Mockingjay- Suzanne Collins

As mentioned in the previous post- this review is for the third book in a trilogy. If you have not read the first two, this will contain spoilers, and you may want to avoid it.  That’s all.

Well, after the lobotomy that was book 2 of the Hunger Games Trilogy, Mockingjay was a refreshing change.  At the end of book two, Katniss and two other tributes are pulled out of the arena by rebel leaders.  Peeta and the other two remaining Tributes are grabbed by the Capital forces.  When Katniss finally recovers from all the arena shock, she finds out that her entire district has been fire bombed into ashes.  Only about eight hundred people survived, including her mother, sister, and Gale.  The survivors are  in District13, a place previously believed to be completely empty with poisoned land and desolate landscapes- but in fact home to a whole group of underground dwelling rebels who have been biding their time for the past seventy-five years.   There Katniss is reunited with her family, and must adjust to the new world around her.  The rebel leaders see Katniss as a symbol of the revolution, and want to use her to incite the other districts into joining the uprising.  She becomes the Mockingjay and is seen on television “propos,” while her mockingjay symbol becomes the uniting symbol of the revolution.   In return, the mayor of district twelve has promised that Peeta and the other tributes will be safe in District 13 if rescued, and that Katniss can kill President Snow, the evil, manipulating man in charge of the Capital.

There’s a fair amount of action in this book.  Fighting scenes, battles, bombings.   The reader understands what this rebellion is costing the rebels because of the personal losses that Katniss takes.  Homes destroyed; people killed. It’s a difficult book in many ways because of the sheer amount of death in it.  Katniss’s character crumbles, stumbles, struggles, and eventually rises long enough to suffer one more unbearable loss and finish one more difficult fight.  The end is heartbreaking, but an honest look at how war often is- with the actions of the “good guys” being inseperable from those of the “bad guys.”   The end isn’t exactly hopeful, but it is honest.  And as much as they dragged on the issue of which boyman Katniss would end up with in the second book, the conclusion to the problem is simple and rather lovely here.

Overall, Mockingjay is a great conclusion to a good series.  I definitely recommend it- but I’d recommend borrowing or renting  it because it isn’t a series with infinite re-readablity.  It will be interesting to see what Collins produces next.

Catching Fire-Suzanne Collins

I just want to start this by saying: this is the second book in a trilogy. If you haven’t read the first one, don’t read this because it will give things away and even though I don’t really have that many readers, I try not to ruin things for anyone.  Okay?

Righto. Catching Fire.  The second in the Hunger Games Trilogy.  The book in which nothing particularly interesting happens.  Our brave heroine from the first book, Katniss, has won the Hunger Games, along with her friend Peeta. But her actions in the arena have been construed as revolutionary,  a slap in the face to the Capital leaders, and now the districts are being to rise up against the tyrants in the Capital.  They want ample food for their family; they want to right to move around, to make their own choices; and they want the hunger games to end.  As Katniss and Peeta travel through the districts on their Victory Tour, they see the suffering of the people, the heartbreak of the families whose children were killed in the arena, and they try to express their own sorrow.  Back home, a new Peacekeeper force from the Capital arrives and begins to enforce rules in a more harsh way.  Katniss’s entrance to the forest is blocked, and her friend Gale is beaten almost to death for “poaching.”  The Hub, a black market where food stuffs and other illegal items are traded, is burned to the ground.  Things are getting worse and worse for the people of District Twelve.  And then, the next hunger games are announced.  Because this will be the seventy-fifth anniversary, the game planners have something special in mind.  Instead of drawing from the children of the districts, the Tributes will be drawn from the names of the former victors.  Once again, Katniss and Peeta will be facing the arena.

If this all sounds pretty interesting- it is!  The revolution is interesting, and the suffering of the people is all very Marxist or something. And if this was actually what the book was about…. I would have loved it.  Unfortunately, this was the back drop for Katniss’s idiot love triangle.  On and on and on and on and on and on. Oh, I love Gale. Oh, But I love Peeta. Oh, hold me while I have nightmares. Oh, kiss me in the woods.  For the love of the saints, you stupid, self-centered girl, pull it together.  The world is bigger than your adolescent love problems.  God.  The self-sufficient, fairly intelligent girl from the first book seems to have vanished altogether, and now, all she does is whine and think about boys.   Nooooot interesting.

If this had been the first book in the series, I would never have read the rest.  The second piece in a trilogy is tricky- you have to keep the momentum going without revealing everything, keep developing your characters without making them too complete.  Although I enjoy Collin’s writing style, and enjoy parts of her plot, I’m going to say this book was a fail for me.  I was annoyed- and started reading the third book with a feeling of “please turn this around” instead of “oh, I cant’ wait to see what happens.”   If you’re reading the series, you can’t just skip it… but don’t expect to enjoy yourself too much.

Everything You Pretend to Know About Food and are Afraid Someone Will Ask- Nancy Rommetmann

I love learning about food. I also love to eat food,  and over the years have become a fairly adventurous eater, but there are still whole areas of food that I know almost nothing about.  I grabbed this book off the dollar cart in hopes that some of my food questions would be answered. 

The book is organized as a question and answer format, divided into sections about general food, drink, regional food, and food technique.  It is very informative and will answer any questions you may have had about most food issues from pound cake to tamarind to gelato.  Some of the questions deal with “how-to” information, while some are more descriptive of taste or origin.  There are a few useful recipes, some fun kitchen tips, and all kinds of foodie information.  It isn’t really the sort of book that one reads all at once, but it is entertaining and educational.

The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins

Pop Culture is a strange beast.  In the past decade or so, there have been some books that have become monstrously popular in a dazzling burst of media hype and fan hysteria.  Harry Potter (while admittedly a wonderful series) earned J.K. Rowling so much money, I’m pretty sure she has an olympic sized swimming pool in her basement that she fills with gold coins and rolls around in every night.  Meanwhile, there’s Stephanie Meyer, whose ridiculous popularity makes literary people wince and pre-teen girls erupt into joyful wild dog behavior.   I wasn’t really part of the book world during the Twilight apocalypse, but these days, I try to keep an ear to the ground so I”ll be in on the next big thing.  It’s sort of part of my job. 
Recently,  I’d been hearing a lot about Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games and the subsequent books in the trilogy.  The buzz isn’t quite Twilight level, but a couple of trustworthy coworkers have said positive things about them- and we pay well for copies that come across our counter.  We’ve all come to recognize the author’s name, and mostly are aware of whether we have any copies on the shelves or not.  My interest was piqued, but then Neil recommended it- and later Ms Kiernan wrote about it on her blog.   I trust Neil and Caitlin for book recommendations more than I trust most other sentient beings, so I snatched up a copy when it came in. 

The entire book took me about four hours to read- maybe less- and it was very enjoyable, in a sort of caramel corn way.   The main character is enjoyable and intelligent, and while the plotline might not be entirely original,  Collins keeps the audience engrossed with some great characters and a suspenseful plotline.

Here’s the gist:  In a futuristic world where a series of floods, famines, and other disasters weakened the fabric of society to the breaking point, a new world has arisen.  In what used to be the United states, a center of power arises in a large and glittering city. Around the city are twelve districts, each responsible for the production of a resource.  The heroine, Katniss, lives in the twelfth district, which provides coal. After a mining accident kills her father, Katniss has to provide for her mother and younger sister Primrose by becoming a poacher, hunting fish and game and gathering wild produce in a restricted zone outside the town.  Each year, two teenagers from each distract are chosen in a drawing.  These twenty-four young people, called Tributes, are sent to the city to fight to the death in a staged arena game- the hunger games.   When Katniss’s sister is drawn, Katniss volunteers in her place. 

The rest of the book mostly involved Katniss’ involvement in the games- her valiant struggle to survive.  I won’t ruin the end for  you, but the fact that this is the first of a trilogy probably clues you in to the fact that Katniss makes it out alive. 

Katniss is a believable and likeable character, and the reader can’t help but become emotionally involved in her struggle.   The background to the games is interesting, and the world Collins has created, while not completely explained, is engaging.   It’s a well-crafted book, and definitely worth a read.  I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

Child of the Prophecy- Juliet Marillier

I read this several weeks ago and completely neglected to put up a review here.  I also think I may have forgotten to put up another book, but I can’t remember what it might have been…. oops.

Child of the Prophecy is the final book in Marillier’s Sevenwater’s Trilogy- and a lovely conclusion to the story that began with Sorcha and her brothers.    The heroine of this volume is Fainne, the daughter of Niamh and Ciaran.  Born in the rocky caves of a small settlement called Kerry, Fainne grows up with only her druid/sorcerer father, who teaches her the mysteries of the craft.  Her mother died tragically when she only a small girl, and her only remembrance of her mother is  small rag doll.  The doll is also her only friend in a life mostly dedicated to learning- the only exception to this comes in the summer months when the traveling folk settle in Kerry for a season, bringing her friend Darragh with them.   Fainne’s life is simple, until her grandmother- the evil Oonagh- comes to visit, forcing Fainne to learn the arts of hurting and manipulating those around her.   With these lessons regretfully learned,  Fainne is sent to Sevenwaters to live with her Uncle Sean and his bevy of daughters.  Although the Sevenwaters family is told that she has come to meet her long-lost kin and perhaps make an advantageous marriage, Oonagh intends for the girl to destroy them. 

The plotline of this novel is far more complicated than either of the preceding books in the trilogy- and Fainne is a more problematic character.  In my mind, Sorcha was a water heroine- she flowed through the events of the story with great strength and love and emotiveness.  Liadan was an earth character- stubborn, steadfast, and determined. But Fainne is a fire character ( which is directly developed in the story- she has an affinity with making fire and sparks when she’s angry.)  She’s often angry- she makes huge mistakes and reacts to things in a difficult manner.   When I first read this series, she was my least favorite of the heroines- but with each subsequent reading, I find myself liking her a bit more.  

If you haven’t read the other books of the trilogy, don’t start here.  The characters won’t make much sense, and the final conclusion won’t have the same resonance.  Read all three in order, then wait a year and read them again.  It’s a marvelous, wonderous series from a talented author.

Ender’s Game- Orson Scott Card

I guess I’m continuing the theme of sci-fi/fantasy classics that I missed reading when I was youngerand also the theme of me finding too many books in the paperback sci-fi A-M section.  I’ve had to stop myself from overloading- I have a literal stack of books next to my bookshelf that I’ve brought home in the past few months… (All this damn wedding planning really cuts into my reading time.  Good thing it’ll all be over in ten days. 🙂  ) 
So, Ender’s Game.  It’s one of those books that end up on “best of sci-fi lists” pretty often, and honestly, I had no idea what it was even about until I bought it.  (And then, in the preface, the author talked about being Mormon, and I almost didn’t read it at all…).
So, for those of you who aren’t familiar, Ender’s Game is a futuristic novel about a very, very smart boy named Ender. In this version of the future,  Earth has been attacked twice by an alien race referred to as “buggers” who very nearly destroyed all of mankind, and were barely defeated by a space army.  Time has gone by, but the threat of the buggers returning keeps mankind in fear.  Earth is united by this fear- (the author hints at a complex government system, but it’s largely unexplained.)  Each set of parents is limited to two children, and the brightest children are fitted with monitors so that the government can decide whether they are worthy of the greatest honor- acceptance into a battle school in space.   Ender’s parents have three children, by permission of the government. His older brother, Peter, is incredibly intelligent, but is a bit of a sociopath, too dangerous.  And his older sister Valentine, also incredibly smart, is too empathetic to be a soldier.  But Ender walks the fine line of balance, and at the age of six, he is taken from his family and sent up to the battle school. 
At the school, Ender takes classes in combat and space physics, but the main focus of the school is on the staged battles between the armies of school children.  Once they have finished basic training, new students are put into an army (all of which have animal names like Scorpion, Dragon, Eagle, etc.).  The armies are led by a student general- and at intervals, the students are robed in specially designed space suits and sent into null gravity rooms.  They shoot each other with small guns- once a student is hit, part or all of his suit is “frozen.” Once a student is completely frozen,  he is considered dead in the battle.  In order to win, five students must reach the enemies gate and activate and enter it.   Although Ender is significantly younger than the other “soldiers,” he quickly proves himself as a brilliant strategist and is moved up quickly to a general of his own army, the Dragon Army.  The Dragons totally and completely destroy every enemy they come up against, despite increasing odds and exhaustion.  
After all his victories, Ender has made some enemies at the school.  A group of them attack him in the showers, and he accidentally kills one of them.  He falls apart a bit, and sent back to earth, where he is allowed to see his sister – who has meanwhile become a sort of political philosopher of note.  After the meeting, he agrees to go on the command school, where all his time is spent on battle simulations.  Some of his old friends/soldiers from the battle school join him for training there, and they hone their skills to face one final (epic!) battle against the buggers, but this time, they fight the buggers on their own planet. 

I won’t ruin the ending for you, because it’s a bit of a “really?” ending- or was to me, anyway.  It gets a bit philosophical at the end, which is nice, because basically it’s a book about a little boy who is ridiculously good at fighting battles. 

Ender’s Game  is an engrossing story.  The battle school and its mock fights are well crafted, and the  story of the bugger wars is intriguing.  Ender is not the easiest character to love- I forgot fairly often that he was supposed to be a little boy through most of the book. He doesn’t act like a child very much at all, and when I did think about how young he was, my reaction was usually “how could anyone expect a little kid to do that?”  I guess the point was that he was super amazing special, so it didn’t matter how young he was- and also, I guess that the reader was supposed to be a bit outraged at how the government manipulated him in order to fight a war.   It’s an interesting way to look at war in general, and wars of the future, specifically.   Valentine’s political career is also a fascinating commentary on crowd mentality and how easily people can be swayed into certain beliefs. 

Does Ender’s Game deserve it’s ranking in the lists of science fiction literature?  Yes, I think ultimately it does.  It’s smart, provoking, well-crafted, and well, entertaining.  I read most of it in one afternoon.  If you like sci-fi, and you haven’t read this- it’s well worth a read.

The Tombs of Atuan- Ursula Le Guin

Despite being only nominally impressed by the first Earthsea book, I decided to pick up the second book in the series.

This one centers around a little girl who is taken from her family at the age of six to be trained as a priestess of the Dark Gods, or some such.  The belief goes that when the priestess dies, she is immediately reborn as a girl baby somewhere in the kingdom. The other priestesses go out and find a child born that day, and if she survives to her sixth year with no deformities, then she is taken to be the next incarnation of the priestess.  She learns the secrets of the Dark gods, and becomes their servant.  She serves them down in a constantly dark tunnel where their treasures are hidden, and where dark sacrifices are made.   This incarnation of the priestess is a conflicted girl named Tenar, who is torn between the destiny she believes she must follow and the desire to have a life outside the temple.

One day, a man appears down in the tunnels, and although she knows she ought to kill him for trespassing, she spares him.  The man is Ged, from the first book, who has come to the labrynth to find a lost half of a broken trinket.  By saving Ged, Tenar opens new paths for her own future and causes her to doubt the power of the gods.

I did enjoy this volume to the series more than the first- perhaps because I generally enjoy female characters. I also enjoyed the mythology, and the themes of personal choice versus predestined duty.  It’s a very, very short little book, and a very quick read, and in some ways, I did find a tad unsatisfying, but I would recommend it to readers of young adult fiction and fantasy in general.

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