November Wrap-Up

See, I told you there’d still be updates to this place.

I’ve decided that the best way to do this is regular end-of-the-month posts with a list of what I’ve read during the past month, with appropriate mini-reviews of links to full reviews if what I’ve read has been a reread (or if I’ve written a full review because what I read was so amazing that I couldn’t not talk about it).

But first…

Other Stuff

So what have I been doing with my life since I stopped focusing so much on book reviews? Well, other than still reading some great books, I’ve been trying to put a little more focus on self-care, and allow myself time to do other relaxing things (like playing video games, for instance, or making things) without feeling guilty for doing so, like I was wasting time that could better be used for reading new books and writing reviews about them. So there’s that.

But my main purpose for cutting so far back on reviews was writing, and that’s been a big focus this past month. November is NaNoWriMo, and the challenge for me in recent years hasn’t been getting the wordcount (I wrote NaNo’s 50,000 words in 12 days once), but in sticking to a story and finishing something.

I…didn’t do either of those things this past month. I met the wordcount goal, but only through working on two different projects, both of which are half-finished.

But the second project I worked on was much more enjoyable than the first (which felt stale and boring very quickly), and come December I want to do the same challenge again. 50,000 words in a month. With luck, I ought to be able to get the rest of Project 2’s story out, and then spend some time in the editing phase, of things, trying to make it better and possibly maybe hopefully be of publishable quality in the end.

So that’s what November has been like for me. Now onto…

The Books

The Whitefire Crossing, by Courtney Schafer
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Summary: Dev is a smuggler with the perfect cover. He”s in high demand as a guide for the caravans that carry legitimate goods from the city of Ninavel into the country of Alathia. The route through the Whitefire Mountains is treacherous, and Dev is one of the few climbers who knows how to cross them safely. With his skill and connections, it’s easy enough to slip contraband charms from Ninavel – where any magic is fair game, no matter how dark – into Alathia, where most magic is outlawed.

But smuggling a few charms is one thing; smuggling a person through the warded Alathian border is near suicidal. Having made a promise to a dying friend, Dev is forced to take on a singularly dangerous cargo: Kiran. A young apprentice on the run from one of the most powerful mages in Ninavel, Kiran is desperate enough to pay a fortune to sneak into a country where discovery means certain execution – and he”ll do whatever it takes to prevent Dev from finding out the terrible truth behind his getaway.

Yet the young mage is not the only one harboring a deadly secret. Caught up in a web of subterfuge and dark magic, Dev and Kiran must find a way to trust each other – or face not only their own destruction, but that of the entire city of Ninavel.

Review: Reread; full review here.

The Tainted City, by Courtney Schafer
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Summary: Dev is a desperate man. After narrowly surviving a smuggling job gone wrong, he’s now a prisoner of the Alathian Council, held hostage to ensure his friend Kiran — former apprentice to one of the most ruthless mages alive — does their bidding.

But Kiran isn’t Dev’s only concern. Back in his home city of Ninavel, the child he once swore to protect faces a terrible fate if he can’t reach her in time, and the days are fast slipping away. So when the Council offers Dev freedom in exchange for his and Kiran’s assistance in a clandestine mission to Ninavel, he can’t refuse, no matter how much he distrusts their motives.

Once in Ninavel the mission proves more treacherous than even Dev could have imagined. Betrayed by allies, forced to aid their enemies, he and Kiran must confront the darkest truths of their pasts if they hope to save those they love and survive their return to the Tainted City.

Review: Reread; full review here.

The Labyrinth of Flame, by Courtney Schafer
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Summary: Dev’s never been a man afraid of a challenge. Not only has he kept his vow to his dead mentor, rescuing a child in the face of impossible odds, but he’s freed his mage friend Kiran from both the sadistic master who seeks to enslave him and the foreign Council that wants to kill him.

But Kiran’s master Ruslan is planning a brutal revenge, one that will raze an entire country to blood and ashes. Kiran is the key to stopping Ruslan; yet Kiran is dying by inches, victim of the Alathian Council’s attempt to chain him. Worse yet, Dev and Kiran have drawn the attention of demons from the darkest of ancient legends. Demons whose power Dev knows is all too real, and that he has every reason to fear.

A fear that grows, as he and Kiran struggle to outmaneuver Ruslan and uncover the secrets locked in Kiran’s forgotten childhood. For the demons are playing their own deadly game–and the price of survival may be too terrible to bear.

Review: Full review to come. But in a nutshell, this is one of the best series I’ve read, with the most satisfying ending that I’ve encountered in a very long time, and also it holds the honour of being the first book to actually give me a book hangover. I don’t usually get those. This book gave me one. It was freaking amazing!

Arrows of the Queen, by Mercedes Lackey
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Summary: A KINGDOM IMPERILED!

Chosen by the Companion Rolan, a mystical horse-like being with powers beyond imagining, Talia, once a run-away, has now become a trainee Herald, destined to become one of the Queen’s own elite guard. For Talia has certain awakening talents of the mind that only a Companion like Rolan can truly sense.

But as Talia struggles to master her unique abilities, time is running out. For conspiracy is brewing in Valdemar, a deadly treason which could destroy Queen and kingdom. Opposed by unknown enemies capable of both diabolical magic and treacherous assassination, the Queen must turn to Talia and the Heralds for aid in protecting the realm and insuring the future of the Queen’s heir, a child already in danger of becoming bespelled by the Queen’s own foes!

Review: Reread; full review here.

The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler
Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Summary: Alice always thought fairy tales had happy endings. That–along with everything else–changed the day she met her first fairy

When Alice’s father goes down in a shipwreck, she is sent to live with her uncle Geryon–an uncle she’s never heard of and knows nothing about. He lives in an enormous manor with a massive library that is off-limits to Alice. But then she meets a talking cat. And even for a rule-follower, when a talking cat sneaks you into a forbidden library and introduces you to an arrogant boy who dares you to open a book, it’s hard to resist. Especially if you’re a reader to begin with. Soon Alice finds herself INSIDE the book, and the only way out is to defeat the creature imprisoned within.

It seems her uncle is more than he says he is. But then so is Alice.

Review: I don’t often read much mid-grade fiction, but Django Wexler really caught my attention with this book involving libraries, cats, and mystery. It follows the story of Alice, who has recently lost her father to a mysterious accident and now lives with her uncle, a strange and private old man who seems somewhat obsessed with books. Alice gets the opportunity to dig deeper into her father’s death and finds herself drawn into books and worlds that she never imagined, trying to stay alive while she unravels the multilayered mystery that keeps unfolding.

It has much of the sensible fantastical charm of Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series, which I love, only with less of a fairy tale feel about it. Most of this comes from Ashes the cat, which, as a cat owner, fits so perfectly. The story moves along quickly, has good humour, and happily contains plenty of vocab-building for the age-range the book is intended for, which is something I love seeing in fiction targeted to younger people. I can easily imagine myself finding this when I was 10 or 11 and just devouring it, and even as an adult I found the mystery compelling and the pacing perfect to draw me along.

Alice is a great character, too, being neither the prim little girl who is the epitome of every early 1900s manners guide, nor the rebellious-for-the-sake-of-rebellion high-spirited troublemaker that often seems to be the counterpart to the former. She follows the rules and does what she’s told, but when push comes to shove she’ll make her own decisions and won’t just obey because someone older tells her what to do. I do dislike the whole, “She could be the most powerful Reader ever” bit, largely because “the most powerful anything ever” trope is quite stale at this point (can’t we just have someone who’s decently talented without needing to go over the top with it?), but it does help some that she doesn’t achieve things effortlessly, she often makes mistakes, and some things are learning experiences without having some great moral lesson attached to them.

So in a nutshell, this is a mid-grade historical fantasy series that’s fun, has an interesting plot, and the commentary on books makes me grin. Definitely a series I want to read the rest of, if I get the chance.

(Received in exchange for an honest review.)

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