Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games #2 // 391 pp. // YA Dystopian // Scholastic Press // Sept. 2009

GOODREADS SUMMARY: Suzanne Collins continues the amazing story of Katniss Everdeen in the phenomenal Hunger Games trilogy.Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

After feeling less than amazed by the first book, I was reluctant to continue with the series, but decided to continue on and give Catching Fire a chance anyway. In book two of the Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss and Peeta have returned home after winning the Hunger Games and being the first duo to ever survive. As a Hunger Game winner, Katniss is moved into a new home in Victors’ Village and given enough food and money to last a lifetime. However, her nightmares aren’t over just yet. Because of her defiance — causing the Capitol to choose both her and Peeta as winners — she must now face the repercussions. Katniss expects death or torture, but what she gets is far worse: being sent to the Games again! This time around, fighting to survive is even more difficult, as Katniss has to go against past winners (young and old alike), and there’s no way she and Peeta will be able to both survive together again. Things are changing, though, and the spark of revolution is slowly kindling, on the verge of a full-blown firestorm. Will she be able to beat death — and the Capitol — a second time?

Catching Fire hooked me a lot more than The Hunger Games. Perhaps it’s because the initial explanations are out of the way or because we get to see more character development in Katniss, Peeta and the other characters — regardless of the reason, I found myself enjoying this book a lot more than the first. The twist of having to return to the Games, while predictable to others, totally threw me for a loop (in a good way) and I was curious as to how it would be portrayed without seeming like a repeat of the first Games. Katniss’ character is tragically complex, and I admired her inner struggle between doing what she thought was right and doing what she had to to survive. Peeta, of course, is still a do-good boy-next-door, whose steadfast loyalty and love for Katniss is at times down right heartbreaking.

Overall, I was glad I decided to continue with the series and give book two a chance. I was not at all disappointed, and the cliffhanger ending was definitely one that made me rush to get book 3 immediately.

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games #3 // 390 pp. // YA Dystopian // Scholastic Press // Aug. 2010

GOODREADS SUMMARY: Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins’s groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

Wow, this book took me on one heck of a ride! Mockingjay was without a doubt my favorite book in the Hunger Games series. It was the perfect fusion of action and emotion, a culmination of what happens when poorly treated citizens reach their breaking point.

In the final book, Katniss agrees to become the “Mockingjay,” the spokesperson for District rebels who plan on overthrowing President Snow and the Captiol. This time around, we get an even more thorough glimpse at character personalities and motives, as everyone plays a key role — from Gale and Finnick, to Prim and Peeta. All thirteen — yes, I said thirteen — districts come together to fight as one in order to win the war.

Though Katniss reluctantly agrees to serve as the Mockingjay, she is still last to realize just how much of an effect she has on people, something I found a bit hard to swallow, given her self-absorbed behavior. At first I was frustrated by her arrogance and flagrant disregard of authority and couldn’t get over how incredibly self-absorbed she acted at times. But then I realized that that’s a fairly accurate depiction of what most 16 year olds are like — regardless of if you’re middle of war — and cut her some slack because, while flawed, her reactions are realistic. The best kind of heroine is an imperfect one — and Katniss was most definitely imperfect.

The twists were even better than those in the previous books and did an excellent job at keeping me on the edge of my seat, chomping at the bit to find out what will happen next. Initially I found the descriptions of the Captiol and the war scenes too hard and jumbled to follow, but that’s probably because I was so enraptured in the story that I was reading faster than my brain could visualize the setting and paint a picture of what was going on.

Mockingjay is a lot deeper than I expected (especially from a YA). The raw, gritty portrayal of war is brazen and doesn’t shy away from what I’m sure is an accurate depiction. I can honestly say that I choked up more than once over the inevitable deaths that are a consequence of war. In the end, this book moved me, got under my skin, and had me reflecting on both dystopian life and the effects of war.

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games #1 // 374 pp. // YA Dystopian // Scholastic Press // Oct. 2008

SUMMARY: Written in first-person POV, the book tells the story of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to take her little sister’s spot in the “Hunger Games,” an annual competition which teens from each of the 12 districts compete to the death against each other. Also headed to the Games is Peeta Mellark, Katniss’ male tribute counterpart. Going in, Katniss’ only goal is to survive, but her simple plan becomes complicated when Peeta declares his love for her on national television and her mentor suggests Katniss and Peeta pretend they’re in love as a strategy to win. Katniss isn’t sure she can trust Peeta, but has no choice if she wants to survive — guilt-free, at least. The only thing is, only one person can win the Hunger Games, which means that in the end, if it comes down to just her and Peeta, one of them will have to die…

After no longer being able to ignore all the hoopla surrounding this book, I decided it was high time I read it to see for myself what all the hype was about. Plus, with the movie coming out, I wanted to be able to read the book without any film influence after it was released. To be honest, I was skeptical about even reading the series because from what I’d heard, it seemed like a rip from the Japanese book/film Battle Royale. But, hey, peer pressure got the best of me and I decided to give The Hunger Games a shot anyway, despite my reservations. Upon reading The Hunger Games, I realized that the main difference between it and Battle Royale is that while Battle Royale focuses on the physical violence of vetting teens against each other, Hunger Games gives prominence to character development — mostly that of main character Katniss Everdeen.

Technically there was nothing wrong with the book; it was interesting, hooked me right away, and had its fair share of tear-jerking scenes interspersed with creative descriptions of the strange apocalyptic world of the future (i.e. the “fashion” of the Capitol and the unique evolved wildlife). However, it just didn’t quite make me squeal with fangirl glee like I thought it would. I’m not sure if it’s because it was too hyped-up, or what, but after I finished the story I just felt… meh. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t DISLIKE the story — in fact, I can see why other people are so smitten with the book and I would definitely recommend it to others — but it didn’t leave me hanging on the edge of my seat, anxious to find out what happens RIGHT THIS INSTANT. Despite my blasé attitude, I told myself I’d read the rest of the series to finish it out as well as give myself time to get more into it.

Deck the Halls with Holiday Reads

Christmas Tree CartoonLess than a week until Christmas and I don’t know about you, but I’m giddy with holiday spirit! Between classic Christmas songs (anything by ‘Ol Blue Eyes Sinatra) and movies (“Love Actually” is my personal favorite), and a sense of overall public merriment, I’m wrapped up tight in a blanket of holiday warm ‘n fuzzies. This feeling only comes once a year so may as well soak it up like an apple cider-loving sponge is what I say.

It’s easy to get into the Christmas spirit, what with reindeer figurines sprinkled on lawns and colorful, blinking lights strung up everywhere. However, my favorite way to get excited about the holidays is curling up with a holiday-themed book and a big mug of hot chocolate topped with extra whipped cream. It’s a bit on the nose, I admit, but what can I say — I’m easy to please. Between the guaranteed happily-ever-afters and slightly fantastic miracles that tug on your heartstrings, it’s easy to get swept up in holiday cheer after reading a good Christmas story.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of holiday reads out there to get your fix. In fact, I went on a downloading binge spree a couple of weeks ago and ended up with over a dozen Christmas stories to help get me in the mood for Santa’s arrival. And, since it is the season for giving, it would only make sense that I share the wealth with you, dear readers, in case you were on the hunt for some Christmasy short stories for yourself. Go forth and download and enjoy this mini reads. I guarantee you’ll come up feeling just a bit more jolly and a lot less Scrooge afterward!

'Tis the season for Christmas stories!

  • Four for Christmas $2.99
  • Save Me, Santa (anthology) $2.99
  • Mistletoe Mischief *free
  • Gnome for the Holidays *free
  • A Wizard for Christmas $0.99
  • There’s a Dead Elf in Santa’s Workshop $0.99
  • Be Mine for Christmas $0.99
  • Loveable Christmas Angel $0.99
  • Blue Christmas $0.99
  • Dirty Little Christmas $0.99

ROAMING QUESTION: What’s your favorite holiday movie/song/book? Do you have any special rituals to get you in the Christmas spirit?

*prices based on Amazon Kindle store and are subject to change

Hot Temps, Hotter Reads

We’re smack dab in the throes of summer, which means temperatures are creeping up faster than kudzu. Whether you’re lying on a sunny beach or on the couch in front of the AC, it’s never too hot to lose yourself in a spicy book–and it doesn’t get any spicier than Western Ties, penned by erotica duo Mari Carr and Jayne Rylon. The fourth book in the Compass Brothers series, believe me when I say this one is sure to melt your ice cream cone!

SYNOPSIS: Leah Hollister leads a hum-drum, strictly vanilla life. Kindergarten teacher, small-town native, practically a virgin. Looking to spice things up, Leah travels to LA to indulge her inner bad girl by spending the weekend at a BDSM party. What better place to let loose than a thousand miles from home? Imagine her surprise when the first person she meets at the party is Sawyer Compton, a childhood friend from her hometown. Leah is beyond mortified, but determined to go through with her weekend experiment anyway. Little does she know, Sawyer has plans of his own–one of which includes staking claim on Leah…

When Mari Carr and Jayne Rylon get together, the product is hot with a capital “H”! This was my first foray into the Compass Brothers series, and after reading Western Ties, I am now officially hooked (with a capital “H”, of course). The story is a kinky twist to the friends-to-lovers trope, with extra helpings of kink. Leah may be inexperienced, but she knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go after it, which I highly admired. As for Sawyer, he most definitely knows how to take charge in the bedroom (as well as other places. *wink*). After all, he is part of the notorious Compton brothers clan.

In addition to the relationship between Leah and Sawyer, family plays a huge role in the story. The relationship between Saywer and his brothers are both admirable and multi-faceted, and this time around the Comptons’ face a huge struggle–one that will have you surrounded by wads of tear-stained, balled-up tissues.

*Click here to read my review and view my star rating on Goodreads.

Lucky Harbor is Simply Irresistible

Sometimes a book comes along right when you need it, making it the right book at the right time. Simply Irresistible was the “right time-right book” for me. I’d been in a reading rut and, eager for something light, humorous and full of just-right romance tropes — small town, clumsy heroine, sure-of-himself hero — Jill Shalvis’ Simply Irresistible more than delivered. This book is the epitome of a romance done right.

SYNOPSIS: Seeking a fresh start, Maddie Moore heads to Lucky Harbor where she’s been left part-ownership of a broken down inn with her two estranged sisters. As soon as she steps foot into town, she runs into Jax Cullen, who’s instantly smitten with Maddie and wastes no time telling her so. Having sworn off men, Maddie makes it clear that she’s off the market, but decides that the “new” Maddie should have a bit of fun while in town. “Fun” includes a no-strings fling with Jax, which soon turns into something more that neither of them expected. In addition to juggling between her heart versus head, Maddie realizes that running the inn could be her new calling, but has to find a way to convince her sisters to hop on board with the idea — if she can get them to reign in their catfighting. Will the “new” Maddie reign supreme in the end, or will everything backfire and crumble to pieces for the timid middle child?

From the start, Jax makes it clear that he wants Maddie and though it takes her a minute to catch up, Maddie eventually comes around, making their cat-mouse game enjoyable to follow. Maddie has a serious case of middle-child syndrome and watching her come out of her shell was a real treat and had me cheering for her success.

Since this is the first book in the Lucky Harbor series, it also deals with the fledgling relationship between Maddie and her sisters. Though the three of them are complete opposites, it’s clear that they would do anything for the other, despite not having grown up together. Their storyline is wrought with emotion, revealing what I feel is a true-to-life depiction of sibling interaction (you can’t pick your family, am I right?).

In the end, a trip to Lucky Harbor was exactly what I needed. Now, not only do I have a renewed love of romance books, but I also have a new favorite author as well as a new fictional town to add to my list of “fictional places I wish were real.”

*Click here to read my review and view my star rating on Goodreads.

Faith + Romance

I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to romance and religion, I tend to think of the two as mashed potatoes and chocolate — fine on their own, but preferring to keep them separate from each other. Because of that, I found myself steering clear of inspirational romances, under the impression that the romance would be diluted and overshadowed with talks of God and religious virtues. Silly, I know, but then it dawned on me that I couldn’t truly consider myself a romance lover unless I at least gave every category a chance.

Enter Souvenirs by Barbara Phinney, an inspirational romantic suspense and my first foray into the “inspy” sub-genre. You can read my RT review below, but in terms of the inspirational genre, let me just say: if all inspys are as well-written and filled with awesome character chemistry as Phinney’s books, then I’ll be seeing a lot more of them in my future! Harlequin has multiple faith-based categories — Steeple Hill Café, Love Inspired, Love Inspired Historical, Love Inspired Suspense, plus more —  so there’s an abundance for me to choose from. Glancing through them, I can’t help but notice the great covers, and everyone knows that a standout cover only makes books that much more enticing… Am I right??

Fun on the Slopes

I stumbled across my latest read while searching for a sexy romance set in snow. Living in the South, snow is a rarity, and I figured if I couldn’t make snow angels in real life, I may as well curl up with a book whose snow-capped setting fulfills my winter wonderland desire. Enter Vivian Arend’s  Falling, Freestyle, a story about three best friends — two guys, one girl — who use a winter weekend getaway to take their relationship to the next level.

SYNOPSIS: Dara, Kane and Jack have been the Three Musketeers for years, and while Dara trusts them with her life, lately she’s grown tired of being considered “one of the guys”. Wanting to show them that she’s got moves that extend beyond the slopes and a figure underneath all the snow gear, she decides to seduce them during their annual ski trip. Kane and Jack’s love for Dara has begun to creep beyond “best friend” territory, but don’t want to frighten her off or force her to choose between them. But when Dara proposes that the three of them spend the weekend getting to know each other better, Kane and Jack figure it’s better to share Dara than neither having a chance with her at all. While their relationship may work during their weekend away, the trio must face reality when they return home. Who will Dara choose as her boyfriend and as her boy friend? Can they go back to being friends?

Dara, Jack and Kane’s relationship is unorthodox, to say the least, but I really admired the friendship between the trio. While Kane and Jack are opposites, their love for Dara and respect for the other man feel genuine, which makes it hard to choose a favorite amongst them — and also explains why Dara couldn’t decide between them. Although the story contains sexual encounters that involve all three of them, the scenes are well-written and believable in the sense that the POVs of each character are realistic — i.e., wrought with self-consciousness and worry about the effect it will have on their friendship.

However, there are still parts of the story in which belief needs to be suspended, such as the perfect hotel conditions where there just happens to be an already-heated hot tub awaiting their arrival. But, hey, I read to escape reality, so this was just fine by me. All-in-all, Falling, Freestyle is perfect for a cold night in, and most definitely one that is hot enough to melt the ice caps.

*Click here to read my review and view my star rating on Goodreads.