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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Book Review: The Astonishing Color of After

“Once upon a time we were the standard colors of a rainbow, cheery and certain of ourselves. At some point, we all began to stumble into the in-betweens, the murky colors made dark and complicated by resentment and quiet anger.  At some point, my mother slid so off track she sank into hues of gray, a world drawn only in shadows.”

This book hit me in the feels like a semi-truck.

Usually, I read good books at a faster pace, but I could only handle this book little bits at a time. It was so intense. Leigh’s mother struggles with depression, which hit so close to home. I have struggled with depression at times—including one point when I was reading this book, so I had to set it down for a week. But while it was difficult to read, after I read another book or two in-between, it was very well-written. And I like it when authors write a note at the end talking about mental illness instead of just leaving readers alone with the story.



Book: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan
Genre: Magical Realism, Mental Illness, Contemporary, Young Adult
My rating: 4/5 stars
Awards: None (yet!)
One-word description: *internal screaming*

When I first opened the book, I found myself groaning like the kid from The Princess Bride: “Is this going to be a kissing book?”

The magical realism elements of the book were particularly mysterious. More than once, I was left wondering if Leigh wasn’t just imagining everything. Other times, she held physical evidence, and even though I’ve finished the book I still have my doubts. Magical realism, at the end, should leave readers wondering what’s real and what’s not, even if they’re used to reading fantasy, and the author, Pan, did a wonderful job!

The story takes place both in America and Taiwan, which I found to be excellent because usually multicultural books deal with one or the other. And Leigh was easy to relate with, as she loves her parents and her art, despite all the difficulties. Though there were times she wasn’t perfect, it actually made her easier to relate with.

I also particularly liked the book’s dialogue. At times, the characters spoke their minds but other times, they had difficulty speaking and communicating at all. Most often, I didn’t feel like I was reading a book at all. It felt so real.

However, there were times when the book got repetitive, repetitive, repetitive. I’m not sure repeating certain words again and again and again was really necessary, though I did like the use of the phrase “I want you to remember”. Another problem I had was that I took so many breaks, I actually started confusing this story’s characters with another story’s.
Reaching the end of the book was almost like the end of The Princess Bride:

Grandpa: And as they reached for each other... *closes book* 
Grandson (aka ME): What? What? 
Grandpa: Ah, it’s kissing again. You don’t want to hear that. 
Grandson: I don’t mind so much. 
Grandpa: Oh, okay. *continues reading*

In all, I gave The Astonishing Colors of After 4/5 stars for an excellent story, well-developed characters, and great themes. I would recommend this book to fans of young adult books, magical realism, and accurate stories about mental illness. However, I would strongly caution readers who may struggle with depression and/or readers who know somebody who does. While this book addresses suicide and depression in such a way that had me silently thanking the author at the end, it can be rather intense.

Doesn’t The Astonishing Color of After sound intriguing? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these booksStarfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Tell Me Something Real by Calla Devlin, and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

Let’s chat! Has The Astonishing Color of After made it to your to-be-read list yet? Anybody out there read it? Have any book recommendations featuring characters with mental illness?

***

Similar book reviews: Goodbye Days, A World Without You, and The Snow Child

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Origami Swan: Novel Title Change and Cinnamon Rolls (aka Characters)

If you haven’t noticed already, I’m slightly obsessed with cinnamon rolls. They hold pleasant memories for me. When I was studying for my undergraduate degree, I would visit my Grandmama every Thanksgiving and Spring Break, and she made the world’s best cinnamon rolls, and then she’d let me add extra frosting and let me eat out of the frosting bowl because she’s just that kind of wonderful person! (We’re not actually related by blood, but I call her Grandmama anyway.)

And comparing fictional characters to cinnamon rolls is loads of fun. I like the trend with my favorite fandoms. (Maybe it’s old and stale now? Who cares!) So I thought, why not introduce the main characters of my novel, Origami Swan (previously called Just Breathe), by using the comparison. Here goes!


Title: Origami Swan
Story Type: novel
Current Writing Stage: querying literary agents
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult Fantasy

Looks like a cinnamon roll but could actually kill you: Mary Lee Winters




Slightly obsessed with technology and prefers to go by her middle name, Lee. Carries around an e-guide to the Labyrinth, written by her dad, “The Professor.” Makes her initial appearance when a vendor at the Maze Market points her out to the main character, Agatha.

Looks like she could kill you and could actually kill you: Agatha Jordan




Recent high school graduate who likes collecting books, discovering the best hiking trails, and working at her dad’s garage. Prefers logic to emotion yet tends to be impulsive. Makes her appearance as the protagonist and narrator on the first page.

Looks like he could kill you and is actually a cinnamon roll: Guy Graves



Also known as the coffee addict or “Guy of Gisborne” and is not a fan of mornings. At all. Don’t bother talking to him until he’s had at least three cups of black coffee. Makes his initial appearance at the Maze Market when he mistakes Agatha for Lee.

Looks like a cinnamon roll and is a cinnamon roll: Genesis “Jen” Montgomery



A chemistry major and a college senior who likes quirky sci-fi novels. Tends to be socially awkward but enjoys deep, philosophical conversations. Makes her initial appearance wandering in the Labyrinth.

That’s just a few facts about the main quartet of characters in my latest novel. I could say more, but I don’t want to give too much away.

This list isn’t quite the comprehensive cast. I haven’t even mentioned the antagonists yet! And yes, I know some of the names are weird. #AuthorConfession: I took some names I originally didn’t like (e.g. Agatha) or random terms (e.g. Guy) and gave them to my characters, and they kinda stuck. Now I like them and they’re not changing.

Let’s chat! Who would you most be interested in meeting? Who are you most like? (Of all the cinnamon rolls, I’m probably “looks like she could kill you and is actually a cinnamon roll.”) When’s the last time you had an actual cinnamon roll?

***

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Poem: Still Life in Spring


It’s officially spring!

At least it is where I live. Actually, we had a pretty early spring, a brief snow that killed most of the crocus, then sunny day after sunny day. It’s unusual for this time of year. Usually, we get more rain, but I’m enjoying the sunshine! (I kinda miss the rain. Then I don’t have to water my outdoor plants.)

Until we get our next rainfall, I’ll take whatever kind of weather we’ve got! (Unless it's tornadoes/droughts/floods/earthquakes/tsunamis/erupting volcanoes. No and thank you!)


Still Life in Spring

Have you ever seen a flowerfall?
The way the petal spills down the rocks,
a bouquet of white and purple icicles.

The cherry blossoms unfold like origami—
one day baby buds, the next busty blooms,
then their color drips away like waterlogged paper.

The sky’s painted blue; somebody forgot
to erase the smudges of white and with one stroke
a blur of purple-gray thunder shatters the illusion.

Not even the ground is still—
she crawls with ants, writhes with worms,
cracks from the dry days all too firm.

The tomcat stands petrified in the field;
the hawk swoops down; the dog bites dirt
as the mice wait for the rain to come down.

***

Let’s chat! What does your typical spring weather usually look like? Do you prefer sunshine or rainy days? What’d you think of the poem?

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Guest Bloggers Wanted! (Theme: Abandoned)

I’m switching things up a bit. If you came looking for a poem at the beginning of the month, rest assured, I’ll still be posting one next week instead. I wanted to give my fellow bloggers the opportunity to consider writing a guest post!

As I announced in my last newsletter, I’ll be taking a planned writing hiatus this June. (I’m also considering stopping my newsletter as it usually takes 5+ hours of writing, editing, photography, formatting, and of the two people who actually reads it, one is my critique partner.) I usually take a hiatus once a year, and June seemed like the perfect month for 2018 because it’s my birthday month (you didn’t hear that from me) and the wedding month for one of my closest friends! That isn’t to say that I won’t do any writing. I probably will, but I won’t be writing blog posts of my own.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t host guest writers!

Without further ado, please welcome the theme for June’s guest writers:


Ever felt alone in a crowd? Ever explored a crumbling structure that was once teeming with life?

Sometimes, the world can be a lonely place.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Sometimes we read to discover other characters and fellow readers who share similar characteristics.

Sometimes we write to express ourselves amid our loneliness. Sometimes writing helps us connect with readers.

Books with a desert(ed) setting. 


Think sand dunes, uncharted islands, harsh environments, ruined castles, abandoned manors, you name it. Remember, not all deserts are hot. Antarctica is classified as a desert because it receives very little precipitation.

Writing about abandonment. 


Are you a poet? How about a novelist? Short story writer? If you’re a poet and want to write or have written a poem about abandonment, feel free to share it. Or if you’re writing a story with abandoned characters/settings, feel free to write a post about it.

Other. 


The above are just prompts. If you have an idea for a post that doesn’t quite fit any of these categories, feel free to pitch your idea. I’m open to suggestions.

Are you up for the challenge?

If you answered yes, feel free to get in touch! Contact me via contact@azelynklein.com .

I look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Book Review: The Snow Child

“In my old age, I see that life itself is often more fantastic and terrible than the stories we believed as children, and that perhaps there is no harm in finding magic among the trees.”

I was pretty skeptical about this book at first. It almost didn’t make it onto my To-Be-Read list. But am I glad it did! I ended up devouring it in a couple of sittings. Set in Alaska during the 1920’s, the state itself is as real as a character. I’m particularly drawn to stories like this!



Book: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Genre: Magical Realism, Fairy Tale Retelling
My rating: 4/5 stars
Awards: Pulitzer Prize Nominee for Fiction (2013), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Historical Fiction (2012), and more!
One-word description: Whimsical

Far too often, stories center on the beauty of summer and the darkness of winter. Winter, at least in my own mind, is a dark creature to be shunned. But this story reminds me of the beauty of it, the beauty in all its wonder and cruelty and cold. Not many books present winter in such a way, except maybe The Left Hand of Darkness, and even then, it’s more cruel than beautiful.

Often times, the story left me wondering what was real and what wasn’t. I suppose that’s a feature of magical realism, and I rather enjoyed it. The snow child’s dialogue lacked quotation marks while everybody else’s dialogue had them, which made me think her words were either soft spoken or closer to thought than actual dialogue. Then there was the whole idea that she had parents at one point, or did she really come from the first snow of winter?

I particularly enjoyed the characters, as this was more of a character-driven story than a plot-driven one. Mabel and Jack are such a wonderful couple, and I loved it when they were making snow angels in their yard with the snow child or when they danced in the kitchen. Yet they’re not without their faults, and the character development was so well done.

Mabel’s relationship with the snow child had to be my favorite. Having had a stillborn child years before, Mabel cares for the little girl just as though she was her own. And the child not only inspires Mabel to pick up drawing again and to write to her sister back East, but the child also draws her back to the desire to live.

The Snow Child has to be my favorite fairy tale retelling yet! It centers on the beauty and the cruelty of nature, the enjoyment of the little things, and the joy and sorrow of relationships. Drawn from the Russian tale of Snegurochka, the snow child, the book actually references the original tales, and Mabel spends plenty of time studying the pictures in an old book of her father’s, even though the text itself is in Russian.

In all, I gave The Snow Child 4/5 stars for wonderful storytelling and characters. I’d recommend it to anybody who enjoys fairy tales and well-written stories and snow. For the author’s debut, I am immensely impressed.

Doesn’t The Snow Child sound wonderful? Have you read it already? You might also enjoy these magical realism stories: Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter, Illusion by Frank E. Peretti, and Bone Gap by Laura Ruby.

Let’s chat! Has The Snow Child made it to your to-be-read list yet? Anybody out there read it? Have any magical realism book recommendations?

***

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Traveling and Writing: Inspirational or Disastrous?

For those who may not know, I grew up within a military community. This lifestyle not only means that I’m not very familiar with civilian culture (I thought everybody knew what a commissary was), but it also means I’ve had to move around a lot. I’ve never lived in the same house for more than three years in a row. The longest I ever lived in one state was seven years, and that was in four different houses.

Let that sink in before you ask me where I’m from.

Person: So, where are you from? 
Me: Would you like the list alphabetically or chronologically?

I’m not from anywhere. Not really. I’m from the States, sure, but what do you do with the years I’ve lived in England, Italy, and Germany?

Identity crisis aside, I’ve moved around a lot. Which also means I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel, and I enjoy it. Traveling is amazing. I like getting out of my comfort zone and setting foot in a strange wildness, discovering new types of ravines, languages, and peoples. That should be incredibly inspirational for writing. Right?


When I first moved to England, I bought a used bike. I could walk everywhere, sure. I walked from my flat to the castle downtown, but it took an hour there and an hour back. With a bike, it took half the time (it was uphill, okay?). Chatting with my aunt online, she remarked that it must be wonderfully inspirational living in a foreign country and the city that birthed the legend of Robin Hood.

Of course it was inspirational. So I sat down, and typed, and!—I wrote a poem about a puddle on a sidewalk that I passed while biking. Not too inspiring, is it? (For those of you who are curious, it was my first local publication, in my university’s magazine. Check out: Puddle.)

A year or so before I moved to England, I went with a class from my undergraduate university on a study abroad trip to Oxford (read all about it in my newsletter: The Two Fandoms). When I take short trips, whether it’s for a weekend or a week, I like to leave my computer behind to focus on the trip itself. But while I was in Oxford, I was also getting a piece published on Splickety’s Lightning Blog, and they wanted me to make some edits. Which is pretty hard to do without a computer. In the end, I messaged my mom and walked her through the edits (all three rounds of them). Lesson learned—if I submit a piece for publication, even if I don’t know whether it’s been accepted or not yet, bring the computer.


“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”  
—St. Augustine of Hippo

When you travel as much as I do, you run the risk of computer damage. One time my sister and I had our backpacks in the back of a rental car, and the driver opened the trunk without watching the bags, and they fell and damaged both our computers. A piece of advice for travelers—whenever you go somewhere, only take what you’re not afraid to lose.

Another time, for my first two experiences of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), we happened to be packing up our household goods and moving to a new country. It’s a little difficult to write a novel to the pterodactyl screech of packing tape.

Leisurely travel can also be so overwhelming that I get behind on journaling. I didn’t journal half of 2017 because I didn’t want to skip over my trip to Israel, but I only got halfway through writing about it. I like to write incredibly detailed journal entries, so I couldn’t keep up with them while I was in Israel. I finally finished my journal entry back home on New Year’s Eve.

It’s especially hard to share a blog post, even if I have it scheduled ahead of time, if I have no internet access.


“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door […] You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  
—Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings

But that isn’t to say that all writing-and-travel-related experiences are negative. Some of them can be inspirational. Hiking and biking, in particular, are most inspirational for me. The exercise gets my blood pumping and my mind running. For example, I came up with novel names while hiking in the Alps from Oberammergau to Ettal. I also came up with countless poems from exploring cathedrals or biking to my local library. I even came up with the initial idea for Last of the Memory Keepers when we got pickpocketed in Rome.

And because I travel so much, I can write practically anywhere. While I prefer my desk, I can and have written in airports, in cafes, in the car, on trains, and yes, in my head while exercising.

So yes, I would say traveling can serve as an inspiration for writing. Traveling provides me with new life experiences and gives me stories, fictional and nonfictional to write about. Sometimes, it poses challenges. But that’s part of the adventure.

Let’s chat! What’s your favorite place to write? Is traveling beneficial or disastrous for your writing? Where have you found inspiration?

***


Travel poetry: Bury Me, Cathedral, and The Christmas Market

Sunday, April 15, 2018

7 Reasons I Enjoy Novels in Verse


Last year, I read a lot of books to be sure. 109 to be exact. In all of those stories, I discovered a new favorite form: novels in verse.

What is a novel in verse, you might ask? For those of you unfamiliar with this form, it’s basically a novel written as a series of poems. The form is kind of like Paradise Lost or Beowulf, but not really. While classics like the ones mentioned tend to use formal poetry-form, novels in verse tend to use free verse. Also, the latter novels tend to be more introspective than your average novel.

Because I’m a fan of poetry, here’s just a couple of reasons why I enjoy novels in verse* and why others might enjoy them as well!

*For clarity, I will also refer to novels in verse as lyrical novels, not in the sense that they’re sing-songy but rather that they’re poetic. I’ll use the terms interchangeably to avoid overusing one term alone.


1)      Poetry!


“Our lives
will twist and twist,
intermingling the old and the new
until it doesn’t matter
which is which.”
—Hà, Inside Out & Back Again

I didn’t discover my passion for poetry until college, and in some ways, I wish I had discovered it sooner, but in other ways, that’s okay. My preferences as a teenager were weird. Books I didn’t like then, I like now (e.g. Inkheart), and books I liked then, I don’t care for now (e.g. Eragon). So maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t discover poetry until college (see The Importance of Poetry: A Journey of Acceptance).

Either way, poetry can be fun to read and write. Do I want of a whole book made up of poems with a continuous storyline? How about YES!

2)      Novels in verse are quick, easy reads.


Which makes them great for reluctant readers! Or readers like me who are simply tired of reading 800-page novels. (Shhhh, you didn’t see me write that.) I like my dear 800-page books, but they can be exhausting. Whereas an 800-page novel is like a long and strenuous, albeit gorgeous hike, novels in verse are like a shot of espresso downtown in your favorite city.

3)      They’re targeted at middle grade and young adult audiences.


“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
—Madeleine L’Engle

If you haven’t already noticed, middle grade and young adult books tend to be among my preferred books. Why, you might ask? Well, they tend to have great themes, adventures, and characters. They continue to challenge me as a reader, and they’re just fun to read!

Lyrical novels tend to appeal to and connect with young audiences, presenting experiences that are relateable. Some such novels speak about what it’s like to be a foreigner or a newcomer in a strange place and others speak about the difficulties with school and stereotypes.

Novels in verse are great for young readers and the young at heart!

And for those who believe adults shouldn’t read young adult or middle grade books, I ask you to consider the words of C. S. Lewis when he dedicated The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to his goddaughter:

“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”


4)      Poetry tends to use a lot of imagery, metaphors, similes, you name it.


While prose can include imagery, in poems imagery is often symbolic. Writers can also do a lot more with metaphors and similes and sounds than prose writers can. I could tell you that when I visited Venice in the fall how the shade of the buildings covered me and the seagulls. Or I can show you in verse:

“I’m in over my head in darkness,
standing in shadows of the box-shaped buildings,
[…] with the seagulls gliding overhead,
their underbellies alight against the blue,
like they’re gliding on light.”
“Shadows”

Sure, I could’ve just written that the seagulls looked like they were gliding on light in a prose piece, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect.

5)      Novels in verse tend to be thought-provoking.

“how can I leave this fight
flit off to college
when so many still suffer
when I can feel tension
like mercury rising

“a wisp of hope
beginning to drift
skyward?”
—Clara, Audacity

Poetry is full of quotes I want to write down and memorize and lines that just make me want to buy all the books and think on them again and again. At least that’s my experience.


6)      Lyrical novels tend to evoke emotion.


There’s something about poetry that has the ability to present and evoke emotion in a way that prose can’t.

As a writer, I use poetry as a means to express emotion in an abstract way that prose can’t handle. Take my poem “Heartbeat” for example. I’ve always had a hard time explaining to people why I find heartbeats disturbing, and I don’t entirely understand it myself. So I decided to take the emotion of fear and asked myself “What does fear feel like?” and “How do I communicate that?” Here’s some of the result:

“she’s the reminder that I need fresh air—
kiss of sharp needles, stabbing my feet as
they plunge in this icy green lakeside shore from
liquefied glaciers where old trunks sank”
“Heartbeat”

I took some imagery from Mt. Rainier (Washington State) and from Mt. Saint Helens (Oregon) and used the sting of cold from glacier lakes as a metaphor for fear. Then I stripped the poem of proper capitalization and punctuation to add an unsettling, raw feel to the poem as a whole. My sister, who wasn’t originally afraid of heartbeats, told me she found them disturbing after I read her this poem. Whoops.

Of course, not all novels deal with fear. It’s only one emotion to write about. That an author can achieve any sense of emotion for the span of a novel is inspiring!


7)      Poetry can be downright beautiful.


“On this clear and moonless night,
Mama and I wrap up in our winter clothes
and go outside to watch and listen.
The trees beyond our backyard form a torn-paper line
between the snow and this sky
filled with stars.”
—Mimi, Full Cicada Moon

You had me at snow and stars. Need I say more?

Some books in prose have their fair share of moments of beauty, but such moments tend to be more frequent in verse.

Book Recommendations!


Looking for novels in verse recommendations? Look no further! Here are three I read and enjoyed last year: Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton (5/5 stars), Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (4/5 stars), and Saving Red by Sonya Sones (4/5 stars). And one I read this year: Audacity by Melanie Crowder (4/5 stars).

Back in February, I attended WriteOnCon, an amazing online writing conference, and one of the live panels featured a bunch of authors who write novels in verse talking about their books and some of their favorite lyrical novels. I’m pretty sure I added at least ten novels to my to-be-read list.

Though I haven’t read them all yet, here are just a few: The Way the Light Bends by Jensen Cordelia, Heartbeat by Sharon Creech, Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles by Shari Green, House Arrest by K. A. Holt, The Magic of Melwick Orchard by Caprara Rebecca, and Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott.

Let’s chat! Have you read any novels in verse yet? If you have, what are some of the ones you’d consider the best? On a scale of boring clichés to fantastic themes, how much do you enjoy poetry?

***


Literary references: Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again; Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart; Christopher Paolini’s Eragon; C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Melanie Crowder’s Audacity; Marilyn Hilton’s Full Cicada Moon; Sonya Sones’ Saving Red; Jensen Cordelia’s The Way the Light Bends; Sharon Creech’s Heartbeat; Shari Green’s Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles; K. A. Holt’s House Arrest; Caprara Rebecca’s The Magic of Melwick Orchard; and Meg Wiviott’s Paper Hearts