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The Archive of the Forgotten is an excellent sequel
2020-12-01 16:00 UTC by Michelle

The Archive of the Forgotten by A. J. Hackwith

The Archive of the Forgotten by A. J. Hackwith is the second installment of the Hell’s Library series. As one would expect of a sequel, there are a few answers, more questions, and a new crisis our heroes must resolve. This time around, we not only learn more about the Library, but we also get some time with Brevity and Hero as well as Claire.

As The Archive of the Forgotten starts out a few months after the end of The Library of the Unwritten, there is always a danger that an author will either not recap the previous story or will spend too much time doing so, to the detriment of the current one. Thankfully, Ms. Hackwith does an excellent job balancing the refresher with building the mystery for this new adventure.

In fact, one of the main plot points of The Archive of the Forgotten is the aftermath of that first story. For Hero, Brevity, and Claire, there is no such thing as moving on with their lives (or afterlives). The emotional and psychological traumas of the battle among all of the characters play a significant role in the sequel, as it should. It shows that Ms. Hackwith intends for each story within the series to build upon the other one, which is always something you want in any series.

Within The Archive of the Forgotten, we get to see yet another afterlife dimension even though Heaven does not make an appearance this time. We do learn more about the Library, especially its importance within the universe. However, Ms. Hackwith is careful to leave certain questions about the Library without answers to give us something to anticipate in future novels.

The Archive of the Forgotten is the second novel in an enjoyable series that focuses less on the comical and more on the poignant. Ms. Hackwith seeks to redefine what a story is in a way that will strike an avid reader as profound. In addition, she makes you ruminate on the relationship between an author and his or her story. With many a sentence that hits you with all the emotions, I am most definitely a fan and cannot wait to see what happens next!

The post The Archive of the Forgotten is an excellent sequel appeared first on That's What She Read.

Do not miss Leave the World Behind
2020-11-30 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Reading Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam during an ongoing pandemic may not seem like a good idea. After all, a story about what looks like a catastrophic event as experienced by two families with no access to the news is a little too on-the-nose considering current events. For those brave enough to crack open its pages, however, what you will find is a mesmerizing story of opposites forced into cooperation and brutal self-reflection that does as much to help you forget reality as it does make you grateful that we are only experiencing a pandemic.

Leave the World Behind is chilling on so many levels – the lack of news, the isolation, the panic. What will strike readers the most, however, is the self-reflection required of each of the characters as they strive to work together all while trying to overcome their inherent biases. After all, the two families are as opposite as can be. Black versus white. Rich versus middle class. Retired versus vacationers. Old versus young. A reliance on wifi and electronics versus those who view such gadgets as unnecessary. Plus one family has the experiences that come with living a full and long life while the other family is still in the throes of puberty, school, and everything else that comes with raising a family.

Not every character is as successful at addressing their inner biases as others. In fact, much of what makes Leave the World Behind so brilliant is the fact that the characters acknowledge their racism and other biases while also understanding that they shouldn’t have those feelings if they want to consider themselves truly enlightened. It makes for some very uncomfortable reading at times, which, I believe, is Mr. Alam’s point. While showing the characters’ weaknesses, he forces readers to confirm their own.

The unknown event in New York is very much a secondary character in its own right, even though we never find out what exactly happened. Mr. Alam draws our attention to certain seemingly random events happening in nature as well as mentioning various long-term effects of that event so that you understand just how catastrophic, almost apocalyptic, it was. As a result, the characters’ state of uncertainty and eventual panic becomes that much more palpable because you understand the gravity of the situation more than they do.

Ultimately, Leave the World Behind is a rather intense apocalyptic novel that fits well into 2020. Its deep dive into the inherent racism and other biases we each internally carry is spot on for this year’s ongoing fight against systemic racism. Plus, its unknown catastrophe is an intriguing alternative to our current, still-relatively-unknown pandemic. Make no mistake, Leave the World Behind is going to be among many a Best of 2020 list.

The post Do not miss Leave the World Behind appeared first on That's What She Read.

Sunday Reflections – 29 November 2020 – Quarantine Update 12
2020-11-29 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Hi guys! Yes, I’m still here. We are all healthy and staying busy. It has been quite a month.

Even though we still didn’t sign the closing paperwork until November 12th, we found out on November 4th that the builder was allowing us to officially move in. Jim told me at dinner that day, and two hours later we were on our way to Wisconsin for the last time. Holly moved back that weekend, and we have been working on finishing unpacking and building furniture/shelving as planned. I still don’t have my bookshelves or a desk, as one of my brothers-in-law is building those for me, but most of the house is complete. It is wonderful to live together again, play in my new kitchen, and cuddle together on the new furniture.

Jim has been keeping busy with work, traveling for some unexpected scouting trips, and attending so many meetings. I don’t know how anyone gets anything done when attending that many meetings every day. He also has been enjoying the new house and its easy access to his favorite running/walking path. He is particularly happy about not having to rake leaves or winterize the lawn.

Meanwhile, Holly started the month attending her hybrid school schedule, shifted to an all-virtual schedule for two weeks thanks to an increase in COVID cases at the high school, went back to her hybrid schedule for one week, only to have to shift back to an all-virtual schedule from now to January. I don’t know if you have been paying attention to case levels in Wisconsin, but they started skyrocketing towards the end of October and show no real sign of declining. This temporary closing of the schools is the area’s attempt to flatten the curve. Only time will tell whether it will work.

Holly started working at Taco Bell, putting in about ten hours a week. This is on top of her full dance schedule. There have been days where we hardly see her as she has less than an hour between school and work or school and dance. Despite not having winter poms or being able to attend any school club or activity, I do think she is enjoying herself a lot this year. I know she loves her hybrid schedule, getting enough time with her teachers and peers to assuage the need for socialization and help with directions but enough autonomy to allow her to learn on her own for certain subjects. She is doing really well in her classes, and Jim and I remain impressed by her ability to juggle so much without her grades slipping.

Our Thanksgiving was quiet, which is exactly what we all wanted. Since Holly does not eat turkey, and I am not a fan, we avoided all the traditional holiday fare. Instead, we opted for appetizers and eating when we got hungry.  We took the dogs for a long walk since the weather was decent for this time of year. We watched some football, but then I seem to have gotten Jim and Holly interested in old seasons of The Great British Bake-Off. I don’t mind. Watching that show is always cathartic and relaxing, and it is so much fun to see their reactions to the contestants and their bakes. Considering the year, it was a pretty darn good day.

Holly was supposed to have her first dance competition, along with her main dance convention, of the season next weekend. Even though neither she nor I was looking forward to spending the weekend in hotel ballrooms surrounded by dancers from around the region, I do think she was looking forward to getting back on stage for the first time since February. However, we found out that both the convention and the competition are going all virtual, which means she will attend her dance seminars via Zoom and the studio had to scramble to make videos of the competition dances to submit by this weekend. So once again, she still cannot take the stage, but they will get some feedback on their dances before the season starts in earnest in February. The competition plans to stream all of the recorded dances throughout the weekend, so at least we can see what others are doing this year. It is most definitely not normal, but it certainly is a creative alternative, and at least we no longer have to spend the weekend in a hotel.

I continue to unpack the last few remaining boxes and battle against the construction dust as well as the dust coming from the empty lots that surround us. Our storage area remains the most unorganized part of the house, so I have not yet pulled out any Christmas decor. I’m still gearing myself up for that as the new house and lack of certain items of furniture means not having as many places to display all of my decorations. Decorating will take a bit longer this year as we assess what we want to display, what we want to get rid of, and what we to continue to store for next year when we have all of the planned furniture and more room.

I am still reading, although it only seems to be at night. More importantly, I hope to start writing reviews again this week now that I think we are (mostly) settled and I can try to get into some semblance of a routine. Keep your eye out for those as they start popping up as they cover October and November releases with the latest Harry Dresden books on audio.

That is about it from here. I hope everyone is enjoying their Thanksgiving weekend (if celebrated), but more importantly, I hope everyone is staying safe by wearing your masks and frequently washing your hands. Even though I look forward to the end of this year as much as everyone else, 2021 is not going to be a better year until we get this pandemic under control. I don’t want to be sitting here in six months still lamenting the high positive rates of infection within the US.

The post Sunday Reflections – 29 November 2020 – Quarantine Update 12 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2020-11-29
2020-11-29 05:00 UTC

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2020-11-22 05:00 UTC

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2020-11-15 05:00 UTC

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2020-11-08 05:00 UTC

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2020-11-01 04:00 UTC

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Leave The Devil and the Dark Water behind
2020-10-30 15:00 UTC by Michelle

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

After having thoroughly enjoyed The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I looked forward to starting Stuart Turton’s latest mystery foray, The Devil and the Dark Water. Except, his latest novel is nothing like his previous work. Gone are the science fiction/supernatural elements that made that work so compelling. Instead, we have something akin to Sherlock Holmes on the sea, and I cannot say I am a fan.

The Devil and the Dark Water has a slow start. A very slow start. In fact, you wonder what the point of the story is well past the twenty-five percent mark. It does not make a must-read situation.

Then, once the mystery becomes apparent, it does not take long to predict the mystery’s answer. In fact, you don’t even have to think about the ending because you know you are right because it is such a popular red herring/mystery solution. You hope that Mr. Turton would not be that obvious, but you are wrong. To say that this does not engender disappointment would be a lie. What good is a mystery when at least part of the answer is so obvious that you know it without having to think?

Speaking of the ending, it is highly unsatisfactory, although I suspect that is most definitely not Mr. Turton’s intention. I believe he means the ending to be better than a typical revenge story. Except, I don’t see it that way. Instead, I see it as a bit of a way for the main characters to have their cake and eat it too. Mr. Turton found an ending that allows the main characters to all have happy endings in spite of issues like historical legality and accuracy. While others may enjoy it, I found it rang a bit false if only because he spends so much time immersing the reader in the minutiae of colonial Dutch life, with an attention to detail that can be mind-numbing at times, and his ending flouts that.

The characters in The Devil and the Dark Water also are wanting. While perfectly adequate and capable of progressing the story, they are essentially archetypes. Archetypes serve a purpose, but in this story, it feels out of place to use them. Again, Mr. Turton does not shy away from detailing all aspects of life aboard the merchant ship, so using one-dimensional characters with no growth or further development feels wrong.

Lastly, something occurs to the ship that Mr. Turton never addresses and which should not bother me but does. Without giving too much away, the bad guys need to have the ship near a certain island in order for their plan to work. Except, the ship flees a massive hurricane for two weeks, only to have to brave its waves and wind when it moves faster than they can. Mr. Turton specifically mentions that the ship travels in any direction necessary to remain ahead of the storm. Later, once in the midst of a hurricane, they don’t even bother with direction and just fight to keep their ship afloat. And yet, somehow the ship ends up exactly where it needs to be. I don’t know how that is possible, and Mr. Turton does not give a satisfactory explanation. When every other part of the story has a rather mundane answer, this is one mystery that he never solves and which irks me for its unbelievability.

So, The Devil and the Dark Water is definitely a disappointment, and not only because I was holding it up against his fabulous previous novel. The two are so different that you probably shouldn’t compare them, except for the fact that Hardcastle was pretty damn good and The Devil and the Dark Water is not. The mystery is lackluster and predictable while the characters are archetypal and boring. His storytelling this time around is missing that WTFery as well as the shocking plot twists which made his previous story so good. I’d say skip it, but the buzz on this is much louder than my voice ever will be. So, I will say I hope you enjoy it more than I did!

The post Leave The Devil and the Dark Water behind appeared first on That's What She Read.

Want to work towards being anti-racist? Try Born a Crime.
2020-10-29 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Having come to enjoy Trevor Noah and his commentary on The Daily Show, thanks to Born a Crime I now have a much greater appreciation for his opinions and viewpoint. His experiences in post-Apartheid South Africa as a mixed-race child make him uniquely situated to understand multiple sides of a racial argument. In addition, his story provides an excellent background for understanding the nuances of race and skin color and the internal decision-making any person of color must make when entering a room filled with white people.

By all accounts, Mr. Noah had multiple brushes with death and faced a childhood that the system had rigged to fail him. Mr. Noah recognizes all this and acknowledges that his success is due mostly to the formidable woman that is his mother. Each of his stories shows the remarkable independence his mother had and taught her sons. More importantly, each shows the lengths to which his mother was willing to go to make sure he had a chance to beat the rigged system that was South Africa. Her methods might appear harsh to white readers, but I suspect any Black person reading it will recognize the desperation his mother had to teach her son the harsh realities of the world before he discovered them for himself.

Whether it is a coping mechanism or an aspect of his comedian background, in Born a Crime, Mr. Noah finds ways to make the most shocking stories palatable, almost funny. He does this while maintaining the reverence such serious history deserves. In a way, it is as if he is marveling at the fact that he faced so many things without knowing how remarkable they truly are as much as his audience is. At the same time, underlying the comedy is a poignancy and gratitude for having escaped, which makes sense the more you learn.

Being eight years older than Mr. Noah, I too grew up both during and after Apartheid, except, as I quickly learned from the book, I had no idea what Apartheid really was. I only knew it was bad and racist. Plus, I had a faint idea that it involved white people holding all the power. What I did not know was that it was slavery in a modern-day format. Nor did I have a clue just how far the Apartheid government went to subjugate its Black inhabitants. Before going into any of his own stories, Mr. Noah is careful to enlighten his readers with the necessary understanding of the racial, political, tribal, socio-economic, geographical, historical, and other cultural factors that make his stories so remarkable. Thus, not only do you learn about his life, you learn quite a bit about South Africa in the 1990s and 2000s.

Mr. Noah’s narration is beyond excellent. I particularly delighted in hearing him speak the many African languages he knows. Plus, as with any autobiography, hearing the author’s story from his own lips imbues it with an intimacy that other narrators cannot bring to his words. Even if this is one you already read, I highly recommend listening to the audiobook for the pronunciations and inflections that only Mr. Noah can add.

Part of becoming anti-racist is becoming empathetic to people of color and their experiences. In Born a Crime, Mr. Noah provides readers with firsthand insight into a racist world. While you might never experience racism yourself, Mr. Noah makes it easy to put yourself into his shoes. As such, in our current society, where it is more important than ever to recognize systemic racism and the damage it inflicts on anyone of color, Born a Crime becomes an important stopping point along the journey towards anti-racism.

The post Want to work towards being anti-racist? Try Born a Crime. appeared first on That's What She Read.

Sunday Reflections – 27 October 2020 – Quarantine Update 11
2020-10-27 20:12 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Guys, it has not been a great few weeks. It appears that since we closed on the sale of our house, we used up every ounce of good luck we had. Making things worse, I sit here at my parents’ house being able to do nothing to improve our situation, frustrated and bored. We knew this month would be a trying experience, but none of us expected things not to go our way.

So, our closing date is not October 30th, as everyone hoped. At this point in time, we don’t even know if the house will be completely done by then. We still do not have countertops. The manufacturer took two weeks to turn the cabinet measurements into a countertop blueprint and needed another fifteen days after that to cut the granite, thereby annihilating that three-week estimate we were given. This all occurred a week ago.

Then, after many unanswered emails and phone calls to the sales rep who took our order, we finally got in contact with the store manager about our appliances. At the last contact, the sales rep told us our stove/oven was on backorder yet again through November 11th. What he failed to tell us, or didn’t bother to research, was that the manufacturer discontinued our stove/oven model and that there were no more available anywhere. I don’t know when he was going to let us know, but the lack of communication still appalls me. We were able to order a different model, albeit without at least one feature I really wanted, and we should experience no delays upon receiving it. Keep in mind, this is all over appliances we ordered in July for delivery in August. (Yes, the store is going to get a very poor review once we get everything and determine all works as it should.)

We opted to add a sprinkler system to our yard because we are lazy and a good part of the reason we bought this condo is that we wanted to do no lawn maintenance. Even this is turning into a point of frustration as the sprinkler system guy only works when he wants to work. This means, a system that someone else would install in two days has taken him three weeks to install, and he is STILL. NOT. FINISHED. His delays are causing delays in finishing the landscaping, and if he doesn’t finish his work soon (like this week), we might not get our sod put down before the end of the season. Which means an entire winter of a yard of dirt with two dogs. All because this jackass only works when the sun is out and there has been no precipitation for three days prior. We live in the midwest. Do you know how infrequently that happens at this time of year?

There are a few items of furniture Jim and his brother were going to build since they did such a fabulous job on our master bed. Due to delays and Jim realizing he does not have enough time, we opted to hire his brother to build them for us. Except he too is not very timely with his work. We entrusted the most important piece of furniture in the house – the bookshelves to house all 100 boxes of books we have – and we have no idea when he will finish them.

Even more frustrating, Jim cannot unearth the tools he needs to be able to make our closet systems (which he is doing by hand because closet systems are expensive and he can make something ten times better than those wire ones) because they are buried under all the boxes. If I had my bookshelves, we could unbury the tools. If we could unbury the tools, he could start on the closet systems so that I could unpack the bedrooms and bathrooms. Instead, I am looking at a situation where the only room I can 100 percent unpack upon moving in will be the kitchen.

Holly too is not doing well. She admitted to suffering from a depressive episode last week. Plus, Jim and I notice when we see her every weekend that she comes to us very quiet and a bit grumpy. It is only after staying with us for a few hours where she bounces into the happy, independent, confident young woman we know. I know that her BFF’s parents are taking good care of her, but I know she would prefer being with us, her things, the dogs, and in our own little family routine.

The silver lining is that the builder did set our closing date for November 12th. It should not change now. I don’t know if it helps or hurts to think of the fact that the house will be sitting finished for at least a week without us being able to move in, all because the bank requires ten days after the final appraisal, which they can do only when the house is done. It is taking all my energy to get through each day without cussing out this entire process because I know this is nothing but a blip in our life and the house will be worth it. Still, all three of us want our lives back, which won’t happen until November 12th.

Enough about me. Give me something good, people. What good is going on in your lives?

The post Sunday Reflections – 27 October 2020 – Quarantine Update 11 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2020-10-25
2020-10-25 04:00 UTC

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Addie is flawless
2020-10-21 15:00 UTC by Michelle

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

The anticipation for The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab was so high this year that you might think there is no way it could possibly live up to those expectations. Then you read it. And you realize that it blows those expectations out of the water.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is the very definition of pathos because there is nothing particularly happy or joyful about Addie’s life. Yet, it matters not because her story is so imaginative, so thoughtful, so evocative that you read it with your heart in your throat. Emotions, like dread and sadness, threaten to overwhelm you after every page.

There is beauty in Addie’s world though. Strangely, you find beauty in her suffering, her resilience, and her longing. Even though you don’t think you want to continue her story after her first night in Paris — because it is just too much — you do because Addie haunts you, unlike any other character. You want her to find happiness in any form, and you want to ease that longing that is so visceral and difficult to read.

The ending of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is flawless. There is no other way the story could end. Even though it may not be the ending you want for Addie’s story, it is perfect and completely worth the heartache and tears that fall on Addie’s behalf.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is unlike any story you have previously read. It is also a story that is going to haunt your waking moments as well as your dreams. You will find yourself thinking of Addie’s curse at the strangest times, and you will notice all the ways in which you leave an imprint of yourself now that you know all the ways Addie could not. Without a doubt, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue will be the best book you read all year and maybe for years to come.

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Uncomfortable but important
2020-10-20 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

I believe Mr. Ellison’s purpose in writing Invisible Man was simply education. Sadly, his first-person account of all the ways Black people face oppression is not as shocking as it could be because it simply reiterates that there is nothing simple or easy about the life of a Black person. Not only do they face hatred and oppression through racism, but they also face something similar through those Black persons who cater to white people. It is something we have been hearing from Black people for years, but reading it as a first-person story somehow drives it home more than any news article or interview.

Joe Morton takes a difficult story and brings it to life with his performance. He approaches the written word as a script, and it shows in his narration. Not only does he bring each unique character to life, but he also exudes each emotion our unnamed narrator feels just through the speed at which he speaks. It is an extraordinary performance that makes a story that is, frankly, not an enjoyable read worthwhile.

Invisible Man is not an easy read, but it is an important one because it provides a first-hand glimpse of racism and segregation. It matters not that the story occurs 100 years ago because the unnamed narrator’s experiences simply prove that nothing really changed in those 100 years. Through his story, we see the insidious nature of racism and how it can affect anyone. In that regard, Invisible Man is essential reading for those who want to become anti-racist.

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2020-10-18 04:00 UTC

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Brilliant and cruel
2020-10-16 15:00 UTC by Michelle

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi

The much-awaited sequel to Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves, The Silvered Serpents picks up several months after the events of the first novel with the group struggling to accept the loss of one of their own, thus setting the mood for the rest of the novel. No longer a cohesive unit, we see the damage the loss caused each person, and it isn’t pretty. The group dynamic was one of the best things about the first book, and to see that torn apart through grief makes the sequel a difficult one.

Even the personalities are different. Always focused, Séverin is now almost heartless in his efforts to achieve his goal. The others are equally broken. Their interactions are stiff and awkward. Gone are the days of banter and fluid camaraderie that defined them. They still work together, but there is an air of desperation to their efforts that hurts.

Ms. Chokshi uses this grief to good effect though, utilizing it as a tool to help them achieve the object of their mission. Along the way, there are some predictable moments, and there are some brilliant ones. The slow-burn romance still exists, but that relationship grows beyond those boundaries into something much more complex and, frankly, adult. Other characters break their shackles and really start to shine, which helps ease the pain they continue to suffer.

The Silvered Serpents is fundamentally a story about loss and its aftermath. Sure, the group must find another Babel fragment, but that is only part of the story. And what a story it is. I literally read it in one sitting and now must wait to find out how it all ends. With an ending that is as brilliant as it is cruel, the wait is going to be a long one.

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Who knew Hell could be so fun?
2020-10-15 15:00 UTC by Michelle

The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith

There is something about a story in which a library is one of the settings. It doesn’t matter if the library is a fantasy or really exists, the library establishes the tone of the story, one in which the love of possibility and knowledge, as well as a reverence for the written word, are key. A. J. Hackwith puts this auto-generated tone to good use in her devilishly good novel, The Library of the Unwritten.

There is so much to love within the pages of The Library of the Unwritten. Claire is a great heroine. Determined, unafraid, erudite, and exacting, she is exactly what you would expect of a librarian. Except, she is not all rule-following and sternness. As you discover more about her and her past, it makes those moments when she does break the rules more impactful.

I also love Ms. Hackwith’s clever approach to the afterlife. In her world, there is no such thing as one Hell and one Heaven. Rather, one goes to the afterlife of his or her religious belief, whether it is ancient Egypt, Buddhist, or Christian. This inclusion is satisfying on many levels, one of which is the fact it is a harmonious approach to the many belief systems that exist around the world. Instead of drawing a line in the proverbial sand that there is only one afterlife option, Ms. Hackwith includes them all to emphasize the point that anything is possible.

As much as I enjoyed The Library of the Unwritten, it is not without its issues. For one, there are times in which the plot becomes a little too convenient to be believable. The identity of one particular character, while interesting and a nice way to tie Claire’s past to her present, does not appear to be necessary to the overall story. There are other instances of situations resolving themselves a little too easily. In addition, some of the imagery is a little clunky.

Those issues are minor, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed The Library of the Unwritten. I am eager to see where Ms. Hackwith takes the story next. In particular, I hope we get to know more of Claire’s backstory. I would also love to learn how people become librarians in Hell and how Hell actually works since it appears a lot more complicated than one might think. One thing is for sure, the sequel should have more of the fantastic character interaction and Claire’s prickly personality to entertain us.

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