Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (CBR III Book #4)

There must be some kind of corollary to Murphy's Law which states that when you go into something with low expectations, you won't be disappointed, and vice versa. Since I'm one of the last of my friends to read this book, I had the benefit (?) of their opinions, which were actually mostly a bit disappointed. But anyone who's read the Hunger Games books knows you HAVE to read Mockingjay, no matter what anyone tells you about it, and I'm glad I did.

*note* This review is written more for people who have already read the book, so there are spoilers ahead. I won't bother recapping the first two books. If you haven't read them, I highly recommend the series but suggest starting with The Hunger Games. For a review of the first book in the series, click here.

In Mockingjay, Collins basically keeps the Hunger Games going, except she loses the arena and the limited number of players. The Hunger Games is now everywhere and has become everyone's reality. And it doesn't get any easier for Katniss, who finds herself the reluctant face of the resistance.

Instead of Snow, this time Katniss is being used by Coin for her own purposes. Purposes which may or may not overlap with Katniss' own desires. Instead of having a team of stylists, Katniss' outward appearance (despite her inward struggles and demons) is made acceptable by a small film crew shooting propoganda pieces for the resistance. And Katniss continues to struggle with her own identity. Is she of any value to the resistance? To Peeta or Gale? Does her life have any meaning beyond her role in the civil war and her ultimate goal, which is not to serve the resistance, but to kill Snow?

I thought Collins did a great job of showing how truly innocent, good people, can become completely changed by life's events. Katniss and Peeta are hardly the same people they were in the first book. You see their tragic evolution from unblemished to completely destroyed, both physically and emotionally. Then there are character's like Haymitch, who you only know after the Hunger Games has changed him. After my journey with Katniss, however, by the time I finished the book, I was forgiving of Haymitch for his alcohol abuse and almost understanding. In fact, if Katniss had decided to become an alcoholic, I can't say I'd blame her.

I also liked how Collins kept Katniss strong, but not infallible. She was a reluctant Mockingjay, she was motivated by hate and revenge, and she voted to hold another Hunger Games. True to life, Collins doesn't provide much explanation for some of Katniss' actions. You just have to guess as to why she does certain things.

Then there's the issue of who Katniss ultimately chose to spend the rest of her life with. How much of it was choice and how much was circumstance? What if Peeta had not gone back to 12 and Gale had? Did she choose Peeta because of the pain they shared? Sure, they had both been subject to horrifying events, but could Katniss truly understand Peeta's point of view, or he hers? Did Katniss blame Gale for the death of her sister? Was that more unforgivable to her than anything Peeta had done? And did Katniss choose Peeta because she loved him, or did she grow to love him after making her choice?

Maybe the answers to these questions are not what's important...maybe some of life's questions can never be answered...and maybe that's okay. Because as Peeta and Katniss have learned, there can be a fine line between what's real and what's not real. The thin thread that holds our lives together can be easily broken by things like excess, fear, hate, and war. But holding fast to simple truths like loyalty, patience, and hope is what kept Katniss, and can keep all of us going.

Friday, January 21, 2011

From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris (CBR III Book #3)

*note* As this is the 7th book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, and I haven't reviewed the first 6 books yet, I'm going to do an overall review on the Sookie Stackhouse series.

Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books are about the adventures of a small town barmaid, Sookie Stackhouse. At some point before the series begins, vampires have made themselves known to the world. This is because a Japanese company has made a synthetic blood substitute that the vampires can live off of, allowing them to live openly in society. The vampires are out of the casket, so to speak (altogether now, groan).

Anyway, Charlaine Harris' books begin with the introduction of vampires to Sookie's small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, yes, the books are about vampires in Louisiana. Sookie falls in love with Bill, a vampire from Bon Temps and quickly becomes entrenched in the supernatural community (which consists of so much more than vampires). But her interaction with vampires isn't the only thing that makes Sookie extraordinary. Sookie herself is a telepath, she can hear people's thoughts. And this makes for some interesting reading even when vampires aren't around.

If you're not familiar with the Sookie Stackhouse books, basically Sookie finds herself in the most ridiculous situations as the result of her interactions with vampires. You really have to suspend your disbelief because the situations Sookie finds herself in are so numerous and incredulous. But with that said, Harris' books are really entertaining and great reads if you're just looking to step away from reality and be entertained. Harris not only writes about vampires, but she throws in warewolves, fairies, shape shifters, and even more (if you stick through the series).

From Dead to Worse is the 7th book in the Sookie Stackhouse series. So if you haven't read any of the other books, don't bother with this one. This is one series where you'll need to start at the beginning and work your way through. With that said, this was one of the more entertaining books in the series. Unlike the other books, there isn't one huge event that happens but rather, the stage is set for book 8 (at least that's how it seems). This is more an Empire Strikes Back book, where the characters and plot are developed for the next episode. It was a bit of a respite from the hijinks in the the other books and Harris really just focused on setting the stage for the next big thing.

On a side note, the HBO series True Blood is based loosely on Harris' books. When I say loosely, I really mean that. Both are entertaining but both require you to push the "I want to believe button" many times, maybe the TV show more than the books. And like the books, you have to watch the series with the attitude that you're just getting entertained. The acting is terrible (don't even get me started about Sophie Anne's character), and the plot lines really out there, but in the end, you'll be entertained. And you'll see a lot of boobies to boot.

Reviewed by Cathy

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant (CRB III Book #2)

On its face, this book is about a tiger in Eastern Russia that went on a murderous rampage, and the hunt to find him. Probably not the most interesting plot for a fiction novel, but there's something about knowing this is a true story that makes things a lot more interesting. In addition to this, John Vaillant really delves into the history of the region and the people who inhabit it, making the book about so much more than the Amur Tiger.

Vaillant begins with the story at hand - In 1997, Yuri Trush, a squad leader of Inspection Tiger, is called to investigate a tiger attack. The attack seems to be more gruesome than normal and Trush is responsible for understanding why the attack occurred and determining if this tiger is a danger to others. Vaillant then goes into a detailed history of the eastern Russian region called Primorye and its inhabitants, human and animal. He discusses the effects of Perestroika (Gorbachev's reforms in the late 1980's, which resulted in the opening of Russia's border with China - a key point in this book) and details the conception and evolution of Inspection Tiger. This government unit was created to restore order to the Primorye forests, which are rife with poaching.

As someone who knows very little about Russia (there's tigers in Russia?), I was intrigued with the history and background information Vaillant provides. But the book basically reads like a textbook, so if you're not okay with that, then it's probably not a book for you. I'll admit, it was a battle at times to get to the end, but I'm really glad I stuck with it. The information Vaillant packs into this book is rich and has given me a lot of insight into a country that takes a week to cross by train. Sadly, my knowledge of which probably wouldn't have even filled a notebook page.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I'd be hesitant to recommend it to just anyone. But if you're willing to go through this book, you'll walk away a bit smarter and more informed than when you started.

Book cover from google images.

Reviewed by Cathy

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (CBR III Book #1)

The Life of Pi was a book I went into cold, as I had never heard of it and didn't really get much information about it from my cousin, who bought it for me. A look at the cover only revealed that maybe it had something to do with a boy, a tiger, and a small boat. What?!?!?!

As it turns out, the book is about a boy, a tiger, and a small boat. Okay, there's more to it than that. The Life of Pi begins in India, where we meet a young boy, Piscine Patel. Pi grows up discovering spirituality in Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity and recounts stories about the zoo, which his father owns. When Pi is 16, he and his family (some human, some animal) board a boat to emigrate to Canada. For reasons unknown, the boat sinks and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a handful of animals. So begins the survivor's tale....The Life of Pi is mostly about this solitary time for Pi, drifting and figuring out how to stay alive.

I'll admit, I haven't read The Old Man and the Sea or Robinson Crusoe, so I won't compare the Life of Pi to them. But it seems like they're good books to compare it to...but I wouldn't know...because I haven't read them. But I've seen Cast Away starring Tom Hanks and Wilson the Volleyball (strangely, and appropriately, I saw Cast Away by myself at the theater. I know, how sad). So I'll make a comparison to that.

With both Cast Away and The Life of Pi, I was really interested in how Tom and Pi got in and out of their predicaments, but the predicament itself, kind of a downer. I'll admit, there are good bits and insights that kept my interest in The Life of Pi, but I couldn't help checking ahead to see how much longer the life at sea was going to last (it's about two thirds of the book, by the way). The last third of the book really picked up but ended somewhat abruptly, leaving me unsatisfied (thank you, John Malkovich, I can never say that without thinking of you). Anyone?

Overall, a good book, but depressing at times. The author's intent to have me share in Pi's plight on an emotional level was successful I suppose. Of course, because there are animals in the book, for an animal lover like me, there's that extra level of anxiety, "kill the people, not the animals!" I cry out, but only on the inside. Only on the inside.