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Thoughts On: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Minor spoilers ahead.


 

I know this one’s been out for a while, and my copy is extremely well-worn from the number of times I’ve read it, but I chose The Hunger Games for my H review because I figured it’d be easy to write about.



Title: The Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins

Published: 2011

Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Action & Adventure

Buy from: Amazon


Blurb: Set in a dark vision of the near future, a terrifying reality TV show is taking place. Twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live event called The Hunger Games. There is only one rule: kill or be killed. When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her younger sister’s place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.


Thoughts On: 

Premise: ****

If I’d come across this book on my own, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up, but the title was intriguing and the premise sounded a lot different from the other YA novels I’d seen at the time, so this was an easy 4 stars.

Storytelling: *****

I loved that The Hunger Games is told from Katniss’ POV and that it’s in the present tense. Personally, it makes the whole thing more interesting because you get to experience everything as Katniss does, and go through everything with her, which I don’t think would’ve happened if the perspective had been different or the tense.

Characters: ****

I think it was Katniss’ sass which made me like her so much. She doesn’t sugar-coat things, or pretend her situation is any different from what it is.

Peeta didn’t really interest me until the Games got underway and Katniss learned what he’d been up to since the beginning, and I really felt sorry for him when he finds out that Katniss only thought he was working an angle to get supporters.

Plot: ****

Right from the first page I was invested in Katniss’ story, though my favourite moment is when Katniss and Peeta are about to take the berries. It happens just after the Mutts attack and Katniss had run away before remembering she needed to help Peeta, so although her motives might have been a tiny bit selfish here (because if she let him die nobody in District 12 would talk to her again) it was a redeeming moment, because she stood up to the Capitol and defied them in the middle of their carefully constructed Games.

Ending: ***

A bit of a cliff-hanger because Katniss has just told Peeta that she’d been pretending to be in love with him, and he’s already starting to pull away.

Recommend: Yes


All opinions on this blog are mine.

I have not been paid to review these books.

 

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Thoughts On: Girl In The Box (book 1)

Minor spoilers ahead.


It’s been a while since I’ve read this book, but the only other choices for my G review were Gone Girl and Girl On The Train and the thought of writing reviews on them didn’t really fill me with excitement.

And Girl In The Box almost read like a movie, so it didn’t take much to get me rereading it again.



Title: Alone

Author: Robert J. Crane

Published: 2013

Genres: Teen & Young Adult, Urban, Superhero

Buy from: Amazon


Blurb: Sienna Nealon was a 17 year-old girl who had been held prisoner in her own house by her mother for twelve years. Then one day her mother vanished, and Sienna woke up to find two strange men in her home. On the run, unsure of who to turn to and discovering she possesses mysterious powers, Sienna finds herself pursued by a shadowy agency known as the Directorate and hunted by a vicious, bloodthirsty psychopath named Wolfe, each of which is determined to capture her for their own purposes…


Thoughts On: 

Premise: ***

Intrigued me enough to make me want to pick the book up. And definitely interesting enough to keep me reading all the way through.

Storytelling: ***

Easy enough to follow. And it makes the action scenes more interesting because you’re reading them from Sienna’s POV.

Though if the whole thing didn’t have X-Men vibes, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with it the same.

Characters: ***

I’m a bit undecided on Sienna. On the one hand, she doesn’t play up the damsel-in-distress role like you’d expect of someone who’s been shut in their house for years; she’s been trained in martial arts by her mum and when two strangers break into her house, she fights them without waiting to see what they’re after.

Then there’s her lack of concern about being shut in the house for so long, and a lot of people mentioned this on Goodreads reviews: why was she so normal after being locked away from 12 years?

But on the other hand, there were occasions I felt sorry for her despite her arrogance and superiority. Her isolation when she’s with the other meta-humans and her struggle to understand everything that was going on really highlighted that she was only a teenager, and not cut out to deal with it all.

Wolfe, the story’s antagonist, was creepy and sometimes frightening, so Crane pulled that off really well. But my problem with Sienna’s enemy is that by the end of the book, there’s still no reason given for why he has it in for her.

Plot: ***

Lacking, because there wasn’t really much else going on outside Sienna and Wolfe’s fighting.

But the whole meta-human thing was interesting to read about, and if there had been more of that, I definitely would have given the plot a higher rating.

Ending: ***

A bit too abrupt.

Recommend: If you like X-Men and books with loads of fight scenes.


All opinions on this blog are mine.

I have not been paid to review these books.

 

Thoughts On: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Minor spoilers ahead.


I’ve read Fangirl a few times since I first got it, but it’s one of those books you can’t tire of reading so I picked it for my F review. Although that being said, I only had two other books to choose from, so there wasn’t much competition.



Title: Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Published: 2013

Genres: YA, Contemporary, Love & Romance

Buy from: Amazon


Blurb: Cath and Wren are identical twins and until recently they did everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more– she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She would rather bury herself in the fanfiction she writes where there’s romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realising that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible.


Thoughts On:

Premise: ****

I’m going to be honest and admit that the only reason I picked this book up was because the main character wrote fanfiction. But somehow, Rainbow Rowell really manages to make that work. The fanfiction and Cath’s obsession with it isn’t the main feature, although it does play a big part in the story, and the two character Cath writes about, Simon and Baz (who are basically just Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy), have proven so popular they now have their own story.

Storytelling: ****

The main story is broken up by chapters from Cath’s fanfiction and chapters from the Simon Snow books, and although they kept reminding me of Harry Potter, they added to the world-building and sometimes I found myself getting drawn into Simon’s story just as much as Cath’s.

Characters: ***

Only 3 stars because Wren annoyed me at times. But Cath was relatable and Levi was funny and Reagan was a good friend when Cath needed one.

Plot: ****

The book starts with Cath moving into her new dorm at university, and follows her through her first year. It wasn’t rushed and it didn’t meander, and the character’s backstories were added in when you needed to know, so this is another part I can’t fault.

Even the part with Cath and Wren’s mum fit in, because it heightened the tension and gave you another reason to keep turning the pages.

Ending: ****

Recommend: Yes


 

All opinions on this blog are mine.

I have not been paid to review these books.

 

Indie Interview: Robert Ongley

This week’s Indie Interview is with Robert Ongley, the author of From The Beginning, Lost Treasure of Santa Clarita, and Boundless Trust, which he’s here to talk some more about today.

Image result for boundless trust robert ongley

Hi, Robert. Welcome to Read A Lot.

Q: Had you always planned on becoming a published author?

When I learned to read and write, I immediately had the goal. Thus, I wrote my first story at the age of six.

Q: Can you tell us what inspired you to write Boundless Trust?

Contemplation about life. There was so much uncertainty about my future and I was thinking about Deepak Chopra’s writings on the wisdom of uncertainty. Using the concept of allowing uncertainty to become an essential ingredient of my experience, I conceived the premise of the story. That is, if we trust the universal divine intelligence to guide us in every decision, our lives would have a very different look. We would be open to less anxiety and great adventure.

Q: What made you choose this genre?

I sincerely hope to inspire others with my writing. We have opportunities every day to expand our awareness, to widen our perspective and to grow beyond our supposed limitations. If I can have even a small part in effecting these kinds of changes in others’ lives as well as my own, then I will feel as though I have done something toward fulfilling my purpose.

Q: What is the book about?

Boundless Trust is a story of spiritual awakening, self-realisation at different levels for various characters. Wesley Johnson is a successful lawyer who, for all his amassed wealth and upward mobility, feels lost. He hears a lecture about living in the moment with the Creator and starts tuning in to the inner voice that’s waiting to be heard in all of us. He starts a journey unlike any he has ever known.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Farley is dissatisfied with her career path and life in general. She goes into business for herself and hits the arts and crafts circuit as a weaver. She doesn’t know Johnson, but their lives begin moving on parallel tracks. Unfortunately, the law firm where Johnson has been employed wants him back for reasons that threaten the existence of the firm. They will force his return or else.

A story filled with wonder, synchronicity, adventure and humour, Boundless Trust opens the readers to new possibilities for their own lives.

Q: Did you have a schedule while writing this book, or did you write it without any time restrictions?

When I was writing the bulk of the first draft, I was writing approximately one hour per day, usually in the late morning when I had taken care of other basic daily obligations. I wrote six or seven days per week and tried to keep writing at a designated time of the day or at least in a sequence with other daily activities. It makes it more difficult to keep a solid routine going if there is too much flexibility as to when I write.

Q: Can you choose a favourite character from your book?

Perhaps my favourite is Jud, an old weathered drifter. In one brief conversation at the beginning of our main character’s journey, he conveys his philosophy on living life in the moment. His free spirit and lighthearted style bring a new perspective to Wesley.

Q: Was there ever a point while you were writing when you wanted to give up?

No. I don’t think that’s in my DNA. As a young writer, I sometimes wrote myself into a corner. I wouldn’t know where to go to resolve the twists and turns of the plot, but I usually managed to work my way through it, although poorly at times.

Writing should be fun. At worst, it should be akin to working on a jigsaw puzzle.

Q: What is the worst part of the writing process for you?

Moving the story from one outline point to the next. It often works out smoothly, but sometimes there’s a gap and bridging it proves to be challenging. You need that idea that advances the plot gracefully.

Q: How much of your stories do you plan, or do you make them up as you go along?

Well, I’m definitely an outline guy. I think I would have the problem of writing myself into a corner more often if I just made up the story as I went along.

Working out the general turning points ahead of time seems vital to me, but I do leave many details to the creative process. In that way, the natural development of the story and the characters can take place. It feels magical at times and I’d sure hate to plan the spontaneity out of the piece.

Q: Do you have a favourite piece of writing advice?

Just one that probably every writer has heard—write. Write every day if you can. A person may have talent, but it takes many hours of practice to develop a voice and to sharpen the craft.

Q: Where can people learn more about your books?

My website is the best place. That’s robertongley.com. There are reviews on Amazon.com and Goodreads.com. They can read a bit more on the website for the publisher of Boundless Trust, Black Rose Writing. Of course, that website is blackrosewriting.com.

A video of some Boundless Trust interview excerpts can be seen on YouTube by searching Boundless Trust.

Q: What have you learned since you started writing?

I’ve learned how to construct sentences and paragraphs well. I’ve learned how to flesh out stories and characters in an interesting way. I’ve learned how to interchange plot and subplots in my storytelling to keep the reader wanting more. I have conquered the art of dialogue to make it natural and compelling. I have realised my voice is but a drop in the sea. But, hey, the sea wouldn’t be what it is without every drop.

Q: What’s next for you?

I have a short story collection ready for pitching to publishers, so that needs to get done and I’m also actively working on a new novel with a sombre theme. It involves a young woman who has a debilitating stroke and nearly dies. It’s a story about battling the odds, of friendship, love and advocating for the underdog against corporate and institutional bureaucracy.

Thoughts On: Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

Minor spoilers ahead.


The only book I own beginning with the letter E, is this one. Well, there’s Eclipse from the Twilight saga but I’m not subjecting myself to that again.



Title: Everything Everything

Author: Nicola Yoon

Published: 2015

Genres: Young Adult, Love & Romance, Contemporary

Buy from: Amazon


Blurb: Maddy is allergic to the world. She hasn’t left her house in seventeen years.

Olly is the boy next door. He’s determined to find a way to reach her.

Everything, everything is about the crazy risks we take for love.


Thoughts On:

Premise: ***

Intriguing. How will Maddy get to know Olly if she can’t go outside? Can they overcome that obstacle?

Storytelling: ***

Told from Maddy’s POV, but doesn’t stick to a typical book structure. Some chapters are short, some are long, some are in parts.

This format worked for me because it keeps things light, and you don’t get bogged down in the technical details of Maddy’s condition. She knows it’s limiting, but she’s still able to make jokes about it and doesn’t spend the whole book feeling sorry for herself.

Characters: ***

Maddy loves books, so that alone was enough to make me like her. She starts out as being content with living through them, but then meets Olly and starts wanting to go outside and live, and I liked that she actually tried to do something about that instead of sitting around wishing for something to change.

Olly was funny, but I didn’t really care about him until he starts talking to Maddy and you get the impression that there’s something more going on with his family life than he wants people to know. Then I felt sorry for him, and wanted both him and Maddy to get their happy endings.

Plot: ***

Moves along at a decent pace. Things start getting interesting around the halfway point, and I definitely wasn’t expecting the story to go the way it did.

Ending: ****

Cute.

Recommend: If you want to read a YA novel which isn’t full of teen angst.


The opinions expressed in this review are mine and mine only. I have not been paid for this review.

 

 

Indie Interview: John Hazen

Today’s Indie author is John Hazen, who’s published four books dealing with four very different subjects. He stopped by to talk about his inspiration and what made tackle such difficult topics.

Hi, John. Welcome to Read A Lot.

Thank you for having me, Rebecca. It’s a pleasure to be with you today.

Q: Had you always planned on becoming a published author?

Let’s just say that I always wanted to be a published author; the planning and effort part is another story. Who knew writing a novel, getting it published and then marketing and promoting it would be so difficult? It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I actually committed myself to writing a novel when I got my first laptop and decided to devote my train commute to writing. Since then it’s been no looking back.

I spent the requisite years looking for an agent and/or publisher until I decided to self-publish my first book, Dear Dad. After that I was able to hook onto an small independent publisher out of Texas called Black Rose Writing who published my subsequent three books: Fava, Journey of an American Son and Aceldama.

Fava by [Hazen, John]

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your novel Fava and its inspiration?

It’s a suspense thriller about Francine Vega, a TV news reporter in New York City, who learns that Alan Westbrook, the winner of a lottery jackpot, is devoting his fortune to avenge his brother’s killing on 9/11. Backed by a ruthless and powerful Army Colonel gone rogue, religious extremists and co-conspirators in the highest levels of government, Westbrook concocts a plan to extract revenge that could shake the very pillars of Islam. Francine (Fava) teams with FBI Special Agent Will Allen in a desperate race across three continents to stop a plot that could result in the eruption of World War III.

I wrote this book for a couple reasons. First, I have always been a big fan of a free press. This book is a tribute to solid journalism, where a single reporter can make a difference in the face of  incredible obstacles and impediments put in her way. I also wrote this book as a sort of cautionary tale, taking some of today’s incendiary rhetoric to a logical but unthinkable conclusion. Hopefully I can impart a useful message to my readers and get them to think about where we could potentially be heading.  

Q: What made you choose this genre?

My books all tend to be in the suspense/thriller genre. It just seems natural for me. I’ve tried doing some more humorous writing but the end result definitely was not funny. As the old saying goes: Dying is easy, comedy is hard.

I feel a need to impart messages on important issues in my writing. Don’t get me wrong. I want my books to be an entertaining experience that touches on a variety of emotions but I also want the words I jot down to make people think.

Q: Journey of American Son sounds a bit different from Fava. What inspired you to write a story which doesn’t shy away from the big issues of the time.

Journey of an American Son is a historical suspense novel. Set in 1920, it is about Benjamin Albert who, while on a business trip to Calcutta, is framed for a murder he did not commit and is thrown into prison. When his own government turns its back on him, his wife, Catherine, takes matters into her own hands and travels half way around the world to battle a ruthless and unscrupulous corporation abetted by a corrupt colonial government to free the man she loves.

The original inspiration for this book, or at least its setting, comes from a diary my grandfather kept on a business trip he made in 1920 going from Boston to Calcutta. As you can imagine, a trip of this type in this era was arduous and long, involving steamers, trains, buggies, and even rickshaws. Much of the diary is dry, but there are also some gems in there.

Once I had the setting, I overlaid a plot line that examines a host of important issues that are still relevant today, among them discrimination and prejudice, justice, immigration, women’s rights, the role of corporations in our life. I then incorporated a bunch of stories from both my family and my wife’s family to give the story a sense of realism.

Q: Dear Dad is another of your novels that doesn’t shy away from the big stuff, and is set in the Vietnam War as well as the Civil War. What made you decide to set it during two such important moments in history?

Dear Dad is about a young man, John Foster, who, after being plucked from the secure cocoon of small town life in 1969, has his very soul nearly destroyed by the horrors of the Vietnam War. He can revive a sense of purpose in his life only after he makes a journey to 1862 Tennessee where he joins General Grant’s troops leading up to the Battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. John ultimately finds redemption through the unwavering love of his wife and father and by setting out to right a brutal wrong.

I’ve always been a history buff, with special fascination for both the Civil War and World War II. I knew that at some time I’d eventually write books about one or both of those eras, but I wanted those books to be different from the rest and I had to come up with unique storylines.

Some years ago I remember watching a documentary about the Vietnam War and the protests and it got me to thinking about the differences between that conflict and our more “popular” wars. I was wondering if there was a way to capture those profound differences in a book without it being a dry history. I settled on a time travel book and Dear Dad was born.

Even though I grew up in the Vietnam era and vividly remember the televised images, I really did not know a lot of details about that war. While it was somewhat personally embarrassing to come to that realisation, it also set me on a path to research and learn, which is not a bad thing for any of us.

                                                                                                                                                                In writing Dear Dad, I was afraid that I wouldn’t satisfactorily capture both eras in a historically accurate and respectful manner. I was especially anxious about my depiction of the Vietnam era since there are so many people still alive who lived through that time. I was therefore very gratified when one of the reviews I received on the book read As a Vietnam Veteran, I particularly related to this story. 

Aceldama by [Hazen, John]

Q: Aceldama, on the other hand, is a bit different from your other novels. Where did you get the inspiration for writing in this genre?

Aceldama is a paranormal thriller about a woman’s race to free her husband of an affliction that is slowly sapping his life away. As clues fall into place, Anna Harrington, begins to believe that an ancient curse is killing her husband, Tim. Anna’s quest to uncover the truth—a truth that goes back two millennia—pits her against formidable foes:  logic, history and even the Catholic Church.  As Anna follows her instincts and her heart to find the answers in time, she risks unwittingly unleashing an awesome, terrible power from which the world will never recover.

This was actually the first book I wrote, but the last I’ve published. There were certain parts about it that didn’t hang together as much as I would have liked. It was a case of putting this book away for a period of time and then returning and looking at it anew with fresh eyes.

I can’t say there was a special inspiration that drove me to write this novel. It was just an idea that popped into my mind. I would say, however, that like my other books there is an overarching message that I’m trying to impart. In this one, it is the concept of redemption. Can even the most unredeemable person in history be redeemed and finally find peace?

Q: Do you find it easier to write with a schedule or with no time restrictions?

I’m much better with a deadline hanging over me. Unfortunately, most of my writing is done without such a time requirement and, being a master of procrastination, I need to impose a self-imposed schedule and then adhere to it.

Q: Can you choose a favourite character from your books?

I’d be like those terrible parents who admit out loud that they favour one child over another, but I’ll give it a go anyway. My favourite has to be Catherine Albert from Journey of an American Son.

In each of my books there is at least one character that I created initially as a minor personage inserted to help the plot along at that point in time but then, as the book progresses, this person literally grows before my eyes. Before long these characters become not only major characters but they are integral to the entire story. Catherine is such a character. She was originally conceived as only being the lead character’s love interest but gradually she takes over as the book’s lead character.

I’ve been told by more than one person that one of the things they like about my books are the strong women characters I portray. Catherine is one of the strongest because she starts as a demur housewife typical of her era but instead of crumbling under adversity that would destroy many of us, she stands taller and taller. She meets every challenge head on and literally takes the book over. I certainly did not want to stand in her way as she did so.

Q: Was there ever a point while you were writing when you wanted to give up?

There were times that I’ve run dry and encountered profound writer’s block, but there was never a time I conceived of the possibility of giving up. To paraphrase Victor Lazlo in Casablanca: You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop writing, our world will die. 

Q: What is the worst part of the writing process for you?

It’s not strictly part of the writing process but I especially hate the marketing and promotion aspect of getting word out there about my works. That’s why I so especially appreciate venues like yours, Rebecca, where I have an opportunity to spread the word.

Q: How much of your stories do you plan, or do you make them up as you go along?

Planning? What’s that? Seriously, I am definitely in the ‘make them up as I go along’ camp. I’m in total awe of those authors who outline their entire books before they sit down to write them. I just have never been able to do that. I sit down and write and let the story take me wherever it wants to go.

Now, this does lend itself to periods of blockage and times where I’ll get the story to a certain point and then have to ask: Where do I go from here? Overall, though, I like my method. It works for me.

Q: Do you have a favourite piece of writing advice?

Show don’t tell always rattles around in my brain as I’m writing. It’s so much more effective to let the reader come to their own conclusions rather than simply making a statement to them.

For example, in an early draft of Fava I simply stated that Francine, the main character was considered beautiful. Since this book is told in the first person from her point of view, she herself had to make that claim and one of my early readers, a female, pointed out that this didn’t ring especially true. If nothing else, it came off as awfully conceited. I needed a way of showing instead of telling the reader how beautiful she is, and do it in a meaningful way.

I decided to have her cameraman point out to her at a time when her confidence was low that she had been named New York City’s hottest TV reporter two years in a row by a fictitious tabloid, NY Trends Magazine. I think that puts an image of her in your mind that’s directly related to her image-conscious profession.

Q: Where can people learn more about your books?

I have a website that tells all about my books, although I do have to do a much better job at keeping it current. I also invite people to follow me on Twitter (@john_hazen) and Facebook where I’m always talking about one or more of my books, and I’m going to be taking part in the Miami Book Fair, November 17-19. Drop in if you’re around and meet me then.

Q: What have you learned since you started writing?

I’ve learned that you have to just do it, that there’s so much more inside of all of us than we realise. As I mentioned earlier, writing was something I always wanted to do but never quite got around to it. Now I look back at my books and I say to myself “I don’t even remember thinking that, but I must have because here it is! Everyone has a lot to say, more than they probably realise. They just have to start saying it.

What’s next for you?

I’m now working on a sequel to Fava that revolves around a presidential campaign. It’s set in the present but will have a World War II tie-in. Writing a sequel is a new experience so it’s fun. I hope to have it out before the end of the year.

 

Thank you again for having me, Rebecca. Happy reading all!