Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Reading Wrap-Up


The year is coming to an end, and it's time to reflect on the countless books I've read - some of them painful, some of them mediocre, and some of them just plain outstanding. Normally I do a Best Books of Such-and-Such Month, but seeing as this is the beginning of 2013, I decided to do something special (there's also the glaring fact that I only read two amazing books in December). So, Readers, I give you the Best Reads of 2012 that I read (not necessarily released this year), and the Worst Reads of 2012, in alphabetical order by author's last name.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review: Tiger Lily - Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Genre: YA, classic retelling, romance
Published on July 3, 2012
Published by Harper Teen
Pages: 292
Read From: 12.13.12 - 12.15.12












SYNOPSIS
Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn't believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review: The Castle Corona - Sharon Creech

The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech
Genre: Middle Grade, fantasty
Published on October 2, 2007
Published by HarperCollins
Pages: 336
Read From: 12.11.13 - 12.12.13











SYNOPSIS
Long ago and far away, there was a castle. But not just any castle. This was a castle that glittered and sparkled and rose majestically above the banks of the winding Winono River: the Castle Corona. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: Rage Within - Jeyn Roberts

Rage Within by Jeyn Roberts
Series: Dark Inside #2
Genre: YA, post-apocalyptic
Published on September 4, 2012
Published by Simon & Schuster
Pages: 368
Read From: 12.3.12 - 12.11.12











SYNOPSIS
Aries, Clementine, Michael, and Mason have survived the first wave of the apocalypse that wiped out most of the world's population and turned many of the rest into murderous Baggers. Now they're hiding out in an abandoned house in Vancouver with a ragtag group of surviving teens, and trying to figure out their next move. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Guest Post: The Writing of a Roman Epic

Hazel West, YA historical fiction Author of On a Foreign Field and Ballad of the Highwayman, has agreed to join me once more in a guest post about her experience in writing her newest book, By Blood or By Bond.

Mara asked me to write about my experience writing By Blood or By Bond, and I think it’s a wonderful way for everyone to look a little into my writing exploits as a whole and the reasons I wrote the story in the first place. From the start, By Blood or By Bond was actually somewhat different than some of my other books. A lot of times, I will write novels I have read about extensively because I love the time periods and find all kinds of awesome ideas while reading about them, but this book, I actually had to research nearly from scratch. Apart from Rosemary Sutcliff’s wonderful novels and Scarrow’s Eagle series, I really had not looked into Roman history besides what I had learned in school. Okay, I’ll admit, my first step of research was that brilliant BBC kids’ show, Horrible Histories. It has the most obscure facts about history and is always an idea sparker. I read Eagle of the Ninth for the first time this January, and published By Blood or By Bond this December. So you can see just how much research I had to do, and also how Rosemary inspired me so much.

It was really Rosemary Sutcliff that made me want to try writing a Roman-Celtic novel. I simply love the beauty of the way she describes the Celtic culture and even makes the Romans seem more heroic and not just pitiless conquerors. She saw the Celtic culture the way I always did; not as a savage, barbarian race, but a sophisticated, proud people with a beautiful, if not sometimes harsh, culture. The allure of the mystery of Celtic and Briton peoples too is something that sparked my interest. There’s not a lot known about them, and their folk stories and somewhat otherworldly attributes just scream for an epic. I likewise loved the way Rosemary describes the differences between the Roman and Celtic culture through Esca in Eagle of the Ninth, Chapter 7. I think it was then, that I decided that I needed to write a tale about the two peoples clashing. Her book Mark of the Horse Lord was also a wonderful look into perhaps the darker side of the Celtic culture.

And the Romans themselves, I have never really cared for until I read Rosemary’s books. Thus when I created my Roman characters like Viggo and Hector, I wanted to make them somewhat against the traditional Rome as well, and I do believe that there were people who really were like that. So, in short, there was a lot of research to do on my part. Even my knowledge of English and Scottish history didn’t go much farther back than the medieval days, but I’ve always loved the research part of writing any book, and starting out with a brand new topic is like beginning an exciting adventure! I literally had to drag my bag out of the library it was so heavy with research books!

The thing about my books, though, is that while I spend loads of time doing research before I actually start to write to get the feel for the time period (I include reading really good novels on the same time period as research) I rarely put a lot of facts in my novels. Truthfully, I don’t think historical fiction has a place for facts. My novels are character driven, and because of that, I don’t like to spend a lot of time describing clothing, scenery and historical events, unless they play a part in the book itself. Obviously when I wrote my previous novel On a Foreign Field, I went a little into the history of how the Scottish Wars for Independence started. But with By Blood or By Bond, I did not even name a date, or mention any historical figure by name. To me, this was not important to the novel. It’s not that I didn’t know my subject, but I did not see it necessary to mention the name of the Emperor and his family history, or who was rebelling and what was being built at the time. I think sometimes writing too much detail is a little bit insulting to your reader. I trust my readers to know what Romans and Celts look like, what they wear, what the places they live might be like. I tried to put just enough description to put a picture into the reader’s head, but not so much, they will have to wade through pages of boring description to get to the story. This book is about Caolán and Viggo, and their struggles with their relationship with each other and the other characters due to the events of the story. It’s a family story, a brother story, and even a father-son story with a little bit of romance on the side. It’s a story of emotions, pain, forgiveness and friendship, not a story about this battle that happened in this year and was fought by so-and-so. That is textbook history: By Blood or By Bond is historical fiction.

For the most part, this book didn’t have as many snags as I thought it might at first. I had a few plot sticking problems, and I ended up changing around the events at the end several times until I was happy, but besides that, it was pretty smooth sailing. There were a couple things I had to fake a little bit, like the gladiators’ living conditions and the court marital/trial at the end of the book. I couldn’t find anything on Roman court martials, not even in Legionary: the Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manuel (one of my favorite research books used), so I mainly just took what I knew of later court martials and based the scene off those. Of course, everything I wasn’t sure of or changed, I talked about in the author’s note.I think I always go away from new a book saying it’s my favorite, but this one, I can definitely admit, that the characters really struck a chord with me. I really connected with them. The emotional journey I took with the characters from On a Foreign Field brought me close to them, but not as much as with the characters from By Blood or By Bond. Perhaps it’s because Viggo ended up being quite a bit like myself, but I know that I could definitely continue to write about these characters. That’s one of the reasons I smell a military adventure series with Viggo and Hector for the future. I’ve already written two backstory novellas for them, and a novel, and yet, I feel I could definitely write more very effortlessly. Not all of my characters are like that.

Overall, I believed in the story of By Blood or By Bond. I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m a fan of stories where two different people or cultures are thrown together and end up respecting each other in the end. The difference about this story, however, is that it happens on several different levels. First of all, you obviously have Viggo and Caolán’s stories. They start out hating each other because of the events that threw them together. But then Viggo realizes that Caolán is quite a bright lad, and I think he, perhaps, sees a little of himself in the Celt as well, giving the promise that they might just be able to work past their original feelings for each other. And then you also have the other plotline of Caolán and Viggo’s niece Lorena. Historically, it would not be strange, perhaps, but would definitely be looked down upon for a young woman of a middle class family to fall in love with a Celtic slave/gladiator, but again, historical fiction, and Lorena and her relationship with Caolán play a major roll in the story line. Apart from these relationships, there are the brotherly bonds that tie Viggo and Hector together and then Caolán and Fáelan and Théodard. In fact, it’s partly Viggo and Hector’s relationship that softens Caolán to him a bit. I think he sees himself and Fáelan in Viggo and Hector years later, and if it hadn’t been for Hector and Fáelan, Viggo and Caolán might not have made it through the story. Thus, I had to add one of my favorite things, the power of brotherly love, especially between men who are not blood brothers, but those by bond (see?).

So I hope you enjoyed reading this little insight into my feelings and my adventure with writing By Blood or By Bond, and I do hope that you will give it a try!

Blurb: Which ties are stronger—those of Blood or those of Bond.
Caolán, the son of a Celtic chieftain, awaits his first pitched battle against the Roman invaders, knowing that this is the moment in which he will truly become a warrior, of the tribe.

Viggo Callias is a seasoned centurion in the Roman army on his first deployment to Britain with his newly enlisted son, Aulus. Serving under an incompetent commander, he wonders whether victory will be theirs.
But fate takes a hand in both Caolán and Viggo’s lives when Viggo’s son is killed by a spear meant for him. Enraged at the loss of his son, Viggo seeks vengeance on the man responsible: Caolán’s father. As the chieftain breathes his last, Viggo vows to take Caolán as a slave to avenge Aulus’ untimely death.

Torn from his country and people, Caolán’s only comfort is the hope that one day he will be able to avenge his father. But can the greatest wrongs be righted? Brotherly bonds, gladiators, old enemies, corrupt politicians and a young woman who captures Caolán’s heart, take a role in the physical and emotional journey that binds Caolán’s and Viggo’s fates together. Can the two wounded parties work past their hatred of each other and find what they have lost: a father and a son?

This new novel by Hazel West, explores the familial ties that bind us all, whether by blood or by bond.


About the Author:
Hazel West lives in Florida where she spend a good bit of time writing historical fiction about brave men and women who have graced the pages of history, trying to bring more light to their legacies so readers of all ages will enjoy them.

Hazel’s favorite things/hobbies: Writing obviously, listening to and playing Irish and Scottish folk music, practicing with all eras and types of historical weaponry, GOOD COFFEE, reading of course, dark (dark) chocolate, sketching/painting, hats, scarves and boots, collecting little old-fashioned things of all kinds, buying books, and don't forget dressing in period clothing!

Find Hazel at These Places!
Twitter: @artfulscribbler

By Blood or By Bond Sneak Peek!
Viggo had been seething throughout this whole altercation and now he turned back to Amatus. “Listen, Tribune. Whether or not you outrank me, isn’t the point here. The fact is that I am Lorena’s guardian and I cannot let you force your attentions upon her. And I wish to discuss the fact that you came here when you knew well enough that Lorena was alone. That is neither the mark of a gentleman nor a suitor, that is the mark of a barbarian.”

“You speak to me of barbarians and yet you keep one in your house,” Amatus told him coldly. “I am surprised that you would shun me, and yet let a savage Briton reside under the same roof as your niece.”

Caolán gritted his teeth. He wished to speak out about what the Romans had done to his own people and see how the tribune liked to hear that, but he didn’t have to because, to his surprise, Lorena was speaking for him.

“Caolán is hardly a savage,” she told the man sternly. “He is a fine young man, honorable, and he can speak Latin fluently. And he would never leer across the table at a girl half his age, thus putting her off her supper.”

"Lorena, you speak out of turn,” Viggo snapped at her as Amatus’ face turned an angry shade of red. “It is not your place to defend a slave.”

“You would have agreed with me before, Uncle Viggo,” Lorena said in a low voice and Caolán watched the struggle that went on behind the Roman’s eyes. He could see that Viggo wanted to deny her, or reprimand her, but this was obviously no conversation to have in front of a visitor, especially one they disliked so much, and so he just settled for clenching his hands and giving her a hard look before he took a long draft from his wine glass. He snapped at Caolán. “Fill my cup.”

Caolán went to fill the Roman’s cup again and when he was turning back, Amatus handed him his cup as well.

“Spirit is as distasteful in women as it is in slaves,” Amatus said dryly. “Callias, I think your niece needs a lesson like your Celtic barbarian.”

That statement hit Caolán like a punch to the gut. Who were these Romans that they liked timid women and whipped people until they lost all their fight? Just thinking of Lorena, who rode so well and loved freedom as much as he did, married to this disgusting man, who would break her and use her as an ornament, made him sick. Before he knew what he was doing, he had thrown the full cup of wine right into the tribune’s face.

COMMENT FOR A CHANCE TO WIN!
Hazel will be giving away one signed copy of By Blood or By Bond through a Goodreads Giveaway and a signed copy of her backstories collection to a lucky commenter during the blog tour. It you want to win the backstories collection, leave a comment with your name and email address and after the tour, Hazel will draw the lucky winner from her highwayman hat.

Here’s another fun thing! During the tour, if you:

a. Purchase a paperback copy of By Blood or By Bond through Amazon or Createspace, you can email Hazel at sirwilliamssquire@gmail.com with the subject “Blood or Bond” and notify her of your purchase. She will then give you a coupon code for 30% off a paperback copy of the backstories collection from Createspace.

b. Purchase an e-book copy of By Blood or By Bond from Smashwords or Kindle send Hazel the same email, and she will give you a discount code for a FREE Smashwords e-book copy of “To Save a Life”. So, if you buy the book, don’t forget to email Hazel before the 31st of January, or you won’t get your coupon!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Author Interview: Hazel West

Hazel West, Author of On a Foreign Field and Ballad of the Highwayman, has been kind enough to agree to a Q&A session, as part of her blog tour for the release of her newest book, By Blood or By Bond - a Roman/Celtic epic inspired by the wonderful works of Rosemary Sutcliff. She's going to tell us a bit about her newest book and herself. At the end of the interview, there will be a sneak peek from By Blood or By Bond!

Blurb: Which ties are stronger - those of Blood or those of Bond?
Caolán, the son of a Celtic chieftain, awaits his first pitched battle against the Roman invaders, knowing that this is the moment in which he will truly become a warrior, of the tribe.

Viggo Callias is a seasoned centurion in the Roman army on his first deployment to Britain with his newly enlisted son, Aulus. Serving under an incompetent commander, he wonders whether victory will be theirs.
But fate takes a hand in both Caolán and Viggo’s lives when Viggo’s son is killed by a spear meant for him. Enraged at the loss of his son, Viggo seeks vengeance on the man responsible: Caolán’s father. As the chieftain breathes his last, Viggo vows to take Caolán as a slave to avenge Aulus’ untimely death.

Torn from his country and people, Caolán’s only comfort is the hope that one day he will be able to avenge his father. But can the greatest wrongs be righted? Brotherly bonds, gladiators, old enemies, corrupt politicians and a young woman who captures Caolán’s heart, take a role in the physical and emotional journey that binds Caolán’s and Viggo’s fates together. Can the two wounded parties work past their hatred of each other and find what they have lost: a father and a son?

This new novel by Hazel West, explores the familial ties that bind us all, whether by blood or by bond.


About the Author:
Hazel West lives in Florida where she spend a good bit of time writing historical fiction about brave men and women who have graced the pages of history, trying to bring more light to their legacies so readers of all ages will enjoy them.

Hazel’s favorite things/hobbies: Writing obviously, listening to and playing Irish and Scottish folk music, practicing with all eras and types of historical weaponry, GOOD COFFEE, reading of course, dark (dark) chocolate, sketching/painting, hats, scarves and boots, collecting little old-fashioned things of all kinds, buying books, and don't forget dressing in period clothing!

Find Hazel in These Places!
Twitter: @artfulscribbler
Interview:

Mara: What inspired you to write By Blood or By Bond?

Hazel: Well, the story of By Blood or By Bond is actually rather long, and pretty funny:

The original idea came to me several years ago, before I was even interested in Roman history (in fact, I didn’t care much for the Romans at all because, like the Pilgrims—who I still don’t find particularly interesting—the subject got beaten to death in school history). But the original idea came when I conjured a gladiator character after watching my youngest brother playing a gladiator fighting game on the Playmobile website. Writers can be inspired by some very surprising things at times. I immediately had an idea for a Celtic character who would have been taken from his home to fight as a gladiator. Apart from that, I didn’t have much else, and the story went into my ‘maybe someday’ category. I didn’t really think about it for years until I re-discovered Rosemary Sutcliff’s books (partially thanks to you!). I had read several of her books before, but not having found any others at the library, I only read the ones I had found and I truthfully have to admit that I didn’t appreciate them and her writing style quite as much when I was fourteen as I do now. I started back with The Eagle of the Ninth, which inspired me so much, not only to write a Roman/Celtic story, but to write more books about strong brotherly relationships (or at least to write them and not be worried about how people might take it.) That kind of sparked writing On a Foreign Field, but I began to take out ideas for a possible Roman era novel, remembering my gladiator story I had planned. I think it was something about the way Rosemary describes the Celts and that era of history that made me really want to set a story in that time period, though I had never really taken much interest in it before.I didn’t truly get the entire plotline for it, though, until I read Rosemary’s book Outcast, which is still one of my absolute favorite books of hers as well as an absolute favorite of all time. Beric, the hero of the book, was definitely a huge inspiration for Caolán as well as Justinius was something of an inspiration into the kind of role Viggo would play in the story. It morphed a lot from the first inklings of an idea I had, but they all started after I read Outcast.

The gladiator fight in the book, the one where Caolán and his friend Théodard face off with a tiger, was one of the first ideas I came up with when I originally thought up a gladiator story. I knew I needed to find a place for it, and I was really happy to be able to. So it’s kind of funny for me to see how the book came from a little idea I had and never really thought to pursue into a wonderful story that I really enjoyed writing because of the characters and the strong family themes in it.

Mara: I know when I’m writing a story, I have very specific Authors that I turn to for fresh inspiration - Authors whose writing I want to imitate or who write books set in the same era or genre. What Authors/books did you turn to?

Hazel: Well, Rosemary Sutcliff ultimately. As her books were truly what inspired the novel as a whole. I also can’t tell you how many times I turned to the A&E TV series of Horatio Hornblower when I was writing these, especially my backstory “Home Before the Harvest.” Horatio Hornblower is military adventure at its best, and I couldn’t help add a little (okay, maybe a lot) of influence from the Hornblower series into that story. Kaius is the Roman version of Captain Pellew. ;)

Mara: Who is you favorite character in By Blood or By Bond? Why?

Hazel: Well, I love them all, but my favorite turned out to be Viggo. As soon as I started writing him, we just kind of clicked. I didn’t really know a lot about Viggo’s character before I starting writing the book, so I began with the backstory “To Save a Life,” which was a really good move on my part, I found, in getting Viggo’s character down. I think he’s my favorite because I understand him the best. In all truth, he is the closest character I’ve ever written to my own personality, so writing him seemed very effortless as all I had to do was think about what I would do in his situation. I do love Caolán, too, of course, as well as Hector. Probably the funnest character to write in this story was Rastus, the gladiator trainer. I had a good time coming up with his sarcastic comments.

Mara: Were you sad when you had to kill off your villain, or did you enjoy it immensely?

Hazel: *Evil Laugh* Not at all, I can’t say I had any regrets whatsoever about killing off Amatus, except that perhaps I could have made it a longer scene (though that would have been pushing an R rating). Sometimes I am sad to kill off villains because they were just good villains, or I might have grown attached because they had another side, but Amatus is the kind of character that I think readers will not be able to wait to see how he meets his end. If I didn’t achieve anything else from a reader’s perspective in the writing of this book, I hope no one will ever say that his detestable character was lacking in any detestability.

Mara: Throughout the writing process, which character did you get along with best, and who gave you the most trouble?

Hazel: Viggo, again, is the one I got along with best, as we’re practically two of a kind. I don’t think any of the characters gave me particular trouble in this one, which was nice. I think it’s partly because I felt them out beforehand in the backstories I wrote prior to the novel. If I had to choose one, I’d say Lorena, mainly because I always have a hard time with female characters. I was a little afraid Lorena would come out flat and just kind of there, but I think she did well enough by herself, and while she’s not as epic a character as Sylvia from Ballad of the Highwayman I enjoyed writing her, and she definitely has an important role in the story in bringing Viggo and Caolán past their differences.

Mara: I have specific CDs/movie soundtracks I always listen to when writing. What was some of the music that helped you write By Blood or By Bond?

Hazel: Hm, nothing really specific. I made a playlist of a bunch of Celtic music that I listened to when I wrote. Some tracks from the soundtrack of The Eagle which are lovely. Another hugely favorite piece of music is “The Blood of Cu Chulainn” by Jeff and Mychael Danna. Besides that, some Albannach, some Celtic harp music, and some Gaelic songs.

Mara: What was your first reaction upon writing THE END on your final draft of By Blood or By Bond?

Hazel: Oh, it’s always a wonderful feeling! I do love my books dearly, but I think all authors will attest to getting really tired of their stories by about the tenth read through. My initial reaction to finishing a book and officially publishing it is usually relief mixed with a little disbelief that it’s over. Then I feel a little lost and mope around like Sherlock Holmes before I start on another project. Final drafts are amazing, if only it stopped there, but as a self-published author, I do all the formatting work myself. That’s the teeth-grinding part.
Mara: What can Readers expect next? Do you have a new book in the works? Tell us a bit about it.

Hazel: Well, I’ve always got something in the works. I’m still working on my steampunk mystery, A Case of Poisons, with Anthony Maxwell, I’ve hit a few snags, but I’m hoping it will be out sometime next year. Next, I’m planning on finally getting back to the sequel to Ballad of the Highwayman (Legacy of the Highwaymen), which I am projecting to be out by spring 2013. I’m going to start working on it in earnest after New Year’s. I’m excited to get back to those characters. This one is going to feature Roster Scarcliff, and we’re going to get to see a little of his past, which should be pretty exciting. As for the characters from By Blood or By Bond, I’m not going to say you’ve seen the last of them yet, either. I have a planned prequel of a novel length for Viggo and Hector while they were serving with the Eagles set sometime after “Home Before the Harvest.” Whether this will turn into another series on the side, I’ll let you know once I write that book. I have a feeling I’ve really found my calling with military adventure, though.

I want to thank Hazel West for taking the time out of her busy schedule to do this Q&A session. Tomorrow I'll have a guest post with Hazel West about some of the challenges she faced while writing her latest book, By Blood or By Bond, as well as another sneak peek for the story.

COMMENT FOR A CHANCE TO WIN!

Hazel will be giving away one signed copy of By Blood or By Bond through a Goodreads Giveaway and a signed copy of her backstories collection to a lucky commenter during the blog tour. It you want to win the backstories collection, leave a comment with your name and email address and after the tour, Hazel will draw the lucky winner from her highwayman hat.

Here’s another fun thing! During the tour, if you:

a. Purchase a paperback copy of By Blood or By Bond through Amazon or Createspace, you can email Hazel at sirwilliamssquire@gmail.com with the subject “Blood or Bond” and notify her of your purchase. She will then give you a coupon code for 30% off a paperback copy of the backstories collection from Createspace.

b. Purchase an e-book copy of By Blood or By Bond from Smashwords or Kindle send Hazel the same email, and she will give you a discount code for a FREE Smashwords e-book copy of “To Save a Life”. So, if you buy the book, don’t forget to email Hazel before the 31st of January, or you won’t get your coupon!

By Blood or By Bond Excerpt

In the darkness, Caolán lay upon his pallet in the great hall where all the warriors slept with their weapons beside them in case any surprise attack might come upon them unawares during the course of the night. The young man fell asleep quickly, excited for the battle, but knowing the importance of a good night’s rest before the fray. However, his dreams would not let him rest and he tossed on his pallet uncomfortably in the throws of the nightmares that plagued him.

In his mind he heard the sounds of battle, the clash of steel and the thunder of the chariots and he was frightened, looking for something, someone. He did not know who, but there was an urgency upon him and he ran over the bloodstained ground, tripping over the bodies of dead men and horses who had met their fate before. He knew there was something he was looking for and yet he did not know what it was; did not know how he could find it—until he looked down and saw his father stretched upon the bloody ground, a spear through his chest…

Caolán jerked awake with a strangled scream, bolting upright on his pallet. Fáelan, who lay on a pallet at his feet sat up as well and looked at him blearily.

“Caolán, what ails you?” he asked softly.

“A dream is all, Fáelan,” Caolán replied, but felt a dread in his heart as it hammered against his chest.

“It is not all,” his friend observed. “Tell me what you dreamed.”

Caolán wrapped his arms around his knees, fingering his armband. “My athair. He was dead.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Merry Christmas to All!

It's that time of the year again - Christmas time! I hope all of my Readers are having a very merry Christmas, just as I am. This December has been crazy. Christmas kind of snuck up on me this year, so it was a busy few weeks scrambling to get everything ready. And I got it accomplished, and then some! I even managed to go and see the King Tut exhibit at a local museum before it leaves North America for good - that was amazing. I had seen it before at the Chicago Field Museum, back in 2006, but the King Tut exhibit is one of these things that you can never go too many times. My friend and I had a lot of fun (and I learned a valuable lesson when it comes to walking up and down hills in heels; even sensible heels such as I had on), and I managed to get the last of my Christmas shopping done while we were there. Some other fun events I managed to fit in to this busy month were: I got to see The Hobbit. Despite the massive differences between the movie and the book, I did kind of enjoy it. Martin Freeman was hilarious; he was the reason I went and saw it in the first place. I am no Tolkien fan. But I look forward to seeing the second movie, because Smaug has always been my favorite. I also managed to go see PNB's The Nutcracker, which has become a Christmas tradition for the last few years. As usual, it was a great enjoyment, and it never ceases to enchant me. Christmas never really feels like it's here until I've seen The Nutcracker.

But the biggest accomplishment of this year was the gingerbread house my sister and I managed to assemble. It took us four days to make, bake, assemble, and decorate. We made Victorian rowhouses, and it may look like it wouldn't be so hard to make based on the picture, but believe me - it wasn't very fun cutting out all of those pieces, discovering at 11:30 at night that we needed another batch of dough, and praying that none of the pieces broke as we put them together. I breathed a sigh of relief when we were done - it turned out better than I had hoped. Now we can eat it! ;-) Next year we're going to make a carousel; it's much, much smaller in size.

Last night was spent in a frenzy of opening presents. My cat, Mr. Bunbury, was extremely happy, because he got to make a nest out of all of the wrapping paper when we were done (he adores paper). It's always been a tradition to open presents on Christmas Eve, because we never did Santa Claus (which I am immensely glad of), and we do stockings in the morning. While I certainly enjoy receiving presents myself, I have found that as I get older, I have even more fun watching the reactions of other people when they open what I've gotten them. Funny how one's preference changes as one gets older.

Still, I really love the presents I got: my mom got me my usual gift of new pajamas - all black-and-white stripes and peppermint-red piping along the cuffs and collar (and they have pockets!!), -  and a black-and-bluish-grey knit scarf with silver threading. Also, I received a pair of ideal hot chocolate mugs with gingerbread men on the side (they're adorable!), a sea-green glass vase, a pair of simple, pretty silver earrings, a beautiful peacock journal, and - of course - books:

  • Gypsy Rizka by Lloyd Alexander
  • The Musician's Daughter by Susanne Dunlap
  • Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
  • Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  • Nobody's Prize by Esther Friesner
  • Blaze of Silver by K. M. Grant
  • Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George
  • Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz
  • A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee
  • The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine
  • Sir Thursday by Garth Nix
I only managed a half-trip to my favorite bookstore before Christmas, so this is only half of how many books I'm actually getting. The rest had to wait until after Christmas, so there's definitely more coming (yay!). Aside from my books, my other "mostest" favorite gift I got was what my sister made me. In the vast amount of books I read, sometimes I come across one that has a dust-jacket that I really don't want to be seen with in public. Or I'll be obliged to read a book that I don't want to be seen with in public. So my sister stitched up this wonderful jacket that I can put over any embarrassing books: The first picture is the front, and the last one is the back. It fits most books, and those it doesn't will strictly be "at home only" books.

All in all, it was a very good Christmas. The table is all laid for a marvelous Christmas Dinner of salmon and homemade rolls and Greek potatoes and yummy cookies and chocolate mousse pie. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and had got lots of lovely presents!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: The Scorch Trials - James Dashner

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
Series: The Maze Runner #2
Genre: YA, post-apocalyptic
Published on October 12, 2010
Published by Delacorte Press
Pages: 360
Read From: 11.30.12 - 12.3.12










SYNOPSIS
Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: Don't Turn Around - Michelle Gagnon

Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon
Series: PERSEFoNE #1
Genre: YA, suspense, thriller
Published on August 28, 2012
Published by HarperCollins
Pages: 309
Read From: 11.30.12 - 12.2.12











SYNOPSIS
Sixteen-year-old Noa has been a victim of the system ever since her parents died. Now living off the grid and trusting no one, she uses her computer-hacking skills to stay safely anonymous and alone. But when she wakes up on a table in an empty warehouse with IV in her arm and no memory of how she got there, Noa stats to wish she had someone on her side. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Review: Princess Academy

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Series: Princess Academy #1
Genre: YA, adventure
Published on July 6, 2005
Published by Bloomsbury
Pages: 314
Read From: 11.25.12 - 11.29.12










SYNOPSIS
High on the slopes of Mount Eskel, Miri's family has loved forever, pounding a meager living from the stone of the mountain itself. Miri dreams of working alongside the others in the quarry, but she has never been allowed to work there - perhaps, she thinks, because she is so small. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Review: The Akhenaten Adventure - P. B. Kerr

The Akhenaten Adventure by P. B. Kerr
Series: Children of the Lamp #1
Genre: Middle Grade, adventure, historical fantasy
Published on October 1, 2004
Published by Orchard Books
Pages: 355
Read From: 11.23.12 - 11.25.12











SYNOPSIS
Meet John and Philippa Gaunt, twelve-year-old twins who one day discover themselves to be descended from a long line of djinn. All of a sudden, they have the power to grant wishes, travel to extraordinary places (and not necessarily on public transportation), and make people and objects disappear. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review: Reached - Ally Condie

Reached by Ally Condie
Series: Matched Trilogy #3
Genre: YA, dystopian, romance
Published on November 13, 2012
Published by Penguin
Pages: 512
Read From: 11.18.12 - 11.24.12










SYNOPSIS
Cassia's journey began with an error, a momentary glitch in the otherwise perfect facade of the Society. After crossing canyons to break free, she waits, silk and paper smuggled against her skin, ready for the final chapter. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Review: Without Warning - Dennis Hamley

Without Warning by Dennis Hamley
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on October 9, 2007
Published by Candlewick Press
Pages: 336
Read From: 11.20.12 - 11.23.12












SYNOPSIS
England, 1914 
The piercing tone of the bugle changes a sleepy British village and Ellen Wilkins forever. It is the call to enlist - a chance Ellen's brother, Jack, won't miss. And that call also puts Ellen into motion as she leaves the safety

Friday, November 30, 2012

Hedgie's Must Reads: November 2012


The month of turkey, pumpkin pies, family get-togethers, and thanksgiving is coming to a close (and soon it'll be the Christmas month! Yay!), and here are some books that I was truly thankful to read over November. I would love to hear about the good books you've read this month!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Review: Beautiful Lies - Jessica Warman

Beautiful Lies by Jessica Warman
Genre: YA, mystery, paranormal, thriller
Published on August 7, 2012
Published by Walker Childrens
Pages: 432
Read From: 11.15.12 - 11.18.12











SYNOPSIS
No one can tell Alice and Rachel apart. But the twin sisters' connection goes beyond their genetic similarities: when one is physically injured, the wound also shows up on the other twin's body, no matter how far apart they may be. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review: The Maze Runner - James Dashner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Series: The Maze Runner #1
Genre: YA, post-apocalyptic
Published on October 6, 2009
Published by Delacorte Press
Pages: 374
Read From: 11.10.12 - 11.14.12










SYNOPSIS
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. He has no recollection of his parents, his home, or how he got where he is. His memory is blank. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: Sapphire Blue - Kerstin Gier

Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier
Series: Ruby Red Trilogy #2
Genre: YA, time travel, romance
Published on October 30, 2012
Published by Henry Holt
Pages: 362
Read From: 11.7.12 - 11.11.12










SYNOPSIS
Gwen's life has been a roller coaster since she discovered she was the Ruby, the final member of the time-traveling Circle of Twelve. When not searching through history for the other time travelers and asking for a bit of their blood (gross!), she's been trying to figure out what all the mysteries and prophecies surrounding the Circle really mean. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Craving Something Yummy!

Readers, remember reading about those scrumpious November Cakes in The Scorpio Races and really craving one? Craving one now as we slide further into November? Well, Maggie Stiefvater kindly posted the recipe on a Twitter update! So get your November Cake recipe here! I tried the recipe out myself today. I substituted the orange extract with lemon extract (because I prefer lemons over oranges) for the roll filling, and instead of using water and butter for the icing recipe, I just used milk and powdered sugar. It's the same type of icing I use for my very popular (and highly unhealthy) cinnamon rolls. The glaze the recipe calls for surprised me. It has a very mild caramel flavor, which was nice, because I don't like caramel, but a slight caramel-ish flavor was fine with me.

When I bit into my first November Cake, my thought was wow. They are amazing, and they really hit the spot when it comes to craving a delicious, warm, baked good. And considering that it's something akin to a cinnamon roll, it really doesn't have all that much sugar or butter. Before you set out to bake your own November Cakes, make sure you have time, because this isn't a baking project that should be rushed. Actually, it's a really good baking project to do when you have a good book to finish, because while you're waiting for your dough to rise, you can just snatch your book up and read!

Thank you so much, Maggie, for sharing this recipe with us! And I want to extend my personal thanks to my friend Hazel for sending me the link! Enjoy your November Cakes!

Review: Splendors and Glooms - Laura Amy Schlitz

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fantasy, mystery
Published on August 28, 2012
Published by Candlewick Press
Pages: 384
Read From: 11.5.12 - 11.10.12











SYNOPSIS
The master puppeteer Gaspare Grisini is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini's act and invites him to entertain at her home. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with his caravan, puppets, and two orphaned assistants. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: The Hunters - John Flanagan

The Hunters by John Flanagan
Series: The Brotherband Chronicles #3
Genre: YA, adventure
Published on October 30, 2012
Published by Philomel
Pages: 403
Read From: 11.1.12 - 11.6.12











SYNOPSIS
Hal and his brotherband crew are hot on the trail of the pirate Zavac and they have one thing only on their minds: Stopping the bloodthirsty thief before he can do more damage. Of course, they also know Zavac has the Andomal, the priceless Skandian artifact stolen when the brotherband let

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review: The Thirteen Treasures - Michelle Harrison

The Thirteen Treasures by Michelle Harrison
Series: Thirteen Treasures #1
Genre: Middle Grade, fantasy, mystery
Published on April 12, 2010
Published by Little Brown
Pages: 368
Read From: 11.2.12 - 11.5.12










SYNOPSIS
Though her mother cannot see the evil fairies that rouse Tanya from her sleep, torturing her at the slightest mention of their existence, they are as real to the thirteen-year-old as anything she's ever known. If she could wish them away, he would, but instead it is she who is sent away - to live at her grandmother's secluded countryside manor. 
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