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Books in brief


Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins; Scholastic, 400 pages ($17.99). Ages 12 and up.

Collins offers another thrill ride in this action-packed, bloody second installment of her blockbuster "Hunger Games" trilogy. Set in a bleak future world, the Hunger Games are an annual televised fight-to-the-death in a vast, boobytrapped arena of 24 teenagers from every district in the land. The author has an interest in Greek mythology and says her trilogy was inspired by the myth of Theseus and the youths who were sent into a labyrinth to be eaten by the Minotaur. It's a teen version of the sci-fi novel "Running Man" by Richard Bachman (Stephen King), which was made into a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Our heroes Katniss and Peeta -- who broke the rules by saving each other from death in the first book -- are back and under constant media surveillance over their supposed marriage plans. Then the spooky President Snow pays a visit. While the early part of the book gets a bit bogged down in the love triangle of Katniss, her childhood love Gale and her affection for Peeta, the action picks up as rumbles of rebellion are heard and the Capitol cracks down on security. Then there is a surprise announcement about who the combatants will be in the Quarter Quell (anniversary games). Collins manages to surpass the first book with a game setup that offers even more dramatic possibilities than the first, an interesting group of new characters and ever-more inventive ways to kill people.

-- Jean Westmoore



Drawing for Architecture by Leon Krier; The MIT Press, 232 pages ($24.95)

These ideograms and doodles, writes architect Leon Krier, came to him in short "angry bursts." At first glance, they seem playful, witty, Steinberg-esque commentaries on the perils of modern architecture, urban imbalance, petroleum addiction and overconsumption. But many show the deformation of the human body and spirit, the triumph of stupidity, the flabby shapelessness of the inauthentic and the disastrous consequences of abandoning the human scale.

Krier's anger builds noticeably: He says his intention "was not to console or please but to reveal scandalous elements of architectural practices and ideology."

Krier believes in the rightness of classical architectural elements. A door should be a door, not a "so-called" door. A cottage should be the size of a cottage, not, as we might say today, a McCottage. His drawings speak volumes about hubris and our tendency to fall in love with the new -- new materials, styles and a desire to re-create the old, to make it vernacular. Then again, some are pure fun, with witty titles such as "Compulsive Commuting" and "Don't Forget Your Gravity Check."

-- Los Angeles Times



Shades of Grey by Clea Simon; Severn House, 216 page, ($28.95)

It's easy to get caught up in the adventures of grad student Dulcie Schwartz in the start of this new series by Massachusetts author Clea Simon.

The appealing Dulcie is at a crossroads in her life: She's looking for a thesis topic in gothic literature; her best friend and usual roommate is gone for the summer; and she's just had to put her beloved cat, Mr. Grey, to sleep. To add to her woes, Tim, her housemate for the summer, is a self-centered jock who has little patience for education and a snobby girlfriend.

Dulcie soon thinks she's in a gothic novel herself when Tim is killed. Now his girlfriend keeps coming by looking for something hidden in his room.

Dulcie's temp work in an insurance agency takes a weird turn with computer viruses and petty thefts. Then there is the little matter of the ghost of her cat that she swears keeps popping up.

Simon makes her elements of the supernatural work by keeping this aspect as believable as possible. She brought that same sense of realism to her four cat mysteries by showing how the felines enhanced the lives of their owners. She also layers on the gothic ambience as she shows the joys of a library and the terrors it can hold after dark.

-- McClatchy Newspapers