“Firekeeper’s Daughter ” by Angeline Boulley – Review

By: Angie Haddock



As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother.

The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation.

Goodreads


I was interested in this one as soon as I saw the gorgeous cover, but the title and the description also added to my intrigue. My first reaction was, “This book has everything!” It’s YA, and from an own voices/BIPOC perspective. It has romance, sports, crime. There are other very relevant issues at play, as well, so let’s dive in.

Our main character is Daunis Fontaine, who is half Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and half white. She lives in the Upper Peninsula area of Michigan – which is significant, as people in her town cross the Canadian border with ease. A lot of the action actually takes place on Sugar Island, which is in the river that acts as the international border in this area.

There is quite a bit of the usual teen drama here, including hating on exes and contemplating jobs/colleges. But Daunis has some extra weight hanging around such decisions, as her mom is currently taking care of her own mom after the loss of her brother (Daunis’ grandma and uncle, respectively). She has a complicated family history, in which her white side hasn’t always been kind to (or even accepting of) her Ojibwe side. She is close to her half-brother, who is a local hockey star. Daunis herself played, until an injury cut her hockey career short. She is still close to the players, though, both past and present.

She is also close to her father’s sister, who plays a prominent role in the story. Aunt Teddie is one of Daunis’ closest ties to her Indigenous side’s histories and traditions. Her best friend Lily, and Lily’s grandma, are also great windows into this culture.

The action really picks up after Daunis witnesses a murder. She hadn’t realized that the FBI had been running an undercover investigation in her area already, and gets roped into being an informant. The investigation is concerned with drugs being made and distributed in the area. I felt like this was another layer that made this book super relevant, as the opioid epidemic has affected many communities over the past decade or so. The effects that drugs are having on her friends and former teammates is the primary reason Daunis agrees to get involved. She questions her involvement often – especially as it involves not being honest with her family at times – but keeps coming back to the idea of helping her community.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot here, but there is a lot going on. Some parts are gut-wrenching. Other parts made me cheer. (The elders in the community are kick-ass on several levels.) This book definitely had a huge emotional impact.

There are some hard truths presented at the end that are very frustrating, but realistic. Not every strand in this story gets wrapped up in a positive or convenient fashion. That’s not to say there isn’t sufficient wrap-up here, because I think the author leaves Daunis in a good place, ultimately. But you will be angry at some of the injustices left bare.

I loved this book, even when I wanted to yell at it. There is a whole community of interesting characters, which feels a lot like the reality of growing up in a tight-knit community. The females are mostly fierce, which I’m all for. While the main characters are in their late teens, there are good representations of people of all ages.

This book comes out today, March 16th, through MacMillan. I was able to read an advanced digital copy through Netgalley. Also, it is already slated to be adapted for the screen on Netflix.


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“Sing Me Forgotten ” by Jessica S. Olson – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Isda does not exist. At least not beyond the opulent walls of the opera house.

Goodreads


This one was outside my normal, but I feel like it’s good to read things that are new and different. I’d definitely put this in the realm of fantasy, but it also had a historical/classic vibe. I mean, where else have we seen a creature hiding in the shadows of an opera house? (Several blurbs about this one have already called it a gender-swapped “Phantom of the Opera.”)

Ostensibly, this takes place in a fictional town that seems to be in France. The period is probably more than a hundred years ago, as there are guns (rifles) but people ride in carriages or on horses. These things are pretty similar to our real world.

There is a definite mythology built here, though, and it involves creatures called fendoirs and gravoirs. These look like humans, but they have deformed faces. They also have powers to either steal or manipulate memories. Fendoirs are allowed to live in society, although with many restrictions. Mostly, they serve an economic purpose. Gravoirs, whose powers are greater, are killed at birth.

Our main character, Isda, is a gravoir. Since she should not have been allowed to live past birth, her reasons for needing to hide are obvious. She serves a purpose at the opera house, though – she manipulates the audience’s memories of the performances to make them all great, and erase any parts that went wrong. This inflates the reputation of the opera house, and Cyril, the man who runs it. Eventually, Cyril calls on Isda to use her powers to inflate his own political reputation, too.

Inevitably, Isda meets a boy. Emeric is roughly her age, and she is initially drawn to him because he has a fabulous singing voice. (She was raised in an opera house, after all, so she knows a lot about singing.) Rooting around in his memories, however, she realizes that he also knows more about gravoirs than she does. This leads her to start digging around to learn more about her powers. Both the digging and the experimenting/growing her own prowess lead to various sorts of trouble.

Toward the end, Isda is eventually found out. She must race and fight for her own life and Emeric’s. The ending is destructive and bittersweet.

This YA novel comes out today, March 9, 2021. I was able to read a digital advanced reader’s copy through Books Forward Friends and Netgalley.


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“The Future Is Yours” by Dan Frey – Review

By: Angie Haddock


If you had the chance to look one year into the future, would you?

For Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry, the answer is unequivocally yes. And they’re betting everything that you’ll say yes, too. Welcome to The Future: a computer that connects to the internet one year from now, so you can see who you’ll be dating, where you’ll be working, even whether or not you’ll be alive in the year to come. By forming a startup to deliver this revolutionary technology to the world, Ben and Adhi have made their wildest, most impossible dream a reality. Once Silicon Valley outsiders, they’re now its hottest commodity.

Goodreads


This is sci-fi at its simplest.

There is literally no world building, as the story takes place in 2021. It’s told entirely in texts, emails, blogs, etc., making it super easy to tear through quickly.

Two Stanford grads create a computing system that can connect with itself in the future, thereby letting them “see” what will happen before it happens. The enthusiastic Ben wants to market the technology to the public, and become the next Steve Jobs. Yes, he intends to make billions… but not by using it to play the stock market, because he wants fame and glory, too.

Then the inevitable troublesome issues start coming up: can the future be altered? Does just knowing the future make it inevitable, or changeable? Does knowing, in fact, cause these future events to happen? And ultimately: is it possible to send more than just data back?

Our two main characters, Ben and Adhi, have differing views on these issues, and on the morality of using their technology. As their views diverge further and further, so does their friendship and the world around them.

Since this story takes place in our current world and time, it is also peppered with plenty of pop culture references – especially, but not only, sci-fi ones. We see the dilemmas presented be compared to those faced by previous fictional characters such as Kirk & Spock, The Doctor, and Rick Deckard.

If you knew those characters by name, you would probably enjoy this book!

This book comes out today, February 9, 2021. I was able to read an ARC through Del Rey Books and Netgalley.

Backlist bump: if you like time travel, another quick read I’d recommend is “This Is How You Lose the Time War.” It’s more abstract than this one, but fairly short and very engaging.


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“Prepped” by Bethany Mangle – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Always be ready for the worst day of your life.

This is the mantra that Becca Aldaine has grown up with. Her family is part of a community of doomsday preppers, a neighborhood that prioritizes survivalist training over class trips or senior prom. They’re even arranging Becca’s marriage with Roy Kang, the only eligible boy in their community. Roy is a nice guy, but he’s so enthusiastic about prepping that Becca doesn’t have the heart to tell him she’s planning to leave as soon as she can earn a full ride to a college far, far away.

Goodreads


This was described as a YA romance, so I went into it thinking it would be a little on the fluffy side. I was intrigued by the setting – it takes place within a community of doomsday preppers – but thought that was going to be kind of a quirky hook to make it different than other YA novels.

I was not prepared for how poignant, tense, and frustrating this novel was going to be! The kids in this community literally exist to keep the species going, and calling the parents “detached” would be an understatement. In many ways, those aspects reminded me of Tara Westover’s “Educated.” The parents are often using the kids for free labor, putting them in harm’s way, and acting like any harm (physical or emotional) that they inflict is good for the kids.

Thankfully, this story is fictional. But, like any good piece of fiction, the emotions it brings up are very real.

The heroine here is Becca Adlaine, whose parents run the aforementioned prepper community. She is a high school senior, and has every intention of leaving as soon as she can… but, she also has a younger sister. A lot of the story focuses on this relationship, and Becca worrying about whether she can leave her sister behind or try to save her.

Becca’s relationships with her parents are also fraught with difficulties. She both hates them for the way they are, and still kind of loves them because… well, because they’re her parents? I have known people like this, who are still fiercely dedicated to abusive parents because they feel the pull of family ties. So, while I struggle with understanding this dynamic myself, I do acknowledge that it is real for some people.

There are also logistical issues with running away – like how to get away, how to make money to live on, etc.

The Adlaines picked out Becca’s future husband for her already – a boy in her grade named Roy Kang. His family is newer to the community, and they are Korean American, so this will diversify the gene pool. Becca is less than enthused, for obvious reasons. It also irks her that Roy seems to go along with all the training drills and such with no complaints. While she may not like Roy romantically, she is comfortable with him – he’s one of the only people who understands her upbringing, and they have a long history of shared experiences.

Photograph by James Mangle

All that changes when Roy reveals that he doesn’t believe in this prepper stuff, either. He just goes along to get along with his parents. Now, with two of them, there’s a better chance that they can make a plan that will work.

Let me interject here that Bethany Mangle is a Korean American herself, and specifically wanted to write the love interest in the book to be Korean American. However, his ethnicity is not Roy’s defining trait by any means.

Becca (and Roy) have a few other allies: one is another student in their grade, Sydney, who is not a part of the prepper community. Another is one of Becca’s teachers, Mrs. Garcia. While these two characters do not know all of what Becca is going through, she confides bits and parts to them as needed, and they both protect her secrets and help when they can.

Hopefully, I’ve given you a lot about the emotional punch of this story without giving away too many of the plot details. I didn’t want this review to be so full of spoilers that you don’t go pick up this book!

The book is being released on February 23rd, 2021. I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy through the Books Forward program and NetGalley.


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“Going Green” by Nick Spalding – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Meet Ellie Cooke. When it comes to all things environmental she’s, well, a bit ‘green’. But when the PR firm Ellie works for is taken over by keen environmentalist Nolan Reece, it’s clear that if she wants to save her job, she’s going to have to get serious about being green—or face being recycled.

Goodreads


I’m not much of a rom-com reader, but I was initially interested in this one because of the other topic addressed in it. I spent some time this year learning more about sustainability, and thought it was really cool that the idea was starting to leak into the fiction sphere. (I mean, one can only read so many scary, science-filled non-fiction pieces about the climate crisis, right?)

The formula here is pretty straightforward – each chapter presents the main character, Ellie, with a problem. She then tackles it, and things go awry and devolve into craziness. The level of craziness varies from one scenario to another, and some of them were kind of cringe-worthy (to me).

So, let me interject that I am the kind of person who feels embarrassment for characters when they do embarrassing things. I watched that scene in “Bridesmaids” through my fingers, because my hands had involuntarily flown up to cover my face. Not that many of the scenes here are quite that cringey, but… if you’re the kind of person who is not affected by that sort of thing, you’ll be totally fine here.

I actually liked the “not supposed to be funny” thread that ran throughout the book, despite it being fairly predictable: our heroine learns a lot, grows, and becomes a better person. One of the things I liked about this growth story is that it was not totally linear – it zigs and zags into other areas of her life a bit at times. After learning a lot about climate change, Ellie becomes kind of critical of other people who aren’t doing all the things she’s learned to do. One of the last lessons she learns is that it isn’t her job to be so judgemental. (Oof, I felt that one.)

Her final lesson is one she learns outside the “rom” part of this rom-com – or maybe in spite of it? She was fairly independent in the beginning anyway, but she was basically skating along to get by. She learns to be independent and in charge by the end, which is as happy an ending as I needed.

This book was released earlier in December, and I read an advanced copy from NetGalley.


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“Future Furious” by W.K. Valentine – Review

By: Angie Haddock


As the hunters become the hunted, Hen and her crew must run. Run from the bloodthirsty mercenaries and corporate soldiers on their tails. Run from the pasts that rear up to confront them. And run straight into the high-stakes conflict against a ruthless world designed to suck them dry and grind them beneath its heel. 

Goodreads


I seem to be on a sci-fi action/adventure kick lately (see last week’s review of Persephone Station), and this is the second one I’ve read lately with a female-led group of mercenaries! Interesting trend to watch out for? I could get on board with it.

The similarities end there, though, as the plot and tone of this one is completely different.

“Future Furious” takes place in a time when humans have colonized many of the planets and moons within our own (currently known) solar system, but haven’t gone further than that yet. This particular story takes place on Ganymede, but our characters are in contact with others on Mars, Io, etc.

Government has been replaced by the top five corporations operating across the colonies. The entire culture is dictated by commercialism, advertising, and capitalism run rampant. It’s an exaggerated version of our current culture, especially if you consider the way our present-day online overlords (think, social media) utilize our personal data to tailor their sites to our personalities.

Hen is our crew’s leader, a forty-ish “Mother Hen” to the various down-on-their-luck troublemakers she’s rehabilitated over the years. In between the current action, we see glimpses into all of their tragic pasts.

(There’s also a character who – while we don’t learn much about him – would definitely be played by Sam Elliott if this was a movie.)

The action starts to pick up when the crew takes a gig looking for Knickers, who turns out to be an overly-enthusiastic lead singer of a glam-punk band called Space Trash. He’s also a bit of a kleptomaniac, and he snagged a souvenir that the leading corporation on Ganymede wants back. Knickers and his sister, Layla, are now on the run… along with Hen’s crew, who stumbled into this mess unwittingly.

This book has a lot of humor in it. It’s not for anyone who’s easily offended by cussing, though. One line that illustrates both of these points:

“You look like shit,” Lin said as Hen neared the glass. “Actually, you look like some shit that shit ate and then shit out.”

The writing style can be a little choppy, which took me a minute to get used to. There are quite a few shorter sentence fragments that could easily be combined into a longer sentence. An example:

They sloshed their way through the dank, dingy sewers. Bacchus and Dionysus following closely.

It’s not a deal breaker for me, necessarily, but I did feel like it broke up the flow sometimes. So, that’s just a head’s up for the grammar junkies out there who can get caught up in that sort of thing.

Overall, I thought this was a good read. It was fun, and fast-paced. More impressive was that it’s by a first-time author, who recently gave up teaching English to try his hand at writing! He’s hoping to create more stories with these characters, and the world he created in this book is definitely rich enough to sustain some more great adventures.

You can find/read “Future Furious” on Amazon, and follow the author on Tumblr.


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“Invader Zim: The Best of World Domination” – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


WORLD DOMINATION. That’s the goal for ZIM, the Irken invader stationed on Earth. But even an Irken as talented, beloved, and humble as ZIM occasionally has trouble getting his plans off the ground. A brand new collection featuring four favorite stories highlighting ZIM’s greatest plots to take over the world.


This anthology has several authors and illustrators, including Zim creator Jhonen Vasquez. Other contributors include Eric Trueheart, Aaron Alexovich, Megan Lawton, Rikki Simmons, J.R. Goldberg, Warren Wucinich, Dave Crosland, and Fred C. Stresing.

The collection comes out on October 6th. I got an advanced reader copy from Oni-Lion Forge Publishing. (If you’re already a fan of this comic series, spoiler alert: these stories were already presented in issues #3, #8, #18, and #20.)

I hadn’t read any Invader Zim comics before, but I did watch the old cartoon. A familiarity with the characters and style of humor might make this an easier read, but it’s not entirely necessary. If you like absurd scenarios and outlandish egotistical aliens, you shouldn’t have any problems jumping right in.

There are four stories included: Star Donkey, Pants!, Burrito King, and Floopsy Bloops Shmoopsy.

“Star Donkey” has Zim playing the part of a pretentious artist, whose latest installation (at the Museum of Natural History Museum) is really a cover to take over Earth. One of my favorite lines, spoken by a member of the public who is trying to interpret Zim’s great work, is “He’s commenting on the utter banality of commenting.” If that doesn’t sum up life on social media, I don’t know what does! Zim is joined by his companions Gir and Mini Moose in this one, and is thwarted in part by his human neighbor/nemesis Dib.

(But really, isn’t Zim’s biggest obstacle always his own ego and/or Gir getting distracted at an inopportune time?)

In “Pants!,” Zim has invited some aliens to come to Earth and zombify all the humans. The aliens are living pants, and the people who put them on turn into zombies. The story focuses mostly on Dib, as he survives the zombies at his skool and communicates with the alien queen. He and Zim face off in an inevitable Pants Pants Revolution battle.

“Burrito King” sees the return of The Tallest, the overlords Zim is always trying to impress. When Zim sees that another invader is getting recognized for his achievements, he sets out to conquer something he thinks will be an easy win: the local burrito restaurant. He makes all patrons swear loyalty to him in exchange for their burritos – but, of course, Gir is in the kitchen and does not know how to make burritos.

“Floopsy Bloops Shmoopsy” mocks the laziness of good, long TV binge. Zim creates a “conquer blob” to subjugate the human race for him, and then starts watching cartoons with Gir while the blob does the work. They end up watching cartoons for YEARS, though. The blob gets the job done, then gets bored waiting for Zim to come outside, and rebuilds society while he waits. The story ends with Gir saying, “Ooooh, it’s so pretty outside!” and Zim replying, “Yessss… It’s disgusting.”

Don’t we all feel like that some days?

Check out the new Invader Zim compilation, “World Domination,” wherever you get all your fave comics.


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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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