WARNING: there's no way to review this without ruining HUNGER GAMES. And it's difficult to review without spoiling the book itself, so a lot of important things will (out of necessity) be left out of this review.
After winning the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are back at home in District 12. Living in her new home in Victor's Village and richer than she could have previously managed, Katniss' life should be perfect. But because of her, uh, unorthodox solution to surviving the Games, she's on President Snow's short list. While Peeta's affections for her are obvious and undying, Snow doesn't quite believe that what Katniss did was prompted entirely by love. Apparently some of the other districts -- the larger, more desperate ones -- are beginning to act out in rebellion, and Katniss is the unwitting symbol of this rebellion.
And while Katniss is trying to convince President Snow of her great love for Peeta Mellark, aware that any uprisings in the surrounding districts will be pinned on her, the Hunger Games are once again afoot. And, as the third Quarter Quell, this Game comes with specific instructions -- ones that drag Katniss even closer to the danger around her.
The setting here is, as it was in the first novel, pretty amazing. Collins really does a brilliant job of world-building in this trilogy, and Katniss' new living situation comes at a sharp contrast from the poverty she endured during the first book. Themes here are different but just as pronounced as in the previous book. Instead of her own survival, Katniss is suddenly worried about Gale, Peeta, and her family's survival. Her own life means nothing if she can't protect the ones she loves. The plot moves quickly, covering much more space than the first book and though nothing important is left out, it does leave the reader (in this case me) wondering about all the things we don't know that happened in the large chunk of time the book covers. The ending is surprising and -- though I rarely say this -- completely out of nowhere. I'm so glad to have the last book in the series because otherwise I would be going crazy right now.
The one real problem I had with this book was Katniss. While many of the other characters -- Peeta especially -- were incredible, Katniss disappointed. In the first installment we saw her develop into a very multi-dimensional character, full of loyalty and love even in the midst of a horrific battle. She was smart, savvy, and although her situation was despicable, it was easy to root for her. In CATCHING FIRE, however, this spark seems missing. She comes across as not quite know what she feels or what she wants, and as a result ends up acting oblivious and incredibly distrusting even of those who are obviously on her side. Her choice between her own life and a rebellion is a difficult one, but the fact that she seemed to constantly be going back and forth on this (and other issues -- see: Gale, Peeta) was annoying and definitely didn't endear me to her. By the end of the book -- especially in the end of the book -- I wasn't quite sure what to make of Katniss. I wanted to like her, but ultimately I didn't. I'm really hoping that the Katniss from book one will be back in the last installment.
Overall, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy felt exactly like the second book in a trilogy. An exceptionally well-executed second book, with an incredible premise, themes, setting, and surprise ending, but still a second book... a link between the set-up of the first and the punchline (so to speak) of the last. And of course if you liked HUNGER GAMES, this should be on your list.