Sunday, July 29, 2018

Realm Makers 2018 Recap

Realm Makers . . .

I've been putting off writing this recap because I don't know where to start! Recently, I told a friend that I feel like a Pevensie returned from Narnia. There's a wistfulness and a yearning about leaving a place that feels so much like home.

I met so many friends at RM, even more than last time! New friends, old friends, and quite a few of those friends I've known online for years but had never met until now. I met authors who are incredibly genuine, humble, and kind. I left with my mind stuffed full of writing/publishing knowledge and the glimmerings of new ideas. I left with my heart full and my soul fed. There's no other way to say it.

To give you an idea of just what goes on at Realm Makers, I'll take you through a quick recap of each day of the conference. Then, because I have a couple of special stories, I'll share those at the end. Warning: This is going to get long, so I won't blame you if you skim!

Day 1: Wednesday

This was my travel day and my second-ever flying-on-my-own trip! I felt a lot more at ease this time. From home, I flew to Toronto and then down to St. Louis, Missouri. I met my roomies Deborah O'Carroll (finally, yay!), Claire Banschbach, and E. Kaiser Writes for the first time, and we grabbed another friend to go for a late supper.

Day 2: Thursday

Tosca Lee's pre-conference workshop was amazing. She really made us attendees get up and get to know each other throughout the class--a smart idea, because otherwise that room of mostly introverts would never have started talking--and then she laid a solid foundation for the life of a writer. She also delved deeply into characters. Like the ouch, now I'm digging into my own dark corners kind of deep. I loved every bit of it and scribbled a dozen pages of notes.

Left to right: Audrey, Savannah, Mary, me

Since I've enjoyed Tosca's books for years (and also followed her Instagram for a while), it was also neat to meet her in person and get a book signed. She's sweet and funny and down-to-earth.

With Tosca Lee

Halfway through the pre-con session, I went out to nab a taco lunch with friends, and we found Wayne Thomas Batson sitting in the corner of the restaurant. Of course we ambushed him introduced ourselves.

After Tosca's session, I met more people who had recently arrived, including the darling Christine Smith! By this time, my group had fairly doubled in size, and we ate more tacos for supper.

The evening kicked off the actual start of the conference with Mary Weber's opening keynote (she gets right to the heart, guys), an editor and agent Q&A, and a live flash fiction critique sponsored by Splickety (both informative and helpful). I was elated to hear two of my friends' flash fics read out loud--Deborah O'Carroll and Savannah Grace!
Left to right: me, Mary, Savannah, Christine

Day 3: Friday

Regarding classes, I attended . . .

  • Allen Arnold's continuing sessions on When Chaos and Creativity Collide. I've got a story about that class for later, but for now I'll say it stirred my heart and breathed life into my soul.
  • How to Pitch Your Novel Without Sounding Like a Robot by Nadine Brandes, which was every bit as helpful as it sounds. I finally feel like I can tell you what my WIP is about in one sentence without sounding like a complete dork.
  • Everything You Need to Know About YA by Mary Weber and Nadine Brandes. Super information shared by two of my favorite authors!

With Nadine Brandes

In between, I had a short mentoring session with one of the faculty and walked away with some actionable steps to take in honing the focus of this blog. I also pitched to an agent, which went well--a great confidence boost!

But in true RM style, there is much more going on than just learning! I went out for pizza with a big group of friends, including all of the SilmAwards peeps who were in attendance. So much awesomeness in one place.

SilmAwards folks! Left to right: Savannah, Deborah, Jenelle Schmidt, Kyle Robert Shultz, me, Madeline J Rose

With my fairies, Christine and Deborah!

Friday was also the night of the awards banquet, where almost everyone shows up in costume. It's one of my favorite parts of the conference--seeing the creativity everywhere, striking up conversations with random strangers about our shared fandoms, snapping dozens (hundreds?) of pictures.

I cosplayed as Linh Cinder of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, and I was honestly shocked at how many people recognized who I was!

It's Cinder!

With Mary Liz as Mary Poppins (practically perfect in every way!)
(Audrey's photobombing is amazing too)

Madeline's got the epic steampunk look down pat

With Ashley Townsend as Eelyn (from Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young)

With Jenelle as Jyn Erso

With newfound friend Cassandra as my Cinder twin!

With Andy Sheehan as Captain America (he does a great Steve impression too)

With Nadine Brandes as Trelawney (whom I haven't read about yet!)

With a steampunk Mary Weber

With Mollie Reeder as a Jurassic World character and Emily Hayse as Black Widow

With Christine as a steampunk Alice and Deborah as
Princess Kamarie (one of Jenelle Schmidt's characters)

Without meaning to, I ended up sitting at Steve Laube's table for dinner. Yes. The Steve Laube. I sat next to him and fumbled through my meal with my one free hand, my painted hand hovering over my lap so as not to turn everything silver. 'Twas rather amusing.

Steve Laube (wearing a sign that reads "The Dream Crusher)
with Carla Hoch as a rather bloody editor
Later, I was having such fun that I stayed up past midnight chatting with a circle of friends.

Day 4: Saturday

Bryan Davis was in town and stopped at the conference for breakfast! I missed the beginning of his talk, thanks to the aforementioned decision to stay up late, but it was so great to say hello in person (and get one of his latest books signed)!

With Bryan Davis!

With a sweet blog follower named Jessi Rae!
*waves* Thanks for stopping to say hi!

I attended the last session of Chaos and Creativity and Part 2 of Mary and Nadine's YA class (which focused on marketing to YA). In between, I pitched to a second agent--that also went well, thankfully. I later went to a paid faculty lunch, which meant eating the catered hotel food and chatting over dessert with Mary Weber (I love her, guys). Then it was off to several short spotlights and panels, on topics such as editing and writing believable futuristic technology.

Mary gave her closing keynote, full of sisterly advice to writers. Every time she speaks, it seems that she re-centers my focus on what matters.

One of my favorite memories of the conference is Saturday supper. Mary W. and Nadine B. gathered a massive gaggle of fans (mostly from their street teams, but I must've snuck in) for tacos! Yes indeed, I ate tacos three times in two days, and didn't even care.

tacos with the gang

With Instagram and Goodreads friend Heidi

With Katie Grace, who's every bit as sweet in person as she is online

With Instagram friend Rebekah

With Hann, a sweet friend from last year

[Note: I'm very sad to mention that I somehow neglected to get a picture with Blue, a faithful blog follower and lovely friend! Blue, please forgive me!]

That evening, the Realm Makers bookstore was teeming. Authors signed books, readers bought more books than they could carry and stood in line, the raffle prize winners were announced (my pal Audrey won the free conference registration for next year, and I'm so stinkin' happy for her!), and it was basically a bookdragon's heaven. I got books signed by Lindsay Franklin, Nadine Brandes, Mary Weber, Wayne Thomas Batson, Allen Arnold, Jamie Foley, and Kyle Robert Schultz.*

*Thank goodness I had twenty pounds to spare in my suitcase for the flight home.

With Lindsay Franklin

With Wayne Thomas Batson

By the time the book festival wrapped up, I was exhausted. Sadly, I didn't have the energy to join the Nerf war this year, so I watched the first round from the sidelines, than bade a teary goodbye to a couple of friends and retired to my room to pack.

The Nerf war is underway...

Day 5: Sunday

A very sleepy Tracey woke up early to catch her flight home. That's it.

Well, I had to miss Carla Hoch's fight workshop, sadly. But I had a lovely conversation in the St. Louis airport with a gentleman and his wife who were flying to Canada to play golf. And the only other highlight of the day was returning to home soil and reuniting with my family.

Who I Want to Be When I Grow Up

You know how I mentioned that all the authors I met were super nice people? Yeah. That had a bigger impact on me than I expected. I've interacted with plenty of nice authors before--online, in person, at Realm Makers last year--but something about meeting so many of them at once was inspiring. Just a few vignettes . . .

Wayne Thomas Batson // My friends and I interrupted his lunch, and he was totally cool with it. Later, when I got one of his books signed, I confessed that my first novel included a character who was basically a carbon copy of his Captain Valithor, except in dragon form. He seemed to think that was the coolest thing. He told me Valithor's famous jibes were straight from a book of Shakespearean insults.

Nadine Brandes // She is my top favorite Instagrammer ever. I love her color theme, I love her posts, I love how she interacts in the comments. Every time I see a new Nadine picture scrolling by, I smile. (Her YouTube channel is also the best!) And you know what? She is just as kind and encouraging and dorky in real life as she is online. I want to be that genuine too, the kind of person who is the same no matter where you meet her.

Mary Weber // Maybe it's because she's a youth pastor and counsellor as well as author, but this woman has an insane memory. She remembered my name, she remembered meeting me last year, she remembered I have a year left of college. I was blown away, especially after seeing her signing line stretching out the door. She took the time to talk to each and every reader in that three-hour lineup--she made them feel like they mattered.

So many other authors were also wonderful! Not one of them put on airs. I want to be as authentic as they are.

The Story of With

This is actually the title of Allen Arnold's book, but it's also become the title of my own personal encounter with God during Realm Makers.

I'd noticed fear creeping into my writing recently. Feeling the pressure of summer winding down and classes starting soon, I knew my writing time was limited. I found myself projecting this book months into the future and worrying about getting an agent, building my platform, deciding between the general market and the Christian market, etc. When I sat down to edit, I felt like I was spinning my wheels.

This is the mental debris I took with me into Realm Makers.

Then I attended Allen's class and I was reminded of who I am. Who my Father is. I reawakened to the truth that God invites me to co-create with Him joyfully and with abandon. He wants to create with me, not just have me write for Him or about Him. (I wish I could share all my notes with you, but instead I'll just recommend you buy the conference audio!)

I sat there through all three sessions and soaked it all in. This is what I was missing. This joy, this freedom. It dovetailed so beautifully with the little nudges God had been giving me all summer. "Slow down. Pace yourself. There's no rush." But it was about more than just adjusting my pace, it was about the whole act of writing, the entire life of a creative person.

See, when we are faced with chaos in life--which is pretty much most of the time--we react with fear, anger, confusion, and doubt. We try to control it, suppress it, or ignore it. But what did God do in the face of the chaos that was the void, before creation? He stepped into the void and called forth beauty and order. He created. He created in the chaos, and He calls us to do the same.

But not on our own. With Him.

So by the time I sat down in Allen's last class, I was already telling God, "I get it now. I'm surrendering this to You--all the to-do lists and stress and burdens I'm not meant to carry--they're Yours."

Halfway through that final class, I slipped out to a pitch appointment. And it went really well, like I mentioned . . . except that it kind of came with a suggested deadline. A deadline I realistically couldn't meet unless I worked my tail off in the next month before the semester kicks off.

"I just told You I wasn't going to do it this way, God," I told Him. "And now there's this opportunity, and I don't want to miss it."

I hurried back to Allen's class to catch the last half, my mind spinning. At the end, he opened it up for questions. I'm going to ask him about my dilemma afterward, I thought to myself. One on one. No way am I going to open up about it in front of this whole room of people. Yet I found my hand slipping up in the silence, and then I was blurting out my situation and fighting off tears.

Two things you need to know: one, sleep is a low priority at a conference. Two, I'm an easy crier. Mix that with a dream that matters deeply to me, and the waterworks start.

I felt a little embarrassed, wiping my eyes as Allen responded with the encouragement to pray, to tackle this question with God, and to surround myself with prayer warriors. If this was an opportunity God wanted me to take, He would provide everything I needed to make it happen. If not, maybe this door would stand open until next summer (when I'd have more time to walk through it) . . . or a better opportunity would come up. Ultimately, what would give me more life? My old way or God's way?

Turned out that I didn't have to seek out prayer warriors--they found me. The minute the session ended, I was fiercely hugged by two dear friends who shed tears with me and prayed for me right then and there.

As the day wore on, I slipped often into snippets of conversation with God, turning this dilemma over and over. I realized that I felt peace about waiting. About giving myself and my manuscript the time we both needed. It's what I had been getting little nudges about all summer, and here it was: the chance to choose a path of peace rather than one of striving.

Later that evening, I had the chance to chat with Allen again. He asked me if God had given me any direction so far, and I shared the decision I'd come to. We then had a very encouraging discussion, and now I know.

If there was one reason I had to attend Realm Makers this year, this was the reason. This reawakening of my heart, this peace. I'm walking into my story with my Father.

Realm Makers was a power-packed experience, brimming with the laughter of fellow dreamers and the buoyancy that comes only from bumping into God and realizing He was right beside me this whole time. I'm planning to attend again. Next year, same time, same place! Maybe I'll see you there.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Q&A Vlog Part 2

I'm waving hello from St. Louis, Missouri, where Realm Makers is currently underway! (If you couldn't make it this year, please read THIS POST on Musings of an Elf. It's everything I'd say to you right now.)

As promised, the second half of the vlog is here! Just a couple of notes this time:

  1. The timeline is a bit off, because I mentioned, "by this time next week, I'll be at Realm Makers," not knowing that I'd split the vlog over two weeks.
  2. The guest post I referenced is this one over at The Author's Chair.
  3. All credit for the music (a song called Movement) belongs to Chasing Noise.
  4. The dragon makes an appearance at last!

I hope you enjoy the rest of these ramblings. Do feel free to shout out suggestions for that question I ask a bit closer to the end. And if I haven't caught up on comments by the time this post goes live, I do apologize. I'll reply to everyone once I return home, and also share a giant Realm Makers recap like I did last year! Then it'll be back to regular content here on Adventure Awaits.

Once again, thanks for watching! You all are the best!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Q&A Vlog Part 1

At last, the vlog has arrived!

Thanks again for all the great questions, everyone! I had so much fun answering them, the vlog turned into . . . ahem . . . an hour-long video. So because no one wants to sit and watch sixty minutes of dorky chit-chat, and because I'm running short on time on my end, we're splitting this thing into two parts! If I can, I hope to get the second half ready for next Saturday, when I'll be at Realm Makers.

Little disclaimer: I filmed this on my phone, which was running so short of storage that I had to film it one piece at a time, upload to my computer, delete from my phone, and then continue. So there are awkward pauses in between that my miniscule video editing skills couldn't avoid. Just pretend we're facetiming or sharing Instagram stories or some other such casual thing, and let's not pretend that I'm some polished YouTuber. That would take a great deal of imagination.

So without further ado, here's the first segment!

EDIT: The background music is Lost in Las Vegas by Two Steps from Hell. Full credit goes to them!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Belated Blogoversary + #MyFirstPostRevisited

Adventure Awaits turned three at the end of March, and I promised some kind of party, didn't I? But I've arrived so late, even my wizard status can't excuse my tardiness. Gandalf is ashamed of me. As they say, "better late than never," so here we are! Help yourself to angel food cake and strawberries, because that's what I just ate, and we're going to happily live in the delusion that I can offer you a slice via the internet.
Blogging is a discipline I'm so glad I started. Sure, there are weeks (like this one) when getting a post up in time is a struggle. Life gets busy and sometimes I run out of inspiration. But I love sharing my heart here. Yet what I love even more is YOU. All of you who read, comment, and keep coming back--you're the reason Adventure Awaits exists! I hope your own journey has been impacted, even in some small way, by mine. Because life is story, after all, and we're all living epic tales of our own.
In the fashion of last year's blogoversary, let's kick off the party with some quick stats! Measuring growth is fun, right? It's like penciling in your height on the pantry wall.


  • 161 followers across Google Friend Connect and Bloglovin' (It was closer to 140-150 at the time of my actual blogoversary, I think . . . which is about double what I had last year . . . Anyway, I'm so grateful for every single one of you!)
  • 204 posts
  • 216,678 pageviews

Top Ten Countries

Most of those pageviews come from . . .

  1. United States
  2. Russia
  3. Canada
  4. France
  5. Ukraine
  6. Germany
  7. United Kingdom
  8. Netherlands
  9. Australia
  10. Ireland

It shocks me that this little place has grown at all in the past year, what with me going off to college and being less consistent here than I'd like. Here are some wild and wacky (and some predictable) ways people have found my blog:

Search Results

-larryboy and the fib from outer space (what? why???)
-rooglewood press (makes sense)
-josiah dyck (oh, look, that's my brother!)
-a girl who walk alone on the road (. . . this girl who walk alone needs to get better at grammar)
-allison tebo the reluctant godfather (why yes, I was part of her blog tour)
-adventure award wise counselor (ah, good times)
-five enchanted roses: a collection of . . . (it cuts off the end of the phrase, but I know which book that is, and it's excellent)
-rooglewood press contest (not like I entered any of those, LOL)
-adventure awaits blog (very sensible search result)
-Tracey (oh, so we're on first name basis now, Google and I?)
-summer book haul (always a good thing!)

Top Ten Most Popular Posts

I'm always somewhat bemused as to what gets a lot of pageviews and what doesn't. Whatever the reason, here are my most-viewed posts of all time! Numbers 1, 3, and 9 are some of my personal favorites.

1. Realm Makers 2017 Recap
2. Sunshine Blogger Award
3. Retellings - Love 'Em or Hate 'Em?
4. Beautiful Books - Writing Goals
5. Subplots and Storylines - November 2016
6. Book Review: Five Enchanted Roses
7. Subplots and Storylines - October 2016
8. Silmarillion Awards - Wisest Counselor Nominations
9. Why Fiction Matters
10. Problematic Opportunities and Opportunistic Problems


Over half a year ago, the ever-creative Victoria Grace Howell @ Wanderer's Pen tagged me to participate in #MyFirstPostRevisited. Thanks, Tori! I thought it'd be fun to incorporate this into my next blogoversary! The rules of the tag are as follows:
  • No cheating. You must highlight your first post. Not your second post, not one you love… the first post only.
  • Link back to the person who tagged you (thank them if you feel like it or, if not, curse them with a plague of ladybugs).
  • Cut and paste your old post into a new post or reblog your own bad self. (Either way is fine, but NO editing.)
  • Put the hashtag #MyFirstPostRevisited in your title.
  • Tag five (5) other bloggers to take up this challenge.
  • Notify your tags in the comment section of their blog (don’t just hope they notice a pingback somewhere in their spam).
  • Feel free to cut and paste the badge to use in your post.
  • Include “the rules” in your post.
  • Completely silly rules that I’m making up as I type:
  • Write your post while wolfing down your favorite dessert.
  • Do 10 cartwheels after you hit “Publish.”
Well, I did just eat cake. But I'll neglect that last rule, because if I attempted a cartwheel, I would break something. Like my head. Or a piece of furniture. Or my pride. Let's have a look at my very first post from March 31, 2015!


Well met, fellow travelers!
I suppose introductions are in order. My name is Tracey Dyck, and at the moment, all the clever ways I planned to succinctly introduce myself have scurried out the back window and left me with a blank page. So let’s start with the basics, in no particular order.
I am:
-19 years of age
-a homeschool graduate
-a writer
-a God-chaser
And now for some random facts.
I feed on words. The smell of spring is hope to me. My bookshelves are congested. I have awesome parents and three awesome younger siblings. I live in the Prairies. I read and write pretty widely, but fantasy is my homeland. I write because I need to, and because I hope that someone else needs me to. New notebooks call to me. I take pictures of shadows. I sketch. I am a slayer of evil dragons and a friend of good ones. I am an introvert. My space is organized chaos. I love the colors of the Caribbean, of watermelon, and of new leaves. Please take me to Narnia because I left my heart there. I love children. Dark chocolate trumps milk or white. Captain America is, without a doubt, my favorite Marvel superhero. Apparently my personality type is the same as Batman’s, though I fail to see many similarities. I laugh easily and cry easily. I am a paradox because a sunny optimist and a cynic coexist in my brain. I adore humor. I am a girl of strong convictions. Jesus is the difference in my life; He is my anchor, my shield, my fortress.
Now, what should you expect on this blog? Good question. Even I’m not entirely sure. But I think you’ll find a mix of the big and the small, the important and trivial. A blend of life and faith and anything story-related. I aim to post about once a week, but that schedule may change as I settle into it and find out what works.
Life truly is a grand adventure! I sincerely hope that this place will be a rest stop where you can brush off the dust of your travels, warm your hands by the fire, and find stories in the coals. I hope that this is an armory where you can sharpen your blade, shine your armor, and stock your quiver. Here is where our quests intersect. Let’s swap tales, remind ourselves of the light, and look for the story the Author is weaving in each of our lives. To the wanderers, the wayfarers, the voyagers—I bid you welcome!
* * *

Surprisingly, that actually wasn't as cringey as I expected. I still hope this place is a rest stop for questers on their journey, I'm still looking for the heart I left in Narnia, and my bookshelves are more congested than ever!

Thanks for celebrating with me, friends! I appreciate each of you immensely and feel honored to spend time with you in this space. Next up is that vlog I'm working on! (Hopefully. Somebody send me a bottle of Extra Time, please.)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Subplots and Storylines - June 2018

Hello, hello, everyone! I'm back! Thanks for all the great vlog questions you left me. I hope to film a coherent video answering them all very soon. In the meantime, how was your month? Sit down and grab a cup of lemonade (because coffee is much too hot for this weather) and let's chat!

My June was about as full as all my months seem to be, and yet it was a lot more relaxing because . . . I took a holiday! More on that in a minute. This could become a long post, so I'll try to keep each section of the recap brief and under control. (Yeah, right.)

A few notable life happenings:

  • I took my sisters to a Maze Runner-themed escape room! Kind of a homemade one put on by their youth group, but it was super well done. (And I got to sneak in and go through it too, even though I'm too old. Ha.)
  • A couple more friend get-togethers
  • My sister, Chloe @ Faeries and Folklore, graduated high school and we threw a party!
  • One of my best friends had a baby shower
  • Aaaaand holidays!

It was wonderful to spend a week at a cabin with my family, doing absolutely nothing. I devoured five books, watched a bunch of movies, ate delicious food, swam in the river, and played an ongoing game of Phase 10.

We also went to see the ruins of the old Pinawa Dam. I'm a sucker for ruins of any kind, but to find some in my home province of Manitoba was super cool! Can't you just see this old wall being used as the setting for a dystopian story? Or even a fantasy?

Screen Subplots

Once Upon a Time season 6
I only watched two more episodes this month, but the season is still making a slow upward climb, so that's good.

Avatar: The Last Airbender
Just one episode this month. Still a fun show!

Spider-Man 3
At last my siblings and I are finished the Tobey Maguire trilogy! I'm sorry to insult a classic, but these movies just didn't hold up like I'd hoped. (I did love them years ago.) At least Harry Osborne was better in this one.

The Greatest Showman
This has got to be the most hyped-up movie I've seen in a long time. I was rather worried it wouldn't live up to my expectations, and while pretty much the whole plot came as no surprise at this point, I LOVED IT. I loved the music, the visuals, the characters, the charm of it all. I loved the emphasis on family. It was beautiful. Truly. And if you'll pardon me a moment, I'm going to go buy the soundtrack!

Captain America: The First Avenger
My siblings and have started rewatching the Marvel movies (it's our youngest sister's first time!), and we skipped the Iron Man movies to watch this one. It gets me every time. I love Cap. And Bucky. And everything.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Another rewatch. So heartrending, I cried again.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Look at that, I'm really jumping on the HP bandwagon now! But this movie was so enjoyable. Faithful to the book, with an adorable young cast, it brought Hogwarts to life in such a charming way.

This one was better than I expected! If you don't mind the Day of the Dead stuff, it's a cute little film about family and remembering those who have passed away. The visuals are brilliant, and I didn't see one of the twists coming.

Page Storylines

Guys. I read nine books this month. NINE. I can't remember the last time that happened! (Thank you, vacation, for all the reading time.)

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff // Chip Gaines

I've never watched Fixer Upper or read Chip and Joanna's previous book, but I still enjoyed getting to know them through this quick nonfiction read. They seem down-to-earth and have an approach to business I could get behind. Lots of anecdotes here, with some good advice for living fearlessly, taking risks, and prioritizing family. The book did feel a bit scattered, but that could be my own expectations interfering. 4 stars.

Steal Like an Artist // Austin Kleon

This little book is a pithy pep talk. Inspiring, quotable, whittled down to a few quick scrawls and snippets to catapult your own thoughts. It's a starting point, and I like where it leads. The biggest thing I took away is that our work is a sum of our influences--and that's okay. For any creative worried about originality or feeling short on ideas, this is a great pick-me-up. 5 stars!

Enoch's Ghost // Bryan Davis

(Continuing my reread of Dragons in Our Midst / Oracles of Fire / Children of the Bard series) Oh goodness, I'd forgotten how much I love this one. Themes of sacrifice run like a scarlet thread through the narrative, characters grow and develop through excruciating circumstances, and the threat facing our heroes is cataclysmic.

Ashley, struggling to relinquish control, has never been more relatable to me than right now. And I love her relationship with Walter! I'm also a huge fan of Second Eden, the infinite staircase, Dikaios, Elam, and Timothy. (That Timothy . . . he breaks my heart.) Everything wrapped up so incredibly well, with just enough hope amidst the disaster to last me until the next book! 5 stars!

Siren's Song // Mary Weber

Whew, this was quite the trilogy! There were a few things overall that I wasn't too keen on, but my love for Nym's journey and the powerful themes eclipse those minor annoyances. In this book, it's evident that Nym has come so far since the beginning. There were many characters to love, and even the dastardly Myles garnered my approval. (It helped that he reminded me of Loki.) The pace left my heart pounding, and the ending was thematically magnificent. 5 stars!

Unblemished // Sara Ella

I was a bit worried it wouldn't live up to the hype, but it was surprisingly good! It had some Once Upon a Time vibes, which made me happy. At first, the mysteries were easy to see through, and the beginnings of a love triangle seemed predictable. But then the plot twists started happening, and I actually grew to like the love triangle. (Gasp!) Life-or-death stakes have a way of breathing fresh life on that old trope. And in case you're wondering, I'm Team Ky. 4.5 stars.

The Minish Cap // Akira Himekawa

I don't read many graphic novels, just as I don't play many Legend of Zelda games, but this was a fun, quick read with an adorable drawing style. Link, Zelda, and the Picori were super cute. It was rather fast-paced--just the nature of graphic novels, I guess--but the ending was satisfying. 4 stars.

Paper and Fire // Rachel Caine

I read the first book on vacation last year, so it seemed fitting to continue while on another holiday! This one consisted of an intense rescue plot, an alternate-universe Rome, creepy automatons, much sneaking around, brilliant details, forbidden books, and serious squad goals. These crusty munchkins are becoming a family and I love it. The only things I didn't love? The continuation of a romance that goes against my beliefs, a small smattering of language, and the fact the main love interest seemed to be the only person lacking personality. But overall, I adore this series and can't wait to get my hands on the third book! 4.5 stars.

All the Crooked Saints // Maggie Stiefvater

With the lyricism of The Raven Cycle and none of its objectionable content, THIS was the kind of Stiefvater book I've been looking for! It was lovely, atmospheric, and somehow managed to be a feel-good story without the inherent cheesiness. The omniscient point-of-view worked beautifully, the very setting seemed alive, and the lovable cast was quirky as all get-out. What really got me is the message of hope: healing is found through opening yourself up to help others, and this eclectic crew of pilgrims on a Colorado ranch in the 1960s proved that better than anyone. 5 stars!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets // J.K. Rowling

More rollicking adventures in Hogwarts! The plot felt at times like a replica of the first book (until the plot twist happened), but I was having too much fun to care. A few things you must know: a) I am going to visit the Weasely's Burrow if it's the last thing I do, b) Mandrakes are hilarious, c) the duel scene was the best, d) Lockhart is annoying 95% of the time, e) Draco--just Draco, and f) somebody get me book 3 pronto. 5 stars!

Subplots of My Own Making

Not a ton to report on the writing front this month, unfortunately. Going away for a week may have had something to do with that. But! I did accomplish a few things.

I listened to episode 13 of The Creative Way, a writing course by Ted Dekker that has been taking me forever to finish. (But it's still excellent.)

I did a short critique for a critique partner. Her story is awesome.

I wrote a 300 word flash fiction and submitted it to Splickety.

I rewrote chapters one and two of The Brightest Thread AGAIN and finally moved into chapter 3. I hope I've stopped spinning my wheels on this opening, because I'd really like to make some progress before Realm Makers (which is two and a half weeks away!!!). It may be too soon to say, but I think, perhaps, maybe, this new opening is "The One." It stays true to the original version more than my other rewriting attempts, but I think it's mechanically stronger.

Whew! If you made it this far, here's a refill on that lemonade. What were your June highlights? Have you read/watched anything mentioned here? What's your ideal holiday? I hope you have a fantastic July! And to my Canadian friends--happy Canada Day!