Book Review- Catching Fire

I didn’t hate “The Hunger Games”, I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it.

I am not sure I feel the same way about “Catching Fire”. I read it. I read it quickly. And I didn’t really care what happened. Let me try to explain.

Katniss is a fairly unlikable character. She is selfish, violent, and generally a “bad” person. I found myself not terribly concerned with what happened to her throughout the book. I will also say that the plot was really predictable. I realize I am not going to win any prizes for guessing important plot points throughout the first two books of a Young Adult series (I guessed there was a dragon under Gringotts after all).  But I wasn’t the least bit surprised by the big reveal at the end of the book.

Once again, I think the author limited herself by telling the story strictly from Katniss’ perspective. The book lacked any real depth, she flew through the plot, again, and the characters are basically cardboard cutouts of interesting characters. When you look at them straight on, they look great, when you try to analyze them deeply, there is nothing there.

But, let me get to what bothers me the most about the series. I dislike the fact that the violence is taken for granted. When it was announced that for the 75th Hunger Games, they would be drawing from the existing pool of Victors, I thought there was a chance that finally, the violence wouldn’t seem so inevitable.

One of the big things I disliked about the first book was that the thought of NOT killing one another never crept into Katniss’ mind. Right up to the very end, when Claudius comes over the loudspeaker and announces that there has been a change of plans, and that there will still have to be one victor, her immediate response is to point an arrow and Peeta and prepare to kill him. I felt like the first book begged the question, what if the Tributes refused to fight. What if they looked at each other when the gong went off, and just stood there? The entire foundation of the Capitol’s dominance over the Districts through the Hunger Games would crumble. The author overcame this by including the career tributes from Districts 1 and 2. They were trained killing machines and forced the violence.  But I still thought to myself, what if a coalition of Tributes from other districts killed the careers off, then decided enough was enough and threw down their weapons?

This concept never enters Katniss’ mind. She is prepared to kill from the word go, because no other option is ever presented. I thought the second book would offer this possibility. When a group of people who had previously experienced the horrors of the Games were thrown back into it, I hoped that there was a chance that this group of people, who the author claimed had become friends after their years serving as mentors together, would refuse to participate in murdering each other for the Capitol’s entertainment.

Of course, this didn’t really happen. The gong sounds, and the killing begins. The time in the arena is fairly predictable and boring. And ends with a big shock, that didn’t really come as a shock.

I am sorry to say this, but I don’t find Katniss likeable. She is not a tragic hero, she is not a reluctant hero, she isn’t really a hero at all. She is a character, who has things happen to her, from whose perspective the story happens to be told. I think the second book could have been much better if it were told from Peeta’s perspective. I finished the first book feeling like it was pretty good, but the movie would be better. I finished the second book feeling like I just read 275 pages of nothing, and I am not sure how the movie could improve it.

ADDED:

I want to say also, that I really want to like these books/films. I do not have it out for YA, or female lead characters. I don’t think my hatred of all things Twilight has influenced me here. I know that somewhere in my mind, I have an angry place that I reserve for 15 year-old girls who fall all over themselves about Twilight, and my dislike for the themes, characters and messages contained in that series have not influenced my thoughts on these books. I am among the people who were really excited for the film (Which I really liked). I just don’t think the books, and specifically the second book, are all that good. I think a good barometer of how good the book was, is how excited am I about the third one. The reality is, I will read it, not because I have a burning desire to know how this all plays out. But because I have a mild curiosity about it, and I would feel like a quitter if I got this far and didn’t finish.

Jim Rome on Plyo-X

I remember feeling this way about Tuesdays back in the day (I say “back in the day” like it wasn’t just 9 months ago).

I have so many friends doing P90X the Original right now, I feel left out.

Halfway through the first week of Performance Phase, PAP Lower and PAP Upper Monday and Tuesday followed by X2 Yoga today. I haven’t been sore like this since the first month of P90X. P90X2 works.

P90X2- Performance Phase

And so it begins.

Yesterday was my first day of P90X2 Performance Phase (the last phase). I started with P.A.P Lower (P.A.P. is short of Post Activation Potentiation, which you can read more about HERE, and HERE.) What it basically means is you perform a complex set of moves that first activate the target muscle group with a resistance move, followed by a number of explosive moves and finishing with an isometric move. And then you repeat that set three times with very little rest. In P90X2, this is followed by another set of four moves, repeated four times.

My first time through PAP Lower yesterday, I was tired, but not THAT tired. I need to increase the weights I use during the resistance moves to increase the difficulty. This morning in PAP Upper, the first complex was very hard, I found the second complex to be not as hard, which is going to lead me to find ways to make it harder.

The goal of PAP is to increase overall athleticism. Beachbody states that your muscles will feel like those of a teenager again. Right now, my legs are a bit dead from yesterday, and my upper body has that “I’m gonna be sore tomorrow” feel to it.

For more on the science behind P90X2’s version of PAP, check out THIS LINK. The work that Dr. Marcus Elliot and the P3 sports academy are doing is really amazing. I have not ruled out my goal of being able to dunk a basketball by the end of the summer.

Here is a video of PAP in action:

In my opinion, this is what sets Beachbody apart. They continue to push the envelope on fitness and science. From the workouts, the nutrition guides to the supplements including Shakeology, it is more than just workout equipment and DVDs. They provide all the tools necessary to achieve amazing results.

The Hunger Games- Movie Review

This is where I pat myself on the back.

I stated Previously that I believed that although the book was good, the movie would be better. The film did not disappoint. There was not one aspect of the film that I did not like. There were parts that I like “less” and many, many parts that I liked more.

The one aspect of the book that I disliked was that the story was entirely told from Katniss’ perspective, which in my opinion robbed the reader of experiencing what it was like for those outside of the arena, be they other citizens, the President, the Gamemakers etc. In the film, the glimpses the audience get into what those people are experiencing make the movie.

 There is an ominous tone to the film that is set right from the beginning. The visuals of District 12 are perfect. It appears to be a mix of 19th century Appalachia with postapocalyptic America. The film, unlike the book, does not feel rushed and spends just enough time building the back story and drama of the Games. Actually, it feels like they spend more time preparing, than actually fighting in the Hunger Games themselves.

One of the big fears of people I talked to before the film was released was that they would have to remove a lot of the violence for the audience. They did not. The violence is graphic, if shown at a fast pace.

I loved the film, I thought they did an excellent job of sticking to the source material, while adding just enough to fill in the shortcomings (in my opinion) from the book. They set up the second film brilliantly. All in all, well done.

The Hunger Games- Book Review

I posted about this on Facebook the other day (admittedly probably not the appropriate outlet for it) and it created quite the little controversy.

I read the first book of Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy and I was left feeling a bit disappointed. The movie came out last night, and I just read THIS which doesn’t surprise me at all.

What I said on Facebook was, I feel that the book will actually translate better to film than it was as a book. Which would be one of those rare cases where the film is better than the source material. I clearly stated that due to my Harry Potter bias, there are precious few young adult (YA) books that will impress me. With Harry Potter, it wasn’t just the story, or the characters, or the plot, or the themes or the writing style, or how J.K. Rowling literally forced the reader to feel what Harry felt at each stage of his development. It was all of those things, and then some.

There is nothing that bothers me more than when someone says “well, it was just meant to be a fun read, it doesn’t have to be good”. I say, if we don’t hold the things we read and watch to some level of standard, then the things that are offered will continue to be worse and worse. Was the story of Hunger Games interesting, if a bit unoriginal, absolutely. Do books like this get young people reading, yes of course. But in my mind, as Harry Potter proved, just because it is written for young people, doesn’t mean it has to be Twilight.

Speaking of Twilight, unlike my issues with that fetid waste of paper, I didn’t take issue with the message or themes. In Twilight, the reader is subjected to what I consider a disgusting abuse of the notion that young women should be strong, independent decision makers who do not rely on men for their self-image. The second Twilight book has Bella literally considering suicide, because without Edward, her life is meaningless. Edward is the drug that keeps her alive, and without him she becomes a pathetic shell of a person who resembles a heroin addict with no access to their drug. That is not a message I want my daughter to be receiving.

Katniss on the other hand is a strong, independent woman who stands up for what she believes in and even goes so far as to use her powers as a woman to influence the men around her to aid her in her mission. Katniss is princess Leia, Bella is Queen Amedala (or Padme, or whatever her name was). So my issue wasn’t with the plot, or the story, or even the main character. My issue was that the book felt “thin”.  There was very little depth to the supporting characters (aside from maybe Peeta) and because the entire narrative is told from Katniss’ perspective, the audience is denied access to many of the most important aspects of the story. Katniss is often thinking about how the viewers at home are perceiving her struggle through the Games, but we never see it. We don’t see what it is like for Gale, or her mother, or the parents and loved ones of the other competitors to have to watch as Katniss and others battle to the death. All of this can and will be shown in the film, and I think it will add tremendous depth to the story.

She states that she is in the Games for about two weeks, but to the reader it feels like 2 or 3 days. Just telling me something took a long time is lazy writing. When Harry, Ron and Hermione are trudging across Great Britain attempting to evade Voldemort’s forces, the reader is brough along on that arduous, often boring journey. That is what life is like, and to just tell the reader “the next few days were tough… etc., etc.” doesn’t force the reader to feel it. I remember getting really frustrated with Harry Potter the character in the beginning of Order of the Phoenix, and thinking he was acting like an idiot. Then it dawned on me that I was feeling exactly what she wanted me to feel. I was feeling like a frustrated 15 year-old. There was none of that in this book. She glazed over the boring or difficult parts so that the reader never experienced it with her.

This to me is the weakness of the book, and the issue I have with the first-person narrative only approach that she chose to use. I didn’t hate the book, but I think the movie will be better. Because of the plot, the emotional high for me was when Katniss volunteered for the Games in place of her sister. It was an emotionally heart-wrenching scene, but it was like the second chapter. When she was in the Games, so much happened so fast there were few moments to really hurt. If the author had let the audience into the minds of the people whose loved ones were fighting for their lives, I think there would have been more of that.

I didn’t mean to offend anyone with what I said on Facebook. For me, just because I am reading something for fun, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be well written. I think after everything I heard about this book, I just expected more. I don’t think it is Twilight, but it is most definitely not Harry Potter.

P90X2 Strength Phase (and recovery week)

I am wrapping up the Strength Phase (the second phase) of P90X2 as well as my second “sort of” recovery week. I started on Monday this week with X2 V-Sculpt and quickly realized my body was in desperate need of more recovery. If you remember, I took a Modified Recovery week about three weeks ago where I did a week of the Foundation Phase workouts. I decided to take it “easy” this week. I ran 3 miles Tuesday, two miles Wednesday, and 3.5 miles Thursday (in 26 minutes, a 7:57 pace). Along with doing X2 Chest Shoulders and Tris Wednesday morning and X2 Yoga Thursday morning. Friday I did some foam rolling and P90X Ab Ripper X. I will do X2 Yoga on Saturday and get ready for Performance Phase starting Monday.

With this, I have wrapped up the Strength Phase of P90X2. Reading a lot of people’s responses to X2, one of the common themes is that they dislike that it is difficult to use heavy weight, because of the balance component that forces you to use lighter weight. Just about every move involves some level of balance. In P90X, all of the lifting was done with two feet firmly planted on the ground. In X2, I found myself in a plank position, one hand holding my body weight up on a medicine ball, while doing bicep curls. Obviously, standing upright I can curl way more weight. The point of X2 isn’t to make my arms bigger, but to improve my overall athleticism and improve core strength. It has done that and then some.

The workouts for strength phase are Chest Back and Balance, X2 Shoulders and Arm and Base and Back. Strength phase is supposed to be anywhere from 3-6 weeks. After three weeks of using these workouts, I switched over to the bonus DVDs that came with my deluxe package and introduced V-Sculpt (the X2 version of Back and Biceps) and Chest Shoulders and Tris. I liked all of these workouts. I didn’t gain a lot of muscle mass and I feel like my fat loss has leveled off. This week in particular I am feeling a bit stuck in a rut, which tells me that I held on to the Strength Phase for one week too long, allowing myself to plateau. Next week I am jumping into Performance Phase, which I will have a preview of this weekend.

I think I enjoyed the Foundation phase more, if only a little bit. I still am loving P90X2. I have been sticking to my diet almost perfectly. I am in my second full month of drinking only Shakeology for breakfast. I am still not getting hungry during the morning and have a ton of energy. I am getting home in the afternoon, even after a tough day of teaching and feeling pretty good, good enough to add in 3-4 miles of running two or three days a week. I have a little less than a month left to go until my 90 days are up and I cannot wait to compare the before and after pictures.

As always, if you have any questions or are interested in trying a sample of Shakeology let me know. I have all three flavors available.