THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Author Suzanne Collins mentions that the idea for 41jG4xQjjsL._AA160_THE HUNGER GAMES came from channel surfing between reality TV games and the Iraq war. While the reality game show element is really obvious, it seems to me that this whole series is a metaphor for the wars of the recent decade, with each volume of the trilogy serving as a metaphor of those hellish places. No wonder Katniss behaves so badly and in such extreme and violent ways. No wonder this book is so dark. No-one is ever quite the same again. And that is where the power of this work lies, in it’s linking of dystopian fantasy with unpleasant realities of the present day.

This is a strong work that doesn’t sag and will keep you glued to the page. What makes it so outstanding is the way the trilogy ends. Ms. Collins provides a satisfying ending that ties up a lot of loose threads and make the reader feel that there was no other way this story could have ended. It is not a happy-ever-after ending, which would not have been appropriate for such a dark story. But it is the kind of ending that throws everything into relief and makes you realize what the emotional heart of the story is.51tK519fUHL._AA160_

For those of you who haven’t yet read or viewed HUNGER GAMES, you might want to stop reading at this point, as what I have to say contains spoilers.

What the ending meant for me was that the emotional heart of this story is with Katniss’ relationship with her sister. Which is surprising, as this is a book for teens. Authors who write for this audience are almost obliged to have the romance-between-good-looking members-of-the-opposite-sex-which-involves-love-triangle, and I must say I found this aspect of the trilogy the least interesting. Mainly because Katniss (not surprisingly) is so unsure of where she is, being spoiled for choice. But the suspense just stretches out and out and out, and I felt the work would have been stronger without so much emphasis on 51zkheo7x8L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_the romance element.

However, the ending suggests that we are being encouraged to look at the wrong relationship. Because the person whom Katniss really and truly loves is her sister. And when Prim dies, we feel Katniss’ terrible pain. Especially as she had to see it happen. I thought the scene with Prim’s cat was just wrenching, and it is a mark of the quality of this work that it is hard for me to get those scenes out of my head. Five stars.

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THE KING’S CURSE by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory has done it again, found a compelling, forgotten woman, in the shape of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, and woven a whole tale around this character.

Margaret of Salisbury had an impeccable pedigree. She was the elder child of George, Duke of Clarence, brother to both Edward IV and Richard the III. Her mother was Isabel Neville, daughter and co-heiress with her sister Anne, of Warwick the Kingmaker. Margaret was comfortable at court and knew most of its players. She was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth of York, wife to Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII. She became close friends with Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon. 51feeg5HssL._AA160_So she is an excellent choice for the ending of Gregory’s series on the Cousin’s War (aka The Wars of the Roses).

Gregory is known for her unorthodox takes on history, and this novel is no exception. She found an eerie corallary between the actions of some of the characters in her previous novels (LADY OF THE RIVERS and THE WHITE QUEEN ) and modern-day science. I will let her explain it to you in the following, taken from her Author’s Note:

There has been much work on the loss of Henry VIII’s babies. Current…research from Catrina Banks Whitley and Kyra Kramer suggests that Henry may have had the rare Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant deaths when the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. Whitley and Kramer also suggest that Henry’s later symptoms of paranoia and anger may have been caused by McLeod syndrome—a disease found only in Kell positive individuals. McLeod syndrome usually develops when sufferers are aged around forty and cause physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior.

…Whitley and Kramer trace Kell syndrome back to Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, the suspected witch and mother of Elizabeth Woodville. Sometimes, uncannily, fiction creates a metaphor for an historical truth: in a fictional scene in the novel, Elizabeth, together with her daughter Elizabeth of York, curse the murderer of her sons, swearing that they shall lose their son and their grandsons, while in real life her genes—unknown and undetectable at the time—entered the Tudor line through her daughter and may have caused the deaths of four Tudor babies to Katherine of Aragon and three to Anne Boleyn. (582)

Reading this gave me the shivers. Five stars.

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A TRACE OF SMOKE by Rebecca Cantrell

A TRACE OF SMOKE is set in Berlin in 1931 and is the story of how a (fictional) lady journalist named Hannah Vogel defies Hitler’s best friend Ernst Roehm.

What is so wonderful about this novel are the many details of life in 1930s Berlin, like this one of a seedy nightclub called the “El Dorado”:

A dozen round tables ringed the oak dance floor. Each was set in a shallow alcove painted with a stylized scene from a Chinese opium den. Between each table hung a red curtain or a large tarnished brass gong. Every so often someone rang a got with a bottle of Champagne, and the band stopped playing and started a different song.

Despite this wonderful writing, I kept bumping into the mystery of exactly why author Rebecca Cantrell had chosen to set this story in 1931, at a time when the Nazis had LESS than 20% of the popular vote, then proceeded to fill her novel with details of Nazi menace which implied that the Nazis held Berlin in a stranglehold. The author goes so far as to claim (in her Author Note) that Berlin was LOST to the Nazis in 1931!ATraceOfSmoke

But none of this makes sense. Hitler did NOT become Chancellor until 30 January 1933, and so I would say that it was in 1933 that Berlin was lost to the Nazis.

In 1931, by contrast, the Nazis had to continue to fight rumors that they were pagans and thugs because they needed the Catholic vote. In 1931, they had to do everything in their power to make themselves appear civilized. The Nazi menace that suffuses this novel is simply anachronistic.

Most readers are probably not going to mind this, but as someone who has done a lot of research in this area myself, I just couldn’t understand how an author who can do so much detailed research on brands of stockings and cigarettes to illuminate the daily life of Berliners could make such an elementary mistake. Three stars.

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New book reviews for Spun Stories!

Everyone,

So sorry you haven’t heard from me recently. For those of you who don’t know, I took off a couple of years to do an MFA in imagesCreative Writing at Lesley University’s low-residency program. (Lesley is in Cambridge, MA). In any event, I’m nearly at the end of my time there, but this last (fourth) semester has been particularly grueling. Hence, no posts.

Now that I’ve got my second submission in, I have a window of time to put up some new reviews of books that I met in the Fall. I hope you enjoy reading them.

If all goes according to plan, I hope to graduate this June. Please keep your fingers crossed!

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A Post on Freado about Lady Cecylee:

Everyone,

CastleRabyCecyleeSigI thought you might be interested in this interview I did for FREADO about my series THWARTED QUEEN:

 

http://www.freado.com/users/31565/Cynthia/

 

Have a wonderful day!

 

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My Fifteenth Half Great-Aunt

Recently, I learned that I am related to CastleRabyCecyleeSigLady Cecylee, the heroine of my THWARTED QUEEN series. I thought I would let Her Ladyship tell you all about this discovery, in her own inimitable way:

Today I learned the most wondrous news. Did you know that my scribe and I are related to each other? Tis passing strange.

It came about because I encouraged her to learn more about her family. I mean how can you appear before folk if you know not who you are? In my day, we spent many an hour discussing the windings and twisting of our various family trees. So she began by looking back into the past, at her ancestors in the Land of Henry, which is today called America.

Did you know that they lived there for nearly three centuries, since making landfall in a leaking ship called The Mayflower? How they managed to get across that dark and wide ocean is beyond comprehension.

Then my scribe looked beyond, into the ancestors of her Mayflower ancestor (called Mary Mayflower Allerton) and discovered that her grandfather was a Sir Edward Norris. Immediately, my ears perked up for the gentleman was a knight. I must say I am not acquainted with that family. Still, twas a promising start.

I encouraged her to go back further. Would you believe it but Sir Edward’s grandfather was a gentleman named Sir Henry Norris, a friend of a queen of England. I have never heard of this queen before, but my scribe says she is most famous. Her name was Anne Boleyn. She sounds rather like that common strumpet who played upon my son’s male weakness and inserted herself on the throne of England. I always refer to her as “The Serpent”, but I am told that people nowadays refer to her as Elizabeth Woodville. It seems that my great-grandson, Henry the Eighth of that name, was displeased with his wife and her friends and had them executed on Tower Hill.

7b1a174b4cc97f16c95d7658a57ef4eb-bpfullI shall pass no judgement on his actions, as I was then cold in my grave and had been for the past forty-one years. Wishing to turn the conversation away from unfortunate channels, I urged my scribe to find out more. “Find out who his mother, grandmother and great-grandmothers were,” I remarked. “I have a notion that the ladies of that family were well-connected.”

Lo and behold, I was right. Sir Henry’s great-great-grandmother was Elizabeth Holland, a lady I had known well. For her grandfather was none other than my grandfather, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

So what does that make my scribe in relation to me? Well, Elizabeth Holland’s mother was Lady Elizabeth Plantagenet, who was the half-sister of my mother, Lady Joan de Beaufort. That means that I am my scribe’s 15th half great-aunt. Truly I marvel at such tidings!

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Happy Thanksgiving from Norway


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Everyone,

As I mentioned before, I’m working on an MFA in Creative Writing at Lesley University. I’m also staying in Oslo, Norway for this academic year as my husband won a Fulbright to be a visiting researcher at Oslo University.

For these reason, I’m going to give this blog a rest for December and most of January and hope to be back next spring with something to entertain and provoke.

I hope you all enjoy this picture taken this Fall in Lillehammer, Norway. Heather is something that’s used instead of flowers at this time of year. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

All Best Wishes,

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Wednesday Reviews: UNRAVELED (CREWEL WORLD)

UnraveledIn this third volume of CREWEL WORLD Adelice has arrived back on Arras, determined to play along with Cormac Patton’s plans to make her his wife, so that she can either trick him into revealing some vital information, or kill him by unraveling his time thread.

You may want to stop here if you haven’t read this volume as there are spoilers ahead.

Unfortunately, this volume bears all the hallmarks for rushed and careless writing. For example, when Adelice’s love-interest Erik finally appears after 16 chapters, author Gennifer Albin needs to slow way down to let the emotions unspool in front of the reader. Here is what she actually does:

He [Erik] races forward and unlatches my cuffs pulling me up and into a tight hug. But before I can even enjoy it, he releases me…”Follow me.” It’s little more than a command, and for the moment I’m frozen to the spot. But when he walks out of the room, I go after him despite the shock and confusion warring within me…”Where are we?” I ask Erik, grabbing his arm. He removes my hand quickly but I don’t think I’m imagining a gentle squeeze as he does it. “We got her,” Erik calls out, and everyone stops to stare at me. There are a few cheers. Some eye me with curiosity. Others look unimpressed. But all that matters is the grin that splits Dante’s face, because for a moment I feel like I’ve come home.

For someone that she’s been dying to see for the past 56% of the novel, this reunion feels curiously muted and diffuse. I’m not sure why Ms. Albin didn’t focus her lens on Adelice’s emotions as she met Erik again, after literally resigning herself to a loveless union with Cormac. I don’t understand why this meeting is rushed and hurried, and given the same emotional weight as her reunion with Valery, or Dante or any of the other characters that fly in and out of the scenes in this novel.

Which brings me to another problem. There are simply too many characters. Valery, Folan, Alixandria, Pryana, I just couldn’t keep them straight, mainly because they weren’t delineated well enough of me to be able to tell them apart. I really question whether Ms. Albin needed all of these characters, or whether she couldn’t have just paired it down to one female character who had a complex relationship with the protagonist.

Many key plot points were too vague. For example, I didn’t understand why staying in Arras would kill Loricel and Albert. And I still don’t know why Pryana gave Adelice the crystal box. All of this stuff glided by way too quickly, making it hard to take in.

As the emotional weight of the novel seems to revolve around Adelice’s relationship with Erik, his death should be absolutely devastating. I don’t know why Ms. Albin chose not to show it to us, because that muffled its effect. We need to spend more time with Adelice in mourning him. When, at the end of the volume, Adelice finally comes together with Jost, the reader needs to be reminded about what brought them together when they first met, so that their eventual union makes sense.

It is a great pity that Ms. Albin was not given the support to put the time and energy into ending this novel properly. I really thought the opening volume, CREWEL, was stunning in its imaginative boldness. Every time Adelice touches those threads that hold the world of Arras together the writing is compelling. This volume just seemed like a mad-tag chase around and around, with people meeting sudden unexplained ends, too many characters, and vague plot twists. Two stars.

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Wednesday Reviews: ALTERED (CREWEL WORLD)

AlteredIn this second volume, Adelice Lewys and her friends Erick and Jost find themselves on the strange Planet Earth (where they’ve never been before). Adelice discovers who her real father is, but the mother she loved so much in Arras is beyond repair, a mere “remnant”.

ALTERED becomes a Quest Story, this time to find the Whorl in a race against time as Cormac Patton, the powerful figure from Arras (who wanted to trap Adelice into marrying him in Volume One), sends his “people” to find her. As this novel takes us away from the stunning details of Arras world, and from Adelice’s incredible talent with weaving, the writing becomes less compelling. Despite this, Gennifer Albin manages to write a page-turner that will make readers want to know what happens next. Four stars. 

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Wednesday Reviews: CREWEL (CREWEL WORLD)

CrewelSixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has tried so hard to FAIL her obligatory weaving exam. Unfortunately, on the day of testing, she slips for just one moment, showing off her great skill.

That night, they come for her.

The rest of the story is about Adelice’s growing realization of her power, and of how the strange world she finds herself in works, as she graduates from Eligible to Spinster (one who has the skill to mend the weave-world that is Arras), to Creweler (one who can actually make new matter.) Every time Adelice’s fingers touch those threads, Ms. Albin’s writing becomes extraordinarily compelling.

Things come to a head when she learns she’s going to be reprogrammed to make her more suitable to become the wife of the powerful (and much older) Cormac. Five stars for a stunningly imaginative new world, three stars for a predictable love-triangle, making four stars. 

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