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Sunday Reflections – 26 March 2023
2023-03-26 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Reading:  The Blood Gift by N. E. Davenport

Listening:  The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Watching:  Jim has been gone this week, so I had to wait to watch some of our shows. I did finish Daisy Jones and the Six and Shadow and Bone. The first I loved, but the latter was not as its first season. I am not a fan of them putting four books into one season, and the acting by one main character is laughably awful. Ah well.

Cooking: I really detest cooking when there is only me. If someone has some good ideas for one-person meals that do not require a lot of prep, a lot to clean up, or a ton of leftovers, I am most definitely open to them.

Enjoying: Since Jim was busy this week playing around at a trade show for pets and then picking up my new car in Texas, I opted to enjoy myself a bit. I let the house duties slide a bit and spent my afternoons reading or updating my planners for April. As much as the dogs would allow me, that is. I enjoyed the chance to sit and not feel a need to be doing something useful.

Feeling: Holly has a return date, and it is so close. I am ready for her to be home again. Even if she is gone all the time working or out with friends, it will be nice knowing she at least has to come home to change clothes or ask to borrow a car.

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Weekly Top Posts: 2023-03-26
2023-03-26 04:00 UTC

  1. Sunday Reflections – 19 March 2023
  2. A masterpiece
  3. Gothic fiction at its finest
  4. A cute fairy tale for the modern age
  5. A tale of two stories

A cute fairy tale for the modern age
2023-03-25 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Once More Upon a Time by Roshani Chokshi

Once More Upon a Time by Roshani Chokshi is an adorable fairy tale for the modern audience. In a few short pages, Ms. Chokshi manages to stuff in action, adventure, romance, a moral or two, humor, and a few plot twists to make things interesting. She also builds a new world and manages some character development simultaneously. The full audiobook cast help make the story shine. Their earnestness, despite the craziness of their situation, made me laugh out loud several times. The whole experience is light and entertaining. Once More Upon a Time is the perfect palate cleanser after a difficult book.

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A tale of two stories
2023-03-22 15:00 UTC by Michelle

A Door in the Door by Scott Reintgen

A Door in the Dark by Scott Reintgen is a tale of two stories. There are the first two-thirds of the story, entertaining but not memorable or engaging. I didn’t hate it enough to set it aside, and it did entertain me. Then there is the book’s last third, wherein we learn some intriguing information and get a plot twist that changes everything. Suddenly, I want to read more and discover how this new information will play out given what we already know. It is not a writing style I generally recommend – leaving all the exciting reveals until the end – but it works for Mr. Reintgen.

A Door in the Dark has an intriguing premise with its locked room murder mystery set in a magical world. Then, it morphs into an adventure story wherein our hapless students must traverse uncharted territory to reach safety. Finally, Mr. Reintgen adds a revenge plot to the mix. None of these trajectories are boring or poorly written, but neither are they stellar. It is only when a last-minute plot twist becomes something of a game-changer that I became fully vested in the story, a fault I attribute to the fact that there is no blend of the plotlines. There is the murder, then there is the adventure. Mr. Reintgen mentions the revenge plot several times throughout the story but only abstractly. Only towards the end does it start to take shape, and that’s where A Door in the Dark starts to get interesting.

I had a similar reaction to the main character. Ren appears to be one thing during the murder mystery portion. She is a bit fusty, like one of those know-it-alls you avoid at social functions. Then Ren adapts to become something else while in the wilderness. While she still manages to spout oodles of knowledge, she tones down her approach and lets herself be somewhat human for these scenes. Still, she feels very basic until the end of the book, that is. Something happens that proves Ren is much more complicated than you think through most of the story.

Combine a newly intriguing Ren with that plot twist, and it completely changes how I think of A Door in the Dark. In fact, those changes increase the chances of me reading the sequel. Despite a fairly ho-hum start, Mr. Reintgen redeems himself in the end, and that is all that matters.

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A masterpiece
2023-03-21 15:00 UTC by Michelle

One for My Enemy by Olivie Blake

One for My Enemy by Olivie Blake is a stunning novel. Every aspect of it hit all the right notes for me. I want to reread it to experience the magic I felt while reading it the first time. Because it was a magical reading experience. The world felt a little brighter, and people didn’t seem quite as…well, ignorant. Ms. Blake put a spell on me with One for My Enemy, and I do not care.

I had my doubts about One for My Enemy. The opening few chapters have a strong Romeo and Juliet vibe, which is not my favorite Shakespeare play, and I contemplated whether I wanted to sit through another retelling. Then, with one scene, everything changed. I went from questioning it to wanting to read as fast as possible and yet as slowly as possible to savor each word.

The prose in One for My Enemy. Oh, the prose! I found myself lingering over passages in a way I do not do. Taking pictures of quotes to remember them later. Rereading them to see if they are just as impactful the second time. I am not one to get excited about someone’s writing. I am not a collector of quotes, and I don’t savor words. I did both for this novel.

From the Slavic families and traditions to the revenge plots, from the dueling families to the lovers, there was nothing about One for My Enemy I did not enjoy. The story may seem similar to Romeo and Juliet initially, but there is more depth here, more of a story in Ms. Blake’s version. The characters are so much stronger and more intelligent.

Plus, I never felt the romance between Romeo and Juliet. I felt every ounce of romance between our two couples. In fact, I felt more than romance; I felt their anger, frustrations, and pain. Their pain almost did me in, as it was so intense and so visceral. I don’t expect to feel that level of emotion based on someone’s printed words, but while reading One for My Enemy, I felt all of it.

One for My Enemy by Olivie Blake was my favorite book for February and will be at the top of the list for my favorite book of the year. Ms. Blake blew me away with One for My Enemy, something I was not expecting but welcomed with open arms. It really was a magical experience.

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Gothic fiction at its finest
2023-03-20 15:00 UTC by Michelle

The Last Heir to Blackwood Library by Hester Fox

The Last Heir to Blackwood Library by Hester Fox is one of the best modern-day examples of Gothic fiction. The heroine’s name, Ivy Radcliffe, reeks of a Gothic story as it exudes innocence and privilege. Then it takes place on the Yorkshire moors because of course it does. All that aside, Ms. Fox’s story is fantastic. She cleverly uses certain aspects of her story to keep you guessing. Eventually, you find yourself racing through the pages to discover Ivy’s fate.

The Last Heir to Blackwood Library meets all the requirements for Gothic fiction. Set on the moors of York, most of the action occurs in Blackwood Abbey, an honest-to-goodness abbey from the 1300s that became the property of one family during Henry VIII’s conversion mandates. From almost the first moment Ivy enters the property, she senses that a malevolent entity is haunting her. Her servants are less than forthcoming when answering her many questions, and the village citizens look at her with curiosity and concern. There is the hint of a romance and more than a hint of the past coming back to impact the present in the form of one hell of a legacy. It makes for an emotional and terrifying story you can’t stop reading.

I mentioned above that Ivy Radcliffe is a name that feels Gothic because it evokes innocence. Yes, Ivy is innocent in many ways. While her life until her inheritance revolved around the streets of London, loving parents and a loving brother protected her from the rougher elements. She is streetwise but not necessarily wise about people, something that does cause issues. However, being named for a vine does not make her weak-minded or weak-willed. Ivy is just as strong and stubborn as her namesake, and it serves her well in the long run.

One of the cleverest aspects of The Last Heir to Blackwood Library is that the family legacy means that the story we get may or may not be what is happening. To say more would spoil the story, but Ms. Fox uses this family legacy to her advantage by creating doubt in the reader’s mind. It adds one more layer of mystery to a story filled with many unanswered questions.

I adore Gothic fiction, but finding a good one written recently has not been easy. Thankfully, Hester Fox comes through with a book I would include with the Bronte sisters in a list. The Last Heir to Blackwood Library has everything you could ever want in a Gothic novel. More importantly, Ms. Fox blends the elements so well that the story becomes all-encompassing. If you want an eerie book to tide you over until Halloween, The Last Heir to Blackwood Library is perfect.

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Sunday Reflections – 19 March 2023
2023-03-19 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Sunday Reflections Button

Reading:  For the First Time, Again by Sylvain Neuvel

Listening:  Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – Yes, still. Because this past week, I was too busy rocking out to Irish pub music, which is always fun.

Watching:  The Mandalorian, Daisy Jones and the Six, Ted Lasso, Shadow and Bone, and The Last of Us. Plus, Jim and I decided to become Formula One fans after watching the first two seasons of Formula One: Drive to Survive.

Cooking: I made that macaroni and cheese and that soup I mentioned. Both were delicious. I also made a breakfast casserole. The lovely thing about being empty nesters is all of the wonderful leftovers we get to enjoy, and everything I made created fantastic leftovers.

Enjoying: Jim and I had the BEST time on St. Patrick’s Day, and I thoroughly enjoyed the build-up before that. I made a game with myself to wear as much green as possible. Then Jim took off Friday afternoon, and we spent the rest of the day drinking, Guinness for him and Magners for me, and dancing/enjoying a really great band. We left around the time all the young’uns started entering the tent (Gen Zers), were home in time for dinner, and went to bed for a good night’s sleep. It was so much fun, and we definitely plan to do it again next year!

Planning: Jim plans to make another shelf, and once that is done, we will finish deep-cleaning the basement living areas. I’ve also batted around the idea of making a container garden this year. I kill everything I touch, but I would like to try growing the few veggies and herbs we eat the most. Holly is all for it, so it might be a good project for us when she gets home.

Feeling: I know I’ve said it before, but it still feels strange to say I am happy. Jim has been home a lot more this month, and Cora is finally attending training classes that seem to help calm her down a bit. Winter is still fighting to stay, but I’ve seen the forecast for the rest of the month, and it looks promising. My nephew officially signed on to play baseball for the University of Minnesota despite still being a junior. Holly gave us her last day in Scotland. It’s all good.

The post Sunday Reflections – 19 March 2023 appeared first on That's What She Read.

Weekly Top Posts: 2023-03-19
2023-03-19 04:00 UTC

  1. Sunday Reflections – 12 March 2023
  2. It will make a good movie
  3. Suzanne Young does it again
  4. Now this is sci-fi done right
  5. Dark and dangerous

Spare – One man’s approach to therapy
2023-03-18 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Spare by Prince Harry

Spare by Prince Harry is quite the story. If anything, it forever tarnished my opinion of royalty, a reaction that I suspect Harry wants. I have even more sympathy for him and everything he went through after his mother’s death and at the hands of his family. While I believe Harry shared WAY more than he should, I admire him for speaking out about the shitshow that is the British press’s relationship with the monarchy and the dangerous impact it had on his wife and him.

Spare reads like a therapy exercise where you are to write a letter to whoever hurt you, confronting them about how they made you feel and why. The trick here is that you never send the letter; the therapy resides in the unburdening of yourself. Except, Harry forgot that part and sent it to the public. His story contains too many intimate and unnecessary details about his past. I am still scratching my head, trying to figure out why he needed to include them since most of these details don’t pertain to his mental health or character. They don’t add anything other than a bit of scandal to a book deemed scandalous before he even wrote the first word.

Harry often talks about how he recognizes how privileged his life is. I do believe he is genuine about that sentiment. However, I do not think he knows the full extent of his privilege. In many passages, Harry is describing something that makes him out to be a regular guy, and he says something so matter-of-factly that it takes you a moment to realize that what he is describing is not how other people live. Want to take a skiing vacation? Go to Pakistan like Harry and his girlfriend! Need to get away from your work stress? Hop on a plane and fly down to Botswana! Want to try something different? Try going to not just the North but also the South Pole! Need a place to crash while in the US? Just go on over to Courtney Cox’s house! It is all so ludicrous that all you can do is laugh. Americans hardly take vacations, let alone fly to remote parts of the world, not just because we tend to be xenophobic but also because we can’t afford to do that. He talks about what would be grand adventures for us as if they were nothing more than another Saturday at the park. It’s ridiculous.

There is no doubt that Harry has severe PTSD. Throughout Spare, what struck me the most was not how his mother’s death impacted him but rather how being the second son affected his life. In listening to him narrate, I don’t know if he realizes how much he suffered because of that one detail. We all have issues with our siblings, but to be repeatedly told or shown that you don’t matter because you are not the heir is cruelty personified. That it was considered a typical outlook for the entire family and their staff speaks volumes about their dysfunctionality.

I finished Spare appreciating the courage it took for Harry to write and publish his most intimate thoughts. I already was a massive fan of his after the actions he took to protect Meghan and his son, but Spare made me understand even more just how high the stakes were. Harry may share too much personal information when airing his dirty laundry. Still, he definitely shines a spotlight on the garbage that is the Windsor family and their courtiers.

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Dark and dangerous
2023-03-17 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker

Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker is a tricky novel to review. On the one hand, it is a story about intergenerational magic, revenge, and power that is dark, dangerous, and seductive. On the other hand, the execution of the story could be more masterful than the plot suggests. There is much to love and, unfortunately, a lot that would make a reader set it aside unfinished. What you think about the book depends on your patience and willingness to ignore some unfortunate prose for a great plot. Myself, I struggled until the story engrossed me enough to be able to ignore its faults. 

To say that Mr. Benton-Walker’s writing style is simplistic is to understate the issue. The problem with Blood Debts is that it reads like a young teenager, still in the throes of puberty young, wrote it. No matter their age, every character sounds like a whiny teenager complaining about not getting their way. While this makes sense for Clement and Cristina, who actually are teenagers struggling to find their identities, school bullies, boyfriends, mean girls, and other high school drama, it makes less sense for the adults in their lives. Even the oldest character sounds a bit like Regina George, crowing at her power over the entire school, or in this case, the council. In addition, each sentence is as basic as you can get. While it makes for easy reading, it does not make for the best descriptions. Mr. Benton-Walker’s metaphors and similes are too prosaic and less poetic. It makes Blood Debts feel clinical, dry, and dull when the plot is anything but that.

Where Mr. Benton-Walker excels is his story. There is something magical about any story set in New Orleans, which he uses to his advantage. In Blood Debts, he takes NOLA back from Anne Rice’s vampires and brings the focus back to the true magical heart of the area, its long history of magic in the hands of its Black citizens. In this case, it is the intergenerational magic given to formerly enslaved people by their gods as a way to break free from their oppressors. With its roots in Hoodoo, Voodoo, Haitian Vodou, and European witchcraft, the magic the Trudeau family practices is unlike what we usually expect when we hear the word “witch.” Theirs is darker, more dangerous, and more prone to cause harm to the person casting the spell as much as to the intended recipient. 

The other impressive aspect of Blood Debts is that Mr. Benton-Walker highlights his characters’ failings and uses them as character development tools for them to learn and grow. In Clement’s case, he must overcome his severe anxiety and the trauma he feels upon the death of his father and his mother’s failing health. While it happens more often, a novel in which a character’s mental health is not just a convenient plot device but rather an integral part of the character itself is still rare. For all his writing faults, Mr. Benton-Walker makes Clement a likable character because of his mental illness and not despite it. Through Clement, we understand what it feels like to suffer severe anxiety, and we rejoice when he stops letting it hinder his ability to obtain his goals. 

I like Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker. The story is dark and bloody, and revenge stories never get old. Where I struggled, and where I see many people struggling, is with Mr. Benton-Walker’s writing style. It does not match the nuanced and complex story he builds. Every voice is too immature, and each sentence reads like a middle-grade English textbook. Given that, I am still deciding whether to continue the series. I want to discover what happens to Clement and Cristina, but I wonder if I should put myself through the writing issues again.


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KPop meets The King’s Men
2023-03-16 15:00 UTC by Michelle

Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu

Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu is a fun romantic thriller. It exists purely for entertainment and distraction purposes, and I am okay with that. There is little character development and a simple plot, but it reads like the most engaging movie you will ever watch. The interactions between the main characters are priceless, and the action is impressive. For sheer entertainment alone, Stars and Smoke rates high.

Spy stories are always fun with the gadgets and the sleights of hand necessary to trick people, and Ms. Lu makes sure to include plenty of devices for her two spies. Then there is all the sneaking, hidden rooms, and danger. And secrets. Lots and lots of secrets. While the plot may be a tad predictable, the story itself is too much fun for the predictability to become an issue.

Meanwhile, Winter and Sydney are a terrific pairing. Winter is sexy as hell with his natural grace and ability to charm everyone he meets. Sydney is the curmudgeon, and I love her for that. While Winter has some of the best lines, I adore Sydney for distrusting others and putting the mission first. It is an attitude I understand and respect.

I like how Ms. Lu left the end open for potential sequels, as I would love to see more of Winter. However, a sequel would not be half as entertaining without the romantic tension and the will-they-or-won’t-they aspect of Winter’s and Sydney’s relationship. While a sequel, if done correctly, would be fun, because the world of spycraft is always fun when observed from the safety of your home, leaving Stars and Smoke as a standalone novel is perfectly okay. There is enough to love within its pages to satisfy the pickiest reader.

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Suzanne Young does it again
2023-03-15 15:00 UTC by Michelle

In Nightfall by Suzanne Young

The synopsis of In Nightfall by Suzanne Young touts it as Lost Boys meets Buffy. I would add Twilight to that mix, as there are pieces of all three in Ms. Young’s latest. Did that prevent me from loving the hell out of In Nightfall? Absolutely not!

In fact, In Nightfall snuck up on me. One minute, I considered not finishing it because I could see the plot progression from a mile away. The next minute, I was swept away by Minnow’s attempts to save her brother. The ending and the fate of at least one of the characters continue to haunt me.

Sure, In Nightfall is predictable to some extent. And the number of teenage vampire tropes in the novel is embarrassingly large. However, Ms. Young does enough to keep you guessing to make it feel like a refreshing new story. Some of this is due to Minnow and Theo. Their sibling relationship is fun yet relatable. Minnow’s devotion to saving her brother takes the story to a new level. Her willingness to not just see the truth but confront it and face the odds in an attempt to save one person is every bit as impressive as it sounds.

In Nightfall is not the stuff of awards. There is nothing earth-shattering about it. The prose is decent, and the world-building is adequate. The plot is familiar enough to be comforting but different enough to make things exciting. There is the snappy, snarky dialogue I expect from a novel by Ms. Young. Most importantly, it has vampires. To me, it’s an easy sell.

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