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Novel Nuggets – Time for an Audiobook Break
2021-12-01 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

I picked up Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman in a desire to see how different the original book is from the movie, which I do love despite its use of numerous chick flick tropes. Plus, the first book in the series did not impress me, and I am 50/50 on liking Ms. Hoffman’s novels. So, with some free credits to spare, I decided to give it a chance.

It was, more or less, what I expected. The movie does deviate from the book, as expected, but I don’t think the changes make the movie better or worse than the novel. I enjoyed learning more about Sally’s girls and appreciated the chance to see them grow into their characters. The move to New York and away from the aunts surprised me, but I appreciate what it does for the story. The book also downplays the family curse, another surprise. There are a few more changes, all of which make the book more credible. While the ending of the book is not quite as spectacular as the one in the movie, I appreciate it for the quiet work of magicks it displays.

Christina Moore makes for a good narrator. Her voice is pleasant and clear, her cadence easy. She doesn’t do much to differentiate between characters, but that didn’t bother me at all. I found the entire listening experience smooth and easy, and it made the time fly.

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman is one I jumped at the chance to listen to partly because it is Neil Gaiman and partly because of the full cast. I am not a fan of graphic novels, so I knew this would be the only way I would get to experience Mr. Gaiman’s Sandman series. I don’t regret the decision, even though I will admit that I did not enjoy it as much as I hoped I would.

The cast is amazing. Kat Dennings as Death is spectacular. She portrays A level of compassion that you do not expect in any personification of Death. James McAvoy has a great voice, but I found it to be a bit too deep for my ears. I struggled to understand his dialogue without turning up the volume each time he spoke. The rest of the cast is just as amazing, even if I think they didn’t utilize Michael Sheen to his fullest.

My problem with The Sandman is that I am not a fan of the individual chapters or acts. Just as I was getting into the storyline, the act would end. The next act began with a different narrator, a different setting, or even a different storyline. I much prefer my stories to have more depth to them and to follow a smoother path.

However, if you like short stories or even graphic novels, then I believe this audiobook production works quite well. The cast makes it easy to discern the characters, and the acts follow the graphic novel episodes. For me, had this been one long novel, I would enjoy it more than I did.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is a stunning story of survival. that had me shaking my head in disbelief. What Louis Zamperini experienced still boggles my mind. It isn’t just the Olympics and meeting Hitler. Then there is the airplane crash and survival across the Pacific Ocean. As if that isn’t enough, then there is what he faces at the end of his shipwreck ordeal. It is insane.

I love Edward Hermann (RIP), and I think his narration is excellent. His voice is so suave and smooth. that I could listen to it forever. Beyond that, he excels at the explanatory portions of the story, describing details of the war or planes in a way that feels informative and new even if it is information you already knew. Plus, I think Mr. Hermann has the same sense of admiration and awe for Zamperini that you have while hearing about Louis’ ordeal. It always helps to know that others are experiencing the same feelings you are.

I know I am probably the last person to get around to reading/listening to Unbroken, but if I’m not, then I cannot recommend this highly enough. Fascinating, intense, and awe-inspiring, it reads like a fiction novel even though it is a true story. Ms. Hillenbrand does an excellent job of explaining events in a way that is never tedious as she finds that perfect balance between educating and moving the narrative forward. The thing is, even without Ms. Hillenbrand’s excellent research, Louis Zamperini’s story is so remarkable that I would recommend learning more about him no matter what.

The post Novel Nuggets – Time for an Audiobook Break appeared first on That's What She Read.

Definitely not Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
2021-11-30 23:00 UTC by Michelle

You'll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus

You’ll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus makes for an interesting twist on the day-off adventure, a la Ferris Bueller. Instead of having fun playing hooky from school, Ms. McManus’ story has our three friends stumble upon a murder and decide they have to be the ones to solve it. Except to say they are friends is a stretch. They are more like former friends, which only adds to the stressors of the day.

Thankfully, Ms. McManus does not attempt to stretch our imaginations by trying to convince us that three high school students are more competent than detectives. Instead, Ivy, Mateo, and Cal only uncover clues through dumb luck and wild guesses. In truth, their missteps are almost comedic. The fact that they are even close to solving the murder mystery is a testament to their collective stubbornness and stunning ability to stumble upon the puzzle pieces rather than their sleuthing skills.

For all their bumbling, I still found You’ll Be the Death of Me to be quite clever. In addition, there is also a real poignancy to the story as the continued investigations force the three former friends to confront the circumstances which broke apart their friendship. Even better, Ms. McManus plays the resolution close to her chest so that the ending is as much a surprise for you as it is for our three amateur detectives, which is exactly what you want in a murder mystery. In the end, You’ll Be the Death of Me is another strong offering from Ms. McManus, who is rapidly making a name for herself in the young adult thriller world.

The post Definitely not Ferris Bueller’s Day Off appeared first on That's What She Read.

I want to live in Nora Roberts’ Talamh
2021-11-30 16:00 UTC by Michelle

The Becoming by Nora Roberts

I make it no secret that I love Nora Roberts’ books. I particularly love her fantasy novels. Perhaps it is because she is amazing at world-building. Maybe it is because her fantasy worlds tend to have an Irish basis. It could be the fantasy elements are everything I love about fantasy. The truth probably lies with all three ideas. What I do know for certain is that while I might forget the plot details of her suspense and romance novels, I never forget the details of her fantasy series, of which The Becoming is the second book in her Dragon Heart trilogy.

What makes this particular series, especially The Becoming, so good is not necessarily the magic or even the fantasy realm full of faeries, mermaids, and dragons. The story shines because of the relationships among the characters. Ms. Roberts always excels at creating bonds of friendship that are better than any familial ones. This time, I believe she outdoes herself in Marco and Breen’s friendship. Their dynamic is everything you could ever want in a best friend. The selflessness, the lack of complexity, the unconditional love each has towards the other – we should be so lucky to find ourselves in one relationship even half as pure as the one between Marco and Breen.

On top of that, we have Breen’s relationship with her grandmother and new friends. Found family in every sense, there is something inspirational and hopeful about each of her new relationships. It is as if the idea of friendship does not have to be complex or fraught with hidden jealousies. It is a lesson I wish more of us would learn, as I think social media makes us forget just what it means to be a friend sometimes.

As if the charm of Marco and Breen, the lushness of Talamh, dragons, mermaids, and magicks aren’t enough, we also get the growing relationship between Keegan and Breen in this second novel. While we all know how this part of the story will end, I love how Ms. Roberts doesn’t rush their relationship. With the leadership demands of one and others’ expectations of the other, the fact that they are taking their time and not rushing to define anything tells us more about each of their characters than anything Ms. Roberts could otherwise write. The scenes in which they cave to their mutual attractions are HOT, but I relish those scenes outside of the bedroom when they are just people with the weight of the world on their shoulders trying to do right by their people.

Honestly, Ms. Roberts could publish a grocery list, and I would buy it. I love her writing style that much. Yet, when I read stories like The Becoming, I feel justification for feeling the way I do about her books. In particular, The Becoming got me out of a depressive episode and reminded me that while we might not have dragons or faeries, there still is magic in the world if you look for it. And this is only the second book of the series!

The post I want to live in Nora Roberts’ Talamh appeared first on That's What She Read.

The Bone Shard Emperor proves The Drowning Empire is a series you must read
2021-11-29 23:30 UTC by Michelle

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

Book two of The Drowning Empire series, The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart is every bit as epic in scope and gory in detail as the first book. Lin is now emperor, committed to improving the lives of her people and solving the issues created by her father’s reign. At the same time, she discovers just how difficult it is to rule anything. After all, we can’t expect her to have an easy time of it.

Moreso than in the first book, The Bone Shard Emperor starts to dive deep into the issues facing Lin and all of the characters. Also, we start to see the characters as more multi-dimensional, with all of the nuances and foibles that make them realistic and personable. While the first book is most definitely an introduction to the Empire and the large cast of characters, this second book focuses on action and consequence, as it drives the series forward towards its conclusion.

The Drowning Empire is not a series I see getting a lot of love. At the same time, I love everything about it. I love the twists and turns of the plot, which never fail to surprise or shock me. In particular, I love the moral ambiguity of all of the characters and the fact that you never really know who is going to side with whom. The scope of the story is magnificent. Ms. Stewart makes it work so well. It is only until we start piecing together all of the hints and bits of information to start picturing the end game where you realize just how ambitious the scope of the novel truly is.

The Bone Shard Emperor and its predecessor, The Bone Shard Daughter, deserve all the attention. If you love epic fantasy novels involving girl power, Sapphic relationships, and magic, you must add these two novels to your list of books to read. For me, given the information we receive at the end of the novel, I will be eagerly anticipating the finale to see how Ms. Stewart brings it all together and would love to discuss the first two novels with you while we wait!

The post The Bone Shard Emperor proves The Drowning Empire is a series you must read appeared first on That's What She Read.

A spectacular conclusion to the story of Squad 312
2021-11-29 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Aurora's End by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora’s End picks up after that mother of all cliffhangers with which Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff left us at the end of book two of The Aurora Cycle. You would think this means relief or, at the very least, a few answers. In true Kaufman/Kristoff fashion, however, the story takes off into three widely varying directions that play with your understanding of time and space with twists that bend the mind and mess with your expectations. Resolutions eventually abound but not without a lot of suspense, heartbreak, and outstanding action.

As one of the three books I most anticipated releasing this year, Aurora’s End in no way disappoints. Through the end, the authors remain true to the squad’s characters as they first presented them in book one, while making room for the growth each squad member needs to achieve for their mission to succeed. This character growth occurs organically, never forced or untrue to the characters.

I am sad to leave Squad 312 because each of them is so damn fabulous. Picking one character to be your favorite is like picking a favorite child or the best chocolate in a chocolate factory. Thankfully, their arcs as well the main story arc end in such a satisfying manner that I closed the book knowing that Ms. Kaufman and Mr. Kristoff provided gratifying endings for all and sufficiently justified endings for those who might have run afoul of their pen.

The finale is every bit as exciting and heartbreaking as I expected it to be. At the same time, the lessons learned by Aurora and the rest of the squad, as well as the final lesson Aurora learns about the enemy, are perfection. As we discovered in the first two books, some of those lessons are not easy ones to learn. However, Aurora’s End ends with notes of poignancy, hope, and love, emotions I was not expecting given everything the squad overcomes. Yet, I can think of no better ending to such an emotional roller coaster of a series. Now, we wait to see what Ms. Kaufman and Mr. Kristoff decide to co-write next.

The post A spectacular conclusion to the story of Squad 312 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Sunday Reflections – 28 November 2021
2021-11-28 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

And just like that, we enter the last month of the year. I swear 2021 crawled until October. Since then, however, time is passing in a blur.

Thanks to the shipping delays, I wisely made almost all of my holiday purchases earlier than normal and start December feeling pretty good knowing I am waiting on the delivery of two more gifts and that’s it. Even though I am more prepared than normal, I am not necessarily feeling the holiday spirit quite yet, but I’m sure that will change once I switch out my holiday decor this week. I’m sure I will come up with a list of cookies and other goodies to make as we get closer to the holidays.

Part of what has made this last quarter fly past is the fact that I have been busier than normal. I finished up the last of my overdue doctor’s appointments. My bloodwork was…not good, and so I started meeting with a personal trainer twice a week. I continue with physical therapy for my recurring tendonitis. As if that isn’t enough, I also started seeing a therapist to work on my depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. With all that, my days are quite full these days.

Holly submitted all of her college applications. Eight schools across the nation and one overseas. She has one favorite school but most likely cannot afford it. Where she will go next fall will depend on scholarships, financial aid packages, and who accepts her. So now we wait.

I have been reading so much that I am back up to being behind in my reviewing by nineteen books. The thing is that I have thoroughly enjoyed the reading and not reviewing. Maybe it’s because my laptop is so old that it literally cannot keep a charge. Maybe it is because I no longer have an office and so am forced to work on my laptop at the kitchen table. I don’t know what it is, but I have actually contemplated stopping this whole blogging thing. I don’t necessarily miss it when I am not writing. I do worry that if I give up blogging, I will also give up other forms of social media and become an even worse recluse. I just don’t know. Hopefully, I will get a desk in the guest bedroom and a new laptop or tablet and can see if I feel differently after that.

In the meantime, I have to figure out what to do with those outstanding reviews. I suspect it will mean a flurry of short reviews again. We shall see.

I hope everyone is cozy and comfortable this Sunday!

The post Sunday Reflections – 28 November 2021 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2021-11-28
2021-11-28 05:00 UTC

  2. Sunday Reflections – 31 October 2021
  3. Lynette Noni tortures readers once again
  4. Novel Nuggets – Some Oldies But Goodies
  5. Novel Nuggets – Overdue Reviews – Summer 2021 Part 9

Weekly Top Posts: 2021-11-21
2021-11-21 05:00 UTC

  2. Lynette Noni tortures readers once again
  3. Sunday Reflections – 31 October 2021
  4. Novel Nuggets – Some Oldies But Goodies
  5. Novel Nuggets – Overdue Reviews – Summer 2021 Part 9

Weekly Top Posts: 2021-11-14
2021-11-14 05:00 UTC

  2. Sunday Reflections – 31 October 2021
  3. Novel Nuggets – Some Oldies But Goodies
  4. Lynette Noni tortures readers once again
  5. Novel Nuggets – Overdue Reviews – Summer 2021 Part 9

Weekly Top Posts: 2021-11-07
2021-11-07 04:00 UTC

  2. Sunday Reflections – 31 October 2021
  3. Lynette Noni tortures readers once again
  4. Novel Nuggets – Some Oldies But Goodies

Sunday Reflections – 31 October 2021
2021-10-31 20:04 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Happy Halloween!

Ours is going to be a quiet one today. Jim left this morning for a business trip, while Holly works tonight. Currently, she is participating in a trick-or-treat event sponsored by the high school. The dogs and I are settling in for a peaceful afternoon. Because trying to keep two dogs from running outside every time the door is open is more than I can handle, I won’t be handing out candy. Instead, I’ll be lighting some candles in lieu of a bonfire and reflecting on the end of the year and family who are gone.

Holly spent this week finishing and submitting five different college applications. There are two more schools to which she wants to apply, but their deadlines are later in November. Don’t ask me where she wants to go. Her schools are all across the country, and she doesn’t have her heart set on any of them. She is looking more at the programs they offer and even they vary from school to school. Where she ends up deciding to go will come down to who accepts her and how much in scholarships and financial aid she receives. It’s anyone’s guess right now!

The last two weeks are a bit of a blur. Holly and I toured a university last week. It rained the entire time, but it was still nice to get away for a day. Lots of appointments – physical therapy, doctors’ appointments, hair, nails. Jim has, of course, been working seemingly nonstop when he’s not going for a run, walking the dogs with our neighbor, or washing the cars. Based on the 17 books I finished this month, I spent most of my free time reading since I still cannot work on my cross-stitch thanks to my shitty elbow. I expect November will be more of the same.

Wishes to all for a blessed All Hallow’s Eve and Samhain!

The post Sunday Reflections – 31 October 2021 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2021-10-31
2021-10-31 04:00 UTC

  3. Lynette Noni tortures readers once again
  4. Novel Nuggets – Some Oldies But Goodies
  5. An eclectic selection of stories

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

  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.

The post An ode to stories appeared first on That's What She Read.

A whole new look at Rumplestiltskin
2021-10-21 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Gilded by Marissa Meyer

Gilded by Marissa Meyer is a fantastic reimagining of the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale. Honestly, for the longest time, I avoided retellings because I was afraid I wouldn’t like them as much as the originals. I am so glad I changed my mind about that because if I hadn’t, I would have missed this amazing story.

Serilda is such a fabulous character. She pretends to be tough and independent to those in her village, to her father, and even to herself, but there is no hiding her vulnerability from the reader. I especially appreciate the fact that while she is a sweetheart who cares about all living things, she is not as saccharine as a Disney character. She has grit and is not too afraid to fend for herself when necessary. Serilda is a character who does not shy away from getting her hands dirty, especially when doing so means protecting others.

In many ways, Gild is the male version of Serilda. He is just as strong and yet just as vulnerable as she is, which makes him the perfect companion for her. Just like her, Gild cares about others and finds ways to show that as often as possible. At the same time, he is willing to sacrifice himself if it means saving someone else from pain. With characteristics like these, among others, it is no wonder why Gild and Serilda find themselves attracted to each other, which is such a lovely addition to the story.

At the same time, the Erlking is the perfect amount of indifference. Serilda and the rest of her world call him evil, but to me, it is not that he is evil. To me, the Erlking is simply indifferent to anyone or anything other than his wants and needs. He likes violence, and so he tends to be violent towards those he meets. He likes to hunt, and therefore he hunts every full moon. Like most hunters, he searches for the rarest trophy, and he keeps those trophies for his pleasure. For someone like Serilda, who cares with her whole heart and maybe a bit too much, he is the perfect foil.

The story itself follows the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale with necessary changes to fit Serilda’s world. Yes, she has to spin straw into gold, and yes, a mysterious person, Gild, helps her for a price. The king who imprisons Serilda just happens to be the Erlking, the master of the wild hunt, and a being known for his lack of compassion or generosity. Serilda’s world is Germanic, with names and other words that are similar to German while not being genuine German words. However, that is where the similarities end, as Ms. Meyer creates a much wider world with fully fleshed characters. The story is not so much about this poor girl who finds herself in an impossible situation, beholden to a mysterious magic person, but rather about a girl who would rather right wrongs and find a way to stop one being from terrorizing others. And it is fantastic.

I was not aware that Gilded was part of a series, so I was not expecting the story to end when it did. Where it did end, however, leaves a lot of potentially exciting options open, all of which are going to make the wait for the sequel interminable. I am very excited to see where Serilda’s story goes next.

The post A whole new look at Rumplestiltskin appeared first on That's What She Read.

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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