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Weekly Top Posts: 2020-04-05
2020-04-05 04:00 UTC

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Swords and Crows and Dragons
2020-03-31 15:00 UTC by Michelle

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. MartinA Feast for Crows by George R. R. MartinA Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin

The last three (published) novels from A Song of Fire and Ice series take us through seasons four and five and some of season six of the television series Game of Thrones. Whereas the first two novels are essentially word-for-word screenplays for the show, these last three novels contain marked and welcome differences. These differences include expanded roles for some of the characters, new characters who add another layer of complexity, more intrigue, more politics, and many more shades of gray to the tumult.

In the novels, you get a better feel for just how large Westeros is as well as just how far Westeros is from the Free Cities and other locations we visit.Ā  Plus, as winter draws near, you see its impact on all of the areas and characters. Snow in King’s Landing, dying grasses in the Dothraki Sea, you get a real sense of the danger winter brings, one that has a more direct impact on a majority of the players versus just those in the north.

One of the other areas for which the novels provide better clarity is the timing of major events. The novels do an excellent job connecting events in King’s Landing to those on the Wall to those in Meereen. They also remind readers that all of the events started with the Baratheon uprising, which occurred less than 20 years before the current events. From a historical perspective, it is a mere blip of time during which there are major changes in alliances, religions, and politics. No wonder everyone is fighting everyone else!

One rather disturbing difference between the novels and the show is the portrayal of females. While the show was not perfect, and could definitely have benefitted from female directors and writers, I still felt like the main female characters were strong, capable, and in need of no man to achieve their goals. Such is not the case with the novels. The women in the novels are weak, driven solely by their emotions. Mr. Martin refers to all of them as silly on more than one occasion, and they all rely on the men in their lives to help them. Even Daenerys and Cersei bow to the wishes of their male advisors, and Brienne of Tarth comes across as just plain pathetic. You get the impression that there is not a single intelligent female in all of Westeros or Essos. What’s worse is the fact that every time Mr. Martin mentions a female, he adds some physical descriptor which usually is something derogatory about her breasts. It is as if in Mr. Martin’s mind, women are only good for sex and nothing else.

From an audiobook perspective, Roy Dotrice remains an average narrator. He differentiates between the large cast of characters by providing each character with a different British Isles accent. The Lannisters tend to sound Scottish while other families have Liverpool accents and yet others sound like they are from Birmingham. (Surprisingly, no one has the nasal affect one associates with the peerage.) It is as good a method as any when faced with such a numerous cast.

Mr. Dotrice’s female voices just plain suck, but I find them fitting given the misogynistic undertones of the series. A Dance with Dragons is the only novel published after the premiere of the television show, and it is the first time where Mr. Dotrice’s pronunciations of names and places match with the show. This leads me to conclude that Mr. Dotrice and Mr. Martin did not collaborate on the audiobook versions since we do know that Mr. Martin was involved in the making of the show, something that surprises me given Mr. Martin’s control over his stories. In the end, it is a small thing, but it does strike me as a bit unusual.

I will say that for all its faults, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Westeros and Essos. It is a rich fantasy world, something I always appreciate, and I adore the complexity of the story. Like everyone else, I now wait for Mr. Martin to get his act together and finish book six. I am particularly eager to see just how much book six differs from the final season of the show, especially when it comes to the winner of the game of thrones.

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Weekly Top Posts: 2020-03-29
2020-03-29 04:00 UTC

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I regret nothing
2020-03-27 15:00 UTC by Michelle

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

You would think that at age 43, one would stop fangirling over smexy young adult couples. That seems to not be the case, however. As long as authors like Tricia Levenseller keep writing novels like The Shadows Between Us, I will keep fangirling and gushing and devouring such books as the book candy they are.

The Shadows Between Us truly is book candy. Not only did I fly through the story, but I finished it crushing on both Kallias and Alessandra. Kallias smolders with the best of them, and his vulnerability makes you want to comfort him. Meanwhile, Alessandra is my favorite type of heroine. She does not play by the rules. She lives the way she wants without apologies. Once again I’m left to wonder where such characters were when I was a teenager.

I also adore the feminist nature of the story. Alessandra spends the entire novel flouting the patriarchal rules, and we all need more examples of girls and women just not giving a fuck anymore about such rules. The only note of discord I found in the novel is the fact that while the story is very much all about equal rights between men and women, it is not very egalitarian. There exists a hierarchical society that Alessandra sees no need to change. After all, when one of the main characters is a king, there is bound to be class distinctions, and Alessandra wants to be queen not to get rid of servants but to get rid of harsh constraints against women and their rights.

I love The Shadows Between Us and its tremendous powers of escapism and diversion at a time when we so desperately need them. Alessandra is a formidable character; think Scarlett O’Hara without her inability to read people and without her selfishness. Kallias is mysterious and sensitive and all sorts of sexy. When they are together, the pages practically ignite. If this is an example of Ms. Levenseller’s other novels, I need to read her backlist immediately.

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Makes you rethink the need to travel
2020-03-24 17:00 UTC by Michelle

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If ever you wanted a story to make you think twice about staying in a hotel, The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James is for you. In fact, it is a pretty fitting story right now since we should not be traveling anyway. After all, a haunted hotel where bad things tend to happen will all but eliminate any wanderlust.

I don’t know why, since I adored Ms. St. James’ other novel Broken Girls, but The Sun Down Motel surprised me with its impressive mix of suspense and quirk. It is one of the few dual narrator/dual timeline stories that I thoroughly enjoyed in recent years. Plus, there is an unexpected feminist element to the story that I loved.

It takes a lot for a story to get under my skin, but The Sun Down Motel spooked me quite a bit. I will confess to having to set the book aside a few times because a particular scene was bothering me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I kept reading.

I will admit to deducing the ending before the reveal. I beat the reveal by a few pages, and I am perfectly okay with that. Mysteries I can solve a few pages before the author unveils the answer never bother me. Plus, there are so many other aspects of the story to enjoy of which the mystery’s resolution is one small part.

The Sun Down Motel is a chilling and impressive suspense novel that keeps you on your toes with its many shifts and twists. With its elements of feminist revenge and haunted motel vibe, it makes for a great self-isolation read that will help you while away a few hours. It might also cure you of any desire to travel right now, something we all need as we head into our second week of self-isolation.

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Thoughts during self-isolation
2020-03-24 15:00 UTC by Michelle

  1. I love not working. I’m good at not working. I was made for not working.
  2. I don’t love not working when the rest of my family is home. I have yet to determine why their presence hinders my ability to do the things I want to get done around the house, but it does.
  3. Republicans want to kill us all.
  4. Tik-Tok is a dangerous time suck, and I can feel my brain cells dying every minute I spend on it. But I Can’t. Stop.
  5. I can only seem to read at night, reading until the wee hours of the morning because I can’t sleep and then waking up late in the morning because I fell asleep so late. It’s a vicious cycle.
  6. This was a terrible time to lose my job.
  7. Games on my phone like One Dot and Homescapes are great distractions.
  8. Lizzo is my jam.
  9. I don’t miss people (very much).
  10. I do miss all the sports. What I wouldn’t give for a basketball game or a baseball game right now.
  11. I am the lone introvert in a family of extroverts.
  12. My husband drinks A LOT of coffee.
  13. There IS such a thing as withdrawal symptoms from long-term OTC allergy med usage, and I am currently in that hellscape.
  14. I’ve already lived through enough historical events in my life – Challenger, end of the Cold War, 9/11, the first Iraq war. I don’t need to add any more to my life experience.
  15. Is it too soon to start wishing for the end of 2020? Because I’m ready to chalk this year up to bad juju and start fresh.
  16. That is if we survive the Republicans.
  17. I will get through my backlog of reviews someday, but I figure there is no hurry since it has already been a month.
  18. I may not be reading very often, but I AM making excellent reading choices because HOT DAMN have the stories been amazing.
  19. Thank goodness for robot vacuums.
  20. I’ve been making my own cleaning products since the beginning of the year, and I swear they are better than manufactured products.
  21. My husband sent me a link to an article about attachable bidets, and I am seriously considering giving him permission to do it. At least then I wouldn’t have to worry or continue wondering why there is a shortage of toilet paper of all things.
  22. Every author who has ever written a post-apocalyptic or pandemic novel was wrong. It’s not nearly as exciting and dangerous as they made it seem.
  23. Well, except for the Republicans. They really do want to kill us all to protect “the economy,” aka their corporate profits.
  24. All of the inspirational quotes I am seeing are equally inspiring and annoying. So sue me.
  25. I may be a little bored.

How is everyone faring? Anybody watching good TV right now? I flew through all five seasons of Peaky Blinders last week and need something equally compelling and dark to watch since that is about all I want to do right now.

The post Thoughts during self-isolation appeared first on That's What She Read.

A gentle post-apocalyptic read
2020-03-23 15:00 UTC by Michelle

The Bear by Andrew Krivak

According to the blurb, The Bear by Andrew Krivak is a fable. I have no idea whether this is correct. I struggle with understanding fables and allegories and parables, so if there is a lesson to learn through this story, it is not one I bothered to decipher.

Even though I may have completely missed the point of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed The Bear. It is simply a lovely story. The writing is gorgeous. The descriptions are beautiful and make this modern gal long for a simpler way of life. Even though it describes the actions and adventures of the last people on Earth, there is nothing melancholic or disturbing about it. Rather, I like it to a commune with nature – peaceful, honest, simple. Lovely.

To be fair, I read this fable about the last two people on Earth before the Covid-19 panic started here in the United States. Still, I think that one could even enjoy it while stuck at home either through self-isolation of state-mandated “stay in place” edicts. So much of The Bear is about coping and making the best of a truly shitty situation. Need I say more?

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Weekly Top Posts: 2020-03-22
2020-03-22 04:00 UTC

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In which my world explodes
2020-03-19 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Folks, it’s been a week. Hell, it’s been a year. I started it out with every intention of being more present, more aware, and more careful about avoiding extraneous stress at work. I knew I did not want to live life like I had through most of 2019 and made several changes that helped me almost immediately. Not even two weeks into the new year, things started going downhill.

First, my manager put me on a Professional Improvement Plan (PIP). If you are not aware of what that means, PIPs are notorious in the business world for being a means of firing someone. They are a way to dot the i’s and cross the t’s to make sure that the employee cannot sue you for wrongful dismissal. Essentially, the manager puts the problem employee on probation, giving them a very specific set of tasks to complete over a short period of time, usually six weeks. If you fail to achieve those tasks by their deadlines, the manager has grounds for firing. In my experience, PIPs are rarely beatable.

My manager put me on a PIP specifically for my attitude during the last half of 2019. It seems that there were people around my office who listened to every conversation I held behind closed doors and reported my words, which admittedly were very heated and crude at times, to HR and to my manager. There were also people who were not happy I was doing so much venting to them and complained to HR that they were not counselors and that I was taking up too much of their time. So, PIP time for me. I signed all the paperwork and went about the business of proving that I could beat it because I had an ace up my sleeve. I was already actively looking for work. So, I took it seriously but at the same time felt comfortable in my back-up plan. My goal was to find a new job and get out of there before the PIP expired.

Fast-forward six weeks to last week. My PIP was set to end on Friday the 13th, and there were no doubts that I was going to succeed. On Monday though, things changed. My manager once again struggled to understand some basic tenet of cost accounting. Over the course of the last two months, I had come to the realization that if my manager becomes embarrassed about her lack of understanding in a meeting, she would invariably take her embarrassment out on me. Such is the case on Monday. So, she feels embarrassed in a meeting in which I was an attendee on Monday afternoon. Later that afternoon, she sends me an email asking me for changes to a file by the end of business that day because she needed it for a meeting at 9 AM the next day. She sent it less than an hour before I absolutely had to leave to take Holly to dance (something blocked out on my calendar to which she had full access) and the changes were of a nature that they would take me at least two hours to complete if I had all the data. I did not, and she sent the request at a time where those coworkers with the data I needed were already gone. Thankfully, the data I did not have was very specific and not necessary for final conclusions. So, rather than fail completely, I completed the changes to the file with the information I had and explained to her in a note why I didn’t do all of them. I was also late getting Holly, who was late for dance that night. I got home and told Jim what happened and that this was going to come back to haunt me.

Sure enough, the next day, at least four hours AFTER her meeting, she sends me an email blasting me for my incomplete work and how this was one of the reasons I was on the PIP. I did not respond because I knew I would see her in person on Wednesday. But I started getting nervous and told Jim that she was going to fire me. He told me that she couldn’t fire me because she gave me a request to do with an inadequate amount of time in which to complete her request and with incomplete information.

Wednesday morning rolls around, and I do not see my manager at all that morning. We had a scheduled daily touch-base meeting at 9 AM which she postponed until 11 AM. I didn’t hear anything from her for the rest of the morning. I walk into her office at 11 AM, ready to discuss her email, her request, and the entire situation. Except HR was already in her office. And instead of firing me for lack of performance, they instead fired me for an email I sent to Jim back in February. The email contained a file that had what she felt was sensitive information in it. I sent the file to him asking him to help me figure something out within the file – it was an Excel question that I couldn’t seem to resolve on my own. I sent it to him at the end of the business day. He opened it at home, looked at my formula issue, helped me with it, and deleted promptly deleted the file. Plus, I had locked the file before I sent it to him to protect what I thought was sensitive. To my manager, I violated company policy and therefore was asked to leave immediately.

I have a lot of thoughts about what went down last week. Did I violate company policy? Yes. In a truly technical sense, I did. But the timing does not sit right with me. I sent this email on February 22nd. The size of the file would have sent a flag to IT immediately, yet it took them three weeks and they only discovered the email after her embarrassment on Monday and the file change request she sent me. I don’t buy it. I will admit to wrongdoing, but I think the email thing is a last resort. My manager wanted me to leave but knew she had no grounds based on my performance for my PIP and started looking. The delay is too odd.

Regardless, once I got over my angry tears and moped for a day, I was fine. I was free. It was what I wanted all along. I had an in-person interview scheduled for that Thursday anyway, so I knew others still saw merit in my skills and experience. And I could relax and rest for the first time in a long time. Of course, that is when they decided to close the schools and the whole Covid-19 situation got very scary.

Throughout Thursday and Friday, we were getting changes to school and dance plans practically every hour. The dance competition Holly was supposed to attend over this past weekend did not cancel the event until mid-morning on Friday. School initially said the kids had to attend school through the 17th, then it changed to the 18th, then to the 16th. It was crazy. Meanwhile, I had already pulled Holly out of school on Friday so she could prepare for the competition later that day. Once they cancelled the competition, she and I went grocery shopping and bought about three weeks’ worth of groceries. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I wanted to be prepared for anything.

At the same time, Jim was preparing to go spend Holly’s spring break, which starts this Friday the 20th, with his mother down in Texas. And his work was still requiring him to go into the office. every day brings new information, and he stopped going into the office on Monday. Holly’s last day of school was Monday as well. The school district took two snow days to allow the teachers to prepare for virtual learning, which officially started today. The spring break trip is a no-go or at least postponed. So far, we have rescheduled dates for two of Holly’s competitions. We are waiting to get a rescheduled date for the one that was to occur this Friday and the rest are not on the calendar until late April. Who knows what will happen by then?

We have mostly spent our time at home. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I have been cooking up a storm lately, something I love doing but was too exhausted while working to do very often. Holly has been bored out of her mind and actually read a book for pleasure yesterday – the first time in years. The weather is not cooperating either. We have only had one day of sun, and we all went out for a walk or run. Since then, rain and cold make it too miserable to do much of anything outside. I have been in contact with three different recruiters, but I realized on Wednesday – after an awful experience picking up my personal effects from my old office on Tuesday – that I am suffering from some trauma from the prolonged stress and strain of work over the past few years. Just listening to Jim conduct a conference call yesterday morning sent me into an anxiety attack that got worse when I attempted to log onto a job search website. I need to recover and recuperate first before I step foot into another work environment. Thankfully, I don’t see many companies hiring right now when everything is so uncertain.

So yeah. This past week has been something. The biggest thing is that I am free. Granted, my manager made it impossible for me to file for unemployment, but that is the least of my concerns right now. I just want to get my family through this coronavirus crisis and work on healing myself. Things always tend to happen for a reason and always end up working out in the end, and I have to have faith that the same will occur in this situation. We will all survive this virus crisis, and I will recover my mental health to allow me to find a new job that will make me happy. I don’t know what that is right now, but I am taking it one day at a time.

How are you? How are you coping? (Do any of you know of any remote bookkeeping work you could send my way?)

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Weekly Top Posts: 2020-03-15
2020-03-15 04:00 UTC

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Weekly Top Posts: 2020-03-08
2020-03-08 05:00 UTC

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Weekly Top Posts: 2020-03-01
2020-03-01 05:00 UTC

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Weekly Top Posts: 2020-02-23
2020-02-23 05:00 UTC

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Weekly Top Posts: 2020-02-16
2020-02-16 05:00 UTC

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  5. What the hell did I read?

You had me at tattoo magic
2020-02-13 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal

Tattoo magic, people!!!! Magic ink!!

OMG, I loved Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal so much. I loved it so much I read it in one day. That hasn’t happened to me in YEARS. I am actually afraid to pick up my next book because I know it is going to disappoint me as only any book following an excellent book does.

It is not just the tattoo magic that made me fall in love with Ink in the Blood. I adore any story that is critical of organized religions, and Ink in the Blood is particularly brutal in that area. What makes the criticism particularly satisfying is the fact that in the story, a deity does exist. Faith has actual substance, and yet the organized part of the religion remains corrupt and anything but pious – something Celia and Anya know from experience. And before a reader complains about the fact that the Profeta tortures children, let’s not ignore the Catholic Church’s history of torture and mutilation in the name of God.

The other aspect of Ink in the Blood I adore is Ms. Smejkal’s use of gender fluidity. Children who don’t get names until they choose one for themselves, the use of He, She, and They, the auras that allow people to identify fluctuating genders – to me, everything about this is revolutionary but feels so right. There is a matter-of-factness about gender identity and allowing children to self-identify that is respectful and yet proves a point that such things do not have to be complex or confusing. As this is the first novel wherein the author used “they” as a pronoun to identify one person, I loved every time I came across its use.

Every individual aspect of a story could be good, but unless the writing is equally good, the story could be a failure. Thankfully, this is not the case with Ink in the Blood. Fantastic pacing, great supporting characters, and seamless world-building round out this amazing tale. The story itself is dark and desperate. In fact, the author added a trigger warning on GoodReads because some of the subject matter is disturbing. You know that I love dark and disturbing, so this only enhanced my love of it. To me, it shows that Ms. Smejkal is not afraid to take chances. Plus there is tattoo magic. If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will! šŸ˜€

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Mermaids and Monsters and Magic, oh my!
2020-02-12 16:00 UTC by Michelle

"All

I know I have been leaning heavily towards fantasy novels lately. So when I say that All the Stars and Teeth is a fantastic novel, it means something. Yes, it follows the standard young adult fantasy novel format. There is a love interest (although minor), and it is a bit predictable and simplistic. However, Amora Montara is such an amazing character that none of that other stuff matters.

Fierce is the best word I can use to describe Amora. She has a strong personality, as one would expect, but she also has an unwavering sense of duty. Moreover, she has a well-defined sense of identity – something that tends to be missing in young adult heroines. Normally, they have to grow into their identities. Amora never needs to do that. Her identity drives all of her actions and desires. It is what gives her purpose and ultimately what you come to respect about her the most.

Another facet of Amora’s character I find highly admirable is her strong ethics and sense of justice. She never hides her head in the sand but demands answers to situations that seem to be contrary to what she was taught. When she begins to question her magic, the sparks truly fly. We have all read heroines who blindly follow their teachings rather than the evidence. Yet, Amora does not hesitate to question at the first sign of differences, even if it means rethinking the one thing that she holds most sacred about her family.

Speaking of magic, hers is unlike anything I have ever seen in a YA novel. It adds a deliciously dark note to the entire story that simply enhances Amora’s character and her quest for information. In addition, it challenges those strongly held ethics that so define her.

Amora Montara is the type of leader we all deserve – honest, caring, willing to listen, and most importantly, willing to learn. She doesn’t take the easy path but does what is right for her people. There is no angst, no hand-wringing about tough decisions. Everything about Amora is decisive and for the greater good. Gods, I love her.

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Take that, you Restless Dead!
2020-02-11 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

There is so much to love within Justina Ireland’s Deathless Divide and really nothing to hate or even mildly dislike. Picking up at the very end of Dread Nation, we see Jane and Katherine once again fighting for their lives against the Restless Dead. This time around, these dead are not nearly as vile and dangerous as other very-much-alive humans. In fact, it is as if Dread Nation sets the stage for Deathless Divide, to show what Jane and Katherine faced in order to explain their actions now, and their actions are the heart of this sequel.

Easy to read and highly entertaining, Ms. Ireland drives home the idea that everything was dangerous for Black Americans back in the day (and even now). Meant to disturb as much as educate, readers explore the unfairness of other immigrants obtaining certain freedoms and a semblance of justice when Black Americans maintain their status as the lowliest of the low. Ms. Ireland touches on the fact that even Native Americans were slaveowners, a fact that still is mind-blowing no matter how many times one reads about it. Most importantly, she gives a voice to the numerous former slaves who made their way west after the Civil War. It’s just that her version has zombies as the reason for their migration.

Jane and Katherine are perfect foils for each other. They complement each other so well in many ways but challenge each other when necessary. This becomes particularly important as one of them heads down a dangerous path of revenge and hatred. Given the starting point of their relationship, to see them now proves how friends come from the most unlikely of places.

Deathless Divide has fantastic characters, explores a fascinating (albeit reimagined) part of history, and contains great messaging. Not only does it provide greater insight into the unique struggle Black Americans faced after the war, but it also reminds us that our family includes those with whom we choose to surround ourselves.

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What the hell did I read?
2020-02-10 16:00 UTC by Michelle

The Girl at the Door by Veronica Raimo

Peeps, I have no idea what the point of Veronica Raimo’s The Girl at the Door is. I suppose one could loosely describe it as being about relationships. However, even that possibility has me shaking my head. With no plot, no world-building, and no character development, I don’t even know what I read.

The characters, if you could call them that, are awful – selfish to the point of narcissistic, rude, and without any semblance of concern or love to connect one to the other. The He character, the male in the relationship, stands accused of rape and spends his portions of the novel reflecting on the love (or lust or obsession?) he felt for this student accuser. He doesn’t consider the sex acts in question as rape because they were, in his opinion, mutually desired at the time.

The She character spends all of her time wondering why she moved to this other country to be with him, how she doesn’t believe the accusations (because they perform the very same sex acts as those listed in the accusation), and how being pregnant with his child makes her life in this foreign country easier to bear. There is also some obsession on her part towards the accuser.

I really struggle with any novel right now that tries to show an accused rapist as somewhat sympathetic. In my opinion, Ms. Raimo attempts to do just that with her male character. Except, I don’t believe we need more novels that call into question the validity of a victim’s story or remind us how one person’s idea of rape could be different from someone else’s. In fact, this aspect of whatever the hell you want to call this book is not just disturbing but rather disgusting too.

Maybe The Girl at the Door reads better in its original Italian. My impressions of this translated version are of crassness, bitterness, and of almost gleefully disturbing voyeurism into the sex lives of others. I only finished it because I wanted to determine if this idyllic society would find him guilty or not. One should not feel relief upon finishing a book, but relief is what I felt. I felt dirty while reading The Girl at the Door, something I hope no one ever has to feel about any book.

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