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A fascinating alternative to Hell
2022-01-28 16:00 UTC by Michelle

The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles is yet another book that took me entirely by surprise. I found the idea of bounty hunters for Lowlands rather fascinating. Plus, I fell in love with X and Zoe’s little brother. Actually, I fell in love with all of the characters.

The Edge of Everything is not perfect. I am not a fan of the insta-love trope in general, and Mr. Giles did nothing to sell me on the connection between Zoe and X. To make matters worse, the world-building is weak. We end the novel with as many questions about the Lowlands as we started, knowing very little about the power structure or even if the Lowlands is a stand-in for Hell.

For all its faults, I still find The Edge of Everything charming. Mr. Giles might struggle with world-building, but he does know how to establish dialogue. Even better, he understands teenagers. At no point in time did I question Zoe’s voice or her interactions with her friends. To me, they sounded like my daughter and her friends.

Also, although we understand very little about the Lowlands, I want to know more. Those scenes in the Lowlands are interesting because they offer us a chance to learn more. If I were to read the sequel, it would be because I feel the sequel will show us even more information and answers about the Lowlands.

The Edge of Everything may have its issues, but I found them a non-issue. I could even forget the insta-love trope because I enjoyed the rest of their interactions so much. Two weeks after finishing the story, I find myself still thinking about the story and the unanswered questions I have, to the point where that sequel is looking more appealing every day.

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A magic surprise
2022-01-27 16:00 UTC by Michelle

The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister

The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister is a novel I did not expect to like as much as I did. It seems people have mixed feelings about it, which always makes me nervous. Also, after getting burnt out on historical fiction, I was cautious about dipping my toe back into the genre.

Plus, the comparison of The Magician’s Lie to Water for Elephants does Ms. Macallister’s novel a disservice. For people like me, who don’t like anything having to do with circuses, such a comparison might make people avoid The Magician’s Lie. It is one of the reasons why it took me so long to start reading it because, as much as I liked Sara Gruen’s novel, I still hate circuses.

To me, the two novels have more differences than similarities. I feel more empathy for Arden. Not only is her story more interesting, but I also think her primary relationship is more intense and honest. The other relationship in her life is not a relationship at all. You hardly remember who a specific person is because of how little involvement he has in her life. Even better, I love how she spills some of the tricks of the trade when it comes to illusions. The behind-the-scenes glimpse into an industry known for its secrets thrilled me more than it should have, considering the story occurs around the turn of the century.

As he questions the integrity of her tale, the scenes with Virgil are fraught with tension and anxiety. Yet, Arden’s innocence is anything but certain, and you understand his nervousness as a sign of his uncertainty. In these scenes, your sympathies lie with Virgil only as you can only feel for a man who feels so second-rate and down on himself.

If anything, Virgil is a testament to Ms. Macallister’s writing ability. Even though his scenes are short and relatively uninformative, we care about him more than the main character. I want to protect Virgil against anything and everything that might befall him. Even though he is nothing but the medium which allows Arden to tell her story, I want to make sure he gets his happily ever after. It’s a remarkable feat to establish a connection with a mere foil.

The Magician’s Lie is the third of Ms. Macallister’s novels I have read, and I think it is my favorite. She includes such fascinating historical tidbits to enhance the story. Moreover, her subject matter is equally interesting. For me, though, what sets The Magician’s Lie apart from her other novels is how she chooses to tell her story. The back and forth between past and present, as well as the back and forth between Arden and Virgil, not only enhance the story’s overall tension, you find yourself invested in the story more than you would be without it.

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Claire Legrand shows once again how much patriarchy sucks
2022-01-26 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Extasia by Claire Legrand

Since 2016, many stories have celebrated feminine ferocity and decrying patriarchal societies. In that regard, Extasia by Claire Legrand is no different. What sets Ms. Legrand’s version apart is that it feels much rawer and angrier than those books that came before hers, and I am here for it.

Ms. Legrand never fails to impress me with her writing. Her words are so evocative, and her novels are almost always atmospheric. She knows how to blend fantasy, realism, and horror to create something unique. In Extasia, she creates something that is much a horror story as a warning about the rising conservatism plaguing our country these days.

Extasia is a difficult story to read. What Amity and her sisters face and the ideology behind Haven are, quite frankly, disgusting. Plus, there is so much anger coursing through the story, coming from all sides. All of this makes Extasia less an escapist read and more one that serves as a cautionary tale or wake-up call for those paying attention to what is happening in the world right now.

After reading several of Ms. Legrand’s novels now, it feels as if writing is a form of therapy for her. Her stories are always dark and full of complex topics. It is as if she pours out her fears and worries onto paper as a coping mechanism. However, her novels almost always have an element of hope to lighten the darkness. This hope serves as a balm against all of the bad. Thus, if Extasia is a warning against the shift to extreme conservatism, it is also a reminder that the light always returns no matter how dark the night is.

The post Claire Legrand shows once again how much patriarchy sucks appeared first on That's What She Read.

It is going to be a long wait for the sequel
2022-01-25 16:00 UTC by Michelle

This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi

There are not many downsides to being a book blogger. One of the few of them is that moment you read a review copy that is so good that you immediately want the sequel. Except, because you read a review copy before the publication date, you realize you have to wait longer than most readers for that sequel. This rare occurrence sums up my feelings about Tahereh Mafi’s newest book, This Woven Kingdom. I want the sequel, and I want it now.

The heart of This Woven Kingdom is Alizeh. She ends up being such a tough character that you want to follow her forever. Yet, her backstory is so heartbreaking that her poise and self-confidence are as admirable as surprising. At the same time, while authors tend to gloss over the lasting effects of trauma on their characters, I feel Ms. Mafi instills Alizeh with the correct balance of trauma and determination to form her character. It is a balance that makes her such a fascinating character to know.

The other reason I fell in love with This Woven Kingdom is because of Ms. Mafi’s writing. Her sentences are fluid to the point of being lyrical. Yet, she is not verbose. Instead, I feel that she carefully chooses each word to maximize its impact on whatever she conveys, whether world-building or establishing the setting. The result is a story that flows so smoothly that you arrive at the end well before you are ready and a world that is brilliant in its clarity.

I so thoroughly enjoyed This Woven Kingdom that I felt disappointed when I finished it. I loved watching Alizeh grow feisty. Given all that we discover towards the end of the novel, I am particularly anxious to find out what happens next for Alizeh and Kamran. Unfortunately, now I can do nothing but wait and stalk HarperTeen and Ms. Mafi on social media to find out just how long that wait will be.

The post It is going to be a long wait for the sequel appeared first on That's What She Read.

Is it hot in here?
2022-01-24 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Kingdom of the Cursed by Kerri Maniscalco

Kingdom of the Cursed, the second book in The Kingdom of the Wicked series by Kerri Maniscalco, is my first five-star read of the new year. I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series for a variety of reasons, so I had no doubts that I would also enjoy the sequel. Still, I was not expecting to love it as much as I did, and I am perfectly okay with that.

There is a lot to like about both books. For one thing, the mystery Emilia tries to solve is intriguing as we still do not know much about motive or perpetrator. Then, Emilia herself is so fierce. Not only is she more than capable of handling anything that comes her way, but she also does not swallow her feelings as so many heroines tend to do. Instead, she feels every emotion with every fiber of her being. This emotional intensity enhances your understanding of her character and drives much of the plot.

Lastly, there is Emilia and Wrath. Holy. Hell. Seriously, if there were a devil who looked and acted like Wrath, I would be the first to sign away my soul. Their interactions are so steamy and yet perfect; I couldn’t get enough. I especially love the fact that Ms. Maniscalco lets us see that there are so many layers to Wrath’s character, layers we have yet to peel away to allow us to understand his motivations. Every piece of information we learn about him does nothing but illustrate how little we know, and it is thrilling that we still have so much more to learn.

Between anticipating further Emilia and Wrath interactions, new information, and a mystery yet to solve, the final book in the series is now at the top of my list of anticipated books for 2022. It is fitting that Kingdom of the Cursed will probably be my favorite book for January. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Ms. Maniscalco makes sinning look so damn delicious and delightful.

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Sunday Reflections – 23 January 2022
2022-01-23 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Reading: Scorpica by Greer Macallister

Listening: Cosmos by Carl Sagan

Watching: Football! And The Witcher because I wanted to introduce Jim to it and refresh my memory before I started season two.

Cooking: The weather still warrants gut-warming weather, so I have red beans and rice on the menu. I also plan to make a chicken stir-fry and try a recipe for meat-lovers pizza stuffed shells. Cheese and pasta are my jam.

Enjoying: I am enjoying watching football this post-season. The whole family is getting into it for the first time. I am also really enjoying our weather. Yes, it is cold, and yes, it has been cloudy almost all the time. Still, I love winter weather. The cold air makes me feel so alive, and the dark evenings are a great excuse to light all the candles and use all the blankets. The hygge season is the best!

Feeling: Too much these days. I try to remain hopeful and cheerful because I am tired of being angry all the time. At the same time, I notice more and more just how rude people have become. Plus, no matter how hard you try, you can never avoid the headlines. It is all just a little too much for me to handle with grace. I have never been able to let anything go.

Upcoming: Jim and I are flying out to Salt Lake City/ Park City for a very brief visit. For Jim, it is a business trip. For me, it means the chance to get out of the state and the Midwest for the first time in at least three years. I am simultaneously looking forward to and anxious about it because that seems to define life these days.

The post Sunday Reflections – 23 January 2022 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2022-01-23
2022-01-23 05:00 UTC

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Weekly Top Posts: 2022-01-16
2022-01-16 05:00 UTC

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Decapitation has never been so fun
2022-01-13 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Kate McKinnon is by far my favorite SNL cast member, past or present. The way she becomes her character and is never afraid to go big reminds me so much of the original cast, when Dan Aykroyd blended a whole fish and John Belushi had a little too much fun with a prop samurai sword. So, when Heads Will Roll popped up as another “free” offering from Audible to its subscribers, I knew it was something I wanted in my library.

I am so glad I downloaded it and even happier that I finally listened to it. Heads Will Roll made me laugh out loud, something you tend not to want to do when at work. Ms. McKinnon and her sister are the stars, but the cast is just as impressive. As the queen’s assistant, Tim Gunn is a spectacular casting choice, and he does an AMAZING job. Meryl Streep sounded like she had way too much fun, as did Audra McDonald and Carol Kane. As for the Fab 5, they become part of one of the best scenes of the entire audiobook.

Written by Ms. McKinnon and Ms. Lynne, the story is hilariously crass and, in general, very charming. We follow Queen Mortuana and her raven assistant JoJo as they attempt to stop a peasant uprising, and, in true comedic fashion, shenanigans ensue. I initially worried that I wouldn’t recognize any voices, but that is not the case. It became a lot of fun to anticipate when I would hear another famous voice and what that character would be like.

The almost five hours of listening flew by, and Heads Will Roll was over long before I wanted it to be over. Irreverent, entertaining, and at times surprisingly endearing, the sisters wrote an excellent story. I haven’t enjoyed an audiobook experience as much as I did this one in quite some time.

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A fun bit of history
2022-01-12 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Rivals! Frenemies Who Changed the World by Scott McCormick

Rivals! Frenemies Who Changed the World by Scott McCormick was one of those monthly “freebies” Audible started offering subscribers two years ago. Sure, it took me two years to listen to it, but I enjoyed every second of it once I did. In roughly three hours, Mr. McCormick gives listeners amusing, jam-packed looks at four notable historical feuds covering science, royalty, shoes, and politics.

We all know, or should know, the feud between Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I of England. Similarly, anyone with ears knows of the feud between Hamilton and Burr. However, no matter how much you know, Mr. McCormick presents each rivalry in a new light. This is especially true of the Hamilton/Burr rivalry. Bucking the recent trend, he portrays Burr positively and Hamilton as cocky, hot-headed, jealous, and somewhat malicious. Not knowing what research Mr. McCormick did, he still gives you plenty of food for thought on what we think we know.

He does the same with the Mary/Elizabeth rivalry. His sympathies lie with Mary, so we see Elizabeth as something other than her country’s savior. I like the shift in perspective and how such things tend to open your eyes to fresh looks at other things.

Two of the most interesting stories involve rivalries that are not as famous – one involving dinosaur bones and one involving athletic shoes. Both are just as fun, full of new information, and eye-opening. I promise you will never look at a dinosaur skeleton or a pair of soccer shoes in the same way again.

It still surprises me how much I learned from this short audiobook experience. The production uses the cast and sound with significant effect, even if they are enhancements and not part of the actual narrative. Rivals! Frenemies Who Changed the World would not be the same without them.

Rivals! Frenemies Who Changed the World is a great way to learn something new in the same amount of time it takes to watch a movie. The production is fantastic, but how Mr. McCormick presents his history makes it truly fun. His audiobook is proof that history does not have to be stiff and boring but can be funny and interesting in addition to informative.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same
2022-01-11 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Empire of Sin by Gary Krist

New Orleans, Louisiana, has to be one of the more fascinating cities in the United States. Its European vibe, the amalgam of cultures, its decadence, and anything goes attitude make it a place to visit for many people. In reading Empire of Sin by Gary Krist, I hoped to learn more about the city’s past to bridge the gap in my knowledge of the city’s history. I didn’t exactly get what I wanted, and what I did get was not presented in as interesting a fashion as I hoped it would be for such an exuberant city.

Mr. Krist’s novel covers New Orleans from the post-Reconstruction period to the Roaring Twenties. There were Mafia turf wars and racial equality that soon morphed into a burgeoning Jim Crow sentiment during this time. Most important to this period is the idea that the city leaders had of limiting all of the city’s vices – alcohol, prostitution, gambling, interracial relationships, and jazz – to a few specific blocks of the city called Storyville or the Tenderloin district.

While Mr. Krist starts and ends his novel with a string of unsolved murders that may have been Mafia-related and may have been due to a serial killer, he spends most of his time following Storyville from its beginning to its demise. We learn, repeatedly, all about the incredible profits to be had by sin, the influx of shadier and more violent businessmen from New York City, and the increasing cry from the conservative temperance and other reformers to shut down Storyville. While something similar happened in many of the larger cities in the United States, what makes New Orleans so different is the sheer extent to which it embraced Storyville. In fact, stories about happenings in Storyville made their way to Europe as proof that the debauchery occurring in NOLA knew no bounds.

I learned from Empire of Sin that the more things change, the more things stay the same. Eventually, city businessmen see Storyville as a bane to the city and a deterrent to potential capital investors. At the same time, the Victorian attitude of believing certain sins like sex and drink were best kept outside the house changes. It takes thirty years and lots of money, but eventually, the reformers shut down Storyville, forcibly evicting everyone who lives within the district.

There are several ironies about the end of Storyville. First, the timing of Storyville’s end is odd. While the rest of the country entered the Roaring Twenties and its looser standards, New Orleans went in the opposite direction. With the end of Storyville came the complete and total migration of its more famous jazz musicians away from New Orleans. Again, while the rest of the country was enjoying the music that Storyville created, New Orleans was not.

Then there is the fact that not thirty years after the city officials won its ar against vice, it started encouraging it again through the revamping of the French Quarter. Essentially, the French Quarter as it exists today is a tamer version of Storyville. So, what once was a deterrent to business is now one of the city’s biggest attractions.

There is no doubt that Mr. Krist did careful research to present his story. I especially appreciate that he clarifies that any quotes in the book are verifiable quotes taken from original sources. These sources include police statements, newspapers, and people like Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. For a history that people could easily take as too incredible to be accurate, his use of original sources removes the incredibility.

While I learned a lot from Empire of Sin, I struggled to get through the book. Mr. Krist’s writing style is comprehensive and less than exciting. Also, he throws so much at the reader – the Mafia thing, the murders, Storyville, and the birth of jazz. While it all occurs during the period of the book, it is too much. I wanted him to finish one story before he started another. Instead, he weaves them together, so you don’t quite understand what the Mafia and Storyville have to do with one another other than that the turf wars coincided with the battle for Storyville. I appreciate Mr. Krist’s use of original sources, but at the end of the day, any story about New Orleans should be more exciting or at least more interesting than what I got with Empire of Sin.

The post The more things change, the more they stay the same appeared first on That's What She Read.

Toss a coin to your witcher
2022-01-10 16:00 UTC by Michelle

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

With the second season of The Witcher out on Netflix, I wanted to review the story via the original format, albeit a translated version. While I knew that The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski is a prequel to The Witcher Saga, I was not aware that it is a collection of stories. Nor did I expect the first season to follow those stories so closely.

My lack of awareness doesn’t mean that I failed to enjoy the book. In fact, it was the refresher I needed except it is missing almost all of Cirilla’s story, and we only briefly meet Yennifer. The stories are still interesting even if you know what is going to happen. Plus, Geralt is such a mysterious and complicated character that any story about him is a chance to unravel the mystery just a bit more.

Still, I wanted more backstory to wrap my head around the geography and the relationships between all of the little towns and villages Geralt visits. I wanted new stories to pique my interest. Sadly, I did not get either of these things.

What I did get, besides a repeat of half of the first season of the Netflix series, is a different version of Geralt. Patrick Kenny’s version doesn’t have the same amount of polish that Henry Cavill’s version does. Mr. Kenny’s version is very much blue-collared and peasant in his accent and attitude. Plus, there is a serious lack of grunts and “hmmm” from Mr. Kenny. I missed that.

One of the more amusing things I did get is that Geralt’s troubadour sidekick in the book is not Jaskier. Instead, his sidekick’s name is Dandelion. Even though Mr. Kenny does not pronounce it like the flower/weed, it made me chuckle every time he mentioned the name. While I do love Jaskier, I feel like I would love Dandelion even more.

Just because I didn’t get exactly what I hoped out of the audiobook, I do think I will continue listening to the series. I still feel like I have a lot more to learn about Geralt, Ciri, and the rest (and this is without having yet seen season two). After all, you know I love a good fantasy series. Plus, it means more Dandelion, and that brings me enough joy on its own.

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