November Wrap Up // Once Upon a Readathon and Nonfiction November

I participated in Once Upon a Readathon and Nonfiction November this month, so how did I do?

Wren Greenrock has always known that one day she would steal her sister’s place in the palace. Trained from birth to return to the place of her parents’ murder and usurp the only survivor, she will do anything to rise to power and protect the community of witches she loves. Or she would, if only a certain palace guard wasn’t quite so distractingly attractive, and if her reckless magic didn’t have a habit of causing trouble…

Princess Rose Valhart knows that with power comes responsibility. Marriage into a brutal kingdom awaits, and she will not let a small matter like waking up in the middle of the desert in the company of an extremely impertinent (and handsome) kidnapper get in the way of her royal duty. But life outside the palace walls is wilder and more beautiful than she ever imagined, and the witches she has long feared might turn out to be the family she never knew she was missing.

Two sisters separated at birth and raised into entirely different worlds are about to get to know each other’s lives a whole lot better. But as coronation day looms closer and they each strive to claim their birthright, the sinister Kingsbreath, Willem Rathborne, becomes increasingly determined that neither will succeed. Who will ultimately rise to power and wear the crown?

I am trying to get through some of my Fairyloot editions! It is so easy to become overwhelmed by them. Twin Crowns was a paperback that they included in one of their boxes, and it might be the prettiest paperback I own. I am happy to report that I really enjoyed this book! It is nothing groundbreaking and was fairly predictable, but it felt like classic YA fantasy and that is what I was looking for. I adored Wren’s perspective and seeing her attempt to blend in, but Rose’s POV did get under my skin a little bit. That makes sense for the character, given she is a naive princess who has been kept in the dark about what goes on beyond the palace walls. Both romances have a lot of potential, but I was more invested in the relationship between the sisters and in learning more about the magic. I will definitely be checking out the sequel, Cursed Crowns, when it comes out next year.

A magical detective dives into the affairs of Chicago’s divine monsters to secure a future with the love of her life. This sapphic period piece will dazzle anyone looking for mystery, intrigue, romance, magic, or all of the above.

An exiled augur who sold her soul to save her brother’s life is offered one last job before serving an eternity in hell. When she turns it down, her client sweetens the pot by offering up the one payment she can’t resist―the chance to have a future where she grows old with the woman she loves.

To succeed, she is given three days to track down the White City Vampire, Chicago’s most notorious serial killer. If she fails, only hell and heartbreak await.

I have heard a lot of amazing things about C.L. Polk and Even Though I Knew the End is my first book by them! I enjoyed it so much that I instantly added The Midnight Bargain to my wishlist. Even Though I Knew the End is only 136 pages but it has certainly left an impact on me. I would say that this is ultimately a love story even though it is set in a world with vampires and demons.

Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased—and not always true—divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer—unless Violet does something about it.

But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom—all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus.

Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom—or doom them all.

Violet of Thorns is another Fairyloot book that I had a lot of fun with! I think I felt the same way about this one as I did about Twin Crowns. It was just a fun and quick read and I will be checking out the sequel. That said, I think that this had some more twists than Twin Crowns and I really connected with Violet as a character. The world here is intriguing as well and I hope we learn more in future books! My biggest gripe though is that I was not a fan of the prince… at all. I am not into the romance developing here!

From the critically acclaimed author of Something To Talk About comes a sharp and sexy rom-com about a college senior who accidentally hooks up with her best friend’s mom.

When Cassie Klein goes to an off-campus bar to escape her school’s Family Weekend, she isn’t looking for a hookup—it just happens. Buying a drink for a stranger turns into what should be an uncomplicated, amazing one-night stand. But then the next morning rolls around and her friend drags her along to meet her mom—the hot, older woman Cassie slept with.

Erin Bennett came to Family Weekend to get closer to her daughter, not have a one-night stand with a college senior. In her defense, she hadn’t known Cassie was a student when they’d met. To make things worse, Erin’s daughter brings Cassie to breakfast the next morning. And despite Erin’s better judgement—how could sleeping with your daughter’s friend be anything but bad?—she and Cassie get along in the day just as well as they did last night.

What should have been a one-time fling quickly proves impossible to ignore, and soon Cassie and Erin are sneaking around. Worst of all, they start to realize they have something real. But is being honest about the love between them worth the cost?

Mistakes Were Made is a steamy romance and everything I expected from a sapphic romance between a college student and her best friend’s mom! I wasn’t sure if I could get behind the age gap in this book because it is not typically my thing, but I thought these two had a great connection. I do struggle with the fact that they were hiding the relationship from Erin’s daughter because you just know that is going to blow up in their faces. It stressed me out! I really enjoyed this overall and the ending was so sweet!

Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, who can hear the thoughts and longings of those around her and feels compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a restless creature of fire, once free to roam the desert but now imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they’ll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and try to pass as human–just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Brought together under calamitous circumstances, their lives are now entwined–but they’re not yet certain of what they mean to each other.

Both Chava and Ahmad have changed the lives of the people around them. Park Avenue heiress Sophia Winston, whose brief encounter with Ahmad left her with a strange illness that makes her shiver with cold, travels to the Middle East to seek a cure. There she meets Dima, a tempestuous female jinni who’s been banished from her tribe. Back in New York, in a tenement on the Lower East Side, a little girl named Kreindel helps her rabbi father build a golem they name Yossele–not knowing that she’s about to be sent to an orphanage uptown, where the hulking Yossele will become her only friend and protector.

Spanning the tumultuous years from the turn of the twentieth century to the beginning of World War I, The Hidden Palace follows these lives and others as they collide and interleave. Can Chava and Ahmad find their places in the human world while remaining true to each other? Or will their opposing natures and desires eventually tear them apart–especially once they encounter, thrillingly, other beings like themselves?

The Golem and the Jinni is one of the best books I have read this year and I was so excited to get to the sequel, The Hidden Palace. It was so satisfying to be back with these characters and with Helene Wecker’s writing. She really knows how to put together a sentence and there is something special about that. However, this is one of those cases where I don’t think a sequel was necessary and I wouldn’t go into this expecting much of a plot. I was here for the characters and the atmosphere. Also, if you wanted some answers regarding Sophie’s story in the first book, The Hidden Palace might be worth picking up.

Anna does boring things for terrible people because even criminals need office help and she needs a job. Working for a monster lurking beneath the surface of the world isn’t glamorous. But is it really worse than working for an oil conglomerate or an insurance company? In this economy?

 As a temp, she’s just a cog in the machine. But when she finally gets a promising assignment, everything goes very wrong, and an encounter with the so-called “hero” leaves her badly injured.  And, to her horror, compared to the other bodies strewn about, she’s the lucky one.

So, of course, then she gets laid off.

With no money and no mobility, with only her anger and internet research acumen, she discovers her suffering at the hands of a hero is far from unique. When people start listening to the story that her data tells, she realizes she might not be as powerless as she thinks.

Because the key to everything is data: knowing how to collate it, how to manipulate it, and how to weaponize it. By tallying up the human cost these caped forces of nature wreak upon the world, she discovers that the line between good and evil is mostly marketing.  And with social media and viral videos, she can control that appearance.

It’s not too long before she’s employed once more, this time by one of the worst villains on earth. As she becomes an increasingly valuable lieutenant, she might just save the world.

A sharp, witty, modern debut, Hench explores the individual cost of justice through a fascinating mix of Millennial office politics, heroism measured through data science, body horror, and a profound misunderstanding of quantum mechanics. 

I am not quite sure what to make of Hench! I loved the set-up and the idea of a villain origin story, I just thought that Anna was a hard character to root for, and not because of her alliances or the fact that she is an anti-hero. I understood her motivations but I wish she had more self-awareness. She has every right to be angry about the damage that heroes cause, but she is in no way innocent herself. I found her to be frustrating! There were also a lot of side characters I was more invested in but didn’t feel like we got closure with them. The ending was a bit of a letdown but I didn’t realize that this was a series when I picked it up!

Atlanta is blanketed with snow just before Christmas, but the warmth of young love just might melt the ice in this novel of interwoven narratives, Black joy, and cozy, sparkling romance—by the same unbeatable team of authors who wrote the New York Times bestseller Blackout!

As the city grinds to a halt, twelve teens band together to help a friend pull off the most epic apology of her life. But will they be able to make it happen, in spite of the storm?

No one is prepared for this whiteout. But then, we can’t always prepare for the magical moments that change everything.

From the bestselling, award-winning, all-star authors who brought us Blackout—Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon—comes another novel of Black teen love, each relationship within as unique and sparkling as Southern snowflakes.

Whiteout was cute and something I would recommend if you want a wintery read that you can finish in a day! This is from the same authors as Blackout, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much. While Blackout was a collection of short stories, Whiteout read more like a novel where each of the characters was written by a different author. We are not told which author wrote which POV, though they do give us hints. If anyone has worked that out I would love to know.

With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow.

The community leadership loses its grip on power as the visitors manipulate the tired and hungry to take control of the reserve. Tensions rise and, as the months pass, so does the death toll due to sickness and despair. Frustrated by the building chaos, a group of young friends and their families turn to the land and Anishinaabe tradition in hopes of helping their community thrive again. Guided through the chaos by an unlikely leader named Evan Whitesky, they endeavor to restore order while grappling with a grave decision.

Blending action and allegory, Moon of the Crusted Snow upends our expectations. Out of catastrophe comes resilience. And as one society collapses, another is reborn.

I thought that Moon of the Crusted Snow was an excellent post-apocalyptic novel. It was slow and ominous but in the way that I would hope to find in a book like this. At 213 pages, I think it is best to read this book in one sitting if possible. Seeing how things slowly unfolded and how the tension built was a unique experience.

In my book, you will meet a little girl named Viola who ran from her past until she made a life-changing decision to stop running forever.

This is my story, from a crumbling apartment in Central Falls, Rhode Island, to the stage in New York City, and beyond. This is the path I took to finding my purpose but also my voice in a world that didn’t always see me.

As I wrote Finding Me, my eyes were open to the truth of how our stories are often not given close examination. We are forced to reinvent them to fit into a crazy, competitive, judgmental world. So I wrote this for anyone running through life untethered, desperate and clawing their way through murky memories, trying to get to some form of self-love. For anyone who needs reminding that a life worth living can only be born from radical honesty and the courage to shed facades and be . . . you.

Finding Me is a deep reflection, a promise, and a love letter of sorts to self. My hope is that my story will inspire you to light up your own life with creative expression and rediscover who you were before the world put a label on you.

I voted for Finding Me for the Goodreads Choice Awards because it was incredible and it is Viola Davis. This is a memoir you have to listen to on audio if you can. There is nothing better than hearing Viola Davis tell you her story. She shares a lot about her childhood and her family and the struggles that they faced. She also talks about her time at Julliard and her time of different sets and relationships with different celebrities. Something that stood out to me was what she shared about her marriage. Her love for her husband and the way he supports her really moved me!

Selma Blair has played many archetypal roles: Gullible ingenue in Cruel Intentions. Preppy ice queen in Legally Blonde. Fire-starter in Hellboy. Muse to Karl Lagerfeld. Face of Chanel. Cover model. Advocate for the multiple sclerosis community. But before all of that, Selma was known best for being one thing: a mean baby. In a memoir that is as wildly funny as it is emotionally shattering, Selma Blair tells the captivating story of growing up and finding her truth.

The first story Selma Blair Beitner ever heard about herself is that she was a mean, mean baby. With her mouth pulled in a perpetual snarl and a head so furry it had to be rubbed to make way for her forehead, Selma spent years living up to her terrible reputation: biting her sisters, lying spontaneously, getting drunk from Passover wine at the age of seven, and behaving dramatically so that she would be the center of attention. Although Selma went on to become a celebrated Hollywood actress and model, she could never quite shake the periods of darkness that overtook her, the certainty that there was a great mystery at the heart of her life. She often felt like her arms might be on fire, a sensation not unlike electric shocks, and she secretly drank to escape. Over the course of this beautiful and, at times, shocking memoir, Selma lays bare her addiction to alcohol, her devotion to her brilliant and complicated mother, and the moments she flirted with death. There is brutal violence, passionate love, true friendship, the gift of motherhood, and, finally, the simultaneous devastation and surprising salvation of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. In a voice that is powerfully original, fiercely intelligent, and full of hard-won wisdom, Selma Blair’s Mean Baby is a deeply human memoir and a true literary achievement.

Mean Baby is another memoir that I think is better if listened to. There are many moments throughout the audiobook when Selma Blair gets choked up and I found myself in tears. She shares a lot in this memoir from her complicated relationship with her mother, her addiction to alcohol, her friendships and romantic relationships, her feelings about motherhood, and being diagnosed with MS.

Marvel’s newest recruit shares his own inspiring and unexpected origin story, from China to the bright lights of Hollywood. An immigrant who battles everything from parental expectations to cultural stereotypes, Simu Liu struggles to forge a path for himself, rising from the ashes of a failed accounting career (yes, you read that right) to become Shang-Chi.

Our story begins in the city of Harbin, where Simu’s parents have left him in the care of his grandparents while they seek to build a future for themselves in Canada. One day, a mysterious stranger shows up at the door; it’s Simu’s father, who whisks him away from the only home he had ever known and to the land of opportunity and maple syrup. 

 Life in the new world, however, is not all that it was cracked up to be; Simu’s new guardians lack the gentle touch of his grandparents, resulting in harsh words and hurt feelings. His parents, on the other hand, find their new son emotionally distant and difficult to relate to – although they are related by blood, they are separated by culture, language, and values. 

 As Simu grows up, he plays the part of the pious son well; he gets A’s, crushes national math competitions, and makes his parents proud. But as time goes on, he grows increasingly disillusioned with the expectations placed on his shoulders, and finds it harder and harder to keep up the charade. 

 Barely a year out of college, his life hits rock bottom when he is laid off from his first job as an accountant. Unemployed, riddled with shame and with nothing left to lose, Simu finds an ad on Craigslist that will send him on a wildly unexpected journey, into the mysterious world of show business. 

 Through a swath of rejections and comical mishaps, it is ultimately Simu’s determination to carve out a path for himself that leads him to not only succeed as an actor, but also open the door to reconciling with his parents. After all, the courage to pursue his ambitions at all costs is something that he inherited from his parents, who themselves defied impossible odds in order to come to Canada.

 We Were Dreamers is more than a celebrity memoir – it’s a story about growing up between cultures, finding your family, and becoming the master of your own extraordinary circumstance.

Listening to We Were Dreamers felt like I was talking to a friend! I appreciated that Simu Lui started by sharing the story of his parents- how they met and how they immigrated to Canada. There is a moment in the audiobook where he talks about leaving his grandparents behind in China that made me emotional and you could hear in his voice that he was as well. Simu and I are both from Ontario, Canada and went to the same university at the same time (we are the same age!) and it felt kind of surreal to hear him talk about that time! Can you believe he was an accountant? Hard to imagine!

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