Book No 19 (2015) : We were Liars

we were liars 1Cadence Sinclair is part of a beautiful, privileged family that spends its summers on a private island. In her own voice, Cady tells us all this, and also how she fell in love with Gat in summer fifteen. There was a group of teenagers on the island, three cousins (Cady, Johnny and Mirren) and Johnny’s friend, Gat. They spent long days in the sun, fooling in the water, eating, talking. Occasionally they would spend time with their respective mothers, (three sisters), or their wealthy grandfather from whom their parents stand to inherit a fortune, or their smaller cousins ‘the littles’. Cady tells us all about it, but there are gaps in her recollections, bits she can’t quite recall because one summer she had an accident on the island. Now her head hurts all the time and her memories don’t quite fit together properly. Maybe Gat, or Johnny or Mirren can help her piece them together again?

It has been a long time since I was 16. But I can remember the summers when we all hung out, recovering from exams, drinking, being lazy and falling in love. I expect our parents wondered if we would ever morph into fully-functioning adults. We weren’t liars, but we were languid and detached, breaking away from our childhoods. E Lockhart captures that time beautifully in this book. Cady’s narrative is flawed, but somehow that makes her more credible.

I did have one criticism, which was the use of an allegorical fairy tale woven at intervals throughout the text. It seemed clumsy and unnecessary. With the author’s obvious talent, I’m sure she could have found a more effective device. Nevertheless, this was an engaging read which I really enjoyed. Internet reviews are mixed, but I loved it.

The book is apparently in the ‘Young Adult’ fiction genre   So, if you are looking out of your window and can see a teenager mooning dreamily in a hammock, you could do worse than chuck her (or him*) a copy of ‘We were Liars’. It will be the perfect accompaniment to a coming-of-age summer. Stand by with tissues though, as there is a twist which may end in tears.

(*tbh I am not sure if this is a teenage him kind of book, but I may be wrong).

Film No 12 (2015) : The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1

mocking 1The end of the second Hunger Games movie (Catching Fire) was full of suspense; Katniss Everdeen, having survived the Games, uses a flash of lightning and a well-timed arrow to destroy the Games arena. She is taken to District 13, leaving behind fellow Tributes Peeta and Annie. So far, so exciting. What is going to happen to them all?

In Mockingjay Part 1, Katniss and her family are being sheltered in District 13. There, President Coin persuades the young markswoman to become the face of an uprising to unseat the Capitol and its leader, President Snow. Katniss agrees, on condition that Peeta and Annie are rescued as soon as possible. Peeta is used in propaganda films and it is obvious that he is being mistreated in some way. Nevertheless, he manages to forewarn District 13 that it is about to be attacked by the Capitol, allowing 13’s inhabitants to seek shelter. Following the attack, Peeta and Annie are liberated from the clutches of President Snow. Katniss’ joy at being reunited with Peeta is shortlived once it becomes apparent that he has been poisoned into believing that he must kill her. The film ends with Peeta seen thrashing around in a fury, having been restrained in a hospital room.

Sorry to be so unreservedly negative, but this film is boring (I tried to think of a more apposite adjective, but was too bored to bother) and drawn-out, with unconvincing acting; Liam Hemsworth as Gale is about as inspiring as an ironing board and Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss) is only marginally better. There are endless scenes of Coin addressing massed crowds of supporters, resulting in saluting and chanting.

The films are based upon the YA novels by Suzanne Collins and have a devoted fan base. This film was the 5th highest grossing movie of 2014, earning $752,100,229 worldwide. The books are a trilogy but in increasingly typical fashion (The Hobbit, Harry Potter), one book has been spilt into more than one film. Call me cynical, but my instinct tells me that this is purely a ruse to wring as much cash out of moviegoers as possible. Because there is simply not enough material in this film to make it exciting. Mockingjay Part 2 is released in November 2015 but I won’t be rushing to see it; my appetite for the Hunger Games disappeared with this bland fare.

Book No 11 (2015) : Prisoner of Night and Fog

prisoner of night and fog 2Anne Blackman’s novel ‘Prisoner of Night and Fog’ was our Book Club choice this week. I’d left it a bit late to get started on the text, but luckily this was not a difficult read. In fact, I noticed that whilst the story has a very strong plot with lots of activity, there seemed to be a lack of emotional depth to the characters. All was revealed when I discovered that this was actually written as a Young Adult novel. But don’t let that deter you, as this book has a lot to offer.

It is 1931 and Gretchen Muller lives in a boardinghouse with her brother, Reinhard, and her mother. Her father was killed protecting Adolf Hitler from gunfire during the Beer Hall Putsch, a failed attempt by the National Socialist Party to seize power in Munich. As a result of Klaus Muller’s sacrifice, his family has enjoyed the patronage of ‘Uncle Dolf’. Gretchen does not question the view of the world which Hitler has painted for her: the Jews are a scourge, the Aryans a pure race. When a young newspaper reporter, Daniel Cohen, tries to convince Gretchen that the circumstances of her father’s death were not what they seemed, Gretchen’s loyalties are put to the test. Whom should she believe?

This seemingly far-fetched plot  actually has its basis in fact as many of the key characters were real people: Rudolf Hess, Ernst Rohm, Eva Braun, Max Amann and Ernst Hanfstaengl amongst others. The author has cited an impressive bibliography, evidence of the huge amount of research which must have gone in to weaving a story around a framework of real events. The result is impressive and readable, an interesting presentation of Hitler’s rise to power.

There is to be a sequel to ‘Prisoner of Night and Fog’ which, judging by the high number of positive reader reviews for this book, is bound to be seized upon eagerly. Whilst I found this novel slightly unsatisfying, I would absolutely recommend it for the young adult audience at which it is aimed.