Book Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
Book #1
by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian

I didn’t want to read this book. I never planned to and was content with knowing nothing more about it than the basic premise. (I’ve never seen any of the movies either.) The main reason I stayed away is due to an aversion to heavy violence and death, and of course a book that involves a couple dozen teenagers being forced to kill each other is going to have plenty of that. I finally decided to read it after my son (who has seen the movies, but not read the books) tried to tell me that I might not be giving it a fair assessment, and of course, he was absolutely correct. And I did struggle still early on in the book, considering walking away because I was dreading what was to come. But I stuck it out, and boy, did I not expect to like it this much.

I appreciate the simple writing style—no pretension, no unnecessary words—and that made it easy for me to keep going when I didn’t want to face what was to come (yes, I am as much of a wimp as it sounds). And as the story unfolded, I realized I was empathizing with the tributes so much that my own pulse sped up in certain moments, during action or even just anticipating what was to come. And yet, in the end, I can say that the “violence for the sake of violence” that I anticipated from the book wasn’t there. Instead, we only see what Katniss sees, which is only what’s necessary to advance the plot or show her character.

The characterization and plot are a huge high point for me. Katniss’s attitude and motivation are consistent, and I really felt for Peeta throughout the book. Even the characters that it would be easy to hate end up being well-rounded and sympathetic. I wasn’t thrilled with the love triangle being set up, but at least it was a fairly minor aspect, as was the “romance” in general. While I can’t pretend to appreciate the world Collins has set up in this book, I do like that the book drew me in and made me want badly to see this system dismantled. I have unintentionally managed to avoid much in the way of spoilers for the rest of this series (or maybe I heard plenty of spoilers but just didn’t know what they meant at the time and don’t remember them now), so I am going forward with no idea what to expect, but with hopes for what I’d like to see firmly intact. All I can really say for recommendation, since I’m sure most people who are going to read this have already done so, is that if you’re like me and don’t want to read it because of reasons I mentioned, I suggest you reconsider.

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Book Review: Summer Knight

Summer Knight
The Dresden Files #4
by Jim Butcher
read by James Marsters

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Paranormal mystery

Professional wizard Harry Dresden is recruited by the Winter Queen of Faerie to solve a murder, which ends up having bigger consequences than he originally imagined.

This book had all of the good of the previous ones in the series with almost none of the not-so-good. The stakes are high, Harry seems stronger and less generally unlucky, and the side characters are interesting and different. I like the way Billy and the werewolves sort of act as disciples of Harry’s, but also come in really handy when he needs help. And the humor…it was one of the things that first interested me in this series, and it seemed doubled in this installment. I chuckled quite a few times, and there was one particular moment during the climax that I had to back up and hear again. It’s one moment that I can say for certain would not have been as funny if I’d read it, rather than listening to it. James Marsters is a great narrator, and that moment in particular was brilliant.

There was a lot less sexual content in this book than previous ones, which I appreciated, though it still seems like most of the women characters, large or small, are just there to be leered at in text. If you’re interested in the series, I highly recommend the narration by James Marsters.

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Book Review: The Sound of Light

The Sound of Light
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical romance

American physicist Else Jensen is living in Denmark, working at a lab when the Germans invade the country. After several years of occupation, she is recruited by a local resistance group to help print an illegal newspaper. Inspired by the local legend of the Havmand—the merman—who is said to ferry news to and from neighboring, neutral Sweden, Else does what she can to help. Meanwhile, she has no idea that the Havmand himself lives at her boarding house and is the very man she has a crush on. Henrik is hiding many secrets and has never wanted to share them more than when he begins to fall for Else.

The third book in a sequence (not officially a series) about men and women in various parts of Europe who work to resist the Germans in their area, I’ve liked every book along the way, and this one is no exception. There were a few moments when I struggled to fully understand the main plot, times when an aspect of the plot seemed to be tied up, and I’d wonder what else was meant to happen in the time that was left in the book. I enjoyed the story enough that it didn’t bother me, maybe just confused me a little. I should have realized that the final goal was basically safety (and that’s as much as I’m saying).

I appreciated the development of the relationship between Else and Henrik and that it didn’t come across as the main point of the story. I prefer a subtle romance, not that this one was super subtle, but it was more to my liking. After reading several books in recent years written by people who were part of a resistance group in their country (the main ones being in Holland), I seriously questioned Henrik’s decisions about how he kept his secret, or rather when he revealed it. And for the same reason, I was bothered by how Else acted at one point when Henrik insisted on continuing his work, though that was more an intentional aspect of the character than a flaw in the characterization or plot. But that part of it didn’t quite have the same feel as the memoirs I’ve read, which caused a little dissonance in my mind. Still, it may not have made for the best fiction if it was too realistic. In the end, I enjoyed the overall story, and recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction from this time period in the Christian romance genre.

Thank you to Netgalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: February 7, 2023

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Book Review: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (re-read)

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
by Stuart Turton

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Mystery, thriller

See original review here.

I don’t normally write a new review when I read a book I already reviewed on my blog. But this is a special case. The first time I read this book, I gave it 3.5 stars. I like it, but had enough issues to lower the rating. This time, though, I enjoyed the ride so much more! I think that’s partly because I already knew the ending was going to be not only really interesting, but also contain more of an explanation than I had originally expected. It allowed me to enjoy the journey more. Similarly, with a better understanding of how the narrator’s 8 days were going to unfold, I wasn’t as impatient for it to get going. And because I knew it was going to have some brilliant time-travel mechanics, I loved watching out for those and seeing the plot play out. I can’t imagine what the storyboarding for this book must have looked like.

I also knew enough to start skimming the somewhat lengthy descriptions much earlier, which I think made for an easier read for me. The manor is old and crumbling, rain makes things wet, got it. Let’s get to the action! And even though I’d read it before, I’d forgotten the couple of twists along the way—and this time, I was more invested, so they got me even more than they probably did the first time (I doubt I’ll forget about them after this, but that might just depend on how long I wait to read it again, which I do expect to do someday).

I think there’s another reason that I liked it more this time, though, and that has to do with me, not the story. I read this book at the very beginning of my push to getting back into reading regularly, after losing the habit for close to 20 years. I’ve now been reading daily for over 3 years, and I think my own tastes and how I enjoy a story have changed. I don’t even normally have much desire to re-read a book that I rated below 4 stars, but since my original rating was based as much on the book’s atmosphere as anything, while I did really like the plot, it still made my re-read list. And I’m sooo glad it did, because it’s now one of my favorites!

Find out more about The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle*
*This is the US title. The book is elsewhere titled The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

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Book Review: Rise of the Elgen

Rise of the Elgen
Michael Vey #2
by Richard Paul Evans

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA sci-fi adventure

Michael Vey isn’t exactly an ordinary kid. For one thing, he has Tourette syndrome. For another, he produces electricity like a taser. And he’s not the only one with electric abilities. Together with some of the other teens like him, and some without powers, Michael sets out to rescue his mom from Dr. Hatch and the Elgen.

I both enjoyed and was annoyed by this book. For plot and intrigue, I give it a thumbs up. For characterization and writing style, I give it a thumbs down. The story itself kept me interested, and I sped through it. Evans has some interesting ideas involving the electric powers and how they can be used by both sides (though there are some aspects I’m not sure are completely thought out—for example, if Zeus’s electric powers are sapped, wouldn’t water not affect him so much? How does Ian’s echolocation allow him to read printed text?).

However, the group of hero teens generally fall into two categories—the boys are strong, alpha males who just want to flirt and smash. The girls are silly creatures that think fluffy animals are cute (except for the rats). The only exceptions to these stereotypes are Michael himself and his best friend Ostin. And then there’s the bad guy, who makes me feel like Evans did a study in how to do one better on the evils of Nazi Germany. The things they do are just over the top evil, it’s disturbing. As for the writing, I hate to say it, but it made me feel like I was reading my own early attempts at writing as a 12-year-old. I rolled my eyes several times at the immaturity. I know this is written for a younger audience, but that doesn’t mean it has to be quite so silly.

In the end, though I wrote down several notes of things that bothered me, I look back and mostly see an exciting, fast-paced book (which might be interesting, since I’ve read several reviews that say this book was slower than the first). While the downsides are the kind of thing that I don’t expect to get any better in future books, as long as the good parts are still there, I look forward to seeing where the story goes from here.

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Book Review: The Lost World

The Lost World
Jurassic Park #2
by Michael Crichton

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Science fiction thriller

Up front, I will say that I’ve seen the Jurassic Park movies (original 3) many, many times, so if you’re looking for an unbiased opinion, you may want to go elsewhere. Jurassic Park is one of my top 3 favorite movie franchises, if not the top. I did read this book once, back in high school, most likely because of how much I already liked the first couple of movies then. However, unlike the first book, which I couldn’t help but compare to the movie as I read, this one is so different from the movie that very early on, I had to try to push the movie out of my mind. And in doing that, I am probably able to review it more for itself than based on my love of the movies. Though I can’t pretend that love didn’t still possibly make me enjoy this more than I might have otherwise.

I didn’t love this book quite as much as the first, but I did enjoy it, and it kept my attention throughout. Malcolm’s arrogance and loquaciousness takes a back seat to a new character, Richard Levine, though we do get almost a repeat of an injured, drugged Malcolm rambling on that also happened in the previous book. I don’t know why Crichton insists on putting kids in harms way in these books, but I did like the kids in this one more than the two in the first book (it was mostly Lex that was annoying in the first book). One of my biggest frustrations while reading is probably fair enough for Crichton to have included, but it frustrates me to have an intelligent character say that evolution may not tell the entire story of existence up to now, that there may be more that modern scientists haven’t uncovered, yet without a doubt, creationism is just wrong. To be so absolutely sure that one model is wrong, though there is plenty to confirm it, even while saying we may not know all the answers smacks of willful ignorance. Sadly, this is absolutely the world we live in.

Though, as I said, I didn’t compare the book to the movie as much this time around, one thing that I realized is that Sarah Harding is quite the strong, courageous woman. She’s mostly portrayed that way in the movie too, but I don’t understand why the movie makers decided to flip the script when the trailers are being pushed over the side of the cliff. In the book, Sarah does the saving, while in the movie, she has to be saved by Malcolm. I’m not a feminist, but that seems fairly deliberate to me. Though, I suppose, it could have just been more about giving Jeff Goldblum the save than anything to do with gender roles. Overall, I do think that fans of the first book and/or the movie franchise will enjoy this book.

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Book Review: Old Yeller

Old Yeller
by Fred Gipson

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic historical fiction

Old Yeller is yet another children’s classic I’ve never read. I don’t think I’ve watched the movie either, but of course I knew how it ends. However, I didn’t expect the entire book to basically be just about getting to that ending. It’s even stated on the first page that the narrator, Travis, would end up having to kill this stray. For me, that definitely dampened the enjoyment of the story of Travis and Old Yeller becoming good friends. What bothered me the most, though, was Travis’s little brother Arliss. Oh my goodness, that kid is annoying! Every time he gets upset about something, he gets violent, even with his own mother. And it basically goes unchecked. It just all seems extreme and unnecessary. And in the end, I was left wondering what the author’s intention was in writing this book. And would it have been such a classic if it weren’t for the tragic ending? Take that away, and you just have the story of a boy and his dog, which has been done.

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Book Review: Keep Moving

Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths about Aging
by Dick Van Dyke
Read by the author

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Part memoir, part book of advice, I chose to listen to the audiobook, which Dick Van Dyke reads himself. Though I’m a few years younger than the book’s primary audience, I still enjoyed the advice, humor, and sections about Van Dyke’s life. As can often happen when you don’t already know much (if anything) about an actor’s real self and tend to conflate his/her on-screen appearances with real life, it was a bit jarring to hear some of the things about his life. However, I’ve read reviews for the full memoir he wrote a few years before this, and it sounds like this is pretty tame in comparison. I had planned to read that too, but I think I’ll leave it at this.

Some of my favorite parts involved Van Dyke’s brother Jerry Van Dyke, who seems to have a considerably different (and quite humorous) outlook on getting older. I was particularly surprised to learn that Van Dyke has never had any formal dance training; I am one, apparently of many, who always assumed he had. I appreciate parts of his outlook on life, while some of his take on politics and religion left me shaking my head. When he basically says that no one can really know the truth about God, I think to myself, “Is that the truth?” It’s an age-old argument that probably never solves anything, though. In the end, I mostly enjoyed this book, and if you plan to read it, I highly recommend the audiobook.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Wasn’t There

The Cat Who Wasn’t There
Book #14
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When a group trip to Scotland ends in tragedy, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran begins to suspect that the death may not have been natural. Can he piece together the clues, including those from his perceptive Siamese, to solve the mystery?

Koko’s back to licking photographs, but while he does his best to communicate the clues to his food-provider (or is just coincidence?), Qwilleran is busy dodging an old girlfriend who wants to be a new wife. Qwilleran has definitely changed over the course of this series, in ways that even he is still discovering. It keeps the series from getting stale, as do the location changes now and then. While I have grumbled in the past about books that take us away from Pickax, this book still spends plenty of time there, while the death happens far away.

I’m not a Shakespeare aficionado in any way and have never read Macbeth, but it makes a great backdrop to the story. The author does a pretty good job of giving a reader without knowledge of the play, which the local theater club is staging, enough information to appreciate the connections made. I don’t know if a reader more knowledgeable about Macbeth would enjoy it more or less than I did. Though I had suspicions about who was involved in the crime, I didn’t put together the hows and whys before I was told. But to be fair, Braun wrote these books before “cozy mystery” became a formula. In the end, I enjoyed the book a little more than I did the previous.

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Book Review: The Diamond of Darkhold

The Diamond of Darkhold
Book of Ember #4
by Jeanne DuPrau

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, The City of Ember.

The people of Sparks are suffering through winter without enough food for everyone and with many sicknesses and injuries. When Doon discovers a book that seems to hold a secret for the people of Ember, he and Lina make a plan to uncover that secret and hopefully help their town.

After liking the first book and being a little disappointed with the second, I enjoyed this one, which I felt brought back the adventure and intrigue of the first book. It helped me to realize that one of the things missing from the 2nd book is Lina and Doon working together, rather than both having their own quests. I also liked the return to Ember, even though much had changed, and how things played out there. The secret of the diamond was underwhelming at first, but as I came to understand it better, I appreciated it more.

The ending was a little strange to me, partly because it leaps forward and then backward at least once, and I had to reread some spots to make sure I wasn’t confused. And the reference to the third book in the series, which I skipped in favor of the next book in sequence (the third book is a prequel) was weird and made me less inclined to even read the third one (though I still will). However, the ending only detracted a little, hence the half point down from 5 in my rating. Overall, it was a satisfying conclusion to a series that I’m glad I read.

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