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 "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)