Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite Books of 2012




Okay, so to narrow down ALL the favorite books I read this year, I'm only listing ones that actually came out this year. Otherwise, this list could go on forever, because I have made some awesome finds, and some awesome new friends in characters I just totally fell in love with. Particularly my renewed love of Rosemary Sutcliff's books. (Okay, a few honorable mentions: Eagle of the Ninth, Frontier Wolf, Outcast...) also for a lot of new authors I discovered like Paul Dowswell, Simon Scarrow, Jeri Westerson, Katy Moran, Lloyd Alexander, and lots more, but again... too many to mention.

So here's my favorite books of 2012! For the record, I am very happy that there was an influx of good YA books out there. I very nearly swore off YA books for good until I started reading some of the new releases, and, partly thanks to Mara (at 667B Baker Street) I renewed my love for the genre!

If you click on the covers, you can find my reviews at Goodreads









I want to wish everyone a happy new year (and a Guid Hogmany in the Scottish tongue)

Slainte, Hazel

Friday, December 28, 2012

Books of Note: December Reads

Well, it did turn out that I actually got to spend the last two weeks of December reading just as planned before I go into the paper piles and start working on my sequel to Ballad of the Highwayman. And I have read some amazing books in that time, and finally got around to writing reviews. These were some of the best/most interesting books I read this month.



What's a nice girl like Alice doing with a hangman called Dan Skinslicer?
He likes a good clean killing and a hearty supper afterwards.
She likes pretty dresses and riding a well-bred horse.
But fate throws them together on a mission of mercy--to save Alice's poor uncle Frank's head and restore his dignity.
Soon they find themselves on the run from every soldier in London.
It could be their necks next!



Review

Thoughts on the Overall Book: Where to begin? I absolutely LOVED this book. The story, the characters, the writing was just all so good that there was nothing not to like! I believe the author wrote it from an actual story, so that just makes it all the more amazing and hilarious. Truthfully, I don't really know what else to say about it.

Cover--Yea or Nay: I like this cover, actually better than the one on the copy I have which I'm not very fond of. This one is very simple though, and I like it.

Characters: Well, to start off, Alice is a lovely heroine. I loved her because she is witty, she never let anything get in her way, but she was also sympathetic, and at the times she could have been annoying, it was more that she was acting like a real person would and not like an annoying character. Dan Skinslicer was also a very lovable character. I just love the thought of a soft-hearted hangman who just viewed it as a job. I don't know if there were really men like that, but I hope there were. Hew Ffrench was an awesome character too and I liked him immediately. Major Slavering was a very good villain. Meaning, of course, that he was utterly terrible. I also loved a lot of the supporting characters, especially Alice's grandmother. Oh yes, and of course, Uncle Frank's head!

Writing Style: Wonderful. It was witty, it was fast paced, and just fit the story sooo well. This whole story appealed to my, rather dark, sense of humor (gallow's wit, pardon the pun) perfectly.

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing at all it was perfect.

Conclusion: 5 stars, I would not have thought of giving it anything different. Definitely one of the best books I've read this year and a lovely read for my vacation where I promised to immerse myself in all the books I have had waiting on my shelf for a while.

Recommended Audience: Any historical fiction fans should definitely read it. I don't care what time period you like, this is a must read. Both a guy and girl read, ages 12 and up.




In this gripping journey, a fifteen-year-old pacifist must decide what he believes as he faces the reality of World War II.

The year is 1944, and fifteen-year-old Noah Garrett's parents have died from smallpox. Without any other family nearby, Noah is sent to live with his uncle, whom he has never met, in Camp Hale, Colorado. There is one small problem with this decision: Noah has been raised a pacifist, and Camp Hale is a U.S. military base for a little-known division of winter warfare soldiers called Phantoms. Can a boy who's never seen snow and doesn't believe in war survive among these soldiers?
Noah's struggle to resolve his upbringing with the horrors of World War II into a way of life he can believe in takes him on an incredible and riveting journey from the training camp to the frontlines of battle. Based on historical events, the story of Noah and the Phantoms of the Tenth Mountain Division is one of courage and conviction, brotherhood, and the joy in living


Review

Thoughts on the Overall Book: I thought this book was a very nice, meaningful war story and perfect for the age it's geared toward. Of course the synopsis was a done deal for me when it promised a brotherhood story and I was not disappointed in that fact. It was a brotherhood story, a coming of age story, and a family story. Seriously, all my favorite things to see in a war novel. I was also intrigued because I had never heard of the "Phantoms", the skiing devision who fought in WWII. It kind of reminded me of the Rangers from the Ranger's Apprentice series a little bit, and I really enjoyed learning this bit of history I didn't know and found it very interesting.

Cover--Yea or Nay: I actually do like the cover, even though I'm not always fond of having the characters on the cover. I think the boy looks like Noah and I love the misty, snowy look to it, that and the title were actually what caught my attention, and once I realized it was a WWII novel, I was even more intrigued.

Characters: Noah is a good protagonist for this kind of book and the audience who's meant to read it. He's a very moral young man, raised by pacifists during WWII, so when he was sent to the training camp of the Phantoms after his parents died of small pox to go meet his uncle, you can see the dilemma that awaited him. His uncle James Shelley seems at first to be a wastrel, but I loved how their relationship grew and how Shelley actually turned into a likable character. There were a lot of likable characters in the supporting cast as well. I loved Noah's friends and the camaraderie that was between them with plenty of brotherly railing and banter. Daniel was your typical brooding character who usually turns up in these stories who has the hard past of losing all his family and friends. The only problem I had with him was that I wished his character and story could have went a little farther. I think Noah should have formed a better friendship with him.

Writing Style: The writing style really wasn't all that special, but it was not bad either. It was clear enough.

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing really bothered me in a big way, but I think the book could have been longer, especially if it had been written for an older audience. I have no problem with the book itself, because I think that just the way it is is great for young teens, but I still think there could have been more time between the characters. And also events seem to come and go without a lot of time shown in between, but that's really the only thing I had a problem with and it probably wouldn't bother everyone. I just like a little deeper war novel myself.

Conclusion: 4 stars. I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The outcome was very satisfying, and I liked how Noah came to the conclusion that if he was going to have to fight in war, he would fight to save the lives of his friends and not to take the lives of the enemy.

Recommended Audience: A good guy read for probably ages 12-15. There's no content, even the parts that could have been bloody were not. It's not a hard core war novel, but reading it for the story alone is enjoyable and it's a good book if you want a quick read. As I said, I think it is a fantastic book for the age range it's written for. 







The first volume of Lloyd Alexander's classic "Westmark" trilogy finds a printer's apprentice on the road with a traveling show. Performing feats that astound and amaze, he and his friends fall into a trap set by Chief Minister Cabbarus, who is determined to wrest power from the grief-stricken king.





Review

Thoughts on the Overall Book: I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I'm a huge fan of classic adventure stories and also fantasy that is more alternate universe, especially ones set during the 1700s or thereabouts like this one was. I actually have never read any of Lloyd Alexander's books before which I find rather odd now since I totally would have loved these when I was younger, but now I am definitely a fan.

Cover--Yea or Nay: I don't hate it, but I don't like the character representations either. You can tell it's a fantasy/adventure novel, but I don't like how Theo or Mickle are drawn.

Characters: This book had the great kind of cast that one should expect in an adventure novel. Theo is a great hero; I liked the fact that he had morals and he was easily likable from the moment you meet him. Likewise so were Musket, Las Bombas and Mickle who was an awesome female character and actually reminded me of the kind of heroines I like to write about. There were also really good supporting characters. I liked Florian and Dr. Torrens a lot. Cabbarus could have been worse but he wasn't bad for the kind of book this is either. I do prefer a more nasty villain though.

Writing Style: Fast paced, yet not so much that there is no story line, just enough to move the story along properly as it should be. Lloyd Alexander has a wonderful writing style. It's very classic, witty, and this book actually reminded me quite a bit of "Prisoner of Zenda", it definitely had the same feel to it.

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing bothered me in this book, at least nothing so major I would complain about it.

Conclusion: 4 stars, I really enjoyed this book, and I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy and other books by the author.

Recommended Audience: Fans of classic adventure stories will love this. People who liked "Prisoner of Zenda" and books like that should definitely try this one out. It's suitable for any age.




The world knows Jack London as a writer who lived his own thrilling, real-life adventures. But there are parts of his life that have remained hidden for many years, things so horrifying even he couldn’t set them down in writing. These are the Secret Journeys of Jack London.

We meet Jack at age seventeen, following thousands of men and women into the Yukon Territory in search of gold. For Jack, the journey holds the promise of another kind of fortune: challenge and adventure. But what he finds in the wild north is something far more sinister than he could ever have imagined: kidnapping and slavery, the murderous nature of desperate men, and, amidst it all, supernatural beasts of the wilderness that prey upon the weakness in men’s hearts.

Acclaimed writers Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, along with illustrator Greg Ruth, have crafted a masterful tale both classic and contemporary, a gripping original story of the paranormal in the tradition of the great Jack London


Review

Thoughts on the Overall Book: This was one of those books for me that has such a unique premise that I had to read it. I have actually not read any of Jack London's stuff (unless I did in school and don't remember) but I obviously know the gist of it and so this book sparked my interest. This series is about a young Jack London, before he really became famous, and his supposed 'secret journeys' that are written down, as we see in the preface, by a companion of his who he meets in the book. It was truly nothing like I thought it was going to be when I picked it up, in fact, about a third of the way through, I really had no idea which direction it was going and I liked that. There are so many predictable books out there, but this one really caught me by surprise in every chapter and I could never guess what I would find on the next page. It was very strange, but in a good way, and the kind of way I like. But I'll talk more about that later.

Cover--Yae or Nay: I do like the cover and the illustrations inside. I love the weathered look of the picture and how Jack and the wolf are both on it and you can only see a back profile of Jack. I think I have said before that I really like a back profile of a character.

Characters: I liked how Jack was portrayed. Like I said, I don't know much about the real Jack London, but I really liked how this teenage version of him was portrayed. And from what the authors said in their authors' note, his character is pretty accurate. I liked his two friends, Jim and Merrit and the boy Hal who he rescues from getting taken by slavers up in the Yukon. The slavers were appropriately nasty, and they really were vile. Lesya was appropriately mysterious and exotic, but I won't say more about that for fear of spoilers.

Writing Style: The writing style is partly why I gave the book four stars. The story itself was intriguing, but if it had not been written properly, it would have been a complete flop in my opinion, and the authors did very good with it. This was a very well written book, and the style fit the story perfectly. It was vivid, and visual and I could totally see all the scenes playing out in front of me which was great because some of the strange scenes could have been very vague. I am a fan of books that portray fantasy and supernatural happenings realistically, if that makes any sense, and this book really did. I liked the setting of the Yukon because it's such a deserted place, that you could actually believe the happenings of this book could happen. I liked how they brought in the story of the Wendigo which came from that area, and the Wendigo was portrayed to be very frightening. There's also some Russain lore in the book too, dealing with the forest spirit, Leshii. That part of the book for me was almost creepier than the Wendigo. This is more of a narrative book, and there's long chunks without dialogue, but it's hardly noticeable if you're not a fan of narrative writing. I go either way depending on who writes it, but this one you will not notice the difference at all.

Problems/What bothered me: I didn't have anything to complain about, truthfully, this book was just so odd that I just kind of went along for the ride and didn't really think about it too much. It kept my attention though, and I cared for the characters, so I must have enjoyed it! I know that sounds kind of funny, but this book was just so different, I'm still not quite sure what to think of it.

Conclusion: 4 stars. Very unique read, and I'm interested to see if they top it in the next book.

Recommended Audience: Older teens, a guy book. There's a bit of language and lots of gore. This is definitely a realistic book so if you're squeamish of blood, don't read it. Also, it really is kind of creepy, so I wouldn't suggest reading it at night!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Deals for the New Year

Hi everyone! I hope you all had a great holiday, I definitely had a better Christmas than Thanksgiving since I had no obligations and I could actually take the week to sit and do nothing but read for fun. I hope some of you get the change to do the same, so to help with that, until January 2nd all my e-book novels are only $2.99 from both Smashwords and Amazon. I'm also excited to announce that "Ballad of the Highwayman" is now also in e-book format!

And don't forget, that if you buy a copy of "By Blood or By Bond" during the duration of the blog tour (until Jan 18th) send me an email notifying me that you have, and if you buy the e-book, I will send you a coupon for a free copy of one of the backstories "To Save a Life" from Smashwords. If you buy the paperback copy, I'll send you a coupon for 30% off the paperback copy of the backstories collection that includes all three stories as well as three extra mini stories that are exclusive only to the hard copy of the book. If you want a chance to win a free copy of both books, enter the Goodreads giveaway for "By Blood or By Bond" on the right of the blog, and follow my blog tour and comment for a chance to win a signed copy of the backstories!



Purchase links

Smaswords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/hazelwest

Amazon Kindle:

Ballad of the Highwayman: http://www.amazon.com/Ballad-of-the-Highwayman-ebook/dp/B00ARFNFBO/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_t_1

On a Foreign Field: http://www.amazon.com/On-a-Foreign-Field-ebook/dp/B008PX0VG2/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_t_1

By Blood or By Bond: http://www.amazon.com/By-Blood-Bond-ebook/dp/B00AOMUMKW/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_t_2

Please take advantage of these deals! Hope you have a great new year!

Slainte, Hazel

Saturday, December 15, 2012

By Blood or By Bond Tour Schedule



December 18th: Character Interview with Viggo Callias at Amanda McCrina's Blog
December 20th: Guest post about Roman and Celtic cultures at Sandra Saidak's Blog
December 26th: Author interview at 667B Baker Street
December 27th: Guest post-The Writing of a Roman Epic at 667B Baker Street
December 30th: Excerpt/Blurb at Janet Kellough's Blog
January 3rd: Guest post at Modern Papyrus 
January 7th: Author Interview at A Write to Review
January 17th: Author Interview at The Secret Writer


Here is the schedule for the virtual book tour of my new novel By Blood or By Bond! I really hope everyone decides to take a look and follow the tour. Here's some reasons why:


COMMENT FOR A CHANCE TO WIN!

I will be giving away one signed copy of By Blood or By Bond through a Goodreads Giveaway and a signed copy of my 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, I will draw the lucky winner from my 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 me at sirwilliamssquire@gmail.com with the subject “Blood or Bond” and notify me of your purchase. I 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 me the same email, and I 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 me before the 31st of January, or you won’t get your coupon! 


So seriously, comment and email me, or you'll be the only one missing out :P

Hope to see you on the tour!

Slainte, Hazel


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Paperback Short Stories Release!





Sink me! I can't believe it! Two releases in one week! It certainly seems like I have been working non-stop since December (actually since Thanksgiving) but I hate sob stories, and this is my job right now anyway, so I can't complain :P

ANYWAY! To the point: The backstories for By Blood or By Bond are now available in a compiled paperback addition! But wait! There's also perks to buying the hard copy instead of the e-stories:

1. It makes a great gift for Christmas! Small enough to be a stocking stuffer or a present for someone who enjoys historical fiction and/or is a relative who needs a quick read for the plane/train/car ride back home.

2. The three extra mini stories in the back. I decided to write three extra little fluffy stories to add to the paperback addition.

3. Character sketches! Of the main characters featured at the beginning of each story.


Here's the Purchase links:

Createspace: https://www.createspace.com/4093819

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Three-Backstories-Novellas-Blood-Bond/dp/1481232576/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1355553557&sr=1-1

And of course, don't forget that you can get all three of these stories: "To Save a Life", "Home Before the Harvest", and "Wolf Hunt" on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords! But you won't get all the extra perks...

Also, concerning the Blood or Bond tour, I will soon be adding an itinerary that you will be able to find by clicking the poster on the upper right hand side (kindly designed by Amanda McCrina!) Again, if you'd like to host a stop do let me know! And check out By Blood or By Bond and the backstories!

Slainte, Hazel

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

By Blood or By Bond Release!!!!!

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.

~~~~


It's here! By Blood or By Bond is finally released! Just in time for buying as a Christmas gift for your historical fiction lover (hint,hint) I'll be posting all the purchase links here as they are available. Currently, it's only available in paperback from Createspace, which is a wonderful thing! Later it will be up on Amazon and I'm getting the e-book ready as well while I will let everyone know about as soon as I do. I'd also like to let everyone know that I'm working on the hard copy version of my backstories, so I'll let you all know about that when it's up for purchase as well.


Createspace Paperback: https://www.createspace.com/4074215

Amazon Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/By-Blood-Bond-Hazel-West/dp/148111042X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1355605698&sr=8-2&keywords=By+Blood+or+By+Bond+hazel+west

Smashwords Ebook: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/265066

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/By-Blood-Bond-ebook/dp/B00AOMUMKW/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_t_2

Another thing: I am trying to get a blog tour together to promote Blood or Bond, and if you would like to host a stop, please let me know! I'm trying to find at least three more stops. If you'd like to, please email me at sirwilliamssquire@gmail.com For those of you interesting in following the tour, and you should because there's going to be some (hopefully) awesome guest posts by me about Roman and Celtic history/culture and writing the book, interviews, and not to mention promotions and giveaways that you're going to have to comment to get! I'll be posting the itinerary soon once I get all my stops together.

I do hope that By Blood or By Bond might be a book for you. If you get it, I hope you enjoy!

Slainte, Hazel

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Finding....A Better Title

Well, this isn't exactly a Trend Post, but I will be talking a little bit about trends in it. I've seen a lot of title trending going on lately, particularly an influx of novels titles "Finding (enter person's name here)". Now, I don't mean to offend anyone who's book is one of those titles, but I do think it is important to address the fact that trend titles are not going to get you more readers. In fact, it might just look like a trended title is a knock off of the original.

Titles, for me, are about as important as the book cover when I go to choose a book. A book entitled "The Rogues" is going to pike my interest a lot more than say one entitled "Ruby Red". For the record, I'm reading "Ruby Red" by Kristen Gier right now and enjoying it, but I would not have picked up the title if it had not been recommended to me by a friend. I judge books by their titles as much as I do by their covers, but I don't like to be too judgmental either, because I might miss something I would really enjoy.

However, as a writer, you really need to choose a title that works for your book. When I choose a title, I try to reflect the kind of book it's going to be. I like to think that titles such as "On a Foreign Field" promise a historical war novel, which is what it is, and that "By Blood or By Bond" makes one think of strong ties and also possibly a historical novel, which is obviously what the book is about. I love when authors actually sneak the title into the book or have the title be an obvious lead in to the book itself. Series books can get away with having perhaps not to interesting titles, because by the time you hook readers with the first book, you have loyal fans for life (unless you do something to really tick your readers off.) Of course certain genres have certain kinds of titles. You can usually tell a mystery, thriller, and a romance from their title alone, (This is kind of what I think of as 'blind taste-testing' of books). Another favorite way to title books of mine is using a line of a poem. Most of my older, never-will-be-published books had Scottish poems as their titles. I actually carried this into the title of "Freedom Come All Ye" which is a song that I feature in the book. It also has a significant meaning to the story in itself. I would imagine the person who picked it up, even without knowledge of the Scottish folk song, would think that it was a book about freedom fighters or something of that nature, which it is: a novel about a young William Wallace.

I think titles are a very personal thing, which is why I am against title trending. Don't title your book like someone else's just to get people to read it. In fact, I'm kind of against putting a character's name in the title at all unless it's a series like my eventual "Anthony Maxwell Mysteries" but that should not be the title itself. The only time I would ever do this is if I were writing a book about a historical figure. Just for an example, I could call a book about William Wallace simply "Wallace". Anyone who liked reading about Wallace would probably pick up the book to see if it was about the famous Scottish hero, I know I would. Nigel Tranter entitles one of his books, "The Young Montrose" and yes, it is about James Graham, Earl of Montrose. The title should mean something to the author, that is why I personally do not wrack my brains for a title, I let it come to me. When I can't think of one, I resort to looking through poems or quotes that remind me of my book and take a phrase or line from that.

Authors, how do you go about choosing a title for your books and what are your thoughts on title trending?

Slainte, Hazel