Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

The sequel to The Hunger Games, Catching Fire improves upon Collins’ first foray into Katniss’ dystopian, post-apocalyptic world of the Districts. I’ve been waiting to read this one for awhile and it did not disappoint.

After having won the Hunger Games with her district partner Peeta, Katniss should be living the good life. And she is. In high contrast to the horrible poverty she and her family lived in before the Hunger Games, Katniss now resides in the Victor’s Village in District 12 and never wants for anything. Her family has everything they’ve ever wanted now–a nice house, new clothing, medicine, and most importantly, food. As a victor of the Games, Katniss has got it all.

Except, of course, the company of her best-friend-maybe-more Gale, who is understandably upset. A large part of Katniss and Peeta’s victory in the Games depended on them tugging the heartstrings of the TV viewers by putting on a very convincing act of two young, desperate survivors head-over-heels in love with each other. In reality, they’re friends (although there is a large amount of unrequited love on Peeta’s side) and Katniss wishes everything could go back to the days where she and Gale were still best friends, and worked together to hunt game for their families.

What Katniss doesn’t know is that unrest is brewing in the Districts, which have long been held under the cruel, tyrannical rule of the Capitol. Because of her defiance in the last Games, she has become an unknowing symbol of the rebellion, and her family and friends are under threat of death from the Capitol’s President unless she can find a way to quell the rebels. How to do this? Put on the biggest, final act of her life by appearing as one part of the happiest, most romantic couple with Peeta that the world has ever seen. Marriage is on the horizon, and kids aren’t sure to be far behind. That is, until an even greater twist sends Katniss and her friends back into the Arena of the Games…

Wow. I don’t often write summaries myself (I’m so lazy!) but I think I made that one suitably exciting without giving TOO much away.

I really thought Collins came through with the sequel, because while I enjoyed The Hunger Games, I wasn’t as thrilled or in love with the story as most bloggers have seemed to be. But with Catching Fire, I felt that the events following Katniss’ victory were definitely believable, and the stakes were even higher.

Collins did a great job of evolving the character of Katniss–you could tell she was the same character, but had also gone through some changes due to the events from the previous novel. Very realistic and easy to believe. I also thought that her conflicting and confused feelings regarding Gale and Peeta were well written. The whole plot was very exciting and had some great twists that I definitely did not see coming. Collins is very imaginative and inventive about the situations she puts her characters through. I can’t wait to read the third novel in the series, which the author is apparently working on presently. I wonder how many more books there will be about Katniss and her friends.

Author Website: www.suzannecollinsbooks.com

Second Opinions: Angieville’s Review

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Gateway by Sharon Shinn

Rating: 6 out of 10

Sharon Shinn is the author of one of my favorite series of books, Samaria, and she has also been coming out with more YA-oriented novels.  Gateway is her most recent one, and is a little different from any of her other books.

Daiyu was adopted from China when she was a baby, and currently resides in the American city of St. Louis, Missouri. She lives a good life with her parents, who like to renovate fixer-uppers. At a fair in the city one day, Daiyu meets a strange old woman who gives her a necklace. As soon as Daiyu passes under the famous arch, she is transported to a different world.

Disoriented and convinced she is only dreaming, Daiyu finds out that she has been transported to Shenglang, this alternate universe, for a special mission. She is to learn the etiquette and niceties of this world in order to be a spy and save the people of Shenglang from a powerful man with an evil agenda.

Gateway has all the elements of a YA fantasy; female heroine, journey to a new world, secret missions, danger and adventure, and a little bit of fluffy romance thrown in on the side. I’m a big fan of Sharon Shinn but I wasn’t wow-ed by this one. It fell a little flat for me; I was very interested in the plot, but none of the characters were real, they all seemed a little like cardboard cut outs.

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

cover hold still by nina lacoeurRating: 6 out of 10

Caitlin and Ingrid have been best friends forever–the kind of best friends who are joined at the hip, tell each other all their secrets, and sort of live in their own little world.

After Ingrid’s unexpected suicide, Caitlin is left drifting.  When school starts, she has no drive for anything, not even her photography class, which used to be her favorite period in school. What’s worse, her photography teacher, Ms. Delani, who used to encourage Caitlin immensely in her artistic efforts, seems completely uninterested in anything Caitlin feels or has to say about the aftermath of Ingrid’s death.

Hold Still chronicles Caitlin’s reemergence over the school year. Slowly she comes out of her shell thanks to Dylan, a transfer student who is the first openly lesbian girl at Caitlin’s small town high school, and by reading Ingrid’s journal.

Ingrid’s journal, apparently purposefully left behind in Caitlin’s room, chronicles her descent into depression, problems with her medication, her heartbreak over boys, and her unwillingness to let anyone know how sad she was truly feeling.

I thought LaCour did a fairly good job creating a narrative around the issue of teenage suicide, and Caitlin’s reactions and her recovery seemed realistic and was paced well. I liked the pages of Ingrid’s journal placed throughout the novel, and the ending was good.

I didn’t think the relationship between Caitiln and her photography teacher Ms. Delani was at all realistic–and whenever Ms. Delani spoke her dialogue sounded like it had been straight lifted out of an art criticism review or a teaching manual. She wasn’t real to me, and didn’t make as much of an impact as I feel the author tried to have her be.

I know this novel is aimed towards younger (middle school) readers but it still seemed a little simplistic to me at times. It didn’t really engage me all that well, hence the lower rating and why it took me so long to finish.

Upcoming Reviews

I just received two Advance Readers Copies, both from Penguin Young Readers Group! Exciting. They are Hold Still by Nina LaCour, and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.

Some summaries from the back covers:

HOLD STILL — That night Ingrid told Caitling, I’ll go wherever you go. But by dawn Ingrid, and her promise, were gone, and Caitlin was alone. Ingrid’s suicide immobilizes Caitlin, leaving her unsure of her place in a new life she hardly recognizes. A life without the art, the laughter, the music, the joy that she shared with her best friend.

But Ingrid left more than a memory behind. Devastating and hopeful, playful and hopeless. In words and drawings, Ingrid documented a painful farewell in her jounral–just for Caitlin. Journeying through Ingrid’s final days, Caitlin fights back through unspeakable loss to find renewed hope.

A breakthrough new voice in fiction, Nina LaCour brings the changing seasons of Caitlin’s first year without Ingrid to the page with indelible emotion and honesty.

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE — When her fiery older sister Bailey dies abruptly, seventeen-year-old Lennie, bookworm and band geek, is catapulted to center stage of her own life–and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lenni’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Pairs whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

Both of these novels seem to be sort of middle/junior high level books dealing with more serious subjects.

Reviews soon.