Mockingjay

It seems like it’s the month for highly anticipated next books, in more than one series. Mockingjay, the third and final book in Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” series was released last week, and like the first two books, it did not disappoint.

SPOILERS!

Mockingjay picks up shortly where Catching Fire left off. Katniss has been rescued from the arena of the Hunger Games by the rebels in District 13, but Peeta has been taken prisoner by the Capitol. Katniss has been the face of the revolution so far. President Coin, of District 13 wants her to continue this, although in a somewhat more structured and controlled way. Katniss agrees to be their Mockingjay in exchange for a few favors. She wants permission for Gale and herself to be allowed above ground to hunt. She asks that Peeta and the other tributes from the Games being held will be granted immunity by the rebels should they win the war. And her final request is that she be the one to kill President Snow.

Many propaganda films, primarily featuring Katniss, are aired to the people of the districts in rebellion, further fueling the flames of dissent. Even the Capitol’s broadcasting network is hacked, allowing these films to be seen there as well. But in response, President Snow sends his own messages. Televised interviews with Peeta reveal that he is not well and is most likely being tortured. He is able to warn District 13 of an attack, then the camera is splattered with his blood as he is beaten. Katniss realizes that the Capitol and Snow will continue to torture Peeta until she breaks.

President Coin, quite a strategist herself, realizes that Katniss is unable to continue to act as she wishes with this new understanding of what the Capitol intends to do with Peeta. A rescue mission is carried out, bringing Peeta and other tributes back. But Peeta is not the same. The Capitol has reconstructed his memories, leaving him very confused and dangerous. Katniss wonders if he will ever be the person he was again.

The story continues as the other districts join together, finally leaving the Capitol as the only spot of resistance, and the new arena of an even more deadly version of the Games. Snow’s power is coming to an end. However, an event occurs that makes Katniss question everything she’s been told and everything she has come to believe. She is unsure of who can be trusted anymore. She makes her own decisions, doing something unexpected that she feels sure will condemn her to death.

At the end of the book, we do find out what happens to Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, and the love triangle is resolved. Katniss is not without scars, both inside and out. But she has survived and even triumphed in the face of so much that would have ruined her.

Mockingjay is definitely more brutal and relentless than the first two installments in the series. Parts are also very emotional. There is still an element of romance, although definitely not present in the same way it was in the previous books. I guess the best way to describe it is bittersweet, (although I definitely have to say more bitter than sweet). Even so, I enjoyed this book and thought it a magnificent finale to the series.

The Iron Daughter

As I said as few days ago after reading Winter’s Passage, I was definitely ready to be immersed in Julie Kagawa’s newest creation. The Iron Daughter is the second book in the amazing Iron Fey series. I couldn’t put it down; the story and characters had my undivided attention from the very beginning and are still lingering a couple of days after finishing the book.

It begins with Meghan already in the Unseelie Court. She isn’t exactly sure how long she’s been there, but she knows that she has been deserted by Ash. She hasn’t seen him since their arrival weeks, or maybe even months, ago. She is alone, and is Queen Mab’s prisoner. Still, no one believes her about the existence of the Iron Fey, except Ash, who is MIA. This is unfortunate as they steal the Scepter of the Seasons from the Unseelie Court, leaving Queen Mab to blame the Summer Court. She punishes Meghan and prepares to wage war against King Oberon.

Ash finally shows up and realizes that for Meghan to have a chance to survive he must deliver her to the Seelie Court, but he is still icy and causes Meghan to question what, if anything, is actually between them. Meghan is not one to go willingly though, and has her own ideas about getting back the Scepter. If it is not found and returned soon, the Courts will end up destroying themselves.  Puck, finally awake and healed, makes his appearance and once again, the three go in search of the Iron Fey.

The quest leads them into the mortal realm and “The Between,” which is exactly what it sounds like, a place between the mortal realm and the Nevernever. During one of their stops, another character shows up, one who left his shoes on a lakeshore. I expected his presence at some point, but definitely not in this way.

This book was full of action, and with every turn of the page, even more action! And also the romance triangle continued, and definitely heated up. During many parts, Meghan is convinced that Ash cares nothing for her, and that he even used glamour in the past in order to manipulate her emotions so that it would be easier to get her to go with him to the Unseelie Court. So, it was easier for Meghan to turn her thoughts to Puck sometimes….

Finally, the three are able to steal back the Scepter and expose the Iron Fey to the other Courts. With the war between Summer and Winter ending, (at least for the moment), Meghan and Ash are supposed to go their separate ways, to their own Courts. It is a well-known fact that Summer and Winter are forbidden to be together, something which has been true for all time. Ash and Meghan are forced to make a difficult decision, the result of which I’m sure will have repercussions in the future.

Oh, and who is the Iron Daughter? I’ll just say that she was who I suspected all along, even before I read the book. 

I love this series, and what makes it even better is that it is the first series from this author. She’s definitely talented and has such an imagination. Her description of places, characters, and raw emotion are fantastic. And did I mention that the covers are absolutely beautiful? I’m looking forward to her future works, and not just The Iron Queen (which will be released February 2011), but any other stories she choses to bring to life someday.

Delicious

Wanting to read something a bit on the lighter side, I discovered Delicious, by Sherry Thomas. I don’t seem to read romance novels too often, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them. This historical romance can be described as a Cinderella story with a culinary element.

Verity Durant is well-known for her skills in the kitchen. She’s been the cook at Fairleigh Park, for Bertie Somerset, for many years. She had also been his lover once upon a time as well. Upon Bertie’s sudden death, Fairleigh Park is inherited by his estranged brother Stuart, a rising political star in England’s Parliament. Being born illegitimately to the same father as Bertie, Stuart has had to struggle to gain acceptance and success. It has not been an easy road, but he has accomplished much and made a place for himself in society.

Through flashbacks, a story emerges that occurred about 10 years earlier. Verity, feeling ill-treated by Bertie, goes to visit Stuart to offer her services as his own personal cook. She reasons that this will result in her revenge against Bertie, and that Stuart will jump at the chance to one-up his brother. However, Stuart is not at home, and she is attacked by two men. Of course, being on his way home, Stuart rescues her, inviting her into his home to recuperate for a few moments. Verity realizes that she never should have come, so never gives her name or true reasons for being in the street outside his house. She leaves for her hotel, and Stuart is so enchanted with her that he follows her there, even proposing marriage. So, in the morning Verity runs away, believing that Stuart would regret his actions, especially if he found out who she was.

Now years later, she finds herself as the employee of this man that she has loved for a decade, but he is lately engaged to another. Verity cooks for him, never allowing him to see her face, and speaking to him only in French. She even goes with him to London when he must return to the city. There are a few scenes where sparks fly, and eventually Stuart discovers her true identity as “Cinderella” from that fateful night years ago. Angered that she had been deceiving him, he asks for her resignation. Verity returns to Fairleigh Park for a few weeks, during which time Stuart has come to his senses. He and his fiancé had put an end to their engagement, (mutually, of course), and Stuart was free to seek out Verity. He didn’t offer her a legal marriage, just “a marriage in everything but name,” which Verity actually accepted. However, a few facts emerge, including the face that Stuart can actually behave as an adult, which affects their relationship as well. It turns out that there is a fairy tale ending after all.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It wasn’t too heavy and definitely hit the spot for a great entertaining read. I couldn’t put this book down. I read it on a day off of work and even texted my husband saying, “I’m sorry. I’m a terrible housewife, but I can’t tear myself away from my book today.” I believe I may have to track down more of this author’s books in the future.

Winter’s Passage

A few months ago I read the extraordinary debut novel The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa. It is the first novel in The Iron Fey trilogy. While waiting for her second book to be released, Julie made available a short novella, Winter’s Passage, which takes place between the first two novels.

This is definitely a short read, being less than 50 pages. However, that’s long enough to pack in excitement, action, and of course, a bit of forbidden romance between Meghan and Ash. The story begins with Meghan fulfilling her contract she made with Ash, to go with him to the Unseelie Court in exchange for him having helped her rescue her little brother from the Iron Fey. Meghan has just one request before they go on their way, though. She wants to see Puck.

They take a trod to New Orleans and find that Puck is still “asleep,” healing from his wounds. It is unknown if he will wake up tomorrow or in another century. Not being able to do anything other than apologize to the sleeping Puck, Meghan continues her journey with Ash into the Nevernever. And of course, Grimalkin, everyone’s favorite feline, makes an appearance as well.

On their way, Meghan and Ash feel eyes upon them and soon discover they are being stalked by an ancient hunter. Not wanting to giveaway too much information, I’ll just say that this hunter was sent by someone. Shortly after “defeating” the hunter, Unseelie knights made their entrance into the story. They had been sent by Queen Mab to escort the Prince and the half-breed back to the palace. Ash immediately seemed icy and indifferent. Meghan began to wonder if she had misunderstood everything between them, questioning Ash’s true feelings. The story ends with the arrival at Tir Na Nog, a massive underground city.

While very short, Winter’s Passage left me wanting more. What happens to Puck? Has Ash just been acting, or using glamour, in order to get Meghan to the Unseelie Court? And where did Grimalkin go? It’s a good thing I’ve got The Iron Daughter on hand, as I’m ready to dive in!

Sharon’s Journey Home

As the Eagle Cries: Sharon’s Journey Home by Carol A. Freeman is a beautiful yet tragic story about a mother’s love for her daughter and the way events affected her and changed her own life.  This is another book I won on a Goodreads giveaway. When I received it, I discovered that Carol had personally inscribed the book, which I thought was very thoughtful and nice of her.

In the first section of this book, Carol basically gives a very brief history of Sharon’s life. She was a baby with abnormal sleeping habits when she first came home from the hospital. Carol and her husband, Ron, moved to Arizona, settling in Phoenix before Sharon was a year old. She loved cats and took swimming lessons. She was full of life and energy. She attended a private high school, but during her high school years, Sharon started to have unusual behavior. She went on to attend college, having a string of boyfriends that were either concerned about her, or very callous regarding her behavior and condition. She was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The accident happened when Sharon was 27 years old. The police had been called to the apartment of Sharon and her boyfriend due to a domestic dispute. After arriving, the police checked to see if either Sharon or her boyfriend had any outstanding warrants. Sharon’s name came up for failing to pay restitution charges, so she was taken to jail. There, she fell and hit her head on the cement floor and was then admitted to the Critical Care Unit. She was in a coma. The neurosurgeon had performed a CAT scan, and asked Carol how long Sharon had had a cyst on her brain. This was the first time anyone knew about this cyst, and immediately Carol questioned the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Carol turned to Native American spirituality as a way to deal with Sharon’s condition and her own questions. She learns about shamanic journeying and goes on a Hanbleca, or Vision Quest, four times looking for answers to specific questions. Chief Phil Crazy Bull, of the Lakota, was a mentor and teacher and Carol learned much from him. During her first two Hanbleca, Carol communicates with Sharon’s spirit and learns that she does not want to come back to her body. It is too painful and she finally feels as if she can embrace freedom. Of course, this isn’t what Carol wants to hear, but she had found her answer anyway. When Sharon doesn’t pass as expected, Carol again seeks answers. Sharon says goodbye, and Carol knows that the next time her feeding tube breaks, she and her husband won’t replace it.

When this happens, Sharon comes home and receives care from Hospice. One day, Carol knows that Sharon will not make it through another night, so she stays beside her until the end. When Sharon takes her last breath, Carol sees a small gold light arise, go down the hall in the direction of Sharon’s room, then return, then go back down the hall, then return once more. This smaller light then merges with a larger light and then disappears. At seeing this, Carol only felt a sense of peace.

Sharon’s ashes are spread in Phoenix, (the location being another question answered at a Hanbleca). A couple of months later, Carol decides to finish her four-year Hanbleca commitment. This time, she goes to seek answers to questions about her own life and future. What is her life’s purpose? What was she supposed to learn in this lifetime? On completing this quest, Carol says that she felt that she had left her grief, sorrow, and loss behind and that she had a sense of needing to move forward now.

Carol wrote Sharon’s story when the idea presented itself to her while she was journeying. She immediately thought of everything surrounding the story, such as getting published, etc., but the answer she received was “Just write it.” And she did. It’s definitely a bittersweet memoir, but very inspirational. There is meaning in the face of tragedy.

In the conclusion of the book, Carol states, “I appreciate life and those around me and always finish a conversation with “I love you” to those special people in my life.” That’s definitely something I’ll try to take with me.

There is more information on the author’s website, www.carolfreeman.us. Also, Carol had an interview on a television talk show, “The Defining Moment,” which can be viewed here.

The Council of Dads

I recently read The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me, by Bruce Feiler. I won this book (actually an “uncorrected proof”) in a Goodreads giveaway, but it’s definitely something I would have picked up and read on my own.

Bruce Feiler is a bestselling author, with much of his success coming from walking. He had spent his whole life walking and traveling. One of his books is even titled Walking the Bible. At the beginning of the book, Bruce recounts getting hit by a car when he was a child and breaking his left femur. Years later, after marrying and having twin girls of his own, Eden and Tybee, a visit to his physician ultimately reveals that there is now a tumor growing on his left femur, in the same spot it was broken when he was a child. The diagnosis was cancer, and Bruce thought he might never walk again.

He also thought about the fact that he might not have much time left with his young daughters, and he worried about what that might mean for his girls. Several days after his diagnosis, watching his daughters play, he couldn’t control himself. He says, “I kept imagining all the walks I might not take with them, the ballet recitals I might not see, the art projects I might not mess up, the boyfriends I might not scowl at, the aisles I might not walk down.” And an idea began to form in his head. If he couldn’t be there for them, he wanted men from different parts of his life to represent those parts of himself to his daughters.  He made a list of six men, and drafted a letter. “I believe my daughters will have plenty of resources in their lives…but they may not have me. They may not have their dad. Will you help be their dad? Will you be my voice?”

In the remainder of the book, Bruce introduces each of the six men, distinguishing what lessons each may offer to his daughters. These life lessons include such things as “approach the cow,” “don’t see the wall,” and “harvest miracles.” Other sections of the book address family history, especially the role of his father and grandfathers and the men they were. Also throughout the book, Bruce chronicles his treatment and road to recovery, what he thinks of as “the lost year.” He sends out letters to friends and family members with updates about his disease as well as his family. And always he says, “Talk a walk for me.” Towards the end, Bruce proclaims that his Lost year was really his Jubilee year, a time when he was forced to slow down, be uplifted by those around him, and be reunited with the ones he loves.

This was definitely a well-written book. Along the way, I laughed and I cried, and I definitely thought “What if it were me?” I don’t have children yet, but I think that’s a bit beside the point. Who could I trust, besides my husband, to actually tell my children about me and show them the things I valued that I wanted to pass on to them? It’s definitely not an easy decision, or even an easy question. Bruce’s writing, although this is his only book I’ve currently read, is truly inspirational. He took a terrifying experience and emerged with wisdom and a new way of living everyday to its fullest. That’s something I think all of us could learn from, and enrich our lives in the process.

The Wishsong of Shannara

Well, I did it. I went back to Terry Brooks and read The Wishsong of Shannara. But I had a good excuse, really. The book I own is actually three books in one volume, and Wishsong was the last of the three. And it would have really bothered me to put the “book” back on my shelf without finishing it. So, I’m finally finished. Whew! Back on the shelf, Terry Brooks!

This book started much like the others. Allanon, the Druid, returns to seek help from an Ohmsford in some sort of quest that will save the world. This time, he needed help from Brin, Wil and Eretria’s daughter. Brin and her little brother Jair inherited the Elven magic in the form of what they call a “wishsong.” Brin can use to wishsong to actually alter the world, whether it’s to change the color of the leaves on a tree, or as she comes to learn later, to kill in order to protect herself. Jair can only use the wishsong to provide illusion, but not to actually alter reality.

So Allanon believes that Brin’s magic can guide her safely through the land and into the Maelmord, where she can find and destroy the evil book of power, The Ildatch, and finally rid the world of it. Jair is told to stay home. Of course, he does not, so he finds himself a member of a diverse “little company” traversing the land as well. He is given a mission by the King of the Silver River, and he must get to the Maelmord before Brin, or she will be lost forever.

Anyway, I’m not willing to rehash the entire book, especially since I didn’t enjoy it that much. Although it did have some good parts; I even forgot what I reading for just a few moments too, but in a good way. But if the groups of characters in the book were called the “little company” one more time, I think I would have thrown the book against the wall, (or just put it back on the shelf, as there would have been less chance of damage that way.)  But the book had a happy ending, even though a few characters died, including Allanon.

I’m glad I can move on now, especially since the nice people at Goodreads have sent me two free books to read. I should really get on with those.