That's What She Read
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- Uncomfortable but important
The anticipation for The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab was so high this year that you might think there is no way it could possibly live up to those expectations. Then you read it. And you realize that it blows those expectations out of the water.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is the very definition of pathos because there is nothing particularly happy or joyful about Addie’s life. Yet, it matters not because her story is so imaginative, so thoughtful, so evocative that you read it with your heart in your throat. Emotions, like dread and sadness, threaten to overwhelm you after every page.
There is beauty in Addie’s world though. Strangely, you find beauty in her suffering, her resilience, and her longing. Even though you don’t think you want to continue her story after her first night in Paris — because it is just too much — you do because Addie haunts you, unlike any other character. You want her to find happiness in any form, and you want to ease that longing that is so visceral and difficult to read.
The ending of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is flawless. There is no other way the story could end. Even though it may not be the ending you want for Addie’s story, it is perfect and completely worth the heartache and tears that fall on Addie’s behalf.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is unlike any story you have previously read. It is also a story that is going to haunt your waking moments as well as your dreams. You will find yourself thinking of Addie’s curse at the strangest times, and you will notice all the ways in which you leave an imprint of yourself now that you know all the ways Addie could not. Without a doubt, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue will be the best book you read all year and maybe for years to come.
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I believe Mr. Ellison’s purpose in writing Invisible Man was simply education. Sadly, his first-person account of all the ways Black people face oppression is not as shocking as it could be because it simply reiterates that there is nothing simple or easy about the life of a Black person. Not only do they face hatred and oppression through racism, but they also face something similar through those Black persons who cater to white people. It is something we have been hearing from Black people for years, but reading it as a first-person story somehow drives it home more than any news article or interview.
Joe Morton takes a difficult story and brings it to life with his performance. He approaches the written word as a script, and it shows in his narration. Not only does he bring each unique character to life, but he also exudes each emotion our unnamed narrator feels just through the speed at which he speaks. It is an extraordinary performance that makes a story that is, frankly, not an enjoyable read worthwhile.
Invisible Man is not an easy read, but it is an important one because it provides a first-hand glimpse of racism and segregation. It matters not that the story occurs 100 years ago because the unnamed narrator’s experiences simply prove that nothing really changed in those 100 years. Through his story, we see the insidious nature of racism and how it can affect anyone. In that regard, Invisible Man is essential reading for those who want to become anti-racist.
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- Skyhunter is good but not wow good
The much-awaited sequel to Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves, The Silvered Serpents picks up several months after the events of the first novel with the group struggling to accept the loss of one of their own, thus setting the mood for the rest of the novel. No longer a cohesive unit, we see the damage the loss caused each person, and it isn’t pretty. The group dynamic was one of the best things about the first book, and to see that torn apart through grief makes the sequel a difficult one.
Even the personalities are different. Always focused, Séverin is now almost heartless in his efforts to achieve his goal. The others are equally broken. Their interactions are stiff and awkward. Gone are the days of banter and fluid camaraderie that defined them. They still work together, but there is an air of desperation to their efforts that hurts.
Ms. Chokshi uses this grief to good effect though, utilizing it as a tool to help them achieve the object of their mission. Along the way, there are some predictable moments, and there are some brilliant ones. The slow-burn romance still exists, but that relationship grows beyond those boundaries into something much more complex and, frankly, adult. Other characters break their shackles and really start to shine, which helps ease the pain they continue to suffer.
The Silvered Serpents is fundamentally a story about loss and its aftermath. Sure, the group must find another Babel fragment, but that is only part of the story. And what a story it is. I literally read it in one sitting and now must wait to find out how it all ends. With an ending that is as brilliant as it is cruel, the wait is going to be a long one.
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There is something about a story in which a library is one of the settings. It doesn’t matter if the library is a fantasy or really exists, the library establishes the tone of the story, one in which the love of possibility and knowledge, as well as a reverence for the written word, are key. A. J. Hackwith puts this auto-generated tone to good use in her devilishly good novel, The Library of the Unwritten.
There is so much to love within the pages of The Library of the Unwritten. Claire is a great heroine. Determined, unafraid, erudite, and exacting, she is exactly what you would expect of a librarian. Except, she is not all rule-following and sternness. As you discover more about her and her past, it makes those moments when she does break the rules more impactful.
I also love Ms. Hackwith’s clever approach to the afterlife. In her world, there is no such thing as one Hell and one Heaven. Rather, one goes to the afterlife of his or her religious belief, whether it is ancient Egypt, Buddhist, or Christian. This inclusion is satisfying on many levels, one of which is the fact it is a harmonious approach to the many belief systems that exist around the world. Instead of drawing a line in the proverbial sand that there is only one afterlife option, Ms. Hackwith includes them all to emphasize the point that anything is possible.
As much as I enjoyed The Library of the Unwritten, it is not without its issues. For one, there are times in which the plot becomes a little too convenient to be believable. The identity of one particular character, while interesting and a nice way to tie Claire’s past to her present, does not appear to be necessary to the overall story. There are other instances of situations resolving themselves a little too easily. In addition, some of the imagery is a little clunky.
Those issues are minor, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed The Library of the Unwritten. I am eager to see where Ms. Hackwith takes the story next. In particular, I hope we get to know more of Claire’s backstory. I would also love to learn how people become librarians in Hell and how Hell actually works since it appears a lot more complicated than one might think. One thing is for sure, the sequel should have more of the fantastic character interaction and Claire’s prickly personality to entertain us.
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A good fantasy novel for me is one that not only has strong characters with great chemistry, it also has a unique approach to the fantasy element. Whether the fantasy element is magic, creatures, or other special powers, the author’s approach must satisfy some semblance of possibility and offer something new about it. In The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi offers all this and more.
Any novel is only as good as its characters. In this, The Gilded Wolves succeeds. Séverin’s little troupe not only has a fantastic set of talents, but they have that important chemistry that makes their interactions so enjoyable. In particular, the ongoing simmer between Laila and Séverin is enough to keep the plot at smoldering levels. However, Ms. Chokshi does not stop there. She develops each member of the group to hold the plot together on his or her own. With a group with as varied a set of backgrounds and personalities, every point of view is a pleasure.
More importantly, I adore the magical element of the story. Ms. Chokshi’s use of biblical artifacts as the cornerstone for all magic in her world is unusual, unexpected, and very creative. In particular, the fact that magic has its origins in very real objects and is, in some aspect, very tangible, makes the entire story more plausible. Anything that gives me hope that magic actually exists is a winner in my mind.
The Gilded Wolves is everything I love about a fantasy story, but it doesn’t stop there. With its slow-burning romance, scientific approach to magic, and family drama, there is enough within its pages to entice a variety of readers. Fin-de-siècle Paris and The Gilded Wolves is escapist fiction at its finest.
The post The Gilded Wolves is glorious appeared first on That's What She Read.
Stories that are good but not great make for some of the most difficult reviews to write, don’t you think? I always make this determination by my eagerness to write the review. If I love or hate a book, I can knock out the review of it within a few minutes. When I find a book to be okay, I avoid writing the review because I know it is going to be difficult to find the right words. This is my dilemma with Skyhunter by Marie Lu.
Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of things to like about Skyhunter. Talin is a fierce character, and Ms. Lu really allows her readers to get to know her in detail. She makes mistakes, hesitates when she should attack, and allows her feelings to dictate her decisions. In other words, Ms. Lu makes her a vulnerable teenage girl with more responsibility that is healthy.
At the same time, Ms. Lu once again succeeds in balancing the necessary world-building with maintaining intense plot pacing. We learn about Mara, Karensa, and the Strikers through Talin’s memories, stories told to her, and through old-fashioned observation of current events. Through it all, at no point does the story falter. In fact, it remains action-packed from beginning to end with the right number of respite points for readers and characters to recover and prepare for the next battle.
Plus, Skyhunter may list as young adult fiction, but it is very much on the darker side of that spectrum. The Strikers do everything possible to kill their foes, and Ms. Lu does not hesitate to show that violence. In the hands of Talin and her friends, anything can become a weapon, and they shed a lot of blood to prove that point. Personally, I love a good, dark, and gory story, so I count this as a positive.
The thing is as much as I like Talin, my heart lies with Red. To me, he is a fascinating character with the potential for a backstory even more intriguing and heartbreaking than Talin. I really want to know what he thinks and feels. While Ms. Lu gives us enough of his story to understand his actions, I feel there are more depths she could plumb there. I would love the sequel to be from his point of view.
Skyhunter is not a bad novel. I did enjoy it when I read it, even if very little within the plot is much of a surprise. The thing is, I never felt that reader’s rush when I finished it, the kind that makes you feel a little giddy as you agonize over the fact you have to wait to read more of the story, the kind that makes it next to impossible to pick up another book right away. I will read the sequel when it is available, but I guarantee that I will have to do some research to remember the plot of Skyhunter because the details fade more every day. All of these bits, when put together, are indicators of a novel that may be good but not outstanding, a category in which Skyhunter firmly falls.
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It’s been another week, hasn’t it? Sadly, I feel that Tr*mp is only going to double-down on his insane antics as we draw closer to election day, especially if the polls continue to show he is not in the lead. Plus, Bill Maher and John Oliver, as well as other pundits, are sharing the ways in which he could hijack the election even if the numbers show a landslide victory for Biden/Harris. We are talking unprecedented levels of power-grabbing by the GOP, and that is saying something considering the Barrett nomination. In other words, buckle up, folks. The end is not even close, and who knows what we will have to do to get him out of the White House.
In happier news, the condo is looking good. We have a driveway. All of the trim is complete, as is the painting. We are missing only three of the doors; all the rest are complete with handles. We have one vanity top installed in the bathroom with the other two waiting for installation. The best news is that all of our light fixtures were installed last week. I may have done a little happy dance when I saw them. When we next see the house, we should have our flooring and our sprinkler system, if not our lawn, and fully completed landscaping.
After that, we wait. The builder initially thought he would be done on October 30th, which means, the bank would not be able to finish their appraisal and closing documentation until after that. Our current closing date is now November 12th. The builders are doing everything possible to finish before that date, not only to get us into the house but also so that they can get their money. However, they can’t finish without countertops, and the countertops could take as long as three weeks or more to complete. EVERYTHING hinges on how fast the company can complete the kitchen counters. He has already had one week for cutting and prepping. I am trying not to calendar-watch, but I don’t think I was this aware of the passing days since my pregnancies.
Holly remains in quarantine until Tuesday. On Wednesday, she gets to take the PSAT. Nothing says freedom like standardized tests. She is being a trooper about the whole thing, even though I know she is itching to be able to see her friends in person again, even with masks and social distancing. In a way, though, it is a good experience, and she realizes just how serious the situation is, especially as Wisconsin becomes a huge virus hotspot. Personally, I can’t wait to give her a big hug!
Take care of yourselves, friends! The news is insane and getting worse. Who knows what the GOP has up their sleeves for the next month and after the election. It will be up to all of us to remain vigilant, to call out abuses of power, and to stand up to overt obstruction of justice. If you have not done so, vote. Volunteer to become a poll worker. Volunteer to help drive people to the polling places. Get involved so that the GOP and Tr*mpers don’t hijack this election with false claims of voter fraud.
The post Sunday Reflections – 11 October 2020 – Quarantine Update 10 appeared first on That's What She Read.
- Sunday Reflections – 4 October 2020 – Quarantine Update 9
Locked-door mysteries are tricky. Done well, they are thrilling reads because you can rarely solve the mystery before the author reveals the answer. Done poorly, they are predictable and painful. I jumped at the change to read Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp because I enjoyed another novel of hers and hoped that she would write a good locked-door mystery. It turns out she did not, and the experience was a lot more trying than I expected.
Even If We Break starts well. Ms. Nijkamp works to establish an appropriate setting – remote, mysterious, a grand house that comes with its own ghost story – as well as to introduce the cast of characters. She does well with the setting and with the characters. Like any good locked-door mystery, the characters have diverse backgrounds, but their differences do not end there. Ms. Nijkamp adds more diversity in the form of gender identification and sexual preference to make this group as unalike as possible. Sadly, these differences are what weaken the story.
I say this not because the diverse traits of the characters are bad. In fact, that was my favorite aspect of the story. I say this because their differences weaken the premise, which then limits the believability of certain plot points, making the riddle way too easy to solve. The idea that a group of high school students who are no longer friends would agree to get together for a weekend, not to mend fences but to play the game one last time, is one I struggled to accept. It didn’t matter if there was a murder or not, you knew upon a clear explanation of the weekend’s agenda that nothing good could come of it. High school kids rarely make up with former friends so soon after their rifts. It takes the clarity and wisdom of age for that to happen, something graduating seniors still do not have.
Plus, Ms. Nijkamp really hammers this idea of friends growing apart but coming back together in the spirit of forgiveness and solidarity. If half of the plot is about the murder that occurs, the other half is about friendship and what a person’s responsibility is to that friendship when things go sour. It is an odd dichotomy, one I found distracting as well as annoying. Even at the height of the suspense, as the survivors were about to find out who the murderer is, Ms. Nijkamp manages to squeeze in a few paragraphs about friendship. Not exactly what I wanted to read about at that point in the story!
I mentioned the predictability, but I have to stress just how predictable it was. I knew who the murderer was upon the discovery of the first crime, and there were four more to go after that. The mystery aspect of the story reads like a mystery checklist. You can almost see Ms. Nijkamp going down the list to check off each element as she adds it. There is no real attempt to confuse readers; she adds one or two red herrings, but they were obvious as obvious to me as if she had used red font to identify them as such. Again, this is not what you want when reading a mystery.
I had high hopes for Even If We Break. The publisher’s synopsis is fabulous. The problem is that it makes it sound a lot more exciting than it really is. I never felt any of the characters were in danger. In truth, I never really felt for any of the characters in general. I welcome the diversity among them, but I believe Ms. Nijkamp never bothered to develop her characters beyond their differences. Add to that heavy-handed messaging and a mystery that really is not a mystery, and the whole experience is a disappointment.
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We are officially homeless! We signed our portion of the closing paperwork on Monday. The movers came on Tuesday to cart our stuff from one house to the other; the contractors are graciously allowing us to store everything in the various storage areas and garage of our new house. The buyers signed the last of the paperwork on Wednesday, and we rolled out of Wisconsin after picking up the check.
Jim and I, along with the dogs, invaded my parents’ home and will be living here until we can close on the condo. At the same time, Holly is living with her best friend’s mother. I know that sounds weird but it is a joint custody situation, and Holly loves her best friend’s mom but feels less comfortable around her best friend’s dad. So, while her friend alternates households every week, Holly will stay put and enjoy her life as an adopted daughter.
The benefits to these arrangements were to allow Holly to continue living as normal a life as possible, while Jim and I bore the brunt of traveling the 102 miles each way for appointments and other parts of our life. Like all of our plans lately, things are not quite going as we hoped, as Holly found out her temporary family had to self-quarantine for fourteen days because of the youngest daughter’s direct exposure to her daycare teacher testing positive for COVID.
Even worse, we found out less than twenty-four hours before Holly was set to take the stage in the postponed dance recital from June. More than one person went to bed on Friday night upset at Jim and me for preventing her from dancing, as I got the impression that not every parent would have made the same call we did. However, we know we were not just protecting Holly but all 40+ dancers and the 150 audience members. If this is what it takes to stop having to wear a mask every time we go somewhere, then it is a small price to pay.
So far, the family shows no symptoms of the virus. Holly is switching to the fully virtual schedule for the next two weeks until everyone is clear to leave the house again. She will also attend her dance classes virtually and will have to avoid at least one weekend of dance rehearsals. She should be free to leave on the very same day she takes the PSAT. Nothing says welcome back to the world like having to sit for a standardized test!
We did see Holly yesterday at the condo, wherein she stayed away from us and we all wore masks. It is by no means ideal. I want to give my girl a hug like there’s no tomorrow, but that will have to wait. We brought Piper with us, so she was able to give some love to her favorite dog and vice versa. Most importantly, she understands our decision and respects it, even while recognizing what a terrible situation it is.
Speaking of the condo, we now have cabinets! Our last delay is the kitchen countertops, which the contractor could not order until the cabinets arrived and were installed. They were installed as of Saturday, but they could take as long as three weeks to cut and prepare. So far, no one is discussing delaying the closing beyond October 30th, so please, send prayers, keep your fingers crossed, do magic. Whatever it takes to make the countertop people hurry.
With the cabinets, the house is progressing nicely. There is one small wall area to finish painting. Most of the trim and doors are in place. The vanity tops for the two upstairs bathrooms are at the house waiting for installation. The bathroom tile is complete. On the outside, we have half of a poured driveway, all of the trees planted and most of the landscaping done. They should be adding the sprinkler system and putting down the sod once the driveway is done. On the inside, now that the cabinets are in, they should be starting to lay the flooring. And they still have to add the backsplash for the kitchen. It doesn’t feel like there is a lot to do, but I can see why the contractor needs the rest of the month.
Our plan is to spend one day each weekend in the condo working on the little projects we committed to completing. Unfortunately, because our household goods ended up spilling out of the storage areas and into the unfinished living areas, and because they literally shoved boxes into every nook and cranny they could find, hunting down the tools we need to complete those projects may prove to be impossible. Still, it gives us a good reason to come up and see Holly every week. And maybe, our contractor will allow us the opportunity to start unpacking or at least moving the furniture out of storage sooner rather than later.
So, how are you? Doing anything fun? Enjoying the fall weather? Decorating your house because you can? Please share. It is killing me that I have no house for my favorite season of the year. I need to live vicariously through everyone else!
The post Sunday Reflections – 4 October 2020 – Quarantine Update 9 appeared first on That's What She Read.
- Susanna Clarke sure knows how to do atmospheric
I was all set to mark To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini as a DNF after the first chapter. There is so much in the first quarter of the novel which reads like an extension of The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. This includes terminology, anti-Earth sentiment, newly-found alien artifacts, the blending of alien and human biology, and consequences of that blending that impact the entire known universe.
A funny thing happened as I progressed to that twenty-five percent marker whereupon I would make my final decision. I started to care about the main character. A lot. I wanted to know more about what she was going to do with her Soft Blade issue. Moreover, I couldn’t tear myself away from the idea of an honest-to-goodness alien invasion and universe-wide war. And so a DNF turned into an 880-page devour.
Characters are not the heart of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. In fact, other than Kira, the rest of the cast consists of nothing but space opera archetypes with no character development. And there is nothing wrong with this. The near-constant action counteracts the lack of strong characters.
One of the best things about space operas, outside of the story, is how each author approaches aliens. More importantly, how each author approaches humanity’s reaction to concrete proof of aliens. In To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, that reaction is intriguing. The “shoot first, ask questions later” human traits takes a backseat to the need for adequate study and determination of threat level. In fact, it is the aliens who are the aggressors. Personally, I think this is a rather optimistic view of humanity, but it makes for interesting reading.
I thoroughly enjoyed To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. It has everything I love about such stories, including so much space travel that it allows you to finally grasp the vastness of space. I liked it so much that I would love to see more of Kira’s story. Thankfully, Mr. Paolini left the ending open for more should he so choose.
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