I really enjoyed this as a follow up to The Hunger Games and (but) thought that it had many of the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor.
To begin with, I was really looking forward to getting a better look at the setting and politics of Panem, which I thought would be likely now that The Hunger Games were over and it seemed like the rest of the series was going to follow the course of the rebellion. I was a little disappointed to find that this didn't happen, with events once again rarely expanding past Katniss and her sphere of influence. While I think this constant restricted scope allows us to truly empathise with Katniss and keeps the suspense high, I feel we lose out on a lot of potential story that is happening elsewhere.
Once again the book is divided into two distinct halves and once again I felt the first half was extremely rushed in parts. Katniss and Peeta do a 'Victor's Tour' and visit each of the twelve districts of Panem - an excellent opportunity to expand upon what we know ... which Collins then neglects to capitalize on. She spends a few pages on District 11 and then manages to dismiss the other 10 AND the Capitol in three lines. Again I think this is due to her wanting to keep up the pace fast and the plot moving (in which she is incredibly successful) and also keeping the length of the book down for young readers.
I must admit I did not see mid-book plot twist/revelation coming at all and although I thought it was an interesting decision, it did become a little formulaic and less 'dangerous'. I found the whole second half still rushed and nowhere near as exciting at The Hunger Games. The resolution was the most disappointing element for me ... it lacked any kind of subtlety and depth in its delivery, but luckily was saved by the exposition itself, which made grand promises for the final book.
With those criticisms out of the way, I have to say I am feeling a profound connection to this series, but I cannot really justify why. I am beginning to see why it has become so popular and why it has been having such amazing successes as a series and a movie. Yes, most of the time it is somewhat simple but I think this helps us as the reader focus more keenly on what is presented. We are entirely invested in Katniss and those around her, rather than having to be concerned with the the rebellion, the world and its inhabitants as a whole.
I'm seeing the movie tonight (finally!) and will no doubt make a post about it. I watched the trailer again this morning, and after actually reading The Hunger Games, it gave me shivers. Everything has so much more meaning now - the most prominent of which is the four notes whistled at the very end of the trailer.