Blog on Fire award

Thank you to Lisa at La vie éclectique for nominating my blog for the Blog on Fire award. Knowing that people read and appreciate my blog makes me happy and very flattered. Thank you, Lisa! 🙂

As with all blogging awards there are a few requirements to follow for the Blog on Fire award:

1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link to them in your acceptance post.

2. List a number of things about yourself.

3. Link to the same amount of blogs as the number of things you divulge in step 2.

I’ve chosen to pass the award to three of my favorite blogs and so I’ll divulge three things about myself.

1. I’ve recently become interested in dystopian fiction. I blame The Hunger Games for getting me started on that one! But I don’t like dystopia which is very fantasy-like: I like my novels to have plenty of human drama in them too.

2. I sometimes dream about opening a café with an indie bookstore attached to it in a little town in Maine.

3. I miss riding horses a lot. I used to own a horse and one of my ambitions is to own one again, when the time is right.

Two Horses by Charles Rondeau

I’ve nominated:

Lulu’s Musings — I found Lulu’s blog when I was surfing different blogs for stories of life in Maine (my spiritual home). And it’s full of lovely stories and photos.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… — when I’m not dreaming about living in Maine, I’m riding horses, chasing stray cows and exploring the North Dakota prairies (also in my dreams!) Jessie Veeder’s blog is brimming with wonderful, atmospheric photos and prose. Take a look!

Finger, Fork & Knife — I enjoy browsing food blogs for inspiration and recipes and I was delighted to discover Kate’s wonderful blog. Scrumptious recipes and photos….check it out!

The Hunger Games movie review

At long last here is my Hunger Games movie review! And I would like to prefix it with the following Spoiler Warning: this review contains spoilers from The Hunger Games book and film, including the ending, so if you don’t want to know what happens I suggest you avert your eyes. You have been warned!

Where to begin? With the main character would be a logical starting point, I suppose.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is superb. I had my doubts initially but after seeing the film, I agree with the praise of the critics. Her performance is so nuanced and faithful to the book character that I found lines from the book running through my head at times during the movie. When she rode in the chariot with Peeta and caught sight of herself on the screen, her surprise at her appearance showed on-screen: ‘I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun’ (quote copyright Suzanne Collins, 2008, The Hunger Games). You can tell how many times I’ve read the book, being able to quote lines ad lib!

Lawrence outshines the other actors in the movie and Liam Hemsworth (Gale) in particular does not have any real long-lasting presence in my opinion. It is a shame that Gale’s character in the movie is nothing more than the hunky best friend. In the books he is a leader of the rebellion, a strong character who takes a stand against the Capitol. I hope that he will become less a part of the background scenery in the movie adaptation of Catching Fire and that his character will be better-developed and more involved. But admittedly, the first book focuses mainly on Katniss so I can forgive this, although more back story on Gale’s character wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

I think Josh Hutcherson is good as Peeta but the movie makers cut far too many of his lines, resulting in a more wooden character on-screen than the one in the book. But there is plenty of room for character development in the next film and if I seem a little harsh here, I do actually like Hutcherson’s portrayal of Peeta very much. Regarding the other actors, Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) are perfect on-screen representations of how I imagined them in the book. Overall, I have no particular criticisms with the performances of the rest of the cast.

Effie and Katniss: the juxtaposition of obscene wealth and hopeless poverty
Photo by Murray Close – © 2011 Lions Gate Films Inc.
No copyright infringement intended

The photo above shows what The Hunger Games is really all about: wealth and poverty and the ability of dictators to manipulate whole countries into submission. In a world where people buy $20,000 couture while children are starving, some points that The Hunger Games makes are not very unrealistic at all. The Hunger Games is a pop culture phenomenon which comments, in part, on pop culture phenomenons (reality TV etc) and I think the film makers succeeded in balancing the political messages of the book without letting them override everything else in the movie.

The cinematography of the movie is very well done. A lot of people have commented and criticized the shaky hand-held camera during action scenes but I didn’t have a problem with the shaky camera work in the violent parts of the movie. It wasn’t distracting at all, in my opinion, and it allowed the film makers to achieve a fine balance between emphasizing the chaotic free-for-all at the Cornucopia during the fight scenes and avoiding too much violence.

Regarding the music, James Newton Howard’s score is beautiful but is under used in the film. There is remarkably little music in the movie but this is a good thing, in a way, because it avoids manipulating the audience’s emotions and instead means that more emphasis is placed on the abilities of the actors. The agonizing silence in the reaping scene after Prim’s name is picked is especially effective.

My main criticisms are as follows:

1. I would have liked to see how Katniss and Gale first met, with an emphasis on the fact that Gale is Katniss’s hunting partner and friend, because I think that viewers who haven’t read the book probably jump to the incorrect assumption that Katniss is in love with Gale. Nothing especially crucial to the plot was lost but I preferred the added details in the book.

2. Rue and Katniss’s relationship was not sufficiently developed. The main problem I have with the movie is the lack of development, e.g. as mentioned above in terms of Gale. Some scenes were simply too short but I appreciate the difficulty of condensing a whole novel down into movie length. Nevertheless, Rue’s death scene is as heartbreaking and tragic on-screen as it is in the book.

3. The cave scene with Katniss and Peeta was cut far too short. They missed out Katniss telling the story about how she got Prim’s goat and a lot of other lines from the book, especially Peeta’s lines, were cut. It made a difference to me because, having read the book a few times, I know exactly how I wanted it to be and it didn’t match my expectations.

4. President Snow. I just don’t think that President Snow (in the movie) is evil enough. When reading the book, I imagine him to be completely different from his on-screen appearance; a snake-like man with small features which is how the book describes him. Donald Sutherland doesn’t resemble book Snow. But then again, Donald Sutherland also played Mr Bennet in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film so I kept half expecting him to declare that ‘Mr Darcy has arrived, Elizabeth’ and make a few witty jokes. The on-screen President Snow doesn’t display enough menace and isn’t cold enough to realistically make the audience believe that here is a man who is happy to command the bombing and torture of innocent civilians, not to mention overseeing the barbaric Hunger Games.

5. The scene on the train when Katniss tells Peeta that she was just acting and that she wasn’t really in love with him didn’t have enough impact. In the book the atmosphere feels a lot more strained and tense at the end, especially with the fact that Katniss has defied the rules of the Capitol.

All in all, I wanted more detail, especially in the areas I mentioned above. I don’t think enough emphasis is placed on the fact that Katniss has laid the foundations for a rebellion against the totalitarian regime of the Capitol and I think the ending is also too rushed. It should be more menacing and sinister. But then again, it was never going to match up to the depth of the book. On the whole it is a faithful adaptation and is better than most book-to-movie adaptations. I am eagerly anticipating Catching Fire!

What do you think of the movie?

Blog challenge #5: nettle soup

Nettles

Public domain image: Nettle Flower by Максим Кукушкин

Recipe number 5 of my blog challenge comes from Panem….no, not really. Just kidding! Please ignore my current Hunger Games obsession. But it does sound like something they would eat in District 12 because it’s inexpensive, simple and nutritious. No one knows the exact origin for nettle soup but it’s a traditional recipe in Northern and Eastern Europe, in countries like France, Sweden, Poland and Ukraine. Since I have had blog visitors from all of those countries, this is the perfect recipe for my fifth challenge.

I followed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s nettle soup recipe (link) and it is really delicious. Because you’ll need to sort through the nettles when you’ve picked them to avoid bits of grass and stalks, the method I used is to blanch them in boiling water for five minutes, making sure all the nettles are covered by the water. After that, I carefully drain them and rinse them in cold water. The boiling water gets rid of the stings so they are fine to handle and chop if necessary.

I hope you enjoy the recipe! Don’t be deterred by the unusual sound of it. You will probably be pleasantly surprised by the taste.

The rebirth of the dystopian novel

The Hunger Games front cover - image source: Wikipedia. No copyright infringement is intended and all rights belong to their respective owners

You’ve probably heard of The Hunger Games. You might even have read The Hunger Games trilogy of books or gone to see the recently released movie adaptation. And to you, it might be just another mainstream franchise which pulls in big money at the box office. There is no disputing the fact that it is mainstream: The Hunger Games spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and the film is now at the top of movie charts worldwide. But just because it is turning into a franchise to rival Harry Potter and the like doesn’t mean that it should be viewed as trivial. Sure, I would be among the first to admit that, as with all pop culture phenomenons, there is too much hype surrounding it in my opinion. But I think it is unique compared to most other big-name pop culture trends and media franchises because Suzanne Collins’s writing actually portrays a meaningful message.

The trend for dystopian literature is rising and rising; the worldwide success of The Hunger Games exemplifies this. I find it interesting that there are currently so many recently published dystopian novels on the market. It makes me wonder whether global reading trends are influenced or perhaps driven by world affairs; socially, culturally and economically. Is it a coincidence that dystopian fiction is experiencing a revival when the economic situations of many countries are so bleak?

In a quote from their dystopian fiction page, Utopian and dystopian fiction, Wikipedia says that “Dystopias usually extrapolate elements of contemporary society”. And that is exactly what the author of The Hunger Games has done. Part of the acclaim which surrounds the series relates to the key focal points of the books; Suzanne Collins takes current societal and cultural issues, presenting them using stunning yet subtle comparisons which remind us of our frequently inconsequential ‘First World problems’. I can see significant parallels between the fictional world of Panem – a futuristic United States as portrayed by Collins – and the state of our world. For example, the stark contrasts between the wealthy Capitol and the impoverished Districts whose inhabitants work to provide goods, gadgets and fuel for said Capitol reminds me strongly of low-paid factory workers toiling to churn out the latest gadgets and cheap clothes for spoiled, privileged Western consumers.

There are several other instances where Collins made me stop and think, especially surrounding the issue of the desensitization to violence. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before; there’s too much violence on TV and in video games etc. But that is precisely the point. When something is omnipresent it loses some of its initial bite, like a threat which is repeated but is never actually carried out. This is one of the themes of The Hunger Games. The Capitol citizens are so desensitized to violence that they are happy to watch reality TV shows based on shocking brutality. Of course, this is not a new concept: violence was a spectator sport in Ancient Rome and Suzanne Collins has said that “the world of Panem, particularly the Capitol, is loaded with Roman references” (source: A Conversation with Suzanne Collins) as well as being based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Nevertheless, it is a point worth thinking about.

And to conclude, another one of the reasons why I am a fan of THG is because of the heroine, Katniss Everdeen. After a certain other pop culture trend which I feel slightly embarrassed to mention in the same sentence as THG, it is refreshing to read something mainstream which has such a strong central female character and which does not have a ‘girl meets boy’ story as the plot.

I look forward to seeing the movie this week so expect another Hunger Games themed post very soon. I have doubts about the casting (President Snow in particular is different from how I imagined him) and the way in which the subtle themes from the book will be portrayed on-screen but we will see…

The Hunger Games official trailer – linked from YouTube.

And I got through a whole discussion of The Hunger Games without once attempting to compare it to Twilight…until now. Oops! Just one sentence: it isn’t Twilight, no matter how much people keep comparing it, and Katniss is the complete opposite of insipid Bella.

See you next time!

Thoughts on reading The Hunger Games

The day before yesterday, I read the last page of Mockingjay, which is the third and final book in The Hunger Games trilogy. Two weeks ago I barely had any idea about what The Hunger Games was about, other than that it seemed to be getting a lot of hype around an upcoming movie adaptation and a lot of people were calling it the next Twilight.

Well, I can tell you that The Hunger Games most definitely is not the next Twilight. It’s so much better than that. Yes, I occasionally have a guilty foray into Twilight (okay, so I’ve read all the books and seen all the movies) but I accept it for what it is: an easy-to-read series without much substance at all. And the movies are complete chick flicks.

The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is well written and compelling. I couldn’t stop reading. If, like me two weeks ago, you have no idea what it’s about I’ll try to give a brief summary of the central plot. But you really do have to read it yourself because there’s no chance that I can summarize such an engaging, polished and shockingly vivid series in about 100 words. But I’ll try to give you a taste of what it’s all about.

Picture North America, now called Panem. In an unspecified time in the future, after the destruction of North America as we know it, Panem is segregated into twelve districts which are all overseen by one threatening and sinister mega-government, the Capitol. In the past, the districts attempted and failed to overthrow the government. As punishment for this sin, the Capitol initiated the televised reality show, the Hunger Games. Each year, twenty-four competitors (one male and one female from each of the twelve districts) are placed into a vast outdoor arena and, in Roman gladiator style, have to fight until only one remains.

“The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland”, quote from The Hunger Games, copyright Suzanne Collins

The book draws on Roman and Greek mythology to create lucid details and imagery. The series is narrated in the first-person by Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old resident from District 12, who volunteers to take the place of her beloved sister, Primrose, in the Games when Prim’s name is picked.

It is difficult to describe how addictive and brilliant these books are (I read the whole series in approx. one week!) but they are not just another ‘Twilight’. They deal with some pretty deep themes — family, love, friendship, sacrifice, as well as the symbolism of the totalitarian government and a dystopian reality. There are similarities to George Orwell’s 1984 and there is a considerable amount of political allegory as well as some stunning imagery in the books. I even found myself crying at one very moving point. The author, Suzanne Collins, used to be a scriptwriter so she has a real way with words and a way to make things come alive in your imagination.

Although The Hunger Games is being marketed at young teens, I think that younger readers won’t get the symbolism. I am also concerned that the upcoming movie adaptation is going to be watered down for young viewers, missing out crucial parts of the book and focusing on a partly made-up love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale, who are three of the main characters. Unfortunately, there is already a huge amount of comparisons between The Hunger Games and Twilight but don’t let that scare you away from it!

And please read the books before you go see the movie because I expect the movie makers will try to cater for a young audience of teen girls. I envision a Twilight-esque ‘Team Peeta’ versus ‘Team Gale’ showdown and I emphatically do not want that to happen! It doesn’t happen in the books and it shouldn’t happen on-screen but I fear it will. Yes, there is a love story in the series but it is by no means the central plot, unlike in the Twilight series.

The Hunger Games series is subtly and beautifully written. I didn’t expect that I would like it when I first started reading it as it’s not my usual type of literature but I was amazed by how blown away I was by the series. It’s been a long time since I read anything so thought-provoking, so tender in parts and yet so brutal at the same time.

Taylor Swift/The Civil Wars

This hauntingly beautiful song is very different to anything she has sung before. It features the twice-Grammy nominated duo, The Civil Wars, who wrote the song with Swift for the upcoming movie, The Hunger Games. I don’t know anything about The Hunger Games but I like this song!

Go have a listen!

Safe & Sound by Taylor Swift ft. The Civil Wars (video linked from YouTube – no copyright infringement intended)