Friday, April 2, 2010

I for Iggulden, J for Jones, and other stubborn letters in between

My attempts at writing book reviews have been profanely disappointing and too painful to publish, but my backlog is threatening to overwhelm even my TBR pile. It's a scary image, I tell you.

My borrowed copy of Conn Iggulden's book contains the first half of his 4-part Emperor series. The Gates of Rome attempts to re-construct the childhood of Julius Caesar. Each scene is described so vividly, giving the reader a thrilling glimpse into Ancient Rome's culture and politics. I imagined Iggulden would have found it difficult to match the pace and suspense of the first book, but The Death of Kings does not disappoint. It is every bit as exciting, more so because here, Julius Caesar is thrown prematurely into the political arena and the source of conflict between Brutus and him have been introduced.

After Iggulden, I did not proceed to my letter J for the A-Z reading challenge. I took a break and I, erm, read A Tale of the Dispossessed by Laura Restrepo instead (*coughNERDcough*). It was an interesting novel but I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. I think I may have set my expectations too high, based on the incoherent reasoning that Restrepo and Gabriel Garcia Marquez were born in the same country, where possibly inspiration and talent are abundant in the local water supply.

A Tale of the Dispossessed is a bout a man, Three Sevens, who arrives at a way station looking for a certain Matilde Lina. She is his adoptive mother, from whom he had been separated during the war. Although Three Sevens never saw his real mother, he grew up with two: Matilde Lina and Sta. Maria Bailarina, the patron saint after which the town where he was found was named. These maternal figures gave Three Sevens purpose, hope, as well as reason to despair amid the uncertainties of war.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was next in line because my book club will be discussing it late this month. In the novel, the Capitol requires each of the 12 districts of Panem to choose 2 tributes to represent their area in the Hunger Games: a battle to the death. It is an annual event shown on live TV, a reminder to all of Panem that the Capitol controls everything including their fates. 14-year old Katniss is thrown into the arena with Peeta, the male tribute from her district, with whom she forms a friendship born out of gratitude, the fear of being alone and the need to survive, knowing that ultimately one of them has to die.

I think it's depravity at its worst that the Hunger Games is portrayed as a sport rather than the horror that it is; the idea of pitting boys and girls barely into their teens against each other is just so disturbing. The novel is well-written, fast-paced and intriguing. Collins builds up suspense until the very end, introduces characters who are vulnerable and remarkable at the same time, and whips up a novel with a premise so twisted yet so enthralling.

The most recent book I read is Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle. It's about witches and wizards, misformed bodies and rent spirits, insurgent tempers and the unending thirst for retribution. I enjoyed the novel and I'm sure I would have loved it 28 years ago. I think I'm getting a bit too old for these kinds of stories. The book I'm reading now, Broken for You, has a lovely character who's 75 years old. Now there's someone I may be able to relate to...

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