Book review: Ferromancer

I’m in a historical fantasy group on Facebook, and they have recommended reading books each month. As I was browsing the list of books, Ferromancer caught my eye. I’ve seen the title here and there, but this time it appealed to me. Plus, it was only a buck. If I didn’t like it, I hadn’t been ripped off too badly. As it turned out, I enjoyed it so much, I immediately bought book 2.

Here’s the official summary:

Solutions aren’t always black and white—sometimes they come in shades of iron gray.

Captain Bridget “Briar” Rose wants for nothing. Each day is a new adventure, living the life she loves, running cargo on the Ohio & Erie Canal. That is, until her cousin decides to sell the family boat to finance a new business venture. He wants to build locomotives for the railroad—the very industry that could put the entire canal system out of business.

Not one to give up without a fight, Briar does a little snooping into her cousin’s new business partner. When she gets a sneak peek at the locomotive plans, she suspects that the man is either a genius, or a ferromancer—one of the dreaded metal mages of Europe’s industrial revolution.

Determined to reveal her suspicions, Briar takes the plans and heads for the newspaper office in Columbus, stealing the family boat in the process. Kidnapping her cousin’s handsome business partner wasn’t part of the plan, but when he shows up, demanding the return of his property, she can’t let him go. After all, if Briar can prove that the railroad is using ferromancy, she could save more than her boat. She could save her way of life.


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Cyborg by elGuaricho

I thought, hey, canal boats vs. railroads? I’ll give it a shot. I like reading about that period of history, anyway.

My review:

The historical setting of early 1800s America, coupled with the mythos of the magical ferromancers, is somehow massively pleasing. I enjoyed this stroll along the Erie Canal, seeing the conflict between the boatmen and the up and coming railroads. At the same time, the ferromancers are understated, intriguing, and often terrifying.

I’m not sure, even now, if I like Grayson or not. At least he’s not like some of the psycho, abusive heroes urban fantasy often features. I think it’s the potential of what he will become, down the line, that worries me. But then, saving him from himself is the aim of the story, isn’t it?

Briar is a spunky heroine without being the man-hating feminist stereotype that so many heroines fall into. She brawls with her fists, because that’s the culture of the boatmen, but she also abides by the rules. For instance, women only brawl with women, and men only brawl with men. Whenever she tries to take on a man, she’s hopelessly overpowered (especially when the men are ferromancers or their constructs, because you can’t beat someone who is made of iron).

The worldbuilding is explained so very briefly that I got to the end, still scratching my head about what had happened. But much is teased about the next book, namely, that Briar will find out more about the mysterious world of ferromancy. So I grabbed it. One way to really hook me is with good worldbuilding, and this book delivers … in tantalizing trickles.

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Book review: Lord of Dreams by C.J. Brightley

The first book our book club is tackling this year is Lord of Dreams by C.J. Brightley. The theme for this month was fairies, so we got this … strange … book. Here’s the summary:


lordofdreamscoverWhen a fairy king grants a human wish, there’s more at stake than dreams.

Claire Delaney has a good life, despite her adolescent angst. But she wants more. In a moment of frustration, she wishes to be “the hero.”

What she actually wants is to be the center of attention, but what she gets is a terrifying Fae king demanding that she rescue an imprisoned fairy, facing fantastical dangers and hardships she could not have imagined.

Yet the dreams–and the rescue–are only the beginning of her journey. She is at the center of the king’s audacious gamble to end the war that has raged in Faerie for half a century.


 

It’s not a bad premise, and when I started reading, I rejoiced at how well-written the book was. But then things got … strange. Here’s my review:


What a very strange book.

The first few chapters were very hard to read because of the whiplash of switching between the real world and the fairy world. And then we leap forward years in time, going from child Claire to Teen Claire to Adult Claire, with important but disconnected incidents happening at each point.

Once Adult Claire gets to the fairy world and starts trying to rescue the fairy king, things get slightly more coherent. She’s still ducking in and out of the dream world, but it’s always the same dream world, and that helps it not be so bonkers. The book uses that extreme, literal logic that I got used to with Diana Wynne Jones. Each word the king says means literally what it says. And every word that Claire says means literally what it says. Read carefully.

The story is emotionally satisfying, and Claire does, indeed, become the hero she wanted to be. Although maybe not quite in the way she expected.

If you’re a fan of the dreamlike, non-sequitur way that Alice in Wonderland reads, you’ll enjoy this book. Four stars.


 

For what it is, this was a good book. It portrayed the fairy world as suitably weird, which I don’t find in a lot of books. (Often times, the fairyworld is just a place where people with wings hang out with talking animals. I’m looking at you, Lego.)

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But this kind of book drives me nuts. My brain is too logical. For instance, fairy blood is blue because it has no hemoglobin (no iron, ha ha). But that means … it can’t carry oxygen! Does that mean that they don’t breathe oxygen in the fairyworld? WHAT IS THIS I DON’T EVEN.

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That kind of thing frustrates me, and I don’t care much for Alice in Wonderland, either. So I think it’s mostly just my problem. Lots of people love that dreamscape kind of world. And the book does it very well. It just wasn’t a good fit for me.

Book review: Lawless by Janeen Ippolito

I’m excited to review Lawless on my blog today–and what do you know, it’s officially releasing today! What a coinikidink!

Here’s what it’s about:

LawlessCover

The salvation of humans and dragons lies within a convicted murderer.

Dragonshifter Kesia Ironfire has one goal—to redeem her past by serving the cruel dragon Pinnacle as a soldier in the dragon-human war.

Then a rogue mission to spy on a new airship explodes into sickening green smoke. The same mysterious green smoke that was present the night of Kesia’s crime. When her dragon overlords deny any involvement, she and her tactical partner Zephryn Nightstalker try to investigate–and are sentenced to death.

Still searching for answers, Kesia and Zephryn flee to the human military capital, where Captain Shance Windkeeper has been furloughed after the destruction of his airship. Eager to discover what–and who–blew up his vessel, he agrees to help Kesia and Zephryn infiltrate High Command. In exchange, Kesia must pretend to be his betrothed so Shance can escape an arranged marriage. If only she knew what ‘betrothed’ and ‘arranged marriage’ meant.

But human social customs are the least of her worries. Dark secrets surface as Kesia delves deeper–secrets that challenge the facts of her crime and undermine the war itself.

A steampunk fantasy adventure with a side of snark and quirky romance.


I was a tad skeptical when I started reading this book. I mean, sure, I like shapeshifters, especially dragon shifters. And it’s pretty fun when they get involved with airships, specifically, crashing them (thanks, Aranya!). But a few things struck me as odd, such as the way Kesia and Zephyrn have no words for love or romance. This is taken to almost a ludicrous extreme, such as when Shance starts crushing on Kesia and she doesn’t understand when he calls her “beautiful”.

But I kept going, and I’m glad I did. The dragon history has such a terrible twist in it that all those words were expunged from their vocabulary. Very fascinating. This is also a story about what happens when you let people have too much Science in with their magical creatures. It echoed some of the themes in Patricia Briggs’s Alpha and Omega series, with the shapeshifter and their forms being tampered with. Whether magically or through science, it’s still a Bad Thing.

There are some steamy kissing scenes, but nothing more over the top than your average YA novel. The characters here are all adults and adult behavior is discussed, but nothing is shown. I would only recommend this book for mature teens and up.

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. Not all the secrets are revealed, so I expect this to be a trilogy at least, if not a longer series. It’ll be great fun as a boxed set. Four stars!

Grab it on Amazon!

23 book reviewed in a minute

I was reviewing the last book I read, and I thought, “You know, I should put that on my blog.”

Then I thought about the 23 books I’ve read this year and how I ought to review them on my blog, too. But who has time to read 23 book reviews?

So, I present to you, with apologies to Rinkworks, 23 BOOKS REVIEWED IN A MINUTE! That means very, very, very short reviews of each.

Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: Beginnings by Lydia Sherrier

Lily: I’m a wizard.
Sebastian: I’m a witch.

They solve PROBLEMS with MAGIC.


The Firethorn Crown by Lea Doue

Twelve princesses are cursed to DANCE EVERY NIGHT until LILY agrees to MARRY her BLACKMAILER.


Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: Revelations by Lydia Sherrier

Lily: Sebastian, are you keeping secrets?
Sebastian: Yes. Lily, are you keeping secrets?
Lily: Yes.



Fire Water by Domino Finn (book 5 of Black Magic Outlaw)

Cisco goes to the ELEMENTAL PLANE and there learns an INTERESTING FACT.


Dragonfriend by Marc Secchia

A girl named HUALIAMA is TOO TOUGH TO DIE because DRAGONS. Also GRANDION has secrets TOO.


Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: Allies, by Lydia Sherrier

Lily and Sebastian don’t TRUST EACH OTHER because they’re a WIZARD and a WITCH with TERRIBLE HOME LIVES.


A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones

VIVIAN SMITH is FAMOUS for RUINING ALL OF TIME. See: nuclear war in WWII.


Spellsmith and Carver, by H.L. Burke

Auric: I hate my crazy dad.
Jericho: I love your crazy dad.
Auric: I hate you now, too.

CRAZY DAD runs away into the FEYLANDS.

Auric: I take it back.


Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: Legends, by Lydia Sherrier

Lily and Sebastian go to ENGLAND because of MORGAN LAFEY.


Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall

A bunch of KIDS go to MARS to escape ALIENS but find aliens ANYWAY.


Cities of Gold by Douglas Preston

A couple of guys try to retrace the path CORONADO took from Mexico up through New Mexico. The desert SUCKED back then and it STILL SUCKS.


Coiled, by H.L. Burke

Brothers: One of us turns into a snake when somebody looks at him. The other turns into a snake when nobody is looking.

Sisters: One of us has healing powers but gets uglier when she uses them. The other gets more beautiful the more cruel she is.

Now they have to GET MARRIED.


Excalibur by Tim Marquitz

Captain: We can fly this alien ship even though it was designed by BUGS

BUGS start KIDNAPPING PEOPLE

Captain: Let’s rescue these people.

BUGS HATCH OUT OF THEM

THE END


Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs

Anna is a WEREWOLF OMEGA which means she can CALM DOWN OTHER WOLVES. So when a WEREWOLF starts hearing VOICES she can CALM HIM except the voices are caused by an EVIL WITCH.


The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

Valancy has a WEIRD NAME and a BORING LIFE. Then she finds out she has A YEAR TO LIVE. So she IS RUDE TO HER RELATIVES and GETS MARRIED.


The Tethered World by Heather L.L. FitzGerald

HOMESCHOOLERS go to a FANTASY WORLD that is really the GARDEN OF EDEN with ELVES.


Dragon Lyric by Bethany A. Jennings

Dragon: Wives are beautiful. And delicious.


Fabled, by Kara Jaynes

A girl can’t go to ARCHERY SCHOOL so she runs away and FIGHTS FAIRYTALES INSTEAD.


The Midnight Queen, by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Sophie is studying MAGICK even though it’s IMPROPER.

Gray: I am disgraced and accused of murder. Shall I teach you magick?

Sophie’s father: I have a plot to kill the king and pin it on Gray.

Sophie and Gray GO ON THE RUN.


 

Shouting into the void

Controversial topic ahead. About religion. You have been warned.

Okay, so, I’ve been reading some fantasy from Christian authors. I used to read Christian fantasy all the time as a teen, simply because that’s all I knew how to find. Our library didn’t have a lot in the way of juvenile science fiction and fantasy in the early 90s. (Boy, it sure does now!)

Anyway, once I started reading adult fantasy/sci-fi, I stopped reading the Christian stuff. I especially got into urban fantasy, where gods and monsters ride motorcycles and eat greasy Chinese food on the weekends. In this brand of fantasy, if you need to interact with God, you do it very respectfully, usually through an angel. All the other gods and monsters dislike messing with Heaven, because God is the Big Boss.

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The angel, by The Rafa

So I’ve been reading some Christian fantasy, and I’ve run into something that bothers me. These characters pray all the time, and I do mean all the time. They attribute everything that happens to God’s will. When bad things happen, they spout platitudes about God’s mysterious ways.

But they’re shouting into a void. God never answers. There might be a coincidence now and then that is attributed to God, but God himself is absent.

After spending so much time in other branches of fantasy, where the gods not only intervene in daily affairs, they all bow to the high God, who also intervenes on behalf of his worshipers … this leaves me scratching my head. A lot of these books are written by non-Christians, as far as I know. So why are the Christians the ones the most distant from their own God? God talks to people all the time in the Bible. He’s talked to me quite clearly in my own life.

Even Cthulhu will answer if called to long enough and hard enough.

So why is God silent in Christian fantasy?

 

When a reader loves a dragon

I recently joined an online book club that one of my friends started. I’ve tried a few book clubs before, but they tended to read books I didn’t care for.

This club carefully vets books and has a panel of judges who decide what book we shall lavish our adoration upon that month. Then we readers get to vote on what cover art we like best. (Tongue firmly in cheek, here.)

Anyway, this month, we picked Dragonfriend by Marc Secchia.

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Dragonfriend on Amazon!

See what I mean about voting pretty much because of the cover art? Hee hee. Anyway, it’s upwards of 500 pages and I read it in about two days. It’s amaaaaaaazing. It’s the sort of thing I expected Pern to be. (I went into Pern as a wide-eyed teen who didn’t really like sex or politics all that much, BUT THAT’S WHAT I GOT BOY HOWDY).

In Dragonfriend, Lia is an adopted princess who gets diced up and tossed off an airship by the bad guy who just took over her kingdom. She’s saved from landing in a volcano by a tiny dragonet who sort of parachutes her into a tree. The dragonet, Flicker, falls in love with Lia, and they become close friends, even though humans aren’t allowed on the sacred Dragon Isle.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that all the islands stick up out of the Cloud Sea, which is made of poison clouds. Nobody goes into them and lives to tell the tale.

There are magic-wielding martial-arts monks. There is a big, bad, blue dragon named Grandion. There are hints of a coming apocalypse. There are deep conversations about love and belonging. There is self-sacrifice. It’s beautiful.

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Mt. Roraima, inspiration for an island in the Cloudlands

Marc came around to show us pictures of Ethiopia where he lives, tell fun backstory bits, and drop cool pictures.

So that’s where I’ve been lately. Got walloped with tonsillitis and then laryngitis, which means that basically all I can do is lay around and read. I certainly don’t have any voice to do anything with.

Come join our book club and read amazing books with us! The authors come schmooze and post cool backstory bits and giveaways.

Love, Lies and Hocus Pocus (why you should read it)

Yep, this is a book review. Of a really fun book. You ready?

No, I did not just say that in a WWE wrestler’s voice.

Anyway, here’s the official summary:

By day, book-loving wizard Lily Singer manages library archives. By night? She sleeps, of course. In between, she studies magic and tries to keep her witch friend Sebastian out of trouble. Much to her displeasure, he finds it anyway and drags her along with him.

From unmaking ancient curses to rescuing a town lost in time, Lily and Sebastian fight to avert magical mayhem. Meanwhile, Lily’s mysterious past begins to unfold–a past hidden from her by those she trusts most. Will she be able to discover the truth despite them?

And now for my review.

This isn’t really urban fantasy, not if you take UF to mean clever wizards as the underdogs in a massive struggle against an overpowering evil force against the backdrop of a rainy city. This is more like what I think of as contemporary fantasy (and might be at home on a shelf of paranormal cozy mysteries): Girl and guy solve mysteries. They have chemistry. They exchange witty banter. They drink tea. Oh, and occasionally they do some really interesting magic.

I think that’s one thing that attracted me to the book in the first place. The magic system is based on Sumerian cuneiform (which has always intrigued me). It smacks of frontiers. The heroine, Lily, is always learning some new spell by examining an ancient artifact. It thrills my little paleontologist/archeologist heart.

The hero, Sebastian, is a witch. But he’s a witch in the sense that his magic comes from trading favors with other beings. And the beings he prefers to deal with are fairies. So there’s lots of him bribing various fairies and pixies with booze. It’s hilarious and not very witchy. It’s like the lighter moments in the Dresden books when Harry bribes the pixies with pizza.

The book is laid out kind of oddly–it’s basically three novellas rolled into one book. So in Story 1, you meet Lily and see how she deals with a haunted house. In Story 2, you follow Sebastian into the seamy underworld of Alabama and see how his fairies help him take on a drug ring. In the third story, the artifact of note in story 2 has been used to freeze a whole town in a time loop. Think Groundhog Day.

It’s kind of odd reading three stories in one book. But they’re all heavily interconnected. The shorter length makes for quick reading (again, like a cozy mystery).

Since I’m always in the market for light, fluffy reading, this book hit the spot. I’m also reading the second book, which is supposed to take the metaplot a little deeper. There’s also a kickstarter going for books 3 and 4, which will be out soon (yay!).

What are you waiting for? Go grab a copy!

Top mystery/fantasy books of 2016 (and how most of them are series)

It’s January of 2017–time for all the lists! Top ten EVERYTHING! Top fifty! Top 100! Stuff we learned last year! WOOHOO!

So, as I’ve been looking at these lists with the casual interest of a reader, I’ve noticed a few things.

Namely, a bunch of these books are way far into a series. Like, book 3. Book 6. Book 9. Book 12.I’m mostly looking at the Goodreads top 2016 lists, because they’re so beautifully easy to navigate. The Kobo ones are pretty similar.

Let me show you. I’ve taken the liberty of marking each book’s place in a series with a big fat number.

top2016-booksthriller

You can tell which ones are the thrillers. They tend to not be in a series, because most characters in thrillers don’t survive anyway.

Next up: Fantasy!

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Very few stand-alones here. Every book 1 is also the beginning of a series, with the exception of one book, which is a short story anthology (that tiger one).

Next up: Young Adult Fantasy:

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Series are a big deal in this genre. The only book 1s are all series starters from authors who have established themselves with other series/trilogies.

It’s interesting to look at the spread here. If you want to hit a bestseller list, you’ve got to write series. Kevin Hearn’s Iron Druid is up to book 8 now. I spy a book 10 of another series. One of those mystery series is at book 42! These authors have been at this for a LONG time. The young adult authors seem to crank out trilogies, but sometimes they run longer than that. Even Stephen King is up there with a book 3!

As authors, I guess we can expect to plug away at this for book after book–so pick a genre that you like an awful lot. Unless you’re a thriller writer, then you can write boatloads of book 1s.

If you’d like to look at the other Top Goodreads genres, it’s here. And hey, maybe you’ll even find something new to read. 😀

Dragons and fairies – interview with Ralene Burke

Today I’m interviewing Ralene Burke, author of the fantasy novel Bellanok. I just finished reading it, and it was a fun, gentle romp through a fantasyland with a heaping helping of faith. Here’s the interview!

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 1.  Welcome to the blog, Ralene! Thanks for joining us! First, tell us about your book. What genre/age group is it for? And what’s the story about?
Bellanok is a contemporary fantasy geared toward readers in their 20s. Although, I’ve heard from readers of all ages, including YA readers, who have enjoyed the story. Here’s the blurb:
A haven for myths and legends . . . until evil discovers a way in.

With evil darkening the mountains to the north, the fairy queen, Fauna, must journey from the island realm of Bellanok to the modern world to find the man the Creator appointed to save their kingdom. A man she has been dreaming of her whole life.

Brian is a down-on-his-luck pastor on the verge of giving up on God. He’s tired and frustrated–a failure. No sooner does he make a decision that jeopardizes his career than an unusual blonde woman shows up and tries to convince him he is some kind of savior.

Fauna must open Brian’s eyes to a different reality, and Brian needs to embrace the haven’s secrets. If neither of them succeeds, Bellanok will succumb to evil and the world will lose all trace of innocence.

2. What made you want to write this particular story?
It all started with a prayer. I was asking God for guidance on where to go after finishing edits on a WIP. The first chapter of Bellanok popped into my head. After a couple of days with that chapter demanding to be written, I sat down and cranked it out. That seemed to alleviate the urgency while I finished the current WIP, but the story was still building in the back of my mind. Once I had time, I was able to start cranking out the story.

3. What was your favorite part to write?
Any part with Roman in it? Seriously, Roman was my favorite character to write—mostly because he’s just so different from me. But he says many things that I wish I had the guts to say. Ha!

4. What was the hardest part to write?
I can’t tell you that without revealing a major plot point in the story. I will say, bring out the tissues! The second hardest part to write was the end. For several scenes in the final battles, Fauna and Brian are in separate places with different dangers around them.

5. This book was originally written in serial format. What are the pros and cons of writing that way?
Ah, yes, the serial project was an interesting experience. I had fun with it and would totally try to do it again (though I would change a few things).
Pros: The serial format allowed me to keep putting my name/story out in front of readers with each release, thus helping to build a following more quickly.
The serial forced me to think on my feet and make a cohesive story without being able to go back and change things. So it was a great exercise for stretching my writing muscles.
Cons: Ideally, each part of the serial would have released about 6-8 weeks apart. Due to life, that didn’t happen. So while the serial format did help to build a following, it wasn’t as effective as it should have been.
I don’t like not being able to go back to previous parts and change details or plot lines. Of course, that could be solved by writing the whole thing first—but that would have taken too long!

6. The theme of Bellanok is a journey back into faith. Why is this important to you?
It’s important to me because much of Brian’s journey is mine as well. I’ve always been a believer, but it wasn’t until my 20s that I reached a time when my faith was challenged, where I felt that I just couldn’t connect with God.
While it didn’t take me journeying to a mystical island to save unicorns to find that connection, God did have to bring me to my knees before I was able to see the problems.
I think many people go through the same kind of challenges—each unique to the person—but with the same struggles and desperation. Bellanok helps readers to sort through the coinciding emotions and thoughts while escaping with Brian to fight the battle and save the world.

Thank you for joining us on the blog today, Ralene! Best of luck with Bellanok and all future books!

Check out Bellanok on Amazon!

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RALENE BURKE BIO:
Whether she’s wielding a fantasy writer’s pen, a freelance editor’s sword, or a social media wand, Ralene Burke always has her head in some dreamer’s world. And her goal is to help everyone SHINE BEYOND! She has worked for a variety of groups, including Realm Makers, The Christian PEN, Kentucky Christian Writers Conference, and as an editor for several freelance clients. Her first novel, Bellanok, is available on Amazon!
When her head’s not in the publishing world, she is wife to a veteran and homeschooling mama to their three kids. Her Pinterest board would have you believe she is a master chef, excellent seamstress, and all around crafty diva. If she only had the time . . .
You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, or at her website.

How I fail at awesome adulting

A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to start playing games with my husband again. Videogames, board games, card games. We met and bonded over our shared love of games, but as the babies have kept coming, I haven’t got to play them much.

We started off with Tiny Epic Galaxies, which I enjoyed very much. But he has lots more games that I don’t know anything about.

As I have been thinking how far behind I am with new releases and games, I ran across these articles about awesome adulting. Or what happens when you’ve poured so much of yourself into your family that you have no individuality left. No likes or dislikes. No favorite places or hobbies. The articles are about how reclaiming that part of yourself can enrich your family, not subtract from it.

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Lion by Youchenghong

So I started thinking. When it comes to games, I haven’t let myself play much of anything in about seven years. I get a month of World of Warcraft now and then. I played some Stardew Valley with the kids. I play Pokemon sometimes. But that’s been it. Mostly I watch other people play games. I have no likes or dislikes, no opinions. Only fading memories of games that I used to enjoy.

When I told my husband this, he was overjoyed that I want to rediscover this. In particular, he was happy that I need him to help me. I hadn’t realized how that whole aspect of our relationship had been shut down. It’s kind of sad.

I did start running a little premade Dungeons and Dragons campaign for the kids, with premade characters. Right now they’re solving a murder mystery, and loving it. But I still want to play with my husband, too.

I wrote this much of the blog at the end of September. Then we got our notice that we had to move. Here I am, six weeks later, moved, and I still want to learn to adult awesomely. I’m trying to play games, trying to write, trying to draw, trying to do the things that not only give me joy, but enrich others, too. As Donna Otto says, my first ministry is to my husband. That means games.

I think that will be my goal for 2017. As we head into the end of 2016, it’s a good time to think about these things.

What about you? Do you adult awesomely? Or are you like me, and pretty much struggling to keep your head above water?

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Close to Heaven by AlviaAlcedo