“Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah – Review

BY: ANGIE HADDOCK

“The memoir of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.”

Goodreads


“Hustling is to work what surfing the Internet is to reading. If you add up how much you read in a year on the Internet—tweets, Facebook posts, lists—you’ve read the equivalent of a shit ton of books, but in fact you’ve read no books in a year.”

Trevor Noah

I wanted to start with that quote because, as avid readers, I thought you all would appreciate it.

Firstly, all the friends who recommended this book to me said I had to listen to the audiobook, because Trevor reads it himself.  So, that’s the format I chose. Not only is Trevor funny, and a good storyteller, but he’s also fluent in multiple South African languages… which helps greatly, as he uses several in this book.  (Let’s be honest, my brain wouldn’t have the first clue how to pronounce anything in Zulu, even if I was just reading it quietly to myself!)  This is a pretty quick listen, as the audiobook is just shy of nine hours long.

The book tells stories from Trevor’s youth, up until his early twenties.  While he is pursuing stand-up comedy by the end, it does not talk at all about his career as a comedian.  I would say the main topics are race and racism, growing up poor, and his relationship with his mom. Random anecdotes on religion, extended family, and schoolboy shenanigans are also fun rides.  Anyone who came of age in the nineties is sure to feel a kinship with him when he reminisces on the slow hell that was making mixed CDs in Windows ’95. 

While I don’t want to give away too many of the details, a few stories certainly stand out above the rest.  The story of him having a friend named Hitler really stuck with me.  He talked about how, in Africa, Hitler was just one of many “bad dudes” in history books.  He’s not seen the same way there as he is in Europe or America. Then again, various African nations had had dictators and genocides of their own, so those seemed more threatening. One of the things that this story highlighted for me was how we’re shaped by the stories of the culture we’re in, and how we have to understand the stories of other places and cultures to understand the people who come from these places. 

Eventually, Trevor and his friends are scheduled to perform for a high school of Jewish kids.  Obviously, things go awry.  When the administrators at the school get offended, and tell the boys to leave, Trevor interprets their actions as coming from a racist place – racist against them, as black kids.  He only figures out later that it’s the “Hitler” thing that made them mad.  This part brought to mind the George Bernard Shaw quote: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”

A few quotes from the book that highlight the topics of race, and related issues:

 “Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.”

“In any society built on institutionalized racism, race mixing doesn’t merely challenge the system as unjust, it reveals the system as unsustainable and incoherent. Race mixing proves that races can mix, and in a lot of cases want to mix. Because a mixed person embodies that rebuke to the logic of the system, race mixing becomes a crime worse than treason.”

“In society, we do horrible things to one another because we don’t see the person it affects. We don’t see their face. We don’t see them as people. Which was the whole reason the hood was built in the first place, to keep the victims of apartheid out of sight and out of mind. Because if white people ever saw black people as human, they would see that slavery is unconscionable. We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others, because we don’t live with them. It would be a whole lot harder for an investment banker to rip off people with subprime mortgages if he actually had to live with the people he was ripping off. If we could see one another’s pain and empathize with one another, it would never be worth it to us to commit the crimes in the first place.”

Another big aspect is Trevor’s relationship with his mom.  Obviously, I did not grow up as a mixed child under apartheid… but I did grow up with a single mom, so some of his musings really struck a chord with me.  His mom seems like a defiant, strong-willed woman who wanted a better life for herself than her family had had, and a better life for her kids than she had had.  The final story in the book is about his mom being shot. I got to the part where he finds out she’d been shot… right as I pulled into my drivewa, done with running errands. I was in shock, and thought to myself, “there’s no way I can stop and get out of the car right now.  Oh crap, I have ice cream in one of my grocery bags.”  Needless to say, I ran into my house and turned the story back on, so I could find out what happened! 

I should mention that the stories in this book are grouped more by theme than by chronology. So, there are some characters that you meet more than once, and you may not know their full story until later on in the book.  Stick around, though, and he’ll put all the pieces together for you.


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“Bayfield High Complete Series” by Madeleine Labitan – Review

BY: BRITTANY LEWIS


I recently discovered that my Amazon Echo can read my Kindle novellas. I’ve only used it as a speaker for my Audible and Spotify – and sometimes as an alarm – so this discovery blew my mind. So I went looking on my Kindle for something simple and sweet and Kindle Unlimited recommended me the first novella in Madeleine Labitan’s Bayfield High series “Truth or Dare.”

Preamble for this review: “Truth or Dare” is Madeleine Labitan’s first published novella and each subsequent story improves. These novellas are simple YA Romance romps that hit all the cliches, but that’s what I was wanting, nice simple sweet fluff and a quick read.

I can’t say these novellas are the best books I’ve read this year – certainly not the worst – but they have inspired me to get back to my own personal writing which is a plus.


“Truth or Dare”

This novella primarily happens during a party. Each chapter is a slightly different location at the party, so as I read and saw the hints to other characters who could be the protagonists for the rest of the series, I thought the whole series will be small vignettes of what else happened at this party. I kind of wanted that to be true but as I read more in the series I was so happy my theory was wrong.

This story is about a girl (Mackenzie) whose friend just got cheated on and now they are out for revenge – said revenge involves destroying her ex-boyfriend’s room. When the girls show up at the party they immediately encounter Mackenzie’s “arch nemesis” Sean, who is your typical hot and popular guy who is uber cocky and a full up ladies man and has been since middle school.

Sean and Mackenzie have this epic ongoing prank war going on since middle school and the novella tells you about a great deal of these pranks. Even though Mackenzie and Sean are not major players in the next four novellas their pranks get mentioned or witnessed, which I enjoyed.

The title gives you the basic premise as our two romantic leads play a game of truth or dare. The game lasts only one round leading to the characters skinny dipping. There are some cute interactions before they’re in the water and some tension outside of it as their clothes get tossed into a tree.

After the skinny dipping scene we get more of the party, get more info on the other characters. This is where I, after finishing the series, get a bit annoyed. This novella introduces you to some really interesting characters who barely pop up in the other stories. Which wouldn’t have been a problem if the other four books set up recurring characters, one of whom is only mentioned and alluded to in this one to set up “Kiss and Make Up.” I liked Mackenzie and her friends and wish they would have played bigger roles in the rest of the series.

The “what brings the romantic leads together” section of this novella was really sweet. They end up locked in a bathroom together – Sean’s ex-girlfriend is hooking up with the resident bad boy – and end up talking on a balcony afterwards. Sean talks about being broken up and it is revealed that he has always liked Mackenzie and a misunderstanding in middle school lead to their missed chance at preteen romance (and the start of the prank war). They end up kissing before Mackenzie’s friend tells them they have to leave before they are busted.

What happens as they leave the party might be my favorite little bit of story, so I won’t spoil it for you. This is an 18,000 word novella so it’s worth the quick read just for this scene.

There’s only one bit at the end of the story about the aftermath on Monday where Mackenzie doesn’t know if the kiss meant anything and she didn’t interact with Sean at school so it’s all up in the air. In the end the two come together as a couple, but the prank war continues.

I give “Truth or Dare” 3 ☆☆☆. Not much happens in this novella and it is primarily stuck in one location during a set period of time which makes the natural build up of the characters and their thoughts and feelings seem rushed. A lot of the chemistry and history is told to the reader and given in summarized flashbacks and character dialogue. I wish Sean and Mackenzie got more screen time in the rest of the series, but at least the repercussions of their ongoing prank war continues.


“Kiss and Make Up”

“Kiss and Make Up,” is my least favorite of the 5 novellas, mostly because you know the characters are going to get back together but Madison – our female protagonist – is dragging it out. Adam does deserve it for breaking up with her even though she legitimately didn’t cheat on him (she was seen being kissed by another guy, nothing more).

We’re told Adam said some harsh words in the beginning of the break up – I don’t remember if Madison told us what he said, if so it wasn’t memorable for me – but she also establishes that even before the truth came out (that the guy – name not worth remembering because he doesn’t play a role besides this – kissed Madison because she looked like another girl), Adam was already apologizing. (See “Truth or Dare” review about Sean’s ex-girlfriend making out with the bad boy.)

This novella can be summarized as Madison babysits Adam’s little sister and hangs out with Adam helping her get over being sad about the break up. Madison doesn’t take Adam back, even though she wants to, until Adam sings a song outside her window.

I give “Kiss and Make Up” 2 ☆☆. I enjoyed the introduction of Madison because I enjoyed her in the next three books.


“Perfectly Clueless”

“Perfectly Clueless” is my second favorite book and favorite couple out of the whole Bayfield High series. Bianca and Dylan were foreshadowed in the two previous novellas. They are your typical best friends to lovers trope.

Bianca is my favorite protagonist. She is feisty, the girl who hangs with the guys and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Dylan is the perfect best friend who cares and will drive you home drunk – though it’s revealed later Dylan is threatening guys to not date Bianca which is anti-perfect best friend – and buys you a new doll after breaking the first one.

Our conflict in this novella is that Dylan, who is known to hook up with girls and not have a serious relationship, gets a girlfriend. Bianca doesn’t like this, not with her secret crush and all. This leads to Bianca changing from a tom boy to a more feminine girl (barely). Essentially Bianca is open to hanging out with girls more than before and takes out her brown contacts to reveal her blue eyes. It’s a nice and simple character developmental arc.

This is where characters become recurring. Bianca and Dylan were in all three novellas, as was Bianca’s twin Adam. Madison and Bianca become closer friends in this novella which I approve of. I’m all for positive female friendships.

So, this novella is a best friends to lovers story and it takes until the very end for Dylan to realize that he also has feelings for Bianca after another boy, Rohan, shows interest. This is when it’s revealed that Dylan has been threatening all the other guys who were interested in Bianca which is a no-no. Don’t do that, ever.

In the end they get together, obviously. I just loved Bianca and Dylan’s personalities and interactions. They are the couple that I would root for lasting the longest out of all of them.

I give “Perfectly Clueless” 3 ☆☆☆. Bianca and Dylan were such a great pairing, be it as friends or as a couple. Their interactions were fantastic and made me root for them even with Rohan being a great alternative. I would have made it 5 stars, but Adam’s revelation of his feelings wasn’t set up as much as it could have been and Bianca could have been a bit more conflicted about Rohan especially after they kissed. This is the novella I wish Madeleine Labitan would have made into a full blown novel because this pairing has so much going for them and I just hope they last the test of time.


“Hate to Love”

“Hate to Love,” started off as my least favorite but got so much better as it continued. Alexis and Nick have a playful antagonism that I enjoyed. It reminds me of how my husband and I interact. Nick calls her a “brat” and Alexis fires back with “asshole” (my husband and I use “bitch” in a playful tone with each other).

The premise of this novella is that Alexis spent too much money on a post break up shopping spree and her parents make her get a job. Her best friend Madison (from “Kiss and Make Up”) hooks her up with a job at a local pizza place that happens to be owned by Nick’s dad.

Alexis does start off the novel as a brat, whining about needing to work and that her co-worker Elana (El) hates her. Eventually Alexis gets over herself and realizes that El was just being serious about her job and the two become friends. El just happens to be Nick’s cousin, too. This leads to some drama and awkward moments, not just in this novella but in “Just Friends” since that’s El’s book.

Nick is the typical leather jacket, motorcycle driving, stoner bad boy type. I didn’t mention it in my review of “Perfectly Clueless,” but Nick is actually the one who helps Bianca and Dylan realize their feelings for each other because he is a great friend like that.

This novella shows a lot of Nick hooking up with other girls, which is his MO, but he eventually dates Alexis. It’s a bit rushed and they do a lot of hanging out (going to the drive thru and watching Netflix at Alexis’ house) and making out – typical things you would associate with dating. The main conflict is Nick’s inability to label the relationship and admit he wants commitment.

Out of the other couples who pop up in the last novel, I loved their scenes the most. They are the type of couple who is full on PDA and back alley make out scenes. Reminds me of my favorite couple in Jay McClean’s “More Than” series.

I give “Hate to Love” 4 ☆☆☆☆. Alexis and Nick remind me of my own relationship with my husband. Their bickering and playful antagonism was great to read and I enjoyed their whole arc.


“Just Friends”

“Just Friends” gave my boy Rohan his romantic redemption after the heartache from his date with Bianca in “Perfectly Clueless,” and it gives El time to shine as she was a “friend of female protagonist” side character since the second book of the series.

Rohan is established as this “Mr. Unattainable” guy who doesn’t date and blows off every girl who even tries to flirt with him (also he is from London). El is established as this serious girl who cares about her waitress job and is a gamer, wanting to pursue game design after high school.

Something I didn’t establish previously is that all these books take place during the characters senior year. It wasn’t prevalent plot-wise until this fifth book, as college and graduation are part of the conflict.

Rohan and El become friendly before they become a couple. The main conflict is Rohan’s ex-girlfriend from London wanting him back, and Rohan’s stepmother wanting the same. There’s also the stepmom trying to break them up by telling El that Rohan is going to London for college which is what truly leads to their break up.

In the end everything gets resolved and Rohan reveals he got into the same college as El after graduation. This final scene is also where you finally see more of Mackenzie and Sean from “Truth or Dare” and their friend group I fell in love with in that first novella.

I give “Just Friends” 3 ☆☆☆. It was a nice final couple for the series and ties up some loose ends as to whether the previous couples are still together and gives us some cute scenes with those couples. El and Rohan were the most realistic when it came to conflict, as post high school life is a real worry for new couples who hook up so near graduation like they did.


Overall I give the entirety of the “Bayfield High Series” 3 ☆☆☆. All the couples were cute, some needed more screen time and others were rather boring in the main role but great in later books as side characters – *cough* Madison *cough*. I do recommend this series. It’s five novellas but they are short and sweet. With the world the way it is, something fluffy will brighten your mood.

Currently I am working on reading the rest of Madeleine Labitan’s books. She only has 9 books with the newest “When We Fall” published July 20th, 2020.


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“All Heart: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World” by Carli Lloyd and Wayne Coffey – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


In the summer of 2015, the U.S. women’s national soccer team won the World Cup behind an epic performance by Carli Lloyd. Carli, a midfielder, scored three goals in the first sixteen minutes–the greatest goal-scoring effort in the history of World Cup finals.

Goodreads

While I am not much of a sports fan in general, the singular sport I do follow is soccer. My favorite soccer to watch, specifically, is the World Cup.

All Heart, by Carli Lloyd

Last year, I was with a few friends at one of those wonderful library book sales. There were racks and racks of books – too many to even look at. But among the hardcovers, I found an autobiography from Carli Lloyd. For those who don’t follow the game, Lloyd was a top scorer on the US Women’s National Team during the 2015 Women’s World Cup. I had not known that she had written an autobiography, but I was excited by this find! It was only a few bucks, and I was supporting the library! Win!

I decided to start my current biography challenge with this one because, despite the absence of most sports for the past few months, soccer is sort of back for the summer. (The current MLS tournament follows the standard World Cup format – more info here.) Only after diving into this one did I find out that Lloyd actually published her story in 2016 – and then released this one, the young reader’s version of the original.

So, needless to say, it was a pretty easy read.

Lloyd details her rise as a soccer player – from playing as a kid in New Jersey, through college teams, the U-21 National Team, and the full Women’s National Team. While the text was pretty straight-forward, I will say that she does not spend any time explaining soccer terms to the reader. If you don’t know the basics of the game, be ready to Google.

The story itself is one of constantly striving for more. Lloyd is a perfectionist, and sometimes that works against her by leading her to overanalyze things and be self-critical. But mostly, she uses it to constantly push forward.

I love quotes, so here are some that I highlighted:

“It is not how you start that matters, it’s how you finish.”

“I know that I am the most free, having the most fun, and playing my best when I am focused completely on my own game, not worrying about what everyone else is doing.”

“You don’t start fixating on the finish line of a marathon when you’re steps into the first mile.”

“Negativity is like quicksand: you hang around it long enough and it will take you all the way down.”

“I don’t want to be satisfied, ever. That may sound grim, but it isn’t at all. It is joyful, because the pursuit of progress is joyful. Playing the game I love is joyful.”

So, that should give you some idea of the vibe of this book – motivational, especially to young people or athletes who like to train hard.

I had only a minor gripe about this one, and it is in two items that seem to be missing from the story. On both the dedication page, and in picture captions, she refers to her husband. We meet him in the book, obviously, but she only tells up to them getting engaged. Maybe it’s the “girl” side of me coming out, but I wanted to know the rest of that story! Did they elope? Girl, details! The other omission is similar, in that the book includes a picture (and caption) about the USWNT’s fight with US Soccer about earning equal wages with the Men’s Team… but it isn’t talked about at all in the text of the book.

Overall, an uplifting and breezy read for a hot, quick soccer season!


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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins – A Conversation

By Angie Haddock

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined — every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute… and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

Description of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, from Goodreads.


When I joined up with Reading Our Shelves, I was already in the middle of a few selections. One of them was the audiobook version of “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” by Suzanne Collins. I found that another book blogger, Heather from Froodian Slip, was just going through the Hunger Games books for the first time! So, I thought it’d be fun to get her reactions to the new one, as we finished it around the same time.

What follows is our conversation. I guess neither of us gave it a “rating,” in a technical sense, but we both enjoyed the book.


Angie: I typed up a few of my scattered thoughts earlier today.  Did you have yours in any particular order?

Heather: I didn’t take notes as I went for this one. It got to the point where I just wanted to read and not stop every few minutes to take notes. But I have things to say. Hahaha! And I’ve been going through stuff in my head ever since we decided to do this so I wouldn’t forget the important points. So, we’re good.

Angie: Understandable!  And I’m going to rely on you for some details… I had read through the original trilogy between the first and second movie coming out, so it’s fresher in your mind.

Heather: Okay!

Angie: Perfect.

So, obviously, we start with Coriolanus as a teen.  And Tigris is a main character in this one, as well.  I know we met her in Mockingjay, and knew she was a longtime Capitol citizen… did we know she had any particular connection to Snow?

Heather: We didn’t, I don’t think, but she made it apparent that she didn’t like him and that’s why she was helping them in Mockingjay. And this is actually one of my sticking points in the newest book, because I need to know how they went from such a close relationship to Tigris wanting him dead. Let me grab Mockingjay real quick and see exactly what she said (or didn’t say).

Angie: Well, I read a few reviews of this book and I know a lot of people think there will be more to the story – they also want to know how the two fell out – and some are hoping Collins writes a book with Tigris as the main character.  I’d be up for that.

Heather: I definitely want a book from Tigris’ point of view.

I also wouldn’t mind a book about Lucy Gray.

Angie: I mean… I’d read it.  Ha!  But I also kind of don’t mind her future being shrouded in mystery.  More on that later.

Heather: Oh, I meant more about Lucy Gray’s past. Or the past of the Covey in general.

Angie: Yea, if they went backwards, that’d be ok.  I know I’m not the only one who’s wondered what’s beyond the remnants of “America” at this point, and if the Covey has traveled far enough, it might give us a look at further regions.

Heather: So, Katniss tells Tigris that she’s going to kill snow, and Tigris just smiles. I think that’s the only reference to how Tigris feels about him.

And Tigris is one of Plutarch’s people.

Angie: Hmmm.  Interesting.  Yea, she’s a character everyone was so intrigued by in that one.  I like her inclusion here, even though we know there has to be more to her story….

Heather: And I could make all kinds of speculations about that, but not with any detail, obviously.

I think the first thing I’d like to say about this book is that I knew nothing about it going in aside from it being Snow’s backstory, and I wasn’t super intrigued by that.

Why Snow? Is she trying to make him more sympathetic?

Because it didn’t work.

Heh.

Angie: I think a lot of people were originally turned off by the idea, when it was announced.  Most of us hate him and didn’t want to sympathize with his side of things.

Ha! So, did you like the book overall?  Hate it?  Just hate Snow, even in this one?

Heather: It’s not even that I don’t want to sympathize with him. I can’t sympathize with him. And I’m a total empath, so for me not to be able to sympathize/empathize with someone is rare. They have to be pretty stinkin’ bad. Ha!

I liked the book, yes. I didn’t love it.

I’m not sure it lived up to the legacy of the original trilogy.

And yes, I still dislike Snow. He’s a selfish jerk.

Angie: I liked the book a lot. But, as I said, it’s been a while since I’d been in this universe.  It was “fun” falling back into it, if you can call murder and starvation “fun.”

Heather: Ha! Yes! I kept telling people I was really enjoying the books and then saying, “Can I use the word ‘enjoy’ in this situation? It feels wrong.”

I guess I just feel like so many stories could have been told…and she chose President Snow.

Angie: I think she does a nice job of bringing you back in without it being overdone… you see some familiar last names and get the idea that some families have been in the Capitol for a long time.  But it’s not like she’s spelling out specific family trees here.

Heather: Yes. I did like all of the connections.

Angie: Well, he’s a big player.  And I feel like his story is as much a telling of how the Games have evolved over the years, too.

Heather: That’s true. And really, I think it also showed how much alike Snow and Katniss are in some ways, which was interesting for me to realize.

And so maybe it was meant to show that there isn’t much difference between Capitol kids and District kids (or something)? I’m still working on that line of thought.

Angie: I think a lot of us are a little naive as teens, yea?

Heather: It’s not the naïveté, though…it’s the selfishness.

Angie: And I think one of the biggest things I took away from it was that the Capitol… those in charge, I mean… uses EVERYONE as pawns, even other people within the Capitol.  They’re much crueler to the District folks, but they will still use everyone they can as pieces in their games.

I was thinking of that when I read your review of the first one, how you said you’d like to give Effie the benefit of the doubt but struggled to…

Their visions of reality are just so skewed and twisted.  And it’s been handed down to them by the generations before them.

Heather: So, okay, I have not been Katniss’ #1 fan throughout the series. I understand that they’re just kids and they’re just trying to survive (and really, by any means necessary). But you have a kid like Rue who is trying to survive by helping other people and being kind. Or like Peeta (and he’s not perfect, so this is just one aspect of his character) who would rather help Katniss survive than survive himself.

But then you have Katniss who is pretty selfish, if you think about it, and really is trying to survive by any means necessary.

Angie: I get ya.  Yea, Snow is definitely trying to keep his head above water at some points, and some questionable decisions come from that.

Heather: Peeta and Gale have that whole conversation in Mockingjay about who she might choose (between them), and Gale says something to the effect of, “whichever one helps her survive.”

And Snow is also selfish in that way.

In that way, they are very much alike.

Angie: Right.  And in this story, you see Sejanus… or even Tigris… who don’t act that way, even if they’re in dire straits themselves.

Heather: Exactly.

So, you have these two people who hate each other (Katniss and Snow), and they really have a lot in common.

Angie: Do you think that was what Collins wanted to present here?

Heather: And I agree with what you said about the people in charge of the Capitol.

Maybe?

That’s something I’ve been thinking through.

Angie: Gotcha.

Ok, let’s tackle the Games.  I thought this was one of the most intriguing aspects, as we’d become so familiar with the version of them that exists in Katniss’ time.

Heather: Yes. The development of the Games was maybe my favorite part of this.

Angie: Here’s what I had written down:

I always felt that, in Katniss’ time, the lavish attention they got was kind of cruel in a psychological way… like, here’s all the food and clothes and nice things you don’t get back home, enjoy them because you’ll probably be dead in a few days.

BUT the way they treated the tributes in Coriolanus’ time was actually Crueler.  They brought them in on cattle cars, kept them in an abandoned zoo, and never (like, NEVER, for days) fed them.  They didn’t give them anything to go into the arena with except the clothes on their backs, which were the same clothes they’d been wearing since their names were called in the reaping.  Most of them were half-dead by the time the games even started. This was torture in an actual, physical way (as opposed to merely psychological).

Heather: YES.

I actually took note of that, too, in the same line of thinking.

Angie: So, when we read through the originals, the Games seemed so cruel.  And now that we’re mentally used to the set up, they had to up the cruelty. But seriously, it almost hurts to think that some of the changes made (some, even, by Snow himself) were for the better!

Heather: In the beginning, the Games didn’t really do what I think the Capitol wanted them to do. Many of the districts didn’t watch them, because they didn’t have the means to and it wasn’t mandatory, and so it really was just about torturing the kids that were in the Games (and their families). I don’t think they had the same OOMPH that the more developed Games had.

I think the early Games were really just giving the Capitol some form of entertainment.

And not even good entertainment. (I can’t believe I’m saying that, but you know what I mean.)

The Victor of the early Games really was the kid who managed to survive the longest…not necessarily the kid who could fight the best or better the other players in some way.

Angie: Yes, they added more “flair” as time went on.  But also, the means Snow introduces to make the Districts have an interest… everyone in the winning District getting food, and the victors getting a house… are kind of good perks.  Like I said, it hurts to admit that his way… while definitely for the sake of adding more TV hype… is also kind of more humane?

Heather: I totally agree.

Even if being more humane wasn’t their focus.

Because they added more perks for the Capitol, too, like the betting and such.

Angie: It’s such a double-edged sword.

I also noted:

There was one old arena, used yearly for this event, and it was not well kept up in the interim.  They had to post guards outside, because there were places the kids could escape otherwise.  The place was not in good shape.  They also just expected them to kill each other or die from starvation – there weren’t really other twists planned by the gamemakers.

So, this intrigued me because we see how much planning goes into the arenas later on.

Heather: I said in one of my latest “reviews,” for Catching Fire, I think, that it would actually be really fun to design one of the new terraformed arenas, just not for the purpose of the Games.

Think about how much work and technology goes into the newer arenas, where the old arena was like a Roman Colosseum.

Angie: Yes!  It’s a big part of that universe, I think.  The arenas are kind of their own… artform?

Heather: Yes.

Angie: And let’s just be realistic… the only “gamemaker” in this book is really Dr. Gaul.  I know Highbottom had a periphery role, but he hated it.  She was the one in charge and the only one invested in creating new ideas for the Games.  She is basically evil incarnate.

Heather: I thought it was interesting that Highbottom’s falling out with Snow’s father was over the original idea for the Games.

Angie: His role was… hard to decipher.

But yea, it didn’t surprise me to learn that Snow’s dad had a hand in beginning all this.

Heather: I also love that he blamed Snow’s father for the whole thing because Highbottom was “drunk and it was meant to be a joke.” Well, Highbottom, alcohol takes away your inhibitions, so you obviously already had the idea for the Games somewhere in the back of your mind. You aren’t blameless.

Angie: Agreed!  But I do think he regrets it later in life.

Heather: Dr. Gaul was actually pretty terrifying. I’d like more of her story, even though I’m not fond of her.

Oh, I’m sure he regrets it. I don’t doubt that for a second.

Angie: Like, we can infer that her taking Coriolanus under her wing is – at least, in part – what makes him into a sadistic jerk.  But where did she learn it from?  Ha.

Heather: I just felt that he was being too high and mighty about it around Snow instead of taking some of the blame, but I also understand that he’s a Capitol man, so…

Angie: They are pretty entitled, as a whole…

Heather: Yes.

I would really like more details about the country falling apart…I would like an entire book about that.

Angie: The war and all that?  And how Panem even came to be?

Heather: Yes.

Angie: Let’s talk a sec about the structure of this book.  I’ve seen a lot of complaints online that it’s too slow.  I listened on audiobook, so maybe I just had a different experience, but I thought the pacing was ok.

Heather: I was fine with the pacing. I didn’t think it was too slow at all.

It was meant to be a character study more than a plot-based book.

At least, I assumed that was what Collins intended.

Angie: There are three distinct sections of the book.  I was surprised that the Games was only about one third of the story.

And I also think Collins does a good job of having those little mini-cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, that entice you to keep going.

Heather: I agree.

Angie: The only transition I found really jarring was going from Part 2 to Part 3.  But I suppose we shouldn’t skip ahead too far.

Heather: I don’t remember exactly what was going on there.

Angie: Oh, I’ll bring it back up then.

Ok… Lucy Gray.

Heather: Okay.

Angie: My written thoughts on Lucy Gray:

Lucy Gray was SO country.  From the first time she was introduced, she made me think of a young Brenda Lee, or Loretta Lynn even… country singers who went out on tour when they were still kids basically.  Teen girls singing songs about cheating and drinking, or having hard lives, and stuff that should have been “too old” for them.

Then, when we learned more about “The Covey,” it kind of made me think of the Carter family… traveling in a big band of relatives or similar.  This idea was solidified later in the book, when we find that Maude Ivory’s signature song is “Keep On The Sunny Side.”

One other pop icon came to mind, also.  It’s insinuated that Lucy Gray (and Tigris) might use their feminine wiles to trade for food for their families. This brought to mind the fictional family in Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves.”

Heather:  Yes!

Because of my love of fantasy, I didn’t really think about the Covey in those terms. I thought about them more as traveling performers in a fantasy novel, but I totally see your connections.

Angie: Well, I live in Nashville. HA!

Heather: Ha! That makes sense, then!

Angie: But yea, we could liken them to bards of earlier eras.  Or the Carter family in the 1950s.  Just depends on what era we’re likening to.

I loved that they introduced a strong female co-lead, if you can call her that.

A kind of balance to Coriolanus’ character.  Someone you could root for… maybe?

Heather: So, in the original trilogy, you have Katniss who is kind of…meh. Then you have Peeta and Gale who are more…noble? And in this one, you have just the opposite.

Male and female-wise.

Angie: Well, I am not sure I would go that far.  She definitely has a goodness to her, but it’s often questioned… like, how much is for show?  Since she is a performer, right?

I almost think the truly honest noble person in all this is Sejanus (male).  But Lucy Gray is definitely presented as less selfish than Coriolanus, at least.

Heather: I think she’s mostly genuine, though. At least, that’s how I felt about her.

Oh, I agree that Sejanus is the only totally noble person in this one.

Angie: Right.

So, how do you feel about Coriolanus questioning Lucy Gray’s intentions now and again?  Fair, or just him being paranoid?

Heather: Hmmm…a little of both? I mean, how does anyone trust anyone else in any of these situations? Right? You’d always have to be watching your back.

Angie: This is where I think… he’s being a smitten teenager.  It’s kind of realistic for his age, and his lack of experience with… anyone different than himself. His Capitol circle seems pretty insulated.

Heather:  But on the other hand, I don’t really think he loves Lucy Gray. Not in any real way. He talks so much about her belonging to him and being his…that’s gross.

I think he really sees her as more of a possession.

And then of course he drops her as soon as he realizes he can become something more, so then it’s obvious that his feelings for her aren’t anything like love.

Angie: Ah, fair point.  He’s a person who values control, though, right?  It’s brought up a few times.  And so, might he not be able to differentiate between control and love?  Like, to him, those might go hand in hand?

Heather: Maybe.

Angie: The part you bring up about the end… I have a different take on that!  But yes, he does do a pretty quick about face.

Heather: I don’t think he sees it that way, but I can see that from the outside looking in, yes.

Angie: Right, he definitely isn’t that self-aware.  That’s just sort of how I took him.

Heather: I can agree with that.

Angie: Ok, so a good portion of their relationship develops in the third part.  Do we want to say anything else about their relationship before/during the Games, or about the Games themselves, before we go into Part 3?

Heather: I don’t think I have anything special to say about the Games, no.

That’s where his idea of her being his possession really settles in.

Angie: So, the Games end and Lucy Gray is technically the victor… but they aren’t making any announcement of it.  At this point, I’m worried for her, thinking they’re going to pull some sort of last-minute stunt… and they cut to Part 3 where Coriolanus is unceremoniously shipped off to the Districts as a Peacekeeper.  Grrrrr.  That was the transition that slayed me.

Heather: Aaahhh…yes.

Angie: Total change of setting, and no mention of what happened to her when the Games ended.  Frustrating.

Heather: Yep. That was very frustrating.

Angie: But he didn’t know, either, so I guess we were feeling that with him.

Heather: Sure, because the book was from his point of view, so that’s how we had to go through it, too.

Angie: Ugh.  It was still killing me, though.  Haha.

Heather: Hahaha!

Angie: The third section was even more country.  Love triangles, mysteries, murders, guns, fishing by the lake.

Heather: I kind of figured that the heartbreak would be bigger than him finding out Lucy hadn’t made it back to her district, though.

Yes, and since District 12 is in the Appalachians, that all makes total sense.

Angie: Yea, and I enjoyed meeting the Covey.

Heather: So did I!

Because it struck me right away that the Covey has to be connected to Katniss in some way, but I won’t get ahead of myself here.

Angie: In a lot of ways, though, it also seemed like fan service to go into 12, see the Hob, etc.

But it might also be a set-up to Snow having a particular hatred of 12?

Ah, interesting.

Heather: Oh, that’s where stuff got really heavy-handed in reference to the original trilogy, for sure.

Like, she talked about the katniss, and used the phrase “catching fire,” and stuff like that. I thought that got a tiny bit cheesy.

Angie: Right.  I loved this section, though, for various reasons.

Heather: So did I.

Angie: Yea, I could see it being “too much.”  One of the reasons I liked this section, though, is that it has a lot of music in it.  Which is weird for a book, but we all know this is going to be a movie.

Heather: It’s going to have to be a musical! Hahahaha! Which I would actually love.

Angie: Oh my.  I see it more like “Walk the Line” … a heavy movie that happens to have a lot of singing in it?

Heather: Yes, I can see that. But I can also see it as kind of a dark musical movie. I don’t know if that makes sense. Like, not singing all the time, but lots of musical interludes.

Angie: Fair enough.  “The Hanging Tree” was already in the other movies, so it’s great to see it come alive…

Heather:  Right. So, this is where my ideas about someone in the Covey being Katniss’ ancestor got more solidified.

Angie: Ah… any specific ideas, or still kind of just a thought floating out there?

Heather: I mean, someone in District 12 has to be an ancestor, and someone in the Covey makes total sense.

Well, a friend and I were talking about this (she read the book with me), and we’re thinking it has to be Maude.

Lucy Gray is too obvious, and we don’t know what happened to her.

Angie: Ok so you don’t think the song just sort of became a classic in 12?  There are songs we all know here, in our time, right?

Heather: No, I don’t. Because the only person Katniss ever talked about singing that song was her dad. The other books didn’t say anything about anyone else singing it.

And my friend and I were also speculating that the house/shack the Covey lived in might be the house Katniss grew up in.

Angie: Hmmm… interesting.  This is one of those times where you having read the books more recently does you the favor of having the details in the front of your brain.

Heather: And then there’s the special place by the lake (that was special to her dad).

We’re wondering if Maude is Katniss’ grandmother? Would the timeframe be right for that?

Angie: Surely, as Snow has a granddaughter about Katniss’ age in the original trilogy… So, these teens in this one would be 2 generations before Katniss’ generation.  100% possible.

Heather: Yes, that’s right. And again, I think Lucy Gray being a direct ancestor would be too obvious.

It would almost be like Maude keeping the song alive in memory of Lucy.

And that might explain Snow’s hatred for Katniss.

Angie: I mean, even if she was related to anyone in the Covey, though, it’d probably make him uncomfortable.

Ok, another note I took on this section:

I don’t read a lot of romance, but I absolutely loved the scene where Coriolanus finally meets up with Lucy Gray in the field.  Ok, the setting is hella contrived. But – maybe it’s just because it’s been really hot here already, but – I could feel the setting on a visceral level.  It’s his day off, and it’s sweltering, and he has nowhere else to be, and time is just moving slow.  That felt very realistic to me.

Heather: I agree.

Angie: Now for heavier things…

I think Coriolanus hadn’t really thought through the jabberjay thing, where he set up Sejanus.  He knew what he was doing, but he was still going back and forth about whether he should have or not, even after it was already done.  He didn’t have his mind made up totally.  But I think he is one for following the rules. He never had a rebellious bone in his body, even if he did have a lot of resentment for those in power (Highbottom, Gaul). I think he saw “following the rules” as his way of keeping his place in the Capitol, redeeming his family and keeping them taken care of.

Heather: He didn’t think it through at all, aside from trying to come out on top. Snow comes out on top.

And while I know he feels some duty to his family, again, I’m not sure it’s for the right reasons.

Angie: I think it was pure instinct, to be the tattle tale, because he thinks that’s what would be expected of him.

Like I said, I think he lives for strict rules.

Heather:  I don’t know if it’s because he truly cares about taking care of his family as individuals, or if it’s more about making sure his family looks good. An embarrassment thing.

Angie: Yes, taking care of the NAME.

The reputation.

Heather: Yes. And I think that’s where the disconnect between him and Tigris is going to come into play eventually.

Angie: Possibly.

Heather: Because he never really thought of Sejanus as his “brother” or his friend. He played that up when he had to, but he was totally embarrassed by Sejanus and afraid of what any connection to him would mean.

Angie: Agreed.  I do think he was tired of Sejanus always getting him into whatever trouble Sejanus was in.  He was, if anything, like that little brother Coriolanus was sick of having around.

Heather: He wanted that Plinth money. Heh.

Angie: He wanted Ma Plinth’s cookies.  Always goes back to hunger.

Heather: That, too.

Angie: So, he either set him up because he thought it was the right thing to do (not morally, but by the Capitol’s rules), or because he was ready to get him out of his hair.

Probably a little of both?

Heather: A little of both, I think.

And boy, did that work out for him when the Plinths “adopted” him at the end.

Angie: Ok, that leads me to my thoughts on the ending… of his decision to leave Lucy Gray behind.

In line with that, Coriolanus would have never made it in the wild.  Not that he’s overtly spoiled… I mean, he is kind of spoiled, but he’s also faced hardships… but he is so Capitol.  There’s a line in there, when he and Lucy Gray are running away, where he asks how a roof is even made.  I’m with him there, I couldn’t build a house from scratch!  It makes me think of the adage “Love is Blind,” except in this case I think his love was blinding.  He wanted to go with her, so he wanted to believe he could make it work no matter what as long as they were together.  And then he started actually thinking about it, and realized he had no clue how to survive.  He got disillusioned with his choice really quickly, but I think he was right to be… he wouldn’t have survived.

Heather: Hmmm…I think if he hadn’t been made an officer and sent to the Academy, he would have gone with Lucy Gray.

Angie: Yea, from your thoughts earlier, I knew we’d have different takes on this part.

Heather: At the point where he decided to go with her, he thought he had nothing left to lose. But as soon as that carrot got dangled in front of him, he changed his mind.

Now, I’m not sure that he would have made it all the way to District 13. I’m not sure their relationship would have lasted anyway, but he changed his mind because of the offer of power.

I don’t totally disagree with your thoughts about it, but I truly think he left her when he did because of the offer made to him.

Angie: See, I kind of look at it the opposite direction… he was convincing himself he could do it because staying meant that, if the gun that killed Billy Taupe was ever found, he’d be found out as the murderer.  But he hated being out there almost immediately.  Like, they hadn’t even gotten to the lake and he was questioning it.  Once he found that gun, and could see how he could keep it from being found… I think that’s what changed his mind.

I think he would have turned around after hiding the gun, whether or not he passed the officer’s test.  That was icing on the cake, for sure.

Heather: Oh, that’s true, finding the gun definitely had something to do with it.

Angie: Once again, protecting himself was kind of the biggest factor.

Heather: But if he truly loved Lucy, he would have at least tried. She knew enough to get them pretty far, I think, and he knew that.

Angie: Sure, that’s why he was willing to at least make a go of it.

He was never 100% sold on it, though, and he was waffling the whole time.

Heather:  Well, sure. He’s a Snow. Heh.

Angie: I was not sure if I believed that he would hurt her, but… I don’t know, it could have gone either way.

I think him thinking she tried to kill him put him over the edge there.

Heather: Well, he definitely shot at where he thought she was.

I don’t know if I have an opinion on how that would have gone had the snake not bit him.

I think he might have just said, “I’m not going.”

“Bye.”

Angie: Right.  That part was tense. But after the snake. Like, it was a 50/50 thought for me when he was looking for her.  But once he thought she was trying to get him, all bets were off.

Heather: Yeah, I agree with that.

Angie: Ok, those are the notes I had.  But, a few more thoughts that sprung up… when they first brought up the mockingjays, I thought it was just more fan service.  But they really fledged them out into an important part of the story!  And, also, built up a huge hatred of them for Coriolanus.

Heather: Yes, I was glad that they were given more of a story than just a mention.

And they almost had to be because of Katniss’ connection to them.

Angie: I think that’s another part that’s gonna be haunting in the movie version.

Heather: Yes. I can’t wait to see how they do that.

Because I think the Mockingjays sound awesome. I wish they were real.

The jabberjays, not so much. Those would be kind of scary. Haha!

(Not that I don’t love a good scare, but that would be so creepy in real life.)

Angie: (YES, no jabberjays in real life please!)

So, we leave Coriolanus under the apprenticeship of Dr. Gaul.  I think that this will definitely warp him even more than what we’ve seen here.

Heather:  Most definitely.

Although he had no problem poisoning Highbottom on his own. And so begins his reputation for poisoning people and getting those nasty sores in his mouth.

Angie: Exactly.  He’s become quite the killer in a few months.

And we know he’s working directly ON the Games.  I was thinking his involvement in that might lead to his falling out with Tigris?

Heather: That’s what I think. I think Tigris is finally going to see him for who he really is in all of that.

Angie: I don’t think it’s a line of work she’d respect, really.

Heather: And I think he’s going to screw her over somehow in all of that. Because she ended up being one of the stylists in the Games.

Angie: Truth.

He also mentions that he’d never want to be in love again, but would marry for power/image.  And we can assume he does do that, as he has a granddaughter later.

Heather: Yep.

Angie: The poor soul he marries… must be as twisted and power-hungry as he is.

Heather: Or very, very naive. I can totally see him taking advantage of someone who is very weak for whatever reason. Someone he can easily control.

Angie: Maybe.  But we know she’d be Capitol, and so… she wants that Snow name and money, most likely.

Heather: Maybe.

I’m looking forward to seeing if she continues this story.

Angie: There are definitely some other threads she could pick up.

Heather:  It would be kind of cool if another book picked up the story where this one leaves off…but from Tigris’ point of view.

Angie: That is what I’m hoping for. Oh, I had saved two quotes… the one I felt described Coriolanus best:

“What was there to aspire to once wealth, fame, and power had been eliminated? Was the goal of survival further survival and nothing more?”

Heather: Yeah, that’s a good one.

Angie: And one Lucy Gray one:

“I think there’s a natural goodness built into human beings. You know when you’ve stepped across the line into evil, and it’s your life’s challenge to try and stay on the right side of that line.”

Heather: YES.


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