Monday, December 19, 2011

Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

This isn't going to be a real book review since I'm not sure this collection of pages is even worth the amount of time I'm taking to write this little bit. Suffice it to say, this is the last Sookie Stackhouse novel I will be reading.

Typos aside (honestly who edits these?) the plot was just boring. These books should, above all else, entertain but the mysteries weren't suspenseful, the action wasn't intense, and any revelations given to our frequently attacked Sookie weren't interesting.

A disappointment all around.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

I didn't get what I expected from this book. I had picked it up assuming it would be part memoir and part history of Bryson's own home in England which is an old rectory. Instead I got an actual history lesson in everyday life for Brits and Americans going as far back, in some cases, as the 16th century. Bryson covers how science and the inventive spirit led to the modernization that changed day-to-day life and how trends in professional options - like becoming an architect or an archaeologist - changed what we knew about and how we looked at our world.

The really unique aspect of this book is how Bryson presents this history of living. He goes room by room in his own home, selecting a theme tied to each room (even the hallway) of his house. (Did you know that the stairs are the most common location in the home for fatal accidents? Yes this is an important, historically proven fact.) In the nursery he talks about the life of a child how child labor and controlling, unemotional parents made things especially rough. In the bathroom, we learn about sewage and the history of waste disposal. The attic serves as the location for Bryson to discuss the trend toward preserving historical objects - did you know Stonehenge was almost demolished to make way for more housing?

You'd think a history lesson like this, focusing on something as simple as life and the home, would be boring but the complete opposite is true. The way Bryson writes, the way he speaks to the reader is so engaging that you become interested in what he's interested in. His passion for the subject leads you to want to learn more. And his passion for this book is so obvious. You can see how deep he went in to gather material for the book from the obscure sources he quotes. For example, when in the garden Bryson talks about the rise of outdoor aesthetics, quoting from this source, "On the Laying Out, Planting, and Managing of Cemeteries; and on the Improvement of Churchyards," by Claudius Loudon, 1843. I can't imagine this is a readily available bit of source material - some digging must have had to been done.

Also unique to Bryson's way to telling history is his attachment to language. The most surprising vein of information throughout the book are facts of an etymological nature. Bryson never misses an opportunity throughout the book to tell use where a common household word was first used and where it was derived from and when it first appeared in the modern lexicon. This is a surprising addition to the narrative that I find myself more curious about than some of the history being shared. I love learning about where words come from though and why we use them. It was a welcomed surprise to be treated to these facts in this book.

I liked everything about this book from the way it was organized to the facts Bryson shared to the narrative voice. Maybe Bryson should write all our history textbooks - I bet more students would actually read them.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Matched by Ally Condie

Yes, it's another YA trilogy with a young heroine coming into her own and beginning to question the society she has been raised in although, unlike The Hunger Games, children in Cassia's world aren't forced to fight to the death. In Cassia's world, they're just told what to eat, where to work, when to play, and who to marry. Everything is coordinated for optimization - even lifespan. Disease has been genetically eradicated, but these people don't even know how to write. History has been shaved down to almost nothing so people have no understanding of where they came from. So, it's a corrupt place, full of guarded secrets, but the inhabitants are still relatively happy - for now.

We meet Cassia just as she's about to attend her Matching Ceremony where she'll be paired off with the boy she'll marry. The matches are based on compatibility generated through a machine. To Cassia's surprise, she's matched with her best friend, Xander. Unfortunately, she discovers she's also matched with Ky, another boy she knows. This anomaly in the system creates a fissure in Cassia's certainty about the life she lives and whisper of rebellion begins.

The flames are fanned by discovery of a Dylan Thomas poem whose words urge Cassia to fight against complacency (that gentle goodnight) leading her to reach out to Ky. The relationship she forms with Ky is full of "illegal" actions and knowledge. Equipped with information she isn't supposed to have, having feelings for a boy she's not supposed to love, Cassia really beings to question the system that has mapped out her entire life. We leave Cassia at a fork in the road - only book #2 will tell us which path she decides to take and I have a feeling the choice isn't so cut and dry.

This is an incredibly fast but entertaining read; on par with the other YA trilogies gaining in popularity. What I liked about Matched was that our culture is still part of the story. Whittled down but not forgotten, our reality still influences this fictionalized one. This story also focuses on choice rather than setting up a battle between the establishment and the underdog. There isn't any evil bearing down on Cassia (yet) rather the story is full of individuals simply making their own choices even though it's not something encouraged by the Officials.

There's a lot we don't know about Cassia's world and where her story will lead, but Matched has definitely got me hooked and looking forward to book number two.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Eat. Pray. Love. by Elizabeth Gilbert

I wanted to live this book. A spiritual journey of self-discovery feels right up my alley. Didn't I go through a period of self-examination (doesn't everybody)? Granted, I wasn't divorced, in my mid-thirties, and didn't need to travel around the world to find inner-peace, but shouldn't I connect with this woman on some level? I thought, Yes, but in truth, not even a little bit.

Elizabeth Gilbert is a broken woman in this book and an overwhelming whiner. Her personal hardships have no sense of importance to me so I just never cared if her journey of eating, praying, and loving worked out or not. So you had an identity crisis, so you felt alone in the world, so your heart broke - so what! Never once does she mention the good in her life before she leaves for her year-long journey and even while traveling she constantly corrupts the beauty and joy of her experiences by needless, dark thoughts. I wanted to yell at her to get over it already before she even left Italy.

I realize this was just who she was and this book is just what she went through but I fail to see how this journey transformed into such a popular memoir. You want to care about the person you're reading about and I honestly never did. I also learned nothing and I feel like a memoir should, in some way, be instructive or inspiring. I mean how obvious is the lesson that being happy with you = a happy life? DUH!

So Liz, thank you for introducing me to all the people you met in Italy, India, and Bali - I enjoyed them and learning more about the cultures of three countries I've never visited, but your story just wasn't for me and I should have known this was going to happen. I didn't even like the version of you they created for the movie and she was much less of a basket case.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Wyrd Sister by Terry Pratchett

This book is definitely Pratchett's homage to William Shakespeare.  Even while our three witches toil and trouble around their cauldron, Pratchett has filled this story with allusions to Shakespearean plays.  He even goes so far to have a traveling theater troupe complete with in-house playwright.  A theater is being constructed toward the end of the story that reminds me of the Globe and direct quotes from Shakespeare weave their way into the narrative.  I mean, "the play's the thing" here just as it was in Hamlet.  I love that among the actual plot of the book this whole second layer exists full of literary allusion to keep watch for.

But the actual's your typical medieval story with a murdered King (now a ghost), meddling witches, roving performers, and an heir hidden in order to keep him alive.  The difference though is the humor.  This typical story is infused with so much humor the plot really is immaterial.  The cast of characters is pretty traditional - there's even a court jester - but the stars of the show are our three witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat.  These complex ladies claim to never meddle in state affairs yet deftly manipulate time, space, and the strings of destiny for the entire kingdom of Lancre in order to bring the 'rightful' king to the throne.  Expanding any further on the plot or the colorful cast of characters would almost give too much away, so I think I'll leave it at that.

I always laugh out loud when I read Pratchett.  His wit and subtle humor and amazing control of the English language is a joy to read.  And the extra perk of the Discworld books is that you don't have to read them in order to enjoy them - you can pick up whichever one you like whenever the mood strikes you.  It's very nice to have such a stress-free series to read.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Into Temptation by Penny Vincenzi

I wish this wasn't a trilogy.  This is a family I could read about forever although they're getting too big to keep track of easily. 

Into the third generation of the Lytton family we go as our matriarch, Celia Lytton's grandchildren begin to grow up and start lives of their own.  Every bit as exciting and every big as much of a soap opera as the previous two books, No Angel and Something Dangerous, Into Temptation is slightly different only because there isn't a way going on to drive the action - everything happens to the family only with no global threat pushing them along.

Not that there are any dull moments to content with.  This book is by far the busiest because of all the characters we're now keeping track of.  Covering three full generations is a busy task - especially when characters keep getting married and having more children.  And, nobody is safe from the drama of scandalous affairs, clinical depression, theft, tragedy, passionate fights - they're all there, written in such a realistic way to put you right in the middle of the action.  There's really no much plot to share in specifics since I don't want to spoil anything and nothing should be stopping you from reading this third book if you've already enjoyed the first two.

I didn't want the trilogy to end.  Who doesn't love a good literary soap opera?  But, I love that I got to spend so much time enjoying these great, fully-formed, intricate characters and highly suggest you curl up with them too.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Imagine that instead of C.S. Lewis and Narnia a man named Christopher Plover wrote about a land called Fillory and the Chatwin family.  The Chatwin children make a few visits to Fillory, have grand adventures, and their stories make for a successful book series.  Unlike Narnia, Fillory doesn't have any similarities to Christian dogma and unlike the stories of the Pevensie children, not all the Chatwins return home to the real world.

Now, imagine magic is real.  It's not the wand-waving, fantastical kind of magic but a physics-based, ancient language-focused science that's hard to learn and tougher still to master.  You're recruited and thoroughly tested before being admitted to magic college where your training takes place and you're then dumped out into the real world to figure out how to live with magic in a mundane environment.  This world of magic is dark and the people who possess it are broken.  Quentin is just a lost soul, totally unhappy.  Magic killed Alice's brother, yet she still learns the craft.  Eliot drinks way too much, and Janet uses her sexuality and amoral behavior to stay noticed.

The violent and gritty tale of our magicians moving through college, struggling in the real world, and finally facing a great evil takes the shine off magic.  Magic inflicts so much physical and mental pain on our characters that they would have been better off never knowing it existed - not exactly the fantastical message usually brought across with magic in literature.

This intense take on the magical genre of story-telling had me caught up in the story at every turn.  Grossman tells a fantastical tale without the fantasy making the story harsh and intense and surprising.  Evil is pure and fierce and emotions (good and bad) are vibrant and deep - this world actually feels real to me.  I don't think I've read a book this quickly since Olivia was born.  I just had to know what came next.

If you like your magic more along the lines of Harry Potter, than this book isn't for you.  Even the battle at the end of HP is nothing compared to the carnage and darkness revealed in The Magicians, but I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting a different literary take on magic and how being a magical person can damage you.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Snobs: A Novel by Julian Fellowes

I really liked this book.  That being said, this novel definitely caters to a certain type of reader.  Do you like Jane Austen?  Did you read Howard's End and not find it boring?  If you answered "yes" to both of these questions than Snobs might be worth checking out.  A lot happens in the novel, but it's all played out in a very calm and almost bland sort of way.  The action is minimal but the conversations and whispers behind closed doors are lengthy.

The actual plot of the book is pretty standard for a British society novel.  We've got our leading lady - Edith - a commoner/social climber looking to marry up regardless of love; and we've got Charles, our Earl Broughton, marrying the woman he loves no matter the consequence. She lets her newly-found title go to her head and the lack of love (on her side) in her marriage to escort her into an affair while he simply just lets her get away with everything, willing to forgive when she's ready to come around.  The story wouldn't be complete without a villain, which in this case isn't really an evil entity, but just the Lady Uckfield, Charles' mother, attempting to pull the puppet strings she thinks everyone has hanging off them for her to use.  Emotions are kept at bay as best they can be.  The illusion of appearance is of the utmost importance.

I love the concept that high society British refuse to give up the illusion of a happy appearance.  They work harder to keep everything looking "right" than they do actually making things better.  It doesn't matter the gossip that circulates or the actual truths that exist, if it looks happy and serene, they've achieved their goal.

I find this book very interesting because it seems to be taking a bi-polar view of modern British society.  On one hand, the story encapsulates British high society's struggle to hold onto the rigid rules and traditions of their past.  The level of decorum they still cling to, no matter how antiquated it might feel to the rest of the world, is intense.  The other vein of the story focuses on our narrator, an actor (gasp!) who marries up, exhibits all the proper manners for his high society acquaintances and ends up being brought into the confidence of one very great lady.  So, while shunning Edith, our social climber, our narrator is welcomed into a social circle he hardly belongs to - obviously there is no rhyme or reason to the snobbery of high society.

Another unique aspect of the author's style here is the use of his narrator, who seems to know everything that's going on whether he's present at the action he's describing or not.  His insight into the whole story even when being removed from bits and pieces of it is really intriguing.  He so perfectly captures the complete story even though none of it is really happening to him.  It's an interesting literary device.

The book was written by the author who penned the screenplay for Gosford Park (a great movie) and you can see a lot of similarities between the movie and novel.  Both are entertaining and subtle reminding readers and viewers that the Victorian Era is alive and well in the day-to-day lives of the English elite.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chasing Harry Winston by Lauren Weisberger

My first beach read of the summer lived up to its purpose as a mindless, girly book with a simple, upbeat plot and a few laughs.  Nowhere near the level of The Devil Wears Prada (Weisberger's first novel,) Chasing Harry Winston focuses on three women rounding the corner to their 30's trying to figure out life.

The characters are pretty stereotypical.  Emmy is the recently dumped, serial monogamist, Ariana is the eccentric rich girl living without consequences, and Leigh is the one who seemingly has everything together - the ideal job and boyfriend - but is essentially lost.  Each woman gets to a totally predictable point in the end of the book where they've grown as a woman and grabbed happiness all on their own so definitely no surprises, but the characters were fun to read and the plot flowed at a good pace once it got going.  Chasing Harry Winston is a Sex in the City with more character arc and a briefer story line.

Overall an enjoyable read, this book was something I could easily put down and pick back up without forgetting any major plot points.  It was what I was looking to read so I managed to overlook the sloppy editing and typos throughout (some of which should have been caught by spellcheck.)  If you're a chick-lit summer reader this book could make it onto your list; just don't put it at the top - it's a middle of the list type of book.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The greatest thing about this book is its diversity.  Funny how a book centered around the themes of segregation and racism should end up with 'diversity' as one of the words used to summarize the story.  But, it's true.  The characters crafted by Stockett are all so unique and independent of each other you honestly can't lump them into groups.  African-American or white, each woman in the book is her own person - you either like or dislike each character solely for who they are.

And who do you absolutely hate?  Hilly Holbrook
And who do you absolutely love?  Aibileen

The rest of the characters splay out in the grey area between these polar opposites.  Even though Hilly never narrates any portion of the story, she encompasses the hatred and ignorance generated from segregation while our narrators (Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter) cautiously move forward across the lines that have forever separated domestic help from their employers.  Skeeter gets brought behind the veil shrouding the domestic help in her town to write a book chronicling the real experiences these women have had.  As a white woman, Skeeter is risking her own safety to write these stories, as much as the black women are for sharing them, but the women come together to tell the truth.  Among the truth-telling, Skeeter learns a hard reality about what happened to her own childhood nanny whose sudden disappearance was always a mystery to her.

In addition to this coming together of races, we see our narrators come into their own as independent women.  Minny overcomes an abusive husband, Skeeter suffers through the process of becoming an adult, and Aibileen learns to take control of her life. 

But in the spirit of writing reality even through a fictionalized lens, things aren't perfect for our heroines and the book concludes leaving an unknown future for us as readers to just guess at.  We're optimistic - these women have already shown their true strength, but we don't know how it will all end.

This book is the complete package for a novel with easy-flowing, engaging narrative even with three different voices telling the story, dynamic, fully-realized characters, and an actual story centering on personal growth in three very different ways.  I can see why the novel became so popular so quickly and definitely suggest it was a great summer read if you're looking for something a little less lazy than the hottest chick-lit.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Ambassadors by Henry James

I'm not sure if it was James' intent to get me to totally dislike the main character of The Ambassadors, but I do.  Lewis Lambert Strether is a mess of a man.  Charged by his fiance to go to Paris and retrieve her son, Chad (from a previous marriage,) Strether stays so long in Paris, immersing himself into society there, that a second wave of relatives show up to attempt to complete the job.  Ultimately, Strether and the reinforcements sent in fail to bring Chad home.  Chad is in love with a married woman living in Paris apart from her husband so she's got her own complications to content with.  Just the same, it takes an entire novel overflowing with confusing plotting and speculating to see Strether arrive at this noble act of allowing himself to fail so love can prevail.

In the middle of all this, Strether seems to fall out of love with his fiance as a new Parisian friend, Miss Gostrey, falls in love with him.  While encouraging love to take top priority with Chad, Strether ultimately refuses to accept the love of Miss Gostrey and returns home to his unloved fiance.

Confused yet?  This just scratches the surface of a story overpopulated with characters (some referred to by two different names) and jam-packed with three-page paragraphs and seriously long run-on sentences.  The style gets so tedious I found myself letting my mind wander as I read, which led me to be pretty confused through most of the book.  I almost question why I read The Ambassadors for fun.  I just loved The Bostonians so much, I wanted to try something else from James.  I can honestly say I think Henry James writes women better than men.

Few characters in classic literature really annoy me.  I can tell you that Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) is at the top of my list and that Emma Woodhouse and Hester Prynne linger in the top 10.  It has been a while though since this list has grown, but I have to add whiny Lambert Strether to my #2 spot and close the book (ha, ha) on Henry James for a while.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Special Thank You to My Dad

I've always considered myself to be well-read mostly because of the hefty amount of classics under my belt, but it wasn't until my Dad started lending me his books that I became widely-read. 

My preferred literary genres consisted of Chick-Lit and 19th Century British Literature until my Dad introduced me to two authors I'd never heard of before.  Robin Cook healded in a love for scientific thrillers and led to my reading a lot of Michael Crichton as well, and Nelson Demille ushered in an affinity for crime dramas - especially when John Corey was on the case.

These two new genres dumped a ton of boks into my lap that I couldn't put down.  I began checking the "coming soon" section on to see when these guys would publish again - thankfully Robin Cook writes a lot.  Eventually I started sending my Dad my copes of Cook and Demille as my collection became more current than his.

After my Dad died, all these books came to me.  Now they sit on my bookshelf, slightly out of place among Elinor Lipman and Jennifer Crusie but significantly more important than most of the books in my library.  They forever unite me to my Father (I love how books can connect people!) and constantly remind me that steppin gout of one's comfort zone (in anything) can yield something wonderful and new you never knew existed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan

The great thing about this book - you don't have to read through it. The structure allows you to open the book to any random page and find a unique "rule" for healthy eating. I did read through it though and, had I been able to get through it one sitting (having a 10-month-old makes that impossible,) I'd have finished it in less than two hours.

The moral of the story here is healthy eating can be done using common sense. Not so shocking. Of course I'm not making a good food choice when I reach for the box of Girl Scout cookies on the counter instead of an apple. Pollan gently reminds you of this and other common sense facts. The broad stroke here - eat wheat exists in nature, in reasonable portions, at a moderate pace.

This set of rules is complete in that it goes beyond what to eat and includes how to eat. Pollan reminds us to savour our food - stop rushing - while eating at the table with friends and/or family. He even okays leaving food on your plate (where were you when I was a kid?)

As someone who has overcome the picky eating disease, "rules" about eating have always bothered me. Even now, there's a lot I won't put on my plate, so when someone tells me what to eat - and it usually includes a lot I don't like - I get defensive. There's so much I don't like, if I cut out 'X' what's left? This thought never came up while reading Food Rules. Pollan doesn't tell me to never again eat a specific something, but rather he suggests I substitute something good when leaning toward something bad or at the very least to cut the bad down to a more moderate frequency (he'd hate that I have a Dr. Pepper every night with dinner.)

Pollan doesn't make me feel like I have to change my life, but he reminds me in quick, easy-to-read snippets what the best options are when it comes to food.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Something Dangerous by Penny Vincenzi

The second book in the Spoils of Time trilogy picks up as the children from the main characters in No Angel are entering adulthood. The entire second book focuses on this next generation of characters as they find love, have children, and decide what to do with their lives. Lyttons, the family's publishing house begins the novel as a viable career option for almost all of the children. Then, World War II breaks out and everything changes.

At Lyttons, Celia still holds a great deal of power. It's the only place where she can still control her children, keep them beaten down or draw them up as she sees fit. Being her children gives them no special treatment and no matter how old they get, they still have to contend with her professional opinions of them. These interactions have more affect on their personalities as adults than anything Celia did with or for them as children.

The focus goes beyond just Celia's children - Giles, Adele, Venetia, and Kit - extending to Barty, the adopted daughter, Jay, Celia's nephew, and Izzie, the child of a family friend. All of these characters, along with their significant others we meet along the way, struggle to find their own identities in their day-to-day life and even more so when WWII begins.

The War plays a much more central role in Something Dangerous. Although WWI happened during No Angel, it never becomes a key player in the story beyond how it affects London and life there. WWII, on the other hand, touches all the lives of our new set of main characters. All the boys (and even Barty) enlist. Lovers die, people's lives change forever because of permanent injury, there's even one harrowing escape from the Germans. In this book, the war is as much a character as any living person -- deeply sinking into the personal histories of this new generation.

I'm really still enjoying this series with two books under my belt and one more to go. I feel like I know this family personally. Vincenzi's story is so complete, even with so many characters to keep track of, and her soap opera-like plot twists consistently spice things up.

I love all the excitement and the historical context with it occurs in. A character going into labor while at work is exciting, but a character going into labor alone in her office while her husband is off at war and London is being bombed, is even more compelling. The history included in the narrative gives us a glimpse of all the experiences one had during the War and sheds a lot of insight into what went on beyond the battles and the bombing.

By the end of this book, you love and hate a completely different set of characters. Someone you may have felt sorry for in the first book you can no longer stand and people you found vapid and useless have no come into their own. You've watched a whole generation grow up not just into adulthood, but beyond, to the point where experience has begun to build wisdom. You've partaken in their joys and sorrows, watched them marry, have children, and begin careers. I can't wait to find out what happens to everyone next.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Why We Can't Finish Stephanie Meyer's Twilight

Trey and I read aloud to each other at night while we're putting Olivia to bed. It gives us a chance to read books we're both interested at the same pace and talk about the content. Twilight was the third book we decided to read aloud together. We made it through a little over 100 pages before giving up. We found ourselves doing whatever we could to not read to each other at night - Trey would go clean up toys downstairs, refill the humidifier, and I'd suggest we just talk about our days instead. What's the point of reading a book you're constantly trying to avoid? We all graduated from having to do that after we left college.

The story wasn't the problem. I'm all for teen-angst-driven plot lines and tossing in vampires and werewolves really spices things up. This book should have been exciting, but Meyer suffocates the exciting bits with her extensively detailed narrative. Do I really care what color the walls of Bella's school's office are? Does it matter that Edward chuckles all the time and Bella is accident-prone? Nope.

Initially skeptical of the book for many reasons, Trey and I held off attempting to read the series until Trey was given Twilight as a gift. We felt we had to read it to see what all the fuss was about. Maybe the book would be better than the movies (although they turned out to be much more entertaining when compared to the book,) but I can finish watching the movie whereas I couldn't finish reading the book. I can't even write more of a review. We didn't even make it to the part where Bella figures out Edward is a vampire.

I know I read a lot of escapist books so it sounds contradictory for me to be so cruel here, but I stand by my feeling that you can write all kinds of crap as long as you write well, as long as you put forth an effort to engage the reader. This droll babble doesn't even come close. So my advice if you're one of the few people left yet to jump on the Twilight bandwagon -- see the movies and be done with it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

SPOILER ALERT (we like to give major plot points away when we review)

The final book in The Hunger Games Trilogy starts off with a major plot twist - the rebellion against the Capitol is real and a previously “extinct” district is leading the charge. All they need is a face to the uprising, someone to humanize the struggle, someone to inspire allegiance to the cause - enter Katniss Everdeen. Unintentionally, through her actions in the hunger games, Katniss has already become a symbol for rebellion. With one simple act of defiance (threatening to eat poisoned berries at the end of her first hunger games causing there to be no winner) she exposed a chink in the Capitol’s armor, setting off a chain of events leading to the freedom of all the districts in Panem.

So, here we are, having followed Katniss through two hunger games and countless extreme situations. We’ve come to know her as a determined and resourceful girl adept at self-preservation. However, this girl disappears for almost all of Mockingjay. What we get in lieu of the powerful ass-kicking tough-girl is a whining, guilt-ridden thing, too mopey to make up her mind about anything from which boy to love to whether to help the rebellion. She actually gets so annoying with her whimpering and indecision that I ended up wishing Collins would kill her off in true martyr fashion (no such luck.)
The plot line also starts feeling a bit repetitive when we’re brought into a third hunger games. Slightly different in that it’s not an official hunger games, but rather a military expedition through a booby-trapped area of the Capitol, the concept of survival while dodging extreme obstacles is the same. Even though this is war and it’s no longer every man for themselves, you still feel as if you’re in an arena following a small group of people as they try to survive for the last third of the book. The rest of the novel has minor bouts of action that feel more like the characters are at war (a makeshift hospital gets bombed, there’s a hostile takeover of a district, etc.) but most of the story actually takes place underground in the fabled District 13 with the characters doing little more than strategizing, talking, and spending time in the hospital for various mental and physical ailments.

I do have to give Collins credit for not sparing any characters just because they’ve been around for most of the trilogy. This is real war - important people die gruesome, unexpected deaths, get seriously injured, and suffer brutal torture. It’s difficult, at times, to tell who the good guys are. Absolute power definitely corrupts absolutely in Panem, and having fallible characters is one of the best aspects of this trilogy. Everyone feels real because of how they react to the situations they’re put into, the doubts they have, the wrong choices they make. You end up having your favorite characters, but everyone has the potential to let you down. For some reason this feature of the trilogy makes it all the more likeable.

In the end, Panem begins anew, rebuilding on top of the brutalities of the war - thriving without the hunger games to snatch away the lives of the country’s children. Katniss grows up, emotionally scarred but essentially like any other woman. She gets married, has kids, finds small things to be happy about even if the past continues to haunt her. It’s a realistic ending to a very exciting epic.