Sunday, December 31, 2023

It's New Year's Eve Somewhere [A New Year's Eve Short Story]

It's that time again — time for my annual New Year's Eve short story and the latest glimpse into the adventures of Carrie, Tamison, and their party. (Of course, as usual, this story should stand fine alone as well as in the context of the full series.) I hope you enjoy it and that you have a very happy New Year!


It's New Year's Eve Somewhere

This was supposed to be his night off.
The patrol alarm went off with an extended beep that echoed off the concrete and metal walls of the office. Tarvin grumbled to himself as he stood, stretched, and picked up the heavy metal stunlight from his desk. With one hand, he slid the weapon into its holster on his belt; with the other, he smacked the alarm to turn it off.
Still grumbling, he headed for the door into the ring of cells. He'd barely had time to sit down since his last patrol! Ordinarily, he'd only have to check on the prisoners once every few hours. Maybe once an hour if he were feeling especially motivated — Karoti would go every hour, but that man did everything by the book, and he was enthusiastic about it, madman that he was. As far as Tarvin and most of his squadmates were concerned, given that the cells' usual occupants were drunks or dust-heads and the occasional political demonstrator, a walk every two or three hours to make sure everyone was still breathing was more than sufficient. Most of the prisoners had enough problems of their own without guards breathing down their necks.
But tonight was different. Tonight required a patrol every thirty minutes, maybe forty-five if he had a good reason to stretch it, and an all-clear report at least once an hour. Tarvin didn't see the point; it wasn't as if the prisoners could go anywhere. Not as if they could escape without walking right past his desk. But the captain had laid out the consequences for him and his team if any of them failed to do things by the book tonight. If he were lucky, he'd spend a year cleaning orbital debris from Mahideri Station's path. If he wasn't lucky . . .
Tarvin unlocked the door with a finger pressed to the scanner. He carefully shut the door again behind him and waited until he heard the click as it relocked itself. Then, for variety's sake, he turned to the right. He'd mostly been walking counterclockwise, starting with the occupied cells and ending with the empty ones, but if he didn't switch things up occasionally, he'd go mad.
He swept through the curved hall of empty cells quickly, glancing into each. By all rights, the whole holding facility should be as empty as these were. The activists and demonstrators all tended to slow down their activities around this time of year; they knew it was an unlucky time, and any change was doomed to failure. Besides that, the university was between semesters, and that meant that everyone but essential personnel, two security units, and a few especially dedicated scholars and student-mages had left, fled either to their homes or to more hospitable locations. There weren't enough people here to make trouble, which meant anyone scheduled for guard duty here should've had that time off. Tarvin should've had tonight off. But then there'd been two arrests of the ordinary kind, and then another two that sent all the higher-ups into a frothing frenzy of panic and finger-pointing, and so here he was.
Tarvin reached the door at the end of the hall. He pressed his hand to the metal plate beside it and winced as tiny needles pricked the skin of his palm, taking the requisite DNA samples and confirming that he was allowed to access the high-security section of the facility. Before tonight, he'd never seen this door locked — what lay beyond had never been necessary, not as long as he'd worked here. But this night was an exception in multiple ways.
A moment later, the door slid open. Beyond, the temperature dropped by nearly ten degrees, maybe even fifteen. Tarvin shivered and set off again at a quick pace as the door shut and locked behind him, almost soundlessly. To either side of him, circular platforms filled with spirals of inscribed code-runes sat dark and empty, their magic inactive. On the ceiling above each platform was a similar circle of code-runes, also unlit and lifeless.
Midway along the hall, however, he reached two active platforms, their runes glowing the same blue as the stasis field projected above them. Here, the temperature seemed even colder. Magic drew in heat, Tarvin knew, though he couldn't remember where he'd learned that. Mostly you'd never notice it, the difference was so small, but with such powerful spellwork as this . . .
Frost glittered on the skin and clothes of the figures contained in the stasis fields, though they'd only been in there a few hours. The stasis effect would protect them from actually getting frostbite, but they'd still be cold as the back end of the galaxy when they were freed — if they were freed. Sure, this facility was only meant for short-term imprisonment — holding people a day or two, maybe four or five at most, until they'd paid off a light crime or could be transferred elsewhere for a longer sentence. But it wasn't like this section was used much, and Tarvin had heard of some prisoners kept in stasis for decades, covered in so many layers of frost that you couldn't even make out their features. The charges for these two were the same as for those prisoners: unauthorized magic use and espionage against the Coriolion Empire.
Tarvin paused long enough to study the pair. The stasis fields and frost obscured them, but he could still make out some details. The one on the right side of the hall was a woman, dark-skinned and curly-haired like Tarvin himself. She wore a strange green dress — more like a robe, really — and held her hands out as if reaching for someone, or perhaps readying a spell. Her eyes were open wide, and behind the frost, her face held mingled anger and . . . fear? No, not quite. Tarvin had seen plenty of people afraid for themselves. This woman's concern was turned entirely outwards.
Towards the other prisoner, maybe? Tarvin turned to study him next. He didn't look like much, just a man of average build, dressed in robes, with dark hair — messy, but in a way that suggested it had been neatly styled until some kind of scuffle forced it out of place. He'd had the sense to close his eyes, at least, and his head was slightly ducked. He held his arms up, forearms crossed, but his hands were open, the fingers spread. Tarvin had seen this casting position too, when a pair of student mages were debating defensive stances in a local bar. They'd said it was good for shields and not much else.
Neither one looked especially dangerous. If they'd been wearing anything but robes, Tarvin would've taken them for upper-level student-mages at the university. For a moment, he almost wished he could thaw one of them, or maybe both of them, out and ask what had happened and what they'd done. They were the reason he was here, walking patrols every half-hour, after all. Didn't he have a right to know why?
Looking at them, Tarvin had a nasty suspicion that they hadn't done anything. That they were from outside the empire and they'd had a teleportation spell go badly wrong. That would explain what he'd heard about them appearing unexpectedly in a restricted area. And he wouldn't put it past the higher-ups to claim malicious intent no matter what their prisoners said.
But even if he really wanted to talk to one of them, he couldn't. It took a mage and a guard together to release a stasis field, and not just any mage, but one of the Highstars, the highest-ranking mages on the station. No one else had the authority to use so much magic at once. There was only one Highstar here tonight, Meridus, and he'd been the one to activate the stasis field in the first place. He'd never release it for so small a reason as confirming potentially misplaced guilt, not when it was easier to just leave it until it became someone else's problem.
Nor would he have much patience for a lowly guard questioning his decisions. Tarvin turned away from the stasis-held prisoners and continued along his patrol. The rest of the platforms were empty, and the far door let him out in exchange for another DNA sample. Now that he was back among normal cells, the temperature rose again, and he no longer shivered. Still, he kept a brisk pace until he reached the sole occupied cell. He'd been told the two women within were political demonstrators who'd chosen a night in lockup over paying the usual fine. The palm-shaped bruises visible on the thin cheeks of one of the women more or less confirmed as much. Most of the security force wouldn't be gentle with someone who chose to make trouble with a sober mind and full control of their faculties. It was a lot easier to be patient with someone who you thought didn't know any better.
He paused by the cell and looked inside. The clear forcefield across the entrance let him see the prisoners clearly. The bruised woman sat closer to the entrance, her eyes shut, though Tarvin didn't think she was actually asleep. She'd swept her long hair into a high bun since the last time he actually looked into the cell; how it was staying in place, he couldn't tell. The other woman sat in a back corner, bending over . . . was that a notebook and pen? Tarvin cleared his throat and knocked against the wall between cells to get her attention. "Who gave you permission to have personal items in there?"
The woman glanced up for only the briefest moment. "I brought it in with me. Your captain didn't tell me to give it up."
Huh. That was unlike him. Still, Tarvin hadn't seen anyone come in, and he knew whoever brought them in would've searched them. The captain must've been feeling unusually merciful. "Well, fine, then. Just behave yourself with it."
The woman didn't respond; she just kept scribbling in the book. The other spoke up, her voice hoarse. "Do you think it's right that we're in here?"
"You broke the law, ma'am." Tarvin shrugged. "I don't know what else you expected."
"We made a few comments about the nature of truth and justice and freedom." The bruised woman opened her eyes and looked sideways at him. "We said magic should be free to all, not just to the elite, as it is in other worlds. Should that be against the law?"
Tarvin shifted uncomfortably. He'd learned long ago not to entertain that line of thought. "I'm just a guard, ma'am. It's not my job to decide what the law should be, just to uphold it."
He started to walk away, but her voice stopped him before he could get far. "Your name is Tarvin Aboti. You've worked as Mahideri Station security for seven years. Before that, you came from Asarvis. You were born after the Coriolion Empire took over, but your parents remember when the land and the magic were free, and they told you stories about those days when no one else was listening."
Tarvin turned on his heel, reaching for his stunlight. "What — Who are you? How do you know all that?" He'd never introduced himself to these two. And he'd never told anyone on the station about his parents' stories . . .
"My name is Willow. My friend is Laelia." The bruised woman met his eyes. "Would you believe me if I said that I'm from another world, that I come from the long past, and that I've visited the future?"
"That's —" Impossible. That would mean time travel, and even the Highstars couldn't do that. Or could they? Was this a setup?
"No one's listening, Mr. Aboti." Willow smiled at him, weary and determined. "You're the only one on duty here, and no one would bother with patrols if there were another way to watch the cells. So, what do you say? Is the way it is the way it should be? I don't think you think it is. If you help us, we can fix that."
He should leave. He should leave and report this. But instead, he stayed where he was, stunlight still firmly in his hand. "Help you how?"
Laelia's pen stilled, and she responded instead of Willow. "According to the history books, tonight, a guard releases five prisoners. When he does, he starts a chain of changes that ends with the fall of the Coriolion Empire, freedom for the people it's conquered, and access to magic for everyone."
"That guard could be your relief," Willow said, her voice soft. "Or it could be you. I think it's you. What do you think, Mr. Aboti?"
"I could release the two of you," Tarvin said, slowly. He shouldn't listen, he knew. But they knew too much for him to ignore them. At least if he kept talking, he could learn something. He was gathering intelligence; that was all. His captain couldn't fault him for that. "But if the two in high security are included in that group, I can't get them out. I'd need a mage for that."
"I am a mage." Willow put a hand against the force field. Rather than burning her, it dimmed where she touched it. A glow appeared around her other hand, dancing blue and green like the auroras on Asarvis. "Our friends, the other prisoners, are under stasis spells, aren't they? I can undo them safely if you just unlock what needs unlocked."
Was she using the energy from the forcefield to power separate magic? If she could do that — if she could undo the stasis fields — did she even need him to let her and her friend out? More importantly, if she were that skilled or that powerful, then she had to be at least on the same level as the Highstars. Under those circumstances, no one could blame him if he chose to help, could they? Still, a thought occurred to him. "You said five prisoners. There's only four here.
Willow's smile brightened, and she leaned closer to the force field. "The last prisoner isn't a person. We're going to release the magic. Make sure anyone on the station can use it, whatever authorizations they have, just like it used to be."
Like it used to be. Like the world his parents had known. Surely anyone who wanted to do that couldn't be so bad? "What do you get out of this? You said you're from another world. What do you care about here?"
"We want to do what's right." Willow shook her head. "We want to make things how they should be."
"And you have a copy of the Xenoth Archives here," Laelia added, her tone matter-of-fact. "It's under guard, but we might be able to get to it in all the confusion."
Willow gave Laelia an exasperated look. Laelia frowned. "It's the truth. That's why we came here in the first place. We were going to get here during the aftermath, but our timeport went wrong. Then Willow and I realized that was because we had to be here for there to be an aftermath."
That settled it. No one would make up such a ridiculous story as a lie, not if they seriously wanted to convince someone. They had to be telling the truth. All the same . . . "It's bad luck to start any big changes mid-year. You have to wait until the new year if you want anything to work."
Willow faced Tarvin again, her smile returning. "It's always the new year somewhere, Mr. Aboti. If not in this world, then another."
"Tonight's New Year's Eve on Earth and Fuila," Laelia added helpfully. "Worlds 1-3 and 1-5. It's also in the middle of the turning of the year for some cultures in Andauthea, world 3-7."
"See, Mr. Aboti? It's a new year." Willow looked hopefully at him. "So, will you help us?"
Tarvin took a deep breath and put his stunlight back in his pocket. "You'll release magic — will you teach me how to use it?"
"We'll show you the basics," Willow replied. "And we'll leave you information on where to go from there. Does that mean you'll help?"
"Well, your histories say someone does." Tarvin reached for his keys. "Do I let you out now, or later? Do your history books say?"
"Get the supplies you confiscated from us first. There's some tools we need in there." Willow stood. "Then let us out, as soon as possible."
"Right." Tarvin nodded. "I'll be back in a minute, then."
He hurried back down the hall, towards the main office and the lockers of prisoners' possessions. The thrill of what he was doing thrummed in his chest. If he were caught, it would mean death or worse.
But if he wasn't caught, it would mean he'd done something meaningful. Something important. Surely that was worth the risk. After all, it was the new year somewhere — and the new year meant it was time for a change.


Friday, December 29, 2023

December 2023 Doings!

Hello, all! I hope everyone had a merry Christmas, both the season and the day. I can definitely say that my Christmas season didn't go quite how I expected it . . . but that seems to have been the theme of 2023, so I can't say I'm entirely surprised either. We'll get to that in a bit, but first, writing! In which I have some good news!


  • I finally finished drafting Bastian Dennel, PI #4! Last month's assessment of being within a chapter or two of finishing wasn't quite correct; I actually had more like three and a half chapters left before I could call the draft done.
  • But those three and a half chapters have been written! And I don't think they turned out half bad. I'm quite pleased with the last two, actually. The others will need some tweaking, but so do large swathes of the rest of the book, all for the same reason. And the point is that the draft is done, so now I can do that tweaking . . .
  • Except not literally now because I have other projects that I need to work on first. And I'm also very likely going to make this book Bastian Dennel, PI #5 instead and write a new (much shorter) book as #4. But that's neither here nor there. The point is, the book is drafted! Huzzah!
  • I actually finished the final chapter on Christmas Eve — I'd intended to write maybe 500 words and then go to bed early while the rest of my family watched A Christmas Carol. But then I realized that another few hundred words would wrap things up, and then I could have a proper, guilt-free break for the rest of my sister's visit . . . so I did not go to bed early, but I think it was worth it.
  • That's all the writing I've done so far this month (I say "all;" it was a very respectable 8,700-odd words), but I will be writing my New Year's Eve short story in the next few days. Or, possibly, I've already drafted it by the time you read this post, depending on how things go and how much of it I feel like writing on my phone.


  • My reading this month can be pretty neatly divided into "Christmas" and "not Christmas."
  • On the not-Christmas side, I finished my reread of the Illuminae Files with Gemina (just as good as I remembered, and I also realized there's kind of a Die Hard reference or two in there — besides the whole situation being very Die Hard-ish) and Obsidio (better than I remembered, though my memory was still very good — it's one of those books that's more enjoyable on the reread, because you know it'll come out all right and you can appreciate all the twists and turns instead of just being stressed). I also read To Destroy an Illusion (not as good as the Austen Fairy Tale, but still a very interesting twist on some obscure fairy tales) for review purposes. Also, it's not pictured because of a Goodreads issue, but I reread DragonSpell as part of a readalong some friends of mine are doing, and that was lovely. I forget how good those books are.
  • The non-Christmas highlight of my month was, of course, Behind the Curtain, the latest — and, arguably, best — in W.R. Gingell's Worlds Behind series. I loved pretty much everything about this book, but the best bits were getting to know more about Camellia's past and seeing Athelas connect more with both her and Harrow. I especially loved the growing bond between Athelas and Harrow, and there's one particular scene — but that's a spoiler, so you'll all have to read it to know what I'm talking about.
  • On the Christmas side, we had several rereads: Christmas in Talesend (which nicely filled the one-night gap between finishing Illusion and the release of Behind the Curtain), Hogfather (one of my favorite Discworld novels, and certainly the book I've read most in the series), and A Christmas Carol (read via the Dickens December Substack). Also in this category is my current read, A Superhero for Christmas . . . which I really should have read before Christmas, but I was busy.
  • Finally, we have two new-to-me reads: Greenglass House and Twelve Days of (Faerie) Christmas. Greenglass House is a middle-grade novel, good but not amazing. I liked the mystery and the setting, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I'd read it first when I was closer to the target audience's age.
  • Twelve Days of Faerie Christmas, on the other hand, was an absolute delight. It's a sweet, fun Christmas romance involving lots of fae magic and schemes and a very clever take on the gifts of the Twelve Days of Christmas song. Every bit of it is a delight, but the ending most of all. I will absolutely be rereading this one next year, though I may do so after Christmas instead of before so the timing lines up properly. (I could have done that this year . . . but I was really excited and didn't want to wait.)


  • Surprisingly, this month didn't involve watching as many movies and shows as it usually does. Most Decembers, we watch a lot of movies as a family, and I also watch a lot of shows on my own because I'm trying to finish Christmas gifts. This year, I only had one gift I could work on while watching something else, and we also had less opportunity to watch things together until Christmas weekend and the following week.
  • That meant we didn't rewatch as many Christmas movies as usual, but we did get a few in: A Charlie Brown Christmas, White Christmas, and The Man Who Invented Christmas. I also rewatched 'Twas the Night Before Critmas, the Critical Role Christmas oneshot because . . . well, it's fun, and I haven't watched any Critical Role in a long while.
  • We also watched Holiday Inn, which I hadn't see before this year. I don't think I'm going to rewatch that one — I'd rather just watch White Christmas, where I like all the characters, most of the scheming is funny and benevolent (even if it does have an angle of self-benefit) and someone at least tries to have a civil, mature conversation about what's going on instead of just being possessive and manipulative. No, I don't have strong feelings about this at all; whatever gave you that idea?
  • The one notable non-Christmas movie I watched was Across the Spider-Verse on the day after Christmas. My sister watched it a few months ago, loved it, and told me I needed to watch it . . . but I have a really hard time watching movies by myself (because if I have three straight hours all to myself, then I have other things that I need to be doing with those hours), so we planned to watch it together while she was here for the holiday. I really enjoyed that! Though I think Miguel is a drama queen with bad logic who doesn't deserve half the hype he gets, either in-universe or from the fandom, and I want to know why more people aren't talking about The Spot, because yes, he had a rather cliche motivation, but otherwise he's such a cool villain, with an excellent progression from being played for laughs to being a genuine threat.
  • (I know why he gets the hype both places, for the record. To the fandom, he's an anti-hero with an excellent sense of drama. In-universe, it's because his explanation of things makes all the sadness and tragedy in the spider-peoples' lives make sense and absolves them of any guilt or regret. Of course it happened this way. It had to happen this way. It always happens this way. There was nothing they could've done otherwise, and trying just would have doomed everything. Or so he claims. So, yeah, I get it. I just don't think he deserves the hype.)
  • Seeing all the spider-people was cool, though. And Gwen and Miles both had great character arcs, plus I liked how the movie showed the mingled love and tension in their relationships with their respective families. So, good movie.


  • So, December started off well — quite well, even, as on the very first day of the month, I had the pleasure of attending a former coworker's very lovely wedding. Both the ceremony and the reception were beautiful, and the couple made a point of keeping Christ centered in all of it — it's the only wedding I've ever encountered that involved Communion for the whole congregation because the couple wanted to serve Communion together as their first action as husband and wife.
  • The rest of the weekend, however, signaled the start of a downhill slide, as my dad came down with a very bad cold on Saturday. My mom and I did our best to avoid catching it, but by midweek, around the time he started feeling better, we were both down for the count, and I was home on sick leave. Thankfully, after several days of rest, we were both feeling better in time for me to go to work the following Monday . . . and then my dad caught the same cold again from a coworker. Thankfully, everyone was healthy again (or mostly so) in time for Christmas, but it was still stressful and frustrating, and it also made doing anything Christmas-y difficult.
  • It also made finishing my grad school class difficult (or, you know, more difficult) and solidly shattered my plans of wrapping up my final project early. I ended up doing most of the work on said project on the last two days of the class. Thankfully, a lot of the prep had already been covered by previous assignments, so I was able to get the thing written and turned in on time. And now I am done with grant writing for hopefully a very long time.
  • Still, I am grateful that one of the few gaps in the cycle of colds was the Friday of our Bible Study's Christmas party. We always do a baked potato bar and an ice cream bar, and usually the kids act out the Christmas story in a sort of semi-impromptu play. This year, however, we knew we wouldn't have many kids there, so we decided to switch to a dramatic reading of the Christmas story, interspersed with Christmas carols. I helped with a lot of the planning for that; it was the first time in years that I've been so excited for a Christmas play-adjacent thing. I think everyone enjoyed it, and I was certainly happy about how it worked out.
  • Also that weekend, at least if I recall correctly, was my D&D group's last session of the year, in which we defeated one of our nemesis once and for all — he's a rakshasa, and we killed him once in the mortal plane, but he can come back . . . so we went to his plane and took him down a second time so he can't keep on with his schemes and tricks. I got the killing blow and cut him off mid-monologue, and it was very satisfying. (I did give the DM a chance to talk, for the record! But not a long chance, as it very quickly became clear that this guy had nothing useful to say and would just try to turn us off our purpose if we let him go on.)
  • The fact that everyone spent so much of the month sick meant less attention was given to things like Christmas baking, but we did still make cookies. We just didn't try any new recipes for Christmas itself this year. All the same, my gingersnaps and peppermint pinwheels turned out well, and my mom made macaroons, peanut butter balls, biscotti, and Russian teacakes, so I'm happy. And I did make oatmeal-ginger cookies at the start of the month, which were also very tasty.
  • Probably the best part of Christmas this year was that my sister came down from Ohio for the holiday! She arrived Saturday, just in time for us to go to the Christmas Eve-Eve service at our church — which, by the way, was lovely. It wasn't as much of a spectacular as some past years have been, but I think it was nicer overall, as we had more traditional songs, and I think the pastor's message was better than it has been some years. Then, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were both pretty chill, on the whole. I received some lovely gifts (including new planners and the Baking Yesteryear recipe book), and my family liked the gifts I gave them. There wasn't anything really out of the ordinary about either day, but they were still good days.
  • My sister returned to Ohio on Wednesday, and we drove up with her as far as Pittsburgh to visit my grandpa for a little while. Getting to see him again was nice, and I'm happy to report that he's recovering pretty well from all the various medical stuff he's had to deal with over the course of this year. All in all, it was a good visit.
  • There's a few days left yet in December, but I anticipate those being mostly quiet, with the exception of New Year's Eve afternoon and evening. My former roommate and I will do our gift exchange (over video call) that afternoon, and I look forward to that — she's in one of my D&D groups, but that group hasn't really met all month, so I haven't seen her in a while. And then our Bible study always has a party for New Year's Eve that should be lots of fun. It'll be a good way to end the year, that's for certain.

January Plans

  • January means getting back to business as usual, with work, writing, and grad school.
  • On the writing front, I'll be working on Daughters of Atirse #2. This is a prequel to Song of the Selkies focusing on Ceana's older sister, Onora, and it's also a retelling that blends The Goose Girl with Puss in Boots. I'll probably outline it over the next couple days (if I have time) and then start actually writing at the beginning of January. If I have time, I'll probably also try to squeeze in a draft of whatever I do for H.L. Burke's DOSA-verse anthology. (I have about 75% of an idea. I just have to work out some loose ends.)
  • At work, I'm hoping for a fairly quiet month. January usually doesn't have a lot going on, so that hope has a reasonable chance of being fulfilled. That said, we're getting ready to launch some new grief ministries, so we'll see how busy that keeps me.
  • As for grad school . . . confession time: I still need to register for the next set of classes. I should have done that a couple weeks ago, but I was too busy with Christmas stuff, and I also didn't even want to think about classes for a solid week after I finished my most recent one. I think the next thing I'm taking is technical writing, though, which should be pretty chill. Technical writing isn't my favorite type of writing ever, but I also don't dislike it, and I think I'm fairly good at it. So, we'll see how things go.
  • When it comes to reading, I have some exciting ARCs waiting for me on my Kindle — the only reason I haven't read them yet is that I've been distracted by Christmas stories! But I'll fix that pretty soon. Otherwise, well, I'm trying not to plan too much.
  • Lastly, on the crafting front, I have a crochet shawl that I'm hoping to make good progress on. I'm also toying with the idea of giving some new crafts a try . . . but we'll see if that actually goes anywhere or not.
  • And, of course, I'll be setting my New Year's goals in the next couple days, so we'll see what comes of those.

How was your December? How was your Christmas? Any plans for January? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!


Friday, December 22, 2023

Winter 2023–2024 Reads

Hello, everyone! It's just a few days until Christmas, but today is also the first day of winter, which means it's time for my list of this winter's book releases that I'm most looking forward to! This is a rather short list — only six books — but I also have a suspicion that I'm missing some books, as Goodreads has gotten less and less cooperative about actually sorting things by release date when I ask it to. Still, we do have some releases that I'm quite excited about!

Winter 2023–2024 Reads

1. Behind the Curtain by W.R. Gingell (December 15). This released just last Friday, and I proceeded to devour it over the course of the past weekend. I can say with absolute confidence that it's the best yet in the series (and book five is going to have to be absolutely amazing to beat it). We have so much good stuff here! Most prominent is both backstory and character development for the mysterious-but-delightful Camellia (which I can't say much about because spoilers, but trust me that it's absolutely superb). But my favorite part of the book is probably the interactions between Athelas and Harrow — they have such a good dynamic, and it's lovely how, in helping Harrow heal, Athelas is also healing himself. (Also, their scenes include some of my very favorite tropes, which is always fabulous.)

2. Wishing on a Supervillain by H.L. Burke (January 9). Another of H.L. Burke's supervillain/superhero romances! This one features a superhero and a supervillain who have to cooperate to fulfill the in-world version of a Make-a-Wish kid's wish. I have an ARC of this book, and I'm super excited to read and review it, especially since other ARC readers say this is one of the best SVR-verse books yet.

3. Drake Hall by Christina Baehr (January 14). If you're thinking "wait, I thought I saw a version of this post without this book . . ." no you didn't. Well, actually, yes, you did, because Goodreads and Amazon conspired to be unhelpful, and therefore I somehow misplaced the release date for one of my most-anticipated releases of the season until I got my ARC the morning this post came out. But I have realized my mistake, and I cannot wait for more cozy Gothic dragons and adventures (and more of Edith, who is rapidly taking her place as one of my favorite heroines of the year).

4. Just Stab Me Now by Jill Bearup (February 5). Some of you may be aware of Jill Bearup's series of Fantasy Heroine YouTube shorts, but for those who haven't had the pleasure and delight of experiencing them: what starts up as a loving send-up of assorted fantasy romance tropes develops into a tale of adventure and intrigue (and romance) featuring Lady Rosalind Hawkhurst, a practically-minded thirtysomething widow who is astonishingly trope-resistant and would probably get along splendidly with Isabella of Masque. Just Stab Me Now is based on the series, but it expands the story and adds more plotline from the author's side of things . . . and I cannot wait to actually read it.

5. Pumpkin War by Kendra E. Ardnek (February 28). This is a Cinderella retelling set in the same world as To Destroy an Illusion (which just released last week!). The blurb promises intrigue and a sort of enemies-to-lovers romance (except half of the romance doesn't think they're enemies), so that should be cool. I'm also interested to see more of Kendra's take on the fae. While I wasn't overawed by what I saw in Illusion, there were some very interesting elements, and I want to find out if those are the exception or the rule.

6. Rumpelstiltskin's Bargain by Kendra E. Ardnek (February 29). It feels very fitting that a Rumpelstiltskin story is coming out on February 29. Don't ask me to explain why; it just seems right. This is the next in Kendra's series of hero/villain-swap short story retellings. Some of the past retellings in this series (like The Wolf's Daughter) have been amazing, though others have been just ok, and I'm hoping that this one will fall more on the "wow" end of that spectrum.

What book releases are you excited for this winter? Am I missing any? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!


Friday, December 1, 2023

December 2023 Doings!

Here we are — December 1, and for me, at least, the Christmas season is in full swing! As I write this, I'm listening to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (always a delight), and I'm very excited to start both Dickens December (aka, reading The Christmas Carol in day-by-day serial fashion, Dracula Daily-style) and my cheese Advent calendars. But I'm getting ahead of myself — this post is about November, not December. Last month was, unsurprisingly, pretty busy, but it was a good busy . . . mostly. Let's get into the recap and you'll see what I mean.


  • The month started out with another author event. Heather Halverstadt, L. Jagi Lamplighter, and I shared a table at Doxacon, a very small speculative fiction fan convention associated with the Orthodox and Catholic churches. While navigation was frustrating (I lost my way multiple times trying to find my way around the location — and then ended up at the bottom of a flight of stairs with a cartload of books) and I didn't sell nearly as many books as I hoped, I did meet many cool people, both readers and other authors. Additionally, the vendor hall and the main sessions were in the same place, so I got to listen in on some of the talks for free, which was great. All in all, it was a pretty good day. I think I'll try to go as a vendor again next year . . . though I will probably prepare differently next time!
  • As far as actual writing goes: I finished my challenge story (the platonic Beauty and the Beast), and I'm very happy with how it turned out. I took my birthday off for the express purpose of finishing it and working on Bastian Dennel, and that was fun.
  • I did not finish Bastian Dennel, PI #4, due to Thanksgiving and my sister being home. However, I am within a chapter or two of being done, so . . . there's that? I could probably finish this weekend if I have time and focus enough, but I'm not sure if I'll have both of those in sufficient supply.
  • I've also been doing a lot of brainstorming on possible future stories with a friend of mine. This is not very helpful when it comes to writing present stories, but it's fun, and it's sort of adjacent to being productive, so . . . yes. I swear, if I write anywhere near all the ideas I have, I'm going to end up with a backlist that, at least in terms of quantity, puts the likes of Brandon Sanderson and Bryan Davis to shame. Alas that I can't afford to just spend all my time writing . . .
  • I also celebrated five years since Blood in the Snow released and I became an officially published author! And by "celebrated" I mean that I wrote a blog post and an Instagram post about it and mentioned it to my family after a friend reminded me that it was, in fact, kind of a significant anniversary. It still counts as a celebration, right?


  • This month was almost all rereads — out of eighteen books that I read or finished in November, only four were actually new to me.
  • My main rereads were the second half of the  Knight and Rogue series and most of the Delicious in Dungeon manga series. Both were excellent on the reread, I'm happy to say. My Delicious in Dungeon reread culminated in reading the latest two volumes, which were both new to me. I enjoyed both, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the series wraps up when the final volumes release sometime next year. (My favorites are still earlier in the series, but that's not surprising.)
  • Dracula Daily and Re:Dracula both wrapped up in early November, which is why Dracula is on there twice. I very much enjoyed experiencing Dracula a second and third time, and I highly recommend both the Substack and the podcast as ways to experience this story! (Also, I thought I was prepared for a certain element of the climax . . . and I was with regards to Dracula Daily, but I definitely was not properly prepared for Re:Dracula.)
  • My two new reads, aside from the latest Delicious in Dungeon books, were volume 14 of Fullmetal Alchemist and B. Dylan Hollis's cookbook, Baking Yesteryear. Well, I mostly skimmed the cookbook, but I read enough to be satisfied and to know there are recipes in it that I'd like to try. As for Fullmetal Alchemist . . . well, I got worked up enough over the ending to ask a friend for a very minor spoiler, that being whether or not a character's arc pulls away from the tragedy it seems to be headed towards.
  • Also, while it's not listed here, I've been reading Time to Orbit: Unknown, which is a serially posted sci-fi story about a colony ship in which things have gone horribly wrong and one of the colonists gets unexpectedly woken to take on the role of captain . . . and all the other roles as well. I'm about halfway through right now, and while it's not a perfect story (either philosophically, ideologically, or technically), I've been really enjoying it. Delving into some sci-fi is a nice change of pace, there's an excellent mystery element, and the character dynamics are great. I don't remember how it ended up on my radar, but I'm glad it did. (Also, it's making me want to write a space fantasy story, so . . .  we'll see where that goes.)
  • And because reading that seems to have put me on a sci-fi kick, I've started a reread of the Illuminae Files. I read Illuminae in the last few days (and stayed up far too late while doing so, but we're not talking about that), and I just started Gemina, and, look, these books are so good. Sometimes, action/suspense-type books don't hold up well on the reread, but these ones? These ones remain amazing. (Plus, I now have the full trilogy, and I'm so happy about that!)


  • I actually watched a bunch of stuff this month? Somehow? And, surprisingly, only half of it was holiday-related.
  • I squeezed in a couple more episodes of my Fairy Tail rewatch and another No Evil episode (I really need to get back to watching that series; I'm actually really close to caught up). I also joined my parents for a couple of episodes of Benson, which is an older sitcom. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the two episodes I watched, even though I usually don't go in for that genre. Not something I'd go out of my way to watch, but I would not object to watching more if other people happened to have it on and I didn't have anything pressing to do at the time. (This is more of a compliment than it probably sounds like, for the record. My family will confirm that I am not afraid to flee the room if a show comes on that I don't like, even if I don't necessarily have something better to do.)
  • On the holiday movie front, we of course watched Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (a few days before Thanksgiving), and we also watched The Lemon Drop Kid while my sister was home. On a side note, if you haven't watched The Lemon Drop Kid, do yourself a favor and fix that. It's not a perfect story, but it is so much fun — it's the classic "con man tries a desperate scheme, but accidentally gets Invested" trope, but at Christmas! With lots of humor! I love it.
  • We also watched Miracle on 34th Street, and for once, I decided not to find something more pressing to do. I hated this movie for a long while — when I was small (under ten or so), we'd always watch it on Thanksgiving, but most of it went right over my head, and I always ended up bored and annoyed. Eventually I just stopped watching it. This year I decided to give it another chance, and I will say that, surprise, surprise, it's a much better movie when you actually understand the nuances of the characters and what's going on! It's still not something I'd pick out to watch on my own, but I'd potentially watch it again if other people wanted to see it.
  • Finally, a new-to-me old movie: It Happened in 5th Avenue. I really wanted to love this one, and I did like it . . . but not as well as I'd hoped. The general concept was fun, and I liked that part of the emotional grounding was the restoration of a family in addition to the romance element. However, one of the major characters very much annoyed me after a while, plus there was instalove romance, and while I could deal with either of those two on their own, the combination was just a little too frustrating for this to be a new favorite (or anywhere close). I'd still watch it again, but yeah. Not as good as I hoped.


  • As I said already, November was a busy month. Doxacon obviously dominated the first weekend of the month — but the following weekend was also busy with lots of running around here, there, and everywhere else.
  • Then the weekend after that was my birthday, which was fun! I already mentioned that I took my birthday off from work. When my coworkers asked what I planned to do, I told them that, if it was a good day, I'd spend the whole thing writing, and if it was a very good day, I'd spend half my time writing and the other half either reading or crafting. And as it turns out, it was a very good day! I got in plenty of writing time, and I started working on a short fleece cloak. We also celebrated with homemade chocolate peanut butter tart (basically buckeye filling and chocolate in a graham cracker crust, very tasty) and a trip to my favorite Mexican restaurant on the weekend, so that was a delight.
  • For those who want to know: the cloak is still not quite finished, but it's nearly there. I just need to sew on the fasteners and decide if I'm going to attach the hood or not. (I made the hood, but I had to piece it, and I'm not sure if I like how it turned out. Plus, I do have plenty of hats.) I'm also working on crocheting a Mobius shawl with some lovely black-and-silver yarn; despite a few false starts, it's going well, if much slower than I hoped. (Let's be real; "much slower than I hoped" describes pretty much every crafting project I tackle.)
  • I also used my birthday as an excuse to try a local-ish crepe restaurant — I'd been meaning to check it out for months, but I hadn't gotten around to it until now. I ordered a salmon benedict crepe and was caught very off-guard by the size. It was even larger than the crepes at the Maryland Renaissance Faire, and that's saying something! I could barely finish the whole thing! It was tasty, though, and I definitely plan to go back sometime.
  • Now we come to Thanksgiving! My sister flew in Thanksgiving morning and stayed until Saturday evening, and seeing her again was lovely. We had Thanksgiving dinner with our Bible study, as usual, which was fun. There was an abundance of good food, and my mom and sister spent most of the afternoon working on a puzzle with the friend who was hosting. I contributed to neither food nor puzzle, but ah well.
  • One unusual thing we did this year was that we put up the Christmas tree and lights on Thanksgiving day, then did the actual decorating the day after Thanksgiving as usual. While I'm generally very firm about keeping Christmas after Thanksgiving, I think I liked putting the tree up a day early. Doing that meant we weren't already tired when we started putting up the decorations (or, not as tired), and it was a good way to work up an appetite for Thanksgiving dinner!
  • At work, everything's abuzz with Advent and Christmas preparations. I spent a significant amount of the month working on the Advent newsletter and marketing materials for the Lessons & Carols and Christmas Eve services — but those are arguably some of my favorite projects of the year. I know I say this every year, but Advent truly is my favorite season to design for. I'm working primarily with my favorite colors (blue, gold, purple, green), the imagery is all filled with lovely lights and stars and candles, and I have the option to either lean into nostalgia and traditional designs (with fancy serif fonts and scrollwork) or go more modern (with silhouettes and minimalist colors and swishy script), with equal justification for either angle. So, yes, I'm busy, but I'm having fun with it.
  • And, to be frank, it's a good thing that I'm enjoying my work (mostly), as I am not enjoying my grad school grant writing class. The professor isn't as bad as I feared he would be, but I just do not enjoy the subject matter. Heaven help me if I'm ever in a position where I have to write a grant application for real — and I absolutely do not want to ever have this as my main job. I'd rather freelance — storms, I'd rather work retail. The problem isn't even that it's particularly hard. The workload is actually pretty light. But I can't find anything to enjoy about the work itself, and I just want to be done.

December Plans

  • Obviously, all the Christmas stuff will be happening. I'm working on putting together presents and thinking about what cookies I'm going to make  (and what I'm going to request that my mom make). We're trying to figure out which Christmas Eve service to go to — our church has six — and looking forward to my sister coming home again for the holiday (huzzah!), plus hoping that my grandpa will be doing well enough to visit too. I'm debating whether or not to go to the Lessons & Carols service at the church where I work, since I enjoyed it last year. And, of course, I will be listening to all the Christmas music!
  • I also have two weeks left in my grant writing class, so I need to survive those and pray that my work ethic holds out long and strong enough that I finish well. I swear, even in my most-disliked high school and undergrad classes — even in my last months of my senior year — I have never felt such a strong desire to just not.
  • Speaking of finishing things: I still need to finish Bastian Dennel, PI #4! I'm so close, but the last chapters are always one of the hardest parts of drafting . . . That said, I'm aiming to wrap up this draft by the end of next week. We'll see what happens after that. I need to jump into my Song of the Selkies prequel sooner rather than later, but the weeks before Christmas aren't necessarily the best time to start a new project, plus I need to write my New Year's Eve short story. I'd like to get it written well in advance for once, but who knows if that'll work out. In any case, I'll see how BDPI #4 and my grant writing final project go and figure things out from there.
  • Work will continue to be busy, but not unreasonably or unbearably so. At this point, I have a pretty good handle on what needs doing, and a lot is already done. The hardest thing will probably just be making sure everything stays on schedule and cornering people long enough to get the information I need from them. I will be doing three different bulletins the week before Christmas, which will be a lot . . . but honestly, that's not much worse than Holy Week, and I can get bulletins done pretty fast these days as long as people give me the content I need! So as long as I can keep my focus, I should be fine.
  • I'm sure I'll also have plenty to do on the crafting front, what with making some Christmas gift items, though I'm not making as much as I have in some past years. Most of what I have planned is stuff I can do relatively quickly; the tricky bit is that not all of it is as portable as I'd like . . .
  • Finishing up with a housekeeping note: I will not be posting on the blogs next week or the week after. My next post will most likely be my Winter 2023–2024 Reads post on December 22, and then I'll do the usual month- and year-wrap-up posts on the appropriate dates. The next two weeks are critical for finishing both the grant-writing class and BDPI #4, so I don't want to have to worry about getting blog posts up during that time. Of course, the rest of you might be so busy that you don't even notice I'm not posting.

How was your November? What are you looking forward to in December? Do you tend to make many Christmas presents? Do you find it harder to start projects or finish them? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!