“The Hunger Games” Suzanne Collins

The hunger gamesRated 5 stars ***** ebook. 2018. The Hunger Games #1 (Special Edition). (Includes two interviews: “Interview with Suzanne Collins” and “Suzanne Collins and Walter Dean Myers on writing about war.”)

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 with her mother and little sister Prim. She and her best friend Gale have been hunting in the woods ever since their fathers died in a coal-mining explosion when she was eleven. The woods provide food for their poor families – even though poaching is an offense the rich Capitol punishes with death.

The Capitol rules its 12 Districts with an iron fist, keeping everyone poor and forcing two children from each district to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games. Each year residents are forced to attend the Reaping where names are drawn. When Prim’s name is called Katniss is shocked, and quickly volunteers herself as a Tribute to protect her.

She and Peeta Mellark, the other Tribute from her district, are assigned a Sponsor. They are encouraged to pretend to be star-crossed lovers, to play on the public’s feelings and get costly supplies delivered during the Games. What Katniss doesn’t know is that Peeta has been in love with her since he was five years old. As she sorts through her confused feelings about him and Gale, she will have to cross an invisible line in her mind if she wants them to survive.

I first read the Hunger Games series sometime in 2011 so, after reading “The ballad of songbirds and snakes,” I needed to refresh my memory on Professor Snow and the others in the series. This second reading was as exciting as the first, and I look forward to reading “Catching fire,” the next book in the series.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The ballad of songbirds and snakes” Suzanne Collins

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Scholastic. (The Hunger Games #0). Published May 19, 2020.

The ballad of songbirds and snakesCoriolanus Snow endured hunger, deprivation, and the loss of both parents during the Rebel siege on the Capitol. His cousin’s bargaining abilities at the Black Market enabled them to survive, but the Snow family fortune was destroyed. Coriolanus is determined to keep it secret that the Snows, one of the Capitol’s Old Guard families, is poor.

His favorite professor at the Academy was able to get him assigned to one of the tributes for the upcoming Hunger Games as a student mentor, so he has a chance to vie for a University scholarship. Coriolanus knows winning the Games is his only hope to having a future, and is desperate to win. When he’s assigned Lucy Gray Baird from District 12 he’s disappointed because he’d hoped for a strong boy, however, her musical abilities and joie de vivre help to change his mind.

As he spends time with Lucy Gray, he begins to think of her as a person instead of as a tribute. His determination to protect her from the other tributes, and to win, begins to override rational thoughts until the lines between right and wrong get blurred. As time goes on Coriolanus’ determination to always win, and to always come out on top, will forever change their lives.

When I was given the opportunity to read this ARC, I wondered if it would be as interesting as the other books in The Hunger Games series because, after all, it IS about the very evil President Snow. However, not only is it exciting, but I found myself feeling sorry for Coriolanus. SORRY for HIM?! I can hear gasps echoing around the world, but let me preface that comment. I felt sorry for him in the BEGINNING and MIDDLE of the book, but definitely not by the end. Make sure to read the book to find out why.

I’m now off to reread The Hunger Games series and decipher clues revealed in “The ballad of songbirds and snakes.” I won’t be surprised if Collins writes another follow up to the Coriolanus Snow saga.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

“The bridge home” Padma Venkatraman

Rated 5 stars *****. 2019. Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random House). 187 p. (Includes “Glossary” and “Author’s Note.”)

TheBridgeHomeEleven-year-old Viji and twelve-year-old Rukku’s mom was abused by her husband, but always believed him when he said he was sorry. Viji knew Rukku had special needs, and had always taken care of her older sister but, when her father hit them in a fit of rage, she knew they’d have to run away.

With nowhere to go and only a bit of money, they bus to the city where Rukku becomes attached to a homeless puppy, and they become friends with two homeless boys living on a bridge. There they build their own ramshackle tent, and the boys help her forage for recyclables in stinking trash dumps with other homeless children that they sell for pittances.

Hunger dulls their strength but, as time passes, the four forge strong bonds of friendship. Though they wind up living on a grave under a tree in a cemetery after marauding men destroy their home on the bridge, Viji tries to keep believing in her dream of becoming a teacher. Each day of looking for food in trashcans, and hoping to earn money on the dump, makes her dream seem impossible.

This moving story, based on real children’s first-person accounts, is an eye opener for many who might be unaware of the plight of over 1.8 million children living on the streets of India, working and eating from its many garbage dumps while trying to avoid abuse and slavery.

Recommended for ages 10-14.

“May the road rise up to meet you” by Peter Troy

Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2012. 386 p.

May the road rise up to meet youMary Wilkens and Micah are southern slaves in 1853; Ethan McOwen survived the great famine of Ireland in 1847, while Marcella Arroyo (Abolitionist and feminist) is a Spanish immigrant living with her rich family in 1860 New York. Spanning the years from 1847 until 1867 the evils of slavery, along with the horrors of the Civil War, are described for readers. All have roles to play in the stories of these four characters as, with losses to endure and tears to cry, their stories eventually intertwine. Readers learn that there are good people in an evil world, and that good can come from bad – especially when you can’t see the whole picture of what’s happening.

This novel is reminiscent of great, sweeping historical dramas like “Roots” and “Gone with the wind.” The storyline jumps from person to person, so can become confusing. For example I’ll read about Ethan for a while then the storyline goes to Marcella for a few chapters. Afterwards I’ll read about Mary for a bit, then it meanders to Micah’s story. By the time the story returns to Ethan I forgot what he was doing.

However the book is interesting, emotional, and has great plot twists. I love historical fiction, so was willing to overlook the back and forth dilemma to give it 5 stars.

Recommended for Adults.

“Bonnie and Clyde: The making of a legend” by Karen Blumenthal 5 stars ***

Blumenthal pulls out all the stops in this stirring, factual, and extremely well researched, story of the rise and fall of Bonnie and Clyde. These well know outlaws are carefully tracked as the details of their crime sprees and murders from the Depression era to their own dramatic deaths in 1934 are laid forth in full detail for readers.

Bonnie and Clyde

Period photographs, quotes, descriptions of the poverty brought on by the Great Depression, newspaper articles, eyewitness accounts, family points of views, the unjust prison systems of the day, their love for each other, and Bonnie’s own words are just some of the ways used to explain why a young couple like Bonnie and Clyde chose a crime ridden life on the road.

Includes extensive back matter for further research.

Mature high schoolers and adult readers interested in learning more about Bonnie and Clyde set in their time and place will find this book to be very satisfying.

Highly recommented.

“Journey’s end” Renee Ryan

Rated 2 stars ** 2016. Waterfall Press. 324 p.

Journey'sEndSet in 1901 New York, “Journey’s end” is the story of Caroline St. James, a young woman who grew up poor and hungry on the streets of London. After her mother died, Caroline gambled to get the money to come to America where she planned to confront her wealthy grandfather to find out why he allowed her mother to die in poverty. Her plan takes on a different twist when she meets Jackson Montgomery, a very handsome man who also seems to be hiding something from his past.

I was annoyed at the number of ways the author found to call Jackson “masculine,” as well as the constant references to him as “the man.” The way Caroline responded to him, one would have thought that men existed just so all women could feel happy and secure. I also felt the constant references to sundry Bible verses didn’t belong in the storyline because, from the beginning, Caroline admitted to not having any interest in God. All of a sudden she becomes religious, seeking wisdom from above for every move. It doesn’t feel believable.

The book ended abruptly without revealing why Lucian had left town unexpectedly, why Sally left her past employer, and why Elizabeth and Lucian seemed to be interested in each other. Is a sequel planned? I hope not, because I won’t be reading it.

I wasn’t a fan, but will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Tangled webs” Lee Bross

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Hyperion. 298 p.

TangledWebsForced to work for Bones at the age of 5, an evil thief who forced children to steal for him, Arista and her best friend Nic grew up on the seedy streets of 1700’s London picking pockets and struggling to stay alive. Twelve years later, Arista has become Lady A – blackmailer of London high society. She and Nic roam masked balls trading secrets for money, which they hand over to Bones.

Trying to escape Bones’ evil clutches Arista decides to work for Wild, a more powerful thief, with promises that she will be able to live out her dream of moving to India and living a normal life with her best friend Becky. When she meets Grae, the handsome son of a ship merchant, she feels as if her dreams for normalcy are finally coming true. However, Wild has no intention of ever letting her go. Will love be enough to help Arista escape the plans Wild has for her, or will she be forced to forever be a thief?

Some of the exploits of the real life Jonathan Wild are explored, and the early life led by Nic and Arista is very similar to that of Fagin’s boys in Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.” If you want a quick, light read, a sort-of love triangle, and a boy/girl romance that develops within 2 minutes, then “Tangled webs” is the book for you.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.