KimMiE” ’s #CBR5 Review #12: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

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The Hunger Games had a “first episode in a trilogy” kind of feel to it (which makes sense, being the first episode in a trilogy and all). By that, I mean that while the story is left on a questioning note, it also stands nicely on its own, the way that Star Wars or The Matrix ended with a future of possibility, but if that was the last you saw of that world, you would have still been happy with it (in the case of The Matrix, you would have been much happier, in fact). The point is, second books/movies in trilogies often have a tough time: they are the bridges between the often self-contained story of book/movie #1 and the conflict resolution of book/movie #3. The worst episode #2 books feel like filler material, killing time until we get to the climax of episode #3. The good ones feel bigger than episode #1, drive the story forward, and build excitement for the final installment. Catching Fire is a great second episode.

Catching Fire feels much bigger than The Hunger Games. While politics served as a backdrop in The Hunger Games, the true state of Panem and the oppression of the people in the districts comes to the forefront in Catching Fire. For the first time we get to witness a confrontation between Katniss and President Snow, a conversation which reveals the true depth of the danger Katniss has put herself and her family in by defying the Capitol at the end of book one. We get more insight into the Peace Keepers and their relationship with the people of the district, and how brutally citizens can be treated. During the Victory Tour, we get to see how life is even harder for some of the other districts than it is for District 12. When the tributes gather on stage the night before the games start, talk is nearly treasonous as the victors try to turn the audience against the games. It’s an exciting time to be a revolutionary, certainly!

We also get more of the “love triangle,” although I think that phrase is selling the relationships between the characters short. Katniss is certainly a conflicted individual who has feelings for both Gale and Peeta, but are any of those feelings romantic in nature? She has too much at stake to allow herself to even explore that question and she doesn’t expect to live long enough for it to matter. But in not facing it, she reveals as much about her character and her feelings as she would if she were to wear her heart on her sleeve.

While The Hunger Games took us into the brutal world of a regime that would force its citizens to murder each other, Catching Fire pulls back and gives us a larger view of that regime and the citizens that live there. True to its name, Catching Fire sets the spark of anticipation, preparing us for the final battles that episode three is sure to bring.

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KimMiE” ’s #CBR5 Review #11: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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I’m usually well behind the curve when it comes to popular culture. I don’t think I even started reading the Harry Potter series until somewhere around the time when Goblet of Fire was published, so  it should come as no surprise that I saw the blockbuster hit The Hunger Games in theaters before deciding to read the book.

As a general rule, I actually do prefer seeing a movie adaptation of a novel before reading it. To me, novels are generally much richer in detail and create a more vivid world, so that I am usually at least a little disappointed when I see a film version of a novel I’ve enjoyed. There are exceptions, of course: The Lord of the Rings trilogy did a tremendous job of adapting books that seemed unfilmable; and there have been occasions when I’ve read a book after seeing a film only to discover that the two versions shared very little beyond the title (Bernard Malamud’s The Natural springs to mind, but I’m sure there are better, more recent examples).  Books and film are different media, and I do try to approach them as as independent of each other and revel in the strengths of each. At any rate, seeing and enjoying the film version is what finally motivated me to read The Hunger Games.

Perhaps because the film adaptation was so strong, I was mildly let down that the book didn’t include a tremendous amount of additional material and plot points. That’s not really fair, I know, but my usual strategy of seeing a film and then “getting more” by reading the book kind of failed me this time. Mainly, I was surprised that the book was written in first-person narrative. I like first person-narratives as much as the next reader, and Katniss Everdeen is a compelling protagonist to be sure, but the world of Panem is full of colorful characters and I was hoping I’d get more insight into how and what they were thinking. Wouldn’t you just love to know what, if anything, is going on inside Effie’s head, or learn more about Cinna’s past? What did Katniss’ mother feel when first her younger daughter’s name is called, and then her elder daughter volunteers to take her place? What did the people of District 12 think as the games progressed—did they feel hope that their tribute might come home alive? Did they even care? Maybe that’s why the movie adaptation worked; the book doesn’t contain much nuance or subtlety for the movie to miss.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading The Hunger Games. I did. Very much. Katniss is a complex character full of strength, anger, doubt, and love, and she kicks ass to boot. She is the protagonist that young adult readers deserve and can relate to, and adult readers can embrace as well. The plot is well paced and drives forward to a tense climax, and it did leave me wanting more. Fortunately for me, there are still two more books in the series.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 59: Endless Knight by Kresley Cole

“Evie has fully come into her powers as the Tarot Empress, and Jack was there to see it all. She now knows that the teens who’ve been reincarnated as the Tarot are in the throes of an epic battle. It’s kill or be killed, and the future of mankind hangs in the balance.

With threats lurking around every corner, Evie is forced to trust her newfound alliance. Together they must fight not only other Arcana, but also Bagmen zombies, post-apocalyptic storms, and cannibals.

When Evie meets Death, things get even more complicated. Though falling for Jack, she’s drawn to the dangerous Endless Knight as well. Somehow the Empress and Death share a history, one that Evie can’t remember—but Death can’t forget.”

Despite kind of hating a lot of Poison Princess, the first book in this series, I decided to read the sequel, since PP ended with a bang and gave me enough confidence to soldier on. I’m glad I did, because this book had a lot more of the parts of the first that I liked: action, expansion of the cool Tarot concept, Evie not being a complete muppet. Oh, also, there are probably spoilers for PP in this review, so tread with caution. Despite it being a slight stretch of the imagination that Evie went from having literally no idea what she was capable of to suddenly displaying a massive show of power, it was kind of fun that we didn’t have to trudge through a literary training montage. In a fluffy book like this, sometimes it’s just more fun to accept that her magic is natural to her and she just needed to unlock it.

I was also curious to meet Death (the guy doing his best Spike impression up there on the cover) since I wasn’t a huge fan of Jackson, the first point of the love triangle. Kresley Cole, having quite a formidable background in PNR (just ask Malin and Mrs. Julien!) draws on traditional archetypes to set these guys up against each other. Jackson is definitely a rogueish Protector, while Death is a romantic Tortured Soul who initially lashes out at Evie because he’s all Damaged like that. It’s an interesting study in contrast, because while both have moments with her where they alternatively treat her like dirt then do something intended to be completely swoon-worthy, their actions come from decidedly different places. I guess it’s just up to readers to pick their favorite type of hero, because neither one is obviously a better choice in my opinion.

This series is meant to be Cole’s foray into YA, by virtue of having younger protagonists and fewer love scenes that are also slightly less explicit. More interestingly, writing for the YA set gave Cole an opportunity to really flex her high-concept plot muscles, which is something I think she’s done well at. She may even be better at this than traditional PNR, since in that area she comes across as having creative ideas that are weighed down with genre tropes like weird gender issues and gratuitous rough sex. And I’m not saying gratuitous rough sex doesn’t have a place in PNR, but I’ve gotten the sense from her that she almost enjoys building new worlds more than writing love scenes (see as evidence: her many sprawling high concept series for which she seems to never run out of ideas, but sex scenes that are mostly the same when you really get down to it. SEE WHAT I DID THERE) Anyway, read if you’re curious, a fan of Cole, the genre, etc.

loulamac’s #CBRV review #56: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

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I really enjoyed The Hunger Games when I read it. The movie wasn’t so good, but JLaw could make a film adaptation of Cinderella’s Secret Diary worth watching (you can read my review of that turd here). Catching Fire was ok, but towards the end, the story and my patience with the dystopian world Collins had created was starting to wear thin. And then there’s Mockingjay. Dear dear. It isn’t very good.

**The Hunger Games/Catching Fire spoilers will follow**

The plot picks up immediately after Katniss’ rescue from the games arena by the rebels. She has been reunited with her family and Gale, and is stashed away in their underground headquarters in District 13. While some of her allies from The Capitol have been saved, Peeta is still in the hands of President Snow, and out of a desire to save him Katniss agrees to become the figurehead for the burgeoning rebellion. The rest of the novel charts the exploitation of her celebrity/talisman/cult status by the top brass of District 13, against a background of the progress of the battle against the Capitol. Luckily for her (although perhaps not the reader), her celebrity affords her considerable freedoms in this totalitarian state, meaning there are the usual interludes of Katniss not being able to decide who she prefers kissing, hunting small furry things in the woods, and having panic attacks/tantrums. And then the book ended, thank goodness.

I think the biggest problem I had wasn’t the clunky writing and preposterous dialogue (books one and two had plenty of them too), it was the complete collapse of Katniss as a likeable or believable character. I went from caring about and rooting for her in The Hunger Games to totting up how many pages I had left to wade through and thinking ‘oh for God’s sake stop whining’ in Mockingjay. She goes from being a feisty, independent spirit who kept her family alive despite her grief at the loss of her father and made it through a horrific contest in one piece, to a pathetic, feeble mannequin, who spends most of her nervous breakdown worrying about boys. By the end, her twisted thought processes and absurd decisions are on a par with Bella Swan’s, and feel like a complete betrayal of the Katniss of old. Not good.

loulamac’s #CBRV review #35: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

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Vampires? Post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy? Ambitious sagas? I love all of them, so as far as Justin Cronin goes I was always there for the taking. You can imagine my delight when The Passage turned out to be brilliant. Gripping, scary and heart breaking, it was like the best of The Walking Dead and The Stand rolled into one. And I don’t say that lightly. So when I found out that The Passage was the first in a trilogy I was super excited. The Twelve is the second.

Plot-wise, The Twelve sort of picks up where The Passage left off. The Twelve of the title are the original vampires, infected as part of the sinister Project Noah. In the course of the book, we jump back to the start of the outbreak and get to know Lawrence Grey, one of the janitors from the Project Noah site, as well as the great grandparents of a major character from The Passage. Next it’s seventy five years later, and the events of the Massacre of the Field unfold. Before, after and during all of this, the majority of the story is taken up with the surviving characters from The Passage, five years after the events at its climax. These include the seemingly immortal girl Amy, Michael Jaxon and Alicia, who are part of a well-organised high-functioning chain of human settlements across Texas. We learn the fates of some old friends from the end of The Passage, and it’s established that Michael and Alicia are still committed to the hunt for the remaining eleven ‘master’ vampires. While times are tough, vamps are thin on the ground, and the humans are getting by. That is, until a sinister and dangerous dictatorship run by the semi-vampiric starts to spread its influence.

So, while this is part two of three, it’s not a straight sequel. Going back to the beginning is a bold move, and one that works well. The jumps in time, while not completely disastrous, are a little clunky. And the ‘connections’ between well-loved characters from The Passage and new ones introduced in this book are sentimental and ill-advised. But as we learnt in The Passage, Cronin isn’t afraid to kill off sympathetic characters, nor show us the less appealing side of their personalities. Amy’s development from mysterious uncommunicative child, to active participant in the battle against the twelve, of which she is surely one, is fascinating.

I can’t wait for the final installment, I have a feeling it might crop up in CBR6.

One last thing. For the record, I’m NOT a Twilight fan. I like good fiction, and that goes for vampire fiction too. Just for the record.

Kira’s #CBR5 Review #7: A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller Jr.

canticleOh how I wanted to love this book.

A Canticle for Leibowitz was a recommendation from a friend, an avid Sorry Television reader who makes my day every few weeks when we run into each other socially and talk books. After our most recent such encounter, I dug through my memory bank for his long-ago recommendation and promptly ordered it online. What arrived in my mailbox two days later (thank you Amazon Prime) was this, a weighty paperback whose intimidating cover art is paralleled only by its introduction’s promise of frequent use of Latin. Apprehensive and intrigued, I dug in.

It’s difficult to explain what ACFL is “about,” a struggle not entirely helped by my edition’s vaguely worded back cover, which devotes a third of its real estate to phrases like “one of the most accomplished, powerful, and enduring classics of speculative fiction.” The book opens in post-apocalyptic times—roughly the 26th century—when the human race has long since crippled itself in a nuclear war known as the Flame Deluge. Off the bat, we meet Brother Francis, a monk in the “Albertian Order of Leibowitz,” a monastic order devoted to the preservation of knowledge, a task they accomplish by hoarding, hiding, memorizing and copying books whose value has been drastically reduced by a post-Deluge society that frowns upon literacy. Leibowitz refers to Isaac Edward Leibowitz, a 20th-century electrical engineer employed by the U.S. military, who after being martyred for his devotion to scientific knowledge, was beatified by the Romance Catholic Church (“New Rome”). At the time of the book’s opening, he is a candidate for sainthood. Continue reading

YesKnopeMaybe’s #CBR5 Review #1: Matched by Ally Condie

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I wasn’t prepared to like this young adult book as much as I did. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with romantic YA literature, it’s simply not my cup of tea. I’d rather not relive my hormone addled teenage years through fiction. However, to classify Matched as a teenage romance is a serious disservice to Ally Condie’s novel. The novel uses the framework of an accidental love triangle to tackle universal themes such as self-determination, authority, and familial relationships.

Matched takes place in a future dystopian civilization governed by The Society and is told from the perspective of Cassia Reyes. At 17, she is “matched” to her best friend Xander, but due to a glitch, she finds out that she was also matched to a boy her age named Ky. Although The Society officials assure her that her real match is Xander, she can’t stop herself from wondering what her life would have been like if she had been matched to Ky. As she gets to know Ky better, she struggles between choosing a safe, comfortable life with Xander and a difficult, unstable one with Ky.

It’s not perfect, but it’s an immensely readable book. Condie’s writing gives voice to the push and pull between choosing our futures and wondering what might have been if we had taken a different path. Along the way, Cassia has to make some tough decisions and goes from being a carefree adolescent who sees the world in black and white to an adult who has to navigate a very shades-of-gray world.