Friday, June 26, 2015

Best of 2015 (So Far!)

It's hard to believe that June is almost at an end and 2015 is almost halfway done. Where'd the time go? Actually, I do know the answer to that question, at least in my case: books and the internet. (And school, for the first four months of the year, but let's be honest: mostly books and the internet.) In terms of reading material, this year is looking like one of my best! I've read so many awesome, amazing books, some of which just came out and others which I've only just finally read. Anyway, because I want to save myself stress at the end of the year, I thought I'd list the best new-to-me books I've read this year.

Best New-to-Me Books of 2015 (So Far)

1. Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson
I know. I'm probably the last person in the world to read this. (Actually, I'm not. My mom hasn't read it either. But she has an excuse, seeing as she has a lot of other stuff she has to do.) I guess I was scared of what might happen and also a little worried that it might not live up to my expectations. The former was a justified fear- I definitely understand now why so many of my friends cried over this book! I did not cry, but I did yell so much that my sister knocked on my door and asked what was wrong . . . three or four times. The latter fear, on the other hand, was utterly ridiculous because Warden and the Wolf King was amazing and beautiful and the best book in the series.

2. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson.  
This is another book that caused yelling- though not quite as much as Warden and the Wolf King. Admittedly, that might've been because there were people in the room most of the time while I was reading Firefight. I got about three quarters of the way through and had three different suspicions of how the story might go and I wasn't sure which one terrified me more. (If I recall correctly what my suspicions were, I was right about the one that hurt the most and half-right about the one that gave me a sort of evil, author-ish glee in addition to scaring me.) Besides the heartache, though, Firefight was awesome. David is such an awesomely nerdy guy, Megan is amazing, and I loved seeing a new crew and a new city.

3. Omega Dragon by Bryan Davis. 
I still can't believe that this series is over after it's been going for so long . . . but at least it got an amazing ending. Davis brought back a lot of old friends we hadn't heard from in a long time and wrapped up all the loose ends in a thoroughly satisfying conclusion, preceded by a battle at least as epic as the one at the end of Bones of Makaidos. It was a bit darker than most of the other books in the multi-series, but considering that we're dealing with the end of the world, that's hardly surprising.

4. The Ryn and The Remedy by Serena Chase
So . . . this is technically two books, but as they're very closely connected and about equal in awesomeness, we're counting them as one. Epic Christian fantasy with a hint of fairy-tale retelling (a not-as-well-known fairy tale to boot)? Sounds wonderful to me . . . and it very much is! The characters are thoroughly lovable (those we're supposed to like, anyway), the Christian themes are powerful, and the romance . . . the romance is adorable. My only complaint is that I saw a fair number of the plot twists coming, and I do like to be surprised. But this is still an excellent series, and I look forward to reading the next in line, The Seahorse Legacy.

5. Jackaby by William Ritter
Oh, oh, oh! Where do I start? There's so much to love about this book, from the perfect blend of mystery and fantasy to the characters (particularly Jackaby and Abigail, though they're all excellent) to the setting (19th century New England; not a common locale for my books to take place in!) to the slightly Sherlock Holmes-esque feel to the use of traditional (and not especially well known) folklore. Honestly, the only thing I didn't like about this book is that it's over so quickly!

6. Resistance by Jaye L. Knight.
 So. I'm really not sure what to say about this that hasn't been said a hundred times by about half the people who read this blog, but Resistance was awesome. I liked the characters, particularly Kaden, Trask, and Daniel, and the plot is pretty uncommon in fantasy novels- more like something I'd expect from a historical fiction or maybe dystopian novel. (I say that in a good way.) I also need to reread this book sometime, because I want to refresh my memory of it before I read The King's Scrolls. (Which, yes, has been out since February, but Barnes and Noble didn't have it when I was buying books.)

7. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
This one is probably for the 16 and up crowd (just because there's a little more mention of certain things than there were in other books, though there's nothing explicit), but it was definitely awesome. Of course, from an author such as Brandon Sanderson, I expect no less. I especially loved Lightsong (who's funny but rather noble and who reminds me of both Wit and Howl Pendragon in some ways) and Vasher (who's mysterious and has a talking sword)- and, of course, the thoroughly twisty plot. Admittedly, Warbreaker isn't on par with Mistborn or The Stormlight Archive, but it's still well worth reading . . . if you're sixteen or up.

8. Orphan's Song by Gillian Bronte Adams
I feel like I'm overusing the word "awesome", so I'll find another word for this book: wonderful. As is often the case, the characters were the best part, particularly Amos. His accent, his history, his determination to protect Birdie . . . they all add up into one of those characters I really want to be real. Also, there's a griffin, which makes me enormously happy. 
9. Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
Over the past six months, I've been reading a lot of Discworld. It's a series that I've heard quite a bit about, but wasn't quite sure if I should take the plunge into until Anne Elisabeth Stengl recommended Guards! Guards! on her blog. So, I gave it a try . . . and I'm very glad I did. I've loved all the City Watch novels (of which this is the first), as well as the Tiffany Aching books and assorted others, but I have to say: this is my favorite. It's funny and sarcastic and pokes fun at fantasy cliches, but it doesn't sacrifice characters or plot to do so. One caveat: like Warbreaker, I'd pin this as a sixteen-and-up book.
10. The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
I wasn't sure how much I'd like this book, since I'd heard it would focus jump forward several years and focus mostly on Batty- and while I like Batty, I also like Skye and Jane quite a bit. As it turned out, I loved The Penderwicks in Spring and devoured it in a day. Several parts, surprisingly, made me come close to tears (something not a lot of books can do- I tend to yell, as has been previously noted), but other parts made those sad parts just so worth it. 
What are your favorite books that you've read so far this year? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
 -Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)   

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

DIY Mistborn Metals Vials

It is an unfortunate truth that Significant Items from most books are hard to get ahold of and harder still to make. After all, the average Significant Item is either jewelry or weaponry, both of which tend to be expensive and not easy to make accurately at home. Occasionally, however, there's a Significant Object which is doable even for crafter with only basic skills, for example, the Lorien Cape that I made two years ago. Surprisingly, two of these type of Significant Object are found in the Mistborn series. The first, the mistcloaks, I considered making from the time I finished the series. In the end, however, I discarded that idea as too complicated to make when I've nowhere to wear it and decided on a project that was easier both to make and to wear: Misting metal vials.

(Quick explanation for those who still need to read Mistborn: the magic system of this world centers around certain people's ability to ingest or "burn" certain metals to give them certain abilities. These metals are kept in liquid-filled vials so they can be easily swallowed.)

On the whole, the metal vials were super easy- and also really fun, since I got to revisit an old hobby of mine, jewelry-making. The most difficult part was probably figuring out the materials. I found the vials fairly quickly; my local A.C. Moore carries a collection of steampunk pendants and such, and among that collection I discovered a set of three small corked bottles, perfect for this project.

The metals themselves were trickier. I knew I wanted to do atium (because it's awesome) and tin (because, based on my personality, I'd probably be a Tineye (super-sensing) Misting), and I wasn't sure what I'd do in the last vial. A friend suggested silver BBs for atium and scraps from a welding gun for tin, but neither of those were easily available. In the end, I decided to use small silver seed beads for the tin, which were cheap but gave the effect I wanted. For atium, I wanted something similar-looking to a BB, which meant a normal bead was out of the question. Eventually, I came up with the idea of cutting some beads off a party beads necklace, and that worked perfectly.

I had some brown silk cord left over from a necklace I made years ago, which worked nicely for this project. It looks, more or less, like what an actual Misting or Mistborn would probably use, and it's fairly pretty. Of course, the vial and cord by themselves were still a bit plain, so I added some glass E beads, of which I have a lot. I mostly used my favorite iridescent black beads- which, fun fact, I originally planned to use for my atium until I realized that my mental image was wrong and atium was actually silver! Woops! For a bit more interest, I added some clear and dark blue beads.

(More pictures in this post than normal, so you'll have to click to read more.)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Random Fridays: Summer Vacation Places
Hello, everyone! I'm back from my hiatus with a Random Fridays post! This week's theme is Summer Vacation Places- convenient, since what's where I spent about half my hiatus!

When I think of Summer vacation places, there's only one away-from-home place that really comes to mind: the Allegheny Mountains, where my family has spent a week every year for the last six (or possibly more) years. It's a beautiful area, probably my favorite place in the world after my own home. I'm not an outdoorsy, camping-type girl; I don't like dirt or bugs, and "going outside" usually means "going out to sit and read on my back deck in the sunshine." But up in the mountains, well, I make exceptions . . .

Hiking trails criss-cross half the forest up there, ranging from easy and flat to impossibly steep. Some are so short you can walk them in an hour and then go look for something else to fill the rest of your morning. Some seem to go on and on, seemingly unending, though you know, logically, that you have to end sometime. And some go up and up until you wonder if you'll reach the clouds, even though you've hiked other trails on this mountains and you know they don't go that high.

Some are green with new life, and ferns and grass and branches half-conceal the path and leave your pants and shirt wet when you push past them. And some are brown and ancient, seemingly as old as the world itself.

But the best trails, the ones you know you have to do again next year, are the ones that wake your Tookish side and make you feel as if you're on a quest, not just a hike. The ones that make you wish you had a sword at your side rather than a camera, and where you half-expect to find hidden doors in trees and strange creatures 'round the next turn. These may look different from year to year; it's all in what catches your imagination's fancy. But you know you'll try them again the next year if you can, because the feeling of being on an adventure for a little while is a beautiful one, and you want to feel it again . . .

 And after you've hiked and eaten lunch, the shooting range is waiting- or maybe the river, if the weather's warm enough for canoeing, or the woods again if you'd rather do more hiking, but usually it's the shooting range, which is really just an old gravel pit, but that doesn't matter. And if you're going to get too hot anywhere on the trip, it'll be here, because you're in the sun with no shade- until this year, when you have a canopy to shelter some of the people while you're shooting.

And even when it's hot, you don't mind especially, because it's five times more interesting than the range at home- after all, targets at that range don't move when you hit them; they just get full of holes. And there's something new every year to shoot at, from golf balls (hard to hit, but they swing around wonderfully) to old bowling pins (nearly impossible to damage) to that giant container of old, partially used crayons  (best shot with a pellet rifle and a scope) that you'll never use up by normal means because you and your sister have grown out of coloring and you like colored pencils better anyway. And your tastes shift from the first day, when you want to try everything to mid-week when you have bottles and cans filled with ice, which are even more interesting than the empty ones, to the end of the week when you pick whatever will give you the most interesting reaction and you can usually hit without too much trouble.

And in the evenings you go back to the cabin for dinner, which is unfailingly something on the grill. And while dinner's cooking, your dad and sister and sometimes your grandpa shoot more, now with BB and pellet guns at cans hung in trees. Sometimes you go and join them, but usually you don't, because you're tired and half the evenings you're caught up in a book anyway and you want to finish. Or, if you're not, you're far more interested in playing cards with your grandpa and pretending you have more than a snowball's chance in a blazing wildfire at winning.

And after dinner, there's usually more of the same- except on the night when you go out driving on the back roads in search of deer. Then you creep along at ten miles an hour or less, and at first you think "Hey, I like this. If all the driving I had to do was like this, I'd enjoy it a lot more." But darkness slowly closes in, and your mind turns from deer to other dangers, and you're split between keeping your eyes on the patch of road illuminated by your headlights and silently praying because this feels like the start of a horror movie and certain people won't stop talking about the almost-cliff to your right. Eventually, though, you do get home, and you're so relieved you almost don't have words for it.

Of course, some nights after dinner there's a campfire. Sometimes it's not a proper campfire, just a little blaze or heap of glowing coals in your grandpa's charcoal grill, but that's fine with you, because the marshmallows taste just the same. Other times, it's a real fire out in the firepit just within the woods behind the cabin, and that's better, because it feels a bit like an adventure, and because it makes toasting the marshmallows more fun. But before long, just like when you were driving, the shadows fall, and you can only eat so many marshmallows to help you forget that fact. And as the night grows more absolute, every rustle in the woods sounds like a bear or a mountain lion, and the monsters in the books you've been reading seem more and more real even though you know they're not. So you make an excuse about needing to get a shower before bed and run back to the cabin where it's safe and warm and light.

And you tell yourself each time you climb into bed that you'll sleep in the next morning because you've stayed up late every night this week. Six-thirty the next morning, though, finds you awake and getting ready for the day, because you have at least an hour before your family gets up, there are books and audiobooks and notebooks in your backpack, and the porch swing and the morning breeze are calling your name. It's cold out there, yes, but it's nothing long sleeves and a hot mug of tea can't solve. So you lose yourself in a story until your family calls you in for breakfast.

And another day's begun.
What are your favorite vacation places? Please tell me in the comments or make your own Random Fridays post!
Thanks for reading!
 -Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)