Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Books of Note-- October Reads

Some of the best books I read this month! And there were so many, it's hard to choose which were my favorites! Oh yes, and I've also added a section where I say what I think about the book cover in my reviewing format.


“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Review

Thoughts on the Overall Book: I'll admit that originally, I was a bit wary of how this book was going to be. I LOVED "Scorpio Races" and I was afraid from the description of this book that Maggie Stiefvater would revert back to some of her older stories like Lament and Ballad which I was not a fan of. But I really really ended up enjoying this book more and more as it went along. There were just so many plot twists and unexpected things that I couldn't stop reading because I just had to know how it ended. There are very few books that can leave me guessing throughout and with this one, I really had no clue where each page would lead me. I think it was another really amazing unique, never-before-seen kind of book like "Scorpio Races" was.

Cover--Yae or Nay: I honestly thought the cover was a bit odd, and if I hadn't been anticipating this book, it's not the kind of thing I would normally pick up, but once you read the book, you understand the picture. I do like the oil paint look to how the raven is done, and the cover is pearly which is kind of cool. I'm really not a fan of white though. I don't know why, I like off white, but bright white just looks too sterile to me or something. So while I didn't dislike it, it's not my favorite either. I Liked the cover for "Scorpio Races" better.

Characters: I'll talk about Blue first because I don't have as much to say about her. While I wasn't a huge fan of her name (I'm with Gansey, let's call her Jane) her character was really great. It's funny because I thought she was going to be the main character, but she turned out to almost be more of a supporting character while Gansey took lead role. Perhaps this was why she didn't have The Attitude like some girls (and girls from some of Maggie's other books) have had. She was smart, she was likable, and I liked how she was friends with the guys while not being all "I'm better than you all because I'm a girl" or "I'm just going to play all these guys 'cause they're hot". In fact, there wasn't that much romance at all which I was very happy about but I'll get to that more later.

As for the guys, I am a huge fan of quirky groups, and these four are definitely quirky. Gansey was a great hero type guy. I loved how he was an eccentric scholar type person (I can relate) I also really LOVED how he took care of his friends. The brotherly relationship between the four here was epic for a modern YA book. You don't usually see that, and there were some parts that I won't mention because of spoilers that just made me happy. I also like how, though he's so confident, he's still kind of awkward socially like a typical scholar. Adam was probably my favorite character in the book though. He was just sweet and troubled and I love those kinds of characters. And I also liked how he was too proud to accept charity, because that's always a hard thing to do. Ronan isn't normally who I would class as a likable character, but I do see where he came from, and you can't blame him either because of his past. Grief can ruin a person and I do like to see tortured characters in books because I think a lot of times characters get washed out and too 'un-real' almost. And Ronan had his moments where I had to cheer for him too. Noah, I liked for reasons I can't say because of spoilers, but I thought he was a pretty cool character ;-)

Writing Style: I have always liked Maggie's writing style, even for some of her books I didn't like as much. This book was really awesome, and I think the only one of hers that has not been in first person. But it's one that I don't think could be in first person either because you hop characters too much. I really loved how she added Welsh folk lore into it. This book was weird, but it was a good weird. I love stories about ghosts and faeries and ghost hunting (or whatever you would really term this) and I love it even more if it's mixed with history and folk lore. And of course it has to be British history, because it wouldn't be right otherwise. I also loved, as I mentioned before, the fact that there was no unnecessary romance involved. There was a little bit of crushing as a side plot, but since Blue is actually a sensible heroine, she didn't let that get in the way. This book could have turned into another Twilight but it didn't, thankfully. This book almost felt like an Indiana Jones adventure looking for the sleeping Welsh king, Owain Glendower, and it was more adventure than anything else even though it was definitely a character driven story.

Problems/What bothered me: For story I didn't really have any problems. The ending surprised me, a lot actually since it was way far away from what I was expecting, but I didn't have any problems with it. The only thing I could mark was that there was more strong language than I think should be in a YA book, but then some YA books are just like that and if I like a story and characters enough I can bleep out the language in my head. (Oh, and on a technical side- I found several typos of a type I know all too well: where you start to write one thing but then change it to another and you forget to delete the first part?)

Conclusion: 5 stars. I throughly enjoyed it. I don't usually rates books with this much language over four stars, but I had to factor in the total uniqueness of this as well, so I made an exception in this case. Perhaps still not quite as good as "Scorpio Races" but a huge surprise to me. I really can't wait to see what she does with the sequel. As long as Maggie keeps doing whatever she has been doing for the last couple books, I think we're good.

Recommended Audience: Older teens because of language mostly but there are other themes that might bother people like abuse, a little darkness and maybe a little creepiness if you creep out easily. I'm probably not a good judge of that because I don't. I'm a "that was weird" kind of person. I can't really compare this book to any others, but if you like modern/historical fantasy (see I can't even class it) or are a Maggie Stiefvater fan, I don't think you'll be disappointed. 


(Also read my friend Mara's review here: http://667bakerstreet.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-raven-boys-review-maggie-stiefvater.html )

Seventeen-year-old Althea is the sole support of her entire family, and she must marry well. But there are few wealthy suitors--or suitors of any kind--in their small Yorkshire town of Lesser Hoo. Then, the young and attractive (and very rich) Lord Boring arrives, and Althea sets her plans in motion. There's only one problem; his friend and business manager Mr. Fredericks keeps getting in the way. And, as it turns out, Fredericks has his own set of plans . . . This witty take on the classic Regency--Patrice Kindl's first novel in a decade--is like literary champagne!




Review

Thoughts on the Overall Book: Okay, I really just simply enjoyed this book! When I read a "girly" book this is the kind I like. A quirky heroine, lots of good humor, and a lovely supporting cast, both with people you love and those who can be quite tiresome but are fun to read about anyway.

Cover-- Yae or Nay: Yes, I like the cover, it looks kind of whimsical and I love the font of the title as well. Though if I had seen this without knowing what the story was about, I might have thought it was a medieval story, just because I don't normally expect castles to feature in Empire novels, but once you read the description, you're obviously told differently.

Characters: Althea, is a wonderful protagonist, and well casted for the first person. I love her slightly sarcastic English humor and her descriptions of things and the other characters. Her step sisters are quite droll ladies, one with the infatuation for quotes about death and the other always flirting and trying to steal every man before he can even get to know Althea. I also love how Althea is always saying what she means even if she doesn't mean it. (Well, of course we know she does, even though she shouldn't have spoken in the first place). Lord Boring wasn't too bad. He's just kind of mediocre, and I actually felt rather sorry for him being stuck under the thumb of his mother all the time. My favorite character though, was Mr. Fredericks. I adore characters like him and he was hilarious with his sardonic attitude.

Writing Style: Very Austinian in style and a light and easy read. Definitely the kind of thing one can enjoy after a long day.

Problems/What bothered me: I had no problems with this book, it was just a simple story and very enjoyable.

Conclusion: 5 stars. I loved this story, and I really hope the author writes some more about this time period because she has a good knack for it.

Recommended Audience: Any age would enjoy this book. There's nothing content wise and appropriate for any age, though it's definitely a girl read.


(You can also read Mara's review here: http://667bakerstreet.blogspot.com/2012/09/keeping-castle-review-patrice-kindl.html )

When Peter's parents are killed, he is sent to an orphanage in Warsaw, Poland. But Peter is Volksdeutscher-of German blood. With his blond hair and blue eyes, he looks just like the boy on the Hitler Youth poster. The Nazis decide he is racially valuable. Indeed, a prominent German family is pleased to adopt such a fine Aryan specimen into their household. But despite his new "family," Peter feels like a foreigner-an ausländer-and he is forming his own ideas about what he sees and what he's told. He doesn't want to be a Nazi. So he takes a risk-the most dangerous one he could possibly choose in 1942 Berlin...




Review

Thoughts on the Overall Book: This was a very well-written historical fiction story, well researched and exciting. While it might have had some slow parts, I liked the fact that it seemed like a real story, more than actual fiction. The author did a wonderful job portraying what life was like back in the Nazi occupation and this book even went to extremes that I hadn't really heard about before, but, as explained in the author's note, were completely accurate. For me this book was actually very eye-opening as to how truly fanatic Nazi supporters were.

Cover--Yae or Nay: I do like the cover for this book, that and the title is what made me pull it off the shelf. Though it makes it look more like an action thriller which it really wasn't. Only the last part of the book really had that kind of feeling to it whereas the rest of it, while not boring, didn't really have a lot of action in it. But it definitely looks like a WWII novel.

Characters: Peter's a good protagonist, as well as Anna. At some points you wanted to smack them over the head for their stupidity, but that was another thing that led to this book being like a real story. They were real, flawed characters. I loved the idea of a character (Peter) who was a privileged Aryan even though he was Polish instead of fully German, being idolized by the Nazis because of his 'perfect' complexion. I also liked how, at first, Peter seems flattered though a little overwhelmed by his position, but then when he sees what the Nazis are really capable of, he decides he doesn't want to be part of that anymore. I also really loved how the plot went into the underground as well, helping the Jews to escape occupied Germany.

Writing Style: I haven't read any of Paul Dowswell's books yet besides this one, but I know I'll like them now because his writing style truly is very very good. You can definitely tell all the research that went into this story down to every little detail. In fact it's so detailed that the reader automatically knows he is not making anything up. He is a truly amazing Historical writer.

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing truly bothered me. I think "Auslander" is a good look into life in Nazi Germany. I can't complain about the book because it was presented in a historical way.

Conclusion: 4 stars. This was a really good book, and I'm only rating it four because it's not one of my favorite books I have read, though I'm not marking it down for anything but personal preference. If I was going on historical accuracy alone, I would give it five stars.

Recommended Audience: Probably older teens and adults. It's not as brutal as it could have been, but, as can be expected, there are themes that young readers might find disturbing (it goes into torture/execution methods, medical experimentation and the horrors of the camps--though that's only mentioned somewhat in passing. It also talks about what they would do to the mentally ill people, which is rather hard to swallow.) Any fans of good historical fiction would enjoy this book though.

~~~

On another note, I apologize that I have not been updating my blog very much lately, I'm neck deep in writing "By Blood or By Bond" and I have also entered Anthony Maxwell's book (Now entitled "A Case of Poisons" ) Into NaNoWriMo this year! I'm totally excited because this is my first year of doing it, and I am deturmined to write the full 50,000 words of Anthony's story during the month. Anthony will be very pleased too. If you want to follow the updates, keep checking his Facebook account. Or if you too, are entering NaNo you can look me up as "theartfulscribbler" 

And in case you didn't know (because I can't remember if I put this up yet or not) I also started a Twitter account where you can check all my quick updates or shared links on a daily basis @artfulscribber

Last announcement: I have posted my excerpt for "By Blood or By Bond" on Createspace too now! And I would really appriciate some feedback if you would like to read it and answer the questions there. I would be much obliged. https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1112073

I'd also like to let you know (I lied about the last announcement) that I am still planning on getting both "Freedom Come All Ye" and "Ballad of the Highwayman" formatted for e-books before Christmas this year. I will keep you updated on all that as well.

I'll hopefully be posting another article of some kind soon.

Slainte, Hazel

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why I Read What I Do

Earlier this month, I asked my freinds to tell me why they read the books they do and then I posted their answers here in a multiple guest post Now I've decided to answer the challenge for myself!

I am both a picky reader, and yet, I am willing to take chances as well, because some of my favorite books have been ones that I was somewhat wary of reading to begin with because I wasn't sure if they would be good or not. There are certain things I will always give a go to though-- anything to do with Scottish or Irish history/folklore are a definite. If it has fairies in it, or ghosts then I'd at least like to try it out. I can't refuse books about young men going off to war, especially when the book promises a good brotherly camaraderie between characters. Brothers in Arms stories are always good, and sometimes I'll even go out of my normal genre to read books that have a really good brotherly relationship between characters like "Witchlanders". It's not the kind of book I would probably ever read, but I really ended up enjoying it. I'll also take chances with books that sound different from the normal, like interesting alternate histories, or cool steampunk novels or just something out of the ordinary like Maggie Stiefvater's "Scorpio Races" and "Raven Boys". I don't usually read Romance, and if I do, it's usually paranormal. (No, I don't mean with vampires and werwolves). Usually I like time travel romance, or ones where ladies fall in love with a ghost or something (pretty much Lynn Kurland) or even fairies on occasion as long as the books are not too much like "Twilight". I also like Classic Romances like Alcott. I also rarely read anything contemporary. When I do, it usually has to have some kind of weird thing like ghosts or fairies, or some other thing like Cornelia Funke's "Inkheart" and "The Thief Lord". Though occasionally I enjoy a spy thriller or something of that nature. Fairy and folk tale re-tellings set during the modern era (or any other time) are things that catch my attention too.

I do judge a book by it's cover. Covers get your attention! If the book has an angsty historical guy with bloody weaponry on the front and no girls hanging off of his arm, then that is a book for me! Anything that looks historical or steampunk, are the kind of things that immediately catch my eye. Also anything that looks like Scotland or Ireland do too, although if it's a Romance, then, I probably won't be inclined to read it. Titles also catch my interest, or turn me away, depending. Like I'm not going to read something called "(enter possessive name here) Desire" or anything that sounds like one of those teen romances or modern day books about girls hating each other's guts. But if a book is titled something like "Viking Warrior" "The Rogues" or "The Forest Laird" (to name a few that caught my attention from the title alone) then I'll definitely pick it up. Also if it has a title that is obviously historical, has anything to do with a fairy tale re-telling or something from an old poem or Shakespeare than I'll be willing to at least look further and read the synopsis. However, (except for some very rare times that this kind of title appears in a series I want to read) I will almost never pick up a book that is entitled "(Name your favorite man's name/occupation here) Daughter". I'm sorry, these books just don't do it.

Content factors into how a choose a book too. Unfortunately, a lot of times it's very hard to tell from the description. The only R-rated books I want to read are for violence. I'm not a fan of descriptive sexual content and will not usually read books with that in it. Sometimes if it's a book that is really good besides several moments that really didn't have to be there anyway, I'll just skip around though the book wouldn't get a five star rating. I don't usually like to read books with lots of language in them either. Again though, if I love the story and characters, I can bleep out the language. (Though again it wouldn't usually get five stars) But if there's language + dirty romance, than I won't read the book at all.

I'm also very picky about the kind of characters I want to read about. I usually pick up books with male protagonists because female protagonists can sometimes be very annoying characters. I'm not saying I wouldn't read a book with a main heroine, but if the books smells of the heroine trying to prove a point by being a girl, being stupid, or being an all round man-hater, than I will not even give the book a try. Those kinds of books just drive me up the wall. But guy characters can have their problems too. I don't want to read a book about a guy who's a complete cad. A little barracks room talk is fine, in fact, I like heros who are real guys in every sense of the word, but if he's like James Bond--no. That annoys me. My favorite kind of heroes are the oddballs, the outcasts, ones who go against the normal. (Kind of like my own characters :P) I also like flawed grey heroes. Ones who will get the job done properly. And if properly is killing really really nasty people in nasty ways, than I am totally good with that! I have to admit I don't like goody-goody heroes. Honorable only gets you so far. Pretty much, as long as the guy is honorable toward women, than that's all I care about. He can do anything he wants on the battlefield.

So that's pretty much why I read the books I read. Now I'm going to go read!

Slainte, Hazel

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Short Story Release! "Wolf Hunt"

Well, I have FINALLY gotten my second backstory for "By Blood and By Bond" up and published!! This was almost more annoying than my first e-book! Still not too happy with the cover, but it will do for now.

Anyway, this is the backstory for my Celtic character, Caolan. Chronologically, it's actually the third in my trilogy of backstories, but it was the second one I wrote, so I'm publishing it next. For those of you who have not yet read "To Save a Life" you can read this one without having read it, but I highly recommend you do before my third story is out as that is another one that will feature Viggo and should be out by next month!

Also, if you don't know, the first two chapters of "By Blood and By Bond" are up on Goodreads for you to read, if you so wish.


Wolf Hunt

Caolan is the son of a Celtic chieftain in ancient Britain, a warrior and a great hunter. One day, he gets the feeling that someone is watching him from the woods while he hunts and that night he dreams that his best friend and foster brother, Faelan, is killed by a wolf. He can't shake the feeling that his dream might be a vision, knowing his mother possessed the Second Sight, and when wolf attacks begin happening around the village, he worries that Faelan's life might be in danger. As a wolf hunt is organized, and Faelan insists on going, Caolan must decide whether to follow his gut feeling or push it aside as superstition and coincidence. This is the second short story published in a series of backstories featuring the main characters for Hazel West's upcoming novel "By Blood and By Bond". 


It was a strange dream that came to him that night. He was stalking something in the woods as he usually did, but there was some other feeling this time. Not the anticipation and calmness that came over him when he hunted, but an urgency born of fear that seemed unable to let him go. He looked down at his hands on his bow and they shook slightly as if he were anxious. Caolán looked around, wondering what he was after--or what was after him. He had that feeling between his shoulder blades again that someone was watching him, but he could not see it for all he tried.
Suddenly, a cry of fear and a low growl sounded out nearby and he was spurred into action to run toward the sound, bursting out of the trees to a place backed against a rocky outcropping that he knew well, for it was right near the river he often hunted by and where he and the other boys climbed on the rocks to jump into the river in the summertime. But now he saw two figures up against it. One was Fáelan, his back pressed against the rock, one of his arms bloody and held close to his body as if injured, his eyes wide with horror as he stared at what was in front of him. Caolán saw it too then. It was a wolf, a huge wolf, its teeth bared in a snarl as it crouched low, growling at Fáelan and readying for the fatal leap, meaning to rip the young man’s throat out. Caolán cried out and surged forward, raising the bow to shoot, but at the same time the wolf made its move and leapt toward Fáelan, who could only throw up an arm to protect himself…

If you like the sound of that, do purchase a copy of "Wolf Hunt"! It's currently on Smashwords, but it should be on Amazon Kindle as well by friday hopefully. I'm uploading it tonight and it always takes them at least 24 hours to get all the files together. Once I publish all three stories, I will be putting out a paperback anthology of them, so if you're a page-flipper, just wait another month or so, and I promise it will be out at least by Christmas =)


Also, if you don't know, I have started a Twitter account @artfulscribbler so you can now follow me to see all my updates on writing and my blog and also if I have any fun links to share. 

If you enjoy this story, don't forget to adopt my "Brothers in Arms" button over on the right --> that was inspired by Caolan and Faelan. And I also have a small favor to ask. If you purchase my story from Smashwords, if you feel inclined to write a review for it, I would be very happy since I have not gotten a review on Smashwords yet. 

That's all for now!

Slainte, Hazel


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why do we Read What we Do? Multiple Guest Post!

Recently, I had that question, and thinking of it, I realized how eclectic of a reader I am. Most true readers are, but sometimes, I know for myself, I might be willing to try something new, especially if it is recommended to me by a friend I trust (I have learned the hard way not to read everything recommended to me by ALL my friends...) But then there are some books that I randomly grab from the library shelf saying, 'well, this might be an interesting thing to try' and end up really loving them. In fact, in all truth, that's how I have found most of my favorite books.

So I wondered also how other readers decided what kinds of books they would read and why they love their favorites so much, and I took the questions to some of my friends on Goodreads and they were kind enough to give me answers. I hope you enjoy reading what they have to say!

~~~~~~~~


Lauren

I look at a couple different things to determine whether I should read a book or not. I get a lot of my book suggestions from Goodreads. I may look a list of genres that I like or popular YA books. I tend to read a lot of YA paranormal romance and dystopian novels, but I'll also read contemporary. I like some good adventure and a strong plot. I like a little romance, but I can't stand it when a book's plot relies mainly on the romance, and not the paranormal aspect of it.
You really don't know in the beginning, but I also cannot stand female lead characters that can't take care of themselves! I don't like dependent and naive and fragile girls. I also don't like it when a girl meets a boy and all of a sudden she's acting like an immature little kid. Insta-love sounds fake. 

I have to say, I do judge books by their cover. I mean, when you first see a list of books that someone might have listed, the first thing you see besides the title is the cover. We're drawn to books with engaging covers, otherwise, it's possible we may not spare another glance at it. 
That's not the only thing I look at though. If the cover and title looks engaging, I look at the description or blurb on the back of the book to see if it might interest me. I also look at the average rating, and also to see how many people rated the book. The book may have a rating of 4.5 stars, but you can't really know how good the book might be if maybe only 15 people have rated it. But of course, the rating isn't everything because everyone likes different books. I also scroll through different reviews, the good and the bad. When I'm shopping for eBooks (although I prefer good old paper) I'll look at some review on the website, and maybe others too. But I'll usually always go to Goodreads because they're are so many book reviews. 
If I'm at the library or the bookstore, I don't have much access to more details about the book, and I really can't know until I try it. If a friend suggests a book for whatever reason, I'll usually read it if it catches my interest and all that. Sometimes I luck out and the book is good and sometimes it's not. I usually don't buy books from the bookstore that often unless I'm waiting to buy it because I prefer to know more about it. Other times, I can be totally spontaneous and the turns out great. 

If I wait a long time for a book I really want, sometimes it doesn't turn out like I thought it would. I get disappointed sometimes, but I'm not really upset so much about wasting my money on a bad book or anything like that. If I am upset, it's because I waited so long and had such high expectations. Usually I'm fine with it though because I finally found out what happened.


Why do I pick the books I read? Let's see...I know this shouldn't be a reason at all seeing as you should never judge a book by it's cover, but the covers of books have a little bit to do with which ones I choose to read. If it has a completely boring or strange cover I will be less inclined to pick it up and read what it is about. When I get to reading what it is about, I usually like the ones that have romance but also have a good story to it, like with some mystery involved or something like that. Most of my spontaneous picks are good, but not great. I have had a few absolutely horrid ones, a few great, but mostly mediocre. I don't think I have ever waited forever to read a book and have it turn out bad. Usually the ones I wait a long time for are in a series that I really like, so I'm not usually disappointed with the turn out. 

Emily

The books that I pick out from a bookstore are normally just random books. As long as the book has an interesting cover and a cool name I will read more. If it looks like something that I normally read I will pick it up and read the summary. I know I might be skipping over good books with my method but most of the ones that I pick up are pretty good. Most of the time the books I pick are really good and I like them. some of the times I will go with the majority of people and read the books that are popular at that time but that normally doesn't work for me. I like to go my own way. Sometimes I will wait forever for a book to finish or continue a series and most of the time it is pretty good. very few books I have read turn out to be bad, very few. 


Finding that next good book is like finding a new friend; you find out a little bit about them (the synopsis), talk to acquaintances (reviews), and then spend time with them (reading it for yourself). The personality, opinions, behavior, and common interests will determine whether or not it is a lasting friendship (a book that ends up on the Top 10 list), or one that quickly falls apart (i.e., I never want to see this book again!). Just like a friend, you’re going to be spending quite a bit of time with this book, so you want to make sure it’s worth it.

That’s the attitude I take on when I’m looking for a new book to read: I’m “friend shopping.” And just like my friends, my book choices are eclectic. It’s the soul of the story that appeals to me, not necessarily the genre. My book friends consist of classic romances like Wuthering Heights and Emma; supernatural twisters such as The Dead of Winter and The Near Witch; social satires like Gulliver’s Travels and Nicholas Nickleby; Victorian mysteries purely for girls – A Spy in the House – and ones more geared towards guys – Ripper. I have sci-fi and fantasy; dragons and pirates; hardcore historical fiction and fairytale retellings; dystopian and Little House on the Prairie. I even have one or two dark romances, though the only vampire who will ever grace my shelves is Dracula.

So what exactly makes me choose the books that I choose? Do I just pick up whatever is at hand and sit down with it? Well, I don’t do that when I’m finding new friends, and since I liken book-shopping to friend-shopping, you can assume that the answer is no. I’m just as choosy with my books as I am about my friends, though it may not seem like that. One method is a mutual acquaintance – in the case of a book, it would be either an Author whose works I am extremely familiar with, or a well-trusted friend’s recommendation. Example: I love Ann Rinaldi; she’s a terrific historical fiction Author. I am a huge fan of historical fiction – especially the American Revolution – so becoming initially acquainted with her writing was not difficult. I have never once been disappointed with one of her books, so whenever I see an Ann Rinaldi book floating around, I go right up to it and say, “Hey, we both have a friend in common!” The same applies to trusted-friend recommendations.

Now, I will not pretend that I do not judge a book by its cover. Everyone does, and while there is a risk of being wrong, outward appearances can – and do – tell you a lot about a book. Anything that even remotely looks as if it has to do with fallen angels, boyfriend-cheats-on-girlfriend, zombies, vampires, or those horribly depressing stories about teens who make all the wrong choices and then commit suicide I will not even bother to read its synopsis. I dislike those sort of stories intensely and won’t waste my time with them. If a book has a rather noncommittal cover, or a clearly historical fiction/fairytale retelling/mystery/ect., one, I’ll pick it up and read its synopsis. As soon as zombies or legions of undead are mentioned (like The Gathering Storm; sounded like a good Romanov story until that came up), it goes back on the shelf. If there’s vampires, it is an immediate dismissal; I don’t care what era it’s based in.

I am also drawn in by title’s and title fonts. Yes, I know – it sounds like a super trivial thing to base a book of off. But that’s just an initial attention-grabber, sort of like you see some random person drinking your most favorite beverage or eating your most favorite candy bar. There’s an immediate desire to talk to that person (or mug them, depending on whether or not you are criminally inclined, and only care about being in possession of that candy bar). Curly text, bold text, silvery text – anything fancy and shiny – all attract me. The text sometimes even gets me to ignore the cover just long enough to read the synopsis – kind of like if said person eating a Hershey bar also happened to have a I Heart Basil Rathbone T-shirt on, I would be willing to overlook that because clearly someone who eats a Hershey bar is a really interesting person, and loving Basil Rathbone is a minor flaw that could be got over.

But the real key to me spending time with a book is the synopsis. It has to grab my attention. And a lot of things will grab my attention enough to give a book a try: the historical event it deals with, the mystery that’s being solved, the fairytale that’s being retold, the dystopian world it takes place in, ect. And sometimes if the story sounds just plain weird enough – A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place – I’ll give it a try, because sometimes the weirdest storylines are the best (provided they make sense in their own twisted way in the end). Age range is never a barrier for me; I’ll read Juvenile as readily as Young Adult. The only reason I don’t usually read Adult too often is I am picky about content, just as I am picky about my friends’ behavior. Too much language, sexual content, and the like are a deal-breaker, no matter how much I might enjoy the historical era it takes place in.

Even so, I still stumble over rotten apples. With the wide range of genres I take in, it’s hard not to. There have been books that I have been dying to read, and have waited and waited and waited for it to come out. I buy (or borrow) my copy and at last it comes in! The cover glossy, the pages new and white, the spine still free of use. And then . . . absolute disappointment. The writing is bad, the storyline was a huge letdown, that protagonist just really drove me up a wall, the Author decided that while his last two books were clean, this one just simply and absolutely required a graphic bedroom scene. It happens, I am sorry to say. Scarlet was a book like that. I only had a very few minor misgivings about it because I hadn’t yet read a Robin Hood retelling that was bad. And anyway, the cover was just too pretty to ignore. The book was an absolute letdown in almost every possible way, and it served to remind me why I never do faith-buys. Always read a book first before buying it, unless you know the Author to be incapable of mistakes.

And sometimes there are the fluke reads – a spontaneous Oh, you look interesting pick that just happens to turn out to be one of the best books you’ve ever read! This actually happens to me a lot. I’ll be browsing at the library, killing a few minutes until my ride picks me up after work, not looking for any book in particular, and I’ll stumble upon one or two that look kind of interesting. Well, I have nothing planned for the weekend, I think. Might as well give it a whirl. If it’s bad, I’ll at least get some fun out of pointing out of the mistakes to my sister. Start reading it, and I can’t stop. Entwined, Ripper, The Ruins of Gorlan, and Sword Song were like that – among others. They were amazingly good and three of my favorite books. Sword Song, while it didn’t make to the “Top 10” list, introduced me to Rosemary Sutcliff, and a pile of books that did.

Every book has different ways of attracting a Reader’s attention. There really isn’t anything specific about a book that will shriek READ ME! at me. And if it did, I’m afraid I would automatically think about what happened to Alice when she obeyed the instructions of an inanimate object, so I wouldn’t read the book. Something small, like the title’s font or the cover design, has to catch my attention first, before a book screams READ ME! I may read a lot of different books, but I am an elusive Reader to catch. But so far, books have done a pretty darn good job of catching me.


Karen

Since elementary school, eons ago, reading has been my escape and stress relief valve. There is nothing like immersing yourself in a different world with your imagination for a few hours, is there?

I gravitate towards stories that are either set in alternate realities, the far future, different cultures or times and/or contain an interesting mystery to be solved. I’m not a fan of contemporary fiction. I love murder mysteries, but steer away from modern gore or CSI types as they are too much like real life for my comfort. Ditto for stories that are primarily about modern relationship angst or plain romance. I’ve tried to read them but feel I’m being drowned in (and bored to tears by) everyone’s feelings when there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot or progression in either story or characters. I need something more: mystery, adventure, preferably an underdog to root for, different cultural settings and values or a good old battle, either between people/groups or good vs evil. I also stay away from creepy stories or horror-filled ones. After all, I am trying to reduce stress! =)

I enjoy many genres and, thanks to Hazel, have recently become a fan of Louis L’Amour westerns and historical fiction. I particularly like the Temeraire series with it’s unique blend of fantasy and alternate Napoleonic history. Others I enjoy, combine sleuths in specific areas of interests or settings with a murder mystery: archeological, coffee & teahouse series to name a few. An absolute favorite, The Amelia Peabody series, is quite witty, featuring an indomitable Egyptologist, her colorful family and the fun adventures that always seem to follow them. Another is the Jack Devitt Sci-fi series which combines a mystery with a bit of an Indiana Jones type protagonist. Stories of epic quests or swashbuckling adventures are very high on my list. Most of all, any book featuring Sherlock Holmes is sure to grab my attention.

How do I choose books? Titles by favorite authors, Goodreads recommendations and friend’s lists followed by reading an actual sample on Amazon.com, browsing the shelves of a bookstore and a title or cover art catches my eye, then reading a bit of the flap summary (not too much as I don’t want to know the entire story before I read it for myself), book club websites searching new releases and favorite authors, some classics, Amazon recommendations and browsing library shelves, particularly the new release sections are my main avenues. I’ve discovered many good series in the library by searching the new books area, then going back to find the first title in the series. Also my friend, Sean, at the library reference desk has been a font of information on interesting series as we have similar tastes. Oh, and author recommendations are definitely another great source as they often have quite wide-ranging interests. If the story intrigues me, the world is interesting, the characters compelling, and I like the author’s style of writing, I’ll try it.

I’ve had both good and bad luck with spontaneous picks but that’s half the fun, it’s a gamble. I’ve definitely waited a long time for a book and then was greatly disappointed by it, wishing I could get back the time I wasted. This frequently happens in long-running series where the author seems to lose interest and it becomes blatantly obvious. 

For me, the books that call to me the most are ones with the highest escape value and 
I usually have several books going at once from different genres: sci-fi, mystery, steampunk, fantasy, English/Scottish/Japanese life or historical fiction, westerns, swashbucklers, urban fantasy and non-fiction subjects that interest me (ie cooking, archeology, anthropology and astronomy). This way, I can indulge in visiting whatever ‘world’ that appeals to me at a given time. 


Why do I pick the books I read? 

I admit that I'd never really thought about it. My taste is eclectic and I read both for enjoyment and information, so the places I find things is varied. For the past few years I've done far more nonfiction reading than fiction, so I admit to using websites like Amazon to see what's available on the topics I'm interested in. Then I read reviews to decide which ones suit my purpose. I don't really pay attention to 'stars' though as an author, it's certainly nice to get them. It matters more to me what a person says about a book and I can usually judge pretty accurately from that whether it will be useful (for nonfiction) or whether I'll enjoy it (for fiction). Then I try to purchase the book nearby to support local bookstores.

If a book is made into a movie that appeals to me, I usually read the book before seeing it. I like to have my own ideas about what things, places, and people look like. But once in a while I'll see a movie and then find out it's a book. If I liked the movie enough, I'll hunt down the book to read. I'm doing that now with Neil Gaiman's 'Stardust.' When I saw the movie I was barely aware of Neil Gaiman (I know--I live a sheltered life!) but after seeing Stardust I started seeing his name everywhere. I found the book at work, left on a table where people had brought in their old reads for others to enjoy. That was about a year ago and I'm only now reading it! I have rarely bought novels unknown to me on impulse while in the store. I have never bought a book just because I liked the cover. I may make a note of it and look it up later; I do my homework first. I hate wasting my time reading poorly written or conceived anything, fiction or nonfiction. 

I don't necessarily go by recommendations from (real life) friends either, as a lot of them have very different tastes from mine, but I do like seeing what people I know are reading on Goodreads and LibrayThing and very often see books that end up on my 'to-read' list. I also get ideas from the trade magazines and occasionally from book blogs. I rarely read the things that are the most popular; they usually don't appeal to me. On the other hand, I love reading classics from all genres, just because they're there.

I wish I had more time to read fiction, but I admit that one out of three or four novels I read is probably a book I've read before; the books that will always have a home on my shelves. I'm big on comfort reading (especially on lazy, quiet, rainy days with a hot cup of tea close by) and love to revisit beloved fictional places and people. As an author, that is something I strive for and the one thing that makes me the happiest: when someone says they feel my characters have become friends and they look forward to spending more time with them! 

~~~
I'd just like to thank everyone for participating in this post! I always love having guests on my blog! =) Why do you read what you do?

Slainte, Hazel

Friday, October 5, 2012

Tour Results--What I Learned

As those of you who followed my tour for "On a Foreign Field" know, it's over now! :P The end. Okay, no, that's not it. I'm going to share a little with everyone about how it went for those of you who might be thinking about doing a tour yourself.

Over all, it went really good, mainly thanks to BK Walker who runs Virtual Book Tour Cafe, because my inability to comprehend and make computer things work is rather hilarious it's so bad and if it wasn't for her, this tour probably would have crashed and burned. I can't say it really held up to my delusions of grander, but very few things do. (Very few) and it did generate interest. I got over 160 "to-read" adds on Goodreads and over 300 people entered the giveaway for three signed copies of "On a Foreign Field". Over 5,000 people entered the giveaway for my Amazon gift card and I got some Facebook 'likes' and 'tweets' and google pluses and all that stuff too so that's progress, yes?

I also had a very good time doing the interviews and guest posts, and getting to meet new bloggers and all that as well as potential readers. I hope that even if a tenth of those people end up reading my book, that they will at least enjoy it.

I also got two very amazing 5 star reviews from non-obligated reviewers. (And are those not the best kind?) First 5 star reviews not given to me by friends and family so it was pretty awesome.

So would I do anything differently next time? Truth be told, I can only say I learned a lot about how it works this time (by trial and error). I know that if I do it again it will go more smoothly, perhaps anyway. At least with the experience under my belt it might work out. Perhaps it's my uncanny ability to make sure that computers will not work just when I need them to whether they be my own or other people's. But over all, the tour went good, and I would definitely suggest new indie authors to try it out, if for nothing more than getting your name out there. If you want my opinion, start hosting first and see how it's done, it will run more smoothly for it! If you have any questions about the subject, please feel free to ask!

Slainte, Hazel

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

General Announcements- Giveaway Complete

Well, the giveaway for "On a Foreign Field" is complete now and I would like to congradulate the winners:

Barbara Kelley
Patricia Fuller
and MaryKay Smith

I hope you enjoy the book!

For those of you who have not won the giveaway, you can still purchase your own copy! *hint hint*

Paperback: https://www.createspace.com/3882345 Or from Amazon.com

And Thursday is the LAST DAY you can buy it on e-book for $2.99. I will be putting it back up to it's original price of $4.99 so take the incentive and 'download' your copy today (och it galls me to say that! :P)

Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/208817

Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/On-a-Foreign-Field-ebook/dp/B008PX0VG2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1349251817&sr=8-1&keywords=on+a+foreign+field

Also check out my new short story that is a prequel to my upcoming novel! (Always $0.99)

To Save a Life: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/219634

Also, you can now read the first two chapters of my upcoming novel "By Blood and By Bond" (which 'To Save a Life' belongs to) on Goodreads and Wattpad now. Feedback is much appriciated. Just go to my Goodreads and Wattpad account by clicking the links on my link list to the right and you'll find the excerpt there.

Apart from that, I am reinstating Pepys' Advice Column (see here for details) since now I have more followers on my blog!

Slainte, Hazel

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

When Your Villains Won't Talk... Employ Torture

So, you've thought up a great idea for a novel, have your hero and his cronies, the plot line, the setting, even the ending of the story, but, wait a second, what's missing? The villain!

Everyone knows that the villain is the most important part of any story, especially a mystery novel, and if you don't have him pinned down, then you're story is just not going to go anywhere. If you don't know why your villain is causing the problems he is, then how do you expect your hero to figure it out? Even though characters are sometimes driven by gut feeling, they still have to come from the author's brain, and if you're hitting a blank, well, then your hero will be hitting a blank as well.

Yes, I'm talking about this because I speak from experience. You've probably heard me mention my upcoming Victorian steampunk mystery that currently does not have a title, but has an amazing hero detective by the name of Anthony Maxwell (who you can find on Facebook via the sidebar of this blog). Anthony could not have come more naturally to me. In fact, one night he just knocked on my door and said, "Hazel, I'm ready to tell my story, write this down." And I did, I wrote the first chapter and most of the second and it was as effortless as if he really was speaking to me (which he was, actually ;-) But then I realized that, while I had the story line worked out, the murders plotted, the really nasty lackey of the main villain, I realized that my villain had not yet revealed to me his motive! How can I write a mystery novel with all the articulating parts when I can't figure out the motive of my villain? So, I started working on my historical drama, "By Blood and By Bond" instead, thus leaving Anthony unfairly in the lurch.

So how do I get my villain to tell me what I need to know? Employ torture? I have definitely been tempted on more than one occasion, but it has just seemed to tighten his lips even more. For starters, I do know his name: Narcissus. Or at least that's what he commonly calls himself. I even have his character. He's a master of disguise, he's rather dapper, and, as his name implies, full of himself. He's also very dangerous, but more willing to let others do the dirty work instead of doing it himself. So I have him in my mind, but what the dickens is his motive? What nationality is he? Could that have something to do with his plotting? Is his vendetta a large scale thing, or is it something more personal. From what I know of his character, it could go either way.

What will I do to get him to tell me? Well, right now he seems to have gotten a restraining order against me and won't talk at all. I wish to study a little more into the history and politics of the time period and see if that helps any. Then I will force him to talk to me, or at least write in his journal. Writing journals for your villains is a very fun thing to do. Let them tell the story from their point of view. Sometimes this really works. Perhaps I need to write a little about his past. Backstories are always really fun too, and they get you a lot closer to a character. Your readers never really need to know half the information you have on your villains, but YOU do need to know otherwise you will never be able to write them convincingly. Just as it is easier to write about a subject you know backwards and forwards, it is easier to write a character you know like that as well. Think about them like friends and acquaintances. If they are still just like that person you say hi to at the coffee shop every day, then you need to get to know them a little better. Trust me, it really worked writing backstories for my characters from "By Blood and By Bond".

Do you have any tricks you use to getting your villains to tell you what they're up to?

Slainte, Hazel