Friday, July 26, 2019

Books I'd Give to My Characters

Hey'a, everyone! There's just a week and a half left before Mechanical Heart's release day! I'm both excited and nervous, especially since I still have stuff to prep for the blog tour. (Prewriting blog posts kind of slowed down when Camp NaNo hit, for obvious reasons.) Anyway, for today's Friday 5s post, I thought I'd borrow an idea from my friend Emma over at Awkwordly Emma. In the past, she's periodically done "Books I'd Give to Characters from X" posts. I'm putting a little bit of a twist on it, though: the characters I'm giving books to are the main cast of Mechanical Heart! Granted, this could be a little tricky since, out of the four main characters, only one (Grace) is a really big fiction reader . . . but I'm up for the challenge, and I think it'll be a good way to let y'all get to know them a little before their story comes out. To that end, we've also got character art by the wonderful H.S.J. Williams here, which I'm super excited to share with y'all. So, let's get started!

Books I'd Give to the Mechanical Heart Characters

1. For Breen: the Illuminae trilogy. Breen is the trickiest of these characters to pick something for. She has the least formal education out of any of the characters (one of several unfortunate side effect of being stuck in a clock tower for half your life), but she's clever enough that that might not stop her from reading whatever she chooses. She has more time on her hands than some characters (though not as much as some Rapunzels in other stories), but when given the choice between a book and her inventions, she'll probably pick the latter. In the end, I've decided to give her the Illuminae trilogy (along with some kind of primer on common elements of sci-fi, like, y'know, space ships and wormholes and aliens and stuff, seeing as that sort of thing hasn't been thought of in her era). It would give her a fairly sizable escape from her ordinary life (what's further from a clocktower than a spaceship?), and the format is such that she could easily read as much or as little as she wanted to. Plus, she'd find the technology fascinating, even if it is advanced super far beyond anything she's familiar with.

2. For Josiah: the first Mistborn trilogy. Josiah's first reaction to the Mistborn trilogy would be "In what world do I have time to read 1,800 pages of fiction?" But once he tried it — probably at least partially in audiobook form; he very much prefers listening to things to reading them — he'd see quite a lot of his culture and its issues in those of Luthadel, and he'd see himself in Elend in many respects. In addition, he would appreciate the philosophical issues that the characters work through over the course of the book. And while he might not be fully on board with the methods of Kelsier and his crew, he can recognize and enjoy them as well-developed characters.

3. For Luis: The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Luis, like Breen, will almost always pick his inventions over a book — not that he dislikes reading, but he has so many ideas and so little time to make them in that there's just no question of priority. And while he would probably enjoy the Illuminae trilogy as much as Breen would, he would probably also enjoy a good mystery — ideally, one that's short and sweet, based in logic, and wrapped up nicely at the end. And if it features a highly satisfying friendship between the main characters, all the better. So, yeah. He's getting The Complete Sherlock Holmes — because you can't go wrong with a classic. (He almost got the Knight and Rogue series, but I think certain elements of Fisk and Michael's friendship might hit just a little too close to home for him for that series to actually be a stress-reliever.)

4. For Grace: Howl's Moving Castle and sequels. Grace is the biggest reader out of the Mechanical Heart cast. She's not particular about genre, or even if it's fiction or nonfiction; she just wants something that's interesting and well-written and has good characters and that she can talk about with people when she's done. (Honestly, it's hard to say if she enjoys reading the book or talking about it afterwards more.) That means the challenge with her isn't so much thinking of a book she would like but rather figuring out which book she would enjoy most. So, what book do you give to the girl who loves everything and, in a sense, has everything? For a girl who's read everything she could and is constantly searching for something unique? For a girl whose world includes magic, but has a notable lack of wizards? When you put it like that, the answer's clear: Howl's Moving Castle and sequels. Because when in doubt, Diana Wynne Jones is almost always the answer, and if you haven't yet met Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer, what are you doing with your life? (And before you think less of me or Grace for the fact that she got Howl while everyone else got heavy books: Grace will absolutely borrow everyone else's books the minute they're done with them, so she's kind of getting all the books here.)

5. For all four characters: Illusionarium. Illusionarium was one of the first steampunk books I read, and while it didn't outright inform any elements of Mechanical Heart, it did inspire me in part to write my own steampunk novel. So, in a sense, by reading this, Breen, Josiah, Luis, and Grace are discovering a part of where they came from — not that they'd know that. But I suspect that most of them would enjoy the story anyway.

What about you? What books would you give to your characters? And what impressions do you get of the Mechanical Heart cast based on what you see here? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

P.S. Please let me know if all the images are or aren't showing up — my internet is being wonkier than usual today. Thanks!

Friday, July 19, 2019

In Which An AI Attempts to Do My Job

You're the only one who can write your story. That's an oft-repeated encouragement among writers; depending where you're coming from, it promises that your work matters, that your work is unique, that you have some weird form of job security in that you cannot really be replaced by another person or, heaven forbid, a robot. It's also not entirely accurate; other people can take your story and make it their own (as evidenced by, say, series that are taken over by another author after the first author dies, or even the existence of fanfiction). And, as it turns out, there are AI that are at least semi-competent at writing.

So, does that mean that an AI can write your story? I decided to figure out the answer using Talk to Transformer, a neural network created by Adam King and based on OpenAI's GPT-2 learning model. I feed the AI the first few lines of one of my novels, and it generates the next few paragraphs based on what it knows from downloading a large chunk of the internet. From that, we'll see if an AI really could write my story.

 Can An AI Do My Job?

First Test: Blood in the Snow

We begin, obviously, with Blood in the Snow. If you're not familiar with it: it's an Asian-inspired retelling of Snow White crossed with The Goose Girl, a story of betrayal, friendship, magic, and finding one's voice. It's also available to buy on Amazon or add on Goodreads, if you're so inclined! What will the AI do with it? Let's find out! The original prompt is the portion in bold; the AI created what follows.
The cherry blossoms fell slowly the morning Princess Zhu Baili of the Kingdom of Seven Rivers left her home forever.
Baili tucked her hands deeper into the wide sleeves of her red silk robe, watching as the petals sprinkled the surface of the Taìyáng River and swirled around the royal barge.
She heard the noise of the wind through her bedroom window. It was silent and beautiful, like birds flying. In her room, she tucked herself deeper into her white robe and closed her eyes, waiting for her mother's footsteps to come slowly down the steps of the palace, like a boat sliding into the waves.
After about forty-five minutes had passed, a small door was opened. As the door closed, the rain began to fall, soaking the windows, and the breeze blew through her room.
With little noise, Princess Zhu Baili fell asleep for only nine hours.
On Friday morning, June 6th, she awoke at six. She looked at the clock, and heard her mother's footsteps enter the room, which was now empty, as usual. Looking in all directions, she saw her little sister Yúxi in her bed, still wearing her long gown.
As you see, the AI manages a surprisingly pleasing tone (especially given how little of the original it had to work with). It does have a bit of trouble keeping track of small details, though, and it seems inclined to take the story in a rather different direction than intended. It's also invented a younger sister for Baili . . . which, honestly, is pretty feasible. Baili has more than a few siblings who don't feature in Blood in the Snow.

Now, let's move on to the second test: my upcoming novel, Mechanical Heart!

Second Test: Mechanical Heart

Mechanical Heartin case you somehow missed it, is a steampunk retelling of Rapunzel centering on a girl trapped in a clock tower and a prince fighting his relative lack of power. It comes out in just three weeks (ahhhhh!), and I'm super excited. Because we have two POV characters, I'm going to give the AI the opening lines from each of their first chapters and see what happens.

First up: Breen's POV! I ended up running this one multiple times (trying to give the AI a fair chance) and ended up with a couple good options. My favorite result actually bears very little resemblence to the original, but it sounds like an interesting story.
Her heart beat on, as it always did.
Breen waited, eyes shut, trying to ignore the pain of her bones knitting back together. The crystal in her chest burned with an almost unbearable heat as it fed magical energy into her body. Yet the clockwork of her heart pumped on, unperturbed.

"I was planning to see you again."
Breen spoke, not to Akenes or her fellow workers. No, she spoke to Breen's friends, her closest circle around whom she was able to talk for the first time this day as the ship began its turn at Port Jarnarth. Breen spoke as Akenes stood on a deck and waited anxiously for the ship to approach her, a small ship that she knew could never reach Akenes, ever.
The crew of Jundlande stared at her, and the look on her face was one of confusion and terror. The people of Jundlande couldn't comprehend what Breen had done. She had done it, surely. They would never understand what she had done to their world. No. They would see what she had done. She had done it for them.
Again, a bit muddled on who and where characters are, but an interesting concept. What did this alternate universe Breen do? Will people understand what it is and why she did it? Who is Akenes? All the questions; none of the answers.

Moving on, let's see what the AI makes of Josiah's introduction . . .
“Powerless!” Josiah waved his hand in the air, pacing up and down the rich red carpet of the royal library. “That’s what we are. What we’ve become. Powerless!”
His eyes widened and he took a step back, the sound of glass shattering behind him. “Powerless!?” It was the cry of a frightened man, a scream that echoed around the building. “Oh God!” His sister's scream seemed to wake him up from what he'd been doing; it had broken his trance and, now that he was awake, he'd found it hard to concentrate in front of the door.
He stumbled down the steps onto the carpet, staring out toward the ceiling as a faint pink glow made him look back up at the room.
He pulled himself up by his sword before he could cry out again; instead he turned on a dime, and when the first girl was gone he turned to the girls in a look of incredulity, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. He saw her face grow even larger, her cheeks starting to get red.
So, the AI seems to have decided that Josiah is either in a horror novel or the survivor of some horrible event. Possibly both. Poor Josiah. Though, you have to admit, the AI's decision is pretty characteristic of certain schools of authors . . .

That's two tests, but any student of fairy tales knows that it's best to do things in threes. So, the AI's last chance:

Third Test: Once Upon a Dream

For those of you who don't know, Once Upon a Dream is a steampunk Sleeping Beauty retelling featuring dreamworlds, chemistry nerds, and the power of science motivated by love! I wrote it for the Five Magic Spindles contest and intend to publish it at some point, but it needs a bit of work first. Can an AI do that work for me? Let's find out. As before, the lines from the original work are in bold; the rest is the AI's creation.
Our story begins as do most tales: with a dream.
The ground rippled beneath Alexander’s feet, sending him stumbling sideways into the nearest tree. He pushed himself upright, brushing lichen and tree sap from his jacket. Another ripple unsteadied him, but he was ready for it this time and stayed upright.
His eyes were open. He took in the sights. A distant hilltop, a dark and distant lake, a dark and distant tree. He turned toward the lake, hoping with his eyes that it would give way without warning.
It did, and the ground beneath him cracked and rolled back, letting him out of the tree and into the lake—and his head, which lay atop of a tree branch. All that remained was a rock with something staining it, something bright and dark shining, and the world seemed filled with nothing except the image of him perched and waiting.
While he sat, staring at the landscape, the other characters of the tale moved away. They were gone, they said of themselves. In their place were strange men, who called themselves the Order, and had come down to see how the world went (or didn't go).
The AI's tendency to get a little mixed up about the details actually works somewhat in its favor here; the weirdness adds to the feel that this is a dream world that works by dream logic. One also has to appreciate the AI's decision to go a bit meta at the end, and this Order (looking to see how the world does or doesn't go) and the strange stone sound quite fascinating. All that said, it's certainly not the story originally intended.

So, in conclusion: our jobs as writers are probably pretty safe from the AI, at least for now. But if we're ever stuck for story ideas, dropping a few lines in this particular neural network might be a good way to get the mind working.

Now, it's your turn! Add your speculations about any of these AI snippets in the comments, or put in a few lines of your own work and share what the AI comes up with! I'd love to see what you get out of it!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Friday, July 12, 2019

Mid-Year Book Freakout 2019!

THE TIME HAS COME. The year is half gone, and that means it's time for my biannual book freakout! In which I actually don't freak out that much, but I DO review the reads of the last six months, yell about my favorites, and save myself a bunch of effort in December.

A few stats before we get started: I've read 99 books so far this year . . . which is only slightly less than the number I read all of last year. What the actual pumpernickel. How did I do this? (I know the answer, actually: I decided to get back in the habit of reading a chapter or two or ten before bed, plus I reread the Oz books and the Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus books. That adds up fast.) That comes out to roughly 40K pages, for those who are curious, so I've done the equivalent of reading Oathbringer 32 times, Illuminae 67 times, or Howl's Moving Castle 121 times. As you can guess, that means I have a lot of material to choose from here.

Mid-Year Book Freakout

1. Best book you've read so far in 2019:

As per the usual, this one's a tie between two AMAZING books:

Masque by W.R. Gingell

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

So, on one hand, we've got a fantasy murder mystery crossed with a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales (Beauty and the Beast), featuring a heroine who I fell in friend-love with approximately five seconds into the book and a thoroughly shippable main couple. And on the other hand, we've got a steampunk adventure involving pirates and intrigue and adventure and terrifying creatures and a noblewoman-diplomat with no sense of tact and all the other things that I can't help but love. You see why I can't pick?  

2. Best sequel you've read so far in 2019:

It's a three-way tie this time, 'cause I'm terrible at decisions. YOU CAN'T MAKE ME CHOOSE.

Honor: A Quest In by Kendra E. Ardnek

Staff & Crown by W.R. Gingell

The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman

Honor is the best yet of the released Bookania Quests (note that I said "released"; Hair is even better); it's got the after-ever-after angle that I can't get enough of these days. Staff & Crown is the third in the Two Monarchies series and my second-favorite after Masque. (Notably, both of these books involve Isabelle as a major character.) And, of course, I can't fail to mention my beloved Invisible Library books, especially since The Mortal Word is another proper murder mystery that involved all my favorite characters in one place HALLELUJAH.

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

A Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson!

I really should've read this by now, but my library is slow at getting it. I am muchly displeased. I thought about buying the OwlCrate box that was supposed to have this book in it, but I decided to save my money and get just the book later. But I'm super excited; Rogerson's An Enchantment of Ravens was one of my most-yelled-about books last year and I can't wait to see what this one has in store!

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year:

This is possibly cheating because, A) it's actually five releases, and, B) one of those releases is my book. But I am immensely excited about it, moreso than I am for any other book that I'm seeing on my Want-to-Read list on Goodreads, so we're going for it. As a reminder: signups for the blog tour are still going. Your support would be much appreciated.

All that said, if I have to pick a single release that I'm not directly involved with . . .

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

I mean, Sanderson has to make this list somehow. It's practically tradition. And I am looking forward to reading this, even if Skyward isn't my favorite of his books. If his past performance is any indication, Starsight will be even better than the first book . . . and I'm holding out hope that it'll be another nomance novel with primary focus on friendships and comraderie, but I'm also preparing to be disappointed on that front.
Speaking of disappointments . . .

5. Biggest disappointment:

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

This book. This storming book. It could have been amazing. It had so much potential — dystopian fantasy, Navajo mythology, a monster-hunting protagonist. And then it squandered all that possibility by persistently muddling around in darkness and distrust and treachery and blood. At times, it went full-on horror story (enough so that I wish I could blank the book from my memory altogether, other than the fact that I shouldn't read it). Yeah. Don't try this one.

Oh, and speaking of wasted potential . . .

I never imagined that monsters, superpowers, and time travel could be so boring. It didn't help that the main character seemed to go out of his way to make himself unlikeable, or that all the other characters were equally grumpy and miserable and messy. Add on top of it that it has the same aggressively bleak and "realistic" feel as some of the books that turned me off realistic fiction when I was younger, and this is just a solid nope.  

6. Biggest surprise:

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

I picked this one up more or less on a whim and went in with low expectations, having read a lot of meh/unimpressed reviews . . . but it was actually surprisingly good? It's basically the fantasy equivalent of the road-trip-to-deal-with-your-problems that the contemporary genre loves so much, and it was rather slow-paced and meandering as a result . . . but it was also thoughtful and even philosophical at times and very much character-driven and generally a nice change of pace. It did talk about some rather heavy topics at times, and I'd rate it at the older end of YA (or possibly even NA?) as a result, but still, I enjoyed it.

7. Favorite new-to-you author:

W.R. Gingell! I found out about her through Deborah O'Carroll, tried Masque in hopes that it would cure my Invisible Library book-hangover, and fell in love almost immediately. Her Two Monarchies books are my favorite; I devoured them all within a week or so of reading the first ones. They're magical and wonderful and almost Diana Wynne Jones-ish in style. But I also really enjoy her City Between urban fantasies, which have a healthy dose of humor and mysteriousness and are generally fun.

8. Newest fictional crush/ship:

Tragically, the book-verse still insists on pairing off every interesting male character, and I try not to make a habit of entertaining crushes on people who are already taken (whether they're fictional or real — doing it with former means I have practice in avoiding drama with the latter). So, no character crushes.

New favorite ships on the other hand . . . those I've got. A few I especially like:
  •  Isabelle and Pecus from Masque. (A delightful detecting duo; they're both clever and strong-willed and loyal, but they work really well together, when they're not working around each other.) 
  • Luck and Poly from Spindle. (The most Howl and Sophie-ish couple I've ever read, other than the original. Need I say more?)
  • Robin and Eric from Honor: A Quest In. (Technically already a favorite couple of mine, but they just keep getting better.)
And there's one other couple that could make the list, but they're spoilery. Suffice it to say that they show up in the last two books (chronologically speaking) of the Abhorsen Chronicles and that I did not see the ship coming.

9. Newest favorite character:

Have I raved enough about Isabelle from Masque yet? She's smart and stubborn and sneaky; she has a head for intrigue and mysteries and making people do and think as she wants; she loves food and friends and fashion; and she's just so fun to read about. Plus, when I first met her, she's twenty-eight and happily single and probably would've stayed that way for the whole book if Lord Pecus wasn't such a good match for her. Basically, she's fabulous and I would be quite happy to be her, honestly.

A few other favorites who I absolutely love:
  • Melchior from the Two Monarchies series. (He's dashing and clever and dramatic and was temporarily a cat; what more could you want?)
  • Captain Grimm from The Aeronaut's Windlass(A noble rogue of an airship captain whose tactical ability is only outweighed by his loyalty to his crew and his courage in the face of danger. He's arguably the best part of the book.)
  • Gwendolyn Lancaster, also from The Aeronaut's Windlass. (Again: smart, stubborn, clever, but with emphasis on the stubbornness. She and Isabelle would probably get along, though Gwen isn't half as subtle as Isabelle can be.)
  • Athelas from the City Between books. (How could you not love a tea-loving, scheming fae who knows far more than he lets on and is, in general, a reasonably sensible person?)
  • Sabriel from the Abhorsen Chronicles. (She's smart and practical and generally a protagonist who I appreciate very much. She may not know what she's doing, but she'll get stuff done all the same.)
  • Mogget, also from the Abhorsen Chronicles. (He's a cat who's really more than a cat. What more could you want?)

10. A book that made you cry:

Um. I don't know. I guess I'll say the Strange the Dreamer duology by Laini Taylor. It didn't make me cry, per se, but it did have some parts that made me sad and others that made me very angry, so it counts. Right?

11. A book that made you happy:

Paws, Claws, and Magical Tales anthology

I should probably stop yelling about the Two Monarchies books for a bit, so I'm going to spotlight this one instead. I mean, it's a whole anthology about magical cats and cats in magical situations; that's pretty guaranteed to make anyone happy. There's one story, "Whisker Width" (H.L. Burke), that I especially like and wouldn't mind ending up in the middle of.
(Also, Spindle, Masque, and Staff & Crown, but I said I'd stop yelling about Two Monarchies books.)

12. Favorite reread this year:

(This is replacing "favorite book-to-movie adaptation you've seen this year" because I never have a good answer for the original question.)

Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan

I don't think this surprises anyone, but I am so glad I decided to reread these books. I'd forgotten how awesome they are and also how much I love Leo. Leo is great. So's Frank. Anyway. And they really do go in the category of books-that-are-better-the-second-time-round, mostly because you semi-remember what's coming and you can say "Oh, I see what you did there" and also "Ok, it's fine; you know they survive." So that helps too.

Also worth mentioning: my reread of L. Frank Baum's Oz series. These were some of my favorite books when I was younger, and it's interesting to reread them now — they're way more bizarre than I remembered. Still good books, though.  

13. Favorite post you've done so far this year:

My post on The Only Blind Dates I'll Ever Go On, in which I sing the praises of my college's Blind Date With a Book event! Runner-up: my post a few weeks ago on whether steampunk is sci-fi or fantasy. Both were fun to write, though for very different reasons, and let me yell about something that excites me.

14. Most beautiful book you've bought so far this year:

I haven't bought many physical books this year, but I did find The Aeronaut's Windlass at my local used bookstore recently. So that's pretty fabulous. I'm going with that one. (Also, I got Firefly!!!)

15. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

Lots. And I have no idea which ones I'll actually read because lately I've had a policy of "read what you feel like reading" instead of "must read all the newest releases." (The exception, of course, is when I have a book that I agreed to review.) But a few that are on my list include:
  • Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean. (Asian fantasy that comes recommended by C.G. Drews; it sounds super cool and I meant to read it last summer but didn't have time.)
  • The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen. (More Asian fantasy, this one based on the Mongols. Like Empress, I meant to read it last summer and then didn't.)
  • All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis. (I don't read much dystopian anymore, but this sounds cool, so I'm making an exception.)
  • Hertz to Be a Hero by Bryan Davis. (I keep forgetting this book exists, but I really enjoyed the first one in this series, so, yeah. I need to read it.)
Whew. That was a lot of books. How's your reading going so far this year? Any books you really loved (or were really disappointed in)? Please tell me in teh comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Friday, July 5, 2019

June 2019 Doings!

Ok, that kinda snuck up on me . . . which is ironic, seeing as I was basically counting down the days to Camp NaNoWriMo (in the sense of "how long do I have to do x, y, and z before Camp?") in the second half of the month. And yet I still got to June 28 and was like "Wait, what? July is in three days? That's not right. That can't be right." But, obviously, it was right, and here we are with a new month's worth of Doings.


Picture of the Mechanical Heart ARC
  • PROOF COPY! It's so shiny!
  • So, yeah; as you can see, I finished edits and formatting for Mechanical Heart and got my proof copy! I'm kind of ahead of schedule, but I wanted to get everything with the actual book finished before Camp NaNoWriMo. At this point, I just have to write blog posts and do marketing stuff.
  • Seriously, though, it's so shiny. And big. Mechanical Heart is roughly three times as long as Blood in the Snow, and, like, I knew that? That's why it took so much more time to edit? But it didn't really hit me until I got the physical copy and could hold it and all that.
  • Also, there was a cover reveal, and you can now preorder the book on Amazon and add it to your TBR list on Goodreads if you haven't already. I'd really appreciate it if you did.
  • In other news, it is now, in fact, July, and I'm working on my Camp NaNoWriMo novel! The tentative title is Blood in the Night, though I might change it to Blood in the Earth (except that earth technically is not a term that exists in this world?) or Blood Beneath. As you may be able to guess (or may have heard from me elsewhere), it's a sequel to Blood in the Snow, and it retells the Twelve Dancing Princesses crossed with a very loose retelling of Hades and Persephone. Interested? Great! Have a rough sort of blurb/synopsis thing!
A year has passed since the events of Blood in the Snow, and Baili is determined to keep the promise she made to return the captives to their homelands. She, Xiang, Chouko, Gan, and Azuma travel to one of the Three Peaks provinces to put her plans into action — but mysteries await there that will make their task more difficult and dangerous than anticipated.
Azuma believed he'd put sorrow behind him when he found a new purpose as a member of Princess Baili's personal guard. But the journey brings the ghosts of his past back in a way he never expected. To make matters worse, a mysterious visitor hints at danger to Baili, and the province princesses are undoubtedly hiding a dark secret. It's Azuma's duty to rescue his princess — but when he's failed with only one life in the balance, can he hope to succeed with thirteen?
Meanwhile, Princess Choi Eun-Ji of Cheongaeui Ttang is determined to save her older sister, no matter the cost. But that's easier said than done when it means defying the incredibly powerful Lord of Beneath. Desperate, Eun-Ji strikes a bargain that may be her only hope of success — if it doesn't claim the lives of her and her other ten sisters first.
  • So, yeah. It's going well so far. A few elements are showing up earlier than I anticipated, and an unexpected subplot sort of popped up and I don't know what I'm going to do with it, but it's still good. It's the first time in a while that I've written a new novella/novel-length work, so that's exciting. I've missed writing by hand, haha.
  • (Also, the Lord of Beneath is stupidly fun to write. He manages to be intensely Extra and dramatic while also surprisingly straightforward and practical, and he does ominous quite well, and yeah. I think this is the most fun I've had writing an antagonist since . . . oh, I don't know. Binding Destiny? Between Two Worlds? One of those two.)


  • I kinda sorta definitely had to raise my reading goal multiple times this month because I kept hitting it or almost hitting it and was like "No! I can't hit it this soon! It's only halfway through the year!" The most recent raise — from 99 to 111 books — was last Saturday, and I'm still 40-ish books ahead of schedule. We'll see how many more times I raise it over the rest of the year.
  • I think it helps that I basically just said to myself, "You can read whatever you want as long as it's not trash," instead of just requesting a heap of the latest releases and pushing through them. I mean, I want to read the newest books, yes — but I also have a big backlog, and a big list of books I want to reread, and giving myself the freedom to read those meant I was reading a lot more.
  • And, yes, that would be why I reread all of the Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus books. I have exactly 1 regret, and that is the fact that I didn't finish reading the last two books before Camp NaNoWriMo. The whole thing started because I wanted to reread Son of Neptune, but then I got to the end of that and realized that I missed Leo, so I reread The Lost Hero, and at that point, I was super invested again, so I had to read the rest of HoO. And then I thought I was done, but Riordan's writing is super addictive and I kind of wanted to go back to the beginning, so I read the first three PJO books . . . and then got stuck for a few days because I didn't own book 4 or 5 and had to wait for the library. On a non-tragic note, I actually do own slightly more than half of these books, thanks to the giant used booksale my local library does every year.
Stack of Percy Jackson books
  • And I got non-Riordan books too! Behold!
Stack of non-Percy Jackson books, plus a blue stuffed dragon
  • (The dragon was not from the booksale, but the space looked empty and he seemed to fit, so I filled it. Also, please do notice that I have Volume 1 of the Chrestomanci Chronicles, which means my collection is complete! Also, A Cast of Stones is signed, but I'm honestly more excited about Chrestomanci. Not going to lie; if I hadn't gone on a Percy Jackson binge, I probably would've ended up devouring the Chrestomanci Chronicles instead.)
  • Anyway. Getting back to the non-PJO books I read. My other two rereads, Raven's Ladder and The Ale Boy's Feast, were good overall. They're frustrating books, honestly. In Raven's Ladder, basically everyone except Jordam and Partayn is a mess, and it's super frustrating, but the book overall is a very good metaphor for our current culture. And then The Ale Boy's Feast has great themes and great allegory, and I love Jordam, but I hate the ending. I don't mind if an author leaves an ending a bit open-ended, but that was too much.
  • All that said, I love how often this series wanders into what's basically horror territory, then remember they're supposed to be fantasy. It's mostly present in these books three and four, but it starts in book two once you find out about the beastmen. It's almost kind of funny.
  • Moving on: I cleared a bunch of meant-to-read-this-ages-ago books off my shelf! Most notable: Fawkes and Horseman, both of which are alternate histories/historical fantasies of a sort (though Horseman is a lot more distant of an alternate than Fawkes!). I loved both books, and would absolutely recommend them to others. Nadine Brandes did a great job with the historical element and the family relationship in Fawkes, even if I was a bit iffy about how one particular element was presented. And Horseman was just a bucket of fun; I'm alwasy very impressed with how well Kyle Robert Shultz can simultaneously have a really humorous story and really tough choices for his characters. (And right after I finished it, I read The Fourth Musketeer, which focuses on Julio and was also very fun. And I was able to read Deadwood right after it released, which was just as creepy as it should have been and also gave me feels.) Those were all definitely highlights.
  • On the short story front, I read Ray Bradbury's I Sing the Body Electric! anthology and part of Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things anthology. The Bradbury anthology was a bit mixed, as anthologies are wont to be, and both depressing and disturbing at times, but the better stories made the whole thing worth it. (I definitely don't agree with Bradbury on certain points of philosophy, but he still presented his ideas in an interesting way.) As for the Gaiman anthology — I DNF'ed it after reading a perfectly horrible story relating to The Chronicles of Narnia. I'm still mad about it; don't read it. I quite literally wanted to wash my brain out with bleach afterward. And most of the rest of the anthology was a bit too interested in the worst parts of human life and intentions for me to recommend it, even if some of them had interesting concepts. The only exceptions are the poetry, a few short stories that you can also find in his children's anthology, and a new-to-me short story, "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire." Yes, that sounds like it ought to be sketchy, but it's actually a concept that I love — basically, the fact that, to a character in a fantasy world, our world would be the fantasy one. I absolutely recommend it. Just find somewhere else to read it than this particular anthology.


  • I haven't really watched any movies this month, due to reasons which will be explained in the Life! section. However . . .
  • I did watch a good bit of Star Trek! And by "a good bit", I mean about ten episodes, which is probably a laughably small amount to other people my age, but storm it all, I need sleep. And if I'm going to lose sleep, I'd rather do it with a book than a TV screen.
  • Anyway. My family's been slowly watching the first season of the Star Trek Original Series, and I can definitively say that Spock is the best part and McCoy is the second best. Kirk is fine, but altogether too prone to impulsiveness for the sake of the plot. Aaaaand I'm also not crazy about how he apparently is contractually obliged to make out (or at least have an implied romantic connection with) at least one woman every episode. I have been told that this is because the show was made in the '60s, but I still don't appreciate it.
  • In addition, my sister and I have been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I honestly like it rather more than TOS. For one thing: a ship full of reasonably sensible, reasonable, mostly professional people! Hallelujah! For another: I currently like a bunch of the characters rather than just two. (And the characters seem to be better-developed in general?) And, of course: there's no obligatory kissing scene every episode. Again: HALLELUJAH. I mean, yeah, you've got two sort-of-couples? But neither are "official" couples yet, and it seems like they're going to take their sweet time getting there, and given the choice between pointless kissing scenes and less-pointless awkwardness, I will take the latter. (Ok, I'll be fair. The kissing in TOS isn't always pointless. But there's still more of it than there needs to be.)


Not my picture.
  • June basically consisted of two exciting things (one good, one bad), a few weeks of various people having colds, and the book sale. And, obviously, lots of reading and writing and watching Star Trek, but we already talked about that.
  • We'll start with the good exciting thing: Hershey Park! We were supposed to go at the end of May, but we got rained out, so we went the first week of June instead. It was definitely a good time, especially since there were so many rides that everyone wanted to go on together. For context: my parents and my sister are all roller-coaster people. My sister, in particular, is the type of roller-coaster person who will happily ride the most extreme coasters in the park multiple times. I, on the other hand, would rather be spun in about five different directions than get on most roller coasters — literally. Spinny rides are some of my favorite things, and I wish I got to go on more of them. (The problem, of course, is that they're best to go on with other people, and I am a single person. So, I can have a good time on the swings or the Scrambler, but anything like the teacups where you have to rotate something to spin more is out.)
  • However, I make an exception for wooden roller coasters because I don't have a problem with speed (within reason) or even with a bit of rattling around; I just don't want to go upside down or get dropped at a 90-degree angle or such. In fact, I like wooden roller coasters — and Hershey has three of them, which is a pretty decent number. All of them are good coasters too. The Racer was the best, but I'd ride any of the three again.
  • The downside of the day at the park: I came home with a particularly nasty cold that reared its head a few days after we got back and put me out of commission for two days before I could function semi-well again. It seemed like I'd mostly gotten rid of it by the next weekend, which was Father's Day, but then, that Saturday . . . Well, a bigger problem showed up.
  • And by that, I mean that my dad went to the hospital with an infected or inflamed gallbladder.
  • The good news: he's fine now. The doctors figured out pretty quickly what was wrong; they did surgery; he came home and took a week off to recover. But we did have to delay celebrating Father's Day (we still haven't caught up on all our plans), and it did freak everyone out a little.
  • Also, for anyone who's interested: I didn't cook a lot this month (mostly due to the fact that I was sick — though I did make or assist in making a few skillet dishes). However, I did bake bread, which was one of the main things I wanted to try! A family friend of ours had some sourdough starter, and I asked if I could have some, since I love sourdough bread and wanted to try making it. And BEHOLD!
Rather flat sourdough bread
  • It did not turn out perfectly; it's super dense and didn't really rise as much as I think it was supposed to, and I'm not 100% sure what went wrong. But hopefully, the next loaf will turn out better. We'll see how it goes.
  • Oh, and Independence Day was fun! We went over to a family friend's house for barbeque and other assorted yumminess, which was great. We didn't end up going to see fireworks, though, since the weather was so wet. Instead, we just watched them on TV. (I don't mind, honestly. We got see fireworks back on Memorial Day weekend, and those were pretty great, so I got my fireworks fix then.)

July Plans!

Camp NaNoWriMo Banner
  • Obviously, the main plans for July are Camp NaNoWriMo and work — but I've already discussed the one, and the other hasn't changed much from last month, so I won't get into that.
  • My grandpa is visiting this month, so that should be fun. His visits are usually pretty chill.
  • Also, Cow Appreciation Day is July 9! Basically, you wear cow-related apparel (which could be, say, a cow-spotted bandana or other clothing article, or even just a white shirt with black spots taped on), go to Chick-fil-a, and you can get a free entree. You can do this at any meal; if you have enough Chick-fil-a's nearby, you can do it for all three meals. (That is a lot of chicken, yes. But it's good chicken, it's free, and if you plan what you're eating well, you don't feel like you're eating the same thing all day.) My family is very into Chick-fil-a, and we have four different restaurants in a twenty-minute radius of our house, so guess what we're doing? Plus, we plan to go see How To Train Your Dragon 3 that day, so, yeah. I'm going to get nothing done, but it will be a good day.
  • I have some crafting stuff I want to do: I'm working on my 3D-printed sword and a knitted cloak, and I'm planning to make a cool sign for my dorm room door. (Of course I make it the last year I'll be there . . . oh well. It is what it is.) I'll post pictures of all the things here on the blog once they're done.
  • In general, I'm hoping July will be mostly chill — or as chill as a NaNo month can be, in any case. We'll see what happens.
  • (Oh, and this isn't a July-specific plan, but I picked up some games during the Steam Summer Sale because they were cheap and I wanted to reward myself for being on top of things with Mechanical Heart, and I'm suuuper excited. None of them are new or recent — one of them is Portal, for heaven's sakes — but whatever. I'm going to have fun and enjoy several good stories and that's what matters. Again, it probably won't happen in July, 'cause Camp NaNoWriMo, but maaaybe if I finish early . . .?)
How was your June? What are your plans for July? How do you feel about roller coasters (wooden or otherwise) and spinny rides? How do you feel about engaging with books, games, or other media years after everyone else discovered them? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)