Monday, January 23, 2012

Read Love Reviews: Catching Fire

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Pub. Date: September 1, 2009
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Format: Nook book, 275pp
Age Range: Young Adult
Series: Hunger Games #2
ISBN-13: 9780545227247

Description from
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.
My Review:

Suzanne Collins did it! She wrote a sequel that is every bit as good as The Hunger Games. Possibly better. It's everything I can do not to dive into number 3 right away. I would if I could, but my dear husband has ordered the hardcover series box set after reading my paperback copy of book 1. So rather than order the Nook version, I will wait a few days for the books to arrive.

Don't worry, no spoilers here. I wouldn't do that to you! Read on....

I enjoyed seeing more of Panem and getting to know the other districts better in this installment. The overall setting really came to life.

Some have commented that the first part of Catching Fire is slow, but I didn't find it to be so. I enjoyed catching up with what life after the Games had been like for Katniss. We get to see more of her family and friends in District 12. Overall, Suzanne Collins continues to develop her characters. Katniss is more self-aware. It's nice to watch her grow and learn from her experience. She's still the same feisty girl, but she becomes more savvy about how her actions affect others. In addition to our heroine, you'll get to know all the principles better and meet some new folks, too.

Once again, there are scenes that will touch you, scenes where you will laugh and scenes where you will cry. And the whole time, you'll be totally immersed in the story. Like book 1, the text is tight and doesn't bog down the plot or slow the pace. Collins' economy of words is amazing. She manages to keep the plot moving while at the same time maximizing scenes. For instance, though sometimes a character may not have many scenes or extended dialogue, Collins always makes the most of the words she does use. Additionally, I marvelled at just how much takes place in such a slim volume. The plot, as it unfolds, gets increasingly complex. By the midway point, the novel takes off. And once you've read that far, you won't put it down. And don't worry, the author will keep you guessing. Trust me, when I finished the book, my jaw just plain dropped!
I look forward to finding out how life will continue to evolve for Katniss and the rest of Panem. I know Mockingjay will be just as incredible as the other two books have been. Can't wait!

If you haven't read this series yet, what are you waiting for??!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Read Love Reviews: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Pub. Date: July 1, 2010
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Format: Paperback, 374pp
Age Range: Young Adult
Series: Hunger Games #1
ISBN-13: 9780439023528

Description from
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games," a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

My Review:

My first reaction after finishing The Hunger Games was this: Why did I wait so long?!

I knew this series was all-the-rage, but sometimes that keeps me away. Hype can lead to expectations which can end in disappointment. I waited for the paperback release. And even then, it sat on my shelf. So if you are reading this review to decide whether or not to read the can stop right now. Stop. Drop what you are doing. Get thee to a bookstore or library. Get a copy in your hands. Let the reading commence!

Although she certainly didn't create the genre, Suzanne Collins may be responsible for the Dystopian trend the YA publishing world is currently enjoying. Just as Stephanie Meyer ushered in a plethora of vampire/paranormal romance books, Collins paved the way for more post-apocolyptic page-turners. And it's no wonder, because with The Hunger Games, Collins crafted a nearly flawless book.

Panem is an interesting place. There are, or rather were, 13 districts in this post-apocolyptic world. The unlucky 13th was destroyed during a rebellion against the totalitarian government. Interesting choice, as I can't help but think of the 13 original colonies that were America's beginning. Could this world then be our future? Could we be controlled by a government that cares more for power than for its citizens?

Collins has made a society that feels realistic and plausible, which makes her fictional horrors perils worth consideration. The writing is not flashy or self-conscious. Collins avoid common YA cliches and pitfalls and serves her novel best by staying out of its way. As John Green (yes, THE John Green) wrote in the NY Times: " not calling attention to itself, the text disappears in the way a good font does: nothing stands between Katniss and the reader, between Panem and America."
Perhaps the biggest strength of the novel is its cast of characters. Many are vividly drawn and memorable. This is especially important in a series. Several of the secondary characters are compelling enough for you to care about them - whether it's to fall in love with them, laugh at them, cheer for them, or want to know more about them. One will even break your heart. 

Katniss, our heroine, is a singular girl. She's strong, tough, and a little cold. But it's not surprising that a girl whose life has been a struggle for survival is sometimes lacking skills in the finer feelings. While detached and calculating she may be, heartless she is not. That's why it isn't difficult to love this smart, strong female lead. Her emotional inepitude makes her imperfect and that makes her more loveable. I won't go into the cast of characters beyond Katniss because you should really meet them on your own terms.

Lastly, The Hunger Games is well-plotted and perfectly paced. You'll find yourself turning the pages, devouring the tale, and then reaching for the next. Did I tell you to grab it? Let me revise that. If you are late getting the book like me, you're in a lucky spot. All the books in the trilogy have been published. Grab all three at once! You'll probably not come up for air until you've read the whole shebang!


A word to those leery about the subject matter. (I know you're out there -- Hi, Mom!) Yes, the premise is brutal. Kids fighting to the death for survival is grim. But let's be clear about something: The Hunger Games does not glorify violence. If you want to worry about your kids being influenced negatively by popular entertainment, worry about some of the stuff on television, worry about those crazy video games they play like Grand Theft Auto. Worry about those CDs with warning stickers. But please, don't let your fear keep your children from picking up this book. It's entertainment, yes. But it's not disposable or gratuitous. It is literature. They will learn something about themselves. Thematically, the book is about sacrifice, love, freedom, and humanity. In this fictional reality, just like in real life, adversity and struggle can bring out either the best or the worst in people. When tested, it is up to each of us to decide how we will respond. My mother, who disliked the premise of this book, happened to love Lord of the Flies. Newsflash, Mom: These two books really aren't that far apart.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Read Love Reviews: Delirium

Delirium (Special Edition) by Lauren Oliver

Pub. Date: August 22, 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Format: ebook, 480pp
Age Range: Young Adult
ISBN-13: 9780062114037
Source: Barnes & Noble

Teaser from 

Ninety-five days, and then I'll be safe.
I wonder whether the procedure will hurt.
I want to get it over with.
It's hard to be patient.
It's hard not to be afraid while I'm still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn't touched me yet.
Still, I worry.
They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness.
The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don't.

My Review: 

Wow! I bought a digital copy of Delirium when it was offered at the bargain price of $2.99. And I'm glad I did! 

Delerium is YA Dystopian Fiction at its best. Who doesn't love Dystopia? There is nothing more appealing in fiction than an exploration, on some level, of what it means to be human. Dystopia puts our humanity -- our freedom of choice, freedom of thought, and in this case, our freedom to love, on the line. So we cling to our seats and hold tightly to the page as we hope to see the characters beat what feels like insurmountable odds. All in the name of human freedom. What's not to love, right?

As I mentioned, this time it's love that's on the line. In Oliver's world, love is seen as a disease, and once adulthood is reached, each citizen goes through a procedure to be cured. Lives -- schooling, careers, marriages -- are arranged and selected for you through testing and an interview. And finally, the most important part of the process, the cure, takes place. All to ensure individual and collective happiness. Ah, but does it?

Lauren Oliver creates a compelling world. I especially liked her use of epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter to give more detail and context to this world. There is nothing to specifically date the world of Delerium. I think we are to consider this our possible future or even an alternate present. Small details were mentioned that add to the worldbuilding: the internet has become the intranet, the U.S. borders were closed, and cell phone static is the result of government surveillance.
Oliver succeeds in her characters. From the beginning, you care about Lena.  Her relationship with Hana is one of the best portrayals of best friends in my recent memory. Though much of this story, when not plot driven, is internal-dialogue driven, there were little tidbits thrown in to give Lena and Hana a history. Another secondary character that I like is Grace, who, although I can't tell you why, is perhaps the ultimate rebel.

Finally, the romantic element of the book feels natural and right. Oliver captures what it is like to fall in love; how love both disturbs and repairs our personal world. Above all, she illustrates why love is worth the accompanying risks and the potential pain.
Don't let the four-star rating fool you. I absolutely loved this book! But I give only whole star ratings, and it's because the writing and the prose are, as a whole, so strong and emotionally compelling that a couple of editing mistakes, one in continuity, and the other an impactful oversight in word use, keep this book from getting top marks.

Still, after finishing Delirium, I immediately pre-ordered the next installment, Pandemonium (February 28, 2012). I also pre-ordered Hana, a short story that releases the same day. I can't wait to read more about what happens to Lena (and Hana)!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Read Love Reviews:
Through My Eyes: A Quarterback's Journey

Through My Eyes: A Quarterback's Journey by Tim Tebow
with Nathan Whitaker

Pub. Date: December 6, 2011
Publisher: Zondervan
Format: PDF, 216pp
Age Range: 9 and up
ISBN-13: 9780310723455 (Hardcover print edition)
Source: NetGalley

Synopsis from
Meet Tim Tebow: He grew up playing every sport imaginable, but football was his true passion. Even from an early age, Tim has always had the drive to be the best player and person that he could be. Through his hard work and determination, he established himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of college football and as a top prospect in the NFL.
Now, in Through My Eyes: A Quarterback's Journey, he shares the behind-the-scenes details of his life, on and off the football field. Tim writes about his life as he chooses to live it, revealing how his Christian faith, his family values, and his relentless will to succeed have molded him into the person and the athlete he is today.

My Review: 

Before you judge Tim Tebow, I suggest you read this book. When I saw this was available at NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. It is a "Young Readers" edition of Tebow's New York Times Bestselling autobiography, Through My Eyes. Not having read the original, I can't tell you how this printing differs. However, I can tell you that the book is very easy to read, and if you are curious about what makes Tim Tebow tick, then you'll probably plow right through it. I certainly did!

I'm very glad to have read the book. All I knew about Tim Tebow prior to reading it is that he isn't afraid to speak about his faith. And when the football world was swept up by "Tebow Time" as he racked up comeback wins for the Denver Broncos this year, I began to take notice. I wanted to know more about this polarizing quarterback. I can honestly say that this book made me a fan.  That's right -- I'm Team Tebow!

I learned a lot about Tim Tebow. For instance, I didn't know that he has dyslexia, that he was primarily homeschooled, or that he grew up on a farm. I enjoyed discovering how his background, his family, and his faith has shaped him. It was interesting to see how his father used life events as teaching points. Tim relates a story about a "controlled burn" on the farm that got out of hand. Daddy Tebow used the occurrence to teach his children a lesson about the damage that words can cause.

I learned that from his birth, Tim Tebow has been a determined survivor and competitor. Reading his related memories and stories -- whether it's about playing t-ball, enduring challenging work outs, or partaking in friendly family competitions -- it's clear that Tim has always had a strong will to be and do the best he can. 

While he is strong-willed and determined, he is also sensitive and emotional. Without apology, he shares that he sometimes cries after a loss. He also relates his emotional phone call to then Alabama coach, Mike Shula, as well as his famous post-game promise after a devastating loss as a Florida Gator. Tim is an admitted people-pleaser. He shares a story about going to a theme park despite his inability to ride on amusement park rides of any kind without getting sick. Not wanting to let people down, he answered their calls to make an appearance and endured a roller coaster ride. Not without consequence, though! Poor Tebow.

Of course, any book by Tim Tebow would be incomplete if he didn't mention his faith. Each chapter of the book begins with a quote from scripture. The Bible verses are well-chosen and integrate with the chapters to illustrate a season in his life and support what he was learning. Tim talks about moments of personal faith decisions, explains why he prays during games (you may be surprised to hear that he does not hesitate to admit that God doesn't necessarily take sides), relates lessons he has learned, shares his passion for missions work and helping children and orphans, and generally gives clear insight into what motivates and inspires him.

Having read Through My Eyes: A Quarterback's Journey,  it's easy to see how Tim Tebow has been able to successfully face the challenges that have come his way. Despite struggling at the conclusion of the 2011 NFL regular season, he surprised his doubters and nearly silenced his critics with a solid performance in a playoff win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was a performance that relied on his ability to throw the ball to move the chains, rather than on his feet and general athleticism. Don't count this guy out. Tebow has a never-say-die attitude, bolstered by his faith and his hard work, that helps him weather adversity and come out stronger.

To conclude, Tim Tebow is a hard-working young man of character, determination, and strength. In addition to these things, he is also compassionate and sensitive. I can't think of a better example for children to follow. Not only will this book be easy for children to read, but it will inspire them to dream and, just as importantly, it will encourage them to do the hard work necessary to make those dreams a reality.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Inspiration (21)

"Believers, look up -- take courage. The Angels are nearer than you think."
Billy Graham

Sunday Inspiration is a weekly feature hosted here @ Read Love.
It began from my desire to share a nugget of encouragement or wisdom.
I didn't intend for it to be a community thing, but due to positive feedback,
I'm giving it a try! (Thanks, Kate)

Participation is welcome!
Your quote need not be faith-based, but it should be positive and uplifting.