Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review: QUEENPIN by Megan Abbott

queenpin megan abbott

On the surface, a young woman appears to be a good girl: going to school to be a secretary, not sleeping around, taking care of her dad. But on the inside, she craves danger, action, excitement. And when her dad gets her a job at a casino, the world of bookies, gangsters, liars, and gamblers pulls her in. Soon she catches the eye of Gloria Denton, a cash handler for the big boys. Gloria offers her everything a woman could ask for–a swank apartment in the ritzy part of town, fabulous clothes, jewelry, fancy dinners out, cocktails every night, and a job making the rounds of every casino and track in town. But is Gloria her fairy godmother, or her evil stepmother?

I've seen Queenpin around the blahgs a few times over the years and always wanted to read it, but it wasn't until I saw Jessica's post on neo-noir over at Book Riot that I decided to take the plunge. I'm so glad I did! Queenpin is not what I usually read at all–it's hard-core noir. No one in this book is a hero, everyone betrays everyone else, and there's no redemption for the main character. I don't think I've ever read a novel this dark and cynical of my own volition. But at the same time, Queenpin tells a completely gripping story with fantastic, gritty writing that totally sucked me in and invaded my dreams.

In a lot of ways Queenpin reminds me of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: our narrator is an unnamed, relatively innocent young girl who becomes fascinated, perhaps even obsessed, with a femme fatale who seems to represent everything a woman should be and everything she's not. "A woman of 36, dressed in black satin with a string of pearls," is how the heroine of Rebecca puts it, except I suspect Gloria is considerably older than 36.

In a few respects Gloria is a mother figure to the heroine, but really there's something more possessive and vaguely sexual about their relationship than a typical mother/daughter dynamic. When the heroine starts sleeping with Vic, a gambling addict, she acts more like a wife trying to hide her lover from her husband than a woman who's dating a guy her boss (or mom, for that matter) would find inappropriate. At one point Gloria tells her, "You're mine. Whoever put those marks on you might as well have put marks on me."

Which brings me to the major difference between Rebecca and Queenpin (aside from, you know, setting and genre and themes. Most things, really): there's no prince charming. Vic has all the charm of Maxim de Winter, but he's without a doubt a complete loser and a terrible person. Yet you can totally understand why the heroine goes for him–it's all about lust, and their scenes together are probably some of the hottest, yet-not-in-any-way-graphic scenes I've ever come across in a book. You can FEEL how they're using each other and it's compelling stuff. Sex, drugs, and rock n roll, baby. The heroine wants it all, and she wants it now, and that kind of greed fits perfectly into her relationship with Vic.

Obviously things do not end well for Vic and our nameless narrator. A gambling addict and a woman who collects gambling profits for gangsters? Yeah, that's a great combo. But the fact that he's the completely wrong person is part of his appeal to the narrator, too.

I'll be honest: as things went from bad to worse in Queenpin, the book started giving me nightmares. What happened to Vic in particular, even though he had it coming (everyone gets what was coming to them in this novel, and seeing as how they're all awful, it's nothing good), was just horrible horrible. Yet I think that speaks more to the intensity of the book than any gratuitous violence in it–I never once considered abandoning it. Like the heroine, I was hooked on the story and determined to follow the actions of these characters to their inevitable conclusion, no matter how bad it got.

Basically, Queenpin is REALLY good. If you want a noir novel with a feminine twist, you can't go wrong with this one. Raymond Chandler couldn't have written a better crime novel. I am definitely going to dig into more of Megan Abbott's noir fiction... although I may wait awhile for the aftereffects of Queenpin to wear off before I do.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Should You Get a Kindle Voyage?

kindle voyage shelfie

If you like tech stuff, and you like to read, chances are you have an ereader of some sort. Aside from my phone and iPad, I've had a Kindle Paperwhite for the last two years and loved it. However, this year Amazon came out with an improved ereader, the Kindle Voyage, that I super duper wanted and got for Christmas. Yay!

So, the question is: If you're thinking of replacing your older Kindle with the Kindle Voyage, or looking to get a dedicated ereading device (as opposed to just using your phone), is the Voyage worth it? I'm here to break it down for you!


On the surface, the differences between the Kindle Voyage and Paperwhite seem minor:

  • There's no "ridge" between the frame and the screen
  • You can now set the backlight to auto-adjust
  • There are buttons on the side that can turn pages in addition to the touch screen
  • The screen itself is much "crisper" (300 ppi as opposed to the Paperwhite's 212, whatever that means)
  • And it's slightly smaller and noticeably lighter (6.4 x 4.5", versus the Paperwhite's 6.7 x 4.6")

In practice, however, these small changes on the Voyage make a big difference! I love having the buttons on the side in case I'm holding it with my left hand, and I like not having to think about adjusting the lighting every time I move from indoors to outdoors or a bright room to a darker room. The smooth surface of the screen makes it much easier to turn pages via the touch screen, the lightness of the Voyage means it's super easy to carry around, and Amazon has done a good job of nearly eliminating the "etch-a-sketch effect" that was a hallmark of the early Kindles and Nooks.

The browser–which you can use to buy or borrow books via Amazon–is also VASTLY improved from the Paperwhite's. It runs quickly and smoothly and makes for a better buying experience. With the Paperwhite I would put it down to download books over my phone before I'd use its built-in browser.


As I've mentioned before, covers are a BFD for me. I loved both the classic Kindle and Paperwhite's covers. LOVED them. For the Kindle Voyage, on the other hand... well, it's been a bit of a journey.

ACcase Smart Shell Kindle Voyage cover

The first cover I bought was the ACcase Smart Shell Case. The color was very pretty, but the surface was extremely slippery, and there was a slight gap between the front of the cover and the Kindle. However, once I started reading with the cover flipped back, the slipperiness wasn't a problem and I liked the feel of it in my hands.

flintie protective leather cover for kindle voyage

However, I was somewhat unsatisfied and pretty sure there HAD to be a better cover out there. Which is why I decided to purchase another cover, the Flintie Protective Leather Cover. This one was not slippery. Yay! However, it felt cheap and dinky, and there was a much more significant gap between the cover on this one and the screen of the Kindle than there was with the ACcase cover. I DON'T LIKE GAPS. I used this cover for about an hour before switching back to the first one.

origami kindle voyage cover
No gaps!

And then I finally broke down and bought the Amazon-designed Voyage cover, which they call the Origami. The biggest negative with this one is it's expensive, like fifty freakin dollars (compared to the first two, which were around twelve dollars each). Uhg. BUT. But! It's also fantastic. The surface of the cover is pleasantly grippy and not slippery, the front locks securely in place to both the Kindle screen and the back of the cover using magnets, and I love the origami feature that allows you to fold the cover and prop up the Kindle for easy reading while eating or cooking.

So basically: the Amazon-designed cover is once again totally worth the price. If you're being particularly frugal for some reason, though, the ACcase is a not-completely-sucky alternative.

Minor Annoyances

The Kindle Voyage also comes with some minor, possibly-to-become-major-PITA annoyances that are worth mentioning.

First and foremost, I don't know if this just my device or what, but the thing in the lower left-hand corner that tells you where you're at in the book is IMPOSSIBLE TO CHANGE. On the Paperwhite, it's easy to tap and switch between what page you're on, how many minutes you have left in the chapter, how many in the book, etc. Yes, that info's usually wrong, but hey. I like to stay misinformed.

On the Voyage I can't even do that! If I tap on it nothing happens, unless I tap on the top to get the summary view, then return to the page view and THEN tap. I can see this sending me into Hulk Mode on a bad day.

Also the auto-adjust feature, while nice, is overly sensitive. One minor tilt of the screen can send the screen into bright light or no light mode. However, I can turn off the auto-adjust if it ever gets to be too annoying.

Those are really my only complaints so far.


Purchasing the Voyage as a replacement for an older Kindle or as a dedicated ereader is definitely worth it! The changes to the device make using it feel much more intuitive and require less "thinking" on the reader's part than any of the previous Kindles. So far I'm definitely happy with it.

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Review: THE DEVIL'S GRIN by Annelie Wendeberg

the devil's grin cover

By day, Dr. Anton Kronberg is one of the leading bacteriologists in the world. By night, Anton becomes Anna, a nurse living in the worst slum in London. Since women are barred from practicing medicine, Anna pretends to be a man so she can pursue her passion for science. No one's ever seen through her disguise–no one except the famous consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. Now Anna and Sherlock must work together to solve the mysterious death of a man found floating in the Thames. Was it disease, or murrrrrderrrrr? I'm guessing the latter.

I have mixed feelings on The Devil's Grin. The story moves very fast, I loved Anna, and the mystery was somewhat chilling. But there seemed to be a lot of gaps in logical storytelling, and by the end I found myself wondering why Sherlock was included in the book at all (aside from marketing, of course).

I'm always a little hesitant going into crossdressing stories like this because they tend not to resonate with me (one word: Yentl. Uhg), but actually the crossdressing was one of the least-problematic aspects of the book. What did bother me was that Wendeberg took what started off as a very interesting character and turned her into something over-the-top and cartoonish. So not only is Anna a crossdressing, famous scientist, she runs through the woods barefoot like a little gazelle and swims in lakes on the moors. Naked. At night. In my head, I was picturing those drawings by (male, naturally) explorers of Indian women swinging from trees bare-breasted. Realism! Anna also exposes her naked self to Sherlock. Cuz, you know, why would a Victorian female who spends most of her life hiding the fact that she's a woman have body issues, AMIRITE?

The investigation also didn't seem like it progressed logically–or, to be more specific, the solution to the problem that Anna came up with didn't seem like a good default option. SPOILERS AHEAD, YE'VE BEEN WAAARNED: When Anna and Sherlock discover that the murder victim came from an asylum where they're performing medical experiments on their patients, Anna's solution is to:

  1. get a grant to study the diseases they're experimenting with; 
  2. become the world's leading expert on said diseases; 
  3. lure them into asking her to work with them (see: become an expert); 
  4. gain their trust; and finally, 
  5. expose their activities. 

This, she says, is the ONLY WAY TO STOP THEM. What? Huhn? There are a lot of assumptions running through that plan. What if she doesn't get the grant? What if they move on to other diseases by the time she's an expert? Meanwhile, there are a bunch of people still being experimented on and dying! Why didn't she and Sherlock do what they ended up doing anyway and just call the police to raid the asylum? Sure, they found a few more of the people working behind the scenes to run the experiments by following Anna's plan, but they probably could have discovered all that just as easily through other investigative methods. I would have expected Sherlock to be more dedicated to the principle of Occam's razor.

And speaking of Sherlock: let's be honest, the only reason I decided to read this book was because Sherlock Holmes was in it. Yet I wasn't very impressed by his role in the story. He never actually investigates anything–indeed, he doesn't seem to think there *is* anything to investigate (to be fair, he's mostly right). And the "romance" between him and Anna made me roll my eyes. Part of the Sherlock canon is that he's asexual. I'm not opposed to breaking the canon, but if you're going to do it you have to do it in a convincing way–like in the Mary Russell series, for example. Here it just felt rushed and uninformed. Wendeberg could have given Holmes another name and made him just another detective, and I never would have identified him as based on Sherlock Holmes.

This all makes it sound like I hated The Devil's Grin (additional question: what is the meaning of this title?), but I actually didn't. It was an overall enjoyable read with some weird moments. And honestly, I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it as much if it HADN'T had those WTF moments. Without them I might have (probably) gotten bored. Also, how many books do you read with crossdressing female detectives? Not a bunch!

Since this is a fairly original book and a very fast read, I'm willing to forgive a lot. I'll probably wind up reading the second book in this series (against my better judgment, what there is of it). If Sherlockian books about Victorian lady scientists who don't put up with any crap are of interest to you, definitely give The Devil's Grin a shot.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Year-End Round-Up

Au revoir, 2014! What a strange year. It was an improvement over 2013 (not that that was much of a challenge), but at the same time I never would have predicted it would end with me in the place I'm in right now.

Not that there have been any MAJOR life changes for me this year, mind. I didn't get married or have a baby or anything. But I did take on three jobs. None of which were/are full time, so I do have time to sleep, but unfortunately not so much time to read! (Actually, it seems like the only time I *do* read now is when I'm having an attack of the insomnias... and if that happens, I better be reading a good book, because otherwise I'm going to be G R U M P Y.)

As a result of this scheduling insufficiency, I discovered something about myself: I really do need to read on a daily basis. Like if I don't read for a stretch of a day or more (it actually happened... unthinkable) I may legit take someone's head off.

Anyway! Here's the best of what I did manage to read this year. What about you?

the chocolate kiss laura florand
New Auto-Buy Author: Laura Florand
There aren't many authors who are on my auto-buy list these days, but Laura Florand definitely is one. Her novels are perfect tales of romantic escapism that revolve around three of my favorite F's: fairy tales, food, and France. Sexy French chefs FTW.

Favorite Mystery/Thriller: The Salinger Contract by Adam Langer
A smart, fast-paced, perfectly over-the-top book about books, with the feel of an old-timey movie. Loved it!

Favorite Forgotten Classic: I've Come to Stay by Mary Heaton Vorse
This short romantic comedy perfectly captures the avant-garde community of Greenwich Village in the 1910's. It's SO FUNNY and delightful and I loved all the quirky characters. The ending was absolutely perfect. Read it!

Favorite Non-Fiction Book: Craft Cocktails At Home by Kevin Liu
Two words: Science. Cocktails. Kevin Liu uses the scientific method to investigate all the burning questions of the home mixologist, such as: why is it so impossible to make clear ice cubes? How much exactly is dash? Why do we chill glasses before pouring cocktails in them? And so on. A super-must-read for cocktail geeks no matter if you're a newbie or a professional bartender.

Book That Pissed Me Off The Most: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins 
wtf book

Uhg. Just uhg.

And speaking of Mockingjay...

Subgenre That I Can't Believe I Keep Reading Right Now: Dystopian Young Adult
Working with teenagers this summer must have affected my brain, because during the second half of the year I was ALL ABOUT dystopian YA novels, a genre I've assiduously avoided for the past several years. It all started with, "Oh, I've been meaning to read Catching Fire," and pretty soon I'm staying up until 7 in the morning reading the ridiculousness that was Allegiant! Oh well, might as well run with it.

neanderthal seeks human penny reid
Subgenre That Probably No One is Surprised I'm Reading Right Now: Quirky Romances
Since most of the quirky romances I've read–and loved!–this year were recommendations from book blogging buddies, it probably won't come as a shock to anyone that many of them count among my favorite reads of the year, like Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, and Still Life With Strings by LH Cosway.

Favorite Book Actually Published In 2014: Tie between The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand and Still Life with Strings by LH Cosway
I picked The Chocolate Temptation as my favorite on Book Riot, but actually it's more of a draw. I had a few issues with each book, which stopped me from completely adoring either one. Although I still really really like them!

As you can see, my list is pretty short this year. That's because I read a pathetically small number of books, for me anyway. I haven't even hit the 100 book mark yet; my goal was actually to read 200. Overly optimistic, I admit, but still. The other goals I had for this year–to catch up on the Walt Longmire and Gabriel Allon series–also didn't happen.

Sigh. Book blogger problems.

Anyway, it could definitely be worse. I read some really awesome books this year, my personal life doesn't suck, and hopefully 2015 will be even better! Thanks for sticking it out with me and for sharing your reads and book recs. Happy New Year!

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Review: INSURGENT by Veronica Roth

insurgent cover

After turning off and stealing the simulation that was forcing members of Dauntless to kill Abnegation, Four and Tris leave Chicago to escape the Erudite. But with Jeanine still alive and determined to control all the factions, they're quickly drawn back into the city, where Marcus wants to unveil the secret Jeanine was ready to kill for. Will he convince Tris she needs to risk everything to help him?

If that summary made a lick of sense to you, congratulations, you've likely read Divergent! (I know I should probably review these books in, like, order or something, but hey. It's my blog, I do what I want.) I immediately downloaded Insurgent after finishing Divergent, because hellloooooooo, I loved it. Divergent, that is. Insurgent was a bit of a letdown.

First of all, Four. In Divergent he was a total hottie, but in Insurgent there was no chemistry between him and Tris WHAT. SO. EVER. Their makeout sessions read like a microwave instruction manual. And I got sick of his constant whining pretty damn fast. Waaaah, you never tell me every single damn thing that's going on with you right away, waaaaaaahhhh. By the time the storming of the Erudite compound rolled around, I was rooting for them to break up.

the pity train has derailed at the corner of suck it up and move on

The ending in particular was SUPER annoying because there were several things that did not make sense:

  1. Why is Tris considered a traitor to Dauntless? It's not like she's siding with Erudite or helping Jeanine escape; she just wants to make sure the information in Erudite's computers doesn't disappear and innocent Erudites don't die. Where's the conflict with Dauntless here? She's working toward the same goal, just with different priorities.
  2. Why doesn't Tris tell Four about Marcus' plan? For that matter, why agree to help Marcus at all if she's so worried about Four's reaction, especially when Marcus never tells her exactly what he's doing or why it's so important, other than, "It's essential to the preservation of society"? As Tris herself pointed out, their society is already in ruins, so what exactly are they risking their lives and personal relationships to save? Seems unnecessary. And it's not as if Tris is THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD who can help him. He can go pick on someone else.
  3. The big reveal at the end (which let me assure you was underwhelming) negates the messages and themes of Divergent, namely that people are more than the places they grow up in, or their families, or their jobs, or their major. You don't have to be just one thing. But the reveal shows exactly the opposite: they're breeding for divergence. In other words, the only reason Tris and the other divergents have different abilities is because their parents belonged to other factions. So that whole thing about people being more than the sum of their parts and free will? I felt like it went out the window.

Not to mention the fact that by the end, I wanted Four to throw himself off a cliff. Let's break down Worst Boyfriend of the Year's actions a bit, shall we?

  • Instead of supporting Tris when she gets into a fight with Peter, he tells her to calm down. AWESOME, WOMEN LOVE BEING TOLD TO CALM DOWN! Keep that up.
  • Instead of being understanding when he finds out Tris killed Will and that's why she's been freaking out lately, he tells her, "It's not easy being with you." Are you kidding me? Look in the mirror, buddy. LOOK IN A FREAKIN MIRROR.
  • Most hilarious (if by hilarious you mean awful) part: when Four breaks into Erudite and you THINK he's going to rescue Tris, but instead he tells her that he *could* break them out of Erudite at any time, except he needs to do yada yada some such to prepare for the Dauntless attack. So she should just hang in there with the mental torture for two more weeks, and then maybe probably he can get them out. Tris: "I don't think I can last that long, I really can't." Four: "You're a strong M├Ądchen, you can do it." [I may be projecting a bit here.] NO. Tris has to be rescued by fucking Peter. What is even the point of you, Four?
  • When Tris is caught as a "traitor," Four doesn't even attempt to talk to her or offer an explanation for her behavior that would, presumably, save her from being KILLED. To repeat: we're supposed to believe that Dauntless is ready to execute Tris, and because she was helping his dad, Four sees her dying as a completely reasonable outcome to not-exactly-being-a-traitor. For someone who keeps yelling at her to stop risking her life, he seems pretty copacetic with Tris getting executed and/or tortured.
  • Then, twenty minutes after Tris yells at him for being a jerk (finally), Four comes hop-skipping over and says, "You were right. I do know who you are. I just needed to be reminded." COOL STORY, BRA. At that point I would have been like, "I think we need to start seeing other people." BUT NO. Everything magically becomes happily every after ville again, and they kiss and make up. Literally.

i just threw up in my mouth a little bit

I want at least one scene of abject apologies and groveling. To the level that it's so pathetic, it's embarrassing.

Not to mention the fact that the writing style in Insurgent read VERY YA. Like Harriet the Spy. The number of conversations Tris eavesdropped on was ridic.

So yeah. I found this book to be EXTREMELY annoying. But I will say Veronica Roth can still spin a fast-moving story, even when it makes no sense.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Review: MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

mockingjay cover

After I finished Catching Fire, I tried to read something that wasn't a YA dystopian novel... for about five seconds. Then I finally gave in to my obsession and started Mockingjay.

I knew going into Mockingjay that a lot people on the bookternet were disappointed by it, but I didn't know why or wheretofore. If only I could go back to that time of blissful ignorance. Now I understand completely, though there is no comfort in it. And I didn't even spend a year waiting for this book to come out, imagining way better scenarios than what actually happened!

Going into Mockingjay, here's what I was expecting would happen:

  • Katniss rescues Peeta from the Capitol.
  • She gets close enough to President Snow to kill him, but probably doesn't end up assassinating him. Maybe someone else (Peeta, the Unexpectedly Badass Baker?) does that for her.
  • Katniss and Peeta take on leadership roles in the new government, get married, and live more or less happily ever after.

Here's what actually happened: NONE OF THOSE THINGS.

Oh, and I guess I should say there's going to be spoilers out the wazoo in this review, although the book's been out four freaking years. If you haven't read it yet, and you were planning to read it, um... maybe you should get to doing that.

Okay kids, put on your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Mockingjay starts out okay. Katniss has been "rescued" (or more like recruited?) by District 13, which also took in Katniss' and Gale's families after the Capitol burned District 12 to the ground (OR DID THEY? It would have been more interesting if they hadn't). Peeta is being held hostage by the Capitol and is begging for peace, which 13 interprets as a Benedict Arnold-type betrayal. So, to save Peeta from execution, Katniss agrees to be 13's poster child as long as Peeta is given immunity by the rebellion.

Okay, fine. I enjoyed the James Bond atmosphere of Katniss and Gale receiving fancy new weaponry and outfits, and I liked how Collins set up District 13 as being just as bad as the Capitol, or possibly even worse.

It was when Peeta is rescued from the Capitol that I started feeling little niggles of discontent. Here's how it went down: about halfway through the book, Katniss realizes the Capitol is punishing her by torturing Peeta. It takes her that long to come to this realization? Anyway, she freaks the hell out and 13's like, "If we want to keep using her on TV it looks like we're going to have to rescue Peeta." So they drug her into a stupor and Gale and some other people traipse on over the Capitol to get Peeta and the other Hunger Games contestants who were left behind at the end of Catching Fire. Then they traipse on back and plop him down in the middle of 13.

reading huh?

So just to sum up: They could have rescued Peeta AT ANY TIME, if Katniss had demanded it. But she conveniently didn't, so now Peeta's been brainwashed to kill her. And the whole rescue happened completely off-page while Katniss was unconscious. HOW FREAKING EXCITING.

There is no happy reunion between Katniss and Peeta. She can't deal with him calling her "a piece of work," so after taking more drugs (13 is very free and happy with the benzodiazepines–I found it hard to believe either Katniss or her family would be hunky dory with this considering her mother's refusal to give Gale morphine after he'd been whipped in Catching Fire, but apparently they are. And hey, why expect consistency?) she's off to do more war/TV stuff with Gale.

Time and preachy scenes about "panem et circenses" pass. Finally the rebels are set to take over the Capitol, and Katniss is determined to be part of the fighting. So there's a long section about training and she finally gets put on a unit with Gale and Finnick and some other people. Peeta is also part of Katniss' unit, because that's a great idea. Naturally things take a turn for the FUBAR and Katniss decides to lead the team into the heart of the Capitol to kill Snow. Pretty much everyone dies or is captured along the way, but Katniss manages to make it just outside the Capitol building where, presumably, President Snow lives. That's when her sister and a bunch of kids are killed by IEDs.

LAME, so lame. First of all, the fighting scenes read like Collins was describing one of those single-shooter video games. There was no sense of reality. Secondly, to paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock's comments on his movie, Sabotage, DO NOT BLOW UP THE INNOCENT LITTLE KID. The audience will never forgive you because you've crossed the line from narrative suspense into base shock value. I feel like that's what Collins did in Mockingjay by killing Prim. IT WAS TOTALLY POINTLESS.

Katniss goes into major freak out mode again (side note: I am so sick to death of female protagonists who start off really awesome and then collapse into emo can't-deal-with-it mode as soon as shit starts affecting them personally. coughOliviaPopecough). Katniss never makes it into the Capitol building to kill Snow, and the rebellion is won completely off page. AGAIN. Meanwhile, she wanders around crying and drugged up. When Katniss does find an opportunity to see Snow, he's like, "Hey, 13 arranged that entire thing with the bombs that killed your sister to expedite the end of the war," and Katniss is like, OH YEAH I forgot I didn't trust that bitch with the perfect hair. So she kills the president of 13 instead of Snow.

Okay, fine (again). But here's where I started getting really pissed off: Katniss is tried for the murder of 13's president, but we never see a single second of the trial, nor do we ever receive an explanation as to how or why she wasn't convicted. Was the defense temporary insanity? Justifiable homicide? Did anyone mention the whole thing with the bombs that killed the kids? I don't know! After the trial, she's shipped back to 12 with a "There, there now, little lady," pat on the head–metaphorically speaking, of course–which she accepts with nary a whimper of protest. In 12, she lives in the Victor's Village all by herself, wallowing in depression, until Peeta shows up. They have a bunch of kids and never leave 12 again. The end.

wtf book?

Seriously, what the freaking fuck????

  1. So basically at the conclusion of this nonsense, everyone is in more or less the exact same place they were in at the start of Catching Fire, except for Prim (who's dead) and Gale (who was the architect of the bombing that killed Prim). That doesn't make me feel like I wasted my time at all!
  2. Congrats, Collins, you just completely removed any agency from the main character of your novel who's supposed to be a "kick-ass heroine." You know what would be great? A book where the main character actually does stuff instead of wallowing in drugs and self-pity, or acting out emotionally instead of using her intelligence, or following that up by just doing whatever other people tell her to do. What a great message, keep this shit up.
  3. There was no emotional closure whatsoever. Sorry, I don't consider pushing babies out of your vagina closure. Katniss never acts proactively for her own happiness or fights for justice for Prim, and her confrontation with Gale over the bombing was lame. He was just like, "Did I have something to do with that? IDK. *shrug* So... this is going to be an issue between us now, right?" YA THINK. She also never confronts either Gale or Peeta for the numerous hurtful things they said about her during the course of the novel, for instance, "Katniss will pick whoever she can't survive without." What in the name of beejesus is that supposed to mean? I would have thrown a crowbar at both their heads.
  4. And speaking of Katniss choosing between Peeta and Gale, she never actually does! Gale gets some fancy-ass job in District 2 and never visits–which admittedly is understandable, since he killed her sister with his bloodthirsty warmongering, the asshat–and Peeta just kinda shows up. So the conclusion to their story is essentially: Hey, you're here, I've given up on life, let's have babies together.

The ending of Mockingjay was THE ACTUAL WORST. I'm not even being hyperbolic. I was so upset when I first finished it I couldn't sleep, and I was depressed for DAYS afterward. I have no idea what the hell Collins was thinking with this novel, but I feel like it betrayed every fiber of trust and time I invested in the series. I want to burn the shit out of it. I want to forget I ever read it. I want to rewrite the whole book into something that's actually decent.

After thinking about it for a bit, I realized that reason I had such a strong negative reaction to the end of Mockingjay was that, despite the supposedly "happy" ending, the novel is actually a tragedy, and a cynical one at that. On the micro level, it's the story of a woman who is systematically beaten down, used until she's completely empty and has lost everything: her friends, family, home; but even worse than that, her sense of self-identity, strength, and authority. In the technical sense Katniss survives The Hunger Games: Game On with a Vengeance, but in terms of her personality I feel like Katniss was completely erased, and no one noticed or cared.

On the macro level, the people who act without conscience or morals during the course of the novel, like Gale and Plutarch, are rewarded, while those who try to save lives or demonstrate caring for other people either die or are rendered completely powerless and irrelevant.

I mean the world's hard enough as it is guys. It's fucking hard enough as it is.


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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review: CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins

catching fire cover

Welcome to The Hunger Games All Stars: the Peeta Bread Boy show! Having survived the Hunger Games thanks to some quick thinking on Katniss' part, Peeta is baking his feels and painting, because he's the sensitive artist type. Meanwhile, Haymitch is drinking his feels and Katniss... no one's quite sure what Katniss is doing. Luckily she has Peeta! Peeta makes everything better, as evidenced by this graph:

x y peeta graph

As you can see, the amount of time Katniss spends with Peeta is directly related to how likable she is, and in Catching Fire she and Peeta spend a lot of time together. So much time, because President Snow isn't convinced they're really in love. BUT THEY ARE YOU GUYS. They just don't know it yet.

Anyway. It took me a long time to read Catching Fire because I was meh about The Hunger Games–both the book and the movie–and then I discovered through a Sesame Street skit of all things that Peeta and Katniss go back to the Hunger Games. At first I thought they were joking, but then the Internet confirmed that they weren't. At which point I was just like, "Yeahhhhhhhhh. Nope."

Like seriously, back to the Hunger Games? The first time wasn't enough? It then took me a good long while to even work up enough fucks to watch the movie. I would consider watching it, and then I would remember they go back to the Hunger Games, and I would decide to do something else like wash the dishes. Surprisingly, however, I actually enjoyed the movie quite a bit when I finally did watch it; and when I hit on a I've-been-meaning-to-read-that jag recently, I decided to pick up the book as well.

Like the movie, Catching Fire the novel is a big improvement over The Hunger Games the novel. For one thing, there's a lot of Peeta in it. I've said before that Peeta's the heart of the series, and this book is probably the most emotionally resonant of the entire trilogy. Peeta's totally sweet and swoonable and I just want to hug his little face.

kiss you and love you and hug you to death

Aside from Peeta, there's a lot more wry humor in Catching Fire than I remember being in The Hunger Games. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

I find myself in the position to console them. Since I'm the person going in to be slaughtered, this is somewhat annoying.

Yes, it's great to have allies as long as you ignore the fact that you'll have to kill them.

I really can't think about kissing when I've got a rebellion to incite.

Good call. Remain focused.

"My nightmares are usually about losing you," [Peeta] says. "I'm okay once I realize you're here."

That last quote is my absolute favorite. It's the perfect summation of Peeta and Katniss' relationship.

There are also cool new characters introduced in Catching Fire, like Finnick and Johanna, who for some reason reminded me of Katy Perry (also, why is she the only person with a normal name?).

So yes, I finally get why everyone was so obsessed with The Hunger Games after Catching Fire came out. It tells a much better story (although there are some boring stretches when Peeta's not around), with more humor and personality. It doesn't feel stiff or mechanical like The Hunger Games did; it actually reads like a human being wrote it! I enjoy books by humans. And while most cliffhangers annoy me, this one's a killer.

Next up, my review of Mockingjay!

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