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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

  2. Toss a coin to your witcher
  3. Sunday Reflections – 02 January 2022
  4. Sunday Reflections – 09 January 2022

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

  1. Toss a coin to your witcher
  2. Sunday Reflections – 09 January 2022
  4. The more things change, the more they stay the same
  5. Sunday Reflections – 02 January 2022

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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Sunday Reflections – 09 January 2022
2022-01-09 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Reading: Finishing up Empire of Sin by Gary Krist.

Listening: Classical music and trying to figure out my next audiobook. Do I choose something short and sweet to up my finished book count? Or something longer to avoid having to write a review quickly?

Watching: One guess — Yep, football! It’s playoff time, after all! And I do want to watch Ben Roethlisberger as he plays his last season.

Cooking: Tonight, I’m making Pasta de Limone because it is cold, and nothing is more comforting than cheesy pasta. I also have slow cooker sloppy joes on the menu and Santa Fe chicken and pork chops in a mushroom sauce. We will be back into negative temperatures this week, so we will need all the gut-warming foods we can get.

Enjoying: A clean house, my new laptop, my new phone, and the fact that I did all the household chores yesterday so that I could do nothing today.

Planning: A quiet week after last week. I only have two days of workouts planned this week and no other appointments.

Feeling: Perplexed and upset that people are so angry and rude these days. I realized this week just how much it bothers me that it seems that collectively society forgot how to be polite. I am so tired of the hatred and the blaming. It isn’t doing anything other than entrenching each side even further than they are. Just because we had to listen to Douche 45 and his lackeys do this for four years doesn’t mean we have to continue the behavior towards people who have differing opinions than we do.

Upcoming: Holly has a poms performance on Thursday, so we will watch her performance and stay for the basketball game since her varsity basketball is pretty damn good this year. Basketball is another favorite sport, but I like to watch it live much more than I do on TV.

What are you up to these days? Reading or making anything good?

The post Sunday Reflections – 09 January 2022 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2022-01-09
2022-01-09 05:00 UTC

  2. Sunday Reflections – 02 January 2022
  3. See ya, 2021.
  5. So much unfulfilled potential

This is not the university experience I had
2022-01-06 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Having read almost everything Leigh Bardugo wrote, I wanted to start 2022 reading her adult debut with her fantasy Ninth House. Not knowing what to expect other than magic and Ms. Bardugo’s excellent writing style, I discovered a unique story of loss and mystery. It took me a bit to get into Alex’s story, but I could not put it down once I did.

With its focus on the ultra-secret societies at Yale, all I could think of is the movie The Skulls. It was the first time I had ever heard of the Skulls and Bones, and I certainly did not know that there were other secret societies. Knowing the privilege members of these societies already face, let alone the perks and future benefits they obtain by their membership, the whole thing made me a little sick. And that was before I learned about the magic they practice in Ms. Bardugo’s world.

Alex has had a horrible life and is just looking to find a fresh start. She thinks she obtains this by being one of those chosen to monitor the eight secret societies at Yale. Except a girl from the streets has a lot to learn about Yale, living the sober life, and the magic that surrounds her. The thing is, no matter what she faces or what happened in her past, you can’t help but love Alex a little. She is a survivor with the guts to face harsh truths and the determination to seek wrongs righted. Every beating she takes and every odd she overcomes only makes you love her a little bit more.

Ninth House is a story about the privileged and the misfits. In this world, the misfits oversee the privileged, which leads to a natural power struggle. At no point in time, though, do you ever find the privileged sympathetic or likable. After all, they are the one-percenters. The misfits, however, are endearing in their quirks and awkwardness. I particularly adore Dawes, who is a lot more formidable than you initially expected.

What surprises me the most about Ninth House is that if you took away the magic, which is as macabre as it is impressive, the story would still be good. At its core, it is a murder mystery, and Alex is a junior detective who reluctantly takes the case. There are also elements of it being Alex’s coming of age story as she learns to accept who she is and the experiences that molded her. With the academic backdrop, Ninth House has the right blend of secrecy and ego, topped with the hedonism that comes with any college lifestyle. The magic Ms. Bardugo adds is simply icing on the cake.


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Sunday Reflections – 02 January 2022
2022-01-02 16:00 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Happy Sunday! I thought I would shake things up a bit and change the format of my Sunday posts to make them a little easier to read and maybe a bit more interesting as well. Plus, change is good.

Reading: Empire of Sin by Gary Krist, a nonfiction account of New Orleans history during the Roaring Twenties before the end of the year. For the new year, I started Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo because a nonfiction book isn’t exciting enough for a new year.

Listening: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski because I am a glutton for punishment and always want to compare the book to the show or vice versa. For music, I have had Spotify’s Classical Essentials playlist on in the background lately. It makes for a pleasant alternative to the louder music I tend to play while at work.

Watching: Football, football, and more football. College playoff games, and bowl games, and NFL games. What can I say? I love the game!

Cooking: Cilantro-lime chicken, which I turned into burrito bowls with cilantro-lime rice, and black beans. Tonight, I plan to make mushroom risotto paired with a salad and some fresh bread. With the snow we received overnight, it is such a great comfort food meal.

Enjoying: My clean house and the end of the holidays. Yesterday, I switched out my Christmas/Yule decorations for my winter decor. Plus, I cleaned the house because a new year requires cleanliness. There is something about a snowstorm that makes me feel a desire to clean before I can settle down to get cozy.

Planning: The year. We have two weddings to attend, Holly’s graduation and graduation party, our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, five or six dance competitions plus nationals, and Holly going to college in the next twelve months. Plus, our graduation gift to Holly is a trip to Europe, something we also need to plan and organize. It’s a lot, and I want to make sure we stay on top of everything. Jim is working on the trip. I’m in charge of everything else.

Feeling: Hopeful. I ended the year feeling really good about what I was doing to feel better and get better. Plus, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do with my blog and social media. I finished all my outstanding reviews, spent at least two days setting up planners and trackers. I feel like I’m in a really good spot to make 2022 a fantastic year.

Upcoming: This upcoming week is going to be a bit crazier than normal, but I like it. Three workouts, a therapy session, a manicure, and Holly’s booster shot are all on the calendar. Plus, I am working with the school district on a project, and we have a meeting this week. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is enough to keep me on my toes.

What are you reading, watching, cooking, planning, or feeling these days?

The post Sunday Reflections – 02 January 2022 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2022-01-02
2022-01-02 05:00 UTC

  2. Novel Nuggets – Year-end Review Crunch
  4. Novel Nuggets – Year-end Review Crunch Part III
  5. Novel Nuggets – Year-end Review Crunch Part II

See ya, 2021.
2022-01-01 16:00 UTC by Michelle

New Year 2022

It’s been another year. While on the surface, 2021 was a better year for Jim and me personally and professionally, I look back on it and feel like it was a much more difficult year. It certainly was a much longer year than the last. It seems to have languished as much as everyone else on Earth.

I was going to list out everything I want to accomplish in 2022, continuing certain things I started for myself in the last quarter of 2021, except I won’t do that to you or myself. Instead, I can only hope that 2022 is a much gentler year for all of us. We all deserve it.

The post See ya, 2021. appeared first on That's What She Read.


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