch Abernathy.

The Games may be a fight to the death for the 24 tributes but like the Roman gladiatorial arenas (the author mentions these), they are also a spectacle. The tributes are given a little training but also primped and polished (a lot) to make for good viewing, and sympathy from what can only be a blood-thirsty audience.

The Hunger Games tells of Katniss and Peeta’s experience at the games—and at the end of which she (perhaps more than him) has managed to keep them alive and make them both victors. But this victory is not a happy one for as we see in Catching Fire, Katniss finds her attempt at keeping them alive is misinterpreted as a protest against the Capitol and is in fact turning into a spark encouraging revolt across the districts. Katniss is unknowingly becoming their mascot. This leads her and Peeta into further trouble, and somewhere they would never have imagined they would end up.

In the final book, Mockingjay, Katniss is in midst of the revolution—part of the revolutionaries but unsure whether she can do what they ask of her. Peeta and some others are prisoners of the Capitol which turns more ruthless by the day. Can the districts win amidst all this, and will this get them their due?

The world of the Hunger Games is a dark one—as the author herself mentions (and I’ve noted earlier) in book 3—one can see influences of Roman society—the Games arena being a more hi-tech version of the gladiatorial arenas. In essence it is the same—a spectacle for the Capitol, a place of excess at the cost of the districts, characterized by want, with the gamemakers/organizers able to add their twists and play on the viewers’ sympathies or need for ‘action’. (One also wonders what became of human rights instruments in this world where children are forced to kill each other). And it isn’t just the games that are dark, the books get darker as we go on for once Katniss unknowingly sparks flames of revolt, she must contend with the enmity of the Capitol and the snake-like President Snow who holds her personally responsible and will do anything to repress it. But when a full-fledged revolt does break out with Katniss as its mascot, we begin to see the full extent of the President’s depravities (past and current). But worse still, life among the rebels is not turning out to be much of an escape either.

I somehow didn’t entirely take to Katniss though I could understand where she was coming from and why she was as she was. Having pretty much only herself to rely on (even her mother has failed her when most needed) and in a world where there are few one can trust, one can see why she reacts as she does or can’t see good in anyone. She does what she needs to do for survival, and perhaps ‘feelings’ don’t always come first even though she does have a heart, and one does end up rooting for her.

The story also has a romance angle which comes in slowly and develops as the books go on, and one is quite unsure until the end how it will turn out. In fact, the books (especially the second and the third) have their fair share of twists and turns and surprises.

While the books are dark, they are also fast paced and gripping—I found myself engrossed from start to finish and reading late into the night. While futuristic fiction does at times seem to actually foretell the future, this is one which one hopes does not fall into that category, though as fiction, it made for very exciting reading indeed!

Have you read this series? How did you find it? What about the prequel? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Cover images: Goodreads

Shelf Control #122: The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

Wednesday, the 13th of January, and time again for Shelf Control! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, what makes you want to read it, where and when you got it, and such. If you participate, don’t forget link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

After starting off Shelf Control this year with a non-fiction title, this week I’m back to fiction. Today my pick is one of my more recent acquisitions, The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed. Published in 2020, this is another of the young adult titles that I first came across through Booktube. I picked up a paperback (ordered online), just this past December.

Set in 1992 in Los Angeles, the book tells the story of Ashley Bennett, a teenager living a more or less perfect life her parents have created for their family. They live in a big house in an affluent neighbourhood; Ashley is in her senior year, and her parents have kept her and her sister protected against racism, creating the model black family image. But all of this changes one day. After brutally beating a black man named Rodney King half to death, four officers of the LAPD are acquitted. Violent protests break out and LA burns. Suddenly Ashley finds that she is not just an ordinary girl, but one of the ‘black kids’. While Ashley tries to carry on with life as usual, she must face the world splintering around them, the prejudices of her friends that are now rising to the surface, and question with the rest of the city, who is the ‘us’ and the ‘them’?

This is of course a book that deals with issues of race, class and identity and I felt both from the subjects dealt with and the real-life incident around which it is set, this is an important book to read, and one that becomes even more relevant in the current scenario. I’m expecting this one to be as hard-hitting and powerful as Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give and On the Come Up, and want to pick this one up very soon.

Have you read this one? How did you find it? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Cover image from Goodreads as always; book info from Goodreads (here) and the blurb on my copy.

Find Lisa’s pick this week, a book I enjoyed my recent revisit of, The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie here.

Book Review: One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us is Lying is a young adult mystery that really kept me hooked (and guessing) from start to finish.

This story is told in four narratives/voices side by side, each telling things from their points of view so that we follow both developments in the mystery and each character’s life. The story is essentially this—five high-schoolers find themselves going into detention but we see from the start that they insist that they haven’t done the thing they are being given detention for—yet no one seems to believe them. The students are Bronwyn who hopes to get into Yale and has the grades to achieve that dream; Cooper, baseball star, expecting to be recruited before long; Addy, prom queen with a perfect boyfriend and seemingly perfect life; Nate who unlike the others has been convicted for dealing in drugs and is struggling to survive in a family that has failed him, and Simon, who runs a gossip app in the school on which he posts everyone’s deepest secrets, and has brought both trouble and unhappiness for his victims.  But in detention, Simon suddenly suffers an allergic reaction, and no epipens are at hand. Before long he dies, and it comes to light that his death may not have been an accident. Not only that, each of the other four students inside with him had a secret, one which he was about to post on his app the very next day, and which would have brought sure ruin on them. But which of them actually did it?

This is a fast paced read in which the action starts from the get-go, because of which I found myself reading well into the night and not wanting to put it down (but then I did have to eventually since at 360 pages, this wasn’t one I could read in one sitting). I found myself interested in each of their stories, and also to see how things would turn out for them; even though one is always reading with the idea of catching one of them on something they say, or trying to identify which of them did it, yet none of them is really unlikeable or off-putting; rather to the contrary, one actually feels sorry for what each is going through. Like many teens, each is facing different issues from the pressure to do well academically or in sport to that of living up to a certain image that one is supposed to have, or dysfunctional or even absent families for others; and added to that is not only the scrutiny there are under from the police investigating the case but also insinuations and fingers being pointed at them on social media in school. As a result, the four ‘suspects’ who really have very little in common end up finding support from and in each other, finding a new set of friends which was nice to see.   But this doesn’t mean they aren’t hiding things; in fact, there are secrets aplenty and these take you by surprise each time one is revealed. This is a pretty complicated mystery as well with an ending, I did not see coming. In fact, I had caught on to what I thought was a pretty strong clue though it was about a person I didn’t think did it; and while that was explained and the author wove it in well with the twist at the end, the solution was completely different from what I thought it was. Very enjoyable read. I’m certainly looking forward to exploring other titles by this author.

Review: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig #SpookyReads #BookReview #YoungAdult

House of Salt and Sorrows is a young adult fantasy novel which is essentially a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses but with a dark, in fact, a very dark twist. This one I came across purely by chance in a YouTube video by Hailey in Bookland and got a copy because it sounded so interesting.

In keeping with its dark done, the story opens with a funeral. Our heroine/narrator, Annaleigh Thaumas is one of twelve sisters, but sadly, only eight are left now. They lost their mother when the youngest was born, and since, four other sisters have died—of the plague, a drowning, and now Eulalie, of a plummeting fall—all tragic but seemingly accidental. But with Eulalie’s death, something changes. A young man, Edgar Morris who used to know her (in fact, claims that the two were in love) says he saw something strange on the night it happened. But only Annaleigh seems to believe him. Alongside, while Annaleigh’s family (at the instance of her stepmother Morella) makes a decision to leave aside mourning and attempt to return to normalcy after the tragedies that have plagued them all for far too long, more strange developments take place. Balls are thrown for the girls but the young men of society avoid dancing with the sisters for they are seen as cursed. Disappointed, the girls with their friend Fisher (the son of the housekeeper and their childhood pal) find a door to a magical world where they are invited to balls every night. Attendees are always masked, and wear beautiful gowns (as do our sisters–I thought these balls and the girls’ gorgeous gowns were beautifully described), there are refreshments galore but also something perhaps mysterious in them all—at least Annaleigh seems to get a sense of this. But her sisters are willing to continue to go, even when she stays behind. Their worn out shoes, as in the original story, are a puzzle to their father. In the ‘real’ world, things are not right either. Annaleigh is becoming increasingly suspicious about the circumstances surrounding Eulalie’s death. And one of her younger sisters, Verity not only sees some ghastly apparitions, but she has also been drawing them in her book—including scenes of her sisters’ deaths which she could not possibly have seen. But whenever Annaleigh tries to approach her father for help, either she is not listened to or it turns out that she was imagining it all. Was she? Does she manage to find out what is really going on and why her sisters died?

This story was meant to be a scary, dark read and it certainly was. From the tragedies that have struck and continue to strike the family to the ghastly apparitions that Verity ‘sees’ and draws in her book (to Annaleigh’s horror), to the nightmares Annaleigh has, everything keeps the mood and ‘feel’ very creepy indeed. The setting too, in a manor by the seaside, with cliffs for someone to plummet down from (as Eulalie did) was pretty perfect for the story. For me though, while these ghostly (and grisly) visions did add to the mood, what was truly unsettling were the moments when one couldn’t decide what was illusion and what was reality, and whether what we were taking to be the true version of events really was.

The world in which it is set is a fantasy one with magic yet without it, in that while our characters don’t have magical powers, theirs is a world which gods once frequented and can still influence, and there is some magic in operation like the door that the girls and Fisher find.  For the rest, the place where they live in is an island city in which while people are ordinary and yet, the author creates an ideal world where customs are more egalitarian, and women get their due.

I really enjoyed the plot of the book, the author’s spin on the twelve dancing princesses story. The mystery element was one to which there were some hints, but at the same time, we do get thrown off track suspecting almost everyone, especially since after a point one really doesn’t know what is illusion and what isn’t. I thought the explanation incorporating another story of legend was quite interesting (nicely done) though some parts of it I though went may be a bit too over the top; I mean some of those details it could have done without.

This was a great read for the Halloween season, and one which I enjoyed very much. My rating—4.5 stars).

It wouldn’t do to end this review without a sentence on the actual book. I really liked the cover itself but more so the lovely endpapers in black and silver which incorporate motifs associated with the story—the family’s octopus crest, masks from the balls, and chandeliers among them—very lovely.

Close up of the end papers

Have you read this one? How did you like it? Looking forward to you thoughts!

Shelf Control #115: One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus #YoungAdult #Mystery #TBR

Wednesday, the 25th of November, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what it’s about, why you want to read it, when you got it, and such. If you participate, don’t forget to link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

Today my pick is yet another young adult mystery (I seem to be reading or picking these up a lot lately), and the first in a series of the name name with (so far) two books, One of Us is Lying (2017) by Karen M. McManus.

Described as a mash up of The Breakfast Club and Pretty Little Liars, in this one, we have five students, Yale hopeful, Bronwyn (‘who has never publicly broken a rule’); Cooper, sports star (‘who only knows what he’s doing in the basketball diamond’); Nate, bad boy (‘only one misstep away from a life of crime’); Addy, prom queen (‘holding together the cracks in her perfect life’) and Simon, creator of a notorious gossip app at Bayview High. On Monday afternoon, all five walk into detention, but Simon never makes it out of the room–and this just 24 hours before he was set to post their deepest secrets online. All four immediately become suspects but did one of them actually do it or are they ‘the perfect pasties for the killer still on the loose’?

It is only in the last few years that I have been picking up young adult fiction a lot, mostly after coming across titles that sounded interesting on YouTube or Goodreads. And Young Adult mysteries have come to my notice that way as well (as also via NetGalley), and to my own surprise I have ended up enjoying a lot of them. This one being in what sounds like a typical high-school setting had me a little sceptical but being a mystery/whodunit proper (which I mostly can’t resist, as I’m sure is clear from my posts by now:)), I also did want to give it a shot, so I ended up ordering a copy. Goodreads friends have given it pretty positive reviews as well, so let’s see. I’m hoping this will turn out to be an enjoyable read.

The author Karen M. McManus lives in Massachusetts. She holds a masters degree in journalism, and has written three young adult mysteries/thriller, with a fourth book out later this year.

Have you read this one? How did you like it? Do you enjoy young adult mysteries? Which are some of your favourites? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Cover image and book info from Goodreads as always (here) as is the author info (here)

Find Lisa’s pick this week, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth here

#BookReview: The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson #Mystery #YoungAdult #TrulyDevious

In The Hand on the Wall, Maureen Johnson gives us a satisfying conclusion to the two mysteries surrounding Ellingham Academy which we have been following from book 1. This is of course, the third book of the Truly Devious series of Young Adult mysteries (I recently found out that there is to be a fourth book but that will be an entirely new mystery).

Ellingham Academy, the setting for the series, is a school in Vermont which was established by a tycoon in the 1930s for students who excelled or were gifted in particular areas, and which allowed them to pursue curricula that were designed to develop these interests. For our main character Stevie or Stephanie Bell, this is true crime. She is interested in solving crimes and more specifically the mystery surrounding the school itself for 80 years ago just after the school was set up, the founder Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and while his wife’s body was found, his daughter Alice was never recovered. Another student Dottie Epstein, a rather clever young girl had also disappeared at the time. And just before the disappearances, Ellingham was receiving mysterious, threatening messages from someone who called themselves ‘Truly Devious’. Now as Stevie is beginning to reinvestigate the case, deaths begin to take place in the present as well, first one student and then a second, and both had been working on a documentary connected with the old case. And where we left off last, a third person interested in the Ellingham matter died in mysterious circumstances. But was it just an accident as it seemed to be?

In this instalment, Stevie has solved the 1930s mystery (or so she thinks), discovered who Truly Devious was, but Alice is yet to be found. Also, in the present-day mystery, the threads are yet to be connected—were all the deaths simply things gone wrong or accidents? Not only that, her boyfriend or at least the boy she was interested in, David has gone missing and is miffed with her for acting at the behest of his father. Stevie is feeling lost amidst all of this and needs to get her thoughts together but a huge storm is about to break out and the school is suddenly evacuated. Another turn of circumstances, and Stevie and a small group of friends end up being the only ones staying behind at Ellingham and in this freezing place, Stevie must put the final pieces of the puzzles (both) together.   

Compared to book 2, I found I got into this one far more easily (though the gap between my reading this and the last was about the same as between book 2 and book 1), and found myself absorbed back in right from the start. Like the first two books, this one also follows a dual timeline and so we the reader see events as they unfolded back in the 1930s (as also the present), while Stevie must work them out for herself, and so while she does solve the puzzle, we the reader have a fuller and clearer explanation (of the older mystery, I mean). This was something I oddly enjoyed. In fact, the 1930s mystery with all its twists and complications was the one I ended up enjoying much more than the present-day one. The solution to the latter too was satisfying, no doubt, but perhaps not something that entirely took me by surprise (I mean, not that I guessed but it wasn’t the kind that sometimes entirely blows one away, if that makes sense). The romance thread was also not my favourite but her friends were kind of fun. And I also did enjoy the Agatha Christie references (in this one it is essentially to And Then There Were None which is supposed to be Stevie’s favourite) once again.

Overall I really enjoyed the series, though and would like to read the new mystery when it comes out. What I’d have done differently with this series would have probably been to not read it as it came out but wait till they were all available because I felt with the gaps between books, I did lose track of characters and developments in the story.

Have you read this series? What did you think of it? Any other young adult mysteries that you’ve read and enjoyed? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Images: the first mine, and the second via Goodreads.

Shelf Control #112: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig #YoungAdult #Fantasy #TBR #SpookyReads

Wednesday, the 4th of November (wow, this year has really flown past), and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

This week my pick is yet another young adult read (like last week here), and yet another recent addition to my shelf, but this time one that promises to be spooky and scary, and just right for the season (so is last week’s pick but in a different sense): House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig.

This one is a dark retelling of the Grimm’s fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Although I have read quite a few of the Grimms’ fairytales, I don’t think I’ve read this one, but am familiar with the story. Also I used to (still do, really) enjoy playing a few of the RPG games by Amaranth Games including Ahriman’s Prophecy which incorporates this story–the adventurers in that game have to solve various side-quests and one of these was a version of this when the daughters of a vineyard-owner vanish every night and when our characters follow them to find out, it turns out something on these lines but with a nice, dark yet fun twist. Anyway, I realise I’m getting side-tracked too much so lets get back to the book.

In this book, we meet Annaleigh who lives a sheltered life in a manor by the sea. Her family includes her father, stepmother and sisters. But where once they were twelve, now four of her sisters’ lives have been lost, each death being more tragic than the last, for reasons ranging from the plague to a plummeting fall. A series of visions make her suspicious that these deaths were no accidents. Annaleigh’s sisters have been sneaking out at night in the ball gowns and dancing shoes, dancing all night but with whom? And Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to stop them or join them! But she has to act before the darkness claims her as well.

I came across this book entirely by chance watching booktube videos. And when I looked it up on Goodreads, the description sounded interesting and I noticed that quite a few of my friends had enjoyed this one (and also found it creepy) as well. So when there was a book sale a couple of weeks go, I picked up a nice hardback edition with the pretty cover in the picture above. I am looking forward to reading this one really soon for it seems the perfect read for the season (I know Halloween is gone, but still…).

Have you read this book or any other versions of the Twelve Dancing Princesses? Which one/s and any that you’d recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Cover image and description are as always from Goodreads: here

Find Lisa’s pick this week, Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman set in Hawaii during the Second World War here

Shelf Control #111: The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson #YoungAdult #Mystery #TBR

Wednesday, the 28th of October, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, where/when you got it and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

Today my pick is a more recent acquisition (in fact among the latest additions to my shelves), and a book I’m very much looking forward to reading because it happens to be the final book in a mystery series. Truly Devious is a mystery series that follows a dual time line; in the present, we have a young girl Stevie Bell who has secured admission in an unusual school Ellingham Academy where gifted students are allowed to pursue curricula that suit their specific interests and gifts. Stevie’s interest–true crime! And the case she is specifically interested in solving has to do with the school itself. Eighty years ago, just after the school’s founding by tycoon Albert Ellingham, his wife and daughter are kidnapped, and while his wife’s body is recovered, his daughter was never found. The perpetrator identified at the time was unconvincing and Stevie wants to get to the bottom of the case. But then deaths begin to take place in the present as well. In the second book, The Vanishing Stair more developments take place, further deaths, and there are quite a few interesting revelations (my reviews of these are here and here).

This is the third part of the series where Stevie must put together all she has found so far and resolve both the events of the present and past, for though she thinks she has solved what happened all those years ago, has she really? In the present, three people are now dead and there is also someone missing. To add to everything, there is a massive storm heading towards Vermont where Ellingham is located!

I started this series knowing that the mystery/mysteries weren’t going to be solved in one book but over three so the fact that only a few revelations were made, or that there were cliffhangers didn’t bother me too much. But the gap between reading book one and two (eight months as I mentioned in my review) meant that some of the details had disappeared from my mind and it was a while before I got back into the book fully. The case is the same for this one since I read Book 2 in January, and it is again about 8 months. But I’m still excited to see how these mysteries are resolved and all the twists and turns that are to come. I also just found that the series is continuing with another book, and (luckily/thankfully) a new mystery for Stevie to solve now that she’s done with these.

Have you read this series or any of the books? How did you like it/them? What other young adult mysteries have you read that you liked? Any that you’d recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Info and cover image from Goodreads as always (here)

Find Lisa’s pick this week, a collection of writings by author John Scalzi here