Reviewed for THC Reviews The Hunger Games Trilogy as a whole has been incredible, and Mockingjay was a very fitting end to the series. IMHO, it was eve...moreReviewed for THC Reviews The Hunger Games Trilogy as a whole has been incredible, and Mockingjay was a very fitting end to the series. IMHO, it was every bit as good as the first two books, only now the fire of revolution has spread through Panem, making the entire country the 'arena' in a battle for freedom and equality. I've noticed that this final installment has slightly lower ratings than the first two, and although I haven't really read the reviews yet to find out why, I can speculate. My guess is that some found the ending too melancholy, and admittedly, it is bittersweet. Happiness and peace is finally achieved, but those who survive the war are forever changed in profound and irreversible ways. The losses are staggering, yet hope still blooms amidst the ashes of destruction, both of physical property, as well as hearts and minds. Mockingjay paints a pretty grim and realistic picture of the cost of warfare, especially the personal cost to those who fight the war, and why striving for peace is so very important. At the same time, it shows that sometimes peace can only be achieved through the confrontation and ultimate destruction of an evil and unjust regime. This entire series is incredibly powerful and emotionally moving, and this final book is a definite tear-jerker. Oddly enough though, I didn't cry while reading it. I think there just wasn't time to process what was happening with our heroine still in an intense battle for survival. However, the floodgates opened after I turned the final page, at which point I think I was grieving along with Katniss for the loss of characters I'd come to care about, as well as the loss of so many innocent lives on both sides of the war. It's very rare for any book to provoke this kind of response from me, but somehow Suzanne Collins managed it. For this reason, and many others I highly recommend this book and the entire series.
Katniss is no longer simply the girl on fire. She's become the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope and inspiration to the rebel armies of Panem. Unfortunately, in this role, she is still little more than a pawn in a political game. They use her to make propaganda videos for their cause and she is a unifying figure, but due to her unpredictability and penchant for getting into trouble, she's rarely allowed into the fight itself. Luckily, Katniss is a very independent and smart girl, who on some level has learned how to play their game and usually only allows them to do what she feels will be helpful in some way to the cause. As with the first two books though, she has a tendency to underestimate her value to everyone and the influence she wields over people who all tend to love and respect her. She only sees herself as an ordinary girl who's nothing special, and without Peeta's encouragement, this is where others like her sister, Prim, and her mentor, Haymitch, step in to be the voice of reason. Katniss is a tough girl who won't take crap from anyone and marches to the beat of her own drummer, but she can also have a compassionate side. She rarely kills unless forced to do so in self-defense or defense of others, and even then, she carries a heavy burden of responsibility on her shoulders for all the deaths that she believes she's caused whether by her own hand or involuntarily. Her first priority is always to keep those she loves safe, and every time she can't, it kills a little piece of her soul. Katniss is a wonderful person with many positive qualities, but as we see in the end, she's not Superwoman. Even she has limits on what she can take and still come out the other side as a functional member of society. However, at that point, we also see that she's no longer just the Mockingjay, but a Phoenix, rising from the ashes of a war-torn home and life, which adds yet another layer to her already complex character. She may never be quite the same again, but above all, she's a fighter who earned her peace and contentment with her own blood, sweat, and tears.
Another thing that some readers may not have cared for in this book is the lack of Peeta's calming influence and congenial personality that was such a big part of the first two books. At the end of Catching Fire, we discover that he was imprisoned by the Capitol, and he remains captive for the first half or so of this book. Despite the physical distance though, we can still see him trying to protect Katniss the best he knows how. Even after he's freed, he's no longer the same person because of the torture inflicted upon him by President Snow, which leaves a lot of emotional distance as well. Every once in a while we see glimmers of the old Peeta, but by and large, he's a very confused young man. While Peeta is physically and emotionally absent, Gale takes up some of the slack from a romantic perspective. He makes no secret that he's still in love with Katniss and views Peeta as a rival for her affections. Gale is certainly appealing in his own way, but I must admit, I've never been much of a fan of love triangles. Not to mention, Peeta has held my affections throughout this series and is still one of my all-time greatest literary crushes. It was difficult to have him so distant throughout, but I think in some ways, it was also imperative to Katniss finally confronting her feelings for both young men and figuring out what each of them means to her.
For the last several years, The Hunger Games Trilogy has made the ALA's list of most banned/challenged books, but as a parent of teenagers, I would have no problem with teens approximately 14-15 and up reading it, depending on their sensitivity level. The subject matter has become a bit more mature with each installment, but that's to be expected when following characters who are changing and growing with the story. IMHO, the thing that would be most troublesome is the violence. There is admittedly an increase in the violence level in this book as compared to the first two, because revolution has broken out and the country is at war. The reality though, is that war is hell, and that point is definitely hammered home here in the deaths of many innocent people, including some that readers will have grown to care about, as well as trained military fighters. The body count is admittedly very high. Some deaths are seen in real-time; others are just heard about through intelligence and the news. Regardless of how they occur, I never felt like it was gratuitous or inappropriate to the story being told. No matter how heartbreaking they are, each death has a purpose. Also in most cases, they're handled in a relatively matter-of-fact way, with the death occurring and then the other characters moving on fairly quickly. The author doesn't tend to linger in the moment or describe the scenes in gory, bloody details. She relies more on the psychological fall-out to get her point across.
Another thing that might be concerning to parents is that several characters carry suicide pills to prevent themselves from being taken alive by Capitol forces and tortured for information. Some of them also have unspoken pacts to shoot each other for the same reason. At one point in the story, Katniss begins to have suicidal thoughts herself, but after all the horrors she's endured, it's pretty understandable. For obvious reasons, these parts of the story might not be appropriate for teens who have suffered from depression or suicidal tendencies, but this would really be my only concern. Haymitch still has a drinking problem, and Katniss describes the effects of being on morphling, but it's been prescribed for legitimate reasons. Otherwise, there is little objectionable content. There are no profanities, and the sexual content is extremely limited. A character mentions being sold for sex, but it's worded very delicately. Katniss shares a couple of tender kisses, one of which stirs some feelings in her body, and there is one brief, veiled reference to love-making (absolutely no details), which might even go over the heads of less sophisticated readers. Overall, I'd say that the positive messages outweigh any potentially controversial content. It's a story about standing up for what's right in the face of pure evil, and trying to create a better world for everyone, no matter the cost. It's about friendship, loyalty, courage, family, love, and compassion for others. Most of all, it's a story about finding hope in the most hopeless of circumstances, that even when it feels like you've lost everything, hope still springs anew and can blossom out of the rubble of destruction. With all this in mind, I personally think it would be a travesty to take these books out of the hands of young people.
I can't express just how much of a genius storyteller Suzanne Collins is. She seems to instinctively know how to write in such a way that keeps the reader turning the pages. Every chapter ends with a mini-cliffhanger to keep the reader on the edge of their seat throughout. Mockingjay has the tension of any good psychological or political thriller. In fact, the political machinations in this one are far-reaching with lots of twists and turns, leaving Katniss, and the reader, never truly certain who can be trusted. Throughout every chapter, I felt like I was right there in the thick of the revolution with Katniss, experiencing all the terror, heartbreak, and confusion right along with her. She's one of the most dynamic first-person narrators I've ever read, and I never felt a moment of boredom while reading the entire Hunger Games Trilogy. I truly can't recommend this series highly enough to both mature teens and adults alike. It's an amazing story that's sure to stick with me for a very long time to come and be re-read many times over. Now, I can't wait to see the Mockingjay movies.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Divergent is proving to be a tough book for me to review, because I finished it with very mixed feelings. The premise behind t...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Divergent is proving to be a tough book for me to review, because I finished it with very mixed feelings. The premise behind the story is quite good and intriguing, but ultimately, I felt like the execution was somewhat lacking and not quite up to the standard I expected based on the outrageously high ratings it has on GoodReads and other book-related sites. I can see why many are enamored of this book, but IMHO, it wasn't as good as similar books I've read. Because of its dystopian setting and its tough, teenage, female protagonist, the comparisons to The Hunger Games are inevitable. While I go into reading every book, trying to judge it on its own merits, I have to admit it was difficult for me to avoid drawing those comparisons too. Whereas, I was engrossed and enthralled by the world of The Hunger Games, the Divergent world didn't quite draw me in the same way. Whereas, I always felt like I understood Katniss even when she made choices I personally wouldn't have, Beatrice often confused me. Whereas, I totally fell head over heels for Peeta, who is now one of my all-time greatest literary crushes, Four didn't quite capture my heart. Whereas, I was very emotionally invested in Katniss and Peeta's romance, Tris and Four's romance seemed lackluster by comparison and just didn't have the same depth of emotion. As I'm sure you can tell, Divergent simply didn't meet the high standard set for me by The Hunger Games, but I'll admit it was good enough to make me want to continue with the series.
Beatrice aka Tris is the first-person narrator of the story. She was born into a dystopian world in which everyone is separated into five different factions based on their personalities and beliefs. At the age of sixteen, which Tris now is, she must choose whether to stay in Abnegation, the faction into which she was born, or switch factions, but to do so would mean leaving her family. Tris obviously loves her family, which made her choice to join a different faction a difficult one, but in her heart, she felt like she didn't belong there anymore. To top if all off, the aptitude test she took before the Choosing Ceremony labeled her a Divergent, someone who doesn't fit neatly into any one faction. She is also told never to speak of her result, because anyone knowing this information could be extremely dangerous for her. As Tris goes through the initiation into her chosen faction, she proves herself to be a very worthy candidate. She's tough as nails and never gives up even when things get rough. In this respect, I'd say she was an admirable character and a good role model. However, where I found myself having problems with Tris is in her seemingly contradictory personality. Sometimes, she could show brief moments of compassion and kindness, but more often than not she squelched those feelings, which sometimes led her to being cruel and callous. She loves and misses her family and faction to an extent, but also doesn't seem to have any real qualms or regrets about taking an independent stand. She sometimes thinks of herself as weak, but exhibits a great deal of strength. One minute she's upset, maybe even crying, in a moment of vulnerability; the next, she shuts down her emotions and turns cold and angry. Ultimately, Tris was a big bundle opposites that made it difficult for me to get an emotional read on her. I strongly suspect that the author was attempting to use this dichotomy to express Tris's Divergence, but having her bounce around from one behavior and feeling to another was simply confusing to me. I think Ms. Roth could have found a better way to show that Tris was different without turning her into an enigma. As she was written, I can't really say whether I liked Tris or not. Sometimes, I very much admired her actions, and other times, I was very disappointed in her thoughts and behavior. I think the thing that bothered me the most was her seeming unforgiving nature, especially toward anyone who ever wronged her, even in small ways. I think an author can show a character to be strong without making them appear cold and unfeeling toward others, especially when Tris was raised in a faction that was the exact opposite. So, in the end, I'd say I have rather ambiguous feelings toward Tris. She was an OK character, but not one that I found to be compelling enough to carry the entire story on her small shoulders.
One of the drawbacks to writing a story in first-person POV is that the secondary characters can become little more than window dressing. Unless they're in the hands of an extremely talented writer who knows how to bring them to life through the eyes of the narrator, they can be difficult for the reader to get to know, and that's largely how I felt about the supporting players in Divergent. The most important character besides Tris is her love interest, Four. He is one of the trainers of the initiates and eventually becomes more than that to her. When Four first appeared, he was an intriguing character, someone whose philosophy is honorable and stands out in stark contrast to that of the other trainer and faction leader, Eric, who is cruel and ruthless. However, I correctly guessed two of the most important pieces of information about Four long before they were revealed, making those parts rather anti-climactic. There were tidbits of ingredients sprinkled throughout the book which if nurtured could have made Four a real stand-out character, but overall, I felt like he didn't live up to the potential. A large part of the reason he didn't is that he and Tris never really shared much in the way of meaningful interactions or conversations that would show what makes him tick. The only thing I can think of is Four allowing Tris into his fear landscape, which showed a certain level of trust in her, but they don't really discuss the experience afterward. I truly wanted to love Four in the same way so many other fans seem to, but ultimately, much like with Tris, I couldn't get a strong enough impression of him as a person to feel like I knew him. As to most of the other characters, they tend to fall into prescribed roles of friend and foe and rarely deviate from that. The one time someone does, I was stunned by this character going from good to bad in a heartbeat, and never understood what would drive him to do what he did. Overall, there was just enough development to make me care about some of the supporting players, but I never really felt like I truly got to know any of them on the deep level I crave.
As a parent, I feel that Divergent is suitable for the young adult age group for which it is intended. As with many dystopian novels, the element which would probably be of primary concern is the violence. There is a fair bit of this, but I felt it wasn't nearly as graphic as it could have been. However, it can get somewhat brutal at times. The initiate training can seem rather severe with the kids beating up on each other until one is knocked out cold and/or bleeding. They also do other dangerous things and often get injured. A character is stabbed in the eye with a knife. Tris is kidnapped by some villainous boys who threaten to kill her and inappropriately touch her. A character presumably commits suicide. They must face their fears inside a fear simulation which could be troublesome if the reader experiences any of the same fears as the characters. In the end, a war breaks out in which many are killed, including some characters readers have come to care about. This also necessitates Tris and Four carrying firearms and killing others in self-defense. Otherwise, there is little in the way of objectionable content. I believe I counted only three mild profanities. Four is seen a bit buzzed on alcohol in one scene and others are drunk in the background. Tris and Four share some kisses that gradually get more passionate as the story progresses, but there isn't much in the way of sexual content. There is one scene where Four removes his shirt while they are alone together, which stirs some fluttery feelings in Tris, but overall, any sexual references are pretty minimal and mostly veiled.
For a dystopian novel, I felt like Divergent moved rather slowly for about the first ¾ of the book. It focuses pretty narrowly on Tris's initiate training with a sprinkling of tidbits here and there to show that things in the world at large are not as perfect as they seem and that tensions are rising. There is some action and adventure as Tris goes through her initiation process, just enough to hold my attention, but what I really wanted to know was how this deviant world and its factions came to be. Unfortunately, there was really no backstory to explain all this, which was disappointing. Even the explanation of why it was dangerous to be a Divergent wasn't revealed quickly enough to suit me, but I did like the ideas behind it once I fully understood it. Then after plodding along, everything finally escalates at a breakneck pace during the last 100 pages or so. I would have preferred if the political jockeying had been woven in a little more prominently and sooner to build more suspense and an overall sense of the peril that was to come.
The last thing that kind of bothered me about Divergent is the writing itself. Despite being classified as young adult, this book is written at about a fifth grade reading level. Most of the time, the author's word choices and sentence structure are pretty simplistic, which made it quick and easy to read, but difficult for me to connect with because of its lack of sophistication. I know many readers enjoy the spare type of writing style that Veronica Roth employs, but I much prefer the richer complexities of language that paint vivid word pictures and metaphors. When used well, it allows me a window, not only into the mind of the characters, but the writer herself. When Ms. Roth isn't writing overly simple sentences, she has a tendency to use run-on sentences which IMHO needed to be broken up to maintain the flow. She also needed way more contractions than what she used. As written, the wording was often stilted, especially in dialog. I honestly couldn't envision a group of goth-like daredevils speaking in such a formal manner, so I had to contract the words in my own mind.
After all my many criticisms, readers might wonder why I still chose to give this book four stars. In all honesty, I'm not entirely sure I can explain it myself. As I mentioned when I started this review, I have very mixed feelings about Divergent. It does have a measure entertainment value, as I wasn't really bored while reading it. It also has a certain appeal in its world-building, enough so that being left with an unfinished ending makes me want to continue. As much as I didn't feel like I got to know the characters well enough to genuinely say I liked them, I, at least, liked them well enough to be curious about what happens next for them. In this respect, I guess one could say Ms. Roth was successful in her mission as a writer, because even though I thought the story could have been much better constructed, she still sufficiently peaked my interest to make me come back for more. And this I suppose, is the main reason I still felt compelled to give Divergent a favorable rating despite its many shortcomings.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Warm Bodies is probably the most unique work of fiction I've ever read. It is a tale of post-apocalyptic human sur...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Warm Bodies is probably the most unique work of fiction I've ever read. It is a tale of post-apocalyptic human survival against a zombie horde, except in this case, the main character and first-person narrator is one of the zombies. Said zombie is an existential philosopher who is trying to discern his reason for living (or being undead as the case may be). All of this is couched in a love story, although I hesitate to classify it as romance like many other readers do. It just simply isn't written in the style of romance, nor are the emotions as palpable as they are in most romance novels. However, I will certainly allow that love is a driving force in the story and without it there couldn't have been the happy ending that is classic to romances.
In my opinion, what makes this story so unique is it's protagonist, a zombie simply known as R. He can no longer remember the name he had when he was one of the Living, but he recalls the first letter being R. He spends his days in an often stupefied state at the old airport which is inhabited by his hive, lumbering around and groaning. Despite his outward appearance and actions, R has a rich inner thought life in which he analyzes his existence as a zombie. At his heart, R is a philosopher, but even though he can ruminate on the deeper meaning of life and death, he cannot remember enough human speech to verbalize much of what he's thinking, and even if he could, there is no one around who would care. I liked that R exhibited an unusual sense of morality for a creature such as himself. Although his “wild nature” drives him to hunt humans, he's not entirely comfortable with doing it. He's also a collector of human artifacts, which I saw as a way for him to remain linked to his humanity. Something inside R begins to fundamentally change the day he goes hunting and eats the brain of a young security officer named Perry. R promptly starts feeling guilty about this, because through consuming the scrumptious morsel, he becomes privy to all of Perry's thoughts and memories. Some of his most compelling memories are of his time with a girl named Julie. Essentially living vicariously through Perry's memories, R decides that Julie, who was present when Perry and most of the other members of her salvage crew were killed, is not someone to be eaten, but someone to be protected. He takes her back to the airport with him, and she becomes the first person he has ever really tried to communicate with since being turned zombie. Together, they embark on an adventure in which they must try to figure out why R's interactions with Julie have begun to change him, why some of those changes seem to be transferring to other zombies in his hive, and whether they might be able to stop or even reverse the effects of the plague that made the zombies.
Julie is the main female character, but we only see her through R's eyes. Because of this, there were times when I felt like something was missing. There wasn't quite sufficient explanation about who she was as a person and her motivations for doing certain things. She's had a pretty rough life in which she had to grow up fast in a world that was crumbling around her. She's a brave spitfire who doesn't really take any grief from anyone, and she has a curious nature too. This may be part of why she's so open toward R almost from the start. She sees that he's different from other zombies she's encountered, and after a short period of fear, she becomes almost blasé about being friends with him. This is where being privy to her thoughts would have helped me to understand her motives better, but as I read further and learned more about her life, my understanding of her character gradually became clearer.
There are a few secondary characters who play significant roles. Perry, despite being dead, lives on in R. The way in which he begins communicating with R reminded me somewhat of the relationship between Melanie and Wanderer in Stephanie Meyer's The Host. Perry was an intriguing character who appeared to be a rather doom and gloom person. He had essentially decided his life was all but over anyway and that he probably wouldn't live much longer. I think I understood what fueled this attitude in him, but again, like with Julie, it would have been nice to know a little more about him. Perry, in effect, becomes R's conscience, driving him to seek more from life. Julie's best friend, Nora, is another kick-butt girl who doesn't take any crap. R's zombie friend, M, also recognizes when things begin to change and helps lead the revolt. Then there is Julie's father, the general in charge of the human security forces, who unfortunately has become so blinded by his own hatred for the zombies, he won't listen to reason when Julie tries to tell him that she thinks she may have found a way to start curing them. Luckily, his second in command and Julie's surrogate grandfather, Rosso, sees what his friend doesn't.
It appears that one of the major genre categories for Warm Bodies is young adult fiction which makes sense given the age of the protagonists. Although their ages aren't outright specified, it is implied that Julie, Perry and Nora are still teenagers, but in many ways they act older, probably due to their circumstances. No one really knows how old R is, but there is some speculation that he was probably only in his twenties when he was turned. Given the young adult classification, there is some content in the book to which parents might object. For starters, there is quite a bit of language, including frequent uses of the f-word. Given that most of the characters appear to be teenagers, there is also some underage drinking going on. Sex is more talked about than actually described, but there is some mature content in that respect. Some of the things that occur: R briefly describes zombie sex which is basically a poor imitation of human sex, a character watches porn, a character's arousal is implied, a character tells of having prostituted herself at the age of thirteen, and a boyfriend and girlfriend are mentioned to have made love several times. When looked at in perspective, none of these things, language, drinking or sex, are terribly surprising though, given the rough nature of the post-apocalyptic setting in which people are struggling for day to day survival and social niceties have, for the most part, become a thing of the past. Of course, last but not least is the violence and gore. More than once the zombies go on hunting raids, looking for humans to eat, and sometimes, the consumption of human flesh is described. At times, it made me a little squeamish, but overall, I didn't think it was overly graphic. There are some good messages for young people here too about standing up for what's right, looking for common ground to solve differences, not giving up even though things seem hopeless, and the fact that love can heal a multitude of hurts. Overall though, given the content and the philosophical nature of the book which might be difficult for younger readers to understand anyway, I would only feel comfortable recommending it to readers sixteen and up who wouldn't be bothered by any of the things I mentioned.
In Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion has crafted a very unusual story that was an enjoyable read. I liked the world-building here, and he described everything in a way that was easy to envision. He's also a master of metaphor. Not only is he clever with a turn of phrase, but the entire story becomes a metaphor for hate, avarice and a plethora of other sins, a morality tale of sorts. While it was a very well put together story, I wouldn't say it was perfect. In addition to some character motivations being a bit murky as I mentioned earlier, the pacing was a little slow in places, especially given the post-apocalyptic setting filled with zombies. This novel is written in present-tense which I think was appropriate, but the author has a tendency to frequently use present perfect tense when I thought simple present tense would have given the narrative more punch and a greater sense of immediacy. Despite me zoning out a little during the earlier parts of the book, the ending was pretty action-packed, keeping me on the edge of my seat. For this reason and because of the delightful oddity of the story, I decided it was worthy of keeper status. While Warm Bodies is a self-contained story, it does leave some room for a continuation which it appears Mr. Marion is working on as we speak. There are also some short stories he wrote which are set in the same world and star the same characters. I'll be looking forward to checking those out while waiting for the next installment in the series.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Catching Fire was a fabulous follow-up to The Hunger Games and the second book in the series of the same name. I wasn't sure w...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Catching Fire was a fabulous follow-up to The Hunger Games and the second book in the series of the same name. I wasn't sure what Suzanne Collins could do that would possibly top The Hunger Games, but somehow she managed to create a book that was equally good if not slightly better than the first. It had plenty of action, adventure, and taut suspense that kept me turning the pages. There were a number of surprises along the way, as well as plot twists and turns to keep me on my toes, and the cliffhanger ending makes me so glad that I already have the final book of the trilogy on my TBR pile, ready to read as soon as I have the time.
Katniss is no longer just the girl on fire. With her winning the 74th Hunger Games in a way that was perceived as rebellious to the Capitol, she has unintentionally sparked a mutiny among the people of Panem. She has become an unwitting, and at times, unwilling, symbol of hope in the face of hopelessness, and President Snow will do just about anything to squash that before it gets out of control. Katniss, on the other hand, would do just about anything to protect the people she loves from the Capitol's threats, including sacrificing herself. She is a very strong, independent-minded young woman who doesn't take kindly to being used as a pawn. She likes to live life on her own terms and when someone takes away her choices, she automatically fights back. Katniss is also a young woman with very conflicted emotions. She thinks she might be in love with her long-time friend, Gale, but at the same time, she can't deny that she feels something for Peeta as well, although what exactly that is, she's not sure. I think that in some ways, she fights her feelings for both of them, but more so for Peeta, because she views him as the Capitol's choice. A match between her and Peeta is what the Capitol wants and more than anything Katniss desires to distance herself from their manipulations. Still, she harbors a reluctant respect for Peeta and often finds herself turning to him for help and comfort.
Being the only other person Katniss personally knows besides Haymitch who has survived the Hunger Games, Peeta understands her and what she's going through in a way that no one else does. Survival for them came at a high price. Both suffer from nightmares of their time in the arena, and both of them are being unwillingly pushed into their roles as victors and mentors. Peeta finds outlets for his pain through his art and his words. Katniss doesn't possess his talents, so he becomes a strong shoulder for her to lean on when her own strength fails her. Peeta is a young man with an underlying, internal strength that is sometimes easy to miss, and for that, I absolutely adore him. He is smart, resourceful, and affable, naturally winning over nearly everyone with whom he comes in contact. He is peaceful and diplomatic and would far rather negotiate with someone than kill them. But I think that perhaps Peeta's greatest strength lies in his unwavering and devoted love for Katniss. She is his whole world, and he would do anything to protect her. Peeta is definitely going to go down as one of my greatest literary crushes of all time.
I mentioned in my review of The Hunger Games that for the last couple of years, the series has made the top five on the ALA's most banned/challenged books list. In my opinion the maturity level increased a bit from the first book, but as a parent of teens, I still no problem with teenagers of about 14-15 and up reading it. The violence level has increased somewhat in this book, because it is no longer contained only in the arena. It has begun to spread as the people rise up in protest and the Capitol responds with greater brutality. Several characters die in various ways throughout the story or are severely punished, but when taking into account the fact that a revolution has been sparked, it was not nearly as violent as it could have been. It was less about graphic details and more about eliciting an emotional response from the reader through the use of suspense and an overall sense of peril throughout. However, I will admit that the violence has the highest potential of being objectionable content. There is no bad language, and little in the way of sexual content. A couple of characters engage in nudity or near-nudity, but it is intended more to intimidate other characters than to titillate, and as with the first book, there is a scene where it is done in the context of helping someone who's injured. There are several tender kisses, one of which turns a bit more passionate with mild descriptions of how Katniss's body is responding. Two characters often share a bed, but nothing more occurs between them. On the positive side, there are many wonderful messages to be gleaned from this book about loyalty, love, courage, friendship, what it means to be a family, and doing what's right in the face of evil.
Overall, I can't recommend Catching Fire and the series in general highly enough. It was very difficult to put down and I was always anxious to get back to it. Ms. Collins has a real talent for ending each chapter with a strong hook that keeps the reader coming back for more. With the cliffhanger ending, I can't wait to read the final book to see how everything turns out, and I'm also eagerly awaiting the movie version that will be released in a few months (Nov. 2013).(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Hunger Games was another great young adult book that definitely lived up to the hype for me. It was a gripping, suspensefu...moreReviewed for THC Reviews The Hunger Games was another great young adult book that definitely lived up to the hype for me. It was a gripping, suspenseful science fiction story of a dystopian society in which kids between the ages of twelve and eighteen are forced by the government each year to compete in a gladiator type of fight to the death as a way to keep the citizens in line and prevent them from rebelling. There is also the beginnings of a sweet, tender romance between the two main characters, Katniss and Peeta. I wouldn't classify the book as a romance though, because this is definitely not the main focus of the story, but it is an inextricable part of it that is deftly woven throughout the plot. The first section of the book, leading up to The Hunger Games is a tad slow, but once the Games begin, it quickly becomes a taut, suspense/thriller as the characters engage in the ultimate fight for survival. From that point on, I could barely put it down, and more than once found myself reading much longer than I had intended to.
Katniss is a very intelligent girl and the first-person narrator of the story. She is a scrappy survivor who was forced into the role of caretaker for her family at the tender age of eleven, when her father was killed in the mines and her mother became deeply depressed and emotionally checked out on life. Even though her mother finally came back to them, Katniss is still understandably angry with her for not being there for them during that time, but deep down she loves her too. Katniss adores her delicate, little sister Prim and would do anything for her, including taking her place in The Hunger Games. Even though she doesn't think she has much of a chance of winning, she feels more capable of handling the Games than Prim would be. Katniss has spent so much time taking care of her family that I think she's forgotten how to just be a girl. She's had to be tough in order to keep them all alive. As a consequence, she's buried most of her emotions, but some of them begin to stir back to the surface during the Games. She doesn't even realize how alluring she is to others, instead crediting people's interest in her as nothing more than them having known her father or loving her little sister, so when Peeta admits he cares for her, she doesn't believe it. There was a part of me that wished Katniss would have a little more faith in Peeta, especially after all he'd done for her, but another part of me understood where she was coming from. She truly believed it was somehow his strategy for winning the Games, and she was also trying to distance herself from him in the event it came down to her having to kill him. When it comes to romance though, Katniss thought more like a guy. It was actually kind of amusing that she believed Peeta was just acting like he loved her, when it was obvious to pretty much everyone but her that he was completely sincere.
Peeta is a very sweet hero, who is really more of a lover than a fighter. He is the humble son of a baker and has a kind and gentle heart. Just like Katniss, he doesn't think he has a prayer of winning the Games, so any strategy he has primarily relies on playing sympathetically to the masses and also like Katniss, surviving by his wits. Peeta is an intuitive young man who sees things in Katniss that no one else does, including herself. I love the selfless way he always tries to protect her and make her look good, even though she thinks it's nothing more than his strategy for winning the Games. I also liked that he is looking for a way to use the Games to send a message to the Capitol, and how he doesn't want to allow the Games to change him into someone he's not. If he can't survive, he wants more than anything to just die with some dignity. We only get to see Peeta through Katniss's eyes, so there were a couple of times I would have liked to know a little more of what was going through his mind, but for the most part, his feeling came through loud and clear in his actions.
For the last couple years, The Hunger Games has made the top five on the ALA's most banned/challenged books list, but as a parent, I have no trouble with kids middle grades and up reading it, as long as they aren't overly sensitive to violence. In fact, my thirteen year old daughter read it before I did and had no trouble with it at all. Granted, the violence of kids killing other kids can be brutal and perhaps even disturbing, but as with many dystopian novels, the practice serves to underscore the unfairness of a governmental system that needs to be changed, which makes for a great discussion starter. As violent as the story was though, I felt it could have been much worse. It was not nearly as explicit as some violent scenes I've read in adult novels, and I believe the author held back somewhat on the details in deference to her target audience. In my opinion, it was no worse than some of the PG-13 movies that many kids in this age range are watching regularly, and definitely no worse than some of the real-life violence, such as school shootings, that kids must deal with. The big difference here is that they can process it through the safe lens of a fictional story and perhaps find some degree of empowerment. Aside from the violence, there was little else I found that could potentially be objectionable. There is no bad language, and Katniss and Peeta share nothing more than tender kisses. She does help him undress at one point, but only in the context of helping someone who is sick and injured. They also share a sleeping bag at night for warmth, but in my opinion, there was nothing sexual about either of these things at all. There is a lot of food for thought in this book as well, such as what we value as a society, and what it means when a society has devolved to the point that they view killing as sport and entertainment. There are also questions raised about what should be done when a governmental regime sanctions such brutality, as well as the importance of thinking for oneself. Overall, I would say the book is appropriate for its intended age group, especially when guided by a parent or educator.
The Hunger Games was an extremely well-written book. Normally, I'm not a fan of present tense narration, but I honestly didn't even realize until I was several chapters into the book that it was written in present tense. It was very well done, and I thought it gave the story a greater sense of urgency and immediacy which only heightened the suspense. I really felt like I was there with Katniss as she embarks on this fight for survival. I loved the characters, and I really liked how the author explored the concepts of mercy, and doing the right thing by being as moral and ethical as possible when faced with a situation that is so very wrong but from which there seems to be no means of escape. Suzanne Collins really left an impression on me with this first book of the The Hunger Games trilogy, and I can't wait to continue.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" After reading Hiding Space, the first in Linda Andrews' sci-fi series which follows intrepid space adventurers Bro...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" After reading Hiding Space, the first in Linda Andrews' sci-fi series which follows intrepid space adventurers Brongill of Da'Hap and Alderina of Rutgers, I was very undecided about how to rate it. I had liked the characters and enjoyed certain aspects of the story, but I was a bit disappointed at the lack of romance and a little confused by the socio-political details of the world they inhabited. Now that I've read Animosity, I'm wondering if I missed something, because I thoroughly enjoyed this follow-up volume. Maybe it had something to do with the story taking place on the surface of Brongill's home planet, Terrill, rather than in outer space, or maybe it was the addition of some lively new characters, but whatever the reason, Animosity ended up being a really fun read. This book was packed with non-stop action and adventure that kept me turning the pages wondering how Brongill and Ally would bring peace to the warring factions and defeat their common enemy. Although the focus was still squarely on the sci-fi elements, I was pleased to find a little more romance this time. There is some sexual tension peppered throughout the narrative and one relatively mild love scene, but it was just enough to make me comfortable with actually categorizing this one as sci-fi romance. Also, the world building was much clearer this time. Either it was explained better or I was paying closer attention, but whichever was the case, I had no trouble understanding what was going on and who was who which only added to the enjoyment.
Animosity begins with Terrill being in a virtual post-apocalyptic state. Sentient machines have essentially taken over the planet and are trying to off the humanoid beings (this part reminded me in some ways of The Matrix or Battlestar Galactica). It is on this world that Brongill, Ally, and the crew of the Tyche crash land in the opening chapters (there's nothing like having your spaceship blow up right out of the gate;-)). From there, it's all about their survival and the search for Ally's children and the rest of Brongill's crew, but in order to accomplish that, they must face the now-hostile environment of Terrill. Along the way, Brongill and Ally discover that an ancient prophecy says they will unite the races and bring peace to the world, which of course, is a very heavy burden to bear, but they seem to be very much up to the task.
As with the first book, Animosity is more plot-driven than character-driven, but I felt like I got to know the characters a little better this time. Ally is tough as nails and cool under pressure, while still being kind and compassionate. She's also very intelligent, often managing to reason her way out of some very sticky situations. She's a great mom, always thinking of her kids, and a wonderful bondmate to Brongill. I thought it was very cool how she could control the nanites (amazing microscopic machines that can both build and destroy). Ally thinks of Brongill as a natural-born leader, but throughout the course of the story, she discovers that innate ability within herself too. Brongill is the same no-nonsense commander he's always been, a man who sees what needs to be done and just does it. I think being with Ally has softened him up a bit, as he shows a more loving side, but Ally and her safety are always his first priority. It was rather funny how Brongill could be a little cave-mannish in his protection of Ally, while she balks at him trying to treat her like fine china. She is definitely a strong, spirited woman, but in a good way.
There are lots of supporting characters who add energy to the story, and somehow, I managed to keep them all straight. They represented a wide variety of personalities and purposes which only added interest. I was quite fascinated by the fantastical creatures who inhabit Terrill, particularly the lynuktars, giant, flying, purple cats (I want one for a pet;-)). There are some pretty scary things too like toblets (shark-like fish), speek (pterodactyl-like birds), and of course the machines. Linda Andrews certainly has quite an imagination to come up with all these creatures. I was kind of sad that we don't get to see more of Ty. She only appears in the first few chapters, but it was interesting to see her in her natural element with her own kind.
As you can probably tell by now, I had a really good time reading Animosity. All the action and the twists and turns of the plot kept me on the edge of my seat, eager to learn what would happen next. I don't know if there will be any more adventurers for Brongill and Ally, but if there are, I would be very interested in reading them. But, perhaps I should just check out some of Linda Andrews' other titles and see if I can find some new, exciting characters to spend time with instead.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I had a rather difficult time deciding how to rate Hiding Space for a couple of different reasons. First of all it...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I had a rather difficult time deciding how to rate Hiding Space for a couple of different reasons. First of all it appears to be categorized as sci-fi romance, but I wouldn't really classify it as such. In my mind, it is first and foremost a science fiction story with only the barest hint of romance. The two main characters do form a mild attraction for one another, and at the end, it is implied that they are going to be sharing a home, but they never even so much as kiss during the course of the novel. Going into reading this story thinking it was a romance, but getting so little romantic interactions was somewhat disappointing. I admit I don't have a great deal of experience with sci-fi romance and those I have read tend to focus more on the action/adventure aspects, but in this case the romance was almost negligible in my opinion. However, the upside to the lack of sensuality is that I can recommend the book for most readers including mature teens, as there is little objectionable content except for a couple of strong profanities and a couple of instances of moderately gory violence. The downside of course is that I wasn't fully satisfied with the story.
The other thing that made Hiding Space difficult to rate is that I spent a large parts of the book feeling lost and confused. At the beginning of the novel, I kind of felt like I'd been dumped into the middle of the story and had very little concept of what was going on. I think perhaps a little more background set-up to explain why the aliens were abducting Ally and her children would have been quite helpful. All I knew was that they were somehow the key to the survival of the alien race. There are also bits involving an anonymous assassin that come and go rather quickly and at the time, I didn't really understand at all what his/her objective was. I realize this was all part of the author's attempt to create an air of mystery and intrigue and on some level it did work. She slowly revealed more and more tidbits of information which gradually increased my understanding of the backstory. I think I finally understood most of the overarching plot by the end, but there were still many of the finer points of the socio-political climate between the planets and races that continued to elude me. I normally pride myself on having excellent reading comprehension, but there was just something about the way this book was written that simply didn't mesh well with the way my brain functions. Maybe it was because most of the information was imparted through narrative dialog which isn't my favorite way of learning about things. Some of it must have absorbed into my sub-conscious mind though, because I did correctly discern, in part, who the saboteur was before it was revealed.
Even though I had some trouble keeping up with the complex background plot, I did very much enjoy the action/adventure sequences. There were plenty of exciting things happening that held my attention. It was almost like reading an episode of Star Trek. Also, some of the concepts that fueled the story were interesting such as the warriors ability to separate body and soul, leading to battles in a type of spirit realm. I also liked that Brongill's spaceship, Tyche, is a character in and of itself, a sentient life-form with which he can communicate telepathically. The nanites that are able to fix and create things were rather fascinating as well.
Hiding Space is definitely more of a plot-driven story than a character-driven one. I didn't feel like there were a great deal of insights into the characters' internal workings, but what I got to know of them I liked. Ally is a widow who was toughened up by having to deal with her mob-connected in-laws who murdered her husband and had been chasing her family for years. For her, being abducted by aliens was practically a walk in the park. Her three children were great too and added a fun, youthful flavor to the story. Their exact ages aren't given but based on their behavior I'd guess they ranged from about six to sixteen, and they all acted age-appropriately. Brongill is a bit more mysterious. As commander of the ship, he has a mission to complete, but at the same time, he has a personal vendetta to settle. That includes killing Ally, but the more he gets to know her, the harder it is for him to go through with his plan. It seemed like Brongill (and perhaps the aliens in general) have suppressed emotions. As Ty teaches him about human love and courting rituals from her database, he seems rather fascinated by the concept but it's still a foreign one to him. I thought that it would have been fun to explore that side of him more fully, and it probably could have led to a much more robust romantic relationship as well. Ms. Andrews has an upcoming sequel to Hiding Space titled Animosity which follows Ally and Brongill as they continue to try to bridge the gap between alien races, only now as a married couple. Even though I had some issues with the details of Hiding Space, I did enjoy the characters and the story enough to give the sequel a try when it comes out. I think it might be fun to see what kind of new adventures they have together. I'll just have to be sure I go into it not expecting much romance.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. (less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews I've been a fan of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series for quite some time, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to get around...moreReviewed for THC Reviews I've been a fan of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series for quite some time, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading The Host. I think part of it was simply that long books like this are somewhat daunting to a slow reader like me. However, I also think that perhaps subconsciously I wasn't sure I would like it as well and didn't want to ruin my relationship with this author I've come to love so much. Well, I'm happy to say that nothing could have been further from the truth. The Host still embodies Stephenie Meyer's trademark writing style, but it is a very different kind of story. I love books that make me think about what ifs, and this one definitely did that in a profound way.
The concept of two consciousnesses inhabiting the same body and fighting for control of it was an unusual and intriguing one. I'm still not sure how she did it, but Ms. Meyer managed to give Wanderer and Melanie very different personalities that were both appealing in their own way despite them sharing one body. Melanie is a tough survivor who managed to keep herself and her brother, Jamie, from being taken by the souls, even though she was only a teenager when Earth was invaded and their parents “died.” When she met Jared, he helped to shoulder some of the burden for their survival, and after spending a short time together, they fell deeply in love. When Melanie was finally caught by the Seekers, she loved Jared and Jamie so much, she would do anything to keep her promise to return to them alive, including battling with Wanderer in her own head. She plagues Wanderer with her thoughts long after the implantation when most other human souls would have succumbed and faded into the background, if not disappeared completely. Wanderer has traveled the universe and lived on many other planets. She is an eternal being who is now in her ninth life cycle. Like most souls, Wanderer is kind and gentle to a fault. She can't stand to see anyone, even her enemy, hurt in any way, especially when she thinks it has something to do with her. The longer Wanderer spends inside Melanie's body, and the more Melanie lets her see of her life before being caught, the more intrigued and sympathetic Wanderer becomes toward Melanie and all humans in general. Having access to Melanie's memories and emotions, Wanderer comes to love Jared and Jamie every bit as much as Melanie does, so they forge an uneasy truce in order to find the two men that Melanie had to leave behind. That truce gradually grows into a mutual respect and eventually a sisterly bond. As they integrate more fully and work toward their common goal, their thought processes start veering away from "I" and "my" to become "we” and "our." Watching the psychological evolution of these two beings was fascinating.
The secondary characters were wonderful too. I loved almost everything about Uncle Jeb. He's an old conspiracy theorist who also has a curious mind and is definitely the voice of reason when it comes to nearly everything, especially Melanie/Wanderer. Not to mention his “home” is just too cool for words. I also thoroughly enjoyed his no nonsense manner, “My house, my rules.” I adored Jamie's boyish curiosity. He is quick to see the good in Wanderer and is the first to believe that Melanie is still alive in there too. Jared is a tougher nut to crack. The story is told in first person perspective, mostly from Wanderer's viewpoint. Sometimes I wished we had Jared's POV, but it was obvious that he was going through a mighty struggle. He hates Wanderer for taking over Melanie's body, but because she still looks like Melanie, it's hard for him to kill her even though he feels like doing it sometimes. Ian doesn't exactly get off on the right foot, but he turns out to be a total sweetheart who I completely fell in love with. I can't say much more about these men or the other secondary characters in general without giving away some major spoilers. All I'll say is that it was a colorful cast who each had their own personalities and roles to play, and each one went through a personal transformation throughout the story which was a pleasure to watch. I also can't help saying that the way things turned out for Kyle was a delicious irony.
I've seen people say that The Host is more “grown up” than the Twilight series, and therefore, isn't really young adult, but I can see it both ways. Just by virtue of the characters generally being older, it is a more mature story that doesn't embody the teen angst of Twilight or other typical young adult books, but at the same time, the content isn't really any more mature. I think this story is appropriate for most fans of Twilight, both young and old. The language is very minimal, and while there is some violence, it isn't overly descriptive or particularly disturbing. There are a few fairly intense kissing scenes and one passionate embrace that embodied some moderate sexual tension, but there is no actual sex within the narrative and the sexual references are written in a veiled way and pretty mild. There are a few moderately mature themes, such as whether it's OK to take measures to end a human's suffering, but there are also plenty of positive messages about tolerance and doing the right thing. All this considered, as a parent, I would say that the book is appropriate for a mature teenage audience of approximately 14-15 and up.
While The Host is unequivocally post-apocalyptic science fiction, anyone who prefers hard science and/or action and adventure in their science fiction may be disappointed in the story. The science aspect that's present seemed reasonably sound to me and it does have a few adventurous scenes, but this is more of a psychological and sociological drama. Since these are areas of infinite fascination to me, I couldn't help but love this story. It's about relationships, not just of the romantic variety, but also friendships and what it means to be a family. It's about making hard decisions, and about doing the right thing even when others may not agree with you. It's about fear of that which we don't understand and learning tolerance for others. But most of all, The Host is a story about what it truly means to be human. It is a story that touched me in a very deep way. It did start off a tad slow, but I realized that the languid pace was necessary for building trust between the characters, and once it reached the halfway point, it really took off and thoroughly engaged my attention. All in all, a fabulous book that didn't seem nearly as long as it was. I wish there was some inkling of when Stephenie Meyer is going to release the sequels, because I'm dying to read more. I highly recommend The Host to anyone who enjoys watching fictional characters go on an emotionally-charged journey of self-discovery as they explore new concepts and learn to love and respect others for who they are.(less)