Tuesday, August 31, 2010


A week ago Tuesday, MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins was released. I had the day off and I read the entire book in one day. It was excellent! MOCKINGJAY was a great conclusion to the very compelling, thought-provoking HUNGER GAMES series for teen and adult readers.

Two people recently asked me about the premise and message in these books. On the surface, THE HUNGER GAMES is about a televised competition where teenagers fight to the death. There can be only one winner of the Hunger Games. This sounds pretty gruesome. And it is.

But the story is about so much more. It's about human nature related to war and peace. It's about the lengths a government will go to to preserve its power and control. It's about the strength of human character in the face of evil. It's also a darn good, suspenseful adventure.

Katniss Everdeen, our heroine, volunteers to take the place of her younger sister in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games, for anyone from District 12, usually means certain death. Thus, begins her journey from girl-who-provides-for-her-family to the Girl-On-Fire.

As Katniss continues to survive and gather supporters around the country, the revolutionary leaders want her to become their symbol, their Mockingjay. While the first two books deal primarily with the Hunger Games, the third book focuses on the growing resistance movement and ultimate revolution against the Capitol.

I will not give away the ending, but I'll say that it got me thinking. Thinking about what it means to be good or bad, right or wrong, and the question, "Does the end ever justify the means?" Katniss wonders these things too, and is empowered to act on her final convictions.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Al Capone's Chicago

Last week, my family and I vacationed in the Windy City, aka Chicago. In case you're interested in where names come from, the "Windy City" does not refer to how much wind comes off Lake Michigan, but rather that early city promoters were called "wind bags" for their efforts to make Chicago seems greater than it was.

The name Chicago is a French derivation of an earlier Native American word that loosely means, "heap of big, stinking onions." Apparently there were a lot of wild onions and garlic in the area. This is also what I called my husband after he ate a particularly potent onion sandwich.

We were in Chicago for a specific reason - to learn more about Al Capone, the 20's and prohibition. My 12-year-old daughter continues her fascination with old-timey gangsters thus the Chicago vacation.

Our hotel, The Blackstone, is a historic hotel right on Michigan Avenue. Al Capone used to get his haircut in the barbershop there. The baseball bat scene from the UNTOUCHABLES movie was filmed at the hotel. The Blackstone offered a package called "Good to be a Gangster" which included a copy of the movie, a signed copy of a new book about Al Capone, and tickets to the Untouchables Tour of Chicago.

The Untouchables Tour was a highlight of our trip. The picture above shows one of our guides as we drove around town in a black school bus. We learned all about prohibition and Chicago crooks as we drove past historic places such as Al Capone's former headquarters and the site of the Valentine's Day Massacre. Pretty interesting, gruesome stuff, but these guys made it very compelling and fun.

The book we received, which my daughter is now reading, is worth a look for anyone interested in Al Capone, his rise to power, and eventual capture. It's called GET CAPONE by Jonathan Eig, published by Simon & Shuster.

Besides being hotter than hades the week we were there, Chicago was a lot of fun. We ate deep dish pizza, visited museums, rode the EL, and, of course, learned about Al Capone. And fortunately, it did not smell like rotting onions.