Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

This book was originally reviewed over at Just One More Page as a combined review.

Suzanne Collins continues the amazing story of Katniss Everdeen in the phenomenal Hunger Games trilogy. Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumours of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Leigh says: I was so pleased that I could delve straight into the second book as soon as I finished the first.

I knew from reading the first book that this story was far from over. How could the Capitol possibly continue to get away with the murder of children? Despite the fact that it is disguised as a game, I think that it just makes it so much worse. Katniss and Peeta need to travel across the districts as the 74th Hunger Games victors, but beneath everything, the dark and sinister starts rising – to once again face them.

The reins are tightening on District 12 as the Capitol tries to regain a level of control, even though the citizens of District 12 are more than oblivious to the uprisings in the wider spread districts. While Katniss and Peeta might be the new faces of district rebellion – they never wanted this. All they wanted was to survive the 74th Hunger Games, and you play the game any way you possibly can in order to live.

But the other districts are looking to these two teenagers to lead a rebellion against the Capitol, whether Katniss or Peeta agree to it or not. The Capitol is fully aware that they cannot have an uprising on their hands, and does the only thing it can to prevent this from happening. They throw Katniss and Peeta back into another live or die scenario, so that the districts of Panem can watch their nominated leaders die on live TV.

J.C. says: Leigh pretty much sums it up above, without giving too much away. I felt like this book was a lot slower, and was probably my least favourite of the trilogy. It’s lucky I felt invested in Katniss, or when it got to the point where they were thrown back into the Games I may have tossed the book aside. I felt a little like it was a hugely convenient way to get an otherwise pretty bland book back into action, even though it did tie in to the plot lines. I can put that thought aside though, because it was a good story. I loved meeting some new characters, and seeing the rebellion form up behind the scenes, little snippets introduced throughout the book.

Leigh says: The character arc and development that has gone into these novels is incredible. These characters are evolving across the pages of each book, only to find that their lives are getting worse. Yes, you read that correctly – the first book is the best case scenario – and that was pretty brutal. Throughout the first book of this series, the reasoning behind annual Hunger Games seemed so plausible, so that the Capitol had their allegiance and obedience from the districts of Panem. But in Catching Fire, you really start to see the darkness behind the eyes of some of the characters in this book, and you know that this is not just about the Hunger Games – but that this is a game of survival for every single human in Panem.

J.C. says: This is a very valid point. Where the first book was focused primarily on Katniss’ survival, this book opens the world up and is about much more than her. Yes, she has become a figurehead, but an unwitting one until a good way through the book. She begins, desperately trying to save her family, still, and finds her own path along the way – making decisions for herself, for her reasoning and discovery, rather than other influences. The writing is still solid, and the characters were great. It was an easy read, if a little slower than the first book – no less brutal when the Games were happening, but before then, it wasn’t as exciting.

Leigh says: If I were to fall in love with any character in this series, it would be Gale – Katniss’s best friend and hunting partner from District 12. Don’t ask me why I like him so much, I just do.

J.C. says: I’m the opposite! For Katniss, it was always Peeta in my mind. Their relationship builds over the course of the novels, right in front of the reader, and I believe is far more sustainable than one between Katniss and Gale would be. But then, what would a YA novel be without a  little competition in love interests? I never thought I’d be on ‘team’ anyone, but I guess it’s inevitable ;-)

Leigh gives this one another 5 star rating, while J.C. has to give it a 4.

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Son of Ereubus (Guardians of Legend, Book 1) – J.S. Chancellor

Since time immemorial, man has lived in fear of losing his soul to the darkness of Saint Ereubus. For generations, the Ereubinians have wielded that power and ruled like gods. Three thousand years ago, Man irresolutely placed his faith in a mythical world. That world, Adoria, now holds Man’s final hope. As the last stronghold of Man is threatened, the fates of three strangers become forever intertwined and everything they once believed will be irrevocably changed as they discover that their time has run out.

My thoughts:

This book is tough to review, because there is no straight storyline in this book. This is not a bad thing in the slightest… in fact – it’s brilliant, because you are always left craving for more and more. With this series, the author is weaving a blanket, not just a scarf. There might be many storylines, but they all fit together. Some of the storylines are answered in this book, and some are not – but will be in the next book or two. I can’t wait to get my hands on them! J.S. Chancellor’s new book has seriously cut the cake of new epic fantasy.

Son of Ereubus is a character driven novel, from the points of view of a number of different characters. Ariana, the main female protagonist is a strong-willed but somewhat naïve young woman who is thrown into a world that she never believed in. Michael discovers family that he never knew he had, and Garren, well – he just doesn’t know any better. All of these characters are thrown on a journey in this book that they never expected, and they are in it together, whether they like it or not.

Son of Ereubus has a really good balance between good and evil. Parts of the book verge on fantasy horror, but I believe that horror and darkness is essential to any fantasy novel, and J.S. Chancellor does this well.

My only pressing problem now, is that I can’t decide what to rate this book as. It deserves a four star, because this debut novel is really really good, but it also deserves a five star, because the world and character building are exceptional. I am going to rate it as a five star overall, because when it comes to fantasy, I think that J.S. Chancellor has hit the nail on the head with extremely well written prose, and wonderful imagery.

I am a traditional fantasy lover from way back. My favourite fantasy books are by amazing authors such as David Eddings, Stephen R. Donaldson, Maggie Furey, David Gemmell, Trudi Canavan, Raymond E Feist,  and of course JRR Tolkein. You are probably wondering where J.S. Chancellor fits into all of this… Well, depending on where the rest of her Guardians of Legend series goes, based on the fact that I have only read the first book – I’m strongly of the opinion that her work will probably be right up there with my other favourite fantasy authors.

On a side note, I emailed J.S. Chancellor just after I had picked up this book, and read the opening chapter that introduces Garren. He is evil, and dark, and I instantly fell in love with him. Maybe I have a fascination with the darkness or something, and even though he was killing someone at the time, there was just something about this character that captured my imagination.

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The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

This was originally reviewed over at Just One More Page as a combined review between JC and I.

We’ve come late to this series, but I think that in itself is a blessing – it meant we could power through all three novels one after the other, never having to wait for the next installment. As such, in some ways it’s difficult to separate the three into different books as both JC and I read them straight through.

Because we both read, and loved, these books, we decided to do a joint post! So you’ll get both of our thoughts on each of the books in the series. I will say now though, that we are going to do out VERY best not to give any spoilers away for those of you who haven’t had a chance to read yet.

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love. 

Leigh says: Katniss Everdeen has been dealt blow after blow in her short life, but the first thing you realise is that she is a survivor. You could throw anything at her, and she would come out stronger than ever. But this isn’t to say that she is so strong that she doesn’t have any weaknesses. She does. And it’s these weaknesses that are potentially her undoing.

J.C. says: I love how vividly she is portrayed. She lives and breathes survival, to the point where she seems to be completely unaware of other things going on around her. Her interpersonal skills are not honed very well, while her hunting/survival skills are stellar. She is quite self absorbed, which you can see is because she has taken on the role of provider and it consumes all of her energy and time.

Leigh says: This book displays a brutal vision of dystopian life and death, family bonds, war, friendship, uprisings, violence, and submissive nations. On one hand, it shows humanity’s survival at its finest, and on the other hand – at its worst. There are a lot of storylines weaved into this piece of work, and Suzanne Collins has done this seamlessly to engage the reader. There is something for everyone. This book is no love story, by any stretch of the imagination. She could have drawn undying love into it, but she didn’t. She drew in unrequited love and survival.

J.C. says: I really appreciated that about the book. There are so many love stories around, and while love is important this book is about life and death. Literally. The stakes are huge and you can’t help but get invested in Katniss plight. I love how rich this world is, how fully realized. The world building is fantastic and I could see it all in my mind as I was reading.

Leigh says: My favourite part in this book was the building of the friendship with one of the contestants, Rue, in the arena. I loved the connection that they had with each other. The hardest part was knowing that one of them had to die. The gripping part was wondering how it would happen.

J.C. says: I loved the friendship between Katniss and Rue as well, it was a beautiful thing. I also really loved the way Katniss and Peeta’s relationship developed through the book. He was a great contrast in character to her, and they certainly worked the game to their full advantage.

When you go into a book like this, you know fairly early on that many of the characters you meet aren’t going to be alive at the end of the book. As the body count rises, your anxiety level rises as well, and while you are fairly certain that Katniss makes it out alive (the book is written in first person, and you know it’s the beginning of a series), there are some moments where you’re holding your breath, waiting to see what the outcome is. Who will be next? How will it happen? As sick as it seems, the voyeuristic nature of humans is apparent – we the reader can’t stop reading, and we can kind of relate to the way the Capitol are captivated by the Hunger Games too.

Leigh says: Wow, how is that for a premise? A fight to the death. To say that this book is ‘violent’ is an understatement. It is absolutely horrific. The first thing that struck me about this book is that it is aimed at an age audience of eleven and up. Would I let an eleven year old year old read this? Hell yes. Why? Because this book is written beautifully, has incredible character development, it’s absolutely riveting, and all the goodness and all the darkness in a broken world. I am a firm believer that children will not read literature that their brain is not ready to absorb and grow from. I was sitting on the edge of my seat the entire time while reading this, and I craved for more. This book rendered me completely antisocial, and when I was actually social – I was talking about the book.

There is a lot of narrative humour in this book that you just know a sixteen year old would be thinking, but would never say aloud. It was fabulous.

I would recommend this book to everyone, whether they are young or old. If I could give this book more than 5 stars, then I would. Some books are just a really good read, some books change your outlook on life. This is one of those books.

J.C. says: I’m in much the same boat. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves character and plot strong books. Anyone who wants to escape the real world for a little while (because once you start, I highly doubt you’ll be able to stop reading). It is a brutal read, but a fantastic one.

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The Restorer – Amanda Stevens

Synopsis:

My name is Amelia Gray. I’m a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. In order to protect myself from the parasitic nature of the dead, I’ve always held fast to the rules passed down from my father. But now a haunted police detective has entered my world and everything is changing, including the rules that have always kept me safe.

It started with the discovery of a young woman’s brutalized body in an old Charleston graveyard I’ve been hired to restore. The clues to the killer—and to his other victims—lie in the headstone symbolism that only I can interpret. Devlin needs my help, but his ghosts shadow his every move, feeding off his warmth, sustaining their presence with his energy. To warn him would be to invite them into my life. I’ve vowed to keep my distance, but the pull of his magnetism grows ever stronger even as the symbols lead me closer to the killer and to the gossamer veil that separates this world from the next.

My thoughts:

Wow. It has been a really long time since I have read a book that is so gripping, creepy, and enthralling. Amanda Stevens did an incredible job at melding all these different aspects together into a well-rounded novel. The main character, Amelia Gray, has a bit of an issue with seeing ghosts, but there are four rules surrounding this ability that she abides by to live a peaceful life.

I absolutely loved Amelia’s character. She knows right from wrong, she trusts her instincts, and she knows her limits. I could really relate to this character, because she is so passionate about what she does, almost to the point that it’s solely for the sheer love of it. I never would have thought that restoring cemetery’s as a fascinating career path, but I can honestly see how at peace she feels when she is in amongst the graves.  She also develops a connection to Devlin, the cop investigating the murders that Amelia is advising on. The majority of women can definitely relate to how it feels when you meet someone new, and wanting to know everything about them. The fact that Devlin is haunted, should slap a big ‘DANGER’ sticker across him, but as Amelia becomes even more involved with him, that warning starts to seriously fade away, despite the rules that she lives by.

Each character in this book has their own secrets and stories to tell, and I loved the way that Amanda Stevens interrelated and weaved everything seamlessly together. The romantic notions could have been seriously banked on throughout this book, but I was more than impressed that the author didn’t do that. She stuck to the script, and fulfilled my expectations of a wonderful story. But, there is much more to this story, and to be honest – I did not want this to end. You can only imagine my delight when I found out that there are more books to this series The Graveyard Queen to come.

I would seriously recommend this book, whether you like thrillers, ghost stories, or even romance. This is a 5 star read, and personally, I can’t wait to buy a hard copy, and place it proudly on my bookshelf.

Release Date: 26th April, 2011

Released By: Harlequin, MIRA imprint

Posted in 5 Star Review, Paranormal, Thriller | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bonkers – Michelle Holman

What would happen if an Angel decided to play Devil’s Advocate?

After a head-on collision between a glamorous sports car and a serviceable but very plain little car, a kind-hearted angel does a swap in Heaven’s waiting room.

A short, feisty rugby-loving schoolteacher gets a second chance and finds herself in hospital in the body of a tall, glamorous, philandering American wife. She has a wealthy, drop-dead gorgeous husband who looks as if he’s just stepped out of a romance novel – but for some reason he can’t stand the sight of her.

She thinks she’s gone crazy, and if she tells anyone they’ll know she has . . . and lock her up. They’ll think she’s bonkers. And she can’t run away and hide: she’s got a broken leg.

Michelle Holman’s debut novel starts with a hiss and a roar as the main character, Lisa, dies in a car accident. There she meets a kooky angel, who decides that instead of sending the other woman in the accident back to life; he will send Lisa instead – into the other woman’s body, Linda’s. When Linda was alive, she was no ordinary woman. She was beautiful, dyslexic, and someone who destroyed every friendship or relationship around her.

When Lisa wakes to find herself in a new body, not only does she not remember the woman’s life, but she doesn’t know anyone around her. She cannot make contact with her own family, as they believe she is the woman who killed their beautiful daughter. She discovers that Linda’s marriage is in shatters, and tries desperately to convince Linda’s husband, Dan, that she is Lisa – not Linda.

This book shows excellent character relationship development. From two people who should, in theory, know each other since they are married. But this is no ordinary marriage, by any stretch of the imagination. Dan needs to move past his marital wounds, and Lisa discovers much more about the sexy-god-like creature pertaining to be her husband, than she ever expected.

Keenly set in New Zealand, Michelle Holman draws the reader into Auckland scenery with ease, and talent. I have never in my reading lifetime come across another writer from New Zealand who writes like this, by compounding the funny and amusing kiwi accents into a novel of a romantic comedy nature. The scene of this book is set of the North Shore of Auckland. I loved it because I used to live on the North Shore for a short period of my life, so I could relate to the exact setting of this book. Regardless of if you have lived there or not, I suspect every reader will be able to easily visualise what Auckland life is really like.

I’m going to rate this as a 3.5/5 stars. I loved this book, couldn’t really put it down, and I thought that it was an amazing effort by a fellow Kiwi writer. Michelle has really broken in the ‘Chick-Lit’ market for New Zealand writers. Thank you, Michelle, I can’t wait to read more of your work.

This is an interesting play with what happens after death.

Posted in 3 Star Review, Romance | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Goddess Test – Aimee Carter

Release Date: April 19th, 2011

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Author: Aimee Carter

Teenager, Kate Winters is dealing with one of the toughest moments in life. The death of her mother. For the past few years, Kate has nursed her mother through her illness in New York. As part of her mother’s dying wish, she requests that Kate takes her back to her home town, Eden, so that she can spend her last days where she was raised.

Bizarre occurrences keep cropping up in the town of Eden, from Kate nearly hitting a cow, to watching her newly made friend drown in the river. But it’s not until she meets Henry that light is shed on the situation.

In the past, Henry has desperately trying to fill the gaping hole in his heart created when his wife left him. He has long since given up on fulfilling this mission, until he meets Kate. Now he will do anything to hold onto his goal and dreams. Regardless if that’s what Kate wants or not.

My favourite part of this book is at Christmas time. Kate has just decorated an enormous Christmas tree, and when Henry steps into the room, they do an exchange of gifts. These gifts are so personal to each of the characters that it shows great insight into the character development, relationship building, and understanding of the individuals that has gone into the creation of this novel.

This book is written in a fairly straight up style, aimed at the teenage market. It’s easy to understand, and therefore allowing it to be a fast paced novel. I found this book extremely hard to put down. And when I did, I was yearning to pick it up again.

Conclusion and Recommendation:

If you love Greek mythology (with a bit of poetic license), the supernatural, mixed in with a bit of thrilling romance – you will love this book. Aimee Carter will eventually release the next book, Goddess Interrupted, which will hopefully give further depth and advancement to the characters and their lives that I am so captivated by. I didn’t want this book to end, and felt that it was over far too soon. I can’t wait for the next book. Bring it on, Aimee Carter!  Aimee Carter has done an incredibly good job of modernising Greek Mythology.

This is a book that I will probably buy for my bookshelf, and read over and over. The reason why I am rating this début novel as a 4 star at this stage, is because I want to read the rest of the series. There is much more to this story than what’s been written in The Goddess Test. If the advancement and depth of this story lives up to my hopeful expectations, then I would project that the series would definitely earn 5 stars.

My guess is that this series is going to help bring Greek Mythology into the 21st century.  Aimee Carter – your debut work is heading towards 5 stars, straight off the bat. Well done.

 

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