Edited to add: Don't forget to check out the new Peeta/Gale poll! Thanks Agency Gatekeeper for the brilliant idea!
Okay, I sat here for way too long thinking of how to start this post. It's a Book Talk, there should be only one way to start it. "Today's Book Talk will be about Suzanne Collins' phenomenal books, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire." And that is true, I am talking about them. But these books are so full of rock-hard awesome all I want to say is, "Oh my gosh I just finished Catching Fire and it is sooooo good!!! Everyone who's read it, come squee with me! Squeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!"
In a nutshell, Catching Fire was my favorite book of 2009. It makes my all-time list for sure.
So my less-than-new Followers will remember that I don't do the typical book review thing of summarizing the story, then saying "this worked and this didn't, it gets this many stars/hearts/spinning hamsters." I like reading those kinds of reviews, and there are many review links to your left to check out; also I linked a few at the bottom of this Book Talk. For me though, I like talking about the book, the story, the writing, and hopefully share some glimmer of what I hope to learn as a writer.
Okay I usually don't do a setup, but the books are so good I can't resist:
The nation of Panem has a ruling Capitol surrounded by thirteen districts, and the Capitol dominates the districts with an iron fist. After years of oppression, the districts revolt, and the Capitol annihilates District Thirteen. From then on a new law is enacted, requiring the twelve remaining districts to each sacrifice one boy and one girl to a yearly battle to the death-- to remind the districts that rebelling against the Capitol and breaking the peace will cost them their children's lives. The first story (The Hunger Games) begins on the 74th year of the games (so 74 years since the initial rebellion).
I'm new to the dystopian genre. The Maze Runner is the only other one I've read (thanks Mary!) because I always thought dystopians sounded too harsh and pessimistic for my tastes. But The Maze Runner was great, and I'd heard so many good things about The Hunger Games I had to give it a try. Wow. The Hunger Games made it to my Top Ten Most Engrossing, Impossible to Put Down Books Ever list. Yes it's harsh, and there is so little redemption, but Suzanne Collins brings more than mere shock-value-cruelty to the nation of Panem. The world is so vividly real and terrifyingly possible. I mean, how far off are the disgusting extravagances in food and wealth, as well as the ridiculous glorification of body image in Panem's Capitol, when compared with today's celebrity and upper-upper class excesses? Whoa, that sentence was overly long and wordy; the point is, I like this book because it makes you think.
Move all of that into Catching Fire, and it only gets better. A nation under oppression, Katniss unsure of her new role, even more secrets revealed about the Capitol, the Districts, and everything Katniss thought she knew about the world. There is more harshness and cruelty, but amazingly, there's also this deep, relentless hope. There is still love. There's still people in places of privilege and power who, for no other reason than compassion for the human condition, decide to help. This book was better than the first, in my opinion, and it doesn't do that thing that trilogies often do where the second book slows down. If anything, there's even MORE action.
So, am I burying the lead? I'm two-thirds of the way through this Book Talk and have yet to mention Gale or Peeta. Strong, fiery Gale... deep, compassionate Peeta... both hot-on-a-stick and poor Katniss, so single-minded on the survival of her family she's continually blind-sided by these guys. But her heart isn't. Her heart screams out for each of them in different ways, and I can't wait for the third book to see if she realizes what her heart truly wants. You guys know who I'm rooting for (unless you missed my super-cool Team Peeta banner). I can't give away my reasons without spoilers, but this is my blog, after all, and spoil I will.
***SPOILERS BELOW!!! CATCHING FIRE ESPECIALLY SPOILERS BELOW!!!***
Please don't read any further unless you've read the books. Really. This is for the enjoyment of those already "in the know."
To view spoilers, highlight the section below:
Woooooo, I'm invisible! Hee hee. Okay everyone *relaxes into a comfy chair* go ahead and have some of Katniss' fresh-roasted rabbit over there, and a bit of those fabulous cheese-baked bread rolls Peeta makes. It's spoiler time! If you comment on anything spoilerific, just top it off with spoiler warnings. Most people don't read comments anyway so you're probably clear.
Deeeep sigh. It's so nice to be able to talk about the books. Did anyone else love Cinna and just hate the Capitol that much more after they dragged him off like that? I wanted to scream! And when they whipped Gale, oh my gosh I wanted to chop that Peacekeepers head off. Finnick was hot. Especially once he saved Peeta. Super hot. Poor Madge. And hahahaha on Katniss getting stuck outside the electric fence. I'd been waiting for that to happen since The Hunger Games. And here's what I imagine in the third book: that Capitol ear of hers will help the Capitol spy on them. Who wants to make a bet?
So, Gale versus Peeta...
I love Gale. He's a great hunter, he provides for his mom and siblings, he's ranty against the Capitol, and he's hot. What's not to love? That isn't the issue with me. The issue is, his love for Katniss is based on the exterior-- and I don't mean looks. He admires her as a huntress, he's hung out with her in the woods, but he doesn't know her except for the part of herself she's shown him... he loves who he thinks she is. Who he sees. I don't doubt that her death would be a tragic loss in his life, but he could go on. He would pick up the pieces and soldier on. That isn't a fault, and when it comes down to it, he will do almost anything for Katniss. But only almost anything.
Peeta. Sigh. I read a review of Hunger Games (can't remember where now) that said Peeta was pretty much useless, but I can't agree. Yes, in a hunt he's useless, but the guy's a political genius. He knows people, what makes them tick, and his mind is always working. Talk about keeping a cool head under pressure, and the best part is, he has a heart of solid gold. Not to mention, he loves Katniss absolutely unconditionally. He loves her for who she is, that little girl in braids on the first day of school, with the spunk to sing in front of the class, or the starving girl clutching burnt bread, or the one who is willing to kill him to save her family. He loves her whether she wants to escape into the woods or stand and fight the Capitol; he is there for her and nothing can change that. He lost his heart to her completely, and her death would destroy him. There would be no one else for him. There never could be. Love it.
What I took away from the writing:
Oh Ms. Collins, you did take my breath away. At one point in Catching Fire, I literally dropped my head onto the book and felt the air rush out of my lungs, as completely overcome as if I'd heard news of a real, true person. Physical responses from me are hard-won. And they feel so good. But I was too wrapped up in this world to learn anything from the writing!! My mind must have absorbed something, right? I know more clearly what I want from my own writing. The characters have to get into a reader's soul. I'm amazed at how even the side characters leapt off the page, with three dimensions so clear I might have been walking in the room beside them. The people-- because they were too strong and real to be characters-- feel alive even now, days after I finished the book. I would not be surprised at all to find Katniss' mother in some house somewhere, rolling bandages or checking her medicine supplies.
Such great books. Anyway, like I said I don't do a, "This worked, but the author lost me here, and I wish she would have done more there," but I do LOVE reading reviews like that. Especially after I finish a book because I like to see if I agree or not. Here are some good ones I've found (click the links for the full review):
Girl with One Eye reviewed The Hunger Games and said (and I totally agree): The Hunger Games is fantastic! I devoured every word until the bitter end.
Here is what Gobbles at The Book Bundle said in the review of Catching Fire (and I wholeheartedly agree): All I have wanted to do since reading The Hunger Games, is meet Suzanne and shake her hand and give her a standing ovation for her creations.
And here's a little from Jessica in her Catching Fire review at A Book Lover's Diary (I also agree): Suzanne Collins has a way of grabbing all of my attention and making me forget where I am because I become so involved in the story, in the characters, in their emotions...
And here's what Tina at Tina's Book Reviews said about Catching Fire (agree, agree, agree!): Holy on the edge of my seat savvy readers..........
(What I thought was cute about Tina's was, her review of Hunger Games was super short and sweet, but with Catching Fire she had a review almost as long as mine!)
In conclusion. I loved both books, and this is one of those amazing and gratifying moments when a book not only lives up to its hype, in the case of Catching Fire, it surpasses it. Happy reading!
EDITED TO ADD:
***CAUTION: MAJOR SPOILERS IN THE COMMENTS!***
IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THESE BOOKS, YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY READ THESE BOOKS!! (WENDY, I'M TALKING TO YOU PARTICULARLY). HOWEVER, FOR NOW PLEASE CLOSE YOUR EYES WHILE TYPING ANY COMMENTS TO AVOID SPOILAGE... OR DO THE EASIER THING AND SCROLL PAST THE COMMENTS IF YOU DECIDE TO SAY HI :)