10. The Hunger Games

This trilogy has sat on my shelf for at least a year.  I’ve meant to get to it.  Really.  My oldest daughter grabbed it off the shelf during the winter break holidays and devoured the first two books in 6 days.  She usually doesn’t read big books in English.  She’s a manga fan, and she reads them in French.  She had to hold back not to talk about the details of these books because I didn’t want her to spoil it for me.  So, here I am finally getting down to it.  Frankly, it was worth it!  I  started the second part Catching Fire today….

The Hunger Games is the story of Katniss Everdeen and she lives in the US in the future which has been turned into something other than what we know today.  People are maintained in districts, which they are not allowed to leave.  They are controlled by the Capitol.  In the Capitol, people are wealthy, eat well, and essentially live easy frivolous and much too comfortable lives.  Every year, twenty-four youths between the ages of twelve and eighteen are chosen to fight to death for the good of their district.  The good is food and other things that some districts are lacking, but most of all it’s to keep the districts from rebelling.  Katniss decides to take the place of her twelve-year-old sister who is unfortunately chosen the first year her name is put in.  Primrose is young, small, and is utterly ill-equipped to compete in such a competition.  Katniss and Prim come from District 12, where there are coal mines.  The majority of District 12 citizens are very poor and don’t have enough food to satisfy their hunger.

The Hunger Games is a very suspenseful well written story.  The anticipation of how the game will continue is more interesting than who wins in the end.  Katniss is a very likeable and clever character who is a gifted hunter with a bow and arrow.  She also knows how to gather herbs and set snares to catch rabbits.  The other contestants each have their strengths and weaknesses that bring lots of intrigue to the major events of the story and you just can’t stop reading until the end.  Trilogies sometimes tire me out but I’m looking forward to discovering the end of part two and to eventually finish part three.

Suzanne Collins has managed to construct a reality show with a twist.  It’s quite violent  but I guess it’s no worse than what adolescents watch on television and internet these days.  The movie opened in France last Wednesday and I was unsure about seeing it.  With all the complexities and things to explain, I really couldn’t see how they would do this movie correctly.  Needless to say, we decided to see it last Sunday afternoon.  We were only fifteen minutes into the movie and my daughter and I were already disappointed.  Even though, I tried to enjoy the escape of the movies, anyway.  One major default with this movie is that it’s mostly from the point of view of the Gamemakers where the book is from the contestants’ view.  I think that’s what keeps you wondering what’s going to happen next.

Collins has written on children’s television shows since 1991.  She’s also worked on the staff of several Nickelodeon shows.  She met writer, James Proimos while working on a children’s show called Generation O!.  He convinced her to begin writing books for children.  She first wrote a five-part series called The Underland Chronicles, a fantasy/war series.  From there she wrote The Hunger Games Trilogy, which was on the USA Today’s bestseller list for over 134 weeks.  The question is:  What will Suzanne Collins write next to top that?

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I read, You read, We all read for……

People are always asking me what my book club is reading and how we’ve managed to last so long.  I put it down to mutual respect and sharing the same passion – reading, not to mention loving talking about books.  It doesn’t matter whether they are intriguing, not so interesting, classics, historical, etc..  The main goal is to enjoy discussing books.

We are quite a large group now about fifteen and we are some very passionate, opinionated women when we discuss books.  Things wouldn’t be so interesting if that wasn’t the case.  Really I wouldn’t have it any other way.  We started with eight members and as the years have gone on more people have joined and some have left.  There are about five of us left from the original group.

The principal strengths of this reading group are that we are all different ages, nationalities (British, American, and French) and interests.  That leaves a lot of room for discussion.  How do things work?  We choose our reading list towards the end of the school year in June.  So we read seven books each year.  Each member comes to the second to last meeting with two suggestions.  I compile a list and yes at the moment it’s colossal.  I send each member the complete list and that gives them time to research and decide what titles they want to vote for at our last meeting.  The last meeting, we discuss our last book, vote for next year’s list, and try to decide which book we will start with in October.  The thickest novel usually gets put up as choice #1 for October.  This process allows everyone to acquire their books over summer in the UK or USA or maybe even arrange to borrow them from friends.  In the future we may have to limit how many suggestions we put in because the list is starting to get just a little too long.  So that’s it!  Everything is organized, democratically voted on, and most of all a moment we all look forward to.  Here are the choices for 2011-2012:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next time we meet, April  14th, it will be to discuss The White Tiger.  It was the 2008 Booker Prize winner.  That always makes some members nervous.  I’m assuming it’s going to be a challenge but that’s fine.  I’m up for it!  We’ve already read The Help, Sarah’s Key, The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and The Slap. I’ve done posts on The Slap, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and The Help.  Check them out if you want to know what I thought.  Sarah’s Key – 2 stars  The first half was extremely interesting and very moving but the second half was boring, stereotypical, and badly written. It’s really a shame because she did such a good job on the first half of the story.  The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim – 4 stars the beginning of this book depressed me to no end, but by the time I reached the middle of the book I started to find it more interesting and even more so after the book club discussion.  It was a little disappointing that he didn’t explore more closely certain episodes but all in all it was a good read.  It is Jonathan Coe after all.

As for the rest of the books that we’ve read since 2005, here’s a long list and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few.  The list is extensive but they are all interesting and engaging in their own words.  I’ll put a few of my favorites in bold.  Who knows maybe you’ll find something you’d like to read, reread, or that you just plain forgot about.

Suite Française – Irène Némirovsky

Wash the Blood Clean From My Hands – Fred Vargas

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown – Couldn’t finish this book.  It was like a history text-book. Argh!!! It was like a giant sleeping pill to me, but it is one of the most exhaustive narratives recounting Native American life.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Water For Elephants – Sara Guen

Blue Angel – Francine Prose

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Midnight’s Children – Salmon Rushdie – Couldn’t finish this book.  I couldn’t figure out who was who.  He kept changing the characters’ names. A little too pompous for my taste!

The Bastard of Istanbul – Elif Shafak

The Memory Keepers Daughter – KIm Edwards

Skinny Legs and All – Tom Robbins

The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak

The Darling – Russel Banks

How to Be Good – Nick Hornby

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

An Equal Music – Vikram Seth

The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot

Saturday – Ian McEwan

Travels with Charley – John Steinbeck

I am Charlotte Simmons – Tom Wolfe

Lignes de Failles – Nancy Huston

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

What I Loved – Sylvie Hustvedt

A History of Tractors in Ukrainian – Marina Lewycka

The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields

The Other Boleyn Girl – Philipa Gregory

The Alchemist – Paulo Coello

The Lady and the Unicorn – Tracey Chevalier

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffennegger

Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides

Brick Lane – Monica Ali

On Beauty – Zadie Smith

My Life in France – Julia Child

The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer/Annie Barrows

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson

The Virgin Blue – Tracey Chevalier

The Ginger Tree – Oswald Wynd

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

The Comedians – Graham Green

9. Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country

They say the truth comes from the mouths of babes and that’s exactly what this book is about.  This book arrived on shelves in 2009 shortly after President Obama took office.  I didn’t read it right away when it was given to me.  I decided to wait a while and here we are almost up to the next elections.  The initiative of this book came from the 826 National specifically 826 Valencia in San Francisco’s Mission District, run by Jory John.  The 826 Nationals are non-profit tutoring and writing centers.  There are also chapters in Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Ann Arbor, Chicago, and Seattle. Children go to these centers after school between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m .and get help with their homework and writing.  The children can create stories, plays, poems, comic strips, etc. there.  In 826 Valencia the children were asked to write letters to President Obama as an exercise.  Children aged six to eighteen were asked to write on the question “What should President Obama do now?”.  Wow!  That seems like a loaded question.  As a matter of fact, most adults would have asked if it was a rhetorical question.  Their letters are filled with the same occupations as adults – the war, financial crisis,  gas prices, health care, saving animals, education, crime, unemployment, global warming, immigration, etc.  There are also suggestions on how President Obama should “relax, help people, and even eat donuts”. When Jory John started to read the letters he contacted the other centers to do the same and from all the interesting, creative letters came the project to compile them into Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country.  Heartfelt, hilarious, hopeful, ……..I really enjoyed reading this book.  It’s really a little gem! 🙂 I rate it 4 stars out of 5. Big thumbs up!

“Dear President Obama,

I would like to know if you could fix the economy and the war problem.  How would you avoid shoes being thrown at you?  And why did you choose the Democratic Party?  Also, why do you think no other African Americans ran for president?” (p. 44)

From,

Edgar Laczano, age 11

San Francisco

_______________________________________________

“Dear President Obama,

I believe you will do marvelous things for our country.  As a thirteen year old, I’m confident that I could make a list of ten things I would do if I were the president.  But I’m not.  So here’s a list of things you should do as President of the United States.

1. Health care for everyone!!!

2. Eat a donut (or two).

3. Play with your family.

4. Buy donuts for your family.

5.Read the book Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin.

6. Pass a law to allow gay marriages in  all states.

7. Ban the right to bear arms.

8. The right of freedom of speech should be modified.

9. Limit the sale and consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

10. Modify the budget for schools in North America.

I have the determination to pursue the dream to be the president.” (p. 19)

Sincerely,

Heaven Willis,  age 13

Chicago

___________________________________________

“Dear President Obama,

You are like a big me, because I am from Chicago and I am biracial and have curly hair.  I live in Seattle now, but I’m still from Chicago.

How do you feel about being president?

I have an idea.  Why don’t you give everybody, even the homeless, ten dollars every day?  Each person would need this money for food, clothes, toys, and many other needs.  And don’t forget to give the kids money, too.

My advice for you and your family is to be yourself and you will change the world.  If I were president, I would try to make the world a better place.” (p. 39)

Sincerely,

Avante Price, age 7

Seattle

____________________________________________________

Check out any of these 826 Nationals by plugging in the city after 826 followed by dot org.  These people are really doing some fantastic work with these children!

http://826valencia.org

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8. A Mercy

Toni Morrison is one of my favorite authors – The Bluest Eye, Sula, Beloved, Paradise, Song of Solomon, etc.  I discovered her and her incredible novels in my second year of university, as an English lit major and have never stopped reading her since.  I always look forward to anything new she writes.  She is a writer, editor, and professor and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for the novel Beloved – a must read and for me a must reread.  However, she really became famous when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in literature in 1993, “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality”. Having read most of her books, Love and A Mercy were the last two left  on my list.  It’s almost done! I finally got around to reading A Mercy.  It was interesting to read about slavery in this way.  Morrison attempted to write about slavery at its beginnings before it became organized and regulated.  She brings together Florens a slave, Lina a Native American labourer, Jacob Vaark, and Rebekkah, Jacob Vaark’s wife, who was sent from the Old World.  These three women are slaves in their own ways and bound by their situations.  Their relationships which begins as unified and solid almost like a “family” slowly but surely deteriorates and becomes rash, desperate, and unkind.  The place is the New World in the 17th century at the beginning where everything is wild and up for grabs by all different nationalities.  The story is told in first and third person and is not easy to understand but by the third chapter things become clearer.

I think Morrison was trying to show that slavery wasn’t always connected to the hatred of the black man and that many people had slave-like status in the New World in which men and women were trying to survive.  I must admit I enjoyed the second half of this book a lot more than the first half.  I felt disconnected from the characters and I missed the in-depth characterization that Morrison usually does.  Maybe this was done on purpose to accentuate these very different people coming together.  In my opinion, I think this book was too short.  I did enjoy reading the connections between the  characters and the way the connections were made(skillfully done), although it’s not a joyful read.  Once I started to get into the book it seemed to fly by and I was looking for more and then “pouf” it was over.  It’s about 160 pages and beautifully written, as always.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t suggest this title to someone who has never read Morrison.  I would say start with The Bluest Eye or Sula and then work your way through Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Paradise, and of course the crème de la crème BelovedBeloved is not an easy read but it’s all worth it in the end.  It’s one of my favorites and I need to reread it.  I say check out A Mercy if you’re a Morrison fan.  I give it three and a half stars.  I don’t hate it but it’s not in my top favorites of Morrison.  I’ll have to hurry to read Love, since I read somewhere that she has a new novel coming out in May called Home.  It looks intriguing.

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Red Tape part 2

Well 9 days, 5 hours combing the internet, and 10 phone calls later I’ve come to the conclusion that there is very little incentive in France to get out there and create your own business.  My goodness you have to be a lot more than Superwoman or Einstein. I imagine you have to be that rabid dog foaming at the mouth with teeth biting the bone for dear life, while being dragged through hoops on fire.  I knew this all along but I just kept thinking it’s the 21st century and things are going to be better.  I realize more and more it’s a cultural mindset.  I’m not French, so really I can’t relate and I don’t want to; that would be the end of who I am if I started to.

So what should I start with – the good news or the bad?  The bad news is I can’t teach in companies and do personal tutoring as a self-employed teacher.  I have to choose.  The civil servant on the phone suggested I could start two separate companies, then I could do both.  Silence prevailed because I thought I was going to scream.  It’s really unfair how they try to control how much you make and how much business you can do.  The agrément I need is the basic one called the agrément simple.  Each job has either the simple one or a more complicated one which has lots more checks and paperwork.  These agréments are for various types of jobs like, child care, tutoring, giving classes in a clients’ home, transporting young children(handicapped or the elderly), etc.

Good news I don’t have to go to the Préfecture d’Evreux to get my agrément file, I can do it on the internet.  I have to provide lots of paperwork, like diplomas, brochures, etc(more on that later).  I will send all the information in by  internet and then I have to wait two months for the response.  Before I make this demand I have to change from my auto-entrpreneur to a micro-entreprise.  I was told this takes about fifteen days.  That means I must have all my paperwork to change statutes before I apply for the agrément.  Don’t forget this is France and July and August are the months where the fewest knowledgeable and helpful people work.  The French are usually away here on extremely long summer vacations about  2 – 4 weeks.  Everything works at snail pace – dreadfully slow.  If I can respect this schedule I should know when the summer school holidays are finished at the end of August or in September.  Hi ho, Hi ho, I’m off to work,  I go…..

7. The Vintage Caper

Lord knows why I decided to read this book!  I should know better.  Shame on me!  The only books I really enjoyed by Peter Mayle were his first, A Year in Provence, as well as Chasing Cezanne and Hotel Pastis.  I have read a few others but nothing to really write home about.  Someone gave me this book and I don’t remember who because it was in a big bag full of duds, this one and a few other hidden treasures.

Essentially, it’s the story of Danny Roth a very wealthy entertainment lawyer.  It begins with Danny expressing the desire to wear his hair in a ponytail since his bald spot is starting to grow.  His wife responds, “Just remember Danny underneath every ponytail is a horse’s ass.”  This really made me laugh but it was the first and last time.  The rest of the novel was cliché and quite frankly boring.  I can’t understand why he continues to write about the French in this manner.  It’s so insipid, predictable, and uninteresting.

Danny Roth is not only a rich lawyer but a wine connoisseur who owns 3.5 million dollars worth of wine that he keeps in his cellar.  Unfortunately, the wine is stolen while he and his wife are on a ski holiday; with the help of their Mexican caretaker Rafael Torres.  All of this takes place after a lengthy article is run in The LA Times detailing his extensive wine collection, pictures included.  The insurance company rules out that Danny Roth set up the heist to get the insurance money, so they hire an investigator called Sam Levitt, whose job it is to unmask the robbers and find the stolen wine.  His sleuthing will take him to the old wine country, Bordeaux and to Marseille and Paris.

Ok this book isn’t all bad so I’ll give you a little about what was well done.  If you’re a wine lover but don’t know much about it, you’ll learn some interesting things about wine.  If you’re an expert or oenophile – pass.  Moreover, you also get a sense of French food and the obsession wine lovers have accompanying food with the right wine.  Living in France for twenty-two years has taught me a lot about that.

No spoilers here, so I won’t be telling you how it ends.  Although you may be able to guess.  Read at your own risk.  It’s not a long book –  223 pages.  I give it about 2-3 stars.