Books I Have Read: The Hunger Games Trilogy

You may already have read The Hunger Games (Hunger Games Trilogy), or perhaps seen the first film in the series (the second one is just out) and so you know what the story is all about.

For those who are not aware of it, the story is set in a dystopian future with a repressive government using a gladiatorial contest during which children fight to the death as a way of keeping a lid on social tension. Katniss Everdeen is a contestant in the games who goes on to become a figurehead for a rebellion against the government.

Viewed simply as a story; it is hard to complain about The Hunger Games, you keep turning the pages and you want to know what happens next. There are a few plot twists that take you by surprise and the whole thing bowls along at a pleasing pace. If you want good light reading, this fits the bill. It’s excellent, read-a-chapter-before-sleep or while-away-a-bus-journey reading. Currently, the whole series is availably cheaply for Kindle (those are the links I’ve given) and makes a very good buy (or would be, if my Kindle screen hadn’t just been broken).

However, there is a but…

While the storytelling is good, there are other aspects of the books which are less convincing. The future society is poorly painted and barely believable, the central dilemma of is it OK to kill rather than be killed is thinly and inadequately explored and the emotional triangle at the heart of the story is pretty naff. To be honest, I don’t think this matters very much – it’s only a story. But some people have invested more significance in these books than they can carry and at that level, they do disappoint.

Books I’ve Read: Varia

Over the past few weeks, during a dose of shingles, I’ve been raiding the Kindle store for cheap or free books to give me something easy to read. Here are my brief thoughts on a few of them.

Death of a Snob (Hamish Macbeth): the pick of the bunch. A pleasing Agatha Christie like mystery story set on an isolated island in the Scottish Highlands. Agatha Christie with more likeable characters.

A Reason To Kill (DI Matt Barnes): this book is currently available for free and may be slightly over priced. The plot was thin and the characters unsympathetic. However, I did quite enjoy some of the bits that slipped past the editor. One character was born at least two years after his father died; a gestation period which would impress a blue whale. I was fascinated by a glass of wine which changed from white to red while the heroine drank from it. To be fair, this book has lots of five star reviews on Amazon, so it must please some people.

Master Of War: The Blooding; a thrilling and engaging story of an English archer during the Black Prince’s rampage across northern France which builds up to a thrilling depiction of the battle of Crecy. Unfortunately, this occupies only the first third of the book and the rest was dull.

Road Closed (DI Geraldine Steel); not a bad book at all. A pleasing police procedural with a believable and sympathetic heroine. Get it while it’s cheap.

Moon Over Soho (PC Peter Grant); there are only so many possible variations on the theme of a murder mystery. I’m not sure that adding a supernatural overlay to the gritty streets of London adds anything to the genre.

The One You Love (Emma Holden suspense mystery trilogy); this book gets lots of good reviews on Amazon, but I found it excruciating and gave up about a third of the way in. Perhaps the second two-thirds are fantastic and I am doing it an injustice.

I’m now starting to feel a little better and I hope to finish off some of the serious books that have been mocking me from my desk for the last month.

Books I’ve Read: Children of the Revolution

I’ve mentioned previously that I’m a huge fan of Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks novels. In fact, after I read the last one in the series (Watching the Dark), I went back and read all 20 of them in chronological order. Having previously read the books in a rather haphazard fashion – depending on what I could find in the library or in second-hand book shops – I found that reading them in order really added some depth to the characters and provided links that I had missed earlier. If you like crime fiction, I really recommend this exercise.

Even better, when I finished reading through all of the previous books, the nice Mr. Robinson produced a brand new one. As soon as it was available on Kindle, I downloaded Children of the Revolution and got stuck in. I could hardly wait.

It’s a shame, then, that I found this to be the least satisfactory of all of the Bank’s books. The characters seem to all have become testy and bad-tempered and the plot seemed to be recycling things I’d read earlier in the series. I

If you’ve read all of the other Bank’s novels you will want to read this one to complete the set, but I wouldn’t recommend that you read it as a stand-alone. The other books in the series all stand on their own merits; Im not so sure this one does.

t’s not a bad book; I’ve read far worse this year, but it isn’t a great book.

If after reading the title of this post, you found a tune stuck in your head; this might help (or maybe not). 

Books I Have Read: Cloud Atlas

I think this is a first for me; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie and then decided that I really wanted to read the book it was based on. I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed by Cloud Atlas; I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and thoroughly enjoyed the novel, even though I only read it a few days after seeing the film.

Then again, there are so many subtle details, plot twists and leaps across time in both the book and the film that you could never exhaust them all in one viewing or reading.

Cloud Atlas consists of six separate stories all told in different genres:

  • The diary of a 19 century lawyer travelling in the Pacific.
  • Letters from a wayward young composer in Europe between the wars.
  • The adventures of a Californian layer in the 1970s – which is told as fact, but may be fiction (within the book, that is).
  • A black farce about a publisher in contemporary London.
  • A philosophical sci-fi story set in a dystopian city in the future (which turns out to be in Korea).
  • The story of a man living in Hawaii after the complete fall and ruin of civilisation. This is mainly told in an argot which reminded me of Riddley Walker - though it wasn’t quite as obtuse.

The book works through each of these stories in turn; stopping apparently at random half way through each, until the last story is reached which is told in full. The rest of the stories are then finished in reverse order; each providing insights into the others and explaining why they stopped where they did. It sounds complicated; because it is.

Don’t be put off, it’s a superb book and well worth reading even if you have seen the film. I didn’t particularly enjoy the philosophising about reincarnation and the way that souls are all linked through time; but this isn’t overbearing and really doesn’t spoil the story(ies).

Each of the six sub-plots would make a good novella on their own, but woven together, they are outstanding.

If you’ve not seen the movie, here is the trailer:

Now that the summer is over, it could be that you aren’t planning on reading any more fiction till next year’s holidays come around. In that case, you could always watch Cloud Atlas on DVD!

Books I’ve Read: Homeland

 This is the follow up to Little Brother, which I read last year, but didn’t mention on the blog. In short, it is a science-fiction novel set in the near future which deals with the way in which governments and big corporations are able to use the internet to keep tracks on what we are doing.

If what you are looking for is a novel with a good strong plot in which to lose yourself on the beach or on a long journey, I can’t recommend this one. The plot isn’t bad, but it’s not amazing. However, that isn’t really the point of this novel. The plot is a vehicle to explain issues about cyber-security and our lack of privacy online. If you want a primer on these subjects, but don’t like the idea of reading lots of technical articles – this would be a great place to start. If you don’t like reading technical details, you probably shouldn’t bother reading this.

All of Cory Doctrow’s books, including this one, can be downloaded free of charge in ereader fromat from his website. If you are looking for a few novels, I’d suggest Pirate Cinema, Little Brother and For the Win as all being worth a read (as long as you like computers and science-fiction).

Books I Have Read: The Moon of Gomrath

In my first year of senior school, one of the books we read in English lessons was The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. I suppose it was a bit like a bleaker version of one of the Harry Potter novels. In any case, my friends and I loved it and couldn’t wait to get our hands on the follow up, The Moon of Gomrath. I’ve always been a fast reader and I went to bed, expecting to finish the book before I put the light out – except I never fished the book and I didn’t dare turn the light out for days afterwards. The book scared me rigid.

Forty something years on, I found both books available for Kindle and decided to see if I could actually finish them this time round. Well, I did finish them and I didn’t need to leave the bedroom light on to go to sleep. To be honest, I couldn’t actually find the bit that scared me so much all those years ago.

You know how if you revisit your childhood haunts, everything seems to be a little smaller than you remember it? It was the same with these books. The epic scale of the Weirdstone wasn’t there and Gomrath wasn’t scary. Ah well, nostalgia really isn’t as good as it used to be.

Books I have Read: Sins of the Father

Sins of the Father is currently available on Kindle for less than a pound. It’s not a bad thriller, not great, but perfectly good for reading by the pool or while watching the rain fall in Skye. It is a bit gruesome at times and won’t be to everyone’s taste. Also the central theme of the book is about a 1960s TV star who turns out to be a far less pleasant character than everyone thought he was; the contemporary echoes are not always comfortable.

Books I Have Read: Meet Me in Malmö

There are lots of books available for the Amazon Kindle at very low prices, or even for free. All too often, it becomes obvious quite quickly why they are not being sold at full price. I normally make it a point of finishing any book that I start reading – but I make an exception for Amazon Freebies. Some of them are overpriced even when they cost you nothing.

However, from time to time, I come across a cheap book on Kindle which is absolutely excellent; Meet me in Malmö by Torquil MacLeod is one such example. It is a cracking whodunnit set in Southern Sweden with more twists and turns to the plot than a Tour de France mountain stage. It isn’t as dark as some other Swedish based thrillers one could mention: more Nordic gris, than Nordic noir, and all the better for that, in my opinion. The characters are well drawn and the plot keeps you engaged; what more could you want from a thriller? I can’t speak with any authority on the details about Swedish life, but if they are half as accurate as the snatches of dialogue from a Co. Durham pit village, then they must be just about spot on. I’ve rarely read anything that captures the voices and accents of my childhood quite as well as the couple of pages based in my ancestral country.

This book will only cost you 99p on the Amazon store, you could pay far more for books that are not half as good. As for myself, I’m going to buy the second book in the series starting the same heroine, Anita Sundström; even at £1.99 it has to be a bargain.


Books I’ve Read: Gentlemen and Players

 I’ve never read anything by Joanne Harris before, but looking round our local lending library, I came across Gentlemen & Players and thought it might be worth a look. There are a lot of interesting, amusing and engaging scenes in the book, but overall, the story which is set in a small private school failed to grip. I suspect that those who like Joanne Harris’ writing have already read this book. For my part, I won’t be digging out any more of her books in the near future.

Then again, this book does get a very positive review on Amazon, so others may well enjoy it. If you are looking for something to put on your Kindle it is available in this format too.

Books I’ve Read: Caedmon’s Song

When you have read all of Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks novels, the next logical step is to read Caedmon’s Song. This is a fairly hard hitting story which uses the thriller genre to explore some difficult issues. Like many of the Banks books, it has two intertwining threads which are slowly drawn together as the book progresses. If the narrative is a little more transparent than some of Robinson’s other work, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, if you are looking for a “whodunnit”, this isn’t the book to read.

It isn’t Robinson’s best book by a long way, but it is a gripping, well put together thriller and well worth a read (just read the others first). It is available on  Kindle if you prefer your books in electronic format.

Books I have Read: Snuff

There was a time when I was an avid reader Terry Pratchett’s Discworld  novels, but no longer. It could be that I’m getting older and more discerning, but while there is plenty of evidence for the former, there is very little for the latter. Whatever the cause, I no longer buy the latest Pratchett as soon as it is released in paperback and I just happened to pick up Snuff: (Discworld Novel 39) while I was perusing the shelves of our local library.

Snuff is typical of the later Discworld books in that it lacks the joyous anarchy and playfulness that used to typify the series and at times it becomes rather preachy. It isn’t a bad book. The story is entertaining enough and serves well enough as bed time reading. However, it has nothing of the profundity of the opening chapter of Reaper Man or the sheer lunacy of Soul Music.

At his best, Terry Pratchett is a comic genius; I still return to read the earlier Discworld novels from time to time. I don’t suppose I’ll ever bother to pick up Snuff again.