This was on sale for $5 dollars in the Amazon Kindle store, and I finished it in a single weekend, the last half or so in about a day. For some, that's nothing, but it's a bit of a big deal to me.
2) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
There's something to be said about coming into any kind of story with absolutely no preconceptions. While I knew the title and had heard that the director of Pleasantville was picked to helm the movie version, that about sums up all I knew going into this book. In fact, I had to look up the main character after the first chapter to double check that she was a girl since the name wasn't the best indicator. If at all possible, it's a joy to experience any kind of media this way, which is increasingly tougher the more information savvy society becomes. With so many films getting the adaptation treatment and spoilers for things I enjoy sometimes being difficult to ignore, I really appreciate that I experienced this first book cold and encourage everyone to do so if they can help it...which means that your own reading should probably stop here. I don't really spoil anything below this cut, but keep in mind that I didn't even know the PREMISE of the book prior to reading it.
The Hunger Games takes its title from the seminal and barbaric event of a dystopian future that focuses less on the post-apocalyptic catastrophe that created their unrecognizable world and more on what society has become in its wake. Katniss Everdeen competes with 23 others in the yearly competition that's a mix between the Olympics, Running Man and reality television in the hopes that she'll survive because, oh yeah, they're all fighting to the death.
As I was reading this book, my mind wandered to other stories with similar premises, where people are forced into a death match to the delight of the larger population. The odd thing that stood out is how stories like Stephen King's The Running Man or even Steve Austin's shlocky action movie The Condemned sort of hold the moral high ground over the actions of the government of Panem. The former asks for volunteers and the latter involves death-row inmates to take part in the violent free-for-alls, but here it's children, from ages 12-18, who have no choice in whether or not they want to participate. As an added bonus, the government is nearly an Orwellian nightmare, and they make it very clear that to go against the games means certain death for both the participants and their families.
Collins only half covers all of these aspects but does so just enough to allow her to explore the political ramifications of a society where rebellion and free speech are curtailed for the sake of mass entertainment more in future installments. Instead, the focus is on Katniss Everdeen, the narrator from District 12, and her attempts to survive and win the Hunger Games because the alternative (death) isn't too appealing. While Katniss is an excellent competitor and the action throughout the story is engrossing, she's kind of dense when it comes to other, more mundane things like figuring out whether or not a boy likes her. For the most part, it makes Katniss strong female character worth revisiting.