Tea for one (dedicated to tea)

Last week I wrote a blog post dedicated to my love of coffee, showing off some of my favourite coffee mugs. After visiting my local tea shop, Montea Cristo (I love a good pun in a shop name), I thought I should write a post dedicated to tea, as well, considering tea accompanies my reading and writing just as often as coffee.

I only have one main teapot I use, although I plan to get others. I have some photos of that tea set (do you know how hard it is to find a tea set that isn’t overly feminine?), and I also have some close up shots (not necessarily good photos, though) of some of the different teas I bought on the weekend, all with the usual explanations/rambling.

This is my awesome oriental teapot. I love the colour scheme – that mix of orange and black just caught my attention. I have no idea what it says, by the way.

The teacups that came with the teapot. They’re small and designed for green teas – the teapot can probably fill five of these cups, despite only holding about half a litre. I am yet to use all four at once, though I hope to one day. Ambitious of me, I know.

This is called Lychee Magic Green Tea, and the only thing better than the smell of it is the taste. It contains sencha green tea, lychee and apple pieces, rose petals, blue cornflowers and calendula, and tastes of both lychees and green tea in equal measure. If you love the taste of lychees (and if you’ve never tried them, you must), you will probably enjoy this.

These odd looking balls are known as Buddha’s Tears, or Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls. They are hand rolled green and white tea, with a strong jasmine aroma. Rather than measuring these out by spoonfuls, you actually measure them out by pearls – 5 for each cup of water – and they unfurl as they infuse the water (so if you happen to have a clear teapot, you can watch this happen). This tea tastes amazing, but it comes at a price – about $400 (Australian) a kilogram, so something to buy in small amounts.

This is Mountain Top Oolong tea. Don’t be fooled by its odd appearance – this is in fact my favourite kind of tea. With hand rolled dragon pearls, this tea is grown in a cold mountainous climate, and has a superbly smooth and fresh taste, making it one of the most relaxing green teas around. It is about twice the price of many other teas, but is completely worth the extra money. There are other oolong teas, but this one is my favourite out of them all. Try it for yourself and you’ll see why.

One thing I have learned about tea, since I started my little love affair with it over the last few years, is that you should not use boiling water for green and white teas, but rather water at around 80 degrees celcius (or 176 degrees fahrenheit if I just did my maths correctly (I could check this properly, but oh well)). An easy way to achieve this is to pour boiling water into the empty teapot, and leave it covered for 5 minutes before placing the tea into the water. I don’t think this is as important with black teas, though. And I’m not entirely sure with herbal teas.

Anyway, I’m off to make a cup of tea and curl up with a good book, I think.

Are you a tea drinker? What kinds of tea do you like to drink?

For the love of reading – a bit of a fun exercise

This blog post is actually a bit of a game, which I am hoping will turn into something quite fun. The idea comes from two other blogs, from Susan’s blog at mywithershins and before that from Jenny’s blog at J. Keller Ford, and is basically a bit of fun to honour the love of reading, something that I suspect a fair majority of my followers and readers share.

All you have to do is the following:

  • Grab the book closest to you. Closest as in physically, not emotionally or intellectually. So not your favourite, or the funniest or most clever, just whatever book it happens to be (there’s no judgement on whatever it happens to be, I promise).
  • Open it up to page 60.
  • Find the sixth sentence on that page.
  • Post this sentence in the comments section below this post. For a bit of fun, don’t divulge what book this sentence is from, but rather let’s see if anybody else can guess what book the quote comes from. On this note, feel free to comment on each others comments if you think you know!

If you want to keep this going by putting it up on your own blog, feel free to do so, but make sure you link back to Susan and Jenny for both starting this and spreading it in the first place.

My quote is this:

“It is a triumph of self-control to see a man whipped until the muscles of his back show white and glistening through the cuts and to give no sign of pity or anger or interest.”

This book was the closest to me simply because it was sitting on the edge of the shelf in front of other books. I will give you all a clue – it is quite a well known book, by a very well known author. I will post the answer to this in exactly a week’s time, as an update to this post – so check back on this actual post next weekend to find out how close you were, and who, if anyone, was on the right track.

Now readers, it’s your turn! Remember, just write the quote in the comments below, and don’t include the book it’s from. And feel free to guess other people’s quotes.

Have fun!

The Inspiring Blog Award (including more random mini-stories about me)

I have been inundated with beautiful people nominating me for various awards over the past month or two, and have several awards posts that I have been meaning to write for far too long, so I shall begin here with this, The Inspiring Blog Award.

I have been nominated for this by two people (I think it’s two…if I forget to mention you on any of these awards posts please feel free to remind me – I am a bit forgetful and some of the nomination comments are in different posts so I get confused). I have been nominated by Arab Writer Chick from her blog of the same name, and nymuse88 from Oh My Muse! – both these blogs are awesome, full of fascinating insights into literature, writing, poetry, music and more, so if you haven’t come across these blogs before please do check them out, as they certainly inspire me!

As usual there are some rules to this award – I have to link back to those who gave it to me, then provide seven facts about myself, before passing it on to seven people who inspire me. So, firstly, the seven facts about myself (you might want to get comfortable, I tend to ramble when writing these).

Seven quite possibly uninspiring facts about me (don’t say I didn’t warn you):

  1. Up until a few years ago, I had spent my whole life thinking I was allergic to penicillin. This supposed “fact” came under scrutiny when I was told I had Golden Staph (which was just delightful), and the doctor actually said “are you sure you’re allergic to penicillin?” After being met initially with bewildered looks, he explained that some people, when very young, have been told they are allergic to penicillin only because they took it while suffering from something else, and they had an allergic reaction – one which could have been caused by what they were suffering from, not the penicillin. Turns out I am such a case, and I am not allergic to it after all, which meant attacking the Golden Staph was made substantially easier. It also increased the types of cheese I can now eat, on a side note. Oh goodness I’m still on my first fact…
  2. I can play guitar. When I say play guitar, what I really mean is that I possess three guitars (one of which is really quite nice), and can pretend to play all of them. I haven’t played as much recently but I do intend on getting back into that soon, because it was enjoyable (even though I sucked at it).
  3. Once, when applying for a job at a much, much younger age, I remember filling out a form before an interview (there was a group of us being interviewed one by one), and on this form was a question asking if we had any special talents or hobbies. They insisted it could be absolutely anything, so I jokingly decided to test the waters, and proceeded to write “can make fart sounds by cupping my hands over my ears and eye sockets.” Goodness only knows what I was thinking, really. Anyway, about twenty minutes later I was being interviewed by a man who turned out to be the big boss of the company, and he requested that I demonstrate these abilities. He seemed quite pleasantly surprised when it became clear I was telling the truth. I got the job. (But it was rubbish so I quit after 2 weeks and half a day, but that’s another story in itself).
  4. In march I had a haircut that was rather significant. Why? Because the last haircut before that was back in October 2009. I have done this three times in my life, grown my hair long and then cut it all off, and this is the first time where I quite like it shorter. Having said this…I’ll probably still grow it long again. Might book in for 2015.
  5. I don’t have any piercings or tattoos. I know, pretty terrible for someone who is about to turn 26 in a few days. I don’t intend on getting any piercings, but I wouldn’t mind a tattoo. Only one, though, and it would have to be really good. As a friend once said “a tattoo either has to mean everything to the person getting it, or it has to mean absolutely nothing at all.” Anyway, if I never get one I won’t be too upset, but we’ll see what happens.
  6. Although I clearly enjoy English and History as subjects a lot more (evidenced both by my love of literature and history books, and also the fact I teach both these subjects), in high school Mathematics was my strongest subject, and gave me my highest marks. I have taught a bit of this too, and it weirds the students out that I can teach this subject as well – I think in their minds it’s breaking some fundamental law that binds the universe together, by being able to enjoy and manipulate both words and numbers.
  7. When I was younger, and my family had first moved to Australia, we lived in the west of Sydney, about an hour from the city centre and also from the coastline (we now live an hour north of Sydney, on the coast, which is much nicer). Anyway, we used to holiday every year for several years to this little place near the sea called Kiama. We’d listen to the Beach Boys in the car trip every time (and so that is my childhood memory of going to the beach or on holiday – singing Wouldn’t It Be Nice out loud. One day, my family is going to have to listen to Jack Johnson when going to the beach, as I have already decided this has to happen). Anyway, every year without fail it would rain. The whole time. The last year we went, we decided this would be it, our final family visit to Kiama. And the sun finally came out that time, and it was a lovely holiday. We decided not to tempt fate, and to just leave it at that point.

Seven Inspiring Blogs you should visit:

The Tiger’s Eye – An awesome blogger who writes about books, quotes and more. She also should win the coolest header image award, if such a thing existed.

Japan in 365 days – One of my favourite photography blogs, which as the title suggests, is based in Japan. Definitely worth a visit – this one is on my list of blogs I try and check daily.

Isle of Books – Another fantastic book blogger, who also blogs about poetry and other things. Intelligent and insightful, this one is deserving of your time!

So So Poems – One of the coolest ideas ever: writing poems on coffee cups, and then taking a photo of said coffee cup, and placing it up on a blog (with the poem typed up). You know you want to see this. The poetry is really quite good, too.

Books Speak Volumes – An awesome book blogger with remarkably similar taste in books to me, she is also a great reviewer. She has pretty good taste in music, too!

Book Club Babe – A passionate book blogger who has many insightful thoughts on books, and who isn’t afraid to voice her opinions when necessary.

Bigbadwolf31  – A blogger who I have just realised I have more in common with than I first knew – she too was born in Britain and moved to Australia at a very young age. Her blog is just hilarious and makes me laugh every time, no matter what the topic – if you ever need a pick me up, this is the place to go (she managed to make depression funny and uplifting…need I say more?).

Of course there are many more blogs out there I find inspiring, including both those I have nominated for awards before (I tried to focus on blogs I am yet to nominate for an award for this one), and even those I am still yet to nominate for an award. The blogosphere is an incredibly inspiring and motivating place, and I have all of you, my awesome readers and fellow bloggers, to thank for this!

Until next time….oh dear I just saw my word count. Next time, I’ll attempt to be brief. Honest.

Mugshots (dedicated to coffee)

When I say “close friends”, I am not referring to actual people, but am in fact talking about mugs. Why? Because let’s face it, if you’re going to be a writer, you probably need to take up coffee drinking at some point (or at the very least, tea drinking), and even if you don’t write but enjoy reading, you’ll probably know nothing beats the feeling of sitting down with a good book and a cuppa.

However, the purpose of this post isn’t to discuss any deep and profound philosophies of drinking coffee, but rather to show you some photos of some of my favourite mugs from which I drink this life-saving liquid. It has occurred to me recently that I collect mugs (it takes me a while to realise I’ve started collecting something else, as I tend to collect collections of things), and this revelation was mostly caused due to a distinct lack of space in my kitchen cupboards. At any rate, I won’t show you all of them, but just a few of my favourites (and I’ll explain along the way why I like them so much).

Enjoy! And maybe make a cuppa for yourself while you’re at it…

A mug of George Orwell’s classic Nineteen Eighty-Four. Readers who have followed my blog since the early days (i.e. January, February), will remember I also have a similar one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

On the left, a mug of The Beatles, with the pattern from the album A Hard Day’s Night. On the right, a mug of Led Zeppelin, featuring the cover of their first, self-titled album (the back of the album cover is on the other side of the mug), along with the four symbols along the bottom that featured on later albums. Both of these bands share the prestigious position of being my favourite band.

On the left: “Keep Calm And Have A Cuppa”. On the right: “No coffee, no workee!” Two good philosophies to live by, I think. Yes I have used the mug on the right at work before, just for a bit of fun.

On the left: “D’oh for it” with a picture on the back of Homer running. On the right: “I couldn’t agree more with whatever you said!” also with a picture of Homer. What can I say – I like The Simpsons. Always have, too.

Yes, this is a mug shaped to have bits of liquorice allsorts decorating the outside and sticking out. This photo doesn’t show it, but this mug is actually enormous, so I tend to use it for hot chocolate mostly.

To finish off this post, some coffee quotes I like:

“The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

“As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move…similes arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle.” – Honore de Balzac (1799-1859)

“Coffee makes us severe, and grave, and philosophical.” – Jonathan Swift

“Sleep is a symptom of caffeine deprivation.” – Author Unknown

“Deja Brew: The feeling that you’ve had this coffee before.” – Author Unknown

“Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat.” – Alex Levine

Are you a coffee or a tea drinker? Do you depend on it for reading/writing, or is it just a nice way to relax?

In the beginning…(of a story)

After writing a blog last week on what makes a good ending to a story, and then following that up with another post on being frustrated with the middles of some books, I thought I might as well round it off by writing about the beginnings of stories.

We all have been told the same thing over and over through school (and for some people, university) about how to write the beginning of a story – it has to be catchy, something that hooks the reader and reels them in straight away. In the history of literature this is still a relatively new approach, but it definitely is important, although, to be honest, it is also a little obvious.

It was one of my favourite university lecturers and tutors who told me about Russian physician and writer Anton Chekhov’s approach to writing the start of a story, and it is this approach which has always stuck with me. Essentially, Chekhov believed that when you finish writing the first draft, whether it be a short story, novel, or anything in between, you should take the first third of the story, quite literally tear it from the rest (or delete it), and write that third again. Why? Because he believed that even with the most detailed planning, you don’t really feel the story, get into the mood, atmosphere and style, until you are a third of the way into the writing, by which point these aspects are firmly established and remain appropriate and fitting for the rest of the story. So by going back afterwards and rewriting the first third, it should help the story to flow better.

Of course, this may seem a little extreme, and I am not advising to adhere to this rule precisely nor am I confessing I myself work accordingly. But I do agree with the general gist of what Chekhov was trying to say – even the stories I have planned, I have found only really take shape once I am a considerable way into the story. For me personally, I tend to rewrite the whole story once the first draft is finished, but I know this is extreme and I am just very strange. But it is definitely worth at least considering Chekhov’s point of view, especially when you next edit or rewrite a story.

What do you think? Do you agree with Chekhov’s approach to writing and editing the beginning of a story, or do you think it’s too extreme? How do you write/rewrite the beginning of your stories?

This Day In Music: A must-have book for music enthusiasts

As you might have noticed by now, I am a bit of a music enthusiast. I love music, and own far more albums than I do books (a fact which shocks some people), but I also love knowing about the musicians and albums, and I love music trivia.

If this sounds like you, you’ll probably get a kick out of the book This Day In Music: An Everyday Record of 10,000 Musical Facts by Neil Cossar. The book is divided into a page a day, and on each page are listed all the musicians who were born on that day, and all the interesting events and facts that occurred on that day as well, all accompanied with photographs, newspaper clippings, and other various visual material.

It is true that there is also a website for This Day In Musicfrom which the book was first born. In fact, you can now follow this on Twitter, Facebook, and of course there’s even mobile apps for it for people who feel a particular need to look something up while on the go. But personally I love flicking through the book, which I feel is presented in a nicer and warmer manner, and which I have noticed contains slightly different facts to those on the website – they seem to have taken some out and put new ones in – so you’re not getting the exact same information anyway (though for all I know they may have reprinted the book with different facts). The only drawback to the book is that the facts stop around 2005, when it was printed, but it is still fascinating all the same.

For a bit of fun, here are some facts from today, May 6 (it’s May 6 when I write this, not when it’s scheduled to publish…but then it’s always tomorrow here in Australia):

Born on this day: 

1945 – Bob Seger, US singer, songwriter

1967 – Mark Bryan, guitar, Hootie & The Blowfish

1971 – Chris Shiflett, guitar, Foo Fighters

On this day:

1973, Paul Simon set out on his first tour without partner Art Garfunkel, using The Jesse Dixon Singers as a back- up group on stage. Simon’s tour of America and Europe was recorded and released as ‘Live Rhymin’.

1977, The Boomtown Rats played their first gig in England when they appeared at Studio 51, London.

1995, Oasis scored their first UK No.1 single when ‘Some Might Say’ went to the top of the UK charts.

Of course, this is just a tiny portion of the facts for each day both in the book and on the website, so if you want more, buy the book or check the website, or even better – do both!

Are you a music trivia lover like me? If so, what’s your favourite piece of music trivia?

Middle-of-the-book-itis: a reader’s conundrum

What is middle-of-the-book-itis, you ask? Have you ever read a book, been completely blown away by the start of the book, and so intrigued by the general premise that you absolutely have to finish the book and find out how it all ends, except there’s one slight setback – you’re in the middle of the book, and it kind of sucks? If so, you’ve suffered from middle-of-the-book-itis, a symptom of books with brilliant beginnings and endings but middle parts that just kind of drag on.

It’s happened to me a number of times, and it’s really irritating. If the beginning of a book is bad, you tend not to keep reading (well, I don’t, but I’m not as patient as some, I will admit, and I have always thought if a writer can’t be bothered to make the opening of their book good, why should I bother to read the rest of it? But I digress…as usual). If the ending of a book is rubbish, it might be disappointing, but it might just highlight that the rest of the book was good, and you unfortunately raised your expectations as a result. But if the middle of the book is boring, but the beginning was good, you’re left with that uneasy decision to make: force yourself onwards, hoping against hope that the ending will be worth it, or throw in the towel, to be haunted forever more by the limitless possibilities contained within those unread pages.

One such novel which comes to mind that caused me to suffer from this condition was Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. This four hundred page book follows the lives of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, who fall in love in their youth, but who are forced to separate by Fermina’s father. Florentino heads off on his own adventures and waits over fifty years for Fermina’s husband, the doctor Juvenal Urbino, to pass away, upon which he returns and declares his love for Fermina in a seemingly futile attempt to win her back in their old age. This theme of the different kinds of love threads through the whole novel, but while the beginning is fascinating, and the last quarter of the book is a fantastic conclusion, the middle two hundred odd pages of the story seems almost unnecessary and tedious. The saving grace in the case of this book is that the writing is so utterly beautiful, you tend to forgive other flaws in the novel.

Have you ever suffered from middle-of-the-book-itis? What books did you find have this problem?

Researching Fourteenth Century England with Ian Mortimer

I have always been fascinated with medieval English history, ever since I was a young boy. However, during my Australian education in both school and university I rarely had the chance to study the history of my country of birth, which as an adult has only served to heighten my interest in the subject area.

A couple of years ago I decided, for my second NaNoWriMo, to write a novel set in fourteenth century England, roughly based around the ascension of Edward III to the throne, the beginning of the Hundred Years War, and the path of destruction left by the Great Plague in 1348, while trying to include subplots that would reveal the lives and lifestyles of a range of different people across English society from the same time period.

It sucked. My novel, I mean. Apart from the fact that I scrambled to write it in under a month and it was probably a quarter of the length it needed to be (as my idea behind it was quite ambitious), the main problem that held me back was a distinct lack of research. Since writing this initial draft, I have been trying to squeeze in research into this period of history when I have spare time, and one author in particular has been very useful – Ian Mortimer, a historian with an expertise in this very century of British history. So I thought I’d share some of his amazing books I have been consulting lately.

The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England 

I’ll be honest – I saw the title of this book, and knew I had to buy it then and there. The detail in this book is incredible, as Mortimer explores every aspect of life in the fourteenth century, such as the sights, sounds, smells, the food, the clothes, the law, hygiene and disease, the landscape and means of travelling, the beliefs and values, even what to do for entertainment. The book is broad in focus, examining people from all walks of life, from the royals and noblemen, to the peasants, and everyone in between, and the descriptions are so vivid you can easily conjure the imagery contained within. This is what really grabbed me about this book – even though it is a history book, it is written so well it could be enjoyed by even the least history-inclined readers! A must-read, and perhaps the most useful out of all the books I own when it comes to my research.

The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Father of the English Nation

Just as The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England is the definitive work on the general history of fourteenth century England, this book is the definitive work on Edward III, without a doubt. This incredible biography tracks his life, from a young boy forced to grow up too fast, to the young man who ascended to the throne after overthrowing the temporary rule of Roger Mortimer (who supposedly murdered Edward II), to the confident young King who taxed his people more than any ever king and started a war that would last for over a century. Despite all of this, Edward III united England in a way the country had never seen, and is now considered to be one of the most brilliant and influential monarchs of all time. This biography not only explains the historical aspects of his kingship, but also attempts to understand who he was as a person, as a son, husband, father and friend. The problem with a biography this detailed, for me, is to try and figure out how to use so much information and slim it down to fit inside the rest of my novel. But it is an incredible read, entertaining and enlightening.

The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327 – 1330

Roger Mortimer is a fascinating character (and quite possibly a long lost relation of the author of these books…but I digress). After escaping the Tower of London in 1323, he sailed to France, where he eventually was joined by Isabella, the Queen of England, wife of Edward II, and mother of Edward III. They returned later with an invading army, and very quickly the first deposition of a British monarch had taken place, with Mortimer taking power (although Edward III officially was King, he held no real power initially). According to many historians, Mortimer then murdered Edward II in a most brutal manner – by placing a burning hot poker in a place best not to mention (especially if you are eating as you read this). This biography explores the full evil genius of this man, including his appeal to the likes of the Queen, while at the same time exposing just why he was so terrifying to his enemies, and ultimately how he lost his power. Again, the detail in this book is simply astounding, and the writing so good you’d almost think it were a novel.

Do any of these books sound like the sort of thing you would like to read?

Do you own any history books like this that hone in on a very small but significant part of history? Do you prefer these kind of history books or do you prefer those broader in scope?

What do you think makes a good ending?

This is a question that has been floating around my head for quite some time now, so I thought I’d explain what I mean before I open the topic up to all of you, my lovely and consistently insightful readers.

In a lot of ways the ending of a story is almost as important as the start of a story. Anyone who has ever done any kind of creative writing class, or let’s face it, anyone who went to school and had a half decent English teacher, will have heard on many the occasion the importance of having a strong opening line, page, chapter, scene, whatever – something to hook the reader and reel them in. And while the beginning of a story is important to attract your attention initially, the ending is the part that will often stay with you long after you have finished. If the ending is disappointing, it can almost certainly ruin a book, but if the ending is powerful and poignant, it can leave you feeling humbled and inspired, even in cases where the rest of the story was mediocre.

Before I say what I think makes a good ending, I’d like to consider what I think makes a bad one, and I suspect much of this won’t come as a surprise. Firstly, I’m not the biggest fan of a happy ending. I like endings that have some happiness, an ending that perhaps leaves you with hope, or makes you laugh even, but I really don’t like that fairytale “and they lived happily ever after” ending on anything other than fairytales and Disney movies – it works great for children’s literature, but too many times I have read a work of adult fiction and found a very forced, happy ending that doesn’t fit in with the tone of the book. And that’s something else I don’t like in an ending – when you can tell it’s forced, or when it’s obvious the writer suddenly needed to meet a deadline and quickly tied up all the loose ends of the story in this half-arsed manner, which just comes across as lazy, and hardly leaves me wanting to read more of their work. Lastly, I am always disappointed when the ending is predictable. I’m not saying I want the ending to completely bowl me over in surprise, but I shouldn’t be able to guess every little detail of it several hundred pages prior, either.

So what do I like in an ending? I like an ending that flows naturally from the story, and that comes to a proper end, one that is realistic and conceivable within its own context and genre. I like an ending that is just lightly surprising, just enough to make you think “oh, that’s clever!” I like an ending that is thought provoking – in fact, I dare say this is one of the most important aspects for me, because I want to come away from a book thinking about and reflecting upon it, and not just thinking “well, another one bites the dust.” And as odd as this might sound, and this is entirely a personal feeling – I prefer a melancholy ending. Not deeply depressing, not “everyone has died, and the community/kingdom/duranduranfanclub* will never recover” type of ending somewhat akin to a Shakespearean tragedy, but something melancholy and sad in atmosphere and tone, something that stays with you and gnaws away gently at your thoughts for a day or two.

What do you think makes a good ending of a story, whether it be a short story, novel, play, or even a film? 

Do you prefer happy or sad endings, and if so, do you have a particular reason why?


*No offense to any Duran Duran fans out there. Hungry Like The Wolf was a good song.

Not another blog post about Catching Fire and Mockingjay (The Inevitable Blog Post, part two)…

A month ago, I wrote a blog about the first book in The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Now, at long last, I have finished the second and third books in that series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, and have decided to blog about them simultaneously.

I did enjoy the first book, but found the plot almost relentless, with everything happening so fast that as a reader you barely had time to digest what had happened before something else would occur. But that novel did a good job of setting the scene and atmosphere for the next two books, and possibly made it easier to confront the horrors that await the characters in these later parts of the trilogy.

The simple truth is, both CF (Catching Fire) and MJ (Mockingjay) are, in my opinion, considerably better than HG (The Hunger Games…I probably don’t need to be explaining these abbreviations, but oh well). In CF, the pace of the story slows down, allowing time for development of both the characters themselves and also the relationships between the characters, particularly the relationships between Katniss and Peeta and Katniss and Gale. At the same time, the brutality of the governing powers is ramped up almost immediately, with some deaths actually causing my eyes to widen in shock (I very rarely react to the point of showing it on my face to a book). But despite what might seem like shock value, I found the themes of political tyranny, abuse of power and repression of basic living standards were actually given their due attention in this book, in a way which fits the young adult genre quite convincingly.

Many people have attacked CF for being slower at the start, but I think I preferred this part in a lot of ways, because once they got into the arena again at the end of the book, it was starting to feel a little repetitive. If I was to name a key flaw for CF, it would have to be the predictability of the plot. Without spoiling anything for those yet to read it, I found the events of the final few chapters I had guessed almost exactly at about the halfway point in the book. Despite this, though, I was rather impressed by how my predictions about the plot came to fruition, and it was this that led to the stunning cliffhanger this book ends on.

Just as CF was an improvement upon HG, MJ was that much of an improvement upon CF. The final book in the series is by far the most shocking and horrific, but also the most realistic. The true colours of all the characters are revealed in this book; as we start to sympathise with characters like Haymitch, respect for other characters (I won’t mention who) quickly disappears. Many characters’ lives are not spared during the violent revolution that takes place across Panem, which, as sadistic of me as this might sound, I liked – it would have hardly been believable if all the most loved characters magically survived (I also won some cookies from a bet with a friend over who in particular died – aren’t I lovely?).

The themes of political and social revolution, alongside warfare, are examined thoroughly throughout this book, as Katniss and several other characters constantly question whether what they are doing is right, and who the enemy really is in all of this when so many lives are lost amongst both the governing powers and the rebels. Again, I have read books that drive deeper into such philosophies, but I think this is more than thought-provoking enough for a young adult book – enough to stir their imaginations without smothering them.

Lastly, the ending. Did I like it? Yes, yes I did. Many people have complained about the ending of this series, and I don’t really know why. I don’t really think Katniss becomes any more or less admirable – she is a convincing portrayal of a teenager who has gone through the atrocities she goes through in these books, and we see her change from an awkward, emotionally closed off adolescent to a traumatised young adult who will never really recover from her experiences. And though the ending isn’t all doom and gloom, it isn’t super-happy either, and so it shouldn’t be – this is a dystopian story after all, and if anything the story is supposed to serve as a warning, so ending with “and they lived happily ever after” doesn’t quite seem fitting. I think this ending is the only logical and realistic way it could end, and if people want a fairytale ending, well, they’re reading the wrong books.

At the end of the day, I have to confess that this series is well worth the hype, and is a rollicking good read. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a try, because chances are you’ll like it more than you think. I would give the series a 4 out of 5, as a whole!

Have you read this series yet? Did you enjoy it?

If you have read it, do you think the ending of the final book was a worthy ending, or were you disappointed?