Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: Mockingjay by Collins

MockingjayMockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this as part of the The Hunger Games Trilogy omnibus ebook edition.

I had high hopes for the final novel of the series, especially after thoroughly enjoying the second novel, Catching Fire. I agree with a few other GoodReads reviewers who stated that Collins accomplished her goal in painting the stark reality that war and violence accomplish nothing and apparently humans can't help but repress and destroy each other, even unto their own extinction.

I also had hope of learning more about the history that led up to the rise of the Panem. But Collins only choose to go back three generations and only once or twice made a reference to the world before the rise of the Panem from the ashes of our civilization.

I suspect a nod to Ray Bradbury in the name of the sharp shooter squad District 13 assigned Katniss and Gale to as part of the rebel army. The prevalence of Ancient Roman names among the Capital citizens and a reference to 'bread and circuses' paints the Panem as a resurrected Roman Empire imploding faster than the original.

While predictable, the ending left me dissatisfied. I don't feel comfortable recommending this book to young adults, even though Collins wrote it for that audience.

As a 'former' parent (my kids are grown, either married or in college), I would treat this entire trilogy just like an R-rated movie. Don't read it unless you're seventeen (sixteen maybe), mostly due to the violence and gore. Very little if any sexual content exists in any of these novels.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Review: Lighthouse Duology by Berg

I read both of these books back-to-back during the Spring of 2010. They came highly recommended from a respected author-friend, who also suggested I read them together as if they were published as one book. I heartily agree with that suggestion.

Flesh and Spirit (Lighthouse, #1)Flesh and Spirit by Carol Berg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Superb storytelling, twisting plots, puzzles and mysteries, and an apocalyptic convergence made for an excellent and enjoyable read. If it weren't for the press of other book club selections, I would immediately proceed to the second half of this duology, Breath and Bone.

Even though the story is told in the first person, by Valen, it flowed well. I struggled to connect with Valen, a fugitive from his family, constantly on the run and hiding for twelve long years. Magic is strictly registered and contracted among pureblood families and any offspring willful enough to escape the privilege are hunted down relentlessly.

Escaping a battle gone badly, set upon by his own comrade and left to die in a ditch, Valen wakes up in a monastery's infirmary and claims two weeks sanctuary. Thinking he can hide out among the tonsured brothers, he resolves to join their ranks, vowing falsely to obey their Rule for the rest of his days.

Yet all is not prayer, singing, reading, scribing or toiling among these gentle quiet monks. Valen soon finds more than just the porridge is thickening in the unseasonable cold.

Highly recommended for lovers of fantasy, adventure and apocalyptic fiction.

Breath and Bone (Lighthouse, #2) Breath and Bone by Carol Berg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
4.5 stars

Two worlds, symbiotically connected, only touching each other on the periphery of the senses, plagued by a scourge destroying the human realm which in turn shrinks and blinds the Danae realm. Can a cure be found? Can the world be healed?

But what sacrifice justifies the means? Does Osriel hold the answer in his pact with the 'devil'? Does Silas' goal to purge the world of all classes, races and knowledge, to reboot the world in her egalitarian vision offer the best hope? Or Valen, standing astride both worlds, perceiving the health just beyond his grasp, if only he can overcome his past and the obstacles and enemies in his present.

Beautiful world building, stunning prose, intriguing magic system (in both worlds), satisfyingly twisty plot and exceptionally well drawn, deep characters round out this remarkable conclusion to the Lighthouse series.

I highly recommend both Flesh and Spirit and this novel to all fantasy readers. I suggest they be read together, as one large volume.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Review: Catching Fire by Collins

Catching Fire (Hunger Games Series #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this in record time and surprised myself by liking it better than the first book, the Hunger Games. Katniss' relationship with her family, friends and handlers evoked more emotions, believability and depth. The Victory Tour provided a glimpse of the wider world, showing me tantalizing bits of the various Districts and the ruins of civilization destroyed during the Dark Days seventy-years before.

I still find it hard to believe that fascism could survive so long. The unbearable inhumane conditions of the District 'citizens', the calculated cruelty of the Hunger Games, augmented in this novel by the Quarter Quell, a sadistic 25-year anniversary twist to the regular annual reaping of the rebel Districts' youth. The cost in lives, and the sacrifices made, reflect a horror I hope we never forget from our own not-too-distant past.

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Book Review: The Hunger Games by Collins

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

I loved this book and yet at times I hated it. Several times it made me cry, nearly sobbing out loud. It never made me laugh and pricked me to anger often.

Katniss lives in District Twelve, an area devoted to coal mining in what was the Appalachian Mountains of North America. Her father died working in the mines and her mother suffered severe debilitating depression after his death. That left Katniss, at age twelve, to provide for her mother and her young sister, Prim. She sneaks out of the confines of District Twelve, underneath a tall electrified fence, to hunt and gather in the nearby woods, keeping them from starving - barely.

The Reaping, part of the Treaty of Treason, is a lottery drawn once a year in each District, where all children between the ages of 12 and 18 are required to enter their names for the Hunger Games. A boy and a girl is selected. Against all odds, Prim's name is drawn for the female tribute to the Capitol. Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place. Peeta, the baker's son, is the other lucky winner.

They are transported immediately following the Reaping ceremony to the Capitol for a few days of training and preparation prior to the Hunger Games commencing. Twelve Districts means twenty-four competitors and the rules state only one can be the victor - and the only way to eliminate your competition is to kill them.

I wanted, most desperately, more history. I wanted to know the history of the destruction of North America; the emergence of the Panem, the Capitol, the Districts; details about the Rebellion; and, why the Treaty of Treason was necessary. No civilized society should sacrifice children simply to subjugate the rebel remnants. And not just sacrifice, but recreate a blood sport that makes the Roman Empire's gladiatorial games seem like a garden party.

The romance subplot between Katniss and Peeta mired the the final third of the book. Katniss' relationships with her former hunting partner Gale and the District 11 competitor, Rue, who reminded Katniss of her younger sister, Prim, intrigued me.

I enjoyed the first two thirds of this book. The action excited and Katniss proved intelligent, honorable and heroic. The ending disappointed and frustrated, leaving much unsaid and unanswered.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Lagging a Bit After a Year

As I mentioned earlier today on my other more active blog hosted by WordPress, I created two blogs a year ago out of my now defunct MySpace blog.  I post my book reviews, generated from GoodReads to both this blog and the other one.  And I occasionally cover a sermon series I might follow from sporadic attendance at a couple of local churches.

So, I can't explain why I only posted seventy-eight times here (including this post) over the last twelve months, while more than tripling that number, to 225, over at WordPress.  At first blush, I have to confess the interface and options are more appealing there, but in Blogger's defense, I can post HTML widgets that include Java scripting. 

I promise to make more of an effort to post here, perhaps at a least once a week.  Perhaps I'll even venture a poem or two, something I've not attempted in over thirty years.