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.)

GUEST POST: Django Wexler’s Most Anticipated Books of 2015

Kicking off the year-end countdown lists that you knew were going to start appearing here at some point soon, we have Django Wexler talking about the books he’s most looking forward to in the upcoming year. Thanks to him and the Ragnarok Publishing team for this guest post and including me to the holiday blog tour!


djangotbrpileIn a way it’s a little weird for me to write about my most anticipated books, because I have so many books in my “to read” pile that I often don’t get to things until months or even years after they’re released.  (Blogger’s note: I see Nexus in that pile, and I recommend that! It’s awesome!) Nevertheless, there’s always a few that I’m willing to bump to the top of the stack as soon as they come out.

To get the obvious out of the way first, there’s my books, The Mad Apprentice and The Price of Valor, in April and July respectively.  I’m also part of some great anthologies that I’m really looking forward to seeing: Blackguards from Ragnarok Publications should be a lot of fun, and Operation Arcana has some awesome military fantasy stories from some of my favorite authors.  Equally obviously, if Pat Rothfuss releases Doors of Stone or George R. R. Martin puts out The Winds of Winter next year, I’m going to be all over them.

Now that we’re past the blatant self-promotion:

-Brian McClellan and I have been linked by inscrutable fate ever since his flintlock fantasy book came out around the same time as mine.  The third book in his excellent Powder Mage trilogy, The Autumn Republic, comes out next year and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how he wraps it up. (First book: Promise of Blood.)

-I’m a big fan of everything Joe Abercrombie has done to date, and liked the start of his new series Shattered Sea quite a lot.  The second book, Half the World, should be out in 2015, and I’ll be snapping it up. (First book: Half a King.)

-James S. A. Corey’s (a.k.a. Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) Expanse series seems to get better with each book.  It’s near(ish) future SF, mixing a “hard SF” respect for the laws of physics with aliens and other cosmic awesomeness.  The fifth book, Nemesis Games, comes out in 2015, and the TV series is starting up soon; this is your last chance to say you read the books first!  (First book: Leviathan Wakes.)

-Max Gladstone, in addition to being the most interesting person to hang out with at any given con, is writing a weird, wonderful series called the Craft Sequence.  It’s a high-fantasy stew with gods and magic standing in for high finance, where the fate of pantheons is determined by investments and Ponzi schemes and corporations will construct a deity to suit.  Awesomeness, in other words.  The fourth book, Last First Snow, comes out next year.  (First book: Three Parts Dead, although reading in order is not required.)

-I’m intrigued by Ian Tregillis’ new book, The Mechanical, which sounds like steampunk from the point of view of an clockwork automaton.  His previous series, The Milkweed Triptych, was a fun Nazi- superheroes-versus-British-warlocks romp through an alternate WWII, starting with Bitter Seeds, so I’m on board for wherever he goes next.

-Goodreads claims The Annihilation Score, the next in Charles Stross’ Laundry Files, comes out in 2015, though there aren’t many details.  I love that series — it’s the British intelligence system, with all the bureaucracy of a government office, in a world of Lovecraftian horror.  If it really is coming out, I’ll be reading it ASAP.  (First book: The Atrocity Archives.)

-Finally, the only one of this list that I’ve actually had a chance to read, thanks to the good people at Orbit.  I’m about three-quarters of the way through Alex Marshall’s debut novel A Crown for Cold Silver, and it’s excellent.  Very dark fantasy with a cynical, sarcastic edge in a detailed, fascinating world.  If you’re a fan of Joe Abercrombie or Mark Lawrence, I highly recommend taking a look when this comes out.

There’s many more good things to come, obviously.  But if I get too greedy, that mountain is going to collapse on me…

djangowexlerDjango Wexler graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked for the university in artificial intelligence research. Eventually he migrated to Microsoft in Seattle, where he now lives with two cats and a teetering mountain of books.

 He is the author of Roc’s military ‘flintlock fantasy’ The Thousand Names and the middle-grade fantasy The Forbidden Library.

 When not writing, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts.


Welp, thanks for making my own TBR pile explode! (Actually, many of the books mentioned are books I already want to read, or at least the first books in the series are, so I suppose it didn’t explode too badly.)

Now for a holiday bonus, thanks to the good people at Ragnarok, I’m pleased to announce that there’s a giveaway attached to this guest post! Who wants to win copies of the first 2 of Django Wexler’s John Golden novellas? (Trick question; I know the answer is “all of you.”) Comment on this post to be entered for your chance to win both of them!

Rules
~ 1 entry per person
~ Comment on this post to enter, letting me know at least 1 of the books you’re looking forward to in 2015.
~ Open to anyone who can accept e-books
~ Contest closes at 11:59 PM, PST, Thursday December 18.

Get commenting! I want to know which books you’re all excited about!

John Golden: Heroes of Mazaroth, by Django Wexler

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – August 10, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The world’s most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Tens of millions of players have stepped into the shoes of fighters and wizards, dwarves and koalamancers to battle the forces of evil.

Nobody ever asked the forces of evil how they felt about it.

John Golden has been asked to extract a fairy from the computers of a finance company, where it’s sitting on some vital data. Inside, he finds a depressed Dark Lord and a portal to a realm of fantasy. But when he steps through, he finds himself cast as the villain of the piece, with an army of adventurers ready to thwart his evil schemes. John hasn’t *got* any evil schemes, but he realizes he’d better come up with some fast. Unless he can change the story, he’ll be stuck in Mazaroth as a final boss…permanently.

Thoughts: When I first read John Golden: Freelance Debugger, I knew that there was no way that I wouldn’t end up continuing with this series of novellas. The are, to be blunt, hilarious and fun and very creative, with the titular character John Golden being someone whose job it is to clear fairies out of computer systems in a seamless melding of sci-fi and urban fantasy.

This time, John’s tasked with removing a faerie in such a way that it’s more like rehoming it than outright forcing it away. This would be a tricky enough task on its own, but John and Sarah find themselves in the odd predicament of having to do so in a way that makes relative sense within the storyline of the popular MMORPG, Heroes of Mazaroth (think World of Warcraft), since the faerie in question is also a boss battle within the game. Creative solution abound, plus the added amusement of watching Sarah pretend that she doesn’t completely love the game despite what she claims. (Gamers in denial… There ought to be a support group for that.)

The fairy, the Dark Lord Anaxomander, is one that you can’t help but love. Locked in the role of a boss in the game, Anaxomander is tired of constantly dying and respawning and not actually getting anywhere with his life or plans, and so escapes out a back door into a new system, setting up the new lair which causes the problems that John is called in to deal with in the first place. He’s a slave to stereotypes, talking about the decorative benefit of lava and dried blood in his dark dungeon of darkness (did I mention that he’s a Dark Lord?), his depression coming across in comical terms rather than serious ones.

As before, the story shines because of the dual perspective. John as the primary protagonist and the main narrator of the story, and Sarah providing snark and commentary as the story goes on. Sarah is, in many ways, the mental commentary of a somewhat snarky reader, saying what many of us are thinking without having to rely on John to awkwardly nitpick his own actions. She’s in a perfect position to do this, essentially being a spirit in a laptop who is always along for the ride and to help John with his work, and honestly, a good percentage of the reason these novellas have been so enjoyable for me is because of her comments.

Wexler’s writing is sharp, his characters a treat to read, and the humour is right on the ball. Twice now I’ve read John Golden novellas and been left wanting more, and it’s pretty much a guarantee at this point that I will continue with this series until Wexler stops writing it. They’re excellent stories to revitalize the reading spirit, light and full of geeky laughter. Definitely read these novellas when — not if — you can!

(Received for review from the publisher.)

John Golden: Freelance Debugger, by Django Wexler

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – February 1, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) John Golden is a debugger: he goes inside the computer systems of his corporate clients to exterminate the gremlins, sprites, and other fairies that take up residence. But when he gets a frantic call from Serpentine Systems, a top-of-the-line anti-fairy security company, John finds out he’s on much more than a simple smurf-punting expedition.

With the help of his sarcastic little sister Sarah (currently incarnated in the form of a Dell Inspiron) and a paranoid system administrator, John tackles Serpentine’s fairy problem. But the rabbit hole goes deeper than he thinks, and with the security of all of company’s clients in danger, there’s more at stake this time than John’s paycheck!

Thoughts: Short and to the extremely sharp point, Django Wexler’s novella featuring a debugger who ousts fairies from computer systems makes an impressing in few words, with delightfully witty commentary from the protagonists’s discorporate computer-bound sister.

I do love the concept behind this novel. Fairies invading the virtual space made my computers, causing havoc as they interact and reroute and I swear now that they’re the cause of all the times I error messages and then can’t reproduce them when tech support’s actually watching. Damn fairy mischief. There’s a whole culture of debugger built up behind the scenes of this book, keeping this info from most people while still fighting to keep the supernatural away from technology, with fun wordplay to go along with it (direwalls instead of firewalls, for instance.) For such a short piece, Wexler manages to cram a hell of a lot into the pages, letting the story spread out behind him without needing to go into every single detail. There are hints dropping in casual conversation, enough to make the whole thing feel incredibly realistic while still keeping the focus tight on the main plot.

Is this the sort of storytelling that I’ve missed by not having read Wexler’s other books yet?

Above all else, this novella is simply fun. The prose is tight, the dialogue quick and real, and Sarah’s commentary on John’s thoughts and observations had me occasionally fighting the urge to laugh aloud (something I try to keep under wraps when I’m reading in public). The footnotes were a little odd to get used to at first, but a few pages in they start to flow well with the narrative, and they add so much to the story that I wouldn’t wish them away.

My biggest complaint seems to be one that I’ve seen in a few other reviews: it’s not long enough to satisfy! I’ll grant you that making this one story any longer would have taken much of the punch from it and spoiled some of the fun, but it’s the kind of thing you get through quickly and then wish you hadn’t, because the story’s over and there’s no more, no matter how much you want it. And believe me, I wanted more. Thankfully this doesn’t seem to be a one-shot novella, and more John Golden stories are in the works (or so I hear; please correct me if I’m wrong). I’m already looking forward to future installments!

John Golden: Freelance Debugger has been getting glowing reviews from all over, and I’m adding my voice to the mix that says it’s worth every one. It’s a taste of a larger world, one that I want to see more of, and it’s definitely bumped Wexler’s books further up my reading pile (not that they weren’t fairly high up there already). It’s everything you want in an urban fantasy novella: creativity, wit, action, and a refreshing gender balance that I don’t see as often as I’d like. Do yourself a favour and take an hour to give this a read. You’ll find yourself as hooked as the rest of us!

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Guest post by Django Wexler

Django Wexler, author of The Thousand Names and the recently-released John Golden novella, has been kind enough to join us here for a guest post where he talks a bit about his newest release.

~*~

John Golden is something that has been kicking around my head in one form or another for quite some time. I even decided on the name fairly early, so I have a few old drafts of “John Golden Something Something” that I never got more than a few thousand words into.

djangowexler  Inspiration, as usual, comes from a million different places, but I can trace a few direct threads. One of them is to Terry Bisson’s Wilson Wu stories. These are wonderfully strange short stories in which our first-person (and unnamed, I think) narrator gets involved in strange problems and is helped out of the by the intervention of his friend Wilson Wu, a scientist/mystic/crank/genius/guitar player, whose universe operates according to a strange mangling of the laws of physics. (If you have never read a Terry Bisson story, two of these are in his collection “In The Upper Room, And Other Likely Stories”, which I cannot recommend enough. Another collection, “Bears Discover Fire”, and his novels are also excellent.)

From these stories I mostly wanted to take the tone, the cross between a semi-serious scientific problem and the light, humorous approach with its charming weirdness. I had this concept of a hero who goes around placating magical creatures, somehow, and I knew that he’d usually end up doing in a not entirely straightforward way. (The other element I borrowed from Bisson is the references to other, nonexistent stories, creating the illusion of a glimpse into a grand, ongoing canon.)

Humor is hard, though, and I don’t have anything like Bisson’s skill, so I could never quite get it to work. I tinkered a bit, over a couple of years, but nothing really clicked. Eventually I hit the second major inspiration in the form of Jonathon Stroud’s Bartimaeus books, the first of this is “The Amulet of Samarkand”. These are young adult fantasies featuring a boy wizard and his wise-cracking, put-upon demon servant. (Also excellent, by the way.) One of the ways the demon communicates with the audience is by footnotes; at one point he explains that he thinks in seven dimensions at once, but footnotes are the best he can do for us.

From there, somehow, I got to central conceit of John Golden: a first-person adventure story, with footnote comments from a different, sometimes contradictory first person. I’ve always loved footnotes and other meta-textual devices — Terry Pratchett uses them for some of his best jokes in Discworld, and Susanna Clarke does wonderful things with them in “Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrel”. For me, there’s something wonderful about them when they’re used sarcastically — it’s like a Shakespearean aside, in a way, allowing the author or a character to speak directly to the audience and comment on or contradict the main text.

With this in mind, I took another crack at John Golden, and somewhat to my surprise it all flowed out pretty naturally from there. Figuring out who was providing the commentary gave me the character of Sarah, and years spent listening to the stories of people from the IT world gave me plenty of ideas about how fairies and computers might interact. It’s not actually much like the Bisson stories at all anymore — it’s much closer to a parody of a classic pulp adventure story, the same well that Indiana Jones draws from. (Indeed, apart from the first one, all the John Golden stories are titled similarly. The second one is “John Golden and the Heroes of Mazaroth”.) Having two separate narrators lets me indulge in the tropes of these stories and comment on them at the same time, to (I hope) humorous effect.

It’s something I’ve had a great time writing, and I hope you’ll have a great time reading. As novellas, they’re perfect for filling in gaps in my writing schedule while I wait through the inevitable delays of publishing. The second story will be released in August, also via the wonderful people at Ragnarok Publications, and the next time I get stuck in hurry-up-and-wait mode, we’ll see what else turns up!

Django Wexler graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked for the university in artificial intelligence research.  Eventually he migrated to Microsoft in Seattle, where he now lives with two cats and a teetering mountain of books.  When not planning writing, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts.

His new novella, John Golden: Freelance Debugger, can be purchased for the Kindle via Amazon.com.

Cover spotlight: Django Wexler’s “John Golden”

Looks like Django Wexler, He of the Awesome Name and author of The Thousand Names, has joined Ragnarok Publications with a new series of novellas to look out for.

djangospotlightSee the full press release on Ragnarok Publications. See Django’s own blog post about the book here.

Speculative fiction with a generous dash of humour? Computer programmers keeping faeries out of corporate systems? Yes please!

The first book in the John Golden series is due for release in the Kindle store on February 3. Drop by here on February 10 for a guest post by Django Wexler himself!