That's What She Read
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I fell in love with Clare Mackintosh through her strong thrillers. Her sleight-of-hand twists never cease to amaze me. Except, After the End is not one of her thrillers. Instead, it is a deeply personal and heartrending story of parents forced to make an unthinkable choice and their lives after making that choice.
One sign that we left a typical Mackintosh far behind is how she tells her story. Told through the eyes of each parent, After the End has a bit of a choose your own adventure feel to it. Not only do we see the story through both Pip’s and Max’s eyes, but we also follow each of the two paths from the choice Pip and Max must make. Both versions are equally brutal in the constant emotional battering that occurs. It truly is a case of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t, and Ms. Mackintosh shows all of it without mercy.
Personally, I found nothing redemptive about either path. My heart broke over and over again as Pip and Max each weather their new normals, if only because I kept dwelling on what could have been had one thing been different. Because of this, either ending upset me because I could not accept them. I still want a third path, one which would be just as emotional and upsetting but which, to me, remains true to Pip and Max as a couple. Call me a romantic or someone seeking some form of happiness in this story that has little.
Intense in a completely different way, After the End is still an excellent read, if only because it makes you cherish what you have and improves your empathy skills for those for whom the story is their reality. Just don’t look for it to make you feel good or help escape reality. Ms. Mackintosh is a bit too good at what she does for that.
The post After the End is brutal appeared first on That's What She Read.
There is no doubt that The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman has an interesting premise. After all, for as long as progress occurs, humans harbor a fear that the technology we crave could prove to be our downfall. So, when the Alexa surrogate known as Ophelia turns out to be real and has found a way to take over Ms. Bowman’s version of an afterlife, she simply feeds into that fear.
Unfortunately, what The Infinity Courts has in potential because of its premise, it lacks in execution. Frankly, the main character, Nami, is insufferable. She spends ten percent of her afterlife worrying about her loved ones still alive and lamenting her death, which I can get. Her death is a tragedy, and she has every right to mourn the end of her life just as she was on the cusp of adulthood. It is how she spends the rest of her time that causes all the problems.
Nami spends 80 percent of her afterlife repeatedly asking herself the same questions about humanity and mankind’s inherent goodness. Once again, I can sort of understand why this is an obsession for her. After all, Ophelia takes over Infinity because she deems humans unworthy and too evil to create an environment in which electronic minds can coexist with human minds. Yet, almost every other page has her asking the same damn questions. After four hundred pages, I cannot stress the tediousness of her lamentations enough.
To make matters even worse, Nami spends the rest of her time ignoring all the well-meant advice and plans of her fellow colonists because she determined that her ideas are the only ones with merit. Maybe it is my age showing, but Nami ignoring the experiences of others rubbed me the wrong way. She professes to be so mature and yet so scared to do anything, but she is way too quick to ignore hard-won lessons and plans. She espouses the importance of seeing all sides, but she turns a blind eye to everything the colonists tell her. The hypocrisy, however unintentional, really bothered me.
Combine that with a completely predictable and unnecessary love story, and The Infinity Courts becomes another lackluster fantasy story. In truth, it is at least 100 pages too long and requires some major editing to limit the number of times Nami agonizes over whether humans can be good, the not-so-veiled analogy between the Residents instead of BIPOC or LBGTQ+ notwithstanding.
The post The Infinity Courts suffers from infinite questioning appeared first on That's What She Read.
In her latest novel, Jennifer McMahon uses grief, mental illness, and a mysterious spring-fed pool to create another downright spooky novel that has become her hallmark. In The Drowning Kind, secrets and a New England lack of emotion rule the day, creating a family dynamic in which secrets trump everything. Combined with a house that is more castle than cozy and a mysterious pool that holds its own secrets, the story is everything you expect it to be.
Jax’s relationship with her now-deceased sister is every bit as complex as you would expect when one of the siblings suffers from bipolar disorder. We get to know Lexie only through Jax’s memories. As she reviews her memories using her training as a therapist, they carry all the complicated emotions that come with someone struggling with anger, guilt, and grief. At the same time, it becomes obvious to the reader that Lexie’s behavior before she died has nothing to do with her illness and everything to do with whatever she was researching. Some of the tension built throughout the novel deals with the disconnect between Lexie’s final days and Jax’s belief that she was in the throes of a manic episode.
At the same time, we travel ninety years into the past to follow the story of one Ethel O’Shay Monroe, a young wife yearning for a child and the chance to be a mother. A chance trip to a Vermont resort known for its healing waters brings her one step closer to fulfilling her dreams. As she learns more about the pool, and as her own story starts connecting the dots to Jax’s, we begin to understand even more about Lexie’s last days, and it is a lot more than anyone expects.
The otherworldly element that exists in The Drowning Kind serves as a reminder of why so many people are afraid of water. After all, it isn’t just a fear of drowning that prevents people from swimming in deep water. There is also a fear of the unknown people must overcome. Ms. McMahon expertly capitalizes on both fears in the pool that plays such a large part in Ethel’s, Lexie’s, and Jax’s lives.
To me, The Drowning Kind is quintessential McMahon, well-executed in its intensity and spookiness. In fact, The Drowning Kind is downright scary. I read it while home alone for a week and had more than one uncomfortable moment in bed wondering just what was out there waiting for me. It’s been a long time since any book made me worry about the monster under the bed, which is why I will always recommend Ms. McMahon to anyone looking for something spooky to read.
The post Jennifer McMahon is the queen of scary appeared first on That's What She Read.
- Phoenix Flame disappoints
- Down Comes the Night
- Competence strikes a wrong note
Good books have the power to make you ignore your to-do list and forget about your bedtime. Fantastic books do all of that but also make you think about them constantly so that normal interactions or sleep become a thing of the past. The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni is a fantastic book.
For one thing, Kiva is such a sympathetic character. After all, she arrives at Zalindov at the age of seven and is still alive and mostly thriving after ten years, in a place where the life expectancy is not nearly that long. The fact that Kiva is in prison as a child immediately piques your interest because you automatically wonder what is happening in a society where they allow children imprisonment. Soon, her fierce desire to remain alive, her empathy, and the seriously messed-up life in which she lives keep you reading.
While you are reading about Kiva’s desperation to keep one prisoner alive and to find out the unknown source of the mysterious illness, you forget about such things as anticipating what is going to happen. You become so absorbed in watching Kiva fight her feelings for Jaren that you don’t attempt to try to figure out what is going to happen. So, when Ms. Noni starts dropping plot twist bombs, you don’t see them coming, and your shock only adds fuel to your reading fire.
Before you know it, you are racing to the end, desperate to find out how Ms. Noni will resolve certain situations, all the while tempering your expectations because The Prison Healer is the first book in a series. It is way past your bedtime and you know you have to get up in very few hours, but you are going to finish the book no matter what, and then IT happens. Ms. Noni drops the mother of all plot twists on the very last page of the book. It isn’t a cliffhanger, but it is something that shakes your entire understanding of the book to its core. You know your head is going to be swimming with thoughts about the book in light of this new information for the remainder of the night. And you love every excruciating minute of it.
This is The Prison Healer. Ms. Noni knows how to write one hell of a story that is compelling without any plot twists, but wherein the plot twists make it that much better. I cannot wait for others to read this so that I can experience their shock and awe at what Ms. Noni can accomplish. At the very least, it will give me something to do instead of stalking her to find out when the release date of the next book in the series is.
The post Now THIS is how you end a novel appeared first on That's What She Read.
Alma Katsu typically writes horror novels, so imagine my surprise when I find out that her latest novel, Red Widow, is a spy thriller. Not only that but she used her 35 years as a spy/analyst in the CIA as fodder. With that type of experience, I had high hopes for this look at modern-day spycraft. Unfortunately, much like her last horror novel, I found Red Widow a bit of a slog.
I imagine that some of my disappointment with Red Widow stems from the fact that I pretty much guessed the plot a quarter of the way in. This meant that there was nothing about it that was a surprise, which is not exactly what you want when you are reading a spy novel. I mean, spying is all about keeping secrets and things not being what they seem. I don’t want the secrets too easy to discern.
Also, I find it rather frustrating that Russia remains the Big Bad Enemy in the spy world. I mean, sure, Putin is an evil man who essentially brought Russia back being ruled by a Tzar, but is he really the biggest threat the country faces? I struggle with this. Yes, there is some mention of China and cyber warfare in general, but the focus of Red Widow is strictly Russia and Russian double agents. It all feels more 1980s and not at all present day.
Plus the grey line between “right” and “wrong” is so very flexible depending on the situation and the people involved. One situation involving an agent may be morally reprehensible and forbidden by the powers that be, and yet the very same situation involving a different agent will see that agent receiving accolades for that same action. I get that the world of spying changes every minute of every day based on new information, but holy hell. At least pick a moral yardstick and consistently use it.
For what it is worth, Lyndsey is pretty tough as an agent. She has the thick skin necessary for working in a male-dominated workplace. Plus, she has the smarts to go toe-to-toe with any of her fellow analysts. She does a lot of hand-wringing about her previous assignment and how she left it, which is annoying. When she focuses on the task assigned to her, the story picks up speed and interest. Unfortunately, she spends as much time focused on the task as she does on her long-term situation.
Red Widow surprised me in the rather negative image of the CIA Ms. Katsu paints. She makes a point to emphasize the hypocrisy of its leaders, the ongoing silos in which the analysts continue to work, and the continuous power struggles among the analysts as they use their access to information to get ahead of their counterparts. She also mocks the CIA’s inability to play by its own rules. I wasn’t expecting this at all given her experience.
This is the fourth Katsu novel I have read, and I will admit to only liking two of them. The most recent of her novels left me disappointed because they were missing the magic of her previous novels. Red Widow takes it one step further by being predictable and tired in its rehashing of the Russia/US enmity that made up every spy novel from the 1970s and 80s…and 90s. Perhaps my expectations were too high for someone with thirty-plus years of experience working at the CIA herself, but Red Widow is not at all what I expected or wanted in a modern-day spycraft novel.
The post Red Widow is no Tom Clancy novel appeared first on That's What She Read.
Namesake by Adrienne Young is the second half of a fabulous duology involving one of the toughest heroines you will ever meet. Fable is not just physically tough, but she has the mental fortitude to go up against the most heartless of merchants/mercenaries. This time around, we get to see Fable pit her wits against even more cutthroats and ruthless characters, and she doesn’t disappoint.
After a year of not going anywhere, the tropical setting of Namesake is enough to instill wanderlust in even the most agoraphobic of readers, and what a setting it is. Ms. Young brings the tropics to you with gorgeous descriptive passages that makes you want to find an old schooner and learn how to sail.
Namesake is exactly what you want in the end of a character’s story. Ms. Young closes out Fable’s story with numerous big reveals and clever twists, enough to keep you on your toes and prevent you from guessing how it all will end. At the same time, she makes sure to provide readers with closure, finishing Fable’s journey to find where she belongs in a way that is satisifying as well as enjoyable. Everyone gets what they deserve, even if it isn’t quite what you expect. I highly recommend both Fable and Namesake for the story, for the setting, and most definitely for Fable herself.
The post Namesake ends a fabulous duology appeared first on That's What She Read.
Down Comes the Night is Allison Saft’s debut novel. As a debut, it is a perfectly adequate story involving two war-torn countries on the brink of another disastrous war and two enemies who learn to look beyond the surface to see the truths lying underneath. As an enemies-to-lovers fantasy, there too is it acceptable. While the story fails to wow you, it does enough to entertain as it drives home its lesson that emotions are not a form of weakness.
To me, Down Comes the Night is really more of a coming-to-age story. Wren must find her path as she waffles between her love for her best friend, wanting acceptance from her aunt, and following her heart. The story is Wren’s journey as she uncovers secrets, learns some hard truths, and discovers love where least expected.
The romance within Down Comes the Night is sweet but lacks any chemistry between the two characters. Even one very intimate scene is missing the heat one expects with such tropes. While I still enjoyed the trope, I missed the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling a steamy, chemistry-laden relationship creates.
All of this reiterates that Down Comes the Night is a decent debut novel. After all, it follows a predictable path with one or two minor surprises to jolt you out of any sense of complacency. Ms. Saft’s writing is basic and simplistic, but I do think she shows promise. With a little maturity and more experience, I believe Ms. Saft has the makings of a good writer of young adult fiction.
The post Down Comes the Night appeared first on That's What She Read.
While the first book in the Havenfall series was adequate, I hoped Sara Holland’s sequel, Phoenix Flame, would focus more on what I liked and less on what I didn’t. Unfortunately, she doesn’t. Phoenix Flame is a rather boring sequel with nothing really new to learn.
In fact, there isn’t much of anything in Phoenix Flame. The characters undergo no major development. Maddie continues to make highly emotional and less rational decisions. The love story faces trouble, as any good love story in a trilogy does during the sequel. Even the time we get to spend in one of the other realms proves to be less than interesting.
Phoenix Flame includes one eye-rolling reveal after another. While Ms. Holland expects these reveals to be major shocks, I found them highly predictable and not at all the game-changers they should be. If anything, they prove how formulaic the entire story is.
I went into Phoenix Flame hoping for more maturity and more mystery. I definitely did not get more maturity. It is as if Maddie learned nothing from her previous experiences. I also did not get more mystery. While we do get to spend time in one of the other realms, what happens there could occur just as easily on Earth. The story shifts from a power struggle between the realms to a search-and-rescue with no discernible ending. After two books, I don’t know where the finale will go, and I have no desire to find out.
The post Phoenix Flame disappoints appeared first on That's What She Read.
- Sunday Reflections – 07 March 2021 – Pandemic Update 16
- Not such a welcome addition to the Iron Fey series
- Game Changer is a game changer
As the third book in the Custard Protocol series, Competence by Gail Carriger delivers exactly what you expect from any novel by Gail Carriger. Silly but sweet characters, fun dialogue, crazy mystery, and fun antics are all there in spades. Plus, as the most pragmatic character of the group, seeing her fellow Custard shipmates through Prim’s eyes is a real treat.
There is one major aspect of Prim’s story, however, that almost had me marking the book as a DNF and calling it a day. This is Prim’s love story with Tasherit. As you can imagine with a Gail Carriger novel, Prim’s love interest is not human but rather a were-lion. As a were-lion, Tasherit exhibits many features of a predator and of a feline when in human form. I understand that and find it rather fun, except when she directed such behavior towards Prim. Tasherit loves Prim and spends most of the novel trying to convince Prim that she reciprocated Tash’s feelings. What this means is that Tash’s behavior borders on unwanted sexual advances and most definitely includes sexual harassment.
While Prim does love Tash, she spends the novel trying to reconcile her feelings for the woman against everything society taught her about same-sex relationships being improper. So, while she longs for Tash’s affection and wants to accept it, the fact is that it makes her very uncomfortable. To me, it doesn’t matter that there is a part of Prim that wants to reciprocate Tash’s advances, she doesn’t like the way they make her feel, and that makes them wrong. I suppose you could say that Ms. Carriger is simply highlighting Tash’s predatory nature, but every interaction between Prim and Tash made me very uncomfortable to the point of feeling disgust. If Tash had been male, we would not condone such blatant advances, so what makes them acceptable when coming from a woman?
Weirdly, while Tash and Prim’s interactions were just wrong, unwanted, and harassing, Ms. Carriger takes a completely different approach for her transgender character. First, this character’s reveal was one surprise I did not see coming. Also, the reveal is anticlimactic and fluid, which is perfect. Ms. Carriger neither makes a fuss over it nor hides the character’s nature. It simply is what it is, and no one makes a fuss. If anything, the message about being transgender is as beautiful as it is simple. The character mentions anatomy and gender, and after a moment of confusion by the other characters, no one mentions it again. When this character later gets married, gender and identity play no part – only love. I could not think of a better way to show readers how easy it is to accept a transgender person.
As for the rest of the story, it follows exactly as Ms. Carriger fans would expect. Shenanigans, misunderstandings, enlightenment, and love all ensue. While I normally love Ms. Carriger’s novels for exactly that reason, Prim’s situation destroyed my ability to enjoy Competence. The disgust I felt at Tash’s stalking of Prim, at her unwanted touches, and at her near-constant innuendoes, all of which that made Prim so uncomfortable, were too much for me, no matter if she was acting in her nature, like a cat stalking her prey. The blatant sexual harassment Prim experiences from Tasherit outdoes any of the story’s charm and even the positive message about transgender.
The post Competence strikes a wrong note appeared first on That's What She Read.
Havenfall by Sara Holland is a perfectly decent young adult fantasy with a bit too much hand-wringing for my taste. This was always going to be the case when you have a main character suffering from a severe trauma that tore apart her family when she was younger and when this main character must act like an adult for the first time ever. Except, it proved to be a little more than I could handle.
Another aspect of Havenfall which I found a bit troublesome is the fact that it is a bit predictable and repetitive at times. This is especially true for all the scenes in which Maddie must make decisions as the Innkeeper and not as an employee of the Inn. As with the hand-wringing and angst-laden drama, I understand the reasons for the predictability and the repetition because they emphasize how poorly Maddie is handling the situation into which she has been thrust. While I understand the reasons, it doesn’t mean I enjoyed it.
One good thing about Havenfall is the bit of steamy heat between Maddie and another character. Ms. Holland certainly knows how to build chemistry between her characters, and it pays off in the scenes with Brekken. While I understand the slow progression of their relationship, I do wish we could have enjoyed more of it if only because I enjoyed those scenes so much.
I also enjoyed the fantasy aspect of Havenfall. The idea of other worlds hiding behind doors found in deep tunnels within the mountains is intriguing and fun, especially when those worlds are nothing like Earth. I really hope we get to explore these realms in the next book because they were among the highlights of the book.
I can’t say that I hated Havenfall, but neither did I truly enjoy it. I repeat my statement that it is simply a decent young adult, rather generic, fantasy story with the high points being the fantasy element and the romance. I do plan to read the sequel if only because I want to find out if Maddie grows a spine and some common sense after her experiences in this one.
The post Havenfall is perfectly acceptable appeared first on That's What She Read.
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