Miss Kate’s CBRV reviews #10, 11,12: The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

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(Ok, I’m really going to start writing these reviews as I read this year instead of waiting!)

ANYWAY. I’m a little late to this party, and probably the last person I know to read these books. My husband has had the first movie uploaded to our Tivo for awhile, and we haven’t watched it because I wanted to read the books first!

Anyway, in the future, after the oceans rise and North American continent has been reshaped, the former United States is now called Panem. Split into 12 districts, they are ruled over by the Capitol. There had been 13 districts, but 75 years before the 13th district led a rebellion against the Capitol. The rebellion was crushed, and the 13th District was detroyed. As a lesson to the rest, every year the Capitol puts on the Hunger Games. Two young people from each district are chosen to compete in a fight to the death. The people are forced to watch, and the winner gets food and shelter for themselves and their families for the rest of their lives.

Katniss Everdeen is a 16 year old girl living in District 12 (what is currently Appalachia). She hunts illegally with a bow to feed her mother and sister. She’s a tough cookie, but she has to be to survive. When her little sister’s lot is chosen in the Hunger Games, Katniss takes her place.

She is sent to the Capitol to prepare for the games with Peeta Mellark, a baker’s son and the other “tribute” from District 12. There they are trained and sent into the arena to meet and try to kill the tributes from the other districts.

The first book, The Hunger Games, tells of this first competition. It’s harsh. I’ve heard these books described as the “anti-Twilight”, and while they are more than that, I can’t think of two more opposite characters than Katniss and Bella. Katniss is smart, resourceful, but also vulnerable in a way that feels genuine. She’s not supergirl, but she’s pretty awesome. Young girls need more characters like her. The Hunger Games ends with the end of the competition and announcing of the winner.

Catching Fire starts where the first book left off. We find Katniss dealing with the consequences of her decisions in the arena. The Capitol is not happy with her. I won’t spoil it, but she has to go back and compete again, this time against new characters. This book felt the shortest, and I read through it pretty quickly. Where the first spent time setting up the Hunger Games universe, this just rolled right out of the gate and was fast paced.

Mockingjay, like Catching Fire, begins exactly where the second book ends. In this book, Katniss finds herself the unwilling symbol of rebellion against the Capitol. I think while good, (and a fitting end to the trilogy), I enjoyed this book the least. The pacing is necessarily slower – there is a great deal of soul-searching and we do see growth from all of the characters.

There is a quote that runs through all 3 books, from Haymitch, former champion and mentor to the tributes from 12: “Always remember who the real enemy is.” In the end, Katniss does.

Read more reviews at misskatesays.com: http://misskatesays.com/2014/01/04/miss-kates-cbrv-reviews-10-1112-the-hunger-games-trilogy-by-suzanne-collins/

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Malin’s #CBR5 Review #154: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Having lost his job as a web developer due to the recession, Clay Jannon finds a new job as the night clerk in the titular bookstore, belonging to the mysterious Mr. Penumbra. Not that he sells all that many books. As well as the normal shelves, with its somewhat eclectic selection of novels and non fiction, there is what Clay calls the “wayback” section of the store, huge shelves of unique volumes, not to be found in any search engine, a sort of strange lending library for the odd individuals who show up with a laminated cards, returning a volume and fetching another at random intervals. Clay is asked to keep a log, describing the appearance of each of the customers and the state of mind each new customer was in when they come to swap a book.

Clay starts using his web developer skills to make a 3D-model of the store and the “wayback” section on his computer, trying to see if there’s any pattern, rhyme or reason to the strange regulars and their lending patterns. He also works on trying to lure new customers to the store, using all the tools available to him in social media to advertise its location. Once he meets Kat, a young lady working at Google, his plans to map the mysterious patterns of Mr. Penumbra’s store really take off, and soon he and his friends are involved in a mysterious quest involving a global conspiracy, a secret organisation, code breaking, data visualisation on a massive scale and possibly the secret to eternal life.

Full review.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #152: Vampire Science by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman

2.5 stars

In 1976 a young med student named Carolyn meets the eight Doctor and his teenage companion Sam, while they’re trying to stop Eva, a vampire, from killing a young woman. Having never realised that there was such a thing as vampires, time travel or exciting individuals like the Time Lord and his companion, Carolyn’s word is forever altered, but despite an unspoken invitation to join the Doctor on his continued adventures, Carolyn chooses to take the injured woman to the ER and worry about her upcoming exam instead.

Twenty years later, there are clearly vampires in San Francisco again. Carolyn is a doctor herself now and has made great strides to fulfil her dream of finding a cure for cancer. She has a good life, and a dependable lighting technician boyfriend, but when the Doctor and Sam appear again, barely changed from when she met them two decades ago, she starts to wonder if she made the right choice.

More on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #150: Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

Zel lives in a remote cottage in the mountains with Mother. The only time she sees other people is twice a year, when they go to Market in the nearest town, quite some distance away. While Zel finds the people, bustle and excitement of town life exhilarating, Mother insists that they have everything that they need in their little home, and warns her daughter away from strangers. Yet Zel dreams of a different life, of some day having a husband and children and a home of her own. Just before her thirteenth birthday, she meets a beautiful young man with a spirited horse, and she can’t seem to get him out of her mind.

Konrad, the young count, is also unable to forget the young girl he met in the marketplace, and who seemed to almost magically calm his horse. Even when his parents try to arrange suitable marriages for him with lovely young maidens, he refuses, riding around the countryside trying to find out where the mysterious Zel can be found.

Mother grows anxious and worried when Zel mentions the pretty young man, and claims that there are bad people out there who want to harm them. She takes Zel to an abandoned tower, a fair distance from even their remote cottage, and before Zel realises entirely what is going on, she is trapped high above ground, with no way of escaping, with Mother on the ground, saying she will keep the bad people away. Zel’s hair starts growing at a furious rate, until she can pull Mother in and out of the tower with it. Lonely and distressed, the young girl dreams about the young man, and tries to while away the months and years of her imprisonment. She’s fairly sure she’s gone entirely mad, when one day there is a call for her to let down her hair, and count Konrad climbs in instead of Mother.

This is a short read, and an interesting retelling of the story of Rapunzel. Some of the chapters are narrated in third person, and show Zel and Konrad’s point of views. The ones from Mother’s POV are in first person, making her account the most personal of the three, and making the reader empathise more with her, even as she’s the nominal villain of the story. The witch who forced a young couple to give away their child in return for the Rapunzel salad they had stolen from her garden, who locks the girl in a tall tower to keep her away from all others – Mother is more than this here. A frustrated and intelligent woman given a tempting choice, incredible power over all growing things in return for a soul she might not even believe she has, who finds herself barren and alone, willing to do anything to gain a child, and who loves that child so much that she’s determined to do anything to keep her, even if it means making the girl possibly hate her. Mother can’t bear to lose her beloved daughter, but when it becomes clear that she may have caused her more harm than good, she makes the ultimate sacrifice to ensure her daughter’s eventual happiness.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #149: Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder

12-year-old Rebecca’s parents have been arguing for a while, and one day Rebecca’s mother takes the kids and her stuff and moves from Baltimore back to her mother in Atlanta, needing some space to figure things out. Rebecca is not at all happy about her parent’s separation, having to live in a new place, starting a new school and spends quite a lot of time sulking. Rummaging around in her grandmother’s attic, she finds an old breadbox, which appears to grant wishes, as long as whatever is wished for actually exists in the world and can fit into the space within the breadbox (so no unicorns or infinite wishes).

Thanks to the things Rebecca manages to acquire through the breadbox (new clothes, an Ipod, money, gift cards, lots and lots of candy, among other things), she manages to make herself quite popular at school and finds her new home with her grandma a bit easier to accept. While she still resents her mother for taking them away, and misses her father terribly, she’s starting to settle in and adjust. Then she discovers the truth about where the items in the breadbox come from, and things get a lot more uncomfortable and difficult. Rebecca discovers that you can’t get something for nothing, there is always a price to be paid.

Having reached December with quite a few books left on my “A to Z” reading challenge, this is the book I picked for X (as Q, Z and X don’t need to be the first letter of the book, cause that would be very difficult indeed). It deals with the rather serious issues of separation and sudden upheaval well, and while Rebecca spends a lot of the book being a total brat to her mother (I, as a grownup, had a lot less patience with her clearly rather useless dad), being completely uprooted and having to settle in at a new school when just entering your teens is never going to be fun. Apart from the magical breadbox, there isn’t a lot of fantasy to this book, and the lessons Rebecca gets about actions having consequences are things that a lot of middle grade books, in my experience, gloss over.

Teresaelectro’s #CBR5 Review #11: Dark Currents by Jaqueline Carey

Daisy Johanssen on paper is a clerk for the police chief, but behind the scenes she keeps the peace between the eldritch (supernatural) and human communities in the local resort town of Pemkowet. Her father is an incubus laughing it up in hell after he tricked and impregnated her mother. Daisy has lived her life hiding her demon tail and keeping her 7 deady sins in check as much as possible. If she ever embraces her paternal demon powers, it could bring on an apocalypse (which her dear old pop would totally get behind). Her half-human, half-demon parentage makes her the perfect liaison to the police and enforcer for the Norse goddess, Hel who rules these parts.

All things are relatively quiet in Pemkowet until a local college kid drowns in the lake. Tourists come into town for cheap thrills and to gawk at the supernatural community, but certainly not to die! In short order, Daisy is paired up with a her high school crush, Cody Fairfax, police detective and secret werewolf. They must solve the murder before the conservative community riot and disrupt the uneasy alliance between humans and eldritch. Also, a sexy ghoul has strolled into town and caught Daisy’s eye. Even though he lives off human emotions, he seems on the level and offers his assistance. Unsure who to trust, Daisy & Cody question all the other local supernaturals starting with the naiads who are water creatures known to cause trouble.

I would recommend this book for fans of the Sookie Stackhouse series who yearn for less romantic melodrama, paranormal mystery lovers & those sick of stories with the vamps vs. werewolves dynamic.

Read the rest of my book review here.

loulamac’s #CBRV review #82: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris; audiobook read by Johanna Parker

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I watch True Blood, but I am not a fan. I don’t like Anna Paquin’s performance, and Stephen Moyer makes my skin crawl. I watch True Blood for Eric, I swoon over True Blood for Eric, I rewind and pause True Blood for Eric. So that, plus my monomaniacal loathing of all things Twilight might have you wondering why on earth I would go to the trouble of downloading this audiobook for my gym and running sessions. Why indeed? It just sort of happened, and now that it has, it’s not right but it’s ok. I won’t be reappraising the ghastly TV Sookie’n’Bill any time soon, but I didn’t mind this book.

For any of you who don’t know already, Sookie Stackhouse is a telepathic waitress in rural Louisiana. Vampires have recently ‘come out of the coffin’, although they are still something of a rarity in Sookie’s hometown. All that changes when Bill Compton, veteran of the American Civil War, walks into the bar where she works. The two are thrown together when Sookie saves his life, and before long they’ve fallen into bed, and in love. Alongside this unusual love story is a murder-mystery, as someone is killing local chicks who’ve got history with vampires. Sookie looks like she’s lined up to be the next victim, and her brother Jason is the prime suspect.

The murder element of the plot had much more traction in the book than I remember from the TV show, which is part of the reason I enjoyed it more than I was expecting. Johanna Parker’s reading is another. She manages to overcome the more banal sequences (much of the book is given over to descriptions of what Sookie is putting on as she gets dressed, down to the colour of the scrunchy she has put over the elastic band that’s holding her ponytail in place), and gives Sookie a voice that is down-home without quite being hokey. Sookie is selfish and frightened, but also loves her friends and family, and really cares about what happens to them. Johanna Parker gives her dignity and stops her from coming across as shrill (Anna Paquin, take note).