The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games!  The Hunger Games!  That is all I’ve been hearing lately.  Supposedly, the movie adaptation is even more eagerly anticipated than the next (last?) Twilight movie.  The book has been recommended by a few friends and I’ve seen numerous references to it.  All I knew going into it was that there was some girl with a bow in the woods.  That was a good start since I like archery.

The Hunger Games is a teen book that strikes a surprising balance between the extremes of what boys want in a book and what girls want.  It does not do this by blandly serving up a grey oatmeal of an inoffensive middle ground.  Instead it has a base storyline that zigs and zags from a kissy face girly story of the attractive boys that attempt to win the heart of the courageous female lead character and the could-you-survive-on-your-own, brutal fighting, alternate futureverse that boys will eat up.

I can’t speak to how well the author inspires young women with those aspects of the story but I could easily see this being a favorite book of mine growing up.  It has some wonderful similarities to one of my all-time favorites, Robinson Crusoe.  I worried that it would gloss over the actual hunger games event in favor of the personal relationship aspects of the story, but I was delighted to be completely wrong.  In fact, the bulk of the novel centers on what happens during the games themselves and allows the reader to wonder Would I have done that?  Would this way have been better?  Which weapon would I have chosen?

Besides the focus on the games themselves, this book held another surprise for me:  the brutality.  I have a 12-yr old niece and I would not let her read this book right now if she were my child.  Is it anything worse than what you’d read in an adult murder mystery?  Maybe.  Worse than an adult crime drama.  Probably not.  It is the fact that it is for younger readers that it caught me off guard.  I can agree that teens would be just fine reading this book but it would have to be on an individual basis until they were at least mid-teens.

I don’t want to give away anything more about the story so just go read it for yourself.  It is well written, entertaining, and imaginative.  Melanie and I can’t wait to listen to books two and three of the trilogy.

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Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

I keep a little Word doc of books to read on my computer.  It is a quick and easy way to jot down recommendations from articles, email and other online sources before I forget about them.  Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane found its way on to this list somehow and I ran across it at the library just when I needed something new to read.  I can’t remember why it made the list which was pretty neat.  This meant I had no expectations other than I probably would like it.

It is your basic crime and detective novel set in Boston.  As with almost any good book, there is a mystery to solve that isn’t completely obvious.  The characters were interesting and distinct.  I loved that the story was compact, providing only the minimum cast needed to tell the tale.  No time was spent trying to remember who this or that person was and why they were in the story.

My biggest gripe with this book was also its biggest strength:  the dialog.  Lehane has the ability to write believable and interesting dialog.  He reminds me very much of Quentin Tarantino in this respect.  His characters speak the way people talk and they convey ideas that people might really believe.  Of course, just like a movie, it is amped up a little.  No one is that clever or interesting 100% of the time in real life.  None the less, the dialog is the heart beat of this book.  It tells us about the characters, describes scenes, moves the plot along and more.

Unfortunately, because there is a bunch of talking, there is a lot less action.  As I think back on the story, it doesn’t move from location to location much.  It doesn’t develop much over the course of the book.  For this reason, when we were about halfway through the book, I told Melanie that I wanted to hear the rest of the story but I also wanted to take Lehane off the book list because the pace was just too slow.  By the end of book, when the action picks up, he had recaptured me as a future reader.

Overall, Melanie and I both liked it and we can see why this guy is a New York Times bestselling author.  I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a light distraction with some memorable characters.  Because of  its crime/detective theme, expect violence, but nothing too gruesome.  If you make it through the first half of the book, you will be rewarded with the second half.