Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

Peeps. I keep trying to find the time and, let’s face it, the energy to sit down and get caught up on outstanding reviews. I can usually squeeze one in on my lunch break each day, but I need that time these days to decompress. So, here I am – having been on radio silence for almost two weeks and six outstanding reviews hanging over my head. It is time to cry “Uncle” at the fact that I don’t want to write formal reviews right now. Instead, I am going to briefly expound on what I said after I finished reading them and put these reviews to bed once and for all.

These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch

Initial thoughts: “Sara Raasch’s fantasy about religion versus science, immigration, and governance starts out slowly, probably too slowly for most people. However, once the world-building is complete, the story takes off into a world of intrigue, secrets, and excitement with a cliffhanger ending that is about as cruel as anything Suzanne Collins wrote. I was not certain about the story at first but fell in love with everything about it by the end. Plus, that ending! There are way too many months before the sequel.”

Now: It took me a few minutes to remember the story one month after finishing it, which is always worrisome about the lasting impact of a novel. However, once I jogged my memory, my impressions of These Rebel Waves remains favorable. I particularly liked its exploration of PTSD and the idea that plants have magical powers. It is a fun play on the old idea that women who were experts in herbology were witches. I remain impressed by the gender fluidity of various characters and the (as it should be) nonchalance towards LGTBQIA+ relationships. There is always a tendency, especially within adventure stories, for authors to lapse into areas requiring readers to suspend their disbelief in order for things to work for the hero’s story arc, and this particular novel is no different in that regard. However, I do think the good outweighs the bad in These Rebel Waves, and that for those who are willing to stick with it through the painstaking world building will find themselves richly rewarded.

Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach

Initial thoughts: “Dathan Auerbach’s novel is creepy but slow. It was one of those that I wanted to finish to find out what happened, but it dragged so much that I ended up skimming a two-thirds of it. The story needs to be cut by a good 100 pages or more to tighten up the narrative and make it a truly impressive novel.”

Now: Bad Man is another novel that does not hold up over time very well. The fact that it is such a slow-progressing story does not help matters, as your focus tends to wander while reading it. Plus, I cannot help but feel that the story is either trying to piggyback on another recent release about a bad seed or else is the unfortunate victim of poor timing (to say the title of the other novel would be to give away a huge plot spoiler for this one). While the two stories are very different in narrative and action, their endings are similar. Sadly, Bad Man now has me snorting in derision at the emotional manipulation of the story, while the other novel continues to impress me with its nuances and fodder for discussion.

#murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil

Initial thoughts: “Holy hell. Gretchen McNeil’s novel is amazing – good, old-fashioned gory horror complete with messed up rules and an entirely unique premise. It was SO intense that I did something I have never done before in my life – I skipped to the end and read the last few chapters. Then I went back and enjoyed the story because I was not so obsessed with what would happen to these characters. Plus, there is a sequel. This fact is squeal-worthy in my mind.”

Now: One would not think that a story about celebrity serial murderers could be so much fun, but that is exactly what I think of when I think back to reading #murdertrending. It is over-the-top in its violence. The characters are kitschy. The story itself is goofy as only a parody of reality television can be; the story is also predictable. Yet it is exactly the sort of delightful distraction from world news that I continue to crave. The intensity of the live-or-die moments blends with the hyperbolic death scenes to create something unique, scary, and a hell of a lot of fun.
Temper by Nicky Drayden

Initial thoughts: “Nicky Drayden’s new novel is just as quirky as her previous novel. I cannot say I enjoyed it as much either. There are shifts in narrator perspective which are abrupt and difficult to discern at times. Plus, the point of the story is not very apparent at times. You have to wade through a lot of detail to understand what point she is trying to make. Still, I continue to give her props for something completely unique as well as highly inclusive and diverse.”

Now: My initial thoughts regarding Temper remain valid. I enjoyed her previous novel much more than I did this one. It has been two weeks, and I cannot say I remember much of the plot, although I can remember almost everything that happens in that other novel. I still remain confused as to what she is trying to accomplish within Temper. I have to give her much-deserved props for her diversity and inclusivity, as her cast of characters runs the gamut of sexual preference and gender fluidity. Yet, my continuing impression is that she was attempting to question blind religious and political obedience but that the final story adversely skewed her messaging. The cast is huge, and it is way too easy to get lost among the myriad of characters. Plus, one has to come to accept, or at least understand, her strange new world of twins, virtues, and vices. In her novels, Ms. Drayden shows us that she is not afraid to push the envelope, but I wonder if, in Temper, she pushed it a little too far for her skills.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

Initial thoughts: “Kiersten White is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors of all time. It is like she knows exactly what gets me excited when it comes to stories. In fact, I may love her a little. What she does with familiar stories is empowering and ferocious. She treads that line between creepy and exciting with aplomb. If anyone was going to get me out of my reading doldrums, Ms. White is the author to do so.”

Now: I love this story. I might not love it as much as her Lada Dracul series, but I do love The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. Elizabeth is so angry and so tired of letting men dictate her life. You could not ask for a better heroine for today. Plus, I LOVE how Ms. White stays true to Mary Shelley’s original story in the background while showing us another side of it. I can only hope writing The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein was as cathartic for Ms. White as reading it was for me because seeing Elizabeth refuse to continue to take any man’s shit, let alone Victor Frankenstein’s, is as inspiring as anything you can get these days.

Playing to the Gods by Peter Rader

Initial thoughts: “I originally requested the Peter Rader nonfiction novel because my grandfather used to call me Sarah Bernhardt whenever he felt I was being overly dramatic – which was pretty much all the time in his opinion. I started reading because I wanted to learn more about her. I kept reading because I was drawn into these two women’s stories. It is a fascinating glimpse into the beginnings of what we would consider modern theater. Moreover, I can now appreciate my grandfather’s reference – even if I do not consider it in nearly the same negative light as he meant it to be.”

Now: Yes, it is an odd reason to read a book, but I seriously heard my mother and my grandfather call me Sarah almost my entire childhood. Am I dramatic? Probably. Is it the epithet he meant it to be? What I learned in Playing to the Gods is that it is not. The woman died one of the most famous women of all time. Most people even today have at least heard of her even if they do not know why. She was wealthy. She was powerful. I mean, she owned and ran her own theater company and called the shots on every production in which she appeared. Her standard of acting may not have stood the test of time, but for a woman at the turn of the twentieth century, she held an extraordinary amount of power and never kowtowed to societal standards. I found Eleanora Duse’s story to be equally fascinating, if only because of her lasting impact on theater in spite of her lack of eye-catching headlines and fantabulous wealth. While Sarah’s story teaches you to go for your dreams and society be damned, Eleanora’s is to not be afraid to hone your craft (and society be damned). Either way, spending time learning about these two remarkable women, and feeling a lot better about that childhood nickname that was meant to be derisive, was time well spent.

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