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Weekly Top Posts: 2020-08-09
2020-08-09 04:00 UTC

  2. Deb Caletti at her best

This one makes up for the boring third book
2020-08-05 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Cibola Burn by James S. A. Corey

Book four of The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, Cibola Burn, makes up for the torturous storyline of the third book. We also get a chance to step away from all the space drama as our hapless crew makes its way to a newly-found planet where they must decide just who will get the chance to call this new planet a home. The story still contains plenty of space battles and dangerous ship action, but I find the story a nice respite from having to worry about breathable air all the time.

Actually, as I texted my son while halfway through the story, Cibola Burn is like the year 2020 for the series. If it can go wrong, it does. Holden and his crew face some crazy shit, and that’s saying something given everything that has happened in the series so far. But they are unfamiliar dangers, which gives the story some much-needed freshness.

While I knew what was going to happen, thanks to the fact that Cibola Burn is essentially season four of the Amazon Prime series, I still enjoyed every moment of the story. It was fun to get to know a few new characters and get to see the main Rocinante crew outside of their comfort zone. Plus, let’s face it, a planet that is out to get its inhabitants is insane, but the two authors behind the pen name James S. A. Corey manage to pull off the insanity yet again.

The post This one makes up for the boring third book appeared first on That's What She Read.

Sunday Reflections (on Tuesday) – 4 August 2020 – Quarantine Update 5
2020-08-04 21:23 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Happy Sunday Tuesday, friends!

This past weekend, we had a brief visit from Jim’s nephew and his wife, as they flew into Milwaukee to pick up their new-to-them family car. They stayed with us for a night and then took the opportunity to go on a short culinary tour of the midwest and south by hitting Chicago for their deep-dish pizza, Memphis for their BBQ, and New Orleans for their cajun cuisine. Don’t worry. We made sure to introduce them to real fried cheese curds,  a fish fry, New Glarus beer, and kringle from Racine.

Our house is emptying out faster than I expected it to as Jim is finding success with selling our furniture. So far, we sold a hutch, one major bookcase, the chaise from my library, my hammock, and the sunroom furniture. The loss of the hutch and the bookcase meant having to start packing up my books. The losses of the chaise and hammock mean two less comfy reading chairs, and the loss of the sunroom furniture means we are resorting to foldout chairs when wanting to watch TV for the rest of the summer. It also means less furniture we have to move, so it isn’t all bad. Roughly two more months to go before the condo is ready and less than sixty days before we have to move out of our current address!

This week, in an effort at some normalcy, Holly’s dance team begins its three-week choreography camp where they learn their new competition dances for the season. Normally, this is the most stressful month for me as the team directors hold these rehearsals in the middle of the day, meaning having to figure out the logistics of getting her to where she needs to be without missing meetings or deadlines. This year, it is so much easier but still a pain in the ass as she has one too many one-hour rehearsals during which it makes no sense to drive home only to turn around and drive right back. Plus, for the next two weeks, she still has summer classes, so I have to take her back to the studio in the evenings for more dance. Thankfully, she will be obtaining her driver’s license at the end of the month, so this is the last time I will have to do this.

Lately, I feel as if life is on pause. We are waiting for so much. Waiting to hear about fall sports and plans for the poms’ team. Waiting for the builders to finish our house. Waiting to pack up and move out. Waiting to find out whether Holly’s school will remain a hybrid attendance or become completely virtual. Waiting to see what will happen with the pandemic. Waiting to find out who Biden will choose as his VP. Waiting for November and the chance to make a very necessary change. Waiting for something, anything.

In many ways, I wish the states never opened up their economies again. While we continue to avoid eating in restaurants and minimize our contact with the outside world, it was almost easier when we had nowhere to go because everything remained closed. Now, we have just enough in the way of possibilities for us to recognize how limited we are. In my opinion, this exacerbates the frustration and wish for pre-pandemic access to places. In my heart, I know that even if COVID19 were to disappear completely tomorrow, we will never again feel 100 percent safe in crowds and that we will forever look at a sick person as a potential threat. But it is certainly nice to dream about attending fairs and concerts, sporting events, and even fireworks, and so I continue to wait.

The post Sunday Reflections (on Tuesday) – 4 August 2020 – Quarantine Update 5 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2020-08-02
2020-08-02 04:00 UTC

  3. Sunday Reflections – 19 July 2020 – Quarantine Update 3
  4. When a story surprises you
  5. So dark and yet so powerful

A weird, creepy mystery
2020-07-29 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power is a weird, creepy novel filled with a lot of anger. So. Much. Anger. Anger at mothers. Anger at men. Anger at climate change. Anger about secrets. It is as if Ms. Power used her novel as a form of therapy and unburdened her soul by exorcising her personal demons through novel writing.

At its heart, Burn Our Bodies Down is about relationships between mothers and daughters, and it is no easy tale. In fact, one might find the story triggering given Margot’s experiences with her mother and later her grandmother. Her feelings of impotence, of balancing on a wire, and of navigating the minefield that is her mother’s moods are difficult to experience even for a reader who may have the best of familial relationships. For someone whose childhood memories are less than ideal, I can only imagine how brutal these relationships would be.

There is a fantasy/science fiction element to the story I did not expect and do not entirely welcome. For a novel so steeped in emotion, the use of something otherworldly lessens the reasons behind those emotions, making them almost moot. The story would be much more powerful if there were a realistic cause at the heart of the mystery, not only because it would not require a suspension of disbelief but also because it would give credence to everything the characters feel.

For a story with such strong emotions, Burn Our Bodies Down has a truly disappointing ending. There are little closure and little reconciliation. Add to that the inclusion of some weird science/otherworldly happenings on the family farm, and you wonder just what Ms. Power was trying to do with her story. It is neither a coming-of-age nor a horror story, although it has vestiges of both. Unfortunately, this is one novel in which the combination of two genres does not work well at all.

The post A weird, creepy mystery appeared first on That's What She Read.

A disappointment from Robin Wasserman
2020-07-28 15:00 UTC by Michelle

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Mother Daughter Widow Wife by Robin Wasserman has a fantastic premise. Given how much I loved her previous book, I opened it with eagerness. Expecting a story that focused on the woman who could not remember her past, what I got was a story about exactly what the title lists minus the mother, and I could not stand two out of those three characters.

One of the things Ms. Wasserman does well is to tell her story using four different points of view. We see the world through the daughter, Alice, the widow and wife, Elizabeth/Lizzie, and the patient, Wendy. Four different points of view, only one of which has the benefit of hindsight. Alice is young, inexperienced, and in pain at the absence of her mother. Wendy has no memory of her past and therefore brings instinct to her observations without the taint of experience. Had Ms. Wasserman stopped there, the story would significantly improve.

Unfortunately, we spend most of the time in Elizabeth’s/Lizzie’s head, and it is not a good place to be. The young Lizzie and the elder Elizabeth are pretty awful. One would hope to see some maturity and growth in a character after eighteen years. This is not the case. Both young and old Elizabeth are obsessive, self-absorbed, and surprisingly lacking in emotional intelligence. I was not a fan of Lizzie’s unhealthy obsession with Dr. Strauss, and I was even more disappointed in the person Lizzie became for her husband. Elizabeth spends way too much of her story defending her life choices to herself and to her audience. By the end of the novel, I wanted nothing more to do with her.

The heart of the story is Wendy Doe. Seeing everything through her fresh eyes rips through all of Lizzie’s bullshit. Plus, there is something tantalizing about forgetting everything that made you who are. We always talk about fresh starts, and Wendy has the freshest start of all. Her scenes are, unfortunately, too short and too few.

Mother Daughter Widow Wife suffers not only from poor characters but also from trying too hard to be academic. So much of Lizzie’s/Elizabeth’s scenes include technical discussion of cognition and brain function. In a novel that is supposed to be about self-identity, the inclusion of the science of identity strikes the wrong chord and confuses the message.

Ms. Wasserman can write gorgeous, thought-provoking novels. Mother Daughter Widow Wife is not one of them. The self-identity portion is hit or miss, as Elizabeth never figures out who she is as an individual, and the daughter is of an age where everything she does is an attempt at trying to figure out who she is. As for Wendy, her scenes and perspective are fascinating but not long enough and purely temporary since Wendy disappears the minute her fugue state ends. In the end, you are left wondering what the point truly is and a tremendous sense of disappointment that the magic did not strike again for Ms. Wasserman.

The post A disappointment from Robin Wasserman appeared first on That's What She Read.

2020-07-27 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Abaddon's Gate by James S. A. Corey

I do love The Expanse series, but holy hell was book three, Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey boring. It is no fault of the narrator. His performance was as stellar as always. My reaction is not even due to the fact that I knew what was going to happen because I already saw season three of the television series. In fact, there was a character in the book that I really wish was in the show because he was that interesting.

Still, television has an advantage over the novel this time around because they can add lots of visuals to help offset the lack of story. They can also condense scenes that take way too many chapters into a matter of minutes to improve the story’s flow. Plus, they can make improvements to certain characters to make them not only interesting but more relevant to the action. In other words, they can do what an editor should have done to the novel.

There is no reason for Abaddon’s Gate to be 576 pages or 19+ hours. It is too long for what little actually happens and is in dire need of a good edit. Unfortunately, you can’t skip much either because this is a key plot point in the series itself, one that sets the stage for the next two novels. So, my advice is to push through this one because the next two stories are fantastic. After all, not every book in a series can be stellar.

The post B-O-R-I-N-G appeared first on That's What She Read.

Sunday Reflections – 26 July 2020 – Quarantine Update 4
2020-07-26 20:24 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Happy Sunday, folks!

We sold our house!! Actually, last week, we had a contract that was contingent upon the buyer selling his house. He signed a contract for his house on Friday, which means we are good to move forward and consider the house Under Contract. Now, we have to wait until August 30th to determine if everyone obtains their financing, and we should be good. We don’t close the sale until September 30th, so that gives us two months to sell the furniture and pack up what is left.

Unfortunately, the builders do not expect to finish our condo until October 15th, so we will be homeless for at least two weeks. I have hopes that they can shave off a week from that date and that they will let us move our furniture but not take occupancy until we close with them. I am not too worried about any of it though. Selling our house is a huge relief, as is not having to maintain the house staging. Plus, selecting tile and flooring and light fixtures is a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I cannot wait to see the final product!

It is H-O-T here today. We are under a heat advisory right now, with current temperatures at 92 degrees but feels like 102. We are expecting thunderstorms this afternoon to break the heat and humidity. I desperately need to hit the grocery store as everything I have to make involves the stove or oven, and there is no way I am turning either on right now. So, sandwiches are in store until Holly and I shop tomorrow.

The rest of the day will be spent inside (thank goodness for air conditioning). Holly is attempting to teach herself how to play the piano again. Jim has many a project to do for the new house; he committed to building a murphy bed/desk for the guest bedroom/office as well as an IKEA KALLAX type unit for my new living room, and that is just the first two projects. Meanwhile, I find one of the best ways to spend my time is to listen to an audiobook while working on my cross-stitch. Not only do I feel productive, but I find it supremely relaxing as well.

I hope everyone is remaining cool and healthy, finding ways to relax and to remind yourself of what is truly important these days. This pandemic will end. Douchebag 45 will leave office. The ongoing protests will result in changes in ending systemic racism. We just need to hang in there, wear your mask, make good trouble, and vote. We can do this.

The post Sunday Reflections – 26 July 2020 – Quarantine Update 4 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2020-07-26
2020-07-26 04:00 UTC

  2. Sunday Reflections – 14 June 2020 – Still Surviving
  5. I think I missed something

A different type of fairy tale
2020-07-24 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust is unlike anything I’ve read. With its basis in Persian mythology, there is an automatic foreignness to the story due to the fact that Persian myths are not exactly popular in modern-day storytelling. But its exoticism is much more than simple unfamiliarity. Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a dark story, darker even than anything by the Grimm brothers with their feet mutilations and eye pecking. It is also a refreshing story wherein romantic love has a minor role and marriage to royalty is not necessarily the happy ending it usually is.

One of the best parts of Girl, Serpent, Thorn is its moral ambiguity. A demon is not entirely evil, just as a hero is not entirely good. This ethical vagueness differs greatly from other myths that are so black and white as to be uncomfortably so. It also denotes a realism that normally does not appear in fairy tales. Ms. Bashardoust means for her characters, no matter their earthly or unearthly origins, to be realistic rather than caricaturish. In turn, this realism helps develop the characters in a way not usually seen in such stories.

Perhaps due to the unfamiliarity with the stories, but Ms. Bashardoust adds so many twists and red herrings as to make the story impossible to predict but so much fun to read. She throws every preconceived notion out the window in her tale. The very definition of happily ever after means something completely different. A strong sense of identity and self-confidence means more than marrying the prince. Plus, she is not afraid to shed blood. These are not honorable knights going out to slay a dragon but men fighting against tooth and claw, scales and spikes in droves. It gets ugly, and I love every minute of it.

The other great thing about Girl, Serpent, Thorn is the fact that Ms. Bashardoust treats her heroine with respect. It would be easy to make a seventeen-year-old girl who has not touched another person’s skin in those seventeen years mentally ill. After all, touch is more than a form of communication. We need to touch others almost as much as we need air or food. Yet Soraya survives this slow form of torture, providing her with the mettle she needs to overcome her current situation. Also, Ms. Bashardoust gives Soraya a family that loves and cares for her. It may not appear as such, but there are love and affection there. More importantly, there is not an evil step-anything to disrupt the family dynamic.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a refreshing story with its unique monsters and mythology as well as its treatment of its characters. Soraya is an impressive heroine, not afraid to get her hands dirty as well as capable of immense character growth. Because she is so fierce, in part due to her confinement and in part due to her circumstances, any romance, when it does come, is that much more poignant. If Girl, Serpent, Thorn is an indication of Ms. Bashardoust’s writing skill, I cannot wait to read more of her work.

The post A different type of fairy tale appeared first on That's What She Read.

Deb Caletti at her best
2020-07-23 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti

Some readers will consider Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti a cautionary tale. Others will describe it as a coming-of-age tale. In my mind, Girl, Unframed is both types of stories. Sydney’s experiences are a large part of being a teen girl, but her situation grows out of control specifically because she does not have the life experience to recognize any danger in that situation.

I finished Girl, Unframed a few weeks ago, but a recent event with my sixteen-year-old daughter reminded me of why books like this are so important for teen girls. Jim and Holly recently visited a car dealership, looking to test drive a vehicle his nephew wanted to buy. While there, the salesman helping him admitted that he had assumed Jim and Holly were a couple. She had on no makeup and was wearing nothing that would make her look older than her 15/16 years. Still, both this situation, as well as Sydney’s in the book, are stark reminders that many men consider anything with boobs accessible, something too many teen girls don’t understand until it is too late.

What makes Girl, Unframed so powerful is that I remember exactly what it felt like to be sixteen and to understand that your looks are enough to turn heads. While you may consciously target that ability to boys of your own age, you take secret pride in having a similar influence over older men (and by older I mean early 20s). It is a heady feeling, strong enough to clearly remember thirty years later.

Ms. Caletti is careful to make it clear that Sydney does nothing wrong. Her actions do have consequences, but what happens to her are not those consequences. Wearing a bikini in the privacy of her backyard or on the beach, experimenting with sex with a boy of her own age, wearing clothes that make her feel good about herself while accentuating her curves – none of this excuses how the men around her act. Herein lies the lesson within the story. Society ALWAYS blames the girl simply for being herself, and that is wrong.

Sydney eventually realizes the mixed messaging given to teen girls. Dress to impress but not too provocatively. Desire the attention of the male species, but don’t get upset when you get that attention, no matter in what form it comes. Desire, but don’t desire too much. In Girl, Unframed, Ms. Caletti not only highlights this minefield of expectations, but she also illustrates her point through Sydney’s confusion as well as the danger in which she finds herself. Thus, Girl, Unframed becomes an important weapon in educating our girls of the dangers they face simply by being themselves thanks to a patriarchal society that glorifies in objectifying young women.

Ms. Caletti excels at explaining what it is to be a teen girl without pandering or demeaning her target audience. She does so in a way that is authentic and evocative so that even middle-aged readers will remember that feeling of invincibility that only the young feel. She also provides her readers with insight into situations they are not yet capable of handling with the necessary maturity, of which Sydney’s situation is a perfect example.

The post Deb Caletti at her best appeared first on That's What She Read.

I think I missed something
2020-07-22 15:00 UTC by Michelle

You're Next by Kylie Schachte

Through the course of reading You’re Next by Kylie Schachte there were many times where I had to stop reading and search online to make sure that I was not reading a sequel. I had to do this often because everything from character introduction to plot development felt like I was missing key pieces typically learned in the first book in a series. Even the story feels like the next chapter in Flora’s life.

Flora appears to me like a half-developed character, wherein we were supposed to learn more about her during her first foray into playing detective – something to which Ms. Schacter often alludes. All of the characters frequently reference that previous detective work. In addition, Flora constantly worries about this new mystery being her last chance to prove herself. Except, we don’t get any details of that key experience in Flora’s life until more than halfway through this mystery. Hence, you experience the story much as you do reading a sequel without having read the first book; you attempt to derive knowledge of the characters and the event they mention through context clues.

The unfinished tone of You’re Next is disconcerting but not the only fault of the novel. Its premise is a bit too far-fetched for comfort. It is most similar to “Veronica Mars” except there is no dad but rather a grandfather with ties to the CIA and uses his connections to provide Flora with evidence to further her investigation. Also, there is no witty banter, and Flora’s list of friends consists of one person. Plus, Flora is barely sixteen in this story and comes with all sorts of mommy issues. Flora does have a little sister who just happens to be a computer whiz who can hack into any secure site she wants.

To add to the list of grievances is the plot itself. Teens in a secret club willing to kill others in order to keep their secret sounds good until you understand what type of secret they are keeping. Once you gain the full picture, you start questioning the mental state of the teens involved. I have a teen now; I spent the last eight years observing teens thanks to my older son. The types of behavior and attitudes mentioned throughout the novel are unlike any teen behavior or attitude I’ve met or observed. These teens are not believable characters. They neither sound nor act in an authentic manner.

You’re Next disappoints me. I’ve read several other debuts under James Patterson’s YA imprint and expected Ms. Schachte’s debut to be equally impressive. With a premise and characters I didn’t believe and a general overall feeling that I was missing something, it was anything but.

The post I think I missed something appeared first on That's What She Read.

When a story surprises you
2020-07-21 15:00 UTC by Michelle

The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

I opened The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle thinking I was getting ready to read something akin to a romantic comedy where the story would be cutesy, quirky, and fun. Moreover, I expected all of the characters to get the fairy tale ending they most desired. Boy, was I wrong.

Instead, I read a story that is quite sad. Less quirky and much more analytical, the story explores Sabrina’s life in detail. Her dinner guests get the pleasure of dissecting her past decisions as they see things and weighing in on all the things she did wrong (or right). While I understand the premise and the end goal of the dinner, it certainly is not a dinner party I want to attend.

The entirety of The Dinner List reads like one long therapy session even though the story flashes between the dinner discussion back to Sabrina’s memory of the events being discussed. As we learn more about the other dinner party guests, the story takes on an even greater therapy tone as Sabrina comes to grips with her feelings surrounding each guest (other than Audrey Hepburn). The story is not particularly fun or cute. The quirkiest thing to occur is that the dinner party occurs at all with the guests present, a statement that makes a lot more sense after you read the story.

As for that fairy tale ending, there is not a one in sight. Instead, Ms. Serle wants us to feel hopeful that Sabrina is on the right path to find her happy ever after. Personally, the ending depressed me. To have to explore such weighty topics on your birthday in a public setting while eating when you did not expect your birthday dinner to include five extra people, the whole thing seems like a nightmare to me. This is especially true as you uncover certain surprises about those guests.

I do think The Dinner List is a poignant story. At the same time, I think it is an introvert’s nightmare dinner, and it makes me rethink every ideal guest list I ever created over the years. The story disappointed me only because I expected one type of story and read another. Had I been better prepared for the type of novel it actually is, I suspect my feelings for the story would greatly differ. As it stands, I can only say that while I didn’t enjoy completely The Dinner List, there was enough there to keep my interest for me to finish it.

The post When a story surprises you appeared first on That's What She Read.


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