Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The real and the surreal clash in Lethem's Manhattan

Chronic City
by Jonathan Lethem

If Seinfeld was "the show about nothing," then Chronic City just may be the novel about nothing. It's beautifully written, but very little happens in the course of it's 480 pages. To keep my comparison alive, you'd find your "Jerry" in protagonist Chase Insteadman--one of the many unusual names we'll discuss in a moment. The book's jacket copy describes him like this:

"Chase Insteadman, a handsome, inoffensive fixture on Manhattan's social scene, lives off residuals earned as a child star on a much-beloved sitcom called Martyr & Pesty. Chase owes his current social cachet to an ongoing tragedy much covered in the tabloids: His teenage sweetheart and fiancee, Janice Trumbull, is trapped by a layer of low-orbit mines on the International Space Station, from which she sends him rapturous and heartbreaking love letters."

Within the novel's text, Chase describes himself: "My distinction (if there is one) lies in the helpless and immersive extent of my empathy. I'm truly a vacuum filled by the folks I'm with, and vapidly neutral in their absence." In other words, a hard character to really care about.

Chase is surrounded by a group of equally oddly-named friends. Foremost among them is Perkus Tooth, the "Kramer" of the bunch. Perkus is long past quirky and deep into weird territory. He's a largely sequestered social critic who spends his days and nights getting high and sharing semi-coherent rants with a selected few. Perkus's life-long friend, Richard Abneg, a city bureaucrat, can be our "George." And their long-time associate, and Chase's secret lover, Oona Laszlo, rounds out our quartet as "Elaine."

My comparison with this long-dead television show is a little ridiculous, but at the same time, it's not crazy at all. These are caricature New Yorkers, doing their thing. Chase is the least objectionable of the bunch, but none of them are all that likeable. By far, the most sympathetic character is Janice Trumbull, trapped in space and pining for her man. Her letters home were my favorite part of the novel, but they were few and far between.

So, I mentioned the names. To those already listed add Strabo Blandiana, Laird Noteless, Georgina Hawkmanjani, Anne Sprillthmar, and many others. The crazy names certainly weren't randomly selected, and it's no casual mistake when Chase is erroneously addressed as "Chase Unperson," and Perkus is later referred to as "Mr. Pincus Truth." Lethem winks at his readers with this passage:

"His name is Stanley Toothbrush."
"See, now you're definitely making fun of me, because that's idiotic."
"Stanley would be awfully hurt if he heard you. You have no idea how often people laugh in his face."
"Toothbrush... that's just a little hard to swallow."
"No more so than stuff you swallow every day."

The New York setting is as much, if not more, of a character than any of the others. (And the title references not only Manhattan, but a grade of marijuana. Did I mention the characters spend interminable portions of the novel getting high and having only vaguely comprehensible conversations?) Lethem's Manhattan is immediately recognizable; I've eaten at the burger joint the characters frequent. At the same time, it's a sort of bizarro Manhattan where the city and the citizens have to deal with tigers run amok, a pervasive scent of chocolate, and can choose to read the "War-Free Edition" of the Times. Muppets are Gnuppets, and are referenced constantly. What does it all mean?

I don't think anyone but Jonathan Lethem will ever understand what it all means, but by the end I understood what he was getting at. I just didn't care. As terrific as some of the writing is, the novel as a whole is rather tedious, and ultimately unsuccessful. I can't honestly recommend reading it unless, perhaps, you're a pothead with an extraordinary vocabulary.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rawr is totally a thing...

Bite Me: A Love Story
by Christopher Moore

In my rave review of Moore’s last novel, Fool, I implied that his novels inspired by Shakespeare and the Bible are more substantive than his fluffier San Francisco/Pine Cove novels. This latest novel, Bite Me, has me rethinking that statement. Funny, it is. Fluffy, it is not. Bite Me is the third (and final?) novel in the Bloodsucking Fiends series. The first novel in a great series is always special because it’s our introduction to a new world. That said, this latest installment just might be the best. What I can tell you is this: I found it to be darker, scarier, more suspenseful, and at least as funny as the previous novels. And in addition to all of the above, it’s genuinely moving. These characters have been friends for more than a decade now. I’ve grown to care about them.

The novel opens pretty much in the immediate wake of You Suck. The opening chapter is the first of many that are narrated by the unforgettable Abby Normal, self-proclaimed "emergency back-up mistress of the greater Bay Area night." Abby begins by providing a dizzying (and helpful) recap of the first two novels, but I’d strongly suggest you read Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck before tackling this one. She and Foo Dog still inhabit the “love lair.” Jody and Tommy are still encased in bronze. Chet, the huge shaved vampire cat is on the prowl. And all of our favorite San Franciscans are back: the Emperor, Bummer, and Lazarus; the Animals; cops Rivera and Cavuto; the folks from Asher’s Secondhand Store; and others. And Moore fans, a beloved past character who’s never shown up in San Francisco before makes a surprise appearance in a supporting role. Be careful what you read about this novel. It would be a shame to ruin the surprise!

I don’t want to summarize the plot. It’s too crazy, it lurches in all sorts of unexpected directions, and why should I ruin your fun? What I can tell you is that I was completely surprised by the novel’s ending. Earlier I said this novel is darker, scarier, and more suspenseful. (At this point I should admit that I’m a total wuss who’s afraid of horror movies and rollercoasters.) Still, characters are placed in real jeopardy. Not all will survive. And I was definitely on the edge of my seat for large stretches of the novel. That Moore can maintain this level of tension while being spit-milk-out-your-nose funny is astonishing. I didn’t actually spit any milk out of my nose. I read this novel while laid up with the flu. Every time I laughed out loud it started a coughing jag. I nearly coughed up a lung, but I just couldn’t put it down! If that’s not a recommendation, what is?

Despite aphorisms about old dogs and new tricks, I have to say it: I think Chris Moore is getting better. I’ve been a hardcore fan for years, and that is saying quite a bit.

This novel sells itself...

Await Your Reply: A Novel
by Dan Chaon

As soon as you read the opening pages you'll be hooked. Dan Chaon's intricately-plotted novel opens in the middle of the night with a father rushing his son to the hospital. "Listen to me, Son: You are not going to bleed to death." The son's hand is in a cooler on the front seat.

Elsewhere in the night, freshly-minted, eighteen-year-old grad Lucy Lattimore has just surreptitiously left town with her former high-school history teacher, George Orson. They're making "a clean break" together.

The final narrative strand is the story of Miles Cheshire and his--Dare I say it?--evil twin. Miles has been looking for his twin brother, Hayden, for more than a decade. As the novel opens, he's approaching the Arctic Circle in far northern Canada on this latest quest.

What do these people have in common? All of them have huge mysteries in their lives. Many of them appear to be engaged in illegal activities. From the start, the reader knows that there are connections. They are tantalizingly close, but nothing in Chaon's novel is obvious, and revelations don't come easily. The author plays with time, like an artist playing with perspective, to further obfuscate connections. Not all of the stories are told in a linear manner. Meanwhile, the characters explore the very concept of identity. And so many questions are raised... Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

Constantly while I read Await Your Reply, I kept thinking, How did he do this? He, being Dan Chaon, who has written a complexly-plotted and compulsively-readable thriller that is also a work of incredible literary beauty. Await Your Reply is an amazing accomplishment. You won't be able to put it down. Once you've followed all the trails and unraveled the last clues, you'll be blown away! What are you waiting for?
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Moore's a revelation!

A Gate at the Stairs
by Lorrie Moore Given that it's been 15 years since Lorrie Moore's last novel, it is not that surprising that I have not read her previously. A Gate at the Stairs was my introduction to Moore's work. What an eye-opener!

Now many would disagree with me, but one of the things that distinguishes a great many of my favorite authors is their distinctive use of language. Frequently the writers I admire most are so stylistically idiosyncratic, that I could consistently identify their work without a name attached. Add Lorrie Moore to a short list with John Irving, Kurt Vonnegut, and a few others. In A Gate at the Stairs, Moore wrote about subjects covered by many writers, but at almost all times, I felt like she was writing about these people, these issues in a way that no other writer would ever tackle the subject matter. The word that came to my mind over and over was: revelatory.

The story of The Gate at the Stairs is both simple and complex. It is simply the coming of age story of an unsophisticated mid-western college student named Kassie Keltjin. Her life is complicated by a year of introductions to new people and ideas that kicks off when she accepts a position as nanny to a freshly-adopted mixed-race child. Issues of race, marriage, male/female relationships, family, friendships, identity on the deepest level, and terrorism in post-9/11 America are tackled.

Sometimes these issues are handled with sensitivity and finesse, other times with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Some readers may have trouble with the more heavy-handed elements of the plot, but I was so interested in what Moore was saying, I was riveted at all times. Moore has a wonderful satirical eye, and what could be an overly heavy or melodramatic plot is leavened with her playfulness and humor. That said, there were parts of this novel that were staggeringly painful to read. While more character-driven than plot-driven, it must be said that a whole lot happens to Kassie as she begins her journey into adulthood.

I can't pretend that A Gate at the Stairs is without flaws. What I can say is that I was COMPLETELY absorbed in Moore's tale. If you ask me to list the novels faults, I can't do it. I couldn't say what the problems were. To ME, it was flawless. It's been a very, very long time since a writer has knocked me out like this. Every page or two there would be sequences just begging to be read aloud. I urge anyone who's serious about becoming a writer to spend some time with Lorrie Moore. I can't wait to explore her backlist!
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Expectation mitigation

The Coral Thief: A Novel
by Rebecca Stott

By the time I had read this novel, I'd already seen that it had hit the trifecta of book reviews--starred reviews in Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus. Further, the reviewers had all commented on the novel's mix of science, history, romance, and mystery. All I could think is, "I've got to read this book!" Ah, but raised expectations are a brutal thing. Rebecca Stott addresses the issue herself:

"It depends," I said, "On your expectations. Whether they are low or high." "Oh, my expectation are, I believe, unusually high." "Well, then, many things will not be as good as they seem."

And that was my experience exactly. I think that had I come to The Coral Thief with no expectations whatsoever, I would have enjoyed it more.

The novel opens with 21-year-old protagonist Daniel Connor on his way to Paris from his home in Edinburgh. The year is 1815. Napoléon has just been defeated at Waterloo. And Daniel Connor is striking out on his own for the first time to continue his medical and scientific studies at the renowned Jardin des Plantes with the famed Dr. Cuvier. He comes bearing gifts of rare coral specimens, a translated manuscript, and letters of recommendation from his former professor.

As he travels by mail coach, Daniel meets a most extraordinary woman. It takes him a while, in the dark, to realize that she is quite beautiful, though she's about twice his age. She speaks knowledgeably, if controversially, about science. She is like no one he has ever known. When he awakes in the morning, the woman is gone. So is the bag containing his specimens and the rest of the precious items in his charge. Oddly, she's gone out of her way to leave his money.

Despondent, Daniel reports the theft to the French police, a more harrowing endeavor than one might expect. It is there he learns that his thief is Lucienne Bernard. In his desperation to retrieve the lost items, he becomes increasingly entangled with Lucienne and her colleagues. Ultimately, after a meandering start, The Coral Thief resolves itself into a May/December romance and a heist caper.

There's a great deal to like about this novel. Foremost for me was the novel's setting. It was a fascinating time and place. In the wake of major political upheaval, the world was on the brink of a scientific revolution that would change the way we think forever. The characters in this novel are the players in this sea change in thinking. I was so interested in this pivotal time and place, I found myself somewhat frustrated--a rare incidence of me wanting more fact and less fiction. Though it must be said that Rebecca Stott did a really terrific job relaying the significance of the events unfolding.

My biggest problem--and it's a biggie--was with the protagonist, Daniel. He was young, naïve, and frankly didn't have a whole lot to offer. I'm close to Lucienne's age, and all I could think is, What could she ever see in this kid? (Clearly I've failed my cougar test.) And young or not, Daniel is kind of an idiot. He risks so much for a woman of suspect motives. I wanted to slap him. But I did like that Stott addresses some of my conflict directly:

"Why did Daniel Connor take this path rather than the one he was supposed to take, what Rev. Samuels would call the righteous path, the one that went with Cuvier, with hard work, apprenticeship, patronage, the one that would almost certainly lead to success? Why instead did he take the path that led into the muddy and shadowy labyrinths with the heretics and the thieves? You'd have to ask him that. I am no longer that Daniel Connor. That one, that boy, is many Daniels ago."

The book is fairly short, but I have to admit it took me far too long to read. My failure to connect with the characters was a big impediment. Still, some of what Stott's written is so wonderful--such as the haunting story of how Lucienne du Luc became Lucienne Bernard--that it's hard to even suggest anyone miss it. If you have any interest in the time, place, or subjects being addressed, The Coral Thief is well worth a look.
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Finally, Dan Brown writes about something I'm interested in!

The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown

For years I was Dan Brown's fan, his only one. I have a first edition hardback of Angels & Demons. And when I had a whole stack of galleys of The Da Vinci Code six months before publication I couldn't give them away. Well, what a difference the better part of a decade makes. While I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, I didn't enjoy the endless over-the-top hype of the novel and the zillions of Da Vinci clones. Enough already. And, truthfully, Brown's religious subject matter really didn't interest me. So, I can't say that I've been particularly excited about the publication of The Lost Symbol.

Yeah, I bought it the day it went on sale, but I was at home sick as a dog with the flu. The price was right on Kindle, as was the convenience factor, and I was hoping to have the machine read to me as I wasn't quite well enough to tackle the task for myself. Therefore, I was disappointed after purchase to see the read aloud feature disabled for this novel. Boo hiss, Doubleday. Anyway, I eventually got healthier and began to read again and discovered that Dan Brown has finally tackled a subject of real interest to me--my hometown, Washington, DC.

As the novel opens, Robert Langdon is literally jetting to DC to give an important speech as a favor to a dear friend. Rushing to his destination in the US capitol, Langdon discovers the circumstances of his visit to DC are not what he was led to believe. Soon, he's embroiled in another elaborate, puzzle-filled, life-threatening hunt through the nation's capitol. He's dodging the CIA, while unraveling arcane Masonic clues, and sparring with a mad man. In other words, pretty much what you'd expect from Dan Brown.

For me, personally, the symbolic tour of Washington, DC was a true joy. And the ties to the Smithsonian Institution, where I once worked, were an added bonus. These plot elements had me happily flipping electronic pages all through the first half of this lengthy novel. I was enjoying The Lost Symbol significantly more than I had expected. However, the deeper I got into the novel, the less fresh it felt.

First, there is the villain, Mal'akh, or whatever he wants to call himself. It doesn't take the reader long to realize the guy is a complete and total nut job. And once you get past the more lurid aspects of his character and story, it gets kind of old. How much crazy do you have to read before it get boring and repetitive. He's nuts. We know it. Move on.

Second, Brown again falls back on all his favorite plot devices. Tricks like referring to characters without using their name, so as to obscure identity as long as possible. Or having characters have major information that is hidden from the reader. These things are tricks. They're used in a heavy-handed manner. And, again, it all just begins to feel manipulative and old. Plus, the revelations when they finally, finally come just aren't that exciting.

Third, there are plot elements that were supposed to be huge surprises that were just so obvious to me. I'm not saying that every single reader will pick up on the stuff that I did, but they might have clued into something else. I'd be surprised if they didn't.

So, a mixed reaction from me. I really enjoy Robert Langdon's lectures. I think the symbology is genuinely interesting. Having so much of it revolve around a location I'm intimately familiar with was a special treat for me. There were a lot of plot elements that were just a lot of fun, and on one level this is a light, entertaining read. The second half of the book didn't work as well for me. I think Brown returned to his bag of tricks too often and ultimately revelations disappointed. For a less critical reader simply looking for a page-turner, you could do worse.
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Two things about Jews: We're funny and we love to eat

Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen
by David Sax

David Sax, the author of Save the Deli, does an admirable job illustrating the above, writing with both humor and appetite. The book was a labor of love for him, born of a fear that these institutions, and this part of the Jewish cultural experience, are disappearing. The evidence backs him up. Sax lists deli after deli that is no longer part of the landscape. It is these losses that propel his quest to visit the survivors, to evaluate the health of the deli in America and abroad, and to sample the wares as often as possible.

Like many readers, I suspect, the first thing I did upon acquiring this book is flip to the back to see if any of my favorite delis were listed. As it happens, I had eaten at more than a few. Even more delightfully, there was a whole chapter on my city: I Left My Kishkes in San Francisco. (Oh, the chapter titles made me laugh.) And, oh, what a pleasure to read about delis I frequent! But even for the readers who have never heard of David's Delicatessen, how could they fail to be affected by the story of the chopped liver? According to the menu, it's chopped exactly 1179 times. When Sax inquired about this oddity, David Apfelbaum pulled up his sleeve to show the number 1179 tattooed on his arm. As Sax commented, that's some twisted humor. Save the Deli is the story of the food, the culture, and also of the people Sax encountered along the way.

Sax proclaims New York "the world capitol of Jewish delicatessen." That's where he opens the book, leaping into his research behind the counter at Katz's Delicatessen. After a thorough exploration of the city's deli culture--past and present--he moves on. To Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, Boulder, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, LA, Las Vegas, Scottsdale, Austin, Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta, DC, and Florida ("Where Deli Goes to Die"). And even further afield in Montreal, Toronto, London, Paris, and Krakow. You'd think with all that schlepping and all that kibitzing that chapters would get redundant, but Sax keeps things fresh, finding new delicacies, stories, history, and characters wherever he goes. (And for readers who have no idea what I just said, there's an amusing Yiddish glossary at the back of the book.)

I'll give the final words to Mel Brooks, a life-long deli fan who was interviewed for the book: "Delis are magnets for Jews, and Jews, in order to survive emotionally, have developed tremendous humor... Also, delis seem to be happy places. I've never seen anyone weeping at a table in a deli. I've seen them in cafes and smart restaurants dabbing their eyes, but I've never seen anyone crying in a deli. Never in a deli! No one ever has a bottle of Dom Perignon with their lover and says, `This isn't working out.' Cel-Ray tonic doesn't cut it."
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Aldous Huxley cements his legacy with Island

Island (Perennial Classics)
by Aldous Huxley

I have to admit that I didn't find this novel as transformative as some readers did, but I'm quite glad to have read it. Truthfully, it's not much of a story, but it sure will give you food for thought and I expect Huxley's ideas will stick with me for a long, long time.

The protagonist of Island is British journalist Will Farnaby. Will isn't an entirely likeable character as the novel opens--as is so often the case in these tales of redemption. In an attempt to escape his troubles, or possibly to escape himself, Will takes a day off from a Southeast Asian business trip to go sailing. A sudden storm sweeps in, and in the novel's opening pages Will realizes he's shipwrecked and injured. Luckily, Will has washed up on the exotic and little-visited island of Pala. This island-nation is a modern (or the 1960s version of it) Utopia.

Will is discovered by some children who promptly go for help. It arrives in the form of Dr. Robert MacPhail, one of the island's most respected citizens. Dr. Robert patches Will up, and he and other islanders indulge Will's curiosity about their home. Over the course of just a few days, they introduce Will to every aspect of their most extraordinary society. From family life, medicine, education, and rites of passage, Will learns about Palanese life from birth to death.

He meets many islanders, including the future Raja who is about to come of age, and his mother, the Rani. These two members of the ruling class have some very different ideas about how things should be on Pala. And their agenda may just tie in with a secret agenda of Will's own... It is this loose storyline that the plot consists of, but it's actually a very minor part of the novel--just a thread that runs through a lot of philosophy and sociology. Personally, I had a very limited interest in and tolerance for a lot of Eastern religious (mostly Buddhist) philosophy. But I really loved the sociological ideas Huxley put forth in his Utopia. Really, really interesting stuff! For another reader, it might be the reverse. One way or another, I really have to believe the novel would be of interest to any thinking person.
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Addie Downs is down but not out

Best Friends Forever: A Novel
by Jennifer Weiner

At the age of 33, Addie Downs has survived more than her share of sadness and tragedy. But she's come through it stronger. While she lives a largely solitary life, she's made the most of the gifts she's been given and is taking positive steps to improve her lot in life.

Then the doorbell rings.

Addie is almost not surprised to see Valerie Adler, her childhood best (and only) friend, whom she hasn't seen in more than a decade. It was as if she'd always known this day would come: Valerie needs her help. It's the night of their high school reunion. A plan for casual revenge gets a little out of control, and Valerie may have hit an old nemesis with her car. She needs Addie to come with her for moral support as she returns to the scene of the crime.

So begins an odyssey into the past and into a new future for these two best friends forever. It's a Thelma and Louise-esqe road trip of laughter and discovery, and I defy you not to smile as you read it. Author Jennifer Weiner has struggled with the "chick lit" label for her entire career. Such dismissiveness doesn't acknowledge the way she brings her characters to life. Within pages, she's created wonderful, sympathetic, relatable characters. Sure the plot's a little outlandish, but Weiner's humor (infused in her creations) is irrepressible. At the end of the day, there's nothing wrong with reading something that simply makes you feel good.

Finally, I meet Alex Hawke

I don't know about you, but the longer an author's backlist is, the more hesitant I am to begin reading a series. One the bright side, you won't be waiting on pins and needles for a sequel, but there's a lot of territory to catch up on. I've been buying Ted Bell's Alexander Hawke thrillers since the very first one was published. Now that there are five books in this series, I've finally gotten around to reading the first one. Debut novels are often rough. I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

The novel's prologue recounts what is likely the single most traumatic experience of Alex Hawke's life--the cold-blooded murder of his parents when he was seven years old. Young Alex witnessed the whole thing, but has blocked the events from his memory. It's a terrible start on life, but Alex has a few advantages as well. He's the scion of a wealthy and influential British family. He's raised by a loving grandfather and given all the best advantages in life.

After the prologue we meet the adult Alex Hawke. In addition to being a captain of industry, he does covert jobs for the British and American governments. That's not as random as it seems. As a younger man, Alex had served with distinction in the special forces of the military. He has ties to the rich and powerful everywhere. And business interests around the globe provide the ideal cover for his presence in hot spots.

In this case, the hot spot is Cuba. Hawke is instructed to find who has bought a very dangerous submarine, but what he finds in addition is a coup d'état ninety miles off the US coast. What's more, the situation has gotten very personal when the bad guys drag Hawke's girlfriend Victoria into the mix. Fortunately, Hawke has backup. Aside from the American government he's working for, he's brought his own most trusted allies. Foremost among them is Ambrose Congreve, a semi-retired Scotland Yard inspector, and Hawke's closest friend. Also, there is Stokely Jones, a former New York cop who acts as Hawke's body guard and Chief of Security. Hawke has surrounded himself with a loyal team that would go to hell and back for him. I expect we'll get to know each of them better as the series progresses.

As I mentioned above, it's a strong debut. The writing is fine and the pacing is good. The plot featured some good twists and turns, and even had a fun buried pirate treasure sub-plot. Hawke's a character you can build a series around, and while his extreme wealth and other gifts are a bit preposterous, it's kind of fun to see how the other .00001 percent lives. (Was I the only one sort of picturing Richard Branson as I read the book?) There was really only one thing I had a big problem with, and oddly enough it was one of the supporting characters. Specifically, it was Stokely Jones, who spoke all of his lines in an ignorant and affected dialect. An example, "Ain't far. See all them Christmas lights hanging in the trees on that island over there? Only a couple of miles. We could swim it, but Mr. Congreve, he old fashioned." Not only is it annoying to read, I found it somewhat insulting to a minority of which I'm not a member. I really hope it gets toned down in subsequent novels.

And I guess I'll find out, as based on this debut, I plan to move forward with the series. I'm looking forward to getting a better handle on Alex Hawke, and seeing how the supporting cast continues to develop.
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A rare sequel that equals its predecessor

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)
by Suzanne Collins

A year ago The Hunger Games knocked me out. I thought it was simply fantastic! I've been chomping at the bit to get at the sequel ever since. It was hard to imagine where Collins could go with Katniss's story, and how she could possibly top herself--but she did!

Catching Fire is an absolutely terrific sequel! Now, I'm not going to tell you much about the plot for your own good. It's an unfortunate truth that spoilers can't be unread. What I will say is that all the main characters from The Hunger Games are revisited or remembered, and a few new characters are introduced. Collins does a really bang up job moving the character development forward. The plot of Catching Fire delves far more into the politics of Panem, and the fall-out from Katniss's actions during the games.

Just about the midpoint of the novel, Katniss thinks to herself, "I have to admit I didn't see it coming. I saw a multitude of other things." Yes, me too! Collins writes a twist at the midpoint that caught me as off guard as it did Katniss. And I loved it! I'm on pins and needles for book three!
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