The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. 374 p. Published September 2008.

I’ve known about The Hunger Games since it climbed the bestseller lists a few years ago but haven’t had the chance to actually read it myself until now.

With her mother not up to the task, Katniss Everdeen has had to fend for her family since her father passed in a tragic mining accident. despite being only 16, She’s perfected the hunting and foraging skills he taught her and, together with her friend Gale, managed to eek out a living with daily forays into the forbidden forests beyond the distrtict’s border.

Katniss lives in The Seam, the poorest part of Panem’s Twelfth District. The 12th, known mainly for it’s coal production, lies farthest from the capitol of what remains in a post-apocalyptic North America. The Capitol, in an effort to remind the districts where the power lies, hold a yearly competition dubbed The Hunger Games. 2 contestants, heralded as idols, are drafted from each district outside the Capitol to participate in this twisted reality series where fame and riches await the victor. The catch: they must outlive the other 23 contestants, all of whom are out to murder them.

Katniss is horrified when her younger sister is picked in the lottery and is quick to volunteer in her place. She knows that it’s a death sentence – no one from her district has survived a Hunger Games in decades. This is driven home when her compatriot, a childhood friend, is drafted and the pair meet their notoriously inebriated trainer.

What follows is a mesmerizing tale of wit, love, despair, and heartbreak. Collins immerses the reader into the paranoid mindset of a girl hellbent on survival with almost dizzying rapidity. Mixing in elements of science fiction, this young adult title does a fantastic job of drawing the reader into it’s world and characters. The complaint I hear most often from dissenters is how infuriated they get with the protagonist’s paranoid perspective as she reacts to imagined or misinterpreted slights. I, however, find this to be a true mark of Collins’ skill developing a character – after all, have you ever been around a teenage girl without becoming irritated at the irrationality of the experience?

While I’m not sure I’ll enjoy the movie when it comes out in 2012, I’ll probably see it. However, I’ll definitely be reading Catching Fire, the 2nd book in the series, as soon as I get through the current stack of novels on my shelf.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Other Reviews of The Hunger Games: FyreFly’s Book Blog, Caribou’s Mom

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The Deceived

50. The Deceived by Brett Battles. 358 p. Published June 2008.

This novel is the sequel to Battle’s debut thriller, The Cleaner.

When Quinn is called to clean up a body, he prepares for a normal job. What he didn’t prepare for was discovering that the body belonged to one of his closest friends, Steven Markoff, who was left to die in a shipping container. With only a cryptic message scrawled in his friend’s blood, Quinn feels obligated to inform Markoff’s lover, Jenny. But Jenny, a Congressional aid, has gone missing, and Quinn finds a bunch of men ransacking her house.

Quinn, with the help of his apprentice Nate and Orlando, a tech-savy compatriot, jumps around the country tracking Jenny’s trail. Along the way Quinn begins to unravel a devious plot by forces within the U.S. government. Finally, Quinn tracks Jenny to Singapore, where the story begins to take on a whole new level of intrigue and danger.

The Deceived continues to develop and refine the world of The Cleaner. Improving on his skills at character development and pacing, Battles combines technique, technical detail, and a gift for sudden plot twists to carry the reader along. While a number of scenes in the novel still come across as unfinished or even unecessary, The Deceived exhibits Battles’ skills and potential in a bloated market.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Havana Nocturne

49. Havana Nocturne: How The Mob Owned Cuba – And Then Lost It to the Revolution by T.J. English. 396 p. Published June 2008.

In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew General Batista to take control of Cuba. But for almost 30 years prior, Cuba’s political strife and corruption served as the perfect atmosphere for organised crime to make a profit.

After the end of prohibition, mobsters knew they needed to diversify and find other sources of income. Gambling soon became one of the most profitable ventures for most gangsters, but increasing regulation and government pressure loomed in their future. Two mobsters, Meyer Lansky and Charles “Lucky” Luciano, foresaw the need for a base of operations outside of the U.S. – setting organised crime and North American politics on a collision path.

What most people know of the mob’s involvment in Cuba comes from the second Godfather film. And all of it comes down to myth and suposition. In Havana Nocturne, English composes dozens of accounts and testimonials to formulate the facts and reality of the Havana Mob’s rise to power. In doing so, English reveals Lansky’s vision for Cuba – an island of pleasure, gambling, and graft – and the steps he took to stear others toward that goal.

I found this book to be an amazing and in-depth look into the mob’s heyday and a great read for anyone who enjoys true-crime or politics.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Area 7

35. Area 7 by Matthew Reilly. 387 p. Published February 2002.

Dealing with the aftermath of the events in Ice Station is tough on the government and military. In the end, the politicians can only put Scarecrow and the surviving members of his team in one place – aboard Marine 1, the President’s helicopter. Now heading the Presidential Marine guard, Scofield finds himself escorting the newly elected President on a tour of classified Air Force bases in the western portion of the U.S.

The President, with his entourage of Secret Service agents, political aides, and Marine escort, arrives at Area 7. This research facility, housed in NORAD’s original installation and guarded by an elite class of commandos, is now the center for the Air Force’s bio-chemical weapons program. In particular, the scientists have focussed on developing a vaccine to a race-based biotoxin originating from China.

However, as the President is touring the facility, the true motives for scheduling his visit become clear – the Air Force is staging a coup d’état. Trapped inside the base, Scofield’s team must work to reach the president and keep him alive. But doing so is more difficult that believed – for the madman in charge has created the biggest “Ticking Time Bomb” scenario concievable. Confronted with assault on all sides and the potential ramifications of their failure, Scofield and his men must do the impossible – secure the president and the vaccine while outmanned and outgunned.

With action and intrigue raging across every page, Area 7 is a perfect sequel to Ice Station. Scarecrow, along with his memorable batch of grunts, takes the reader on a journey spanning subterranean caverns, mid-air gunship battles, and low-orbit space combat. And however wild and crazy that sounds, Reilly’s consistent voice and plot dynamic make it all believable. Okay, maybe the space-based combat was a little far-fetched.

However, while Area 7 was enjoyable, it had some serious faults. There is almost no character development and the few attempts Reilly makes are rather transparent – the classic romance, the conflicted son of a fallen comrade, the return of a character obviously unfit for military duty. Reilly could do better. On top of that, Scofield has kept his death-defying luck and puts it to ready use shooting down missiles and leaping off cliffs. These are things that are excusable for an initial novel – but not a sequel.

In the end, Area 7 pulls the reader along with a solid pulse-pounding plot, but offers little else in the way of substance. While this is par for the course of military-thrillers, I was hoping for a bit more. Even so, I enjoyed reading Area 7 and can’t wait to move on to the next book in the Shane “Scarecrow” Scofield series.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Other Reviews of Area 7: The Redneck Romance Writer

The Sandman: The Doll’s House

GN 11. The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, and Chris Bachalo. 240 p. Published September 1991.

In Preludes and Nocturnes we met Morpheus – The Sandman, Lord of Nightmares, also known as Dream of the Eternals. Still cleaning up the mess left by his absence, Dream begins to track 4 dreams who used the opportunity to escape the Dreamworld. The key to finding these rogue nightmares lies with the newly awakened Dream Vortex, which has taken form in the shape of Rose, a young woman searching for her long missing brother. But Dream isn’t the only one taking advantage of the Vortex. Desire, a younger member of the Eternals, wants to play games with Morpheus’s heart.

As Dream follows his escaped minions, Rose continues to search for her brother, and the two journeys are linked. From the mind of a small boy, to the 1st annual serial killers convention, The Sandman goes about reclaiming what’s his. But as the book comes to closer to its conclusion, so does the confrontation between Dream and the entity which threatens his realm.

With The Doll’s House, Gaiman continues to build a fantastic vision of our world. My favorite chapter, with its dark wit, was Part 5: The Collectors, which showcases the maniacs’ convention. Using each chapter’s individual story, Gaiman builds an overarching plot that reveals a little bit more of how The Eternals interact with humanity and, with his final twist, how humanity can effect The Eternals. With the beginnings of Dream’s evolution, Gaiman offers a glimpse into how The Sandman will proceed.

As part of the Graphic Novels Challenge, this post was cross-blogged here.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Other Reviews of Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House: Madstop Reading, Yaybooks

Ice Station

32. Ice Station by Matthew Reilly. 390 p. Published September 2000.

The latest book in this series was recommended to me by a friend’s mother. I decided to start at the beggining.
Lieutenant Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield and his team of Marines are sent to Halley Station, a science lab buried in the ice of Antarctica, in response to a mysterious call for help. Part of the message: the scientists believe they have found an alien craft buried nearly a mile down.

Scarecrow and the others arrive to find that the French have beaten them to the station and they are forced into battle. While the team comes out victorious, the damage they have taken leaves them crippled. Faced with a traitor in his team, incoming hostiles, and even nature working against him, Schofield relinquishes control of the base in favor of protecting the surviving scientists. But first he has a few of his marines and one scientist descend under the ice to examine and secure whatever is down there. Faced with a situation where survival is impossible, Schofield performs stunningly as a series of events work to shake the very foundations of the military and the U.S. Government.

Ice Station is a brilliant mix of suspense, espionage, action, and science fiction. Scarecrow is quite the remarkable character, and the trials Reilly puts him through are almost sadistic in their ingenuity. With a gift for tactics and ingenious weapon ideas, Reilly guides the reader through the depth of military intrigue. With a well paced plot and a story that ducks and dodges with every chapter, Reilly’s Ice Station keeps you on your toes until the very end. This book sets an excellent foundation for a series.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Princess of Wands

24. Princess of Wands by John Ringo. 408 p. Published September 2007.

This book was given to me by a friend, though she had not read it.

The book is divided into three parts. The first, ‘The Almadu Sanction’, introduces us to Kelly Lockhart, a homicide detective in New Orleans. Lockhart is on the trail of a sadistic serial murderer who may not be working alone. In an effort to find the person responsible for these gruesome deaths, Lockhart visits an old psychic he’s used as an informant before. She sends him deep into the bayou, searching for the pimp who may know who is responsible and the ‘princess’ who may help him solve the case.

While there, Lockhart runs into Barbara Everette, a soccer mom who decided to take the weekend off from her husband and three kids and go on a short vacation in search of some good Cajun eats. But after a long night of driving, Barbara found herself stranded in the back-water town of Thibideau. But what draws Lockhart to our Episcopalian heroine isn’t her over-sized chest, but the LotR T-shirt she’s clad in. “Aloof Elven Princess.”

Lockhart and Everette soon find themselves neck-deep in a small town turned evil, and only Barb’s penchant for combat and faith in her god offer them any chance of getting out alive.

‘The Necromancy Option’ dominates the book’s second half. Barb is brought under the fold of The Foundation for Love and Universal Faith, who, among other things, conduct Special Circumstances investigations. While on a retreat, Barbara undergoes orientation for her new job as an Adept of the White God. There she comes in contact with Wicca, Asatru (Norse), and other faith practitioners, all of whom have joined together on the side of Good.

With some new knowledge, a boost in her faith, and a bunch of new friends, Barbara is sent on a mission with Janea, an Asatru, and Greg, an FBI agent. They are going to a small science-fiction/fantasy convention
in order to track down someone who’s been killing young girls in order to harness necromantic energy. While there, the trio meet the large range of personalities common at any convention, and the reader undergoes a rigorous orientation for the world of print sci-fi. But Barb’s attempts to slush out the murderer seem to have alerted him, and now she must rush to defeat him before any more lives are lost.

Our final story, ‘Broken Sabbath,’ is a mere 30 pages long, and brings the reader back to Barbara’s home. Her life as a house wife is fulfilling, but as her eldest daughter starts the softball season with a new coach, Barb finds that her secret job has made her a little paranoid. When the team is put through a series of ‘team building exercises’ without any parental supervision, and the girls begin to show signs of stress, Barb uses her contacts at The Foundation to vet the new coach. And what she finds sends her chasing after him in full tactical gear.

Princess of Wands is, to my knowledge, completely standalone. Which is too bad, because I enjoyed the book (a good simple read). This most recent edition to the growing subgenre of urban-female-occult-specialists (I seem to be reviewing a lot of these books) realistically uses religion and Christian faith without too much bible-thumping. There is an interesting contrast between the first two parts of the novel, the first being a tad simplistic, and the second steeped in detail. A number of conversations that take place during the convention are particularly detailed, and a number of characters are obvious adaptations of real people/authors. The only thing that detracts for this book is that the genre itself is becoming rather generic, and Ringo does little to make this particular work stand out. I take that back, the second book is a rather good depiction of your average sci-fi/fantasy convention.

If you are interested the first part of the book, ‘The Almadu Sanction’, is available for free online by the publisher.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Other Reviews of Princess of Wands: Aliens in this World, TexasBestGrok