Book Review: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

I’m breaking into the sci-fi classics. I’ve never read Heinlein, but I’ve had The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land on my list for some time. (I also have I, Robot by Isaac Asimov on the list because I really enjoyed Foundation, but more on that later when I actually get it.)

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. HeinleinIn this one, Luna has been a penal colony for around a hundred years, long enough that an actual society has sprung up there. But they’re facing a crisis: in around seven years, their food supply will be depleted, all of it sent down to Earth.

Now, it’s up to three disparate people — a computer technician, a female revolutionary, and an old professor — to start the revolution that will win Luna her freedom. But they have a secret ally: Mike, the first computer to gain sentience.

The whole book is written from a first-person viewpoint, with our main character being Manuel Garcia O’Kelly-Davis (known as Man or Manny), a top-notch computer technician on Luna.

As such, it’s written in “Loonie” slang, which makes it a little like reading English translated directly from another language. Plus, Luna is a colony that’s been populated by people from all over the globe, so bits and pieces of other languages creep in, particularly Russian.

I see in Lunaya Pravda that Luna City council has passed on first reading a bill to examine, license, inspect — and tax — public food vendors operating inside municipal pressure. I see also is to be mass meeting tonight to organize “Sons of Revolution” talk-talk.

Those are the first lines of the book. I had to read the second sentence two or three times to make sure I wasn’t accidentally skipping over a word.

While I respect Heinlein’s ability to stick to his viewpoint character’s tone, it did make it difficult to get into the story, and made it very difficult to understand some of the more complicated scientific and political theories and processes he was discussing.

It’s also not really written as a traditional story is. A large part of the first third of the book is a summary of the events leading up to the revolution, and the revolution itself is but one quick chapter. After that, it’s all about the Loonies keeping the freedom they’ve gained.

For some parts, it’s interesting — reading about how they build the resistance, how Man and the professor travel to Earth, and how they solve the problems that running a revolution entails, both the small ones and the large ones.

However, that is a large part of what you’re doing: reading about it. There were only a few times that I felt like I was transported; other times, I wondered when they were going to quit summarizing what was happening.

I also got the feeling a couple of times that I was being preached at. I understand that an author’s personal views are probably going to come through at times, and I’m fine with that, as long as it doesn’t detract from the story. Here, I felt that it did.

That being said, Heinlein had some cool details put in that really made it more realistic. For example, he dealt a lot with the different gravity on Earth versus Luna, which meant Man and the professor had to spend their trip to Earth in wheelchairs (or in bed) because their bodies weren’t used to the higher gravity. Conversely, you had soldiers from Earth unused to the lighter gravity on Luna, which meant they were their own worst enemies during fights in Luna’s warrens.

But my favorite part of the book was easily Mike.

Some logics get nervous breakdowns. Overloaded phone system behaves like frightened child. Mike did not have upsets, acquired sense of humor instead. Low one. If he were a man, you wouldn’t dare stoop over. His idea of thigh-slapper would be to dump you out of bed — or put itch powder in pressure suit.

Yes, the computer. It was fascinating to watch him as he grew and changed over the course of the book — from acting like a very young child at the beginning to gradually maturing into someone who could handle every aspect of Luna’s revolution.

However, there were times he felt a bit like a deus ex machina over the course of the novel. Can’t handle something? Need something impossible done? Turn it over to Mike, the magic supercomputer! Mike became a tool, rather than a character, and that really frustrated me.

It really is an interesting story, and despite the problems I had, the ending still had an emotional impact on me. Though there were a couple of times where I did put the book down, I didn’t really have to force myself to pick it back up again (which was nice).

I’m glad I’ve finally read Heinlein, and I would still like to pick up Stranger in a Strange Land. If you’re interested in reading this one, definitely pick it up. The biggest barrier is the slang, and really, after about 20-30 pages, I got used to it enough that it didn’t bother me too much for the rest of the book.

Book Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger

I’ve been on a hell of a steampunk kick lately (what, you didn’t notice? Perhaps I haven’t talked about Abney Park enough…), so when I saw somebody on Twitter ask for steampunk recommendations, I paid close attention to what people responded.

Soulless by Gail Carriger One of the suggestions was Soulless, which is the first novel in the Parasol Protectorate series.

(Side note: Is “protectorate” not an awesome word?)

So, I did what I normally do now when I hear about a new book: downloaded the sample on my Kindle and gave it a chapter to catch my interest.

Here’s the title of the first chapter: “In Which Parasols Prove Useful.”

Tell me that doesn’t make you want to read more.

The omniscient narration bothered me initially. However, once I got past that, I couldn’t put this book down – in the “stay up till 2 a.m. in order to finish” kind of way. It was so much fun.

Alexia Tarrabotti is soulless, a fact that she keeps well-hidden from everybody. If a supernatural creature, such as a vampire or a werewolf, touches her, they will lose their powers and revert to full human as long as they maintain contact.

One of the few people who know her secret is Lord Maccon, a Scottish werewolf and the head of the London branch of BUR, the government office responsible for keeping tabs on all the supernatural beings running around.

When a vampire (very rudely) attacks Alexia and she kills him, she and Lord Maccon find out that other uncultured vampires have been appearing in London, and more importantly, rogue vampires have been disappearing. Now, they just have to figure out who, exactly, is behind it before they come after Alexia herself.

Like I said before, the tone of this story was just note-perfect. Here’s an excerpt, just after she meets an “unexpected” vampire for the first time:

Yet he moved toward her, darkly shimmering out of the library shadows with feeding fangs ready. However, the moment he touched Miss Tarabotti, he was suddenly no longer darkly doing anything at all. He was simply standing there, the faint sounds of a string quartet in the background as he foolishly fished about with his tongue for fangs unaccountably mislaid.

It just gets better as the book goes on. I could not stop giggling at the narration or the dialogue, and there were several parts that I kept going back and rereading just to laugh at them again.

Plus, the characters were equally great. Alexia is tremendously entertaining as a spinster who doesn’t fit in with her family, who always has a quick quip ready to confuse and bewilder her mother and sisters.

I was initially curious about reading a romance wherein the heroine is supposed to be “soulless,” but it works perfectly. Alexia and Lord Lord Maccon have a crackling chemistry with each other, which results in some very hot scenes and some very witty dialogue (quite possibly my favorite part of historical romances: the perfectly Victorian dialogue).

And then you have Lord Akeldama, a flamboyantly gay rogue vampire who is Alexia’s best friend. Though his dialogue is a bit difficult to read with all the italics, he is an immensely fun character, and the relationship between him and Alexia is, at its heart, very sweet. (He makes a very touching request from her near the end of the book, which I won’t spoil here.)

Overall, it was a really fun steampunk mystery/romance. If you like any of those mentioned genres, be sure to pick this up when you get a chance. (Or, if you’ve been looking for a steampunk book to try out, grab this one.)

I’m looking forward to getting the next one in the series when I finish wading my way through the rest of the books on my shelf.

On that note, let’s see how I’m doing, shall we?

Books read so far - 2.27.12

Pile #3 is growing...

Kindle books:
As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

Fiction:
Endymion by Dan Simmons
The Ancient by R.A. Salvatore
Long Lost by David Morrell
A Coral Kiss by Jayne Ann Krentz (Screw it. Life’s too short to read romance novels you don’t like.)
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (I don’t want to hear a damn word.)
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (recently added, thanks to my sister-in-law)
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Nonfiction
The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire by Susan Ronald
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham (Reading now!)
Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey
Story by Robert McKee

The Critic Does Twilight

Yes, most of my book reviews have been relatively short, since I’m reading so many. However, once I got started writing on this one, I just couldn’t stop.

I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re going to rag on something, you should probably have actually read it. That was the logic behind my purchase of Twilight at a used book store’s tent sale back in September 2011. I paid a grand total of a dollar for it.

And it was my determination to read all the unread books on my shelf that finally got me to pick it up and start reading.

My first thought, upon finishing it, was this: “There are three more books of this crap?”

It’s not utterly terrible, from a technical perspective. I have read utterly terrible. At least Stephenie Meyer stuck to her damn viewpoint and didn’t have egregious spelling and grammar errors every few sentences.

Yes, it was over-the-top and purple, annoyingly so at times, but she was writing from the POV of a love-struck teenage girl. Being overly descriptive and angsty with your prose is practically a requirement for that.

But I really cannot understand its popularity. I can make an educated guess, but I can’t understand it.

Bella is not a character. She has three significant traits: she’s clumsy, her blood smells good, and she likes to read.

She doesn’t write. She’s not artistic. She doesn’t play any sports, or dance, or throw pottery, or act, or speak other languages. I don’t know what she wants to do when she grows up, or where she wants to go to college, even though she’s 17 years old and should be thinking about those things. (Or actively avoiding thinking about them.) There is nothing remotely interesting about her.

And yet, she captivates the hottest, most desirable guy in the entire school. (Actually, she captivates more than just him, but we’ll stick with the one.)

Do you know how we know he’s hot? Because Bella takes every available opportunity to gush over Edward’s absolute perfection. And I do mean “gush.”

Literally three-quarters of the book is her and Edward hating each other (40 pages), Edward saving her life and getting unreasonably jealous every time she talks to another guy (100 pages), and then her and Edward going all googly-eyed over each other (200+ pages).

And yes, he really does freaking sparkle. Somehow, I still didn’t believe it until I actually read it.

What really hacks me off about this book is that I can see Meyer knows how to create cool characters. There are about 4 pages where Edward is telling Carlisle’s life story (he’s the patriarch of the Cullen family, and Edward’s “dad”), and it was easily my favorite part of the book.

Forget perfect marble, diamond-glittering skin. Carlisle was awesome — a vampire who became a doctor in order to pay penance for his curse — and I almost screamed in frustration when we went back to Bella and Edward. I would have read an entire book about him! HE WAS COOL.

There is no real plot here, either. A romance works because the hero and heroine are actually protagonist and antagonist. They’re working against each other the entire time. The Turner series, which I’ve mentioned in other posts, does a brilliant job of this: in each one, the hero and heroine are on opposite sides of an issue, and that’s one of the things they must resolve in order to live happily ever after.

Not so here. If there’s conflict between Bella and Edward, it’s resolved quickly. The book is 75% done by the time an actual bad guy shows up, and while the pace finally (FINALLY) picks up for the last 50-100 pages, it is quite the slog to get there. It also doesn’t help that the viewpoint character lapses into unconsciousness during the climactic fight.

It’s also frustrating to see how eager Bella is to throw her life away for a guy. I understand compromises, and I understand being so in love with somebody that you would do anything for them. But she would have to change her entire life, and this is for a guy she’s only known a few months. Once she meets Edward, nothing else in her life matters. It’s appalling.

And it’s not like this guy is anything to write home about. It seems Edward’s sole reason for existing is to look hot, and to protect and care for Bella. But he is the most dangerous thing TO her, he ADMITS that, and still he sticks around.

Not that she would let him go. When Edward says he should leave her because he’s, you know, a VAMPIRE, Bella actually thinks that she will voluntarily put herself into physical danger just to keep him around. (Because he can’t help himself. He has to save her life.)

Yes. That thought seriously passes through her mind.

“Not one has tried to do away with me today,” I reminded him, grateful for the lighter subject. I didn’t want him to talk about good-byes anymore. If I had to, I supposed I could purposefully put myself in danger to keep him close…I banished that thought before his quick eyes read it on my face. That idea would definitely get me in trouble.

I’m going to pause and comment on this particular development for a moment.

I know I was all googly-eyed and angsty over boys when I was a teenager (and I have the diary entries to prove it), but damn. What does that say about her psychologically, that she would consider that for even a fraction of a second? What does that say about her opinion of her own self-worth?

I know that it may seem I’m going overboard here — it’s just a story, fiction, don’t take it so seriously — but that’s just…no, okay? I’ve been reading romances of all kinds since I was a teenager, and it almost offends me that somebody put a character like this to paper.

I like romances, and I like romances featuring super-dominant, alpha males. But what every single one of those romances feature is a heroine who is his equal in some way. In fact, usually part of the story is her PROVING that.

This doesn’t happen in Twilight, and is in part why I was so annoyed by the end of it. Bella and Edward are extremely unequal, and it stays that way throughout the book.

I don’t think I could make it through the rest of the series, since the teaser chapter for New Moon at the end of the book made me so angry I almost pitched it to the wall.

For those of you who do like these books, please tell me: Why? Some people have said it’s because Bella is like a shell and they can pretend that they’re the ones with Edward, but Edward just makes me want to punch him.

I’m genuinely curious to understand what Meyer does right well enough to have gotten so many people to read, enjoy, and recommend this story.

Reading List Mini-Reviews, 2.17.12

According to GoodReads, I have read 10 books thus far this year. Considering it’s only February, I’m making good progress.

On another note, I promise I will have some non-romance-related reviews up in the future. But you have to understand, when I want a pick-me-up, romance is my go-to genre. It’s (usually) easy to read and I know exactly how it’s going to end, but the journey there is always new and different and fun. I have read terrible romance novels, yes, but I’ve read so very many wonderful ones, two of which I’ll be talking about…now!

Unclaimed by Courtney Milan
The most interesting thing about this book, hands-down, is the reversal of the typical characters that you see in historical romances. Usually, the man is an experienced rake, and the woman is a blushing virgin. Not so here.

In Unclaimed, the hero (Mark) is the virgin, and the heroine (Jessica) is a courtesan. It was really cool to read something that is so different from most historical romances, and see it executed so well. (Not that I mind the normal character stereotypes: Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase fits them to a T, and it’s one of the best romances I’ve ever read.)

Anyway, Jessica has been hired to seduce Mark and sully his saintly reputation – you see, he’s written a pamphlet about male chastity, and it’s taken England by storm and made Mark famous.

To say he’s less than thrilled about that particular development is an understatement. Mark despises his fame, and how he’s held up as an icon. He is just a man, and one of the things that attracts him to Jessica initially is that she doesn’t see him as a saint.

Though I enjoyed this book thoroughly, it was probably my least favorite of the three stories. Not because of the relationship or the characters — I really liked Jessica and Mark, and I loved reading a story where the guy was the virgin — but there were a couple of times at the end where it felt like they were having the same fight over and over. It was just one of those moments that you read it and think, “What the…I thought they resolved this already?”

But really, that was my only complaint. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, enough to quickly pick up book three, which is…

Unraveled by Courtney Milan
This is the last book in the Turner series, and it’s my favorite of the three. Smite, the middle brother, is a magistrate in Bristol who comes across Miranda Darling, a young woman from Temple Parish, the poor part of Bristol.

What he doesn’t know is that Miranda is under the thumb of the Patron, a shadowy figure who keeps his own brand of justice in Temple Parish. And the more Smite gets involved with Miranda, the more they both draw the eye of the Patron.

Here, we’ll just sum this up quickly:

I. LOVE. SMITE.

There you go.

What, you want more than that? Fine.

Smite is quite possibly one of my favorite romance heroes ever. All the Turners are fairly awesome. They grew up in a home with a super-religious mother who slowly went mad and abused them all in different ways, and that’s affected each of them in very different and vital ways. In many respects, Smite got the worst of it, and it’s interesting to see how that affected the man he’s made himself to be.

At first glance, it seems like he’s a hard man, and though that may be the case in some respects, it isn’t in others. His experiences on the streets of Bristol as a child made him want to be a magistrate, and his whole goal is focused on upholding the law, not just the letter of it, but the spirit of it as well. He’s got issues (naturally), and I liked that not all of them were neatly resolved by the end of the story.

Miranda is more than a match for him, a former actress and current wigmaker. She is, thankfully, not a stupid heroine. There were a few times in the book that I was worried she would make an expected choice when confronted with a difficult decision, but she surprised me by making better ones.

It seems a lot of times the third book in a trilogy is the weakest of the lot, but not so in this case. As I said before, Unraveled is my favorite of the books. It’s a great romance and does a lovely job of finishing of the Turners’ story. If you like romance, particularly historical romance, make sure to pick up this series.

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
I downloaded this on my Kindle back in the spring of 2011, after attending a symposium called “Literature With Bite” at the local library. One of the speakers mentioned that this book was the very first gothic book ever written, so I decided to see if I could get it on the Kindle. I did, and several months later, I finally read the damn thing.

I wasn’t expecting anything particularly spectacular, considering I’d never heard of the book before, and my expectations were solidly met.

There was a multiple-page note from the author at the beginning, proclaiming the veracity of the story. There was a host of “thees” and “thous” and “thys,” and naturally, it had a tragic ending.

The older writing and language structure made it difficult to read, and I found my eyes glazing over as some of the passages were like brick walls of text. Kindle formatting made it a little easier to read, but still, it was rough going if you’re not used to the syntax.

I can’t say that I would go out of my way to recommend it to anybody, but it was an interesting read from a historical perspective. I’m glad that gothic literature took a step up, though.

I think that about caps it for the mini-reviews, at least for a little while. And on Monday, I’ll have up my thoughts on Twilight.

Reading List Mini-Reviews, 1.30.2012

My movie-watching has been limited to a trip to the theater to catch Beauty and the Beast in its limited engagement (just FYI: it is just as good now as it was when I was six), and several DVDs for which I have reviews forthcoming.

However, I have made considerable progress reading the books currently on my shelf, and after a solid month of various romances (historical, contemporary, steampunk, and YA paranormal), I’m planning to dive into sci-fi with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein and Endymion by Dan Simmons.

Let’s see how quickly that breaks my brain, shall we?

EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey
My first non-fiction book of the year! Since I’ve taken on more work responsibility in recent months, this book made its way up my to-read list pretty quickly. It’s an easy read, and a thought-provoking one. This is the book I used as a guide when I created my mission statement and my goals for this year.

I know that some people don’t necessarily care for Dave Ramsey because he’s very open about his Christian faith in his writing, but really, the business and financial principles he puts forth are solid and sensible. Whether you’re reading it for personal or business reasons, it’s a good book to pick up, especially if you’re in any sort of leadership position.

Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook
Yes, this one was already in the “read” pile when I finally posted my list, but since I read it in 2012, I’m counting it here. Also because I wanted to talk a little more about it.

I absolutely adored the first book in this series, The Iron Duke, and I bought Heart of Steel without downloading an excerpt first (first time I’ve ever done that) because I was positive I’d enjoy it. And I was right.

Heart of Steel features one of my favorite characters from the first book, Yasmeen Corsair, the airship captain. She’s a strong, badass woman, every inch the captain, holding her own in a field that is mostly reserved for men. And they respect her as one of them.

Her love interest, Archimedes Fox, is a great match for her and a great adventurer in his own right. They make a phenomenal team, both in the bed and out of it.

Plus, I love the world and the history that Brook has created here. The inventions, the zombies, the airships…I just love it. I liked The Iron Duke a little better than this one, but it’s still a damn good read. If you like romance and you are interested in steampunk, get thee to Amazon and acquire this series.

Unveiled by Courtney Milan
I picked up Courtney Milan’s ebook novella, Unlocked, in June, as a way to keep myself occupied on a plane ride. It was a great little historical romance, and I looked forward to reading more.

Unveiled is the first book in this series about the three Turner brothers: Ash, Smite, and Mark. (They were all named after Bible verses, and one of the cool things about each book is learning what their real names are. They’re each very appropriate for the characters.)

In this one, Ash, the eldest, has just revealed that the Duke of Parford was never actually married to his wife of 30 years, which makes all of his children — including his heir, Richard — bastards. Which means, according to the laws of inheritance, all of Parford’s land falls to the next closest male relative, which just happens to be Ash. (They’re fifth cousins twice removed or something like that.)

Margaret, Parford’s daughter, has decided to stay at the manor in disguise while her brothers go to London to plead their case, to spy and give them ammunition against Ash. What she doesn’t count on is finding out that her enemy actually makes a good duke, or that she’s falling for him.

This was a quick read, a good historical romance, and very enjoyable. I really liked Ash and Margaret, and the obstacles separating them were very real. Though I knew they would get a happily ever after, the question of “how” was always on my mind.

For most of the book, Ash doesn’t know who Margaret really is, and doesn’t realize that he’s actively trying to destroy her at the same time he is telling her he loves her. It’s a very interesting dichotomy, and it’s part of why I enjoyed the book so much.

In fact, I liked it so much that, in the two weeks since I read this initially, I’ve already bought and read the next two books in the series, Unclaimed and Unraveled (reviews forthcoming).

In short, if you like historical romances, pick this one up.

How about you? Read any good books lately? Or even better: read any bad ones?

The Book List: The Hunger Games Trilogy

I know that I spend most of my time here talking about movies and television shows, but I am an equally voracious reader. I’ve gone months without picking up a book before (usually when I’m working on writing my own stuff), but inevitably I’ll hit a two-week period where I read anything and everything I can get my hands on. It’s not unheard of for me to go through 5-6 books in a week, and if I really like an author, I will hunt down everything they’ve written and read it. (Right now, Brandon Sanderson is my new favorite, and the only book of his I haven’t read is The Way of Kings. Because, dear God, man, 1250 pages? Really? You couldn’t break that up a little?)

The Hunger GamesThe most recent series I just finished was The Hunger Games, and by “just finished,” I mean I just put down the third book earlier this afternoon. After reading pretty much all day. Because seriously, it’s good.

The trilogy — The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay — are dystopian YA (young adult) novels, set sometime in the future when America has fallen and been replaced by Panem, a country made up of 13 districts and one Capitol, from which the President rules with an iron fist.

Seventy-four years before the events of the first book, District 13 was bombed off the map during a violent rebellion, and every year since, the Capitol has hosted the Hunger Games to remind the districts where the power really lies. Each year, 24 children between the ages of 12 and 18 — one boy and one girl from each district — are drawn from a lottery to be a “tribute” in the Games. The tributes are thrown into an arena to murder each other until just one is left standing, an entertainment that is broadcast around the entire country of Panem.

Yeah, these books are just filled with sunshine and roses, I tell ya.

Katniss Everdeen, the 16-year-old protagonist, lives the Seam, the poorest part of District 12, the poorest district in the country. For five years, she’s been the main provider for her family, ever since her father was killed in a mine explosion.

On the day of the reaping, when the tributes are chosen, she volunteers to go to the Hunger Games in place of her younger sister, Prim, whose name is drawn. And thus what begins as a fight for survival ultimately morphs into a violent fight against the Capitol, with Katniss at the forefront.

One of the major reasons that these books are so successful is because way they’re written. Unlike most novels, these books are in first person and told in present tense, which brings in a sense of immediacy that draws you in and keeps you in suspense. You’re right there with Katniss as she’s hunting, sneaking, trying to find a way to survive the deadly traps that the Capitol throws at her at every turn. The present tense took a few pages for me to get used to, but once I did, I was hooked.

In addition to the immediacy of the viewpoint, you’re in the mind of a strong, likable character in Katniss. She’s practical, logical, cautious, and smart. She’s always looking for angles, for the motives behind actions. She is very much a survivor — breaking the laws of District 12 to hunt in the woods outside the fence, which is how she manages to keep her family alive. As an excellent hunter and archer, she has the skills to keep herself a contender in the arena.

However, being so practical means that she’s completely at a loss when it comes to romance and to her own feelings, which are torn between two boys: Gale, her best friend and fellow hunter, and Peeta, her fellow District 12 tribute in the Hunger Games. She cares for both of them deeply, to the point that she will fight to the death to protect them. But the love triangle persists throughout the novels, as Katniss doesn’t really know her own heart — and neither do we.

Being so tightly in her mind (and I must give credit to author Suzanne Collins — the woman does not break viewpoint) makes for some excellent tension, but also for some very interesting moments when Katniss is hallucinating or knocked out or incapacitated in other ways. For the most part, this works, but there are a few times in the last book where it starts to feel just a bit like a cop-out. You get to a good part, but then something happens to Katniss, and you pick up a few days later when she’s semi-coherent again.

Although Katniss is a great character, the rest of the cast is equally memorable. There’s Haymitch, the only District 12 tribute to win the Hunger Games, and thus the only mentor for Katniss and Peeta. He’s a grumpy man who’s spent the past few decades burying his memories of the arena in a bottle of liquor, but he and Katniss have quite a bit in common. There’s Rue, the female tribute from District 11, who reminds Katniss so much of her sister. And there is Cinna, Katniss’s stylist and friend, whose brilliant designs help her out during the Games.

On the really plus side, Collins is not afraid to hurt, handicap, and kill her characters. People you like are brutally tortured and killed. Some lose limbs. Others lose their minds. Over the course of the novels, Katniss herself is poisoned, shot, blown up and whipped. And she does not escape unscathed mentally, either — she has severe PTSD, which includes terrible nightmares that plague her throughout the books. Each of the deaths, you feel almost as keenly as she does.

Of course, a series like this is only as good as its villain, and that villain is President Snow. Although the Games themselves are more of the antagonist in the first book, Snow steps to the forefront in the second.

I bought Catching Fire based solely on the second chapter, where Katniss sees him for the first time after the end of the Games. For the next two books, even when he’s not on-screen, Snow is hovering around Katniss, like the overpowering scent of the roses he wears. He is cold, calculating, ruthless, and frightening. Katniss, who fears very little, fears President Snow.

The big reason I picked up these books is because of the forthcoming movie, which is scheduled for 2012. And if the movie manages to be even half as good as the book, it will be well worth watching in theaters at least once, if not multiple times.

Are these happy books? Not even close. If you want something like that, I have a list of cozy mysteries, comedies, and romance novels that you will enjoy immensely. But if you want a gripping novel with a phenomenal protagonist, a tense survival story, and a good ending, start reading The Hunger Games and don’t stop till you finish Mockingjay. You won’t regret it.

Disclaimer: Yes, I own two of these books. I borrowed the third from a friend. Yes, those links go to Amazon. No, they are not affiliate links. No, I did not get paid to write this review. Yes, I still think you should read these books immediately. I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts.