October & November Wrap-Up

Some more really great reads in the last couple of months (including what  might be a new favourite)! 😁 I was a little bit slumpy at the end of October/beginning of November, so there’s not a huge number of books here, but quality-wise, it’s been a really great autumn! 🍁🍁🍁

BOOKS I REVIEWED

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[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I READ

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater.

A sequel/companion novel to the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, following Isabel and Cole as they attempt to put their lives back together, and sustain a relationship. I don’t remember the original trilogy super-well at this point (it’s been literally years, and I could definitely do with a re-read), but despite (or maybe because of) her general antagonism towards the protagonists, Isabel was always my favourite character. And happily, I still loved her in Sinner! Which is a good thing, as it’s a pretty character-driven book.

The story mainly revolves around Cole moving to LA in order to be closer to Isabel, and the chaos that follows him wherever he goes getting between them, which I might have found annoying if it’d been written by a less skilled writer (or about characters that I cared less for)… but as it is, Sinner was a pretty enjoyable ride; the romance was great, the conflicts realistic, and the characters compelling… and it was really lovely to be back in this world. 😊

Kulti by Mariana Zapata.

Successful soccer player Sal Casillas is astonished to find that her former idol Reiner Kulti is about to become her team’s new coach… and seems determined to be a complete dick to her. I loved this book so much (and must now devour every other book Mariana Zapata has written)! It’s a very slow-burn enemies-to-friends-to-lovers romance, with two great lead characters, and enough going on beyond the romance that I was never bored (which tends to be a problem for me with romances), even though it’s a pretty long book. 💕

Lusus Naturae by Alison Goodman. [SHORT STORY]

A quick story from the world of The Dark Days Club, which re-tells Lady Helen and Lord Carlston’s first meeting, but from Carlston’s perspective. I liked this; it was quick, and a little nostalgic, but Carlston’s thoughts and feelings upon meeting Helen weren’t anything unexpected, and I don’t feel like the story really added anything to the series.

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes.

The first book in the Falling Kingdoms series, which centres around three kingdoms on the brink of war, and the search for an ancient magic that will restore the continent’s dying land. Re-reading this wasn’t part of my reading plans for November, but I’m glad to have picked it up anyway; I kind of hate the storyline of this series, as well as the world and most of the characters, but somehow it’s weirdly addictive? Cleo and Magnus (who are two of the three primary characters), though not at their best in this book, are definite bright spots of the series, and it was fun to revisit their beginnings – even though my general opinion of this book hasn’t changed.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman.

The two Owens sisters grow up under suspicion of witchcraft, and desperate to escape their hometown – but life away from their childhood home comes with unexpected challenges, and the more that they try to stay apart, the more that they find that they need each other.

I liked the almost dream-like writing in this, and found both Sally and Gillian (as well as Sally’s younger daughter Kylie) to be compelling leads, but wasn’t hugely invested in either the plot or the romances, unfortunately… The book seemed to wander kind of aimlessly through the sisters’ lives without coming to any real point until near the end, and all the love interests were introduced really suddenly, and neither they nor their relationships were ever really fleshed out much. I found myself wondering if this book is only so famous because the film (which I’ve heard is very different from the book) was very popular? Because I liked it, but didn’t think it was really anything special… And I probably won’t be revisiting this world for the sequel/prequels.

Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Grover Gardner; SHORT STORY COLLECTION]

A collection of three of Miles’ adventures, framed by an original story for this collection in which Miles recovers from bone-replacement surgery – an important episode in his life, even if the tale in itself isn’t the most gripping. The three short stories were all ones I’d read before, but I enjoyed revisiting them a lot, and bumped up my individual ratings for both The Borders of Infinity (which I was much more invested in this time around), and The Mountains of Mourning (which I honestly thought I’d given five stars already… but apparently not). Labyrinth is my least favourite of the bunch, but still an entertaining read (/listen).

Red at Night by Katie McGarry. [SHORT STORY]

A quick story from the Pushing the Limits universe, in which the popular Jonah begins to spend time at the graveyard after a traumatic accident, only to find that it’s “Trash Can Girl” Stella’s favourite spot. This was cute, and I liked both the main characters, but it was too short, and moved to quickly for me to really feel like I’d got to know either of them, or (consequently) for me to get invested in their future. My favourite scenes: their first graveyard-talk, and when Stella took Jonah to volunteer with her.

Eve of Man by Giovanna & Tom Fletcher.

In a dystopian near-future where the birth rate for girls has drastically declined, Eve – the last girl to be born – is humanity’s only hope for survival. No rating for this one; I DNFd it almost halfway through, because whoever came up with the plan to save humanity was clearly an idiot, and I was so frequently reminded of the fact that I was unable to enjoy any other part of the book. I’ve been informed (by a friend who did read the whole thing) that some of my issues with the plot are addressed in the second half, but regardless, I have no plans of picking this up again.

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Moira Quirk]

Beatrice plans to restore her family’s fortunes by summoning a greater spirit of luck and becoming an assistant to her father, while her family is banking on her making an advantageous marriage – which would mean sealing away her magic until widowhood. But when she meets Ianthe Lavan (handsome, charming, eligible, and – most astonishingly of all – understanding of her plight), her choice becomes that much more difficult.

This book was barely even on my radar this year, but I’m so glad that I decided to pick it up; if not an all-time favourite, it’s definitely one of my favourites of the year! 💕 I don’t want to say too much here, as I’m planning to write a full review soon, but my favourite thing about The Midnight Bargain was the gradual shift in so many of Beatrice’s relationships, from mercenary to respectful, then to genuinely affectionate. And there were so many wonderful characters (my favourite was Ysbeta, though)!

Review: The Key to Flambards by Linda Newbery

Still reeling from her parents’ divorce, and the accident that lost her her leg, Grace Russell heads to Flambards house with an uncertain future, just as her ancestor Christina did a hundred years before. But waiting for her at Flambards are two potential new friends – cheerful Jamie and troubled Marcus – and a whole family history just waiting to be discovered.

K.M. Peyton’s Flambards series, published in the 60s (apart from a controversial fourth book that came out in 1981), followed a young girl called Christina who’s summoned to live with her grouchy uncle, who cares about horses and hunting, and not at all about his new ward’s wellbeing. While she’s there, however, she befriends the younger of her two cousins, Will, and the stablehand Dick, and comes to love the decrepit old house and its equine inhabitants. The series is set in the early 1900s, and as it goes on, the shadow of World War I begins to loom, but the main focus is always on Christina as she grows up, and learns to navigate life, and love, and the world.

I would not recommend The Key to Flambards to anyone who hasn’t already read the main series. It’s not a sequel, exactly, and its story stands very well on its own, but much of Grace’s (our new heroine) inner monologue is taken up by wondering about Christina’s life, and many of the conversations that she has with side characters (particularly the adult ones) are about the history of Flambards and its inhabitants… all of which would probably be fairly tedious to a reader who isn’t already emotionally invested.

Beyond that, I found it to be a fun read, though lacking in narrative tension. The story centres on, at various times: Grace re-learning how to love the outdoors through horse riding; her concerns about returning to school; Marcus’ troubled relationship with his father; and the struggle to get enough funding for Flambards – now an artists’ retreat, of sorts – to stay open, and not be sold to make room for housing developments. And although none of these storylines take any particularly surprising or dramatic turns (except for Marcus’ story, in places), they all wrap up very satisfyingly. Grace made for an interesting protagonist – struggling (understandably so), but resilient – and her relationships with both Marcus and Jamie (and even the bossy Charlie) developed naturally, and were both very sweet.

Overall: Nostalgia was obviously a huge factor in my enjoyment of this book, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone else who grew up with Flambards (the books or the TV series). To everyone else, I recommend Flambards. With great insistence. 😊