Top Ten Tuesday: My Five-Star Reads

In this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, we’re sharing our latest five-star reads: the best of the best, la creme de la creme, our very own A-game! As luck would have it, in the five years that I have been blogging, I have only given a five-star rating to exactly ten books, out of 107 books total!

I’d say that less than 10% is reasonably selective, so if you’re searching for a perfect springtime read, make sure you pick up one of these!

5 Star Collage

  1. 1984 by George Orwell
  2. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  3. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
  4. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
  5. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Ed note: sequels not recommended, so read at your own risk!)
  7. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman
  8. I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
  9. Bossypants by Tina Fey
  10. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

So which books would give five out of five stars? Share your top recommendations in the comments!

Advertisements

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 2

Image via ComingSoon.net

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Well…where do I start? Ever since I finished reading The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, I can’t say that I’ve been looking forward to seeing Mockingjay on screen. My initial enthusiasm for this bandwagon has unfortunately faded into begrudging acceptance of the end.

My disappointment has nothing to do with the film’s production. I’ve enjoyed “The Hunger Games” cast, especially Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks as Effie, both of whom did not have near enough screen time in this finale. Instead, all the attention is turned towards Katniss and her crew’s mission to assassinate President Snow.

Collins’ magic was in the arenas, and without them, all that’s left is a sub-par dystopian tale in which no one really learns their lesson. I wrote a major rant about this book, so naturally I went into the theater with low expectations.

On the plus side, the film was very well done, and I enjoyed the trek to the Capitol as the rebels dodged all the various booby traps. One of the aspects that frustrated me about the novel is that Katniss’ point-of-view is very limited. However, once you’re out of her head, you can be more engaged with the other characters and the action-packed plot in front of them.

Despite the thrills and suspense, I felt pretty meh about this movie. Not surprising to the fans of the books, the ending of this film was depressing as hell. Beloved characters were lost, gone in the blink of an eye. Although the bad guys get their just desserts, you don’t walk away feeling accomplished. And just like in the novel, the story’s epilogue seemed artificial and forced.

I’m glad to put this series behind me, and I can only hope that Hollywood has had its fill of dystopias, at least for a while. Of course, this is doubtful, given the vast fortune that’s at stake. Lionsgate entertainment vice chairman Michael Burns revealed that he’s interested in making Hunger Games prequels featuring previous years in the arena. As much as I’d like to see a young Haymitch become a victor, I agree with Forbes:

If Lionsgate is indeed determined to give the fans what they want, what they risk doing is basically turning the franchise into an annual (or bi-annual) fictionalized version of the Hunger Games for multiplex consumption. They will have turned the franchise into a fictionalized “to the death” version of American Gladiators, which would basically complete the transformation from “explicit critique of bread-and-circuses” to “prime example of bread-and-circuses.”

As a fan who went from excitement to disillusionment, I just want to put this story to bed and move on with my life. Instead, I’ll have to submit to watching this cash cow get turned into one of Collins’ mutts: a zombie-like, demented version of itself.

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1

Image via ComingSoon

Rating: 4 out of 5

Over Thanksgiving break I watched “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1” more out of obligation than anticipation. I’ve been vocal about how much I despised the ending of The Hunger Games trilogy, so this movie is just one step before the major letdown.

That being said, I enjoyed the film more than I thought that I would. Even though it stops short after Peeta’s rescue mission, it was engaging enough during the buildup to keep things interesting.

I also liked the casting of the new characters: Alma Coin, president of District 13 (played by Julianne Moore), and the district’s Roman-inspired squad consisting of Cressida, Messalla, Castor, and Pollux. I’ve always loved Natalie Dormer (of “Game of Thrones” and “The Tudors” fame), and I look forward to her role as Cressida growing in “Pt. 2.”

Similar to “Gone Girl,” this movie emphasizes how media can influence events by spreading certain messages via mass communication. The emerging rebellion on the Capitol is not nearly as important as the cat-and-mouse game that Katniss is forced to play with President Snow through her various propaganda videos and the district’s hacking into the Capitol’s telecom system.

As for Katniss herself, I much preferred her character on-screen than in the book, because readers of Mockingjay are limited to her point-of-view–which, let’s be honest, totally sucks because she’s a crazed, drugged-up trauma survivor suffering from PTSD. She’s still that same person, but fortunately she must share screen time with all the other characters who are actually getting things done.

And despite his infrequent appearances, I give major props to Josh Hutcherson for deftly expressing Peeta’s torturous mental and physical decline. Buzzfeed insightfully reported that “Mockingjay: Pt. 1” challenges Hollywood stereotypes by inverting the “damsel in distress” trope. Here, Peeta is the vulnerable victim and Katniss is the action hero who must save him.

In fact, I would argue that all the characters in this saga are more nuanced and multi-dimensional than the plot as a whole. I may hate the way that Suzanne Collins ends this chess game of hers, but damn do I love the pawns. I can only hope that these amazing actors can evolve in such a way that transcends the fate that awaits them in the final installment.

Dance like Big Brother’s Not Watching You: A Tribute to Dystopian Novels

I’m currently at a conference predominately catered toward analysts and engineers in the government sphere, which has got me thinking about some great novels about what can happen when governments grow too corrupt, using technology for devious purposes. This dystopian theme has garnered more popularity in the past few years, thanks to the rise of young adult thrillers like The Hunger Games, so I thought I would share some tidbits about the novels that make you want to wear an aluminum hat.

The Classics

1984 by George Orwell (1949): The king of dystopia, Orwell paints the bleak picture of a totalitarian state that not only watches your every move, but also sabotages your mind with double-think. The intensity of this story quickly made it one of my favorites of all time!

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932): This is an excellent portrayal of genetic engineering gone totally wrong, complete with drug-induced complacency. Read with caution, as it also contains more disturbing themes than the other two classics.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1950): A haunting commentary of society’s attention-deficiency and willingness to sacrifice literature and civil rights for mind-numbing entertainment. Its brevity proves that good things can come in small packages.

The Genre Re-Definers

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985): One of the most well-renowned feminist writers, Atwood illustrates an alternate dystopia where the feminist movement of the 1970s backfired, creating a twisted world where women are reproductive slaves. Given current politics in America, this story’s just as relevant almost 30 years later.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005): I’m hesitant to label this novel as science-fiction, or even describe its main premise for fear of spoiling the reading experience, but I will say that never have I seen an author blur the lines between genres as Ishiguro. A heartbreaking tale that transcends past, present, and future.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (1988): I don’t normally include graphic novels, but this one epitomizes dystopia to the max. Based on the history of Guy Fawkes’ Day, it depicts the ultimate narrative of revolution. The V mask is a must-have for anarchists everywhere.

The Newcomers

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008): After flipping channels between reality TV and war footage, Collins wrote the bestselling trilogy of the ancient Greek-esque punishment for rebellion. Arguably too brutal for children, but it’s an apt critique of society’s desensitization of violence.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (2005): One of my favorite YA series, it demonstrates how our obsession with beauty and perfection often hides uglier interiors. Add an element of romance, and you’ve got the next silver screen contender.

Matched by Ally Condie (2010): Again, what’s a YA trilogy without a love triangle? Lit nerds will love its influence from poetry, and Twihards suffering withdrawals will soon have new boys to swoon over when Disney brings the adaptation to a theater near you.

So there you have it! My recommendations for those wanting to dive into dystopia! What other novels would you add to the list?

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (film)

Image via Wikipedia

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Yes, I’m a bit shocked myself to be writing that high of a rating, but I was pleasantly surprised with this adaptation. After waiting in a relatively long line for a 10:30 a.m. showing, my dad and I watched the much-anticipated “The Hunger Games.” Clocking in at almost 2.5 hours, it certainly didn’t feel that long, since I was enthralled every second.

The cast did brilliantly, not overdoing their acting, but not behaving like robots either. Sure, Jennifer Lawrence has been criticized for her feminine curves, and while I was concerned when learning of the cast that their looks wouldn’t be realistic, I understand that it’s unethical to actually starve actors for their roles. Plus, don’t people realize she’s been nominated for an Oscar for “Winter’s Bone?” She does a great job as Katniss, and just because she’s got boobs and a butt doesn’t mean she’s too sexy for the role. So, I’d like to tell The New York Times to politely shut their face.

As for the setting, Panem looked fantastic. I loved the contrast between the ultra-modern Capitol and the rural districts. Those who haven’t read the books might find the flamboyant Capitol citizens a bit cheesy in their crazy outfits and makeup, but I’d also like to tell them to politely shut their faces. The movie was not made for you.

While the first scenes were great, from the heartbreaking Reaping to the tributes’ training, we all waited in suspense for the Games to begin. I found it very meta that we were just as excited as the Capitol to watch these kids kill each other. We are part of the problem, and Suzanne Collins is making an excellent point that our society is disturbingly obsessed with violence. Our reality TV culture has made us the least common denominator, and that need for voyeurism made me uncomfortable.

That being said, I still feel that the actual gore was diluted down too much, especially with Cato’s death. I kept thinking to myself as I read the scene, How are they going to show a boy get reduced to a skinless, meaty pulp? Well, they didn’t, of course. Should they have? I can understand that the producers did not want to lose most of their demographic with an “R” rating, but I feel pretty jipped as an adult. If I made the decisions, there would be two DVD versions–the theatrical version and an adult-only one that maintains the book’s level of brutality.

Overall, I was very pleased with the film, and I recommend it to any fan of the series. Perhaps if the filmmakers keep this up, I won’t be as upset watching “Mockingjay” as I was reading it. Well, one can hope, right? And as President Snow said, “Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear.”

Masterpiece Monday (Delayed)

Sorry everybody, I have failed to blog this week’s Masterpiece Monday, because I spent my day finishing 1984! I know, finally! I absolutely loved it, and it definitely qualifies as a masterpiece, so keep an eye out for my book review this week! I’m continuing the dystopian trend, because next up on my list is Fahrenheit 451. It’s a classic that I can’t believe I’ve put off this long to read, so I’m looking forward to it.

Speaking of dystopias, I’ll make up for my lack of blogging today by sharing “The Hunger Games” trailer (for the few who haven’t already seen it):

I know that I shared my livid review of Mockingjay this summer, and while I don’t agree with the way the trilogy ends at all, I’m still so excited to see this film! I like the overall vibe of the setting, and hopefully all the actors will live up to their characters. Let me know what you think!

Book Review: Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)

7260188

Image via Goodreads

WARNING: If you have not read The Hunger Games or Catching Fire, do NOT read this review. SPOILER ALERT!

Rating: 3 out of 5 (the ending itself: 1 out of 5)

If you’re like me, you rushed right into Mockingjay because Catching Fire left on such a cliffhanger. Katniss destroyed the arena by shooting a weak spot in the force-field, and then was rescued by Haymitch and the District 13 rebels.

Unfortunately, Peeta was captured by the Capitol, and District 12 was obliterated in retaliation. Now the finale documents Katniss’ journey to rally the districts together, save Peeta, and kill President Snow. Sounds hard enough, until she starts doubting the rebels’ motives and questioning whether she’s being manipulated yet again.

It was extremely difficult for me to process this novel. I couldn’t sleep last night, because my mind was whirring with reflection. I decided that I have two opinions, one for the majority of the book and the other for the ending (the last 50 pages or so).

First, I enjoyed most of Mockingjay. Like the previous two in the series, I was riveted to the story. I had to be dragged away from it. I cared about the characters and wanted the best for all of them. The fear over what was happening to Peeta drove me just as crazy as Katniss, and I was equally as impatient to end the war and breath a well-deserved sigh of victory.

Well, that sigh of victory never came. As soon as the rebels I loved started dying off (especially Finnick), I knew that something was wrong. And when Prim was killed, I felt that any hope for poetic justice was also burnt to a crisp. This whole time I waited for Katniss to find her courage and bring Panem into a golden age, but I was sorely disappointed.

And before you start arguing that that was Collins’ whole point, that war destroys happy endings, that life isn’t fair, JUST STOP. I don’t want to hear it. I never said I needed a cliche happy ending, but I did need a sense of closure. Collins dangled hope in our faces, and then cruelly jerked it away at the end. I get it, war sucks, but there are books out there that address that message and still manage to leave the reader satisfied.

Case in point, Harry Potter. Imagine if the entire series built up to this epic battle between Harry and Voldemort, and then instead of destroying the villain from the inside out via Horcrux, Harry becomes hospitalized while Voldemort dies from choking on his own laugh. Harry misses the entire climax of the war, and when he wakes up, Ron’s dead, all his friends are shipped off to different countries, and he hooks up with Ginny not out of true love but because there’s nothing else better to do. Oh, and then he’s coerced into reproducing, bringing his children into a world that you feel hasn’t quite learned its lesson.

THAT’S HOW THE HUNGER GAMES ENDED.

If you’re not pissed, then either you enjoy feeling like a Dementor just sucked all the happiness out of your life or you don’t require enough from an author. I’ve loved every minute of the series, but just because Collins decided to take the “Sorry, life’s not rainbows and butterflies” escape route, I regret recommending this series to everyone around me. I would never wish that depression and frustration on anybody, but if you’ve already started reading the trilogy, hurry up and finish it so you can move on with your life.

I’ve read reviews by other hurt readers, and I agree with their points. Katniss was a total weakling in this novel: where was the girl on fire who defied the Capitol in her first games? Instead we get a girl who’s medicated and out of the loop most of the time. Sure, she’s only 17, but she had absolutely no agency whatsoever. In the end, she’s shoved back to District 12 while more corrupted adults tell her what to do, even who to choose–since Gale’s shipped off so unceremoniously to District 2 you don’t have to time to react.

I know that Katniss would pick Peeta regardless, after Gale most likely murdered her sister due to his obsession with violence. But it’s a default choice, like all the others she makes in Mockingjay. I understand that nobody would ever be the same after experiences like hers, but then you pull a Frodo and travel to a place where your pain won’t affect others, where you can live in true peace. Could you imagine Frodo marrying some hobbit and having kids like someone normal, after all he’s been through? (And yes, this argument also applies to Harry Potter, as I didn’t particularly like the Epilogue in Deathly Hallows either. But at least there will never be another Voldemort…I can’t say another President Snow or Coin wouldn’t rise again in Panem).

I also agree with readers who say that this series should have never been written in first person. Katniss is a pretty boring character in Mockingjay, and I would’ve appreciated insight into Peeta, Gale, even Prim, Johanna, or Finnick. I missed out on the end of the war because Katniss got herself turned into a fire-mutt–a rather lousy attempt to wrap things up. I couldn’t even cry over characters’ deaths, because the story wasn’t emotional enough to draw out my sympathy.

Overall, Mockingjay had redeeming qualities, unlike Meyer’s Breaking Dawn, but I felt extremely cheated anyway. I went to bed in a deep depression, but woke up angry. How dare Collins do this to her fanbase! In fact, I actually wouldn’t mind if the movie producers went in a completely different direction with this novel, because I know I would.

If you want a story about a corrupt alternate universe with characters that pull at your heart-strings and a story that changes your life in a sorrowful, but satisfying way, read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro expresses true human emotion without sugarcoating it like Meyer or hacking it to pieces like Collins, and because of that, he is one of the authors whom I admire the most.

I’ll continue to look forward to The Hunger Games film, but with less excitement than before, because now I know how it will all end. I know I’ve ranted quite a bit, but I’d love to hear what you all think, whether you agree with me or not. Just don’t tell me to give it a second chance, because I promise you I won’t be reading this series again.