Saturday, May 30, 2009

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

When I heard earlier this year that the galley for Catching Fire, the sequel to Hunger Games, one of my favorite books of last year, was going to be at Book Expo America, I cursed my current employer. Since we already have a showroom in New York, and BEA was going to be in New York, we decided to just have all of our clients come into the showroom. Which meant there wasn't going to be a way for me to sneak out onto the floor to score myself a copy of the book. ~sigh~

But eventually word got out that little ol' Angela really, really wanted to get on the floor at BEA. So strings were pulled, and by the end of the day yesterday I had a pass to get onto the floor. So I woke up ridiculously early for a Saturday to make sure I would be at the Javits Convention Center right around 9:00 when the floor opened.

I ended up getting there around 9:30 (stupid E train running local through Queens. You're supposed to be express!) - and already there was a huge line at the Scholastic booth for the galley, which was being given away at 10! I was a little nervous about whether I would make it to the front of the line before they ran out of books, but it turns out I didn't need to worry - there were plenty of books to spare by the time I made it to the front of the line.

Now I must confess, I seriously considered finding some out of the way spot right then and there and starting to read. But when I was getting in line I happened to bump into a friend who was working at the show and had actually volunteered to pick up the galley for me, so instead I decided to be social and went with her to see Scott Westerfeld, Holly Black and Cassandra Clare talk about steampunk and building alternate worlds. Then we had to go pick up the Leviathan galley, but that's a post for another day.

It was a gorgeous day in New York, so I decided to take my new galleys and check out the new lounge chairs in Times Square. Naturally I started with Catching Fire.

While my copy of the galley didn't specifically request I avoid discussing the twists and turns of the novel, I'm still going to avoid a detailed plot summary for a couple of reasons. Mostly because I'm still trying to wrap my brain around a lot of the plot.

But let me assure you, this novel will in no way disappoint fans of The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins is an extremely deft writer - I noticed this as I re-read Hunger Games twice over the last three days. Both Hunger Games and Catching Fire are extremely tightly woven stories - if Collins mentions something early on in the book, you can bet it will play a part in the story later on. Of course, now that I was on to her, I was feeling rather smug going into Catching Fire, sure I'd be able to predict the plot based on Collins' effective foreshadowing. Boy was I wrong - while I often caught what was going to be important later on, there was absolutely no way of predicting just HOW that plot point was going to be implemented.

Like Hunger Games, I was an extremely vocal reader during Catching Fire (so much so that I eventually decided I needed to leave Times Square and read in the solitude of my apartment). I may even have been more so this time, thanks to the deeper emotional investment we have this time around. We've watched Katniss survive insurmountable odds once - to see her thrown back into the fire after the president's reaction to her stunt at the end of the Hunger Games is almost too much.

And of course, we're left with another fucking cliff hanger. There seems to be a consensus here: as awesome as it is to get to read this galley, it's going to make the wait for the third book even longer - especially if, as this Publisher's Weekly article says, they don't do a galley for the third book!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Review: The Dead Travel Fast by Eric Nuzum

Growing up, I watched horror movies with my family all the time. "The Blob" is possibly my mother's favorite movie of all time (we're talking the old school one with Steve McQueen, none of that re-make crap) and for several years running at Halloween we'd rent all of the classic monster movies for a monster movie marathon. Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy (the original with Boris Karloff, of course, though we also enjoyed the Brendan Frasier version), The Wolfman, Frankenstein and, of course, Dracula.

So in college when I picked up role playing with Vampire: The Masquerade, I already had a bit of horror/vampire background, and had a blast spending Thursday nights with my friends pretending to be among the undead (it didn't hurt that the man who was to become my husband was playing with us!). While it's been ages since I've stayed up till dawn pretending to be a blood sucking fiend, I still love a good horror story, and vampires are some of the most horrific of all (along with zombies). So when I came across The Dead Travel Fast, billed as a "far-reaching look at vampires across pop culture," I was excited. I love academic, or even semi-academic, looks at pop culture, so I figured this book would be right up my alley.

Alas, it wasn't to be.

While Nuzum certainly explores a wide variety of experiences in order to try to "understand" our cultural obsession with vampires, it's pretty clear that he actually has little but contempt for most of the people who find vampires fascinating. People who attend conventions dedicated to Dark Shadows are overweight, disabled losers who have nothing to look forward to but watching old episodes of a sub-par soap opera in dark hotel ballrooms, and people who play the afore-mentioned "Vampire" have a habit of going off the deep end and murdering people (two examples of Vampire: The Masquerade-related deaths are then conflated with half a dozen other instances of people who believed they really were vampires actually murdering people).

Nuzum's choice of what aspects of popular vampire culture to study were also bizarrely chosen. He wanted to watch every vampire movie ever made, yet tried to go throughout his entire quest without reading a single Anne Rice book. I think Anne Rice may be a few fries short of a happy meal, and aside from a brief stint in high school I never thought her novels were all that great, but there is no way you can study our current perceptions of vampires and ignore Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. It's like saying you're going to study our obsession with magic without reading Harry Potter, or pirates and not watching "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Essentially the verdict seemed to come down to that the only acceptable vampire obsession was Nuzum's own - and his obsession was more with ridiculing those who find vampires interesting and intriguing than actually understanding where this interest comes from.
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