The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

“Nothing you can take from me was ever worth keeping.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 528 pages.
Read from June 23, 2020 to June 28, 2020.

I was surprised at how little hype this book generated considering the popularity of The Hunger Games series. I saw it pop up on Goodreads and thought to myself, how did I only hear about this book now?! The book is a prequel The Hunger Game series and is meant to answer many of the questions fans had about the Hunger Games themselves and the world created by the author. Questions like how The Hunger Games came to be, how the war shaped the districts and how Coriolanus Snow came to be the awful man that is depicted in the series.

The war has recently ended and The Hunger Games is the new punishment that the Capitol has come up with for the uprise of the districts. In its infancy, the contestants of The Hunger Games are not celebrities like they are in the games of Katniss’ era. They are starved and tortured and as a result, the districts care little to watch their friends and neighbours suffer on television. Coriolanus Snow is just 18 years old and his family is out of money after the war despite his family’s long and illustrious history within the Capitol. He is, however, an excellent student and has been selected to help mentor this year’s Hunger Games, something that has never been done before. Coriolanus is initially disappointed as he is given the district 12 girl, Lucy, of which he initially believes that she will have no chance of winning thus effecting his placement and potential scholarship into further schooling as well as the future of his family. However, there is something about this girl as she manages to capture the media’s attention with a snake mishap and when she sings and performs a song after her selection. Her ability to win the crowd is intriguing and Coriolanus is nothing if not adaptable and seizes the opportunity to use this to his advantage. He eventually comes to care deeply for his tribute and begins to question the essence of the games and their moral purpose.

I mostly enjoyed this novel. It was interesting to get the back story on The Hunger Games and the growth of Coriolanus Snow however, this book was way too long. It’s clear the author was able to get away with a longer novel due to the success of her previous novels. I believe this novel would have been more successful had the story been halved. Further, the characters were not as robust as they were in the other books. Lucy could have been an extremely interesting character but she just fell flat for me and I didn’t feel as invested in her as I did with, say, Katniss. I was unsure of her motives and how she was able to trust Coriolanus the way she did. I just did not feel as invested in Lucy’s story or in that of Coriolanus’ since he true character started to show fairly quickly and if you’ve read the remainder of the series, you already know what type of person he becomes which steals some of the intrigue this story could have had.

I think the fans of The Hunger Games series were hoping for something that was equally as good and exciting and I, unfortunately, don’t think this novel quite met that need. If you are a fan of the series, however, this book is still worth reading especially if you had questions or wanted to know more about the history around The Hunger Games.

The Road Out of Hell by Anthony Flacco

If we are to understand “evil” at all, we must think of it as a word—an emotional word—we use to describe actions performed by other humans that we experience as breathtakingly horrible, shocking, and, often enough, nauseating.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from June 18, 2020 to June 20, 2020.

I’m an avid follower of a book site called Book Riot. They publish frequent articles on anything book related. I stumbled across a headline that instantly made me want to read it, called “The Most Disturbing Book I Have Ever Read“. I love disturbing books so I wanted to see if it was a book that I hadn’t read it and sure enough it was. The Road Out of Hell was this particular contributor’s vote for most disturbing read. I had vaguely heard about the Wineville murders, probably on some true crime documentary that I watched. The author of this article sold me and I instantly went and put the book on hold at my library.

In the mid-1920s, Sanford Clark was 13 years old when his peculiar uncle, Gordon Stewart Northcott, convinced his deranged and abusive mother that it was a good idea for him to leave his home in Saskatchewan, Canada and go and work with him on a “chicken farm” in Los Angeles in the US. The minute Sanford left the home his mother practically forgot him and his uncle began to show his true colours and intentions. For the next two years Sanford suffered unimaginable sexual abuse and trauma at the hands of his uncle. It became clear to Sanford that the chicken farm was a ruse for his uncle to carry out despicable acts on young boys like himself and get away with it. Gordon Stewart Northcott kidnapped, raped and killed an estimated 20 boys, though he was only convicted for a handful. Sanford was mortifyingly forced to help with some of the acts by providing his uncle’s victims with meager food and water, locking them away from visitors or helping dispose of their bodies. Sanford realised he would only live as long as he proved useful and endured the screams he heard night after night and felt immense guilt and relief when the abuse wasn’t being centered at him. After so much abuse, trauma, and manipulation, Sanford eventaully resigned himself to his fate believing his he was trapped and could not be saved. He was was looking forward to when his uncle would finally kill him… Thankfully his sister Jesse never ever gave up on him.

Gordon Steward Northcott finally got caught for his crimes when he made the mistake of killing a young white boy named Walter Collins of whom he had an acquaintance with. Up until then, Gordon had been praying on migrant Mexican boys whom unfortunately the authorities would not have looked to deeply into when they went missing or were never reported to begin with. The movie The Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie is about the murder of Walter Collin’s as Angelina Jolie’s character plays Christina Collins, Walter’s mom, as she searches for her missing son. Gordon’s family knew about what he did and covered for him, with his mother actually assisting in one of his heinous murders. Gordon and his family attempted to escape but were eventually caught in September of 1928. Sanford bravely testified against Gordon in court and helped sentence Gordon to death by hanging in October 1930. The media attention and the gravity of these horrific crimes caused the town of Wineville to change its name to Mira Loma.

This story isn’t about Gordon though, this story is about Sanford and how he managed to beat all the odds of the trauma he experienced. After being rescued from the chicken farm after Gordon and his family fled, Sanford was lucky to have a people on the police force looking out for him. Sanford was put into a rehabilative youth program for his parts in assisting in some of Gordon’s crimes, despite him being a victim himself, but the program proved to be extremely useful in keeping Sanford busy and helping him heal from the ordeal. He made a promise to the investigator that he wouldn’t become a criminal statistic of those who have had to endure major trauma like he did. Sanford set out to lead a normal and productful life and he succeeded. Marrying the woman of his dreams and have the continued support from her and his sister Jesse through his darkest days, Jesse became a humble, hardworking, and kind person who raised two sons. He even served in WWII. Sanford passed away at the age of 78 in 1991 having fullfilled the promise to the policeman who showed him kindness and believed in him. The promise that kept him going during his darkest days.

This story is one of struggle and triumph. The novel puts the focus on Sanford and not on Gordon, as it should. The abhorring scenes that Sanford endured are tastefully described by the author in shocking detail that really makes you feel like you are in Sanford’s shoes. The author masterfully put Sanford’s life together from his teens to the end of his life. The content in this book is so chilling it’s hard to believe that it really happened as it’s a surreal read that is as engaging as a piece of horror fiction. I could not put this book down.

This novel is, by far, the best true crime novel I’ve read to date and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves the genre. However, if you’re sensitive to scenes of rape and trauma, this book may not be for you. While the ultimate outcome of this book is positive, trauma is still takes a up a large part of this story.

 

 

Circe by Madeline Miller

“I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 419 pages.
Read from June 15, 2020 to June 17, 2020.

This book was on my library waiting list for such a long time but let me tell you, it was worth the wait. This book popped up on my radar on Goodreads and a few book sites I follow with raving reviews for its unique and accessible approach to some classic characters of Greek mythology. Madeline Miller holds an MA in Classics and teaches high school ages students Latin, Greek, and Shakespeare. A feat, that is is no easy task. I would not call Circe a young adult novel because it’s truly a piece of literature that is accessible to all ages.

Circe is the daughter of the titan, Helios. She is considered unremarkable in comparison to her family as she bares no talents, powers or abilities worthy of her heritage. Always under the watchful and wrathful eye of the gods, Circe finds herself interested in and drawn to mortals, and even falls in love with one. Her love allowed her to do something not even the Gods thought was possible as she turned her lover into a god. Circe soon learns that she is actually a sorceress with remarkable transformative abilities that are capable of feats that make even the gods uncomfortable. After a regretful transformation made out of jealousy, Zeus banishes Circe to a remote island near the mortal realm for eternity. On this island, Circe comes of age, as grows and hones her skill as a witch. She sees the unfairness of her sex and the treatment she endures as a result. She also comes to distance herself further from the gods as she cannot understand the lack of empathy the immortal and powerful gods have towards mortals. During her time on the island, she encounters some of the most famous figures mentioned in Greek mythology.  Unfortunately for Circe, a woman alone, especially one of power with disdain for the gods will not go unnoticed for long.

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

Circe is a story of choice, accountability, and empowerment. Circe starts a naive and passive woman who grows and comes into her own. She makes mistakes but owns them and stands for what she believes in against immeasurable odds. Circe’s struggle is relatable and it brings to life classic stories and characters from mythology whose original publications may feel unattainable or unenjoyable for the average reader. Circe also gives a different perspective on these characters as well as interesting interpretations for some of the things that each character did in the original Greek stories.

“It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.”

The writing is gorgeous and intelligent, showcasing Madeline Miller’s feats as an accomplished academic and storyteller. I’m thrilled that she has published other books meaning I have a chance to enjoy more of her thoughtful writing style and character work. I can 100% say, that this book is absolutely worth all the hype and accolades. If you enjoy historical fiction, mythology, fantasy, classics, or feminism I think you will absolutely devour this book.