NaNoWriMo 2017: Week 2 Progress

This whole year has flown by, so it’s not exactly surprising that November is doing the same thing. At the same time, I find myself looking around and wondering where the time is going. How can we be halfway through it already? How is Thanksgiving already next week and the beginning of December the week after that? Are we entirely sure that someone out there isn’t messing with the timeline?? (Can you tell I’m getting a little silly-brained?)

I’m still behind the official NaNoWriMo word count, but I’m still chugging along, still writing, and that’s a personal victory for me. I’ve written more for NaNoWriMo this year than I have for a NaNoWriMo since 2009, and while I might not “win,” this novel feels like something I could actually finish, which I haven’t done since 2013. So I’m calling it a win anyway.

This week’s challenge was finding the forward momentum in my story. I actually wrote a little during October: I had an idea for a scene, and I decided to just write the scene rather than outlining it, because I’m a rebel, and I just wouldn’t include those words in my official word count. But I knew when I was writing it, that the scene took place right before the main action of the story starts, but not at the beginning of the book. I would need to write all the things that led up to that scene, as well as the things that came after it, which was where most of the action would happen.

But I kept thinking of more and more things that needed to go in before it. I kept adding more and more backstory, set up, even characters who would likely never reappear. Instead of moving forward, I kept moving backwards. Yes, I was adding to my word count, but I wasn’t moving the story forward, I was just continuously setting up for the action.

I had to figure out how to move forward.

So I sat down and thought about what scenes needed to go right before the one that I had written pre-NaNoWriMo. What was actually important to that specific plot point. And then I wrote (well, am still writing) those scenes. Maybe I’ll also write one or two more scenes that go before that, but only if they are important for moving forwards.

Because there are two challenges of NaNoWriMo. First, and more obvious, is writing 50,000 words in 30 days. But the secondary challenge is writing a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Without those things, you don’t really have a story. You just have 50,000 words.

So here’s this week’s takeaway for me: There will always be more backstory and more world building you can do. But those things aren’t your story, they aren’t the action and the plot and the characters running around getting things done. Make your story move forward, make your characters move forward. Don’t get lost in the foundations.

This Week’s Word Counts
Day 8: 941 (5,345)
Day 9: 2,020 (7,365)
Day 10: 1,889 (9,254)
Day 11: 0 (9,254)
Day 12: 1,729 (10,983)
Day 13: 729 (11,712)
Day 14: 1,451 (13,163)

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Week 1 Progress

Well, here we are, a whole week into NaNoWriMo. And here’s how my week went.

I started out strong. I set a personal goal of 2,000 words per day, with a 1,700 minimum, so I would always be over the official count. The first two days, I made those goals, and was thus ahead of the game. (I also went to write-ins both those days, which probably helped. So note to self: that resolution was a good call. Go to more write-ins.) But then three things happened: 1) I got sick, 2) I hit a section I didn’t want to write, and 3) it was the weekend.

I stayed home sick from work on Friday, and managed a few measly words, but otherwise I queitly fell off the NaNoWriMo bus for that long weekend. I knew weekends would likely be slower days because that’s when my husband and I are both home and actually try to spend that time together—something I wasn’t sure I was willing to give up even for NaNoWriMo. But being sick meant that I wrapped myself up in PJs and a fuzzy blanket, and the two of us played through the entirety of Halo 4. Fun? Yes. Productive? Not exactly.

After the weekend, with only a little sniffle to show I had previously been sick, I pulled up my Scrivener doc, and stared at my project. I knew exactly what needed to go next: a nice little piece of verse, something in the vein of a ballad or an epic poem. Despite my college poetry classes, verse isn’t my favorite thing. Staring at my project document, I started to consider abandoning NaNoWriMo altogether.

Yeah, you read that right. All because of a few lines of verse, I was prepared to call it quits, even before the first week wrapped up.

Well, I didn’t. Instead, I formed a plan. Step one: write some shitty verse that I didn’t have to care about right now. Step two: wrap up that scene extra quick, because I hated everything about it. Step three (and this is the important one): MOVE ON. Yes, part of NaNoWriMo is about “forcing” out the words, but it’s important to remember that there are still appropriate times to bail out. Scenes that you actively hate and that make you even consider quitting? BAIL OUT NOW. I decided that I just did not have time during NaNoWriMo to write scenes that I hate.

So here’s my current advice: When you’re stuck, write the scenes you love, write the scenes that made you want to write this novel in the first place. Fall back in love with your novel.

This Week’s Word Counts
Day 1: 1,713 (1,713)
Day 2: 2,013 (3,726)
Day 3: 101 (3,827)
Day 4: 0 (3,827)
Day 5: 0 (3,827)
Day 6: 288 (4,115)
Day 7: 289 (4,404)

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Thinkin’ About: NaNoWriMo ’17.

It’s that time again. (Or, almost that time again?) It’s that time of year when thousands of writers all around the globe start thinking about putting as many words down as they can during the month of November as part of National Novel Writing Month. So, predictably, I’m thinking about it too.

Last year was a total bust. There were just too many things going on in my life, and I think I wrote less than 500 words that whole month. But I think I have a real shot this year. There are three main things that I am doing differently this November in my latest attempt to win NaNoWriMo—and, more importantly, write a novel.

First: Unlike last year, when I had a new job, a visiting friend, and Thanksgiving and its associated travels to contend with, this year I have nothing but time. (Well, of course there’s still Thanksgiving and travel for that, but that’s normal.) This year I’m working a different job, one that affords me plenty of free time in front of a computer—time I’m hoping to use as dedicated NaNoWriMo-ing time. Even if I can’t turn off the internet (which I need for work), I’m making a NaNo Resolution™ to ignore social media (at least until after I’ve hit my daily wordcount) and I might even go so far as to delete the apps from my phone.

Second: I’m doing a lot more planning this year. I always say I’m going to plan, but then I don’t. So this October, I’m working on that. I’m not going so far as to write an outline (hah, have you met me?), but I am creating character sketches (not actual artwork, though that would be a really cool way to prep) and even briefly jotting down scenes. Hopefully this means I’ll at least have things like names for these characters and a general starting point by the time I start writing…

Third: Lately I’ve been feeling like I don’t have anyone to talk to about writing—mine, or theirs. Writing can be a solitary endeavor, but it also doesn’t have to be. Talking about my writing really helps me to work out ideas, to figure out things that will work or realize that some things won’t. So this coming November I’m going to go to as many write-ins as I can. This is both an attempt to make some friends—something I haven’t really done since moving to Colorado over a year ago because hello social anxiety—and an attempt to find some people who I can write with, and talk about writing with.

So far that’s my plan. Even better, so far I have been sticking to it.

What are you doing for NaNoWriMo prep?

(Wow, this post has a lot of parentheses in it…)

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Review: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

I’ve written about how much I love Patricia A. McKillip’s writing on this blog before and that sentiment only grows stronger with every book of hers I read. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was originally published in 1974, and though it has been widely available to me for years (I distinctly remember seeing a copy of it in my high school library) this was my first time reading it. Of course, by the time I was done, I was wondering what took me so long?

The powerful young wizard Sybel requires the company of no man. In her exquisite stone abode, she is attended by exotic, magical beasts: Riddle-master Cyrin the boar; the treasure-starved dragon Gyld; Gules the Lyon, tawny master of the Southern Deserts; Ter, the fiercely vengeful falcon; Moriah, feline Lady of the Night. To complete her menagerie, Sybel only desires the mysterious Liralen, which eludes even her strongest enchantments.

Sybel’s solitude is shattered when a desperate soldier arrives with an endangered child. Soon she will discover that the world of men is full of love, deceit, and the temptations of vast power.

People sometimes talk about urgency in a story. The feeling of something imminent that pulls the story along. But this story moves slowly, like a slow winding stream that moves purposefully towards its destination, but doesn’t rush. Some people might prefer the tension that almost automatically comes with urgency, but there is something to be said for the story that moves forward not because it’s being pulled along by the plot, but because it is just moving that way itself.

These words can’t quite describe the tone of this book, but they might give another reader an idea of what to expect. This story moves forward because the characters are moving forward themselves, not because they are being pulled along by the plot.

One thing I noticed about this story is where it started. When I was in college, I took a screenwriting class where the teacher told us that the beginning of a story is right before everything changed. This doesn’t just apply to scripts, and really helped me with my prose writing as well. This starting just before the catalyst as it were, allows that same sense of urgency to help a writer pull a reader in. Obviously this isn’t a hard and fast rule; it’s a guideline that can help writers. This book doesn’t use that rule at all, which helps dispense with the urgency that might be found in other books, and lends itself instead to the previously mentioned slow and easy tone of the story.

In some ways this book seemed less “strange” than her other books. Other books of hers have had some sort of strangeness to them, an otherworldly air, while this book was almost mainstream by comparison. As this book was one of her first books published, it’s easy to imagine that it was also one of the first ones she wrote. I can see how she was still coming into what I, years later, think of as her style. There were also elements of other characters from other books in the characters of this book, parallels that I kept drawing in my head.

None of this should be taken to mean this book isn’t amazing. I loved this book, and read it in one sitting, gulping it down when it absolutely deserved to be savored. In fact, this book will likely make the list of the best books I read in 2017, a lesser honor than the World Fantasy Award it already won after its original publication. It definitely made me want to read some of my favorite McKillip books again—particularly the ones that may have grown out of this one.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is written by Patricia A. McKillip and will be published by Tachyon Publications on September 19, 2017.

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Thinkin’ About: Rekindling A Love Affair With Paper Books

For the past few weeks, I have been trying to rekindle my love affair with books. Not books, as in “things that we read,” but as in, “the actual physical paper artifact.” And I say trying because I’m not sure it’s working out as well as I might have hoped.

I’ve read almost exclusively on an ereader (specifically Kindles, although I’ve had three of them as new models come out) for the last several years. But recently I’ve been unable to get my hands on e-copies of some books, so I went to my local library—a building I have lived four blocks away from since last October—and got myself a library card. (My love/dismay relationship with libraries is probably a whole other post…) The library was able to get me the books I was looking for, but they were, of course, paper.

I love books. But that statement apparently has to be broken down further, to distinguish from “things we read” and “physical paper thing.” Because I do love actual paper books, but I love them as artifacts. I love the covers that artists produce for them, I love taking them to authors and having them signed, I love supporting the authors whose works I love. But. I don’t love reading on paper anymore.

Yes, there is something to be said for the convenience of an ereader, of being able to carry around hundreds of books in such a small package. But more than that, it’s a different physical experience. And for me, it’s a more comfortable experience. Books are hard to balance, they can be large and unwieldy, require two hands to turn pages and a light to read by, and they can be physically damaged by the very act of our opening them carelessly. My Kindle is small, has a page turn button right where I hold the device anyway, and has a backlight so I can read into the wee hours of the night while my husband sensibly sleeps.

In a way it’s hard to get my head around the idea that I might not love actual books as much as I used to, particularly since I own so many of them, and want to continue to expand that collection. A goodly chunk of them are signed, some of them are books I’ve owned for many, many years and have fond memories attached. On the other hand, the convenience of the Kindle is hard to beat. What does that say about the practicality of owning those physical artifacts?

So here’s my (potentially) unpopular opinion: I don’t love reading paper books. I love reading on my Kindle.

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Review: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock

I’m not sure how this book popped up on my radar, but when I saw it on NetGalley the cover at least was familiar. And obviously, if the cover was familiar, it was because someone whose opinion I trust had said this book was good. Whoever that was, thanks for the tip, because boy, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors was seriously fun. My husband asked what I was reading the other night, and I told him, “This book with airships and blood magic and math. Oh, and also musketeers.” Oddly, I think it was the addition of the musketeers that made him laugh.

A polymath princess and her faithful musketeer must unravel the plot of a thousand-year-old madman in order to save an a foreign kingdom from a disastrous civil war.

Caelum is an uninhabitable gas giant like Jupiter. High above it are the Risen Kingdoms, occupying flying continents called cratons. Remnants of a shattered world, these vast disks of soaring stone may be a thousand miles across. Suspended by magic, they float in the upper layers of Caelum’s clouds.

Born with a deformed hand and utter lack of the family’s blood magic, Isabelle is despised by her cruel father. She is happy to be neglected so she can secretly pursue her illicit passion for math and science. Then, a surprising offer of an arranged royal marriage blows her life wide open and launches her and Jeane-Claude on an adventure that will take them from the Isle des Zephyrs in l’Empire Céleste to the very different Kingdom of Aragoth, where magic deals not with blood, but with mirrors.

Anyone who knows me, probably also knows that I… am not a math person. Number do not behave for me—unless, oddly, I’m multiplying. Basic addition? Definitely don’t count on me for that. Friends of mine still make fun of me for the time I added 8 + 3 and got 12. It wasn’t really until I’d started reading this book that I realized that “polymath” was literally in the blurb and I’d just sort of… glossed over it. Happily for me—and possibly for other people who are interested in reading this book—actual numbers don’t really make an appearance in this book. Instead, “polymath” seems to be code for, “incredibly smart with an interest in math, science, and natural philosophy.”

The heroine, our polymath princess Isabelle, then proceeds to demonstrate all of those things without losing either my interest or my understanding, a feat both appreciated and admired. Isabelle is a delightfully fleshed out character whose mind was fun to inhabit for a time. Of course, she isn’t without her flaws, as all well-written characters are. But those “flaws” are believable and become strong parts of her character, rather than devices the author is using to prove that his character isn’t perfect. She hesitates where others might not, she hopes—a quality that literally walks her into danger—and is less vicious than both everyone hopes she will be and than everyone around her actually is.

Isabelle is also a disabled protagonist, born with a birth defect. It’s something that colors her entire existence—but that’s mostly due to social and religious biases that are a part of the world she inhabits. She herself has learned to live with the disability and works around it, using her body the only way she knows how. Without giving away anything that would certainly ruin a plot point, there is a really nice moment when even that is taken away from her, and she’s momentarily devastated. Although the recovery from that devastation smarts a little of a deus ex machina, it also manages to still be a reasonable recovery within the world of the book, as well as setting up future schemes for subsequent books.

Like most readers, I like to try and guess at the mysteries a writer teases as I read. I think the best executed plot twists are the ones that lead the reader along at the same speed as the rest of the characters, and this book delivered on that. There were things that I started to guess at just as the Isabelle and Jean-Clause started to get suspicious too. And for the big reveals, I guessed at them within a page or two of the characters figuring it out for themselves. There was even one character who wasn’t who he said he was and I never saw it coming.

Another thing that I really liked about this book was that the romantic subplots are almost non-existent. By the time the main action of this book begins, Isabelle is 24 years old—old enough in the structure of her world that she has given up on the idea of marrying anyone. Of course, much of the plot revolves around an arranged marriage for her, and she does dream that love might blossom in that marriage, but it’s a brief dream and she returns her focus to the fact that people are trying to kill her. There is absolutely set up for romance to do some blossoming in future books, and given the characters said blossoming might happen between, I’m looking forward to seeing how it could develop.

The one hiccup in this book, for me, is the world itself. Not the cities or the religion or most of the other world-building things that make a fictional land feel like a real one, but that actual geography. The landscape of this book’s world is intriguing, yes, but doesn’t feel relevant. Airships and floating landmasses and odd wind patterns that play havoc with said airships and sometimes even those landmasses are all sort of present in the book because they’re facts of life for the people who live there—but you could probably swap out airships with real ships and put those landmasses in the ocean and nothing structurally would change. The history of how those landmasses came to be is hinted at, both in the blurb above and within the book itself, but it doesn’t play an integral part in anything. Maybe this is something the author is working towards, since we do get those hints, but from just the one book it seems like an unnecessary “coolness” device.

All that being said, I’m really excited for the next book in this series. The love story that has the potential to play a larger role in future books is with a character that we didn’t get to learn nearly enough about, but who still managed to make me like him almost instantly. Not to mention the political ramifications of this book’s plot on future plot lines. I do hope that we get a little more about the world itself, but since it seemed like the author was setting that up anyway, I’m not worried. Who knows what Isabelle and Jean-Claude are going to do next time?

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is written by Curtis Craddock and will be published by Tor Books on August 29, 2017. It is the first book in the Risen Kingdoms series.

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Review: Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

miranda-and-caliban I haven’t read everything Jacqueline Carey has ever written, but I’ve read a decent chunk of it. And I’ve always liked it. Kushiel’s Legacy is one of my favorite series, one that I reread every couple of years. The Agent of Hel Urban Fantasy trilogy is a fun romp that I couldn’t read fast enough, and wish there was a lot more of. Like many readers, when I read one thing by an author that I like, I’ll read more of their works because I want to find more things that I like. With authors whose MO is to explore the various subgenres of Fantasy, that desire to like everything they write can be hit-or-miss. I wanted to like Miranda and Caliban as much as I liked the rest of Jacqueline Carey’s work that I’ve read. But I just didn’t.

A lovely girl grows up in isolation where her father, a powerful magus, has spirited them to in order to keep them safe.

We all know the tale of Prospero’s quest for revenge, but what of Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage Prospero chained to his will?

In this incredible retelling of the fantastical tale, Jacqueline Carey shows readers the other side of the coin―the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him. The two find solace and companionship in each other as Prospero weaves his magic and dreams of revenge.

Always under Prospero’s jealous eye, Miranda and Caliban battle the dark, unknowable forces that bind them to the island even as the pangs of adolescence create a new awareness of each other and their doomed relationship.

There’s nothing technically wrong with this book. The writing isn’t bad, the story isn’t full of holes, the world is consistent. At the same time, the pace was almost unbearably slow. I was more than halfway through the book and still wondering when they story would start. The characters weren’t unlikeable, they just weren’t particularly interesting either. I wasn’t exactly bored by this book, but neither was I so excited to read it that I raced through it as fast as I could.

The story begins when Miranda is six, and for that age she’s an incredibly eloquent child. But as the story progresses, Miranda doesn’t. Despite the story making a point of her education by her father, she never seems to grow intellectually. Part of that is Prospero keeping his daughter ignorant for his “great working,” but another part of that is simply that there’s not much room to grow given the starting point. Even harder for me to read, she is—for much, if not all of the story—content in her ignorance, even knowing that she is such.

There’s a reason for much of this, of course. The whole story of this book takes place within the framework of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play whose action occurs all within a single day. So while it builds some new things within that frame, it never expands outwards—because it can’t. Many readers will know how the play ends, and so this book had to end that same way. Because I knew where the story was building to, it lacked some of the dramatic tension that I have previously enjoyed in Carey’s work. Though it has been long enough since I last read The Tempest that I only remember the barest outline of that story, I wonder if I might have liked this book better if I had never read the play, or if I had read it more recently.

The rest of the cast—Caliban, Ariel, and Prospero—has such potential to be interesting, but they don’t really do much. Miranda and Caliban narrate the story in alternating first person perspectives, but Prospero and Ariel take up so much of the story still, given that the cast of the story is limited by to the occupants of the island. Even Ariel’s Shakespearean language patterns don’t quite make him a fuller character, and the play’s constraints on the book make Propsero’s “great working” is mostly done off-screen, so while we get to see the inevitable results, we don’t see much of the working itself outside of the observations of Miranda or Caliban.

Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely people out there who are going to love this book. This is certainly a departure from what I’ve read of the rest of Jacqueline Carey’s books, which was part of its appeal. Of course it’s always a pleasure to read the next book in a beloved series, but its where authors allow themselves to depart from the familiar and learn new things that readers can really get a sense of their skill as writers.

The one thing I found myself getting really into in this book was the magic Prospero uses. It’s an interesting mix of alchemy and astronomy, and the Greek and Roman pantheons. Carey herself said that she did a lot of research into the magical practices of the time, picking and choosing the ones that allowed for a consistent magical system, and I would happily read another book that used the same magical construction.

Miranda and Caliban is written by Jacqueline Carey and was published by Tor Books on February 14, 2017.

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Book Stats: 2016 Retrospective

2016 was a pretty decent year for me in terms of reading. I read a fair amount of books, and that makes me happy. Maybe I didn’t read as many as I would have liked, but I did average a little over 5 books per month for the year, and that’s pretty good. Obviously the goal this year will be to beat 2016’s numbers, but I think that’s doable.

I always keep track of the books I read in a year, but this year I tracked a few other things as well. In addition to books I read for the first time and books I reread, I also tracked the gender of the author and whether the book was published in the year I was reading it. Anyway. Here are some numbers.

In 2016 I read 61 books. Of those 61, 29 were books I’d read before, and 32 were new to me.

Of those 32: 5 were written by men and 26 were written by women; 17 were published in 2016, and 1 will be published in 2017 (tomorrow, actually).

Broken down by month, this is total number of books I read and the number of those books that were rereads:

  • Jan 2/0
  • Feb 3/0
  • Mar 8/6
  • Apr 7/3
  • May 5/3
  • Jun 8/6
  • Jul 1/0
  • Aug 9/7
  • Sep 2/0
  • Oct 9/1
  • Nov 4/3
  • Dec 3/0

Not too shabby, really.

So, my goals for this year are 1) to read more books total (65 is a nice round number, I’ll aim for that), 2) to have my ratio of first reads to rereads favor first reads more heavily (maybe I’ll cap the number of books I reread this year), and 3) to read at least 4 books every month. This all seems reasonable to me, so as The Doctor would say… Allons-y!

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Best Books I Read in 2016

We’re once again coming up on the end of the year. Everybody seems to be happy to say goodbye to 2016, but there were some nice things about this past year too. My personal highlights include moving to a new state, starting a new job, and getting engaged. And also reading some awesome books. So here’s my “Best of 2016” book list. As before, these books are listed in the order I read them and aren’t necessarily books that were published this year (although some of them, of course, were).

25489443 Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip
Hidden away from the world by his mother, the powerful sorceress Heloise Oliver, Pierce has grown up working in her restaurant in Desolation Point. One day, Heloise tells her son the truth about his father, a knight in King Arden’s court; about an older brother he never knew existed; about his father’s destructive love for King Arden’s queen; and, Heloise’s decision to raise her younger son alone.

As Pierce journeys to Severluna, he learns that things are changing in that kingdom. Ancient magic is on the rise. The immensely powerful artifact of an ancient god has come to light, and the king is gathering his knights to quest for this profound mystery, which may restore the kingdom to legendary glory—or destroy it.

Patricia McKillip is hands down one of my favorite authors, and any year when she has a new book out is probably a year when she’ll have a book on my “Best of” list. In some ways, this books seems a little more accessible than her other books, in that there are modern conveniences that are familiar to the reader, like cars and cell phones which aren’t really in her other books. It’s an interesting mix, but this story still feels like much of her high(er?) fantasy that I love. One of my favorite thing about McKillip’s writing is all the strange and delightful twists that she comes up with, and this book certainly has its fair share. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.

cnng6ieuiaaj-cg A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift—back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games—an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries—a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

This book certainly suffers from Second Book Syndrome more than any of the other second-books-in-a-series that might be on this list. By which I mostly mean that this book ends on a cliff-hanger that might have made me howl in despair over not immediately having the next book in the series available to read. (I cannot confirm or deny these allegations.) If you’re at all hesitant about picking up this book based on that recommendation, rest assured that the next book in this series is set to come out in 2017, so you can read the first one and this one without the fear of experiencing book withdrawal like those of us who read it as soon as it comes out.

traitor-baru The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon.

The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They’ll conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She’ll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she’ll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.

In a final test of her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. Aurdwynn kills everyone who tries to rule it. To survive, Baru will need to untangle this land’s intricate web of treachery—and conceal her attraction to the dangerously fascinating Duchess Tain Hu.

But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.

I try not to give spoilers in any of my reviews—these tiny ones or the longer ones that I post here—but the one thing I will say about this book is that if you’re looking for a Happy Ending, this may not be the book for you. Or maybe set a comfort read aside for after this book, because this one is sure to leave you feeling gutted. As far as I know, Seth Dickinson isn’t planning a sequel to this book, and while this story doesn’t necessarily need a follow up, the characters and the world he created are thoroughly intriguing and definitely left me wanting more. Not the least because I didn’t want that to be how it all ended.

every-heart-doorway Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost.

I tried several times to write a review of this book, but could never quite get the swirl of emotions to settle enough for me to articulate them. So I’ll say this: If you were ever that kid who read fantasy books during recess, who longed for Narnia or Middle Earth or Valdemar or the Enchanted Forest, this book is for you. Even more than reading about those worlds, this book is all about what it might be like to be those kids who go somewhere else, who find their portals. I alternately wildly grinned and tearily sniffled my way through this book, and I know you will too. We’re even getting a sequel to this book, because Seanan McGuire loves us all just that much.

a-court-of-mist-and-fury-by-sarah-j-maas1 A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

The first book in this series was on last year’s list, and this book is even better. While A Court of Thorns and Roses was a fairly close fairy tale parallel, A Court of Mist and Fury left that structure behind and moved forward with the characters and the story that the first book began. And it works. It works so well. We meet a whole host of new people and get new perspectives on characters we already know—and some of those perspectives aren’t so favorable. But I really loved those surprising turns. Without spoiling anything, it was the change in perspective of one particular character that I loved the best about this book. I can’t wait to read book three and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up on next year’s list.

hs3cover No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished by Rachel Aaron
When Julius overthrew his mother and took control of his clan, he thought he was doing right by everyone. But sharing power isn’t part of any proper dragon’s vocabulary, and with one seat still open on the new ruling Council, all of Heartstriker is ready to do whatever it takes to get their claws on it, including killing the Nice Dragon who got them into this mess in the first place.

To keep his clan together and his skin intact, Julius is going to have to find a way to make his bloodthirsty siblings play fair. But there’s more going on in Heartstriker Mountain than politics. Every family has its secrets, but the skeletons in Bethesda’s closet are dragon sized, and with Algonquin’s war looming over them all, breaking his clan wide open might just be the only hope Julius has of saving it.

Let me say right now that the end of this book really knocked my socks off. This is another book with its preceding book on last year’s list, and you might think that just means I really like these authors. Well, I do, but I also haven’t read any of Rachel Aaron’s other series’ (yet). This series, though. It has such a great world and such great characters, and it just keeps getting better and better with each book. In particular, this book finally allows the reader to get to know some of the characters we’ve been really curious about from other books, opening up whole new schemes for the dragons we’ve come to love. And holy crap, that ending.

eos-cover Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those don’t.

As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

Aelin’s journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?

I read the entire Throne of Glass series shortly after finishing A Court of Mist and Fury because I wanted more of Sarah J. Maas’ writing. And while I would recommend doing it the other way around, this series features one of my newest favorite characters: the witch, Manon. Maas does in this series the same reversal of perspective on characters that she did in A Court of Thorns and Roses and its sequel, which has quickly become one of my favorite things about her books. And while the first four books in this series are certainly good, this book ended with a really shocking finale that made me both smile at the deft way in which it was written while still cursing the author who had written it. (Are we sensing a trend with this year’s books?) If that isn’t a mark of a good book, I don’t know what is.

the-bear-and-the-nightingale-katherine-arden_coverThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

This book was recommended for me through NetGalley based on my review of Uprooted last year, and it definitely hit a lot of those same highlights. Fairy tales and larger than life characters and a deep immersion into the world those tales and characters come from. If, like me, you tend to be cold all the time, I might hold off on reading this book until the warmer months, but definitely find a copy. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.

You can find all my “Best Of” lists here. Enjoy!

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Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

the-bear-and-the-nightingale-katherine-arden_cover I don’t really know why I’m surprised, but NetGalley is learning my tastes. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in the back end of that site, there was a note in my profile that said, “Loves fairy tales!” Or maybe there’s just stats on what books I request. Either way, since I enjoyed Uprooted last year, someone thought I would enjoy The Bear and the Nightingale this year. Well, they weren’t wrong. Maybe I should be more creeped out by the prospect of computers learning more about me… except that it keeps providing me with excellent books. What’s not to like about that?

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles nearer, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

What I was expecting from the book and what this book actually provided turned out to be two separate things. But in the end, that wasn’t a bad thing. I really liked this book—possibly better than I would have liked the book I thought I was going to read. Most of those foiled expectations seem to come from the fact that I was expecting a similar story structure to Uprooted. But while the two stories probably do share a subgenre—fairy tale retellings, perhaps—the way in which those fairy tales are retold is vastly different.

To begin, this book moved a little slower than I expected. I tend to think of books as either action-driven—by which I mean that the plot tends to move forward by virtue of the characters taking various actions—or character-driven. The latter is usually more, let’s say, cerebral. In general you spend a little more time in the characters’ heads, learning who they are and what they want. They might take actions, which will certainly move the plot forward, but the bulk of the story centers around character. The Bear and the Nightingale felt more character-driven to me than Uprooted, which likely accounts for the perceived slow pace.

Now, don’t start thinking that all of that means I didn’t like the book. I’ve already mentioned that I did, and despite my personal issues with its pacing, this book delivers a fantastic story. In case it’s not obvious, I’m a huge fan of fairy tales, and the various ways authors can manipulate them into something new. I’m not overly familiar with Russian fairy tales, but I enjoyed getting to know this particular tale through the lens of this book. Perhaps one of the best things Katherine Arden does in this book was making it accessible to those unfamiliar with the cultural genre. Almost immediately after I was done, I went to see what sort of books on Russian fairy tales Amazon had to offer, which just shows how well the author draws the reader into the world.

Another thing that really draws the reader into this book was the weather, and the permeating cold of the Russian winter. Everyone in the book is cold, almost all the time, and even in the brief warmer seasons, there is always the looming reminder that it won’t stay that way for long. And while Winter himself is a character in this book, it’s more than that. In a very real way, Winter is this book. Katherine Arden then combines that cold with the almost palpable fear of her characters—which also makes use of the more character-driven, inside-their-heads sort of storytelling. All in all, it makes for a chilling read—in more ways than one.

The Bear and the Nightingale is written by Katherine Arden and will be published by Del Rey on January 10, 2017. It is the first book in The Winternight Trilogy.

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