Review: THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Colllins

November 28, 2015

 ~posted by guest blogger, Cady Anderson

Hunger-GamesBook Review – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

At this point there’s almost no one who hasn’t heard the phrase, “May the odds be ever in your favor.” The popularity of the phrase is a testament to the work of art and social commentary created by Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games. As with many “trendy” reads, I adamantly resisted reading The Hunger Games initially. But when a trusted mentor proclaimed this series as a “must-read” I decided to take the plunge. I was blown away! Immediately, I was swept up in the plot and conflict, the challenges characters are forced to face, and Katniss’ story.

The Hunger Games opens as citizens of District 12 prepare for the 74th annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death among young tributes from the Districts of the Capitol-controlled Panem. The protagonist is 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen: friends with Gale – a fellow hunter, older sister to Prim, and daughter of a grief-stricken mother who is mourning the loss of her husband. In the first chapter, the reader is introduced to the Capitol, District 12, Katniss, and the circumstances of Katniss’ world through a combination of flashbacks and descriptions of Katniss’ day as she prepares for the selection of the tributes, known as the Reaping. Against all odds – Katniss’ sister is chosen as a tribute for the Hunger Games. Katniss volunteers to take her place as tribute. Katniss, and her fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark, are swept up in the trap of the Games making choices necessary to survive. Katniss’ decisions extend well beyond the competition and the reader is invited into a dangerous game that will have consequences for Katniss, her family, and Panem.

To me, Katniss is an immensely likable character, although not all readers feel that way. Katniss’ ability and desire to survive creates tension for readers and her choices or lack of choices can be a source of frustration. But her ability to survive is what I admire most about her. Katniss’ heart aches from having grown up in a cruel world where happiness was not a luxury she could afford. Her response to her heartache is to become stoic, caring only for her sister. But the games change her, in ways that the reader can see, but Katniss cannot. This is just one of the many joys of reading this book.

The plot and world Collins created is incredibly complex. The concepts of the nation of Panem, the Capitol, the Districts, and the objective of the games are explained quickly in the first few chapters. But despite the copious amount of information, Collins quickly lures readers into a new world in a way that allows the reader the pleasure of being able to get lost in Panem and thus the plot of the book. While reading, I was able to completely believe in the possibility of this world and these events, evidence to the strength of Collins’ writing. In this way, I believe The Hunger Games is comparable to the Harry Potter series; both books allow readers to become lost in a different world.

Not only is the plot riveting, the characters endearing, and the challenges epic (surviving in an arena where your peers are trying to murder you in order to win a game is about as challenging as it gets), but the book leads to a trilogy that explores topics such as revolution, resistance, corruption, power, social responsibility, community, and the purpose and function of government. Due to the depth of these different themes, in addition to the basic plot line, this is a book that begs to be read over and over again.

Books for Your Viking and Norse Myths Exploration

November 21, 2015

OdinOnce you get started exploring the Norse myths, (through Magnus Chase, and further resources ) you’ll find there is so much to learn, and so many fascinating stories to read. Here are some of our favorite book resources:

UnofficialThe Unofficial Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Companion by Peter Aperlo

This timely companion may be “unofficial,” bu we found it to be a perfect text to have on hand as we read the story of Magnus.  It’s written in accessible and interesting prose, just right to answer questions and pique the interest of readers.  There are Q and A sections, helpful graphics, and delightful explorations of new vocabulary.  The History of the Viking age is particularly useful in dispelling myths about the Vikings, and defining their place within Norse culture.


There are several good coloring books that celebrate the Norse Gods, but the following two are the best for their factual information, and fun in coloring (even for adults!):

The Story of the Vikings Coloring Book (Dover)

Myths and Legends of the Vikings: Coloring book


Children’s picture books are always a good introduction to the world of gods and goddesses, and the Norse Gods are no exception.  Check out our two recommendations below:

Children-of-OdinThe Children of Odin: The Book of Northern Myths by Padraic Collum, illustrated by Willy Pogani

Norse-Gods-and-GiantsNorse Gods and Giants by Ingri  and Edgar D’Aulaire

Both these texts have well-written narratives to accompany spell-binding illustrations.  We suggest having the books handy as you read the resources for older children just to stimulate mental images.  Fun to compare and contrast the artists’ renditions, too.


Graphic-GodsGods of Asgard:  A Graphic Novel Interpretation of the Norse Myths by Erik Evensen

The artwork is the selling point of this graphic novel.  Detailed and imaginative, these pictures capture details of the Gods’ stories and personalities.  While the writing doesn’t match the power of the images, this graphic novel is a wonderful resource for your explorations.


The Norse Gods: Further Resources

November 13, 2015

~posted by Ragna the Swift (aka Ruth)

Viking-soxOK, I am a sucker for those sites that create a personalized name for you, be it Pirate, Steampunk, or in this case, Viking.  I like thinking of myself as Ragna the Swift, so I don my Viking Maiden socks (hand knit, of course), as I collect and choose resources to help enter into Rick Riordan’s latest Gods and Demi-Gods series:  Magnus Chase.


Norse Mythology for Smart People

“If you’re looking for reliable, well-documented information on the fascinating gods, goddesses, tales, places, and ideas that comprise the ancient mythology and religion of the Norse and other Germanic peoples, you’ve come to the right place.” This statement welcomes you to a veritable treasure trove of history, stories, and information about the Norse peoples and their cosmology.  I was fascinated by the information on runes, which is a key magical element in Magnus Chase.  Not only were the Norse runes literally letters, they also  had magical powers.  Check out the images of actual ancient runes, as well as ways to play with them, using the runic alphabets  (or futharks) for codes and messages .


The Viking Gods of Norse Mythology

God-checker is your Guide to the Gods, written with humor and chock full of fascinating Norse God facts.  For example, the introduction begins: “The red-blooded, rip-roaring, gung-ho Gods beloved by the Vikings. We could have listed them as Nordic, but ‘Norse’ sounds like the snorting of a giant battle stallion so we went for that. ” You can learn about each God, as well as their connections to other mythologies.  Lots to explore.


The Norse Mythology Blog

This one is a bit more serious, for adults mostly who want to bring more depth to their study of Norse Mythology. Karl Siegfried’s website, The Norse Mythology Blog, was named the world’s Best Religion Weblog in 2012, 2013 and 2014. It is the first religion blog to enter the Weblog Awards Hall of Fame. From his site, you can go to his facebook page, send (or receive) tweets, and even find out the classes you might take from him!  Best of all, he has a free on-line library you can access.


The Viking Rune

Another in-depth website, with information on all aspects of the Viking culture, including history, gods, tattoos, Norse runes, and any information you might want on “The Anglo-Saxon Age.”  There’s even a post on how to create an authentic Norse tattoo based on runes.


What Would Your Viking Name Be?

This one is very straight-forward and easy to navigate to find what your Viking name could be.  There are more sophisticated sites  that truthfully, are probably more authentic, but this one is quick and easy and the tweens and teens in your life will get a kick out of it.

And heed this important Norse saying:

Enn skal lytte, når en gammel hund gjø.
One should listen when an old dog barks.


November 7, 2015

MagnusMagnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard:  Book I The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

The latest book by Rick Riordan is always a cause for celebration–but especially when it is the start of a new series.  I have loved previous series that took us deep into ancient myths:  the Greeks, the Romans, and the Egyptians.  Fasten your seat belts for this exploration and update into the 21st century of the Norse gods and myths.  I can’t believe I am saying this, but I think this may be the best series yet! (And be sure to check out our suggestions for further resources here and here. )

Some of the premises that are behind the other series are the same:  the myths of the ancient civilizations are actually true.  In this case, it’s the Norse myths.  The Gods of Asgard are preparing for war.  It’s up to  the contemporary demi-Gods to enter the fray.  Enter an intriguing new protagonist:  Magnus Chase.  After his mother’s mysterious death a couple of years ago, he has been surviving by his wits and courage, homeless on the streets of Boston.

And this experience serves him well as he is thrust into a search for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.  In fact, he must search through the Nine Worlds, meeting and befriending trolls, giants, and Valkyries along the way.  Oh, yeah, and making lots of enemies as well.  Along this adventure, we readers are treated to the world of Norse mythology, and a wide range of fascinating characters.  I appreciate learning the differences from the Thor of screen and comic book fame and the Thor of the Vikings.  Loki is as two-faced, treacherous ,and oddly compelling as any film or book depiction.

I love that one of the hero-helpers that befriends Magnus is deaf and is a courageous figure in his own right.  Lots of humor, exciting twists and turns–and even connections across the other series:  it turns out Annabelle is Magnus’s first cousin! No hesitations in recommending this new series, and look for our suggestions for further resources and books to enhance your reading experience.

Review: Queen of the Shadows by Sarah J. Maas, Book IV of The Throne of Glass Series

October 31, 2015

~posted by Ruth

QueenThe Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

This is definitely an addictive series!  Calaena Sardothian, aka The King’s Assassin aka Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen, is a fascinating character who has evolved from her first identity through the many changes in her life and royal calling.  I absolutely love the first two books:  in the premier (Throne of Glass) we meet Calaena as she is taken from a slave prison (The Salt Mines of Endover) to be part of a gladiator competition to become the King’s Assassin.  We learn her history and Maas lays the foundation for  the possible romances with two intriguing characters:  the young Prince, King-to-be, Dorian, and the Captain of the Guard, Chaol.  Read these books!  You’ll be captivated.  In Crown of Midnight, the characters –and adventures deepen, as Calaena keeps up a false front of loyalty to the King, while hiding many secrets (no spoilers!) and learning more about herself and her past.

In the third installment, Heir of Fire, Calaena takes on her identity as the heir to the kingdom–more than a bit grudgingly and with a host of heartbreak.  We meet new characters, who have control over the young Queen’s destiny.   Queen Maeve of the Fae has plans for Celaena, and sends Fae Prince Rowan to fetch the heroine and train her in the ways of fairy magic.  Through this change in setting, we also begin to follow the Witch Covens.  I found myself less intrigued with this whole aspect of the fantasy realm Maas set up, and for me, the book dragged a bit.  Don’t get me wrong, I still devoured it, but missed the characters I had come to know in the first two books.

Well, the fourth book, Queen of Shadows, got me back on track.  Still lots of the witches (who, to be fair, seem to be intriguing to most of the readers I’ve talked with), and to me they take on more depth as the story evolves.  And we are reunited with the characters I missed in the last installment.  Plus:  new characters that I quite enjoy!  Especially Nesryn and Lysandra, two new friends for Aelin.  This one has everything:  lots of adventure, Kick-Ass Girl Power, emphasis on growing relationships all-round, twists and turns and surprises, lots of magic. . .what’s not to like?

Word has it there are 2 more books in the series.  So stay tuned!

Need more info on the first in the series?  Here’s what we wrote when we reviewed it:

ThroneThrone of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Known as Adarlin’s Assassin, she is the most feared killer in this magical kingdom.  Captured and sent to prison, she is given a chance for freedom if she agrees to be a fighter for the Prince.  When he pulls her out of prison to come to court, he is amazed to discover that she is an eighteen-year-old girl. Celaena is an awesome heroine–strong feisty, witty.  Maas’ kingdom is compelling, with political intrigue, dangerous assassins, and yes–an actual castle made out of glass. There is ancient magic, romance, great characters, and action–everything a summer read should offer!  And when you finish, you can jump right into Crown of Midnight, where Celaena’s adventures continue.


October 29th is National Hermit Day

October 24, 2015

ManThank St. Colman of Ireland for this day to celebrate the power of spending time with yourself. What, you’ve never heard of him?  There’s not a lot to learn, but here’s what I’ve discovered: Saint Colman mac Duagh was born at Cork, Galway, Ireland.  (c. 560 -632 AD), the son of the Irish chieftain Duac (and thus, in Irish, mac Duach). His claim to fame is that he was a recluse, living in prayer and prolonged fastings, first on Inismore, then in a cave at the Burren in County Clare.

Since hermits, by definition, live in seclusion, National Hermit Day is a great way to take some time by yourself.

We recommend a book that captivated both of us when it first came out many years ago:

The Man Who Lived Alone by Donald Hall, woodcuts by Mary Azarian

The New England man at the heart of this book lives alone because he chooses to.  He is kind, affectionate–and definitely eccentric–and lives a life of contentment with his mule and his owl–not too far away for his dear cousin Nan.  Though this sounds like a boring book, it is quite moving, largely because of the masterful prose of New Hampshire’s poet laureate Donald Hall, and the stunning illustrations by Mary Azarian. Maybe being New Englanders, familiar with Ragged Mountain and the culture of rural New Hampshire helps, but we think it’s a wonderful read-aloud to share with your family.

Here are some other suggestions for honoring the day from the National Hermit Day website:

To celebrate National Hermit Day, find a secluded place to go and:

  • Turn off your phone
  • Turn off your computer
  • Let your worries be free
  • Rest and relax
  • Enjoy your quiet time
  • Read, write or draw
  • Short Nap

MARK OF THE THIEF by Jennifer A. Nielsen, A Review and Recommendation

October 18, 2015

~posted by Cady Anderson, Guest blogger

MarkMark of the Thief (Book I) by Jennifer A. Nielsen

“Ms. Nielsen, what do you find enjoyable about writing and what do you find difficult?” These were the questions I wanted answers to when I meet Ms. Nielsen at a small independent bookstore in my hometown. In her eloquent and enthusiastic response, she compared writing to a jigsaw puzzle. This is evident in intricate crafting of the characters and plot in her most recent publication, Mark of the Thief.

In Ancient Rome, slaves were used to build up the empire, serve the Senators, and provide gruesome entertainment as gladiators. It is in this world where Jennifer Nielsen combines magic, carefully conducted research, adventure, and sarcasm to deliver a heart-pounding adventure tale. The protagonist, Nic, is a slave working in the mines outside of Rome. As a slave, Nic is subject to the whims and wishes of his master and those who have enough money to purchase his life. More than anything Nic wishes to be free along with his sister, Livia. But Nic’s life is forever changed when he discovers a bulla, an amulet containing magic that once belonged to Julius Caesar. With the bulla, Nic believes his quest for freedom can become a reality, but there are powerful Roman leaders who would kill to attain the bulla. Nic is then thrown into a journey that includes a mythical griffin, new friends, the grandeur and danger of Rome, the powers of magic, and the legendary arena.

As with her previous series, The Ascendance Trilogy, Nielsen’s strength lies in the characters she creates. Nic is sarcastic, defiant and courageous, brave yet vulnerable, and wicked clever. His sarcastic humor often elicited a smirk from me and is what draws me to the character; for example, “ ‘Tolerated?” I snorted. “If near starvation, beatings, and dangerous assignments were tolerance, then yes, Sal had been excessively generous to me.”

For readers of The Ascendance Trilogy, passages like that one are reminiscent of Sage, the protagonist of that series. Fans of Sage should definitely read Mark of the Thief. But fans should also be aware, the element of magic in Mark of the Thief provides a different reading experience – at times the role magic plays can be confusing, the plot requires a greater suspension of belief and, in my opinion, is not quite as strong as the plot of The Ascendance Trilogy. Having said that, the pace picks up considerably in the last third of the book and I am now eagerly awaiting the next installment. Nielsen’s work will always make it on my “to-read” list.



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