Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: My Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade

I know you all love a great book, and I've really got a treat for you today! If you haven't already read devoured My Stubborn Heart, the debut novel by Becky Wade, then you are really missing out. It's quite great, and highly entertaining. Check out my review, then go pick up the book! I think you'll be glad you did. :)

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Kate Donovan is burned out on work, worn down by her dating relationships, and in need of an adventure. When her grandmother asks Kate to accompany her to Redbud, Pennsylvania, to restore the grand old house she grew up in, Kate jumps at the chance, takes a leave of absence from her job as a social worker, and the two of them set off. 

Upon her arrival in Redbud, Kate meets Matt Jarreau, the man her grandmother has hired to renovate the house. From the first moment she meets Matt, Kate can't help but be attracted to him--he's got a combination of good looks and charisma that draw and tug at her. But she knows there's zero chance of a romance between them. Matt's in love with his dead wife, and even if he weren't, Kate realizes that she's way too ordinary for him. For Matt Jarreau is no ordinary guy. Kate discovers that he was once a great NHL hockey player who left the sport when his wife--an honest-to-goodness former Miss America--was diagnosed with brain cancer. Matt's been hiding from people, from God, and from his past ever since. Yet Kate is absolutely determined to befriend him, to try to reach him, to help him in some small way.

No, Kate's not looking for love. She knows better than that by now. But when the stilted, uncomfortable interactions between Kate and Matt slowly shift into something more, is God finally answering the longing of her heart? Or will Kate be required to give up more than she ever dreamed? 

My Thoughts:
Oh my, what a great read! I loved how Kate so quickly and firmly made up her mind to befriend Matt; his withdrawn personality didn't matter to her at all. I wish I could be like her in that way! Even when Matt gave little or no response to Kate's small talk and friendly gestures, her stubborn streak didn't allow her to give up, it pushed her even to the point of embarrassing herself in her attempts to befriend him. This was amusing and very encouraging to see.

Since Kate is helping her Grandmother restore the old family home, several older characters are also a large part of the story. They're her Grandmother's quirky friends, but Kate quickly develops rapport with them as well. I couldn't help but be extremely entertained by Kate's scheming with one of the older men to get a certain older lady to go on a date with him....this whole storyline was very original, clever, and amusingly eccentric.

Now, about the humor....because YES, this book is quite humorous! I honestly didn't expect it, but I was presently surprised and very much amused by it. Everyday situations are portrayed very humorously, and things that most people don't talk about (or even think to talk about) are presented in such a way that several times I had trouble not laughing out loud! Many other times I'm sure I must've had a huge stupid grin on my face, because the situations and comments just kept striking me as giggle-worthy!

Overall, this is an exceptionally great debut novel for the Christian market from Becky Wade; I must say I'm very, very impressed. I don't want to say any more for risk of revealing spoilers, but let's just say I really enjoyed this one, and I'm sorry to have reached the end. Now I'm anxiously awaiting news of her next book.... if it's anything like My Stubborn Heart, then it's quite likely I'll be all over it! :)

My Rating: 5 stars
(I received this book courtesy of the publisher, Bethany House, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, a positive review was not required.)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Well, I've reached the end of the Hunger Games.... it's taken me a few days to write the review, but I finally have it done! FYI, if you're not interested in this series, fear not, I'll be back next week with a review on My Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade, which is a new Christian Fiction novel. :) So anyway, without further ado, here's my review for the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy.

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss's family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans--except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay--no matter what the personal cost.

My Thoughts:
The final book in the Hunger Games trilogy....I have somewhat mixed feelings about Mockingjay, but it's hard to know where to begin. Katniss's celebrity status is more dominating than ever, with the whole nation looking to her as the symbol of the rebel movement. Most of her family and friends escaped the bombings in District 12, but the Capitol has captured Peeta, and not knowing his fate has left Katniss with a heavy heart. Her old friend Gale is often at her side, but recent events have changed them both, and their relationship just isn't the same as it used to be. To those around Katniss, it's clear where her heart lies, whether she knows it herself or not.

The rebellion leaders' concern for Katniss's safety results in much of her time being spent underground (literally!), which not only adds to her gloomy mindset, but also causes the pacing of the story to be slower than the previous two books, especially during the first half. Several times I just wanted to light a fire under someone to get things moving a bit quicker!

Unfortunately, Peeta's captivity in the Capitol causes him to not be present for a large portion of the book, and I have to say that I really, really missed him. Of all the characters, he has the softest heart and has always managed to bring just a hint of lightness and gentleness to the savage situations encountered in the past. His absence was deeply felt, and when he finally did make an appearance, I was somewhat shocked, disappointed, and very much saddened by what had become of him. :(

Overall, I have to say I'm a bit disappointed with Mockingjay. It doesn't have the same spirit that was present in the first two books, and with Peeta's long-running absence, well, there was really no one left to bring a spark of humor, irony, or anything, to dull the horribleness of the events in their world.

In the end, the long-awaited change did come to Panem, but not as much or in the way that I'd hoped. At this point our heroes are so beaten down, broken, and abused, both mentally and physically, that they barely resemble the people we originally met in The Hunger Games, which I find very sad. Now, despite my mixed feelings on the book, I will admit that Mockingjay is absolutely essential reading if you've already read the first two books, there's just no denying that fact. However, now that I've read it, I'm going to try to remember our heroes the way they were before...before the atrocities they both witnessed, and committed, left them as little more than empty shells, ghosts of their former selves.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Note: As I mentioned in my previous Hunger Games reviews, the inclusion of the series on my blog isn't necessarily an endorsement or reading recommendation. I realize the nature of the plot is touchy, so please use your own discretion when deciding if The Hunger Games is appropriate for you or your children.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I may not have mentioned this in my review for the first Hunger Games book, but I really wavered when deciding if I wanted to include this series on my blog or not. While the books are riveting, the whole plot is obviously quite disturbing... but due to the wild popularity of the series, I finally decided I might as well include it here since it's already everywhere else. Anyway, here's my take on the 2nd book in the trilogy:

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol-- a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she's afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she's not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol's cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can't prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

My Thoughts: 
Catching Fire does not disappoint! I was unsure where the story would be able to go with the Games finished and Katniss back in safe territory, but I was happy to discover that the plot moved briskly along with the same sense of urgency that was present in the first book. The Capitol City's grip on Katniss and Peeta is stronger than its ever been before. They've become celebrities, and President Snow, leader of Panem, seeks to control their actions (thereby controlling the public perception of them) by threatening their friends and family if they don't comply.

Ever since the Games ended, Katniss has been feeling strain on her relationships with Peeta and Gale. Things with Gale haven't been the same since her return from the Games, and Peeta has been distant since he discovered her romantic actions in the arena were simply strategical. Katniss cares for them both but is confused about her feelings, feeling pulled between both guys. One thing she knows for sure, is that she doesn't want a relationship that will lead to marriage and ultimately bringing kids into the twisted society of her world. I really felt for Katniss in her situation, both guys are so nice, and the history she has with each is undeniable. Like Katniss, I simply couldn't choose a side; I ended up wavered back and forth about the guys right along with Katniss! I eventually did choose the guy that I think she should ultimately end up with, however with the uncertainty of the future in their world, I wonder if they will actually survive to see a somewhat happy (is that even possible in their world!?) ending.

At about the half-way point I came across the biggest twist I-never-saw-coming (I'm talking HUGE!), leaving me speechless and completely unsure of what to expect. There's not much more I can say while keeping things spoiler-free, but let's just say there seems no end to what these characters have to endure. Yes, the twist was amazing and completely unexpected, but I really felt sorry for all the people it effected. 

The characters and their bonds are a huge part of this series, they just pull you in, feeling like you've known them for years. Katniss almost always has some kind of a threat hanging over her head, whether on herself or those she loves, but somehow she always manages to persevere. And Peeta, oh Peeta, I feel so sorry for him at times. He has such a sweet and gentle side, and his devotion to Katniss is unwavering, even when she doesn't return his affection. Their future is so often unsure, I just hated the thought of either one being harmed. The constant threat on their lives, and even their district, brings such a sense of urgency to the story that it's really hard to break away from reading. 

At this point I'm two-third's of the way finished with the series, and things are just as fresh as ever. Yes, the plot is undeniably disturbing, and the actions of the Capitol and those in charge are despicable, but the light in the darkness is Katniss and her friends. They're forced to do some horrible things, but they don't lose sight of the fact that it's wrong. They long for a change in their country's structure, impossible though it may seem. At this point change is certainly in the air, but how much change can actually occur in such a warped society remains to be seen.

My Rating: 5 stars 

Note: As I mentioned in my review for the first book, my rating of 5 stars is based on my enjoyment of the story and isn't necessarily an endorsement or recommendation. I realize the nature of the plot is touchy, so please use your own discretion when deciding if The Hunger Games is appropriate for you or your children.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger matter what you think: good, bad, or undecided, there's certainly no denying that it's everywhere, and it's here to stay for the foreseeable future. I have some relatives who've been raving about it for months, so I finally decided to check it out. Of course I know my little review probably isn't actually necessary (there's already over 8,000 reviews on Amazon alone!), but I decided to go ahead and write it anyway. After all, it's categorized as YA fiction, which is part of what I try to cover. :) 

Book Cover and Synopsis:
Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning?

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

My Thoughts:
The Hunger Games...what can I say? I'm somewhat hesitant to admit to enjoying this book...but honestly, I found it quite interesting and very intriguing. The subject matter is abominable when you think about it, yet for a generation that's been raised on reality shows where it's common-place to eliminate a player each week, The Hunger Games definitely has a familiar feel. The main difference here is that the players are reluctant children, and failure means death instead of simply being "voted out".

Katniss is likeable and easy to sympathize with; she's been through tougher times than most of us will ever know, but she's a fighter and is full of determination. Family is extremely important to her, in fact she breaks the law nearly every day just to feed her mother and sister. (It's actually her love for her sister that brings Katniss into the Hunger Games, she basically sacrifices herself to take her sister's place.) Katniss doesn't believe the structure and actions of her government are correct, and she knows the whole ideal of the Hunger Games is warped.... however, the Capitol City has zero tolerance for rebellion or protests of any kind, so Katniss keeps her beliefs to herself, knowing she would be killed for speaking them out loud.

Peeta, who is the other tribute (or player) in the Games from Katniss's district, is also very interesting to watch. There's much more to him than you might think at first glance. He has the ability to evoke such a wide range of emotions from me...a couple times his actions confused me, giving me pause to ponder his intentions, but other times I felt sadness and sympathy for him, and still other times he had me smiling in silent laughter. He's an excellent character, and I really enjoyed how he and Katniss played off each-other.

For those wondering about the gore and violence factor, obviously just from reading the synopsis you can tell this is not a "warm and fuzzy" book...but in my opinion, considering the extreme subject matter, it's handled fairly well. There is violence and gore, but I wouldn't call it gratuitous or drawn-out; it was actually milder than I expected. The entire story is told from Katniss's perspective; she has limited contact with most of the players (many she doesn't even know their names), and thankfully she isn't present every time a player is eliminated.

I can definitely see why The Hunger Games has everyone's attention. It's extremely intriguing and you just can't help but want/need to know what will happen next. I hesitate to associate the word "entertaining" with it, but honestly, it really is. It's a picture of a warped futuristic version of Survivor, in a society where life has no value and the government has complete and total reign over the people. Katniss knows things aren't right, and I'm really looking forward to seeing if she's somehow able to bring change to her world over the course of the next two books.

My Rating: 5 stars

Note: In this case, my rating of 5 stars is based on my enjoyment of the story and isn't necessarily an endorsement or recommendation. I realize the nature of the plot is touchy, so please use your own discretion when deciding if The Hunger Games is appropriate for you or your children.