Monday, June 27, 2011

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

So I bought this book last year for a dollar. It may possibly be the best dollar I’ve ever spent. No, that is not hyperbole, this book is pretty damn amazing. It isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but YA dystopian fantasy? Yes please, thank you.

Encapsulate This

Sometime in the distant (unspecified) future, the USA as a unified country has collapsed and has been replaced by a nation called Panem. Surrounding the central Capitol, the land has been divided into 12 Districts, with each district responsible for a specific trade. Every year, in each district, a girl and a boy between ages 12 and 18 are picked by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games, a contest that is televised throughout Panem to entertain the citizens of the Capitol and to subdue the outlying Districts. In order to win the Games, you have to be the last person alive in the arena.

Sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, the poorest district in terms of both wealth and prestige. When her twelve year-old sister Prim is picked in the lottery, Katniss volunteers to take her place. The male tribute (what the lottery winners are called) is Peeta, a boy Katniss is familiar but not friendly with. Katniss hasn’t had time to consider all of the ramifications of taking her sister’s place, but she knows she can count on her best (only) friend Gale to take care of her family if she dies in the Games. She’s pretty sure she isn’t going to make it home.

Ruminate on That

If you have ever read Battle Royale (if you haven’t, you should), this is a familiar story. A lot of dystopian books have similar themes, so I don’t particularly care if the story is ALL NEW! NEVER SEEN BEFORE! I care if a story is told well. You guys, this story is told REALLY WELL. Despite very clearly being a cautionary tale, it rarely feels preachy. The pacing is perfect, what there is of dialogue is solid and there is a good amount of background information without info-dumping. The story is told in first-person present-tense (not my favorite, I’ve said before), so I felt Katniss’ experiences pretty viscerally. I was rooting for her even though she’s emotionally stunted, because she is pragmatic and capable. She’s far from perfect, she’s often cold, but I still wanted her to win.

Violence, especially violence-as-titillation, is a key element of the story, so be prepared for a fair bit of it (um, duh? The entire premise is an annual adolescent death-match). There are a couple of areas in the world-logic that are a little wonky, but actually, the only thing that really, truly bugged me was the romantic sub-plot. In general, I am a fan of the romance but (this applies mostly to the books to follow) a lot of the romantic element felt forced. So authors, please, stop with the love triangle. Pretty please?

Final Reckoning

Should you read this? Hell yes. I love this book so much that I bought a copy for my Kindle. It is a three volume series, so take that into consideration. And then buy it anyway. This book resolves the initial story arc well but there is lots of room for the story to continue. I’ll get around to reviewing the second and third books too.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Book 1 of 3 of The Hunger Games)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Burnt Offerings, AB:VH Book 7

Did you get your copy of Hit List yet? Are you ecstatic? I haven’t gotten a copy because I am vehemently opposed to giving LKH my money. But here’s a refresher for the heinous shit that precedes it, just in case you’ve forgotten (really though, how could you?).

As ever, we begin with Anita in her office, being offered a job that has nothing to do with her status as a necromancer or even really as a “monster expert” (do you hate that phrase? I fucking hate that phrase). The St. Louis FD thinks there is a pyrokinetic person setting fires in the city and want them stopped before someone dies. Anita is not actually an expert with psychic gifts, but they think she can help anyway. (We won’t come back to this until the mystery is miraculously resolved with a 2-paragraph sequence in the last 3% of the book. Did I ruin the suspense? Sorry.)

Richard is all sad-face and is ignoring his responsibilities as Alpha of his pack because Anita thinks he’s gross. Some stuff happens that doesn’t matter resulting with Anita becoming responsible for some of Richard’s werewolves and Gabriel’s wereleopards (Gabriel was in the last couple of books, he was a total shit, now he’s dead). Anita tells the wolves and the leopards that she is going to protect them because she’s awesome and also, she has a big gun.

Whilst out on a date, Anita and Jean-Claude find out that the Vampire Council is in town and that they are pissed because they think Jean-Claude is trying to set up a rival faction in the U.S. Also, that Jean-Claude killed Mr. Oliver and has not taken his place as a member of the Council. The VC takes over the Circus of the Damned and hold Jean-Claude’s vampires and wolves hostage.

Let’s meet the Vampire Council:

The Traveler: He can use another vampire’s body like a puppet

Padma, known as the Master of Beasts: He can control another vampire’s animal to call

Fernando: Padma’s son; he is seriously a sociopath, likes to rape women (he is not actually part of the Council)

Morte D’Amour: He can make his body appear to decompose; couldn’t be buggered to come in person and is represented by

Yvette: She can also make her body rot and

Warrick: He is a trained warrior (who can walk in the daylight, but this is kept sooper sekret from all of the other vampires)

Belle Morte: She can make lust overwhelm you (pay attention, that bit is basically the premise for every book after #9); also couldn’t be buggered to come and is represented by

Asher: He doesn’t reveal any special powers yet. He used to be pretty but got scarred with holy water by some priests during the Inquisition. Jean-Claude was once part of a threesome with Asher and his human servant but Asher, thinking Jean-Claude betrayed them, is looking for revenge.

(There are a couple more high-muckety-mucks, but since they don’t make an appearance in his book, we’ll leave them out, shall we?)

Do you care about any of that? No? Excellent, moving on.

Anita beats her chest at the VC, the Traveler decides he likes her, Padma and Yvette decide they hate her, and Asher wants her but still hates Jean-Claude. Fernando rapes one of Richard’s pack and Anita promises revenge (there is a lot of rape in this particular book, I don’t mean to sound callous about it). Blah, blah, blah, end scene.

There is an aside where Anita uses the power of the wolf pack to channel Raina (thought she was gone, did you? Oh, no, she makes several appearances in the following books, despite having been cannibalized by her pack) to heal Nathaniel (one of the wereleopards, get used to hearing about him) even though she is in no way, shape or form a shifter (get used to that too). Also, there is an awful lot of Richard angsting at Anita about not being able to love him and Anita angsting at herself about the same. I am already tired of this particular storyline and it’s only come into play during this book.

The presence of the Council in STL makes the lesser vampires in the city lose their shit, Anita has to go clean up the mess, and she has Jean-Claude make a bargain to let the vampires and shifters being held hostage at Circus of the Damned free. Anita and Jean-Claude take Richard with them when they go to free the hostages, there is a big show-down, Padma lets Anita kill Fernando in exchange for his own life, Yvette reveals that Morte D’Amour wants the vampires to return to the old ways (i.e. no more legal citizenship) and has been egging Warrick into setting fires (with his brain! Mystery solved!) to scare humans into revoking the legal protections that U.S. vampires now have. Warrick sees the error of his ways and kills Yvette and himself in a final (literal) blaze of glory. Asher joins up with Anita and Jean-Claude (because Anita thinks he’s pretty despite his scars) and we are treated to a soliloquy wherein Anita yaks about trying to be friendly with Richard, learning how to control her new powers (she has discovered at least two), fucking Jean-Claude in a bathtub (again!) and gaining some new insight about herself (that she won’t ever actually put to use). The End!

You’re welcome.

If you want recaps of the previous books see here:

Guilty Pleasures, The Laughing Corpse, Circus of the Damned, The Lunatic Café, Bloody Bones, and The Killing Dance

Burnt Offerings, Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter, Book 7

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning

I’m doing a five-in-one review because I finished this series a couple of weeks ago but I was too lazy to do an individual treatment. This isn’t a spoiler, so if you haven’t read the whole thing yet, I don’t ruin anything. I think. I’m not certain I remember most of what happened in any particular book.

Encapsulate This

MacKayla Lane is just a regular twenty-something girl from Georgia. Her interests in life are pretty simple: bartending, dating, and clothes. But when her sister is murdered in Dublin, she becomes obsessed with the idea of revenge. The police in Ireland have done nothing to solve the murder, so Mac heads over there to light a fire under their collective asses. All she has to go on is a frightening voice mail her sister left on the day she was killed. One day she stumbles into a book store where she meets the enigmatic Jericho Barrons and learns that the Fae are real (Fae like fairies, not the sparkle-fart fairies, but the dangerous and powerful ones similar to those found in Irish or Scottish folklore) and that she is what is known as a sidhe-seer (a girl who can see the Fae) and also, her parents have been lying to her for her entire life. Anyway, Barrons, the Seelie, and the Unseelie (not as a cohesive group, they all hate each other) are searching for a relic called the Sinsar Dubh, a book of magic that has been MIA for a while. It turns out that Mac can sense the Book and she teams up with Barrons because he promises to protect her. She doesn’t really trust him or understand his motives, but she has precious few choices.
That’s the synopsis for the first book. The rest of the books are basically Mac and Barrons hunting the Book, finding other Fae relics, killing some people, trying to discover Mac’s actual history, killing some Fae, finding her sister’s killer, trying not to die, then a weird, implausible plot twist and The End.
Ruminate on That
Honestly, when I read about the first book, I thought Meh, this sounds kind of terrible but also maybe intriguing? But then Amazon offered it free for Kindle last year, and I figured it’s not about vampires or werewolves and I like faeries/fairies so why not? The story was just engrossing enough for me to glom the rest of the series from the library and finish them off within 10 days. But in the end, despite some interesting side-plots about the Fae and Barrons scattered throughout, the whole storyline is really character-driven, and since it’s a first-person narrator, the character we are driven by is Mac. This is problematic because a lot of the time, I don’t even like her. Whatever, I don’t really need a sympathetic protagonist. But if I don’t get a likeable character, then I want one who is going to grow over the course of the story. But Mac stays almost the same throughout the entire series. Most of her development occurs in the final book and is pretty much entirely related to Barrons. Sure, as the story progresses her powers grow (sort of?), but she makes the same mistakes over and over. (This is slightly better than her being an almighty Mary Sue, but why can’t we have a main character that is female AND smart AND self-aware AND capable? You know, like many, many ladies that exist IRL?) Yes, Mac had only been in Ireland for about 6 months and had spent the equivalent of 3 months of that time wandering around Faerie but if a person can make it through boot camp in less time with little threat of actual death, why the fuck can’t Mac learn something? She does eventually gain some insight about herself but never actually utilizes most of her new self-knowledge. She also spends an inordinate amount of her time whining about her hair, her clothes, blah blah blah. And I get that she is mourning the simplicity and safety of her past life, but really? She needs to grow up. There are people (in addition to the Fae) trying to kill her, who have killed her sister, and she is sad because she isn’t pretty? Shut up. No, really. SHUT UP. I don’t know, maybe I just feel that this was particularly annoying because I read the books in quick succession.
On a positive note, despite Mac’s off-putting characterization, I thought the writing style itself was pretty good. The whole story is told in that sort of breathless everything-is-happening-right-this-second tone that can be hard to pull off, but here it’s done pretty well. Mac’s headvoice is idiosyncratic in a manner that just feels realistic. Also, there is a dictionary in the back of each book, written as if they are actually excerpted from the journal Mac is keeping throughout the story, that adds another level of believability to the story.
Final Reckoning

ETA: 10/09/2012  I take it back. There are several new novels being published in the Fever universe. Iced comes out 10/30/2012 and sounds like it'll make up for my disappointment. 

ETA 5/03/13: Upon re-reading this series, Mac does evolve as a character. She eventually gains some perspective and maturity, I just think I dislike her so much that it's difficult to see. 

I don’t necessarily regret reading the series, I am just really, really unhappy with the finale. It was so weird that I thought maybe Karen Marie Moning got herself into a plot-hole and there was only one way out, but there was some foreshadowing that says it must have been on purpose? I have no idea. There was only one thing I liked about the ending, but even that was a little gloopy. My final recommendation would be to read the first three books and then find a spoiler-y review for the last two. You could email me too, I will be more than happy to be your reader-of-the-last-page-r. Actually, maybe just skip the whole thing. The more I think about it, the less I want to recommend it. I don’t think the investment is worth the payoff. (But if there is another novel set in this universe, I will probably read it. Ahem.)
The Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning