FROM THE PAST: BECAUSE THE FIRST ONE WASN’T BAD ENOUGH.

I am not referring to the book in that title.  Unfortunately, these reviews, since they are a book series, contain more spoilers than I generally like to give.  Fair warning.

In Catching Fire by the wonderful Suzanne Collins (I really cannot say enough good about this lady), there is another Hunger Games.  But this one?  This one is special.  It’s the 75th Hunger Games and every twenty five years, the game makers throw a wrench into the works.  They call it a Quarter Quell.  By the time this Hunger Games is announced, the reader already knows that Katniss’ actions in the last book (which I did not spoil and will not spoil) have incited rebellion.  In the Victory tour she tried to do her best to reverse the damage done by playing innocent.  It did not work.

So when the Quarter Quell is announced, Katniss and the reader are on edge.  And so when it is announced that the victors from past Hunger Games are going to be the tributes this year, it feels half like a betrayal and half inevitable.  A betrayal because it is a sacred contract that victors are left alone by the Capitol.  They are provided for, with money and gifts and–most importantly–a sort of peace.  They do have to be the new tribute’s liason at each Hunger Games, so they never really stop living their time in the arena, but at least they’re allowed to do it privately.  Of course, this all feels inevitable because the government needs to get rid of their little rabble-rouser, however unintentional the rousing might have been.  She means too much to the rebellion and unfortunately, as the only living female victor in District 12, she’s guaranteed to be back in the arena.  It’s too convenient to be a coincidence.  And now it won’t be children and strangers in the arena.  It will be all ages and friends.

That’s as much as I’m willing to give away of the book, but know that when I said Suzanne Collins doesn’t do happy last review, that is equally true of this book.

This book feels more original than the last.  I was in Ancient Greece almost immediately, others I know have compared it to Battle Royale.  Having never been exposed to it, I was not bothered by the similarities.  However, once using these two familiar stories to establish the world, Collins does a fantastic job of making it her own in this book.  The writing is less like re-telling a story and more like telling a story.

This book’s set up take quite a long time, but it’s a necessary and good setup.  After establishing a world, this section of the book builds it.  Also, it gives the reader a much better idea of where all the Districts are (physically and politically), which becomes necessary in the next book.  I never felt bored with the “set-up” section of the book.  A lot of things happen quietly in this section.  And, of course, I much appreciated the map that I was able to create in my head.  I have a very strong theory as to where the Capitol is and I don’t really want to be proven right or wrong.  I swing between wanting a definitive map or wanting to keep my own as definitive.  I think the decision NOT to be explicit (in word or picture) as to where everything is was a brilliant choice on Collin’s part.

I adore that the main character is still emotionally and socially stilted while showing much more emotion.  Considering the situations she finds herself in, I’m not surprised that this very closed character has these emotional outbursts.  In fact, these outbursts feel real.  The emotions have to come out, but Katniss does her utmost to make sure they don’t.  The conflict within her is enough to drive anyone to the edge minus all the environmental pressures Katniss has to deal with.  The writing is at times stilted, but I think that is a purposeful reflection of the character.  She won’t process, won’t process, won’t process until her emotions mug her and force her to.  Since these books are in first person, I think the writing MUST reflect this process and I think it does so admirably.

I wish I could just keep going on and on, but there is another book to review and a flight to catch.

FROM THE PAST: THESEUS HAS NOTHING ON THESE KIDS.

I stumbled upon this author via her series for 12 year old children.  I fell in love with her genius then.  And then, of course, The Hunger Games got very popular very fast.  I already loved the author and had been intending to read this series, so I bit the bullet and bought the three books together to be delivered together.

Suzanne Collins did NOT disappoint.

I think the thing I loved best about The Hunger Games is how I was immediately put in mind of Ancient Greece in the middle of post-apocalyptic America.  The sick demand for tributes, being trapped in the arena with no way out, the government’s control.  These shades of the Theseus legend were enough to delve me straight into the material.  It was wonderful.   But, by the end of the book, if I were to pick someone to kill the Minotaur, it would not have been the Prince of Athens.  He is a supreme wimp compared to these tributes.  He used a string and false promises of love to beat the Minotaur.  Tributes in The Hunger Games actually have to kill each other to survive.  They are all Theseus and the Minotaur in one.

For those of you who don’t  know the book, The Hunger Games is set in post-apocalyptic America.  Something happened and we collapsed in on ourselves.  In the meantime, the country has been split into the Districts and the Capitol.  There has been an uprising.  There has been a war.   A District was destroyed.  They were forced into a very Big Brother-like system of government (I assume at least as bad as before the war) and on top of the conditions in the Districts and the invasive government, each District is required to send two tributes–one boy, one girl–to the Hunger Games every year.  These tributes can’t be just anybody, though.  They’re children between the ages of twelve and eighteen.  It is sickening.  These children are then forced to become murderers on national television to prove a point.  Nothing more, nothing less.  The survivor/winner gets fame and fortune while the others around them starve.

Katniss, the main character, is in a particularly bad District: 12.  Twelve mines all the coal and is located in the Appalachians.  (One of the nice things about Collins, she give good details, so I have a fairly clear maps of where everything should be.  One of the bad things, she doesn’t share HER map, which makes me just want to figure things out more).  The people have been crushed in spirit systematically.  There are some wealthy-ish Districts.  Twelve is not one.  Yet somehow, they were able to raise an incredibly intelligent and talented young woman in Katniss.  She has not been crushed.  Thankfully for her, she’s also good at killing.  She’s a perfect candidate for the Games.  I won’t tell you what gets her there, because the moment is pretty beautiful and I’d hate to ruin it.

As for the writing, aside from the incredibly engaging story, I love it.  Suzanne Collins will tear your heart out and make it feel good.  She does not do happy, fair warning.  If you need your happy endings, do not read this series.  Her actions scenes are intense.  The choice for first-person pov was an interesting one, but I like it because it makes the Games more real.  If we were dealing with an omniscient narrator, the immediacy of being in an arena would have been non-existence.  I highly recommend this series, and not just because I think Suzanne Collins is one of the best YA and SciFi writers out there right now.  I’ve loved these books since I read them.  They made me think, just stare at the wall because it’s there and it’s a good book that can hang around after I finished.  I have very little higher praise than that.

Next week, book two!

Much as I would love to spend all night writing reviews

I do need some sleep before I leave for England later today.  In fact, in less than twelve hours I will be on the road to the airport.

SO!   Here’s  the deal:  I will do my very utmost to get the reviews for the series I read in advance for the trip done tomorrow/later today.  Since it’s a series and since I’m crunched for time, they’re likely to be much much shorter.  The series deserves better, but I’d rather get something done than nothing.

When I get home from my England/Sweden trip, I will do two posts a week, one for the books I read the past three weeks in addition to the books for the next three weeks, one for the book I am reading that week.

Enjoy and apologies.

SCHEDULE OF UPCOMING REVIEWS:

Series book 1

Series book 2

Series book 3

Flowers for Algernon by David Keyes

Home by Julie Andrews

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (yeah, I read this in prep for Sweden–it was fun!)

Thanks!  Night.

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