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Review: How To Bake A Chocolate Soufflé

how-to-bake-a-chocolate-souffle-blue-coverTitle:  How To Bake A Chocolate Soufflé

Author: Carly Ellen Kramer

Publisher:  CEK, 2014

I like to think of myself as something of foodie and a home chef. I have interests in food history, learning about the art of cooking, and advocating for fair distribution of food throughout the world and healthy food choices. I enjoy reading various food blogs and I especially enjoy the blog Crowded Earth Kitchen, as the author’s viewpoints closely mirror my own. I was pleased to hear that the author of CEK was to release her own novel, How To Bake A Chocolate Soufflé. Food and books, my two favorite things – what could be better than a food novel? I posted about my excitement here on Cross Country Reading, and I was thrilled to receive a copy of the book in return.

I will be honest, though. As much as I love food, foodie fiction is a new genre to me.  Usually I stick to cookbooks and chef biographies. The one I read, by author Dana Bate was good, but perhaps a bit too reminiscent of a rom-com for my taste. How to Bake a Chocolate Soufflé, however, takes on a much more sophisticated tone. It is really hard not to love. The plot is told through the view of three women, all very different, but who share a past with one another. Between the scenes of love, heartbreak, howling laughter, and lust, Kramer intersperses various recipes — all connected to the book’s plot They appear after the end of a chapter, and do not at all distract from the story or the well rounded characters. The characters are relatable in every way, even the secondary characters are full and written fantastically. I spent most of my time reading How to Bake a Chocolate Soufflé next to the fire with a glass of wine; it is a feel-good-page-turner full of fun characters, flirty interactions, and heartwarming moments. I would recommend this book for the laughs and warm tones alone.

Striving to be more than just another feel-good book, Kramer intricately weaves the storyline with relevant commentary on womanhood, the struggle for equality, and the balance between  one’s life and one’s lifework. I find it to be an enjoyable read, and also a poignant look at various challenges what women face in the 21st century. I recommend How to Bake a Chocolate Soufflé to fiction lovers aged 16 and up.

Next up: I am back in my food book comfort zone with Who Put The Beef In Wellington?

Posted by: Janine Reads


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Review: A Girl’s Guide To Love And Supper Clubs

Title:  A Girl’s Guide to Love and Supper Clubs Girl's Guide

Author:  Dana Bate

Publisher:  Hyperion, 2013

I won this book months ago from out friends at Crowded Earth Kitchen. Initially, I was thrilled (Yay! Free book!) I happily opened the package when it arrived and set the 394 bound pages proudly on my bookshelf. And there it sat. And sat. And sat some more. I range from a foodie on a bad day to a cookbook obsessed food blog addict on a good day so there isn’t a reason in the world why I shouldn’t be diving into a work of foodie fiction. Why wasn’t I jumping at the chance to devour this book, signed with a personal note to me? from Dana Bate? Well, I have this distaste for “chick-lit”. Take a good look at the cover of A Girl’s Guide to Love and Supper Clubs. Go ahead, drink it all in: a frosted cupcake with a heart shaped cookie on top, the swirly writing of the title, the pink. Romantic Comedies have a place I am sure, though not many find themselves nestled in my bookcase. This book was simply not my style and I had plenty of other books on my list.

Fast forward to last month, when Crowded Earth Kitchen announced the release of a new book by author Carly Ellen Kramer, How To Bake A Chocolate Soufflé. I was pleased to see CEK publish a novel, and naturally I spewed my excitement all over the internet. Then I remembered, I had won a book from Crowded Earth Kitchen several months ago and never read it. Huh. Better get that done before I add another book from Crowded Earth to the pile. So, I dusted it off and dove it. And that is how I came to read, Girl’s Guide.

The verdict? Well, now I know where the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” came from. I was on page 7 when I got hooked,

I  grab for my wineglass and take a long sip and then, against my better judgment I add “But who knows. Maybe I’ll do something wild someday like start my own catering company.

Sandy blanches. An obvious disappointment.

“Catering?” Martin chuckles, swirling his wine glass by its base. “Surely you can aim a little higher than that.”

“What?!” I exclaimed aloud to my tea mug. Do people really think that way? Cooking for yourself and the people you love is simply the most important thing you do everyday. Food is a source of nutrition, of warmth, of love. It is the human races’ lifeblood. Way to squash a gal’s dream, Sandy and Martin.

I made my way through about half of the book that evening, sipping tea and chortling all the while. That night, my subconscious latched onto the amusing cast of characters and ran with it. I dreamt about Girl’s Guide. If that isn’t an indication of a work of fiction worth a read, I don’t know what is. Overall, Girl’s Guide is a fabulously funny look into what many twenty something young women struggle with – stumbling through the beginnings of a career, finding independence, and struggling with relationship possibilities. The main character, Hannah’s sass, her hilarious mishaps (who hasn’t said something inappropriate at the top of their lungs just as the music stops?), and her passion for food appealed to me on a personal level.  I recommend A Girl’s Guide to Love and Supper Clubs to all of my foodie friends and romantic comedy readers aged fourteen and up.

Dana Bate has wet my appetite for foodie fiction. Next week on CrossCountryReading, How To Bake A Chocolate Soufflé by Carly Ellen Kramer.

Posted By: Janine Reads 


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Review: A Land More Kind Than Home

CashTitle:  A Land More Kind Than Home

Author:  Wiley Cash

Publisher:  William Morrow, HarperCollins, 2012

I took a deep breath while sitting in my apartment living room on the north end of Seattle. I could feel the thick humid air, smell the tobacco fields, and hear the cicadas singing in the summer heat. Never mind that it is autumn and I live in a breezy, sea-salty corner of the Pacific Northwest. Wiley Cash has transported me to the rural south, in his first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home.

With each chapter the readers hears from one of three voices – all characters who reside in a small town in North Carolina, each with their own version of the slow, soft southern drawl. Cash is a native of Western North Carolina, which strongly resonates in his work. The story Cash has woven  with these full southern characters is dark, and slightly haunting. Centered around faith in god and the possibility of miracles, this book aptly explores love, faith, and redemption in a way no other story which I have read has before. I recommend this beautifully written novel to all readers aged 13 and up.

Posted By JanineReads

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Review & Summary: The Terrorist

Title:  The Terroristindex

Author:  Caroline B Cooney

Publisher:  Open Road Young Readers, reprint 2012

Genre:  Young Adult Fiction


The writer / blogger in me knows a simple truth–typos happen. Anyone who has a smart phone these days knows what “autocorrect” is, and they also know how un-helpful it can be at times. I think that we can all forgive the occasional typo, even in a published novel. I for one, pride myself when I find typos, giving myself a little pat on the back for having such an “editor eye”. All of that being said, there is a line that can be crossed where even I am left so annoyed that I cannot finish the book. The 2012 Open Road reprint of The Terrorist by Caroline B Cooney has crossed that line. There were so many typographical errors and misused words that I stopped counting, and reading. It was several weeks before I could finally pick the book back up and finish it.

I wish that I could say that the poor editing was the only problem with the book and that The Terrorist would be a poignant work of fiction worth placing on any young adults bookshelf– but that is simply not the case. The story begins with the death of a boisterous young American boy in England, an act of terrorism which leaves the book’s characters in a state of fear and panic. The boy’s sister, Laura, takes it upon herself to find the course of the act-and to find revenge as well. My problem with this part of the story is that it is a completely realistic reaction for a teenager. If this teenager were smart and savvy she may be able to find some answers. Laura, however, is neither of those things. She is a stereotypically ignorant and self-important American teenager. She’s a two-dimensional character who acts in accordance to a very bad stereotype, yet has smart and loving international friends who forgive her faults, including her blatant racism.

While Laura is busy interrogating her devoted friends about bombs and religion, she finds herself in the midst of a crisis for her schoolmate, Jehran. Jehran’s family is forcing her into an arranged marriage, and her only means of escape is to use Laura’s deceased brother’s passport to escape to America. Luckily, Jehran, a petit middle eastern beauty, looks just like Laura’s loud and boisterous younger brother. A well placed base-ball cap is all she needed. Far fetched, but okay.

Laura and Jehran head to the airport with two tickets they purchased in cash (also far-fetched, but okay). While they are there her friends follow with a teacher in tow to stop them. The airport scene is the most exciting part of the entire book, though I do not think the preceding 100+ pages are worth it. Cooney made a valiant attempt at writing a book that could be a powerful look at the world of international terrorism and how it affects teenagers everywhere. Unfortunately, she fell flat. My advice to Miss Cooney? Find a new editor.

Posted by: Janine Reads

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Review and Summary: The Last Book in the Universe

lastbookbieimage1Title:  The Last Book in the Universe

Author:  Rodman Philbrick

Publisher:  The Blue Sky Press, 2000

Genre:  Teen Fiction


This story, I have to admit, was not what I thought it was going to be like. I can’t decide if it was better or worse than my immediate expectations. Either way, it was good, and it was definitely a book that I was excited about finishing. In a creepy, depressing land called the Urb, a teenage kid called Spaz lives with the Bully Bangers, the gang that controls Spaz’s home area of the Urb. The “Spaz” part of his name (we never learn his real name) comes from the fact that he can’t probe. Mind probe, that is. You see, our divulged main character lives during a post-apocalypse time after something called the big shake. It was a terrible earthquake, destroying nearly everything in sight. Fortunately, some humans survived and started a new civilization. Unfortunately, that civilization was terrible, and the land was conquered by anarchy and brute force, instead of strategy and decent government. Gangs rule the land, except for in Eden, an area which is only inhabited by genetically perfected humans called proovs. Mind probes are needles developed by years of introspection and science so harmful to your mind it’s almost like sunbathing in ultraviolet light. They create an experience that’s supposed to make you feel like you’re actually in the movie you’re watching. It’s like a TV you stick in your brain. Spaz, however, cannot use mind probes because he has something backtimers call “epilepsy.” If he uses a mind probe, he has a wicked seizure, and lights out – that’s all folks.

He meets an old dude named Ryter and they soon go on an adventure to rescue Spaz’s adoptive little sister, Bean, who is in another section of the Urb and dying. They meet a proov along the way named Lanaya who unexpectedly helps them in lots of random ways. Although Lanaya at first thinks that Spaz is about as attractive as a gargoyle because she is genetically “improved” (the cat’s pajamas is a metaphor that comes to mind) she soon becomes his friend and helps him rescue Bean. Bean, however, is terribly sick and in danger of dying, so Lanaya agrees to take her to Eden where the rest of the “normals” learn that she’s not just any proov – she’s literally a princess destined to become the heir of a position more luxurious than a deluxe yacht. Although Bean is eventually healed, they soon face the fact that Eden has a boycott on normal residents and have to leave. There is a surprising, yet wholly deserved ending that lets you know, as strange as it sounds, that Spaz is the last book in the universe.

The style of this book, I have to say, was not terribly unique. It was, however, similar to The Hunger Games – creepy, yet inspiring. The name didn’t really seem to fit in the beginning, but in the end it’s completely obvious. This is one of those stories where the main character tells the story. A few other incredibly successful books this are Junie B. Jones (although the genre is not similar) and The Hunger Games. I would recommend this book to kids ages 12 and up.


Posted by: Fred Reads

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Review: Inkheart

Thanks to my father’s youngest sister – my aunt – for getting this book for me after a children’s play when I was six years old, even though I was too young to read it. -Fred Reads


Title:  InkheartimagesCAH71OJ5 

Author:  Cornelia Funke 

Publisher:  Scholastic 

Series:  The Inkheart Trilogy 

Genre:  Children’s Fantasy/Teen’s Fantasy


Yes, my aunt did indeed buy me this book after a children’s play when I was six years old. In fact, I distinctly remember asking her for it, how it was on an attractive spinning book-case along with its sidekick, Inkheart, the second book in the trilogy. I don’t know what she was thinking, but she bought me the book. It had been sitting on my shelf ever since. Five years and three months later, I saw a thick, yet attractive paperback book sitting in one of my shelves.  Now, I had finished a book earlier and wanted to start another one, so I picked it up, saw the cover and suddenly a formidable, mind-blowing monsoon of memories started pouring down on the rainforest of my mind. It was the first time since I started the Harry Potter series in 5-K that I felt I was destined to read a fantasy book.

So here I am now, finished with the book, writing a review of it. Over all, this is an incredibly unique style of writing. It’s not a “happily ever after” book, but it’s not a “and so they all died” book either. This is a slightly dark fantasy book. I mean dark in a sort of thrilling way – not a mutant zombie apocalypse kind of way. It’s more like “Oh no! Will Capricorn succeed in forcing Meggie to raise The Shadow? Will the evil Basta put an end to mysterious Dustfinger? Will Fred Reads finally stop being dramatic?!” The magic in this book is very subtle. It’s a solid, sturdy plot, yet with whimsy and awe. Many teens today will read fantasy. It’s just a matter of balancing the plot so it’s not all boring, but it’s not filled with fluffy purple pandas and magical roads to candy land. This is a perfect, perfect balance in a story. This is a spot on, hit the nail on the head, home run, supah ninja awesome plot. There are un-stereotypical villains, un-average heroes, intelligent heroines (a detail in books that is struggling to keep its head above water), boisterous jokesters, mysterious double agents, wise creators, parasitic destroyers, and even horned martins (which are neither rodents nor marsupials) named Gwin. Even the dialogue and way the way the characters say it just makes you want to keep flipping the pages. The only thing that caused an interference with the awesomeness of this book was the ending. I mean, it was acceptable, but for a book as great as this, it’s got to be really, really good. Luckily the sneak peek at the end of the book saved that.

Overall I thought – no, I know – this is one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read. This one book has surpassed pretty much everything except the combined power of the epic Harry Potter series. It will definitely be a book that I read again (that’s just how I roll) in the future. I would recommend this book to an audience of ages 12 and up.


Posted by: Fred Reads

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Review: A Wrinkle in Time

Title:  A Wrinkle in TimeA Wrinkle in Time

Author:  Madeline L’Engle

Publishers:  Dell Books; Farrar, Straus & Giroux 

Awards:  John Newberry Medal;  Sequoyah Book Award; Lewis Carroll Shelf Award

Series:  The Time Quartet

Genres:  Classic; Fantasy; Sci-Fi


This is a most unusual book. I feel embarrassed, yet compelled to say that I really didn’t know anything about this book until I started reading it. Of course, I had heard of it, but I didn’t know anything about the plot, the characters, or even the genres. I also didn’t know that this is in fact the first book of a quartet. After reading this, I will definitely read the other books.

The style of the book is nothing unusual at first glance, but after getting a few chapters into the book I marveled at how L’Engle managed to keep me on track with this most complicated plot. I still don’t know how she did it, but I’m still suspicious. The author manages to write a serious good with quite a grave and even slightly disturbing plot (a sure sign of a classic to a kid), yet she manages to pack whimsy and awe in this short book. Oh, by the way, this is probably the shortest classic book I’ve ever read, only about 200 pages in an older standard novel size. Then again, it’s part of a series – you don’t have to have a long book. My favorite part was how the author explained what a tesseract (a wrinkle in time) is. I wish the author would have focused more on describing the characters. Although it was not necessary for the plot, it would be more enjoyable picturing the characters and what they’re doing if you knew what they actually looked like. The name itself is weird, because the adventure has lots to do with special kinds of wrinkles, but little of the wrinkles are time wrinkles. But I guess it depends on your perspective. The wrinkles aren’t wrinkles in time, but they do save lots of time.

Our three main characters are Meg, Charles, and Calvin. I can’t really describe their looks or age, because L’Engle doesn’t really say a lot of that stuff. I do know though that Meg is a stubborn, unattractive girl who gets into fights and is slowly turning into a delinquent. Those last two are mainly because of her father, who supposedly left on a government mission and hasn’t returned so far. Charles is an unusual young child and Megs younger brother, who has an uncanny way of, well, knowing things. He knows when his family is upset and comforts them easily. Calvin is not related to the Murrys (Murry is Meg and Charles’s last name), but he plays an extremely important part in the story. They have three mysterious friends who help them travel through the universe and defeat the forces of evil. The trio of friends go on a mission to rescue their father, but near the end it turns out much larger than they think.

I really enjoyed reading this interesting book. The plot was complicated, yet strangely easy to understand. Although I said earlier that there were grave and slightly disturbing problems in the book, they are not severe, and I would recommend this book to anyone ages 10 and up.

Posted by: Fred Reads

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Review and Summary: The Homework Machine

The Homework MachineTitle:  The Homework Machine

Author:  Dan Gutman

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster

Genre:  Children’s Fiction


 Short, fun, interestingly organized, and about something that you aren’t supposed to do. A good book after reading all these novels about serious issues and murderous plots. The Homework Machine is about four kids – a geek, a class clown, a know-it-all teacher’s pet, and a slacker. A most peculiar combination of fifth-graders. In fact, if you mixed together their equivalents in food, you would probably get something resembling the insides of a septic tank. Brenton is an interesting kid – he dresses unlike other people, he parts his hair weird, and he’s light-years ahead of everybody in intelligence. You might be guessing he’s either the geek or the teacher’s pet. He’s the geek. Judy is a stuck-up snob in the beginning, and she has her ring of friends, but is despised among others. She is adored among teachers, but later on in the book her personality begins to change. Sam, or as other people call him, Snik, is in an awkward position as the new kid in school. The class clown, luckily, can define a potential friend from an enemy. Kelsey is just an average kid who gets grades just high enough to get her through the year, and desperately wants to be out of school.

One day, Brenton tells Snik that he has a homework machine, and, of course, Snik doesn’t believe him. So he comes over with Judy and Kelsey, who hear about the conversation, and like in any other good children’s book, Brenton’s computer with software he designed himself does their homework. They have the fallacy that if their homework is done for them, life will become easier. They’re wrong, but they don’t know that. So they bring their homework over so often it’s outrageous, and the foursome deigns each other their friendship. Eventually, after many rumors leak out, they are caught by the police and have to explain everything. Of course, they try to get out of trouble, but they fail miserably. Don’t worry, they don’t get put in quarantine or anything – it turns out kind of good, actually.

When I started reading, this book had me confused at the beginning. It was on my book list for school, and not because I wanted to read it (I had never heard of it), but because my teacher found good reviews on it and thought that it could be used for a review (which I’m writing right now). Turns out, it’s not what you would excpect from a school book. It’s about four kids and a machine that helps them cheat at homework. Probably not a teacher’s first choice of a book. I wasn’t at all bamboozled into thinking that this was a classic book – I mean, any book about a machine that does homework probably isn’t some dude with a PhD’s idea. You may think at first that this book has no place in any school setting whatsoever – that it would encourage kids to cheat on their boring after-school assignments. However, after reading this book, I found that it sort of got me that no matter how hard you try to conceal your “accidental glancing” at someone else’s paper, you will (almost) always get caught. Even if that accidental peeking isn’t at all peeking, but using some geek’s super computer to do homework in your handwriting at the touch of a button. Hey, anything’s possible.

The setup of this book is quite interesting. It’s like a review, except they follow the same story in the same order with no questions asked. Do you remember my review of The Red Pyramid? Well, it sort of like that, except with WAY more people. All the kids’ moms are in it, an enemy at school appears a few times, and even a police officer talks at the beginning and end. There are back stories and random explanations, which keep the story interesting. Friendships develop and diminish, and there’s always a mysterious flair to the words.

After reading this book I am almost voracious for more Dan Gutman. He delivers bits of everything, and gives his books plenty of humor and good-natured sarcasm. This was a short book, with easy vocab and plot, so I would recommend this book to kids ages 8 to 12.


Posted by: Fred Reads


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Summary and Character Sketch: Mockingjay

Title:  MockingjayThe-Hunger-Games-Mockingjay-Book-Cover

Author: Suzanne Collins

Trilogy:  The Hunger Games

Publisher:  Scholastic Press

Genre:  Young Adult Fiction/Romance/Action

District 13; a supposed wasteland, bombed to dust in the war that is the reason of the Hunger Games. It’s not even supposed to exist anymore – just smoldering ruins and nothingness. The crowning display of the Capitol’s terrible power. It’s also the headquarters of the largest rebellion in the history of man kind.

In the Dark Days – a time of terrible nuclear war, there was a rebellion. There was also District 13. Its job was to make weapons – bombs, guns, and terrible modern death traps used by the capital. When District 13 rebelled, it was easily overpowered by the Capitol of Panem. The land was bombed to oblivion and that was the end of the war. But the Capitol was not satisfied. They created the Hunger Games – a terrible way of keeping the districts in line.

Now, a cruel seventy-six years later, the people of District 13 live on. They moved underground when the land was bombed and though the goings have been tough, they have pushed through to aspire another rebellion. Well, not really aspire. More like confirm. One year ago, a certain sixteen year-old named Katniss Everdeen ended the seventy-fifth Hunger Games, starting whispers of rebellion. Then when she blew up the force field surrounding the arena of the seventy-sixth Hunger Games, there were more than whispers. Now, there is an all-out war between certain districts and the Capitol. And that certain, now seventeen year-old girl, is the face of it. She is the mockingjay, the symbol of rebellion and the spark, no, flame of hope that gives the rebels a steady stream of allies and drive. The president of district 13 – Ms. Coin, is the person that keeps Katniss in line and basically bosses everyone around. The less-than-perfect conditions are not toxic, but enough to get some people from the inner districts complaining. Yes, the place is clean, but the rooms show little decorum. Surprisingly, the people are allowed to be omnivores, instead of just eating two foods.

Anyways, Katniss is caught in a mental snare. For once, she is not force to display hypocrisy, but she is still caught in the situation of choosing between Peeta and Gale. Ironically, Peeta was captured by the capitol, which should make the decision easier, but the truth is – she loves them both. Though luckily, Peeta and several other friends are rescued from the evil and sinister clutches of the Capitol. But then Katniss figures out that Peeta really isn’t there. The Capitol had done something to Peeta called “hijacking,” manipulating Peeta and his memories into thinking that Katniss is trying to kill her. Throughout the book Katniss must fight a battle against the new Peeta, to bring back the old one. Soon Katniss is trained to be a soldier and a voice for the rebellion at the same time, and when she goes into battle, everything changes. She’s a pretty good soldier, walking through danger as if it is a hologram, pulverizing every danger in her path, and, with help from her team and some excellent, yet dangerous deduction, they push through. Unfortunately, though, the team makes many sacrifices. President Snow, the leader of the capitol, is by Katniss like her silhouette. The ending does not come without deaths, betrayals, and decisions of life over love, and love over life.

Katniss herself goes over a huge transformation in this book and the trilogy. She starts off as a starving, poor, seemingly hopeless girl from the seam of District 12. Yes, she is strong, independent, but not even close to the scale of what she will be by the end. Throughout the two Hunger Games, she learns what life and love are truly worth, and the despicable acts that some people can do without hesitation or even blinking an eye. She knew some of this when she was younger, but now that she’s part of what her family is forced to watch, she knows it like the feel of her bow (pun intended). In the second book she must learn to trust others that may not be immediately trustworthy, and expect, quite literally, a stab in the back at any time. And in the third book she nearly breaks down with all the burdens she is given, but like in the other circumstances, she adapts quickly. By the end of the series she is not just a girl, but a physically and mentally strong woman, who can take on any burden without giving up. She can be cold and calculating at times, and warm and welcoming at others. In the span of a year she has become more strong and experienced than most people are in their entire lifetime. She has done the impossible by not only surviving, but helping others survive as well. She has the ability to kill, but she is not heartless either. In fact, I don’t even think that she would want to kill another soul after what she had been through, but that is not specified in the book – it doesn’t have to be.

Ah, the final book of the second most awesome series I have ever read, and most certainly ever will. Suzanne Collins hit the nail on the head, giving the perfect trilogy. I think that this is the best teen fiction material ever written. When I wake up in the morning, I reach for the book on my nightstand, and when I bring it back, the book’s not a Hunger Games book. Then I realize “It’s over. You finished the entire trilogy, and it’s over.” But all good things must come to an end. I cannot think of a way to give my thanks to Suzanne Collins for writing such a series of books with not just a respectable plot, but with raw power all over. The series comes to an end that I think is perfectly suited for it, one that I will never forget. This was more violent than the other two books, with more blood, death, and despair. But, in all honesty, I would still recommend this book to anyone ages fourteen and up. I leave you in the word that has kept me reading this series right to the very last letter, one that is simple, clean, and, in a way, powerful.


Posted by Fred Reads

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Review and Summary: Catching Fire

catching-fireTitle:  Catching Fire

Trilogy:  The Hunger Games

Author:  Suzanne Collins

Publisher:  Scholastic Press

Genre:  Young Adult Fiction/Romance/Action

Ah, here I am again, basking in the awesomeness of this book, and still trying to get myself calm from the aftershock of the ending of this book two days later. I find it hard to describe another book with this magnitude of sheer perfection. I guess the burrito thing is already used, so I’ll have to describe it in a different way… Ah-Ha! Yes, a root beer float. Think of this book as one of these heavenly concoctions, except in terms of literature. And this root beer float has not just root beer, but every kind of soda imaginable, mixing in a way that packs a punch, but not a Jackie Chan break-every-bone-in-your-body punch. This book has a lot more romance in it than the first book. But not in a way that seems fake. In a way that really makes you feel the character’s anger, fear, despair, confusion, and maybe their loneliness. In fact, I actually got teary, angry, confused and lonely myself in certain points of the book. It just shows you what a skilled author can do. I think there was about three or four moments in the book where I felt like I was going to weep, yell, punch a hole in the wall, or do some other crazy thing that you would never expect while reading any book, especially a fiction one, where you know it’s all made up. This book was so… honest. It was so outrageously believable I had to remind myself every once in a while that this is fiction – that it didn’t really happen. It’s not that it’s not totally futuristic; it’s just the way Collins tells it.

I realize that before I actually summarize this book, I’m going to have to make several things, mainly romance situations, a lot more clear than I did last time. I didn’t really think that it was very important. And it wasn’t in that book. But now it is. And if you want to read all my reviews before you read the series itself (which is fine), you need to really understand this stuff.

When Katniss was left to fend for the rest of her family after her father died in a mine accident (district 12 is the mining district), she leaned towards the woods, the only place where she really felt comfortable. Of course, it was forbidden to go in there, since there was a fence and everything around the district, but that didn’t stop her – she hunted, gathered berries, picked edible plants, and made some money selling things at a full-time black market, dubbed the Hob. One day, she came across some traps, and was scared out of her wits when a sixteen year old boy showed up and accused her of stealing from his traps. He asked her name, and Katniss said it so quietly the boy thought she said “Catnip.” She later found out that the boy’s name was Gale, and though they saw each other often in the woods, they were never really affiliated with each other. Little did they both know that soon they would rely on each other heavily as hunting partners. They became not only friends, but unbelievably important to each other, and not just for work. They were not lovers, though. Yet.

Gale was, truthfully, not incredibly important in the first book, save for some of his skills that rubbed on Katniss and helped her during the games. No, the second main character was highly understated in my last review, which was a mistake. Peeta, the mild-mannered, strong, flirty, and overall hot sixteen year-old is chosen along with Katniss to fight in the Hunger Games (don’t worry, I’m getting to the story of the second book, not the first). The story behind their awkward connection starts with bread. Peeta is the baker’s son, and very skilled at decorating and, well, baking. One night, Katniss was out of the house, her family was starving, and they were going to die if they didn’t get food immediately. So on her walk, on a rainy night, she walks past the baker’s house. A boy stands there, with blond hair, blond eyelashes, and a substantial chest and shoulders. He goes back inside under the command of his mother. His mother is a crazy, deranged woman. She goes so far as to beat him, and yells at him to feed the hogs. So he emerges in the rain again, carrying a burnt loaf of bread, that he supposedly burned himself. He takes a few little bits of crust off the bread until the woman stops giving him the evil eye, then hurriedly tosses the bread to Katniss and disappears inside. Katniss is surprised, grateful, and a little bit confused. Why did Peeta Mellark, a boy she barely knew, risk a beating to give her bread? It is soon revealed before the first games when he declares himself to be in love with her.

In this next epic, astonishing, mind-blowing account, Peeta and Katniss are living in luxury. They have enormous houses – the houses of the Hunger Games victors. They have to go on a victory tour throughout the other districts, possibly the cruelest part. The tour is despicable because all the other districts have to treat it like it’s a celebration. Remember – these are the districts whose tributes they killed. So imagine Katniss’s sheer panic as President Snow himself comes to her house and says that the way she ended the last hunger games is causing talk of an uprising – a rebellion against the capital. Katniss is both surprised and happy. Until, of course President Snow says that if she does not halt the uprisings, he will have Gale killed. She then later on learns that she has to go with Peeta again – to another Hunger Games.

When they get to the capital, Katniss knows she will not be going up against inexperienced kids – that they will have to battle 22 victors of previous Hunger Games.

There have been rumors of rebellion passed around by Katniss’s friends and her prep team. Her Mockingjay pin that she wore to her last games has become the probable symbol of rebellion. So her spirited stylist, Cinna, designs a dress that transforms into a Mockingjay-like outfit. He is beaten and arrested for this deed that the Capitol considers a crime, leaving Katniss shaken right before she enters the arena. During the games Katniss makes allies, there are over fifteen deaths in only two days, and she experiences many heartfelt losses and tragedies. The arena itself reveals a surprise in itself, having a very intricate setup, and there are unexpected friendships, sacrifices, and an ending that not only knocks you out of you seat, but leaves you scrambling back to the bookstore or library for more.

I honestly don’t believe that the next book could be better than this. This is the part where I get totally colloquial and say “WWWWOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!” after I reflect, expectantly peacefully, on the time I spent reading this book, and it comes BLASTING INTO MY MIND LIKE A HEAT GUIDED NUCLEAR MISSILE, KNOCKING OUT EVERY SENSE OF SANITY AND CALMNESS AND EXPLODING IN MY FACE, BLOWING ME UP LIKE A TRUCKLOAD OF DYNAMITE!!! Okay, got it all out of my system.

I believe I started that last paragraph saying that I honestly don’t think that the next book could be better than this. And I simply don’t. Collins has already done that amazing, uncommon, unexpected thing – she has created a sequel that actually improves upon the first book. That was one thing with Star Wars – the battle on the ice planet of Hoth and the moment when Darth Vader said “Luke, I am your father” both created explosive moments just enough to pass the Death Star blowing up. But that was in a movie. Not a book. I’ll say one thing – only the greatest authors this good planet earth has sired have created sequels better than books that already blew you away. Those are authors that honestly enjoy doing their work, and feel it coming from their own minds, and not having to look up on Google “hottest book topics of the year”. They make the hottest book topics of the year. Take JK Rowling (pronounced Rolling) for example – she started out literally scribbling notes on scratch paper and now she’s the richest author in the world. So nothing would surprise me.

I think it’s needless to say that, overall, thought that this book was completely awesome. I see no room for mistakes whatsoever, except I wish that the book was a gazillion pages long (shame on you, Collins!). I would again, because this was a moderately violent book with slightly dark and sinister moments, not recommend this book to anyone ages thirteen and under. I would, on the other hand, recommend this book to absolutely anyone over that age who likes, romance, action, and well, other books like this.


Posted by Fred Reads

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