Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year, New World [A New Year's Short]

Happy New Year, everyone! I wasn't sure if I'd do a New Year's short story, but then I got this idea and it was so much fun that I just had to run with it. Hopefully y'all enjoy it too. If you're curious, my usual reflections-and-goals post will be going up on Friday. I just don't want to post TOO much in these two days.

New Year, New World

Tamison took a deep breath and smoothed the lapels of his wizardly robe. Fifteen minutes and counting until he’d leave for his first mission for the Council of Wizards. He'd been waiting months for an assignment, but his patience had paid off. This mission would prove his resolve, his ingenuity, and his subtlety without all the danger that some of the other young wizards had faced on their first assignments. There would be no tentacle-things from the Lost Realm, no mad werecats from the Forest of Midnight, and absolutely no bears of any kind. It would be perfect.

Tamison sorted through his satchel, making sure he had everything, then checked the clock again. Nine minutes left. He whistled to catch the attention of the pocket dragon perched on a nearby chair. “Myrd, why don't you slip through the portal and scout a bit? Make sure the coast is clear?”

Myrd rolled his eyes. A string of thoughts flowed from his head to Tamison's, mostly about how ridiculous Tam was. But he took flight anyway and disappeared through the portal with a flip of his silver-scaled tail.

Now alone, Tamison took a deep breath and reviewed the details of his mission. Seventeen years ago, an about-to-die wizard couple had portaled their one-year-old daughter to the Magicless Realm, Earth, intending to retrieve her if either of them survived. Neither had, and it had taken this long for other wizards to trace the girl's location to somewhere in the western part of somewhere called North Carolina. Tamison's job was to find the girl and bring her back. Undoubtedly, it would be a long and difficult search, requiring Tam to evade the notice of enemy forces and perfect his locating spells to the level of a master magician, but it would be worthwhile in the end — especially if he could manage to win the girl's heart along with the approval of his elders. Yes, she would surely be charmed by the suave and mysterious stranger simmering with hidden power . . .

Myrd flew back through the portal and reported the other side all clear. Tamison straightened, slung his satchel over his shoulder, and checked the clock. One more minute, then he could arrive at exactly midnight on the first day of the Magicless Realm's New Year.

Now! Tamison stepped into the portal. For a moment, dark nothingness surrounded him. Then he walked out the other side into cold air that smelled of dirty smoke and disappointment. In the sky high above, a firework went off with a bang and a flash of green. Ah, yes, this was a suitably dramatic entrance.

“You know,” came a contemplative voice from below him, “they say that if you drink a root beer at midnight on New Year's Eve behind the high school, adventure will find you.”

Tamison shot a furious thought at Myrd: I thought you said the coast was clear! He looked down to find a girl sitting there, her back to the brick wall, wrapped in a puffy green coat. A mass of black curls half hid her face, and she held a clear bottle of some kind of dark liquid. “And who says this, exactly?”

“People. Well, me, mostly. Just now, and about ten minutes ago when a dragon poofed out of thin air and started flying around.” She looked up and grinned at him, her teeth gleaming white in the darkness. “So, where do you come from, adventure?”

You let her see you? Tamison glared at Myrd, then stopped. This girl shouldn't have been able to see the dragon at all. Maybe he could convince her it was her imagination, nothing more. “I'm just passing through.”

“Sure.” She grinned again like she didn't believe him. “Just stepped out of thin air like that, you can't be sticking around long. But what's on the other side of thin air?”

“I did not just step out of thin air. You simply didn't notice me approach.” He gave her an annoyed look. “What are you doing here anyway?”

“Someone I trust told me that if I came here at this time, I’d save someone a lot of time and energy.” She rolled her eyes and took a long drink from her bottle. “Also, I think I would’ve noticed you coming — you and your dragon and your fancy flickery robe, even if the robe kinda looks like a sports coat sometimes. How’d’you do that?”

Blast. Something must be wrong with his illusion spells. But this was fixable. “No, it's a . . .” What had she called it? “A sports coat. And there's no dragon. You're drunk.”
She snorted. “You don't get drunk on root beer. Don't be stupid. Anyway, I’m too young for alcohol and too smart for drugs.”

What kind of beer didn't get people drunk? Tamison made a mental note to investigate. “You're tired and imagining things, then.”

“Nah. I got plenty of sleep last night. I could stay up for hours now.” She gave him another lazy smile as more fireworks went off above them. “So? What's on the other side of your thin air — if it's air? It looks kinda weird, like if you turned a rainbow into fishing line and wove it into a sheet.”

So not only could she see Myrd and his robes, she could see the gateway too. Great. Just great. Tamison hastily adjusted his plans. He could do with an ally here, a guide to help him find the girl. Naturally, as she worked with him, her initial hostility would give way to respect, then love, but she would be left sorrowful when he returned to his own world with the wizards’ daughter . . .

“Your dragon's talking to me,” she abruptly announced, interrupting his thoughts. “He says you're on a quest to find someone. Maybe I know her.”

“Yes.” Tamison shot Myrd another look. The least the dragon could do was let him tell his own story. “Seventeen years ago, two great wizards sent their daughter here to hide her from their foes. Now I seek to find her and invite her to return to her homeland to receive training in the fabulous powers which she undoubtedly possesses.”

“Uh-huh.” She drew the last word out as far as it could go without breaking. “And how are you gonna know this girl when you find her?”

“Well . . .” Tamison considered this. “I will have several tests to see if she could be the one. The first sign, of course, would be that she can see through my illusions . . .”

The girl might’ve raised an eyebrow; her tone suggested she had. “Like I can, you mean?”

“Well, yes.” Tamison faltered. It couldn't be this easy, could it? “And then I would investigate more into her family heritage and history and see what she knew about her parents . . .”

“Birth parents? ‘Bout nothing.” She shrugged and took another drink. “I've been in the foster system since I was a baby; just aged out last July. I tried to find info on my birth family, but no one even has any records.”

“Oh.” This was a test. It had to be a test. Either that or a trap. “Well, the person I'm looking for has a birthmark roughly the shape of a heart on her left shoulder.”

“Like this?” After a minute’s struggle with her coat, she pulled down the shoulder of her sweater to show him. He bent, creating a ball of light in one hand to help him see.

The mark did indeed look like a heart, though an elongated one. Tam straightened up. More fireworks went off, and music came from somewhere off beyond the brick wall, then faded away. “I suppose the last test would be to see if she has any wizardly powers . . .”

The words had no sooner left his mouth than he felt his feet lift off the ground. The girl laughed as he rose a foot above the earth and floated there. “Wizard enough for you?” She smirked. “I started floating books off my shelves by accident when I was twelve. I've been waiting ever since for someone to show up and say, ‘Yer a wizard, Carrie, ’ but I guess it worked out the other way around. So, I get to go off to wizardland now?”

Blast it. Blast it. Could it really be this easy? Was this a trap? A setup? A test? He had to find a way to stall and recalibrate. “If you wish to return to the Living Realm, your homeland, you may, but you are not required to if you would rather remain.”

“Learn to be a wizard and live around dragons instead of spending my life working a lousy job to pay off student loans? That’s an easy choice. New year, new world sounds good to me.” She stood. “So we just walk through the rainbow-weave thin air and we're there?”

“Yes, but . . .” Tam scrambled for an excuse. “Do you need to gather any possessions or say goodbye to anyone?”

She shook her head. “I had a feeling I wouldn't be around much this new year, and my feelings like that usually aren’t wrong. I said my goodbyes and brought everything I care about with me.” She hefted a black backpack off the ground and onto her shoulder. “Well, are we going?”

“Um . . .” Tamison still hesitated until a noise like branches rattling behind them caught his attention. “What was that?”

Carrie shrugged. “An animal of some kind, probably.”

Tam allowed himself to relax. “Ah. Nothing to fear, then.”

She gave him another one of those smiles. “Nah. Not unless you’re afraid of bears.”

Tamison hastily reevaluated the situation. Bears, even non-magical ones, were notoriously resistant to anything wizardly, and in his current discombobulated state, he didn't want to mess with one. “Let's just get back through the portal, then.” He stepped aside and gestured. “Ladies first.”

“Thanks.” She paused. “By the way, you’re not my type, so maybe stop getting your hopes up.” Then she stepped through the gateway and disappeared.

Tam sighed. Apparently, he needed to guard his thoughts better — either that or find a dragon who didn't spill all his secrets. At least it was an easy mission. That's something. Then, with that in mind and Myrd on his shoulder, he followed Carrie through the portal.

November + December 2018 Doings!

So, yeah, I missed the November Doings! post. I blame finals or something. And now I get to sum up two months in one post at the busiest time of year. Why do I do this to myself? Oh well.


  • Mechanical Heart basically consumed my life for the last two months, as far as writing goes. In my second rewrite, I planned to rearrange a few scenes, give Josiah's sister a slightly bigger roll, and expand a few scenes and elements so things would flow more slowly. The story would expand by maybe five chapters maximum, and I'd be done in about a month.
  • Obviously, though, that didn't happen! Instead, I doubled the length of the story, added a bunch of new scenes and possibly a new subplot (I can't remember for sure how much of any subplot was in the original), and spent waaaay too much time making it all happen.
  • For what it's worth, I do think the story is much better for the changes. I just I wish I'd been able to finish a little faster, especially because I still need to write several of my Actual Writing Job short stories. (Thankfully, I already have those plotted, so all I have to do is actually write them.)
  • Oh, and I wrote three different holiday specials: "A Symphony of Thanks" and "The Promise Star," both of which I've posted on my blog already, and a New Year's special that will go up tonight at midnight. I enjoyed writing all of them; it's nice to work on something so short and contained after spending so much time on longer pieces. I think the New Year's special was my favorite, but that's mostly because I find the concept pretty amusing.


  • November and December were actually relatively good reading months, despite (or perhaps because of) how busy I was. I actually ended up doing a lot of rereading, which is kind of a rarity. Around mid-November, I reread the Raven Cycle — don't ask me why, but I certainly don't regret my decision. There was a lot more of certain content than I remembered — or maybe I just ignored it before. I don't know. I still enjoyed the series a lot, though. Then, once I got back home on Christmas break, I reread all of Donita K. Paul's DragonKeeper and Chiril books. I used to love the series, but I hadn't read them in years, and I wanted to know how well they'd hold up. Thankfully, I actually enjoyed most of them more now than I remembered, especially the last two DragonKeeper Chronicles.
  • On the downside, I want a minor dragon more than ever now. But I'm used to that.
  • I did read quite a few new books, though! The best of these were Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, which I talked about in my End-of-Year Book Freakout last Friday. Close behind was the Five Poisoned Apples collection. It's an excellent set of short stories, each better than the last. I think "Red as Blood" was my favorite, with "Fairest One" and "Snowbird and the Red Shoes" close seconds. And, to be honest, I can see now why Blood in the Snow didn't make it into the collection — it focuses on a slightly different aspect of the tale than most of these stories do, and it shares some significant elements with another story that absolutely deserves to be in there. That's not to say that Blood in the Snow is worse or better than any of the stories, just that it wouldn't have fit as well with them.
  • My third-favorite read of these past two months was Skyward, Brandon Sanderson's new YA release. I will admit that I wasn't as thrilled with it as I hoped to be. Sanderson came through on what he promised: a strong and stubborn heroine, a fascinating sentient spaceship, epic space battles, and a pretty cool space academy. Plus, he gave us some pretty great female friendships — always a plus. But a few elements of the story fell a little flat, and certain characters and elements seemed a little more expected than you'd typically find in a Sanderson novel.
  • We round out the month with Dagger's Sleep and Christmas in Talesend. The latter is a fun collection of Afterverse Christmas stories that I read on Christmas Eve and thoroughly enjoyed. The former is a mixed bag of a Sleeping Beauty retelling by Tricia Mingerink. The storyline and concept were great, and I liked most of the characters . . . but not all of them. Plus, the worldbuilding bugged me a lot. Still a good read, but not a great one.


  • I actually watched a pretty wide variety of stuff these last two months: some Doctor Who, a few episodes of Miraculous Ladybug, the last of the first arc in Sword Art Online, and a lot of random Studio C, Door Monster, and It's a Southern Thing. I enjoyed most of it, and I'm quite glad that I discovered the Door Monster YouTube channel. They make mostly geeky D&D and video game-based sketches and they're just really fun.
  • On a less cheerful note, unless anyone can convince me otherwise, I think I might be giving up on Doctor Who. I managed another few episodes — the one with Dickens and the ghosts, the first Dalek episode, and Satellite 5 — but I keep getting frustrated with the show, the characters, and the storylines. If I'm giving up too soon, please tell me, but otherwise? I have other things I'd rather watch.
  • Also: PART SIX OF JOURNEY TO THE WEST HAPPENED! I've basically been waiting for part six for literal months. (Was it worth the wait? Yes. 500%. And you should go watch the whole series; you can find the playlist here.)
  • I also learned that, if you're going to start an anime, you should sure there's an English version available (or at least English subtitles). On a completely unrelated note, Re:Creators on Amazon Video doesn't meet either of those qualifications.
  • Most of what I've watched recently, of course, has been Christmas movies: some I watch every year (like White Christmas and Grinch) and some that I haven't watched in years: the Barbie Nutcracker and the first two VeggieTales Christmas videos. (What? I had knitting to do, and I needed something short.) Let me say, the VeggieTales ones are seriously underrated and a lot more fun than the last time I remember watching them. I think I may need to add them to my list of movies I watch every Christmas. We'll see.


  • I literally remember next to nothing about November. I think I spent most of the month in a state of perpetual NaNo-and-school-induced stress. Um . . . I drew dice and pencils a lot for 2D Design. That happened.
  • I went to the Ayo dance org's fall showcase midway through November. That was fun, though I enjoyed last year's show better. This year's show involved a lot of swing dance, which was cool, but I didn't enjoy the songs nearly as much.
  • Also in November was the art and design org's Clay Night, an event in which all the people not in the ceramics class got to head down to the ceramics lab and learn how to do hand-thrown and wheel-made clay creations. I had mixed results with most of my creations, and I struggled more with the wheel than I thought I would . . . but I still want to do it again. (I really wish I had the time and money to try stuff like this out for more than just a night — during this semester, I've had the chance to experiment with a lot of media, but I didn't have enough time with any of them to decide to turn them into a long-term hobby. Not that I have a lot of money for them even if I did want to do them long-term . . .)
  • And there were the PWID internship reports, of course. This year, I was giving a report, not just listening, which made the event mildly more interesting but also much more stressful. I don't think I sounded half as professional as I wanted to, and the fact that I initially went to the wrong building didn't help — PWID events are usually in the same room as our classes are, but this year we had so many people that we had to use a room in the BTS. I think it turned out all right, though.
  • Then, in December, everything was either CHRISTMAS or FINALS. I honestly think they both caused me about the same amount of stress. I only had one actual final, but I had really big final projects in all my other classes: a fifty-minute group presentation, a website redesign and rewrite (thankfully, I was only really responsible for the rewrite; my partners handled the design), two infographics, a logo, and eight art pieces on the theme of pencilness.
  • Once again, I covered Campus Christmas Open Dorms for the college paper — but this time I both took photos and wrote an article. That was an interesting adventure. I was really impressed with my hall's setup as well. We decided to theme our hall after Clue and had a whole interactive mystery set up. I was pulled in to help write the storyline and dialogue, which turned out a bit more stressful than I expected (mostly because the other writer didn't get me the information I needed until a day or two before the actual event . . . gah!). Still, it worked out, and I think it's the best Campus Christmas my hall has had in the time I've been there.
  • I also spent a lot of time knitting and crocheting, making Christmas presents for my hallmates. I'm not going to say what they were because some of them read this blog and left before I could give them their gifts . . . but I am happy with how they turned out in the end.
  • And my roommate and I made gingerbread! Which turned out super yummy but also sparked a discussion about the uses of molasses that left me astonished. (I maintain that it is delicious on biscuits at breakfast. She's never heard of such a thing and wouldn't try it if you paid her. But it's fine. Part of the problem is that the only molasses she knows is baking molasses, not sorghum molasses, which is lighter, sweeter, and far superior.)
  • Of course, I had Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, which means I got to spend a lot of time at home, enjoying the company of my family. I introduced them to Codenames, we ate much good food, and I very much appreciated not having to go to class. Plus I had time to do a lot of reading, which makes me happy.
  • And we went to Mount Vernon, which I haven't been to since I was, like . . . six-ish. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the actual house, which was disappointing, but the tour was still very interesting. I think it'll be helpful for story research as well — even without taking pictures, the memory is a good reference for how locations in one of my book series might look.
  • Then we had Christmas itself! My grandpa came down for the holiday, and that meant that my mom made ladylocks (otherwise known as an absolutely delicious type of pastry cookie). He arrived Sunday, and on Monday we went to our church's Christmas Eve service, which was insanely crowded — in fact, we intended to go at 2:00, but even though we arrived on time, we couldn't find seats! We ended up coming back at 3:15 to get seats for the 4:00 service. It was worth the wait, though: very well-presented and moving.
  • And now we just have by Bible Study's New Year's Eve party tonight, which is always a good time, if sometimes a little overwhelming.

January Plans!

  • I head back to college in about a week and I still don't have my books. I'm more than a little stressed about this. But I'm excited about my classes next semester! I have two honors seminars on interesting topics, Tech Tools 1 (a class on different graphic design programs — all of which I know how to use to some degree already, but that means I can really dig into the projects), Instructional Design 2 (which should hopefully confirm whether or not instructional design is a good career option for me), Web Design (which is apparently online instead of in the classroom; I'm nervous), and User Experience (which I'm also stressed about but is with a professor I like, so it's fine). Also, I have no actual classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which is going to be super weird but also should give me plenty of time to work on projects.
  • I'm also excited to get back to D&D. My character just leveled up again at the end of last semester, which means I get to choose her Sacred Oath — basically, it's character development and new special powers. And I'm enjoying the group I'm in, even though it's a little more combat-focused than I expected. (Honestly, that's probably for the best, since I'm still a little awkward about talking in character.) Also, I now only need one more level before I get to start dual-wielding, and that's exciting.
  • As far as writing goes, I'll probably talk about my plans a little more when I do my goals post for the year (probably coming on Friday). In the short term, though, my main project is the remainder of my Actual Writing Job short stories, which need to be written, edited, and submitted very soon. After that, I'll get back to longer projects.
  • Other than that, I don't have a lot of plans for this month. Classes and orgs will likely proceed as usual. In my spare time, I'll read, write, and hang out with my roommate and hallmates as much as possible. I'd like to get to the gym more often and do more watching of shows with my roommate, but we'll see how those work out.
So, that's my last two months. What about you? What have you been up to? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)   

Friday, December 28, 2018

End-of-Year Book Freakout 2018!

Aaaaand it's back! The End-of-Year Book Freakout! I'm not calling it a tag anymore because I havne't been tagged and I'm not tagging anyone, haha. I think I've had a reasonably good reading year — my average rating was 4.1, which isn't bad. Though, let's be real, it's been a really long year, and I can barely remember what I read in July. Thank God for Goodreads. (In my defense, I read 107 books this year, and about 45 of those were since July.) And technically 2018 isn't quite over, so I'll probably get another book or two in by the first of January . . . but I wanted to get this up now.

1. Best book you've read in the second half of 2018:
Ok, full disclosure: a lot of my favorite books that I've read this half of the year have been rereads. So that's kind of sad. That said, one of those rereads does count:

 The Worth of a King by Kendra E. Ardnek
Just read my review for all my fangirling, but this is tied with LDTD for my favorite of Kendra's books. Delaney and pre-scale Amberite are the best parts, but political intrigue, masked assassins, and the adorable romance that is Delsida all make the book doubly awesome.

A few other pretty awesome reads:

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Heistyness and sharp-edged friendships and diversity make this super fun. (Plus, the story starts in a Netherlands-esque city, which is really cool.)

Not an easy book to read at all times, but an exciting and thought-provoking one. More contemporary than fantasy, but it's so Hank-ish that I'm ok with that.

2. Best sequel you've read in the second half of 2018:

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman
I fully expected this to rip out my heart and crush it into small pieces — that seems to be the trend with series finales — and, I mean, it did. But it also had some moments of pure triumph and relief and happiness that I loved. The gang's all together, plus we've got the con-artist newbies, and Kady's dad is just fathering everyone and I don't know. It made me happy at the same time as it killed me with plot twists.
And the runners-up:

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Except for one twist that I'm INTENSELY MAD about and the fact that this one is slightly gayer than the first one, I loved Crooked Kingdom just as much as Six of Crows.

The Plastic Magician by Charlie Holmberg
Getting to see another magic type in action was super fun! And it was nice to have a plot that was centered on something a little less high-stakes than black-magic murderers on the loose.

3. New release you haven't read yet but want to: 
The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman
This was one of my Christmas gifts this year, and I can't wait to get back to the worlds of the Invisible Library! Now the question is: do I reread the whole series before I read this one? Or just the last book?

Bitter Winter by Jaye L. Knight
Not going to lie, I kinda forgot that this book was coming out until I got the email about the blog tour. And it's anyone's guess if I'll actually read this soon or if I'll wait until it's been out for six months. Based on the past, the latter is more likely.
4. Most anticipated release for next year: 

Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Eugenides is baaaaaack! And it's the end of the series, which is tragic, but it is what it is. I'm just glad we get one more installment, and I'm super excited to see how it goes.
5. Biggest disappointment:

The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell
I wanted magical heistyness and snarky friendships and time-manipulation magic in an urban historical fantasy setting. And, ok, I got three of those four, but the most important of the four was replaced by angst and suspicion of everyone except the right person and it was just a mess. Why did I read this book.
One runner-up in this category, sadly:
 Dagger's Sleep by Tricia Mingerink
To be fair, this wasn't a bad book as far as characters and plot go — Alexander annoyed me immensely, but otherwise, both those categories were fine. But the worldbuilding drove me crazy in that I couldn't make it make sense in my head.  
6. Biggest surprise:
I did not expect this to be as much contemporary as it was. I also didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did, given that it is more contemporary and, between the two Green brothers, I prefer John. But I actually really liked the book, even if I did have to put it down for extended periods once or twice because I could see the train wrecks coming.
Another surprise: the fact that Skyward wasn't another instant favorite as Sanderson books usually are. It was a good book, but a bit . . . I don't know. It lacked the Sanderson spark. Still, it's far better than the Alcatraz books, so I plan to stick with the series. 

7. Favorite new-to-you author:

8. Newest fictional crush/ship:
Sadly, authors continue to pair off all the crush-worthy male characters. On the upside, I have a few new ships to fangirl over!
    9. Newest favorite character(s):
    • Delaney from The Worth of a King.
    • The whole crew from Six of Crows.
    • Alvie from The Plastic Magician.
    • Gwen from The Seven Drawers.
    • Daemyn Rand from Dagger's Sleep.
    10. A book that made you cry:
    No actual tears, true, but definitely pain. Beck needs to be hugged and kidnapped from both his mother and his author.

    Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
    I should not have read the end of this book in a public place, especially since I was already upset and stressed from other causes. That's all I'm saying.

    11. A book that made you happy:
    The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie E. Reader
    This is a delightfully steampunky mystery, and while it does have its share of angst, it also has quite a bit of heart and humor. The main character duo is fabulous, the plot is exciting, and it's just generally a good read all 'round.
    12. Favorite book to film adaptation you've seen this half of the year:
     Uhhhhh I rewatched Mary Poppins back in August. Does that count?

    13. Favorite post(s) you've done this half of the year:
    Oooh! I do have a few fun ones to share here.
    14. Most beautiful book you've bought/received this half of the year:
    Can I count Blood in the Snow? I know it's my book, but I am absolutely in love with the cover, and technically I did buy copies of it.

    Other than my own book, my aunt bought me Illuminae for my birthday, and it both has an awesome cover and an awesome interior.

    And though I haven't read The Enchanted Sonata yet, I love its cover and interior as well.

    15. Any other books you want to babble about for any other reason?
    Normally, I use this space to talk about the books I still need to read that I've been meaning to read for ages. But this time, I'm going to talk about all the awesome books I've reread lately.

    The DragonKeeper Chronicles by Donita K. Paul
    Over Christmas break, I've reread all but one of Donita K. Paul's Amara and Chiril books. I wanted to see how they held up, since I loved them and drew so much inspiration from them when I was younger. Thankfully, most of them have been just as good or better than I remembered.
    The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvate
    Some people's stress-fueled college decisions involve alcohol, excessive sleep, and worse. Mine involve rereading books about rich boys and psychic girls and dead Welsh kings. I regret nothing.
    Scholar's Plot by Hilari Bell
    And speaking of college decisions . . . I don't even remember why I reread this book, but I'm glad I did — it was just as good on the reread as the first time around. Also, I miss Michael and Fisk.

    What were your favorite 2018 reads? Any favorite rereads? Or major disappointments? Please tell me in the comments!
    Thanks for reading!
    -Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)   

    Tuesday, December 25, 2018

    Christmas Special: The Promise Star

    Merry Christmas, everyone! However you celebrate, I hope you enjoy my Christmas gift to you: a holiday short story from the world of Blood in the Snow . . . where they don't actually celebrate Christmas, but I figured out their equivalent, so we're all good. 

    "Please, Father, may I have just one more story?
    Her father, the emperor of a great kingdom, shakes his head and stands. "It grows late, my snow-flower. You need sleep or you will be tired and grumble through the whole Promise celebration tomorrow."
    The emperor's daughter looks up at her father with pleading eyes. "Please? I'll go to sleep as soon as you're done, and I won't so much as frown tomorrow, not even once. And no one tells the story of the Promise Star like you do."
    "Very well. One more story."
    Long, long ago, when there was no emperor and no king, when the Middle Kingdoms were nothing but hundreds of squabbling families —
    “Like the Fire Islands are now?”
    “Exactly as such.”
    In those distant days dwelt a man who knew the Divine better than he knew himself. He studied all the prophecies and promises which the Divine had given, and he longed for the days in which they would be fulfilled.
    “Did he know the prophecy about me, Father?”
    “No, daughter. That prophecy came much later.”
    One day, this man, whose name was Shai, prayed to the Divine, asking “Oh, greatest of great ones, when will You fulfill what you have promised? You say You will send one who will end all war and bring peace to all people, who will set free the slave and bind up broken hearts. Yet since the days of my father's fathers, we have been at war, and at war we still will be when my sons’ sons are grown if something does not change. I beg you, O Divine, give to me a sign that Your promised peacemaker will come.”

    The man did not expect an answer, and so he was bewildered when a voice came from the stillness. The voice was quiet, yet it thundered in his soul, and it was gentle, yet it carried the force and majesty of a mountain storm. And the voice spoke: “Shai, son of Huang, I have heard your prayer. Now, look to the sky.”

    So Shai looked, and there he saw —
    “The Promise Star!”
    “Indeed, now sit still, and let me tell the story. Or perhaps you wish to tell it to me?”
    “Nooo! You finish, Father.”
    Shai saw in the sky a new star, one far brighter than any others. And the light from this star fell to the ground before Shai and formed a doorway in the air that shimmered like silver. Then the Divine said, “Enter this gateway and I will show you the fulfillment of many promises.”

    So Shai stepped into the silver arch and disappeared from the circles of this world. On the other side, he found himself in the midst of great sand dunes that stretched as far as his eyes could see. And in the sky above him was the star, for its splendid was so great as to stretch across worlds.

    Shai saw nothing that would fulfill any of the promises of the Divine, so he resolved to follow the star that had brought him here. Surely, if the Divine had placed such a powerful sign in the sky, it must lead to an equally great promise.

    As he trekked across the sandy plains, he encountered a tall man with skin dark as dark as the night sky and hair like the silver starlight, who glowed with the same radiance as that light. With him was a woman, dark-haired and sharp of face and tooth. Shai bowed to them, for he recognized them as an angel and a dragon, though they took the forms of men.

    They bowed back and bid him speak. “Great ones, ” he said, “I have come from a distant land seeking the fulfillment of the Divine's promises. Are you what I seek, or do you know where I might find my goal?”

    “We are not, ” the angel replied. “But we seek the same. Come, wise one, let us follow the star together, for three may see what one cannot.”

    So they traveled onward, following the star. Along the way, they met a woman with hair the color of flame. She greeted them courteously and said, “Honored friends, I am Destiny, a prophetess of the Divine. I perceive that you seek what I do: the fulfillment of His greatest promises. Let me join you, for where many gather, there the Divine dwells.” They agreed, and the four continued their search.
    “Father, if Destiny was a prophetess, why did she have to search? Couldn't she just know where the promise was?”
    “Only if the Divine told her, my daughter. No prophet or prophetess knows all of the Divine's plans. They know only what they are told.”
    On they traveled. As they went, they were joined by two more who were also seeking the fulfillment of the Divine's promises. One was like the men who dwell to the south and west of us: dark of skin and hair and bold of speech. The other was a pale woman who carried on her shoulder a creature that she called a dragon, though it was more like a winged lizard than a true dragon.

    Shai and his companions continued to travel across the sand, following the star. Though they had little food or drink, they were sustained by their faith in the Divine and their hope in His promises. As they traveled, they shared stories of their worlds and sang of the Divine's great works.

    After many days, they encountered a great caravan full of men and camels. The woman who was a dragon hailed the caravan and inquired to where it went.

    “We seek a king,” replied one of its leaders, a wealthy priest and scholar who called himself Melchior. “A ruler like no other. We saw his star in the east and come to worship him.”

    “We seek the same, ” said the woman, smiling like a cat. “Let us travel together.”

    The caravan was reluctant to let such unusual strangers journey with them. But they could not refuse, for they valued hospitality as we do honor. And as time went by, they came to appreciate the wisdom and knowledge of Shai and his companions.

    At last, the star led them to a great city and a magnificent palace.”Ah, ” declared the caravan leaders, “Surely this is the place where the king has been born.”

    The woman who was a dragon shook her head. “This place smells of treachery and evil. We will find no true king nor promise here.” The angel agreed with her, as did the prophetess Destiny. Shai, for his part, knew nothing of treachery in that place, but it seemed to him that the star was leading them still onwards. However, the caravan leaders insisted, so in they went.
    “Why did they not listen, if the dragon and the angel and the prophet all told them the same thing?”
    “I know not, daughter, save that it must have been in the Divine's plan for them to enter the palace.”
    Within the palace, they found a false, Giftless ruler who claimed he alone was king of that country. But as they continued to inquire, he sent for wise men, priests, and scholars. These men had studied the words of the Divine as well, and they sent the travelers on towards a small town called Bethlehem, for their own prophets had declared the king would be born there.

    So they went on their way. As they drew near to the town, their spirits rise, and they became quite merry. Yet Shai began to worry. How could a king born in this world bring peace to his world? Moreover, he knew that all the others had brought gifts for the king who would fulfill the Divine's promises, yet Shai had nothing to give.

    They reached the town, and the star led them to a little home where there dwelt a carpenter and his wife and their young son. When they looked upon the boy, the angel and the dragon both cried out in joy, and the caravan kings whispered, and tears ran down the prophetess's cheeks. But Shai looked, and he did not understand.

    Then all the others brought out their gifts: frankincense and myrrh, and gold in many forms. One by one, the brought their gifts to the child-king and his parents and worshipped the Divine's promised peacemaker.

    Last of all, Shai approached. And now, when he looked in the child’s eyes, he understood. This child, though as human as Shai him!self, carried the essence of the Divine. And somehow Shai knew that the child's actions in this world would bring peace to all realms. In awe, he knelt and worshipped and wept that he had no gift to offer.

    Then the child reached down, as he had not for the others. He touched Shai's mouth and hands and laughed joyously. And suddenly, Shai understood this too. “Yes, ” he whispered so only the child could hear. “My mouth, my hands, my service; all these things are yours. I will tell my world what I have learned here; I will prepare the way for you to come.”

    Then he and the others left the house rejoicing in what they had seen. And that night, the star shone one last time, and its light again formed the gateway to bring Shai and the others from other worlds home. Shai, upon his return, did all he said he would do. And it is because of his prayer, his journey, and his work that we now celebrate Promise Morn and remember that the Divine always fulfills His promises.
    The emperor kissed his daughter's forehead. “Now, it is time that you sleep. Rest well.”
    “I will.” The emperor's daughter snuggled down into her bed. “Father, I want to serve the Divine like Shai did.”
    “I am glad to hear that. I have no doubt, my daughter, my snow-flower, that you will.” Then he departed, leaving his daughter to sleep and dream of stars and prophecies and promises yet to be fulfilled.

    Friday, December 21, 2018

    Ilyon & Acktar Blog Tour Author Interview

    Hey'a, everyone! Sorry for the general silence of late; final projects and Christmas preparations have been taking up most of my time. I do have something fun for today, though! I'm joining up with Jaye L. Knight and Tricia Mingerink's awesome double tour for Bitter Winter and Decree! I love the Ilyon Chronicles, and I really want to read the Blades of Acktar series, so I'm really excited to be here. I got to interview the authors for this tour, and we'll get to that in a minute . . . but first, a little about the books and authors.

    Ilyon Chronicles

    About Bitter Winter

    Already struggling with a harsh winter and the threat of food shortage, a catastrophic event leaves those in the Landale camps reeling. Just when things couldn’t get much worse, camp members fall ill with the same devastating sickness that’s sweeping across the country.

    Determined to gain the cure, Jace sets off to Valcré. However, there are only two sources—the queen, or a powerful gang of smugglers who have made the dangerous city their home. When Jace gains audience with the gang leader, he finds the price of the cure is steeper than any of them imagined, forcing him to make an impossible choice—betray his conscience or let those he loves die.

    Find it on: Amazon || Goodreads







    About Lacy

    The last thing Aaron ever envisioned was falling for a prostitute. Everything about it spells trouble. However, he can’t help noticing the way her smile lights up when she sees him and how much brokenness she hides behind it. Neither can he ignore how desperately she needs rescue and protection.

    When Lacy shares a life or death secret with him, Aaron is willing to risk everything to help her and to show her Elôm’s love. Yet, such a choice could destroy his reputation and maybe even cost him his freedom.

    An Ilyon Chronicles Novella

    Find it on: Amazon || Goodreads

    Learn more about all the world of Ilyon on the official Ilyon Chronicles website!  





    About Jaye L. Knight

    Jaye L. Knight is an award-winning author, homeschool graduate, and shameless tea addict with a passion for Christian fantasy. Armed with an active imagination and love for adventure, Jaye weaves stories of truth, faith, and courage with the message that even in the deepest darkness, God’s love shines as a light to offer hope. She has been penning stories since the age of eight and resides in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

    You can connect with Jaye on her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Etsy.


    Blades of Acktar

    About Decree

    The Adventure Continues.

    Discover more of The Blades of Acktar in this collection of novellas and short stories.

    The Blades as They Should’ve Been
    A test and the Gathering of Nobles will decide Leith and Martyn’s futures. Can they fight to become more than the Blades they were? Will Keevan accept the man who attempted to kill him as family?

    The First Mission
    When Martyn visits Surgis, his past seems determined to haunt him. Can he figure out how to forgive, especially when confronted with an enemy in need of his help?

    To the Far Great Mountains
    A death sends Leith and Martyn far beyond the borders of Acktar. Will they be able to arrest their quarry before they are caught themselves?

    From the story of how Leith and Martyn met to Ranson’s search for a life outside of the Blades, these stories will answer plaguing questions and expand the world of Acktar.

    Find it on: Amazon || Goodreads

    Learn more about the whole series on the official Blades of Acktar page!   

    About Tricia Mingerink

    Tricia Mingerink is a twenty-something, book-loving, horse-riding country girl. She lives in Michigan with her family and their pack of pets. When she isn't writing, she can be found pursuing backwoods adventures across the country.

    You can connect with Tricia on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.



    Interview with Jaye and Tricia

    Hello, and welcome to Dreams and Dragons! To start off, can you tell us a little about yourselves? Who you are, hobbies, favorite books (other than your own), anything else you’d like to share?

    Tricia: Hobbies? People have time for those? Besides writing and working my full time job, my only other hobby would be renovating my 100-year-old farmhouse. My favorite books besides my own would be the Ilyon Chronicles (duh) and a list of favorite authors and books that would be too long to mention here, unless you want this blog post to end up huge.

    Jaye: I like to sum myself up as a shameless tea addict, country girl, crazy awesome cat lady, and hopeless romantic. Lately, if I’m not writing or managing my Etsy shops, I’m helping out with my new twin nephews (they are SO CUTE). Either that or hanging out with friends from church. Obviously I adore Tricia’s books, and am also a big fan of Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson, Karen Witemeyer, and too many others to list. Like Tricia, time for hobbies is almost non-existent, but I am very into historical reenactment, cosplay, TV series, and cats, obviously. Cats are life. LOL

    Awesome! So, both of you are well into your book series at this point. Do you have any advice for how to effectively write series? Did you have the whole series planned when you started, or are you figuring it out from one book to another?

    Tricia: Um, considering I have now done the whole “Surprise! The last book was NOT the last book like everyone thought it was!” thing twice now, I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask about planning a series. I had the first three books planned before I started writing The Blades of Acktar. After that, every time I try to end the series, the characters cross their arms and say, “Nope, there’s more to the story.”

    Jaye: I had the whole main plotline for Ilyon mostly planned when I started. Or at least within a short time after I started. (I started writing it literally the day after the first ideas came to me.) It’s probably a good idea to know all of your major plot points early on so that everything fits together nicely and you don’t have to go back and re-write to make something work. Especially if you start publishing the books before you’re actually done writing the series like Ilyon Chronicles.

    My only other advice is not to try to write a series just for the sake of writing a series. I never planned for Ilyon to be six books. It started out as three, jumped up to seven, and then settled at six. Just write what it takes to tell the story.

    So it sounds like you had very different series experiences. Interesting. What was the best part of writing your newly-releasing books? The hardest part?

    Tricia: The best part of writing Decree was getting back to the world of Acktar. I only took a break from Acktar for about a year and a half, and it already felt too long. While I love the world in my new series, Beyond the Tales, there is something special about Acktar.

    The worst part was formatting the paperback. It is always my least favorite part of indie publishing. Someday I hope they come up with a program like Vellum that is affordable and works on a PC, lol.

    Jaye: I want Vellum too!!!

    Without giving too much away, I’d say the best part was Jace and Kyrin’s progression in their relationship. The final chapter in Bitter Winter was one of the few scenes I’ve ever written that came out almost exactly like I pictured it in my head.

    The worst part was having to do a lot of re-writing and being on a deadline. My personal life has been crazy busy for the last year, and trying to write during it has been a real struggle.

    As someone who has just discovered the struggles of paperback formatting and who has also been very busy of late, I sympathize. So, as I understand it, you two are key authors in the kingdom adventure subgenre. What made you decide to write these types of books, and what suggestions do you have for other authors who might want to do the same?

    Tricia: Well, if you want to get technical about genres, Jaye’s books, while they are non-magical fantasy, aren’t kingdom adventure because they still have dragons and races of people that couldn’t exist in our world. But they are similar enough that there isn’t much difference.

    I stumbled into writing kingdom adventure by accident. I have several unpublished books I wrote in my teens that are all full-on, magical fantasy. But when I got the idea for The Blades of Acktar, I just started writing it as it wanted to be written. It wasn’t historical fiction and refused to fit into any historical time period, yet it didn’t feel right for the story to try to turn it more fantasy (I actually considered it at one point and decided not to go that route).

    I guess, if I had any tips, it would be to carefully consider your marketing. Kingdom Adventure books are interesting to market because they are neither fully historical fiction nor fully fantasy. I marketed mine as fantasy because I knew that future books I write would be fantasy. But if you, as an author, plan to write historical fiction or something along those lines eventually, marketing more toward historical fiction readers would be a good plan.

    Jaye: I honestly don’t know much about different subgenres. I just write what comes to me and fit it in wherever it seems to work best. I’d say Tricia has very good suggestions.

    Tricia: *laughs* And Jaye manages to say the exact same thing I said in a paragraph in 1 sentence, lol. I’m apparently too wordy when it comes to answering these interview questions.

    Thanks for the advice! Finally, if you could introduce one food from our world to your main characters and try one food from their worlds yourself, which foods would you pick and why?

    Tricia: I would dearly love to introduce my characters to pizza. They would love it. Especially Brandi.

    I have actually had maple sugar cookies (a local fan once made them for me since I’m not good at baking myself), and they are actually as good as my characters say they are in the books.

    Jaye: I’m stealing Tricia’s answer and also saying pizza. Kaden would LOVE pizza.

    As far as food from Ilyon . . . something that the cretes make. I like the idea of their food. It’s simple and good, but a little bit exotic.

    Tricia: Kaden would love pizza, lol. And now you’re making me hungry for a crete prepared dish.

    I feel like everyone wants their characters to try pizza. It's interesting. Thanks for answering my questions!

    All right! Thanks, everyone who's read this far! And now, we have a giveaway! Jaye and Tricia are giving away a full signed set of the Ilyon Chronicles and the Blades of Acktar series . . . which is pretty awesome. I want that prize now. The giveaway is open to US residents only (because shipping, sorry). Here's the giveaway direct link, because Blogger is already mad at me for having so much formatting in this post and I don't feel like arguing with it more right now.

    In addition, there will be additional giveaways in each character chat, so make sure you check out those as well! And please tell me in the comments: are you excited for these books? What are you most looking forward to!
    Thanks for reading!
    -Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)   

    Blog Posts for Friday – December 21
    Book Reviews at Smyling Girl
    Author Interview at Dreams and Dragons <-- you are here.
    Book Review by Faith Blum
    Author Interview & Book Reviews at Allison Grace Writes
    Book Spotlight by Hannah Gaudette
    Character Chat #4 by TriciaMingerink
    Or find a complete list of blog tour stops at the main tour page!