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Weekly Top Posts: 2021-10-24
2021-10-24 04:00 UTC

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  3. Sunday Reflections – 17 October 2021
  4. Lynette Noni tortures readers once again
  5. Double Double Toil and Trouble

An ode to stories
2021-10-22 15:00 UTC by Michelle

The God of Lost Words by A. J. Hackwith

The God of Lost Words by A. J. Hackwith is a satisfying end to the very clever Hell’s Library series. This series is nothing but an ode to stories, but I believe Ms. Hackwith uses the series finale to celebrate not just stories but also all authors, characters, readers, listeners, and anyone or anything else that either tells a story or keeps those stories safe. She does this while bringing to a close the arcs of her quirky cast of characters, all of whom we have come to love.

As is the case in many a finale, The God of Lost Words becomes a bit of a feel-good story. After all, Claire and her friends just so happen to find the elements they need to defeat Hell’s machinations to take over the Library.  Readers get closure for their favorite characters at the same time as the main story comes to a happy ending. At the same time that all this closure is occurring, there is so much love for stories in all forms and so much adoration for the readers and listeners who absorb those stories that it feels like one big love fest.

The ending of The God of Lost Words may be happy and satisfying but it is also a bit bittersweet because not all of the characters get their happily ever after. The ends of each character’s arc all make sense and stay true to each individual’s personality and backstory. Still, there is one relationship in particular that I wish would have had a different ending, even though I recognize that is the romantic in me wishing something that is not meant to be.

As with the other two books in the series, for a story that occurs in Hell, The God of Lost Words is religion-free. This series finale doubles down on the idea that there are as many different afterlife locations as there are belief systems. What’s more, no one afterlife domain is better or worse than the other. Believe in fairies? There’s a place for you. Believe in Valhalla? There’s a place for you. I adore this approach to belief systems and religion in general and find it so much more palatable than anything that spouts strictly religious ideology.

From the very first, the Hell’s Library series surprised me with its charm, its mystery, and its characters. Muses and fairies, demons and angels, characters and humans, Ms. Hackwith uses her eclectic cast to not only tell an interesting story but also to express a love of stories in any form. The God of Lost Words ends this fabulous series with the same level of commitment to her quirky characters, to her intriguing and complicated story, and her ode to stories. I highly recommend this entire series for anyone who loves a good story.

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An eclectic selection of stories
2021-10-20 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Strange Weather by Joe Hill

Strange Weather by Joe Hill is a collection of four short stories that have no connections outside of the fact that Mr. Hill wrote them and there is a weather aspect to each of the stories. Sometimes, that aspect is a key part of the story, such as in “Rain,” and sometimes it is just background like in “Snapshot.” One of the stories is science fiction while another definitely falls into the horror category. At the same time, one story is both science fiction and horror, and one is a bit too realistic to fall into either category.

In each of the stories, Mr. Hill takes a single moment and makes it into something spooky with little character development and a whole lot of atmosphere and finely-tuned scenes that capture a character’s feelings with minimal verbiage. Not all four stories are great. I personally struggled with “Aloft” as I didn’t really get the point. While I think “Snapshot” is creepy, there again I wasn’t enamored with the story. Perhaps it is because I do have a personal history with a family member experiencing dementia, but as creepy as it was, I couldn’t take to the story. “Loaded” is as disturbing as it is heartbreaking, and “Rain” is truly horrifying.

Wil Wheaton, as always, was by far the best narrator of the bunch. The others were perfectly adequate. I don’t know if their performances hindered or helped the stories, but I had no issues with any of their narration.

I’m glad I was finally able to cross this one off my extremely long list of audiobooks. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this collection is an example of Mr. Hill’s best writing. I was hoping for something a little more terrifying, a little more otherworldly, and a lot less esoteric than what I heard.

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Lynette Noni tortures readers once again
2021-10-18 15:00 UTC by Michelle

The Gilded Cage

The Gilded Cage by Lynette Noni is the second in The Prison Healer trilogy. The first book ended with a shocking reveal that I never saw coming. Ms. Noni ups the ante with yet another reveal that left me reeling and wanting to throw my Kindle across the room. Honestly, I think Ms. Noni delights in torturing her readers with these reveals and then making us wait for answers.

Yet, The Gilded Cage is not all fireworks and roses. I had some issues with the main character this time around. Kiva spends a lot of time waffling between her various choices, and frankly, her inability to choose becomes tedious and repetitive. Even though readers only know as much as Kiva knows, the right answer is so damn obvious that her continued waffling becomes nothing but a distraction that bogs down the story.

Once she makes her choice, though, the story begins to soar into a heart-pounding trajectory with more twists and turns than a roller coaster. The story becomes much more than a revenge story as Kiva begins to realize that revenge may not be the answer and that family is not always what you want it to be. As she comes to some hard truths, your heart breaks over and over again for her as you realize that the story is not going in the direction you really want it to go.

Because of her ability to surprise you, Ms. Noni’s The Gilded Cage is highly addictive. Some of her reveals are not all that exciting or surprising, but they are fascinating all the same for what they expose about the characters. Except for a lot of angst-fueled scenes in which Kiva can’t make up her damn mind, the story itself is just as exciting and tense as the first book. Plus, with that ending, the series finale may just become my most-anticipated release of 2022.

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Sunday Reflections – 17 October 2021
2021-10-17 22:17 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

It is 66 degrees and sunny right now. We have windows open. The dogs are snoozing. The Packers beat the Bears…again. It’s a great Sunday!

All’s quiet on the Shannon front. Nothing totally unusual happened this week. Tallulah saw the vet for the first time in two years. Holly performed for her last football game. Holly and I cheered on the high school marching band at the state marching band competition yesterday. Jim didn’t travel for once. In fact, we were actually able to eat dinner with Holly once this week – a rare occurrence indeed. And we all continue to get caught up on overdue check-ups and ignored health issues. Fun times.

This week, Holly and I are going on a short, self-guided college tour. Jim is welcoming a new member to his staff.  I continue to hold down the fort, cooking, and cleaning, and doing my own thing. Jim and I are thoroughly enjoying this season’s GBBO, even if some of the accents are a little thicker and more annoying than normal. We both are cheering for Giuseppe and Jurgen because their stuff looks amazing. Jim and I also started Dopesick, which we find SO well-done and yet infuriating. Plus, you know, lots and lots of football because it is only the best sports season. 🙂

Since Holly is gone…again…Jim and I are looking at another quiet Sunday night as we prepare for the upcoming week. More football is on the agenda since Pittsburgh plays tonight. To me, it’s the best way to end the weekend. I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend and relaxing!

Tell me, what’s going on with you? Reading or watching anything good? Made any good recipes?

The post Sunday Reflections – 17 October 2021 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2021-10-17
2021-10-17 04:00 UTC

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  2. Sunday Reflections – 10 October 2021
  3. Novel Nuggets – September 2021 Releases
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  5. Jay Kristoff is King of the Vampire Tale

Double Double Toil and Trouble
2021-10-15 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Cackle by Rachel Harrison

Cackle by Rachel Harrison is not my usual reading fare, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Ms. Harrison’s story of female empowerment has some spooky moments, but really it is more about breaking societal expectations. After all, what is a witch other than a strong, independent female who doesn’t follow the rules set by others?

Annie starts out as a rather pathetic high school teacher struggling to adjust to life as a newly single woman after her long-time boyfriend decides they are better as friends than dating. For all that, she is equally relatable because of the fact that she always thought her path meant husband, children, and all the rest. Meanwhile, Sophie is quirky and charming even if she is a bit ominous. Watching Annie bloom under her tutelage is satisfying and inspiring.

You would think that a book that uses spiders as personal helpers would be a bit too much for this arachnophobe to handle, but I have to admit that by the end, I even found those damn spiders endearing. Cackle is what I would call a cozy witch story. It might take place in the dead of winter in an old and drafty mansion crawling with secrets, but the whole thing is just too damn cute with a great message about needing no one but yourself.

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Fabulous Fractured Fairy Tale
2021-10-14 15:00 UTC by Michelle

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

First thing’s first. I adore Alix E. Harrow’s novels. I find her writing is spellbinding. In A Spindle Splintered, she tackles the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale with her unique storytelling. This Sleeping Beauty’s curse is a lot less fantastic and a lot more mundane. Yet, with her feminist eye, Ms. Harrow creates a tale as old as time and yet refreshing in its newness. As it appears that her fractured fairy tales are going to be a series, I am really excited to see which fairy tale she tackles next!

The post Fabulous Fractured Fairy Tale appeared first on That's What She Read.

Novel Nuggets – Some Oldies But Goodies
2021-10-13 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Still getting caught up on reviews. These are all older books that I enjoyed and are fitting for the season.

Crooked Hearts by Lissa Evans

Crooked Hearts by Lissa Evans is an adorable story about found family that just happens to occur during the Blitz. Both funny and charming, I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with Vee, who is nothing but a walking disaster, which, I think, is part of her charm. While any story during which the Blitz, its damage, and the loss of life and property play a key part could be dark and upsetting, Ms. Evans finds a way to keep the entire story lighthearted. Perhaps it is the fact that Vee is unabashedly a scam artist, or that Noel is too smart for his own good and yet endearingly naive. Together, they make you smile.

Billy Summers by Stephen King

Billy Summers by Stephen King is another found family story in which the bad guy is not as bad as the really bad guys. Moral ambiguity abounds as Billy Summers, an assassin for hire, decides to hang up his hat after one last hit. Except someone tries to do it for him. What follows is an epic spy thriller/whodunit that is twisty and tragic and yet absolutely mesmerizing. Billy Summers is more in the vein of Mr. King’s newer novels than his older horror. Personally, I like his newer stuff more, and I particularly like the moral greyness of this latest. As with his other books, there really are no poor narrators for Stephen King’s books on audio. I feel Paul Sparks did an admirable job with his narration, as he was able to show Billy’s lack of remorse as well as his softer feelings.

Christine by Stephen King

Even those who are not Stephen King fans most likely know the story of Christine. The name is synonymous with a possessed evil car. Yet, like all of Stephen King’s books made into movies, the movie leaves out SO much. In this case, I believe the movie does the original story a disservice because it is so much more than a possessed car running rampant. There are nuances to it that help flesh out the story so that it makes sense. These details also add a layer of tragedy to everything, which also enhances the story.

Audio is most definitely the way to go if you want to read the book. Holter Graham is absolutely fabulous as narrator. The way he adapts his voice as Arnie changes is thoroughly chilling. While the story itself may not be all that scary, Mr. Graham’s narration ups the creep factor by ten.

The post Novel Nuggets – Some Oldies But Goodies appeared first on That's What She Read.

Jay Kristoff is King of the Vampire Tale
2021-10-12 15:00 UTC by Michelle

"Empire

I already knew that I was going to love Jay Kristoff’s take on vampires. After all, I adore anything Mr. Kristoff writes, and vampires have had my heart since I was eight years old. Still, Empire of the Vampire not just exceeded my already high expectations. It blew them out of the water. If you could call a book perfection, then Empire of the Vampire is indeed perfection.

Anyone who has ever read anything penned by Mr. Kristoff knows that no character is safe under his hands. He has made a name for himself for putting his characters and his readers through the deepest, darkest levels of hell. There is a reason he has a mug that says “Tears of My Readers” after all. In Empire of the Vampire, it feels like all of his previous novels were nothing but warmups to the levels of violence and torture he inflicts on Gabriel de Leon and his readers. I saw one reader joke about making a drinking game out of the number of times someone stabs Gabe, with Mr. Kristoff himself replying that it would result in alcohol poisoning. The amount of blood that all of the characters shed throughout the book is staggering, but there is a purpose to it all. The violence helps shape the world in which Gabe lives, detailing the dangers in ways that mere descriptions could never hope to achieve.

At 752 pages, Empire of the Vampire is not a fast read, but therein lies some of its magic. The world-building is spectacular simply because Mr. Kristoff takes the time to do so. Nothing he writes is without purpose though, so any exposition is necessary and totally worth it. Mr. Kristoff’s world is so complete it is essentially real.

For all the betrayal and violence, Empire of the Vampire is one of the saddest, most gut-wrenching books I have ever read. The tender moments in between all the violence are what truly capture the reader’s heart. There are moments that are breathtaking in the love they capture. Gabe describing Astrid’s smiles, their stolen moments. Gabe’s interactions with Dior. These are the moments of hope within this story of violence and death and are also the moments when we see Gabe’s true essence.

Long-time readers will know it takes a lot for me to cry while reading. Books often trigger many emotions within me, but such utter desolation that tears require is rarely one of those emotions. Yet, Empire of the Vampire made me sob for the last few chapters. I cried so hard that my husband came into the room to check on me. This is more proof of the perfection that is Empire of the Vampire.

The post Jay Kristoff is King of the Vampire Tale appeared first on That's What She Read.

Novel Nuggets – September 2021 Releases
2021-10-11 14:00 UTC by Michelle

When you have twenty-nine books to review, you cry uncle and resort to short reviews. Plus, after all this time, I’m not certain I remember enough about any of them to write a full-length review. We will be breaking these into five parts. This is part eight. Thankfully, the end is in sight. There may be some spoilers within these short reviews; readers, consider this your warning.

Into the Dying Light by Katy Rose Pool
I loved the first two books in the series, but Katy Rose Pool’s series finale, Into the Dying Light, left me feeling flat. The semblance of Hollywood ending struck the wrong chord with me. In general, the ending is too happy for a story during which the author had no problems killing off characters. While I am all for happily-ever-after endings, they have to fit the rest of the story. To me, this is one example where the ending does not fit.

Plus, I never could get behind the relationship of two of the main characters. To me, this relationship is nothing but desperation and hero-worship masked as love and affection. If the relationship were heteronormative, we would say how dangerous such a relationship is, so I struggle to accept it for a homosexual one.

Into the Dying Light strikes me as very anticlimactic given the overall story’s grandiosity. It is too neat and tidy for a story that was epic and messy and complex. One of the things I loved about the rest of the series is the fact that it was so complex and messy. It brings a level of realism to a story steeped in fantasy. The way Ms. Pool chose to end her series undoes all of that to give any character of importance a happy ending, and that seemingly ruined the story for me.

All These Bodies by Kendare Blake
While All These Bodies by Kendare Blake appears to be about vampires, the fact is that the story is so open-ended as to be about nothing more than a serial killer and his accomplices. In a break from her previous novels, Ms. Blake skates around any supernatural elements, neither confirming nor denying them. The truth, in this case, is up to the individual reader, and while I can appreciate it, I did not love it.

What I did love about All These Bodies is the idea that it is at heart a commentary on our legal system and how we profess innocence until proven guilty but rarely achieve that in the media. Even though the story occurs during the 1950s, the media is no different today, seeking scandal and assigning guilt before a case ever gets near a courtroom. In this instance, we see the damage such attention causes on those close to the case, regardless of what side the person is on. This aspect of the story, more than the whodunit, grabbed my sympathies and kept my interest.

While All These Bodies is different and has some great moments of terror and intrigue, I like my murder mysteries to have a few more concrete answers. I appreciate the fact that Ms. Blake lets the reader choose their own answers, and I particularly like that she includes a vampire as one of those answers. Yet, the ambiguity did not pique my interest. I like my vampires to be more in your face, and I want answers to my mysteries. There is a reason I avoided “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as a kid, and All These Bodies simply reiterates my ongoing dislike of such stories.

Under the Whispering Door by T. J. Klune
Under the Whispering Door, the latest by T. J. Klune is going to go down as one of my favorite books of 2021. I simply love Mr. Klune’s storytelling and his characters. He makes you feel so much for characters you shouldn’t like. Plus, he handles very sensitive topics with care.

In fact, in Under the Whispering Door, Mr. Klune takes a topic that is my number one cause of panic attacks and makes it so beautiful and so peaceful that I felt my body physically relax while reading. Mortality (and what happens after) is a subject with which all humans struggle. Yet, Mr. Klune’s idea of mortality and the afterlife is nothing but a gift.

The icing on the delightful cake that is Under the Whispering Door is his characters. Wallace, Hugo, Mei, Nelson, and Apollo are everything you want them to be. Quirky, endearing, and yet flawed in a way that makes them real, they capture your heart. At the same time, their relationships with each other make you feel hope for humanity, as they are a fantastic reminder of what healthy relationships can be.

Under the Whispering Door brings so much to the table. Not only is it funny and adorable, but it also provides you with moments of peace and clarity about a topic no one really wants to discuss. This is one book that will make my permanent library, the highest compliment I can give any book.

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber
I wasn’t certain what to expect with Stephanie Garber’s Once Upon a Broken Heart. I loved the Caraval series and was happy with how she ended that story. So I didn’t know if I wanted to read more about any of the characters. Still, what I got more than exceeded my expectations.

Steamy and twisty, Once Upon a Broken Heart is everything I loved about the Caraval world and more. This time, we get to learn more about everyone’s favorite heartbreaker, Jacks. His origin story is one of the more tragic within Caraval, so I was looking forward to learning more about him and see him interact with more than just the sisters.

In one of the only issues I have with the story, Once Upon a Broken Heart spends more focus on a new heroine than on Jacks. While Evangaline is a perfectly fine heroine, she is a little too nice. In fact, I received clear Cinderella vibes with her nasty stepmother, dead father, the questionable stepsister, and the many, many sacrifices Evangaline makes for her family. Personally, I would like to see Evangaline driven by more than a need for love, but I still enjoyed her story.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want more Jacks. If this is Jacks’ story, as Ms. Garber said on social media, then I want more of him. His scenes were so much fun. Mysterious, sexy, alluring – they were everything I hoped they would be. Because of that, I cannot wait to see how his story ends.

Steelstriker by Marie Lu
Steelstriker by Marie Lu is a great ending to a great duology. The entire series appeals to my not-so-inner goth girl, but the finale ups the ante in that regard. The first book was dark and full of danger, but this time around, we get a story full of trauma and PTSD which makes the story even darker. Plus, Ms. Lu takes the time to explore the idea of nature versus nurture, what motivates us, and how much our childhood influences our later actions.

In Steelstriker, Ms. Lu takes her characters to places I never expected, but I loved the unexpectedness of it all. While I can see it as a triggering story for some readers, personally, I thought it was fabulous and am eager to see what Ms. Lu writes next.

The post Novel Nuggets – September 2021 Releases appeared first on That's What She Read.

Sunday Reflections – 10 October 2021
2021-10-10 18:29 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Is anyone struggling to accept the fact that the end of 2021 is less than three months away? I’m not ready to start shopping for the holidays, but given the shipping delays and general shortages, it means I better shake off that particular malaise and start planning. How about you?

So, what’s all the news that’s fit to print?

Jim is busy. So very, very busy. When he’s not answering his never-ending email, he’s on a call. If he’s not on a call, he’s reviewing data. And that is when he is actually home. He’s been traveling on average two weeks out of every month. Thankfully, he loves his job, so it doesn’t feel like work to him.

Meanwhile, Holly is in the middle of her senior year, balancing poms, dance, work, college applications, student council, Spanish club, Mock Trial, and yearbook/newspaper. When I say she is never home, it is not hyperbole, but I’ve never seen her so happy. She admits to being tired, but she is enjoying every minute of it – watching her friends at their various activities, attending away games, and squeezing out every aspect of being a high school student she can. Her plans for next year are still nebulous. She has a list of eight or nine colleges and universities to which she wants to apply, and we still have at least two college visits we want to accomplish. The plan is to finish all this up before December so that we can enter the dance competition season without that hanging over her head. It is so exciting and yet so bittersweet – although I’m trying not to dwell on that.

As for me, I’m still putting in my four hours of work daily and am focusing on getting healthy. This past month has been all about much-delayed doctors’ visits. Not having insurance for six months and not being able to see a doctor before that means I have a lot of check-ups to attend, blood to draw, and health to improve. So far, I was able to up my SSRI dose since my OCD compulsions were getting worse and I was struggling with increased anxiety. I feel much better after three weeks, so now I can focus on my physical health. My most recent bloodwork was a bit of a wake-up call, so now I’m looking for a personal trainer and facing a lifetime of statins.

Ironically, just as I want to start getting more active, I also started physical therapy for chronic tendinosis in my elbow. I have had bouts of tendonitis off and on over the past year – too much time on my phone or holding my Kindle at an odd angle. Two months ago, I had a flare-up that got worse and worse no matter what I did. After not being able to do something as simple as clasp a bra or hold a pillow, I went to an orthopedic who showed me all the damage to my tendon through an ultrasound. The pain means no cross-stitch, limited typing, watching my posture while on my phone and reading, and minimizing baking or cooking. I’ve gotten very good at vacuuming with my opposite arm, but everything else remains an exercise in frustration and pain. Still, I have my daily stretches and bi-weekly PT, and I hope to see some sort of improvement soon.

Jim saw Connor for the first time in over a year two weeks ago, and they tried to hash out some of the issues that have been plaguing us for this past year. I don’t see Connor talking to me any time soon, as he still sees me as being too harsh on him with too high expectations. They left it that Connor was going to seek therapy to work on himself while going into no contact with us until he felt he was able to reach out to us without anxiety or anger. It is frustrating and very upsetting. When Jim told me, I had more than a few moments of sobbing and at least one day of wallowing. Still, as long as he seeks help outside of medication, I remain hopeful that he will come back to us one day. Now, I just hope that day is before Holly graduates. I don’t want him to miss that simply because he hasn’t worked through his issues with us.

That’s about it for now. I occupy myself reading, doing what little cleaning I can, what little cooking I can, and listening to audiobooks. The dogs and I are getting a lot of quality time together, as afternoon naps are common and always appreciated. As I start to feel more like myself, I do hope to start writing more often as well.

If anyone has any helpful hints for hiring a personal trainer, I would greatly appreciate it. Otherwise, I hope you all are healthy and happy and keeping busy in these insane times!

The post Sunday Reflections – 10 October 2021 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2021-10-10
2021-10-10 04:00 UTC

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