Monday, July 31, 2017

July 2017 Doings (We Moved Again?)

Hello, all! This has been a really long month; in fact, it feels more like three months. We packed so much into the last four weeks: traveling, writing, going to see family, having family visit us, reading, packing, painting, moving house . . . But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning of this story before we talk about the end of it, shall we?

Life!

  • So, yes, as several of you already know and a lot of you probably guessed, my family just moved from upstate New York State back down to northern Virginia. We came down for about a week last month to househunt and, after much deliberation on houses that we liked but weren't totally happy with, settled on one that we found almost at the last minute. It's thirty years old and doesn't have decent internet and everything needs repainted eventually, but it's just the right size, not just for what we absolutely need but for some stuff we want as well, and it's on a large lot that's almost all trees (so it feels like we're in the middle of the forest), and we'll resolve the internet situation eventually. That was back in mid-June; then at the end of the month we came back to Virginia for the house inspection, aka the Top Secret Mission that I mentioned last month. (Of course, for my sister and I, it wasn't much of a mission, since we basically just hung out at our friends' house while our parents went to the inspection.) That trip also meant that I spent the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo on the road . . . which wouldn't have been a huge problem, except that I left all my planning for the last minute. That was a stupid idea, but this isn't the writing section, so we'll talk about me and my bad writing-life choices later.
  • Anyway. After returning to New York, we celebrated Independence Day by going to Hamilton- the city, not the show. I still listened to the soundtrack for the who-knows-how-many-th time, and various songs from Hamilton (but mostly "My Shot") were stuck in my head the whole time we were there, but yeah. They had a parade, which was ok (we didn't watch much of it) and a farmer's market (which was what we really came for). Although, for a farmer's market, they didn't really have much in the way of fruits and veggies; there were more handcrafts and jewelry and baked goods (and fried food . . . and snow cones . . . there were a lot of fried food and snow cones). And then we played Scrabble at home while we waited for fireworks to start going off at various locations around us, and I possibly won, depending on whether or not you consider IV (as in the device used in hospitals) a word. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary app and I say it is; my family and the Scrabble dictionary say it's an abbreviation and therefore doesn't count. So.
  • And then we went to Niagara Falls. Again. It's ridiculous (and kind of awesome): I spent a lot of my childhood and younger teen years wishing I could visit Niagara, and now, years after I'd more or less forgotten about that desire (figuring that I'd probably never actually make it), I've gone twice in as many months. What even. We didn't go to Canada this time, since we met my aunt and her family there and they didn't have passports. We did, however, get massive cones of Hershey's ice cream at nine o'clock at night, because we were all hot and tired and we'd had it on our minds since we didn't get it at dinner and it just seemed like a good idea. For the record, it definitely was.
  • We actually stayed overnight at the falls this time, mostly because of the aunt and cousins. However, we had to rush off the next morning to get home before my grandpa, who was visiting us in New York one last time before we moved, arrived. While he was here, we drove up to Massachusetts to visit the Springfield Armory . . . and to go to Chick-Fil-A for Cow Appreciation Day. Yes, we drove three hours each way and wore cow-spotted shirts just so we could get free chicken. In our defense, it is really good chicken, and there's none of it in New York, unless you go to NYC (which my sister is adamantly opposed to). The Armory was interesting as well; I enjoyed hearing about the history of the place and how the gun-producing methods changed over the years, plus the old models of weaponry were rather interesting to see. That said, a lot of the technicalities and fine details of the process and the guns themselves went straight over my head.
  • Then, two days later, we set off down to Virginia for closing, this time pulling after us a U-Haul trailer full of boxes of anything we didn't want the movers to pack and move: computers, my dad's camera gear and shooting stuff, my and my sister's most prized books, and so on. In hindsight, I'm not sure if I should've trusted the Virginia heat and humidity with my books more than I trusted even the most careful movers (the lady who packed my room was very good about packing books with care rather than tossing them in any which way), but we shall see. I haven't unpacked any of the boxes yet, for reasons which shall be explained in a moment, so I don't actually know how any of them fared.
  • Also, for anyone curious: the Oreo Dream Extreme cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory is delicious and amazing and I actually like it better than the Caramel Pecan Turtle cheesecake, which is saying something. I definitely recommend. (In case you can't guess, we went to the Cheesecake Factory to celebrate after closing on the house and unloading the trailer, because my mom and sister had never actually been there and they wanted to try it.)
  • And then we headed back to New York one last time and arrived with just one day to spare before the movers came to pack up the rest of our belongings and load them on the truck! So that made for another long week, longer still because once we reached the house in Virginia, we jumped right into doing whatever work- mostly painting- we could before our stuff arrived. As a result of that and further work since, I now know how to remove wallpaper (actually not as horrible a job as I've been led to believe; it's oddly satisfying and I would definitely take it over washing windows, with or without music), apply spackling, paint a room, and change a lock. I almost learned how to pick a lock as well, after one of our new ones malfunctioned, but unfortunately, the internet guides didn't apply to the type of lock we had. So much for that.
  • As for the painting, though- well, I think I did more of that in this past week than I'd previously done in my entire life. We wanted to paint the living room and the office/homeschool room before the furniture arrived, since the office really needed it and the living room has a lot of furniture that would be hard to move later. Naturally, those were the only two rooms on that floor without any lights in them, so we had to rush to finish them before we lost the sunshine! As for the third room we painted . . . Well. There's a little background to that. See, my sister got first pick of bedrooms, because she's actually here all year instead of just a third of the year. Naturally, she picked the largest non-master bedroom (which also had pink and white wallpaper, two closets, and a narrow bookshelf built into one corner). That still left me with a choice of two bedrooms, and I naturally chose the one with more space and a larger closet- and, honestly, I'm quite happy with it. I have two windows, while the other small non-master bedrooms only have one each, and the closet is still larger than either of my previous ones, and since a lot of my furniture is tall, it wouldn't fit as well in the pink bedroom (which has a partially sloped ceiling and the aforementioned two closets, leaving only one and a half walls on which tall bookshelves and desks and dressers can fit). There's only one problem. Observe:
  • Yup. Not very me at all, as you can see. The color isn't at all appealing; while it's better than the beige-grey I had in New York, it's still a rather dull brownish-tan color. And the wallpaper, well . . . if you can't tell, it's fishing themed, and it's not scenic fishing, which might've been tolerable. No, this wallpaper has a pattern of fishing lures, because clearly that's what everyone wants on their walls.

    (Also, as you might notice, there's one particular lure that looks rather like a platypus, particularly after you end up staring at it for a while, and it's very distracting when you're trying to steal half an hour of writing time before everyone else gets up.)
  • However, even this worked in my favor, because it meant that I was guaranteed to get my room repainted at some point- and, after some discussion (and an unplanned, probably overdramatic, but very much true outburst on my part about how tired I am of dull, dark, light-sucking bedrooms after two years of grey walls), my parents agreed to move some point up to now, if I was willing to do the painting. So, my furniture and belongings are in the spare bedroom for the moment (thus why my books have yet to be unpacked), I'm borrowing my sister's bedroom (because she's not here to object, and she has a ceiling fan while the spare bedroom does not), and, after a little over a weekend's worth of painting and wallpaper-scraping, my room looks like this:
  • I am, if you can't tell, much pleased. I loved my purple room back in Virginia, and I almost went for the same color, but in the end I decided that I wanted something different (and brighter), so I went with blue instead (to be specific, Olympic brand's Songbird blue), and I definitely do not regret my choice. (Well, I regret that I had to paint the ceiling, because that was horrible and I'm amazed I didn't have to do it over, but other than that, no regrets.) I toyed with the idea of trying to do some kind of fancy flower painting around the door, or some kind of textured thing on the walls, but decided that the former was too risky and the latter too much effort. And obviously I still need to put my shelves back in my closet and clean up my dropcloths and such, but I won't do that until tomorrow, since I just finished painting the closet today.

Writing!

  • As you can probably guess, Camp NaNoWriMo took up most of my writing time this month- and even then, I barely finished on time! I definitely do not recommend doing Camp NaNo while moving; while all the hours on the road give you plenty of writing time those particular days, you need that time just to catch up on all the days that you didn't get your wordcount in because you were packing or painting or whatnot. I definitely did not keep my preferred slow-but-steady routine, as you can see:
  • I did, however, finish just in time, on the 29th, and I've managed to keep writing in the day or so since, which is a good thing. Since my novella, an Asian-inspired Snow White retelling, is for the Five Poisoned Apples contest, I need to have the whole thing done pretty soon so I have plenty of time for edits before I send it in. And even though it's not quite finished (I'm almost to the climax), I already know it'll need a lot of edits. For one thing, I need to cut a few thousand words to put it within the wordcount limit for the contest! I also want to adjust the pacing, smooth out some of the character and relationship development, and make sure that the romance actually, you know, exists. Even after edits, the story won't really be focused on the romance; I'm much more interested in the friendships and enmities between various characters. But I do want some romance, and I want Baili and her prince to have some cute moments together, and at the moment, those cute moments don't really work.
  • I do actually have a very rough synopsis by now, for those who are curious:
    The fairest in the land will unite two kingdoms once one- or so the prophecy says. And so Princess Zhu Baili of the Kingdom of Seven Rivers is betrothed to the prince of the Kingdom of Three Peaks and must leave her home and all she's ever known. But when her companions turn on her and her stepmother plots against her life, she finds herself stranded, lost, and alone in an unfamiliar land. With the aid of seven unlikely companions, she must find a way to reclaim her place and expose her companions before two divided countries fall together.
  • Also, snippets, for anyone who wants them! To start out, the first few lines:
    The cherry blossoms fell the morning Princess Zhu Baili of the Kingdom of Seven Rivers left her home forever.
    Baili tucked her hands deeper into the wide sleeves of her red silk robe and watched the petals sprinkle the surface of the Taiyang River and swirl around the royal barge. She did not look at the crowds of people gathered on either side of the path between her and the barge. She did not look at the peaks to the north where she would travel. She especially did not look at her stepmother, the Empress Regent Zhu Yawen, who stood beside her, addressing the crowd.
  • And another snippet, which takes place just after my seven animal herders (who take the place of the seven dwarves) discover Baili's true identity:
    Gan laughed- actually laughed! "And Chouko claimed I carried in a maikhny dayaldaych. Be doubly welcome in my tents, günja. What is mine, so may it be yours."
    The others murmured polite words of welcome as well, all save Chouko, who stood and stared Baili in the face as defiantly as Lanfen had. "You remain welcome here, princess-" yet her tone sounded anything but welcoming- "but what now? I suppose you wish us to bow and serve you as if you sat with the emperor after all? No doubt you desire us to find you a feast as well, now we know your title?"
  • After Baili herself and the villains, Gan (short for Ganbaatar) and Chouko are the two most significant characters and I love them both. They have vastly different personalities, as you can tell, and they tend to clash, but somehow they're still friends and they're both absolutely loyal to the people who they care about and for whom they feel responsible. Also, Gan is fun because he just sometimes does things and doesn't really explain why or how until later, if at all. He doesn't come off as your typical schemer, but he's so totally a schemer. His friends don't even know half of what he gets up to, and they even admit it:
    Jialing shrugged. "I do not know, your highness. Gan is Gan. He does things. We do not ask. We think, though, that he must have either many friends or many enemies."
  • Chouko, on the other hand, is not at all a schemer. She's very blunt, a bit pessimistic, surprisingly independent given her culture, and, in general, perpetually grumpy about everything. She carries plenty of grudges, especially against the nobility, and she glares more than she smiles, and she's the only one of the characters who'll tell Gan off to his face, but she has a good heart, and she'll tell you the hard truths when you need to hear them, and she's not afraid of anything, and if you earn her loyalty, she'll stand by you in the tightest of pinches. She might insult you even as she defends you- but she'll still be there.
    Baili soon came to a very firm conclusion: the reason Chouko was the one to tend the emperor's geese was that her temperament matched theirs exactly. Tigers in stories might lay their heads in the lap of a princess and never raise a claw near her save in her defense; bears would bring her honey and fruit rather than ravage her; snakes would never dare to strike but would instead guide her to safety. But geese, it seemed, bowed the neck to no one, princesses least of all.
  • So, yes. This book hasn't been the easiest thing to write so far, but I've mostly enjoyed it. And I just figured out exactly how I'm going to work out the ending a few days ago, so I'm excited to write that. (I just have to get there . . .)

Reading!

  • Unsurprisingly, between moving and Camp NaNo, I haven't had a whole lot of time to read. I did manage to fit in a few books, though, including- finally- Thick as Thieves! I've been waiting months to read it, and eventually got tired of the library refusing to give it to me, so I just took the plunge and bought it, and I'm so glad I did. I was worried that I wouldn't like it as much as some of the books, since the synopsis made pretty clear that Gen wouldn't be present as much as in the other books. But Kamet was a surprisingly engaging narrator, and we got to see quite a lot of one of my other favorite characters (who'd been unfortunately and unusually absent in book four- perhaps because he was busy with his adventures here? I'm not sure of the time frame), and I loved the Persian-ish setting and all the lore. And Gen, once he finally showed up, is as awesome as ever. All in all, an excellent addition to the series.
  • Other than Thick as Thieves, I only read two new books: The Ship Beyond Time and Shadow Run. Both were unfortunately disappointing. The Ship Beyond Time wasn't bad, and I really enjoyed the plot, but it suffered from the variety of Second Book Syndrome in which normally smart characters act like impulsive eejits. As for Shadow Run, well . . . I only picked it up because the blurb said it was like Firefly and it was so incredibly not. And while it had potential on its own too, it definitely did not live up to that potential. But it did trigger my first-ever GIF review (featuring almost all Firefly GIFs!), so I guess some good came out of it.

August Plans!

  • Obviously, the first thing I'm going to do in August is put my room back in order now that it's painted, plus there's still more unpacking to do in other parts of the house. I need to find the rest of our movie collection so I can finish organizing that, and there's two massive bookshelves' worth of boxes that I'll probably help unpack (unless someone else gets to it first).
  • Also, I really need to finish writing my Camp NaNo novel. My current goal is to finish it by the seventh, so I can take a week or so off before I start editing it again. We'll see how that works out, since I have next to no idea of how many more words I'll need or how much writing I'll actually do. I also need to get back to work on Fight Song and edit a few more chapters, or else y'all will have to wait rather longer than I intended for the chapter after next.
  • That said, we'll be traveling to see family and friends (some of whom I haven't seen in years) quite a bit this month as well, so that'll give me plenty of opportunity to both write and edit. I won't lie; I'm not entirely thrilled about spending even more time on the road, and there's a large part of me that would rather just stay home. But we have to do it or not at all until maybe next summer, because midway through August, I head back to college. (What even. Where'd my summer go?)
  • I'm actually quite excited for this coming semester. I'll start taking classes for my major, plus I have an Honors seminar on the life, theology, and writings of C.S. Lewis (which required me to rearrange my schedule but is going to be so worth it), and I somehow ended up taking Theology 1 with my philosophy professor from Honors last year? And I didn't even know he taught that class? And I originally intended to take the class with a different professor, so I don't quite know how or why the professors got switched around, but he's basically my favorite professor I've had so far and now I'm about 5X more excited for the class and it's going to be awesome. Also terrifying, because he's ridiculously smart (even for a professor) and I don't really know what to expect from the class even though I've had him before? But still awesome.
  • Also, going back to college means I get to see my awesome roommate again, and my other friends, all of whom I've missed quite a bit. And the roomie and I are going to watch Serenity because I finally found it online (though I might've mentioned that last month?), and- well, we're not sure what else, but we've tossed some ideas around and it's going to be super fun. And we basically have three or four days in which we don't actually have to do much of anything, since we have to get to campus a few days before classes actually start (because there's a Bible conference, that's why), and I don't know exactly what we're doing on those days but I'm hoping that it'll involve going into town to hang out at the coffeeshop or the bakery and all that sort of thing on at least one of the days.
  • And, of course, I'll have plenty of reading to try to catch up on. Now that we're down in northern VA, I have access to two different library systems (on a side note: I liked the fact that in New York, the librarians all knew who I was and thus it didn't matter if I forgot my library card, but it is so nice to be back at big libraries with tons of books), plus the eBook library in New York, so with all those options, I should be able to get most of the books I want to read, right? I've also heard that there's a used bookstore in a nearby city that has really good prices, so hopefully I'll make it there before I head back to college. I'm particularly hoping to snag the rest of the Wheel of Time series, since I now own about a third of it and maybe I'll read it more quickly if I don't have to wait for the books to come in at the library. Or maybe I'll just procrastinate on it more since I won't have a due date to keep me reading. We'll see.
  • In other book-related news, both the Exiles and the Three Sleeping Beauties blog tours will start in about a week! I'll be participating in both tours, and I'm super excited for all the new books. And maybe this will be the year that I actually read the new Ilyon Chronicles when it comes out instead of waiting until months later! We can hope . . .
How's your July been? (Hopefully not too busy.) Any plans for August? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fight Song Chapter Seven

 <i>Hey'a, all! Last time, Callie discovered that Welsh is an even more formidable for than she thought. This time, she contemplates for a bit before trouble finds her once again.</i><br><i>Lannis appears courtesy of Erin of </i><i><a href="https://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/">The Upstairs Archive</a></i><i>. And, yes, this cafe is developing a problem with hold-ups, why do you ask?</i>

Chapter 7: Hold Up

By the time I got home, I was too exhausted from watching my back and jumping at shadows, not to mention the whole nearly-dying bit, to do anything besides collapse into bed. Adrenaline had worn off long ago, leaving me to sleep like-- well, not like a log, because logs don't wake up at three A.M. and panic about whether or not they set their alarms before going back to sleep. But I didn't notice when Uhjin stumbled in, dragging her suitcase and bumping into things in the dark, and I wouldn't have noticed if Welsh had sent goons over that very night to break in and kidnap me.

Thankfully, he didn't, and my alarm the next morning slid me back into my normal routine. Maybe I should've been more shaken up, but near-death experience or not, I had to work if I wanted to eat, let alone take on a superpowered murder. In fact, back in the everyday realm of sunshine and stocking yarn and embroidery thread, the memory of the previous night took on a surreal tone, as if the whole thing might've just been an especially realistic dream.

But I knew it hadn't been a dream, or even a nightmare. My broken violin strings told me that much. And it could easily happen again if I kept up the hunt.

Next time, I might not get away so easily.

I tried not to think about that fact, but it loomed in my mind anyway. It wasn't that the danger itself scared me, exactly. I'd had close calls before when I ran to interfere with a Death Song or happened upon some other crime. So, while I wasn't as cool and collected as a real superhero might be in the same situation, I didn't exactly turn to jelly either. But facing Welsh was something else entirely. Never had I been so defenseless as when I knelt on the pavement before him. With only a few words, he'd put me at his mercy, precious little of it he had. That scared as much as dying did, really.

I knew that if I kept on with my search, I ran the risk that I would have to face him again. Is it worth it? The question niggled in the back of my mind as I sorted yarn into wire bins and as I wearily explained the difference between a violin and a viola and a cello to an uninterested middle school kid and his parents and as I reheated chicken and rice for dinner and on through the night.

I didn't have an answer. The thought of facing Welsh's power again made my stomach twist and my throat tighten so I could barely breathe, let alone sing. But my parents didn't raise their kids to quit just because they were scared, and besides, how could I give up now, just when I had a hope of success?

So I shoved the question to the dustiest corner of my mind and got on with my life. Tuesday evening, as usual, found me at the cafe, tuning my guitar in preparation for my performance. The crowd wasn't huge, but it was better than I'd had the last few weeks. I wasn't complaining.

After the freedom of busking only a few days ago, the cafe setting felt stifling. Outside, people would accept a bit of magic; they could enjoy it even as they explained it away. Indoors, I had to be careful. Even the slightest step too far from the ordinary could make my audience ask questions. And now, with the knowledge that Welsh might have people watching for me, I couldn't take the risk that someone might connect me with anything out of the ordinary.

So I played original songs, and I played classics, and I played a few covers, and the whole time I played it safe as I could. I stayed far away from my favorites, most of which wound multiple other songs together in one, and I suppressed every shred of power in the tunes I did play, occasionally going so far as to slightly botch a note when I felt like things were about to get out of hand.
Naturally, something did anyway. But at least it wasn’t my fault.

I was nearly done with my set, strumming the chorus of “Time Tomorrow,” one of my own songs, when the three walked in: two guys and a girl, all three dressed in black and denim and leather, the guys unshaven, the girl scowling around the ball piercing in her lip, all walking like they wanted trouble. They strode up to the counter, shoulder-to-shoulder, while I focused on tamping down the effects of the melody of light woven into my song.

There must’ve been some kind of exchange between them and the counter girl. I don’t know; I didn’t hear it. But the next moment, the man in the middle of the three pulled a gun and pointed it at the counter girl’s head. He shouted over my music: “Everybody down! Everybody down or I shoot!”

Several people screamed. Chairs fell over as people scrambled to obey or, in a few cases, ran for the door. The gunman turned, trained his gun on the door. “I said everybody down! Not you, sweetheart,” he added over his shoulder. “You empty the cash register, and do it quick.”

I slid to the ground, carefully setting my guitar to the side, propping my upper body up on my forearms so I could see what was going on. I should do something. I should stop this. By now, even the runners had hit the floor. The only people still standing were the robbers and the counter girl.

The girl lifted her hands, looking the robber straight in the face. “You don’t have to do this. There are better options, you know.” She sounded calm, tired, even a bit exasperated. Not intimidated. Interesting. 

“I didn’t ask you for your opinion, girl,” the lead robber growled, turning to face her again, “just your cooperation. Get the register open before I put a bullet through you.” To his female companion, he added, “Grab what you can from the customers. Be quick.”

The female robber nodded once and stalked towards the nearest table. She dumped out the lady’s purse; rifled through the contents until she found the wallet; moved on. The second man pulled out a gun to cover the room. Not that anyone was about to move. A few small children cried; others asked their parents in high-pitched voices what was going on and when the superheroes were going to show up. The adults all stayed frozen in place, many probably wondering the same thing as the kids.

Good question. I gripped the neck of my guitar. I didn’t like the odds of a regular super showing up, not in this part of town where no one really expected trouble. The counter probably had a panic button, and I guessed the counter girl had pressed it, seeing as she was still trying to talk the robbers down and stall for time, even as she fumbled open the register. But who knew how long it would take them to get here?

That left me. But could I risk it? This wasn’t a murder. Wasn’t a bank robbery. No one would die here, most likely, even if I stayed quiet. If I acted, if anyone noticed it was me acting, I’d be exposed. Whether or not Welsh was watching, that would be bad news.

But I couldn’t just sit by and do nothing. It felt wrong. Maybe someone’s life wasn’t at stake, but someone’s livelihood might be. I just had to be careful, that was all. Careful and quiet. And— I glanced up; the counter girl was finally sliding money into the robbers’ bag, and the female robber was nearly a quarter of the way through the café— fast.

No more time for hesitation. Now was time to act.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Fight Song Chapter Six

Hey'a, everyone! This has been a bit of a crazy week for me, with the end result of a lot of boxes and no Friday 5s. I do, however, have the next chapter of Fight Song! Last week, Callie got a bit of downtime that ended on an ominous note. This week, Callie discovers that superpowers don't make you invincible (unless your superpower is invincibility). 

Disclaimer: Audrey appears here by permission of Irisbloom5. I do not own the character.

As always, comments, critiques, and suggestions are welcome! Thanks for reading!



Chapter 6: Broken Music

I was halfway home and hoping that I'd make it all the way without incident when the Death Song tore into my mind. I gasped and instinctively clapped my hands over my ears— but only for a moment. Then I took off running towards the Song, clutching my violin case. I doubted I'd be in time to help the victim; the force and harshness of the not-notes told me that the Song was about to crescendo. But maybe I could still catch the killer.

My chase led me away from my original route, past graffiti-scrawled walls and broken streetlights, and finally to an alley where I knew at least one homeless man spent his nights. I paused a few feet away from the alley as the Death Song declined, losing force but not harshness. Definitely too late for the victim. I pulled a bandanna from my back pocket, wrapped it around my face, and removed my violin from its case. But not for the killer. 

My violin and bow at the ready and an air song on my tongue, I crept towards the alley and peered around the corner. I don't know what I expected to see, maybe the aftermath of a deadly fight between members of enemy gangs, maybe another mugging gone wrong-- I saw enough of those. But I know what I didn't expect to see: Damian Welsh standing over a ragged-looking man like he had over Lacey that night in the hotel two years ago.

He didn't wear a suit this time, just a button-up shirt and dark jeans, and a fedora that shadowed his face. But the black ring sat on his finger, casting such a strong anti-glow that it hid the victim's face. I could see Welsh’s face, though, shadowed as it was; could make out a smile of grim pleasure.
It's my second chance. Welsh didn't know I was here, and so long as I kept my distance, I could easily overpower him. I could capture him. Keep him here and call the police.

Or serve out justice myself. But the mere thought of that made my stomach twist. Welsh deserved death, I knew as certainly as I knew the notes of my favorite song. However, I knew just as well that it wasn't my place to deal out punishment like this.

However, that didn't mean I couldn't or shouldn't act. Stepping away from the wall, I raised my violin. I had no doubt about which song to use, even if it was normally forbidden. I needed Welsh to stay here, under my control— and I wanted him to confess all the wrong he'd done.

The first notes of the peoples’ song escaped my strings. With them I sent my silent command: Stop. Let him go. Face me. 

And he did. The anti-glow flickered away; the last notes of the Death Song cut off abruptly. The homeless man slumped, staring blankly before him, his chest slowly rising and falling. Damian Welsh turned stiffly towards me; stared at me. I mentally prepared my next command.

But before I could issue it, Welsh opened his mouth and spoke a single word: “No.”

The song choked off. Notes splintered and shrilled into fractured pieces. My violin strings snapped with a twang. And the power that I commanded just a moment ago broke from my control and instead wrapped around me.

Welsh advanced towards me. “Drop the violin.”

My mind resisted. My fingers did not. My violin and bow clattered to the ground. I winced, hoping that neither was damaged too much. Then again, I'm probably about to be damaged too much! With this thought in mind, I turned to run.

“No,” Welsh said again. My feet moved without my permission, and I faced him once again. He continued to stride towards me with slow, casual steps. “Well. Some of my associates warned me that someone might be after me. Is that you?”

Don't speak. Don't say a word. But my mouth wasn't mine any more than my feet were. “Yes.” And since I already said that much, I added, “You're going to face justice one of these days for what you did. You can't run forever.”

“Do I look like I'm running?” Welsh stopped in front of me and crossed his arms. “No one would believe what I've done, even if they found out the truth. Your chase has been doomed all along. Maybe you know that and that's why you came after me with your little song, trying to steal my power. Is that it?”

“My chase is not doomed,” I muttered. And then, because he hadn't told me not to, I sang air, pulling breath from his lungs.

Stop,” he gasped. The power in his voice, even with all the smoothness choked out, hit me like a punch to the throat. I broke off mid-note and stood with my mouth open.

Welsh took several deep breaths. “And be silent.” My mouth snapped shut. “You are wrong. Your chase ends tonight, mockingbird. I end it and take your life and your power to strengthen myself. Kneel.

I started to obey. Then red-orange light lit the street and a burst of fire rushed over my head. Welsh dodged backwards and to the side, and I felt his control of me snap. At the same moment, a girl's voice behind me yelled, “Run!”

I grabbed my violin and bow, stood, and took off all in one motion. A second fireball rushed past me, and I heard Welsh cry out in pain. This time I spotted the fire’s source: a red-haired girl in a t-shirt the color of the shadows and well-worn jeans. Another flame balanced on the palm of her open hand. “Follow me!” She tossed the final fireball at Welsh, turned, and dashed down the street.

“Got it!” I caught up and glanced over my shoulder. Welsh rolled on the ground, trying to put out the flame on his sleeve. He paid us no attention, but I wasn't about to take chances. As we ran, I shifted my bow under my arm and plucked an pizzicato melody of light and on my violin strings. At the next intersection, as we turned right, three other versions of my rescuer and me split off from us. One turned left and another went straight ahead, while the third disappeared into a sketchy-looking corner store.

My guide and I ran several blocks and finally stopped near an apartment building that looked like it should've been condemned years ago. I leaned against the wall, gulping down air, while my rescuer bent over, panting, hands planted on her thighs.

She recovered enough to speak first. “You ok?”

“Yeah.” I nodded, still breathing heavily. “Thanks to you. You ok too?”

“Yeah.” She straightened up. “Who was that guy?”

“A murderer. I've been hunting him.” I grimace, realizing anew how close I came to both success and death in that encounter. Why was I so stupid? If only I had used a different song, hadn't gotten caught up in my desire for his confession, I might be turning Welsh over to the police right now. Instead, not only did he get away— with a few burns, sure— he nearly killed me just like he did Lacey and so many others.

My rescuer's voice broke me out of my self-reproach. “A murderer?” She perked up, almost excited. “Who'd he kill?”

“A lot of people.” I lifted my violin to examine it in the dim light of the streetlamp. It was a bit scratched up, but aside from that and the broken strings, there was no damage. Thank God for that. I carefully replaced it in its case and turned my attention back to the girl. “That was cool, by the way. Your thing with the fire.”

“Thanks.” She held up her palm, let a flame spring up there and watched it dance. “You seem to have a thing too. With music?”

“Yeah.” The confirmation felt odd in my mouth. I hadn’t dared admit the secret out loud, even to myself, since I left home. Even then, no one but Grampa knew anywhere near the full truth of what I could do, and he only knew because he’d been there when I found out myself. There were plenty of people I would’ve loved to tell, sure- my parents, my siblings, Uhjin, my youth pastor back home, the worship leader at my church here in the city. But I didn’t want to risk losing them; didn’t want them to think I was a freak; didn’t want them to ask questions I couldn’t answer. So I kept silent.

But this girl already knew my secret, and I knew hers. So I sang a brief strain of notes and the flame in the girl’s palm took the shape of a dancing woman who leapt and pirouetted and then disappeared into a firework-burst of sparks.

“Cool.” The girl closed her hand and the remnants of the flame disappeared. “You were out busking earlier, right? By the statue? My friend and I saw you. You’re good. Were you doing your thing then?
“Thanks.” Am I that recognizable, even with the mask? I tugged my bandanna down around my neck before adding, “And yeah, a little, just for fun.”

“I thought so!” The girl grinned triumphantly. “Lannis thought there was something odd going on too, but I wasn’t sure if we were imagining it. So are you a real super? You know, like Starlight?”
“No.” I shook my head. “Just a girl with weird powers. You?”

“Same.” She shoved her hands in her pockets, disappointment flavoring her tone. “Anyway, will you be ok getting home now?”

“I’ll be fine.” I wasn’t hurt, thanks to her. Just shaken. “Just tell me how to get back to Archer Street and I can make it from there.”

“Archer Street?” The girl thought a moment. “Ok, you want to go three blocks down that street—” she pointed— “make a left, walk one block, then take a right, walk another block, and you’ll hit Archer. Got it?”

“Three blocks, left, right, one block. Yeah.” I adjusted the strap of my violin case and stepped away from the apartment building. “Couldn’t I just go four blocks down the first street?”

“You could, sure, but I don’t think you want to.” The girl shook her head. “Not unless you want more excitement tonight.”

“I’ll pass, thanks. And thanks again for your help. You seriously saved my life.” I suppressed a shudder, thinking again of what could’ve happened to me. “See you around sometime?”

“Hopefully.” The girl headed for the apartment building door. “Be careful.”

“I will.” I headed down the street she’d told me. Please God, get me home safely. I’m not ready for another near death experience tonight! 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fight Song Chapter Five

Last time in Fight Song, Callie met up with Jonathan again and formed a partnership that she hopes she won't regret. This week, she goes out and does a lot more stuff with her life than I ever do, and gets a chance to enjoy herself a bit in the process. As always, critiques, comments, and suggestions are more than welcome; please let me know what you think!


Chapter 5: Progress

            I don’t think I had a spare moment during the two weeks after that meeting. I worked long hours at the craft and music stores every day except Sunday, when I went to church with Uhjin and then used the afternoon to catch up on my share of the housework, cook something with enough leftovers to last me the week, look over the week’s findings in my investigation, and sometimes squeeze in extra practice on my instruments. Even on Sundays, however, evenings were as busy as the days. Some nights, Uhjin, stretching end-of-semester celebrations as far as they’d go, dragged me out to do something fun. Tuesdays I packed up my guitar and equipment and headed to the café to perform, and of course on Thursdays, I had practice with the worship band at church. But many of those nights I spent trekking across the city to meet with those on Jonathan’s list of people who might know something. Throughout the day, I checked every chance I got to see if people had responded to my requests to talk.

            Some were eager to answer, eager to tell me why the official reports got it wrong. One bereaved mother of an intern broke down crying midway through her story and protested again and again that, yes, her daughter had struggled in some ways, but she never would have killed herself. A frustrated father ranted about how his son had been shaping up lately, pulling his life back together after going down a bad path, even getting a job at his uncle’s shop; the boy couldn’t possibly have gone back to drugs, and he couldn’t have gone back that much, not enough that it killed him. The man’s wife sat silently by, clutching her husband’s hand, their fingers entwined, as if he were all that stood between her and utter despair.

            Others, I had to coax information out of. A group of teens, most just graduated from high school, admitted reluctantly that, yeah, their buddy liked a few drinks even if he was underage, and, yeah, sometimes he drank a little more than he should- but not that much. A single mother in one of the poorer sections of town demanded to know why I was asking so many questions and why it mattered what her son had been doing if he was already dead, and snorted disbelief at my claim that I was trying to uncover the truth so he could have justice. “Girl,” she said, “no one cares about justice for us. You should know that by now.” After that interview, I spent another two hours pacing the streets near her home, trying and failing to find some kind of trouble to stop, desperate to prove her wrong somehow. To show that someone cared. Even those who were willing to talk wondered why I wanted to know; after all, they’d already told the police everything. And next to no one had actual information on Welsh or on what might have really led to the victims’ deaths.

            Despite this, I did notice a few common threads in the stories. Everyone reported the same thing I’d noticed about Lacey: the victim had acted off for a few days before their deaths. “Zombie-like,” some said; “out of it,” reported others. The victims had responded slower than usual, tired more easily, and seemed generally lethargic. More than one night, I lay awake, theorizing about what that might mean about how Welsh had killed them. If he had some kind of power to suck the life from people, like I guessed, and if he truly killed them three or so days before they seemed to “die,” which the presence of the Death Song that night years ago seemed to indicate, why were people still walking around a few days after? That they’d be tired and slow made sense, but it seemed to me that they should’ve been unable to do much more than lay in bed.

And I picked up another theme besides that. Not only had Welsh often picked off those who would hardly be missed, whose deaths could be explained away, many of his victims had claimed they’d gotten help, that their problems would be gone for good soon, a few days before they seemed to die— around the same time Welsh would’ve made his move. Some even seemed cheerful or quietly happy during those days, at least during the first day, said the friends and family I talked to. I couldn’t help wondering: how many of Welsh’s kills had been premediated; how many of his victims he’d lured into a position where they’d be easy prey. How many he’d promised he’d help so he could instead kill them.

            Jonathan and I discussed these similarities at length during our three meetings in those weeks, but agreed that they weren’t enough. We needed solid evidence, or at least a testimony other than my own, but even as the list grew shorter, we still didn’t find one. Despite this, we emailed each other the day’s findings each night and met three times in those two weeks: once at Starbucks, once at the café, once at the park by the café, plus we made two excursions to interview people together. None of the meetings were especially productive, except that I grew to like Jonathan more and more as I spent more time with him, and especially as I watched him interview other people. Reporter or not, he had a good heart, and he respected people— not just his own sort of people, but all people. I still wasn’t about to tell him all my secrets, but I felt better about working with him.

            With work and investigations occupying so much of my time, I had to fight to squeeze in practice on my guitar and violin. I dragged myself out of bed early each morning to play for an hour or so on each in preparation for my gigs at the café, both of which went better than I expected, though not as well as I hoped. I felt I was preparing for something else as well, though I wasn’t sure what. Maybe for an eventual confrontation with Welsh; when that time came, I’d have no weapons but my music and my knowledge.

            By the third Sunday after I met Jonathan, we’d whittled our list down to the last half-dozen people, those who were still reluctant to talk to us or who Jonathan still hadn’t managed to track down contact information for. Uhjin was out of town that weekend, back home for her sister’s birthday, and she’d cleaned more than her share before she left to make up for the fact that she wouldn’t be able to help me at the normal time. And so, unexpectedly, I found myself with a free evening and less work than usual that afternoon.

            Now, I don’t work Sunday afternoons, no matter what. My parents raised me better than that. But busking isn't work, and the day was a pretty one. There’d be plenty of people out and about, which meant I might actually make some cash, something I could always use. So, after church, I rushed through cleaning, tossed chicken in the crockpot for the week ahead, packed a sandwich and a half-dozen water bottles for that night, grabbed my violin, and headed downtown.

            When I arrived, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one to decide today was a perfect day for street performances. A guitarist had already set up in the spot I wanted, just outside the fence around the city courthouse. I huffed and walked to my second choice, a modern art installation several blocks and two turns away. There, under a tree at the edge of the half-circle of brick surrounding the statue, I set up: laid my violin case open in front of me, stowed my water and lunchbox behind the tree, ran resin along my bow. I took my time tuning my violin, trying to attract a crowd. And then, finally, I raised my bow and started to play.

            Now, I’ve played plenty of pieces and plenty of places since Grampa first put a violin and bow in my then-eight-year-old hands. I’ve performed Christmas carols in candlelit services at my church back home and classical concertos with the college string quartet in the echoingly huge auditorium. I’ve played old folk songs and spirituals and hymns with Grampa and Gramma in their cozy living room and pop music in school talent shows in dim school auditoriums. I’ve experimented with mixing melodies and styles in the privacy of my own room, and even dabbled in jazz so I could jam with my junior year boyfriend, a sax player, when I came over to his house.

            My favorite place to play, though? Right where I was: out-of-doors on a brilliant, breezy spring day. Playing indoors meant being careful. It meant keeping a close grip on the music I played and, more importantly, its effects. Just about any song I played contained at least a few other songs in it— the sort of song that let me do stuff like trap a mugger’s feet in concrete. Sometimes those other songs were barely there, and then I could relax, but that was rare. And my favorite songs to play were often the ones that carried the most power, which made them the most dangerous to play indoors, especially in front of people. Usually I could keep the weirdness under control: suppress what I could; channel what I couldn’t suppress into things like making the lights a little bit brighter, the breeze from the fan a little bit harder. Sometimes I lost control, though, and had to step carefully for weeks afterwards for fear that someone would realize that I’d been the one who made all the sprinklers in the auditorium go off or who caused the power surge that knocked out electricity for an hour solid.

            Outdoors, though— that was another story! Outdoors, I could play what I wanted, whether it was Paganini or pop; spirituals or Lindsey Stirling; and never mind what other songs those might include. I could use them; turn them into a thrum in the ground like feet stamping to the beat of the song, breezes brushing through the hair of passersby, dots of circling light like fairies or fireflies, or whatever was appropriate to what I was playing. None of it couldn’t be explained away by natural causes, or as a trick of the light or the ears or the mind, but all of it attracted passerby attention and enhanced the experience for both me and my listeners.

            And there’s another reason I love playing outside: the ways people react. Some people— most people— didn’t seem to notice me at all, just kept walking past at the same quick pace, chatting with friends about shopping and dinner and gossip. But others slowed as the song caught their ears, picking up the tune in their pace as they passed. And still others stopped altogether, shutting their eyes and swaying to the tune and cheering when I finished the song. One grandpa and his grandkids stopped to listen for a solid seven songs, at the end of which the old man handed each of the kids a five and a couple crumpled ones and nudged them forward to toss the money into my violin case and say thank you.

And, yeah, a few people tossed rude comments my way as they passed, sometimes catcalls, sometimes outright insults. One woman even stomped up to me and ranted in my face about how I was “wasting taxpayer dollars” by “making trashy music instead of getting a real job”— never mind that I was playing classical music at the time— interspersing insults about my race and my parents’ relationship, employment, and work ethic or lack thereof to make her point. But those people were a minority, and, well, I’d heard worse.

Except for a quick break to eat my sandwich and use the restroom in a nearby shop, I didn't stop playing until blue twilight shaded the streets and shadows stretched between the golden circles of light from the streetlamps. Only then did I wipe down my violin and scoop the coins​ and bills out of my case so I could put away my instrument. I didn't count the money, but I could tell that my listeners had been generous, so much so that I guiltily wondered if I had accidentally played the peoples’ song— though surely I'd know if I had.

I kept a defensive song on my lips as I hurried down the darkened streets, my wallet and coin purse heavy in my jacket pockets. I knew enough to avoid the worst parts of the city, but the part between me and home still wasn't the best once the sun went down. A girl like me— alone, carrying a violin case over her shoulder and a lot of money in her pocket— looked like easy prey to plenty of people out here. I'd had more than one close call before.

But I wasn't the one the predators were after that night.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Fight Song Chapter 4

Hey'a, everyone! We're back with another chapter of Fight Song! Last time, Callie contemplated life and avoided making decisions about her future. This week, she meets a familiar face from a few chapters ago, gets information, and makes a plan (as well as some movie references). Also, for those who've read the Teenage Superhero Society blog, yes, this is the cafe you think it is.

As usual, comments, critiques, and suggestions are welcome. I'd love to hear what you think!

Chapter 4: A Bargain

Jonathan didn't reply to my email until the next morning. Same time is fine, he wrote back. But can we meet at the cafe by the park instead? He added an address, one I recognized as the cafe where I'd be gigging this summer. Hopefully he doesn't go there often . . . 

I responded in the positive and headed out. Saturday or not, I had work to do: six hours at the craft store and then another three at the music store. I wished occasionally that it could be the other way around, but I was lucky to have the music store job at all. Sometimes it seemed like every freshman and sophomore music major at college wanted to work there as well. And I had to admit: the craft store was a much easier environment; the temperamental musician might be a stereotype, but it’s sometimes an accurate one.

Both stores were busier than usual, with hardly a slow minute all day. If I wasn’t running the register, I was being called to work stock, and if I wasn’t doing that, I was helping Rebecca Coburn with the kid’s craft demo— friendship bracelets today— or trying to explain to high schoolers that if they’re going to mess around with the music store stock but not buy anything, then they should at least be careful.

After my shift at the music store ended, I had just enough time to run home, change, put on my makeup, grab a sandwich, and dash out the door. I ate on the move, walking as fast as I could, but even so, I reached the café nearly ten minutes late. This time, however, Jonathan was alert and watching for me. He waved me over when I entered, and when I reached the table, I found an extra mug of coffee on the empty side of the booth. “For you,” he explained, waving a hand at the mug. “Kenyan blend, with cinnamon.”

“Thanks. Do you usually buy random strangers coffee?” I sat down and raised the coffee towards my mouth, but didn’t drink. Instead I sniffed. No odd scents, just delicious coffee and cinnamon. Was it really just a nice gesture, then? Nothing sinister?

“You seem like you could use it, no offense, and this place’s Kenyan blend is amazing.” Jonathan shrugged. “If you don’t want it, I’ll drink it.”

“I wouldn’t turn down free coffee in a million years, thanks.” I sipped the hot brew. Jonathan was right; it was good. “So, what more did you have to tell me?”

“Give me a minute to pull it up.” Jonathan tapped keys on his laptop. “By the way, did whatever you had to rush off for work out?”

“It . . . it turned out fine.” His tone suggested that he knew . . . something. About my powers, maybe? About what I’d been doing? He can’t. There’s no way . . . I was careful. Wasn’t I? Not careful enough, maybe. But how do you draw the line between saving others and keeping yourself safe?

            “Glad to hear that.” Jonathan glanced up from behind his laptop. “So, yesterday I told you about how Welsh’s travel seems to line up perfectly with various insufficiently explained deaths, including the one you told me about— which was in my records, by the way, but none of the reports I read suggested anyone had seen anything suspicious before the girl’s death. If they had, I would’ve tried to reach out to you sooner.”

            “I told you I called the police. They just thought I was imagining things. It happened in the middle of the night, after all.” The fact that I didn’t tell them the whole story probably didn’t help matters. “Anyway, you also said that you had more information, and some kind of . . . offer.”

            “Right.” Jonathan turned his computer, showing a similar spreadsheet to the one from yesterday. This time, however, the list of names was shorter, and all of them seemed to be located in Foundry City. “You see, I believe Welsh committed one of the classic blunders—”

            I couldn’t resist. Business or no business, that was too good an opportunity to pass up. “He got involved in a land war in Asia?”

            Jonathan rolled his eyes. “I walked right into that one, didn’t I? No.”

            “Oh, so he went up against a Sicilian with death on the line?”

            “Good grief.” Jonathan gave me a distinctly annoyed look. “Do you want my help, or do you just want to quote The Princess Bride at me?”

            “Yes. I do want your help. Sorry.” I tried to look and sound contrite, but I was pretty sure I failed. “What classic blunder did he commit?”

            “Potentially commited, and he killed where he lived.” Jonathan flipped back to the spreadsheet he showed me last night. “Almost all of the kills that I think can be attributed to Welsh occurred in other towns and cities, places where he was known by few and was passing through quickly enough that he would remain unknown. All, that is, except these ones.” He clicked back to the shorter list. “Some of them worked at his company; it’s possible that he killed them because they got close enough to figure out what he was up to. Others . . . there isn’t a connection that I can see, but I’m working on a theory about that as well.”

            I took another sip of coffee. “Which is?”

            “I’m not ready to share it yet.” Jonathan glanced around distractedly, found his own coffee, and pulled it closer to him. “They all do fit the description of those he killed elsewhere, however: outsiders, people who would never be missed, or at least who wouldn’t cause much of a stir if they died because they’re already living on the edge.”

            “Makes sense.” It occurred to me that, if I hadn’t seen Welsh kill Lacey, I would probably think Jonathan was crazier than I was. Nearly every death on either list could be easily explained by other causes. Some had apparently been homeless; others, hard partiers and addicts; still others, old folk living along; and others again, decent folk who, evidence suggested, had been in abusive homes or relationships. But for each person, Jonathan also listed reasons why their deaths didn’t add up: someone supposedly dead from drug overdose had been on the road to recovery; a teen supposed to have killed herself hadn’t shown any signs of being suicidal. “How did you get all this information anyway?”

            “Plenty of hard work and bothering people until they answered my questions.” Jonathan took a drink of his own coffee. “Knowing where to look helps as well.”

            I guessed I wasn’t going to get more information than that. “Right. Well . . . you mentioned you had an offer. What was it?”

            “Simple.” Jonathan sat back in the booth. “I continue to share information with you. In return, you help me with the legwork, and I get first claim on whatever story comes out of this.”

            “Sounds fair.” More or less what I’d be doing anyway, but with direction and a partner. “What kind of legwork are we talking?”

            Jonathan gestured at the list. “For one thing, speaking to the friends and family of the deceased, particularly those who don’t fit the usual pattern and who had connections to Welsh. I have a list of those too that I can give you. It’s possible that some of the deceased might’ve mentioned something that can help us. Beyond that, keep doing whatever you’ve been doing and share your information with me. Agreed?

            I considered a moment— but only a moment. Jonathan seemed trustworthy enough, even if he was a reporter. And he had resources I needed. “Agreed.”

            “Excellent.” Jonathan turned his laptop to face him once again. “I’ll send the information I have to you, along with a ranked list of those who I’d like one or both of us to interview. Look over the list and tell me who you’re willing to try to contact; I’ll take the others. We can keep up to date on each other’s activities via email, then meet back here in, oh, let’s say a week to touch base and plan our next moves.”

            Well, you certainly take charge. I couldn’t really argue, though. And it was kind of nice to have someone else taking the lead. “Thanks, by the way. Are you sure you’re willing to keep going with this, though? Digging too deep could be dangerous for you.”

            “I’ve come this far; I’m not about to stop now.” Jonathan looked up from his screen. “I can’t just let a murderer run loose without doing something to stop him, nor can I stand by and let a girl do the dangerous work for me.” He paused. “Er. Not that I meant to suggest you’re incapable, it’s just—”

            I cut him off. “You’re fine.” With a bit of a grin, I added, “I’m all for being a strong, independent woman and all that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate chivalry.” Goodness knows I don’t get offered it much.

            “Good.” Jonathan cleared his throat. “From a more selfish perspective, releasing a story on the investigation and capture of a rampant serial killer would do wonders for my career.”

            “I bet it would. Might even top Jason Keller’s super scoops.” I forced a laugh. The last thing I needed was for Jonathan to realize and report that I have powers. I'd have to be doubly careful whenever I worked with him. “Well, I guess you probably need to get going? Stories to chase down and that sort of thing?”

            “Not really, no. There aren’t a lot of big stories going down right now. Now, if I could figure out who super sank a mugger four inches into the tile at Fifth Street Station, that would be something.” Jonathan gave me a look I couldn’t read. “It doesn’t fit Starlight’s M.O., and no other known supers have that kind of power. I don’t suppose you saw anything after you ran out last night?”

            “Not a thing.” I silently ask God’s forgiveness for that blatant lie and wonder if He’s sick of hearing me pray the same prayer over and over yet. “I’d guess whoever did it didn’t want anyone to know, if they didn’t stick around.”

            “Probably not. Still would be nice to know, though.” Jonathan took a long drink of his coffee. “Since you asked . . . do you need to go?”

            “Sort of, yeah.” I stood, picking up my coffeecup. “I should probably look through your list, if you email that to me. And there are other things I need to do.” Actually, I just want to get out of here before he asks too many probing questions, but I’m not about to tell him that. He needs to think that I have nothing at all to hide.

            “Right.” Jonathan resettled himself in his seat. “Well, have a nice night.”

            “You too. I’ll keep you updated with who I can talk to and all that. Thanks for the help.” With that, I headed for the door. I officially had an alliance now. Maybe even a partner, if you could call it that. I could only hope I wouldn’t regret it later.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Mid-Year Book Freakout 2017

Original picture via
Hey'a, everyone! We're halfway through the year, which means it's time for the first half of the "Best of 2017" roundup. As you might remember, last year, I did the Mid-Year Book Freak-Out Tag instead of the standard Top 10 list. Although I haven't been tagged again this year, I decided to do it again anyway, because answering a list of questions is a lot easier and more fun than trying to sort out my top ten books from however many I've read up to this point.

That number, by the way, is 62, which is pretty close to what I'd read last year around this time. Again, the number is probably off by a little because of webcomics and anything I reread in January. I think I need to raise my Completely Arbitrary Challenge to 111 instead of 99 . . . oh well. Anyone interested can see my full challenge at Goodreads.

1. Best book you've read so far in 2016:
. . . Wait, why did I think this was a better idea than a list? I still have to pick. Help. 
Oh. Wait. There's a very obvious answer here.


I am still convinced that Genevieve Cogman's The Invisible Library and its sequels were written specifically for me; they pack so many of my very favorite book-things into each deliciously devourable volume. There's dragons and intrigue and steampunkery and mystery and a magical library and amusingly-dramatic-but-also-creepy villains and brilliant endings and fabulous characters and did I mention the magical library? The only thing that could make me happier than rereading this book (which I plan to do in the next week or so) would be living in it.

A couple other books which I loved:
Hexwood was strange and confusing and delightful and brilliant, as befits a Diana Wynne Jones novel. It's sort of sci-fi and sort of King Arthur retelling and sort of fantasy and sort of a bunch of other things and 100% awesome.
The Firethorn Crown by Lea Doue is a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales, "The 12 Dancing Princesses." It's not as good as Entwined (what is?), but it has dragons and sisterly sisters and a creepy villain who I don't know what to do with. Oh, and I've said this before, but I want to be Neylan, because anyone who's fabulous enough to have dragons sitting in their hair is obviously someone worth aspiring towards.

And Plenilune was magnificent, though rather dark in places. The prose is beautiful, the story is full of simmering suspense, and Dammerung is just amazing. I don't think you can review Plenilune without mentioning him, because he's possibly the best part of the book. I did sometimes have trouble keeping names straight, but . . . such is life.

2. Best sequel you've read so far in 2016:
Oh, that's an easy one! Hands down, the answer is Samara's Peril by Jaye L. Knight.
The Ilyon Chronicles definitely get better with each new release. I absolutely loved Samara's Peril: the focus on family, the plot, the epic battle at the end, the adorableness of Jayrin, and Jace's character development (and other stuff relating to Jace that made me immensely happy), and the theme of atonement and there's just a lot of awesome, ok?

Also, speaking of books that have a lot of awesome, the sequels to The Invisible Library, The Masked City and The Burning Page are both just as amazing as the first book. Just saying.
3. New release you haven't read yet but want to: 
I don't know why I haven't read Thick as Thieves yet, but I think I'm going to blame the library, 'cause I'm 99% sure I requested it but it didn't come in for some reason, and so I had to request it again and now I'm hoping very, very hard that it arrives in the next couple weeks. I need more Eugenides, people. 
Also, almost everything on my Spring 2017 Reads list would qualify except for Dragonwatch. I would be done with the whole set by now, but I sort of got distracted by the Invisible Library books . . . I regret nothing.

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year:
Oathbringer Oathbringer Oathbringer give me my Oathbringer please! It's supposed to release in November, and I can't wait! I haven't had new Sanderson in a whole year. I'm hoping very hard that it doesn't get pushed back, but I haven't heard anything really about it since the cover released so I'm a little worried? But I need more Sanderson, and White Sand volume 2, which also releases this fall, isn't going to cut it.

I'm also super excited for Lightporter, the newest IDIA book from C.B. Cook.
That said, I already read the book (perks of being a beta reader/friend of the author!) so I mostly just want it to come out so I can properly fangirl over it. For now, let me just say that it's better than the first book and I had a theory but the theory was wrong but it was still awesome.

5. Biggest disappointment:
Can we count rereads? If so, I was kind of disappointed that I didn't enjoy Showdown more. I mean, it never was my favorite Dekker book, but I'm pretty sure I read it twice, so I must've enjoyed it to some degree. But this time it just seemed . . . lacking. Also I realized I disliked most of the characters, so that didn't help.


If we're going with new-to-me books, I guess Coralina. Again, I didn't expect to enjoy it that much in the first place, since Coralina and I never got along in the first book either. But I hoped I would like it more than I did.
6. Biggest surprise:
I'm going to go with another Nine Princesses novella: Heidel by Anita Valle.
Heidel is definitely my favorite of the Nine Princesses now. She loves cooking, she has a temper and no interest in dressing up or romance or whatnot, she's practical and competitive and she's just fun, ok? I think we'd be buddies. And the story is fun- not perfect, but fun, and I enjoyed the plot.

Another surprise was The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud.
After The Hollow Boy, I nearly gave up on the series because of Lucy's angst, but now I'm glad I didn't. We've got character growth and answers and questions and revelations and just a lot of fun. If the rest of the series is more like this than The Hollow Boy, I'll look forward to the books a lot more!

Finally, while I expected to enjoy Nimona, I didn't expect how much I'd love it:
It's an urban fantasy graphic novel with a pair of villain protagonists- one considerably more honorable than the other- and it's kind of sad in some respects but it's also a lot of fun. It's got science and magic and shapeshifting and sharks and yeah.  
 
7. Favorite new-to-you author:
I think y'all can guess this, but: Genevieve Cogman, author of the Invisible Library series. Which, as previously mentioned, is amazing and awesome and Made For Me. Y'all need to go request the books from your library now, ok? Just trust me; you won't regret it.

8. Newest fictional crush/ship:
Leilani and Brick from Beggar Magic are adorable, ok? Brick is deaf and uses sign language, and Leilani is into languages and gets him to teach her sign language (slowly) so she can talk to him and he's so loyal and protective and I love them to pieces.

As for fictional crushes- for once I have one that I can entertain without feeling vaguely guilty, because Marcus Altair from the Ilyon Chronicles is currently unattached and he's definitely my type and if he were real, I would date him in a heartbeat.

9. Newest favorite characters:
(See? There's an s on the end. I totally didn't add that just now. Why in the world would I do that? Just because I don't want to choose . . .)
  • Irene from the Invisible Library series is basically what every bookworm aspires to be (capable, confident, trained as a spy, able to gallivant about different magical and sci-fi worlds and access a magical library containing at least one copy of every significant book ever), but she's still human and relatable.
  • Also Silver from the same series, even though he's an antagonist, because he's dramatic and creepy and witty and has a strange enemy-mine relationship with Irene and is just generally fun to read.
  • Dammerung from Plenilune is just awesome and intense and surprisingly funny? But also Fey and terrifying and yeah.
  • Mordion from Hexwood because, well, he's Mordion. He's possibly the best part of the book. He needs a blanket and a large mug of hot chocolate. I can't really explain him; you just have to read the book so you can meet him.
10. A book that made you cry:
***ERROR****BOOK NOT FOUND***ERROR***QUESTION INCOMPATIBLE WITH SUBJECT'S PERSONAL HABITS***ERROR***

11. A book that made you happy:
Beggar Magic by H.L. Burke was absolutely delightful. It has steampunk and mystery and an adorable ship (see the aforementioned Brick and Leilani) and a lovely friendship between Leilani and Zebedy and a very interesting magic system. I'd quite like a sequel, but I have a suspicion I'm not going to get one.
12. Favorite book to film adaptation you've seen this year:
Um. Do comic books count?

If so, Doctor Strange, which featured time-based superpowers and an egoistic, skeptical hero who basically does an entire about-face by the end of the movie, without losing what makes him interesting, and reality warping and generally a lot of awesome.


If comic books don't count, we're going with Merlin again, 'cause it's awesome and I need a modern-day reboot please.

13. Favorite post you've done so far this year:
As per the usual, I can't pick just one, but a few favorites:
  • My Mistcloak Tutorial, because it's a project I wanted to do for a super long time.
  • February Beautiful People: Couples Edition because I got to write Jared and Bianca interacting again.
  • March's Character Encounter, in which I met my characters and a bunch of author-friends at Indie E-Con.
  • Also, I started posting Fight Song, and if you aren't reading it, you should be. Or, at the very least, I'd appreciate it if you read it. Prologue is here, if you missed that.
14. Most beautiful book you've bought/received so far this year:
I actually haven't bought or received many books yet this year. I guess in terms of cover, I'm going to go with Storm Siren, which my roommate gave me for Christmas (but I didn't actually get until January):


15. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?
There's plenty of those . . . but a few of the top ones:

Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan  
(and however many other Wheel of Time books I can manage)

The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig
Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

Shadow Run by Adrianne Strickland and Michal Miller

Exiles by Jaye L. Knight
Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
I'm not going to tag anyone, but feel free to steal the tag anyway if you feel like it. Or, if you don't want to make your own post, I'd still love to hear your answers in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)