Recently Read

Recently Read

The Hunger Games is a science fiction novel aimed at the teen/young adult market. It is part Survivor (Yeah, I watch Survivor; it’s one of my guilty pleasures), part gladiatorial games and part devshirme (the systematic collection of non-Muslim children as tributes by the Ottoman Empire). Well maybe that last is a little stretch; but maybe not either. The premise is that after some sort of catastrophic collapse of the United States a new government formed in North America, centered somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. A rebellion occurred and was brutally quashed and the survivors in twelve outlying regions now are subject peoples forced to participate in a deadly lottery once a year. From each of the twelve regions a girl and a boy (between the ages of 12 and 18) are chosen who will be forced to participate in a winner-take-all fight to the death Survivor-style. That is, they are all dropped in some wilderness and must compete for access to a limited amount of food and supplies in addition to the last-man standing takes all death match. It’s all televised, of course, and some behind the scenes games makers rig the environment to boost ratings and force dramatic encounters between the various “tributes”. The winner will be given free food and housing for life and his or her province will get extra food for the year, which is huge because they are generally kept on subsistence rations.

The heroine of the tale is sixteen-year old Katniss Everdeen who chooses to take the place of her younger sister who was chosen on her very first time out in the lottery. The story is fast placed with many flashbacks to her life before the games, developing her into a complex character as well as exploring the social and economic implications of living in a totalitarian state. It’s a coming of age story, but also—perhaps?—a romance. A little grim at times and might be too much for some more sensitive souls; but the violence is never over the top and never graphic. Most of all a page turner I couldn’t put down.

This was the second in a mystery series by Linda Greenlaw, a Maine fisher woman turned author who was featured in the novel, The Perfect Storm.  I’ve never read anything else by her though Dom has read The Lobster Chronicles.

Evidently in the first novel the heroine, Jane Bunker, moved from Miami, where she was chief detective on the Miami-Dade County police force to be an insurance inspector in a quiet town in coastal Maine. In this novel she stumbles across an empty boat and later finds a dead body. It’s a fairly standard mystery novel with some fun Maine color. I enjoyed it but it didn’t stand out particularly.

The Staggerford Flood is the third Jon Hassler novel I’ve read and seemed a much slighter story than either Staggerford or North of Hope. I enjoyed it but wasn’t blown away. Interestingly it brought together characters from both of those earlier works and evidently from many of his other novels as well. Perhaps I should have read it after reading more of his works since it seemed to me part of the pleasure in the tale was meant to be seeing one’s favorite characters fromt he various works crossing paths in an unexpected way. The central question that troubles the scrupulous Agatha McGee is a lie that the (perhaps too lax?) priest, Fr. Healy, shrugs off. An intresting juxtaposition of personalities that I’d almost have lied to see developed further.

As with Staggerford, I think I’ll need to re-read this one later to come at it from a different perspective. I suspect it will grow on me.

The Glass Harmonica is an odd combination of genres: historical novel and science fiction, flashing back and forth between Eilish Eam, an Irish orphan and street musician in 18th century London, and Erin Rushton, an American and professional musician who lives in Seattle in 2018. The two women are linked by the glass harmonica, or armonica, invented by Benjamin Franklin and by some sort of psychic connection as well.

The science fiction elements didn’t always work for me. I felt that the social changes should have been put further in the future than 2018, I think it will take more than ten years to make American cities so unrecognizable. (The book was published in 2000.) And it felt like unnecessary window dressing. I wasn’t clear why it had to be set in the future rather than the present and the class conflicts introduced in 2018 seemed strained. And I wasn’t at all clear as to why a servant girl in 1760s London would have been buried in a private residence rather than in a cemetery. But otherwise the story was interesting.

I’d never read David Copperfield until now. It took me more than a week to read. Few works of fiction can sustain me for so long. That’s one of the great things about Dickens, you really get to spend some time immersed in his world.

This was evidently Dickens’ favorite of his novels. I enjoyed it, though many of the plot twists were entirely too predictable. I think Bleak House still maintains pride of place as my favorite Dickens novel. Though that may have more to do with the circumstances surrounding my first reading of it. Thanks to Mrs. Hastedt’s high school English class, Bleak House is one of my favorite novels of all time.

David Copperfield offered an interesting reflection on marriage and the importance of choosing one’s spouse wisely that would be interesting to read in conjunction with any of Jane Austen’s books.

Let’s see, so far I’ve read Great Expectations, The Old Curiosity Shop, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House, A Christmas Carol, and Our Mutual Friend. I’ve seen Nicholas Nickleby on television; but can’t recall if I’ve actually read it. I think The Pickwick Papers will be next on my to-read list. Whenever I happen to pick up a copy.

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  • yes, it was a birthday present after you got up to Massachusetts, came with the Potter movie. It was just patiently biding its time, awaiting your renewed discovery! What a good idea to use the table and basket for this!

  • Can’t tell you how many hours I spent pouring of her pages and wanted to live in that world when I was a kid. And somewhere I have (or had) the very book you write about here.

  • No, this isn’t the book that you sent with the Potter movie. I’ve had it at least since we lived on Linden Street, I think it was in one of the boxes that you shipped from Texas. I may have had it since high school or college.

  • We have two of the Flower Fairy Books… Spring and Winter. Bella calls them ‘Trix Potter books as well. We haven’t really read them. The one time I tried she seemed disinterested. I do love the pictures, though. 

    I tend to stay away from that sort of book club for the exact reasons you cite. But I can sympathize with the allure.

    Children are definitely drawn to small format books. I have a tiny gift book of Shakespeare’s sonnets, about an inch and a half by two inches and my nieces used to always pull it off the shelves and carry it around and ask me to read it. So I’d suspect with the Spiderwick Chronicles it’s savvy marketing.

    Also, I recall that in 96 or 97 I was working in a book store when Stephen King released the Green Mile as a serial novel, a new volume every week, and it sold wildly. And for much more than they could have got for a single volume if I recall.

  • Oh funny! I had the exact same experience. I bought the Treasury for DD2, but “listened” to Beatrix and have started trying to find the small books for Cherub. We had a few, and have found a few at the library. I’m quite sure the small size is a big part of the attraction. Did you know the Flower Fairy books are in the same format from the same publisher? I haven’t tried those yet. I’m currently wrestling with temptation. I have a book club flyer offering a full boxed set of the BP books for �10 (about $20) … which I would jump at, but I would then be committed to buying further books, and also it is a club that sends out a monthly book automatically unless you actively cancel it. I know from experience that I am dreadful at remembering to cancel. So buy the Potter books, and risk ending up swamped in books I don’t want, or keep hunting for cheap used copies?

  • +JMJ+

    And to think my biggest peeve with books like The Spiderwick Chronicles is that the stories could have been published as one long novel instead of as several episodes! =P It may be that small size and careful arrangement of text and illustrations that make them so popular.

  • +JMJ+

    I was at the bookstore last night and saw that the Lemony Snicket books are marketed the same way, too.

    Short series books—many of which are undeniably pulpy—are really big among “tween” readers these days, the way Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Sweet Valley were among older teenagers a few decades ago.

  • Yes, I’ve noticed that too when I went to buy a copy of Little House on the Prairie for my nieces recently. Lots of pulpy series and the actual literature can be hard to find.