Wednesday, April 30, 2014

More #Books for Boys - #amreading - Kathryn Knight

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post with book recommendations for boys--Books for Boys--and I'm thrilled that it's received so may hits.  My younger son, age 12, continues to read books at a pace that almost parallels me at his age.  So I'm doing a second post with recommendations based on his latest favorites:

Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull.  One of our cousins passed the first book to us, and I handed it to my son when he was out of reading material.  He was hooked!  He absolutely tore through the entire series:  Fablehaven, Rise of the Evening Star, Grip of the Shadow Plague, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary, and Keys to the Demon Prison.  This is a bestselling fantasy series revolving around a secret sanctuary for magical creatures.  The main characters, 13-year-old Kendra and 11-year-old Seth, are the grandchildren of the caretaker of this mystical preserve, which they discover when they solve a puzzle while visiting their grandfather.

The Underland Chronicles is another great, but lesser known, series by Suzanne Collins, the author of the wildly popular The Hunger Games trilogy.  These five fantasy novels feature main characters 11-year-old Gregor and his 2-year-old sister Boots, a pair of siblings who live in New York City.  When they fall through a vent in the basement of their apartment, they find themselves in a hidden world located under the city, where all types of unusual creatures live along with other humans.  The books are Gregor the Overlander, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, and Gregor and the Code of Claw

As mentioned in the first Books for Boys post, he truly loved the Peter and the Starcatchers series by Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry.  So I did a Goodreads search on the authors, and found that Ridley Pearson wrote a series called The Kingdom Keepers.  In a funny twist, I discovered this right before we left for our Disney vacation.  So my son enjoyed Disney After Dark while we were actually at Disney, and he's since read Disney at Dawn and Disney in Shadow.  The rest of the series currently includes Power Play, Shell Game, Dark Passage, and The Insider. The books revolve around a group of teens who spend their days working as holographic hosts at Disney.  But when night falls, they face villains seeking to control not only the parks, but the world.

We often travel on long car rides to visit extended family, and I try to find a book we might all enjoy, which I then read aloud.  This is how we discovered The Hunger Games, and I'll never forget how sore my throat was on that trip because of the multiple pleas (from both the kids and my husband) for "one more chapter".  So on our recent Easter trip, I brought along Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card.  This had been on my list for a while, but since it's a YA book about a boy selected for an elite Battle School in space, I figured it might be a hit.  We're about halfway through at this point, and my kids really enjoy the descriptions of the military training drills and practice battles in the zero-gravity battle chamber.  The main character, Ender, is a clever strategist who sets himself apart as a leader from the day he enters the school--although this, combined with the fact that the adults are grooming him to lead their forces to victory against invading aliens, makes his childhood very different from the one he envisioned with his family on Earth.

Hope this list gives the parents of kids who enjoy fantasy or sci-fi adventure--boys or girls--some new ideas!  Feel free to leave any other recommendations in the comments below.  Happy reading :)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Friday #Fitness 7 - White Foods and #Nutrition

I have two very disparate jobs: I write paranormal romance novels, and I teach fitness classes.  I'm passionate about both, though, and I try to highlight a fitness or health topic at least once a month for my Friday Fitness feature.  And part of a healthy lifestyle is good nutrition.  Now, I'm not above diet sodas, dark chocolate, and pinot grigio.  But I do try to educate myself and make good choices as much as possible.

Most everyone knows processed white foods are not great choices.  By "white foods," then, I'm referring to processed and refined grains and sugar.  Obviously, cauliflower is a different story.

I grew up on pasty white bread sandwiches.  And we always had white pasta and rice as well.  So I wondered, when, exactly, did the food industry decide to strip all the nutrients from grains?  And why?

Well, not surprisingly, it comes down to convenience and profit.  Seeds and husks are difficult to chew and digest.  Early humans crushed or ground the seeds to make it easier - the result was essentially a coarse whole grain flour.  But, crushing the germ releases oils, which cause rapid spoilage.

So in the late 1800s, people began using machines to remove the germ and the bran, and consequently, the nutrients and fiber.  Even "whole grain" flour is not immune - the approved definition of this term is sketchy.  It's been processed, generally, and restored to the same ratio of elements you'd find in its original state.

Aside from the lack of nutritional value, refined and processed white foods lead to overeating.  Why?  Well, they taste good, for one thing.  And they are easy to chew and digest, which means it is easy to eat too much before your body realizes you're full.  A lack of fiber means you're less full.  Your body absorbs the food quickly, blood sugar spikes, and hunger returns a few hours later. 

We need carbs - they're essential for energy.  But there are tons of good carbs to choose from!  Fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes, brown rice, etc.  As a general rule, I try to go for the foods that are closest to their original form.  That way, when I indulge in a treat, I know I'm not throwing myself completely off-track. 

In a strange twist, my two passions came together when my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, chose "Healthy Recipes" as a theme for our 2012 annual recipe book.  Each December, authors of TWRP contribute their favorite recipes, based on the year's theme.  Our marketing department then compiles them into a pdf file, which is offered FREE on our website.  If you'd like to download the Healthy Recipe collection, all you need to do is register (also free) and download A Healthy Garden Gourmet.  You can pick up some other (more recent, still free) recipe books as well while you're there!  

Another great resource for healthy cooking inspiration is Pinterest!  Here's my recipe board if you're looking for ideas.  Happy Friday!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Finding Easter's Date - Golden Numbers & Full Moons

I enjoy learning about the reasons behind traditions and beliefs...for example, I've done popular posts on Why 13 is Considered Unlucky, The Origin of Halloween, and Why People Fear Black Cats.  As you may notice, these topics have a common element--the paranormal--one of my favorite subjects, as well as the inspiration for my novels.  My first two novels, SILVER LAKE and GULL HARBOR, combine steamy romance with spooky hauntings.

My lasted novel, DIVINE FALL, is a little different.  When my children were younger, I taught Sunday School, and a passage from the Book of Genesis inspired a new supernatural idea.  DIVINE FALL is the story of the only surviving Nephilim--the offspring of heavenly angels and human women who roamed the earth before the Great Flood.  DIVINE FALL will hopefully be released in 2015...please follow my author Facebook page for more info on this upcoming title!

As a Sunday School teacher, I was asked unusual questions, which I didn't always have the answer to.  Kids are unbelievably insightful sometimes.  Why, they wondered, was Christmas always December 25th, while Easter moved around?  Excellent question...and not a particularly easy one. 

According to documents from the 3rd and 4th centuries, Christians relied on their Jewish neighbors to determine the week of the Unleavened Bread; the Sunday that fell within that week would be Easter.  Following the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the date of Easter was separated from the Jewish calendar and its computations for Passover.

Since then, Easter Day is always the Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after the Northern spring equinox, which is based on an ancient ecclesiastical computation, and does not correspond to the astronomical equinox.  The church defines the spring, or vernal, equinox as falling on March 21st.  Easter falls on the Sunday following the first full moon after the equinox.  This full moon will occur somewhere between March 21st and April 18th, inclusive.  Therefore, Easter cannot be earlier than March 22nd or later than April 25th.  In 2008, Easter was particularly early, falling on March 23rd.  That hadn't happened since 1913, and will not happen again until 2160.

Of course, there are handy tables available to find the date.  But those tables are derived from something called "The Golden Number" and "The Sunday Letter".  The Golden Number is computed by taking the year, dividing it by 19, and adding 1 to the remainder.  For example, 2014 divided by 19 gives 106, with a remainder of 0. Adding 1 to the remainder gives a golden number of 1.  Finding the Sunday Letter involves determining the first Sunday of the year, with the choices ranging from A through G.  For example, if the first Sunday in January falls on the 1st, that year is an "A" year.

There are more computations, explanations, and nuances surrounding leap years, but for the purposes of the kids in my class, my summation was enough to explain the phenomenon.  The short answer, really, is that Easter moves around from year to year in order to maintain the connection between the astronomical events (the phase of the moon and the season) which would have occurred during the Resurrection and the annual date on which we celebrate this holiday.

Whatever spring holiday or event you celebrate, I hope it's filled with family and happiness.  Take some time to enjoy nature's resurrection--the new life, strengthening sun, and longer days that characterize this season.  And if the Easter bunny visits (that's a whole 'nother story), remind him to put some paranormal romance reads in your basket!
Easter moves around from year to year in order to preserve its relationship to the astronomical phenomena (i.e., the season of the year and the phase of the moon) that would have occurred at the time of the resurrection (traditionally reckoned as having taken place in 30 A.D.).

Easter moves around from year to year in order to preserve its relationship to the astronomical phenomena (i.e., the season of the year and the phase of the moon) that would have occurred at the time of the resurrection (traditionally reckoned as having taken place in 30 A.D.).

Easter moves around from year to year in order to preserve its relationship to the astronomical phenomena (i.e., the season of the year and the phase of the moon) that would have occurred at the time of the resurrection (traditionally reckoned as having taken place in 30 A.D.).


Saturday, April 12, 2014

A-Z #GameofThrones Characters - My #AtoZchallenge #GoT

A lot of authors are doing April's A-Z Challenge, which involves aiming for a blog post a day using that day's letter as inspiration.  It definitely sounds challenging to me, in terms of time...aside from teaching classes, I have to work on my fourth manuscript, get my older son to regular PT appointments, get my younger son to baseball and soccer, and just keep up with life in general.

But it also sounds kind of fun, so I came up with my own way to participate.  I've written about how much I enjoyed the A Song of Ice and Fire series in the past, on my favorite books list.  When my teenage son broke his leg in February, he and I started watching the Game of Thrones television series together to help keep him occupied during those days on the couch.  And I was happily back in George R. R. Martin's world, hooked all over again.

So my twist on the A-Z Challenge was to see if I could find a character name or nickname for each letter of the alphabet.  One post, with a long list.  Some letters had so many popular characters, it was difficult to choose who to profile!  But here's what I came up with.  If you're just watching the shows, you won't find any spoilers here.  If I included a name only mentioned in the books, I only gave basic background information.  Overall, I tried to stay away from major plot points and just list history and interesting facts.  I thought I knew the series fairly well, but I learned a lot from my A-Z Challenge!

Arya Stark of
A is for: Arya Stark, the only character to have POV (point of view) chapters in all 5 of the published novels.  She is the third of five children of Catelyn and Eddard Stark of Winterfell.  Also known as Arya Underfoot, she’s a fiery, spirited girl who shuns the proper behavior of a noblewoman to pursue adventure and sword fighting.

B is for: Brienne the Beauty, a sarcastic nickname for Brienne of Tarth which refers to her unfeminine appearance and demeanor.  Brienne’s height and strength allow her to become an adept swordfighter, and she is allowed to join Renly Baratheon’s Rainbow Guard.  Later she pledges her service to Lady Catelyn Stark of Winterfell.

C is for: Cersei, the eldest child of Tywin Lannister, born seconds before her twin brother Jaime.  She became Queen of the Seven Kingdoms when she married Robert Baratheon. 

D is for: Drogo, a Khal of the Dothraki nomadic tribes.  Drogo led the largest khalasar on the Dothraki Sea, and his long braid symbolized his status as an undefeated warrior.  Drogo is given Daenerys Targaryen as a bride in exchange for providing an army for Viserys Targaryen to take back the Iron Throne.

E is for: Edmure Tully, the son of Lord Hoster Tully of Riverrun and the younger brother of Catelyn (Tully) Stark and Lysa (Tully) Arryn.

Worth her weight
in silver

F is for: Fat Walda, a granddaughter of Walder Frey, Lord of the Twins.  The heavy-set Walda is selected by Lord Roose Bolton as a bride when Lord Frey offered a dowry equal to the chosen bride’s weight in silver.

G is for: Gendry, a blacksmith apprentice who, unbeknownst to most, is also the bastard son of King Robert Baratheon.  His mother died when he was young, and an anonymous patron paid double the customary fee for his apprenticeship at a King’s Landing blacksmith.  Gendry is later sold and leaves King’s Landing with Yoren, a recruiter for the Night’s Watch, the men who guard the Wall.

H is for: Hodor, the nickname of Walder, a mentally challenged stableboy at Winterfell.  He says only one word: “Hodor”.  Because of this, the Stark children believed this to be his name.  His is kind and loyal, and his superior size and strength allow him to carry the injured Bran Stark on his back.

I is for: the Imp, a nickname, along with the Halfman, for the dwarf Tyrion Lannister, third child of Tywin.  Tyrion’s birth resulted in the death of his mother, Joanna Lannister; his father blames him for this and abhors his deformity.  But Tyrion makes up for his lack of height and respect with a clever mind and a quick wit.

J is for: Joffrey Baratheon, the son of the Queen Regent Cersei, who claims the throne as a young boy when King Robert dies in a hunting incident.  Joffrey is the eldest Baratheon child and is known for being spoiled, cruel, and temperamental.  He is twelve years old at the start of the books.  Nicknames include Joffrey the Illborn, the Young Usurper, and Aerys the third.

K is for: Kingslayer, the nickname earned by Jaime Lannister when, as a member of the Kingsguard, he drew his sword on the king he vowed to protect and killed the Mad King Aerys II Targaryen.  Jaime was knighted by Ser Arthur Dayne at the age of fifteen, and joined the Kingsguard as the order’s youngest member in history, partly in an attempt to avoid a marriage to Lysa Tully. 

L is for: Lord Snow, the nickname of Jon Snow, a bastard (and therefore not likely to ever be a lord) apparently fathered by Ned Stark of Winterfell.  Jon is fourteen years old at the start of the books; his true-born brother, Robb, was only slightly older.  Growing up among nobles, Jon is constantly made aware of his diminished status and prospects.  Eventually this leads to him follow his Uncle Benjen’s path to the Wall to join the Night’s Watch.

M is for: Melisandre, the Red Woman, a priestess of R’hllor originally from Asshai.  Melisandre, a former slave sold at auction, came to Dragonstone because she believed Stannis Baratheon was Azor Ahai reborn.  Ancient prophecy claims that Azor Ahai, a legendary hero who forged a sword of fire, defeated the Others (White Walkers) thousands of years ago and will return to fight them again.  Conflicting legends give credit to the first men of the Night’s Watch for defeating the Others in the Battle for the Dawn.

A gray direwolf is
the sigil of House Stark
N is for: Nymeria, a huge wolf belonging to Arya.  Nymeria was one of the six direwolves found orphaned in the woods and adopted by the five legitimate Stark siblings and Jon Snow, the bastard sibling.  Although now rare, the direwolf is the sigil of House Stark.

O is for: the Onion Knight, the nickname of former smuggler Davos Seaworth.  Davos began as a lowborn child in Flea Bottom, but eventually came to command his own ship, the Black Betha.  When a blockade had the men at Storm’s End starving during Robert’s Rebellion, Davos snuck through with onions and other food, thus sustaining Stanis Baratheon’s garrison there until help arrived in the form of Eddard Stark.  As a result, Stannis knighted Davos, but cut off the fingers of his left hand to exact payment for the Onion Knight’s past crimes.

P is for: Lord Petyr Baelish, known as Littlefinger.  Petyr was born on the Fingers, which are rocky strips of land in the Vale of Aryyn which protrude into the narrow sea.  A friendship between his father and Hoster Tully resulted in Petyr being fostered as a child at Riverrun; the Tully children gave him his nickname in reference to his family’s small land holdings.  Petyr fell in love with Catelyn, although the feelings were not returned.  He challenged Brandon Stark to a duel when their engagement was announced, and Cat begged Brandon not to kill him.  At the opening of the books, Littlefinger has risen to the court’s small council, serving as Master of Coin.

Q is for: Queen of Thorns, a nickname given to Lady Olenna Redwyne based on her clever, sharp comments.  She is the mother of Mace Tyrell and the grandmother of Margaery.  She is quite loyal to House Tyrell, which she married into long ago, but that does not stop her from making her trademark sarcastic criticisms of its members as well.

R is for: Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, the eldest son of the Mad King Aerys II and an heir to the Iron Throne.  His alleged abduction of Lyanna Stark, who was betrothed to Robert Baratheon, triggered Robert’s Rebellion and consequently the end of the Targaryen rule.  Although the Targaryen custom was to wed brother to sister to maintain a pure bloodline, Daenerys had not been born when it was time for Rhaegar to marry; he was eventually married to Elia Martell, a Dornish princess.  They had two children, a daughter Rhaenys and a son Aegon.  However, at the Tourney of Harrenhal, Rhaegar crowned Lyanna the “Queen of Love and Beauty” instead of his wife; he kidnapped Lyanna a year later and died at the Battle of the Trident, killed by Robert.

S is for: Sandor Clegane, known as the Hound because of his family’s crest of three dogs as well as his size and demeanor.  His older brother, Ser Gregor Clegane, The Mountain, shoved Sandor’s face into a brazier when they were children; as a result, the Hound’s face is horribly scarred, and although he became a fierce warrior, he fears fire.  Although he refused to take a knight’s vows, Sandor was named to the Kingsguard when Ser Barristan Selmy was dismissed.

T is for: Theon Greyjoy, last living son of Lord Balon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands.  Following the Greyjoy Rebellion, Theon became a hostage as a ward of Lord Stark of Winterfell.

Daenerys Stormborn
U is for: the Unburnt, one of the many nicknames of Daenerys Targaryen, the last known survivor of House Targaryen.  Having been born in exile, she has no memory of the kingdom her father, the Mad King Aerys II, once ruled.  Her mother, Rhaella, the wife and sister of Aerys, died as she gave birth to Dany while a terrible storm lashed the walls of Dragonstone.  The infant Dany and her brother Viserys were then smuggled to the city of Braavos with the help of men loyal to the Targaryen House.

V is for: Lord Varys, a eunuch known as the Spider; he is part of the court’s small council as the Master of Whisperers.  Born a slave in Lys, he ended up in Pentos, and his reputation as the leader of a spy network earned him the notice of the Mad King Aerys II, who was sinking deeper and deeper into paranoia.

W is for: Wymen Manderly, Lord of White Harbor, also known as Lord-Too-Fat-To-Sit-A-Horse.  He is often mocked for his size and subsequently dismissed as an ineffectual leader; this is a label Lord Manderly uses to his advantage.  He is the warden of the north’s primary trade port and a loyal supporter of House Stark.

X is for: Xaro Xhoan Daxos, a member of the Thirteen of Qarth, a group of influential merchants.  When Daenerys and her small group arrive in Qarth, desperate and exhausted, Xaro allows them into the walled city and offers them respite in his palace.

Y is for: Ygritte, a wildling from north of the Wall.  While the wildlings embrace their freedom from “kneeling”, they chose to follow their elected leader, Mance Rayder, “The-King-Beyond-the-Wall”.  Ygritte encounters Jon Snow when a wildling scouting party is ambushed by members of the Night’s Watch.

Z is for: Zollo, known as Zollo the Fat, a Dothraki member of the Brave Companions, a sellsword company also referred to as the Bloody Mummers.  The Brave Companions are a particularly vicious group of mercenaries comprised of criminals and outcasts from other nations, led by Vargo Hoat, The Goat.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hooked on #GameofThrones - Kathryn Knight

I read all five books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series in 2012, and when I did my round up of favorite books of the year, they were on top of the list.  High fantasy is not my usual go-to genre, but a friend recommended the series, and at that point the television show had already premiered.  I didn't watch--I don't even have that channel--but I figured all the buzz had to mean something.

When I started the first book, A Game of Thrones, I was almost ready to give up after the first few chapters.  The writing was incredible, but the many characters, their relationships, houses, and siguls were confusing, to say the least.  Throw in the fact that each character has about 5 different names, and things get overwhelming fast.  I wish I'd had the sense to check the back of the book, because I later discovered handy "cheat sheets", with characters, nicknames, and relationships arranged by house. 

Before I gave up, I reminded myself that I'm a fairly smart person (despite my failure to find the charts in the back), and if so many others could figure all this stuff out, so could I.  And I did.  It took a lot of paging back at first to connect each character to multiple nicknames, but it also made everything more colorful and realistic--the characters were starting to come off the page.  "The Kingslayer" reveals so much more about Jaime Lannister than just his birth name alone; the same can be said about Tyrion Lannister's unkind nickname "The Imp".  "Arya Underfoot" really sets the tone for what that character represents, and where her journey will lead.

The world building in the books is incredible as well.  I truly felt as though I could picture each land, village, castle, keep, and ocean.  Descriptions of The Wall made me shiver.  King's Landing felt dirty and desperate beneath the shadow of The Red Keep.  The Iron Islands stood by the merciless sea, bleak and damp.

I didn't feel like I needed to watch the shows, because I could see the characters and settings so clearly in my head.  Besides, I knew exactly what was going to happen--and some of it was so brutal, I wasn't sure I needed a visual to compete the picture.  The biggest factor, though, was the fact that we don't have HBO.

But then my brother-in-law gave us the season 1 DVDs as a gift, and I was incredibly impressed.  The casting could not have been closer to what I imagined, the costumes and settings were brilliant, and the writers and actors truly captured the essence of the first novel.  Most importantly, to me at least, the show stayed true to the events in the book.  And even though I knew what was coming, I still felt the suspense, laughed at the clever dialog, and enjoyed the breathtaking views of the lands in my head.

Shae looking down over King's Landing

After my husband and I had watched the first season, though, we were stuck--no HBO, and no season 2 DVDs available yet.  While I felt like I was missing out, I told myself eventually I could go back and watch the entire show with no painful wait between seasons.

Then, my teenage son broke his leg.  He had emergency surgery and could not go to school for over a week.  He was laid up on the couch, and since he's unfortunately not the reader my other son is, he spent most of his time watching TV.  I tried to keep him company, but eventually I thought I might scream if I saw one more silly, raunchy sitcom.

So I pulled out the DVDs.  Yes, I know, some scenes are fairly graphic in terms of sex.  But I'm not a mom who pretends sex doesn't exist--after all, I'm a romance writer.  A few scenes were a little uncomfortable to watch together, but I also knew which scenes could be fast-forwarded through without losing necessary information.

My son loved it.  We were both hooked, and even after he could return to school, it became our "thing" to do together.  Which is fun, because other than watching this and The Walking Dead, there aren't many activities we can't wait to do together.  I ordered season 2.  We finished that.  I ordered season 3, which we just started watching.

Last night, around 8:00 pm, my son came to me and suggested we get HBO.  "Why?" I asked.  "We just started season 3.  It's season 4 that's premiering tonight."

"We're going to want to watch season 4 right away.  We're not going to want to wait until the DVDs come out.  We could record the episodes so we have them."

I opened my mouth to argue that the last thing we needed was more television channels, but I realized he was right.  At 8:30, I was on the phone, holding for a Comcast customer service rep.  At 8:45, we were going over pricing plans.  Somehow, we were able to get all the premium channels for not much more than we already pay, for one year anyway.  By 8:59, HBO was no longer a blue screen with access denied.  That fantastic music began to play, and I had to set up the recording and turn it off.  For now.

I imagine we'll be caught up soon, and then Sunday night will become our night, and we can watch with the rest of the world.  And I'm so glad, because after last week's The Walking Dead finale, I felt a little sad--we wouldn't have our show together for another seven months or so.  Now we have this.  Unless the show catches up to the fifth book before the sixth one is finished.  I know a series like this can't be rushed, but I hope George R.R Martin is making progress on The Winds of Winter.  What a book release day that will be!