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Robert Jackson Bennett does it again
2018-10-18 17:00 UTC by Michelle

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Initial thoughts: “Robert Jackson Bennett became an author to watch with his stunning City of Stairs trilogy. With his newest series, he entered my automatic read list. Mr. Bennett’s world-building is superb, and his stories are intense and complicated and exciting in all the best ways. However, it is with his characters where he truly shines, and Sanchia is one of the best heroines I have read in a while. She is feisty, fierce, more than a little capable, and intensely vulnerable. You cannot help but fall a little in love with her, even though she would probably punch you in the throat for doing so. Her supporting cast is equally impressive, and I am excited to see where their stories take them. Mr. Bennett’s stories are not the types for quick reading. Instead, I savored every sentence and will now wait patiently for the rest of the series.”

Now: My initial assessment still stands. Foundryside is a fantastic story. There is magic. There are legends. There is science. There are the human interactions which fuel the drama. There are the socio-economic strata that will always cause strife.  There is a larger-than-life cast of characters which not just support but enhance Sanchia’s role as the hero. Nothing is black and white. The myriad shades of gray not only add action and drama, but they also serve as cautionary lessons that define and develop Sanchia as a character. The story is creative and intense, with the stakes being much higher than they initially appear to be. With a classic style of storytelling that takes its time, Foundryside solidifies Mr. Bennett’s place among my all-time favorite authors, and I eagerly anticipate the next book in the Founders series.

The post Robert Jackson Bennett does it again appeared first on That's What She Read.

Dracula’s story is a gift that keeps on giving
2018-10-16 05:00 UTC by Michelle

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Initial thoughts: “Goddess bless the Stoker family. Bram’s Dracula story is a gift that keeps on giving. There is nothing I did not love about this collaboration between Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker. As a prequel, it has everything I love about the original Dracula story without messing with it. As a stand-alone, it is cleverly and convincingly portrayed to be the real story behind the story with the reasons for the 102 missing pages of Bram’s original manuscript abundantly clear. Creepy, intense, gory in the right places, great characters – it is the perfect blend of storytelling elements. Plus, like his previous novel, the Stoker family authorizes this prequel. I am most definitely a fan!”

Now: I stand by my gushing. Dracul is a genuinely entertaining and scary story that works for both Dracula fans and those who may have never read the original story. Personally, because I am a superfan, I love the idea of Bram Stoker meeting vampires and that his personal experiences are what fueled his novel. I love that a distant relative attempted to fill in the gaps of the missing manuscript. I love the “Is it true?” aspect of the authors’ notes. I especially love how formidable Bram’s sister is. Seriously, that girl did not let convention dictate anything she did. I adore how Mr. Stoker and Mr. Barker turned on their head the characteristics of the original cast of characters and played with all of the roles. Plus, I had way too much fun with the little nods to the original; it felt like my own Easter egg hunt. Still, I do think that someone who is not as familiar with the original tale will find Dracul intense and enjoy it just as much as I did.

(I loved this format of shorter, less formal reviews so much I think I am going to adopt it for the near future. Much more manageable and fun – for me at least. What do you think?)

The post Dracula’s story is a gift that keeps on giving appeared first on That's What She Read.

Monday Reflections – 15 October 2018
2018-10-15 17:00 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Hello, my lovelies!

It is a beautiful sunny autumnal day here in southwestern Wisconsin, which means I have absolutely no desire to work today. We have waited too long for this type of weather. Plus, we need at least a month to dry out from all the rain.

We are keeping on keeping on around here. Holly had her last Football Poms routine this past Friday. She now gets a week break before she heads into Competition Poms practice and season. Competition dance rehearsals keep her busy during the weekend, and her regular dance classes keep her away from home almost every night of the week. So far, she is doing an excellent job of juggling her time, even if it means she has had one or two late nights in order to do so. I never hear her complain though, which is not only a good sign but important because it shows us that she recognizes that she is the master of her own schedule. It will be interesting to watch her reactions as the winter season approaches and her free time dwindles even more due to dance competitions.

Jim loves work, and so does Cletus. Jim takes him almost every day, and he comes home absolutely exhausted from a busy day of playing with other dogs, running around the yard, begging for treats, and napping. It is actually quite cute to see. Plus, he has SO much energy that this means he is actually manageable in the evenings. There is a definite difference in Cletus when he stays home versus when he goes to work. As a 100+ pound puppy, I much prefer exhausted Cletus. He doesn’t know his own strength, nor does he have any spatial recognition when it comes to body parts. Tallulah is not a fan of work. She gets too anxious whenever Jim has to leave her for a meeting. Neither does she show any interest in socializing with the other dogs. For her sake, she stays home and guards the house – an important role in and of itself.

As for me, I’m hanging in there. Work is still crazy. Changes are coming but until upper management announces them, we are all in holding patterns, and that is one of the biggest points of frustration right now. It never ceases to surprise me though how mentally exhausting being a proponent of change or a keeper of secrets is. I go home every night completely wiped from the strain. I am also heading into my busy season, which is never fun. Still, we manage to have fun in the office, and my coworkers are a great group of people.

For now, all three of us relish the limited downtime we have while enjoying everything as it comes, which is all Jim and I can do as Holly hits her stride and starts stretching her wings. We know that this craziness that is our life right now will end all too quickly, so as tired as I am and as stressful as it can be to balance home, work, dogs, and daughter, we don’t wish these days to pass too quickly. The idea of being an empty nester in four years is too freaky right now anyway.

I hope everyone is staying sane and enjoying the weather if possible. Don’t forget to double-check your voter registration status so that you can vote on November 6th! Every single vote counts!

**********

Here are past posts from the last few weeks in case you missed them the first time:

The post Monday Reflections – 15 October 2018 appeared first on That's What She Read.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? – 15 October 2018
2018-10-15 05:00 UTC by Michelle

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? Button
Hosted by Kathryn from Book Date, “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” is a weekly event to share what we’ve read in the past week and what we hope to read, plus whatever else comes to mind. Here is what I read the week ending 15 October 2018. To learn more about each book, click on the book cover!

Both novels I finished this week were long, complicated, and deliciously good, proving once again that quality outweighs quantity every single time.


FINISHED SINCE THE LAST UPDATE:

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Goddess bless the Stoker family. Bram’s Dracula story is a gift that keeps on giving. There is nothing I did not love about this collaboration between Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker. As a prequel, it has everything I love about the original Dracula story without messing with it. As a stand-alone, it is cleverly and convincingly portrayed to be the real story behind the story with the reasons for the 102 missing pages of Bram’s original manuscript abundantly clear. Creepy, intense, gory in the right places, great characters – it is the perfect blend of storytelling elements. Plus, like his previous novel, the Stoker family authorizes this prequel. I am most definitely a fan!

Robert Jackson Bennett became an author to watch with his stunning City of Stairs trilogy. With his newest series, he entered my automatic read list. Mr. Bennett’s world-building is superb, and his stories are intense and complicated and exciting in all the best ways. However, it is with his characters where he truly shines, and Sanchia is one of the best heroines I have read in a while. She is feisty, fierce, more than a little capable, and intensely vulnerable. You cannot help but fall a little in love with her, even though she would probably punch you in the throat for doing so. Her supporting cast is equally impressive, and I am excited to see where their stories take them. Mr. Bennett’s stories are not the types for quick reading. Instead, I savored every sentence and will now wait patiently for the rest of the series.


DID NOT FINISH:

Nothing


CURRENT READ:

Vox by Christina Dalcher Changeling by Molly Harper


CURRENT LISTEN:

Competence by Gail Carriger


NEXT UP:

I am trying to take my advice and stop being so structured with what I read. I will get through my backlog of review copies eventually. It hurts no one if I read them out of publication order.


So, what are you reading?

The post It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? – 15 October 2018 appeared first on That's What She Read.

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2018-10-14 04:00 UTC

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Fabulous Friday – 12 October 2018
2018-10-12 05:00 UTC by Michelle

Fabulous Friday Button

We should always find ways to celebrate the little things in life. What better day to celebrate these little things than the best day of the week? So, here are the things that make this a Fabulous Friday for me this week ending 12 October 2018.

********************

  • JUST BECAUSE – I do not have anything specific to celebrate this week. Today is Friday. Holly performs tonight for her last home football game. The weekend is upon us. I don’t have to go anywhere this weekend. I am working my way out of my backlog thanks to work and dance. Holly’s schedule, and therefore mine, eases a bit for the next week. I feel like, for the first time in at least two weeks, I can finally catch my breath, and that is a great feeling.

*********************

What makes this a Fabulous Friday for you?

The post Fabulous Friday – 12 October 2018 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Time to Catch Up
2018-10-11 05:00 UTC by Michelle

Peeps. I keep trying to find the time and, let’s face it, the energy to sit down and get caught up on outstanding reviews. I can usually squeeze one in on my lunch break each day, but I need that time these days to decompress. So, here I am – having been on radio silence for almost two weeks and six outstanding reviews hanging over my head. It is time to cry “Uncle” at the fact that I don’t want to write formal reviews right now. Instead, I am going to briefly expound on what I said after I finished reading them and put these reviews to bed once and for all.

These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch

Initial thoughts: “Sara Raasch’s fantasy about religion versus science, immigration, and governance starts out slowly, probably too slowly for most people. However, once the world-building is complete, the story takes off into a world of intrigue, secrets, and excitement with a cliffhanger ending that is about as cruel as anything Suzanne Collins wrote. I was not certain about the story at first but fell in love with everything about it by the end. Plus, that ending! There are way too many months before the sequel.”

Now: It took me a few minutes to remember the story one month after finishing it, which is always worrisome about the lasting impact of a novel. However, once I jogged my memory, my impressions of These Rebel Waves remains favorable. I particularly liked its exploration of PTSD and the idea that plants have magical powers. It is a fun play on the old idea that women who were experts in herbology were witches. I remain impressed by the gender fluidity of various characters and the (as it should be) nonchalance towards LGTBQIA+ relationships. There is always a tendency, especially within adventure stories, for authors to lapse into areas requiring readers to suspend their disbelief in order for things to work for the hero’s story arc, and this particular novel is no different in that regard. However, I do think the good outweighs the bad in These Rebel Waves, and that for those who are willing to stick with it through the painstaking world building will find themselves richly rewarded.

Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach

Initial thoughts: “Dathan Auerbach’s novel is creepy but slow. It was one of those that I wanted to finish to find out what happened, but it dragged so much that I ended up skimming a two-thirds of it. The story needs to be cut by a good 100 pages or more to tighten up the narrative and make it a truly impressive novel.”

Now: Bad Man is another novel that does not hold up over time very well. The fact that it is such a slow-progressing story does not help matters, as your focus tends to wander while reading it. Plus, I cannot help but feel that the story is either trying to piggyback on another recent release about a bad seed or else is the unfortunate victim of poor timing (to say the title of the other novel would be to give away a huge plot spoiler for this one). While the two stories are very different in narrative and action, their endings are similar. Sadly, Bad Man now has me snorting in derision at the emotional manipulation of the story, while the other novel continues to impress me with its nuances and fodder for discussion.

#murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil

Initial thoughts: “Holy hell. Gretchen McNeil’s novel is amazing – good, old-fashioned gory horror complete with messed up rules and an entirely unique premise. It was SO intense that I did something I have never done before in my life – I skipped to the end and read the last few chapters. Then I went back and enjoyed the story because I was not so obsessed with what would happen to these characters. Plus, there is a sequel. This fact is squeal-worthy in my mind.”

Now: One would not think that a story about celebrity serial murderers could be so much fun, but that is exactly what I think of when I think back to reading #murdertrending. It is over-the-top in its violence. The characters are kitschy. The story itself is goofy as only a parody of reality television can be; the story is also predictable. Yet it is exactly the sort of delightful distraction from world news that I continue to crave. The intensity of the live-or-die moments blends with the hyperbolic death scenes to create something unique, scary, and a hell of a lot of fun.
Temper by Nicky Drayden

Initial thoughts: “Nicky Drayden’s new novel is just as quirky as her previous novel. I cannot say I enjoyed it as much either. There are shifts in narrator perspective which are abrupt and difficult to discern at times. Plus, the point of the story is not very apparent at times. You have to wade through a lot of detail to understand what point she is trying to make. Still, I continue to give her props for something completely unique as well as highly inclusive and diverse.”

Now: My initial thoughts regarding Temper remain valid. I enjoyed her previous novel much more than I did this one. It has been two weeks, and I cannot say I remember much of the plot, although I can remember almost everything that happens in that other novel. I still remain confused as to what she is trying to accomplish within Temper. I have to give her much-deserved props for her diversity and inclusivity, as her cast of characters runs the gamut of sexual preference and gender fluidity. Yet, my continuing impression is that she was attempting to question blind religious and political obedience but that the final story adversely skewed her messaging. The cast is huge, and it is way too easy to get lost among the myriad of characters. Plus, one has to come to accept, or at least understand, her strange new world of twins, virtues, and vices. In her novels, Ms. Drayden shows us that she is not afraid to push the envelope, but I wonder if, in Temper, she pushed it a little too far for her skills.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

Initial thoughts: “Kiersten White is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors of all time. It is like she knows exactly what gets me excited when it comes to stories. In fact, I may love her a little. What she does with familiar stories is empowering and ferocious. She treads that line between creepy and exciting with aplomb. If anyone was going to get me out of my reading doldrums, Ms. White is the author to do so.”

Now: I love this story. I might not love it as much as her Lada Dracul series, but I do love The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. Elizabeth is so angry and so tired of letting men dictate her life. You could not ask for a better heroine for today. Plus, I LOVE how Ms. White stays true to Mary Shelley’s original story in the background while showing us another side of it. I can only hope writing The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein was as cathartic for Ms. White as reading it was for me because seeing Elizabeth refuse to continue to take any man’s shit, let alone Victor Frankenstein’s, is as inspiring as anything you can get these days.

Playing to the Gods by Peter Rader

Initial thoughts: “I originally requested the Peter Rader nonfiction novel because my grandfather used to call me Sarah Bernhardt whenever he felt I was being overly dramatic – which was pretty much all the time in his opinion. I started reading because I wanted to learn more about her. I kept reading because I was drawn into these two women’s stories. It is a fascinating glimpse into the beginnings of what we would consider modern theater. Moreover, I can now appreciate my grandfather’s reference – even if I do not consider it in nearly the same negative light as he meant it to be.”

Now: Yes, it is an odd reason to read a book, but I seriously heard my mother and my grandfather call me Sarah almost my entire childhood. Am I dramatic? Probably. Is it the epithet he meant it to be? What I learned in Playing to the Gods is that it is not. The woman died one of the most famous women of all time. Most people even today have at least heard of her even if they do not know why. She was wealthy. She was powerful. I mean, she owned and ran her own theater company and called the shots on every production in which she appeared. Her standard of acting may not have stood the test of time, but for a woman at the turn of the twentieth century, she held an extraordinary amount of power and never kowtowed to societal standards. I found Eleanora Duse’s story to be equally fascinating, if only because of her lasting impact on theater in spite of her lack of eye-catching headlines and fantabulous wealth. While Sarah’s story teaches you to go for your dreams and society be damned, Eleanora’s is to not be afraid to hone your craft (and society be damned). Either way, spending time learning about these two remarkable women, and feeling a lot better about that childhood nickname that was meant to be derisive, was time well spent.

The post Time to Catch Up appeared first on That's What She Read.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? – 8 October 2018
2018-10-08 05:00 UTC by Michelle

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? Button
Hosted by Kathryn from Book Date, this is a weekly event to share what we’ve read in the past week and what we hope to read, plus whatever else comes to mind. Here is what I read the week ending 8 October 2018. To learn more about each book, just click on the book cover!

This past week was not the week to reduce my stress level or improve my reading, but I was still able to finish two books. Given everything that has happened over the past few weeks, I do find myself drawn to darker, angrier characters. I guess that is a good thing given the season. Bring on the monsters – both literal and figurative!


FINISHED SINCE THE LAST UPDATE:

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White Playing to the Gods by Peter Rader

Kiersten White is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors of all time. It is like she knows exactly what gets me excited when it comes to stories. In fact, I may love her a little. What she does with familiar stories is empowering and ferocious. She treads that line between creepy and exciting with aplomb. If anyone was going to get me out of my reading doldrums, Ms. White is the author to do so.

I originally requested the Peter Rader nonfiction novel because my grandfather used to call me Sarah Bernhardt whenever he felt I was being overly dramatic – which was pretty much all the time in his opinion. I started reading because I wanted to learn more about her. I kept reading because I was drawn into these two women’s stories. It is a fascinating glimpse into the beginnings of what we would consider modern theater. Moreover, I can now appreciate my grandfather’s reference – even if I do not consider it in nearly the same negative light as he meant it to be.


DID NOT FINISH:

Not a thing.


CURRENT READ:

Vox by Christina Dalcher Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker

I had to put aside the Christina Dalcher for the time being because I was getting so angry reading it. It was not great timing on my part for choosing to start it. Plus, I have not gotten far enough into the story where the heroine starts to fight the patriarchy so that I can feel better. So I switched to fictional monsters. Having finished with Frankenstein, it was time for me to move onto my beloved vampires. It would not be a Halloween season without them!


CURRENT LISTEN:

Competence by Gail Carriger


NEXT UP:

August Review Copies:

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

September Review Copies:

 

Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan  Foe by Iain Reid Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird Summer Cannibals by Melanie Hobson The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton Time's Convert by Deborah Harkness The Poison Squad by Deborah Blum Transcription by Kate Atkinson


So, what are you reading?

The post It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? – 8 October 2018 appeared first on That's What She Read.

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2018-10-07 04:00 UTC

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? – 1 October 2018
2018-10-01 05:00 UTC by Michelle

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? Button
Hosted by Kathryn from Book Date, this is a weekly event to share what we’ve read in the past week and what we hope to read, plus whatever else comes to mind. Here is what I read the week ending 1 October 2018. To learn more about each book, just click on the book cover!

Anxiety and stress seem to have ruined any thought of reading I may have had this week. I will be so grateful when things at work finally settle enough to let everyone relax. Right now, we are all feeding off of each other, so while we may be having fun, we are also sharing our stress levels and increasing them to insane levels.


FINISHED SINCE THE LAST UPDATE:

Imprudence by Gail Carriger

This may be a first for me, and I mean not just since the beginning of this blog. I do think this is the first week in which I finished nothing in print. I have no words.

The continuation of Gail Carriger’s The Custard Protocol series remains just as cute as ever. We spend more time with Lord and Lady Maccon, which is awesome. We spend less time in London, which is even better. We meet some old friends and make new acquaintances. I still have objections to some of Ms. Quirk’s narrative choices, but I found that I was able to ignore them more thoroughly than I was in that first novel. I also enjoyed Rue as a character a bit more this time around. She is still spoiled and woefully ignorant, but she is not afraid to admit to her mistakes. Plus, she really does have her heart in the right spot. I do like that Ms. Carriger does not shy away from the problems with British foreign rule and the issues it caused the native inhabitants of an area claimed by the British. She does not hide how much harm the British did by imposing their own assumptions and ideas on others. I also like that she continues to develop such diverse characters. She has long ingrained a nonchalant attitude toward homosexuality through Lord Akeldama and his drones, and I like that we get to see it from other character’s aspects as well. Make no mistake, this series may take place during the height of Victorian England, but Ms. Carriger makes sure that her stories are as opposite of Victorian stodginess as possible. This may be what I love most of all.


DID NOT FINISH:

The Kill Jar by J. Reuben Appelman

I tried with J. Reuben Appelman’s true crime slash memoir. I even started to skim at the 30 percent mark to see if his story improved. Sadly, I could not finish it, and there are several reasons for this. The first is that I never saw the point of what he was trying to say. He flips from a child pornography ring to his past to his present to the unsolved murders with random abandon. There is no logic to his switches, and I was left frustrated with the lack of cohesion. He may tie all of the narratives together in the end, but I did not have the patience to wait until then. Another issue I had with it is the speculation Mr. Appelman frequently applies to the unsolved murders. In the portion of the book I read, he presents little real evidence but has no problem taking his novice sleuthing skills to make assumptions about what actually happened to the children and by whom. Moreover, he lets his biases and feelings cloud those assumptions. While the crimes remain unsolved, any good true crime novelist still needs to apply deductive reasoning skills and remove all bias from the narrative. Mr. Appelman does not, and may not be able to, do so. Lastly, Mr. Appelman is in the throes of some major life issues while writing this novel, and his depression at such is apparent on every page. So, not only must a reader wade through a painful telling of this state-wide pornography ring as well as the unsolved murders of four children, but s/he must also deal with Mr. Appelman’s despair. Anyone who likens his mood to Dexter’s “Dark Passenger” is having serious mental issues. There is also an issue of Mr. Appelman’s rough edges. Readers are in doubt that he had a terrible upbringing, and I get that an editor might want to show how that childhood hardened him while traumatizing him. The thing is that Mr. Appelman’s edges are a bit too rough, and the frequent application of his opinion combined with street language does not fit the subject. For all of these reasons and a few others, I was not willing to subject myself to further frustration and discomfort in the way Mr. Appelman was telling his story. I have too many novels waiting for my attention.


CURRENT READ:

Vox by Christina Dalcher Playing to the Gods by Peter Rader The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

Reader of many, finisher of none – this was not the week to attempt to read Christina Dalcher’s dystopian novel about the silencing of women. It hit just a little too close to home right now. As for the biography, that requires concentration of which I have none lately. I have found success reading Kiersten White’s latest novel but am still reading at a much slower pace than I have since I finished grad school. I know this will pass, but it is so frustrating to want to read but not have the attention span to do so.


CURRENT LISTEN:

Competence by Gail Carriger


NEXT UP:

August Review Copies:

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

September Review Copies:

Sigh.

Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan  Foe by Iain Reid Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird Summer Cannibals by Melanie Hobson The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton Time's Convert by Deborah Harkness The Poison Squad by Deborah Blum Transcription by Kate Atkinson


So, what are you reading?

The post It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? – 1 October 2018 appeared first on That's What She Read.

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2018-09-30 04:00 UTC

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Fabulous Friday – 28 September 2018
2018-09-28 05:00 UTC by Michelle

Fabulous Friday Button

We should always find ways to celebrate the little things in life. What better day to celebrate these little things than the best day of the week? So, here are the things that make this a Fabulous Friday for me this week ending 28 September 2018.

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  • HOMECOMING – Tonight is the big game. It will be cold and rainy and they will most likely lost the football game by an embarrassing amount, but it will still be fun. Tomorrow, Holly will be going with her closest girlfriends to the dance, at which I know she will have a blast. I love seeing how excited she is this week about her first high school homecoming week. Everyone should have fun in school, and she definitely had fun this week.

*********************

What makes this a Fabulous Friday for you?

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Having nine lives should be more entertaining
2018-09-25 05:00 UTC by Michelle

Nine by Zach Hines

BOTTOM LINE: Disappointing

Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian
Publication Date: 7 August 2018
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“In an alternate world startlingly close to our own, humans have nine lives—and they can’t wait to use them up.

The government has death incentives aimed at controlling overpopulation. As you shed lives, you shed your awkward phases: one death is equal to one physical and mental upgrade.

Julian’s friends are obsessed with the idea of burning, but Julian is determined to stay on his first life for as long as he can. His mother burned too fast and inflicted a debilitating rebirth sickness on herself.

Julian realizes that he’s going to have to burn at some point—especially when he becomes a target for Nicholas, the manipulative leader of the Burners, the school’s suicide club. And when Julian eventually succumbs, he uncovers suspicious gaps in the rebirth system that may explain exactly why his mother went so far down the rabbit hole years ago.

Along with a group of student dissenters, Julian sets out to find answers and is soon on the verge of exposing the greatest conspiracy ever unleashed on the world.”

My Thoughts: I am a sucker for an exciting David and Goliath story involving a futuristic society, so I started Zach Hines’ novel with high hopes. Unfortunately, Nine is one of those books that should be good based on its premise but the execution of which leaves a lot to be desired. On paper, it sounds like an exciting sci-fi conspiracy thriller in which students once again pit themselves against the big bad government. The idea of having nine lives is intriguing, creating a long list of possibilities on how the extra lives might come into play within the story. Sadly, there is very little about the novel that lives up to my expectations.

The main problem with the novel is the lack of world-building throughout the story. While the synopsis says that this alternate world is “startlingly close to our own,” it is close in superficial ways. Critical areas of any society, like politics, economics, population size, the larger world beyond the reaches of the pages, remain frustratingly nebulous. Readers receive no history of this alternate world. We have no idea how anyone discovered that the nine lives existed, and this lack of historical perspective raises one too many questions which end up being rather important to the story. Were the Lakes, which are vital for the rebirth process, always in the same location? Who created the first death incentives and what was their reasoning for the ages of mandatory burns? What about the rest of the world? Did these Lakes pop up all over the Earth? Are the Lakes the only way to experience rebirth?

Instead of answers, readers must pick up clues within the narrative. These clues do not provide any historical context, but we do know that essential resources like food are dwindling as people continue to live longer. We find out that Burners have been a favorite, unsanctioned school club for generations. We learn that the divide between the haves and the have-nots remains substantial, with the government using a family’s total number of burns to incentivize families into shortening their life spans. This information is vital to understanding the conspiracy, but given the nature of the conspiracy, the lack of historical context leaves a large hole in the plot. There are too many questions and too few answers to satisfy the story’s resolution.

Another area of weakness within Nine is the characters. All of the characters fail to develop in a manner that feels authentic. In fact, they remain little more than one-dimensional archetypes. The cast is quite large by the end of the story with a convoluted generational connection that compounds any reader confusion, and none of them evolve beyond caricatures of students and adult authority figures in a dystopian world. The lack of character depth hinders a reader’s connection to the characters and immersion into the story.

Poor character development and a complete lack of historical background make Nine unsatisfying. I never overcame the thought that with a little historical perspective, so much of Julian’s world would make more sense, and with an improved understanding of this particular fictional world, I would have a better appreciation for Julian and everything he suffers at the hands of the Burners and the government. Instead, readers must spend too much time trying to put together a puzzle with one too many missing pieces, and the gaps are just too large to overcome.

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