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Phoenix (The Complete Action Series)
David Alexander
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Catching Fire - Suzanne  Collins Troubles brew in Panem as Katniss becomes a reluctant symbol of revolt. If that isn't enough it looks like she's going to have to endure another set of games. This is the year of the Quarter Quell, an excuse to have Katniss back into the arena a "special edition" of the Hunger Games that occurs every twenty-five years after the first Hunger Game. This will be the seventy-fifth game and all prior victors are possible tributes.

You know what this means, right? Katniss, Peeta and even Haymitch have to get back into shape. All aboard the pain train! It's go time as the trio don their terry cloth headbands, cut-off sweats and half-shirts and do one-arm pushups, run up and down stairs and punch slabs of beef in a meat locker while "You're the Best" from The Karate Kid soundtrack blares in the background (or substitute Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" if you prefer).

And that was an '80s movie training montage that only occurred in my mind, but it totally would have been wicked cool if it really happened. The world needs more '80s movie training montages.

But I digress.

Catching Fire is the second installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, which hardly bears mentioning since everyone knows that already. I am reading it far later than most everyone else, but I felt it was time for me to finally get to it because I want to read it before the movie comes out (which makes no sense because I haven't even seen The Hunger Games movie yet). I gave The Hunger Games a five-star rating which, in retrospect, seems a bit generous to me now. While it was indeed excellent, I read it before I had developed any consistency with my rating system. Also, I read it on my Kindle. I have to be honest and say that while I like the idea of e-readers they have a different psychological effect on my reading experience. I still read on my Kindle and iPad, but I greatly prefer paper books. And I didn't really analyze the story that much. My rating was based more on my own emotional response to the story. Anyway, the point I am getting at (any day now) is that my rating for Catching Fire is not relative to the rating I gave its predecessor. I'm not changing my rating for The Hunger Games, but I am trying to approach this book with a different, fresher perspective. Reading a paper book copy helps. I dunno, but whenever I use an e-reader I feel like I'm reading in closet, whereas paper books feel to me like fresh air.

And I am realizing that the previous paragraph was another dangerous digression. Thank you for bearing with this overly wordy review thus far. I'll actually talk about the book now.

As I mentioned earlier, Panem is experiencing a bit of political unrest in Catching Fire. As a result of Katniss' actions in the previous Hunger Games, the various districts have developed a degree of political awareness and have gathered inspiration from Katniss' subtle act of rebellion in the last Hunger Game. Rebellion is a major aspect to Catching Fire, begun in The Hunger Games but brought to the forefront in this installment. 

Interestingly (or not) the apparent anti-government attitude of the Hunger Games trilogy has proven cause for libertarians internet-wide to temporarily set aside their Ayn Rand novels to revel in Katniss flipping the government the bird. Some have gone so far as to proclaim the Hunger Games trilogy as a "libertarian manifesto," which I find rather presumptive. Simply placing Panem's unrest within the context of contemporary politics is an oversimplification and a superficial analysis (but that seems to be standard operating procedure for most libertarians, in my experience).

If one insists on interpreting it in a sociopolitical framework, it seems to me that the Hunger Games trilogy lends itself more to a Marxist interpretation, with Katniss being the vanguard of a burgeoning political consciousness among the proletariat and class struggle as the primary conflict. The more I consider this the more it seems to fit. The main antagonistic entity being the "Capitol" makes this correlation even more obvious ("Capitol" being a homonym to "capital," as in "capitalism.") It is rather apparent that the citizens of the Capitol represent the bourgeoisie more specifically than it does any vague libertarian bogey-man (and to college students in need of a term paper topic: you're welcome).

But it's not like any of that stuff really matters to me. Fortunately, Collins has wisely remained mum on her politics and any political message that may exist here, as any good author would. Catching Fire seems an appropriate title in this respect, since it has sparked debate regarding the political orientation of the series. While these aspects certainly have a place in the overall scheme of things, I have to think that Collins would not place primary importance on something as vulgar as politics. 

Granted that I do not spend all day analyzing the Hunger Games trilogy and I may be way off mark, I do tend to think that Collins utilizes political strife mainly as a tool to present Katniss' personal conflict.
In the last book, Katniss ended up a more worldly version of her previous self. In this book that worldliness is catching up with her and even making her into a little bit of a snarky celeb. At one point, while checking out the costumes of some other districts she notes:

But what are the livestock keepers from District 10, who are dressed as cows, doing with flaming belts? Broiling themselves? Pathetic.

The old Katniss might have thought their costumes silly, but I don't think she would have been so snooty bout it. But it's more than that. Later the changes in her personality become more disturbing when at one point while in the games she considers murdering an ally by shooting him in the back with only a minor nudge from her conscience. 

This is the story that I am really interested in and the story that I think Collins is stressing over any veiled political message. I don't know why I wrote at length on that except that I read the internet buzz and thought the political message was overblown. But I guess that's the genius of Collins' writing. These stories are deceptively complex and can be enjoyed at multiple levels.

I agree with many of the other reviewers of Catching Fire that putting Katniss into yet another Game situation is maybe not the most creative way to continue the plot, but I keep forgetting that this is a YA book and I suppose it helps to lend a sense of familiarity to a series for that demographic. I don't really know. I have to admit, though, that the Quarter Quell was exciting, scary and emotionally wrenching. It may not have been the best creative choice, but it was very well done. Particularly effective, I thought, was the way the newer characters were developed. I really disliked Finnick when I thought he was an arrogant slimeball, but after we learn about his situation I really like him. Johanna is very interesting also.

Also I felt the pacing was very well done, at least if the purpose was to push the reader to the last book. The first half was rather slow but the last built speed like a boulder rolling downhill. Now I don't think I will be able to put the third book on hold as long as I did this one.