Book Review: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

I’ve worked in theater for nearly a decade and minored in Elizabethan Culture in college, but when it comes to William Shakespeare, I’ve never described myself as a fan. Generally, I think this is because I’ve yet to see most of Shakespeare’s plays onstage. Of course, when in showbusiness, I’ve often had to read a script for an evaluation of the company’s ability to produce it, and there are many I’ve enjoyed reading, even though scripts are meant to be performed.

Hamlet earned three stars from me (review here) while Romeo and Juliet (review here) earned five. Part of the reason I named my daughter Katherine was because of Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew, who remains one of my favorite characters in all theater. Recently, though, while reading Macbeth, I found myself struggling to focus on the story.

As I said about Hamlet, I think that sometimes there are elements of Shakespeare’s works that are lost on moderners because of the cultural divide imposed by the four centuries between Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and today. While murder has always been wrong and ambition has always been dangerous, there is an aspect I believe to be lost when reading one of Shakespeare’s plays about nobility. Additionally, as I said last week in my analysis of Macbeth’s placement on the Amazon/Goodreads Lifetime Reading List, the stock Macbeth places in the prophecy by the Weird Sisters is also lost on modern readers/viewers because we don’t generally frequent fortune tellers for the same reasons as those in the Renaissance did.

That said, there were a couple of passages within Macbeth that I found particularly striking.

At the end of Act I, Scene 2, Macbeth says, “False face must hide what the false heart doth know,” then he exits. In other words, he’s saying that one’s face must conceal what is in their heart, which is something I think we all do. We put on a smile when we’re broken inside, or we play ignorant when we’re seeking to conceal information.

In Act III, Scene 2, Lady Macbeth says:

Naught’s had, all’s spent

Where our desire is got without content.

’Tis safer to be that which we destroy

Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.

Macbeth,William Shakespeare

I found this passage profound because I’ve always been a risk-taker, and more than once I’ve gambled quite a lot in a bid for happiness or peace. Usually, it’s worked well; however, the risk is still there, and Lady Macbeth’s words of caution are ones I think we all should know. I also agreed with her notion that it’s better to be the one who was risked/sacrificed than the one who takes the risk because the long-term anxiety from an impulsive act can be crippling. While I don’t think that means we should never take risks, I do think we should always stop to consider the potential ripple effort of our actions.

These quotes aside, though, the only other element I liked of Macbeth was the Weird Sisters. I enjoyed their lines immensely, and frankly, I wish Shakespeare had written a spin-off play about the Weird Sisters! Perhaps some superfan of Shakespeare will write their origin story (and if you happen to know of one, let me know in the comments please!).

At best, I can give Macbeth two stars. I know it’s a classic work, but I’m simply not a fan. Maybe when the pandemic ends and Shakespeare in the Park resumes, I’ll have a different opinion after seeing it performed by professionals. The reading experience of the story itself, though, is not one I care to repeat.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Ever since I did my undergraduate thesis on the entire Harry Potter book series, I wonder what new thing I’m going to pick up each time I read the books. I spent six months studying these books in-depth—my outline for the thesis alone was nearly 100 pages! How could there possibly be anything new to find?

But when I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets last week, all I could think about was how incredibly sassy the teachers at Hogwarts are! Of course, I noticed a few other enjoyable aspects about the book, but the most memorable was the way in which the professors bonded over the ineptitude of Professor Gilderoy Lockhart. For that matter, the way Ron Weasley responds to Lockhart—even before he’s introduced to the reader—thoroughly captures the general reaction of the Wizarding World and Muggles alike. (And while I don’t like to get too political here, a case could be made for the similarities between Lockhart as an educator and Trump as a politician.)

In regard to Ron, the brotherly affection between he and Harry (and that Fred and George have for Harry as their younger brother’s best friend) is also a noteworthy point in the story. After Ron and Harry’s adventures in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s only natural the pair would have bonded. However, their bond is much deeper than is directly addressed. While we know Harry is a kind, compassionate, daring young boy, the resolution he displays after he and Ron have been separated in the Chamber of Secrets as well as his willingness to risk his life to rescue his best friend’s sister is striking. In my life, I can only think of a few people who I suppose would be willing to risk themselves like that for someone I love. The dynamic of friendship between these two twelve-year-old boys is something we need to discuss more—it’s another way our youths should look up to and try to imitate the behavior of J.K. Rowling’s famed protagonists.

I’ll never forget the first time I watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) and saw Hermione Granger in the Hospital Wing, having been petrified. When I read the same scene in the book, I had an even more emotional reaction. This cunning and determined young girl was wise enough to protect herself, moments after solving the great mystery of the monster within the Chamber of Secrets, a query that had baffled some of the greatest professors and historians in Wizarding World history. To posses such wherewithal under duress is not something that should be taken lightly; furthermore, that she noted how the basilisk was moving through the school on the paper is another aspect to discuss. Did she make that note for herself (we know she’s an avid reader and talented scholar), or did she write it down in case something did happen to her, that way Ron and Harry would have the answer to the question she knew her friends would ask? I choose to believe the latter (that’s what I’d do).

Finally, I appreciate the insight we receive into Draco Malfoy’s bully nature. From the first time we meet Lucius Malfoy, his father, we understand that the senior Malfoy is also a bully. As an adult, I’m able to see that Draco is simply behaving the way he knows best, the way that has been shown to him his entire life. And at twelve-years-old, I can’t blame Draco for not realizing quite yet that he could rise above and be better than his father. I can’t blame Draco for perpetuating a cycle of abuse toward all who are different from him. The way in which Draco uses the slur “Mudblood” reminds me so readily of the manner in which many children/teenagers will call someone an unkind name, merely repeating things they’ve heard their parents say. It’s tragic, and I’m thankful Rowling gave us yet another fictional version of our reality in which we can discuss such matters with young people, hopefully steering them toward a kinder, more understanding path.

My favorite aspect of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is exactly that: Rowling provides many magical talking points which hearken to the real world. This is what makes an exceptional book; it aggravates me when zealous folks condemn the Harry Potter series “because there’s witchcraft!” without considering the wisdom within each chapter. Like many who have come before me and many who I’m sure will follow, I give Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets five stars.

You can see my review of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone here as well as my evaluation of its placement on the Amazon/Goodreads Lifetime Reading List here.

Book Review: Wiving by Caitlin Myer

Note: I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley and am leaving this review voluntarily.

The first thing that caught my eye about Wiving by Caitlin Myer was the cover—full of color yet muted, the tones spoke to the desire for hope, however stunted that desire may be by circumstance. Next, I noticed the title. “Wiving?” I thought. “That’s unique. This has to be interesting.”

And it most certainly is.

As the author takes the reader on a painful, lonesome (but not altogether lonely), perplexing journey through the first half-century of her life, Myer recounts some of her most painful memories.

A childhood wrought with confusing messages about “a woman’s role”, how any sexual activity—consensual or forced—would ruin the woman’s reputation. Barriers set by the Mormon culture in Utah, meant to enforce the subservience and placidity of women. Familial discord and mental health struggles that impact children and medical negligence. The events that formed the youngest years of the author’s life are harrowing, many of which are part of the quiet scars so many of us bear.

These scars gained in youth form the path Caitlin Myer took through her early adulthood and into middle age, often finding herself in situations that ultimately added more scars to her heart. From wishy-washy, opportunistic, never-going-to-commit boyfriends to emotionally abusive, gaslighting partners, to a marriage so loving it was suffocating, Myer explores different versions of the “wifehood” she was prepared to seek, all the while knowing it isn’t what’s meant for her. After a medical crisis the author fully begins to shake free of the chains in which her upbringing bound her, setting out on a global quest for freedom—whatever that truly means to her.

Told in blunt terms and frank recollections, Wiving is the type of book I immediately texted my fellow survivor friends to say “I HIGHLY, highly, highly recommend this.” The thoughts and insights the author shares regarding the thought processes and ways in which multiple abusive events by various abusers changes one’s mindset, worldview, and self-worth are striking. Never before have I read a book and truly felt that my own thoughts were the words on the page, but Wiving is that book for me.

I wish I knew the words to thank Caitlin Myer for writing this book, as difficult as it may have been to recall such tortuous events.

This book absolutely deserves five stars for the message it shares and the way in which the author tells it. I started reading it at nearly midnight, and only when my eyes burned with exhaustion did I stop…only to pick it up again as soon as I awoke. I completely encourage survivors of abuse (especially an upbringing in a cult, gaslighting, and sexual abuse/assault) to read this book, and then find someone to share it with immediately. Wiving sets the standard for the type of memoir our culture needs.

Stand and Speak

As my friends know, this summer has been a long, hot one for me—and not just because I live in the Ohio Valley.

In early June, I received word that my former teacher had been fired from the school he’d been at since he’d left my high school in 2012. From what I understand, he was terminated because he’d lied about why he’d left his previous job. According to the rumor mill, he’d left my school because he’d been accused of sexual harassment by several students. At the time, I knew he’d left a prior job under similar circumstances. Now, in 2020, that’s three schools he’s left or been fired from for the way he talks to students (and, possibly, his relationship with a few).

This isn’t an easy bit of news for me to receive because, while I witnessed him cross the line several times verbally and my former high school friends have shared they’ve been sexually involved with him after graduation, this teacher was like a family member to me. He made sure I had what I needed as a student, but also as a person, ensuring I received food and medical care when I needed it. In a lot of ways, I’ve told myself that while I may morally disagree with him, that doesn’t make him a bad person.

But since I’ve embraced the part of my past that dictates I’m a survivor of sexual assault, I see him differently.

I wasn’t assaulted violently in an alley by a stranger. I wasn’t assaulted in a way that completely took me by surprise. I was abused for months by a man (not my teacher) I trusted, and it was only in retrospect that I understood it was abuse. Then, at senior prom in 2014, my date attempted to rape me—I barely got away at the last second. My date was someone I’d been friends with since the end of my freshman year. I knew that was assault, but what did I do with that information? I got away, and there was minimal evidence on me—if any—so what could I report? So I reported nothing.

Now, I realize that what happens—and what doesn’t happen—and which words we use to describe these things matter.

For years, I’ve said that it’s good to say what you mean and mean what you say, and when it comes to abuse of any kind and assault, there is nothing wrong with being explicit. There is nothing wrong with stating boldly exactly what happened and how it made you feel. There is nothing wrong with using words that express your anger, or your pain, or your confusion. Additionally, there is no rulebook that states when you should say what or how you should say it. You don’t have to start at the beginning, or the end, or by stating what you want to see happen or what you wish had happened instead. Speaking up in some way is all that matters.

As a society, I know we like to say that it’s okay if we never speak up. As a survivor, I understand the struggle in finding my voice in order to speak up.

But also as a survivor, I feel that we need to remember that when we keep our mouths shut about our experiences or what we witness happen to others, we are doing all the people who will follow in our footsteps a disservice. And I think it’s okay to take some time to find that inner strength to speak up.

But as I hear stories of what’s unfolding at my former teacher’s latest school, I’m sickened. All I keep thinking is that I should’ve been far louder, more proactive, and bothered administration about investigating him. I reported this teacher once, and the principal at the time did very little about it. Why? I’ll never know.

But now, this teacher has been at a new school for seven classes worth of students. It’s a much bigger school than the one I attended, so I assume he had more students there.

How many of them did he harass?

How many did he sleep with?

How many were groomed to his liking, so that by the time they graduated and they wouldn’t be breaking any rules, they were able to slide into his bed where a girl from the previous class just vacated?

The words I used back then were facts, stating what I’d seen happen. But I should’ve also used words to express my feelings: his statements about girls’ bodies made me feel inadequate, his frequent use of innuendo confused me because I didn’t know a lot about sex at sixteen years old, and his annual bedding of one of my friends made me feel like I had a big “I’m next, aren’t I?” neon sign over my head.

Even now, I feel like an object in the eyes of men, and I’m confused about how men in positions of power view their subordinates. I wonder just how I managed to escape his advances, if tradition were to hold. If he hadn’t left my school during my junior year, would he have started trying to get me into his bed my senior year? When I graduated? Or was he already trying all along, I was just unaware because I didn’t understand sex or recognize predatory behavior?

Or is it possible that I really was different to him, that I mattered like a family member to him, the same way I viewed him as an uncle, one for whom I bought Father’s Day presents?

I realize now that I shouldn’t be left with so many questions about someone who I should’ve been able to trust. Until now, I never really understood that line from the film Freedom Writers (2007), when Andre tells Ms. Gruwell, “Why should I give you my respect to you? Because you’re a teacher? I don’t know you. How do I know you’re not a liar standing up there? How do I know you’re not a bad person standing up there? I’m not just gonna give you my respect because you’re called a teacher.”

I’ve always been skeptical of authority, but now…I realize that just because someone carries a badge or has a license in something or is in a position of trusted authority, that doesn’t mean they’re worthy of my trust, either as their student or as the parent of their student.

Because now that I’m a mother, I see all these men who I trusted and who abused that trust so much differently.

I deserved better than what they gave, and I deserved better than the way the powers that were handled the situation when I cried “Wolf!” while providing pictures of the damn wolf.

All of us survivors deserve better than we received.

Likewise, all of the people who have yet to set foot on this path deserve better than the society we currently live in.

So what do we do? What can we do about it?

I don’t have that answer. Each situation is unique, but we all have one thing in common: we can all communicate, whether that’s with words or sign language or writing. And as long as we find a way to use those words, either to help bring charges against our abuser/attacker or to heal ourselves so that we can use our experiences to help others, then we’re doing something.

When we were being abused and attacked, all we had to do was survive. We did whatever it took, accepted whatever we had to in order to persevere. And now that we’re on the other side of it, I think it’s our duty to make the world a little easier for those who are still trying to survive. After all, isn’t that what we wanted?

Finally, to all the educators, lawyers, and policymakers who have the power to protect us when something does happen, it’s your duty to listen to the words we use, even if they’re messy, jumbled, and overwrought with emotion. It’s your job to hear our truth, rather than embrace your own preconceived notions. And once you’ve heard us, it’s your job to do something with our words to prevent the same tale from having to be told again, and again, and again.

Is Lucy Gray the Grandmother of Katniss Everdeen?

Before you read any further, please be aware that this post contains many spoilers of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins.

As soon as I finished The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, I texted my best friend who’d loaned me the book.

“Lucy Gray is Katniss’s grandmother!!!!!!”

Quickly, Hannah responded with a series of texts:

“Holy shit is that a theory or is that real? How did I not know this??? Why don’t I analyze what I read anymore!! See, I didn’t think she was alive anymore. I think he got her in the woods in the last chapter.”

I cracked my knuckles and began explaining precisely why I believe Lucy Gray is Katniss’s paternal grandmother.

The first major clue in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes appears when Lucy Gray sings before District 12, quickly captivating the entire audience and the viewers of the Reaping in the Capitol. Throughout the original trilogy, Peeta states that Katniss’s father had the same ability, that even the birds would stop to listen to Mr. Everdeen sing. Additionally, in Mockingjay, we learned that Katniss’s father taught her the folk song “The Hanging Tree,” which we learn in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was written as a response to an event in Lucy Gray’s life.

Furthermore, Lucy Gray lived in the Seam, the same place as the Everdeen family. My uncle has often spoken of “The Homing Instinct,” which essentially states that the majority of humans live within a few miles of their childhood home or hometown. Furthermore, many studies like this one( indicate that those who grow up in poverty not only remain in poverty, but perhaps close to home, if not remaining in their parents’ household until it becomes their own.

While the fact that Lucy Gray lived in the same neighborhood as Katniss later did may not be evidence enough that they’re related, it’s noteworthy that Lucy Gray went beyond the fence of District 12 to explore many of the same areas Katniss later did, such as the small house by the pond (where Katniss and Gale later met up to run away). Lucy Gray went swimming in the pond where Katniss shares her father taught her to swim and gather katniss roots, which Lucy Gray also gathers from the pond. Lucy Gray even states that katniss roots technically have another name, but she prefers to call them “katniss” because it sounds prettier.

It’s also worth noting that Lucy Gray and her fellow Covey had an affinity for goats, like Primrose Everdeen.

Simply put, there are many details of Lucy Gray’s life and habits that sound like family traditions or customs far more than a mere coincidence—and in literature, I don’t believe in coincidences.

After reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, I can’t be 100% certain that Lucy Gray is Katniss’s grandmother. However, given these examples (as well as others), I wonder if Lucy Gray is the mother of Katniss’s father. Given the striking similarities between the two women—not to mention President Snow’s on-sight hatred for Katniss—I choose to believe they are related.

There are several other notions in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes that make me wonder if there are additional connections between young Snow’s life and the action of the original trilogy. For example, I think the building that lodged the Snow family became the tower that housed the tributes, given the opulent descriptions and the penthouse on the twelfth floor. As we see in The Hunger Games, Peeta and Katniss are lodged in the penthouse of a building…which is on the twelfth floor. At one point, Effie states that their building was once occupied by Capitol citizens, too. Additionally, Peeta and Katniss have a picnic in the rooftop gardens before the Games, and Snow’s grandmother had a plethora of gardens on the roof of their building.

I enjoyed The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes far more than any of the original three books by Suzanne Collins. (You can see my reviews here: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay, and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.) One of those reasons is because of the amount of foreshadowing and/or allusion to future details, like those I’ve listed here.

What do you think?

Lifetime Reading List: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Out of the 100 books on the Amazon/Goodreads Lifetime Reading List, three are plays by William Shakespeare. I read Romeo and Juliet in February and Hamlet in March. Although I believe both plays are tales worth viewing, I don’t think these have any place on a reading list—I think these works should be viewed as they were intended when penned.

The third work of Shakespeare’s on this list is Macbeth, which I read today. It’s a quick script, hardly more than a hundred pages. And like Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, I don’t believe this play has any place on a reading list. William Shakespeare was a playwright, not a novelist; his works are meant to be watched and enjoyed live, not in print. As I read, I found elements of the macabre and would-be-ominous moments in the lines of Lady Macbeth that failed to pack the punch I believe Shakespeare intended because I was reading the words rather than hearing them. In my experience, there is a different impact for the viewer/reader in hearing one lament a murder as opposed to reading about it. While I can see how Lady Macbeth is one of the most acclaimed roles in all of theater for the past four centuries, I would much rather watch her recite her lines than read them myself.

As you can see in my posts about these other plays by Shakespeare, I asked myself a different question: Do I believe these plays are a must-watch, even though I don’t think they’re a must-read?

In the case of Macbeth, I say “no.” There is a great deal of murderous scheming that is lost on us moderners, and the superstitious factors for Macbeth regarding The Weird Sisters hold a weight that is missed to a modern audience. As a Tudor history buff, I have an idea of the importance members of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries places on fortune tellers and the like. However, without that understanding, much of what Macbeth and his fellow players endure doesn’t make a lot of sense. In today’s age, many of us may have our palms read for fun without really applying what is said to our future or Fate. However, in Shakespeare’s time, the history of nations could be decided by what a fortune teller said, as evidenced by those Henry VIII employed during his pursuit of Anne Boleyn to bear the male heir he craved (spoiler alert: Anne gave him Elizabeth I and no living sons).

There were two lines in Macbeth that stood out to me, but I’ll talk about those in my review next week. Stay tuned!

Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

When I saw on Twitter that a new Hunger Games novel was being released this year, I wasn’t sure what to think. At the time, I hadn’t re-read the original trilogy, and I barely remembered anything about this new book’s protagonist, Coriolanus Snow, a.k.a the tyrannical President Snow of the seventy-fourth and -fifth Hunger Games featuring Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes evoked mixed opinions online from its announcement, but I tried to go into it with an open mind. Of course, due to budgetary reasons, I suspected that I wouldn’t get a chance to read it until later in the year at the earliest. Fortunately, though, one of my best friends read it and quickly placed it in my hands with high recommendations. Knowing it was rare for her to finish a book so quickly, I hurried to start reading it.

Initially, I was intrigued to get to know Snow as a teenager, but I wasn’t necessarily invested in his story for the first eighty pages or so. While I saw some similarities in both Snow and his tribute, Lucy Gray from District Twelve, to Katniss Everdeen, I was waiting for the action to start. While the world-building of Suzanne Collins in the first third of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is strong, it did slow my initial investment in the story.

The closer the Tenth Annual Hunger Games loomed, however, the more interested I became. Collins gives the reader an abundance of background for the development of the Hunger Games as well as the muttations, answering questions fans of the original trilogy may not have known to ask.

As the action of the Tenth Annual Hunger Games begins, the risk for Snow increases exponentially. As a result, I found myself rooting for Snow and Lucy Gray, even though I knew what a monster Snow eventually becomes. This is perhaps one of the most enthralling aspects of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – as the reader, I found myself cheering for the antihero character of Coriolanus Snow, who I know becomes hero Katniss’s antagonist. My brain is spinning even now as I type that sentence, but that is simply the mastery of Suzanne Collins. Her brilliance had me, Lil Miss “Good Always Wins,” rooting for the bad guy!

In an effort to keep the spoilers to a minimum, in regard to the final third of the book, I’ll say this: the experiences of Snow in District Twelve provide so much context to his evil side that dominates the world of Katniss and Peeta decades later. As I read this final third, I could hardly do anything else. I was riveted.

While I’ve given mixed ratings to The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, I have to give The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes a shiny five stars. Everything about this book was fantastic. Even for non-fans of the original trilogy’s characters (like me!), The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is an absolute must-read.

Check back next week for my theory of Lucy Gray’s relationship with Katniss Everdeen!

Book Review: Why Did Hitler Hate the Jews? by Peter den Hertog

Note: I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley and am leaving this review voluntarily.

Why Did Hitler Hate the Jews? by Peter den Hertog is the most fascinating book about Europe in the twentieth century I have ever read. Exceptionally well-researched and presented in a manner that is easy to comprehend, Why Did Hitler Hate the Jews? provides a plethora of historical evidence and scientific data to theoretically explain the psychological state of the famed dictator Adolf Hitler.

Peter den Hertog provides a thorough examination of political, sociological, and domestic factors that combined to create a “perfect storm” during Hitler’s youth and early adulthood, ultimately creating a dangerously paranoid man who changed the course of world history. The author sensitively explains facets of Hitler’s personality without glorifying the man, which is refreshing. As each element of Hitler’s life is presented for the reader, the author provides perfectly-cited research to assert his claims, providing documents from Hitler’s contemporaries (both familiar and professional) and posthumous historians alike. Instead of yet another speculative document, Why Did Hitler Hate the Jews? works in an investigative manner to answer the titular question so many of us have pondered.

This book is perfect for high-level secondary history classes as well as collegiate discussion; it also serves the amateur or hobbyist historian well when seeking factual reading about Adolf Hitler and the European stage which brought him to the forefront. I read this book in less than a week, so at times I found some of the chapters a tad repetitive as they continually reference their predecessors; however, if I were to read this book over the course of a month or semester, I would appreciate the repetition of facts and data.

I’m rating Why Did Hitler Hate the Jews? by Peter den Hertog five stars, and I wish I could give an additional one for the delicate manner in which he addressed the gruesome aspects of the Holocaust. For history buffs as well as individuals who simply want to understand a little more about Adolf Hitler, I declare this book a must-read.

Book Review: Photographing Kate by Elle Sweet

Note: I received a free copy of this book from Emma Welton of Damp Pebbles Blog Tours and am leaving this review voluntarily.

Photographing Kate by Elle Sweet is the perfect book to read with your Saturday morning cup of coffee, which is exactly what I did today. It’s rare that I read a book in one sitting, but this one is worth the delayed chores and responsibilities!

From the first page, I was instantly hooked into the drama of Kate Hamiliton’s life as her husband is convicted for white-collar crimes. By the fourth chapter, I was thrilled to see that while said drama continues to impact Kate’s life, it isn’t the driving force of the plot. Rather, when Kate takes an extended vacation to Moonshire Bay to visit a friend, the story truly takes off as she begins a journey of seeking her new life and identity as the ex-wife of a nationally-known criminal.

Upon arriving in Moonshire Bay, Kate bumps into Zach—whose profession as an attorney does little to instill her trust in him, his first strike being that he’s a man. However, even Kate’s emotional guard cannot resist Zach’s charm and benevolence…until she realizes their undefined relationship began with a lie.

From the charming descriptions of Moonshire Bay to the loyal and kind characters, Photographing Kate absolutely deserves all five of the stars I’m awarding it. Until Photographing Kate, I’d never read any of Elle Sweet’s books; however, they are all now on my To Be Read List. I adore the way the author embraces the protagonist’s insecurities and “little moments” of nervousness when entertaining the notion of courtship. Furthermore, the friendships in Photographing Kate are so true-to-life, from the carb-and-wine overloaded girl talk to the firmly-encouraging notes Kate’s best friend often leaves her. I love finding books that feel so realistic in every way, and Photographing Kate absolutely achieves that.

I highly-recommend this book to everyone who needs a quick dose of literary warm fuzzies.

Book Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

As much as I adored Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay fell short of my expectations, akin to The Hunger Games. The action of Catching Fire was captivating; by contrast, the majority of Mockingjay focused on the political affairs of District 13 and Panem (which were interesting) until the final third-or-so of the book, which brought the war to the reader.

Mockingjay briefly highlights some key topics of the real world, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and grief. However, these topics are somewhat lost to the bulk of the book, which is mostly Katniss’s angst and rage toward the Capitol, President Snow, and later, District 13’s leader/the rebellion’s President Coin.

Following the Quarter Quell, Katniss was rescued by District 13, where she now remains as she heals and the rebellion gains power, taking various Districts under their wing and working to undermine the Capitol. While Peeta is held captive by President Snow, Katniss works alongside Gale, and the reader is given an opportunity to see the devolution of Gale, who is filled with so much vengeance toward the Capitol that even Katniss seems like a pacifist. I enjoyed this part of the book because Katniss and Gale had so often been compared for their likeness; however, as the rebellion advances, we see that these old friends are torn apart by their vision for the future of Panem.

As Katniss and her rag-tag group of insurgents march toward the Capitol, the reader watches her reactions as she loses various loved ones, such as friends, family, and fellow Victors. Although Katniss occasionally seems numb to their deaths, I believe this is because the pain she carries is so great that if she lets herself feel it, she will buckle. This presents a great discussion opportunity—how do you carry on when loss is dragging you down?

For the discussion opportunities, I’ll give Mockingjay four stars. This book didn’t hold my attention the same way Catching Fire did, but it’s a solid conclusion to the original trilogy.

You can see my Lifetime Reading List analyses for this trilogy here:

The Hunger Games

Catching Fire