• Gregor and the Marks of Secret


    Title: Gregor and the Marks of Secret (Book 4)

    Author: Suzanne Collins

    Read In: 2023

    Description:

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    They had left the torches in the jungle. Gregor ripped the duct tape off his arm and returned the flashlight to his belt, flipping it off. He wanted darkness to hide in while he tried to understand this new thing that had happened to him.


    Crossing the Swag reminded Gregor of riding the subway that linked Manhattan to Brooklyn at 14th Street. You had to go under the East River. It was not a long trip, only a few minutes, but at about the halfway point Gregor always felt a little anxious. It was something, having a whole river running above your head. Wouldn’t it have been better to build a bridge?


    Luxa wanted the first watch. She was still too worried about Hazard to do anything else. Gregor realized that her loving Hazard had brought a new dimension of anxiety into her life. Made her vulnerable in a way she had not been before. It was unbearable to think about losing anyone you loved, but that time Gregor had thought he’d lost Boots it was as if the world had ended.


    “So this is how a war starts,” thought Gregor. Not with two armies facing off, waiting for the signal to charge. Not with a wave of rats invading the avenues of Regalia. Not with a formation of bats swooping down on an unsuspecting colony of rats. It begins much more quietly. In a room, on a field, in a remote tunnel when someone who has power decides the time has come.


    Gregor remembered Vikus, who was Hamnet’s father, begging him to return to Regalia. “What do you do here that you could not do there?” To which Hamnet had replied, “I do no harm. I do no more harm.” Hamnet knew if he returned to Regalia, they would make him fight again.

    Hamnet had tried to explain his position on war to Luxa. How it did no good. How innocent creatures died and, in the end, how it only increased the already intense hatred between the rats and the humans. Hamnet believed that the least amount of violence used, the better.


    Somewhere in that mess was the lovely peaceful time he had shared with Luxa, when they’d leaned back-to-back in silence. He wanted to pull the experience out and examine it and relive it.


    For better or worse, their lives had wrapped in and around each other since the moment they’d met.


    V is for volcano,” Boots reminded everyone. “And valentine.” She poked Ripred on the haunch with her scepter. “Valentine!”

    Ripred sighed. “Why are you here?”


    “That’s not a song,” said Gregor suddenly. “That’s a prophecy! Don’t you see?”

    He could tell by the expressions on their faces that they didn’t. It had been a song so long, for hundreds of years. It was like someone telling him that “Hey Diddle Diddle” would explain a train wreck in Nevada.


    “You’re not crying about her now,” said Hazard.

    “No,” said Howard. “I have become used to carrying her in my heart.”

    “My heart is so crowded already,” whispered Hazard. “But I’m sure the others will make room for Thalia. She is not a very big bat.” And with that, he drifted off to sleep.


    Secret. The very word filled Gregor with weariness. How exhausting it was to keep a secret, to hide a secret, to discover a secret, to know a secret existed and waited for you in the dark.

  • Gregor and the Code of Claw


    Title: Gregor and the Code of Claw (Book 5)

    Author: Suzanne Collins

    Read In: 2023

    Description:

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    “Are you sure you wish me to say this?” asked Vikus.

    “Why wouldn’t I?” said Gregor.

    “It gains you nothing and it reveals much of your hand,” said Vikus. “I myself find it wiser to keep certain thoughts to myself until they can be to my advantage.”


    Gregor sank to the floor, panting, as the waves of tremors ran through him. He struggled to get ahold of himself. This had to stop! He couldn’t flip out every time he thought about what lay before him. Of all the people he would never see, or all the things he would never do. He would be worthless. Of no use at all. He had to have something in his mind to hold on to. Something that gave him strength. Images flew through his head, of his family, of his friends, of places and things he loved. None of them were of any help.

    Then he remembered the stone knight in the Cloisters. Cold, hard, unyielding, long since removed from anything in life that could hurt him. A long time ago, the knight had fought . . . maybe died in a horrible battle, too . . . everybody had to die eventually . . . but now he was invulnerable. Sleeping on his marble bed. Safe. Peaceful even. Somehow the thought of this other soldier from another time comforted Gregor in a way that nothing living could. He had gone through something awful, but it was over, and he was now in a place where no one could ever harm him again. The shaking began to subside. Gregor inhaled and the pain in his chest lost its grip. “That’s me. I have to remember that’s me from now on,” he thought. “I’m that knight, I’m made of stone, and in the end nothing can touch me. Okay. Okay, then. That’s how it is.”


    Henry was Luxa’s cousin and Ares’s old bond. He had betrayed them all to the rats on Gregor’s first trip to the Underland. Neither Luxa nor Ares spoke about him very often. At first, Gregor had supposed this was because they now hated him so much. Later, he’d understood it was because they still loved him so much, too. When Henry came up, their voices would become tight, their eyes pained. That was the hard part. Still caring. Not being able to simply write Henry off.


    Gregor was just going to have to keep an eye out and hope for the best. In the meantime, he didn’t exactly know how to join in the battle. Should he report to someone? Was there some plan being executed? Because if there was, he couldn’t see it. The whole thing just looked like some big free-for-all.

    “What do we do?” Gregor said. “Can we jump in anywhere?”

    “Anywhere,” said Ares.

    But even now, even after all he had been through and witnessed, something in Gregor balked at the idea of simply going down and running his sword through a rat. His ambivalence was interfering with his ability to connect with his rager side. He concentrated hard for a second to establish his place in all of this chaos. The reason he must kill the rats, the reason they must die had to do with . . . had to do with . . . the gasping mice in the pit and his mother lying in the hospital and Boots and those baby mice in the nursery—and Luxa, who must be, had to be somewhere out in this mayhem. It had to do with what had happened, and would happen, not only to him but to those who were not warriors, if these rats were not stopped.


    Oh, how wonderful it would be to have a parent who was in charge again, who could protect him, who could tell him what to do.


    Gregor set Boots back on her feet and went over to help Luxa with the strips of code. “I truly believed her dead, Gregor,” she whispered.

    “I know,” said Gregor. “I guess I must have, too. But I didn’t deal with it. I had, like, this fantasy that she’d escaped. She was safe back in the Dead Land or something.”

    “She is safe now,” Luxa said wanly.

    “That’s how it works down here,” Gregor said. Nothing was really safe until it was dead.


    It wasn’t much of a letter. He felt stingy using just thirteen words. But even if he’d had boxes of markers, what more would he have said? Maybe explained better why one of them had to live. So both of them could. So one of them would remember the other as they went through life. That it wasn’t going to be him, so it had to be her. And he had to be able to think of her growing up and doing things and someday being happy if he was going to be brave enough for his last moments with the Bane.


    His echolocation ability was improving by leaps and bounds. He could see so much—the jagged edges of the ceiling, individual pebbles on the floor, even small details in the rough surface of the walls. He experimented using different sounds—coughing, humming, whistling. In a quiet moment, he realized that even the sound of his own breathing could send images back to him. He felt comforted, because that meant as long as he was alive he would be able to see.


    Then she sat on the side of the bed, lifted Gregor’s hand, and carefully dried it. “It does not seem to be injured. How does it feel?” she asked

    “Empty,” said Gregor. Luxa entwined her fingers with his. Her skin was warm, like the water, but alive. “That’s better.”

    There were probably a million things they should be saying to each other, but they just stayed like that for hours, not talking, until his dad woke with a start from a nightmare, and Gregor had to reassure him that everything was going to be okay. “Maybe if we just keep telling each other that, one day it will be true,” he thought.


    In public, Luxa was steady and strong, but sometimes when she was alone with Gregor, she would bury her head in her hands, repeating again and again, “I do not know what to do.” And he would put his arms around her and hold her, but he had no idea what to tell her. In his mind, Gregor knew how to kill things, not bring them back to life.


    “How did this happen?” asked Lizzie. reaching up to lightly touch the new slash on his face.

    “Oh, a rat cut me. It’s nothing. Now up you go.” He nudged Lizzie up onto a patch of fur on his back.

    “I’ll hurt you,” she said.

    “No. You’ll remind me why I’m here,” said Ripred, and locked eyes with Luxa.


    “Remember, it’s a lot easier to lose your head than to keep it.”


    His skin was like a map where you could trace all of the terrible things that had happened.


    “It’s like this. You spend your whole childhood hearing about being nice to other people and how hurting someone’s a crime, and then they ship you off to some war and tell you to kill. What’s that going to do to your head, huh?”

    “Nothing good,” Gregor said.


    He wandered through a couple of rooms before he found the tomb. The knight was just as Gregor had last seen him, lying beneath the window, his hands resting on his sword, sleeping away eternity. Thinking of this knight had gotten Gregor through some tough times. He had made the trip today because he expected to find some comfort in the stone figure. But now, he realized it was no longer of use to him. He had spent the last months learning how to die, and now he was going to have to learn how to live again. The knight couldn’t help him with that.

  • Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods


    Title: Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods

    Author: Suzanne Collins

    Read In: 2023

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    “The point is, she flip-flops in and out of time like a fish in the shallows.”


    His dad said if you did something wrong to someone in public, you ought to admit it in public, too.


    “I am always proud of Nerissa,” said Luxa. “If fools wish to belittle her, it does not affect my judgment of her gifts.”


    They had found the cure! Finally, something was going right! He plucked a leaf from the plant and took a deep sniff. The clean, refreshing scent made his nose tingle. “Mmm, smells like lemons. This must be it. It smells . . . like it could heal you.”


    Boots crawled up on Ripred’s neck and poked him on the top of the head with one finger. “R is for rat,” she said.

    “Yes, and B is for bite,” said Ripred in a singsong voice. “Be careful the rat doesn’t bite your fingers!” He snapped his teeth together for emphasis.

    “Oh!” Boots quickly scooted back against Gregor and held her hands close to her chest.

    “Was that really necessary?” said Gregor.

    “Absolutely. You want her going up and trying to pet rats? Not in this day and age,” said Ripred.

    Ripred, as usual, had a point. In general, Gregor did not want Boots petting rats. Most of them would kill her in a second. But then . . . if the humans and rats taught their babies from birth to fear each other . . . how was anything ever going to get better? He had a feeling this was a much bigger question to answer than he had time for at the moment, so he just wrapped his arms around Boots and said nothing.


    “I do fight on occasion, but only as a last resort,” said Hamnet. “It is a method of survival I have learned from Frill. It turns out there are many alternatives to violence if you make an effort to develop them.”


    “But if there are no vines, and she is cornered, and something is trying to kill her?” said Luxa.

    “Then she fights. She has very wicked teeth if she chooses to use them. But it is always her last choice, as opposed to the Regalians, who seem to conclude it is their only option almost immediately,” said Hamnet. “Living out here, I have found that many creatures would prefer not to fight. But if your first instinct is to reach for your sword, you will never discover that.”


    The more he thought, the more his mind reeled in confusion. We were right to fight. It was wrong to fight. We had to fight. It was pointless to fight. He simply did not know where he stood, and it made him feel crazy. No wonder Hamnet had run off to the jungle.

  • Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane


    Title: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

    Author: Suzanne Collins

    Read In: 2023

    Description:

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    Gregor could tell that she and Henry had been “we” for so long that even months after his death she had trouble thinking of herself apart from him.


    Well, she might be a wreck, but Nerissa was not afraid to look things in the eye.


    She got time all mixed up. Yesterday, today, tomorrow, later, before—all pretty much meant anytime that wasn’t right now.


    “Why’d they drive you out? The other rats. I mean, they’re so into smell, seems like you’d be famous,” said Gregor.

    “I was, in a way, for some time. Then they realized I could smell their secrets, and no one wanted me around,” said Twitchtip. “I can smell yours, too.”


    Gregor picked up one of the fish and ripped off a strip of skin with his teeth Then he took a bite of the cold meat. Howard had always cleaned the fish with a knife, cutting neat pieces away from the bones. Gregor didn’t have a knife or even a sword now. And what did it matter, anyway? Still, hunched over his fish on the stone ledge, he felt like he was in a time warp. He’d become a Neanderthal man or something, tearing into raw flesh, just trying to get the life-sustaining calories into his body. That must have been a hard life. Of course, his own wasn’t exactly a picnic.

    He thought longingly of rich, fatty foods. Mrs. Cormaci’s lasagna, loaded with cheese and sauce and noodles. Chocolate cake with thick frosting. Mashed potatoes and gravy. He ripped off a stubborn piece of fish with a grunt. It didn’t take long, he thought, to erase hundreds of thousands of years of change if you were hungry.

  • Gregor the Overlander


    Title: Gregor the Overlander

    Author: Suzanne Collins

    Read In: 2023

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    Things were always better when he played music; the notes seemed to carry him to a different world altogether.


    His dad was crazy about science, and it seemed as if he wanted to pour everything in his brain right into Gregor’s head. It was a little dangerous, because even a simple question could bring on a half-hour explanation. His grandma had always said, “Ask your daddy the time, and he tells you how to make a clock.”


    Gregor gently disengaged himself from Boots and stood up. He fumbled in the dark and found the sling Dulcet had given him. Trying to position Boots inside it proved tricky. Finally he just squeezed his eyes shut and let his other senses work. That was easier. He slid her in and slung the pack on his back.


    Still, his grandma always said, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.”


    Gregor felt sheepish. He had sort of thought of the Underlanders as backward. They still used swords and wore funny clothes. But they weren’t stupid. His dad said even the cavemen had geniuses among them. Somebody had thought up the wheel.


    That was one great thing about her. Once she’d melted down and napped, she transformed back into her own sweet self again.


    “The hardest lesson for a soldier to learn is to obey orders he believes are wrong,” said the rat philosophically.


    Vikus took Gregor’s mood in stride Maybe he had expected it. They walked about twenty yards away from the group. “So, how long have you had this plan with the rat?” asked Gregor.

    Vikus thought a moment. “I am not sure exactly. Perhaps two or so years. Of course, it was all dependent upon your arrival.”

    “How come you didn’t tell me about it before?” demanded Gregor.

    “I do not believe in giving people more information than they can handle,” said Vikus.


    Gregor felt his anger ebbing and fear filling the empty spaces it left.


    He didn’t have room inside him for any more unspoken words.


    They could take whatever precautions they wanted to, but Gregor felt sure Ripred could kill all eight of them in a flash. “He’ll take out Henry and Luxa first, since they’re the only two with weapons, and then just pick off the rest of us one by one,” thought Gregor. Maybe Ares or Aurora could escape, but the rest of them were sitting ducks. That was the truth, he might as well accept it.

    Oddly enough, once he did accept it, Gregor felt more relaxed. He didn’t have any choice but to trust Ripred. If he could trust Ripred, then he could go to sleep. So he let himself drift off. . .


    He was tired of everybody being snooty to the roaches. They never complained and they pulled their weight and they looked after Boots. All in all, the bugs were the easiest traveling companions.


    “You see, I tired of constant fear, so I made a decision. Every day when I wake I tell myself that it will be my last. If you are not trying to hold on to time, you are not so afraid of losing it.”

    Gregor thought this was the single saddest thing anyone had ever said to him. He couldn’t answer.

    “And then, if you make it to bedtime, you feel the joy of cheating death out of one more day,” she said. “Do you see?”

    “I think so,” said Gregor numbly. An awful thought struck him. Wasn’t Luxa’s strategy just an extreme form of his own rule? True, he didn’t think about dying every day, but he denied himself the luxury of thinking about the future with or without his dad. If he hadn’t fallen through the grate in his laundry room and discovered his dad was still alive, if his dad had never come home, how long would he have gone on refusing to be happy? His whole life? “Maybe,” he thought. “Maybe my whole life.”


    “I have not wept since the death of my parents.” said Luxa quietly. “But I am thought to be unnatural in this respect.”

    Gregor felt more tears slipping down his cheeks when he thought of how badly you had to be hurt to lose the ability to cry. He forgave Luxa everything at that moment. He even forgot why he needed to forgive her.


    “Just want to sleep,” said his father vaguely. This was the scariest part of all. Gregor had thought he would get a parent back when he found his dad. Then he could stop having to make hard decisions. He could just be a kid. But the man before him was even needier than Boots was.


    “You must, Luxa, you have no choice. You must join with us or die,” said Henry coldly, but there was a tremor in his voice.

    “This is as good a day as any,” said Luxa. “Perhaps better.” She sounded a thousand years old and a thousand miles away, but she did not sound scared.


    Dulcet showed up eventually and insisted Boots and his dad needed rest, so Gregor wandered off into the palace feeling happier than he had in two years, seven months, and he no longer cared how many days. He was done with the rule now. For good. Even if times got bad, he would never again deny himself the possibility that the future might be happy even if the present was painful. He would allow himself dreams.

  • Catching Fire


    Title: Catching Fire

    Author: Suzanne Collins

    Read In: 2023

    Description: Katniss Everdeen has unintentionally become the face of rebellion following her win alongside Peeta in the 74th annual Hunger Games.

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  • The Hunger Games


    Title: The Hunger Games

    Author: Suzanne Collins

    Read In: 2023

    Description: Katniss Everdeen volunteers as tribute to take her sister’s place in the 74th annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death between 24 teenagers on live TV.

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