The Hunger Games

Well, I heard Suzanne Collins' newest series was good, and the first book did not disappoint in the least. Katniss is a fierce heroine. When her father died, her mother emotionally abandoned the family to Katniss' care. As the eldest daughter, Katniss took it upon herself to feed the family by poaching in the woods with her friend Gale. All of this experience causes her to radically underestimate her ability to survive. When her younger sister, Primrose, is selected for the Hunger Games, Katniss doesn't hesitate to take her place. The Hunger Games are the ultimate in creepiness, a reality tv show created when "tributes" of children ages 12-18, one girl and one boy from each of the outlying areas, are forced into the wilderness and kill each other off one by one. All for the entertainment of the wealthy people in the Capitol. Katniss is ruthless in defense of her own survival, but she also becomes attached to the young girl Rue and to her fellow competitor Peeta in ways that defy her own understanding.

Personally, I'm just annoyed that the sequel doesn't appear to be available on my brand new Christmas Kindle (thank you Ben!). Because if it were, it's what I'd be reading

Oh, I also read most of The Lacuna by Kingsolver, but left it before the end. It was too obvious how it was going to end. I enjoyed the Mexican setting (having just traveled there for a week) and the international politics, but the long suffering closeted protagonist was more fun in his boyhood, less fun when he semi-retired to Ashville and developed xenophobia. Plus Kingsolver had more and more of the story told in articles and letters, resulting in less emotional involvement with the characters. I loved the lush poetry and aching loneliness of Prodigal Summer, so it's not that I don't love what Kingsolver can do. Certainly the coincidence of a young boy's life spanning encounters with oil magnates in the 20s, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Lev Trotsky in the 30s, and then HUAC in the 40s felt a bit contrived to my reading eye.

Echo, A Great and Terrible Beauty

All my blogging energy was going to writing book reviews for awhile. That may happen again, as the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books periodically needs me to pitch in and write reviews, especially of new fantasy titles. The handful of fantasy titles that I reviewed AND that have stayed with me this year include: Roar by Clayton, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Ryan, and Watersmeet by Abbott. Graceling by Cashore was not one I reviewed, but was splendid (thanks KQ!). I recommend them all.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libby Bray

Historical fiction and fantasy in one? Bray tackles this odd combination and makes it work in a plot that revolves around Gemma, whose mother's unexpected death in India sends her back to a London boarding school. But death is not the end, and Gemma sees her mother again in the "realms," spirit worlds where Gemma must learn to travel. I only read the first of the trilogy, but Bray wraps this installment up neatly while leaving plenty of room for future installments.

Echo by Francesca Lia Block
This seems fragmented at first, but the stories of Echo, Wendy, Eden, and Smoke do converge into yet another dreamlike Block narrative. The pacing is slow, but nobody reads Block for her page-turning prose. Oddly, this reminded me of an epic family narrative by Maeve Binchy, in that there are characters stacked on characters and Echo's family figures in dramatically and symbolically. By that standard, it's quite pithy!