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

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  5. What the hell did I read?

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

Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal

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

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

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

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

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

The post You had me at tattoo magic appeared first on That's What She Read.

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

"All

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

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

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

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

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

The post Mermaids and Monsters and Magic, oh my! appeared first on That's What She Read.

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

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

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

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

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

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

The post Take that, you Restless Dead! appeared first on That's What She Read.

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

The Girl at the Door by Veronica Raimo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Top Posts: 2020-02-09
2020-02-09 05:00 UTC

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  5. When you don’t like the characters in a character-driven story

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

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  5. Is it wrong I want to be like Mia?

This Blood Countess is too tame
2020-01-31 20:00 UTC by Michelle

Blood Countess by Lana Popović

It is no secret that I read what interests me in a huge swath of genres. I have my favorites, of course, but I try not to limit myself just because a publisher lists a book as women’s literature for example. There are some subjects for which I will move heaven and earth for the chance to read. Most of the time, my efforts are successful and the book is as glorious as I hope it will be. Other times, well, are not quite as positive reading experiences. Sadly, Blood Countess by Lana Popović is one of the latter examples.

I do have an unholy fascination with Vlad Dracul II and anyone or anything associated with him. Of course, Dracula is one of my all-time favorite novels. It stands to reason that I would want to read a novel about Elizabeth Bathory, the infamous Lady Dracula. I mean, who wouldn’t? So, to say I was really looking forward to reading Blood Countess would be an understatement.

The thing is, even if I tempered my expectations, Blood Countess would still disappoint. For one thing, Ms. Popović spends more than half the novel building up Anna’s and Elizabeth’s relationship. As a result, there is too little time devoted to the Countess’ malignant predilections. Plus, the ending literally comes out of nowhere. One minute, Anna and Elizabeth are the throes of a dangerous cat-and-mouse game, and the next minute, the cat rolls over and gives up everything. Anti-climatic doesn’t even begin to cover how inadequate the ending is.

I get that there is very little we do know about Elizabeth Bathory as there is very little hard evidence showing irrefutable proof of her killer ways. However, there are some aspects of her life we do know, one of them being the person who arrested and later imprisoned her. Except, Ms. Popović chose to use that person in a different capacity. When you could write almost anything about your story’s villain and have it be possible because no one really knows the truth, why would an author deliberately choose to use real-life people and change their allegiances? Days later, this still strikes me as an odd choice to make, especially because everything else about Bathory is open to you do with as you choose.

Finally, maybe it is the type of young adult novels I normally read, but Blood Countessis the rare occurrence where it was obvious I am not the author’s intended audience. Everything from the voice to the sentence structure to the word choices screams teenager. It matters not that Ms. Popović incorporates plenty of gore and violence into the story. In spite of that violence, it still reads like a tale for younger readers. In fact, you could almost liken it to a modern-day fable, one in which the heroine’s plight is a warning to readers about the dangers of lust and infatuation. It bears repeating that this is the last thing I was expecting.

To be fair, I was not expecting Blood Countess to be award-winning historical fiction. However, I was expecting a fairly grown-up story that contained a lot more suspense. I was also hoping to read a story that spent more time attempting to explain Bathory’s supposed penchant for violence. It was none of these. As such, I feel like I need to read a good vampire story now to ease my disappointment.

The post This Blood Countess is too tame appeared first on That's What She Read.

When you don’t like the characters in a character-driven story
2020-01-31 16:00 UTC by Michelle

How Quickly She Disappears by Raymond Fleischmann

I love books set in Alaska. Seriously, they always have a dark and dangerous vibe to them that I adore. Alaska becomes a completely separate character more than any other setting. Perhaps it is my unfamiliarity with the state or its apparent lack of civility, but I enjoy any story that occurs in Alaska simply because it occurs in Alaska.

Having said that, you would think I enjoyed How Quickly She Disappears. After all, the action occurs in Alaska. Unfortunately, no setting can help you enjoy or even sympathize with the characters. Even worse, Raymond Fleischmann’s thriller hinges on his characters. If you don’t feel for Elisabeth, then you are not going to enjoy the story.

Frankly, I did not like any of the characters. Alfred is creepy AF, which should be a good thing except is nothing but a distraction. Elisabeth’s husband is an asshole. Their daughter is a burgeoning teenager with all of the self-absorption and attitude. As for Elisabeth, she should be a tragic figure. After all, she lost her identical twin sister. Plus, she left behind a career and some semblance of independence to move to a remote fishing town in Alaska. Except I could not connect to her at all. I did not understand her motivation and lost patience with her eagerness to ignore her own common sense. The entire story does not hold up under rational thought, and I did not have the patience with any of the characters to set aside my rational side.

Also, even though the novel occurs at the beginning of World War II, there is an odd timeless quality to the story that disconcerted me. For someone who acts and thinks like a “proper” 40s housewife, there are times when her thoughts and actions do not fit into that pattern. At those moments, she acts more modern than she is. Those moments always jarred me and prevented me from finding her a sympathetic character. In fact, I started to fear that this was going to be another unreliable narrator story. I doubt this was Mr. Fleischmann’s intention.

I opened How Quickly She Disappears with low expectations, hoping for an intriguing lost person mystery that would entertain me at the very least. It did not entertain me so much as somewhat disgust me as I did not like any of the characters, an utter failure in a character-driven mystery. Even Alaska could not redeem this one for me.

The post When you don’t like the characters in a character-driven story appeared first on That's What She Read.

Entertaining in spite of its faults
2020-01-30 20:00 UTC by Michelle

Burn the Dark by S. A. Hunt

I have two issues with Burn the Dark that prevented me from wholeheartedly loving it. The first is that it feels like S. A. Hunt took the story and arbitrarily cut it in half so that there would be a sequel. An abrupt ending is one thing, but the lack of answers to any questions irks me. Even the first book in a series deserves some answers. As for the ending, it does not even qualify as a cliffhanger. To me, it feels as if the author and editors decided that this paragraph would be a good spot to end the book, and so they did. There is no natural denouement, nor is there a climax. From a structural perspective, the entire novel is one big introduction.

The other issue I have with Burn the Dark is the fact that I don’t know if I buy into witches as baddies. Hunt never fully explains why they are evil, other than some weird shit about them draining the positive life force of the area in which they live. Readers do not get an explanation of what powers and their limitations witches have. We don’t even get an explanation for what happened to Robin’s mother. We receive many inferences but no hard facts. Given that we find out one of Robin’s assumptions is incorrect, it stands to reason that we are missing key facts about her mother’s death. This worries me as this is the impetus for the entire story.

In spite of those issues, the story is interesting. Described as a Sabrina and Stranger Things mash-up, it has a buddy story feel to it with all the darkness of both series. There is a small group of young kids and a small group of adults who are the only ones who know who understands the threat the witches bring. The characters are fun even if superficial. The story moves quickly and is engaging enough to keep you reading. I don’t know if I enjoyed it enough to read the sequel, but this first book served the purpose of distraction and entertainment.

The post Entertaining in spite of its faults appeared first on That's What She Read.

The hardest review to write
2020-01-30 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

Guys, I don’t want to write this review. I like Adam Silvera, and I like his novels. Everyone Dies At the End was one of my favorite books for 2017. I want to pretend I read a different book, one that I adored, but I can’t. Guys, Infinity Son is not very good.

Let me start off by saying the premise is fantastic. I will forever love stories with characters who have special powers, and Mr. Silvera’s characters have loads of them. My problem is that Mr. Silvera tried to write a fantasy novel in the same way he has his contemporary stories. He shoots for organic world-building, letting the story inform readers of any history and other information you need to know to understand this world. However, it does not work. There are references to the idea that for some part of the population, they get their powers from the stars, but no one explains this. Then there are other powers you can get by stripping a magical beast of its powers, again with no explanation. Mr. Silvera never defines his magic, its limitations, its origins, and the two fighting factions.

Jay Kristoff recently had a lot to say on the topic of magic in fantasy story-telling, specifically as it relates to the Netflix series “The Witcher,” but his words are just as applicable in this case. His point was that authors need to explain and put limits on any magic or else it becomes a convenient plot device. This is where Mr. Silvera errs the most. He fails to provide any guidelines for the magic in his story. We must infer any rules based on what his characters experience. Even then, however, it feels as if his characters follow different rules nor do we truly understand how they work. Maybe they do follow the same rules, but I didn’t want to spend the time trying to figure it all out.

Similarly, organic world-building can work in fantasy novels, but it cannot be the only way an author creates his world for the reader. There is an entire historical context between the two factions that we never truly understand until the end. He brings characters into scenes for whom we never get an introduction. There are numerous references to a special constellation, I think, that enhances power, but no one tells us exactly what the big deal is. That should not happen. Readers must infer too much, which is a story-telling failure when it comes to fantasy novels in my opinion.

I really wanted to love Infinity Son. It has phoenixes and mentions basilisks. People can hover and do all sorts of cool things. But no one tells me why they can do these things. At no point in time does anyone explain what other magical creatures exist or why stars are so important or what the ef is actually happening and why, and it kills me. I wanted to love Infinity Son so much, but in one of the biggest disappointments of the new year, I could barely finish it.

The post The hardest review to write appeared first on That's What She Read.

Right book, wrong time
2020-01-29 20:00 UTC by Michelle

The Night Country by Melissa Albert

After falling in love with the spooky adultness of The Hazel Wood, I was really looking forward to immersing myself back into that world. A funny thing happened in the two years since I read that first book though. It turns out my memory of the details of Alice’s adventures are pretty much nonexistent. This should not be a big deal because most authors provide recaps of some sort. Sadly, Melissa Albert proves to be the exception to this unspoken rule of series.

The Night Country has no recap, no refresher, nothing to anchor yourself back into Alice’s world. Simply put, Ms. Albert expects readers to remember characters, their Hazel Wood stories, and their experiences. If you go into this novel not remembering everything that happened, you will be as lost as I was. After the first chapter, I frantically searched the Internet for as many synopses as I could find in an effort to remember more than the general gist of the story. I found enough to get me through the sequel, but I missed so much of the charm and excellent story-telling from the original. Because I felt like I was constantly one step behind in understanding, I could not relax and enjoy the story. I so very much wanted to enjoy the story too.

What I need to do is go back and read the original and then read The Night Country again. Only then will I feel comfortable in being able to assess the story itself. Right now, all I can say is that even though my mind was frantically trying to make all the connections Ms. Albert assumes I already know, I enjoyed what I read. It is just as dark and adult as the first book, which is one of its main draws. Similarly, Ms. Albert’s writing talent is undeniable. The last bit of my book announced the future release of a book of the very same fairy tales that make up so much of both stories. Given her ability to write fresh, unique stories, that is going to be a must-read for any Hazel Wood fan.

The post Right book, wrong time appeared first on That's What She Read.

Back in Buffyverse and I am here for it
2020-01-29 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Chosen by Kiersten White

Reading Chosen, being back in the Buffyverse, made me feel twenty years younger. It made me feel as if anything – and everything – is possible, the way I did before adulthood punched me in the face. Twenty-something Michelle shouted with joy every time a beloved character entered a scene. Hells, I practically sobbed with joy at every Buffy mention. The nostalgia factor is just as huge in this sequel as it was with the first book.

In this book, Kiersten White really proves that she understands what makes the Buffyverse so special. Yes, she did this to some extent in the first book, but her knowledge of the voice and tics of the story really shine in this second novel. She perfectly captures the tenor of the dialogue and the pacing of the story. She also excels at balancing the violence with the humor with the lessons learned. Plus, her characters are stars in their own right. Nina has the best sense of community. Yet, you totally understand Artemis’ desire to feel special. I may have started the Slayer series because of my love of all things Buffy, but I continue to read the series because it is everything I love about Buffy with a modern-day approach to inclusion, duty, and love.

The post Back in Buffyverse and I am here for it appeared first on That's What She Read.


 

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