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Jo Rowling is a horrible person
2020-09-17 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Like millions of other readers around the world, Jo Rowling’s Harry Potter series had a profound impact on my life. Unlike so many readers, Harry Potter and his friends defined my parenthood. You see, I discovered the series right after giving birth to Connor. Jim and I spent each night taking turns reading aloud one chapter from the first three books while the other gave Connor his last bottle of the day and rocked him to sleep. It was a peaceful ritual and quickly became one of our favorite parts of the day.

By the time the fourth book came out, Connor was almost ready to read the series on his own. He learned to read and immediately jumped into the Harry Potter series, reading the first few books so many times that the cover of the first book is hanging by a thread. As we neared the end of the series, I would preorder two copies of each of the books, one for him and one for me.

When Holly was born, she too became a Harry Potter fan. Harry Potter became the tool with which we practiced reading, alternating paragraphs for her to read aloud, knowing that the familiar story would help her with any difficult words. She too received her own copies of the series because they were such a large part of her childhood.

My kids and I know our houses. I personally have three tattoos dedicated to something HP related. Holly, Connor, and I spent hours discussing the series and the characters, the merits (and faults) of each movie, trying Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, and researching recipes for pumpkin juice. When Android and Apple released the first Wizarding World game for your phone, Holly and I were among the first to download it.

The Harry Potter books taught me to fight against injustices and tyranny. Harry taught me to teach them the importance of tolerance and inclusivity. Hermione helped me reiterate the importance of book learning and logic. Through Ron, I was able to show them what true loyalty and friendship looks like. The Weasleys showed the kids what a family looks like. And the entire series gave us something we all enjoyed.

Within the past few years, however, our discussions about Harry Potter and the series changed. My kids no longer saw it as a magical story full of adventure and fabulous life lessons. Instead, they started seeing and talking about the problems inside the story – Jews as goblins, house-elf slavery that upset no one but Hermione,  werewolves as a metaphor for AIDS with Lupin as a stand-in for predatory homosexuals or those who target children, the promotion of Irish and Scottish stereotypes in Seamus – a drinker and brawler and the red-haired Weasleys – large families, negative Chinese representation in Cho Chang and her two last names, her lack of LGBTQ+ representation, and so much more. They no longer see Harry Potter as an adventurous and inspiring story but rather as a living embodiment of everything Jo Rowling has since come out to say to her followers.

I have always taken the approach that one can hate the artist but love his/her art. There are too many examples in my lifetime where this is the case, the biggest of which would be Michael Jackson. I encouraged my kids to adopt the same philosophy with Jo because I still thought her work was admirable. Even as her opinions about transgender became public, I hoped they would look past that and still enjoy her stories. And then we got the synopsis of the next Cormoron Strike novel.

With that novel, I am officially done with Jo Rowling. It was one thing to have different interpretations of her work as was the case with my kids and myself. It is something completely different to see her opinions directly stated in her fiction, as is the case with Troubled Blood. Sure, there are some articles I read that said that the rush to judge her story of a male serial killer who dressed as a woman to hunt his female victims is not just premature but also unwarranted. The thing is that I don’t believe the authors of these articles.

The reason why my kids have such issues with the Harry Potter series is because of everything Rowling has said in public since their publication. As the public understands her biases, we see those same biases in her books.  Rowling has been very outspoken in her opinion of the transgender community in recent months. If she has a history of inserting her opinions into her books, then we have to assume that she would also deliberately add anti-transgender ideas into her current novel.

There are too many instances where Jo has gone onto social media to say something that is completely against everything I believe and everything I taught my kids to believe. She is not going to change. In fact, I almost believe she enjoys the uproar her comments create.

Regardless, I am done with Jo. I will no longer purchase anything that would give her royalties in any form. When I unpack my books, those books of hers I have but have not read will be going into the recycling bin. I will not review anything she wrote. There are too many equally good authors who are doing fabulous things for social justice that I want to support. It breaks my heart in some ways because she defined my parenting and my children’s childhoods, but part of growing up is removing toxic relationships from your life. Jo has become a toxic person, and I am removing her from my life.

The post Jo Rowling is a horrible person appeared first on That's What She Read.

I wish I liked it more
2020-09-16 15:00 UTC by Michelle

The Other Side of the Sky by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Magic and science. Sky and Earth. Boy and girl. Goddess and prince. Destiny and choice. Family and individuality. The Other Side of the Sky, the latest collaboration between Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, is a fascinating amalgam of all of these. It truly is a fantasy/science fiction mashup in the very literal sense.

One thing that Ms. Kaufman and Ms. Spooner do well is within their character development. With each new piece of information learned or event witnessed, Nimh and North change and grow. Preconceived notions disappear, and these two characters from opposite ways of life start finding their similarities rather than their differences. In this age of seeming intolerance, it is refreshing to see two characters who are anything but.

I don’t often say this, but I wish there was more exposition within The Other Side of the Sky. We have so many questions; almost every scene creates a new one. However, we don’t get nearly enough answers because Nimh and North are constantly on the move with no time for explanations. I get the need to keep readers’ interest, but to me, the sheer number of unanswered questions is frustrating rather than intriguing.

Speaking of action, there is so much of it that it too becomes overwhelming. There appears to be a plot twist within every chapter, which makes for interesting reading. Unfortunately, it also means that there is no chance to just sit and absorb everything. Characters and readers need rest, and there really isn’t any for either.

As a result, The Other Side of the Sky feels slightly manipulative, or, rather, as if it is trying too hard to keep readers engaged for the next volume. Even the cliffhanger ending is less a cliffhanger and more a very obvious ploy to shock readers. There is simply no way what the authors intimate at the end of the novel is really going to come to fruition in the second installment.

Between the numerous unanswered questions, the near-constant plot twists, and an ending that hints at a major misdirection, the whole thing has an air of desperation about it that begs readers to maintain interest over of the course of the series, something that is too obvious and therefore a bit uncomfortable to experience. Sadly, all of this means is that The Other Side of the Sky is not my favorite Kaufman/Spooner collaboration.

The post I wish I liked it more appeared first on That's What She Read.

Very Agatha Christie-esque
2020-09-15 15:00 UTC by Michelle

One by One by Ruth Ware

One by One, the latest novel by Ruth Ware, is drawing a lot of comparisons to Dame Agatha Christie’s novels and for good reason. Not only does it involve a locked-room mystery scenario, but it also has a large and eclectic cast of characters that includes the wealthy, the anti-social genius, the serving class, and everyone in between. Set high in the French Alps, there is an automatic remoteness that sets the initial tone and provides a captive setting for the cast, also a la Dame Christie. The only area which is not an homage to the queen of mystery is the fact that the story suffers from predictability, which dampens the overall effect of the solved crime and lessens your enjoyment.

Two narrators take us through the fatal events that occur over the course of three days in the French Alps. The first narrator provides us with insight into the company members and politics that rule much of the story’s characters. The second narrator provides us with expert knowledge of the French chateau setting as well as that of the remote observer. Naturally, her job as the chateau’s hostess affords her ample opportunity to gain mastery of her observational skills and ability to read body language, everything that makes her sections much more insightful and, frankly, enjoyable.

The switch between narrators never drags, however, allowing the story to smoothly flow as we learn a little bit more about the crimes, the setting, and the people with every switch. Unfortunately, the narrators are a bit too good at their job, and we learn too much information too early. This means that the murder suspect becomes quite obvious very early on in the story, something you don’t want happening in any crime novel. Knowing the murderer does not remove all reader enjoyment, but it certainly dampens it a lot.

While One by One has thriller elements to it, I personally believe it a stronger mystery as most of the story revolves around the whodunnit portions of the murders. In the end, I liked it more than Ms. Ware’s last novel, but it is not my favorite of hers. I missed that Gothic element she tends to insert into her stories, and I cannot overcome that predictability issue. To me, that is a mystery’s death knell.

The post Very Agatha Christie-esque appeared first on That's What She Read.

My type of heroine
2020-09-14 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Fable by Adrienne Young

There are heroines for whom leadership is thrust upon them. These are the girls who reluctantly rise to greatness, which usually involves some major soul-searching and testing of their fortitude. Then, there are those heroines like Fable by Adrienne Young. These girls know their strengths and weaknesses, both physical and mental, and have no problems rushing headlong into danger for the right reasons.

Fable is T-O-U-G-H. Not only does she survive for four years on an island of thieves and cutthroats living by herself, but she also free-dives like she was born underwater, stares down potential rapists, and faces danger with a clear, pragmatic head. Yet, Ms. Young lets us know just how fragile she is underneath that cool exterior. After all, being abandoned as a preteen by your father after being told you weren’t meant for this life, is going to leave emotional scars, of which Fable has plenty.

One of the best things about Fable, outside of the fact that she can kick some major ass, is her self-awareness. She may have daddy issues, but she doesn’t (always) let them interfere with what she needs to accomplish. She knows her strengths and plays to them. Also, she has the ability to read others’ body language, which helps tremendously in her situational awareness.

For most of the novel, Fable does everything right no matter what the world throws her way. She sets goals, follows her instincts, observes, and acts appropriately, and eventually achieves her goals. This does not mean the story is boring. In fact, the story is exciting as she finds her plans thwarted at every step through no fault of her own and must constantly adapt. There is only one mistake she makes throughout the course of the novel, which ultimately sets up the cliffhanger ending to leave you wanting more, and boy do I want more.

Fable is not a long read. Personally, I finished it in the course of a few hours. This is partly because it is not a very long novel at 368 pages but also because I did not want to stop reading. I found myself so engrossed in her story that I could not put it down. In addition, with its tropical setting, Fable is the perfect antidote to a gloomy autumnal weekend.

The post My type of heroine appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2020-09-13
2020-09-13 04:00 UTC

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  5. More of the same from this middle story

It’s going to be a long wait
2020-09-12 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Tiamat's Wrath by James S. A. Corey

Tiamat’s Wrath by James S. A. Corey is the penultimate book in The Expanse series, and it shows. The gentlemen behind Mr. Corey up the ante as they gear up for the ultimate battle for the galaxy. Set four years after the exciting ending of the previous book, we get to see how the Laconians rule the known solar systems as each crew member of the Rocinante attempts to resist in their own ways. Oh, and no one is safe.

For the Roci crew, resistance takes several different forms, each as diverse as the characters. For some characters, their idea of resistance is direct, public, and very dangerous. However, for others, resistance means publicly playing a long chess game, making moves no one notices until all of the pieces are in play. Yet for others, the only acceptable form of resistance is completely underground, totally behind the scenes, and anonymous. For me, seeing how each person reacts to the new-to-the-reader government is a fascinating study in character.

Tiamat’s Wrath is not all spaceships and watching other ships through telescopes. We spend a good portion of the story on Laconia as it makes a relatively odd shift in tone to that of a coming-of-age story. While on Laconia, we follow Teresa Duarte, only daughter of the Laconian leader and wannabe God, as she gains growing awareness that not all on her beloved planet is as peaceful and straightforward as she believes. There is much wrestling with ideas and growth as she learns to assess information for herself rather than believing the party line. While this is not in tune with the whole space opera format, it does make for interesting reading because it is so different.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you feel about them, no one is safe as we near the end of the series. Until this point, the authors avoided killing off major characters. There are a lot of deaths given all the battles throughout the span of the series. However, outside of the death of one of the main voices in the first novel, main character death has been minimal. That is no longer true in Tiamat’s Wrath. My heart broke more than once during the course of the story.

As Tiamat’s Wrath ends, we have a good idea of the major players in the final story, but we have no idea how it will unfold, what will happen, or when it will occur. I feel like the authors gave the readers all the clues, but I’ll be damned if I can decipher them. The final book is the first book in the series I will have to wait until its release, and I don’t like it. I’m ready to see how the Roci crew’s story and its almost constant struggle against the protomolecule is going to end.

The post It’s going to be a long wait appeared first on That's What She Read.

What the hell did I read?
2020-09-10 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

I thought Gideon the Ninth was insanity in a book, but then I read Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. Really, this series should simply fall apart with everything that occurs, but it is like watching any sort of racing event wherein you secretly want all the crashes and accidents. Not only does Ms. Muir prove me wrong about just how crazy a story can get, but she also leaves me wanting even more of it.

In Harrow the Ninth, we have more of everything. There is more space, more ghosts, more necromancy, more bones, more danger, more characters, and infinitely more questions. In addition, we also have immortals, ghosts of dead planets, a mysterious enemy other than the dead planet ghosts, and a missing significant character. Nothing really makes sense, and you begin to wonder if reading the story is making you mad alongside Harrow.

The ending throws so much new information at you that you can only sit back and hope you absorb half of it. Honestly, after talking to others who already read Harrow the Ninth, I don’t think any reader truly understands what happens or the new information we receive. What’s more, because there is a universal lack of understanding, everyone’s interpretation of the information greatly differs. It does make for some pretty interesting discussions, so that’s a plus.

What makes Harrow the Ninth and its predecessor work is the writing. Simply, Ms. Muir is a genius. Her sentences are poetic but simple. Even better, she hides little joke nuggets in the simplest of dialogue, which enhances a scene to perfection. Added to that, her characters are so real as to be mundane. For example, the entire trilogy orbits around God, who just happens to be named John and acts as human as Harrow. No lofty naming convention for the immortal characters here and certainly no behavioral changes for immortals.

Harrow the Ninth starts out as the first novel’s complete opposite in pretty much everything. Tonally, the story is darker. Harrow flits between second-person and first-person narrative, both of which show she does not have Gideon’s flair for the dramatic or sarcasm. Plus, Harrow’s memories of what occurred at Canaan House in the first book differ greatly from the book you actually read. Much like within that first book, all you can do is go with it. Doing so means you get to enjoy Ms. Muir’s fabulous writing, which in itself is a reason to read this bizarrely fun story.

The post What the hell did I read? appeared first on That's What She Read.

More of the same from this middle story
2020-09-09 15:00 UTC by Michelle

As the Shadow Rises by Katy Rose Pool

As the Shadow Rises by Katy Rose Pool suffers a bit from the middle novel syndrome. While I enjoyed the story, it does not contain that special something that made the first book so spectacular. We know the world, the characters, and the catastrophe they want to avoid. In my mind, As the Shadow Rises is simply more of the same.

This time around, I struggled with the characters and their additions to the story. This is especially true of Ephyra, who spends much of the novel analyzing her behavior and questioning whether her previous actions make her good or bad. In spite of this self-evaluation, she then continues down the same path. Her single-mindedness makes all of that analysis a frustrating hobby rather than an exercise in self-improvement, which means it becomes nothing but a waste of time for the reader.

At the same time, one of the main characters has the ability to see the future. When that occurs, the story becomes less about what will happen and more of how the foreseen future will happen. The distinction is slight but it certainly impacts the overall tension when you already know what will occur. In addition, it tends to disrupt the idea of free will versus destiny because the visions of the future always come true regardless of a character’s choices. In this instance, destiny and free will appear to be the same thing.

As the Shadow Rises also has a tendency to include what I would consider to be plot twists of convenience. While I am sure Ms. Pool plotted the entirety of the trilogy arc, some of the bigger reveals in this middle story feel contrived. There are less shock and awe and more eye-rolling at the expediency.

I still enjoyed As the Shadow Rises and think Ms. Pool has a unique story to offer readers. However, I also think Ms. Pool had to meet a certain word quota that did not match where she needed her characters and the story to be at the end of it. As such, there appears to be a lot of unnecessary filler in the form of character self-analysis that does not go anywhere and a story that includes too much tell and not enough show. My hope is that she got all this out of the way so that the story’s finale can shine. Time will tell.

The post More of the same from this middle story appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2020-09-06
2020-09-06 04:00 UTC

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The first book in the series to suffer from lazy writing
2020-09-04 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Persepolis Rising by James S. A. Corey

For most of The Expanse series, I find it to be smart, well-researched, and well-executed, containing strong characters who have enough development to prevent them from being caricatures. Then, I listened to the end of book six and all of book seven. Unfortunately, Persepolis Rising by James S. A. Corey has neither excellent execution nor strong characters.

Because reading the series became a joint project, I reached out to my son to debate at length the plot and one character at the heart of my issues with Persepolis Rising. While we both conclude that the character is nothing but an archetype and that the plot suffers, for the first time, from predictability, I take it one step further. Much like my opinion about the anticlimactic ending of the previous book, I believe the authors became lazy. In doing so, they created a character that is the archetypal moral villain, so firmly convinced of his own righteousness that he is incapable of growth. The character contains no complexity, no moral flexibility that allows him to learn from his mistakes. Given the depth and development of the majority of the other characters in the series, this lack of development within this one person screams of laziness.

Because this character is essentially a blueprint, the storyline in which he plays a significant role suffers from predictability. A lot. For the first time, I saw exactly how this story was going to unfold. Because this character is as complex as a piece of blank paper, I knew there would not be any plot twists. This character is completely incapable of the duplicity and moral ambiguity plot twists require. Thus, the story did occur exactly as I expected, something that has not been the case with the other books. In fact, part of what I love about the series is that it constantly keeps me guessing, and I usually have no idea what is going to happen. Not so here.

What makes this such an egregious error is simply because it occurs in book seven. Had the first book or two had such an overly simplified character and predictable plot lines, that would make more sense to me. One expects authors’ writing to improve with each book, so one expects weaker writing and a lack of development in an author’s first few books. By the seventh book, I do not expect nor want poor writing. Sadly, Persepolis Rising gave me just that.

The post The first book in the series to suffer from lazy writing appeared first on That's What She Read.

This book is bat-shit crazy, and I loved it
2020-09-03 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Guys, Gideon the Ninth by Tamysyn Muir may just be the craziest, banana-pants book I have ever read. And I loved every minute of it. I can’t say that I would have ever considered a book about a necromancer society that includes ghosts, gods, a haunted mansion, and so many skeletons would be something that would work, but OH MY GOD is this story perfection!

In truth, it took me a few chapters to get into the story. The premise, the characters, and the world are all so bizarre that it takes time for your mind to wrap itself around each of them. For example, Gideon and Harrow detest one another, but you have no idea why. You just know that Harrow is unfathomably cruel to Gideon for some reason, and you have to shrug and accept it without understanding their backstory. The same goes for the House of the Ninth and its inhabitants. They are borderline inhuman, and you don’t understand how such a decrepit society can survive or why it even should.

Once you get past your confusion, or simply decide to just go with it, the story becomes this delightfully macabre horror story with a heart. Gideon is such a badass, but more importantly, in spite of the truly shitty childhood she had as an orphan of the Ninth, she is one of the most compassionate people we meet. She truly cares about others and yearns to experience love of her own. All the years of solitude and torture from others never hardened her heart.

Ms. Muir does reward your patience by providing the necessary backstory to understand Gideon’s and Harrow’s relationship as well as Harrow’s infuriating penchant for silence and misdirection. Plus, we finally get an understanding of just what Harrow and the other heirs are trying to accomplish. The reveals don’t necessarily redeem some of the characters’ behaviors, but they do help make sense of the entire story.

By the end, I could not get enough of Gideon. I simply adore her. Not only do I appreciate a character with a good sense of snark, but I love her fierce determination, her loyalty when no one deserves it, and her inability to give in to bullying or a losing situation. We could all learn a little something from her.

I have no idea where the story is going but I cannot wait for the next installment of The Locked Tomb trilogy. Ms. Muir has a phenomenal story going here, with characters that are bizarre, hilarious, and dark. Truly, Gideon the Ninth is everything I love in a story.

The post This book is bat-shit crazy, and I loved it appeared first on That's What She Read.

Not what I expected
2020-09-02 15:00 UTC by Michelle

A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

When news broke that there was going to be a prequel to Hunger Games, I was all over it. That is until I heard that the prequel was going to feature Coriolanus Snow. Then, my interest waned as I had no desire to read about the story’s villain. Except, I am not one to leave a series without reading all of the books, so this is how I found myself reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins.

I had no expectations going into The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. You see, I ignored all prerelease information as well as the synopsis before starting. The only bit of information I knew before opening the cover was the fact that Snow was the main character.

In many ways, because I started the story blind, I enjoyed The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes more than I expected I would. It will shock no one when I say that young Snow is not adult Snow. While I did not feel sympathy for him, I do recognize how traumatic the war between the Capitol and the districts was for him. I also recognize the immense pressure he feels to maintain the family honor and hide his poverty.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Snow evolve into the person we know him to be. Like all good tyrants, Snow does not start out intending to be a despot. In fact, young Snow is naive and desperate to earn prize money so that he can attend University. This makes him simultaneously eager to please and easy to manipulate, which is exactly what happens.

The thing is, for all of Snow’s own experiences with hardship and deprivation, he remains at heart a snob. Even as he witnesses firsthand the poverty and utter lack of anything that the rest of Panem experiences, he fails to see similarities between his and their situations. If anything, his belief in his own superiority becomes more concrete. Once you add a mentor who considers mankind inherently evil, you begin to see not only where his paths diverge but also to understand how he decides upon the path he does.

Panem itself appears largely as it does in the subsequent novels with the exception of the Capitol and the Hunger Games themselves. Ten years after the war, and the Capitol still shows the ravages of that war. Scarcity remains for those without money, as does any property damage from the war, and we only catch glimpses of the crazy decadence the Capitol later becomes.

As for the Games, they are in their tenth iteration and initially look nothing like the Games Katniss and Peeta enter. There is no fancy arena designed specifically for the Games, no sponsorship, no pomp and circumstance for the tributes. In fact, Snow and twenty-three of his classmates are the first mentors, brought in as a way to make the 10th anniversary of the Games different. As part of their mentor duties, they debate ways to make the Games more exciting and mandatory viewing. In their assignments, we see the first inklings of the macabre entertainment the Games later become.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has a strong philosophical bent, reinforced by the epigraphs Ms. Collins includes. As a result, there are no easy solutions to the choices Snow faces. One might even feel empathy for him as he struggles to decide how best to treat humanity at large.

Along the same vein, Snow’s relationship with his assigned tribute remains murky. Much like the Wordsworth ballad Lucy Gray recites, Ms. Collins lets the reader decide what Lucy Gray’s true intentions are. How you see her character will depend on your philosophical beliefs of man and man’s goodness, which makes The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes the perfect prequel to the rest of the Hunger Games trilogy.

All this to say that I actually liked The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. I appreciate any author who presents her characters but leaves their “goodness” or “evilness” for the reader to determine. As I said earlier, most people do not start out in life wanting to become a tyrant. One obtains the title through a series of decisions and choices. Such is the case with Coriolanus Snow.

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