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Weekly Top Posts: 2019-12-08
2019-12-08 05:00 UTC

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  5. Shocking but necessary

Weekly Top Posts: 2019-12-01
2019-12-01 05:00 UTC

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  5. June’s Mixed Bag

Weekly Top Posts: 2019-11-24
2019-11-24 05:00 UTC

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  5. It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? – 5 August 2019

Weekly Top Posts: 2019-11-17
2019-11-17 05:00 UTC

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Weekly Top Posts: 2019-11-10
2019-11-10 05:00 UTC

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  5. Key is not my favorite Ware novel

Weekly Top Posts: 2019-11-03
2019-11-03 04:00 UTC

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  5. Key is not my favorite Ware novel

Weekly Top Posts: 2019-10-27
2019-10-27 04:00 UTC

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  5. Key is not my favorite Ware novel

Weekly Top Posts: 2019-10-20
2019-10-20 04:00 UTC

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  5. Key is not my favorite Ware novel

Weekly Top Posts: 2019-10-13
2019-10-13 04:00 UTC

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Weekly Top Posts: 2019-10-06
2019-10-06 04:00 UTC

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Weekly Top Posts: 2019-09-29
2019-09-29 04:00 UTC

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Weekly Top Posts: 2019-09-22
2019-09-22 04:00 UTC

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Weekly Top Posts: 2019-09-15
2019-09-15 04:00 UTC

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Weekly Top Posts: 2019-09-08
2019-09-08 04:00 UTC

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? – 2 September 2019
2019-09-02 22:07 UTC by Michelle

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Hosted by Kathryn from Book Date, “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” is a weekly event to share what we’ve read in the past week and what we hope to read, plus whatever else comes to mind. Here is what I read the week ending 2 September 2019. To learn more about each book, click on the book cover!

So. Yeah. I might have not been very successful writing reviews after getting caught up on outstanding ones, but I had a fabulous reading month. I finished thirteen books in August. If I keep up that pace, I might make a dent in my outstanding review copy pile! The rest of the month is a bit of a blur. The three of us took a long weekend and went boating up north for a few days. We came back to face Holly’s “choreography camp” and the beginning of regular poms practices. I don’t even want to know how many hours I spent picking up and dropping off Holly for three weeks. It was a bit too much, and I enter September so far behind in my own work. Thankfully, Holly starts school on Wednesday, so we can get back to some semblance of a regular schedule. Plus, with dance relegated to the evenings, Jim can help out more than he could in August. September is going to be a busy month with three home football games for Holly and a trip to Ames, Iowa to visit Connor for Jim and me. Add to that budget season, more dance, Holly’s sophomore year of high school, and budgets for Jim. All we can do is take it one day at a time and make good use of the few moments of freedom we find.


FINISHED SINCE THE LAST UPDATE:

The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan These Divided Shores by Sara Raasch The Passengers by John Marrs Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff Transcription by Kate Atkinson The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea Time's Convert by Deborah Harkness


CURRENT READ:

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron


CURRENT LISTEN:

A Few Pecans Short of a Pie by Molly Harper


NEXT UP:

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin


What are you reading?

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Weekly Top Posts: 2019-09-01
2019-09-01 04:00 UTC

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Weekly Top Posts: 2019-08-25
2019-08-25 04:00 UTC

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Weekly Top Posts: 2019-08-18
2019-08-18 04:00 UTC

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Shocking but necessary
2019-08-15 05:00 UTC by Michelle

The Swallows by Lisa Lutz

The Swallows is the type of novel that not everyone will understand, and almost no one will enjoy. However, it is an important one in today’s world as we strive to raise awareness of toxic masculinity and draw attention to the everyday occurrences of sexual harassment women face. In this case, Lisa Lutz uses a private boarding school to tell her story.

While this setting could be a turnoff since private schools typically are elitist, Ms. Lutz uses her narrators to diminish that effect. Alex is a no-nonsense teacher who speaks the truth and arrives at the school fresh from an unknown scandal. Gemma is an equally no-nonsense student who comes not from money but from foster homes and all the baggage that brings. There are two other narrators, both male, but these two women are the keys to the story. Neither woman comes from money or privilege, and their refusal to play social games brings a refreshing air of honesty to the proceedings. Their experiences set the stage for all of the drama to come, while their actions and reactions move the plot towards its fiery ending.

The beating heart of The Swallows is the relationships between the male and female students as well as the culture of tolerance to the point of indifference throughout the campus. Ms. Lutz utilizes almost every cliche ever said when it comes to hormonal teenage boys. The story is disturbing and more explicit than I was prepared to read, as the teenagers are a year or two older than my daughter. It is also a necessary story because the games the boys play towards the girls and the pressure they apply to the girls to comply with their wishes are, I fear, more ubiquitous than any adult realizes. There have long been urban myths whispered about rainbow parties and their ilk. Ms. Lutz blows those myths out into the open and uses her pen to educate parents on what may be happening in school environments.

Her book is not just for adults either. Ms. Lutz uses The Swallows to educate teenagers as well. Through the very extreme example of her story, teenage girls can obtain some valuable lessons on saying no and expectations within relationships. They may find allies in Gemma and Alex as they work through their issues with the boys and men on campus. Teenage girls may be able to use some of the power and autonomy Gemma and Alex fight to obtain in their own lives.

Similarly, teenage boys can see how damaging their objectification of women is. They might get insight into the female mind and see that women are not on Earth to provide them with sexual favors. They might also understand how their actions have genuine consequences for women. There are lessons aplenty throughout The Swallows if one is willing to accept them.

The Swallows should come with a trigger warning because some of the scenes are very upsetting. I found myself tossing and turning each night, trying to get some of what I read out of my head but couldn’t. We need to know what men honestly think of women, just as we need to see how women are capable of pushing back if necessary. The last paragraph of the story sums up the importance of the novel and gives me chills every time I read it.

You can keep telling girls to be polite, to keep a level head and it’ll all work out in the end. But don’t be surprised when they figure out that you’ve been feeding them lies. Don’t be alarmed when they grow tired of using their voices and playing by your rules. And don’t be shocked when they decide that if they can’t win a fair fight, they’ll just have to find another way.

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Key is not my favorite Ware novel
2019-08-14 05:00 UTC by Michelle

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
With four of her novels under my belt, I can safely say that Ruth Ware’s books are hit-or-miss for me. In baseball terms, she has a .500 batting average, which I realize is actually pretty damn good if you play baseball. For an author, though, it isn’t the greatest. The Turn of the Key is, for me, among her misses, which is unfortunate because I adored her previous novel and want to keep loving what she publishes.

The most significant area in which she misses this time around is the timing of the novel, and by timing I mean the year in which the story occurs. Set in 2014, one of the largest areas of confusion, wonder, and dread that Rowan faces in her new nanny position is the use of smart technology within the home. All electronics in the home run off an app and each room has a camera in it. Rowan struggles to master this technology, and it later becomes one of the reasons for her severe discomfort within the home. Unfortunately, such technology is now commonplace, and apps pretty much run our entire lives these days. To feel such fear for something that is relatively ubiquitous these days is difficult to fathom. I could never understand Rowan’s skepticism or fear. I get the creepiness of having a camera in her room, but she solves that issue by placing a sock over the lens. Usually, I can put myself into the hero’s shoes and let go of any modern-day thought processes, but I could not do so here, and my enjoyment of the novel suffered.

I also thought most of the story was fairly predictable. Sure, I did not figure out the entire surprise twist, and the part I did not catch made the ending that much more chilling. However, I found I had large portions of it solved in advance so that Rowan’s big reveal was nothing but a confirmation of information I already knew. Ms. Ware is so good at creating novels that shock and awe. Even her second novel, which is my least favorite, still had an ending that left me reeling at its unexpectedness. In the case of The Turn of the Key, though, I felt nothing but disappointment.

Ms. Ware can still make an entire character out of the setting of her novel. In this case, the house itself becomes that creepy character. In this case, it is not the smart technology that is the cause, but the dichotomy between old and new that is so unsettling. Rowan mentions many times how the house looks like the remodelers chopped it in half with the front retaining all of its Victorian-era design and charm and the second half straight out of a modern architect’s fantasy with no mixing of the two styles. Plus, an entire wall of windows in a house in which you are the only adult set in a remote area of an unfamiliar country is just screaming Gothic. Ms. Ware excels at making the most modern setting as Gothic as possible, and that is what keeps me coming back to her time and again.

The Turn of the Key is not enough for me to give up on Ms. Ware and her novels. Her penchant for modern Gothic stories is too intriguing in this day and age for me to ignore. Plus, I’ve genuinely enjoyed two out of her four novels. While not the best average for an author, what she does well in her stories is too good to ignore. So, while The Turn of the Key is not my favorite of her novels, I will keep reading what she publishes because she can do creepy as well as any King novel, and that’s saying something.

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July in the Books
2019-08-13 05:00 UTC by Michelle

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

While Wanderers has and will continue to garner comparisons to Stephen King’s The Stand, it is almost unfair to do so. Yes, they both involve a mysterious illness, and they both have a group of people traveling across the country. One might even be able to argue that both have a battle between good and evil. However, one is more metaphysical, and the other is a bit more couched in reality. Both are excellent novels in their own right.

Wanderers is an exciting and frightening story that involves everything from religious extremism, racial hatred, computer sentience, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, climate change, and overpopulation. Its character arcs are fantastic, allowing for the natural growth that comes with maturity and a greater understanding of the immediate situation and of the larger picture. Even with its religious elements, it never feels preachy. Plus, even though it clocks in at over 800 pages, it doesn’t feel as long as that as it engages all of your senses. Wanderers is simply a great but chilling warning about your current decisions and their lasting impact.

Turbulence by David Szalay
I normally go out of my way to avoid reading short story collections, and on the surface that is exactly what David Szalay’s latest novel is. Turbulence is a collection of stories about different people who have nothing in common with each other. Except, the brilliance of Turbulence is how Mr. Szalay highlights the invisible strings that connect the characters to each other. Not only do these links enforce the connectivity of each and every one of us, but they also help to flesh out the characters and provide us insight with little exposition. These links also remind us that a person may appear one way on the surface but has an entire unknown lifetime of worries, doubts, fears, sorrows, and happiness happening internally and that there is a danger in making assumptions. Mr. Szalay’s writing is gorgeous and masterful, adding depth to characters and stories in a few simple words. He brings the characters to life in a way not typically seen in short stories, which is why I avoid them. However, give me something like Turbulence, with its connected vignettes because I love seeing those ties that bind. Done well, as is Turbulence, it can be a profound reading experience.

Salvation Day by Kali Wallace
Salvation Day should be my jam. After all, there are very few things about a space thriller I would not like. In fact, I still say the premise is a good one. Plus, the execution of the story is decent. It is the ending where Kali Wallace loses me. I wanted more answers than I got, while some of the answers left much to be desired. There is a major event that feels like an easy out rather than the grand gesture Ms. Wallace intends it to be. Moreover, I never connected with any of the characters to care about their fates. She doesn’t flesh them out enough, so they remain one-dimensional and nothing but characters in a story. The virus twist is a fun one in all its aspects. Had Ms. Wallace spent more time on that, it would make a better story. Instead, she focuses on the politics at play in this futuristic world of hers that is not very interesting with characters who are less so. So very disappointing.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
Most of the time, when looking at potential review copies or other books to read, I make my selections based on the synopsis and whether the story sounds interesting. Every once in awhile though, my decision-making is less…deliberate. Sometimes, all it takes to sway me to read a book is a catchy title. Enter The Lager Queen of Minnesota.

I’ll admit that selecting a novel solely based on the fact the title makes you laugh or intrigues you is probably not the wisest of choices, but thankfully, this is one scenario which worked out in my favor. In reading the synopsis, The Lager Queen of Minnesota is not a book that would normally make my TBR pile, so it is very fortunate it has a great title because in this case, the synopsis is so very misleading. It is more than a family saga. It is an ode to the midwestern woman and her formidable fortitude. We are every bit as frugal, family-oriented, methodical, driven, proud, and quirky as Helen, Edith, and Diana are, and we are proud of it. Plus, we are every bit as food and beer-obsessed as the Calder family. It gets cold here. We need something to keep us busy!

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson
I confess. I almost stopped reading Never Have I Ever several times before I reached the halfway point. I didn’t trust Joshilyn Jackson enough and thought the blackmail story was rather stupid. Plus, I never could figure out why the secret was worthy of blackmail in the first place. However, I kept with it and was rewarded with a fantastic story of secrets, guilt and much more. The elements devoted to self-worth and the definition of family alone were well worth the efforts of sticking with the book. Plus, Ms. Jackson’s descriptions of scuba diving make it sound worth the effort it would take for me to overcome my fear of deep water. Any activity that forces you to focus on the present and the peace that brings is attractive, and Ms. Jackson’s descriptions are enticing. I especially adore how she tackles some fairly sticky topics with gentle reminders that every type of lifestyle that incorporates love has value. There is so much gray area in her characters though that I can see this being the darling of the book club world. I am heartily glad I stuck with the novel, and I will never doubt Ms. Jackson’s writing choices again.

The post July in the Books appeared first on That's What She Read.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? – 12 August 2019
2019-08-12 05:00 UTC by Michelle

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? Button
Hosted by Kathryn from Book Date, “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” is a weekly event to share what we’ve read in the past week and what we hope to read, plus whatever else comes to mind. Here is what I read the week ending 12 August 2019. To learn more about each book, click on the book cover!

Remember those goals I mentioned last week? Somehow or other, I managed to finish the largest goal of catching up on all outstanding reviews. I had almost thirty of them to write, but I did it. I sat my butt down last weekend and wrote and wrote and wrote. I finished all but five on Saturday, woke up Sunday morning and did not do anything else until I finished the rest. I still don’t know how I did it. The words seemed to magically appear without any struggle. I wish it were always that easy. As of the writing of this post, the only two reviews I have left are for the two books I finished this week. It is such a relief to be so caught up. Now, with three weeks to go before school starts, and the budget season right around the corner, the challenge will be to remain this way.


FINISHED SINCE THE LAST UPDATE:

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware The Swallows by Lisa Lutz


CURRENT READ:

The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan


NEXT UP:

These Divided Shores by Sara Raasch


What are you reading?

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Weekly Top Posts: 2019-08-11
2019-08-11 04:00 UTC

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June’s Mixed Bag
2019-08-09 15:00 UTC by Michelle

The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen

The Lost Letters of William Woolf is a delightful little novel wherein not much happens, but you finish the story moved beyond expectations. The idea that there is an entire department devoted to uniting lost mail with its intended recipient, no matter how long the delay between shipment and final delivery, is charming and a story that occurs in such a department is equally so. I never considered the idea that people send letters to the post office with no intention of delivery, outside of letters to Santa Claus that is, but I now see the appeal. It is a bit of desperation and a whole lot of hope that would inspire someone to do that, and the letters that captivate William Woolf confirm this. It is these letters that are the true highlight of the story, especially as William learns more about the mysterious author and she becomes more than just some words on a page. The Lost Letters of William Woolf is more than a story about soulmates and lost loves; it is about the importance of living in the moment, of focusing on the present as well as anticipating the future. It is about not letting life pass you by. Charming and so very British.

The Good Sister by Gillian McAllister

There is not much I can say about The Good Sister because I cannot remember a single thing about it. I can reread the synopsis numerous times and recognize that I did read it. However, I cannot tell you whether I enjoyed it or not, and I cannot remember one detail of the story. I have no idea how it ends or whether I was satisfied with it. I don’t remember the sisters or my reactions to them. I can’t tell you whether I felt they were well-defined or flat. It is like a big blank in my memory where this book resides. I guess the fact that the novel is so totally forgettable is the most telling point about it.

Recursion by Blake Crouch

After finishing Recursion, my first thought was that Blake Crouch likes a good mindf*ck because that is what Recursion is. His previous novel, Dark Matter was confusing but at least I understood the science behind the story. Plus, I wasn’t confused for very long. I cannot say that about his latest one though. Every twist added a layer of complexity to the story so that by the time you finally got around to the ending, the story is too convoluted for rational thought. You are just there for the ride with no control of the reins.

The thing is that you don’t realize this at the time of reading it. It is only when you finish the story and think back over everything you read when you finally question what exactly happened. The more you think about it, the more you recognize the confusion until you can do nothing but question what exactly you read. Prior to that point, the story seems not just reasonable but thrilling and fast-paced. You don’t get the chance to sit and reflect on the action because Mr. Crouch doesn’t afford you the opportunity, keeping you and his characters at a frantic pace of discovery, action, and reaction, and you are perfectly fine with this while reading it. After your adrenaline levels drop and common sense once again reigns supreme in your brain, you begin to feel as if Mr. Crouch duped you into thinking his story has more substance and merit than it may actually have. The problem is that you have to wade through layer upon layer of plot twists in order to figure out what the basic plot is before you can determine if that feeling of duplicity towards Mr. Crouch is an accurate assessment. For my own part, I had no desire to wade through all that. I can’t say Recursion makes a lot of sense when viewing it in the light of day, but it certainly is a wacky ride while you are on it.

Storm and Fury by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Gargoyles, angels, and demons – it sounds like something from a Saturday morning cartoon back in the 90s. Except it is Jennifer L. Armentrout’s latest novel, set in current times with all the amenities the Internet has to offer. Not having read any of her previous novels, I had no idea what to expect when diving into Storm and Fury. I did not realize it was the continuation of a previous series until I was midway through the story. While this knowledge may have added a little extra something to my reading experience, I don’t feel I lost anything by not having any previous exposure to Trinity’s world. I tore through this story of demons and gargoyles, swooning at all the right moments and hoping the story would never end. I enjoyed Ms. Armentrout’s breezy writing style as well as the story. I adored Trinity and her vulnerabilities as well as her refusal to remain a damsel in distress. Strong women with even an even stronger code of ethics get me every time, and Trinity is a welcome addition to that list of heroines I admire and thoroughly support. I look forward to seeing what else Ms. Armentrout has in store for Trinity and Zayne.

The Ditch by Herman Koch

Herman Koch’s latest novel, The Ditch, is, in my opinion, one of the year’s biggest disappointments. Mr. Koch is capable of such great writing with compelling characters and fantastic stories. The Ditch is not any of those things. The writing is choppy; the story is nonexistent. As for the characters, they don’t drum enough interest for you to find them anything but flat and insipid. The whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth, and I might have to think twice about reading any of his future novels. I never thought I would say that about Mr. Koch.

The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey

The Grand Dark is another fairly black hole in my memory, but this time reading the synopsis does help bring some details and impressions to the surface. One of which is the idea that the story is a bit of a mess. Richard Kadrey goes to great lengths to emphasize the hedonism of this post-war society. I am not certain if his intent is to shock and awe or if he wants to force readers to understand the damages the war wrought on veterans and civilians alike. When Mr. Kadrey combines that with the politics occurring underneath the surface, all through the eyes of a narrator who knows nothing, the whole scene is jarring and confusing. It is a bit like experiencing the frenetic energy and assault on the senses of a rave while sober. Nothing makes sense, and the word overwhelming does not do justice to the chaos before you.

I always try to approach such novels with an attempt to understand what the author’s purpose was in writing it. What story is he trying to tell and why? Is it a warning? Is it purely for entertainment purposes? Is there a message in there we need to take to heart? In the case of The Grand Dark, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. Some of this is due to the fact that I don’t remember the story well enough to be able to answer them. Some of this is due to the fact that I do remember asking myself these questions while reading and remember not being able to formulate an answer even then. I doubt it is purely for entertainment purposes. It is way too dark a story to be solely for entertaining. I don’t know what story Mr. Kadrey is trying to tell or why, and the fact that I can barely remember the story itself indicates to me that I might be better off forgetting it entirely.

FKA USA by Reed King

I read some weird books in June, but none are quite as weird as FKA USA. Weird doesn’t mean bad though, and in this case, I really liked the weird. The story imagines that the United States splintered into different sections, and corporations run these sections as a pseudo-government. That isn’t even the strangest part. You have androids fighting for political rights and recognition as human, a religion that worships Elvis Presley, a world where there is no such thing as fresh food, virtual reality addicts, and, to top it off, a talking goat.

FKA USA is probably one of the more brilliant envisionings of the future I have ever read. Meant as satire, it takes no stretch of the imagination to believe such a future is possible. None of the crazy stuff Truckee and his little posse encounters as he attempts to make his way across the formerly united country is all that insane when you consider what is happening in our own country with naming rights, big corporations and government in bed together, and so forth. Even VR addiction doesn’t seem far-fetched if you have a child and have seen the way she or he will zone out to online gaming or YouTube videos. FKA USA is like your wacky uncle visiting; all you can do is observe what he does and says and learn from his mistakes so that you don’t end up like him. If your uncle visited with a talking goat.

The Body Lies by Jo Baker
I’ve been sitting here wondering what to say about Jo Baker’s The Body Lies. On the one hand, I adored the writing. She starts out each section with these pieces that are almost poetic in nature, no matter how brutal the scene they are describing. They are so beautiful in their descriptiveness and imagery. I found myself looking forward to each chapter break because I knew it would mean another one of those pieces. On the other hand, the story held no interest for me. Sure, I felt for the heroine and her struggles to be a single mother in a new environment with a new job. I don’t necessarily approve of the way she became so involved in her students’ lives, which is what directly leads to all the drama and suspense later in the story. I can recognize her growth as she learns to say no to an overbearing boss, but her initial inability to do so bothered me a lot. It never seemed to fit with her personality and what we know about her. So, there was a lot about the story that irked me and not a lot that made a positive impression. This reaction bothers me most of all because I like Jo Baker’s novels and wanted to like this one. Unfortunately, when the final reaction upon reading the last sentence is one of relief that the book is over, saying you like the novel is not an option, and that is where The Body Lies leaves me.

The Girl Who Could Move Shit with Her Mind by Jackson Ford

Sometimes, you just have to read a book based on the title alone. I mean, what’s not to love about a book titled The Girl Who Could Move Shit with Her Mind? The story is equally snarky, and I enjoyed every minute of it. There are moments of earnestness and true darkness, as well as the requisite danger one needs in a thriller. The thing is that it never takes itself too seriously as a novel, which makes it that much more entertaining a story. This is escapist reading at its finest, especially as it is unapologetic in serving that purpose. I don’t know who Jackson Ford really is, but I certainly hope he or she publishes more in this vein because it is so much fun.

The post June’s Mixed Bag appeared first on That's What She Read.

May’s Choices
2019-08-08 05:00 UTC by Michelle

I loved every book in this list. May was such an excellent month for novels!

Under Currents by Nora Roberts

Queen Nora is back with a new novel about family and past trauma and the strength both can give you as an adult. She always delights with her cat-and-mouse tales of suspense and romance, but I feel Under Currents emphasizes her empathetic nature in her storytelling. As a result, her latest novel is more than just a suspenseful, sexy thriller but one that has heart. Never one to shy away from the dark and gruesome, Ms. Roberts takes it to the next level with the violence done to and performed by her characters, but she does so respectfully when warranted. This is not a voyeuristic dive into the seedy side of family relationships but rather a stark reminder that polish and shine can hide a multitude of hurts, and that it behooves us to pay attention and listen when approached. I am already a Nora Roberts superfan, having read almost everything she has ever written under her name, but Under Currents truly impressed me with the care she took telling this particular story.

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

There are plenty of great partnerships in the world – Lewis and Clark, Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Luckily, today, we have Amy and Jay, who together manage to write some of the most exciting and creative novels you will ever read. Their latest collaboration takes us back out into space with the wackiest crew imaginable, and their efforts make you feel as if you are experiencing science fiction for the very first time. The energy in Aurora Rising is unfailing, and their creativity knows no limits. The world that contains Aurora Academy is fully-fleshed, so much so that it is difficult to remember that the characters do not physically exist. The science behind their space travel makes sense, as do the threats to the galaxy. Amy and Jay are so good together that their stories read like science fact rather than fiction, and Aurora Rising is just one more example of that.

Finale by Stephanie Garber

I have been a fan of Stephanie Garber’s world since her first novel. Like all series endings though, there is worry that it will disappoint because how can a story remain just as good as it was in the first book? Thankfully, but not surprising given everything Ms. Garber builds and the freedom she gives her characters to make their own mistakes, Finale is a worthy finish for such a spectacular series. We get answers to long-held questions. We get to see the famous Fates in action. We get more drama, more magic, more political machinations, and more romance than we ever thought possible. We see Tella and Scarlett come into their own as women of strength and conviction. And romance. I did mention the romance. Swoon-worthy without becoming sickening, Finale delights in all aspects. I am sad to see this series come to an end, but I certainly hope that Ms. Garber is not entirely done with the world of Caraval. There appear to be so many stories still waiting for their turn in the spotlight.

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly is a fantastic storyteller, but Stepsister blew me away with its premise, its execution, and most of all, its message. Jennifer Donnelly takes the ugly stepsisters from Cinderella’s story and shows us what true beauty is. She shows us the importance of intelligence, self-worth, and independence. She celebrates everyone who has ever been called odd, weird, ugly, or awkward, and impresses the idea that there is no such thing as any of those adjectives. She highlights the importance of choice, that no one has a set path upon which they must tread, and that we can all change our fate to obtain the ending we want, not one dictated to us by society. It is such a well-told story, but the message. Oh, the message! Ms. Donnelly understands what it means to be on the fringes, and she does more than acknowledge us. She presents to us the world and tells us to shape it to our liking. Empowering doesn’t begin to cover the magnitude of her message.

The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda
Kaira Rouda certainly understands her way around psychopathology; her first novel showed us that much. With her second novel, she confirms that knowledge in a way that is both impressive and chilling. The characters she brings to life in The Favorite Daughter are realistic and the scenarios in which the entire cast finds themselves are what I would consider normal – on the surface at least. All this makes the truth behind the big mystery that much more disturbing. Ms. Rouda understands the surface calm of the pathological and the depths to which they will go to maintain that semblance of outward normality. The Favorite Daughter creeps up on you, lulling you into a false sense of calm before it bears its ugly truth. For a thriller, that is precisely how you want them to be. After two intense and addicting novels, I am fast becoming a fan of Kaira Rouda, even though I don’t know whether I want to shake Ms. Rouda’s hand should I meet her or run as far away as fast as I can.

Into the Jungle by Erica Ferencik
In a month of fantastic novels, with debuts and series endings I have been waiting months to read, it still surprises me that my favorite book of the month, if not the entire year so far, is Erica Ferencik’s Into the Jungle. After all, I am not an outdoorsy person. I have no desire to step foot into the Amazon jungle or any jungle, let alone live there. I am arachnophobic and can barely stomach Aragog in the Harry Potter series. Nothing about South America interests me. Yet, I adored this novel about a young woman who drops everything to be with her new love as they move to a small village deep in the Amazon. Spiders who can kill chickens, jaguars who vanish like ghosts, tarantulas that drop from the ceiling, ants that cause more pain than a bullet – these should not be things about which I want to read. I devoured it all and wanted more. I was upset when the story ended. I wanted to experience more of this alien world, which Ms. Ferencik so masterfully captures. I wanted to get to know more about Omar’s life and his family. The ending just about broke my heart and left me gutted. I still have no desire to visit the Amazon, but, thanks to Ms. Ferencik’s writing, I feel like I experienced what Lily did, and that is enough for me.

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April Goodies
2019-08-07 05:00 UTC by Michelle

Gimme Some Sugar by Molly Harper

The sixth book in the Southern Eclectic series made me happy and hungry with all its talk of bakery goodies. Seriously, people. If you have not taken my advice and read anything by Molly Harper by now, then I don’t know what else I can do to convince you to do so as soon as possible.

Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Emily Duncan, you had me at monsters, magic, and murder set in an eastern European-esque land. Then you threw in a Joan of Arc type character, political machinations, and an entire book made up of gray area, and I was completely lost. Dark and disturbing, Wicked Saints is not for the faint of heart, but for those who love brutal but well-told Gothic stories, you need to put it on your radar.

The Last by Hanna Jameson
Having grown up at the end of the Cold War, the question of what would happen at the end of the world is one that fascinates me. (Today’s youth might fear the future and have a morbid sense of humor because of the doom and gloom in which they are growing up, but they have never had to experience nuclear holocaust drills. Gallows humor doesn’t begin to cover what that does to a child.) While Hanna Jameson creates a perfectly reasonable situation in which an isolated group of hotel guests and employees find themselves in a real-life end-of-world situation, the story leaves a bit to be desired. This is a kinder, gentler end of the world. Jameson shields the reader from anything truly horrifying, and all unpleasant situations remain at a minimum. I find this lack of drama boring, to the point where four months after reading it, I have to read the synopsis to refresh my memory. Besides, the title and the cover scream British thriller to me and is in no way indicative that the story occurs in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. It was not the best book I read in April by any means.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is a proper end-of-the-world story, as it has everything you want in such stories. Plus, the entire story revolves around a boy’s attempt to get back his dog. That type of loyalty goes a long way towards overcoming any of the story’s pitfalls. Thankfully, there are few to none. C. A. Fletcher provides a history so that we can understand Griz’ world and why the sight of other people fills one with fear and not excitement. The world into which Griz ventures is harsh and dangerous but not without its beauty as well. Griz’ journey is exciting and refuses to follow any pattern, meaning it never becomes predictable or mundane. It is the type of story that engages your imagination while Griz’ struggles engage your sympathies. It is the type of book I had hoped more people would read because it is engrossing and provides a plethora of discussion topics. Have you read it? What did you think?

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding
To be honest, I still don’t know what to think of Little Darlings. I want to like it because it deals with the fae, in its own way. Yet, I am not a fan of books that are so open-ended, that leave the entire story to the reader. I never did enjoy the Choose Your Own Adventure series; I am certainly not going to enjoy them now. Yet that is what I think of when I think of Melanie Golding’s novel. The story has no right or wrong answer, so you are free to choose to think what you will of Lauren’s conviction that her babies are not hers. For my own peace of mind, I choose the more poetic side, not because I love fae stories – which I do – but because the prosaic side is too depressing. That being said, any reader easily upset by missing children or triggered by mental trauma should avoid this one.

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
Jennifer McMahon never fails to thrill and delight me as a reader. She embraces the idea of ghosts as fact and luxuriates in the darkness of men as only an author can. Her latest novel is a thrilling adventure of wrongs made right, racism, witchcraft, and strong women. It is a ghost story with the “are there or aren’t there” drama stripped away from its plot; in Helen’s new world, ghosts very much exist. Ms. McMahon never ventures near the unreliable narrator trope either, so even though no one seems to believe Helen as she works to understand the ghostly warnings, there is so much more happening in her new sleepy town than we initially understand. This is where the darkness of men comes to the fore, and what follows is a twisty tale of the truth and the lies we tell each other to avoid the truth. Also, did I mention strong, independent women? I believe The Invited is one of Ms. McMahon’s strongest novels to date, so if you have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing one of her novels, this is a good place to start.

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Lucy is beautiful
2019-08-06 05:00 UTC by Michelle

Keeping Lucy by T. Greenwood

T. Greenwood’s story about a 1970s mother who discovers the worst about a place meant to protect and care for her youngest child is a beautiful story of love and determination. Moreover, Ms. Greenwood’s writing is so delicate and musical that I didn’t want the story to end, no matter how badly I wanted to find out what happens to little Lucy and her beleaguered mother. Mostly, I could not stop thinking about whether anything is different in 2019 now that we are more aware of neglectful institutions for the disabled, now that we know more about what it takes to raise a child with a disability, and now that there are significant changes to labor and delivery as well as post-partum care. I fear that not much is different forty years later.

Ms. Greenwood takes such care with her historical details that the story is a delight to read as it provides the opportunity to marvel that any of us born in the 1970s survived our childhood. As Ginny makes her way south, there are no seatbelts and no car seats. Everyone smokes like a chimney wherever they want, including in the car with the kids. Ginny signs her daughter out of the institution using nothing more than a letter as a form of identification. Cash rules the day, but when Ginny does use her credit card, she can do so without showing any identification to verify her signature. It’s insane, and yet, you can’t get upset or question her parenting or the historical details because they did happen. It was simply how things were done back then, for right or wrong.

One other historical element upon which Ms. Greenwood spends a lot of time is Ginny’s marriage and her standing in that marriage. Especially as the story rushes to its close, Ginny reflects on her unhappiness and her feelings of suffocation and regret. She recognizes the lack of equality in her marriage, one where she does all the cooking and cleaning while her beloved husband sits and reads the newspaper after dinner. She marvels at the family dynamics of those she meets along her journey, how loving and fair they seem, how thoughtful everyone is when it comes to taking care of one another. Here too is another area which makes me fear we have not come as far as we think we have when it comes to the wives in marriages. Just the other day, I read an article that talked about men, women, and free time. Every day you see a self-help headline about trying to get your husband to help around the house. This is not to mention the silence of those wives and mothers who feel just as trapped and stifled as Ginny did as they put their lives on hold to raise children. Keeping Lucy might occur more than forty years in the past, but she raises awareness of the same gender inequality that continues to exist in relationships.

In spite of everything Ginny feels and experiences, you cannot help finishing Keeping Lucy without a note of hope. Hell, if we can survive the complete lack of automobile safety in the seventies, there is hope for all of us! All kidding aside, Ms. Greenwood provides hope that even one person can make a difference. Her story is a gentle reminder that love can win out over greed and apathy and that no one has the right to make any decisions affecting your life except you. Hers is not a flashy story, and there is not a lot that happens among its pages. However, it is a peaceful story that helps you find the good in this seemingly hellish world in which we now find ourselves. Keeping Lucy is food for the soul at a time when we so desperately need it.

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? – 5 August 2019
2019-08-05 05:00 UTC by Michelle

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? Button
Hosted by Kathryn from Book Date, “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” is a weekly event to share what we’ve read in the past week and what we hope to read, plus whatever else comes to mind. Here is what I read the week ending 5 August 2019. To learn more about each book, click on the book cover!

A new month is always a hopeful time for me. It is a time where I vow to read and meditate more often, to eat more healthily, to sleep more, to remain calmer, and to stop procrastinating. It does not mean I do any of these things, but I always promise myself I will. This month, I want to read ALL the things and catch up on reviews. Because it is only the fifth day of the month, my optimism that I can accomplish these goals remains high.


FINISHED SINCE THE LAST UPDATE:

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson Keeping Lucy by T. Greenwood


CURRENT READ:

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware


NEXT UP:

The Swallows by Lisa Lutz


What are you reading?

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