Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review: Catching Fire

Catching Fire
Hunger Games, book 2
by Suzanne Collins

Having survived the Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta are back home in District 12. But although they’re out of the arena, living in comfortable housing and with plenty of food, the game is far from over. Because the two of them defeated the Capitol by forcing a change in the rules, the government considers them dangerous enemies of the state, even while publicly celebrating them as victors. Some people in the Districts view their victory as an act of defiance, and there are rumblings of unrest.

A visit from President Snow makes the stakes clear: Katniss and Peeta must play the role of young lovers perfectly, and convince the world that they are no threat to the Capitol, or everyone they love will die. But as they begin the victory tour, events rapidly spiral out of control, and Katniss must make a choice between playing the game, and standing up to a government bent on crushing every last scrap of resistance.

I was a little nervous about reading Catching Fire because I was so excited about it that I worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. I needn’t have worried: Catching Fire delivers. It’s a gut-wrenching, pulse-thumping, roller-coaster of a ride. If anything, it’s more intense than the Hunger Games. If you thought the government of Panem was cruel in The Hunger Games, in this book you discover just how truly brutal they are, and to what lengths they will go to maintain control. Yet even in the face of such extreme brutality there are people willing to risk their lives to defy the government--even some in the Capitol. I read this book on vacation, and literally screamed out loud in several places, attracting some strange looks from my family. (They’ve since read the book, too, so now they understand.)

If you’ve read The Hunger Games, I probably don’t need to convince you to read Catching Fire. If you haven’t read the Hunger Games, I highly recommend it! It’s a great teen series. I think it will appeal to both reluctant readers and good readers. It may be too intense for some readers: Bad Things Happen. And it definitely ends on a cliffhanger. Now I’m waiting for book 3. Write faster, Suzanne Collins! Please!

My review of The Hunger Games

Review copy provided by the publisher and signed by the author at BEA.

Cybils 2009 is starting!

It's Cybils time again! Nominations open on October 1 for the 2009 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards. (Is this really our 4th year?) Organizers are currently working hard to select the lists of panelists from the many excellent volunteers. I'm back as the Fantasy and Science Fiction organizer this year. Last year the category was organized by the excellent Tasha from the Kids Lit blog.

Things are happening and the excitement is building, so add the Cybils blog to your blog reader to keep up with the news, and come back between October 1 and October 15 to nominate your favorite books of 2009.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Book Review: Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse

Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse
by Kaleb Nation

Desperate to protect her son from the people chasing her, Emry Hambric sent him away, without knowing where he'd end up. And so six-year-old Bran Hambric was found one morning in a locked bank vault in the city of Dunce, with no memories and only a scrap of paper with his name written on it. Sewey Wilomas, who worked in the bank, found the boy, and under the Finders Keepers Law was obligated to keep him. So Bran became an unwelcome member of the Wilomas family.

Dunce has strict laws against magic: No Mages, No Gnomes, No etcetera. When Bran discovers that he has magic powers, he knows that he's in trouble. But Bran has bigger problems to worry about. Someone is trying to find him. And that someone might just be connected to his mother's dark past.

I wanted to like this book; I really did. According to the interview at the beginning of the Advance Reading Copy, Kaleb Nation started writing the book when he was fourteen, wrote it in six to nine months, and then spent four years completely rewriting it multiple times. Revising like that is hard enough for adult authors; someone who can do that as a teen has my admiration.

However, as much as I wanted to like it, I just couldn't find a lot to like about this book. The ideas were creative, but the execution fell flat for me. The characters were one-dimensional and clichéd and the story elements were highly derivative. The Wilomas family has a lot in common with Harry Potter's foster family, the Dursleys, and the villain, Baslyn, was just a bit too Voldemort-like. (In fact, every time he came into the story, I couldn't help picturing him as looking like Voldemort from the Harry Potter movies).

I didn't even find the humor to be all that funny, although I'm told by some young fans that Kaleb Nation is a pretty funny person. Somehow that sense of humor just didn't translate well into his writing, at least for me, and it read too much like someone trying too hard to be funny.

The first half of the book didn't hold my interest at all; the second half did improve somewhat.

I hate to write a review like this, especially when the author is a young person. I don't want to discourage any young writer, and I also don't want to discourage any of his young fans who enjoyed the book. All I can say is, if you read it and you liked it, then I'm happy for you. Everyone has different taste in books, and I'm glad for anyone who finds a book they love. This book didn't do it for me, though.

Advance Reading Copy provided by the publisher at BEA.