some songs that make you happy
Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) | a beautiful, powerful song, even more so when sung as waves lap your toes
Come Thou Fount | violin and cello as I walked down the tree-shaded aisle in a white dress
Honey Bear | listen to this song without smiling. or dancing. I dare you.
Concerning Hobbits | rolling green hills, a peaceful life, I am a hobbit

some books that make you happy
Misty of Chincoteague | childhood, Mom reading to me, wild ponies
The Lord of the Rings | hobbits, elves, wizards, dwarves, ents, friendship, adventure
The Cloister Walk | unexpectedly beautiful, meditative, journal-like, poetic
DragonSpell | a serendipitous discovery of Christian fantasy beyond C.S. Lewis
Heartland (series) | horses, comfort read, my teen years
The Jesus I Never Knew | deep thinking, giving context to the Bible, new ideas
Summer Hawk | hawks, unexpected friendship, the book I almost wrote

some movies that make you happy
The Lord of the Rings | ditto the books
Spirit | mustangs, the West, music, animation
Amazing Grace | inspiring
Up | snipe, Dug, dreams, love, adventure
Les Miserables | painful, sorrowful, beautiful
Harry Potter | multi-week movie marathons

some foods that make you happy
cake | birthdays, icing, chocolate
brownie sundae | brownies, hot fudge, ice cream... what's not to love?
sweet potato casserole | sweet potatoes, gooey marshmallows, family
cherry pie | Nan-nan, sour cherries from the backyard, summer

some words that make you happy
journey | silence | peace | I love you | perhaps | serenity | beautiful | seed | root | branch | leaf | wonder | wander

some scents that make you happy
horses | long rides, pb&j picnics in the woods, barrel racing, my best friend has a mane
lavender | long hours picking herbs among the honeybees, my wedding bouquets
forest | rough bark, crunchy leaves, winding trail, soul rediscovered beneath a tangle of branches
food | baking cookies, grilling burgers, hot cider, warm bread...

some random things that make you happy
family | animals | trees | fuzzy blankets | sharpened pencils | sunrises | green | travel | walking barefoot | stories | hope

Months ago, Opal tagged me in The Tag of Happiness, and while I don't participate in many memes, I thought this one was too beautiful to pass up. And because I am hopelessly curious, I followed the tag back to the original creator at The Curiosity Collections (a fitting name, considering what landed me there...). I love the flexibility of this tag -- it doesn't specify how many items must be listed under each heading, or how many people must be tagged, and it even allows for more categories to be added. There are no "rules," just "guidelines," allowing each blogger to add their own flair.

Take the banner and put it in your post
List as many things as you want in each category
Come up with more categories if you wish
Tag as many people as you want

I tag:
Shantelle | A Writer's Heart
Kristin | Wool and Wheel
Britt | Encouragement for Everyday Struggles
Annie | Curious Wren
...and anyone else who wants to join in!


on reading books out of order {Airs and Graces by Toby Bishop}

The free-spirited Larkyn has found her place in the Duchy of Oc. She's a favored student of Mistress Philippa and has mastered riding her flying horse, Black Seraph.

Elsewhere, things are growing far more turbulent. Lark's old enemy, Duke William, is the new ruler of Oc. As he obsesses over his desire to ride a winged horse himself, his growing madness leads him to ignore his traditional duties to protect the Duchy -- leaving the coast open to Aesk raiders, who strike at will.
(from the back cover)

I bought Airs and Graces at a small local bookshop, not realizing that it was book two in a trilogy. Why don't books in a series announce that they're part of a series? I mean, really, how am I supposed to know if there's not at least a list of titles belonging to the series inside the front cover? Poor little unsuspecting me might read the books out of order! And the quote on the front announcing that "the Horsemistress Saga promises to be an exciting ride" is almost worse in that it misleads me to think this is book one. Which it is not.

Happily, I discovered my mistake when I added the book on Goodreads. But did I go out and buy book one? Of course not. I knowingly read this one out of order. Why would I do such an abominable thing? Because there are winged horses and I'm impatient. And it looks like a middle-grade novel, and I don't want to spend money on something that might be full of cheesy mediocrity.

Folks, I have learned my lesson. Never judge a book (solely) by its cover.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this is not a middle-grade book, but an adult or, possibly, a very mature YA novel. It's not inappropriate, but neither is it cheesy or angsty. Airs and Graces contains some mature themes, and the point-of-view rotates between several adults and teenaged Larkyn.

And morals. How wonderful to find a book that has good morals! Two or three ideas cropped up that went nowhere in this book, but that have potential to become beautiful subplots in book three. I really really hope they do.

I don't mind rotating POVs -- in fact, I often enjoy them -- but Toby Bishop likes her cliffhangers a bit too much. During the most tense parts of the book, she would end the chapter and switch to a different POV at the worst possible moment. This is ok on occasion, but every-other chapter for the middle third of the book is not much fun.

Finally, there was more emphasis on politics than I expected. Bishop wrote it well, though, and even the most political scenes were never dry. Which, granted, probably had a lot to do with the fact that everything related to the winged horses in some way. I'm definitely going to try to read book one, because I'm certain it will have more about the horses and less about politics.

I really want a winged horse now.

4/5 leaves

Have you ever read a book out of order? Did you do it on purpose, or were you deceived?


November cakes {book-inspired baking}

When I finished reading The Scorpio Races in August, I noted that I could "almost... taste the sticky-sweetness of November cakes." Well, now I can say that I have tasted the sticky-sweetness of November cakes. And they are delicious!

Maggie Stiefvater tortures her readers for 409 pages with tantalizing descriptions of these little hand cakes, and then kindly adds a recipe in the back of the book (yay!). But, naturally, I had to wait until November to try it! So, how did they turn out? What does a November cake actually look like? << Good luck figuring that one out; while I love baking, I struggle immensely with taking flattering pictures of my food.

I was a little skeptical when I finished mixing the dough and it seemed... thin. And sticky. But I followed the recipe to a T and let it rise as-is, thinking maybe it would magically be ok in an hour. Nope. I dumped it on the table to roll it out, and it sort of oozed into a doughy puddle. So I scraped it all back into the bowl and added more flour.

Tip: if your dough seems more like batter than the bread dough it's supposed to resemble, add more flour. If it doesn't look right, it probably isn't.

In the end, I still didn't add enough flour, apparently, because there weren't a lot of "nooks and crannies" for the glaze to settle into. But they were delicious and sticky and caramel-y nonetheless.

So, before you run out of November this year, go read The Scorpio Races (if you haven't already; if you have, it's definitely worth a re-read!) and then bake yourself some November cakes. They take a bit of time and effort, but believe me, they're worth it.

Have you ever made a book-inspired recipe? If so, what was it? And the all-important question: Have you read The Scorpio Races? (Hint: There are two correct answers here -- "yes" and "not yet." :) )


life is beautiful {a poem}

Life is beautiful.
If you don't believe me,
go outside.
Lie down under a tree and
stare up through the branches,
watch light dance through the leaves
as a breeze carries
the whisper of God
just out of reach -- 
listen to the thunderous pulsing
of chirping cicadas
and marvel
at the ordered tangle of branches.
Take nothing with you -- 
no book, no journal,
no distractions.
Just your soul.
You are alive,
and life
is beautiful.

Obviously, it being November, there are no cicadas chirping outside anymore. I wrote this poem months ago, and have been eager to share it with you since. So why did it take so long? I'm not entirely sure. Go outside and lie down under a tree anyway. Appreciate what you hear and see, even if it's just wind whistling through empty branches. Let me know what you discover. Your own soul, perhaps?

*Photo by my husband, Paul


Flashes of Ember: review and interview with Vicki V. Lucas

This 94-page middle-grade fantasy was published just last month, and it's a fun beginning to what looks to be an exciting series! Don't miss my interview with author Vicki V. Lucas below the review. I received a free e-book copy of Flashes of Ember for review as part of a Rivershore Books blog tour.

Twelve-year-old Geona drank in the beautiful sight of the moonlight shining on the horses around the large barn.

Shalock Stables. Home of the greatest racing horses in all of Eltiria.

And Papa now worked here! They lived just steps away from the biggest barn of the stables. It was perfect!

Only it wasn’t. She wasn’t allowed to help Papa with the horses. She couldn’t even ride. Tristan, her older brother, wasn’t permitted into the Razors, the massive mountains filled with peril and adventure.

When a beautiful chestnut filly is badly beaten, Geona has to do something. Her parents just say that Adoyni has a plan, but she can’t wait for Him any longer.
(from the back cover)

my review

Flashes of Ember is a fun, fast-paced, horsey adventure with a beautiful theme of faith woven gently throughout and just a hint of fantasy. The first chapter (or two) was a little slow for me, with a few editing mistakes to stumble over. But the story soon sucked me in, and I devoured this little book in one sitting.

Geona is such a strong, well-developed character, and her Papa and brother Tristan are equally well fleshed-out. Her two younger siblings are about eight or so years behind her, though, which I found a little odd, and didn't contribute to the story at all. They just kind of existed, as did her mother.

Having grown up with horses, I really appreciated the horsemanship in this book. It is a rare thing to find an author who knows their way around a horse. And Vicki V. Lucas includes a few tips in the back of the book for working with horses, which I would have loved as a 10-year-old.

I highly recommend Flashes of Ember to horse lovers especially on the younger end of the 9-12 age range, but with parental discretion due to the themes of animal abuse.

3/5 leaves

author interview with Vicki V. Lucas

1.     What was your inspiration for Flashes of Ember? 
I wanted to write a story of a horse and a girl. I had several ideas, but I realized that we see few fantasy stories with girls as the main characters. I grew up with a deep love for Narnia, and I wanted to give girls a chance at fantasy as much as the guys. Flashes of Ember came out of my love for fantasy and for horses.

2.     You seem to have a lot of experience with horses -- do you own any, or did you in the past?
I grew up around horses, although we didn’t own any until I was in my teens. My sister and I always found people who needed a horse or two ridden. When I was fifteen, I found a chestnut Arabian who I fell in love with at first sight. My friends who raised horses helped me buy her and train her. She was my best friend for twelve years. And even though she’s been gone for about ten, I miss her a lot!

3.     I see book two, Ember's Choice, was also published recently. Do you have plans for more books in the Tales of Shalock Stables series?
I do! I want to keep the story of Ember and Geona going. They have a lot to do yet, including winning a few races, if they can pull it together!

I also want to start a series with Tristan. I’ve really enjoyed his character, and I want to bring in more of his adventures into those dangerous mountains – the Razors.

4.     What, if anything, are you currently working on?
I have a series called Angel Warrior Series where I take real life events where people knew angels were battling around them, and God is glorified. The first one is called Bound. I’m finishing up the second in that series. Then I need to go back Eltiria, the world of Flashes of Ember, and finish the next book in a series that happens 9 years after Geona.

Of course, I just figured out the plot for the next book for Ember and Geona, so my fingers are itching to start that, too. Oh! I need more time!

5.     Why did you decide to be a writer?
I don’t know if I ever made a conscious decision... “I’m going to be a writer.” I started writing one book and can’t seem to stop! The stories haven’t either. I have a list of at least thirty more books I want to write!

6.     What do you enjoy most about connecting with readers?
Honestly, I normally use a lot of cliff-hangers in my writing, so I love it when people tell me that they can’t put a book down or that they’re dying for the next book in the series.

But my favorite thing is when they contact me asking for help on writing their own books – of starting their dreams. I’m a big believer in dreams, especially big ones. I get very excited whether the person is eight years old or eighty! If you have a dream of getting a book in print, I think it’s exciting, and I love chatting about their ideas.

7.     Many writers are currently neck-deep in National Novel Writing Month. Do you have a few pieces of advice you'd like to pass along to them?
I’ve done this a few times and loved it! One thing I did was to increase the amount of words per day so that I could take the days around Thanksgiving off. As for advice to stay strong, I think it helps to have a schedule. I’ve found my brain works better when it has a routine and it knows that it’s time to write. Then I try to visualize the scenes in my head while I’m away from the computer so that I’m ready to go next time and I don’t lose any time trying to figure out what happens next. If you’re trying this, keep it up! It’s well worth it!

Vicki V. Lucas published Flashes of Ember, the first of the Tales of Shalock Stables as well as two fantasy young adult books, a young adult supernatural novel, a short story series titled Angel Warrior Files, and The Truth about Angels: What the Bible Says. Explore further at www.vickivlucas.com.


when your to-do list is longer than 24 hours, and fun is no longer fun

I recently read a post by fellow blogger Rebekka about trying to do everything at once and failing. As I started writing a comment, I realized I had a lot to say on the topic, and that we probably weren't the only ones who have experienced this exhausting problem.

How do we get everything done -- whether "everything" is school, work, blogging, NaNoWriMo, reading, etc. etc. etc. -- and still have time to just plain relax? Have enjoyable pastimes moved from relaxing activities to looming to-do items? What do you do when your to-do list is longer than 24-hours, and fun is no longer fun?

I'm definitely no expert, but I have spent an exceptional amount of time pondering this over the past months, and I'd like to share a few tips that have helped me. Several of these pertain directly to blogging, but they can certainly be applied to other things in life.

1. Take a break...

...or just cut back. I recently took a month-long break from blogging, and by the end of it I was refreshed and excited to get back into it again. I had even stockpiled a few draft posts that I had felt inspired to write during the break, so I had some back-up for when I didn't have time or just plain didn't want to write a post.

If taking a break isn't possible or doesn't sound appealing, consider cutting back (at least temporarily). You don't have to post every day -- in fact, you could get away with once a week. Pick a day (I chose Tuesdays), and schedule your posts ahead of time. Again, if you have time and/or feel inspired to write an extra post, write away, and save those posts for when you lack time and inspiration.

2. Prioritize

What is most important on your to-do list? For some people, dividing to-do items into big rocks, gravel, and sand helps to put a visual on this. Top-priority things are big rocks; these go in the jar first. Gravel represents mid-priority items, and they fill in the gaps. Sand follows, seeping into whatever cracks are left over. Or maybe you just want to write a list and star the things that MUST get done TODAY. Whatever method works for you, make sure you know what your priorities are.

3. Use what you have

Use photos you already have (we'll never know!). You shouldn't feel obligated to take and edit new photos for every blog post when you probably have an enormous pile of them in your computer already. And no one will think less of you for using images from Goodreads for your book reviews.

Remember those posts you set aside for a rainy day? Use them. When blogging feels like a chore, publish one of those stockpiled drafts. Write when you feel like it. (I'm talking to all of my fellow hobby-bloggers out there -- if blogging is your job, then I guess it is sort of a chore...)

4. Set a bed time

Yes, we're all adults here (and teens), but I find routine immensely helpful, especially when it comes to sleep. If you don't set a specific time for shutting down, you could potentially go on all night, which leads to waking up late and/or feeling groggy and icky and generally all-around terrible in the morning. And that is not good for productivity. Also, by setting a bed time, you allow for also setting a reading time. I like to read for about an hour before turning in for the night -- not only does this ensure that I get to read, but it helps me wind down at the end of the day.

5. Set a wake-up time

...and do something you enjoy first thing in the morning. I struggle with this one, but I've found that waking up at the same time every morning is as helpful as going to bed at (about) the same time every night. Set your alarm, and challenge yourself to not hit snooze. If you have work or school to get to, leave plenty of time to not only get ready, but also to do something you enjoy. Go for a run, do yoga, read a devotional. This starts your day on a positive note, and gives you something to look forward to in the morning. And eat breakfast. Always, always, always eat breakfast.

6. Take breaks!

If you're feeling overwhelmed, you're probably not getting much done because you're too busy panicking over all the things you're not getting done. Go for a five-minute walk (or longer, if you have time!), take a bath, call a friend, grab a snack... even running an errand can be refreshing if you've been holed up in the house all day. Just make sure to set a time limit so your break doesn't turn into procrastination.

Try to set aside a day, or at least a half day, where you don't worry about being productive. For me, this is Sunday. I go to church in the morning, and then I have the rest of the day to read, bake, play board games, go for a long walk -- whatever I feel like doing! I'm not super strict about this; Sunday has also become laundry day, and I sometimes finish up a few chores that didn't get done on Saturday, but for the most part, Sunday is a day of relaxing.

Do you have an impossible to-do list? What tips do you have for getting things done and still having some time to do what you love?


why I was disappointed by this epic brick of a book

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2)
by Patrick Rothfuss

There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.

My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.

So begins the tale of a hero told from his own point of view -- a story unequaled in fantasy literature. Now in The Wise Man's Fear, Day Two of The Kingkiller Chronicle, Kvothe takes his first steps on teh path of the hero and learns how difficult life can be when a man becomes a legend in his own time. (from the back cover)

This seems to be a theme, lately. Disappointing books. Boo.

I loved The Name of the Wind, and had been looking forward to this sequel for so very long. When a friend gave it to me for my birthday this summer, I carried it around the house for the rest of the day so that I could occasionally sniff the pages or give it a hug, or just to gaze at it's beautiful brick-like enormity (1,107 pages, folks). Finally, months later, I plucked it off the shelf and began reading. And it was awesome.

The first half contained all of the incredibleness of book one, and I drank it in. But somewhere just north of the halfway point, it started to fall apart for me. Nonetheless, I had already delved 500+ pages into this behemoth, and so I trudged in. There were yet lovely morsels to enjoy interspersed among the atrocities.

If you haven't read book one, go back and check out my review and read The Name of the Wind before you decide to write off the whole series based on this review of the second book.

As I said, there are many good things in this book. It's well-balanced with adventure, character development, wit, brilliant world-building, cultural diversity... There are just a few scenes -- chapters, even -- that I could do without. Honestly, they added nothing to the book. No one would miss them if they were removed. So what are they? Why were they so atrocious?
  1. Kvothe meets a woman who teaches him how to... "sleep" with her. It's not graphic, but he spends a lot of time with her. The best part: he claims to not remember much about this point in his life, that it's foggy to him, and yet it drags on for several chapters. Umm... right. Feel free to skip ahead a few pages if/when you reach this point. I certainly won't judge you for it. In fact, if you ask nicely, I'll even look up exactly which chapters you want to ignore. Except...

  2. This opens the floodgates for hormone-filled teenage Kvothe, and suddenly he has to sleep with every-other woman he meets. I was so excited when he finally left the above-mentioned woman, only to find we weren't done with this theme yet. Ugh.

  3. In an odd sense of irony, Kvothe rescues a couple of girls from slavery/rape, which is great. But he does it by slaughtering and then branding the group of people who had kidnapped them. He feels a twinge of remorse later, but is reassured by someone else that he did the right thing. People congratulate and thank him. Guys. THIS IS NOT OK. You can't just go around killing everyone who does something bad. I mean, how does this make Kvothe any better than the people he killed? Hint: it doesn't.
The verdict? The Wise Man's Fear is full of wonderful scenes, beautifully real characters, and impossibly amazing writing. But it is also full of some really sketchy morals. So if you loved The Name of the Wind and are desperate to read more, use your best judgement. Was it worth reading? I'm still not 100% sure, but I think so.

3/5 leaves

Have you had this problem before, reading one disappointing book after another? Does the madness end? (It does. My next review is much more positive, so stay tuned...)
Also, do you think my above complaints are valid? What is your perspective on these topics? The third is obviously an important one to me, and I'd love to hear your thoughts!