Monday, December 31, 2012

Books in Review: What I Enjoyed in '12

2012 was a great year for books, and not just because adults got their own summer book club. (Although that was a bonus, I agree!)

I read some great books for Fall for the Book (FFTB) this year, including (but not limited to) The Submission and Age of Miracles. I was able to meet Amy Waldman, Michael Chabon, Eleanor Brown, Karen Thompson Walker and Alice Walker.  I missed Katherine Boo, but I just finished her book Behind the Beautiful Forevers — and I encourage you to read it, too. Next on my FFTB list: Weird Sisters.

I met authors outside of the festival, including Tom Perotta, whose book The Leftovers made me appreciate how well he can create a story that can end but still carry on.

I read quite a few worthy biographies, including Let's Pretend This Never Happened and How to Be a Woman. I laughed, I cried, I celebrated their lives and foibles. What great tales!

I'm sorry I was so light on my reviews, but I'll try to be better next year — and maybe even catch up, perish the thought!

Now, back to discussing the summer book club (because summer reading is the best).

I loved summer book clubs as a child. I loved my library and sought any opportunity to go there. I remembered the thrill of joining a summer book club, the challenge of reading more than I did last year, more than anyone else the current year (or the previous year, for that matter). I remember there being prizes, but that was always a bonus, never the reason.

And I missed it.

So, rather than lament that there were no adult book clubs, I started my own summer book club. Stacy and Karen were the first to join. It was so fun, and those women put me to shame with their voluminous reading lists. I even read a book with Karen — and did something I never did before: read ahead. (Okay, I didn't exactly read ahead as much as skim ahead to make sure Lady was okay in The Great Stink. I won't spoil it for you, but the ending of that story was satisfying enough for me that I can with a clear conscience recommend the book.)

Chris' Summer Book Club will continue next year, so start planning your summer reading soon. Last year, the timeframe was the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox: did that work for you? Would you prefer to start on Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer? Let's discuss! Oh, and remember to make your reading list ample: if you don't dream, you'll never know how far you can go. I will refer to my 2012 summer reading list when trying to decide what makes the 2013 list, and I know a few more excellent books will survive the cut.

Then there were the books that made my heart sing. Did I mention The Night Circus yet? Well, that's crazy: I've spoken about it ad nauseum since I finished in the spring. For the first few days after I finished it, all I could say was, "Wow." So do yourself a favor and read it. Put down what you're reading and pick it up at your favorite bookstore or library. Actually, get two: one to keep and one to share.

I also learned a few classics aren't all they're cracked up to be, in my opinion. I'm a huge fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but he continued to disappoint me with Princess of Mars and The Land that Time Forgot. Also on the classics list were We Have Always Lived in the Castle and A Town Like Alice. With some, they weren't bad, but they weren't all up to my expectations. For example, when the heroine is a strong, resilient woman, one would think she'd shine in the book, but Neville Shute always seemed more amazed by her technology than with her spirit. Others were a slow simmer, or just written in another century (with all of the sensibilities that went along with them).

And we simply won't mention The Devil's Elixir.

I have not read (or re-read) classic books on which the most highly anticipated movies released this year — Anna Karenina, The Hobbit and Les Misèrables (and darned if I always forget how to type the accent on the latter). I can live with that. For now.

I also read enough books that scared me, not the least of which was The Woman in Black, John Dies at the End and This Book is Full of Spiders. I'm proud of myself that I didn't have nightmares (although I didn't sleep as soundly on the nights David was traveling). This buoys me for more shocking books — maybe trying again to get through The Terror. Okay, maybe I'd better not get ahead of myself... Any suggestions? The Woman in White, perhaps, or another classic? What did you read that scared you?

You know, I don't think I have a definitive list. I hope to remedy that soon, with links to my reviews.

In the end, I had a rich reading year — and next year will be equally rich.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Blast from the Past: I'm Reading a Book!


This video offers excellent lifesaving advice. Watch it and learn.

Then catch some of his other videos on YouTube.

You're welcome.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Listing Book Piles, 2012 Edition

This year, I changed a few ways I do things: a new house, new technology — why not?

But now I haven't the foggiest what I have read this year.

It's true: I used to record them in the monthly pages of my organizer, which I affectionately called "my brick." (It was that heavy.) Then I got a Kindle Fire and started using Google Calendar (which, I realize, in the end will lack the permanence and reference of my Franklin Covey pages).

This streamlining encouraged me to stop recording my books as I finished them. Now I have multiple sources, none of them easily organized and quick to provide information. Sigh. I thought I was being so clever.

Now, I shall record on this page, in no particular order, all of the books I have read this year. That I can remember. Feel free to let me know how wrong I am, for that is the only thing of which I am certain.


My 2012 Reading List (I think; subject to change when I remember another one or realize I read it last year instead)

  1. The Submission
  2. The Age of Miracles
  3. Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute
  4. The Great Stink
  5. How To Be a Woman
  6. Mockingjay
  7. Catching Fire
  8. Fifty Shades Freed
  9. Beyond Hades: The Prometheus Wars
  10. The Night Circus
  11. Fifty Shades Darker
  12. A Princess of Mars
  13. Fifty Shades of Grey
  14. We Have Always Lived in the Castle
  15. Explosive Eighteen
  16. The Hunger Games
  17. Faefever 
  18. Visitants
  19. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  20. One of Our Thursdays is Missing
  21. The Woman in Black
  22. The Devil's Elixir
  23. The Mirror
  24. A Town Like Alice
  25. The Innocents
  26. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank
  27. Lamb 
  28. The Leftovers 
  29. The Tiger's Wife
  30. The Broken Mirror
  31. Let's Pretend This Never Happened
  32. Dino Dung
  33. Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe
  34. How To Be A Woman 
  35. Behind the Beautiful Forevers 
  36. Two Against the Tide 
  37. Miracle and Other Christmas Stories (re-read)
  38. From the Borderlands: Stories of Terror and Madness (reread, much to my surprise) 
  39. The Odds: A Love Story 
  40. The Song of the Quarkbeast 
  41. John Dies at the End
  42. This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It
  43. Before I Go To Sleep 
  44. Mr. Pusskins: A Love Story
  45. Mr. Pusskins and Little Whiskers: Another Love Story 
Not a bad list. The volume is thanks to the Chris' Summer Reading Club. The variety is thanks to a reading club, Fall for the Book and very good recommendations from friends and family.

For the record, I have a few favorites:
  • If you haven't read The Night Circus yet, go do that now.
  • Fragments made me weep for such a fragile, creative artist.
  • I'm standing on a chair because of How to Be a Woman.
  • I'm still laughing from Let's Pretend This Never Happened.
  • My love for India grows with Behind the Beautiful Forevers.
  • Get weirded out with David Wong. Seriously, dude.

What did you read this year?

More importantly, how do you remember all you've read?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: What's in My Journal



What's in My Journal

Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Thing, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can't find them. Someone's terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine.


Friday, December 21, 2012

The Winter Solstice: The Longest Night Leads to Longer Days!



Fire and Ice 

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.


 
Poem courtesy poets.org
Image by Alice Mason

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: Toward the Winter Solstice




Toward the Winter Solstice

Although the roof is just a story high,
It dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the rope of Christmas lights
And cast it to the weeping birch's crown;
A dowel into which I've screwed a hook
Enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
The cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
Will accent the tree's elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
And call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
Of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
We all are conscious of the time of year;
We all enjoy its colorful displays
And keep some festival that mitigates
The dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn't suit the Yule,
But UPS vans now like magi make
Their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
Are gaily resurrected in their wake;
The desert lifts a full moon from the east
And issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
And valets at chic restaurants will soon
Be tending flocks of cars and SUV's.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
The fan palms scattered all across town stand
More calmly prominent, and this place seems
A vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
The tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
Of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
And ceintures of green, yellow , blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
It's comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing's lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born.


"Toward the Winter Solstice" from Toward the Winter Solstice. © Swallow Press, 2005. 
Courtesy of poets.org

 




Saturday, December 15, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: The Feast of Lights



The Feast of Lights
 
Kindle the taper like the steadfast star

Ablaze on evening's forehead o'er the earth,

And add each night a lustre till afar

An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.



Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,

Blow the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn;

Chant psalms of victory till the heart takes fire,

The Maccabean spirit leap new-born.



Remember how from wintry dawn till night,

Such songs were sung in Zion, when again

On the high altar flamed the sacred light,

And, purified from every Syrian stain,



The foam-white walls with golden shields were hung,

With crowns and silken spoils, and at the shrine,

Stood, midst their conqueror-tribe, five chieftains sprung

From one heroic stock, one seed divine.



Five branches grown from Mattathias' stem,

The Blessed John, the Keen-Eyed Jonathan,

Simon the fair, the Burst-of Spring, the Gem,

Eleazar, Help of-God; o'er all his clan



Judas the Lion-Prince, the Avenging Rod,

Towered in warrior-beauty, uncrowned king,

Armed with the breastplate and the sword of God,

Whose praise is: "He received the perishing."



They who had camped within the mountain-pass,

Couched on the rock, and tented neath the sky,

Who saw from Mizpah's heights the tangled grass

Choke the wide Temple-courts, the altar lie



Disfigured and polluted--who had flung

Their faces on the stones, and mourned aloud

And rent their garments, wailing with one tongue,

Crushed as a wind-swept bed of reeds is bowed,



Even they by one voice fired, one heart of flame,

Though broken reeds, had risen, and were men,

They rushed upon the spoiler and o'ercame,

Each arm for freedom had the strength of ten.



Now is their mourning into dancing turned,

Their sackcloth doffed for garments of delight,

Week-long the festive torches shall be burned,

Music and revelry wed day with night.



Still ours the dance, the feast, the glorious Psalm,

The mystic lights of emblem, and the Word.

Where is our Judas? Where our five-branched palm?

Where are the lion-warriors of the Lord?



Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,

Sound the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn,

Chant hymns of victory till the heart take fire,

The Maccabean spirit leap new-born!


by Emma Lazarus

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Countdown to 'The Hobbit' Commences!


From One Book Lover counts down to the release of the movie The Hobbit December 14 — and beyond!

Visit this blog every day from December 7-16 and celebrate J.R.R. Tolkien's story brought to life on the big screen by Peter Jackson.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: The Christmas Trees



The Christmas Trees

(A Christmas Circular Letter)

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.


by Robert Frost
Courtesy poets.org 

Friday, November 30, 2012

NaNoWriMo: Write On! Right On!

Don't stop. Keep on writing — or being creative in a way that makes you happy. Carry On. Write On. Right on!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: Noël


Noël

When snow is shaken
From the balsam trees
And they're cut down
And brought into our houses

When clustered sparks
Of many-colored fire
Appear at night
In ordinary windows

We hear and sing
The customary carols

They bring us ragged miracles
And hay and candles
And flowering weeds of poetry
That are loved all the more
Because they are so common

But there are carols
That carry phrases
Of the haunting music
Of the other world
A music wild and dangerous
As a prophet's message

Or the fresh truth of children
Who though they come to us
From our own bodies

Are altogether new
With their small limbs
And birdlike voices

They look at us
With their clear eyes
And ask the piercing questions
God alone can answer.



 by Anne Porter
from Living Things. © Zoland Books, 2006.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: The Wound-Dresser



 

The Wound-Dresser

1
An old man bending I come among new faces,
Years looking backward resuming in answer to children,
Come tell us old man, as from young men and maidens that love me,
(Arous'd and angry, I'd thought to beat the alarum, and urge relentless war,
But soon my fingers fail'd me, my face droop'd and I resign'd myself,
To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead;)
Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions, these chances,
Of unsurpass'd heroes, (was one side so brave? the other was equally brave;)
Now be witness again, paint the mightiest armies of earth,
Of those armies so rapid so wondrous what saw you to tell us?
What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics,
Of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what deepest remains?

2

O maidens and young men I love and that love me,
What you ask of my days those the strangest and sudden your talking recalls,
Soldier alert I arrive after a long march cover'd with sweat and dust,
In the nick of time I come, plunge in the fight, loudly shout in the rush of successful charge,
Enter the captur'd works—yet lo, like a swift running river they fade,
Pass and are gone they fade—I dwell not on soldiers' perils or soldiers' joys,
(Both I remember well—many of the hardships, few the joys, yet I was content.)

But in silence, in dreams' projections,
While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on,
So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the sand,
With hinged knees returning I enter the doors, (while for you up there,
Whoever you are, follow without noise and be of strong heart.)

Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,
Straight and swift to my wounded I go,
Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in,
Where their priceless blood reddens the grass, the ground,
Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof'd hospital,
To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return,
To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss,
An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail,
Soon to be fill'd with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill'd again.

I onward go, I stop,
With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,
I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,
One turns to me his appealing eyes—poor boy! I never knew you,
Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.

3

On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!)
The crush'd head I dress, (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage away,)
The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through I examine,
Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life struggles hard,
(Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death!
In mercy come quickly.)

From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,
I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood,
Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv'd neck and side falling head,
His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump,
And has not yet look'd on it.

I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep,
But a day or two more, for see the frame all wasted and sinking,
And the yellow-blue countenance see.

I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound,
Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so offensive,
While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray and pail.

I am faithful, I do not give out,
The fractur'd thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen,
These and more I dress with impassive hand, (yet deep in my breast a fire, a burning flame.)

4

Thus in silence in dreams' projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals,
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young,
Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad,
(Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have cross'd and rested,
Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)

by Walt Whitman
Courtesy poets.org

Friday, November 9, 2012

NaNoWriMo: Lost in the Woods

Fellow adventurers, I share with you a fantastic entry on Brain Pickings that hopefully will serve as inspiration as you venture into unfamiliar lands during NaNoWriMo.



Click here to read the list kindly typed out by Maria Popova.

Once you are done here, go to the Brain Pickings website. Support that incredible effort and all it brings you. You'll be glad you did.

And find out more about NaNoWriMo — it's a fun challenge you'll be glad you did. Well, when it's over, you'll be glad. Like training for a marathon: it's often less painful in your rear-view mirror.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: Getting out of Bed



A Haiku About Getting Out of Bed



No no no no no
No no no no no no no
No no no no no

Photo by Dorit Salutskij via Pinterest

Friday, November 2, 2012

When Bookworms Rule the World— Soon...

But take your book with you, if you must, on Election Day (U.S.: November 6). Power to the readers!

Graphic courtesy Writers Relief

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: Spiders and E.B. White


This isn't really a scary poem, but spiders have a rep to uphold. Therefore, I will glorify spiders and E.B. White today on this, the sixtieth year since Charlotte's Web was published (listen to the NPR radio story about it). Happy Halloween.


The Spider’s Web (A Natural History)

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.


And all that journey down through space,

In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.


Thus I, gone forth as spiders do

In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.
by E.B. White
with thanks to Gregory Maguire, for reminding me about this gem

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Get Ready: All Hallow's Read is Right Around the Corner!

Neil Gaiman had a great idea: give a scary book for Halloween. Here, let me let him tell you himself:


I fully support All Hallow's Read, but I'm a little different: I give poems with the candy.  This year, Halloween falls on Poetry Wednesday, so you can get your poetry fix right here.

Feel free to print out the poem I post October 31 and give it to the trick-or-treaters who come to your door. (If you need the title early so you can better prepare, let me know.)

Other poems I've shared in years past include "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe and "The Little Ghost" by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

So, what are you reading this All Hallow's Read?

If you're looking for a novel, I suggest John Dies at the End by David Wong. I just finished it and if I could explain it, I would get a medal. It was wild, freaky and very, very good.

I also will be reading Shadow of Night (and re-reading A Discovery of Witches, which is totally worthy of a re-read). Or maybe working on the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning (thanks for the recommendation, Karen!).

What would you recommend? Do you have different recommendations for different people? Let us know!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: When October Goes


Late in his life, Johnny Mercer grew close to Barry Manilow — and asked his widow to give Manilow his unfinished lyrics. Manilow set at least one to music. The result is one of my favorite songs, When October Goes. A number of people have recorded the song, but Manilow's version seems the most haunted.





When October Goes

And when October goes 
The snow begins to fly  
Above the smokey roofs  
I watch the planes go by
The children running home  

Beneath a twilight sky  
Oh, for the fun of them 
When I was one of them
 

And when October goes  
The same old dream appears  
And you are in my arms  
To share the happy years
I turn my head away  

To hide the helpless tears 
Oh, how I hate  
To see October go
 

And when October goes  
The same old dream appears  
And you are in my arms  
To share the happy years
I turn my head away  

To hide the helpless tears  
Oh, how I hate  
To see October go
 
I should be over it now 

I know 
It doesn't matter much  
How old I grow
I hate to see October go...

Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
Music by Barry Manilow

Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: Hunger Games Trilogy

Note: this is a review of a trilogy — and, as a result, contains spoilers. If you haven't read all three books, proceed with caution.

Dystopian literature can be tough to read, and Suzanne Collins doesn't sugar-coat the life of a hungry, angry teen in her very successful Hunger Games trilogy. I wasn't able to get past the first chapter the first time I tried to read it, but I was able to get through the entire trilogy after seeing the first movie. I emerged at the end, exhausted, wrung out — but glad I read it.

Life is tough enough for teens without showing them a terrible, depressing world. And Panem is about as bad as it can get for people of any age: after an uprising that nearly destroyed the central government, rulers did the best they could to divide and conquer. After obliterating those in the area of the country that led the uprising, the rest of the country was divided into districts.

To keep the districts at odds, the government created a competition, "The Hunger Games,"  in which two children from each district would fight to the death until only one remains. The district of the winner receives extra food for a year.

Katniss Everdeen is an unlikely hero: she second-guesses herself to death. She doesn't appreciate her skills, she doesn't politic and she isn't ruthless. And yet, when her little sister is chosen to be the "tribute" for District 12, Katniss doesn't think twice before she volunteers to take her place. The second tribute is Peeta Mellark, a boy from her town whose family owns the bakery.

Those who surround the tributes are nearly as interesting as the "main" characters. Tributes have mentors, who are winners from previous years. District 12's tribute is Haymitch, a drunk who doesn't bother to sober up when he meets his charges. (Would you, if you knew they were destined to die, as has every tribute for the district since his unexpected victory?) Cinna is Katniss' stylist whose friendship changes an unlikeable girl into "The Girl on Fire" who charms a nation. Katniss' best friend — or is he a love interest? — Gail complicates her feelings as she and Peeta are thrown together as "star-crossed lovers" sent to kill each other in the arena. President Snow is ruthless yet fair, manipulative yet honest, villainous yet sympathetic. (For the record, the actors who play these roles are perfect, as if the parts were written for them.)

The arena is another character. The venue changes each year: desert one year, jungle another, forest in part of the arena while the rest is a prairie. The Capitol creates the environment and its hazards. A gamekeeper manipulates the players with amazing elements created as the game plays out.

Each book has its own arena. Katniss' district after her performance in the Games is an arena as well because, like in the games, no one is safe. Katniss' ability to manipulate the public with her incendiary ideas that the Capitol doesn't really control her turns her into an enemy. Peeta, Gail — even Prim — are in danger because of their proximity to The Girl on Fire. The best way to neutralize the problem is to create a situation in which the state can safely assassinate her: the Quarter Quell that involves all surviving tributes. The rules of this Quarter Quell are a broken promise from the Capitol: tributes live protected by the state (except for their obligations to mentor tributes from their districts for the rest of their lives) and never find themselves back into the arena. But then again, the Capitol already broke its promise of a single victor...

Frankly, I find Katniss a bit of a pain. She doesn't learn from her experiences and doesn't trust the people she's supposed to, those who have proven to be trustworthy. She's not terribly sympathetic for much of the series, often destroying any slack the reader has extended her because of her bonehead decisions. I suppose this is one way to compel the story forward, but still, it's exhausting to keep making the leap of faith that Katniss is worth liking through yet another mistake because she didn't trust Haymitch or tries to protect someone on her own.

I agree with the consensus: the third book is the weakest (and that's the one that gets two movies, heaven help us). The Hunger Games as a first book is compelling and sets up the games very well. Readers get the rhythm of Panem (whose name is a reference to Rome's "bread and circus").

Normally, I find the second book of a trilogy a bridge. However, Mockingjay is an exception — and the book I liked the best. It's riveting, bringing us up close and personal to the districts and the insidious President (and all he has wrought). Katniss and Peeta take their victory lap and step back into the mouth of danger while Katniss is trying to sort through her complicated feelings for Peeta while maintaining her "love" for Gail. All of this while she has to try to stay alive in an ever-changing arena outside the gamekeeper-controlled game arena.

I knew there was something going on with the Gamekeeper, but Katniss was too self-involved to clue in. (Peeta would have gotten in, and he's much more likeable, to boot.) I can't wait to see him come to life in the second movie.

There are many more important characters, so consider a cheat-sheet to keep them straight. Don't make Katniss' mistake of under-estimating these characters; instead, enjoy them for who they are and let Katniss flounder by herself in her own obtuseness. And yes, feel free cry your eyes out, even sob aloud, when the inevitable (and unspeakable) occurs to those you love most.

Catching Fire finishes the job. Halfway through, I was almost too exhausted to go on. The revolution is being orchestrated by the gamekeeper and the general, and Katniss is trying to not get caught in the machine. She finally has the good sense to start listening to Haymitch. And Gale? He is himself, which explains why her feelings are so complicated. I needed Peeta as much as Katniss did, and I missed him as much as she did. Thank heavens for Buttercup, is all I can say, so Katniss and I both were allowed to cry (very, very hard).

The finale? Confusing. I had to re-read the culmination a few times, and I still think I missed something. Plus, I was exhausted: so much happened in the last book, I wondered exactly what happened to her editor (fired or sent on holiday so Collins could become as drawn-out and disastrously unfettered as Stephen King at his worst). I could have absorbed District 13's problems in half the time. However, I adored the final encounters between Katniss and President Snow, the latter of whom proved to be even more complicated and attractive than I expected.

Having said that, the series was compelling. The story was original and interesting, the characters were amazing and memorable and the setting was unique. Take the plunge and read the trilogy: it's worth the time and effort.