The Hunger Games books are definitley compulsive, if deeply, deeply disturbing reading. I must be virtually alone in only having seen the first movie, and so I have been able to read this as book only.
Whereas the first book could be read as a standalone story, this is definitely a sequel – I’m really not sure if you could read Catching Fire if you hadn’t first read book one? It is also very much the middle book of a trilogy and suffers like most middle books of a trilogy do (I myself am currently writing the middle book in a trilogy so we shall see if I too fall into this trap!). Without giving too much away, whilst the book does begin a few months after the end of the previous, you get the feeling on the last page that the next book is going to be kicking off literally from the very next page.
There’s a clever plot-twist to have Katniss going back into the arena for the 75th Hunger Games (or the second Quarter Quell as they refer to it), and a central conceit that sees Katniss and Haymitch agreeing that this time it must be Peeta, and Peeta alone, who is victorious this time around. This is the one part of the book that I find least convincing with no real explanation as to why Peeta *must* survive. I find Peeta’s whole character and annoying wet! Some people I have read have been wanting Katniss and Peeta to get together but I just don’t see it.
Once again, Suzanne Collins does succeed in doing the impossible: of making a story where you are asked to side for and root for a character who must ultimately kill 23 other people into a very readable, well-written, and easy/page-turnery read.