The Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: I honestly have no idea. Post-Apocalyptic maybe?
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 374

So, I finally got around to reading this. I know, I know, the entire rest of the world had read it months ago. That's kind of the reason I hadn't. I just have this passionate aversion to following the crowd, so if the crowd is reading a runaway-best-seller, I'm going to be avoiding said bestseller.
But, after the raving recommendations of several friends whose judgment I trust (and because my brother is dying to see the movie but I don't want to see it without reading the book), I decided to relent. My thoughts?

Oh. My. Goodness.
This book is completely unlike anything I have ever read - as evidenced in part, I'm sure, by my inability to assign a genre to it above. The story and characters are completely engrossing, utterly captivating. I don't remember the last time a book has kept me on the edge of my seat like this one did!
Set in post-apocalyptic North America, the story follows the main character Katniss on her forced journey to the Hunger Games - a sadistic ritual bloodbath labeled a sport by the iron-fisted government. The goal: Kill or be killed. As if that's not bad enough - it's not even that simple.
I don't dare try to say any more than that for fear of giving something away, but I will add that I was surprised at how clean the story was for a work of secular fiction. There were a few brief instances of nudity, which I obviously disliked, but there was no sexual connotation to it at all which is one consolation... I guess. In fact, though it wasn't stated as such in so many words, some of Katniss' thoughts and internal monologues even suggest a belief that sex is something reserved for marriage - an amazing find in a secular book! Of course there was a good deal of violence in the book, but it wasn't gory or glorified or anything disgusting like that.
I would feel comfortable recommending this book to anyone eighteen or older. Recommending it to anyone younger would depend on the individual person. One word of caution: make sure you have the sequels on hand when you start reading The Hunger Games. Once you start reading it you won't want to stop, and once you reach the end you won't want to wait for the second one. I'm already reading Catching Fire, and it shouldn't take me long to get through it... since I can't seem to put it down.

The Art of The Fellowship of the Ring

Author: Gary Russell
Genre: Entertainment
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Pages: 192

This is another one of those great books made just for browsing through and enjoying at your own pace, in your own way - whether that's reading it cover to cover or not. The Art of the Fellowship of the Ring is filled with everything from pencil-drawn concept art to stunning full-detail paintings, costume ideas, CGI scenes and figures, and more. It's so cool to see the ideas that the designers and directors started with before the full glory of the movies ever existed. And there are hundreds of pictures to enjoy - enough to keep any LOTR fan busy for hours and hours on end.


The Bad Beginning

Author: Lemony Snicket
Genre: Children's General Fiction
Series: A Series of Unfortunate Events
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 162

After the recommendations from several friends, I decided to finally get around to giving this book a look. I'm glad I did. The author's sense of humor is delightful, as is the story he tells. The content is clean, and the story is straightforward without being dull. The author manages to create a creepy, scary villain without carrying it too far like so many authors who seem to forget that they're writing a book for children. And I love the way he paints the relationship of the siblings.
This is a fun story that I would feel perfectly comfortable letting my little sister read - which is high praise, coming from me - and I definitely intend to continue following the lives and events of the poor, miserable Baudelaire orphans in the rest of the series. ; )


LOTR - The Making of the Movie Trilogy

Author: Brian Sibley
Genre: Entertainment
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Pages: 191

This is another one of those fun books that you can read cover to cover if you want to, but in my opinion is better suited to browsing - read a bit here and a bit there, gaze at photos and drawings, and turn pages as the fancy strikes you.
I love this book! It contains snippets of conversations among the cast and crew, memories shared by various actors and production staff, behind-the-scenes looks at casting, set-building, costume design, and more. Plus tons and tons of pictures.
This book would make a fabulous addition to any LOTR nut's library. Great for browsing through with a group of your LOTR-nut friends, too!


Serpent of Moses

Author: Don Hoesel
Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Archaeology
Publisher: Bethany House
Pages: 313

For quite some time during my teen years, I seriously considered becoming a biblical archaeologist. So needless to say, I love a good archaeology novel.
Serpent of Moses was certainly not the best book from that genre that I have read. It sort of gave me the feeling of being dropped into the middle of a story that was already underway, but I was able to put the pieces together and follow the flow fairly easily.
And, I have to say, the setup was rather cliche and predictable - happy-go-lucky and slightly irresponsible archaeologist; exotic, gorgeous, brilliant girlfriend whose field of expertise happens to be very beneficial; old friends all over the world who just happen to have skills and positions to be of tremendous (and convenient) help; a particularly close old friend who happens to be former CIA and has a few favors he can call in; and a creepy European bad guy who's insane. None of that is particularly original and anyone who's read a few archaeology novels (or seen Indiana Jones) has seen that kind of setup before.
I wasn't sure about some of the implications of events in the story, as far as biblical accuracy is concerned (I can't really explain what I'm referring to without giving something away). The matter can really be considered open to speculation, since the Bible doesn't actually give specifics in this case, but I don't know that I would agree with the direction the author's speculations took.
All that being said, if you like archaeology novels (or Indiana Jones) and don't mind a few cliches (the genre is what it is, after all) I think you'll enjoy this book. I think I might have enjoyed it more had I been familiar already with the central cast of characters, present in other works by Hoesel, but this was my first time reading his work. And while, like I said, this wasn't the best book I've read in the genre, it has definitely aroused my interest, and I fully intent to investigate this author's work further.
I received a copy of this book free of charge in exchange for my review.


The Grasshopper Trap

Author: Patrick F. McManus
Genre: Humor, Outdoors
Publisher: Owl Books
Pages: 214

What is there to say about a McManus book besides the all-too mundane terms like 'hilarious, hysterical, and side-splitting'?
I don't know if The Grasshoper Trap would rank as my all-time favorite McManus book (it's just really, really hard to beat A Fine and Pleasant Misery) but it's very close to the top, for sure.
This book is complete with the cast of characters any reader of McManus will know and love - Retch Sweeney, Crazy Eddie Muldoon, Rancid Crabtree, The Troll, and more - and the outrageous antics thereof, from the dangerous wilds of an eight-year-old's back yard to the Brazilian jungle, and from the horrors of incarceration in the fourth grade to the domestic challenges between hunter/fishermen and their wives.
I laughed myself silly reading this book, and even managed to read several chapters of it aloud to my family (it's very hard to read aloud when you can't even breathe from laughing so hard), which had them all rolling too. No complaints - another great humor book for anyone in need of a good laugh.


The Orphan King

Author: Sigmund Brouwer
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Series: Merlin's Immortals
Pages: 220

This was my first time reading anything by Sigmund Brouwer, so I wasn't sure what to expect - one can never tell with historical fantasy, anyway.
But I have to say, while the plot was great, the execution felt very slow-paced and everything seemed to drag by so slowly. Looking back, now that I've read it, and summarizing the plot points, by rights it should have been a fast-paced, action-packed book. But, for whatever strange reason, it wasn't. I can't explain why, but it just failed to hook me and make me believe in the adventure and the mission. The main character's thoughts and emotions felt distant, leaving me feeling like an outsider and confused about his motivations and thought processes, and never really engaging me.
It also got rather confusing - two-thirds of the way through the book brand-new, major characters were still being introduced, bringing layers of the plot and the plots-behind-the-plot with them. That in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing - I've read many books in which key characters get introduced late in the story - but in this book it just didn't work, for whatever reason. I suspect it was because so much of the aforementioned plot-behind-the-plot was left vague and shadowy, and never really fully explained.
And the ending was just a bit too easy. Everything just sort of fell into place just right with a few half-hearted complications, and ta-da, we win!
Definitely not my favorite read of the summer. If the other books in the series were to fall across my path, I don't know that I would necessarily avoid them, but I don't see myself going to great efforts to seek them out.

I received a copy of this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for my review.