Friday, August 21, 2015

Random Fridays: Fall 2015 Releases
Hello, everyone! I feel like it's been a long time since I've done a Random Friday- mostly because I've either been busy (moving and WSS do that to you- for anyone who's wondering, we're in our new house and I hope to make a post about it sometime in this coming week) or I've had nothing to say about the topic. This week's theme, however, reminded me that a new season is rapidly approaching- one of the best seasons of the year for new books! So, without further ado, I give you: Fall 2015 Releases!

 1. Queen of Shadows (September 1)
Ok, so, I'm not super excited for this one . . . I've never been as big a ToG fan as some people I know are. However, I do want to see what happens next, mostly for the sake of Dorian and Chaol. Oh, and Aspen. I like him too . . . and the last book ended in a kind-of-cliffhanger, so, yeah. I want to read this one.

2. The Shepherd's Crown (September 10)
The last Discworld book- I only just discovered the series this year, and I'm still sad. I am glad it's Tiffany Aching, though- I like Tiffany (though not as much as Vimes- City Watch books are the best!) and as I've already read all the previous Tiffany Aching books, I can read this one as soon as I get my hands on it. I'm a little nervous for what it'll hold, but I'm sure it'll be awesome- if only Goodreads had a little more information!  

3. Ash and Bramble (September 15)
 I'm almost always a fan of Cinderella retellings, and this one sounds pretty cool and unique. It also sounds a bit darker than most of the retellings I've tried, but that's fine. I don't think it'll be super-dark or anything. Also, it sounds like it might be set in a world that runs on story-rules, if that makes sense, and that's my niche/obsession this year. (The one thing I don't like is the cover . . . it's just no.)

 4. Walk on Earth a Stranger (September 22)
Historical fiction-fantasy! In a non-medieval setting! Seriously, I love medieval fantasy, whether it's in this world or another, but it's nice to see different time periods. This one is set during the Gold Rush, which should be pretty cool, and it's by the author of Girl of Fire and Thorns, a trilogy I really enjoyed, so I expect it to be good.

5. Beastly Bones (September 22)
JACKABY. YES. I need more Jackaby. And Abigail, of course, Charlie, and mysteries that are actually mysteries but are also fantasy. AND IT'S STILL A MONTH AWAY HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO WAIT? And I don't even know if my library will have it . . . WHAT WILL I DO IF MY LIBRARY DOESN'T HAVE IT? 

Yeah. I really want to read this book, if you can't tell. As you've probably noticed, I don't use all-caps lightly. 

6. Shadows of Self (October 6)
And another book that promises to be a proper fantasy-mystery: Shadows of Self. I can be slightly calmer about this one, though, mostly because I knew I'd have to wait for it. Also, I got sneak peeks and other Sanderson books to ease some of the waiting . . . but I still want to see what Wax, Wayne, and Marasi are up to now. I'm certain that whatever it is, it'll be epic and mind-blowing and amazing.

7. Winter (November 10)
FINALLY. After a year and a half's waiting, Winter is coming out! I read the sample chapters and they sound awesome, and I absolutely cannot wait for it to come out. Or to see more of Winter and Jacin, because they're already my favorite LC couple, and I want to see if they hold that position. And I want to see how in the world Cinder and company are ever going to defeat Levana, because at the moment, I'm not sure how that's even going to be possible. And yeah. Why can't this book come out now? (On a side note, my sister and I were speculating on how Levana is going to die, and if Marissa decides to follow the original fairytale, I will be seriously creeped out and potentially kind of disappointed in certain characters. I look forward to seeing how that works out.)
Anyway. There's my list! I find it interesting that all the books I'm most looking forward to are coming out later in the year . . . and also that I'm calmer about books I've been waiting longer for. My brain is strange sometimes. Either that or my excitement has grown past the squealing, all-caps, losing-my-grammar point. I think I shall go with both.
What new books are you looking forward to this fall? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
 -Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)  

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Two Weeks in Rivendell: WSS Support Staff

Of all the amazing locations in fantasy books, Rivendell has always been one of those I've most wished to visit. Its peaceful beauty and the respite it offers from the cares of normal life draw me to it, making me wish the valley of Imladris were real.

I never realized that it- or somewhere very like it- is, and not only that, but I've visited there a half-dozen times.

White Sulpher Springs, the eastern conference center for Officer's Christian Fellowship, is not home to elven lords, nor is it located near the Misty Mountains (though it is found in the Allegheny Mountains, which get pretty foggy in the mornings). But the things that really make me want to visit Rivendell are found there all the same. It's a beautiful place, particularly in the early mornings, when the air is still cool (even in August), the sky is just waking up, and there's still mist over the forest-covered mountains. Nearly every morning, I'd do my devotions in a rocking chair on the back porch and stare out at the sky, the hills, and the gravel road that winds past pastures and into the trees. It's peaceful, a place apart from the troubles of everyday. There's delicious food, singing at every meal and throughout the day, good company, and good discussions.

And, for me, it's Rivendell in another way: a Last Homely House to welcome me before I bid farewell to Virginia and set off for whatever adventures New York has to offer. And as Rivendell provided rest for Frodo and  Bilbo and a place for them to prepare for the rest of their adventure, so White Sulpher Springs gave the same to me.

I wasn't at White Sulpher Springs to relax- not by a long shot. I was staying there as part of Support Staff, a team of sixteen highschoolers (eight guys, eight girls) who work around the hotel and help keep it running. The guys work outside, chopping wood and mowing lawns and such. The girls take care of cleaning and meal prep; in the two weeks I was there, I vacuumed halls and stairs, dusted almost every room at least once, washed far too many windows, cleaned bathrooms (a less unpleasant job than it sounds), prepared and served drinks, set tables, washed silverware (not a task for the squeemish- the water gets very greasy very fast), and more. It was hard work- but not as tedious as I feared. 

And once our chores were done- and most days, that happened by noon, or perhaps two at the latest, excluding dinner prep- we were free to do as we pleased. There were events most days which we had to help with, true: International Night on Monday (I got to wear a kilt!), ice cream social at the old hotel on Tuesday, Western Night on Wednesday (at which I learned how to square dance and do the Virginia Reel, both of which are more fun than I expected), a picnic and games on Thursday, new guests on Friday, and afternoon tea on Sunday. But the events are fun, and staff is not only allowed but strongly encouraged to enjoy them- a good thing, since we occasionally outnumbered the guests.

And almost every night, after dinner and worship music and before the speaker for the retreat started talking, there was Family Hour, a sort of talent show for guests and staff alike to use their gifts to praise God. I read The Mercy Song one night; many people sang or played some instrument. One Support Staff girl, Anna, who's fluent in sign language, signed to a new song almost every night. Then, on Monday nights, after the speaker's message was over, we had Skit Night, a chance for all sorts of hilarious. On one of these, I got to read The Pen and the Sword- and it was amazing. I've never been confident speaking in front of people, but that evening, well- I was already wearing a kilt, and I love my poem, and I just decided to go full-on bard, being as dramatic as possible with my introduction and poem, and I owned it.

And when there were no events and no chores, I had books to read or poetry to write- or, if I wanted, friends to hang out with. The Support Staff girls did more than support the hotel; we supported each other. I can't even begin to name all the times when I or another girl was struggling with something and one or more of the others stepped in to encourage whoever it was. The encouragement took many forms: a helping hand with chores when someone was tired or overwhelmed, a listening ear when someone needed to talk, hugs and strengthening words and comfort food on the second Wednesday when square dancing went sour for two of us (one of whom was me- Accidental Exile syndrome kicked in, for the only time in those weeks). Sometimes, the person doing the encouraging didn't even know how big of an impact they'd made. But always, someone was there when we needed them.

Oh, and on the note of awesome people: I got to meet an online friend of mine, Jenna, since she was Assistant Supervisor for the Girls' Staff. She's even more awesome in real life than online: funny and kind and patient and creative. The first International Night, she wore a Laketown costume she'd made for when she went to see one of the Hobbit movies, and one afternoon, we got to chat about life and books and just random stuff, and it was lovely.

But White Sulpher Springs, like Rivendell, is more than a place of peace and enjoyment. It's a stronghold against the dark, and for me, as I mentioned before, a place of preparation for the journey ahead. The first was evident in devotions every morning, in worship songs in the evenings and at every meal, in frequent prayer, and in so many other things. The latter? Part of that preparation was indeed all the things I mentioned before, the chance for peace and relaxation before insanity hits. Another part was the encouragement from others who've been where I am. But the biggest part was the lessons I learned, one in particular: choosing joy, and what that looks like.

Part of the lesson came indeed from the devotions and formal lessons. But most of it came, actually, from the work I had to do. I, being an average teen, don't particularly enjoy housework. Having come there expecting to work made it a little easier, but there were still days when I just didn't want to do anything. When I had to choose joy or choose to sulk. Before, I'd always had this idea- even though I knew better- that choosing joy meant being happy about what's going on, or at least being happy period. But it's not that. Joy isn't being happy about work or hardship. It's singing anyway. 

See, I usually have my iPod when I work at home. But electronics aren't allowed for WSS Support Staff. So if I wanted music, I had to sing it myself. On good days, I did, so long as no one was around to object- I had a few songs on repeat for most of the two weeks: some Andrew Peterson, one or two Celtic songs, some Owl City. But on bad days, one day in particular when I was tired and my whole body ached and I just wanted to sit down and moan, singing was hard. 

But I did it anyway. And, funny thing, when you're singing- particularly when you're singing Andrew Peterson's "Nothing to Say", it's hard to be miserable. You can still be tired, you can still be sore, but sadness? That's hard to hold onto because your focus goes elsewhere.

I'm no longer at White Sulpher Springs; I'm at my house, in the midst of packing so we can say final goodbyes and leave for our new home. My personal life is currently contained in thirty-three boxes, two backpacks, and a suitcase. At the end of the week, I have two goodbye parties- one hosted by my youth group, the other by my Bible study. And after that- I'm gone, heading into the Misty Mountains (or New York, however you want to look at it) and hoping I don't run into any orcs or goblins or freak blizzards.

But no matter what happens, I'm going to keep singing.