Review for The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

I got this book through the reddit.com book exchange, and I was so happy to see it in the box I got!

Katniss, a teenage girl who illegally hunts outside the District 12 fence in order to barter meat for the things her family needs, is selected for the Hunger Games, where she's pitted in a battle to the death against 23 other kids on national TV as a continuing punishment for the rebellion of her district and theirs. It's reality TV meets Fahrenheit 451 in a post-apocalyptic setting.

The freakiest part was how the show people take the time to pretty up and pamper the kids for a few days, showing them off in expensive clothing and interviewing them as if they're not going to die bloodily at each other's hands over the next couple of weeks. Katniss gets a jewel-encrusted gown to wear, and is plucked and waxed to within a inch of her life, and eats as much of the gloriously fine food in the capital as she can. Then she's muddy, bleeding, sore, thirsty, and running for her life. The dichotomy is nearly too much to grasp, but apparently it's been the way of things for 74 years.

I loved the political undercurrents. Things got very dangerous at the end, and not for the reason you'd think. The only trouble I had with it was how quickly Katniss seemed to grasp the danger, as exhausted as she was, and with her background as a poacher with no political experience at all.

Katniss was a dynamo, but a human one. She kept going, kept trying, never gave up. As the games progressed, she was forced into a few decisions that might have made other kids quail. But she didn't. In fact, she often didn't even think twice. Perhaps it was her experience with the life and death of hunting outside the fence.

There was a lack of fear, a lack of rebellion, among all the players in the arena. Everyone seemed okay with their presence in the Games. I suppose that could be chalked up to the week of prep each player got, but surely there was one teenager who totally freaked out at the prospect of killing or being killed, right? Nope. No hyperventilation or denial, no fleeing and hiding in a cave hoping to simply outlast everyone else. Everyone played, and played hard. For a system based mostly on lottery, with only a handful of volunteers, that seemed unrealistic.

The characters were great in this book. Katniss, Peeta, Rue, Gale, these were the best-fleshed characters. They had secrets and gimmicks and weaknesses and strengths. Haymitch was the most confusing character for me: he was supposed to teach Peeta and Katniss strategy, but he never did, so Katniss had to step up and suddenly figure the Gamemakers' tactics out on the fly, and she did so with such cool logic that it didn't seem she was 16 anymore. Mary Sue strikes again.

There were many flashbacks in the story, where Katniss goes back and explains some detail of her life at home or out with Gale, or with Peeta. I found them smooth and non-disruptive, and they seemed like a logical following of Katniss' thoughts during down time in the arena.

The present tense of the story's POV was an interesting choice, but I think it served the story well. In a tale where every moment may be your last, you must live entirely in the present. There were a couple of places where the verbs in a flashback clashed with the verbs in the current storyline and I had to read again to make sure I knew what was happening when, but for the most part the transitions from present tense present to past tense flashback were smooth.

The novel handled the deaths of the players lightly. There was no gore, and most of the deaths happened off-screen, being discovered by the MCs only during the nightly sky broadcasts. SPOILER Peeta gets two kills, but both are off-screen and one is even unintended. Katniss gets four kills, but only two are described, and one of them is vengeance for an attack on an ally, while the other is a mercy killing. The two that were off-screen weren't meant to kill, either, but to distract so that Katniss could escape being treed. The teens who are most intent on killing everyone else--the Careers who trained for this all their lives--are portrayed as the bad guys, even though the only way out of the arena is to kill. END SPOILER In spite of this, I was brought back many times to the concept that the Capital is a horribly cruel government, making young teens with their whole lives ahead of them go in and kill each other so that the Districts never forget who's in charge.

With each death reminding me of this, and with the tension at the end, it's no surprise where the second book will be taking our young heroes, but I want to see how they handle it. I'm definitely up for reading more.

Review for Heat Wave, by Richard Castle

Richard Castle is back, with the first installment of his new Nikki Heat crime thriller series! After he killed off Derrick Storm, his audience was left confused, angry, fearful. Was Richard Castle through? Was he throwing in the pen?

No. Not by a long shot. Castle has come back with a new brand of detective: the tough, independent, yet secretly empathetic Nikki Heat. When a real estate tycoon is found dead after a long drop and a sudden stop, Heat, along with Riley and Ochoa (collectively known as Roach) and her ubiquitous story-seeking journalist companion, Jameson Rook, begin to delve into his past. The bodies pile up as the wisecracking team uncover more leads.

Jameson can't manage to follow most of the basic orders Heat gives him. Heat manipulates him into getting something through his connections that she can't get through official channels. Riley and Ochoa lay the gallows humor on thick. It's everything we want and nothing we don't. Welcome back to the bestseller list, Castle.

Haha, okay, I can't keep a straight face anymore. Enjoyable as this novel was, I couldn't suspend my meta-disbelief very well. The book is short, less than 200 pages. It comprises a series of events that could fit into one episode of the TV show. If you don't get the show, you probably won't like the book, since description is thin and action is paramount, and the thinly-disguised TV show characters are what you're meant to be picturing; you're already supposed to know who all the main protagonists are.

The book pokes fun at Castle's crush-like focus on Detective Kate Beckett. She is perfect in every way, except for not knowing how to be playful at sex, which the Jameson character helps her with. Her two assigned detectives in the show, Esposito and Ryan, are so low on his priority list that he comes up with one name for the both of them, and it's "Roach". The names for all the characters in the book are frightfully close to the names the characters on the show have. Laurie Parry even has both initials the same. Everyone is the same gender and personality.

In short, it seems that "Richard Castle" is great at writing twisty plots, but he's complete crap at writing original characters and has to rely heavily on his own "real life" acquaintances.

I highly enjoyed the meta-material in the book: the acknowledgments, the back cover, etc. The bit at the back where Castle thanks everyone had me laughing out loud. He thanks his mother and his daughter, by their TV character names, and then later he thanks the actresses themselves (by first name only), in a list of all the actors and actresses on the show. Including "Nathan"! Ha!

I could swear that when the book was on display or in Beckett's hands in the TV show, it was about 400 pages thick. No way was it the slender volume I just read. If ABC is going to charge $20 for a novelized account of every Castle episode, I think I'll just stick with the boxed DVD set instead. This is an excellent fun read for fans of the show, though, and if you're one, you should read this, even if you have to grab it from the library.

3 of 5 stars.