Catching Fire Review: not as hot as the original

Cathching Fire: B

By Suzanne Collins

Brief summary: Sequel to the wildly popular Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins continues the series with more plot twists, intrigue and angsty teen love triangles.

Characterization___________Total: 24/30

Protagonist: Katniss is back, with all her sass, cleverness and angst. While she’s a good, strong female, sometimes she can come across as a little whiny and insecure. Sure, it’s accurate for a teenage girl, but that doesn’t make it less annoying. Overall, though, we see some good confliction. 8/10

Antagonist: Like the first book in the series, the antagonist changes by the minute, depending on who’s out for Katniss’ scalp at the moment. However, there is the looming empire and President Snow. While they’re a little distant to really hate openly, the novel is by no means short on action, so lack of an ever-present antagonist isn’t that important. The government is a good background enemy, with several other dangers thrown in to keep the action going. 9/10

Supporting Cast: As colorful and varied as they come. Even more so than the first book, Catching Fire really lets the reader get to see some interesting competitors. However, because the primary focus is action, the characters aren’t as fleshed out as they could be. Also, some characters remain static throughout the novel. I still love Peeta and Gale, but for the most part they’re the same at the close of the book as they are at the opening. Not terrible, but it could use some work, 7/10

Plot______________________Total: 21/25

Main Conflict: Most people would look at the heap of action and automatically give this book a perfect score for conflict. However, mindless violence doesn’t automatically equal greatness. Even though the second half of the book is full blast, the first half is dreadfully slow, meandering here and there. And, spoiler alert, but forcing Katniss back into the arena felt contrived. We’re forced into the same plot device, and it isn’t as fresh the second time around. So the book definitely has its ups and downs. However, it holds interest even during the slow parts, and the end leads up very nicely to the next book. While not a complete failure, don’t expect the plot in Catching Fire to be as compelling as the original. 12/15

Leading/Falling Action: Leading action takes waaaaaaay too long. The falling action was abrupt, but it’s supposed to be a cliffhanger. So since there’s going to be a sequel, that’s actually a good thing. You just might want to hold off reading this book until the third one comes out. Trust me. 4/5

Back story: My only complaint here is that the author teases us with back story, with the how and why of Panem, without giving too much away. She doesn’t answer everything, which is frustrating, but not in a bad way. After all, there’s going to be a sequel, so no worries. 5/5

Writing___________________Total: 30/30

Description: Spartan. In this novel, though, the primary focus is action, so that’s a good thing. The arena is a lush rainforest, described just enough for the audience to understand what’s going on while still using their own imagination. In fact, setting is always perfectly described here. New authors could take a leaf from Collin’s style. Never too much, but never vague enough to leave you wondering. If this had been a slower book, I would have liked some more beauty in the descriptions. However, action description doesn’t get better than this. 15/15

Style: Present tense first-person. A fitting choice, as it really brings the action home. Also, Katniss’ voice is lively and believable. A perfect choice for the plot, and carried out with flair. 15/15

Other____________________Total: 11/15

Theme: Don’t let the gore fool you. Catching Fire has a lot to say about everything. Government, media, young love, responsibility, cooperation. It’s all here without being didactic or pushy. In fact, the themes are the best part of the book, saving it from being a hack-and-slash by including subtle messages directed at our own society. This novel is a perfect example of a young adult novel with universal appeal. 5/5

Originality: Well, I hate to say it, but this novel’s worst enemy is itself. Or rather, its precursor. Because the author chose to recycle the same plot device, it doesn’t have that fresh feel. In fact, sometimes it feels like more of the same. However, it does push the limits of the Young Adult genre by addressing complex themes. I just wish it took as much chances as the original. 6/10

Final Grade: 86%. So, this book is good, but it falls short of excellence. It doesn’t take as many risks as the first, it doesn’t have as much action, but it has a good story to tell. Read it, just know that it’s not as good as the first. Read Full...

Redundancy will kill your story. It will also make it dead.

Redundancy. The bane of the amateur writer. While there are several stages an author must go through to really mature, the most dangerous and prolonged one is redundancy, or saying the same thing twice. Why is it so dangerous and why is it so hard to get rid of? Well, before I go further I think it’s *drum roll* BAD EXAMPLE TIME! I do so love writing purposely trashy pieces. They’re way easier than actually good ones. Anyways, I now present to you an example of typical amateurish, redundant writing:

The explosion rocked the air. There was a flash of heat, hot and dry, that scorched and burned Cam’s lungs. She bent over, hunched into a ball, and coughed until she thought she would pass out. She hacked so much that she was dizzy.

Before she had time to recover her wits, another explosion erupted, bursting forth from the earth in a towering pillar of dirt, ground turned to fountain. Now, not only was the heat crinkling her lungs into withered sacks, drying them out, but she was inhaling a fine powder.

These things always happen in threes. Another explosion burst forth, exploding up and up and up. It was too much for Cam. Her body couldn’t take it. With a final, decisive cough, she fell to the ground. Hitting the earth, she could feel blackness wash over her.

Wow, that was cliché. However, I’m not attacking clichés right now, I’m attacking redundancy. So now that I have the example to refer back to, let’s explore why redundancy is so prevalent and hard to cure. The biggest reason is that at first glance, this kind of amateur writing sounds good. After all, I’ve got great description. And I have a ton of it, too. More description = better story, right? No.

However, when you show this kind of writing to your friends (or worse, your Mom), they look at all those adjectives and the vivid images and they just think it’s the most amazing thing since Chuck Norris! Well, sure, compared to the crappy, vague, half-thought out writing you did when you were twelve, sure, it’s better. But not great. Now, let’s rewrite the above example to make it an epic masterpiece. Or at least better.

The explosion rocked the air. There was a flash of heat that scorched Cam’s lungs. She hunched into a ball and hacked until she was dizzy.

Before she had time to recover her wits, another explosion erupted in a towering pillar of dirt, ground turned to fountain. Now, not only was the heat crinkling her lungs into withered sacks, but she was inhaling a fine powder.

These things always happen in threes. Another explosion burst forth, exploding up and up and up. It was too much for Cam. With a final, decisive cough, she fell to the ground.

Ta-da! It’s as if my example went on the Biggest Loser and lost a hundred pounds of dead weight. The only time something is restated twice is the example of the pillar of dirt and ground into fountain. I kept that because, sometimes, restating things can add to the effect. But only sometimes. Otherwise, your just bogging your story down until it can barely roll of the couch for chips. So, amateur writers, my challenge to you is to go through your story and heavily consider ever description and phrase. Is it adding to the story, or is it bogging it down? Get out there and kill redundancy! Read Full...

Untitled project 1

This is a short story I wrote some months ago. It won Honorable Mention at BYUI's Pre-professional Conference. It's not much. In fact, I think it's a little pretenious. But whatever.

When Elli was eight, her brother decided he didn’t want to be human anymore.

“Will you be a dog?” she asked, looking at her brother enviously. She had always wanted to be a dog, and it would be just like Jonathan to figure out how to turn into one and not tell her how. He was always making discoveries. Like last Christmas, when he turned the gumballs from his stocking into seeds and planted them in the garden. They were going to grow into a gumball tree, he said, and Elli had watered the tiny sprouts every day until her mother dug them up.

“I don’t know. I’m not sure what I want to be. I just don’t want to be human.”

“Why not?”

“Because we’re killing the rainforest. I saw it on the evening news. They’ve got this big machine that chops down the trees and turns them into paper.”

Elli had seen it, too. That big machine stayed in her nightmares and refused to budge.

“But Johnny, what about last year when you and Kimball broke the branches off Mr. Howard’s apple tree? Remember that? You didn’t care about killing trees then.”

“That was a while ago. I’m a changed man now.”

Elli looked very hard into his blue eyes, drawing out the lie. Johnny was good at turning twigs into bread crumbs and old socks into kites, but Elli could spot the truth. She stared at Jonathan’s dirt-streaked face and his crusty blonde hair, a mirror image of her own, until he stabbed the ground with his big toe.

“Okay, you got me. It’s not about the rainforest. I’m just tired of being human. That’s not that unreasonable, is it? Come on, admit it, you’re bored with being human, too.”

“Not really.”

“You are a liar, Elli.”

“Well, I mean, sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be something else, but I wouldn’t want to stop being a person forever.”

“You’re just like the rest of them,” sneered Johnny, tossing his head.

“Like the rest of who?”

“The rest of them. The whole darn human race. Just no curiosity, that’s what’s wrong with them, no curiosity at all.”

“I’m going inside,” Elli replied, picking up her bear and shaking out the sand. In school, she had learned quickly that the best way to deal with someone who was being mean was to just walk away.

“Fine! But if you leave now, you won’t get to see me transform.”

Elli hesitated on the doorstep.

“Whatcha gonna turn into?”

“I told you, I don’t know.”

“Then forget it,” she said, spanking the door closed.

That evening at dinner, Mother was very upset.

“Where did that little stink disappear to? He better not be making trouble.”

“I think he’s gone, Momma.”

Mother swiveled to face her, eyes nothing but business.

“Where did he get off to?”

“Well, I don’t know. He just said he wasn’t gonna be human anymore. I suppose he became a bird and flew away.”

Quick as the words were out of her mouth, her mother whisked her plate off the table.

“Go to your room!” she shrieked.

Elli didn’t argue. She had told the truth, and there was nothing to do but slink down the hall. At her brother’s room she stopped to peek in, but he wasn’t there.

That night, Elli’s stomach growled so hard, the rumbling kept her awake. It was echoed by a chorus of thunder from outside. For several minutes, it boomed unaccompanied, until rain joined in with a gentle patter. Elli added her breathing to the rhythm.

By the time the storm ended, Elli was fast asleep, so she didn’t hear her window slide open. She did feel Jonathan shaking her, though, and she woke with a start.

“Johnny! I thought you’d left,” she whispered, throwing her arms around him. He was soaking wet.

“I did. Didn’t you hear me outside?”

“That was you? You turned into thunder?”

“Naw, I was the rain, silly.”

“Oh. Well how was it?”

“Not quite what you’d expect,” Johnny yawned, throwing his arms out wide, “Not near as exciting as it looks. So I came back.”

“That’s it? That’s all you’re gonna tell me?”

“I’m tired, Elli. I’ll tell you more in the morning.”

He dragged himself towards the door, smearing the carpet with water.



“You cost me dinner, you know.”

“I’ll make it up to you, sis. Tomorrow, I’ll teach you how to talk to dogs.”

Satisfied, Elli rolled over and fell asleep. Read Full...

The Thief review

The Thief                                                             C+

By Megan Whalen Turner

Brief summary: Gen is good at what he does: stealing from the rich (and occasionally the poor) and giving to himself. However, a few slip ups lead to his imprisonment in the King’s prison. When the Magus, advisor to the king, offers him freedom in exchange for his help, Gen agrees.

Characterization___________Total: 22/30

Protagonist: Gen is an awesome protagonist. He’s smart, scheming and suave. However, he doesn’t get off scott free for running his mouth. So, despite having amazing skills and a clever mind, he’s spared from the Mary-Sueness some protagonists suffer from. He’s refreshingly human, occasionally making mistakes of bad judgements, but he’s also resourceful. Also, the author does a great job of letting us into his head without revealing the plot twists. 9/10

Antagonist: This is the main failing point of the story. We lack a clear antagonist. While the King is certainly a despicable person, he doesn’t qualify as the villain. And the Queen of Atollia, who is a key player in the next novel (this is a trilogy, btw), doesn’t get much screen time. Now, there is a traitor who is probably the book’s main villain, but his betrayal isn’t developed or hinted at enough to be truly satisfying. Still, the book has a plot, although is could have had a few more high-tension points. 5/10

Supporting Cast: The supporting cast is small but well-developed. They are every bit as human as Gen, and it’s a lot of fun trying to figure them out. The Magus especially is very well developed. 8/10

Plot______________________Total: 17/25

Main Conflict: This is the story’s main falling point. While there is a clear quest, retrieving Hamiathes’ Gift, they spend more time getting there than being there. In the meantime, there is a lot of character development, but it lacks the action necessary to hold interest. This story really could have benefited from a villain or a few more chase scenes. The mythology stories were a nice add, though, and they were woven in expertly. That saves the plot from beind a complete drag. 10/15

Leading/Falling Action: Well, like I said, this book is mostly leading/falling action. The leading is okay, even if it drags, but I felt like the falling action took too long. While it does allow for some nice plot twists, and the story wraps up better than most, it just took too darn long in getting there. 2/5

Back story: Perfect. Back story is a huge part of the plot twists at the end, and it’s hinted at without being too obvious. By far the best part of the book. 5/5

Writing___________________Total: 27/30

Description: Spartan in nature, it still gives enough of a picture for the audience to work with. Since Gen is the narrator, and he’s such an intelligent person, I would hope for more thoughtful insights about the scenery. At least using his thief-vision to point out amusing things. Still, too little is better than too much, and the description did it’s job, even if it wasn’t particularly beautiful. 13/15

Style: The Pantheon Turner has created is rich and believable, and the way she incorporates the mythology into the story makes for a delightful read. As I said before, description can be sparse. However, great characters and a flair for the unexpected make the story enjoyable. Also, anyone who creates an entire culture (three, actually) and religion for their story certainly gains points for style. 14/15

Other____________________Total: 13/15

Theme: Gen is a believable human, and Turner isn’t afraid to delve into political matters. There are some subtle messages here about Imperialism and belief, even if they do take a back seat. 4/5

Originality: The Thief gains its originality by taking and old concept, Greek Gods, and adding a personal twist. Also, gambling the entire plot on plot twists at the very end was a risky move. While the results are mixed, it certainly tried to break away from the standard quest/danger plots. 9/10

Final Grade: 79%. So, The Thief turns out to be a slightly above average, interesting book, even if it’s not as thrilling as it could be. Read Full...

Book review template

All right, so I've always wanted to be a book reviewer. Well, why not start now? Pretty much, I will report on books I've read, giving them a grade out of a hundred (did I also mention I want to be a teacher?). Below is a template of how I will rate books. Anyways, I'm really looking forward to doing this. I don't care how new or old a book is, if I think it deserves a review, I'll review it.

Characterization___________Total: x/30

Protagonist: Since books live and die by the main character, that will be the first concern of all of my reviews. In order to recieve top marks, a character has to be a multi-faceted, compelling and original person. x/10

Antagonist: Main characters are important, but who doesn't love a good bad guy? I think it's safe to say that an interesting villlian is just as important as a good hero. For books without a human antagonist, I will still evaluate how compelling the opposing force, whatever that may be, is. x/10

Supporting Cast: And this is for all of the rest of the characters combined. x/10

Plot______________________Total: x/25

Main Conflict: This one is weighted heavily because it is so important. This section includes pace as well as the devlopment of the struggle. x/15

Leading/Falling Action: Because I hate books that have too long of an exposition and I can't stand abrupt endings, I felt it was safe to include this little section right here. x/5

Back story: I'm not a huge fan of back story, but I realize how much it can add to a character. Stories without any backstory will be rewarded 3 out of 5, because none is better than too much. x/5

Writing___________________Total: x/30

Description: Ah, the clincher of most books. For the most part, this section judges merely the accuracy of description, whether it conveys images and is not obtrusive. The brilliancy and originality mostly (but not entirely) fall into the category below. x/15

Style: This judges not what an author says, but how they say it. I want a style that is vivid and unique. Alos, this section includes POV, because that is such a huge part of how style plays out. x/15

Other____________________Total: x/15

Theme: Now, I realize that some people like to read books just for the fun of it. However, I believe that all good books should contain some human truth. It could be as simple as "the butler always does it" (except that would probably score a 1 out of 5) but I want to see something. Otherwise, I will consider the book a waste of  my overall time. Note, however, that this is such a small portion that it alone will not kill a book's score. x/5

Originality: While part of originality blends into theme, I feel that an author can have a strong style while not taking many risks. Vice versa, an author can take risks that don't work out very well, but I think they should be rewarded for pushing the envelope. Mostly, this part says if the book feels fresh, that it breaks new ground instead of doing the same thing again. A book can tread familliar ground, and tread it very well, but a book should get points for standing out. x/10 Read Full...

No one cares about back story

I recently heard something that was so utterly, completely false that I have to denounce it. Kind of like when you smell a steaming pile, and you’re like, “Man, that is so obviously a pile of crap, I just gotta tell people about it!” Anyways, I was giving advice to a budding author, telling him to get rid of the unnecessary parts of his story, and this dude is like, “I think the story is fine the way it is. Not everything in a story has to add to the plot.”

Stop. Right. There. That is such a lie, I can feel my inner author vomiting in the trashcan. There’s a common misconception among amateur authors (which I am as well. I’m just not as misdirected as most of them.) that a story needs fluff. That character development = long tangents that don’t move the plot forward. Hmmmmmm…no. The first rule of writing:

If something isn’t helping your story, it’s killing it.

If a paragraph isn’t moving your story forward, then it’s holding a pillow over the plot’s face while it sleeps. That is the plain and simple truth. However, plain and simple truths are often too big for small minds to digest, so I’ll elaborate and talk hopelessly around the subject until everyone involved is confused.

Okay, so why don’t you want to add unnecessary parts to a novel? Because it’s boring! That’s really the main reason. If you dump in a huge segment about the history, forging and aesthetic qualities of a dagger (*coughJRRTOLKIENcough*) do you honestly think your audience is going to patiently read through it? No, they’re going to skip ahead to the good stuff. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have description, back story and a developed history. You just need to integrate it into the story in such a way that it doesn’t kill the action.

Now, since nothing is quite as illuminating as a bad example, let me provide you with one where the action is completely stalled by intrusive back story and description. Here goes:

She heard a crash from the front room. Not just any crash, though. A muffled one. Someone was here, and they didn’t want her to know it.

Oh no! she thought, This is just like that one time!

When she had been six, a burglar had raided their home. Dad had been gone for a year, traipsing after a pair of silicone boobs, and her Mother and her were completely alone. They were two females in a dingy apartment, with no gun and no one to call for help. All they could do was listen to the burglar rummage around in their house, while her and her Mother huddled together upstairs. Olivia had never felt so helpless, had never loathed her weakness more than at that moment.

And it was happening again. There was someone in her house, putting their fingers on her stuff.

I’m not the same weak little girl I was back then, she snarled in her head. And it was true. Over the past fifteen years, her body had blossomed, ripened, exploded with feminine charms. She had long legs and long hair. Her skin was ivory as the moonlight, her hair the color of dead grass. She was muscular from the hours spent in judo training, her muscles sleek and ready as a cat’s. Whoever this intruder was, they were in for more than they bargained more.

So, now that you’ve read a bad example, can you see why it’s so bad? I spend so much time on her background, which even though it is compelling (okay, maybe not, but just pretend that it is), it’s not as exciting as what’s happening now. Back story, by definition, is less exciting than the current plot. After all, if you back story is more exciting, why is it your back story and not your main plot? Anyways, that huge chunk of flash back totally kills the momentum. Like, here’s this huge action moment, but before I get to it I’m going to take a coffee break while I tell you about why this moment is important. And don’t even get me started on that horribly out of place description. (By the way, I wrote the example myself, so it’s okay if I tear it to ribbons).

However, here is the tricky part. If I get rid of the back story completely, then I loose some of the tension. After all, if the protagonist has some deep childhood fear that she’s battling with, that adds another layer of excitement. So it’s not that back story is bad, no. It’s just that most amateur authors don’t know how to incorporate back story into the main story, so that you get the picture without stalling the action.

What’s that, you say? You want a good example? Well, I’m as amateur as they come, but I suppose I could give it a try. So, here’s the example above, rewritten so that the back story and description do not kill the plot:

She heard a crash from the front room. Not just any crash, though. A muffled one. Someone was here, and they didn’t want her to know it.

No! she thought, Never again!

She had been a victim of theft. Once. Pain, fear, helplessness. A night spent huddled under the covers. Being too weak to –

That was when I was a child, she snarled in her head. I’m different now.

The shadow in the room dappled her dead-grass hair, giving her cheetah spots. Her muscles, too, were taut like a cheetah’s, rippling as she slowly stalked towards the stairs.

This burglar had no idea who they were messing with.

Okay, so it’s not poetry, but it’s a far sight better than the earlier one. Sure, we lose some of the back story, but we also gain suspense. Because we don’t take a break from the action, it feels more immediate. Also, while the second description is shorter, it replaces quantity with quality. Instead of trite phrases and a check list of features, we have a dazzling (this is also my own piece, so I’m allowed to lavishly praise it) comparison that says more about the character than a lame back story ever could.

To sum it up, back story is good. Plot is better. If you ever have to take more than three or four lines to talk about a previous event, you are killing the momentum. You can either summarize the back story and integrate it into the plot, you can toss it aside completely and add a bit of mystery to your character, or if the character origin is so completely compelling that you wouldn’t possibly want to deny your audience the chance to see it, you can turn it into it’s own separate chapter/story. Really, though, back story is highly overrated. It’s the here and now that matters. And if you’re here and now is concerned with the then and done, I am going to be gone. Read Full...