Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New Year's Dream [A Mechanical Heart Short Story]

So, I originally wasn't going to do a New Year's short story this year, but then I had this idea, and, well, things happened. This takes place the winter before Mechanical Heart, so no worries about spoilers. That said, you might want to hop back and read "New Year, New World," last year's New Year's story.

New Year's Dream: A New Year's Short Story

It was supposed to be a quiet night. A peaceful one, even, if such a thing could be had on Crossings Night. Luis had been planning it for weeks. His family would be out at various celebrations. Josiah, of course, was busy with the royal Crossings Night ball, with its rich food and wine and lavish costumes and four — four — different sets of musicians to rotate in and out so the dancing wouldn't stop until the dancers grew tired. And that left Luis to welcome the coming year in the best possible way: alone, in his workshop, with an abundance of projects to tinker on and the remains of the eggnog to help the process along.

Of course, it couldn't last.

Luis's first warning that something odd was afoot came when every miazen crystal in his workshop sudden blazed with brilliant white light, nearly blinding him. His next was the sight of two people in colorful robes who dashed out of thin air and ran smack into his workbench.

"What in blazes —?" Luis leapt to his feet and cast about for the nearest weapon. He grabbed his largest screwdriver and a small knife, feeling keenly the inadequacy of either.

The two didn't seem to notice him. One — a young woman with dark skin and a wild mass of black curls — recovered first. She straightened and spun around, bright green robes swirling around her, and made a series of sharp slashing motions through the air in front of her. Sign language, like Josiah's sister used? But there was no one there for her to be signing to . . .

Something else began to appear, faint and shimmering. Luis could make out the hint of a huge, dark form, gleaming . . . teeth? Or perhaps claws? Yes, claws; they were becoming more and more real at a quicker rate than the rest of the being.

The other person, a man with severely mussed dark hair and a bruised face, pushed himself to his feet. "Shut it! Quick!"

"Patience. I'm working." The girl made a final slashing motion. The claws became suddenly solid and dropped to the floor, leaking blood. The rest of the being disappeared. "See? We're fine."

I have to be dreaming. Luis took several deep breaths, trying to calm himself. Either that or finishing off the last of the eggnog at dinner had been a severe mistake. "What just happened? Who are you, and what are you doing in my workshop?"

The woman turned around, pushing her curls back from her face. Her eyebrows rose slightly when she saw Luis, and then she gave him a lazy smile. "Sorry 'bout that. It's nothing for you to worry about. I'm Carrie, and this is Tamison. Who're you?"

Her accent sounded like caramel tasted: rich and warm, with more than a little stretch in the vowels. Luis blinked, then took Carrie's hand and shook it. "Luis Kronos. I think that if you're barging into my workroom, it's something I have a right to worry about."

"We're just passing through." Carrie smiled like she was enjoying her own private joke, while Tamison groaned. "Mind telling us where we are? Then we'll leave you to your . . ." She looked around. "Your whatever this is."

"Kronos Clocks and Gadgetry. This is the back workroom." Luis paused, noted the lack of recognition on either face, then added, "Upper Rivenford? Chania?"

"Chania?" Tamison's face grew red as the trim on his robes. He turned on his companion. "You used the wrong coordinates! Now we're not just in the wrong world; we're in the wrong dimensional orientation!"

Carrie blew out a long breath and put her hands on her hips. "I wouldn't've used the wrong coordinates if you'd've just gone on and told me the right ones the first time I asked instead of going on about secrecy and the will of the Wizard Council."

Tamison drew himself up proudly, offense written clear as newsprint across his anger-blotched face. "I was following orders!"

Luis held up a hand, his mind finally having caught up from where it had stuck a few moments ago. "Wait. Wait. The wrong world?" He blinked twice, then dropped his screwdriver, reached up, and started flipping through magnifications on his work goggles, hoping that somewhere in the transitory blurs between lenses, the two would disappear or at least resolve into something more reasonable, like a few friends playing a joke on him.

But the pair remained present, as they were, and the massive claws continued to slowly leak blood onto the wood floor. Luis pulled off his goggles and shook his head. "You're mad. Or I'm mad. Or dreaming."

"Dreaming, yeah. We can call it that." Carrie gave him another slow smile. "And in a moment, you'll wake up and we'll be gone." She gestured in the air again, her motions slow and swooping this time. Then she paused, frowning. "Or perhaps not."

Tamison frowned too. "It's not working. That's odd. There's more than enough ambient magic to power a short-lived portal, even one going between perpendiculars instead of parallels . . . wait." He turned to Luis. "What day is it?"

"It's Crossings Night, the last night of the year," Luis replied slowly. The fact that Carrie had agreed that this was all a dream suggested that it really wasn't a dream at all, but he didn't have a better explanation  . . . not unless all this was real. "What do you mean, between perpendiculars?"

"You've heard of parallel dimensions?" Tamison asked. "They're like that, but oriented differently. It's complicated." He turned back to Carrie. "We must be losing alignment!" Then, over his shoulder to Luis: "Quick, what's the time?"

Luis gave the man his best unimpressed look and gestured around the workshop at the dozens of clocks hung on the walls between shelves and toolboards. "Look for yourself."

Tamison glanced around and sagged slightly. "Ah. Yes. It's . . . oh, dragonsbreath. It's only half an hour to midnight. And by midnight, the alignment will be lost and we'll be stuck here and in this world's parallels for who-knows-how-many years, thanks to someone's haphazard portaling."

"Someone just saved your skinny rear from a mad sorcerer and his hoard of crazed werecats," Carrie huffed. "Where's the most likely spot to be aligned still?"

"Ah, well . . ." Tamison licked his lips nervously. "Usually it's a south-to-north progression . . . and high spots usually have the strongest connection between dimensions . . . moreso if they have a strong concentration of magical energy . . ."

"North, up high, lots of magical energy." Carrie turned to Luis. "What do you say, Luis Kronos? You know this city. Anywhere that fits the description?"

"Well . . ." Luis hesitated. "There is one place . . ."

But could he risk sending them there? After all, no one was supposed to enter the clock tower lest they risk draining the magic from the miazen crystals at an increased rate. But, then again, if these two were already magic, perhaps it would be all right.

"There's a clock tower," he said, finally. "It's north of us, and it's one of the highest spots in the city, and it's powered by magic."

"Perfect." Carrie's smile returned. "Care to show us the way?"

Again, Luis hesitated. It would be so much easier to stay in, to stick to what was left of his plan and hide out in his workshop. He imagined the crowds and lights and noise outside and grimaced.
But . . . if this was a dream, he wouldn't really be going out. And if it wasn't a dream, he couldn't leave these two in the lurch. True, he could give them directions, but it would be faster to just show them.

"Fine." He pulled his goggles back up. "It's a good thing for you that it's Crossings Night. You'll blend in better since everyone is already costumed. You'll need masks, though."

"That's easy enough to solve." Tamison gestured, and something shifted. Luis blinked. Masks had appeared on the two's faces: a small black domino mask on on Tamison and a larger, more elaborate green mask on Carrie. In addition, their robes had somehow changed so they looked more like costumes and less like clothes. A white shirt collar poked up from the top of Tamison's robe, and the front now hung open to reveal a waistcoat and trousers. Carrie's robes had become more fitted in the bodice, and the shape suggested that she was now wearing a corset and a full skirt beneath them. In addition, a tall, pointed hat with a bit of filmy pink fabric attached to the tip had appeared on Carrie's head, nestled among her curls.

Carrie looked down at herself and sighed wearily. "Lovely." She looked at Luis. "Won't you need a mask too?"

Luis tapped his goggles. "These will do well enough. Now, let's go."

He led the way out of the shop, locking it behind them, and up the crowded streets. Even at nearly midnight, musicians and dancers still made their rounds, tailed by crowds of masked revelers dressed in dramatic blacks or brilliant rainbow hues. Their laughter and shouts mixed with the music into a joyful, chaotic cacophony. Luis grimaced, remembering all too keenly the reasons he hadn't wanted to come out tonight, and sped up.

He guided Tamison and Carrie as quickly as he could up towards the clock tower. Occasionally, some of Luis's friends or acquaintances would call out to him, inviting him and his companions to join them or pretending offense at the fact that Luis had rejected them in favor of a pair of strangers. Luis just waved and hurried on.

Thankfully, the crowds thinned as they moved further and further into the wealthy part of town. Here, the celebrations were mostly held in shops and homes. Luis caught glimpses of a few through windows, though he mostly didn't look, even when they passed the Clockmakers' Guild Hall where Luis knew his parents would be celebrating.

By the time they reached the clock tower, less than ten minutes remained 'til midnight. Luis tried the door. "It's locked." He checked his pockets — nothing. "And I don't have my locksmith's tools."
Tamison peered at the lock. "And it looks to be steel and iron. Unpleasantly resistant to magical meddling."

Carrie put a hand on the side of the tower. "That's a pity. This place is just bursting with ambient magic." She straightened her shoulders. "We'll just have to try from here. Unless . . ." She eyed the roof of the tower with a speculative gaze.

The color slowly drained from Tamison's face. "Oh no. You wouldn't . . ."

Carrie smiled — sharply, even wickedly. "Of course not. You're welcome to stay here. I'm sure you'll find this world plenty enjoyable while you're waiting for the dimensions to align in a safer location."
"Don't even think about it." Tamison scowled. "Fine. We'll try it your way."

"I thought you'd come around." Carrie turned to Luis and put a hand on his arm. "Thanks for your help. Whatever happens, we appreciate it. Assuming we don't fall, we probably won't see us again, and I'll make sure you don't remember us except as a dream like you thought we were. It'll be safer that way — less risk that someone will try to get information from your memories and hurt you in the process. But if you don't mind, wait around until we're gone to make sure we don't fall and die."

"I will. Glad I could help. Good luck, wherever you're headed." Luis glanced from Carrie to the tower roof. "What exactly are you doing, by the way?"

"This." Carrie grabbed Tamison's arm. Then both lifted off the ground and rose higher and higher towards the tower top.

Luis watched, gaping. Twice, their progress faltered and they dropped a foot before recovering and continuing to rise. But at last, they alighted on the roof of the tower, barely visible in the darkness. Luis had to squint to make them out, but he thought he saw Carrie gesturing, stepping forward —
Then something in his mind went blip, and his vision blacked out for a split second.

Luis blinked and looked around. What was he doing here at the clock tower? On Crossings Night of all nights? He'd planned to spend the evening in his workshop with his inventions, he remembered that much. And then . . . had he fallen asleep? He vaguely remembered something hazy and dream-like: a girl in green, a monster, people flying, and an urgent need to . . . do something. Had he sleepwalked all the way out here?

The tower struck midnight, the bells ringing out brilliant and clear over the city. Luis stared up at the top of the tower instinctively. In his dream, he'd needed to get to the top of the tower for some reason. But that was nonsense. No one could go up in the towers.

And yet . . . Luis frowned. Was that a shadow on the clockface? Something moving inside?

Nonsense. Luis shook his head and set off down the street as the last bells died away. He was sleep-deprived to even think of it. Honestly, he should've just gone to bed an hour ago rather than staying up to greet the new year.

And it was the new year now. Luis grinned. Tomorrow — today at this point — Josiah would come by with leftover fancy food and tales of what happened at the royal ball. And he'd have some new goal for the year, something big and impossible and shining and noble. Who knew what it would be; Luis would be happy just to get into the Inventors' Guild. And who knew? Maybe this would be his year. He'd just have to wait and see.

Friday, December 27, 2019

End-of-Year Book Freakout 2019!

Here we are again: the end of another year and another six months of books to recap (counting from the time of my mid-year book freakout)! I actually am freaking out a little in this post, 'cause I've read some amazing books in the last six months. But we'll get to that in a minute.

A few quick stats before we get started: I have read a total of 130 books and 38,656 pages this year, plus a little bit because I have a few reading days left in the year. (For those of you concerned: I'm finishing out the year with assorted rereads, namely the Six of Crows duology and the Illuminae Files and maybe the Reckoners trilogy, so there's no risk of my discovering something amazing and then regretting the fact that I couldn't include it in this post.) That's significantly up from last year's count, which was 107 books and 33,968 pages. My average rating, on the other hand, is down from last year, only 3.7 versus 4.1. Apparently, I read better books last year. Oh well. About 31 of this year's books were in this half of the year, which is only about a third of what I read in the first six months — though that does make sense, since the second half of the year contains two low-reading months (July and November) and fall semester kind of killed me.

1. Best book you've read in the second half of 2018:

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
I read this book shortly after Christmas break started, and I haven't entirely stopped screaming about it since. Not internally, at least. It's like someone crossed The Invisible Library with Howl's Moving Castle and then added a dash of the Abhorsen Chronicles to round it all out. It's amazing. It's got a stubborn, fierce, indomitable apprentice librarian and a dashing, disreputable, snarky sorcerer and magical books and equally magical libraries and high stakes and action and romance and just so much awesomeness. I'm probably going to end up rereading it sometime early next year; it's just that amazing. If you haven't read it yet, go grab it now.

A few runners-up, though none of them come anywhere near the amazingness that is Sorcery of Thorns:

Death Be Not Proud by Suzannah Rowntree
It's a non-magical murder mystery retelling of Snow White set in Jazz Age New Zealand. And Suzannah has managed to figure out Megan Whalen Turner's method of keeping secrets from you even when you're really close in character's heads, and she does it to excellent effect here.

What If? by Randall Munroe
This is nonfiction, but it's really fun nonfiction! Basically, the author/artist of xkcd answers all kinds of weird science-ish questions in serious (though snarky) ways. There's a lot of explosions and things lighting on fire. It's awesome.

2. Best sequel you've read in the second half of 2019:
I honestly didn't read a lot of sequels to things this half of 2019. On the upside, that means it's not as hard to choose a book in this category.

I quite enjoyed both books in this duology, but I may have liked this one a little more. It's hard to say. I like the relationships and the world, and Arynne and Kay are both pretty great characters. 

3. New release you haven't read yet but want to:

The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman

I honestly didn't realize this was out until a week or two after its release, which is tragic because I'm intensely excited for more Invisible Library. It's got Irene and Kai and a heist and Fae/dragon partnerships; what more could I want?

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson
Lower on the priority list, but I do want to read this sooner rather than later. Though maybe later would be better, given what some reviewers have said about the ending cliffhanger . . .  

4. Most anticipated release for next year: 
Oddly enough, this was my most anticipated read for this year too:

Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Come on. I want more Eugenides. If this gets put off another year, I'll . . . well, I probably will end up being too distracted by other books to notice, but eventually, I'll realize it and be sad. Y'know how it is.

Also releasing next year: Stormlight Archive #4 by Brandon Sanderson! It has a release date! And a tentative title! (Rhythms of War, if you hadn't heard.) Though not a cover. But it's coming out November 17 of next year, and I can't WAIT. The only reason it's not my top most anticipated read is that technically I've been waiting for Return of the Thief longer. 

5. Biggest disappointment:

Ugh. I hoped that this would be a fun contemporary-fantasy with an Asian setting, and it was all of that . . . except for the fun bit. I actually ended up DNFing it because I disliked the main character so much. Life is too short for arrogant annoyances like this one.

6. Biggest surprise:

 Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
So, I finally decided to get with the times and read the rest of the Grishaverse books (the ones that aren't Six of Crows, mostly so I could read King of Scars) . . . but Shadow and Bone did not thrill me, so I was honestly expecting a succession of meh books until I got to my Crows reread. But then Siege and Storm ended up being really good? And, yeah, it was mostly because of one character, but it still counts.

7. Favorite new-to-you author:
Haven't really got one, but I did finally read a full-length novel by C.M. Banschbach (Oath of the Outcast, if anyone is wondering), and it was pretty good, so . . . does that count?
8. Newest fictional crush/ship:
Ok, so if we're being 100% honest, I am crushing a little bit on Nikolai from the Grishaverse books. Not, like, hardcore, but . . . y'know. If he were real and asked me out, I would seriously consider saying yes. (The answer would probably depend on where he was in his character arc, to be completely honest.)
Also, ships. Glorious ships. I don't have a ton of new ones, but I have one that I'm really enthusiastic about, and that is —
  • Elisabeth and Nathaniel (Sorcery of Thorns). They remind me of Sophie and Howl in all the best possible ways, and they compliment and play off each other really well, and they have each others' backs and protect each other and . . . oh, stars. I love them, ok? I love them so much.
  • Kay and Arynne (Ice and Fate duology). I normally get really annoyed by the whole forbidden love/betrothed to one person but fell in love with someone else drama, but it works really well with these two. They've got a good dynamic overall.
  • Alina and Mal (Shadow and Bone trilogy). Ok, I have gotten the impression that this ship was not a favorite with a lot of readers, but I liked it. Yes, Alina and Mal had some communication issues, but no more than any other standard YA couple. And I really wanted the childhood best friend to win for once in the romance.
9. Newest favorite character(s):
I feel like I'm probably going to repeat myself a bunch here, but let's go anyway, 'cause I want to yell about Sorcery of Thorns more.
  • Elisabeth (Sorcery of Thorns). Elisabeth is magnificent. She's blunt and straightforward and 100% ready to fight whatever the heck she has to in order to save the world, and she's also quite brilliant about figuring out the best way to go about things . . . but she's also very human? Basically, I would like to be her, please and thank you very much.
  • Also, Nathaniel (Sorcery of Thorns). Nathaniel may be my new favorite magic disaster boi.  He's sassy and brilliant and pretends he doesn't care but clearly does. And he reminds me of Howl from Howl's Moving Castle. Obviously, I love him immensely. And he manages to have angst without being annoyingly angsty, which is nice.
  • While we're on the topic, Silas (Sorcery of Thorns, where else?) is pretty great as well. He's . . . complicated? But he reminds me of a cross between Calcifer, Mogget, and Alfred Pennyworth, he's a magnificent balance of "actually super dangerous and probably a bit evil if not kept under tight control" and "secretly intensely noble," which is great. 
  • We also have to mention Sturmhound (Shadow and Bone trilogy). I love this man. He's snarky and clever and cocky in a fun way, and he has a knack for brilliant, dramatic, perfectly-timed entrances, and he's astonishingly practical and straightforward. But he's also noble and brave and reasonably sacrificial and just generally excellent. Also, did I mention he's the captain of multiple (flying!) privateer ships? Basically, he's a stellar example of one of my favorite archetypes, and I love him.
  • Moving on to some books that I haven't yelled about yet: Hesina (Descendent of the Crane) is a lovely protagonist, even if her POV sometimes feels a little detached. She's a princess trying to uncover the truth of her father's death and trying to do what's best for her people . . . and she struggles so much, but she's trying so hard, and I just appreciate her, ok?

10. A book that made you cry:

Hello, yes, we were just talking about this! This book is very good if you like political fantasy-mystery, which I do. And it's got a lot of interesting family dynamics and motivations, which I appreciate. And it's just generally excellent until you get to the end, in which the author basically shatters your expectations and breaks your (and Hesina's) heart . . . at which point it's still good, but it hurts. 

11. A book that made you happy:

The Game by Diana Wynne Jones

This is a clever, short novella that's really hard to talk about without spoilers, but it's delightful and has an excellent twist on some mythological stuff. Also, more family stuff. It's lovely.

12. Favorite reread this half of the year

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
Did I just read this for the first time in January? Yes. Did that stop me from rereading it over Thanksgiving break? No. Do I have regrets? Only the fact that I stayed up too late basically every night of break because I was reading it, but otherwise, no. Captain Grimm and Gwendolyn and the Spire are worth it.

I may also have reread Spindle and Masque, despite the fact that I just read them for the first time last February . . . they're good books, ok? And they're excellent de-stressors, which is what I needed, and Howl was back in Virginia, and I'm saving The Beast of Talesend for when I catch up on all the Afterverse books at once.

13. Favorite post(s) you've done this half of the year:
Probably my post on what happens when an AI tries to do my job. But I also had a lot of fun with my posts about books I'd give to the Mechanical Heart characters, AUs I wish were real, and magic powers I want for mundane reasons.

14. Most beautiful book you've bought/received this half of the year:

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson
My parents got me this for Christmas, and I'm quite excited to read it. The cover is more gorgeous in person, but it has this nice texture and debossing and it's just really well done. And given that it's Andrew Peterson, I'm pretty sure the content will be just as beautiful as the outside.

15. Any other books you want to babble about for any other reason?
As per the usual, I'm taking a moment to mention the books that I wanted to read this year but which got pushed aside by other books:
  • Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean. This is the second year that this book has been on this list. I actually won an ARC of this from Emma over at Awkwordly Emma, which makes me feel even worse. The main reason for the holdup is the Blood in the Snow sequel — any time I'm starting to write or really involved in writing something in a more specific subgenre, I get caught in this weird tension between "I want to read other books in this subgenre so I can see how those authors did things" and "I don't want to read any other books in this subgenre because I'm worried I'll pull too much from those books," and the latter almost always wins.
  • A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigit Kemmerer. This one moved up several spots on my TBR list because of the cover — I absolutely love it and I used it a lot in one of my graphic design projects this past semester. Unfortunately, that same project didn't leave me any time to actually read the book.
  • The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen. Again with the problem of reading the subgenre I'm writing. This one probably would've been better, since it's based in Mongolia instead of China, Korea, or Japan, but . . . yeah.
  • The Faraway Castle books by J.M. Stengl. I actually own the first four of these now — I heard that book 4 is a King Thrushbeard retelling, and that pushed them up the priority list a bit. Not enough for me to actually have set aside time to read them, though.
What were your favorite 2019 reads? Any favorite rereads? Or major disappointments? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)   

Friday, December 20, 2019

Winter 2019-2020 Reads!

Hey'a, everyone! I return at last from my (unplanned, finals-inspired) hiatus to bring you — what else? — a list of recent and upcoming book releases to brighten the dreary winter days. Except, I guess, it's not particularly dreary right now, seeing as Christmas is almost here (!!!), but come January, we'll all need a magnificent distraction. And books are both magnificent and distracting (and very bad for impulse control, as you know if you saw my library stacks on FB or IG), so yeah. There's a reason my reading goes waaaaaaay up in the first few months of the year no matter how busy I am.

(Also, I'm cheating a little in this post because I really don't know of a ton of books releasing in my usual time slot for these posts, which would be December through February, plus there's a book that released mid-November that I need to scream about, so for purposes of this post, "Winter" includes mid-November through early March.)

Winter 2019-2020 Reads

  1. The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman (November 12)!!! AKA the reason I'm expanding this list in both directions; I am SO PUMPED for this book! I mean, I'm always pumped for new Invisible Library books, and this one is, like, full-on heist, and it's got more of dragons and Fae having to work together (which, BTW, is my new jam as of The Mortal Word), and more eccentric, super-powerful, leaning-into-story-tropes-with-everything-that's-in-them Fae (also my jam, as of the very first book in the series), and did I mention HEISTINESS? This book is at the top of my Christmas wishlist, not gonna lie, and the only thing that might keep me from reading it the same day I get it is the aforementioned library stacks.

  2. Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen (December 3). I don't usually read historical romance (I gave up on it once the Melanie Dickerson novels started getting overly fluffy and I was just like "Nope. Cannot deal. Goodbye,"), but this sounds like it has potential. I mean, an Austen-loving heroine is great, and a dash of murder mystery? That's even better.

  3. Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibanez (January 7). Historical fantasy, yes please! It's set in Bolivia, which is . . . not a country I know a lot about? Other than the fact that it's in South America? But it sounds delicious and twisty and full of political intrigue, which I love. And the magical powers of the main character, at least, are craft-based, and I do not get enough of those, so sign me up!

  4. Storm from the East by Joanna Hathaway (February 11). This is technically a sequel to a book I just found out about a couple months ago and want to read . . . though the sequel honestly sounds better than the first book in the series? Help? But, yeah. It's a fantasy world with it sounds like WWII-era tech (storms yes please; I love modern fantasy worlds, at least when they're done right), and while I'm kinda meh on "person sent to spy on/assassinate this person falls in love with their target," mostly because I've read it so many times, I am much less non-meh on any book that deals with the aftermath of that trope.

  5. The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu (March 3). First off, let's take a moment to appreciate that absolutely gorgeous cover. Ok, now let's appreciate the equally-gorgeous promise of what's going to be inside that cover. A) It's a historical fantasy, and we know how I feel about those. B) It's about Mozart and his sister, which sounds fascinating. C) Music magic? Maybe please?
What releases are you looking forward to this winter? Also, what books are topping your Christmas list this year? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Friday, November 29, 2019

Books Full of Delicious: The Pie Book Tag!

Hey'a, everyone! It's the day after Thanksgiving, and we all know what that means — well, we know three things specifically. First: it's the first day on which you can reasonably play Christmas music in public. Second: it's the first day of holiday sales (or "sales," depending on where you shop). Third: it's the day on which, if you're lucky, you get to eat an abundance of leftover pie! I covered the first a couple years ago, and I'm taking care of the second over on Light and Shadows. That just leaves the third . . . which I'm taking care of with the Pie Book Tag, created by Emma over at Awkwordly Emma! I love this tag, since it basically combines two of my favorite things, and I'm super excited to go through it!

The Pie Book Tag!

Caramel Apple: A book that reminds you of fall!

For some reason, Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren feels like a very fall-ish book. Something about the emphasis on change and transition and tension between past and present and future makes me think autumn

 Pumpkin: A book with a great family (biological or found).

Here's a series that I don't talk about half as much as I used to (or as much as it deserves): The Legends of Karac Tor series by D. Barkley Briggs! This series starts strong with a pair of brothers who accidentally end up in another world, and eventually, their other brothers and father get in on the adventure as well. (And there's another significant family who comes up later, so that's great.) I really wish there were more books like this in many ways.


French Silk: A book that's easy to read or rich with descriptions.

Speaking of books I don't talk about as much as I used to: Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (aka one of my favorite books and authors of all time) fits perfectly in this category! The way Anne Elisabeth describes the characters and the setting is one of my favorite things — she has a knack for just the right words and language to make everything unfold gradually and beautifully and to let you know clearly what's going on while still keeping the mysterious fairyland feel.


Key Lime: A summery sweet book 

This was surprisingly hard to pick something for . . . but I think I have to go with The Paper Magician and its sequels. They're light and fun, with clever magic and fairly sweet (if occasionally frustrating) romance.


Blueberry-Peach: A book with a perfect pairing.

Shoot. This is hard to pick. Ummmmm . . . let's go with Lady Dragon, Tela Du, which involves two of my favorite ships, Reutra and Amberite. Admittedly, it's Amberite in one of its sadder chapters, but still. And, as I'm currently alpha-reading Love and Memory, the sequel to this book, I'm experiencing all the feels regarding both ships. It's a problem.


Oreo: A book that reminds you of your childhood.

I still love a lot of my late-childhood favorites, so I have a lot to choose from . . . but I'm going with one I don't talk about as much, All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. This is an autobiography about a pre-WWII vet in the Yorkshire region of England, and it's just a delight to read. The author interacted with a lot of colorful characters, both in terms of his patients and his patients' owners. This is one of the last books my dad read to me, so rereading it reminds me of being younger and sitting curled up in my favorite chair and listening to the stories.


Lemon Chess: A book with a very Southern setting.

Hello, Raven Cycle! I don't read a lot of books set in the South (mostly because I don't read many books set on Earth, period, and those that are set there, sort of, tend to be alternate Earths and take place in England or some such). But The Raven Cycle is very Virginian, which means I have a special kind of affection for it.

As a runner-up in this category, I have to mention the Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rodgers, which is a fantasy set in a world that feels like colonial America in the deep South, with settlers and swamps and 'gators and so forth. It's intensely underrated, and I highly recommend it.


Dark chocolate orange: A book with a bittersweet ending.

Here's another two-for-one deal: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull, both for its own sake and as a representative of the whole Beyonders series. I mean, technically most fantasy books have bittersweet endings, but this one sticks out to me for reasons that I can't entirely explain. 

And that's it! Do you agree with my choices? What books would you put for each category? Please tell me in the comments, or feel free to pick up the tag for yourself. (Just make sure you link back to Emma's post.) 
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Friday, November 8, 2019

Magical Powers I Wish I Had (For Totally Mundane Purposes)

Everyone wants magical powers, am I right? Or superpowers, if you prefer that term — they're honestly about the same thing, just with slightly different connotations and sources. Anyway. We frequently pick the powers we'd want based on sheer Rule of Cool — I mean, how absolutely storming awesome would it be to be able to fly or shoot fire from your hands or use most standard forms of gravity manipulation? But at the same time, most of those would be pretty impractical or even dangerous if you're not a superhero or fantasy adventure hero. And then there are powers that might not be flashy but would actually be incredibly helpful for the average person (and some that are flashy or cool but would still be really useful even in the every day). Today, I thought I'd highlight a few of those powers that I'd particularly like to have, not because I want to have adventures but because they'd make my life easier or better. And, just to make things a little more interesting, I'm going to limit myself to only specific powers from books, movies, and so on, so I can't just wish for generic time manipulation (because we all know that's the best superpower).

Magical Powers I Wish I Had
(For Totally Mundane Purposes)

  1. Ashna's color manipulation (Lady Dragon, Tela Du). Some of you may be asking "Sarah, what the heck? Why is this topping your list?" And to that I ask: why is it not topping yours? Maybe it doesn't solve the "big problems" that some of the other items on this list will deal with, but if I had this power, I would use it literally every single day. Or at least a couple times a week. It has basically a million applications. Can't find a matching or coordinating outfit for the day? Bored of the color of your phone or laptop case or backpack? Change it, then change it back later! Thinking of dying your hair but not sure if you want to commit? No problem, and no expense! Colors just won't come out right on the poster you're working on? No need to spend your whole print quota trying to fix it! Just nip in and adjust them on the print you've got. Boom. (Obviously this won't work if you have a large number of items, but if it's just a few things, you're fine.) And just think of the possibilities for cosplay! All you have to do is find or make pieces that are the right shape or fit, then change the color to suit. We've already mentioned the possibility for hair color, and if you're cosplaying, say, Gamora or some other character with a non-human skintone? No need for body paint or makeup! You have the power! Storms, you could even make money off of it. So, yeah; this is about as non-flashy as you can get, but it takes the cake for most practical magical power.
  2. Sliding/Subsuming, aka Bendalloy Twinborn Compounder (Mistborn: The Alloy Era). Y'all knew this one was going to be on the list. For the uninitiated, Sliding in the Mistborn world is the ability to create a "bubble" in which time is expanded (giving yourself more time relative to the outside world). Subsuming is the power to basically store energy for later without having to do the whole convert-it-to-fat-and-burn-it thing. Either on their own is pretty great, but if you can use them both, it would be the the second-best-power ever, possibly the best power ever, for someone like me. Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, if you have both the Allomantic and Feruchemical versions of a metal power, you can get ten times as much power on the Feruchemical side. So, basic M.O. with this power:
    1. Eat whatever the heck I want and, instead of it all turning to fat and making my life more difficult, I store everything except what I really need in my metalminds (the pieces of metal used to store Feruchemical power). Boom, I've already eliminated one source of stress.
    2. Whenever I have a lot to get done, tap into the Allomantic side of the power to create a time bubble until I'm done, have accomplished a decent amount, or need to move outside the bubble.
    3. Once I'm done, tap the Feruchemical side of the power to restore all the energy I just used up.
    4. Repeat.
    5. Use some of my extra time to go to the gym more often.
    6. Profit (emotionally and physically, because I'm less stressed and more fit).
  3. Gold Feruchemy/Bloodmaking (Mistborn, both eras). Ok, yes, there are much more practical and efficient healing powers out there, most of which don't require you to make yourself sick so you can store up health to use later. But most of those more efficient healing powers require just as much energy as being sick does — and the Feruchemical version of healing comes with a built-in bonus, even if you're not a Compounder (which would, of course, be the ideal). What's that? Simple: an instant out of any undesirable social situation. No one wants to hang around a sick person, so you can provide yourself a future benefit and give yourself a perfectly legitimate reason to stay home instead of going out at the same time. And, yeah, being sick isn't fun, but if you're not an action hero, you wouldn't have to spend nearly as much time storing up health for later because you wouldn't use it as quickly. (The downside of this, of course, is that it somewhat increases rather than decreases the time you spend being sick, even if your usual approach is "If I'm sick anyway, just make myself more sick and get all the misery over with at once", but I currently can't think of a singular healing ability that does ward off sickness, so, yeah. If anyone knows of one, let me know.)
  4. Basically any force field ability (various media). I'm going to cheat a little with this one because there isn't one specific version of the power that I'd want, and there's a very simple reason I would want it: instant umbrella. This would be particularly helpful if you're a college student at any campus that has a lot of wind. For one thing, you wouldn't have to worry about your umbrella flipping inside-out or getting pulled out of your hands. For another, you could potentially adjust the shape or angle of the force field to be the most effective against wherever the rain is coming from. (Water manipulation could also work for this purpose, but force fields have the bonus advantages of giving you a personal space bubble, which is practical in a lot of situations, and letting you make yourself a hoverboard, which sounds great to me.)
  5. The Arc of Time (Fairy Tail). Ok, so this is a slight spoiler for one of the Tenrou Island villains, but basically this lets you turn back the clock on the state of non-sentient objects so you can restore them to a previous condition or fast-forward them to a future condition. And while the wiki page says this ability is primarily used in combat, let's be real: it would have so many everyday applications that there's no way the people who have this magic wouldn't use it all the time. Just think about it. Stain or tear in your favorite shirt? Arc of time it back to its previous condition! Need bananas but everything in the store is green? Doesn't matter; get them anyway and fast-forward the amount of fruit you need to the perfect ripeness. Dropped your final project in a puddle and now it's ruined? Never fear; you can fix that in an instant with this power! You could even use it to make a ton of money restoring artwork and architecture if you so chose.
So, yeah. What about you? What magical ability or superpower would you love to have for mundane reasons? Any ideas for other uses of any of the ones I've mentioned? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Friday, November 1, 2019

October 2019 Doings!

Hello, everyone! So, October. It's been a crazy month, let me tell you. I mean, that is the whole point of this Doings! post, but yeah.

(Also, I just got back from a Halloween party about an hour before I finished this post, and I'm still so hyped. Tired, but hyped. It was amazing. But more on that later!)


  • So, there's good news and there's bad news.
  • And the bad news is that Blood in the Earth/Soil is most likely going to be delayed because I've barely had time and energy to work on it at all this month.
  • I'm keeping up with creative nonfic all right . . .
  • And I'm keeping up with D&D all right . . .
  • But once I get through the week-to-week deadlines and my schoolwork and my various social commitments, there's not much energy left over for Eun-Ji, Azuma, Baili, Gan, Chouko, Xiang, and company. And I wish there was, and I hate that this is the spot I'm in, but I'm not sure what to do about it.
  • (And I just added one more thing to my workload . . . but more on that later.)
  • The good news, at least for me, is that my D&D campaign is still going well. Everyone seems to be having fun, and I think I've found a good balance between the plot of the week and the overarching storyline. And I've been able to introduce several NPCs who I really like (including one who's showing up tonight), so that's fun.
  • (I also learned the importance of testing NPC names for possibly unfavorable mispronunciations — case in point, one of the NPCs last session was named Morin, and some of the players insisted on mispronouncing his name as "Moron." Oops.)
  • The other good news is that next semester should be much less stressful, and hopefully, I'll be able to dedicate a lot more time to writing, which could mean extra stuff releasing to make up for the delay? But we'll see how that works out . . .


  • This was another light reading month, unsurprisingly.
  • I did finish Northanger Abbey at last . . . and was not really impressed. The more I interact with Austen's books, the more I think that I'm not really an Austen fan; I'm a Pride and Prejudice fan. That said, there are a couple Austen books I haven't tried yet, so maybe I just don't jive with what I've read so far.
  • I also reread Masque because I needed something to read and couldn't get at Prince of Stars, Son of Fate, plus you can't really go wrong with a Beauty and the Beast murder mystery. I have exactly 0 regrets, and it was honestly an excellent destresser.
  • The last complete book I read this month was Ghostlight, another sort of magical mystery. It was interesting, but not my favorite thing I've ever read. I may read the sequel, but it's hard to say for sure.
  • Finally, I'm currently reading the Thing Explainer, another Randall Munroe book. I feel a little weird whenever I'm reading it because it sometimes kind of feels like a kids' book, even though it's not a kids' book, and I can't help feeling guilty that I'm not reading something more sophisticated. On the other hand, I am enjoying it and I'm learning things, so I'm not about to stop reading it.


  • My roommate and I finished Season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender, as I mentioned a couple weeks ago. You can check out my season thoughts post if you missed it and are interested in reading my overall reactions as someone who knows a ton of spoilers and basically loved the show before she started watching it.
  • We intended to watch a bunch of stuff (mostly Disney movies) over Fall Break, but that . . . didn't happen. I'm ok with that, except for the fact that we were going to watch Aladdin (the original, which I've never actually seen) and I was going to knit a bunch and I was kind of disappointed by the lack of both those things. But we played a ton of board games instead, so . . . worth it.
  • And my roommate and I are endeavoring to pick Sword Art Online back up. We kind of skimmed past the Gun Gale Online arc because my roommate doesn't like most of it that much and I was . . . not super enthusiastic about the idea of watching it. As I mentioned to a friend of mine, Sword Art Online is kind of like the DC Dark Knight trilogy, in that it's deep and intellectual and thoughtful and people tell me it's really good and I should definitely watch it, and I want to take their advice . . . but it's also heavy and dark and doesn't have a ton of joy or humor to balance that out, and so even though I theoretically want to watch it, in practice, I avoid every opportunity I get to do so.
  • But, as I said, we're past the GGO arc; we picked the episodes that my roommate liked best and watched those; I got a recap of the rest of the arc from her, and now we can move on to the remaining mini-arcs! Which I'm excited about!


I painted a pumpkin for a contest hosted by my campus bookstore. (It didn't win.)
  • So, there are four main highlights of this past October: Parents' Weekend, fall break, academic decision crisis, and Halloween.
  • We will start with the chronological first of those items: Parents' Weekend. This is also the easiest one to tell: the first weekend in October was Homecoming/Parents' Weekend, and my parents came up because it's my last year and my sister's first year and both of those are significant. Also, my sister was part of one of the Cardboard Canoe Race teams, so they wanted to support her in that, even though she wasn't actually in the boat. (Her boat did not win, but they did make it across without sinking, so all is well.) Getting to see them was super fun, and we got to go out to eat at Cheddar's, which is always a win.
  • That weekend, I also went to Cedarville's production of A Comedy of Errors, which I enjoyed (though not as much as some of the other plays I've seen). The actors all did a very good job, and of course, Shakespeare is always great. Some of the mistaken identity humor did get old after a while, but overall it was good.
  • After that, it was a fairly quiet-but-busy two weeks until . . .
  • The academic decision crisis . . . which wasn't really much of a crisis, more of an opportunity that I had to decide whether or not to take. See, between the classes I've taken and the classes I plan to take, I'm only one class away from a web design minor, and it was bugging me . . . but I didn't think I could do anything about it because the class I needed was only offered in the fall semester, aka now, and I'm not sticking around an extra semester just to take one class. But my advisor encouraged me to email the professor in charge of the design department and ask if I could switch out the class for something else, so I did, expecting the answer to be no.
    • The answer was not no.
    • The answer was "I've talked to the professor who runs the class, and he remembers you from Web Design 1 and because he remembers you doing well in that class and really enjoying that class, he's willing to let you take this class as an independent study. But you have to start this semester, not next semester when you currently have a lighter workload."
    • So. That sparked a lot of debate and reassessing my plans and calling my parents and trying to figure out if the independent study is doable -- which I've decided it is, but only if I cut down on some non-class activities.
    • Thus why Blood in the Earth/Soil is being delayed.
  • In the middle of all that was fall break, which was, honestly, delightful. Once again, I went to my roommate's house . . . but this year, we had my sister and her roommate along for the ride. That turned out to be really fun, as it meant we played a ton of board games.
    • A few of the board game highlights: multiple games of "Sentinels of the Multiverse" (in which I confirmed that my ideal playstyle is not support), two rounds of "Escape the Temple" (fun, but easily the most stressful game I've ever played, and not the best thing for when you're trying not to have a cold), and two games of "Mysterium" (including one in which I played as the ghost and learned that I like that much more than playing as a normal player -- it's a great game, but I get frustrated when I'm trying to work through the clues I'm given and everyone else is talking around me and telling me what I should think).
    • My sister and I also went to the Columbus Zoo with our aunt, which was really fun. We got to ride a camel (I can definitely tell why they're called ships of the desert) and we saw absolutely adorable arctic foxes!!! They were so white and pretty and fluffy and were basically my favorite part. The cheetahs were pretty cool as well, though.
  • Then we got back, I had a super stressful week in which I had to do aaaaalllllllll the graphic design, and then reached this week. Which, of course, is Halloween!
    • To make it clear, I am excited about Halloween solely because it's an opportunity to dress up, not for any other reason. I have no interest in the spooky side of the holiday.
    • But, yeah. I basically managed to have Halloween events every night of Halloween week except Monday, which meant I got to wear all the costumes!
Me in my dragon keeper Halloween costume. 
    • Tuesday: PWID Halloween party. I dressed up as a dragon keeper from the DragonKeeper Chronicles. As usual, no one knew what I was. As usual, I did not win. But I got to walk around with a sword on my hip and a dragon on my shoulder, and I got to eat cinnamon pretzels and caramels, and I got to meet my professor's baby, so I call the evening a success.
    • Wednesday: Inklings creative writing org, with costumes welcome. I thought about trying to be a Jedi this evening, but stuff didn't work out, so I went back to the classic assassin look. (Specifically, I was a Shadowwalker assassin from one of my to-be-eventually-published books, but I didn't advertise the specifics.)
    • Thursday, daytime: So I didn't exactly dress up, but I went with a sort of low-key Jedi-ish look and carried my lightsaber around in my backpack pocket, so I count that. Speaking of which, I have a lightsaber now. Like my sword, it's 3D printed. I still need to paint details on the hilt, but that's only going to be a little bit of work, and it wasn't significant enough that I felt the need to get it done before Halloween.
    • Thursday evening: Orion Halloween Hogwarts party! My roommate and I went to this together, and it was SO MUCH FUN. I did a whole post about the event over on Facebook and Instagram (pick the one you like better), so I'm not going to recap all the details here. That said, it was so much fun, I ate a ton of good food (including Orion's version of fever fudge, which is DELICIOUS and AMAZING), and I got to dress up AGAIN. This time, I was a Hogwarts alum who works with dragons. It was probably my most comfortable costume of the week (with the exception of my low-key Jedi one), but also had the most small fun details. And I got a Hogwarts letter! Which was awesome!
    • Friday evening: AKA tonight, AKA a time that has not occurred as of the writing and publishing of this post. But I've invited people in my D&D group to dress up, and I'm planning on wearing my capelet at least and having my dragon on my shoulder, so it will be a good time.
  • Outside of those three things, most of October has been occupied by schoolwork, mostly graphic design. I'm currently in a group project in one of those classes, and it is not my favorite thing, but it's the only group project of the semester, so I'll deal with it.

November Plans!

  • So, you may be asking "Sarah, if you're delaying your WIP and taking this independent study, will you still have time for NaNoWriMo?" And the answer is . . . not really. But I'm doing it anyway with a rebel goal of one creative nonfic piece and one D&D episode written and edited per week. Aka, I'm doing the stuff I need to do anyway, but at a slightly faster rate. And then if I have time around those things, I'll work on my WIP as well.
  • On a side note, if you have been able to find the NaNoWriMo banners and profile things, please point me in their direction, 'cause I'm kind of lost on the new site.
  • The other part of the main November plan is "do all the graphic and web design."
  • Seriously, though, basically every weekend in November is going to be occupied primarily with my independent study. It's going to be great (I say only slightly sarcastically; I am really excited for this class).
  • In my spare time (such as it is), I hope that my roommate and I will be able to keep watching either Avatar or Sword Art Online; I'd like to finish a season of something by the end of the semester. We'll see how that works out.
  • I am planning to go home for Thanksgiving break, which I look forward to. I miss being home. This will also be my and my sister's first drive of that length when we're not following our parents, so that's going to be exciting and mildly nerve-wracking. I'm hoping that we can leave super early Wednesday morning so I don't have to drive most of the way in the dark. We'll see how that works out.
  • Also, there's a chance that the TDK Christmas party will end up being before Thanksgiving, and I am not happy about that. I have strong feelings about when Christmas is meant to be (AKA, only after Thanksgiving) and I hold to those feelings with a significant enough conviction that I will have an actual crisis of conscience if the party is before then. I'm an officer, so I have to go, but . . . yeah.
How was your October? What plans do you have for November? Are you doing NaNoWriMo? When do you think the proper time for Christmas celebrations and decorations is? And did you dress up for Halloween this year? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Friday, October 25, 2019

Fairy Tale Mashups I Want to Make Reality (Ft. BitS 1st Book Birthday!)

Hey'a, everyone! So, exciting thing: tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of Blood in the Snow's release! As of tomorrow morning, I will have been a published author for exactly one year. Sadly, I don't have the time to do a giveaway in celebration, but I do have Blood in the Snow set to free on Amazon today through Sunday, so if you haven't read it yet or you have a friend who needs to read it, now's a good time to pick it up!

Edit: I goofed when setting up the free book promotion and accidentally made Mechanical Heart, my steampunk Rapunzel retelling, free instead. Blood in the Snow will instead be free from October 27 to October 29.

Since tomorrow is Blood in the Snow's book birthday, I wanted to relate my post to either the book or publishing somehow. That said, doing a "Things I've Learned Since Publishing" seemed a little cliche — plus, I'd rather save that post for when I've gained another book or two's worth of experience. And, while I have been working on figuring out what the next year or two looks like, publishing-wise, I don't have solid enough plans to announce five more books that I'm going to publish. The one thing that I can say about the future is that it's going to include quite a few more fairy tale mash-ups like Blood in the Snow, though not all of them will be in the same world. And, at the suggestion of the wonderful Jenelle Schmidt, I'm spotlighting five such stories that I want to write at some point.

Fairy Tale Mashups I Want to Make Reality

  1. Sleeping Beauty/Rapunzel featuring a benevolent witch and the tower as a refuge rather than a prison . . . though, of course, it still feels like a prison at times. In this case, Rapunzel's parents send her to the tower under the protection of the good fairy who modified the Sleeping Beauty curse in hopes that they can protect her from the full effects of the curse . . . but of course it doesn't work out quite as well as one would hope.
  2. The Odyssey/Beauty and the Beast, which I'm counting even though one of those is an epic myth and not a fairy tale. This would be more of having one as a sequel to the other — the Odysseus character becomes Beauty's father, and in the process of all his adventures, encounters the beast and gets into that whole situation. Then he returns home and reunites with his family — only to be sad because he just got back to his daughter and now either he or she is going to die. But she's all like "Dad, I'm your daughter. I got this. Have a little faith," and the whole Beauty and the Beast story plays out from there.
  3. The Seven Swans/The Little Mermaid, which was actually suggested to me by my roommate while I was working on this post, but which I like enough to include in here. In this case, the little mermaid character would want to go to land not for love of a human prince or for curiosity about the human world but because she wants to save her brothers and knows the only way to do so is on land. She may or may not know that the witch she goes to was the one who cursed her brothers, but her enchantment does get her wrapped up with their curse somehow, so if she doesn't save them, she's doomed along with them.
  4. Beauty and the Beast/East of the Sun, West of the Moon — though they're almost too easy to combine; they're so similar. But you could add in elements of another fairy tale at the end, if you wanted to mix it up a little. Technically, I already wrote this one, but it needs a hefty rewrite — basically, I need to rework it from the ground up to fix the plot holes and pacing problems, not to mention the irregularities in style (caused by the fact that the first draft was written over a period of two years). At its core, though, it's a story that I really like and look forward to going back to.
  5. Rapunzel/The Tinderbox/maybe Aladdin? Rapunzel and The Tinderbox already share some common elements — a maiden in a tower, a witch, a rescuer of dubious repute — and so do The Tinderbox and Aladdin — namely that they both involve a magical being summoned from some kind of light source and a man who uses that being's help to win a princess. Combined all together, I think it could be quite an interesting story.
There are other fairy tales I could mention as well, but some of those (for example, Gan's story) are an odd sort of fit that can't be easily explained, and others aren't developed quite enough to post. But what about you? What fairy tales do you think would fit well together? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)