It’s been such a great year!
Have you read any of these? Which are your favorites?
I love taking part if Jamie’s End of Year Book Survey each year! It’s so much fun to look back on everything I’ve read, not to mention plan ahead a little. Is anyone else in shock that 2017 is in just a few short days??
Note: Links will take you to my review unless I haven’t reviewed it yet. Otherwise, it’s off to Goodreads!
Number of books read: 45 + most of a 46th!
Number of re-reads: 1
Most read genre: Fantasy!! Past Jana would be super surprised by this. Present Jana is super delighted!
1. Best book you read in 2016?
So last year there was a trend to my answers… and this year will be no different. Truth be told, I doubt things will be different until SarahJ. Maas quits writing (don’t let this happen!!). Hands down, my favorite book this year was A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas.
2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love?
I was sooooooooo looking forward to The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson, and it just did not work for me. I’m so sad, but it’s true. I still love the first two books and I can’t wait for Mary’s next book, though!
3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?
I’ve never really been a fan of Kasie West (I KNOW), but I LOVED P.S. I Like You so much! It’s a new favorite, and I’m so excited to read more
4. Book you “pushed” the most people to read (and they did)?
I have no idea who read what this year, much less whether or not it was because of me! lol. Besides Sarah J. Maas (duh), I think I’ve recommended Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton more than any other book. I LOVED it!
5. Best series you started in 2016? Best sequel of 2016? Best series-ender of 2016?
Series started: The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye
Sequel: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Series-ender: Winter by Marissa Meyer
6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2016?
I’m not including any debut authors because they are all new and I can’t pick! So… Lucy Christopher! I read Stolen, and really enjoyed it!
7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
I don’t typically read non-fiction, but I read 438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival by Jonathan Franklin and thought it was so well done. I passed it on to my parents, and they both loved it as well.
8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
Winter by Marissa Meyer ended with a BANG! I could not put it down, and just loved it to pieces! I am SO SAD that the Lunar Chronicles are over, but at least we’ve got Wires and Nerve (the graphic novels) to look forward to!
9. Book you read in 2016 that you are most likely to re-read next year?
I broke my “I never re-read” rule to prepare for A Court of Mist and Fury this year by re-reading A Court of Thorns and Roses… so chances are pretty good I’ll re-read ACOMAF next year. lol.
10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2016?
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton has a GLORIOUS cover! I’m so annoyed they have re-designed the cover and future covers for the series… I’m so tired of faces on covers. This was unique, and now it’s going to look like every other YA book out there.
11. Most memorable character of 2016?
Logan from The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller is an adorkable dream.
12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Holy crap, this book broke me with its beauty.
13. Most thought-provoking book of 2016?
438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival by Jonathan Franklin was an amazing reminder that our experiences have the power to change us in monumental ways.
14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read?
Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher! It’s been on my TBR for YEARS, and I finally made time for it. It was amazing!
15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2016?
“To the people who look at the stars and wish, Rhys.”
Rhys clinked his glass against mine. “To the stars who listen— and the dreams that are answered.”
― Sarah J. Maas,
“People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it’s quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spot blues. Murky darkness. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them.”
― Markus Zusak,
16. Shortest & longest book you read in 2016?
Shortest: Under the Mistletoe by Jill Shalvis – 80 pages
Longest: Winter by Marissa Meyer – 833 pages
17. Book that shocked you the most?
Stolen by Lucy Christopher shocked me so many times, but how I felt at the end of it shocked me more than anything else.
18. OTP OF THE YEAR? (you will go down with this ship!)
Rhys and Feyre from A Court of Mist and Fury. (Funny thing, last year my OTP was Tamlin and Feyre and I NEVER would have imagined being ok with her leaving him for Rhys! But I love these two even more!)
19. Favorite non-romantic relationship of the year?
Caitrin and the people of Whistling Tor from Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier. Caitrin formed such strong bonds with the people who lived there (Eichri and Rioghan, not to mention the loveable dog Fianchu) as well as the spirits that dwelled in darkness outside.
20. Favorite book you read in 2016 from an author you’ve read previously?
Winter A Court of Mist and FuryI didn’t read many books from authors I’ve read before… This is a close tie between by Marissa Meyer and by Sarah J. Maas.
21. Best book you read in 2016 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else/peer pressure?
738 Days by Stacey Kade. I hadn’t even heard of this one until people started raving about it after BEA this year. While it sounded intriguing enough, I know I would not have read it had it not been for my friends!
22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2016?
Hmm. The mystery guy from P.S. I Like you by Kasie West. Naming him would be super spoilery, so there you have it!
23. Best 2016 debut you read?
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton was SO GOOD!
24. Best worldbuilding/most vivid setting you read this year?
I’m trying to name different books!!! The world in Heir to the Sky by Amanda Sun was pretty awesome. But… I’m sorry, the Night Court and The Court of Dreams in A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas win this award. I can’t stop thinking about these places!
25. Book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read?
P.S. I Like you by Kasie West! It’s so cute!!
27. Hidden gem of the year?
The Christmas Cabin by J.L. Jarvis is definitely a hidden gem. I think it was my favorite Christmas read this year, and I only randomly stumbled upon it while browsing Amazon. Hardly anyone has read it, but it was super cute and romantic!
28. Book that crushed your soul?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak wins all the awards for tears and soul crushes.
29. Most unique book you read in 2016?
Ivory & Bone by Julie Eshbaugh is the only book with a prehistoric setting that I’ve ever come across!
30. Book that made you the most mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
I wanted to love Heartless by Marissa Meyer SO BAD because MARISSA MEYER! But I trudged through it and was so mad that I didn’t. Really, though, I was mad that I’ve never ever liked Alice In Wonderland. lol.
1. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?
I loved posting about my favorite cat videos for the Cat King of Havana blog tour! I also had so much fun putting together a list of my teen heartthrobs for the 738 Days blog tour. The most interesting and popular discussion I had on the blog was when I asked readers what’s the longest book they’ve ever read.
2. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?
The only event I went to this year was the Burning Glass signing with Kathryn Purdie. I had an awful migraine that night, so I didn’t totally enjoy myself unfortunately.
3. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2016?
Back in March I was contacted by the people at BEA’s Book Con and invited to lead a roundtable discussion. I had to say no because I was out of the country during BEA, and I was SO SAD I had to decline!! What an honor! I love blogging, and I always do it for myself. It’s nice to know people actually CARE about what I have to say, enough to think of me for an opportunity like this.
4. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?
I seem to have lost my blogging mojo a little. I’m finding myself really struggling to get motivated to write reviews, and I have procrastinated SO MANY of them. I need to work on this.
5. Post you wished got a little more love?
Really, I’ve seen the same steady decline of comments that all the book bloggers have been seeing. I miss the good old days when awesome discussions happened in the comments of all my posts!
6. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?
I’d ben hearing about Book Outlet, but never found anything I wanted. Then I had bookish friends list things on their wishlists that were available there, and I’ve been able to afford sending some gifts this year!
7. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
I completed my Goodreads reading challenge, the Contemporary Romance Challenge reading challenge, the Prequel and Sequel reading challenge, and the TBR reading challenge. The only ones I did not complete were the Netgalley challenge because Edelweiss books don’t count and the Debut Author Challenge because I suck at following my own rules!
1. One book you didn’t get to in 2016 but will be your #1 priority in 2017?
Nemesis by Anna Banks.
2. Book you are most anticipating for 2017 (non-debut)?
Big surprise… A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas.
3. 2017 debut you are most anticipating?
Caraval by Stephanie Garber.
5. One thing you hope to accomplish/do in your reading/blogging life in 2017?
Revitalize! My blog and my reading life both suffered a lot while I was in grad school, but I graduated a couple weeks ago and hopefully my life will level out soon and allow more time for hobbies again!
Merry Christmas, everyone! I can’t believe it’s here already. I feel like time is flying! I’ve had so much fun talking Christmas all month, and I hope you have too! Today I’m going to spending time with my family, opening presents, eating yummy food, and focusing on what this season means to me. If you celebrate, I hope you have a very lovely Christmas and that today will be everything you’ve wished and hoped for it to be.
What are some of your Christmas Day traditions?
Merry Christmas Eve, dear friends! We’ve had a pretty amazing month of Christmassy guest posts from authors and book bloggers, and I’ve just loved it! I’ve also had a lot of fun reading bunches of Christmas romances and sharing my opinions with you on them all. This really is the most wonderful time of the year, and I’m so grateful that my good bookish friends were willing to celebrate it with me!
Every Christmas Eve my family and I drive around town and look at all the Christmas lights on the houses, so for my last Bookish Little Christmas post I thought it would be fun to show you all the Christmas lights I’ve seen this month! I’m kind of obsessed with lights and I love going around and seeing as many as I can. My mom, sister, and I went to two drive-through light displays this month, and we’ve gone to some other fun local light displays as well. Here are some pictures of all my favorites.
Do you enjoy looking at Christmas lights, too? I’d love for you to link me to your favorite displays if you have any!
Today I’m welcoming one of my very good book blogging friends, Alyssa Susanna (of The Eater of Books), to the blog to share her holiday baking traditions! I love how she and her mother enjoy baking together each year,and that they’ve melded American Christmas customs with Trinidadian ones! You might want to grab some treats of your own before reading this post because it’s sure to make you hungry!
Hello friends! Today I’m sharing something near and dear to my heart – my holiday baking traditions! Well, traditions that my mother and I keep. My family and I are Trinidadian, so we do a mix of “American” baked goods, and Trinidadian baked goods. Next year if I’m fortunate, Jana might let me come back, and I’ll share what a Trinidadian Christmas is like! But for now, dessert! Please note – while we do make all of these, we give away at least half, to family and friends! Also note – my mother is the mastermind here. I love baking, and I always have a hand in the holiday baking, but my mom is the genius.
So, here we go! Up first:
This is different from your usual fruit cake! It has raisins, currants, prunes, cherries, walnuts, Trinidad White Oak Rum. It’s often a favorite in the house, especially when all the Trini relatives come over!
These are fairly “American”, but we love them because they are really easy to make, and the chocolate center is delicious! When you get the texture of the cookie right, it’s dreamy.
These are a classic, and a “secret family recipe”. My mother adapted a recipe she got from a lady in church, about twenty years ago. These are the most sought-after cookies that we make! My mother and I usually make four to six dozens! These disappear very quickly.
These are simple and so addicting! Melted milk chocolate chips, melted white chocolate chips, and Christmas-y sprinkles, if you want. Unfortunately they do take some time and the yield isn’t high, but these are perfect to snack on while watching the Christmas football games.
These are simple and so addicting! Melted milk chocolate chips, melted white chocolate chips, and Christmas-y sprinkles, if you want. Unfortunately they do take some time and the yield isn’t high, but these are perfect to snack on while watching the Christmas football games.
Chocolate fudge is another one of the baked goods that we don’t love, but we make it to supplement what we give away. It IS tasty but so sweet! You need it in small doses.
We make MANY more different types of cookies, but I’ll round off with my favorite…
I love these! They are petite and so yummy. I love them so much, I’m going to share the recipe with you! I have been using this Nestle recipe that I found in the local grocery store, about ten years ago. So it’s Nestle’s recipe! Enjoy.
1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1¾ cups chocolate chips/holiday shapes/morsels
½ cup finely chopped nuts (optional)
PREHEAT oven to 375°F.
BEAT butter, sugar, vanilla extract and salt in large mixer bowl until creamy. Gradually beat in flour; stir in morsels and nuts. Shape level tablespoons of dough into 1¼-inch balls. Place on ungreased baking sheets.
BAKE for 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are set and lightly browned. Remove from the oven. Sift powdered sugar over the hot cookies on baking sheets. Cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes. Remove and cool completely on wire racks or wax paper.
Thanks for indulging! I hope you all have a wonderful (and sweet!) holiday season. In the comments, share some of your favorite holiday treats!
Today I’m welcoming my friend Brooke (of Brooke Reports) to the blog! Brooke has one of the cutest Christmas posts ever, and I’m so delighted she chose this topic! I remember baking/buying yummy treats and doorbell ditching them on my the front porches of my high school crushes. Have you ever done that? Brooke is pairing up some of her book boyfriends with a yummy holiday treat… recipes included!
Okay, so originally I was going to write a post about all the fictional boys that I’d love to kiss under the mistletoe….but the list ended up being six pages long—so I scratched that.
Then I thought, oh! I know, a shorter list would totally be, “fictional characters I’d pair up together under the mistletoe.” But—I got WAY too jealous over my near perfect matches :P
So, I decided to go a much sweeter route—a post I like to call “Sweets for my Sweeties.” These hunks can spice up any holiday, here are some recipes inspired by some of my favorites!
He’s a tough guy on the outside, like a hard chocolate shell if you will, but a big softie on the inside.
This boy. I could eat him up. He is an absolute dream. He faces so many struggles. He is layered and full of surprises just like a Peanut Butter Blossom.
He is into Rachel. She is a redhead. Do you see where I’m going with this holiday treat? Gingerbread it is!
Where is this swoony-singer?! What are him and Mia up to? I this all American boy is baking up some sugar cookies with his favorite girl this season.
He is sexy and sweet and complicated and he is the epitome of decadence. Sea Salt Caramels. Yes. Right?! Yes.
Throwing it back to the old school bad boy, Ren from Nightshade by Andrea Cremer. He is spicy and sweet and definitely has a little bite to his bark! Peppermint bark!
What sweets would you give your sweeties?
Top Ten Tuesday is hosted over at the other blog I write for, The Broke and the Bookish.
I can’t believe Christmas is this Sunday! This entire holiday season has flown by, and I’m sad it’s almost over. I don’t know about you, but the anticipation and the build-up is more fun for me than the actual Christmas Day. Today we’re showing off our letters to Santa, and of course I had a hard time deciding on which books I’d love to get this year! Some of them haven’t been released yet, but Santa is magical and I know he can pull this kind of thing off!
1. The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
2. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
3. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
4. One Dance with a Duke by Tessa Dare
5. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
6. A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
7. Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser
8. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
9. The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye
10. Riders by Veronica Rossi
A big Christmassy welcome to Molly Booth, 2016 debut author of Saving Hamlet! I was so excited when Molly told me her idea for A Bookish Little Christmas because I LOVE time travel and I really loved this idea of having Cooke (a guy from Elizabethan England) write a letter to Emma (our modern-day main character) during Christmastime in his time. Seriously, how fun is this?
It is London, late 1601. Alexander Cooke, actor at the Globe Playhouse, prepares to play a new role with Shakespeare and the Chamberlain’s Men. He sorely misses his futuristic friend, Emma Allen. Unsure how to feel better, he fitfully writes her a letter.
My Dearest, Em
Emma, Emma, wherefore art thou, Emma? Deny thy time and refuse thy name. Though in sooth, I love thy real name, even if it doth keep us parted. My friend, much time hath passed since I last saw thee. The sun riseth, and I miss thee. It seteth, and I miss thee more. I write this letter to ease my aching mind — my heart, I fear, groweth so weary and cold there is naught to do for comfort.
I fear, also, that I am growing too dramatic.
Our company hath abandoned our Globe for the season, and we play indoors, lit by candle light. Master Shakespeare hath written a new play, “What You Will,” and I know thou wouldst like it. ’Tis a comedy, but if it twere a stream, the river bed would be of tragedy. We rehearse madly, for in a fortnight, we play for Queen Elizabeth and the Italian Duke Orsini. Art thou impressed?
I play a young woman, Viola, grieving for the loss of her twin brother. She disguiseth herself as a young lord to work for the Duke Orsino (Master Shakespeare flatters our Italian visitor with great subtlety). Naturally, Viola falleth in love with Orsino, and once again, the play ends with my marriage to Burbage.
I remember thee, when I am Viola. I remember thy spirit, thy clumsy, gentle ways. I remember thy grief after Master Wick’s passing. I feel the grief that bears down in my breast when I think of how we are parted. It feels wrong, though I know a shift in time cannot be right?
How shall I send this letter? Down a trap door? Up through heaven? By thunderstorm? By cannon?
Like all of Master Shakespeare’s plays, there is truth and beauty in this new one that bring tears and comfort:
O time, thou must untangle this, not I. It is too hard a knot for me to un’tie.
O — thou must knowest this play, as thou knowest all secrets of our future. So, couldst thou send us the final title? Master Shakespeare hath just discovered that another playwright hath new a play also called “What You Will.” He is not pleased.
I prithee. Do not stay away so long.
Copyright © Molly Booth 2016
I wanted sophomore year to be different, but this was a little much.
Emma Allen couldn’t be more excited to start her sophomore year. Not only is she the assistant stage manager for the drama club’s production of Hamlet, but her crush Brandon is directing, and she’s rocking a new haircut that’s sure to get his attention. But soon after school starts, everything goes haywire. Emma’s suddenly promoted to stage manager, her best friend, Lulu, stops talking to her, and Josh—the sweet soccer player who’s been cast as the lead—turns out to be a disaster. It’s up to Emma to fix it all, but she has no clue where to start.
One night after rehearsal, Emma stays behind to think through her life’s latest crises and distractedly falls through the stage’s trap door…landing in the basement of the Globe Theater.
It’s London, 1601, and with her awesome new pixie cut, everyone thinks Emma’s a boy—even Will Shakespeare himself. Dropped into the middle of the original production of Hamlet, Emma gamely plays her role as backstage assistant, jumping at the chance to experience theatre history and rub shoulders with legends. But the Globe’s Hamlet has its own problems, and once Emma starts traveling back and forth through time, things get really confusing. In which reality does she belong? And can she possibly save two epically tragic productions of Hamlet before time runs out?
About Molly Booth
Molly Booth grew up homeschooled in Massachusetts with her four boisterous siblings. She stage managed for three different community theatres in high school. Her first college was Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown, MA; she then went on to study writing, literature, and Elizabethan history on a very cold hill at Marlboro College in Vermont. There, she wrote the first drafts of Saving Hamlet, her debut novel, coming 11/1/16 from Disney Hyperion. Her second book, Nothing Happened, will be coming spring 2018.
Molly also writes for The Mary Sue, and sometimes other sites like HelloGiggles, The Tempest, and McSweeney’s. She spends most of her time snuggling her adorable dog Suzie, pet rats Meg and Marigold, and Harriet the queen cat.
It’s Christmas Eve and Rory Andrews is desperate to get home to the family she hasn’t seen in years. Problem is, her only ride to Lake Tahoe comes in the form of the annoyingly handsome Max Stranton, and his big, goofy, lovable dog Carl.
Hours stuck in a truck with the dead sexy Max sounds like a fate worse than death (not), but Rory’s out of options. She’s had a crush on Max since high school and she knows he’s attracted to her, too. But they have history… and Max is the only one who knows why it went south.
They’ve done a good job of ignoring their chemistry so far, but a long road trip in a massive blizzard might be just what they need to face their past… and one steamy, snowy night is all it takes to bring Max and Rory together at last.
I love those romances where the love interests knew each other as kids (and usually hated each other) and then are brought back together by the craziness of life. I also love it when blizzards act as matchmakers and force people to develop deep bonds. And I love animals that seem to thrive when people fall in love around them. This is One Snowy Night in a nutshell, and I really enjoyed it! I was expecting it to be longer, though. The book file told me I had about 40% of the book left and BAM, it ended and gave us previews of other books by Jill (so no, this novella was not 160 pages and if I had bought it I would have felt seriously cheated). I was looking forward to more details and romance… I did feel like things were resolved super quickly, but I had so much fun with the romance and the festiveness and the small story that I did get. I liked Rory and Max individually and together, and I liked their heavier back stories and those resolutions (although Max’s grudge against Rory was silly and unfounded, so he did bug me some…). Was the romance a little fast-moving to feel realistic? Yes. But I tend to be lenient with Christmas romances so it’s ok.
This novella was my first taste of the Heartbreaker Bay series and my second Jill Shalvis book, the first of which was also a Christmas novella. I’ve decided that I like Jill and her characters, but I think I need to read her full length novels. I think they are probably stronger and more developed.
Guys, this is such an exciting day for me!!! Kate Avery Ellison, one of my favorite authors (she wrote the The Frost Chronicles and The Secrets of Itlantis) is here with an exclusive Christmas story prequel to Frost! Look at how beautiful her writing is and how awesome this world is.
I hope this story makes you flock to purchase all her books because I just LOVE them! And… another super exciting bit of news… she told me she enjoyed writing this story so much that she might write an anthology of holiday shorts for this Christmas. Just take my money already!
Cold wind swirled around me as I ran down the path that led through the Frost’s deep and silent woods with a week’s worth of quota yarn in the bundle slung over my back. My breath came in quick, burning gasps, and the stitch in my side ached. My feet found the path even though it was covered in new snow, leaving a lonely tread of footprints in the snow behind me, a trail of crumbs to follow home. But though I knew the way, my heart drummed hard beneath the clasp of my cloak.
It had stormed the night before, and Frost was wrapped in a cloudy mist of snow and ice. The whole world seemed to be holding its breath in the wet, muffled silence made by the fresh snow. The misty white seemed to make everything larger and more ominous. I could see no more than three feet before me, even with the milky sunlight that lit the world from above.
Around me, branches laden with ice appeared as if blinking into existence from the mist that enveloped them. Spots of blue glowed here and there where the Frost’s peculiar snow blossoms, flowers that grew and flowered despite the freezing cold, bloomed just beneath their fresh covering of snow. The trees stood sentinel, piles of ice coating their bases, making them look like hooded figures to my anxious eyes. Somewhere in the deepest reaches of the forest, the monstrous creatures we called Watchers were waiting. I imagined them rising from the fog at every turn, and my skin prickled with every crack of a branch and shower of snow from overladen trees.
Every day in the Frost was a struggle to survive, but today I felt particularly hopeless. My siblings and I were three orphans trying to run our farm and maintain our weekly required quota of yarn that we delivered to the village in exchange for food and supplies to keep us alive. Our little family—what was left of it—barely scraped by as it was. We had barely enough flour left in the kitchen for another day, because my young sister was growing like a sapling in spring and there was never enough to feed her. But I dared not let the village elders know, or they might take Ivy away to stay with another family. Now, the storm last night had knocked a tree onto the fence at the back of the barn.
We were lucky it hadn’t hit the barn itself, I supposed. Or the house. Still, I didn’t know how I was going to fix it.
Finally, I reached the hill above the village. The mist had burned away here, and I felt like a swimmer breaking the surface of an icy lake. I leaned against a tree to gather a lungful of air before I continued on. Hopeless or not, I would keep going. What else was there to do?
Crusty snow crunched beneath my feet as I entered Iceliss. Frost patterns clouded the windows of the shops, and snow piled high at the edges of the streets and along the ridges of the roofs. Voices and footsteps echoed weirdly. A strange energy hung in the air.
I scanned the crowds for any sign of my best friend, Ann, and her bright red hood that made her stand out from the rest of the pale-cloaked villagers like a robin amid swirling snowflakes.
What I saw instead made me stop in the street so suddenly that a miller with his load of flour collided with me. He muttered an apology, followed by a scant “Much light to ya, Weaver,” which I barely heard.
Garlands of snow blossoms were strung across every doorway and window. Quilted squares decorated with the flower were draped across the curtains along with streamers of blue, silver, and white ribbons. Bouquets of candles huddled in every window, ready to be lit as soon as the light faded. The streets were strung with lanterns, also ready to be lit as soon as the command was given. Every lantern was painted with pictures of snow blossoms and decorated with ribbons that dangled down into the streets. The villagers crossed beneath them, backs bowed beneath their loads, most impervious to the beauty that hung above them. A few children stopped and stared upward, their eyelashes and open mouths catching snowflakes that drifted from the cloudy sky.
Today was the Darkest Day, the shortest day of the entire year and the end of our calendar. Tonight, we would bundle ourselves in our houses with extra snow blossoms and as many candles and lanterns as we could light to ward off the dark, because with the dark came the monsters. The snow blossoms were strung and sprinkled everywhere, because for reasons unknown to us, they repelled the creatures that prowled our frozen forests at night. We would crowd around our fires with food and drink, tell stories into the wee hours of the morning, and exchange gifts at midnight. Hope was like a candle, and we would burn it in anticipation that the new year would be brighter than the last.
How could I have forgotten?
Truly, the date had fled my mind. My parents’ deaths six months ago had meant that all the work of the farm—all the responsibilities—fell upon me with the weight of too much snow upon a straggling pine.
I had no special foods to bring home, no gifts for my siblings. My sister especially loved the Darkest Day celebrations, and with our parents gone, she would be even more desperate to make the night as bright as possible.
I tried to think as I waited in the quota line with my yarn. I had a few extra skeins in my pocket that I’d brought to trade for turnips to feed the livestock. Could I spare them to buy a few sweets instead?
After I’d turned in my quota, I headed for the market. It was crowded with jostling villagers. Extra stalls were selling candles and lanterns. I pushed my way through the confusion to the baker’s stall, where Lori Baker was selling pies and small jars of fresh maple syrup to pour over snow. My heart twisted to see the jars, because my father had always bought each of us one as a treat. The memory flooded over me, threatening tears, but I didn’t cry. I couldn’t afford the luxury of tears, not anymore.
I locked gazes with Lori, who looked warm and well-fed. Beside her, I must look like a cold and feral cat. The winter had not been kind to what was left of my family.
She eyed me as if expecting me to grab one of the pies and run.
“Lia Weaver,” she acknowledged with a nod. “Much light to you.”
“Much light to you,” I said, and pulled the skeins from my pocket. “I need two jars of syrup.”
Lori shook her head. Her mouth curved with disdain. “Not for that.”
“This is two skeins of quality yarn!”
“My father told me to charge good prices,” she said. “Syrup is worth more than that paltry bit of thread.”
I forced back the angry retort that rose to my lips. “What can I buy with them, then?”
“We have no need of yarn,” she said. “My father wants meat and fish and beer, he told me. Furs, maybe, if it’s fox or rabbit. No yarn.”
Rabbit fur. I could check the traps I set in the Frost. Hope struggled in my chest. I pocketed the yarn and turned away without a word as the next person stepped forward to haggle.
I almost collided with Adam Brewer.
He caught me before I slammed into him, and his hands were warm against my arms. I wrenched away, my eyes wrenching away from his burning dark gaze. I was ashamed that he had witnessed my rejection at the hands of Lori Baker. Him, Adam Brewer, whom I did not trust.
“Much light to you,” I heard him say, but I was already hurrying away.
I needed to get back to the Frost while the light was still strong. If I found something in the traps, and skinned it…
I turned, snapping out of my thoughts to see my best friend Ann rushing toward me. Her curly blonde hair blew into her eyes, and she brushed it away, smiling in a way she rarely did anymore. She caught my hand when she reached me, and she hugged me hard. She’d been holding on more tightly these days, as if she feared that each time we parted, it would be the last.
“I didn’t see you at the quota yard,” she said breathlessly. “I was looking everywhere.”
“I was at the market,” I said. “Looking for syrup for Ivy and Jonn.”
I didn’t tell her I’d forgotten the date, or that I hadn’t prepared. I didn’t tell her about Lori’s rudeness. Ann had enough of her own sorrows. I was just happy to see her smiling.
“Here,” she said, pressing the handle of a basket into my hand. “A present for Dark Day. No—don’t open it now.”
“Ann, I have nothing for you.” Again, I was dismayed at my failure.
“You have arms to embrace me,” she said, and so I hugged her fiercely. And somehow, that was enough.
I braved the fog of the forest, my pulse pounding and my ears straining for sounds of danger as I crept furtively through the milky white, feeling blind. Once, something crashed away from me noisily, and I froze in terror, but when all was quiet, I continued on and found deer tracks.
Nothing waited for me in the traps I’d set. One was broken, with small clawed feet leading away into the snow.
I turned a full circle in the snow, feeling empty as the traps had been. I could go back to the village and try to barter for something to give my siblings. Perhaps a few ribbons for Ivy, or a book for Jonn. But the sunlight was beginning to lessen. It was the shortest day of the year, after all. Not enough time to get to the village and back to the farm safely, not if I wanted to also feed the animals and do the rest of the chores.
With a sinking heart, I turned for home, forging through the misty white of the forest, brushing through the thorny branches of a bush.
I paused, and then knelt to brush away snow from the branches. The snow make a soft sound as it slid away from the bush, revealing a shock of bright red frostberries.
Ivy loved the bittersweet taste of them, I remembered, and I rarely had time to go looking for them. So I filled my pockets with as many as I could pick before my fingers began to go numb through my mittens, and then I turned for home, sweeping the forest with my gaze as I walked. This time, I wasn’t looking for signs of monsters, but for the treasures of the forest hidden beneath the snow.
I picked handfuls of snow blossoms and filled my empty quota bag with green branches from the forest pines. When I reached the farm, I could barely hold the weight of the bag and Ann’s basket. I dragged the things to the barn with me, fed the animals, and then approached the house. Darkness had already begun to tinge the sky blue. The air had taken on a bite that chilled me to my marrow. I paused at the door, below our wreath of dried snow blossoms, and knocked the snow from my boots before stepping inside.
I didn’t even have time to speak before my sister ambushed me. “You’re home,” she squealed. “Happy Dark Day, Lia!”
I set down the bag and Ann’s basket, aware of how misleading the pine branches must be. She probably thought I’d come loaded with presents. “Ivy,” I said. “I’m so sorry, but I didn’t remember—”
“Shhh.” She grabbed my hand. “Come to the fire. Your skin is like ice.”
She dragged me toward the chairs we kept close to the hearth and pushed me into the largest one. “Sit.”
“Where’s Jonn?” I asked, looking around the room. “Is he having an episode?”
Fear twisted me up at the thought. My twin brother had seizures in addition to lacking the ability to walk without assistance. He often had to lie down during the day with a cold washcloth over his eyes.
“Jonn,” Ivy called out, and then she jumped up and disappeared into my parents’ bedroom. When they reappeared, Jonn leaning heavily on Ivy’s shoulder, they were both smiling.
“Surprise!” Ivy shouted.
Jonn carried a bundle of cloth under one arm, and around his neck he’d draped strands of snow blossoms strung together with bits of yarn and ribbon. He sat down heavily in the chair beside mine and tossed the garlands into my lap.
“We made decorations,” Ivy announced, hovering at my side. “Just like Ma always did. Look, look. They’re a little sad-looking, because we didn’t have enough snow blossoms. But I think they are nice.”
My siblings’ garlands were sparse and clumsy compared to the ones my mother made, but they were absolutely beautiful to me. I touched a snow blossom petal with my fingertips as a mixture of emotions flooded me—sadness, followed by a sweet nostalgia.
“And this is for you,” Jonn added. He handed me the bundle. “We worked on it in secret this past month.”
“Open it!” Ivy said eagerly. Then, impatient, she leaned over me to do it herself. “It’s a new dress.”
“How in the world did you make this in a month?” I unfurled the dress, astonished and overwhelmed.
“Well, Ma was making it before…” Jonn didn’t finish that thought. “I found it in her things. Ivy and I finished it secretly.”
My eyes prickled, and my nose stung. I looked at them both, then the dress. I didn’t know what to say. Jonn, so strong despite his impairments. Ivy, the one I was always hounding to do her work.
“I love you both,” I whispered. “I’m so sorry I have brought nothing.”
Ivy leaped up and ran to where I’d left my things. She seemed infused with energy today. “You brought a basket. And a bag full of snow blossoms and pine branches. Look how big and beautiful these blossoms are! Were you in the deep Frost today?”
“I was checking the traps,” I admitted. “Hoping to find something to trade.”
Ivy picked up the basket from Ann. “What’s this?” she asked, and lifted the cover.
I stood and handed my new clothes and the garlands to Jonn. “Ann gave it to me.”
It was probably an embroidered pillow. Ann embroidered as her particular skill; everyone in Iceliss had a skill.
“It’s a feast,” Ivy said.
I hurried to her side and looked over her shoulder into the basket. Nestled inside was a loaf of bread, two yams, a tiny pie, and a slab of cooked ham wrapped in parchment paper. A feast indeed. Ann must have smuggled this out of her father’s house. My heart swelled with gratitude for my dear friend.
“And I forgot—I brought frostberries,” I said. “I found them in the forest.”
Ivy hugged me tight.
“Let’s eat,” Jonn said. “And then we can decorate and tell riddles by the fire until the new year begins.”
Neither Ivy nor Jonn made it to midnight before falling asleep beside the fire, their stomachs full of Ann’s delicious food. We’d laughed and talked and told each other favorite memories of previous Dark Days, when Ma and Da were still with us. Ivy had cried a little too, which was not out of character for her. Jonn told us riddles. We’d eaten the berries with our fingers and licked the juice from the tips.
Now I sat alone, stoking the fire back to brilliance, listening for the sound of Watchers outside as I always did out of habit. The garlands hung over the windows, the fragrant pine branches adorned the mantel, and Ivy had sprinkled the rest of the snow blossoms around the front door in a heap of glistening blue. The air smelled like flowers and pine. The fire crackled, throwing bright light over the sleeping faces of my siblings.
All was quiet.
Then, something scraped against the side of the house.
I stiffened, straining to listen as my eyes flew to the window and the shutters that were bolted over the glass against the cold and the dark. The fire snapped and popped behind me, and the wind hummed a mournful note, and all else was silent. But I didn’t relax, I didn’t sit back. I waited, and held my breath, and terror drummed its cold fingers across my skin.
Was it a Watcher?
We were on the very edge of civilization. Our farm had its back to the cold, fathomless Frost. Sometimes we saw the massive tracks left by the monsters in the night, or heard their eerie screams.
I listened hard for anything—a growl, a hiss, a snarl—but the night outside was devoid of any sounds.
Finally, I slept.
Morning light woke me, streaming through the cracks in the shutters with blinding intensity. We’d slept late after our night of laughter and reminiscence. We’d all slept by the hearth on blankets, and I stretched my sore muscles as I sat up and brushed hair from my eyes. The garlands of snow blossoms were withered and strange in the light of day. The fire had died down to glowing coals.
It was a new year. The Darkest Day was behind us, and the monsters had not come.
I rose, washed myself with the icy water in my bedroom’s basin, and put on my new dress and old cloak. Chores still needed to be tended to, new year or not. I opened the door to step into the yard.
There, on the stoop amid the piles of snow blossoms, sat a pale blue lantern decorated with painted flowers and a festoon of ribbons. Next to it, nestled in the snow, were three jars.
I bent down and picked one up. I peered inside, and my heart stuttered a little at the sight of the frozen maple syrup inside.
There was no note, no name, but I had a suspicion of who had left the gifts. I didn’t know what to think of such a gesture, and so instead I turned and called to my brother and sister, waking them.
The chores could wait another half hour. The worries, the scraping to get by, the wondering about what the future held for us—all of it could wait for just a little while yet, because Jonn, Ivy, and I were going to make the traditional new year’s candy that we’d made every year with our Da—warm maple syrup poured over the fresh powdered snow.
When I stepped into the yard to find a snowbank suitable for the syrup candy, I spotted the fence that had been destroyed in the storm.
It was fixed.
We were not without friends, even though we didn’t always know who they might be. We could do this. We could struggle through together. Jonn, Ivy, and me.
And as I looked down at the jar of syrup in my hand, I felt hopeful.
In the icy, monster-plagued world of the Frost, compassion might get a person killed, and Lia Weaver knows this better than anyone. After the monsters kill her parents, she must keep the family farm running or risk losing her siblings to reassignment by the village Elders. With dangers on all sides, she can’t afford to let her emotions lead her astray. But when her sister finds a fugitive bleeding to death in the forest, a young man from beyond the Frost named Gabe, Lia does the unthinkable. She saves his life. Giving shelter to the fugitive could get her in trouble. The Elders have always described the advanced society of people beyond the Frost, the “Farthers,” as ruthless and cruel. Lia is startled to find that Gabe is empathetic and intelligent-and handsome. And she might even be falling for him. But time is running out. The monsters in the forest are growing bold and restless. The village leader is starting to ask questions. Farther soldiers are searching for Gabe. Is compassion-and love-worth the risk? Finally, when a startling discovery challenges everything she thought was true about her life, Lia realizes exactly what she must do.
About Kate Avery Ellison
I’ve been making up stories since I was five years old, and now I’m thrilled to be able to do it as a full-time job. I have an obsession with dark fantasy, dystopian futures, and Pride and Prejudice-style love stories full of witty banter and sizzling, unspoken feelings. When I’m not writing, I’m creating digital art, reading funny blogs, or watching my favorite shows (which include TVD and BSG). I live with my geeky husband and our two bad cats in Atlanta, GA.